Delanie Walker went to New Orleans for the Super Bowl with the feeling that it would be the time of his life, a time he wanted to share with two of his closest relatives.
“There’s so many memories. I can’t name one in particular. They always used to come to my games, both home and away. I enjoyed going to their house and having dinner. I grew up with her kids, spending the night at my Auntie’s house.”
Walker had just seen his Aunt and Uncle, Alice and Brian Young, after the Super Bowl when they went to the 49ers' post-game party. He was scheduled to be a free agent after the season and his productive effort in the Super Bowl for San Francisco more than showcased his talent to the rest of the league. What was almost a completely magical day he would always remember soon turned into the worst night of his life.
According to police reports, Nechole Thomas was driving a Mercedes C230 at a high rate of speed on the shoulder of Interstate 10, west of New Orleans in St. Charles Parish. Thomas slammed into the back of the Young's Nissan Altima. The crash set both cars on fire.
Being with his family moments before the tragedy was stunning to Walker. "It kind of hurt because they came to see ME play. They were killed to come watch me play in the Super Bowl."
Thomas was able to escape from her car without suffering any major injuries. She was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide, DWI and reckless operation of a vehicle.
Soon after the tragedy, Walker joined forces with the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "When I talked to all of the mothers and the victims of that group, that's how I started to feel...mad. So let me get the word out, let me try to help someone not make that mistake."
Once he signed with the Titans, Walker lobbied to strengthen laws designed to prevent drunk driving. When Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a law which requires those convicted of drunk driving to install breathalyzer devices in their cars, Walker made an appearance at the press conference.
The ground-breaking technology impedes the ignition from turning over if the person’s blood alcohol level is higher than 0.02.
“The only way your car will start is if you are under the drinking limit. They wanted to do something because drinking and driving is high here. It was something that they were already going to do and me being a part of it just helped out more.”
Walker has also promoted the NFL's Player Transportation Link (PTL), the car service program implemented in 2011 by the Players Union, which picks up NFL players who become too intoxicated to drive. Walker discussed the consequences of drinking and driving at the 2013 NFL Rookie Symposium.
The rookies are younger guys that are in a new city. They want to hang out and see the sights for an area they’ll call home for the next few seasons. Along with that comes going to clubs and places where alcohol is served.
The message that Walker wanted to get out to the young players at the rookie symposium is that the NFL has programs in almost every NFL city designed to keep them out of the ugly situations that drinking and driving presents.
“We gotta be the leaders and set the example because a lot of kids look up to us. Choosing the car service, you can have a little bit of fun without worrying about having to drive back home. It can happen to anybody. If you look around the league, we have a lot of offenders. It can hurt your career, it can make teams not want you.”
“The reason for me always taking a car service is even if I go out and want to say, ‘I’m going to have one drink.’ You got me thinking I’m going to have one, it might be two. Two leads to three,” Walker said. “So you gotta be safe. Be on the safe side and get a car service.”
The transportation service also offers a confidential chauffeured vehicle for players that are too intoxicated to drive. The fact that it is confidential is very important as many players don’t want the media to blow up stories about how they were too drunk to drive.
Eric Davis, co-host of NFL AM, the NFL Network's morning program, is also a former 49ers player. Davis grew close to Walker and was impressed with the young man's efforts off the field as the tight end begins his first season in Tennessee. "Delanie has found a way to honor his loved ones by saying that I am going to do everything I can to prevent this from happening to someone else. He’s at the symposium trying tell these guys, you can save lives. Knowing Delanie, he's a really good dude. He is the ultimate teammate and that ultimate 'I care about the guys around me' and this is just another step, an advancement of that."
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