Fort Bragg troops urged to seek help as Herschel Walker shares his own struggles
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: February 21, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Herschel Walker was one of the most well-known football players in the world, a Heisman Trophy winner and three-time All-American at the University of Georgia and two-time Pro Bowler in the National Football League.
But near the end of his 15-year professional career, as Walker steered his Mini Cooper down a Texas highway with a gun at his side, he didn't recognize himself behind the wheel.
Walker, who overcame obesity and a speech impediment to become one of the greatest football players of all time, told a group of Fort Bragg soldiers on Tuesday that he believed he was going to kill a man.
The man, in Walker's eyes, had disrespected him. Hired to deliver a car from Philadelphia to Walker's home in Irving, Texas, the man had missed several deadlines. And delivered the car instead to nearby Arlington.
As Walker angrily drove, voices in his head began to argue.
"People are always disrespecting you," one voice said.
"Your parents didn't raise you like this," said another.
"Yes they did!" came a reply.
"I thought I was losing my mind," Walker recalled. "I thought I was going crazy."
For the rest of the drive, the NFL star prayed. When he reached his destination, the gun stayed in its holster.
But later that day, speaking to the woman who was then his wife, Walker said he told her that something was wrong.
For months, his wife said she had been trying to talk to Walker. He didn't listen. And sometimes, he scared her.
It was a wake-up call, Walker told soldiers at the end of a day spent on Fort Bragg. And it was the first time Walker felt fear since he was in the eighth grade at a small school in Wrightsville, Georgia.
"If you have one year to live you move there," Walker said of his hometown. "Because time goes real slow."
At Pope Theater, Walker shared a story of his life that not many have heard, he said.
"Everyone has heard the glory of Herschel Walker," he said. "But they haven't heard the whole story of Herschel Walker."
It's a story that began with a large boy with a bad stutter. A boy who teachers would make sit in the corner of a classroom. A boy who they said was "special" and who his classmates called "retarded."
"For four years, I never went to recess. I never spoke in class," Walker said.
But on the last day of school in the eighth grade, Walker braved the outdoors. He described himself walking outside like a cat, unsure of his surroundings.
There, a boy whose name Walker still remembers – who Walker admitted to having sought out through social media in recent years – pummeled him.
The man who would become arguably the best college football player of all time went home crying that day.
But that also was the day that Walker decided it was all going to end.
He began a regimen of push-ups and sit-ups. He did chin-ups while hanging from a tree in his backyard.
Each day, Walker sat in front of a mirror and read out loud to himself, determined to defeat the stutter that others picked on him for.
When Walker returned to school the next year for ninth grade, he was the fastest kid in his class. He became the star of the football team, leading the school to a state championship in his senior year. He became his class valedictorian.
At Georgia, he was a three-time finalist for the Heisman before winning the trophy as the nation's best college football player in his junior year. He helped lead the team to a national championship in his freshman year.
From there, Walker played professional football. First in the United States Football League, where he played for the New Jersey Generals – a team then owned by the current president, Donald Trump.
Ivanka and Donald Jr. lived with Walker for a week each summer for five years, he said.
"The intelligence of those two kids is not from Donald Trump," Walker joked, before pointing to himself.
In the NFL once the USFL folded, Walker played for the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants before returning to Dallas to finish his career.
It was there that, after Walker's rage-filled drive down a Texas highway, the star athlete sought help. A large Texas church that Walker declined to name performed an exorcism. He turned away from that church, but found help in another led by evangelist Tony Evans.
Evans urged him to seek medical help to go along with his spiritual healing.
Since the day he was beat up in the eighth grade, Walker said he hadn't felt pain. He hadn't cried since that day on the playground.
Looking back on his journals, Walker said he was disturbed.
"All Herschel Walker ever wrote about was pain, hurting and killing," he said.
Soon, Walker was checked into a behavioral health hospital in California. He was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, and a condition where a person's identity is fragmented into two or more distinct personality states.
Walker said many who have the condition are victims of severe abuse.
Walker didn't know what to think. But he knew that his wife thought that he could kill her one day. And if he was honest with himself, Walker said, he could admit that he thought it might happen, too.
On Fort Bragg, as Walker met with soldiers from the 20th Engineer Brigade and other units, climbed into the back of vehicles used to clear roads of improvised explosive devices and toured the site where heavy equipment is rigged to be dropped from planes, he shared a message of thanks for those who serve their country.
He called them champions – more so than the Dallas Cowboys or the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers could ever hope to be.
"You guys are true heroes," he said. "There's no Superman, Batman or Hulk. There's you."
"God bless you."
Walker spoke at length about his college and NFL careers. He spoke of his deep faith and of playing basketball with President Barack Obama. Of his time on an Olympic bobsled team and his turn as a professional mixed martial arts fighter. Walker said he has one fight left in him before he ends that chapter of his career. And he said that he's still faster than any of today's NFL running backs.
But with his message of thanks, Walker also shared his struggle. He urged troops and their family members to seek out help if needed. Or to urge others to get help they may need.
It's a message he has shared with service members since 2008. Working with Universal Health Services' Patriot Support Program. In more than 150 visits to military installations, Walker has spoken to more than 150,000 troops.
"If you're suffering from anything, don't be ashamed to get help," he said. "There's no shame in asking for help."
"I've been knocked down," Walker added. "I'm not perfect at all... If I'd not gone to get help when I did, Herschel Walker may not be here right now."
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