This story appears in the Oct. 7, 2019, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.
I. THE VP
On the morning of July 2, Eric Spofford awoke early, pulled on the gray suit he had bought the day before and left for work by six. He wanted to be on site when the Secret Service arrived.
At 34, with a buzz cut and thick, tattooed arms, Spofford is sometimes mistaken for a client of Granite Recovery Centers, the addiction treatment facilities he runs throughout New Hampshire. Growing up blue-collar in Salem, a town of nearly 30,000 just over the border from Massachusetts, Spofford started using Oxy at 14. By 16 he was dealing heroin. By 18 he'd have been dead if not for Narcan, the overdose-reversal drug. After getting clean in 2006, he started a sober living house, and in the decade that followed, as fentanyl poured onto the streets of New Hampshire, claiming close to 500 Granite Staters' lives annually, Spofford became an authority on the opioid crisis. He once testified before a U.S. Senate committee.
Even so, he was initially confused when a woman called in June, saying she was from the Vice President's office. "Vice president of what?" Spofford asked. She explained that it was that Vice President, and Mr. Pence wanted to highlight the opioid issue and was interested in doing that at one of Granite's facilities.
Now, 10 days later, it was the morning of Pence's visit. Air Force Two was scheduled to land around noon, carrying the Vice President and the Surgeon General. Pence would meet at the facility with former patients, deliver remarks on opioids and then head back to the plane. An advance team had spent the better part of a week securing the facility. A perimeter of dump trucks encircled the empty parking lot as a barricade. An enormous white tent sat atop Granite's rear loading dock, providing cover for Pence's fleet. Employees working the event had submitted their dates of birth, addresses, social security numbers and driver's license numbers for background checks.
Spofford had worked 16-hour days to prepare. Now, he had his best people on site, including his mentor, Piers Kaniuka, and his good friend and Granite's chief business development officer, Jeff Hatch, who sat out front in slacks and a 3XL polo shirt, checking in visitors. At 6'6" and 300 pounds, Hatch stood out in any crowd. The 39-year-old, who was a third-round pick of the Giants' in 2002, had his own comeback story: a first-team Division I-AA All-American Ivy League offensive tackle and a four-year NFL vet, he got hooked on painkillers, got clean in treatment and joined the staff of a recovery center in Louisiana. Brawny and charismatic, he appeared in documentaries—even acted in Hollywood for a few years—then became an advocate, writing articles, speaking to students and appearing with U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to promote a bill to fund awareness of opioids' danger to athletes. If you were looking to put someone in front of cameras, Hatch was a natural choice.
By 11, the conference room had filled with 250 business figures, media members, past clients and politicians. Spofford waited, anxious and excited. Then, a little before noon, a White House staffer motioned him to the back. "There's been a situation," the man said. Pence's plane never took off. It wasn't going to. "We're going to walk out on stage," Spofford recalls the man telling him, "you're going to thank everybody for coming, introduce me, and I'm going to shut this thing down." And so he did.
Guests and staff speculated. A security threat? Russia? North Korea? A day later, the mystery deepened. "There was a very interesting problem that they had in New Hampshire," President Trump told reporters. "I won't go into what the problem was, but you'll see in about a week or two."
Spofford alternated between concern—was it something they'd done?—and disappointment. Eventually, though, he moved on. Until, that is, three weeks later, when, on the morning of July 22, a distraught Hatch motioned him into his office.
At this point the two men had known each other for a decade. They had vacationed together, celebrated each other's sobriety at AA meetings and spent long nights playing Ping-Pong and drinking Diet Coke. Spofford felt that he knew Hatch, or at least as well as anyone did.
"We have to talk some real s---," Hatch said. And then he began telling a crazy story—about drugs and cops and federal agents and a secret he'd kept for two years. When Hatch finished, Spofford hugged him and told him to go home. A couple of hours later, Spofford called his friend and fired him.
II. THE LINEMAN
Hope Hatch's son stood out from the start. Jeff came into the world big in 1979, at eight pounds, six ounces, and 24 inches. By kindergarten he towered over his classmates, and a youth basketball coach was recruiting him.
The height came from Hope. She was 6 feet; she had played center for a small women's college. Jeff's brawn came from his dad Paul, a one-time linebacker at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute. High-school sweethearts in North Scituate, R.I., each had served during Vietnam—Paul in the Army, Hope as a nurse at Walter Reed. They settled in the upper-middle-class suburbs north of Annapolis, Md., where Paul got a good job in computer science.
