The one-and-only, inimitable, troubled-but-insanely-talented Charles Haley was a member of the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons, 1992–'96. During his 13-year NFL career, Haley was a five-time Pro Bowler and was named All-Pro twice. He was also the first player in NFL history to win five Super Bowl rings.
Haley was enshrined into the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2011. He is currently a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Charles Haley was a great football player on two of the greatest teams ever assembled.
He was also certifiable.
That, my friend, is not hyperbole. Haley has been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder.
In 2010, Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News wrote a poignant story on Haley and his struggle with mental illness:
Patiently, the former Dallas Cowboy and San Francisco 49er who terrorized quarterbacks and sportswriters alike spills forth a raw testimonial. Occasionally, he winces at his words. Video Haley on being a Hall of Fame semifinalist 12/16/09 More Cowboys video View larger E-mail Clip More Video Cowboys Videos
"I left a road of destruction when I played," he says.
Haley isn't referring to the linemen he annihilated en route to 100 ½ sacks and more Super Bowl victories, five, than any player.
He's talking about the other carnage. The teammates and coaches he "wronged." Some of the writers he cursed. And, most regrettably, the 19-year marriage he wrecked.
"I hurt people," he says. "What transpired in the past can't be changed. The only thing that can change now is: What can I do? How can I live?
"What do I want them to see when they see me? Am I going to be the same guy, or are they going to see a different Charles?"
Why speak publicly now, 10 years after his retirement as a player? Well, his family and former teammates encouraged him to do so and are themselves speaking out.
They note that after years of struggling with bipolar disorder, Haley now manages the dramatic mood swings through therapy, medicine and personal resolve.
In 2008, noted sports author Jeff Pearlman wrote a behind-the-scenes book on the early '90s Cowboys titled Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty. I found the following excerpt of an interview Pearlman did with the Philadelphia Inquirer on SPORTSbyBROOKS.com:
How far the Cowboys were willing to go is detailed in the story of their star defensive end Haley, maybe the least house-trained player in NFL history. From Page 115: “On his first day at Valley Ranch, Haley arrived in the conference room for a defensive film session dressed only in a towel. ‘The next thing you know, Charles is lying naked on the floor in front of the screen, entertaining himself,’ said teammate Tony Casillas.” Pearlman gets a lot more graphic in explaining that this was a normal day for Haley.
Tales of Haley hauling out his member and taunting teammates with it abound. During film sessions, in the locker room, in team meetings. Any time seemed like a good time for shock value.
Haley was socially awkward and unflinchingly vicious. Though prescribed medication to treat manic depression, he would take the pills one day, then skip them the next two or three. Haley once exposed himself to reporter Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News, a pathetic attempt at gender intimidation. He rarely bypassed the opportunity to verbally pounce on a teammate's shortcomings, an ugly child, a protruding mole, a lisp.
"Charles was a great player," says Dexter Carter, the former 49er running back. "But there's only so much a man can tolerate."
Once he got going, the words flew from Haley's mouth as if they were shot from a Browning .50 caliber machine gun. Anyone effeminate was a "faggot." African-American players who became close with the coaching staff were "house niggers" and "Uncle Toms." Whites were "honkies" and Hispanics "spics." (A joke Haley told with particular brio: What do a Mexican and a hotel have in common? A mop)
Twice, his racial barbs resulted in fights with former 49er teammate Jim Burt, a white defensive lineman who decked Haley both times.
That Haley was among the most colorful characters ever to play for the Dallas Cowboys is hardly debatable. He would also get top (or near the top) billing on any list of the most troubled individuals to wear the silver and blue.