Real Life Delivers More Hits Than Concussion Movie Portrays

Photo of Darryl Talley taken by Jill Kelly, February 2016. Photo provided by Janine Talley.

Photo of Darryl Talley taken by Jill Kelly, February 2016.                                         Photo provided by Janine Talley.

As the wife of a NFL veteran, a veteran whose physical and mental decline has been documented, it was suggested that I see the movie Concussion and write about how it relates to my life. The movie stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) while performing the autopsies of former NFL players.

Dr. Omalu naively thought the NFL would embrace his findings. He was wrong. Instead the NFL waged a war against him that nearly snuffed out his career.

Until just this week when Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president for health and safety, admitted to Congress that he thinks football and CTE are linked, the NFL had vehemently denied a connection.

Baby steps, folks.

The film gives a shoddy glimpse of a handful of well-known former players before their untimely deaths, and the mental and physical decline they too suffered as a result of playing professional football. Every player portrayed in the film had a build-up of the abnormal protein, tau, at the time of autopsy, a trait associated with CTE.

Even though the nuances of the players were slightly unrealistic, I did recognize Darryl in those guys. The frightening behaviors of the former players portrayed in the film were eerily familiar. But more important, and somewhat of a breakthrough, is that Darryl recognized himself in those players. I viewed him as he sat on the edge of his seat; tears welling in his eyes. He watched with the intensity he usually dedicates to an action movie.

Overall, Concussion is an average motion picture addressing a topic too consequential to be adequately illustrated by actors. The only way CTE and the laundry list of other injuries sustained on the football field can accurately and effectively be portrayed is through the written words of someone who’s lived it or through documentary.

I’ve been putting off writing about this because frankly, it’s exhausting. The daily rigors of dealing with the effects of 14 years of Darryl being in a demolition derby with his body has worn me to a wafer.

Since my first Buffalo News column, I’ve had former players, wives, fiancees and girlfriends contact me. They all share stories of enduring the same heartbreaking symptoms as Darryl. The consorts are despondent because they are vulnerable. Initially unknowing of the gravity of their partners’ incomprehensible suffering, they’ve been whittled down to a husk trying to learn how to navigate an unforgiving territory without the tools necessary for combat.

I’ve been there. I commiserate.

Here’s a nugget of our story:

“I love you more than my next breath.”

Those are the words I inscribed in a book of sonnets I gave Darryl on Valentine’s Day 1987, one month before I gave birth to our first daughter, Alexandra. I meant those words.

Once, a friend was visiting and picked up the book, flipped its first pages and read my inscription. He looked at me with perplexity that anyone could love someone more than oneself.

I’d lived every day with Darryl according to those words even though it was becoming more and more difficult to love someone who wouldn’t allow himself to be loved. I’d known him for more than 25 years and he was growing the mask of a man I hardly recognized.

Long before there was a team of doctors in Boston, there was a family bewildered by what they were witnessing. The path to our suspicions wasn’t linear. Our daughters and I spent a few years frustrated and concerned with Darryl’s anger, erratic behavior, insufferable mood swings, impulsivity, depression and memory loss.

He’d been more and more frequently asking how to spell elementary words. He lost keys, wallets, reading glasses, and television remotes regularly. Where he once would have retraced his steps and been able to find a misplaced item, he wasn’t able to do so anymore. He had no ability to concentrate or make decisions.

Logic and reason escaped him. Our days had become unpredictable. The tone of the household was set by Darryl’s moods and they were becoming more and more intolerable. His patience was lacking. He couldn’t sit in traffic or wait in line at a store. Travel by plane was unbearable because he despised the procedure of TSA protocol; the mere sight of the chaos of the lines sent him into a frenzy.

No matter how many times I’d explain to him that every single person in line had somewhere to be and they weren’t there for the entertainment, he still took the routine personally, as if he were singled out, forced to play some stupid game of relentless frustration.

One of the things that bothered me most, broke my heart, actually, was that Darryl wasn’t gaining any wisdom. He was in his early fifties and possessed no ability to use prudent judgement. He wasn’t learning from his mistakes, instead he was repeating them over and over with the same outcome. Albert Einstein defines this act as insanity.

Business decisions were not exempt from this phenomenon.

The most chilling part of Darryl’s 14 year NFL career is that not one concussion was diagnosed or documented. This seems to be the pattern with most players of his era and prior.