As the Hatches tell it, theirs was a 1980s idyll of American life: Saturday-night pizza parties, church and Redskins games on Sundays. Jen, their elder child, rode horses. Jeff was a Boy Scout, artist and athlete, though not in that order. His friends included Mark Teixeira, the future Yankees first baseman, and Gavin Floyd, who would pitch for the White Sox. Every sport Jeff tried came easy. Tall, springy and long-limbed, he excelled at tennis and swimming. Basketball was his first love, though. By his sophomore year, he was 6'4" and dunking.
That summer he transferred to Severn, a nearby private school with a strong sports program. The football coach, John Beckman, soon sought him out. Jeff said he'd consider playing, but only if his mom signed off.
Hope had a no-football policy. She knew the dangers of the game all too well. Paul had hurt his back at RPI, ending his playing days. The injury lingered and, by his late 30s he suffered numbness in his feet, requiring spinal-fusion surgery. He never fully recovered. (By 42 he could no longer work. A lifetime of disability, prescription painkillers, and bouts of depression followed, but Paul remained active in family life. "He will always be my hero," Jeff would later say.)
Beckman proved persistent, though, and Hope relented. Jeff took to the game immediately. Few defensive linemen are big, strong and fast, but Hatch was all three, and he played with fire and joy. He was a sharp student too, with A's and B's, and a spot on the debate team. Colleges called. Good ones: Army, Navy, Brown. He chose Penn.
Doors opened, and not just in football. Jeff had started drinking as a high school freshman, invited to varsity parties. The alcohol filled a hole inside him, he'd later say in speeches. He'd been sensitive and awkward at times as a boy, despite his gregarious nature, and downing beers cured his feeling of not belonging. Now, away from home at Penn, he let loose: booze, weed, blackouts, moments of violence. Soon enough, he was selling a one-pound brick of weed out of his refrigerator.
Not that it affected his play. After switching to offensive tackle before his junior year, Hatch became a starter and an immediate force. In 2001, his senior year, Penn made the Top 25 and Hatch received an invite to the Blue-Gray Game, a predraft showcase, where he caught the eye of scouts. The Baltimore Sun described him as "a fist-pumping, headline-craving, limelight-loving offensive tackle from the usually staid Ivy League." Hatch signed with an agent, Alan Herman.
Life spread out before him. He was a soon-to-be Penn grad with a degree in political science, philosophy and economics. He was, he later told audiences, dating a former Miss Maryland. If his back ached at times, he assumed that was just par for the course. Besides, the media loved him. On draft night in 2002, an ESPN camera crew descended on the Hatch home, filming him for a special called "Hey Rookie, Welcome to the NFL." With the 78th pick, two rounds after taking tight end Jeremy Shockey, New York selected Hatch. He joined a team of big personalities: Shockey, Michael Strahan, David Diehl, Tiki Barber. "The one thing I like about him is he's mean," Marv Sunderland, the Giants' director of player personnel, told the New York Post.
On Herman's advice, Hatch refused to sign an injury waiver and sat out the first day of rookie minicamp. Only after general manager Ernie Accorsi guaranteed Hatch financial protection in the event of injury did he return, eventually signing a three-year, $1.4 million deal that included a $500,000 signing bonus.
Two weeks later on the second day of training camp, Hatch left the field with what the team called back spasms. Two weeks later, the Giants announced he had a herniated disc and needed surgery. He would miss the entire season.
And that, he'd later say, is when the addiction began, at least in earnest. During recovery, his doctors gave him Percocet, or maybe Vicodin; Hatch couldn't later recall which. The pills took away the pain, quieted both his body and his mind. Soon enough, Hatch found a guy in a strip mall in New Jersey who could get him more. Other times, he doctor-shopped, trading Giants tickets for pills.
Returning in 2003, Hatch struggled to regain his form. The athleticism that had always defined him—"the big guy who moved like a small guy," as New York offensive line coach Jim McNally recalls—no longer existed. He spent much of the season inactive or on the bench. Finally, with the team ravaged by injuries, he started the final four games at right tackle.
They would be the only games of his NFL career. In March 2004, the Giants released him, "admitting to an embarrassing mistake," as the Post put it, calling him "the player yelled at more often than any other" by former coach Jim Fassel. Hatch latched on briefly with the Rams, then the Buccaneers.
