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Manley Gets Off Booze So That He Can Get on QBs

The Washington Post

It was the day after Christmas, and Dexter Manley was in trouble. Again. This time, the Washington Redskins’ loose-lipped, All-Pro defensive end was AWOL from a team meeting and practice, only two days before a wild card playoff game against the Rams. While his teammates labored at Redskin Park, Manley snoozed in his nearby townhouse, feeling the effects of a late-night binge with gin and tonic.

Manley awoke at midday, frightened. Although he had a reputation for being a hell-raising, anything-goes kind of guy, he had never slept through a practice or team meeting.

“When I awakened, I had fear,” Manley would say later. “I was real ashamed. I felt humiliated. I mean, I thought, ‘Something is wrong.’ ”

Something was wrong. Manley was an alcoholic. He knew it. He felt it. But he was not ready to admit it. At Redskin Park that weekend last season, he dodged reporters’ questions and received a $1,000 fine--but no suspension--from Coach Joe Gibbs. Later, he explained his absence by saying he had just had a few drinks before practice.

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“I don’t have a drinking problem,” Manley insisted. “I might drink beer, but not a lot of hard liquor.”

In fact, Manley drank a lot of hard liquor. Not every day or even every week. But when he drank, he drank excessively, and he could not be controlled.

“One drink led to another drink--and another one,” he would explain. “I was powerless to stop. I became unmanageable.”

Such was the case on the evening of March 10 when Manley left his townhouse in Reston, Va. for another round of gin and tonics. “I had 10 drinks--you know, like those drinks they serve on a plane (in miniature bottles),” he recalled. “When I got home I started throwing up. And my wife felt like, ‘This guy’s got a problem.’ ”

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That afternoon, Glinda Manley phoned for an ambulance to take her husband to Georgetown University Hospital. “I just didn’t feel good,” Manley said. “I didn’t feel good about myself. I said to myself, ‘I’m tired of this. I’m tired of doing things such as going out and coming home two or three hours late. People don’t do that.’ ”

Two days later, Manley checked himself into the Hazelden Foundation, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Center City, Minn. During a 30-day stay, he said he was treated for alcohol--not drug--abuse. “If I have another drink I may die,” Manley said in his first extended interview since leaving Hazelden. “Because it doesn’t get any better. It only gets worse.”

Asked if he has ever used cocaine, Manley coughed, as if to clear his throat. “No. What difference? Everybody has experience with something,” he said. “I’m not saying that I have. Does that matter?”

Manley never has been an easy guy to figure. He has donated time to March of Dimes, Easter Seals and Veterans Hospital--and he has threatened to impose physical harm on opposing players. He has served as a deputy sheriff in Fairfax County, Va.--and he has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, reckless driving and impersonating a police officer. And now it has been discovered that for six years Manley has been misleading the Redskins about his true age. Surprising? Not to anyone who has followed Manley’s career.

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“Well,” goes the saying about the Redskins’ 258-pound quarterback-cruncher, “Dexter is just being Dexter again.”

The youngest of four children, Dexter Keith Manley was raised in a rented wood-frame house in Houston’s Third Ward, one of the poorest and toughest neighborhoods in the Lone Star State. His father was a chauffeur for the Tenneco Oil Co., his mother a nurse’s aide.

Manley was a year older than most of his classmates, the result of having repeated the third grade. “I’d had a fight outside class,” he explained. “For that reason, they put me back.”

He attended Yates High, a perennial football powerhouse in Houston, and earned a starting position as a sophomore. “I was one of only three sophomores on the varsity team,” he said. “That told me something about myself.”

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After a spirited recruitment by major college coaches, Manley signed with Oklahoma State. But there was no time for celebration. As his senior year wound down, his father was suffering from terminal colon cancer and his girlfriend, Stephayne Baker, an 11th grader at Yates, was ready to give birth to their child. “It freaked us both out,” Stephayne recalled. “But Dexter had a level head. We got married.”

In Stillwater, Okla., Manley was determined to make a fresh start. And he accomplished that in short order.

First, he told Oklahoma State officials that he was 18, having been born on Feb. 2, 1959. According to his birth certificate, he was born on Feb. 2, 1958. Oklahoma State accepted the false birthdate, however, and it stuck.

Next, he purchased a new Mercury Cougar, making a $2,000 down payment. “He earned the money by working a summer job,” Stephayne Manley said recently. “He told me his uncle gave him the money,” recalled Harold Bailey, a former Yates and OSU quarterback. Asked about the Cougar, Manley shook his head. “No comment.”

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As a full-scholarship athlete, Manley did not have to pay for his room, board, books or tuition. But with a taste for tailor-made clothes and bills that included a $174 monthly car payment, he needed some cash. Uncle Sam obliged.

By the fall of his sophomore year, when his wife and child joined him in Stillwater, Manley was receiving a $756-per-semester Basic Economic Opportunity Grant and $300-a-month surviving child’s insurance benefit. He was eligible for the insurance benefit as a result of his father’s death--but only if he was unmarried. Manley repeatedly told Social Security Administration officials he was unmarried.

