Charles Haley and Kenny Rogers Go Hunting For Redemption
I had the audacity to write the truth about Charles Haley. And this was my castigation.
Between 1992 and 1994, I made a lot of visits to the Cowboys' locker room at Valley Ranch. On most of them, I was serenaded by Charles Haley, one of the baddest people and best players in franchise history:
The 49ers had traded Haley to Dallas, and he'd heard what I wrote about his antics in San Francsco: The time he grabbed his cock and shook the thing at a female reporter. The time he peed on the wood floor in the office of 49ers president Carmen Policy. The time he attempted to strangle head coach George Seifert during a film session.
The Cowboys were getting a fantastic player, an All-Pro. He was the missing link to the Cowboys' quest for a Super Bowl. With Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin, Dallas had the offense to win, but it needed a game-changer on the other side of the ball.
He was a beast on the field. His pass-rush pressure from the right defensive end—now known by Sandra Bullock fans everywhere as the "blind side"—helped the Cowboys to three Super Bowls. No denying his positive impact on Dallas' defense. No arguing that he shouldn't be in the Pro Football of Fame with his 100 sacks and his record five rings.
"Without Charles Haley," Aikman has said repeatedly, "I don't know if we ever get over that hump."
But he was the same beast off the field. One of the biggest assholes to ever pollute our local sports, Haley had a malicious side with the potential to wreck a locker room otherwise headed for championships.
At the peak of his apparent hatred, Haley once interrupted my interview with quarterback Troy Aikman by firing rolls of athletic tape at me. "Stop writing about me, motherfucker!" he screamed. "Don't you even write my name!"
Me (ducking): "You have any control over him?"
Aikman (leaving): "Yeah, right. Good luck."
Like he somehow did with almost every media member of that era, Haley eventually reached a cease-fire. I wrote about his splendid play on the field and we avoided each other off of it. When teammates hung a bunch of bananas in his locker—because he was, well, bananas—I didn't make too big a deal of it.
Years later, I'm glad I didn't. Turns out Haley was diagnosed as bipolar. He didn't take too well to the initial findings. Upon seeing his wife, Karen, reading a medical journal and reciting the symptoms, he simply yanked the book out of her hands—and tore it in half.
A couple people told me recently Haley is a new, medicated man. Nice. Remorseful even. It's not an official 12-step program, where he has to apologize to those he wronged, but he's taking that step anyway.
"You know, Chuck, you used to always call me Richie Shit," I told Haley last week at Duke's Roadhouse in Plano, where we met before his appearance on 105.3 The Fan.
"Well, sometimes you were full of shit, weren't you?" Haley said. "And don't call me Chuck. I've always been Charles. Always will be Charles. Not Chuck."
This time Haley was smiling, not scowling. And this time he was slapping me on the back instead of slapping a bull's-eye on my chest.
"I hurt a lot of people back then," Haley said. "There's a road of destruction behind me, in my past. But I can't change what I did. I can only be a different Charles. A better Charles. That's what I want people like you to see."
The bipolar disorder prompted wild mood swings by Haley during his playing days, and may have even aided his career by providing an irrational edge in his approach and on-field disposition. But it also helped cost his marriage to Karen after 19 years.
"Being bipolar didn't help," Haley joked, "but I think my cheating probably had more to do with it."
It is a different Charles these days. After four back surgeries and countless injuries, the 45-year-old walks with a limp and carries an adjusted attitude.
"I've got to take my meds every day," he said. "Even then, some days I get really depressed."
On his better days, Haley speaks to kids and groups and works with Dallas-based 4R Sports Marketing on his bid to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's a travesty that his stats and stature haven't already shoved him into immortality in Canton, but the media, the guys who helped shape his legacy and who vote for enshrinement, often were Haley's victims. Karma's a bitch, but nothing compared to scorned sportswriters.
"I know I wasn't always perfect, but I just hope I get a fair shake," said Haley, who's been among the final 15—but never the top 10—Hall of Fame candidates in six of his seven years of eligibility. "It'd be a great honor for me to get into the Hall of Fame. It's very important for me."
On August 6, Kenny Rogers will be where Haley wants to be—at the business end of the retribution rainbow.
Like Haley, Rogers' on-field contribution is legendary. Over a 12-year career in Arlington, he was the best left-handed pitcher in Rangers' history. No one has pitched in more Rangers games than Rogers, who is second all-time behind Charlie Hough with 133 wins. His perfect game in 1994 against the California Angels is the only one in team history, and it was the first by an American League left-hander.
His departure from Texas was also, of course, unprecedented. Rogers was agitated by stalled contract negotiations and by leaked rumors that he was milking an injury to miss a start against the first-place Angels. On June 29, 2005, he erupted, violently wrestling a camera away from Fox 4 videographer Larry Rodriguez. Rogers was eventually suspended 13 games, fined $50,000 by Major League Baseball and later reached an out-of-court settlement for Rodriguez's injuries. Texas didn't re-sign him that off-season, and he finished his career with the Detroit Tigers.
"I'm not perfect in any way, shape or form," Rogers said during a conference call earlier this month, after his election as the 14th member of the Rangers' Hall of Fame. "If I had known then what I know now, I would make different choices. I am who I am. I'm an emotional guy. But you live and learn. I never stop learning. Whatever times I've been through that were tough, when I got through them I was better."
On the call, someone asked whether he regretted the manner in which he left the Rangers. "I think anybody would," he said.
I hear Rogers has matured. Mellowed even. He's a changed, better person than when he was here as a player.
Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe the metroplex's recent sports successes have softened me. Or maybe great players just need a little time to prove they aren't horrible humans. Whatever the reason, I think we're ready to forgive Haley and Rogers. Though we'll likely never forget.
After our interview last week, Haley and I didn't exactly hug it out. But we did shake hands.
You keep calling me "Richie Shit" with a smile. And I'll start seriously pushing you for the Hall of Fame.
Haley once interrupted my interview with quarterback Troy Aikman by firing rolls of athletic tape at me. "Stop writing about me motherfucker!"
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