Imagine, you are on the beltway in the car alone and you don’t know how or where to get off because you can’t read any of the signs. Imagine only knowing where to go and what to do if you had a friend in the car with you. Imagine making it through all of your schooling while being illiterate. It’s an upsetting thought isn’t it? Well, for Dexter Manley it was a very sad reality.
Dexter Keith Manley was born on February 2, 1959 in Houston, Texas, to Carl and Jewellean Manley. In elementary school Manley was diagnosed with a learning disability and was even dubbed “mentally retarded” because of the time it took him to grasp one lesson. He was eventually assigned to a special education class where playing with blocks took place of learning how to read and write. Once in middle school Dexter fell even further behind his peers as there were no special education classes available to him.
Dexter Manley’s struggles in school put a strain on his relationship with his Dad, who was a real stickler when it came to education. While attending Yates High School Manley joined the football team to try and appease Carl (his pops). Dexter soon realized he had a talent for the sport and knew the only way he would make it to college was through football scholarships, he ended up getting offered thirty-seven of them.
Manley’s illiteracy and learning disabilities followed him to Oklahoma State University, where he used his perfect attendance, charm, and athletic ability to get by. While attending class Dexter would fake pretending to read something the best he could. How his professors never caught on is beyond me. Or maybe they caught on but because he played football they just didn’t care, which is pretty sad if that was the case. When it came to filling out forms and documents Manley had the ability to write his name and address. He would ask a friend or classmate to fill out the rest for him. As someone who loves to read this really hurts my heart. He would use this same system later on to fill out his NFL contracts.
Dexter Manley was selected by the Washington Redskins (Yeah! I said it!) in the fifth round of the 1981 NFL draft. He was placed on special teams and that was fine with Manley as there were not any plays that needed to be followed. He managed to stay clean during his rookie season but by 1982 Manley had gotten into cocaine, strippers, and partying. Much to dismay of the NFL who had started cracking down on substance use with its players. When Dexter became the starting defensive end, it was another story and his learning disability soon reared its ugly head once again. He had a difficult time comprehending the plays from the play book. Luckily for Manley, Joe Gibbs, who was the coach of the Redskins at the time was a very patient man (more patient than most NFL coaches). He would go over the same plays with Manley multiple times. He would also have the defense come to practice early and leave late so they could run the same plays over and over, helping Manley learn them through repetition. Ya know, I have always hated the Skins but I have always had a soft spot for Joe Gibbs.
Despite knowing the playbook now, Manley still could not read. He hid this from his coaches and teammates the best he could and would even carry the Wall Street Journal with him every day when he entered the team’s facility, giving off the impression that he had been reading it. Despite these obstacles Dexter Manley felt his life was going pretty well, until teammate Joe Theisman’s shocking leg injury in 1985. We all know about that injury, that horrendous one where his leg bone popped out, the horrendous one where you could hear his leg snap in half, the same horrendous injury that quarterback Alex Smith suffered in 2018, the horrendous injury that ENDED Joe Theisman’s NFL career.
It was at that moment Manley realized everything could end for him tomorrow and he had nothing to fall back on, he had nothing else to do. “I was ashamed and embarrassed,” he once told a reporter, “I was in belligerent denial. I didn’t want to face that stuff, because I was comfortable looking at my shoelaces. At least I thought I was until I watched that man go down. I was functional until that night.” In 1986 Manley set a Redskins franchise record, the most sacks made by a single player in one season, he had 18.5 of them. How do you get half a sack? Can someone explain that to me if you know? In 1987 he started taking classes at the Washington Lab School. Dexter Manley would go on to fail drug tests given to him in 1987 and 1988.
By 1989 Dexter Manley could read on a 10th grade level, he also failed his third drug test with the NFL and he was suspended for a year. He was allowed to apply for reinstatement in 1990, I guess the Redskins didn’t want to wait that long because they let him go. During his suspension he continued his schooling at the Washington Lab. In 1990 he was signed by the Pheonix (now Arizona) Cardinals, while with this team he obtained a tutor that traveled on the road with him. By 1991, Dexter Manley was no longer literate. He was also no longer employed; he did not perform well with the Cardinals and was cut from the team. Don’t worry, he wasn’t without a team for long as that same year he was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers .
Manley was not with the Buccs for long though, after failing what would be his final drug test in the NFL he retired on December 12, 1991. Apparently, the NFL didn’t want to give him to opportunity to change his mind and come out of retirement because they banned him all together. Manley used drugs well into his retirement and would often leave his family for four or five days at time while he went on a bender. His wife had enough and finally kicked him out. After living with friends for a while he moved back to Houston in 1994. This would end up being a decision Manley would come to regret.
Oh yeah, let me back track for a second, he played in the CFL in 1992 and 1993. He didn’t do much of anything there. While in Houston he was able to mostly fly under the radar as his celebrity status was not that of what it was while in D.C. He settled into a comfortable life style and rented a luxury apartment. Despite this he soon fell back into his old pattern of doing drugs for days on end. It wasn’t long before Manley started experimenting with crack. A drug that reportedly made him so paranoid he ended calling the police on himself numerous times. As the paranoia progressed, Manley began hanging sheets in his apartment windows to keep light out and limit the amount of movement people outside of the building were able to see. He eventually began to believe people were after him and rented a second apartment in the same building strictly for his drug use. Behind on rent and clearly an addict his landlord kicked him out. Of both apartments, just to be clear.
