Our newest magazine featuring Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo on the cover is now available for viewing. This issue includes in-depth features on Baltimore Orioles star Chris Davis, former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jason Avant, and former University of Colorado head coach Bill McCartney and his family. Managing editor Brett Honeycutt writes about Aaron Hernandez in his column “Airing It Out;” staff writer Stephen Copeland writes about Roanoke and Paraguay in his column “Another Angle;” and Bryce Johnson talks with San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colt McCoy in his column “Unpackin’ It.”
As a Heisman trophy winner, as a NFL running back for 12 years and as the second greatest rated college running back ever, he had fame.
As an All-Pro selection that the Dallas Cowboys once traded to Minnesota for five players and six first-round draft picks, he had wealth.
And he had the megawatt smile that said all was right with his world.
But Walker didn’t have what he wanted most – peace.
“I was messed up,” he said. “I was all screwed up.”
No one knew.
The perpetual overachiever who was driven by childhood demons of being a stutterer and overweight—“Everyone picked on me” he says—spent his life proving himself. Then when his NFL days were done in 1997, his release and escape were taken from him.
A couple of years after his last NFL game, Walker, in a burst of anger, intended on shooting a late deliveryman. That’s when he realized he needed help. After seeking that help from a counselor and his pastor, Walker discovered he has dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
“No one ever saw it,” Walker says. “No one knew I had problems.”
Other than his wife, Cindy. She saw his fits of anger. In a rage, he even put a gun to her head. Those outbursts led to their divorce.
“I’ve got personalities that do a lot of things,” Walker says. “I’ve got a guy who was a Heisman Trophy winner inside of me. I’ve got a guy that won a NFL rushing title in me. But I’ve also got a guy who wanted to kill someone. That’s why I needed treatment.”
Cindy told Herschel he’d sometimes get up late at night and pace the floor like he “was some kind of caged lion.”
“I asked her why didn’t she tell me that,” Walker says.
She did. But he wouldn’t remember.
Taking that first step, admitting he needed help, wasn’t easy.
“It was tough,” Walker says. “I was totally confused. You know, I’m Herschel Walker. I’ve won a Heisman Trophy. I’ve won a NFL rushing title. How could I have a problem?”
Finally, Walker now has that elusive peace, a result of his renewed Christian faith. His testimony today is transparent. At a recent talk to soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Walker began with his faith statement.
He was like a telemarketer for Christ.
“First off, I want to say that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior,” Walker said. “He said if I don’t acknowledge Him, He won’t acknowledge me.”
Several times during his 55-minute talk, Walker, the 1982 Heisman winner while at the University of Georgia, said, “I want you to know that Jesus loves you.”
Talking without notes, Walker gave a thumb-nail sketch of his life story, starting with when he was an overweight young boy to his days as an All-American running back for the Georgia Bulldogs to when he played in the NFL. Walker mixed humor with a sense of being an outcast.
“My mom made me feel good because she always called me big boned,” Walker said, then adding with a smile. “Kids at school called me chubby.”
With his stuttering problem, Walker was put in a special education class, increasing the belittling by classmates.
“My teacher put me in the corner and said I was special,” Walker said with a smile. “For four years I didn’t go out for recess. I was smart enough to know that I’d get beat up when I went out for recess.”
When Walker, one of seven children and raised in a Christian home, was in eighth grade, he was determined to change his status at school. He began reading out loud to overcome his stuttering and he started doing hundreds of pushups and situps a day to get fit. His efforts, which he says became obsessive, transformed him into the valedictorian of his high school senior class and the country’s top college football recruit.
“I had this anger in me from the putdowns as a kid,” Walker says. “I never felt I was good enough. This is going to freak you out. I told my mom the reason I started working out was because I wanted to break the necks of the people picking on me. I wanted to hurt them. I also said I didn’t want any teacher putting me down anymore.”
Talking to a room packed with 300 soldiers, Walker didn’t hide behind his trophies, or his accomplishments. He bared his soul, making it easier for the soldiers to ask for help. His point was simple. If a Heisman Trophy winner can ask for help, so can a soldier.
