|Jan Withers, Nicole Vazquez and Delanie Walker|
I watched as a few young men entered the small commuter plane I had just boarded myself. They were huge – several were so tall they had to crouch to walk down the aisle. Some wore shirts with the Ravens team logo. I knew we were headed to the same event I was and that I would be meeting with them the following day. We were participating in the NFL Rookie Symposium.
I met Nicole Vazquez, with MADD’s corporate development department, who she showed me around. She had set up a table with our information right across from the NFL Mothers and NFL Fathers tables. We were privileged to eat dinner with the teams and staff who were there to offer their knowledge and support for these men. It is clear they are dedicated to helping them be successful, not just as football players but also as human beings.
They have several days of intensive training about the life skills they will need and use in their career. MADD has partnered with the NFL in fostering designated driver programs with many teams, as well as speaking directly with team members, owners, coaches and their spouses. They invited us to this year’s Rookie Symposium to participate in the classes. The entire symposium was amazing!
Delanie Walker played in the last Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers. He is now with the Tennessee Titans. I met him in Nashville when we both spoke at a press conference and did interviews together to celebrate the state passing their all-offender ignition interlock bill. I was taken with his sincerity and his dedication.
Delanie’s Aunt Alice and Uncle Bryan Young traveled all the way to New Orleans to watch their nephew in the Super Bowl. On the way back to their hotel following the game and gathering afterward, an alleged drunk driver caused a crash that killed both of them. Delanie so eloquently says, “What was one of the happiest days of my life quickly became the worst day of my life.” He is an impressive individual. He immediately decided to make a difference and has joined with MADD to do everything possible to stop this pervasive crime.
Delanie and I again took the front of the room together to greet the new NFL rookies and talk with them about avoiding drinking and driving. He now calls us “side-kicks” and “partners-in-crime.” I love it.
It was clear the young men were touched by our stories. They asked questions and added comments. It was great to have Delanie there because they could relate to him. He talked their language and had their attention, as well as their respect. Most teams have a service that will drive the players anywhere and pick them up. As Delanie says, “So there is no excuse for you to drink and drive. Besides possibly hurting or killing someone, it can cost you your career and your income.” They listened!
I hated leaving. Nina Walker, our national board member whose precious daughter, Ginger, was killed by a drunk driver, arrived as I left and is continuing to speak to more rookies with Delanie as I write this. I want to give a huge thank you to the NFL for recognizing this issue and taking steps to correct it. And Delanie, my side-kick, thank you for being an inspiration to so many. I know your Aunt Peaches and Uncle Bryan are very proud of you.