All-Pro In Life: Stingley Left Big Impression From His Wheelchair

By Fred Mitchell
Updated: April 8, 2007

CHICAGO — In 1978, at the height of his athletic career, Darryl Stingley lost the use of his limbs. Early Thursday morning, at 55, he lost his life. But he never lost his dignity. I never heard him complain.

A product of Chicago’s West Side, Stingley once was a promising NFL wide receiver. I was able to get to know him over the years as an even better person.

A Marshall High School and Purdue alum, Stingley was paralyzed from a vicious tackle by the Oakland Raiders’ Jack Tatum during an exhibition game on Aug. 12, 1978.

“I was learning defenses, and I understood what it took to get open, things of that nature,” Stingley told me a few years ago. When he no longer could use his arms and legs, Stingley tried to use his influence in the community to help guide wayward youth.

He formed a foundation in 1993 to help give direction to youngsters growing up in some of the rough neighborhoods on the West Side. “Our young people are really getting away from us,” Stingley said then.

“I always believe that a more informed kid makes a better decision. I was born and raised in the same part of the city. I call it saving the lives of our youth, making a difference.

“It is always something I wanted to do. I was going to teach or coach, one or the other. I came up through the YMCA system and I am trying to provide something similar for these kids. This is our humble attempt.”

Stingley knew from personal experience the impact of a positive role model.

“I lost my original mentor, Nick Seabrook,” he recalled. “When I think about the time that this man took and put into me . . . you know, I come from a family of two brothers and an older sister”.

“They were all significant role models, but this was another guy outside of the family. Nick and his wife, Gloria, would take me to the Sears YMCA over on the West Side”.

“I recall being at his funeral and thinking: This guy used to pick me up at 8 o’clock in the morning and the YMCA didn’t open until 10 o’clock. He would take me over there so I could go in the swimming pool or in the gym to shoot baskets”.

“Ironically, he threw me the football quite a bit. I came out of that being a natural athlete who had been trained and prodded by this man. He always encouraged me that I could do well.”

Stingley remained upbeat throughout his challenging life, always greeting friends and new acquaintances with a warm smile. I last saw him on the field before a White Sox game last season.

“I don’t know if it was predestined for [my injury] to happen to me,” he said in 2004. “But I will say that all that I have learned from my parents and all of the mentors that I had growing up – all of the things that happened to me before Aug. 12, 1978, prepared me to deal with it after the fact. There was already a foundation there to be strong.”

Reconciling his lifetime fate as a quadriplegic was no easy task for Stingley.

“I was at my peak and ready to take on the NFL at that time. You have to try to find a rhyme or reason when things like that happen,” he once confided.

“It took me awhile to figure out why it happened and exorcise all the demons. You try to get an understanding based on your knowledge or your feel of circumstances. All I had to do was come out of the house or travel around the country”.

“Everybody I came in contact with let me know that there was more of a purpose for me in life than looking at it negatively. So I decided to look at it in a positive way.”