“For every individual out here who might be wrestling with an internal demon or a challenge, Herschel has shown them it’s okay to go get help for it,” said Col. Dr. Dallas Homas, the commander of the Madigan Army Medical Center at JBLM. “Not many of our sports heroes are as giving, as selfless, as Christian as he is. He’s a model for everyone to emulate.”
Walker, who wrote about his mental health issues in his 2008 book, Breaking Free, has shared his message of hope with more than 18,000 troops and has visited 51 military bases in the past five years. Since writing his book, Walker has been the spokesman for The Freedom Care Program, a mental health and addiction treatment program for the military.
Walker shares his revealing story to break down barriers for soldiers needing help.
“One of the things we combat in the military is the stigma that if you’re really strong you don’t have problems,” Homas said. “You certainly don’t reveal those problems to others. Every individual who might be wrestling with an internal demon or a challenge, Herschel has shown them it’s okay to go get help.”
While he filled headlines with his play in the NFL as he rushed for 8,225 yards, Walker painted for these listening soldiers a contrasting picture of a desperate man who was filled with rage and didn’t understand or fear pain. He talked of how he separated his shoulder in a game at the University of Georgia and insisted the trainer pop it in without a sedative. Off the field, Walker took unreasonable risks.
“I was this guy who used to love playing Russian Roulette,” Walker says. “People would say, ‘What do you want to do? Kill yourself?’ I’d say no. It was a game for me. Playing Russian Roulette showed how tough I was. I used to say to my ex-wife that I was going to kill her. Later, she told that me that I had said that, and I didn’t remember it.”
Walker said if he encourages one soldier to get help, then it’s been worth admitting and talking about his mental disorders.
“I tell people that one of the best things that ever happened to Herschel Walker isn’t winning the Heisman Trophy,” Walker says. “It was me going to the hospital. If I hadn’t gone to the hospital, I’d be dead today.”
Walker’s pivotal moment came a couple of years after he left the NFL when he nearly shot a delivery man. Angry about a late delivery, Walker got his hand gun and drove across town, set on killing the man. But as a furious Walker burst out of his car, he saw a bumper sticker on the delivery van. It read “Honk if you love Jesus.” That cooled Walker’s outrage.
“That’s when I realized I needed help,” Walker says.
Fortunately, his psychological hardships have drawn Walker closer to God, not driven him farther away. While the prosperity message is a common theme in sermons today, Walker said there’s no promise Christians won’t face hardships.
“I tell people all of the time just because you’re a Christian you’re not going to get a bed of roses,” Walker says. “You’ve got those thorns, too. Because you’re a Christian it can be very difficult for you. You have a cross to bear. It’s going to be tough.”
Walker, knowing that some of the soldiers he was talking to might have psychological problems stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder, tried to assure them that there was hope.
“We have the DNA of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Walker said. “You’re somebody. We all have problems. I finally saw that.”
This story was published in the Vol. 27, No. 4 issue of Sports Spectrum. Gail Wood is a freelance writer who worked as a sportswriter for newspapers for more than 30 years.
“As a quarterback, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that no one person can win a game by himself,” he recently said.
He certainly relied on members of his own high-profile team during the Cowboys improbable march to the brink of the 2012 NFL playoffs, as week after week players were felled by injuries, on-field mistakes and other issues. Plus, the off-field death of a teammate and the absence of another fellow Cowboy player, who caused his teammate’s death through drunk driving, has put further stress on the team.
Receiving far less attention, but vastly more important, is the number of spiritual teammates Romo has gained in his life as his faith in Jesus Christ has grown and his public witness has magnified over the last couple of years in one of the most high-profile jobs in all of sports.
His current spiritual mentors, assembled from a wide variety of sources, include his current pastor, Matt Chandler of the Village Church outside of Dallas, and David Shivers, the men’s minister at nearby Prestonwood Baptist. They also include his best friend on the Cowboys, tight end Jason Witten, along with his new wife, Candice Crawford, and her parents.
Each one of those people has been instrumental in shaping Romo—not into the more well-known NFL football star, but into the growing, spiritually mature husband and now a new father to his son, Hawkins Crawford Romo.
