An elite pass rusher who was in the prime of his career, Charles Haley was traded from the San Francisco 49ers to an NFC rival, the Dallas Cowboys. Why would they make such a trade? The 49ers did so because Haley had become so difficult for teammates and coaches alike. It turns out that he acted this way because he had bipolar disorder. Haley, the only NFL player who earned five Super Bowl rings, documents what it was like suffering from that condition and how he overcame it in Fear No Evil: Tackling Quarterbacks and Demons on My Way to the Hall of Fame.
There are a lot of folks who seem to think they know who I am. Not only the football player I was, but also the man. That's interesting because for the majority of my career, I didn't know who I was. And to be honest, that's been a daily struggle all my life.
There are good days and bad, like most of us, I'm guessing. It's been better since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003. Well, to be honest, a lot of folks had me diagnosed long before then, but that was when I finally accepted the reality of my situation, and I've been taking my medication since.
There are still ups and downs, and when I'm down, that can be pretty tough. It seems like it's mostly at night, when I'm alone and feeling worthless. I've been in those real, real dark places where I thought about killing myself. I had something I could be really good at with football, but then when that's gone, it's hard to find yourself. So I went to those terribly dark places in my mind. What kept me from killing myself is that I realized I couldn't have a relationship with Jesus Christ if I committed suicide. That always brought my head up.
I go to a psychiatrist and a counselor now. I sit down and I'm open and honest. Holding it in, that's what I did my whole life. I internalized everything somebody said, everything somebody did, and then guess what? I couldn't let it go.
I always sensed that somebody was going to attack me, so I attacked first. One of the best moments of my life -- this was five years ago or so -- I was talking to Emmitt Smith, the all-time leading rusher in NFL history and my former teammate with the Dallas Cowboys. He said something and I just started to attack him. And he says, "Charles, you won't let anyone be your friend."
I walked away and I thought about that. He was right. When I got around guys, I might say one, two things, and then -- boom -- the pit bull came out. I appreciated Emmitt helping me understand what I was doing. I'm sure a lot of my former teammates wish I had figured that out about 20 years earlier. The worst part of being bipolar is that I've scared my family, my ex-wife Karen, and my four kids because of the hopelessness and worthlessness that I felt. Even though I've done so many great things, I couldn't see it, and that's when I knew that something was wrong.
You know, a lot of people have depression and don't have an outlet. Playing football, watching film, just being around my teammates -- even if I didn't feel like talking with them that particular day -- that was my outlet. There were days I would wake up and just want to stay there in my bed or on the couch watching cartoons and pretend the world didn't exist. That's how depression works. During the season, however, at least I had football. That would get me up and dressed and out the door. Without football, there's no telling where my life would have ended up.
Nowadays, when I start feeling depressed, I go to Starbucks, open the doors, and I buy somebody something. I try and reach out to people who know me, and we get into a conversation. They start talking about their kids, their family, and now I'm not thinking about my past or how I'm feeling. I'm thinking about how somebody else is feeling, so it takes me out of my own world.
It's tragic that the human mind can work that way. I mean, look, no one needs to tell me how fortunate I have been after coming from a childhood without indoor plumbing in Gladys, Virginia. And it's all because of football, a game I loved playing more than words can explain.
It's still hard for me to grasp the significance of me winning five Super Bowls. You hear all of this stuff about how we were only an offensive team; those teams were only winners because of the offense.
Well, on all my teams that won the Super Bowl, we were a top three defense each time. My first four years in Dallas, we were first in total defense twice and allowed the second fewest points in the conference in three of the four seasons.
It's been 20 years since I won my fifth ring. And I'm still the only player to do it. I knew going into that Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers that no one had won five because my former San Francisco 49ers teammate and good friend Ronnie Lott called me the morning of the game and told me there were a bunch of guys with four but none with five. I laughed and told him that if we did win, and I thought we would, that I was going to put all five rings on and pop him upside the head. So I got to do that, which was fun. It was more a love tap, though I do love Ronnie.
Tom Brady seems to have the best chance to match my five. Regardless of if he does, I'm the first one to do so, and they can never take that away from me And you know what, for me to stay relevant, maybe someone else needs to get there, to win five. If that happens, I'm not going to take anything away from that player. They will have all my respect and admiration because, if you can get to that house five times and win it, I know you deserve the honor and praise.
Heck, I want someone to break it someday and win six It will be even more exciting if it happens soon while I'm able to enjoy it -- and hopefully enjoy it with them, maybe talk about it, and tell some stories. That's going to be a pretty exclusive club. It's been lonely these last 20 years. It's no fun being on the mountaintop by yourself. You need someone to compare journeys with, see what they sacrificed to reach the top.
I have regrets, a whole bunch of regrets, about the way I treated my teammates, my coaches, my family, and people in general during my playing career, but as far as winning, as far as maximizing my team's opportunity for success, I have zero. But it required a lot of sacrifice. I sacrificed my back, my knees. I've been parking in handicapped spaces for almost 10 years now. It takes me a while to get around, and I just turned 52 this past January. I'm not exactly an old man, but let me tell you, my body is old. We won Super Bowls and we made the fans happy I mean, when it comes to playing in the NFL, that's Mount Olympus, where the football gods reside. That's why we all play, so I'm okay with how it all turned out, and I’m paying the price with my body every waking hour.
I was willing to sacrifice it all -- physically and mentally. Again, though, I have no regrets about how I pushed my teammates in terms of being better football players, in terms of caring more about winning because you know what? At the end of the day, when I walk in a room, people know I'm a winner. When a lot of other guys walk in a room, they could play 13 years, make a lot of money, but people won't know who the hell they are.
People want to be around winners. They want to be around people who know how to sacrifice. I go do a lot of charity work, autograph shows, football clinics, speeches, and people want to know about success. If they want to know about failure, there's a whole bunch of people, ex-football players included, they can ask that about stuff.
I've never been really great at expressing myself, well, at least my inner feelings. I can tell a joke. I was the class clown growing up, and that continued into the locker rooms of my high school, college and pro teams. There are a lot of stories about me out there. Some are true, some are ridiculously exaggerated, and others are simply fiction.
There's a quote I really like, from the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis: "Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality." Deep stuff, huh? You weren't expecting that from ol' Charles were you? That's my goal with this book -- at least one of them. To change the eyes with which the world sees Charles Haley. I'm also hopeful that through my journey -- with bipolar disorder and depression and where I am today -- that maybe my story can help someone else.
-- Excerpted by permission from Fear No Evil: Tackling Quarterbacks and Demons on My Way to the Hall of Fame by Charles Haley With Jeff Sullivan. Copyright (c) 2016. Published by Triumph Books. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Charles Haley on Twitter @CharlesHaleyHoF. Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter @SullyBaldHead. Read foreword by Ronnie Lott.