Delanie Walker (USA Today Sports Images)
Walker had just finished hugging his uncle and aunt after the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss in February when hours later he learned that both had been killed by an alleged drunk driver, struck on the side of the road by a car traveling in excess of 100 mph.
To say that Walker was hurt by the incident is understating. His involvement with MADD is a direct response to the early-morning tragedy that happened that day in New Orleans.
“It’s very personal for me. I lost (people) love and who were close to me,” Walker told Shutdown Corner by phone Tuesday night. “They molded me through my career from high school, college … they looked after me and my brother when we were kids.
“It was supposed to be a big day for me and my family, but it didn’t turn out that way. So this has become a very important issue to me.”
Also hitting home is the fact that his former teammate, 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, is currently going through rehab for his substance-abuse issues and is on indefinite leave from the team. He and Walker were close as teammates, and they were at the same house party in 2012 that got out of control in which Smith was later with felony weapons charges (no charges were filed against Walker).
Walker says he’s concerned for Smith but hasn’t been able to speak to him since he entered rehab.
“I haven’t been able to get ahold of him. He shut his phone off for a little bit,” Walker said of Smith. “I know the 49ers are doing the best they can to help him. I heard from some (former) teammates of mine that (Smith) is doing OK.
“It’s good that he chose on his own to get help. He’s a young player, and I think facing these off-the-field issues head on — the drinking and driving, the other stuff — is important. He’s handling his business first, and he does a lot for his mother, so getting on track before getting back to football is what’s most important.”
Walker will be hosting the MADD event that will feature autographs, photos and a dinner — but also some hard-hitting information.
“I am going to talk about the reason I am so supportive of MADD, and we’ll have a few other people share their experiences as well,” Walker said. “We’re trying to let people know that (drinking and driving) is senseless, and it can be prevented. People always need to have a plan when they get in that situation.”
NFL players are fortunate in that they are afforded a ride service in which they are able to call for transport when they are intoxicated. Sadly, in the case of Smith and others, the service isn’t used as much as it should be. But Walker believes it’s being taken advantage of more than it has in years past around the league.
“At first I didn’t think guys used it much, but more players around the league are starting to see what’s happening with guys getting in trouble. They are starting to be more responsible. I see a lot more players on my team using it more often,” he said.
Walker’s Titans have been competitive this season at 3-3 with three close losses, and he’s had a big role as a receiver on offense, on pace for career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns. But instead of seeing the bright side of things on the field, Walker thinks they still have a lot of work to do.
“Those were three losses in which we lost in the fourth quarter,” he said. “That’s something we definitely have to fix.”
If teammate Kenny Britt is any part of the problem, though, as the chatter and trade talk would have us believe, Walker says he hasn’t seen it.
“They haven’t put him in the game the past few weeks, but he’s staying after practice, catching (passes from the) JUGS (machine),” Walker said. “I like what the guy is doing. He’s practicing hard, even with all the trade rumors that are going around.”
Sunday will be “an exciting game for me and a good test for us,” Walker said. “I’d love to have a big game against them and show them what I can do, what I am doing here (in Tennessee).”
But he’s just as excited for the MADD benefit the following night. Walker knows in the big picture that matters just as much, and likely more.
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