Meanwhile, his back worsened. An NFL-affiliated doctor told him he needed spinal fusion, the same surgery that had debilitated his father. So in November 2005, Hatch underwent the procedure. That led to more pills. Alone, he lived in a rented apartment in Tampa, surviving on a cocktail of Soma, Xanax and Oxy. In time his body rebelled. He suffered grand mal seizures from the benzodiazepenes.
Finally, after a call from Jeff, Paul and Hope flew down for a visit, and found their son in bad shape, having taken too many pills. They drove him to the ER and then flew with him to Louisiana, where, on Feb. 6, 2006, at the urging of Martha Brown, another NFL-appointed doctor, Hatch entered Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center, in rural Rayville, where Brett Favre had previously sought treatment for his painkiller addiction. (Legend has it that Favre rebuilt the gym while there.) In Hatch's case, he agreed to detox for 14 days. Instead, he stayed for 104.
During that time Jeff made an impression, as he often did, for he had a rare ability to empathize with strangers. Within nine months of sobering up, he took a job at Palmetto as a marketing rep, an uncommonly quick transition, shaking hands at conferences and meeting with therapists. It was then, at a 2010 industry event, that he first met Spofford. The two hit it off and kept in touch, but it would be years before they'd team up.
First, Hatch pursued an acting career. He moved to Venice, Calif., and took classes in the Meisner technique at the Playhouse West. He appeared in commercials, on a show called I'm in the Band and as a stuntman in the comedy flop R.I.P.D. He also co-starred in Brutal, a low-budget MMA movie. More nuanced roles, though, eluded him. He fell back on the stunt work, but old injuries flared, in particular the meniscus he had torn in his right knee years earlier. He became disillusioned, flaky. "It was obvious he had some personal problems to deal with," recalls his movie agent, Shawn Brogan, who says she generally liked Hatch. "We can't represent talent that doesn't show up for auditions."
Out of money and in pain, he drove his Chrysler back home to Maryland in 2013 to get knee-replacement surgery. When Spofford heard his friend's intention, he worried. Recovering addicts fear surgery; one hit of an opioid in the hospital can lead to a backslide. But Hatch assured Spofford he had a plan. He'd keep the drugs in a safe at his parents' house, then flush them once he no longer needed them.
As far as Spofford knew, that was what Hatch did. In the months that followed, the two stayed in touch while Hatch recovered at his parents' house for six months. Finally, Spofford called with an offer. "Enough chasing this acting s---, man. We're getting old. Come work with me." So Hatch moved to a crappy apartment in New Hampshire and, by 2015, took a job in marketing at Granite for $35,000.
At the time, the country was waking up to the severity of the opioid crisis. The aggressive marketing and rampant overprescription of drugs like Purdue Pharma's OxyContin had created addicts from all walks of life: Middle-class kids, moms, athletes like Jeff Hatch. A 2018 study indicated that 26.2% of retired NFL players who had used prescription opioids while playing were still using them and that nearly half of that group was using the pills without a prescription or not as prescribed. And in New Hampshire, where the death toll skyrocketed, it seemed as if everyone knew someone touched by the epidemic.
As Granite grew, expanding from its original facility, so did Hatch's profile. He spoke at health-care facilities, to students and athletes, and he wrote an essay for Yahoo Sports, questioning the NFL's approach to painkillers. In May 2017, he appeared with Shaheen at Portsmouth High School. "I remember getting that bottle of pills, and on that bottle it said you take one to two every four to six hours as needed for pain," he said. "And I . . . realized [if] that amount would cure my physical pain, a few more would kill the emotional pain."
Meanwhile, he and Spofford grew closer, cohosting a podcast and traveling together with their girlfriends. If Spofford noticed warning signs—like how he never met anyone else in Hatch's orbit or that Jeff seemed to disappear on nights and weekends—he'd laugh it off and joke that Jeff had a secret life. At work, the two proved complementary: Spofford was a grinder, while Hatch fed off human interaction. In 2018, Spofford elevated Hatch to chief business development officer.
And now, in July of 2019, here was Hatch, telling Spofford he had pleaded guilty to a drug crime. That he'd relapsed. Not a week or a month before but five years earlier. And that, as a result, he was in a lot of trouble. Trouble that was about to become public.
Politico had it first.
