CHICAGO _ Former Bears cornerback Mike Richardson heard the news about Sam Hurd being arrested last week on drug-related charges and bowed his head.
"I just had to pray for him," Richardson told me. "It was just a sad moment because I know how devastating it can be. It takes a lot to come out of a situation like this healthy mentally."
Richardson was a member of the Super Bowl XX Bears, a popular player known as "L.A. Mike" who appeared prominently in the Super Bowl Shuffle video. But his post-playing career litany of drug arrests is as staggering as it is disappointing.
As recently as 2008, Richardson faced up to a 13-year sentence for possession of methamphetamine and crack cocaine. He had been convicted for the 21st time on a drug offense since the end of his football career. Appeals by former teammate Richard Dent and coach Mike Ditka helped convince the judge to reduce the sentence to one year plus probation.
Richardson professes to be a changed man now, living in Chicago instead of his native Southern California.
"I'm working with youth and coaching," he said. "And, of course, I am still into helping others who are struggling with their lives, whether it's addiction or just having issues living a normal life on a day-to-day basis."
He says he wants to help people such as Hurd, the former Bears receiver who was arrested Dec. 14 and charged the next day with conspiring to possess half a kilogram of cocaine with intent to distribute.
"In a situation like Sam's, I believe most people change, not so much for themselves, but to help others," Richardson said. "So if Sam or anybody else needs assistance or help ... people like myself are available to talk to."
Richardson, 50, realizes how difficult it is to run from a checkered past. Last weekend, for instance, he was scheduled to make an appearance for a blood drive in Glen Ellyn. When Richardson's drug past came to light, former Bears teammate Reggie Phillips replaced him.
"What I know is that they use a lot of the former '85 Bears to pretty much promote or participate in the blood drive for signings or just an appearance," Richardson said. "Not necessarily donating blood or anything like that ... just an appearance.
"(Because of the timing of the Hurd situation) they decided to postpone or put me on hold or re-schedule me for a different event."
Regardless, Richardson considers himself a changed man.
"Some of the negative things I did were almost five years ago," he said. "I am a different person today and I would hope fans or the public would move forward because I am a good example of transforming one's life."
The first step in changing his life, Richardson said, was acknowledging he had a problem.
"That's the initial process of healing and change, just admitting a problem _ whether it's selling or using," he said. "The person needs to change, and that has to come from within.
"Some mistakes are bigger than others. And of course this (Hurd allegation) is a tremendous mistake. If that is what has been taking place, you have to own up to that and make a decision to change."
There is a fear more NFL players may be involved in drug use and/or distribution.
"Stuff that takes place like this is pretty isolated," Richardson said. "There's not too many people who participate in this negative lifestyle. But I don't really know because I don't have contact with the younger guys. I just don't see it."
Hurd was considered a good teammate, friendly and cooperative with the media. His outward demeanor made his arrest even more stunning.
"When you're living a double life, it's hard to keep that a secret," Richardson said. "But that's what we usually commit to in doing whatever it takes to hide most of the negative activity we're participating in. Usually the person who is involved doesn't see some of the destruction that he is doing at the time. You continue to hide and manipulate and not look at the downside to it. You don't give enough attention to the negative consequences. That's what we do. Guys try to hide as much as they can, whether it is multiple relationships or any other negative behavior."
Unlike the cases against Richardson, the allegations against Hurd have to do with him attempting to purchase and deal drugs as a current player.
"Most of mine was after I was done (playing)," Richardson said. "My destruction was not here in Chicago. It was in another state. It was a little bit of how I grew up; it was a little bit of who I hung around with, some of it was false illusions as far as maybe (drugs) being a sexual enhancer.
"But the bottom line is: How do you get out of it? That is more important. It's how you think, feel and act. The biggest issue is committing to change. And that's a daily process that has to come from the individual."
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