He's never been to the Pro Bowl, but he was a crucial part of the Buccaneer defense. Tanard Jackson was the one piece head coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jim Bates didn't need to worry about. He was T-Jack, the hard-hitting, talented young safety and the anchor of the Bucs secondary.
Now, he is a man fighting his own demons. What came to light Tuesday afternoon was the obvious battle each player must deal with that fans of the sport could not possibly know about.
As fans, we only see the players on the field, at practice, or on TV. We can't possibly understand the temptations that confront players on a daily basis—how making the wrong choice could not only wreck your career, but also your life.
"It was something that was before I got into this league,'' he told the St. Petersburg Times, ''but it kind of lingered on and led to my suspension."
To be suspended by the league for substance abuse, you have failed one test and then either failed a second or have not met the terms while being in stage one of the substance abuse program.
"I had to comply with some things and as a result of that, that's what led to my suspension," Jackson said.
Jackson didn't elaborate on which particular demon he is dealing with, but it's apparent that it's been getting the better of him. It's such a shame. On a young football team he was an emerging force, one the Buccaneers were looking toward to take the torch from leaders like Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks. He was to fill the leadership void caused by NFL attrition.
Now the one kid you didn't worry about, you must. It's well documented that some athletes cannot overcome their demons. Guys like Darryl Strawberry, with all the talent in the world, saw their careers derailed by substance abuse.
Jackson has a promising career in front of him—but there's one last difficult choice he will need to make.
Are the drugs more important to him than playing football? For Ricky Williams, marijuana was...until he realized that he couldn't feed his habit without an income.
Jackson is at the crossroad.
Down one road is denial. "I've got it under control. I'll just do it in the offseason and cut it out during the season."
Down the other is redemption. "I've got to get this in check. I can't let down my family, my team, my coaches, and fans anymore."
Williams is a league success story, as are some other players who struggled with their own demons and went into the substance abuse program. Williams returned from his self-imposed exile and has not relapsed. He's been a contributor to the Dolphins' resurgence and a poster child of redemption.
Still, each day he is tempted. Sometimes the temptation gets the better of you.
Look at Texas Rangers and former Tampa Bay Devil Ray draft pick Josh Hamilton. He too struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. The Rays finally had given up on the promising outfielder after several relapses.
Hamilton finally conquered the demons and became an All-Star. Not even that could prevent him from having a setback. One moment of weakness, and he was in front of Ranger nation having to own up to his weakness.
With so much money in your pocket and the forces of evil surrounding you, if you have that weakness, it's difficult to "just say no."
At this point, the Buccaneers have a big question mark in a spot they thought was one of the few answers on the team. The team not only is scrambling to fill the void for the four games Jackson will not be allowed to play, but they also may need to start looking at long-term solutions to protect themselves in case Jackson slips again.
Derrick Brooks was fond of saying, "Every day, the team is looking to upgrade on you."
While the team will be supportive of Jackson and try to give him the help he needs, the NFL is a win now business. At the end of the day, Raheem Morris must win to remain employed. If Jackson can't be counted on to help him do that, the team will need to move on at some point.
Hopefully for Jackson, this latest setback will be his last, and he can become the next success story in the NFL substance abuse program.