Eddie Becker explores the tragedy of former Buffalo Bills Linebacker, Darryl Talley
The true tragedy is that the game he loves, the game that he sacrificed his body to for 12 years no longer seems to love him back.
The lasting image I have of Darryl Talley is one pictured on the front of a 1992 Fleer Ultra trading card.
It shows the Bills’ linebacker charging full force at then L.A. Raiders’ quarterback Jay Schroeder. Arms flung high to swat the ball, the image shows a Talley many Bills’ fans and NFL connoisseurs had expected each week: a defender hell bent on disrupting plays and planting quarterbacks.
That picture was from the 1991 season, the best of Darryl Talley’s illustrious career. He totaled four sacks, five interceptions, and four forced fumbles that season while amassing 117 tackles. He made his second consecutive Pro-Bowl, and went on to be a key player in Buffalo’s four year reign as the elite team in the AFC.
These days, however, Talley isn’t the intimidating presence quarterbacks feared for years. His body is essentially broken, forcing him to sit or stand no more than minutes at a time before switching positions. The back pain subsides only temporarily for sleep, and even worse his mind is slowly slipping away.
On top of that, he’s broke.
The Buffalo News recently published a story on Talley entitled Broke and Broken. The sub-heading reads:
“Super Bowl-era Bills are like superheroes to the fans, but Darryl Talley’s story is devastatingly real. At 54, his life is in tatters – his body wrecked and mind deteriorating, with no relief in sight.”
The story of Darryl Talley – not the fearsome defender of the early 1990s, but the man he is today – sheds even more light onto a slowly rolling snowball of a problem the NFL faces in its treatment of retired players.
Just last year, the NFL agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by more than 4,500 former players that they were uninformed of links between playing football and severe brain injury. Several players declined the settlement however, noting that it simply did not go far enough to help. They’re probably right. The $675 million settlement appears to cover each player named with roughly $150,000, which doesn’t go very far in terms of consistent medical care for chronic back and neck pain, brain and head trauma care, and disability income for players who are not able to work and provide for their family.
Then Time Magazine published a story in September with figures showing about 3 in 10 NFL players will develop Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia when their playing days are gone. This is about double what the general public can expect. Facts like that are the reason star athletes like Lebron James have no qualms coming out and stating they won’t allow their kids to play football.
It’s not that people don’t love the game. It’s that they’re becoming more and more aware of the impact the game can have. Pop Warner football (basically little league football) has noted a near 10 percent decline in participation in recent years, a sign that parents are becoming more and more cautious of allowing their young ones to play such a violent sport. Pop Warner advocates are quick to note that other sports can be dangerous as well for head injuries such as skateboarding and cycling. The difference is the intent of those sports is not to physically collide numerous times in a few hours with another person. The difference is the aggressive nature of football, something not present in many other sports.
Daryl Talley’s story is relevant to us as men, and especially as fathers.
In a culture that loves football, that sends millions strolling to local fields and arenas each fall, we’re at a point now where the game many of us love needs to be questioned. As a football fan on every level (high school, college, and NFL), I can’t imagine the world of sports without the game. But as passionate as we are about football, we likewise have to share that same passion for the health and safety of the game’s players.
Talley occasionally used to wear a skin tight Spiderman suit under his uniform. This let everyone know that #56 stood tall as a type of defensive super hero. His over 1100 tackles and 38.5 sacks prove that he was just that.
But that was then.
Now the intimidating super hero is a mere shell of himself. And the tragedy of Daryl Talley isn’t just that his body and mind are betraying him at every turn. The true tragedy is that the game he loves, the game that he sacrificed his body to for 12 years no longer seems to love him back. His family loves him. Buffalo Bills’ fans still love him.
The game of football, however, does not.
Photo Credit: The Associated Press/Seth Wenig
For more Good Men Project Sports coverage of the recent concussion-related issues coming out of the NFL and youth sports, check out:
Reforming the Game: a Psychiatrist’s Call to Tackle Football’s Risks (November 28, 2014)
Ex-NFL Player Talks Brain Trauma, Greed and Blame: Part II (November 18, 2014)
Ex-NFL Player Talks Brain Trauma, Greed and Blame: Part 1 (November 17, 2014)
Is the NFL’s Culture of Violence Causing a Crisis of American Masculinity? (November 10, 2014)
Athletes’ ‘Killer Instinct’ – In Words. In Pictures. And In Your Face (November 5, 2014)
High School Football Deaths Stir Memories of Ugly Youth Football Moments (October 10, 2014)
The NFL’s Concussion Problem Just Got A Lot Worse (Sept. 30, 2014)
Roger S. Goodell, Will You Please Go Now? (Sept. 22, 2014)
The National Football League: Too Big To Fail? (Sept. 13, 2014)