My Loss (Guest Blog)
By Tennessee Titan Delanie Walker. Originally published on theplayerstribune.com.
My auntie’s name was Alice, but everyone in my family always called her Peaches, because she was sweet like a peach.
When I was 11 years old, she came over to my house in her Camaro and asked if I wanted to drive it. Peaches was definitely the “cool aunt” in our family. I remember that car so distinctly — it was a 1989 Z-28 IROC. I got behind the wheel on my empty street, and she asked if I’d ever driven a Camaro before. “Yeah,” I lied, before barely stepping on the gas. The car gave a huge jolt and we flew forward a few yards before she screamed to hit the brakes. We were both silent for a beat and before she said, “You can try this again one day, but only if I’m not in the car.”
My auntie was hilarious, she was caring and she bought her kids all the best video game systems, which made going to her house well worth the two-hour bike ride it took to get there. My brother and I made the trip all the time. She was just the type of person who made sure everyone around her was happy.
When Bryan came into her life and they got together, she became an even better person.
She was just the type of person who made sure everyone around her was happy.
I didn’t know him as well as the rest of my family did because I was in college at the time she met him. But it was clear that he treated my auntie very well, she’d never been happier. Whenever I came home from school, he would always make a point to tell me how proud he was of me. It meant a lot coming from him, because he was a cop and someone I really respected.
When I started playing in the NFL, Peaches and Bryan were two of my biggest fans. They weren’t big travelers, but every year they would trek to several road games just to cheer me on. Having them around always put me in a better mood.
At the beginning of the 2012 season, my auntie made it clear that when the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl (not if, but when), she and Bryan wanted to be at the game. True to her word, right after we won the NFC championship, she gave me a call to reserve her tickets. I was more than happy to oblige.
The Super Bowl was being played in New Orleans that year, so we definitely had some fun during the week leading up to the game. Making it to the NFL was a dream I had shared with Peaches since I was little, and this was our celebration.
The day before the game, we had a practice and I got to take Peaches and Bryan onto the field. They were really excited to meet all the players and the coaches, and the smiles they had on their faces still stick with me. I knew it was an experience that they really treasured, and it’s difficult to put into words the pride I felt in being able to share that moment with them.
After the game, the team flew back to San Francisco from New Orleans.
When we landed I turned on my phone to discover that I had 100 missed calls. This was odd, but I had just lost the Super Bowl, so I assumed the calls were about the game.
While we were taxiing on the ground, my mom called, and when I picked up she was crying.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Peaches is dead.”
I told her that there was no way — I had just seen Peaches. But my mom told me that she had been trying to call her since last night and couldn’t get through. My auntie always picked up the phone, no matter what. But even when her kids were calling her, she wasn’t answering.
My mom had learned that there had been a deadly car crash on the freeway after the game, involving a drunk driver. The police couldn’t identify the bodies in the car that was struck because it had caught on fire.
The team was supposed to head back to the 49ers facilities, but I told Jim Harbaugh that I had to catch a flight back to Los Angeles to be with my family.
There was a lot of uncertainty and confusion as we tried to figure out what was going on. I have to give the NFL credit for helping us gather information after learning about the situation. We eventually were told that there was a male and a female passenger in the vehicle that had caught fire. A few more hours went by, and then we were informed that they found a badge in the car.
It belonged to Bryan.
My entire family immediately broke down. I wanted to cry, but I felt like I needed to stay strong for everyone else.
I reflect on what happened to Peaches and Bryan every day. It’s truly never far from my thoughts. I torture myself thinking about what I could have done differently.
What if I had made them stay somewhere closer to the stadium?
I torture myself by thinking about what I could have done differently.
What if I had told them that they could stay in my room?
What if they had not come to the Super Bowl at all?
I wish I didn’t reflect on these scenarios, but I don’t have a choice. The person who was drunk and decided to get behind the wheel did.
For a long time after the accident, I kept all my feelings inside. I was consumed by sadness and anger. But eventually I learned that the only thing that helped me heal was talking about it. Sharing my story and expressing the devastation my family has felt because of this tragedy is the only way I can potentially stop this from happening to someone else. It’s the only way that something good can come from the most difficult experience of my life.