Vice President Mike Pence was one short plane ride away from shaking hands with an alleged interstate drug dealer, the story began. . . . If Pence stepped off the vice presidential aircraft, one of the people he would have seen on the ground was under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration for moving more than $100,000 of fentanyl from Massachusetts to New Hampshire.
Court documents, which, along with the events they described, had been secret because Hatch was a cooperating witness, detailed the alleged chronology: How, on July 25, 2017, local, state and federal agencies investigating a fentanyl supplier in Manchester, N.H., had learned that Hatch had made a call to arrange a drug pickup in Lawrence, Mass., and Hatch, by driving the drugs the 20-plus miles back to his house, had crossed state lines and committed a federal crime, and how, after two years of silence, Hatch had then pleaded guilty the previous Friday in federal court to one count of using a communication device to facilitate the distribution of a controlled substance (fentanyl) and now faced up to four years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
Within hours, politicians rushed to condemn Hatch's duplicity. "Morally abhorrent," said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. "If these reports are true, his cooperation in this investigation better have been sufficient enough to justify such a lenient plea agreement." Shaheen urged the court to "throw the book" at Hatch: "Granite Staters seeking recovery from substance-use disorders put their trust in Mr. Hatch, and it's incredibly disappointing to see how badly that trust was betrayed."
Reporters descended. CNN, NBC, The Washington Post, People. Hatch went silent. Spofford released an initial statement, then laid low, preferring to call employees and business associates to explain. Many had jumped to conclusions: that Granite was selling dope to the clients, then treating them. Getting it on both ends. That Spofford was in on it. All wondered the same two things: Did Spofford know? And, if not, how could he have missed it?
Spofford eventually granted a short interview to Behavioral Healthcare Executive, saying that he was "shocked" and "mortified" but that the treatment industry is a "business of redemption" and that Hatch had "had a relapse and made some really dumb decisions." As for Hatch, he spoke a week later, back in court. "The events around my relapse came to a head in 2017, and I have been sober since then," he said. "At that time, I was told by law enforcement I could not speak about this to anyone in my life. Not a single person in my personal or professional life knew about my relapse until several weeks ago. My employer, my family, those who are close to me knew nothing of this. I will have much more to say when I am able." After that, both men went quiet.
III. THE FALLOUT
Three weeks after Hatch appeared in court, Spofford and I are driving north from the Salem area to the Green Mountain Treatment Center in Effingham.
Outside, the forest streams by. The farther north you get, the more rural New Hampshire becomes. The state's small, isolated communities make it a target for the drug trade. In the 2000s, it was crystal meth and heroin. Then, by the '10s, it was fentanyl, a synthetic opioid produced in Mexico and China and brought into Massachusetts via the U.S. Mail. Since it's cheaper and more easily manufactured than heroin, street dealers began using fentanyl to cut their product or, sometimes, replace it outright. It's not an exact science, though. Mix a batch and divide it up into small baggies, and the ratio in any given dose could vary widely. Take in too much fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin, and you can die. According to the DEA, as little as two milligrams, the size of a few grains of salt, is lethal for most people.
Initially, state politicians deemed it primarily a criminal issue, but that only pushed the problem down the line. Addicts got clean through forced abstinence but then, without treatment, were dumped back onto the streets, only now with a lower tolerance. Jails filled; fatalities increased. Finally, in recent years, a movement has taken root nationally, embraced by progressive police, judges and doctors. The approach: treatment, often medically assisted, therapy and transitional housing, not incarceration. This is where facilities like Granite come in.
With tragedy has come opportunity. More than $35 billion is spent each year on addiction treatment domestically. Residential rehabs often charge private insurers more than $50,000 per month of treatment. Much of the industry is frighteningly unregulated. "Patient brokering"—in which rehabs give kickbacks to third parties for new clients—is rampant, as are conflicts of interest. Evidence-based care can be difficult to find.
Granite aims to stand out in the field, and Green Mountain is its flagship center. We arrive after driving up a hill past apple orchards. It's a bucolic setting; from the main building, you can see Mount Washington and Ossipee Lake.
The morning goal-setting groups are just beginning. In a bright room, three dozen men sit on chairs in a circle, sharing affirmations. Other than a few visible sores, what is striking is how unremarkable they are. They could be anyone: the dad at the soccer game, a coworker, the kids at the Twenty-One Pilots concert, the guys at your gym. At one point the session leader—a recovering addict himself—asks how many of the men are parents and having a hard time dealing with missing their kids. Almost all raise a hand.