He started at linebacker during the second half of his freshman season. In January 1978, OSU began serving a two-year NCAA probation for having provided extra benefits to athletes, prior to Manley’s arrival. That fall, an NCAA investigator returned to Stillwater, suspicious that extra benefits still were being dispensed.

Questioned about his income, Manley told the investigator that he was receiving $100 per month from his mother, $650 per semester from Tenneco (his late father’s employer), $300 per month in child survivors benefits and $50 to $100 per month from an uncle, according to the investigator’s account. As for the Cougar, Manley spoke only of an “inheritance” he had received from his father.

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The NCAA later slapped Oklahoma State with two additional years of probation. Manley was not named in any of the charges.

On Jan. 15, 1979, Manley and 14 other OSU athletes were notified that under NCAA rules they no longer were eligible to receive BEOG benefits and full athletic scholarships at the same time. The athletes filed suit against OSU, and in a sworn afadavit, Manley stated why he believed his BEOG benefits should continue:

“I am married, and my wife and I have three children. My wife is a homemaker, and therefore provides no income . . . (My scholarship) does not provide me with any money to use to purchase clothing, pay medical bills, pay for transportation to and from Houston, Tex., for me and my family (or) cover the cost of purchasing such necessities as deodorant, toothpaste, soap, the cost of washing my and my family’s clothes, or the costs of transportation in Stillwater. Further, since I am married and have three children, it is necessary to provide the above necessities for all five of us.”

Manley concluded that if his BEOG benefits were discontinued, “I will not be able to remain at OSU.”

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On April 17, in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Luther Eubanks, Manley again stated, under oath, that he had three children. Eubanks dismissed the suit. Asked recently about his assertion that he had three children, Manley said: “I believe I was ad-libbing a little bit and maybe being dishonest. At that time I had one kid.”

On Dec. 11, 1979, he filed for divorce. Two months later, he was visited in the OSU football offices by two federal agents, one from the FBI, who wanted to know why he had lied to Social Security officials about his marital status. According to a Social Security investigator, Manley had only one explanation: he needed the money.

On June 12, 1980, he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to charges he had fraudulently obtained $9,571.20 in benefits. He later was fined $5,000, placed on three years’ probation and ordered to repay the benefits. “I made a mistake,” Manley would say later. “I wasn’t honest.”

He was sentenced under the Youth Corrections Act, which enabled an offender to clear his record by completing probation without incident.

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Manley sold his 1977 Cougar, sent the government $1,800, and agreed to pay off the entire debt when he signed his first pro contract. “I figured I would sign for some good money,” he recalled. “I didn’t expect to be drafted any lower than the second round.”

As a senior, Manley led the Cowboys in tackles for losses, just as he had as a sophomore and junior. But in the awards department, the best he could muster was second-team All-Big Eight.

On Draft Day 1981, Manley was the eighth player chosen in the fifth round, the 120th player chosen overall. Now he was a Redskin.

“But I was very upset,” Manley said of being picked so low in the draft. “I had big goals and I didn’t meet those goals.”

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He was 23 years old at the time, but the Redskins thought he was 22. In the recent interview, Manley seemed flustered when asked, apparently for the first time, why he had “changed” his birthdate. Manley’s explanations for the discrepancy included:

“In high school, they said I was born in ’58. When I got recruited and went to college, they said it was ’59. I have no explanation.”

“Here’s my birthdate right here (displaying a Virginia driver’s license with a false birthdate and incorrect middle initial, for which he later had no explanation).”

Manley’s first pro contract reflected his low draft status. He received a signing bonus of $25,000 and salaries of $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000. His first major purchase--a gold 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL--was fully financed by a Dallas bank.

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To the surprise of many, Manley made an immediate impact as a Redskin, starting 9 of 16 games and finishing with 63 tackles and 6 sacks. During the off-season, he worked as a deputy sheriff at the Fairfax County Detention Center. He took the $7-an-hour job, he said, “because I wanted another career. And I needed the money.”

He especially needed the money after the NFL players’ union called a strike, early in the ’82 season. The strike would last 57 days. Already, Manley had been sued by his landlord for non-payment of rent and he was delinquent in making payments to a Dallas bank on the Mercedes. Manley said he stopped making payments because he learned that someone else owned title to the car.

The bank did not send Manley a new license tag. Undaunted, he changed the expiration date on his long-expired “dealer” tag and placed it on the Mercedes. “Dumb,” he would say later.

On Nov. 23, 1982, Manley was stopped in the Mercedes by a Fairfax police officer who spotted the altered tag.

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(“I was stopped because I was a black kid in a Mercedes,” Manley would later speculate.) While questioning Manley, the officer noticed a Fairfax deputy badge pinned inside his wallet. Manley was arrested on charges of altering his car’s tag and, since he no was longer a deputy, impersonating a police officer. After pleading guilty to two misdemeanors, he received a $700 fine and conditionally suspended six-month jail sentence.