“It’s just amazing the number of people God has put in your life at different times,” Chandler told Romo as the Dallas quarterback shared his personal spiritual journey at Chandler’s National Catalyst Conference last year.
While Romo, who just finished his sixth year as the Cowboys starting quarterback, has shared his personal spiritual journey at a few North Texas churches, he recently made national headlines when he committed $1 million to Dr. Tony Evans’ Urban Alternative National Church Adopt-a-School Initiative.
It was the largest gift ever for a North Texas professional athlete to a single faith-based program, but Romo said it came as part of his growing spiritual faith, fed and shaped by his mentors.
“I was taking time to pray about it, which is always a good thing, and God put upon my heart that it would be OK to trust Him with a large amount,” Romo explained as his reason for giving the seven-figure gift over three years.
“‘It was like He said, ‘This is God. I got your back. So I said, ‘I believe in You even if I break my leg or go down with a knee.’”
While athlete salaries at the level of Romo are large and publicly known, the end of an athlete’s career can come on a single play, and with it the end of his income and livelihood.
“God said, I got you in my life and that’s all I had to hear,” Romo said. “When Dr. Evans came to my house to discuss the gift, I was ready to give it with an open heart.
“My faith has grown and I found that always having Jesus makes things a lot easier in my life. Having Jesus in your life gives you everlasting peace, which never goes away. It helps you handle the ups and downs of professional football.”
Romo has certainly experienced the roller coaster of professional sports as a unknown backup to seemingly overnight NFL success to playoff quarterback, injured starter, booed star and comeback hero. Now, he’s seeking to fulfill what he calls his greatest role, that of spiritual leader to his wife and son, and Christian example to millions of others who will see his faith-filled life in a public arena.
Romo grew up in the small town of Burlington, Wis., where his parents, Ramiro and Joan, installed Christian values and a regular attendance in the Methodist church.
After starring for his local high school team, Romo attended Eastern Illinois University where he became involved, not with the number of national Christian ministries on campus, but with a small group of spiritual friends who guided and prodded his Christian walk.
Romo said he first asked Christ into his life as a sophomore at Eastern Illinois and then became hungry for God and His Word, thanks to several who became his college friends and his lifetime spiritual teammates.
Despite his college success, including school records and All-America honors, Romo was an undrafted free agent, meaning every NFL team had more than 300 draft picks and not one of them thought he was worth a chance to try and make their team.
Finally, the Cowboys called and said he could come down for a tryout, but Romo didn’t know that his next spiritual mentor was waiting.
“The way it works in the NFL, is that if you’re a free agent they just send you a plane ticket and tell you to be at the hotel at a certain time with all the other free agents to start meetings and tryouts,” Witten recalled.
He arrived in Dallas on an early spring night, alone and not knowing anyone, but as he rode on the rental car bus to pick up his car to drive to the team hotel, he saw Cowboys draft pick tight end Witten sitting at the other end of the bus.
“I was like, ‘Wow, there’s Jason Witten. He’s a draft pick. I wonder if he will talk with me,’” Romo remembered.
But talk they did, each eventually sharing their own spiritual backgrounds and soon becoming best friends on the team where Romo is now the all-time leading touchdown passer in Cowboys history and Witten the all-time leading tight end.
But they also became accountability partners with Witten sharing his incredible spiritual story (profiled in Sports Spectrum in the Fall 2011 issue) sharing rooms on the road and vacations together.
After finally making the team as a third-team quarterback, Romo had very little actual work to do other than practice sparingly when the other quarterbacks were resting during weekly drills and hold a clipboard and earpiece on the sideline during the game.
For a young, single athlete like Romo, that led to a lot of down time and eventually led, in 2004, to Shivers at Prestonwood. A former college basketball player at SMU who once traveled with Athletes in Action, Shivers loved to play lunchtime basketball and Romo found himself a regular in the games.
“As a single guy, especially during the offseason, Tony was looking for things to do and he would come up to the church and play ball with us,” Shivers said. “I had a great opportunity to build a relationship, not just shove the God card down his throat.”
When the two friends would beat each other down on the basketball courts, Shivers would also use the time to beat into his new friend God’s Word and how to walk with the Lord as a young, single Christian.
