Former NFL player Freddie Stevenson reflected on his turbulent childhood, NFL career, dealing drugs and a new documentary, Trials to Triumph, in his new uInterview.

“Early in my childhood, my father was in and out of prison and it left my mother carrying the weight of a lot of the time,” he told uInterview founder Erik Meers. “Especially the last time he went to prison, we didn’t expect him to get out at all. He went in with 22 felonies, he had charges that were punishable by life,” Stevenson recalled. “My mom was having to raise five kids on her own. Working two to three jobs at a time, with finding ourselves homeless, bouncing around from place to place. Just finding places to lay our head and get some food ultimately. We went into every day not knowing where the meals would come from because money had gotten tight.”

“My mom, she was doing everything she can to try to provide for us and it gets hard,” Stevenson explained before recalling one of the most impactful moments during his childhood. “One day, I believe it was eight in the evening and she takes us to a McDonald’s. My baby sister is crying, and we hadn’t eaten an entire day and we’re getting a little nervous because by this time, we would have eaten something. At least like a piece of bread or something, so we didn’t know where our meal was coming from.”

Stevenson remembered his mother ordering a cheeseburger but because she was short five cents, the cashier refused to give her order.

“And it’s funny, usually with people struggling, you take whatever you can get, but at the same time, you’re a kid,” he said. “You know, kids are greedy that’s how you think when you’re young. Like ‘Man, we usually always get our own piece of bread and it’s five of us sharing one cheeseburger.’ But at the time, we didn’t know my mom only had a dollar to her name. And I remember the total coming up to $1.05 and my mother had to beg for it – a nickel – because the cashier wouldn’t let her get the cheeseburger with just one dollar. So we’re all embarrassed, my mother gets the nickel from somebody who loaned her the nickel.”

“She takes us outside, slicing it up into five pieces and she hands it out to everybody, and we immediately started eating. But we didn’t notice that my mom wasn’t eating, and my older sister notices and she asked her why. And then immediately we all started trying to offer my mom food but she turned it down and she burst into tears and told us to keep eating.”

Stevenson believes this was the moment he realized just how much his family was struggling because until then, it had seemed normal because all the people around them were struggling as well. “But then that day when I saw my mom break down, that’s when I realized how bad things had gotten. And you know, it’s always motivated me, my entire life,” he said.

However, as things were reaching their worst when his mother “didn’t have the money to get diapers and things of that nature,” their father was released from prison on a technicality because they had lost many of his documents. Upon his father’s release from prison, his parents then decided to push Stevenson into a life of sports and encouraged him to start playing football.

“And immediately, I don’t know, like my parents wanted to put me in sports and kind of get us out of our environment so they’re the ones that put me into football, and then early on I realized that I was good but they were the ones that put me in the sports early,” he said.

He went on to play professionally and after a successful collegiate football career at Florida State University, Stevenson was signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears at the age of 27. Unfortunately, his NFL career did not last long and after attempting to bounce around various teams, his football career came to an end, which ultimately made him turn to drugs as a means of making a living.

“I didn’t immediately dive into it after my NFL career ended. I tried out for this developmental league – it was called the Alliance of American Football – kinda trying to get back to the NFL and then that league collapsed. And after that, that’s when I was like ‘Man I’ve dished out all of my money. I don’t have anything left,’ and I was kinda bitter because I knew I had all the skills and everything. And just, you know, being green and new to a lot of the business side of the world, um man I can’t go back to being broke. It’s one thing being broke growing up, but when you’re broke and you’re able to live a good life, travel all over the country, and then you gotta go back to being broke. Like I have no interest in going back to that,” Stevenson explained before adding that it was “out of a place of bitterness and desperation” that he turned towards a life of drug dealing.

“I was moving a lot of marijuana at high levels. From a short period, I went from like $650 in my bank account to over $60,000 in three, four months,” and he believes that had he stayed in that life, he would have been a millionaire.

“That’s how fast I was moving it,” he said. “But I still felt the emptiness inside of me. I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything in the world. A lot of that money was just a bandage for the pain that I was dealing with that I was running from. Every single day I was going not only through distributing all the marijuana but I’m keeping a personal package for myself. Every day just making sure I could smoke as much as I possibly can. Every single day I’m loaded just so I never had to deal with that pain on the inside of me.”

“But at some point I was, I don’t know, throughout some of the pain and struggling, just dealing with some of those obstacles and I got to stop running from this, I got to deal with it,” he added.

Stevenson recalled once working with a man he was introduced to through a mutual friend, and that he “remembered me from sports and said that ‘Man, you shouldn’t be out here’ and it was weird to me at the time” because he was making a huge profit from the transaction but the man was adamant, telling Stevenson that he was “your life out here and you can do so much in the world.”

It was after Stevenson worked with this man further down the line that his disappointment towards him made him realize that “I got to change my life at some point” and “I knew I was wasting my life.” However, it was after getting into a situation with law enforcement that really forced Stevenson out of drug dealing and “allowed me to wake up.”

He also believes it was having a daughter that further motivated him “to go in a different direction” and better himself so that he can provide for her.

This is precisely the message he is trying to give to people reading his memoir or watching Trials to Triumph. Steven explained that within his new documentary, they discuss a lot of mental health struggles because at the end of the day “life is life.”

“I don’t care if you have a $100 million to your name or one dollar. It hits every single one of us. And you get to some dark places where you don’t truly know if you’re going to get out of them. Just seeing throughout this film, no matter what you’re going through, you can come out of it, you can win. That’s one message that we wanted to get across. Like, believe in yourself, never get too low, and believe that no matter what you’re going through, you can come out of it and win. Mental depression, bipolar disorder, broke. All these things, you can come out of it. And we’ve shown that in so many different ways throughout this film. We see success in so many different ways throughout this film. Every person that watches this film is going to be able to pick some piece from it. But if they pick one thing, that would be the thing that I want them to pick from it. No matter what you’re going through, you can come out of that situation, never give up on yourself and continue to believe.”

Reflecting on his life today, Stevenson expressed his gratitude for his fiancée, whom he says is marrying next year and is expecting another daughter with his partner.

“A lot of things on the up and up,” Stevenson said. “My dad, they have their five-year anniversary later this month with the church. So just seeing his transformation in the film… A lot of the people in the film, some of the cast that I know people are going to fall in love with, have made crazy transformations… it’s crazy how fast things have moved. Just looking back at where we were a few years ago… Like I said man, you truly can overcome any situation, and when you’re moving and your purpose is different.”

Looking back on where he is today, Stevenson acknowledges that he “was wasting my life,” but that now he is “impacting lives, potentially saving lives.”

“Just to go back to when I wrote the book, I remember people reaching out to me and telling me that I kept them from taking their life, they were planning on committing suicide before reading my book. Just now knowing that my story, my pain, my struggles, and the stories of others in this film, they will do the same for a lot of people across this world. That’s one thing I’m proud of,” Stevenson concluded.

Trials to Triumph, directed by Dan Ratner, Greg Romano, and Misa Garcia, was released earlier this month and is available to watch on various digital platforms.

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