At Purple Heart ceremony, Herschel Walker tells airmen there's no shame in seeking help
San Antonio Express-News
When he became famous for winning the Heisman Trophy and later earning stardom in the NFL, Herschel Walker had the look of a man on top of the world.
But he carried some heavy baggage on the field, where he rushed for 82 touchdowns and caught 21 touchdown passes, and in time the weight took a toll.
At Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on Wednesday for a Purple Heart ceremony, Walker talked of having multiple personalities, of threatening his wife, playing Russian roulette and, finally, getting help.
“One of the things I want to tell (the airmen) is there is no shame in asking for help,” said Walker, who played for the Dallas Cowboys until a blockbuster 1989 trade that sent him to the Minnesota Vikings for five players and seven draft picks. “If you're struggling or you see a friend or loved one struggling, get them help, don't turn away from them and don't be afraid of them. They're going through something.”
Walker took the stage in a packed auditorium at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center after Tech Sgt. Christopher Barker received a Purple Heart for injuries suffered during a battle in northern Iraq.
Though the firefight took place seven years ago, Barker's injuries linger. He has endured three dozen operations, with one more major surgery yet to go.
Barker, 34, of Fairbanks, Alaska, wouldn't discuss the injuries he suffered in an attack that included small arms and grenades, but walked Wednesday using a cane.
Neither he nor Wilford Hall's commander, Maj. Gen. Byron Hepburn, thought it was odd that an NFL player who'd endured mental-health issues would be the principal speaker at the Purple Heart ceremony.
“He's a Heisman Trophy winner, played for multiple football teams and my favorite (mixed martial arts) fighter, so he's gone on and done a lot of different things,” Barker said.
“What I would say is we often forget that in most of our physical injuries today there is significant mental component. We can't divorce the two,” said Hepburn, who placed the Purple Heart on Barker and posed on stage with the airman, his wife, Trish, and son, Dalton, 3.
“And if you talk to any of our wounded warriors that have physical injuries, a significant part of their journey to wellness is dealing with the emotional and mental-health parts of it,” he said.
Walker said he suffered from “dissociative identity disorder” and wrote about it in his 2008 autobiography. He dealt with it at first by going to church and, after seeing a doctor, checked into a hospital for treatment.
Walker said that as a schoolboy, his teacher put him in a “special” part of the classroom because he stuttered, prompting classmates to call him retarded. He wouldn't go to the schoolyard at recess for four years out of fear that he'd be beaten up.
After one beating, Walker began intensive physical workouts and ultimately led the University of Georgia Bulldogs to a national championship, setting an NCAA freshman rushing record and earning the Heisman during his junior year in 1982.
Walker began playing Russian roulette in the NFL. He didn't do it often, but the pace picked up after he retired. The weapon in his self-described game of choice: A .38-caliber revolver.
He played by himself.
“My thing was in playing Russian roulette is show how tough I really was, just like if you wanted to challenge me today to show me if you were tough, you'd have to get a gun and (put a bullet in the chamber) and spin it,” the soft-spoken, self-effacing Walker recalled.
“And that's the way I always have trained myself, and that's the reason why I think I played Russian roulette,” he continued, “because if you wanted to be able to compete with Herschel Walker, show me how tough you are, because I can show you how tough I am.”