Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Rick Cleveland: Wesley Walls and the hard knocks of football

Far be it from me to become involved in the Academy Awards controversy about the lack of nominations for African American actors. I hope the people voting know more about it than I do.

Fact is, I only know what I like and what touches me. And one of the 2015 movies that touched me most was “Concussion” – a film starring the immensely talented Will Smith, which dealt with the catastrophic effects of repeated concussions for professional football players.

Smith played the role of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian pathologist who fought mightily against the NFL, which tried to suppress his research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), brain damage suffered by professional football players.

Understand, I have been around football all my life. And, because of my job, I deal every week with aging football stars, practically all who suffer, to some degree, the effects of injuries suffered long ago playing football.

Most limp. Some have chronic headaches, others bad backs. And some can't remember things they should remember.

Nothing in “Concussion” really surprised me. Still, watching it in well-acted, well-reported story form like that was emotionally wrenching. I did not move until long after the credits rolled.

Neither did Wesley Walls, the Pontotoc native and former Ole Miss great, who played in the NFL from 1989 until 2003, making the Pro Bowl five times in the process and earning one Super Bowl Ring.

“I am not going to lie to you, I watched that movie with my family and I got emotional,” Walls said. “I just sat there when it was over. I couldn't move. It got me on so many levels.”

Walls' range of emotions included sadness, anger and, yes, fear.

Sadness? “You see what men like Mike Webster and Dave Duerson went through,” Walls said. “They were great players, warriors, and football injuries ruined their lives.”

Anger? “The NFL tried to deny it all,” Walls said. “They had evidence and they didn't act on it.”

Fear? Walls played tight end. Part of his job was catching passes over the middle and taking hit after hit from linebackers and safeties. Before he became an All-Pro tight end, he was a special teams standout. Part of his job was that of wedge-buster on kickoff coverage, that is, to run as fast as he could down the field and throw himself into huge, fast, strong blockers.

“I worry, man, I worry,” Walls said. “It's the biggest worry of my life because I see what it has done to other guys, guys I played with and against. I was taken off the field three times for concussions. I probably had at least four more.”

So far, so good for Walls, who will turn 50 on March 26. Walls caught 450 NFL passes, including 54 touchdowns, despite missing two full seasons with shoulder injuries.

“I've got aches and pains,” he says. “Hey, you play football, you're going to get hurt. I've been lucky so far. I am enjoying football retirement more than I thought I would. I'm enjoying my family and I am enjoying getting older. Maybe, something bad looms out there in the future. I don't know. I do know I loved playing the game. I have no regrets.”

But he also had no regrets when his son, Colton, a hard-hitting linebacker who signed a football scholarship with Clemson in 2010, decided to give up the game.

“He just said he didn't want to play any more,” Wesley Walls said. “At first I was disappointed but in the end I was proud of him for making a tough, mature decision.”

Walls, now a successful businessman in Charlotte, will be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this July. He remains a big football fan, of Ole Miss and the NFL.

“I don't know the answer,” Walls said. “The new rules and the way they are enforcing them will help. Still, if you play football, you are going to get hit and you're going to get hit in the head. The league has to do everything it can to improve the equipment and enforce the new rules. And it has to take care of its people.”


Rick Cleveland is historian of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and a syndicated columnist. His email address is


Anonymous said...

If you want to get into the nitty gritty on this topic the movie HEAD GAMES is where to start.

Anonymous said...

IT TAKES MONTHS TO RECOVER FROM A CONCUSSION. NFL Docs and trainers need to let people recover when they get hurt.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Everyone wants to focus on the NFL, but the fact is most players get their first concussions in junior high, high school, and college. That's where the focus has to start. You can't take concussions out of football because the sport involves physical contact.

Anonymous said...

Competitive soccer is riddled with concussions.

Anonymous said...

Leave the kids games to the kids. Frown men should act like they are grown.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember what I was going to say.

Anonymous said...

Who would have thought that 300lb+ men running head first into each other would hurt?

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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