Finding himself homeless, Dexter would often crash with friends and relatives, and would end up sleeping on their couches or floors. He eventually ran up all his credit cards on hotel rooms and spent all his cash on drugs. He would end up being arrested a total of four times on drug related charges, the last time being in 1995. After his final arrest he was charged with possession of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced to five years in a federal prison. He would only end up serving two years behind bars. I say that like two years isn’t a long time to be locked up, shit I wouldn’t last 3 hours in prison. Just to put into perspective how insane this man’s drug use was, he came to Houston with 1 million dollars in the bank and blew through it in a year. While in prison Manley got cleaned and made a vow to stay clean after his release.
Unfortunately, Dexter wasn’t able to shake his old demons and once out started using drugs again. He found himself jumping from rehab canter to rehab center trying to kick his old habit. In 2002 Manley was convicted of tampering with evidence after he swallowed a bag of cocaine during a 2001 drug raid. He found himself back in jail for another two years, where once again he managed to stay clean. He was released a second time on March 5, 2004 and by that August he had relapsed once again. After attending yet another rehab facility in Houston, Manley decided it was time for a change of scenery.
Dexter Manley moved back to Washington D.C with the help of a nonprofit organization called Second Genesis (by now they have closed their doors). During this time Manley started having an affair with a female cocaine dealer and guess what? He relapsed…. AGAIN! Manley battled his addiction again over the next couple of months and was even kicked out of a halfway house. One Saturday night Dexter was wandering around Georgia Avenue in D.C. after a night of drug use and was pulled over by the police. He was acting erratically, and the officers recognized that he was not well. They decided to take him to Washington Hospital Center instead of arresting him. This decision would save Manley’s life.
Over the year’s literacy wasn’t the only thing Manley hid from the world, he also hid a very important health issues he was dealing with, one that he claims to have forgotten about as the years passed. In 1986 after collapsing in a department store in Georgetown, Manley was rushed to the hospital where doctors found a dime sized tumor on his brain. Neurologists told Manley that he would eventually need surgery to remove the tumor and for the time being was sent home with instructions to get a brain scan every six months to monitor the tumors growth, instructions Manley completely ignored. . Just like his illiteracy, Manley was in denial of his concerning brain issue; “I wanted to play football, Brain surgery? I didn’t think about it. I was always bigger, faster, stronger than most of my colleagues. I just didn’t want to face that. So I ignored it.”
Once at the hospital it was soon realized that the tumor on his brain had grown to the size of a quarter and needed to removed immediately. His erratic behavior that continued while at the hospital wasn’t related to his drug use but to this little dude living on his brain. On June 21, 2006 Dexter Manley underwent fifteen hours of strenuous brain surgery to remove the colloid cyst. After the tumor was removed all of Manley’s drug related urges disappeared…or so they say. On June 17, 2020 Manley celebrated 14 years of sobriety. Dexter Manley lives in suburban Washington with his wife and children. He leads a drug free life now and is in bed at 8:00 every night. On May 16, 2020 Manley tested positive for COVID-19. Let’s be real here, if he didn’t let illiteracy and horrendous drug use keep him down you really think he was going to let COVID take him out?
I’m not really sure how to close out a story like that one. I guess I will just say never give up on your dreams. At 29 Dexter Manley was reading on a 2nd grade level and look how far he has come in life. Keep your head up, remember it is never too late to better yourself, and don’t do drugs.
Cocaine, illiteracy and football could not stop Dexter Manley – Sarah Kogod (SBNATION)
A Football Life: Dexter Manley – ESPN
was at that moment Manley realized everything could end for him tomorrow and he had nothing to fall back on, he had nothing else to do. “I was ashamed and embarrassed,” he once told a reporter, “I was in belligerent denial. I didn’t want to face that stuff, because I was comfortable looking at my shoelaces. At least I thought I was until I watched that man go down. I was functional until that night.” In 1986 Manley set a Redskins franchise record, the most sacks made by a single player in one season, he had 18.5 of them. How do you get half a sack? Can someone explain that to me if you know? In 1987 he started taking classes at the Washington Lab School. Two years later in 1989 Dexter Manley could finally read on a 10th grade level.
Absolutely an awesome article. Well done!
I must say I don’t like the redskins (hell with politically correctness. I know know them as Washington Redskins). needless to say I’m a huge Dallas Cowboys fan.
I do remember Dexter playing days. He was a good defensive end, but I always felt bad that a grown man could not read. It’s disturbing.I also remember that Dallas offensive line used to keep Dexter away their quarter backs. GO COWBOYS!!!
I also remember his huge friendship with George Micheal (not sure if it’s Micheal or Micheals). He admired George and George was very fund of Dexter. I remember George RIP took a trip to Texas to bring Dexter back to Washington in order to keep an eye on him.
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