Jeff Pearlman

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On Reggie White

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A few days ago I had a lengthy conversation with Sara White, the widow of Reggie White.

It’s been nearly 11 years since her husband died at the far-too-young age of 42 (seven days shy of 43), and Sara has done her best to move forward. Their two children are now adults. She works as a real estate agent in North Carolina. She’s smart and lovely, and a fantastic conversationalist.

There is, however, lingering pain.

Much of it came forth in the lead up to the recent posthumous Hall of Fame induction of Junior Seau, the legendary San Diego Charger who committed suicide in 2012. Sara White was not pleased with the way to Hall treated Seau’s family. She believes his daughter, Sydney, deserved to speak at the ceremony on his behalf. She also doesn’t understand why the family of deceased players never receive the Hall of Fame ring living inductees are presented with. Indeed, I checked with the Hall, and if a player is not alive for the ceremony, his family is gifted with neither Hall of Fame jacket nor jewelry. Because White entered the Hall two years after his death, his ring—Sara said—sits in a vault in Canton, Ohio. “I want my children to have his ring,” Sara said. “It’s very shallow of the Hall, very rude. I don’t understand how they make that rule up. What’s the purpose of keeping the ring from the family? They gave us a patch and a certificate. I have so many trophies of Reggie—a storage room filled with stuff. But a ring—you can have that with you at all time.” Sara and Reggie raised their children, Jeremy and Jecolia, as well as Sara’s niece, Shari. She’d like one of the kids to have the Hall ring, one to have the Super Bowl XXXI ring and one to have his NFC Championship ring. “I’ve never understood it,” she said. “Why, because he’s gone, does the Hall keep the ring?”

On the day after Reggie White died from a cardiac arrhythmia, Sara was at the funeral home when she received a phone call from a doctor doing research on concussions. He asked if she would consider donating her husband’s brain for research. “Reggie had just died and I was taken aback,” she said. “I couldn’t even consider it. But, maybe had I calmed down and spoke to him, I would have made a different decision.”

Sara wonders what would have been found. Reggie White was a big man, a strong man, a man of religious conviction. He always presented himself with confidence and passion. Yet, according to Sara, in the years after Reggie’s 2000 retirement, his memory started to do quirky things. “He went to a doctor because he felt like he had ADD,” she said. “He didn’t think his brain was functioning properly.” The physician told Reggie he was fine, but the legendary defensive end didn’t buy it. Thoughts came and went. He was increasingly forgetful. “Our daughter played basketball and volleyball every Tuesday,” Sara said. “That was her day—every Tuesday. But Reggie would always forget. And it was like he’d ask me a question, then ask the same question again two hours later.

“Our son only played flag football, and that was a relief to Reggie,” she said. “Reggie would have headaches all the time. All. The. Time. He took a lot of Tylenol, but he was aware the game wasn’t great for your health. He didn’t want his son to go through that.”

All these years later, Sara believes Reggie’s brain should have been examined. She hears about Seau and Dave Duerson and the dozens of other retired players who were diminished by the game they cherished, and thinks her beloved spouse was likely a victim, too.

“I’ve been able to have a great life since he passed,” she says. “But Reggie’s with me.”

A pause.

“He’s always with me.”

  • John Barker

    Miss ya reggie! God bless his family, and hey h.o.f. give them their ring its not yours.

  • Phil Danen

    Reggie’s daughter is named Jecolia…not Dakota

  • sanford943

    It is really hard to believe the lack of common sense of people, or businesses

    • John Barker

      Lol what?

      • sanford943

        You don’t think common sense is not being used in this situation, do you think I shouldn’t be amazed that people or business don’t have any common sense

        • John Barker

          Lol i dont have any idea what you’re talking about…hence the statement “lol what?”

  • 76hwykid

    I get there are rules but it becomes overruled once a h.o.f pass away their family or love one get to keep possession of those they loved and had the chance to enjoy it with them until the end of their days respectfully they deserve it…. Give up the ring.

