Waiting to Inhale

Luis Sharpe led a double life. In public, he was an admired NFL star. In private, he was a crackhead hell-bent on self-destruction.

"We have encouraged Mr. Sharpe to involve his children in our family program," she wrote, "so that they can understand addiction and the role it plays on the family environment."

Sharpe is convinced that his wife and her lawyer stonewalled the hospital on the proposed visit. But attorney Lindholm says--and the court record supports him--that Dr. Brian Yee, a "special master" appointed to oversee the sticky case, denied the request.

"Kathi didn't have any objection to the kids going to Michigan and I let Dr. Yee know that," Lindholm says. "She always has wanted her children to maintain a relationship with their father, no matter what he's up to."


Read Related Story, "Shape Up or Sharpe Out"

Sharpe's divorce attorney, Joe Richter, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Sharpe says he knew he'd be smoking crack again after he left Brighton. But he claims to have slipped only once in the weeks before he returned to Arizona.

"I didn't have the same drug contacts in Detroit," Sharpe explains. "The one time I went into the streets looking for the stuff, I was kind of scared. . . ."

Sharpe returned to Arizona in mid-February. He says he successfully went crack-hunting hours after he landed. On April 15, Judge Ryan ordered Sharpe jailed without bond after several new incidents--small compared to what had come before.

Detention officers stuck Sharpe in a cell in Pod B at the Towers Jail. He says he laid on his upper bunk for a few days, thinking about the pit into which he had tumbled.

Finally, he decided to step outdoors during the daily recreation hour. The sun and fresh air invigorated him.

"People were checking me out--prisoners and guards," Sharpe says. "Big as I am, I'm not exactly easy to miss. I feel their eyes. They test me, playing psychological games. They don't know what to expect out of this rich football player, this old cokehead. But it wasn't me who put me up on any pedestal when things were going good. I figured I'd just be myself."

Sharpe began to walk the perimeter of the yard every day for the entire hour. Back inside, he started to do pushups and sit-ups, ten in a set, then 20, then 100. He says he could almost hear his body thanking him as the poisons sweated out of him.

But there still were some difficult tests.
"This Mexican guy in the yard tells me he can get me some rock, some crack," he says. "I tell him, 'I don't want your crack, dude. I'm gonna try to change my life. Don't you be comin' up to me with that stuff.'

"Later, back in the pod, he starts in again. 'Man, I can get you a one-16th right now.' I get pissed off and I curse him out in Spanish. It always blows people's minds that I'm fluent. 'You disrespected me, dude. I already told you once.'

"Time goes by, and here he comes again. This time, he's got a piece of paper with him. 'Can I have your autograph?' I tell him, 'That will be five items at the commissary.' He says no way. I go, 'Oh, it's okay for you to sell crack to me, but I can't sell to you?' He kind of laughs and walks away. There are all kinds of vultures floating around here."

Sharpe says he came to realize that, in his case, jail was a blessing: "I respect the fact I've had time to look at my life, look at myself, get physically back in shape. I'd like to think I've started my recovery where recovery is not a word you hear. This is easy. Training camp carried on for four weeks, and was mentally and physically challenging. This is just mental."

Kathi Sharpe allowed her children to accept collect calls from their father for the first month he was in jail. Sharpe says he lived for the opportunity to gab with his kids.

But Kathi cut off the calls in early May, Sharpe alleges, after his oldest daughter, now 12, told him she'd gotten into trouble at school.

Sharpe wrote to the girl's school counselor, seeking an explanation. The counselor responded in a note dated May 6.

"Luis, I was very pleased to hear that you are determined to change your lifestyle. That's a good decision and everyone will benefit from it. [She] is doing okay. I talked to her this morning and I really believe she is trying to hurt you the way you hurt her. She is confused, angry and is making a loud cry for help."

Says Sharpe of the frank assessment: "She's right, but it hurts. How did things get this fucked up?"

Kathi Sharpe's attorney has an answer to that.
"He's been coddled for a long time now," Don Lindholm says, "and it's time for him to stand up and become a role model for his children. This poor child has had a particularly difficult time because of what she has observed in her father. She's the oldest and has faced great scorn at school over all this. And for Luis to cast aspersions at Kathi, who's kept this family together while he's been womanizing and doing his drugs and whatever else he does, is absurd and reprehensible."

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