Dexter Manley, former Defensive End for the Washington Redskins, was nicknamed football’s “Secretary of Defense” in 1986 by a top government official. Listen in to Dexter tell Andy O the story about how he received the nickname and from whom.
Andy says of Dexter Manley, “for many years a legend in the city of Washington. Manley “did so much as a player and so much as a human being”.
Dexter recalls that he and Andy met for the first time at training camp in Carlisle Pennsylvania, and how Andy won him over with a deal at the station, “I did a show . . .maybe for about a year and they paid me not one dime but they furnished my bedroom suit for free. I’d never heard of that before. I said where’s my money. Jack Kent Cook said get money don’t go for those deals.” Lots of laughter ensues and we see why Andy refers to Dexter Manley as a “character”.
Growing Up in Houston, TX and Oklahoma State University Football
Andy O and Dexter talk about Dexter’s childhood years in Houston, Texas. He describes the environment he grew up in as poverty and crime stricken and lots of divorce. He also describes his hard-working parents who made sure he went to church and grew up with good Christian values. Dexter talks about the guys in his neighborhood stealing bicycles, smoking marijuana, and drinking “md2020”, and how he chose to stay away from that. One of the most devastating times in his young life was when, while sitting on his porch, he looked down the street and saw his brother put into the backseat of a police car. His brother landed in a juvenile home from that encounter with the police. Dexter’s brother played football at the local high school, and was his hero. He also saw young talented high school football players leave town to play in college only to get in trouble and return home. He knew he didn’t want this for himself. He went to school, sat is the front row, but despite his efforts he graduated functionally illiterate. He also tells Andy “I had such tunnel vision I wanted to play football trying to get out of that environment. I had 37 scholarship offers.”
Manley goes on to recall how in his junior year at Jack Yates High School he was recruited to play in college. This process brought him closer to his Dad. Growing up, Dex received little attention from his Dad. Despite how good he was at football – he was a high school all American – his Dad watched him play only once in high school. His Dad saw him in a different light once the coaches started to come around. So did the whole community. “They couldn’t believe it, Bum Phillips and Jim Stanley they are getting out of these limos coming to my gun shack house sitting up on blocks in the ghetto.” At a big breakfast in Houston, Bum Phillips, head coach of the Houston Oilers, said that Dex should play at Oklahoma State University. That’s all it took for Dexter to attend OSU for the next four years. He tells Andy that neither he nor his Dad knew then what all that meant, all they knew that these big names were telling him he had a future in football.
Dexter’s four years at Oklahoma State University were tumultuous. They fired head coach Jim Stanley and brought on Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator Jimmie Johnson to replace him. Jimmie Johnson came on in Dex’s junior year, and was his coach for remaining two years. He had them winning games. Dexter goes on to talk about the OSU’s probation “for passing out benefits” to players. He recalls receiving the keys to a brand-new car. He tells Andy “I was coming off the practice field, Charlie Alexander said sit in the car that was a brand-new car, and I never forget. I never had hardly nothing brand-new so we turn the radio on, and we heard the news Elvis died, he said Manley, he gave me the keys, this is yours. And so, I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”
1981 NFL Scouting Combine, Tampa Bay, FL
Andy asks Manley how the Washington Redskins found him. Dexter talks about meeting Bobby Beathard and Mike Allman at the NFL Scouting Combine in Tampa, Florida. They were there to evaluate the talent. Manley recalls the testing involved and how he felt shame at the time for not being able to fill out the paperwork because he was functionally illiterate. He always held this secret close.
Beathard told Manley at the Combine that he wanted to draft him and replace Coy Bacon. Dexter was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the 5th round of NFLs’ 1981 draft. When he landed at Dulles Airport to start his professional football career in Our Town he could “feel it in the air how the people had – the Redskins have – a strong fan base . . . how they have a dislike for the Dallas Cowboys.” Manley grew up loving the Cowboys but that all changed when he came to play for Washington. He goes on to tell Andy how a few former Oklahoma State University football players turned pro, Terry Miller, Ron Baker and Derrel Gofourth, gave him great advice about getting started with the team. They told him to tell the special teams coach he wanted to be on special teams. He tells Andy he went to Wayne Sevier during minicamp after he first got drafted and told him he wanted to be on special teams and Sevier took him on. That’s where Manley made his mark and niche. It turned out to be the right thing to do. Dexter Manley was sensational on special teams and got noticed there. He was coached by Torgy Torgeson and Richie Petitbon.
Manley’s Pro-Football Career
Joe Gibbs became Washington’s head coach in 1981 – the same year Manley was drafted. Dex tells Andy that Gibbs was sympathetic to him and gave him an opportunity. He recalls making one mistake after another because he couldn’t remember the defensive plays due to his learning disabilities. Manley played his first game after he witnessed something on the field he had never seen before. He tells Andy “I saw Coy Bacon and Torgy Torgeson get in an altercation on the football field that was like the third game of the season – first year – I’ve never seen a player talk to a coach like that. . .remember Bobby Beathard told me he wanted me to replace him, and so are I’m watching his altercation on the field and they told me to go in . . . they took him off the team he never came back . . .and Joe Gibbs backed them up. My first game was against the Philadelphia Eagles, Ron Jaworski. I had two-and-a-half sacks and it was great ever since.”
