Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus was one of the most feared linebackers in history. But today, he's focusing his attention on tackling another important subject; helping to spread the word about the dangers of steroid abuse.
Butkus may no longer display his passion on the gridiron, but it still burns brightly when it comes to talking about performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), especially when it involves high school athletes.
To that end, Butkus is working with his son Matt on the "IPlayClean" campaign, helping young athletes to understand the dangers of steroids and promoting EAS Sports Nutrition as the first major brand to achieve 100% certification of its product line as being banned substance tested.
He may have been in California when we spoke, but you could easily notice the Chicago persona coming through with the same intensity he displayed during his playing career. Dick is a real person, both passionate and honest, and he speaks in plain terms that make you understand he truly believes in this project. And it comes from the heart.
Butkus told me that he has met with parents of high school kids that have died as a result of their use of PEDs, many of them committing suicide. He specifically mentioned "'roid rage" as one of the consequences of taking these drugs.
When asked, Butkus told me that steroids "really weren't around when I played, and I didn't see them." But he knows they existed. He openly discussed the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty teams of the 1970s and how center Mike Webster, who died at the age of 50, had been a user.
I asked Dick point blank had he ever used steroids and he responded with a sincere and emphatic "No." But he said that, despite evidence of the dangers of such abuse, he routinely meets high school athletes who believe that they need these drugs to gain a competitive advantage.
But it's not just male athletes using the stuff. Butkus told me, "I was next to a girl, a young little thing, but when she talked she had a deep masculine voice and I told her, you used steroids, didn't you? And she said that, yes, she did." She told him that she thought she needed them to reach her goal of becoming an Olympic gymnast.
You can hear the sadness and disbelief in his voice when he tells these stories. The man may have been a one man wrecking crew on the field, but the caring side of him really comes through when you speak to him.
Then it was on to other football-related topics. I asked him how he thinks the Bears will do this year. He told me, "Well, I only read and hear the things that everyone else does, but I think they'll be alright." When asked what the loss of Olin Kreutz would mean to the team, he said, "That's BS. They're just trying to be nice to the guy. I thought he played poorly last season." He went on to say that the leadership stuff was overrated.
His tone was just as pointed when discussing his disdain for the on-field celebrations so prevalent in today's game. "They make one play and they have to do a cartwheel," he told me. You could hear the disgust in his voice. "And they get hurt and lay down on the ground forever. Why give the other team the satisfaction of knowing that they hurt you?"
But it wasn't long before Butkus was again talking about his new passion. He was happy that HGH testing was included in the CBA because "a lot of the kids that use this stuff do it because they hear about pros doing it and that makes me sick."
Butkus' participation in the "IPlayClean" program, in partnership with Old Spice and EAS Sports, has received committments from former pro athletes and coaches. The idea is for high school athletes to do it the way Butkus did—with hard work, healthy eating and attitude.
One final note that told me volumes about what this man is all about: When I told him I had a son playing high school football, he made me feel like I was actually somebody, asking about where he plays and what position. Look, here is a Hall of Famer actually interested in my son. He gave me a website for him to go to and wanted me to be sure to spread the message.
He also admitted to me that he misses acting. When I brought up the subject of the passing of Bubba Smith, he recounted stories of working with Bubba and said "I don't give a damn, I still think those commercials were great."
Dick Butkus may have been an animal on the football field, but he's an articulate and genuinely caring man when it comes to discussing the ravages of steroids and the kids. A legend, indeed. Naturally.