EDITORIAL: Witman saga offers lessons for all of us

York Dispatch
  • Eastern York grad Jon Witman played for Penn State and the Pittsburgh Steelers
  • He's had two arrests for driving under the influence in the last year
  • Witman is dealing with chronic pain and addiction and has contemplated suicide

Jon Witman's life story should serve as a cautionary tale for every man, woman and child in York County.

His well-publicized difficulties during his post-football career stand as a stark warning about several intertwined hazards that afflict families from Delta to Dillsburg and from Hallam to Hanover.

Jon Witman
(Associated Press photo)

Namely, the Witman saga offers critical lessons about the dangers of chronic pain and addiction.

In Witman's case, the problems started with the sport that made him famous — football.

The former Eastern York High School standout earned a scholarship to Penn State and eventually was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. For six years, Witman served admirably as a battering-ram blocking back for future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis.

After the 2001 season, however, the Steelers cut Witman loose. His career as a football gladiator was over.

That's when the trouble started.

Witman's NFL career left him wrestling with chronic pain. Like many, he turned to pain-killers to ease the suffering. That, in turn, led to addiction.

Jon Witman

Not surprisingly, a man who made millions as a pro athlete soon found himself bankrupt.

It got so bad that, according to a USA Today story, he put a shotgun to his head and was ready to commit suicide. He was set to pull the trigger until the youngest of his four sons came into the room. Fortunately, Witman couldn't go through with it.

Instead, with the help of his family and the NFL Players Association crisis team, he spent more than a month in detox.

As with many addicts, however, the rehabilitation apparently didn't work. Last week he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of controlled substances in relation to a one-vehicle crash in the Wrightsville area eight months ago.

He soon faces a preliminary hearing on a second separate DUI case set for later this month. That incident allegedly occurred just more than a month ago.

To his credit, Witman seems to accept responsibility for his actions.

His lawyer, Chris Ferro, said Witman is “one of the nicest, warmest, most humble people you'll ever meet. You can't help but like him.”

Former P'burgh Steeler pleads guilty to Wrightsville DUI

That may be true, but Witman's actions are extremely unlikable. His transgressions could have easily led to the death of innocent people.

Still, most folks in York County are likely rooting for Witman to recover, despite his recent failed rehab.

“Anyone who's been touched by these issues (of addiction) knows recovery is not a straight line,” Ferro said. “It's filled with ups and downs, just like real life.”

Maybe the next turn in Witman's life will lead him back to the straight and narrow. Time will tell.

Until then, however, we should all learn a few things from his story.

Parents of youngsters who play football should keep a close watch. It's a violent, collision sport. Injuries and pain are part of the game. Don't let your kids play if they're seriously injured, don't allow them to take pain-killers unless absolutely necessary, and if they do need pain-killers, closely monitor their intake.

If pain becomes chronic, try to find alternatives to pain-killers, especially opioids. They can quickly turn into a life-threatening addiction that can ruin, or even end, lives.

Finally, remember that addiction is not a problem restricted to urban areas or poor people.

Witman lives in Hellam Township and made more money in his six-year NFL career than most of us will make in a lifetime.

Still, he became an addict.

The final chapter on the Witman story is yet to be written.

Hopefully, it will end as a story of triumphant redemption.

In the meantime, we can all learn from his mistakes.