Police in Florida found former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Keith McCants dead in his St. Petersburg home early Thursday.
He was 53 years old.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputies found McCants after responding to a call around 5:10 a.m. from the home that he shared with a roommate, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The cause of death remains under investigation. A spokesperson told reporters that the PCSO suspects that McCants died of a drug overdose.
McCants was a first-round pick after starring at Alabama
McCants played six NFL seasons after joining the Buccaneers as the No. 4 pick in the 1990 NFL draft. He spent three seasons with the Bucs before playing for the Houston Oilers and Arizona Cardinals. He retired after the 1995 season.
Prior to joining the NFL, McCants was a standout linebacker at Alabama, where he was named a unanimous All-American in 1989. According to the Times, he required knee surgery shortly after joining the NFL, which precipitated his transition to defensive end. It was one of multiple operations McCants required, including a recent hip replacement.
McCants' struggles with painkillers, mental health
McCants struggled with drugs during and after his football career. In 2015, he described the ease of access to painkillers he experienced in the NFL, telling Vice Sports that teams encouraged players to take drugs such Toradol, Percocet, Tylox, Lortab, cortisone shots and "morphine pills or morphine shots" in order to manage the pain of playing football.
"I was consuming over 183 pills a week, not knowing the effects it had on my liver or my kidneys," McCants told Vice Sports. "Or, more importantly, developing a split personality with violent tendencies that my family had to deal with."
He said that after his career was over, he was left to manage the pain on his own without insurance or assistance from the NFL.
"As long as I was part of the National Football League, they provided me everything that I needed," McCants continued. "The moment they discarded me, got rid of me, six months afterward, I had to fend for myself.
"It was more easy to get a line of cocaine or go and get some street drugs after I left the league, because it was all I could afford."
McCants said that his dependence on painkillers led to an estimated 15 or 16 arrests. He was homeless for two years.
“I wasn’t selling drugs," McCants said of his arrests. "I was simply trying to suppress my pain.”
McCants acknowledged in his 2018 book "My Dark Side of the NFL" trying to kill himself. According to the Times, he said he lost more than $17 million.
Later in life, McCants befriended St. Petersburg City Council member and recent mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon, who helped him pay for his hip replacement, according to the Times.
“I’m still shocked that a guy who’s 53 years old can be gone who was a titan of his peers,” Blackmon told the Times. “But also from where he was when I met him, I’m happy we were able to get as long as we did. I just wished he could’ve found more peace and happiness on earth.”
McCants is survived by four children, according to the Times.