The night before Patric Morrison interviewed for the Madison (Ind.) football coaching job, he got a call from the police.
“Just want to let you know that we arrested your brother,” the officer told him, according to the New York Times. “We caught him with heroin.”
It was a sobering reminder of why Morrison was taking this job, hoping to coach a football team that has had one winning season since 1994.
It had nothing to do with football, and everything to do with wanting to save kids from a darkness engulfing a county with a 2016 suicide rate three times higher than the national average.
The New York Times recently told the harrowing story of the troubles running rampant in Jefferson County, specifically when it comes to the opioid crisis.
READ THE FULL NEW YORK TIMES STORY: ‘Suicides, Drug Addiction and High School Football’
“I want to keep you from doing the things he did,” Morrison told the team before last season, referring to his brother. “I want to save you from that.”
While football provides an escape for many players, plenty of others still succumb to the challenges they face on a daily basis. A player who was expected to be the team’s starting quarterback stopped coming to practices, was suspended from school and was caught with pills.
“He could throw a ball with his left hand in a perfect spiral more than 30 yards farther than other guys would throw with their dominant hand,” James Lee, an assistant coach and a Madison police officer, told the Times. “There’s no doubt he could’ve played Division I — if he hadn’t melted down.”
On senior night this season, offensive lineman Chance Webster broke down in tears as he spoke to his teammates and coaches.
“For two years in a row, my sister tried killing herself,” he said. “Because of football, I was able to get through life when I was really down. I just want to thank you guys.”
The New York Times provides a compelling look at the opioid crisis in this country through the lens of Madison, looking at its demographics and economic makeup. For more on Indiana’s opioid crisis, check out the IndyStar’s “State of Addiction” series.