On a RollA Standout Athlete Faces Life Sitting Down
By Steve Blow
After a fourteen-year career in the National Football League, Ray
Crockett has turned his attention to show business. He has had a
variety of roles, but a recent one turned out to be more of a roll.
The former Baylor football standout and 1991 graduate agreed to spend a month in a wheelchair for the television program 30 Days, a reality show that puts people outside their comfort zones for a month and captures the results.
In Crockett's case, it was a trip way
outside his comfort zone. Switching from a lifetime of easy athleticism
to the cumbersome struggle and strain of a wheelchair was more
demanding than he ever imagined.
A couple of days into the experiment, exasperated and exhausted, he
looked into the camera and exclaimed: "What the hell have I got myself
Indeed, paralysis can seem like a personal hell. Crockett admits that
he was afraid of it throughout his professional football career.
Understandably so. He was there on the field in 1991 when Detroit Lions
teammate Mike Utley was injured on a play and left paralyzed from the
Crockett went on to play as an All-Pro cornerback for the Denver
Broncos, winning back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
He ended his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
And ultimately, the specter of injury played into his decision to
retire. "There's always that fear," he said. "I was fortunate enough to
play so long, but then you start thinking about where you are
financially versus the risk of being disabled the rest of your life."
The forty-one-year-old Dallas native now lives in the Dallas suburb of
Southlake with his high-school-sweetheart-turned-wife, April, and their
three children. The wheelchair experiment proved to be a challenge for
all of them.
"It puts a lot of stress on your significant other," Crockett said.
"And my boys were really, really concerned about what I could and
couldn't do. They're accustomed to dad being able to play ball, go
swimming, run, and all that. It opened their eyes to how special that
time is. For thirty days, we didn't do that."
But for all the hardships of life in a wheelchair, Crockett also knew
that great accomplishment is possible. Highlighting both facts is what
motivated him to accept the demanding assignment. "I've had friends who
were disabled, not just Mike Utley but another friend who had a car
wreck. I wanted to shed some light on the accessibility issue, but also
make it clear that it's possible to have a life afterwards," he said.
Indeed, the most moving parts of the program--and of the experience for
Crockett--was getting to know people dealing with paralysis in earnest.
One of those was Shannon Davis (pictured above with Crockett), a young
Dallas woman paralyzed in a car wreck shortly before Crockett began his
reality show assignment.
"Shannon is just an incredible story," he said. "When I first met her,
her injury was so new. To see her and the way she handled it, the way
she is going on about her life, it really shifted my focus from looking
at disabilities to looking at abilities," Crockett said.
The admiration is mutual. Davis, who is back to her job as a CPA and
audit supervisor, praised Crockett for his genuine empathy. "Even when
the cameras were off, he was extremely interested and thoughtful," she
said. "I really enjoyed working with him and the whole crew. It was a
The 30 Days role was
certainly a departure for Crockett. Up to that point, most of his
forays into the entertainment world were related to football. He has
co-hosted sports talk shows on TV and radio and starred with Dick
Butkus in ESPN's reality TV show Bound for Glory, which followed a high school football team's quest for a championship.
Now Crockett is branching out, producing and acting in movies. He talked excitedly of one called Free Agents, "a football robbery movie." Whether these productions will enjoy theatrical release or go straight to DVD remains to be seen.
Wherever his quest for a second career in the entertainment field might
lead him, Crockett said one thirty-day role--or roll--has changed his
outlook on disabilities and the disabled forever. "Beforehand, I'll be
honest, when I saw a disabled person, my eyes went the other way," he
"Now I find myself addressing them and helping as much as I can as far
as opening doors and so forth. I just find myself more cognizant of
what's going on in their world because I've been there."