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Herschel Walker on the Congressional Football Game, NFL protests and his friendship with Trump

‘Donald and I have been together since 1982, and I respect the White House’

Many athletes struggle with what to do with their lives after professional sports. That’s not the case with Herschel Walker.

After a 15-year professional football career that included 12 years in the NFL and three years in the USFL (where he played for future President Donald Trump), Walker today owns three successful businesses, including Renaissance Man Food Services Inc., a Georgia-based meat processing company.

On Wednesday, Walker, who ranked 34th on The Undefeated’s 50 Greatest Black Athletes list, will play in the Congressional Football Game, a biennial contest that pits members of Congress and former NFL players against U.S. Capitol Police. Among the former NFL standouts joining Walker in the game will be Santana Moss, Shawn Springs, Ken Harvey and John Booty. The game, to be played at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., raises money for the families of fallen police officers.

The 55-year-old Walker spoke with The Undefeated about the upcoming game, protests in the NFL, Black Lives Matter and how he went about some of the major decisions in his life.

You’ve often teased about going into politics. Is that still in the back of your mind?

I get that question all the time. I’m not sure. I think what’s going on in politics now is sad. We’re a country, the best country in the world. And yet we can’t get our leaders to get together. We have to get Congress — and they’re going to be pissed at me because I’m playing with them in the football game — to start changing. They are the ones who have been in office forever. And they haven’t changed. Sometimes the problem is not with the leader, it’s with the offensive line. Those are the guys we may need to change.

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NFL protests have been the dominant news story all season. Do you believe the players taking a knee are justified in their actions?

Everyone wants to talk about taking a knee, instead of talking about the real issue, and that’s the problem that I have. What are you taking a knee for now — you taking it against the president? Taking it for Black Lives Matter? Or just doing your own thing now? Nobody knows what he’s doing. I have my little company, so I’m working my little butt off every day. But if my employees decided that, ‘Oh, gee, we gotta protest’ and all of them start doing whatever they want to do, I’m not going to get any work done and I’m going to have to close my company down. So I say if this cause is something that is so great, we gonna work this job here. And when this job is over, Herschel Walker is going to pick up the sign with you and we gonna go out and help you. But during the job, you have to do your job. I’ve said that before, and people say, ‘That’s a terrible thing to say.’ But what’s so bad about that?

What do you think about Black Lives Matter?

We talk about Black Lives Matter, and do you know how afraid I was for me and my son? With all this stuff happening, I was scared to death. But how are we going to get this solved? I respect the commissioner [Roger Goodell] a lot. But he needs to take control of this situation. And let’s be honest — the majority of your employees are black. So take control of this and say, you know what, I’m going to grab a flag with you guys and go down in front of Congress, and let’s walk those streets down there together so we can make some change. There should have been a hearing on Black Lives Matter a long time ago.

You played football for the president when you entered the USFL and he’s a longtime friend. Do you think he’s doing a good job as president?

Donald and I have been together since 1982, and I respect the White House. I’m still his friend, and I will always be his friend. But you know what? There’s some things that he’s done that have been terrible. The SOB statement was awful; he should have never said that. But to be honest with you, I know Donald, and Donald Trump is a good man. He is not a racist. I’ve been with the man, I ate with the man, I kept his kids, and he’s not a racist. I know he’s trying to do the best he can, but how can he do the best he can when everyone he elects to his Cabinet disagrees with him? Give him a chance. One thing that’s great about America, in four years you can get rid of him. But if we’re gonna fight this whole time, whoever we elect in 2020, whether it’s Donald Trump or someone else, are we gonna fight against him too because they don’t like him because he’s not Democratic or Republican?

Are you surprised that brain injuries have become such a prevalent issue in the NFL?

I came to the NFL about 10 years ago talking about brain injuries and the different problems that players have. I wanted to help, but [the NFL] shunned me. They didn’t give me the time of day when I wrote my book on my social identity disorder. So I now work with a group that goes to military bases and treat military service men and women for chemical dependency and PTSD. I’m at a different military base once a month.

If you knew back when you turned professional about the impact of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), would you have changed your decision about playing football?

I would have played. CTE is a serious problem. But there are so many young men who have been helped by the opportunity to play football. Football made a great living for me and my family. So if I had not played, where would I be, or where would my family be? So when guys say I don’t think I would have played — oh, yes, you would have. What would you be? You’re going to be a nuclear scientist or something like that? Would anyone had known of Tom Brady had he not played football? Let’s be real here. The job may have come with a few problems. But it’s brought a good life for my family.

When you made the decision to go to the USFL after winning the Heisman in 1982, was that decision about money?

I’ve never done anything for money. I flipped a coin whether to stay in school or go to the USFL. I made a lot of decisions by flipping a coin. I flipped a coin whether I should go to college or go to the military. I wanted to be a Marine. I even flipped a coin about what college to go to. The first time I flipped was between Clemson and Georgia. Georgia won the first toss, but then I told my parents the best out of five. Clemson won the second toss, but Georgia eventually won out. Then I said I would love to go to USC. And I flipped again. First flip Georgia won, next flip USC, and the next two times Georgia won again. And that’s how I ended up going to Georgia. I look back at Georgia and think, no doubt, that was the best choice I could have made in my life. The legacy I left being in the state I grew up in is amazing. If I ran for president, I think I could carry that state because the people respected me for the person that I was and how hard I worked.

Your credentials as a football player are impressive, yet you’re not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite being eligible since 2002. Does that bother you?

I didn’t think about it until this year. When you’re young, you’re naive and stupid. I was growing my businesses, and I didn’t care about the numbers or stats. But someone read me my stats recently and told me that when I’ve been considered [for the Hall of Fame] it’s been without my USFL stats. If you look at my stats with the USFL [5,562 rushing yards in three USFL seasons, with two rushing titles], you’d say, ‘Wow, he’d better be in.’ I don’t want you to measure me differently than anyone else. Put me up against what everyone else was doing. But just combined yards, I retired in the top 10 without the USFL numbers [His 18,168 combined yards ranked second among NFL all-time leaders when he retired in 1997. He now ranks 11th, behind Barry Sanders.] Then I’m the only guy in the NFL to gain 4,000 yards in three different categories: receiving, rushing and kickoff returns. That said, there’s a lot of people that have done some good things that’s not in the Hall of Fame. For me to sit here and tally on myself, it’s self-serving and not right. But when you start looking at the stats, why would they not put me in? As I’ve gotten older, I see that maybe I should be in.

You came in at No. 34 on The Undefeated’s list of the Top 50 Greatest Black Athletes. How does it feel?

You recognized me at 34 — and my number was 34 — and that makes me proud. When I was younger, I just played. When you get older, you realize what that really means, and it means a great deal. I have a son now, and I want him to know his dad was a great football player.

Why do you play in the Congressional Football Game?

My very first time playing, they said all the proceeds would go to Capitol Police and military families, and I got so excited. I want to give back to the young men and women who do things for us. I want to show my appreciation. The first time I played they told me I would be with Congress, and I said, ‘Oh, crap, I’m playing with Congress against Capitol Police. Capitol Police are ex-military. These guys in shape.’ But I got a different respect for our congressmen and congresswomen. They’re competitive and they’re athletic. I want to see them be competitive when they put their suits on.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.