Some have been here before. For others, it is part of the conditions of their release. Some were dropped off. Many had trigger moments. "I don't remember the Fourth of July week," one older man says. Humility is a running theme. Spofford talks to clients, sharing tips. These, he says, are his people.
Spofford wishes people could see what he sees. He says this crisis isn't about addiction but something larger: a culture of isolation and a country where prescription meds are doled out in place of empathy; where a company like Purdue, which will declare bankruptcy within a month, has only recently been held accountable for decades of damage. The effects ripple out. He pointed at one of the women, walking into the cafeteria for lunch. "Right now, while she's in here, there's a dad somewhere holding s--- together. Working his job. His kids don't know where their mom is or what she's doing or that she's addicted to Percocet."
That afternoon, on the drive back, we talk about Hatch. Spofford says he remains stumped. He knows all the tells: raspy voice, "pinned" pupils, incessant scratching, a personality shift, "a jammed-out kind of junkie look." He says, "Not once did I look at him and go, 'Is he O.K.? Is he on drugs? Is he f----- up?'"
Spofford was there, earlier in the year, with 60 or 70 people, when Hatch got his 13-year medallion at AA. Spofford thinks back, where he was at each point over the last few years. Theoretically, he should understand addiction and relapse better than anyone. And still, he says, "it's really, really chilling."
By now, he has pieced together a timeline. Best Spofford can figure, Hatch used prescription meds on and off from 2014 until a worse relapse in the summer of '17. He thinks Jeff met a woman who introduced him to straight fentanyl and heroin, and then he got mixed up with her dealer. Here, Hatch compounded his mistakes. "I used heroin in Lawrence, I knew the drug dealers," Spofford says. "I was involved, prior to finding recovery, in street life. What came with that was street smarts. And Jeff does not really have that. Jeff is a UPenn graduate that played in the NFL. He's never been in the hood a day in his life. Never had to.
"He goes down and he picks up the dope and the dealer gives him some for going." Spofford says, grimacing. "With all the respect in the world: How f------ dumb can you be?" After all, relapse is one thing; trafficking is another. "I have to make the assumption that he didn't really understand in that moment that the crime would carry a 20-year sentence if he got arrested."
Spofford can only speculate, though. Spofford says he has spoken to Hatch "three or four times" since his firing. Amends have not been made. "I don't wish bad things for him," Spofford says. But he says, "Three and a half weeks ago, I thought he was my best friend and had 13 years of sobriety, and was an upstanding citizen. So what do I know?"
IV. THE ACCUSED
It's nine the following morning, outside a two-story house on a leafy block in Manchester. A first knock goes unanswered. Same for the doorbell.
Finally, the sound of locks clunking open, followed by a face in the doorway. Jeff Hatch peers out. Behind him, the lights are off. He is wearing a black T-shirt, gym shorts and no shoes. He is huge but fit. His black hair is shorn close to the scalp. He looks like a bouncer getting ready for yoga class. He scans the street. "Next time use the back door," he says. "We have an alarm."
He leads the way to the living room, trailed by a five-month old Great Dane and a three-year-old pointer-lab mix. The mix belongs to his girlfriend, Lauren Grout, whom he met in recovery meetings and began dating in 2017; the Great Dane they bought together when they moved into this rental together late last year. His world is circumscribed these days, he explains, by the conditions of his plea. He says he submits to regular drug tests and meets with a rehab counselor, and without a car, he relies on Grout for rides.
At first, he is nervous. Sips water frequently. Rubs his head, displaying the William Blake cursive tattoo on his arm. He says he knows the deal with our interview, to which he had agreed the night before. "I don't expect you to tell anything but the truth and really, honestly, man, I don't want anything but the truth out there."
We start at the beginning: childhood, the first time he got stoned, as a high school sophomore, when his father invited the cops over for a "roundtable." Hatch relaxes. He leans forward and cracks jokes. Aware of how his appearance strikes others, he calls himself "an ogre" and "a mongoloid." When he agrees, he yells "Amen!" Or "Dude, I get it." More than once, he says, "Look, let's get real." It's easy to see why he was good at his job. It's also easy to see how he could deceive people.
