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If you've never been touched by the affliction of addicition, it's easy to be dismissive.

It's easy to lack empathy and understanding.

It's easy to label the addicts as weak or somehow unworthy of our concern.

It's easy to rationalize that the disease will never happen to me or someone I care about.

Well, addiction is not just restricted to the dark corners of our society. It's not just limited to the poor or to urban areas.

Addiction recognizes no class distinctions or geographic boundaries.

It's an equal-opportunity menace.

Athletes, more specifically York County athletes, are most certainly not immune to its poisonous consequences.

That point was driven home within the last week when two of the county's most famous sports heroes learned their punishments for addiction-related crimes.

Witman case: First, former Eastern York High School football standout Jon Witman was sentenced for two York County DUI crashes involving medication.

Witman was a battering-ram fullback on one of the greatest Penn State teams of all-time — the 1994 unbeaten Big Ten championship squad that won the Rose Bowl. He then went on to enjoy a solid six-year career in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

All of the crushing blows, however, took a toll on Witman's body. Because of the chronic pain that ensued, he developed a dependence on prescription medication, which eventually led to his DUIs. At one point he reportedly even contemplated suicide.

The 44-year-old Witman, however, told the judge in his case that a treatment program, along with the loving devotion of his wife and “savior” had freed him from his dependence.

Witman avoided jail time for his offenses, but was fined and placed on probation.

Marsteller case: Just a few days after Witman learned his fate, another local sports legend, Chance Marsteller, also found himself in front of a judge in Clinton County.

Marsteller, 21, was fined $1,000, received seven years of probation and ordered to perform 350 hours of community service as part of a negotiated plea deal. He also received an 8 p.m. until 6 a.m.curfew, with some exceptions, and must write letters of apology to his victims.

Marsteller had pleaded guilty to six counts of simple assault and one count of open lewdness for his actions in a well-publicized August incident in Lock Haven. He avoided prison time and any felony convictions.

Like Witman, Martseller's problems stemmed from substance abuse issues. Again, like Witman, he has sought treatment and counseling, and has apparently straightened out his life.

Marsteller is the most storied wrestler to ever emerge from York County, compiling a 166-0 record at Kennard-Dale that included four state championships.

His college career, however, was not nearly as successful. He started at Oklahoma State, but was eventually suspended from the team before transferring at Lock Haven. His career with the Bald Eagles never got off the ground, derailed by his August arrest.

He's now registered for classes at Lock Haven and there's speculation that he will eventually try to restart his college wrestling career.

The future: Both men will now attempt to rebuild their lives.

It will not be easy. Addicition does not easily release its victims from its fierce grip. There are often setbacks and relapses.

Witman and Marsteller can take solace from the fact they are not alone. There are numerous support systems and counselors available to help them in their struggle.

Both Witman and Marsteller seem to be on the right path — at least for now.

Only time will tell if they can stay there.

Sports fans all across York County most certainly will be rooting for them, just as they did when they were scoring touchdowns or flattening opponents. Most of us love to see true stories of real redemption.

Witman and Marsteller, however, are now battling a tougher foe than any opponent they ever faced on the field or on the mat.

If they can ultimately win this latest fight, they will be accomplishing something truly heroic.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.

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