By GAVIN LAPAILLE
Gold Standard Staff Writer
The persona of Herschel Walker goes beyond that of a bruising tailback who punished defenders for two decades in college and professional football.
Many are familiar with the athletic version of Walker, who won the Heisman Trophy, competed in the Olympics and does mixed martial arts. Not as well known is the Walker who suffers from mental illness and used to threaten his wife without even realizing what he was doing.
The Fort Knox community heard stories at both ends of the spectrum and everything in between from the Hall of Fame athlete April 17. Walker gave two speeches at Waybur Theater about substance abuse and suicide prevention, while discussing his struggles with dissociative identity disorder, more commonly known as multiple personality disorder.
The stop on Fort Knox continues a long-standing relationship between Walker and the military. He’s been to more than 80 installations worldwide to spread his message to Soldiers.
“We have young men and women over in Afghanistan who hear gun shots every night and bombs going off,” Walker said. “I want to help them with their problems. They are the reasons we have what we have here.”
Walker spent the better part of the day on post, visiting the Warrior Transition Battalion and 3/1 Infantry Brigade Combat Team in between his morning and afternoon appearances at Waybur. Walker answered questions, poised for photos and signed autographs, leaving those who interacted with him impressed.
“No doubt it’s a morale booster for the Soldiers. You can see it in their faces,” said 3/1 deputy commander Lt. Col. Dennis Atkins. “They really enjoy these special opportunities to meet athletes and other stars they wouldn’t get to normally.”
Walker’s speech included tales from his football career, which saw him win the Heisman Trophy in 1982 with the Georgia Bulldogs and rushed for 13,787 yards combined over 16 seasons in the NFL and USFL. But Walker also gave a glimpse into what life is like while dealing with DID, even managing to poke fun at himself for having more personalities than he knows what to do with.
“I make fun of it in the sense that I have it, it’s not going away tomorrow or the next day,” Walker said. “You have to live with it. The only way to get better is to embrace it.”
Walker also told the crowd he wanted to join the Marines out of high school, only reluctantly attending college after persuasion from his mother, and the ways he was bullied as a child.
But Walker’s most memorable takes revolved around his battles with DID. His discussion included how a car bumper sticker made him think twice about intentions to kill an associate, threatening his former wife, Cindy, so much she admitted to fearing him. Walker also spoke about how he used to write frequently about death and murder in his journal.
Walker told a group of WTB Soldiers that DID makes it difficult to act appropriately in different situations. Instead of taking his work hat to the job, Walker said he would take his babysitting hat. He now feels “free” after getting help to combat his illness.
“I got confused with all the hats I had on,” Walker said. “I used a lot of anger to overcome things. That anger came out in all different aspects of my life.”
Walker noted the importance of giving back to the military, saying he’s the one who looks up to Soldiers, not the other way around.
“Those are the heroes,” Walker said. “Not the people who can play a game and then take their football and go home. (Soldiers) continue to sacrifice things and still smile.”