Take the back injury with the Giants. When pressed, he says he kept it from the team. That's why he sat out that day of rookie camp, lest he get injured. But maybe, I posit, he saw it as just doing the smart thing? "I f------ hated that, dude. You know, whether it's the smart thing or not, it wasn't the right thing. It wasn't honest."
As for what's happened the last two years, he wishes he could say more. Already, Hatch says, his lawyer and probation officer think this interview is a terrible idea.
Here's what he can say on the record. First, the relapse. It began with the knee surgery. He flushed the pills. But he says he also began using prescribed timed-release fentanyl patches, which he applied every 72 hours. Only he didn't stop when he was supposed to. And he didn't talk about it with anyone. Instead, he drove back monthly to Maryland to refill the prescription. But he was able to conceal his relapse. As Granite's "road guy," he rarely came to the office. And he was judicious: "I was never spending my whole day under the influence."
But by 2016 and '17, he says, he got in over his head. That's when he says he crossed certain lines—from pills to heroin, from using drugs to moving them. Each incremental step led to another, and he rationalized them as he went along. A courier was the lowest rung of the delivery system, Hatch told himself. He realizes now how this all sounds. "Dude, I f----- up, huge, man, there's no question." He can't explain his decisions. "It's not rational thought," he says. Rather, in the midst of a relapse, "I'm just thinking about staying supplied with what I need to be O.K. inside and . . . that always leads me to make decisions against my internal compass." It is, he says, the kind of messed-up nonlogic only addicts can understand.
In July 2017 authorities arrested a dealer above him in the food chain. "That was an opportunity for me to break away from the whole thing. And I took advantage of that." It didn't work. And so, at some point after that—he must be vague, he says—he became part of the operation, sworn to silence.
Scared straight, he got clean that fall and hasn't used since, he says. He met Lauren; they settled down together. All the while, he says, he lived in fear of the other shoe dropping. "I did not think I was pulling the wool over people's eyes, and I was not walking around proud of what was happening. It was torture. It was f------ hell every day. And I just couldn't wait until the day I could be honest about the relapse."
Why did he stay at Granite knowing what was coming? "They told me not to change anything." Instead, he says, he was told to "keep living your life as you're living it." Why didn't he call in sick on the day of the Pence visit? "I wanted to stay as far away as possible but got pulled in. They needed me."
The rest of the story will come out eventually, he says. "It doesn't make me look better, but it puts context on the whole thing," he says. "I know what I did isn't right, but I'm not evil." In life, he says, "We're all shades of gray."
A little after noon, his probation officer calls. I leave by the back door.
V. THE RECKONING
In Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic, Sam Quinones describes the power of opium, the root of all opioids. "Like a lover," Quinones writes, "no other molecule in nature provided such merciful pain relief, then hooked humans so completely, and punished them so mercilessly for wanting their freedom from it." Quinones then describes morphine's cruel nature—how it creates ever-higher tolerance, then fights like hell to stay in the body. Whereas we turn most drugs into water-soluble glucose, which we can then expel, "Alone in nature, the morphine molecule rebelled. It resisted being turned into glucose and stayed in the body."
In the recovery world, a term exists for the addict's mind-set under the drugs' spell: insane thinking. I heard it again and again during two days at Granite's facilities. From the mom who talked with shame about wondering how fast she could drop off her kids to score. From the schoolteacher who described telling herself one thing every morning and doing the opposite every night. And from Spofford, who told of stealing tools from his father—the man who taught him responsibility—so he could pawn them for heroin. When he finally tied off, Spofford said, he was crying.
Insane thinking is familiar to recovering addicts. It's also hard to hide. Piers Kaniuka used for 20 years before he got sober, got master's degrees in theological studies and counseling psychology, and began helping others. As a counselor, he was the one who first got Spofford to buy in, when he was 19. Today, Kaniuka holds the title of spiritual director at Granite.
In Kaniuka's experience, "the celebrity athlete recovery, it never has much depth. It's always pretty shiny. Pretty Tony Robbinsish." What surprised him about Hatch's relapse was his ability to conceal it. He says, "The thing you have to understand: When I use, I lose all logic. If you could turn using on and off, we wouldn't be addicts." Then again, Kaniuka says, "He was an actor, after all."
