Most Viewed Stories
Tatum, Perry change perceptions of athletes
Two stars. Two illnesses. One day that shows what really matters.
The two Yuma-area casinos each had a former NFL star on hand to promote their Monday Night Football parties - Jack "The Assassin" Tatum at Cocopah and William "The Refrigerator" Perry at Paradise.
Tatum was a defensive back with the Raiders in the 1970s and is known as one of the hardest-hitting players in NFL history. Perry was a defensive lineman known for scoring a rushing touchdown in the Super Bowl. Both are Super Bowl champions.
And, as it turns out, both have had life-threatening health problems.
About four years ago, Tatum was diagnosed with diabetes and had to have a leg amputated to prohibit the spread of a staff infection.
"I was really surprised when it came down because I thought I had a cold," Tatum said. "I went home, laid down for two or three days, thought I was going to get better. The next thing I know, I'm going to the hospital and had an infection that transferred to my bone.
"I was very fortunate," said Tatum, who played college football at Ohio State. "My doctor was Woody Hayes' doctor back when I was in school, and he is a world-renowned diabetic specialist. He took over with my care and took care of me."
Tatum calls Hayes a mentor and cherishes the legendary Buckeyes coach's words.
"I always remember what coach Hayes said: 'You can't pay back, but you can pay forward,'" Tatum said. "I'm in a position where I can pay forward."
And he has. He works with the Central Ohio Diabetes Association, doing fundraisers to help others get the help that was available to him.
"It made me appreciate my career more, but what it did too was make me appreciate the position I'm in," Tatum said. "I was in a position that since I came down with the diabetes, I've been able to raise a lot of money and help a lot of kids that have diabetes.
"In the last four or five years, we've probably raised about two or three million dollars." he said. "I had the chance to do things for other people."
Tatum's career includes two plays that anyone with a passing interest in football knows well.
The first is the Immaculate Reception in a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Everybody knows Franco Harris coming up with the deflected pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw. But it was Hayes that leveled the intended receiver and caused the ball to spurt into the air.
The other play is the hit on Darryl Stingley in a preseason game that paralyzed the New England Patriots' receiver.
Tatum said his favorite moment on the field was, without a doubt, winning the Super Bowl with the Raiders after the 1976 season.
Now, he said he gets a similar feeling knowing he has helped so many others with diabetes.
"It feels just as good, but I'll tell you what - it's not something I do to feel good," Tatum said. "I do it because of the position I'm in. The doctors took care of me, so now I can take care of some other people."
For Perry, he was only diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome within the past year. He still uses a wheelchair and has clearly lost a lot of weight from his Monster of the Midway days.
Guillian-Barre syndrome is a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.
"It's a slow process," Perry said. "It's a slow process when it hit me because I didn't know it when it hit me. I was out hunting and fishing and I felt myself getting sluggish and this and that. I didn't know what it was. I went to the hospital, and that's what they diagnosed me with."
And just as Tatum said, Perry said going through a life-threatening situation puts playing the NFL - or for that matter, any career - into its proper context.
"This is life; it's totally different," Perry said. "It's totally different from a career. You're fighting for your life now, you're not fighting for no career. You just want to live. it makes a big difference. If you die, what's a career? It's nothing."
Perry said, although he still uses a wheelchair, he has improved.
"Now I'm on the recovery end and I'm doing better," Perry said. "I can move around, stand up and get back to what I like doing.
"It was real serious; I could have died from it," he said. "I was in the hospital for four or five months, then in rehab for four or five months before I went home. I'm still rehabbing now."
Even in this reality-television era where anything you ever wanted to know about your favorite celebrity is a mere click away on any computer, I always thought of athletes as different.
Sure they have scandals and/or are given too much tabloid time - just ask Tom Brady, Mike Piazza, Brett Favre or hundreds of others.
But through it all, they are always athletes. They are always in peak physical condition long after retirement. At least that's what it was like in my brain.
Then a day like Monday happens.
Now my brain is different. No, this isn't the "Athlete-are-people-too" speech. Okay, kinda it is.
Tatum used his position to help others. And when he recovers, it would be hard to imagine Perry not doing the same.
The biggest lesson of all? You don't need to a be a former NFL legend to help others.