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The Californian – Former 49er shares story of recovery

49ers
Dennis Brown, right, watches as a boy prepares to hit the practice bag. (Photo: Roberto M. Robledo)

SALINAS, CA – Before Dennis Brown was a Super Bowl champion, he had his personal demons.

For him, he said, drugs and alcohol were the “medicine” that helped him mask reality.

“I didn’t want to deal with a lot of things growing up – my relationship with my parents, school. I was never taught that there are other resources for helping you cope,” he said Tuesday, between leading Salinas youngsters through some football drills at Hartnell College.

As a boy and teenager, he said substance abuse helped him bury his family and emotional conflicts. Then in 1986, at age 19, just starting college, he found help to deal with and overcome his problems.

Since then, through an illustrious college and pro football career, and now as a sports commentator, he’s still in recovery.

Brown brought his personal message to Salinas as the guest of the Door To Hope counseling and recovery center. He was invited to be the keynote speaker Tuesday night when about 100 young people and adults were graduating from one of the 10 recovery programs offered in the Salinas area.

While Brown was in town, he held a mini-football clinic for kids that included the correct three-point stance, hitting the bags, tackling and other skills.

Brown played for the San Francisco 49ers from 1990 to 1996. He possesses a world champion ring as a member of the 49ers team that won Super Bowl XXIX. (Palma High School coach Chris Dalman was also a member of that team.)

Before that, he was named to the Playboy All-America team in both 1989 and 1990 as a standout at the University of Washington, and was an Outland Trophy finalist in 1988 and 1989.

Today, he is a broadcaster for the Comcast Sports Network.

John de Miranda, associate director at Door To Hope, said he heard Brown speak at an event last spring and thought his message would be a good one for young people in Salinas to hear.

Door To Hope offers specific programs to children and teenagers as well as teen girls and adult women.

A report released this week by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that alcohol and cigarette use are down among teenagers, but marijuana use remains the same.

The report said more high school seniors smoke marijuana than regular cigarettes on a daily basis.

The annual survey by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor polls 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders. It indicates that substance abuse among high schoolers is stable or down in most categories.

De Miranda acknowledged the decline in teen substance abuse except for the use of opioids which has risen, according to a Surgeon General’s report.

Heroin has gotten cheap to buy, he said, and wide access to prescription drugs make them easier to obtain.

As he walked to the next drill, Brown summarized his message: “It’s hope. I’ve been there. I’m in recovery. I just wish there were more programs for youth to get help” with issues of substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness.

Problems like alcohol addiction or drug addiction need to be addressed as early as possible, said Brown.

“Hopefully, these young people will find help early and not have to go through what we adults had to go through at age 30 or 40, and who lost their youth.”

A football hero sharing his story can’t help but have an impact on others, especially young people, said de Miranda.

“For the kids, to see a role model talk about his difficulties with substances in the past and then turning the corner, that’s good,” he said.

+ Read this article on the Californian’s website.