On a few occasions, his verbal and psychological abuse sent me packing and sleeping in the guest rooms of friends. I sought their ears and their guidance as much as their hospitality.

The path to the fact that 14 years in the NFL had taken Darryl’s body hostage was simple to recognize; he was a smorgasbord of constant physical pain. To wake up every morning and not know which combination of failing body parts was going to affect him wore as much on his psyche as it did his body.

There were days when the pain was immediate. Just putting his feet on the floor was a challenge for Darryl. He’d maneuver his body up and out of bed with mental and physical calculation, wince in pain and hobble like a man 30 years his senior. That effort was to walk to the bathroom to pee. What an eye-opener.

There were days when he’d hold a glass or a fork and midway to his mouth it’d fall out of his hand and crash to the floor. That, the consequence of repeatedly jamming his opponents in the chest or throat with his outstretched hands, rendering them unable to gain yardage on him.

I’d seen him do nothing more than get up from a chair or pivot, a common motion for most, causing his hip go out from under him and his knee to buckle. The pain so excruciating it resulted in countless sleepless nights because he couldn’t lie down in bed. He’d try the floor where he might find a bit of relief, then zing, he’d be up gingerly pacing or leaning against a wall because he couldn’t sit or lie.

There were days when his neck had little range of motion.

There were days when the pain in his lower back was so unbearable, he’d ride in my truck on his knees, facing backwards, arms grasping the head rest, so I could take him to the chiropractor or acupuncturist or our daughters’ volleyball games or the doctor in Miami, a three hour drive.

There was a full year, on and off, when he had to kneel on the floor at a table and eat his meals prone because he couldn’t sit in a chair. Once, we went back to Buffalo for a visit and he tripped a server at the Hamburg restaurant, Daniel’s, because he was reduced to that kneeling position.

A person who, for most of his adulthood, lived by a strict schedule now had no order to his life whatsoever, and it was affecting our family. We lived in a mayhem that was coloring everything in our lives a murky shade of grey.

This thing had no mercy and was gaining momentum, but I couldn’t initially identify its root. It wasn’t until Junior Seau, the legendary linebacker, committed suicide and things he was experiencing before his death were revealed mirroring Darryl’s behaviors, that I finally connected the dots.

Photo by chs-law.com

Photo by chs-law.com

It terrified me to think this may be my husband’s fate and from that day forward I did everything in my power to avoid a similar tragedy.

Now we’re here, recovering from his 15th surgery, all the result of injuries sustained in the NFL.

His mind and skeleton aren’t in pace with his hulking exterior. People look at him and their reaction is an echoing, “He looks great!”

Darryl’s not even skimming “great”. Darryl won the genetic jackpot of outward appearance. He possesses an enviable metabolism. He’s statuesque. Unfortunately, his body moves in line with a granite sculpture. He’s rigid. He’s numb.

A few months ago, Darryl got in my truck and I pointed out his hand was bleeding. He had a wedge of flesh missing from his thumb and another from his knuckle, but he couldn’t feel it and had no idea how he’d done it.

When we got to the store and he pulled out his wallet, with it came his razor. When he finished shaving, instead of putting the razor back in the cabinet, he’d unknowingly put it in his pocket. The mystery of how he’d cut himself was solved. His not knowing he’d put the razor in his pocket and not having enough feeling in his fingers to realize he’d sliced chunks of his flesh off of them repulsed and infuriated me.

This one incident doesn’t seem like much, but it is. These sorts of things occur daily. I could go on and on about all of the things that happen to Darryl daily that shouldn’t. These things add up and become frustrating and inconvenient and sad.

I’ve seen the defeat in his eyes when he can’t complete a simple task because his body won’t cooperate or his mind won’t allow him to concentrate. That look of despair pierces my aorta. My entire being aches for him. Other times, my emotions are displaced and I’m filled with anger and rage. I sometimes hate Darryl for being this way. I hate myself more for hating him.

This life after football doesn’t just affect the player, it affects the immediate family. We have no instruments to deal with this. I wasn’t issued a handbook when Darryl was issued a playbook. Our daughters, Alexandra and Gabrielle, and I have run the spectrum of emotions: sadness, fear, anger, hopelessness, embarrassment, resentment. My crying and screaming far outweighs my laughter.

Every time the girls come home there are closeted tears because they see another decline in their father’s mental or physical health. I have no resources for dealing with that.

I suggested to the doctor in Boston heading the NFLPA’s Brain and Body Trust, that a program needs to be devised to assist family members on how to deal with the tribulations associated with this serious quandary.

