Redskins Hall Of Fame cornerback Darrell Green will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game, a rare combination of speed, football IQ, and absolute dedication to his only employer.
Off the field, however, he was a bit of an anomaly. Here was one of the greatest players to ever take the field–a rockstar–who chose not live the rockstar lifestyle. In 20 years in professional football, he never drank, he never smoked, and he never cheated on his wife.
For him, the influences were never easy to overcome, but the choices were never hard. He said that he remembered the first time he encountered a cigarette at around age 11, and he remembers sitting all alone in his driveway with the cigarette.
“At the time, in the 1960s and 70’s, everybody was about marijuana and cigarettes, and I was literally that kind of kid where I’d take that cigarette and talk to it,” he remembered. “I had a conversation with it, and I said, ‘Now why would I smoke you? They’re telling me to smoke you, but why would I?’ And it may sound weird, but it helped, and eventually I just smashed it under my foot.”
Strange as it may have been to witness, the self-talk worked, and it was a conscientious decision that he’s stuck with for the next 40 years.
In college, he was a star athlete at Texas A&I, but he needed some help with a math class. So he got a classmate to tutor him, somebody who had a patented system for cheating.
And I told him, ‘No, I didn’t ask you to come help me cheat! I’ve been saying in front of the media and stuff that I just thank God for my ability to do this and do that. How could I cheat?'” he asked. “‘If I can’t play next year or run next year, I’d rather not run than be able to say I cheated.'”
Green is a man of faith, but also attributes his actions and decisions to logical thinking. He’s never cheated on his wife in 27 years of marriage, because as he sees it:
“If I cheated on my wife, I end up divorced,” he said. “If I cheat, I won’t have my wife no more, I won’t have my kids, and I will have destroyed everything.”
In the NFL culture that was just coming into its own, in a town that had a rabid fan base and a perennial contender for the Super Bowl, there was plenty of peer pressure to succumb to. But Green was never proud enough to follow the crowd. He just did what he needed to do.
“I was 42 when I retired, so my clothes were never up to date with the latest fashion,” he said. “If I walked into the locker room wearing this shirt, and you laughed at it, I’d wear it every day for a week. For seven days I would wear that same shirt that you laughed at.”
Green ended up passing that method on to his children, who ran into the same situations in high school. One day his daughter was laughed at for what she wore, and after consulting him, she wore it for the rest of the week.
He remembered times in the locker room when he was ridiculed for not going out to the clubs to party. But Green has never been preachy or self-righteous about his beliefs, and even to this day he’s still willing to help out his former teammates make the right choices. For them, his message is very simple:
“We don’t want to be driven and controlled by foolishness,” he said. “I had a guy email me two months ago, and I played with him 15 or 18 years ago. But he said, ‘I know you tried to talk to me years ago when we were in the hotel, and I wouldn’t listen. Will you talk to me now?’ And so I did.”
It’s not unrelated that Green was able to play so well for so long, all while living a clean, drama-free lifestyle. It may not be easy, but it certainly worked out well for him.