Ex-MSU star helps others tackle drugs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 8, 2001

[08/08/01] During his playing days, Michael Lindsey didn’t abuse alcohol, drugs or girlfriends. Now, all of those things are part of his everyday life.

Lindsey, 27, counsels patients in the Chemical Dependency Center at Warren-Yazoo Mental Health Services.

“I’ve always given advice to people,” said Lindsey, who got his start on the field and as an amateur counselor at Vicksburg High. “Even in high school, people have always felt comfortable telling me things that I couldn’t believe they were telling me.

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“I guess I’ve always been approachable, for some reason.”

Maybe it’s that warm, inviting smile big enough to make a visitor forget about the massive hands that engulf his during the greeting.

It’s hard to imagine this is the same man who, as a sophomore at Mississippi State, knocked Arkansas quarterback Barry Lunney unconscious with a vicious sack.

On the field, he used brute force to prevent teams from making points.

Nowadays, he uses his mind to make points as he helps people tackle drugs.

The results are slower, but the victories are sweeter, even if they don’t draw cheers from thousands of fans.

“When you see progress … see someone get better, it’s just awesome,” he said. “It feels great.”

Lindsey has been in his share of big wins. He was a senior at VHS in 1991 when the Gators, ranked No. 25 in the nation, beat crosstown rival Warren Central for the only time in the history of the series.He had three sacks and was MVP in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Classic in 1992, the first time the Magnolia State boys won.

He had eight tackles from his down lineman position in the Bulldogs’ stunning upset of then-No. 8 Alabama in 1996, just before closing his college career with a victory over Ole Miss, the third win over the archrival Rebels in his four years at MSU.

“To help someone cope with a problem that’s ruining their life, that’s the ultimate win,” Lindsey said. “No words can compare to what it’s like to help someone with their life.”

Lindsey said his parents, Carolyn and Timothy Morton, and being raised in church are the reasons he never got “sucked into that lifestyle” that claims so many athletes.

“You knock people around on the field to get what you want, so why not in everyday life?” he said, trying to explain athletes’ penchant for getting in trouble with drugs and domestic violence. “Some of them can’t separate the two.”

As for the drugs and alcohol, “they’ve got money and it’s the in-thing, so they do it … it’s a slow death.”

But he isn’t judgmental of the people he counsels, no matter what they’ve done.

“You have to remember, it’s not the drugs and alcohol that make them like they are,” he said. “We try to find out the motive for doing the drugs and alcohol.”

The key to finding the root of the problem is creating an atmosphere where the patient is comfortable enough to be open.

That’s where Lindsey is at his best.

“He’s an approachable person and very eager to learn,” said Michael Abraham, Lindsey’s supervisor. “From a employer’s perspective, you try to do everything as a team and he is a team player.”

Abraham said Lindsey is always willing to fill in for residential counselors or to speak at camps for kids.

That wouldn’t come as a surprise to MSU coach Jackie Sherrill, who used Lindsey as an outside linebacker, an inside linebacker, a defensive end, a defensive tackle and a noseguard during his years (1993-96) there.

“I played every defensive position except defensive back,” said Lindsey, who was recruited as a 6-foot-3, 225-pound outside linebacker before finishing as a noseguard. He tips the scales at 350 now.

Not surprisingly, he wound up at a different position than he applied for at the CDC, as well. He interviewed to be resident manager before finding out afterward that he was qualified to be a counselor.

“He’s not afraid of this population,” Abraham said. “He doesn’t have a family, so he’s flexible with the after-hours work that’s necessary here.”

Then there’s the football thing … .

“I’m a big fan,” Abraham, a Saints season-ticket holder, said, adding with a chuckle, “We talk a lot of football.”

Lindsey’s background earns him respect, and he embraces that since it sometimes helps him do his job.

” Man, I remember you’ … I get that all the time,” he said with a laugh. “They want to talk about who I know.”

Buffalo All-Pro receiver Eric Moulds and Chicago cornerback Walt Harris, both first-round draft choices who were his teammates at MSU, are often the topic of conversations.

“Football is the icebreaker” with plenty of patients, he said, so he doesn’t shy away from using it to his advantage.

But it’s what he did off the field making the Southeastern Conference’s All-Academic team after earning a 3.3 grade-point average in psychology that helps him now.

He still, on occasion, feels the pull of the game he played all of his life, especially when he sees former teammates or opponents playing on Sundays.

He pursued professional football, playing with the Mississippi Pride of the now-defunct Regional Football League shortly after his collegiate career ended.

He became disillusioned with that dream because of “the game behind the game with agents and lies.”

But that problem pales compared to those of his patients.

As the center’s intensive outpatient coordinator for alcohol, drug and chemical dependency, Lindsey works with groups of eight to 10 for three hours, three nights per week, in a 15-week program.

The hardest thing to deal with?

“The people who don’t want help,” he says, shaking his head, that ever-present smile disappearing for a moment. “They tell you they’re here because of their probation officer … they’re just going through the motions. Sometimes they’re high in the meetings.”

After a year and a half on the job, he’s still working on detached compassion.

“The hardest thing to learn is to leave work at work,” he said. “That’s hard, because if they open up to you, you become a part of their life.”

Counselors have to avoid taking their patients’ pain to heart because “you could get as depressed as them,” Lindsey said.

That’s easier said than done, especially when dealing with a mother who’s had her children taken away because of she’s addicted to crack or an abusive father who is buying drugs instead of food for the family.

Heroin addicts and the number in this area has surprised Lindsey are the hardest to deal with, he said, but alcoholics can be just as challenging since “their drug is socially acceptable.”

Lindsey, who is also associate youth minister at Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, said prevention is the best way to avoid problems.

“Kids are looking for someone to look up to,” he said. “Everyone is influenced by someone. I’m trying to be that person for them.”

And if football is the vehicle that helps him reach someone, that’s fine with him.

“I love the game, but it’s not all that I am,” Lindsey said. “I’m thankful I had the opportunity to play and that I can still use that to influence people.”