Pitcock ignores call of his addiction

Quinn Pitcock started one NFL game for the Indianapolis Colts and played in eight others before quitting. Soon, he was playing video games 18 hours a day. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

If Quinn Pitcock was a recovering drug addict, NFL teams would probably be less wary of him.

If Pitcock was an alcoholic, he wouldn't get strange stares or snickers after sharing his story.

Athletes battling drug and alcohol problems are a common occurrence.

Much less common is a player trying to resume an NFL career while recovering from an addiction to video games.

"I'm somewhat of a pioneer," Pitcock said.

Even though sports has a reputation for being a second-chance business, there isn't exactly a guidebook for what Pitcock, now a rookie defensive lineman with the Arena League's Orlando Predators, has been through since being drafted in the third round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2007.

If your first inclination was to laugh at the idea of a mighty football player being addicted to video games, realize Pitcock's addiction was like most in that the video games were just a way to cover up more significant issues.

The transition into the NFL was difficult for Pitcock, a standout at Ohio State. He was living in a new city, totally out of his comfort zone, and under a lot of pressure to perform.

The NFL isn't like college, where teammates bond through shared experiences. In the NFL, players have families, friends outside of football and other responsibilities. It's less like a slumber party and more like working at a mill.

Pitcock has always been an introvert. Rather than get to know Indianapolis and socialize, it was easier for Pitcock to make a video game controller his best friend.

"There were some issues," he said. "Maybe some mild depression. I'm the kind of person that avoids problems. Video games were my outlet."

Pitcock showed some promise as an NFL rookie, appearing in nine games and starting one. But even though he positioned himself for significant playing time his second season, he retired before the start of training camp in 2008.

"It was a rash decision," he said. "As soon as I made it, I wanted to play right away, but I was scared they didn't want me back."

Free from football, things really got bad. Pitcock was playing Xbox online up to 18 hours a day and sleeping for maybe five or six hours. His drug of choice was "Call of Duty," whose franchise has generated $6 billion worldwide. He lost touch with friends. He ignored his family when they tried to reach out to him. He became a complete hermit.

"The only way I could get my endorphins was by playing video games," he said.

He kept up that 18-hour routine for months. He tried to quit but couldn't.

"I would break the games, try to get rid of them," he said, "but I couldn't stop. I'd say, 'Quinn, what are you doing?' Physically, I could not put down a video game."

Pitcock reached out to the Colts for help, and they put him in touch with a psychologist. In the beginning, Pitcock admitted he wasn't that committed to getting better and routinely skipped meetings.

But once he started taking his recovery more seriously and understanding his depression, Pitcock got better. Having been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Pitcock took antidepressants for nearly two years.

Pitcock was confronting his problem and ready to return to the NFL. Only he was getting the impression from NFL teams that they were reluctant to invest in someone who walked away from football so casually.

Teams know how to deal with alcohol and drug addicts.

They know how to deal with troublemakers.

But guys hooked on "Call of Duty"?

"It's more on whether a team feels they can trust what I can do," Pitcock said. "I think teams are worried I may relapse. They're more comfortable with a drug addiction. It's unfortunate. It definitely hinders my chances."

Pitcock was officially waived by the Colts in 2010. He was in training camp with Seattle and Detroit after that, but he failed to make either roster.

The Arena League became a viable option because it offered Pitcock the opportunity to play regularly. The Predators have struggled this season -- Orlando is currently 2-12 -- but Pitcock hopes he's shown enough to warrant serious NFL consideration.

So far, no team has expressed interest.

"I know I can do it," he said.

Here's what NFL teams should understand about Pitcock's situation: It isn't uncommon.

Recent statistics show that 72 percent of American households have a video game system and 4 percent of users play 50 hours or more a week, which experts classify as an addiction.

Pitcock has been contacted by other adults hooked on video games and a number of parents, who see their children exhibiting signs of addiction.

"The video games are an iceberg," said Kevin Roberts, an academic success counselor and author of "Cyber Junkie: Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap." "The behavior is a mask for underlying issues. For Quinn, it was the ADHD and anxiety. Those were some of the things going on with him that he was unaware of."

Roberts, who recently released a book on ADHD, contacted Pitcock after he learned of his story. The two struck up a fast friendship. And while Pitcock is receiving more attention for his personal struggle than his football ability, he and Roberts are bringing awareness to a growing problem.

"I thought I was a weird outlier," Pitcock said. "It's a worldwide problem in every walk of life."

Pitcock's life now is much brighter than it was in Indianapolis. Gone are the days when he used to mindlessly punch buttons on a controller, blocking out the world with a headset used to punctuate the online gaming experience.

Video games are a huge part of sports culture, especially among athletes. Playing "Madden" is a pastime in nearly every locker room. But Pitcock's fingers don't twitch when he sees other people play. Like any addiction, he's just trying to take it, well, you can probably guess the rest. Pitcock tries to stay outside his house as much as possible. He goes to the movies and takes walks.

"I do miss it at times," he said, "but now I look at it as a closed chapter in my life."