Jordan Poyer opens up on sobriety, evolution with Bills


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On the outside, Jordan Poyer had it all. To many, a millionaire athlete that’s among the best at his position in the NFL, playing for one of the league’s most exciting up-and-coming teams surely doesn’t have too much to worry about, right?

But that is exactly the dehumanizing aspect of sports fandom that the 30-year old is trying to change by sharing his story and the journey that he’s been on over the last 15-plus months as a sober man.

On March 13, Jordan Poyer shared to the world via Instagram that he celebrated one year of sobriety. The Buffalo Bills safety opened up with Cover 1 about the struggles he faced with alcoholism throughout his life, the shame of admitting he needed help and the strength and inspiration he now hopes to share with others, thanks to his own personal experiences.


The thought that he might have an issue with alcohol lingered in Poyer’s mind for years before that fateful March 13 date when he realized enough was enough, and it was time to finally call it quits.

“There were many times when I felt like I knew I had a problem,” Poyer told Cover 1. “Probably for years before I really stopped. I remember going out and not being able to just go out with the guys and drink or party socially. I had to go out and just get lit. I would wake up the next day and think, ‘you might have a problem.’ But then a couple days go by, the hangover goes away and it’s just like, ‘I’ll fix it later on.’ Before long, it really caught up to me.”

Those who struggle with alcoholism and addiction know all too well the constant struggle of justifying, explaining away, or minimizing our struggles with substances. It often takes years for someone that struggles with substance abuse to get from the point of truly acknowledging that there’s an issue to actually finding the strength and courage to do something about it.

For Poyer, things finally boiled over in the weeks following Buffalo’s Wild Card loss to the Houston Texans in 2019. He drank every day for the next five weeks and it affected his family.

“I was going through a lot of things off the field – mentally, spiritually – I was just tough to handle. Alcohol was my way to run away from those problems. I drank for all the wrong reasons. I was scared to look my problems in the face head-on. I always just wanted to go around them. I realized I had to fix my shit, like a month before I actually stopped. Leading up to that March 13 date, there were just things happening in life and I really had to take a look in the mirror.”

Poyer attended a few Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where he heard stories from those battling the same demons with alcohol that he did. It was an eye-opening experience for the former Oregon State All-American and he says that he gained a new perspective on his own internal battles.

“During the time I was drinking, it was just like a ‘woe is me’ mentality. Like ‘Why me? Why is all this pressure on me?’ type of attitude, you know? But everybody’s life is hard. I was thinking my life is harder than everybody else,” Poyer said. “I went to these Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and just sat and listened, paid attention. A lot of stories really inspired me and touched my heart and made me realize that my issues were nowhere near as bad as some of these other people that are going through real-life issues. I was just sitting there asking myself, ‘What are you doing?’ It gave me a new perspective. I have people that love me, that truly care about me, I’m doing something I love. Why am I throwing this away over alcohol? It just took a lot of support and some eye opening and that wake up call in my life to continue to stay motivated to not drink.”

“I just wish he had someone to talk to…”

Poyer’s struggles with alcohol weren’t something he ever planned on sharing publicly, but he decided to finally open up following the tragic death of former NFL wide receiver, Vincent Jackson, who passed away alone in a Tampa hotel room in early February at 38-years old.

“About a month before I made that post (about celebrating one year of continuous sobriety), Vincent Jackson passed away and that really touched my heart when I read his story. I don’t want to say that alcohol was the reason he passed, but there certainly was a lot of alcohol-related issues in his life.”

Jackson’s family publicly stated that chronic alcoholism and lingering issues from concussions likely played a substantial role in his death.

Vincent Jackson’s shocking death hit Poyer hard, and he knew that unveiling his own struggles to the public could provide others with the courage to feel comfortable reaching out and asking for help with issues of their own.

“Part of me just wished he had someone to talk to, someone to let him know that he’s not alone. There are a lot of us that struggle with alcohol, with addiction. Everybody sees us as athletes. They only see our successes, they see our Instagram and see the followers, the cars, but they don’t ever see the losses. I just want people to know that I’m not perfect in any sort of way and if I can come out of an addiction like that, than so can you.”

He wasn’t expecting his post to blow up in the way that it did, but now Poyer wants to use his platform to inspire others to be vocal about their problems and to make positive changes in their own lives. He knows firsthand just how difficult it is to take that initial step in asking for help, due to the stigma surrounding mental health – particularly among men.

“I want to continue to push my story out there,” says Poyer. “I want to continue to inspire people and continue to normalize us talking about our problems. I feel we hold our problems inside, and for me, that resulted in me just drinking them away at night. I think we need to normalize reaching out and being like ‘Hey, I have a problem. I need help, can you point me in the right direction?’ Or even just reaching out for someone to talk to. We need to talk more.”

“Being overlooked just doesn’t surprise me anymore.”

Four days after Poyer quit drinking, he signed a two-year extension with the Bills and went on to enjoy the best season of his career. He tallied 124 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, five pass breakups and forced two fumbles as part of a defense that made it all the way to the AFC Championship game.

