“I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault”
In retrospect it was a poor choice of words for the hard hitting safety of the Oakland Raiders. But for a man whom others referred to as “The Assassin”, he was merely performing for those who loved him for what he could do on the football field.
August 12th 1978 was a day that whether he liked it or not would have an everlasting effect on the rest of Tatum’s life. The Raiders were playing the New England Patriots in an exhibition. Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan swooned a pass down the middle for receiver Darryl Stingley when a collision took place enforced by Tatum.
The hit was legal by all accounts, yet it’s conclusion was devastating. Tatum had unleashed his signature talent, which he had been cheered for so many times before.
Stingley suffered two fractured vertebrae. Within a few seconds he went from being a professional athlete to a wheelchair bound quadriplegic. He was 26 years old. Perhaps even more tragic was the fact that neither man ever spoke following an event that forever changed each of them.
Stories differ on what transpired specifically, but Tatum did go to the hospital to check on Stingley but was unable to see him. Tatum did not attempt to visit again contrary to Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden who visited with Stingley often and was outspoken about adopting Darryl into the “Raider family”.
On April 5th 2007 Stingley died prematurely at the age of 55, a direct result from the injuries he suffered from that fateful hit nearly 30 years earlier. Upon hearing of Stingley’s death, Tatum said “Darryl will be forever remembered for his strength and courage. My heart and prayers go out to his family.”
Eventually Stingley was able to regain some usage of his right arm. It was mobile enough to allow him to operate the toggle on his wheelchair enabling him move on his own.
He made the most of his life visiting fellow patients suffering from paralysis often in hospitals. In 1983 he wrote a book appropriately titled “Happy to Be Alive”. He had three children and founded an association in Chicago to help troubled youth.
The closest thing to a mutual reconciliation between Tatum and Stingley occurred in 1996 when a live interview was to take place with both men present. Stingley pulled out at the last moment however when he learned that Tatum would be using the encounter to promote his new book. Too much salt in the wound for Stingley or any man perhaps to handle.
Stingley publicly forgave Tatum years earlier in 1983 during an interview. He said “I had to forgive him. I don’t harbor any ill feelings toward him. In my heart I forgave Jack Tatum a long time ago.”
Many have vilified Jack Tatum for the remainder of his life up until the day he died in 2010. Those same people pointed to karma when in 2003 Tatum had his leg amputated due to complications from diabetes. Darryl Stingley would have none of it.
“Maybe the natural reaction is to think he got what was coming to him, but I don’t accept human nature as our real nature. Human nature teaches us to hate, God teaches us to love” said Stingley.
Tatum would go on to found the Jack Tatum Fund for Youthful Diabetes.
He was hardly “The Assasin” off the field. His teammates called him “The Reverend” due to his quiet demeanor and thinking man’s aura. Said Tatum, “If I hadn’t played football, I’d’ve probably been a farmer. I just liked the peace and serenity”.
Jack Tatum and Darryl Stingley, two men who both were seeking peace and serenity, just having different paths of getting there. May both men rest in peace.