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Before he ever got his Gold Jacket, Cris Carter got a gold chip.

And had he never suited up in Purple and Gold, he may not have gotten either.

Carter credits the Minnesota Vikings for helping him overcome drug and alcohol addictions that threatened his NFL career before it had truly begun.

The Vikings Hall of Fame receiver recently spoke at the annual gala for People Incorporated, Minnesota's largest community-based, nonprofit mental health provider. Carter was joined by NFL Insider and mental health advocate Jay Glazer, who emceed the event.

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Carter started his keynote speech by giving four numbers that have nothing to do with his franchise-leading 12,383 yards and 110 touchdowns, nor his eight career Pro Bowl appearances.

Yet these numbers achieved in earning a gold chip mean so much more. Carter shared the following:

"It's been 403 months since I had my last drink.

"It's been 1,754 weeks since I was strung out on cocaine.

"It's been 12,725 days since my drug counselor challenged me to not have a drink on Friday.

"And it's been 1 billion, 600 million seconds since I decided to change my life."

Having once captivated thousands of fans each Sunday in the Metrodome, Carter's striking intro captured undivided attention of the gala attendees.

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Carter went on to explain that after three seasons in the NFL, Eagles Head Coach Buddy Ryan released him from the team due to substance abuse issues.

His career very well could have ended then and there. But the Minnesota Vikings gave him a shot.

"The first thing this team did was help me off the field. And they made my overall mental health the number one priority," Carter said. "They made me start going to meetings twice a week. They made me attend A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings. Mandatory for me to get drug tested.

"And all those things, at the time, I was kicking and screaming," he added. "Now when I look back, those were the disciplines that now give me the discipline to do great things no matter what I do."

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Floyd & Carter relate through experiences

Sitting in the audience, in the center of the room and just a few tables back from the podium, was another former Vikings receiver.

Michael Floyd smiled at his wife, Sydney, as the two listened to Carter detail his journey – because it's a journey that hits so close to home.

A St. Paul native, Floyd shined at Cretin-Derham Hall, then at Notre Dame, and then in 2012 was drafted 13th overall by the Arizona Cardinals.

After playing primarily in a reserve role as a rookie, Floyd started all 16 games in his second season, racking up 1,041 yards and five touchdowns for Arizona. Floyd logged 841 and 849 receiving yards, respectively, in 2014 and 2015, catching six touchdowns in each of those seasons.

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From the outside, Floyd's life seemed to be on a pretty great track. But he struggled internally, grappling with depression, anxiety and stress and excessive alcohol use. In December 2016, he was arrested for a DUI and released from the team.

Twenty-two years after Carter was let go by Philadelphia, Floyd found himself in a similar situation.

He was picked up by New England for the final two games of the 2016 season, and a few months later Floyd was signed by his hometown team and returned to Minnesota.

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"I think the Minnesota Vikings have some of the best [support staff]," Floyd said. "Les Pico and Don Patterson are two great individuals who totally understand and get it. They were just absolutely great people to speak to."

Floyd remains grateful for the support he received from the Vikings organization, though he continued to experience addiction struggles and was suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season. He played the remainder of that season for Minnesota, and in 2018 he played his final NFL season with Washington.

Floyd's NFL career has concluded, but his contagious energy and bright smile are continuing.

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As of the publishing of this story, Floyd is 464 days sober and happier than ever. He's accomplished a victory in life he wouldn't trade for anything.

"I think a lot of people see, you know, Michael played seven, eight years in the NFL – or they look at anybody in the NFL – and they just think they lived this great life," he said. "But they don't know what the day-to-day is. They don't know what's actually going on or what someone's dealing with.

"Cris understands in a different way, having had issues in his own life and being able to relate to others," Floyd continued. "They emphasized during the gala about having a team around you that can help you out. And I've found that."

Floyd met Sydney in 2018, and he credits her and their three children with walking away from alcohol entirely. He made the decision while in Jamaica for a friend's wedding, and he hasn't looked back.

"It was like, 'I'm done with this. I'm done waking up not knowing what I did. I'm done having these stupid arguments with my wife or us not talking because of my drinking.' I just didn't want to deal with that anymore," he said. "That same week I went to the doctor, and she said my health would be a lot better if I didn't drink.

"From then on, I was like, 'This is not for me.' It was pretty clear for me at that point," Floyd added. "I wanted to be there for my kids. I didn't want that life anymore. My wife is a lot happier; my home is a lot happier, and my health is a lot better."

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Floyd remains committed to the Twin Cities community, giving back when he's able like he did as a player. He also works in real estate, where he's found a passion for helping Minnesota families achieve their dream of home ownership.

He's even formed new, close friendships through clients he's met who are walking a similar sober journey.

