Football Hall of Fame Series: Charles Haley

By Josh Svetz

The game of football has had many polarizing figures in its history. However, sometimes the off-field reputation of a player can outweigh his greatness on the field, and former San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys great Charles Haley is the epitome of that

For thirteen seasons, Haley was a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. He was a five-time Super Bowl champion (the only player ever to win five) and a five-time Pro Bowl selection. He finished his career with over 100 sacks and 26 forced fumbles.

However, Haley’s on field achievements have been severely outweighed by stories of his locker room and off field behavior during his career.

Just a few highlights of Haley’s alleged bizarre behavior are the time he urinated on a teammates’ BMW, attempted to punch 49ers coach George Seifert and made lewd gestures during team meetings.

Of course, his past behavior can be explained by his diagnosis of bipolar disorder among other mental issues. Despite his challenges, through therapy and medication, Haley has been able to manage his mental state, becoming a genuinely changed man in the process.

Haley understands his past mistakes and hasn’t been shy about owning up to his baggage when asked about the occurrences, especially with the 49ers, who traded him to the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 as a result of his behavior.

“There was a ton of bad blood from my stand point,” said Haley. “When I left (the 49ers) I didn’t talk to anybody there. I was just mad at the world and (at the time) I never looked at my side of the fence. I just pointed the finger at everyone who I felt like betrayed me.”

Since then, however, Haley has made amends with the 49ers, repairing his relationship with the organization enough to be able to work with players like Aldon Smith and be invited to talk to rookies during rookie minicamp.

Even with the relationship repaired, Haley couldn’t figure out why the 49ers were able to forgive him.

“(The organization) has opened their arms up to me, and I know some of my (past) actions and behavior would seem like it would close a lot of doors. I stopped asking myself why, I just started saying ‘thank you god for having all these people around me that care about me’,” said Haley.

“I tell kids that when I went to the NFL as a twenty-two year old athlete I had an eleven year old kid crying inside of me for help, but I refused to ask for it. I think the people that reached out to me were the people that saw me hurting and knew that I needed help, but knew I was too dumb or weak to ask for it.

“Regardless of why they did it, I’m very appreciative. I realize at this stage in my life that it’s better to mend bridges than burn them down, and all those people that helped me in my career, all I can tell them is thank you and I love you.”

Despite the people that helped Haley and the bridges he’s mended, he still recognizes that some of his former teammates and coaches have not forgiven him for his past indiscretions.

“I just let people watch the way I am now and try to be a friend”, said Haley.

“How many times can you tell someone that you’re sorry? The thing that people want to know is that you have changed and that’s what’s more important is that I have changed.”

Haley began to get a little emotional as he continued to explain his thoughts.

“I tell my (former) teammates, I tell everyone that ‘you know what, I’m not going to have one foot in the grave and one foot out,” he said. “I’m moving forward. (If) you want to move with me that’s fine; I’m just not going to turn around and let my mistakes get behind me and come back up.

“I’ve moved past that, when my teammates or whoever come around they know that I’ll go out of my way to be supportive in all the things that they do. If they don’t know they should know, (because) actions speak louder than words.”

Haley has indeed let those actions speak, as he has been involved with numerous charities and become a mentor to aspiring football players as well as current players like the aforementioned Smith. Haley reached out to Smith when the 25-year-old linebacker entered rehab, and has since helped him with his off field struggles.

In the end, despite the hurtful behavior Haley displayed during his early years in the NFL, he has made amends and moved forward. His story shows us that people can change for the better even if they make the bad decisions he did.

While Haley’s past reputation will always be mentioned, his present actions show that those shouldn’t represent him. His enshrinement into Canton will allow his legacy to be defined by his impact on the football field and the man he is today.

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