“It’s been awesome to see what God has done in Tony’s life and worked in his heart,” he added.
The relationship has matured and Shivers is now involved with the Cowboys chaplaincy program. Now the Romos, Shivers and Wittens regularly have dinner together.
As Romo’s NFL career continued to rise, taking over as the Cowboys starter midway through the 2006 Dallas season and enjoying immediate success, he was romantically linked to several high-profile girlfriends, including country singer Carrie Underwood and pop star Jessica Simpson.
The girl who finally captured his heart, and had plenty of spiritual maturity of her own, was a local Dallas girl. Candice Crawford grew up going to church at Prestonwood and attended nearby Trinity Christian Academy before going to the University of Missouri to pursue a journalism degree.
Before coming back to Dallas to work as a local sportscaster, Crawford was named Miss Missouri USA. Crawford said in a pre-marriage interview that discovering Romo’s spiritual side was the key for her.
“Something that was always most important to me was finding someone that had the same beliefs and faith as I did,” Crawford said. “As soon as we had talked about that and shared those types of feelings of our faith, I think that was when it was a definite deal maker.”
In fact, it was Prestonwood’s Shivers who performed the Dallas wedding in May 2011 along with Evans. The joining of two families led to Romo’s newest spiritual teammate.
Crawford’s parents were attending the Village Church in the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound and recommended the newlyweds try out the multi-location, non-denominational church.
That’s where Romo met Chandler, who has taken the former First Baptist Church Highland Village, with 160 members, to the Village church, with 10,000 members in several locations.
Chandler, who is roughly the same age as Romo, has a grounded personal faith and is a testimony to God’s healing power as he frequently speaks of his healing from a brain tumor. They connected over sports and their shared love of God, leading Romo to travel with Chandler to several church conferences to talk about his faith.
“They have become great friends over the years,” said church elder Rik Massengale.
But as he becomes increasingly more public about his personal faith in God, he knows he will become a more divisive figure in the eyes of some. He’s not blind to the very public trial and media bashing of quarterback Tim Tebow, but is determined to lead the way for his family.
“One thing as I grow into a husband is being a spiritual leader of my family, my wife and the people I surround myself with,” Romo said.
“I heard John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach for all those years, once said success is peace of mind. For me, my greatest peace of mind, my greatest success, you might say, is when I walk the spiritual journey, when I’m a spiritual leader to my family and the people I’m around. That’s what I’m striving for, and that’s where I hope to continue to go and grow.”
All part of Romo’s spiritual team, unseen by many, but eternally important to the NFL superstar.
This story was published in the Vol. 27, No. 4 print issue. Art Stricklin is a longtime contributor to Sports Spectrum and the vice president for public relations at Marketplace Chaplains USA in Plano, Texas.
The calmness in Andrew McCutchen’s demeanor mirrors his play on the field. When he plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates, you see a smooth, graceful athlete who easily covers the space in centerfield, has a fluid swing at the plate and runs the bases extremely well. He’s that complete player the Pirates Need in the leadoff position and the reason they selected him 11th overall in the 2005 Major League Baseball draft out of Fort Meade (Fla.) High School.
Signs of his potential were immediate as he began posting numbers that rivaled other successful first-round picks in Pirate history like Barry Bonds. McCutchen’s production during his first Year and a half in the majors was similar to Bonds, taken sixth in the 1985 draft, his first few years. Both were called up partway through the season, so they had roughly the same number of at bats—1,003 for McCutchen and 964 for Bonds.
McCutchen, nicknamed “Cutch,” had 168 runs, 287 hits, 28 homers, 110 RBIs, 124 walks, 55 stolen bases, 172 strikeouts And a .286 batting average. Bonds had 171 runs, 236 hits, 41 homers, 107 RBIs, 119 walks, 68 stolen bases, 190 strikeouts and a .244 batting average. On defense, McCutchen’s numbers (636 putouts, 18 assists and seven errors) were also similar to what Bonds posted (612 putouts, 25 assists and 10 errors).
Cornerstone of Franchise?
