Former Notre Dame TE Anthony Fasano finds second career in addiction treatment

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Anthony Fasano’s life can be laid out in chapters.

Notre Dame was a chapter.

The NFL is a chapter.

The next chapter?

“Next Chapter.”

The 33-year-old tight end, who just wrapped up his 12th season in the NFL in his second stint with the Miami Dolphins, opened an all-male treatment center called “Next Chapter Addiction” in Delray Beach, Fla., in Dec. 2015. At the time of its conception, the 6-foot-4, 258-pound athlete with a business marketing degree from ND had no experience owning, operating and overseeing a small business. It was an unconventional step for a full-time professional athlete.

But Fasano was driven by his family to invest in his future.

“I had a family member hit rock bottom,” said Fasano, who declined to identify the family member to protect their privacy. “No one in the family knew he was into drugs or addicted, and he went missing. It was kind of a family panic situation. We all got nervous and sounded the alarms and looked for him, and seven days later his parents thought the worst.

“But he was able to come home and get out of that low point and seek help, and he ended up coming down to Florida for treatment and worked through it and started a new life for himself.”

That life included Fasano, who happened to play nearby with the Dolphins. It also featured frequent Sunday dinners, and more than a couple questions.

“I would have him down and just pick his brain,” Fasano said. “ ‘What’s going on? What type of place is it? What’s your daily activities?’ and all this other stuff, just learning about it.”

Even then, the Verona, N.J., native had lots to learn.

“I never really understood addiction,” Fasano said. “I had family members that smoked cigarettes and I was just like, ‘If you want to stop, why don’t you just stop?’ I don’t have that personality to relate to that. It really baffled me. I almost thought it was for weak people and it was an excuse for a bad situation.”

With a personal connection to addiction treatment, Fasano turned his focus to improving the situations of others. He hired therapists, an office manager and a business director. He settled on a house — the first of two — to be used as a sober home for his patients in a quiet neighborhood in Delray Beach.

He partnered with a CEO and clinical director, Abe Antine, who implemented a treatment plan for comprehensive, holistic healing.

“Most treatment is very much with a toe in the shallow end,” said Antine, a licensed clinical social worker with a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. “It’s about looking at the symptoms. ‘Oh OK, you’re using. Let’s look at the using. Let’s look at your relapse triggers.’ ‘Oh, so you can’t walk past a grocery store that has alcohol, or you have to stay away from a bar.’ It’s really Band-Aid treatment. They’re not really looking at the core.”

According to Antine, addiction is an answer — though not a very good one.

Through dedicated treatment and counseling at Next Chapter, they aim to identify the questions.

“Let’s say I grew up in a dysfunctional family and there was fighting, or I didn’t get what I needed or I was abused,” Antine explained. “That’s in the past, right? But my relationship to the stress, to the lack of coping skills that that has created, is really what we’re (exploring).

“What we’re trying to do is change that relationship, help them understand where some of this began and then help them see how they’ve used things like addiction or other behaviors — not just substances, but maybe gambling, sex, work, anger — to manage that stress through these unhealthy coping skills, and then help them learn to utilize other tools.”

Thus far — albeit in a limited sample size — Next Chapter is making a difference with its patients.

But not just with its patients.

“I was naïve. I had a pretty fortunate childhood,” Fasano said. “Everybody experiences some down points and traumas, but I had no knowledge of anything like what some of these guys were going through in their childhood and currently. Some of the stories are eye-opening.

“You look at life different and you look at raising your kids different. I became a lot more sympathetic to people that you don’t know. You work with them or you see them every day and you have no idea what they’re dealing with.”

***

Clearly, Fasano is comfortable with competition.

But not when a growing number of treatment facilities in Florida recklessly neglect the rules of the game.

“South Florida is known for being a really shady place for treatment, so it was very tough to go around the country and sell your program and educate people and tell them you’re in Delray Beach, Fla., because there’s such a bad stereotype,” Fasano said. “So that’s one of our biggest hurdles, having interventionists and other therapists refer us patients, considering our location.

“We knew it, and that’s the reason we started it here. But I didn’t really know how bad it was.”

Here’s how bad it is: in a period from Oct. 25, 2016, to Oct. 19, 2017, the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force made 41 arrests on charges of patient brokering and insurance fraud, according to the Palm Beach Post. In the midst of an opioid crisis, treatment facilities are filling up and crooked investors are cashing in.

“I know it’s in every industry, but for some reason people seem to really prey on people in need,” Fasano said. “It’s really disheartening and sickening. It’s like you’re competing against all of these other treatment providers, but you’re not competing on the same field, because they’re willing to bend the rules and break them.”

Next Chapter continues to compete — but not at the added expense of its clients.

“There’s no push from (Fasano) to make decisions that aren’t clinical or ethical,” Antine said. “There’s no push to make profit, profit, profit, which is unfortunately what happens. He got into this for the right reasons.

“I think he had seen what happened to his family member and he was interested in being a part of something after he retired from football that he could be proud of.”

***

Of course, Fasano isn’t retired quite yet.

The former Notre Dame tight end — who caught 90 passes for 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns for the Irish from 2002 to 2005 — has played 12 NFL seasons for four different franchises, piling up 299 career catches and 36 scores.

Fasano is set to become a free agent this offseason. He doesn’t know where he’ll play his next game, or how many games he has left.

His football future is muddled.

His long-term future is anything but.

“I could have just passed on this situation and sat here in the tail end of my career and retire and find something to do and be comfortable,” Fasano said. “But I wanted the risk. I wanted purpose after football.

“Being able to run a business for the long run for my family and also have purpose after football was important to me.”

That family continues to grow. Fasano and his wife, Cary, have a two-year-old daughter and another baby on the way.

Fasano is surrounded by family — and not just when he’s home.

“I always knew he was a really great guy and had a great heart, and it just caught up with him,” Fasano said of the family member that struggled with and ultimately overcame addiction. “But now he works at (Next Chapter) and I talk to him every day. We were always close, but we’ve gotten even closer.”

That family member is one of 25 full-time employees at Next Chapter, barely two years after the facility first opened its doors with 10. The number of beds has expanded from 10 to 18, and another six to eight beds are likely to be added in 2018. There have been discussions about adding a female program in 2019 as well.

In other words, Fasano is completely committed to his second career. Football may be fleeting, but his next chapter is set in stone.

“Addiction has no discrimination,” Fasano said. “It can happen to the wealthiest families, the middle class, poor people, any race, any religion. I opened up my eyes and it changed me, personally, a lot.”

One of two sober homes operated by Next Chapter Addiction in Delray Beach, Fla. (photo courtesy Next Chapter Addiction) 

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame tight end Anthony Fasano opened "Next Chapter Addiction" in Delray Beach, Fla., in Dec. 2015 (photo courtesy Anthony Fasano).