I’ve loved Darryl since I was 18 years old. This isn’t how I envisioned our lives. We’ve been robbed of happiness and fulfillment.

This thing, this illness that as far as I’m concerned is terminal, lives with us. We can’t make it go away. We can treat some of its symptoms, but the actual condition is here to stay. It’s set up shop in our fiber. It’s invaded me and our girls as much as it has Darryl.

Editors Note: A big thank you to Janine Talley for sharing her experience coping with the aftermath of Darryl Talley’s legendary NFL career.

The views and opinions expressed on this website blog are soley those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Buffalo FAMbase, Inc., and/or any/all contributors to this site.

31 thoughts on “Real Life Delivers More Hits Than Concussion Movie Portrays

  1. Beautifully written. Heartfelt & heart wrenching. Prayers, prayers & more prayers for your husband (one of the best to ever don a Bills uniform). Also for yourself and daughters. I would like to believe I might have your strength, patience, wisdom & depth of emotion to love & support a loved one through this difficult a journey. God Bless Always!

  2. AS an NFL fan, I am torn. My heart aches to give the Talley family a hug, to help develop whatever program will assist future NFL family units, as a means to help offset the sacrifice made, cost should be no obstacle. I’m also part of the problem. My money flows into the system to perpetuate this type of brutality. My fandom and nonchalant viewing Thursday, Sunday, and Monday do not pay respect to the long term investment displayed for my simple entertainment.

    God be with you all that suffer through the after effects of such a violent career path.

  3. God bless the Talley family. Janine has more strength than anyone in the NFL.

  4. My heart aches for the Talley family. You don’t know me but I sat in front of you on a plane when you were returning home from Jim Kelly’s wedding. It was a normal everyday activity that I’ve never forgotten. Darryl and the Bills were a source of great joy and connection for me. All of you still are as you stir memories of home in WNY and the joy of being a fan.

    At the same time, what do we do with the back story that is now out in the light of day? Should we as fans walk away from the game? At its core it is supposed to be fun, a simple source of entertainment. A game is not supposed to destroy lives and cause anguish.

    DarryI continue to root for you and always will. Additionally, I now root for your family. Prayers go out to the Talleys.

  5. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for your comments here. I’ve read and directly received questions like you are asking here among many comments I’ve received about Janine’s powerful article.

    I’ll try to address some of them in future posts at the blog. So many people want to help, and that’s a great place to start. I believe in the power of positive energy and what can be accomplished with simple acts of love and kindness.

    Thank you for your comments. Stay tuned as we try to find a way through these challenges together.

    Robyn Mundy

  6. what a sad state of affairs for Darryl and his family. he was a true Buffalo Bill,one i will always remember fondly, as a great person and team player.
    The national football league should by all means help more with these problems associated with concussions. both now ,in the past and into the future.
    Dick Wallace
    silver creek, n.y.

  7. Janine Talley,
    Please take a moment to realize what a wonderful woman you are.
    please do that. even if just for a second.

    I have been following the story since it was brought to light. I was quick to donate hoping help would come for each of you. That is something i am proud of.
    Your notes are important!!
    They do make a difference.
    You make a difference.
    Bless you and stay strong.

  8. Wow. Frightening and chilling

    I feel like the Romans cheering gladiators to kill each other. No other sport has their retirees in abject poverty financially and physically. This needs to stop.

    To the lady who wrote the article- keep fighting the good fight. It’s time we joined you and stopped this madness


  9. I remember Darryl when the Bills were at Fredonia, I was the liaison for the Collage and saw the guys daily in Dods Hall. I use to FIX the golf carts for the daily races to the dining hall for the guys. They called me uncle Bill. Darryl would sit and chat with me and my wife Andrea after the nightly meetings outside of Dods Hall. Spider-Man as we knew him by from his spidy suit he wore. Love him and this really is sad for me to read. God bless you and your family I wish there was something I could do to ease the pain for all of you. Prayers to you all, Bill Vacanti, (uncle Bill).

  10. I’m tired of hearing about these stories. These men played for the love of the game but also because of the money they could make without having to have a real job. I feel no sympathy for the players or the families. You did what you wanted. You made tons of money. The wives helped spend that money. Go away now.

    • Wow, that is especially heartless knowing that the players did not know the consequences of their playing.