Two of the most popular things in America are beer and football, and oftentimes they’re consumed together. I understand that there’s nothing I can do to stop that. But all I ask is that if you do choose to drink at a sporting event, have a plan.
The term “drink responsibly” is often used, but truly consider what that means. Consider the choice that you’re making when you don’t do so. If it’s not enough to imagine the potential danger you cause yourself, think about the people closest to you in your life.
Take a moment right now to think about them.
OK, now imagine if you were to lose them this instant, without so much as a goodbye.
That’s the hurt that you’re deciding to potentially impose on somebody else when you make the decision to drive under the influence of alcohol.
It’s too late to help my family — we’ve already experienced our nightmare. But I want to do everything in my power to stop another family from getting a phone call that changes their lives forever.
Delanie Walker is currently a tight end for the Tennessee Titans. He is also a spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for which he devotes his time in memory of Alice and Bryan Young. You can learn more about MADD by visiting www.MADD.org.
Photographs By Jed Jacobsohn/The Players’ Tribune
Just in time for MADD’s 35th anniversary, we are revamping our signature event, Walk Like MADD. Walk Like MADD is the only large-scale, community-based activity that provides those personally impacted by drunk driving, and their network of supporters and friends, the opportunity to take steps to stop drunk driving in their community and nationwide.
In 2015, the focus will be on creating an even more meaningful event experience that focuses on sending a clear message: Drunk Driving Ends Here. Walkers will be able to remember what or who brought them there, feel inspired to do even more to stop this violent crime, and commit to end drunk driving in their community.
If you’ve never attended one of our Walk events, now is the time to change that. With events in over 80 cities this year, this is your chance to take an active role in eliminating drunk driving in your community.
Go to walklikemadd.org to create a team or sign up as an individual. Every dollar raised puts us one step closer to ending drunk driving once and for all.
MADD had boots on the ground in Phoenix, Ariz. last week at Super Bowl XLIX’s media center. For the fifth straight year, MADD talked to media center attendees about the dangers of drunk driving, the importance of underage drinking prevention, and MADD’s partnership with the NFL. As one of just three non-profits onsite and amongst a backdrop of over a 1,000 media outlets, athletes, and celebrities, MADD’s coveted presence speaks to the NFL’s commitment to providing a safe environment for fans and supporting MADD’s mission.
MADD CEO Debbie Weir observed a notable increase in traffic and interest in MADD’s presence this year compared to previous years; most likely due to the timely distribution of MADD and Uber’s joint data report about the impact of rideshare services on drunk driving. Uber also launched a Super Bowl Sunday CRM program that donated $1 to MADD for every ride nationwide between 3 p.m. and midnight EST (3 hours before, during and after the game) for every rider that entered the promo code “THINKANDRIDE.” Additionally, MADD utilized new NHTSA 2013 holiday data to capture media and public attention.
“The fact that Super Bowl Sunday continually ranks as one of the worst days of the year for drunk driving always gets people’s attention,” said Weir. “While we were in Phoenix last week, newly available 2013 NHTSA holiday traffic data revealed half of all traffic fatalities on Super Bowl Sunday 2013 involved a drunk driver; making it the second deadliest holiday of the year. That really resonated with the media and public alike, and raised awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.”
Bringing that story to life firsthand was none other than Tennessee Titan and MADD Volunteer Delanie Walker, whose aunt and uncle were killed by a drunk driver just hours after watching him play in 2013’s Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. They left behind seven children. Since then, Walker has given selflessly of his time to volunteer with MADD and prevent others from experiencing a similar tragedy. Delanie participated in more than a dozen media interviews in Phoenix, during which he shared his story and talked about the importance of planning ahead for a safe ride home.
“Delanie is such a down-to-earth, authentic and compassionate person,” Weir said. “When he speaks about his grief and the loss of his aunt and uncle to a completely preventable crime, he does so in a way that not only engages the audience, but also makes them want to do something about the issue. MADD could not have a better voice than Delanie Walker.”
Fans were also allowed onsite at the Super Bowl media center this year, resulting in increased involvement in MADD’s and NFL Player Engagement’s #SelfiesForSafety campaign. People from all walks of life and different parts of the country stopped by to pledge not to drink and drive.
