Most sports enthusiasts have heard the inspirational story of former college and professional basketball player Chris Herren thanks to ESPN's highly acclaimed film Unguarded.
Unguarded captured Herren's story of his drug addiction through his playing career at Boston College, Fresno State, and the Boston Celtics, and documented his resurgence to sobriety.
Herren was back in the TIMES NEWS area for the third time in the last two years, this time talking to people at Marian High School. The event was sponsored by the Mauch Chunk Pharmacy and was free to the general public.
Herren may no longer dazzle hoop fans with his deadly jumper or his uncanny hops; instead he talks to over a 100,000 kids a year about the importance of sobriety.
Herren's message is spread through his speaking engagements, where he tells his powerful story, and also by his foundation called Project Purple. Project Purple is an organization headed by Herren, that's mission is to prevent substance abuse. Project Purple also financially helps individuals who want to seek treatment for their addiction, but cannot afford it.
"I started project purple first and foremost as an athlete that wore a color, like when I used to wear pink to support breast cancer," said Herren. "The color purple came from a school I was talking at. A student in the front row announced that she was a sober student and she was wearing a purple shirt and the whole school laughed at her. I took offense to that and I said from that day forward I'm on the purple squad. That's how I came up with the idea for Project Purple."
Herren spends 15-20 days a month on the road talking to students about substance abuse. His accomplishments in the game of basketball have opened a door for him that relates well to younger people, especially those who are interested in sports.
"Basketball has really opened the door for me and I'm grateful for that," said Herren. "I mean I only played in the NBA briefly, basically for a cup of coffee, but it gives me a little more creditability with the kids. It gives me a little edge over the next guy and it makes them sit up in their seat a little bit."
Watching Herren speak to a crowd is truly a remarkable site. His story, although very vivid, seems to capture the attention of everyone in attendance. That's something Herren strives for because he believes that the lack of a sober culture, especially among teenagers, is definitely something that needs to change.
"Last year I spoke to 150,000 kids and there is a need for a sober culture within our school system," said Herren. "Some of these kids think that the only way to have fun is to get high and drunk and that's a shame. We have curriculums that we give schools and one day in January we had over 100,000 kids wear purple to school in support of sobriety. We've had major support from Alabama football, Illinois basketball, and many other college teams. It's our goal to try and help create that sober culture among teenagers."
With support growing for Herren's message, he believes big things are on the horizon for Project Purple.
"The more support we get the better," said Herren. "Ann Marie Paluck and her family have been great in this area and I think on a national scale things can get even bigger. I think in five years we could have millions of kids wearing purple. I think you could see high school, college, and pro teams wearing purple at some point during their seasons. It just comes down to educating these kids and making them aware of how dangerous substance abuse can be. It's tough out there for a lot of these kids and Project Purple is here to help them."