In the weeks after my visit I reach out to dozens of people who knew Hatch. Some speak only on background. Others are unaware of what happened. Says Donald Flaherty, the director of Brutal, "Tell him he still has friends out here. We all screw up." Herman, his former NFL agent, says he "couldn't foretell anything that he'd get into this kind of trouble."
Many, though, decline to talk or never respond. His best friend through high school and college, presumably someone who knew him as well as anyone, declines multiple times. Al Bagnoli, his coach at Penn, sends regrets. Beckman, the high school coach, doesn't respond. Sarah Stewart, his boss in marketing at Granite, agrees and then, on the morning of the scheduled interview, begs off, texting, "I clearly know nothing about Jeff . . . this is his story to tell." A Palmetto employee whom Hatch recalls fondly says she doesn't remember him.
His family and girlfriend all say they support him. Lauren, who had her own issues with drugs and alcohol before she got clean and started working at a women's shelter, says she was drawn to Jeff when she met him because he wasn't fake, like a lot of people she meets in the recovery world.
She found out the same morning Spofford did. She says she never wavered. For one, it's not unusual in her world. ("The majority of my friends are felons," she says.) Second, the Jeff she knew was the one who'd been clean; her friends and family loved him. She's stuck by him. As for the future, she says she doesn't dwell on that. "It's about today."
Hope asks you to put yourself in her shoes. By all accounts, she and Paul raised their family with love and support. They are wonderful kids, Hope says. (Jen married a policeman and homeschools their five children on a farm in Virginia. Devout, she runs a horse ministry called Risen Ridge. In a phone interview, Jen says she can't understand what drove Jeff to do what he did but that he is, at heart, a good person.)
Paul and Hope are both 69 and in poor health. She has something called orthostatic hypotension. If she stands up too quickly, she can pass out. On the morning Jeff called to break the news, he made sure his mom was lying down first.
She wants the world to know the Jeff she knows, the son who calls all the time and helps his parents around the house whenever he visits. "He's always been a good kid—well, he's not a kid, he's a man," she says. "He knows he screws up, and if he does, he owns up to it and does what he can to fix it. But he's not a wimp. He'll fight to the finish if he needs to."
Hope says, "He relapsed and now he has to pay the consequence of that. But he has always been a genuinely good human being and his unfortunate incident doesn't change that."
When Hatch and I speak again, on the phone at the end of September, he says he's "one-day-at-a-timing it," attending AA meetings and exercising. Recently, he and Lauren went to a local monastery. It seemed "a beautiful way to live," he says. In the meantime, Hatch says he's looking for a job but having no luck. "I mean, it's tough. Nobody doesn't Google anybody these days." Online, parts of his life remain frozen. You can watch him on Netflix, in a 2015 documentary called Prescription Thugs. His speeches are easily tracked down. His Twitter account includes the tagline: "Living passionately and trying to put others before myself."
He turned 40 recently. At points in his life, like all addicts, he has lied, hurt people and cheated himself. He helped put a lot of fentanyl on the streets, a drug that kills people. In the arc of his life, though, it's likely—if not probable—that he has helped more than he has hurt. He can pull up messages and texts from those whose lives he bettered. No doubt his speeches resonated; he possesses the gift of genuine connection.
What sets Hatch apart are not his actions—they are not that rare in the world of addiction, which is replete with relapse—but their resonance. The 467 people who died in New Hampshire in 2017; how many of their stories are told? How many become anything other than a statistic?
For better or worse, Hatch had a platform and a voice. As Spofford puts it, "If he doesn't play in the NFL, if Pence doesn't [plan to] visit, we're not talking right now." But Hatch did, and Pence did, and now we're here, wading through the repercussions. With his deceit, Hatch further eroded trust in an industry already short on it. He caused men like Kaniuka and Spofford to wrestle with the same feelings and negative assumptions about addicts they have long strived to banish from society. He added his name to a list of football players unable to kick the painkillers they once thought were just part of the job. And he became a cautionary tale about second chances, maybe a made-for-TV movie—one where some actor portrays the man who always dreamed of such a meaty role.
But what about Hatch, the guy with two dogs and a girlfriend and an uncertain future? On Nov. 6, in a federal courtroom in Concord, a judge will hand down a sentence: maybe a year, maybe two, maybe none. To the outside world, the story may end there. But Jeff Hatch will still have half his life ahead of him. And, like all addicts, he will awake each morning faced with a choice. To use that day or not to use. To move forward or look back. To be the man he sees himself as, or the man he was.