SI Vault
Rick Reilly
November 23, 1987
Dexter Manley of the Redskins thought the world had betrayed him—until he faced his daughter's illness and his own alcoholism
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 23, 1987

In Search Of Trust

Dexter Manley of the Redskins thought the world had betrayed him—until he faced his daughter's illness and his own alcoholism

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

One morning in October 1985, he reportedly came to practice late after having drunk too much the night before, realized he shouldn't be there and floored his way out of the driveway at Redskin Park and into a tractor-trailer. "I could've killed him," said the stunned truck driver. Manley, unharmed, passed a blood-alcohol test and then walked into Gibbs's office and convinced him that emotion, not liquor, had caused the accident. Gibbs told reporters that Manley was under a lot of stress due to the poor health of his mother.

Why alcohol now? Was ego Manley's problem? He had gotten a Mohawk cut in 1983, called himself Mr. D and lapped up the publicity. Later, however, he admitted, "All the attention may have gone to my head."

Was it loneliness? "I've always been an outsider," he says. Now his mother was in bad shape. She had a brain tumor, she was a diabetic, and she had undergone a mastectomy. Following neurosurgery, Jewel lean had to learn how to walk, talk and eat again. "It's not the Mom I knew," he says. "I miss that relationship."

Was it burdens? Manley was helping support his mother and Cynthia, now 32, who was taking care of her. He had married Glinda in 1984 and had two more children, Dexter II ("Not Junior," he has said, "Dexter II. Sounds classier"), now 2½, and Dalis, now 18 months. Doctors told Manley that his daughter was born with fibrous dysplasia, a rare disease that prevents bones from forming properly. They thought Dalis's right leg might have to be amputated.

"I was just...angry," recalls Manley. "I didn't trust the doctors." More trouble. More responsibility. They were strapped to his back like a refrigerator. "Think about what he went through," says Glinda. "All this responsibility thrown on him. His dad dies and his brother is killed, and all of a sudden he's the man of the house. A girl gets pregnant and he marries her. He never asked for any of it."

One good thing about gin and tonics—they never ask for anything. Manley drank them as if they were a cure. "My self-esteem was low," he says. "Sometimes I think it was from not enough attention. Sometimes I think it was from too much."

Last Dec. 26 he missed a practice two days before Washington was to play the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC wild-card game. He was asleep in his town house. When he woke up, he was ashamed and scared. He had never missed a practice. In fact, Manley normally gets to practice before anybody else. On his off-day, he runs hills backward, forward and stutter-step and then works out with a track coach. One year he showed up at Redskin Park to lift weights two days after the season ended. Now he was sleeping through practice? "Something was wrong," he says. The Redskins reportedly fined Manley $1,000.

On March 10, 1987, Manley was out for a serious relationship with 10 or 12 gin and tonics. When he awoke the next morning, Glinda glanced at him and realized that he didn't look right. She called an ambulance. Two days later he checked into the Hazelden Foundation, a drug-and-alcohol-rehabilitation center in Center City, Minn.

Says Manley, "I looked at the people in there, people in real bad shape, and I said, 'This isn't for me.' But after a while I realized I needed to listen and shut up." After two days, he continues, "I realized we were all the same. We were all uncontrollable with liquor." Manley was at Hazelden for a month.

Since then, he has been obsessed with beating the booze. He stopped talking to the press, he says, to stay humble. Hazelden gave him a book of daily meditations, and when he looked up June 15, the date of his dad's death, he found: "A father is a thousand schoolmasters—Louis Nizer." Now there was something he could trust. "I've always wished my father had been around more to teach me, to give me advice," says Manley. "Instead, I always had to be out beating people down on my own."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10