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Collected wisdom: How Jim Riley turned his life around

Former Oklahoma football star now runs an addiction outreach ministry.
by Jenni Carlson Published: September 8, 2012

My dad grew up in the Depression, so you had to kind of outwork people to get a job. That was something that was instilled in me as a kid. I always worked. I started hauling hay when I was 11 years old.

My dad ... when I was playing at Enid, I don't think he ever missed a football game. We were playing Putnam City up in Enid, and I was looking around and I didn't see him. About halfway through the first quarter, I looked down in the end zone, and in the back of the end zone, my dad was standing there in his greasy coveralls. He had just come in off of a job. He didn't have time to clean up.

I can always remember seeing him standing down there watching me playing football.

I don't blame football for the stupid crud I did. College, that's when I started my drinking. It was mostly for fun. I didn't do that much of it until later on, and during football season, I always curbed it because, you know, I was playing ball.

It was in the pros that I really lost my way. They had an open cabinet. You could get all the drugs you needed. You didn't have to check 'em out. Alcohol, the coaches weren't telling you not to drink. They were drinking with you. Smoking. We smoked in the locker room. We did. At halftime, we were smoking in the locker room.

(Coach Don) Shula never did buy any. He just bummed 'em off of us.

I became chemically dependent and didn't have any idea what that meant — “No, no, look at all the stuff I do. I can't be.” It became ugly. It became really ugly.

Thank God my wife and some people that love me enough intervened on me in 1985. That's when I turned my life around. I learned how to be a real man, a father, a husband, a friend.

To go back to that life? Put me in my grave before you do that.

It's pretty simple. When you're doing the wrong thing and you want to turn it around and do the right thing, you do just the opposite of what you were doing.

Football is important when you're playing it. It's extremely important to players. But it's not life. And it doesn't last forever.

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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