  • Reason8200

    There is risk in everything in life. Nfl players knowingly sacrifice their health while young for fame and large amounts of cash. Others get paid less and have the accumulated affects of their hard work on their bodies later in age. Odd how most of you don’t bat an eye when someone who isn’t a jock gets injured on the job.

    • Matthew Jacobs

      Reggie death wasnt football related a cpap would have saved his life

      • Rick Weier

        So your a Doctor too,Matthew?

    • John Barker

      We dont bat an eye when someone who isnt a jock gets injured on the job? Maybe because we dont know about it because its some random person we dont know exists? Bein injured on the job would be like playing one nfl game, ever. And if someone has such a bad accident at work that it instantly gives them brain damage, memory loss, chronic pain, depression and even eventual death i dont think theres any decent human being who wouldnt feel bad or want to help if they knew about it. You need to grow up ir get a better understanding of the situation. No one is taking away from the advantages reggie gained from football in his life. This mans life was so affected by pain and brain damage that he thought all the glory, fame and wealth wasnt worth it. You cant even imagine being as great of a “jock” as he was so i know you sure cant imagine being willing to give all that up to have your health. Not to mention who of us helped him when he needed it? Probably the same or less than the number of people who help people injured on the job. If we read an article about some guy with brain damage and chronic pain from working at subway im sure we would post a comment of best wishes for him. Essentially thats all any of us have done for these “jocks”. Get your bone head moronic and self loathing comment out of here d bag.

  • Brian

    My favorite NFL player by far.

  • Don Maxwell

    It’s 2015! Why would that question even cross your mind?

  • teffer

    Hey hall, you NEED to get that ring to the White family. You have NO business keeping it.

  • Janie Outland

    Reggie was one of my favorite Green Bay Packers. He was a leader in my book, he was a good example of a Christian man on and off the field. I have a football figure of him and his football card that I will treasure forever.

  • Matthew Jacobs

    You wont get ring because hes passed away and you will just pawn it.

    • Rick Weier

      Are you serious Matthew, or brain dead?

      • Michael MacTavish

        Me thinks Matthew spends to much time at the pawn shop…

        • Rick Weier

          Or smokes way too much crack.

          • Michael MacTavish

            Matthew would probably say “too much is never enough”

    • Maggie Guadarrama

      What difference does that make? Many players who are still living pawn their NFL valuables: rings, jackets, trophies etc. No one ever says anything about that. Let the White family, the Seau family and any other family whose NFL player earned a HOF ring have it. It belongs with the family, not the HOF>

  • Allan Murphy

    Give them the ring !!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ted Mark

    How incredibly cheap of the HOF to not award the jacket and ring to families of honorees who have passed away. Given this miserly, craven attitude, I’m surprised they don’t insist rings and jackets be returned after an inductee passes. How many families have been stiffed over the years? How much money has the HOF saved by cheating families out of the awards the living earn? Way to go, NFL…way to crap on the shield again.

  • DMCQ

    It’s hard to find the right words to characterize the HOF action’s in refusing to give families the rings. Unbelievably arrogant and appallingly insensitive hardly do justice to the sheer hurtful ignorance of the HOF doing this to the widows and children of its inductees. Both heart and brain transplants all around are needed at the HOF.

  • Eugenia Costello

    Mrs. White. So many miss Reggie. On my first trip to Lambeau I got to hear him speak the day after the game at the Coach’s radio show the next am. Also, I remember sending a donation for his charity and would receive a autographed pic in return. The picture
    has been professionally set in a frame and hangs with pride in our Packer Room.

  • DO RIGHT MAN

    I can’t believe that you H.O.F have bullied and still bullying the wives and children of these HALL OF FAME PLAYERS after they have gone on,for that you are pathetic,PLEASE GIVE THEM WHAT’S THERE IT’S NOT YOUR,GIVE IT UP BULLY!!!!!!

  • Freebird

    Goosebumps. Reggie was THE MAN. Beautiful soul, exceptional talent. God Bless the family, I hope they get the ring they deserve. Do the right thing, NFL HOF.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life