Despite those incredible numbers, Poyer was a Pro Bowl snub, once again. Furthermore, he was ranked as Pro Football Focus’ No. 15 safety entering 2021. All he can do is laugh, though. After all, Poyer has been an underdog his whole life.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve been overlooked in every category of sports. In high school I was too small to play quarterback in a 4A division at a school with 600 kids, so we weren’t that big,” he said. “Then coming out of high school, Oregon wanted me to walk on. Oregon State offered me as a grey shirt, and it just so happened that a guy happened to fail his classes, so they gave me a Redshirt to come in in the Fall. I balled out in training camp and they took my redshirt from me and I played as a true freshman.”

Poyer played every game for four seasons, being named All Pac-12 and consensus All-American after leading the conference with seven interceptions. But that didn’t get him the recognition he deserved, either. He wasn’t selected until the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.

As for the PFF grades, and not getting the national recognition he deserves, Poyer can only laugh.

“Being overlooked just doesn’t surprise me anymore, it really doesn’t. I tell people it motivates me, gives me fire, but it really doesn’t surprise me because half of these people making these lists don’t know a thing about football. They couldn’t go up on the board and draw a Sail route, a Dino route. They go off what they see on the TV and type some numbers into a computer. I don’t know how everyone else feels about PFF, but they have some questionable, questionable data,” Poyer added, laughing. “Just so questionable. They don’t account for everyone’s specific responsibility on a play. The way they count it, it’s like, not football. I’ll just say PFF needs to go somewhere.”

The 30-year old veteran that fans will see taking the field in 2021 as Buffalo looks to push for a Super Bowl is a vastly different person than the one that joined the team in 2017, though. Poyer was one of the first players signed under Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane to lay the groundwork for their vision with the franchise, and No. 21 can’t help but sit back in awe at the sheer magic of what has transpired in his four-plus seasons with the team.

“I can’t imagine one day when I look back on these five years,” Poyer said with a bright smile. “To really kind of look back – and you really don’t do it a whole lot because you want to live in the moment – but when you really look back and see what has transpired in Buffalo since 2017, it’s crazy. Before coming to Buffalo, you hear about Buffalo and it’s like, ‘I don’t want to go to Buffalo, it’s cold there, I just don’t want to be there’. But when I got here, and you see the type of culture that Sean brought, that Beane brought, and the guys they brought in, the community that’s supporting the team, it’s truly amazing. Just growing with this team, we continue to grow with the group of guys that have been here and the one’s they’re continuing to bring in it’s just a special experience.”

“There’s no egos. There’s no finger pointing”

Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde

(Jamie Germano/ Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Poyer went on to discuss the team’s rare continuity in the secondary, pointing at his running mate, safety Micah Hyde – who also signed with the team in that first 2017 free agency class. Cornerback Tre’Davious White joined the team that season as the first-round draft pick, although Doug Whaley was still technically GM.

“You look at me and Micah, playing together for five years now, I just don’t know how many safeties have done that, played together for five consecutive years. Let alone the fact that in 69 games, I’ve missed one and Micah’s missed two. Then you add Tre’Davious – he’s been here the same amount of years, too.  “You name me one secondary that’s had their core three guys together for five years, I don’t know if you can. Maybe the Legion of Boom.”

“But this experience, it’s definitely something I’ll look back and tell my grandkids about. But we’re not done yet, man. Guys are still hungry, we really still feel that loss in the AFC Championship game. We’re excited for what’s to come.”

Poyer and Hyde were brought in as foundational pieces for what the Bills have today, and neither take their roles as leaders in the locker room lightly. They embody what coach McDermott wants on his roster, both in terms of skill and maturity. Poyer is proud of his teammates and believes in the culture and type of players the team has on defense.

“I just never want to go out of character and Micah’s the same way,” Poyer said of his leadership style. “Just look at our team. There’s no egos, there’s no finger-pointing after a bad play.”

Entering the 2021 NFL season, Poyer is rejuvenated and hungry for success. He’s sober and enjoying life and he believes his body will perform at a much higher level for him thanks to his new lifestyle.

“(My offseason training) looks a lot better now that I’m sober. Usually the offseason is the time to let loose, get rid of the in-season drag, and you just can’t wait to go out and tear it up. But this offseason, being my first full offseason sober, I feel the best that I’ve ever felt. I think as my body continues to take care of itself and thank me for being sober, it’ll keep taking care of me and allow me to play this game until I want to call it quits.”

That 25-year old struggling young man that was reluctant to join the Buffalo Bills back in 2017 has evolved immensely – not just into one of the most talented defensive backs the NFL has to offer – but into a 30-year old man that’s here to look the world in the eye while inspiring others with his courageous journey to sobriety. Everyone knows that he’ll handle his business on the field, but his goals off of it are much, much broader.

“Everyones so caught up in social media, it’s a life that’s not even real. I want to put out real life – things people can see, understand and feel. I just want to continue to be the best version of myself and try to help others to be the best they can be.”

Full Interview