The Redskins stood behind their ever-rising star.

“He wants to do what’s right,” Gibbs said.

“Anybody who thinks he is some sort of criminal just doesn’t know Dexter,” General Manager Bobby Beathard said.

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Dexter was just being Dexter.

Manley said he doesn’t know when he began drinking excessively. He said he once got “kind of drunk” on “cheap wine” at Oklahoma State. “But I didn’t drink much in college,” he said. “I really started to drink maybe like in ’83. Beer, then maybe a little bit of champagne.”

He said he began drinking excessively because, “I don’t share my feelings. I suppress a lot of things. There is also anger, resentment. I mean, all these types of things play a role in picking up a drink.”

Gibbs said he has been aware of Manley’s drinking problem for “quite a while.” The coach added: “Through his whole time here we’ve worked with him and tried to help him.” Gibbs declined to comment on the nature of the Redskins’ “help” or on whether he has counseled Manley on any problems besides alcohol. “Dexter and I have talked about a lot of things,” Gibbs said. “The things we’ve talked about will stay between me and Dexter.”

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In April 1984, Manley was off to Houston to appear at a hearing on his ex-wife’s child support suit. Ronald Tucker, the lawyer representing Stephayne Manley, said the Redskins star glared at him in the Harris County courtroom, then said, in a low voice: “I’m going to whip your ass.” Manley said he did not threaten Tucker.

Manley was ordered to pay his former wife $10,400 in back child support and $800 a month until their son’s 18th birthday.

“I mean, it was like they were trying to take me to the cleaners,” Manley would say later. At the time, Manley said he already owed $100,000 to a Houston hospital. “My mother had a tumor in her brain, benign, and they removed it,” he said. “Later on, she also had a breast removed, when they found cancer.”

Manley began the ’84 season with a new wife and new confidence.

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“The three most famous people in the country are Michael Jackson, Prince and me,” he declared. His team-leading 13 1/2 sacks were followed by 15 more in ’85--and, as far as the Redskins were concerned, a Sunday without Dexter was like a Sunday without a pass rush.

Redskins fans appreciated him, too. “Dexter was one of the better guys I’d ever had at calling children in hospitals,” said Charlie Taylor, a Redskins publicist from 1976 through last season. “He would have some nice, serious conversations with kids who needed cheering up. Same thing when kids came to Redskin Park. He was the first one to sign autographs.”

Despite his popularity, Manley could scarcely stay out of trouble. During one seven-month period he was charged with five motor vehicle violations--three for speeding--which led to the suspension of his license. “Driving a foreign car, you have a tendency to go fast,” he explained.

Last year, unhappy with his contract, Manley held out from training camp for five weeks last summer, calling Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke a “miser.” The Redskins’ patience with him was dwindling, and if another player had emerged as a dominant pass rusher, Manley would have been expendable. But the Redskins’ pass rush was lackluster without him, and on Aug. 27, he accepted a four-year, $1.6 million deal.

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Although last season undoubtedly was the finest of his career--he was a Pro Bowler for the first time--Manley seemed sluggish at the end. He had a team-record, league-best 17 1/2 sacks entering the Dec. 7 game against the New York Giants but he received credit for just half a sack in his final six outings.

At the time, Manley attributed the decline solely to being double-teamed by opponents. He recently conceded that his late-season performances also may have been diluted by alcohol.

“I wasn’t drinking every week but when I did drink it affected me,” he said. “It takes away your endurance.” But he said he never drank alcohol on the night before--or morning of--a game.

Manley said the self-help, group-therapy program at Hazelden taught him to “have a relationship with Dexter” and to be “honest with Dexter.” It was intensive, he said: “We’d start at 7 in the morning and continue until 8:30 at night. We’d discuss our feelings, our hurt, our pain. We’d even write letters to people who had died in our families. I wrote a letter to my father because I was angry he didn’t tell me he loved me.”

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Manley said his treatment will be supervised in the Washington area by Alcoholics Anonymous. “I’ve admitted that I’m powerless over alcohol,” he said. “Now I need other people to keep me sober.”

On the day he checked into Hazelden, Manley phoned his former wife in Houston, hoping to explain his problem to their 10-year-old son. Derrick Manley was at school, so his father promised to call back. “But before Dexter could call, Derrick heard about it at school,” Stephayne Manley recalled. “A teacher ran up to him and said, ‘Oh, hey. How’s your daddy? I heard he was in a drug rehab center.’ Derrick took it terribly. He cried.”

Derrick speaks with his father often. Someday he, too, wants to play pro football. “But my father doesn’t want me to play,” Derrick said. “He says I might get hurt. He says it’s too dangerous.” Derrick plays running back for a team called the Riverside Cowboys.

“The kids on the team have a name for me,” he said. “They call me The Next Dexter Manley.”

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Derrick’s father will be 30 years old next February. After a lifetime of fame, folly and just being Dexter, he has made one sobering conclusion about his future:

“Now, all the dumb stuff will have to stop,” he said. “It’s time for Dexter Manley to grow up.”


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