MADD is proud to partner with the NFL and bring attention to our mission to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking.
by Heather Geronemus
| Dr. Robert Geronemus
It’s been just over six years since a drunk driver killed my father and I’ll be honest with you, this year has been the hardest. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but it just has. When I lost my father to a drunk driver, MADD was a stranger that reached out to me and took care of me when nobody else could. I wanted, more than anything, to give back to MADD... but more importantly, I wanted to be part of a world where nobody would need that call from a stranger, ever again.
It is unbelievable that only six years ago, MADD was quietly providing victims services and educational prevention programs but no one was raising awareness in the community as a whole. I didn’t have an exact plan but I knew my goal was to bring MADD to the forefront of Broward County to raise awareness and connect with people before they became victims. This is not an easy task when there are over 5,800 non-profits in Broward. All I knew was that I had to get the word out that drinking and driving is a 100% preventable issue and that everyone has the power to make one choice and save a life.
I’m proud to say that with a team of friends, family, and amazing community partners we have done just that. In the last four years we have raised over a $400,000, had thousands of participants at our events, and reached even more people through the media. Now what was once a community of primarily victims has grown to become a community of thousands of supporters, sponsors, fundraisers and volunteers who are there to take care of people they don't even know. It’s amazing how the community has rallied around MADD.
On April 26, 2015 the community will come together again for the 5th Annual Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash Fort Lauderdale presented by Ultimate Software honoring Colonel Alvin Pollock of the Broward Sheriff’s Office. He is at the forefront of law enforcement in our community in his role as Executive Director of Law Enforcement of the Broward Sheriff's Office. Throughout his phenomenal career Colonel Pollock has received numerous awards and was recognized by national, state and local agencies for his dedicated service to his profession. He is a man who understands that while law enforcement is a crucial element of public safety, it is important to work to improve the community to better our lives. His passion for building stronger and safer communities extends beyond “the job” and touches so many lives. We are thrilled to honor him at this year’s event. He is a true partner in the mission to rid the streets of drunk drivers, saving lives in our community before a crime is committed. He is not just participating in our fundraiser, he is improving DUI Enforcement in our county.
|Colonel Alvin Pollock, Heather Geronemus and Tony Segreto|
Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash Fort Lauderdale has not only raised awareness and saved lives but focusing on planning and executing it has helped me cope with the loss of my father in ways I can’t explain, but I know I am stronger from it. Because of the support of the community the impact doesn’t end with me and my family, people approach me on a daily basis to tell me that after hearing my father’s story that they make better decisions and drink responsibly. We’re on the right track but we haven’t finished the fight, the truth is we still lose thousands of lives to drunk drivers on our streets each year.
As a victim of a drunk driver, one of the biggest parts of healing is finding a way to create positive change. For me, Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash Fort Lauderdale is the whole community coming together to create positive change. It makes a huge difference in my life. If we prevent one drunk driver or help one victim heal, we are changing the world for the better.
To participate in Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash Fort Lauderdale on April 26, 2015 at Huizenga Plaza as a walker, runner, donor or sponsor please visit: www.walklikemadd.org/fortlauderdale. Or find a Walk Like MADD event near you at www.walklikemadd.org.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead
The Super Bowl is America’s most watched national sporting event – bringing together families, friends and fans each year to enjoy the excitement of the big game. But unfortunately, it’s also one of the most dangerous days on the road because of drunk driving.
In 2013, Super Bowl Sunday was the second deadliest time of the year for drunk driving deaths—ahead of St. Patrick’s Day. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, half of all traffic fatalities on Super Bowl Sunday (and the early hours of the following morning) in 2013 were caused by drunk driving, compared to 42 percent, or 46 deaths, the year before.
MADD wants everyone to enjoy the game this year, but more importantly, we want everyone to get home from the celebration safely. So if you’re hosting a Super Bowl watching party this Sunday, use these tips to be a champion host, or if you’re attending a party, check out our checklist to help you plan ahead.
No matter how you celebrate or who you cheer for, don’t ruin the day by getting a DUI, or much worse. If you're game plan includes alcohol, make sure you plan ahead with a non-drinking designated driver to help get everyone home safe after the game.
This Sunday, Uber will donate $1 to MADD for every trip taken nationwide between 3:00 p.m. and midnight ET when users enter the promo code THINKANDRIDE.