Dexter Manley enjoyed playing for Washington during what Andy O calls the Glory Years, but was suspended from the NFL in 1989 by Pete Rozelle. Dex went on to play for the Arizona Cardinals – after he was reinstated by Paul Tagliabue – during the 1990 season. There, he was “I was a boy scout . . . it was a clean and wholesome place.” In 1991, the Cardinals had new draft picks and brought in Fritz Shurmur as the new defensive coordinator. It was during the first preseason game and the word was that Manley was going to be released and be picked up by Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played at Tampa Bay during the 1991 season. He tells Andy he got off the plane went to practice and it was great. He was also offered a job at a CBS station. He did a show Sunday night Pam Oliver. It wasn’t long though before he began using drugs again. He explains how he got caught up with young new draft picks from Alabama and Nebraska with fast cars going to men clubs and drinking heavily. That was the beginning of his downfall at Tampa Bay. Dexter recalls a story about this that he’s never told before. He was met on the practice field by NFL New York Dr. Brown who had Manley speak with the Commissioner about a positive drug test. They agreed to retest which gave Dex another three weeks to play. The retest came back positive. At this point, Manley’s agent Bob Woolf suggested that Manley retire. A press conference was held and Manley formerly retired before he was banned by the Commissioner.
Brain Cyst – Initial Diagnosis
Andy and Dexter go on to discuss how he found out that he had a cyst the size of a quarter on his brain and how that – as Andy puts it – made his “life completely different.” In 1986, Manley was in Garfinckels Department Store looking around and passed out. He was taken to Georgetown Hospital and that’s where they found the cyst. Dex says that Dr. Luessenhop told him they would take a wait-and-see attitude. He was supposed to return every six months to get an MRI. You will find out later in the interview how Manley lived in denial of this diagnosis, how if affected his life going forward, and how it came to be resolved.
Back to Houston – Not a Good Idea
Dexter Manley returned to Houston two to three years after leaving the league in December 1991. He tells Andy, “I really started using drugs then” and that “I just couldn’t believe after where I come from now I’m back.” Manley recalls, while in Houston, how he became incarcerated on a drug possession charge. Listen in to hear what happened during the trial that caused the judge to issue and bench warrant and land him in jail for 2 years. While in jail he was in a drug rehab program. Also while incarcerated he realized he had been in denial about the brain cyst and began to remember as he had some good days, and some bad days and he knew something wasn’t right. When he received a letter from Second Genesis, he had his attorney follow up on it because he wanted to get back to DC. Second Genesis made him an offer and he came back to Our Town in October 2004. He stayed clean for about a year and then slipped back into drug use.
June 16, 2006, he was on Georgia Avenue “surrounded by cops maybe about seven or eight of them at four o’clock in the morning.” They saw that he was high but didn’t look right, so they called a rescue squad and had him taken to Washington Hospital Center instead of jail. He was very grateful not to go to jail but was unhappy to be sent to Washington Hospital Center because he felt they wouldn’t “treat him with kid gloves.” He didn’t like it there and he became disruptive. A few days later, on Fathers’ Day, they released him to his wife, Lydia, who took him to Georgetown Hospital on Monday. He had a MRI and on Tuesday Dexter underwent 15-hour brain surgery to remove the cyst and reduce the swelling. He realized then that he was surrendering. He tells Andy “From that point on I decided that I don’t want to keep rolling the dice. I want to live.” After surgery, Manley went to the National Rehabilitation Hospital, started rehab and got better. He has been clean ever since. He just celebrated 10 years on June 17, 2016. He had to draw the line in the sand because he wanted to live. Manley now goes to support groups and meetings to stay clean.
NFL Players Group Lawsuit
Andy and Dexter talk about the players group lawsuit. Out of 7,000 players, 1,500 don’t wont to accept a settlement because the funds are inadequate. The owners keep appealing and Dexter tells Andy that he thinks they should stop and just start handing on the money because players are suffering.
Andy points out that Manley is still active around Our Town and says that he is a good role model for young people. He can let them know that they can get through it – either they stop using, keep going to rehab, or they die.
Learning to Read – Why and How
Dexter tells Andy that Joe Theismann’s leg injury in 1985 – in the game against the Giants – caused him great fear and trepidation. What if that happened to him? He was functionally illiterate. What would happen to him if he couldn’t play football because of such an injury? He had to do something. After the ’85 football season, Manley entered a drug treatment center. There he had to journal and share his day in the group but couldn’t because he was functionally illiterate. He found out through the group that he could get help. Manley called his wife, Glenda, to talk to her about what he had learned. She in turn spoke to her mother who happened to see an article in the Chicago Tribune about the Washington Lab School.
In 1986 during offseason Dex went over to the Lab School and got evaluated by Sallie Jenkins. When he got the results – he was reading on a second-grade level – he will never forget feeling demoralized standing there looking at his shoelaces. Sallie arranged for Dexter to take classes at the Lab School during offseason. He studied from 1986 through 1990, and went from a second grade to tenth grade reading level. Manley was determined not to end up like so many other players who didn’t have anything to fall back on after their football days were over.
“Secretary of Defense”
Dexter Manley recalls how he received the nickname Secretary of Defense. In 1986 the Washington Redskins’ PR department told him that Caspar Weinberger wanted to meet with him. So, Manley was picked up at his home in Reston and taken to the Pentagon to meet Secretary Weinberger. Manley admits that he had been out all night using drugs and “wasn’t in his right mind “was “kind of spaced out” but went anyway because Secretary Weinberger wanted to give him an award. He remembers when Weinberger saw him he called out to him “Secretary of Defense.”
Andy asks Dexter about Glinda and Lydia, both of whom Andy knows. Andy asks him about his two children, Dexter Keith and Dalis with Glinda who divorced him in 1993. He complements her on raising the children – she does a good job. He goes on to talk about Lydia who he has been married to since 1997. Lydia and Dexter went to high school together. She’s an engineer. She was valedictorian and queen in high school. She also received an academic scholarship to attend Brown University and Howard University. She decided on Howard. He considers her a great wife and great friend.
What’s in a Name
Manley and Andy wrap up the interview talking about the politics around the Washington Redskins’ name change issue and how it may or may not impact ultimately where the team plays.