Perhaps, just as Bonds served as the cornerstone for rebuilding the franchise from the ashes after losing 98 games his rookie season, McCutchen can serve to help the Pirates make the playoffs after losing 107 games last season.
Like Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke complemented Bonds and helped the Pirates of the 1990’s become one of the best teams in baseball by making three consecutive National League Championship Series, perhaps McCutchen and teammates Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker can do the same.
In McCutchen’s first full pro season in 2006, he was an All-Star in the Class A South Atlantic League. At the end of that season the Pirates named him their Minor League Player of the Year. Three years later, on June 4, 2009, he played his first game for the Pirates and singled in his first at bat.
Despite the late call up by Pittsburgh, he impressed Baseball America enough for the publication to name him Major League Baseball’s Rookie of the Year. He says the moment that has been most special, so far, came on Aug. 25, 2009.
That’s when he had a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth against Philadelphia Phillies relief ace Brad Lidge.
“I guess that’s something every kid thinks about,” McCutchen says. “You’re by yourself, on the field, and it’s the bottom of the ninth. And you hit a walkoff (homer). I enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun with it. Hopefully, if there’s a situation like that again, I’ll be able to come through again.”
Despite batting close to .300 before last year’s All-Star Game and being one of the better base runners in Major League Baseball, he wasn’t named to the National League squad.
Even Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox referred to McCutchen as an All-Star, and Pittsburgh’s All-Star reliever Evan Meek said McCutchen should have made the team.
The reason managers and fellow players think so much of McCutchen is simple—his speed and hitting are hard to ignore. In 2010, he finished fifth in stolen bases in the National League with 33, and he has hit 14 triples the past year and a half.
You learn as you go,” says McCutchen. “That’s what these guys are here for. That’s what these guys teach you. I’ve always been blessed with speed. You learn there’s more to it than speed. I’m continuing to learn every day and I hope to get better.”
(Faith)ful Role Models
The Pirates are one of the youngest teams in the majors, so he doesn’t point to many role models on the team. But he does admit that certain centerfielders inspired him growing up.
“I was a (Ken) Griffey (Jr.) Fan,” McCutchen says. “Then Andruw Jones came along and I liked watching him. The older I got, I saw Tori Hunter. Just all those centerfielders that were able to make great plays and have an all-around game meant a lot to me. That’s something that I’m trying to pattern my game after.”
Those were the players he admired on the field. His parents were the ones he admired off of it and who have built him up spiritually in his relationship with Christ.
“I grew up in a church,” McCutchen says. “That’s always been a part of my life and it’s not going to go away. It can’t do anything but get stronger.”
Both parents have inspired me. They taught me everything I need to know. Now it’s up to me to live the way they want me to live and the way I know I should live.”
Despite being so young, McCutchen knows his Bible and has a spiritual maturity that not many 25-year-old men possess.
“I have a lot of favorite verses,” he says. “Romans 8:28 is the biggest one for me. Regardless of the situation, good or bad, it all works out for your good.”
His parents aren’t the only ones who have built into his life spiritually, though.
Besides his teammates and coaches keeping him sharp physically, he admits they help him spiritually, as well.
“We have great guys on the team,” he says. “We hold each other accountable. That keeps us thinking the right thing, thinking positive throughout the course of the season. That’s something that we have and we take seriously.”
That will help McCutchen become the man in the clutch—in baseball and in life—for many years to come.
By Gregory Spalding
This story was published in the Spring 2011 issue of Sports Spectrum magazine.
Eddie Perez was watching a television in a room off the Atlanta bullpen when he heard a knock on the door. The Braves coach knew it was the home run ball he had just seen burst off the bat of a hometown prodigy taking his first swing in the big leagues.
“When we were watching in there, we got excited and we hear pop!” says Perez, who sensed more than the usual fan celebration at Turner Field. “Everybody was going crazy. It was like the birth of a new star. There was a new star coming out in Atlanta. It was the kid that everybody was expecting to be the star. That was the beginning of a new era.”
Fresh-faced Jason Heyward seemed to be the most tranquil soul in the ballpark as he strode to the plate with more than five dozen family members and friends among the huge Opening Day crowd in 2010.
