SAN FRANCISCO — Since their violent collision 26 years ago in Oakland, Darryl Stingley and Jack Tatum haven’t seen or spoken to each other. But now in the interest of medical science, their estrangement finally may be ending.
Stingley has been in a wheelchair since 1978 after being hit by Tatum on a pass route during a New England-Oakland preseason football game. The blow left Stingley a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down.
Tatum reiterated Monday that he was turned away by Stingley’s family when he attempted to visit the Patriots wide receiver in an Oakland hospital shortly after the incident. There has been no contact between them since.
“I’d love to, but it doesn’t seem that it’s going to happen,” Tatum said. “It’s not so much that Darryl doesn’t want to, but it’s the people around him. So we haven’t been able to get through that. Every time we plan something, it gets messed up. Getting to him or him getting back to me. It never happens.”
Efforts are being made to close that breach, with Johns Hopkins Hospital and Kenny Stabler joining forces as an odd couple of buffers.
Johns Hopkins, located in Baltimore, believes it has made progress in the Regeneration of damaged spinal cords. Thus the Kenny Stabler Celebrity Golf Tournament will be held June 26-28 at the Blackhawk Country Club in Danville, a charity event to raise funds for stem cell/spinal cord research.
Stingley is scheduled to be at Blackhawk along with Tatum, giving them a chance to meet. Tatum is confronted by health issues himself. A diabetic, he has had five amputations on his left leg, stopping just below the knee. He uses a prosthetic to walk around, with only a slight limp.
“We’re both in the same situation with different diseases,” Tatum said of Stingley. “It came on me pretty sudden. I went from the emergency room to surgery the next day after discovering I had diabetes.”
Through research, Tatum has found out diabetes has reached “epidemic proportions” with young people. He wants to increase awareness in this area, along with aiding research with the Jack Tatum Fund For Youthful Diabetes, based in Ohio, where Tatum starred at Ohio State.
“I thought I had the flu, being one of these invincible athletes,” Tatum said. “But I had a couple of gangrene spots on my toes, and (ex-NFL stars) MacArthur Lane and Carleton Oats made me go to the hospital. I’m fortunate now because my diabetes is under control with diet and exercise.”
The “toughest thing” about his diabetes was that he couldn’t play with his children. But he said his spirit hasn’t wavered even through all his surgeries and he’s back playing golf as of two weeks ago.
Stem cell research also helps diabetes. And so Johns Hopkins, one of the country’s most renowned hospitals, has formed a link with the World Health Education Foundation to combat diabetes and spinal cord damage.
Some Johns Hopkins doctors discussed this advancement at a Monday press conference.
“The understanding on how nerve cells die … there was this feeling that the nervous system could not repair,” said Dr. John Griffin. “That’s not correct. Regeneration can occur … in experimental situations.”
With mice, not humans. Not yet. But Griffin noted that Johns Hopkins is involved in “the early days” of giving life to damaged nerves.
“Even someone injured decades ago can have return of function,” said Dr. Douglas Kerr. “I’m not talking about full return of function, but even that might change. But a quadriplegic who can’t use his hands, can use his hands.”
A quadriplegic such as Stingley, who was to participate in Monday’s media session by conference call except that his vocal chords reportedly have atrophied, giving fluctuation to his speech patterns.
The threat of paralysis exists in football; Stingley isn’t the only victim.
Conjecture continues on whether Stingley’s injury actually was caused by Tatum’s hit on the incomplete pass or by Stingley hitting his head on the Oakland Coliseum turf.
Twelve years ago, Stingley indicated that estrangement between himself and Tatum was unnecessary.
“I don’t harbor any ill feelings towards him,” he said. “What good would it do me? I had to get on with my life. In my heart, I forgave Jack Tatum a long time ago. But I will never understand why a man would deliberately try to maim another man and take him away from his family.”
The last thing Tatum wanted to do was maim Stingley.
“It could have happened to anybody,” said Tatum. “People are always saying, ‘He didn’t apologize.’ I don’t think I did anything wrong that I need to apologize for. It was a clean hit.”
Tatum needs to tell Stingley that straight from the heart. Stingley needs to understand Tatum truly feels that way. Then perhaps there can be some peace at last between these two damaged football warriors.
Dave Newhouse can be reached at (510) 208-6466