"I can hang out with them at any time. We can talk about our experiences, or why we quit drinking, those things. It's amazing to learn you're not alone," Floyd said. "My friends, they're totally on board. They know, you know, 'Michael doesn't drink anymore,' which is cool.

"It doesn't change my personality. I'm still that funny, goofy, entertaining guy," he continued. "So I don't even know why I needed to drink in the first place, because that's just my personality. I'm so happy my mind is clear and I can focus on the stuff that is truly important."

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Life-changing opportunities

Carter is thankful for that same clear mindedness and deeper relationships with friends and family.

During his keynote for People Incorporated, he encouraged others to seek support for challenges they may be facing, whether mental-health related, addiction-related or both, as the two of the two often overlap.

According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, "substance abuse problems occur more frequently with certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders." SAMHSA also notes the following:

  • Certain substances can cause people with an addiction to experience one or more symptoms of a mental health problem.
  • Mental health problems can sometimes lead to alcohol or drug use, as some people with a mental health problem may misuse these substances as a form of self-medication.
  • Mental health and substance use disorders share some underlying causes, including changes in brain composition, genetic vulnerabilities, and early exposure to stress or trauma.

Carter acknowledged that getting help when he needed it most was "uncomfortable and a lot of work."

But he's a better man because of it. And when it looked like his NFL dream was falling away, the Vikings willingness to give Carter another opportunity is what changed his story completely.

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"I don't get a Gold Jacket unless the Minnesota Vikings go out of their way to help me," Carter said. "And that's why we should be so supportive of organizations like [People Incorporated] that are out there doing great things for people. We all need help. … We all need a place to thrive. And that's what the Minnesota Vikings were able to give to me. It gave me the power to build change in my life, to build change in my family's life. And to come to events like this one realizing, 'Oh yeah, I'm very, very different.' But at this point in my life, I look in the mirror [and say], 'I like that guy.'

"If you're out there and you need [help], reach out to someone," Carter added. "Reach out to a teammate. Reach out to a family member. Because there are more people right now willing to help you than you realize."

Carter gestured to Glazer, who sat nearby, and expressed their shared desire to help others through their own experiences.

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"I hate being a drug addict. I hate being an alcoholic. But it gives me the strength and power to know that anything I want to do, I can do. And we need to empower more people to let them know," Carter said. "We're not looking for perfect. We're looking for a lot of people that look like us, sound like us and want that opportunity to do something great with their life. That's why I'm always excited to come back to Minnesota.

"Addiction, what it's really, really taught me is that everything is important," he added. "Not only to live your truth but also to tell your story. Because there's others in the audience who struggle, just like we do. But they can't speak. They don't have a team around them. They don't have the support. So a lot of my message is, 'Man, find that next Cris Carter. Find that next Jay Glazer.' Make an investment – because you can never go wrong by investing in human beings."

Hearing Carter speak touched Floyd's heart in an even greater way than he'd anticipated.

He and Sydney attended the gala not only to support People Incorporated but also to hear Carter's message. After the event, the two Vikings Legends posed for a photo together that Floyd later posted on Instagram.

"I gave Cris a hug, told him I was sober, and it made me tear up. Just because it's been a long road," Floyd said. "Losing your job here, you know, people have different thoughts on if your career ended because of that. And that might be one of the reasons why, [but] I always look at it as a positive thing."

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Because in the end, he understands the alternative.

Had Floyd not gotten a DUI in 2016, he knows his career trajectory likely would have been much different. It's quite possible he would have made significantly more money. But as he puts it, he would "still be doing the same dumb [crap]."

"I wouldn't have learned my lesson. I wouldn't have met my wife. I would never have been back in Minnesota. I wouldn't have been sober," Floyd said. "When people ask me if I regret [getting in trouble], I don't. Because my life is perfect how it is. I'm mentally and physically in some of the best shape of my life."

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Floyd hopes that sharing his story will help encourage others, the way hearing about Carter's journey has encouraged him. He's also thankful that NFL teams, athletes and men in general are becoming more comfortable talking about mental health and addiction.

"We don't talk about those things that much because we're supposed to hang onto this idea of being 'macho men.' But just having the ability to be able to speak about it [is so important]," Floyd said. "I always tell people if they're going through any type of situation, they can always call me and I'll share my own experience, because it's been an up-and-down journey, but I'm better because of it. I feel great, and I'm willing to share my experience and my life with anybody."

You are not alone. If you or a loved one are struggling today, please reach out for support.

Minnesota Addiction Hotline: 866-210-1303

People, Incorporated.: 651-774-0011

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): nami.org

NAMI MN: namimn.org | 651-645-2948

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

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