Pulling for Darren Waller
Updated: Sep 25
Darren Waller continues to be one of the NFL's feel good stories. Monday night the Raiders tight end caught 12 pass for 102 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Saints. Count me among the many pulling for him.
Back before Covid-19 shut down everything, the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine assigned me to write a story on Waller. We spent the better part of a morning together. I found him engaging, open, and humble. Remarkable considering the previous direction of his life.
Waller is an addict.
His addiction began at age 15, riffling through the medicine cabinets of friends and family. Still, he managed to graduate from Georgia Tech and get drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. But his addiction grew. The NFL suspended him twice for failing drug tests. Two months into his second suspension (a one-year punishment), he experienced a life-changing moment. Waller parked his car at a Giant grocery store in Maryland and took pills he'd purchased on the street. “They were fake. I was already drinking and stuff, and it hit me. I couldn’t move. I tried to get out of the car, but I knew I was going to throw up everywhere. Cause a scene. Didn’t want to do that. So I closed the door and leaned my seat back. I woke up later and it was night time. I was feeling weird and cold and I just went home.”
Waller turned 25 on September 13, 2017. The following day, he entered a four-day detox center in Boston, followed by a 30-day stint at Borden Cottage’s rehab center in Maine, a facility funded by the NFL.
“When I was using, I thought people that weren’t using were lame,” he says. “I didn’t want to be around them. I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. Then, once you actually get to the other side, you see how wrong you were back then. I thought living an honest life was lame. You never really evaluate what you’re doing at the moment of time.
“It’s like lying to people. Manipulating women. Somehow, it’s cool. Like this is how life is supposed to be lived. You can’t see outside of your very narrow perspective at the time. I was definitely missing out on a lot, and I’m able to see that now.”
Beginnings and endings define every addict’s story. Many don’t end well. Waller's still writing what he hopes will be an uplifting ending.
He's been clean for three years. "I can actually experience things—the good and the bad—not just run from the bad and try to make everything good. Because that just distorts everything. Now I can live on a normal scale and be a human being.”
Waller has created the Darren Waller Foundation. The foundation's mission is "to equip youth to avoid and overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol and support youth and their families during their recovery and treatment journey."
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I enjoyed reading The Spy by Paulo Coelho (published 2017). Mata Hari was a fascinating character. Perhaps I'll now read one of the many biographies written about her.
HBO is showing The Way Back, staring Ben Affleck as a high school basketball coach. Having covered my share of high school basketball games, I found the scenes authentic and believable. Affleck's character is tragic and uplifting. Two thumbs up for this one.
Speaking of high school basketball coaches, one of the best, Jan Bennett, recently died at age 84. Bennett coached high schools in the Tampa Bay area for years, and was a true character. Nothing better than listening to him hold court at the Brandon Beef O Brady's.