      • While I think @Lynda’s response is quite harsh, the fact is that these people do lead extraordinary lives. The Talleys do indeed have fame & fortune — it was based on that incredible platform that is our culture’s obsession with the NFL. Yet that fame & fortune came with tremendous risk; many amateur athletes, & seemingly most pros, with long careers have somewhat similar suffering. My mother died from Alzheimer’s; I recognize some of the agonizing experiences. I wish the Talley family the best of good fortune given the challenges they face. Those of us who are football fans may well have to give further thought to the sacrifices the athletes/families are making for our entertainment.

    • If you’re tired of “these stories”, don’t read them. Is that difficult?

      What humanity-saving job are you doing that gives you the omnipotence to judge what a “real job” is?

      Nobody knew the consequences would be this debilitating. Nobody knew enough to take the right steps to properly mitigate the risks. These stories are coming out to bring light to a situation that needs more research and attention to help others avoid it in the future.

      This isn’t the only profession on earth that we’ve had to adjust rules or safety measures to avoid unnecessary injury or suffering. Should we ignore all that and be medieval like your fantasy world? Might you have an injured brain?

      You go away now.

    • HAHAHAHAHA it’s funny how ignorant you are!!!! My father played for the Jets. Back then they didn’t make the money they do today. Him and a teammate owned their own business and worked “real jobs”! While he suffered with pain and demitia and so many of these problems mentioned in this article. He gave America a great entertainment. A service. Unknown to him he would suffer beyond anything you could ever imagine. He died broken, in insufferable pain, no money, most of his body replaced with plastic, a shunt in his brain to drain fluid from the hits he took while he was told he was being protected by his equipment that was unsuitable. The lining of the helmets were next to NOTHING!!! AND YOU KNOW NOTHING!!!! But thanks for the laugh at your stupidity :) seriously, you need to know what you are talking about before allowing yourself to comment on anything. Also…. For your information, his family especially me who came after his football career had no say in what his career choices were. And we have always been middle class Americans. Nothing more. Nothing fancy. Not because we spent it but because it was never there! He was also a very well known player. So YOU can go away now! Bye!!

  11. I see the real life of an NFL player, Life after football is so painful. I have been a buffalo bills fans for along time. Some of our great players are facing so many health problems, from Jim , Darryl and others. They give there bodies up each time they played the game of football, I would like the NFL to give them what they need to help them and the family members care for them,Darryl was one of thee best linebackers, he’s in my Hall of Fame, most of all I would like the NFL give each player the best Medical care possible. .. best wishes (56) Spider-Man

  12. The story of Darryl is so sad. The NFL has to own up to this and support ex players. My wife came from Williamsport PA as a child. Her name is Karen Talley. She wonders if they are related somehow.

  13. I met Darryl eight years ago here in Tampa, Florida. We are close to the same age and during the past eight years have become friends. I love you, Darryl. I will ALWAYS be here fir you.

  14. I wonder how things would change if Roger Godell had to endure for one day what Janine Talley deals with everyday. I wish only the best for the Tslley family.

  15. Mrs. Janine Talley,

    I want to thank you for the heart wrenching story you bravely shared with all to hear about the daily horrors of life for one and his family of an ex-pro football player.

    We did appreciate the impact and leadership that Darryl brought to the Bills as one of the most loved players of all time!

    We are very sad to see how Darryl’s pro football career has severely affected his marriage and family life since his retirement.

    I pray that Darryl, you and your children would experience the love & peace of God that passes all understanding!

    I will keep him, you and your daughters in my prayers.


    Pat Galla

  16. I’m Joe Layperson here, expert in nothing except having experiences, certainly not always “good,” but always educational. I cringe at how trite this might sound, but through my life and others’ in my circle, I have learned that the body will always try to heal itself, given the chance.

    Given that your family’s lives are as about as despairing as they can get, and you’ve tried orthodox treatments to no avail, I would offer the following:

    Have you tried, and stuck with, implementing wholesale changes to his diet? I don’t mean supplements or the latest trendy fads. I’m talking about giving up, however temporarily, a lot of things he may enjoy eating (but end up eating him), while at the same time incorporating large numbers of “live” foods into his life’s routine? It won’t be overnight. There are no quick fixes. Frankly, some days will still suck—it takes time for the body to purge toxins and negative emotions. But I feel safe in saying if its given a chance, you will have “glimpses” of healing, Whether you see it through will be the variable, of course.