“I was kind of surprised I wasn’t nervous that day. I think the competitiveness came out more than having nerves. I just wanted to do whatever I could and kind of take what the situation gave me at the time,” says Heyward, who grew up rooting for the Braves in suburban McDonough, Ga.
Staring in from the mound was Chicago Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano, whose teammates provided the three-time All-Star a 3-0 cushion before he served up a single pitch. Atlanta immediately struck back with six runs, topped off by Heyward’s three-run shot over the wall in right center. While it was being calculated at 414 feet, he was counting his blessings.
“First and foremost, I was just happy to have the opportunity to play professional baseball. That was a goal of mine since I was 10 years old,” he says. “The fact that the team I grew up watching gave me an opportunity is like icing on the cake.”
The Braves selected Heyward in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft. Three years later, he earned a starting role in the Major League All-Star Game (which he sat out with a sore thumb) and finished a close second to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey in National League Rookie of the Year balloting with on-base and slugging percentages of .393 and .456, respectively.
Heyward took greater satisfaction in helping his team reach the postseason for the first time in five years. “I feel like that’s kind of been the thing I was most proud of looking back on that year— selflessness and not looking to have everything be about me,” he says. “It seemed like everyone wanted to point in my direction. It’s a team game.”
People indeed were pointing toward Heyward as the next Willie Mays and calling him the J-Hey Kid. Somehow, the attention didn’t overwhelm him.
“There was nothing I could do to live up to anybody, especially at 20 years old,” he says. “I’m 23 now and there’s still nothing I can do to live up to anybody, such as a Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds. These are all guys that have had many years of success in this game of baseball. That’s for fans. That’s for general managers. That’s for front offices. Inside the clubhouse and in between the lines, we all know we can only be who we brought to the table and get out of it as much as you put into it. I know I can’t live out the next five years before I live out this day.”
Remarkably, Heyward also homered in the first at-bat of his second season. Little else, however, resembled the success of his debut campaign. The main culprit was a nagging shoulder injury that cut deeply into his offensive production across the board, including a 50-point plunge in his batting average to .227.
Enter Greg Walker, signed by the Braves that winter to replace fired hitting coach Larry Parrish, with some perspective: “Once he had that big first year, I think everybody thought he’d put it on autopilot and just run it out every year. But this game, when you’re injured and have problems, it can humble you.”
Heyward, a devoted Christian, was comforted by his faith.
“It’s humbling even when you don’t need to be humbled. That’s God. To me, it’s a gift,” he says. “We’re supposed to go through things when we go through them, and talk about how we handled them and how we got to go forward.”
Heyward moved on by working tirelessly during the offseason with his private hitting instructor, along with Walker, assistant coach Scott Fletcher and teammate Chipper Jones. The rejuvenated star reaped the benefits last year, belting a career-high 27 home runs and becoming the first Atlanta outfielder in five years to win a Gold Glove Award.
No such droughts are in the immediate forecast, especially with the recent acquisitions of brothers B.J. Upton and Justin Upton.
“The outfield, defensively and offensively, has got to be at the top of the charts. And they’re young,” former manager Bobby Cox says. “I could see all three of them winning a Gold Glove.”
Braves pitcher Kris Medlen says Heyward was built for greatness. “You just look at the physical tools. They’re out of this world,” says Medlen of the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder. “He probably should be a football player, a basketball player or something. Just a supreme athlete.”
Medlen is every bit as impressed with the mental makeup of his young teammate. “He’s 23, and he’s got the maturity of a 30-year-old. He’s just that much further ahead of those guys that are that young. He’s growing up and doing his thing.”
Walker won’t be surprised if Heyward eventually ascends the heights people once expected of him.
“He’s going to get better. He wants to be a great baseball player. He wants to be a great fielder. He wants to be a great base runner,” Walker says. “With the amount of talent he has, the work ethic and the willingness to be great, it’s a great mix. It really is, and it’s just fun as an old, wore-out coach to sit back and watch a young guy that at such an early age has figured out the right way to go about his business. He does it the right way.”
By Bob Bellone
Bob Bellone is a freelance writer based near Tampa, Fla.