ATHENS -- Tim Worley rattles off the date -- April 13, 2008 -- almost proudly, as if it were his child’s birthday. In a way, it is a birthday. It’s just a different kind.
That’s the day Worley, a former Georgia football star and former first-round NFL draft pick, was tasered by a cop in Cobb County. That’s the day Worley was arrested and put in jail, where he stayed for 23 days. That’s when Deadspin wrote up the arrest and called Worley “this week’s tasered athlete.”
It can be overwrought to call something rock bottom ... except when it’s true. It can be hyperbolic to call an event life-changing ... except when it’s also true.
On Saturday afternoon, prior to the SEC championship game, Worley will stand on the field at the Georgia Dome and be introduced as an official SEC legend. The man whose off-field life was a train wreck for decades will represent Georgia, which knows Worley’s past but is proud of the man he has become since April 13, 2008.
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Worley had to follow Herschel Walker, and he pulled it off. Arriving at Georgia in 1985, a few short years after Walker left, Worley picked up the mantle, rushing for 2,038 career yards and scoring 18 touchdowns in 1988, the year he was a first-team All-American.
“We didn’t recruit a lot of players from North Carolina, but we knew that Tim was something special,” Vince Dooley said of Worley in his 2005 book, “My 40 years at Georgia.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers thought Worley was something special, too, selecting him with the seventh overall pick of the 1989 draft. He showed promise as a rookie, rushing for 770 yards, but that would prove to be his career high.
Problems with drugs and alcohol, which began long before the NFL, were on their way to wrecking his career.
He lasted a total of seven years in the NFL, along the way failing drug tests, being suspended for a year and running into plenty of trouble. And the end of his football career only made it worse.
Football had been Worley’s identity. Once it was gone, the drugs and alcohol became his crutch, and while several times he thought he was getting clean, he kept returning to them ... until the night he got tased.
‘Angel in disguise’
“I called it an angel in disguise. An angel in a police officer’s uniform,” Worley said recently, recalling the night he was pulled over for drunk driving and got belligerent with the officer and a Taser was necessary to bring down a powerfully built former NFL player. “I called it being zapped by Jesus. Because that night he actually saved my life, because I was on a mission that night, where I was broken, I was down, I was at my last wit, and either I was gonna hurt somebody or somebody was gonna kill me.”
Something happened in that jail cell, Worley said. He called it divine intervention, his soul finally cleansed and put on the right path. In fact, the day after his arrest, he was actually excited. Something told him the problems were over.
“Now I can move forward,” Worley recalled thinking. “Because there’s this mask that we wear and this image we try to uphold. That superstar athlete at the top, now on the bottom, how do you come out of that when you think that your only identity is as an athlete? So when I went down -- and that wasn’t the first time, it was just the final straw.”
During the next year, Worley went through probation and rehabilitation, which included a mentoring program.
It was also when Dee Foster came back in his life.
She was an All-America gymnast at Alabama, winning SEC female athlete of the year at one point. When she went to a meet at Georgia in 1988, she met Worley. They stayed in touch, then began dating when Worley was a Steelers rookie. They broke up about three years later.
Nearly two decades later, they reconnected. By this time Dee had spent years in marketing and business, including work with Mary Kate and Ashley (the Olsen twins).
So Tim and Dee not only got married, they became business partners with Worley Global Enterprises, which they run out of Huntsville, Ala., where they now live. Tim is a motivational speaker and life skills consultant. Dee runs the business side of things. Tim confesses to not having a college degree but instead has “a degree in life.”
“Sometimes things aren’t moving the way you want with your company, but we won’t give up, and we know that our season is here,” he said. “We just want to continue moving forward and trusting God and what we have and what he put in us, we can provide a service to people so that they can receive, bring change to their lives.”
Two years ago, Worley got up in front of his former team.
Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity and athletics trainer Ron Courson, who runs the school’s wellness program, invited Worley to speak to the Bulldogs. They wanted Worley to share his story, a cautionary tale for players from someone who had been there.
“It was speaking from the heart,” said McGarity, who sat in on Worley’s talk. “But it was a speech to where all of our student-athletes could relate to, especially those that are in the limelight, especially those that are subject to temptation, subject to being in the public eye. It drove home the point that we all make choices. You really need to weigh those choices, because they have a dramatic impact on your life, whether you’re in school or whether you’re out of school. His message was, ‘Learn from me.’ ”
The sad paradox to that is that several of the players who heard Worley that day went on to have their own troubles. A few were suspended after positive drug tests. Isaiah Crowell, then a star freshman tailback, was dismissed a year later.
“It’s amazing how we just don’t think it’s gonna happen to us,” Worley said. “I felt bad for Crowell and several other of the players. They didn’t go to the extreme as being expelled or kicked off the team. But a lot ... the exact same things I was telling them about, that’s what they went through. You know why? Because it was going in one ear and going out the other. Sometimes when you’re that age, you’re like, ‘Well, it ain’t gonna happen to me, you know?’ ”
In fact, Worley got similar advice as he was coming up, and it didn’t work on him. It wasn’t until years of troubles and getting tasered and jailed, for it to get through. But it did.
“I grew up,” Worley said. “Sometimes it takes getting angry. Sometimes it takes failures in order for us to turn things around. And I jumped on it.”