    Not preaching; this is the end of my suggestion. I know how emotionally- based food attachments can be. I just know my life has been forever positively altered because of food changes. Likewise, with others in my aquaintance and research. Including one woman who “cured” herself of what was called “irreversible” brain damage. The only caveat may be if the damage done has progressed too far. But it looks like you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

    I’m sorry for your suffering. If you leave a reply, I’d be glad to give some online starting points for your research.



    • This is so true!!!! Well suggested Dave! This is very hard to do but I have seen and experienced miracles with the right food changes especially with eliminating sugar. My son is autistic and I have done tons of research. You won’t believe how much the brain is connected with the brain! I wish I knew what I know now back when my father was suffering so badly! I would have tried anything!!! He suffered from a lot of what is mentioned in the article. He was an ex NFL player and had so many issues before he passed. If only I could go back he died too young!

      • Correction to previous comment: you won’t believe how much the brain is connected to the stomach….

        • Thanks Rachel. I’m sorry for the loss of your father. Even though your new knowledge is too late to help him, you can still re-direct your son’s future. It just takes one person to break the cycle.

          Yesterday I ordered the online book, “The 80-10-10 Diet.” (I dislike the word “diet;” everyone thinks, “been there, done that, didn’t work.” This is more a lifestyle change, than about losing weight)

          Can’t put it down, or should I say, click it off.
          Believe me, I’ve tried them all over the years, all the trends, all the fads. Some even work—for awhile. I’ve gotten pretty cynical, to the point where I don’t see the point of reading someone’s book when the next book in line says the exact opposite, and they’re both trying to sell me something. So I just try it for myself and see how I feel. I’m 67, and can now physically do the same things I could when I was 25, so I think I’ll stick with it unless something changes.

          Besides that, the guy’s not trying to sell me pills or “superfoods,” just sharing knowledge.

          Have a great day.

  17. The agonizing story told by Mrs.Janine Talley about her husband Mr.Darryl Talley and his physical problems is gut wrenching.
    I had the pleasure of meeting this fine gentleman during a Buffalo Bills vs NY Giants at Giants Stadium.
    I was one of the photographer’s working the Buffalo sideline photographing the pre game warm up.
    The photographer’s were jockeying for position trying to photograph Mr.Talley and his teamates. He suggested we share the space and everyone listened. This thoughtful gesture I will always remember. I am rooting for him and with the blessing of GOD he will get better.
    The Talley Family are in my prayers.

  18. The agonizing story told by Mrs.Janine Talley about her husband Mr.Darryl Talley and his physical problems is gut. I had the pleasure of meeting this fine gentleman during the pre game warm up, Buffalo Bills vs NY Giants at Giants Stadium. I was one of many photographer’s working the Buffalo sideline. The photographer’s were jockeying for position trying to photograph Mr.Talley and his teamates. He suggested we share the space and everyone listened. This thoughtful gesture I will always remember. I am rooting for him and with the blessing of GOD he will get better Amen.

  19. Janine,

    I have never read a piece that depicts what my husband and I have been going through for years. I wish I had a way to reach out to you as I have never posted on an internet site prior to this. My husband is all but gone at a young age, and I loved him more more than life itself. Perhaps the website can pass along my email address to you as I do not want to include it publicly. I just want to thank you for telling a story that needs to be told. Hopefully, it will find an even larger audience. This is what the NFL does not realize is the true hazard. Junior Seau’s death also got my husband and a number of his former teammates to the doctor. Unfortunately, he got worse instead of better. You, along with the many other families that continue to suffer through this and do not know others are out there, are in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

  20. Darryl, Janine and your family,
    The story is very sad. By sharing, you are helping. There’s many more people like me who want you to know that we’re thankful for who he is today, yesterday, and in the future. By sharing, you’re helping other families come to terms with their husbands/fathers shortcoming due to years of trauma experienced by playing this violent sport.
    I believe that Darryl probably knew his fingers and knees would ache after retirement, but the head trauma and memory loss, mood swings, and the like are something he didn’t bargain for when he suited every Sunday for 14 years. The NFL ( even the NCAA) are only starting to realize the severity of what they have created and built over the last 5 decades.
    You’re right, Janine, there needs to be more help. By sharing- the process moves forward and awareness grows. Some players are getting out much sooner. Now something needs to happen quicker so you and Darryl can spend the next 20+ years enjoying each other and celebrate your life together.
    God bless, love to all. –
    Glen Potter – WVU teammate.

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