Former Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell Says He Used Codeine Syrup to Deal with Injuries

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVJune 9, 2022

November 15, 2009: Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell #2 passes while Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Andy Studebaker #96 is about to sack him on Sunday, November 15, 2009 at Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Chiefs defeated the Raiders 16-10. (Photo by Al Golub/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Al Golub/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell wrote in an essay for The Players' Tribune that he drank codeine cough syrup to help with pain during his football career.

Russell, who starred at LSU before becoming the No. 1 pick of the 2007 draft, said he chose cough syrup instead of the painkillers prescribed to him.

"The funny thing is, I never liked painkillers," Russell said. "In college and the NFL, they were handing that s--t out like Skittles. But I didn’t like the way they made me feel. So I handled it my way."

After dislocating his shoulder at LSU, he got caught drinking codeine in a Styrofoam cup during a class the next week. He was suspended for the Peach Bowl, although the team announced at the time he was ruled out because of his injury.

The 36-year-old said his codeine use continued throughout his NFL career:

"Do you even know the kind of pain you’re in week-to-week playing football? I played a whole season in the NFL with broken bones in my ankle. We all got ways to cope. Some taking pills, some sippin’ syrup, some drinking heavy, some smoking weed. S--t, some even snorting cocaine. One way or another, you’re gonna numb the pain."

Russell's NFL career lasted just three seasons, totaling 18 touchdowns with 23 interceptions and a 65.2 passer rating in 31 games (25 starts). He was released after the 2009 season.

In 2010, Russell was arrested for possession of a controlled substance, which a spokesperson said was codeine syrup.

The quarterback never got another shot in the NFL despite attempting a comeback a few years later.