Former NFL player Darryl Haley is using his passion for music to help veterans and children
His annual event Music at the Monument has a little something for everyone to enjoy
Former NFL linebacker Darryl Haley’s ultimate goal was never to play in the NFL.
“It was to actually get into college,” he said. “Because you have to ask yourself, ‘How am I going to get out of the inner city?’ My feeling was that if I get a shot to go to college, I’m going to do all right. If I can get out of L.A., if I can survive L.A. — which I loved, but nevertheless — I could definitely survive college.”
The youngest of six children, the Los Angeles native finished high school at 15 after taking summer classes and testing out of pertinent subjects. Recruited by several different schools, he chose the University of Utah.
“It was a small enough place that I was able to handle mentally, from a maturity standpoint. Then, once the football thing came around, that, to me, that was natural because at the end of the day, I just can’t get beat.”
As an offensive lineman, he played six seasons for the New England Patriots, the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers.
Since leaving the game, he’s taken his first love, music, and used it to help military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and school-age children through his nonprofit organization Music at the Monument.
“Music at the Monument started as a music therapy program to assist veterans with PTSD,” Haley said. “We invite people out, agencies, organizations, individuals, to disseminate information or assist in any way they can with veterans with PTSD. They’re really enjoying it, but for us, it’s to create a level of awareness while people are enjoying fabulous music.”
His passion for music started when he was 6 years old.
“My mother always had music playing in the house. She had all different genres of music playing. So whenever you woke up in the morning, you heard music. You heard music throughout the day, then you definitely heard music before you went to bed. So I kind of grew up with music.”
He began to recruit bands to perform all genres of music.
“Everywhere from hip-hop to rock, punk, R&B, bluegrass, jazz, country,” Haley said. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve developed some pretty phenomenal relationships with the catalog. We have about 85 to 100 bands or groups or choirs that will perform at Music at the Monument, so I chose to use my love of music to begin to find a way to give back to our military personnel who are suffering from some of these unseen injuries.”
Haley also works hand in hand with the National Park Service as its ambassador, traveling across the country to national parks and monuments to hold events that bring people together. His efforts aim to encourage those who rarely visit national parks to experience the public spaces and learn about healthy lifestyles.
The former Ironman triathlete also owns and operates a bed and breakfast in Luray, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C. The Darryl Haley Bed & Breakfast creates an environment for guests to focus on fun and fitness, providing an opportunity for the former athlete to put his 25 years of personal fitness training experience to use.
In 1989, Haley relocated to the Washington, D.C., metro area. Holding a bachelor’s degree in human kinetics from the University of Utah and earning a degree in computer science from George Washington University, according to his personal website, he began a career after football as a corporate fitness trainer, technology marketing specialist and strategic business development consultant.
While preparing for Music at the Monument, which kicks off May 4, Haley spoke with The Undefeated about music, starting college at 15 and life after football.
When did you go back to your musical roots to start Music at the Monument?
I went back to my music roots once I stopped playing … you begin to understand that freedom is not free. You begin to understand that while you get to go to college, without a care in the world, your tuition’s being paid, all you’ve got to do is books and ball. I began to create and develop and understand more of what was the need of what was going on with our servicemen and women of our U.S. armed forces. The thing becomes, when they’re coming back home, how do we begin to bridge that gap between civilians and our military personnel who are coming back to be reintegrated into our communities.
How does your program provide resources to residents outside of the military?
You begin to get kids involved in symphonic bands. You begin to get kids involved in symphonies and orchestras. Don’t just play music, begin to read music. If you’re reading music, you’re going to understand mathematics; therefore, you begin to go to class. You begin to have this whole new world of reality, of acceptance through music again.
Music is a part of all cultures. Where words fail, music speaks. It’s the medium. Now, for this year, in 2018, as we’ve done over the last five years, we do have symphonic bands who are coming out from high schools. We have the Prep Academies who will be coming out and performing. What we want to do, and our goal, is to give them a platform to perform.
How did you get involved in sports and football?
Football was an interesting start because I was actually a baseball player. I started playing baseball when I was 7, and there were a lot of guys in my neighborhood who all played baseball. You had Darrell Jackson for the Minnesota Twins, Ozzie Smith, Eddie Murray, we all went to the same high school. My junior year going into my senior year, a buddy of mine passed away from diabetes. I swore never to play baseball again. I had never played football, other than flag, so I went out for the football team. I had my baseball spikes on, not knowing they actually had to wear cleats. My thing was, ‘Hey, this ain’t going to be very complicated — the ball moves, I get to hit you,’ and from there, that’s how I started playing.
Then I had a guy who actually hit me and I said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, that can’t happen again.’ My thing was, ‘Let’s play offense.’ And playing offense, playing offensive tackle, I get to move first, I get to deliver the blow first.
How did you manage starting college at the age of 15?
It’s a different kind of thing happening. What I mean by that is, you have some guys who have gone on missions, and so they come back and these guys are 22, 24, 25. Your teammates [are] already married, with a family, and have kids and you’re just kind of going, ‘Wow, OK. This is interesting.’ They’re definitely much more mature, definitely much more mature physically and mentally. But for me, coming out at 15, I was already 6-4, about 250, so my thing was very simple. This is about books and ball. And my thing was, if I stayed focused for the next four years on books and ball, everything else is going to work out. And it did.
Did you experience culture shock?
I wanted to keep my mind open … I’m willing to understand and learn and get out of my comfort zone and be uncomfortable in a place where there is a culture shock. You do get called the N-word. Let’s keep it real for a minute. I’m not going to dwell on that, but it did happen. It wasn’t my problem, it was somebody else’s to have to deal with, because I’m here.
What was your transition into the NFL like for you?
Well, let me say first, Utah back then is not the Utah it is today. Utah is a little bit of a powerhouse. So, back in the day, I’m talking early ’80s, late ’70s, so for me going to school there, again, it was fun. The fact that I did stay focused, when I came out of Utah, I was always rated in the top three linemen in the country. That was really cool.
Then when I got drafted, I got drafted in the second round. The 55th player taken. The phone call came in. I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t looking for it, and it was Dick Steinberg on the phone. He said, ‘Hello, Darryl, this is Dick Steinberg and we have just drafted you to the New England Patriots.’ And Ron Meyer was the head coach at the time. I hung the phone up. I thought somebody was playing. I just hung up. I was like, ‘Yeah, right.’
Then, they called back and they said, ‘Nah, this is the real deal.’ Once I got to New England, I fell in love with New England like I did with Utah because then you begin to understand all the different culture and in history.
What did you love most about the NFL?
The camaraderie and the level of competition. The level of competition — on any given Sunday, that is such a true statement — on any given Sunday, you’re lining up against the best of the best. When you line up and say, ‘I’m the best at my position today,’ and then the same person on the other side of the ball is saying the same thing, the level of competition was just absolutely fabulous.
Was it hard to leave the game?
No. Absolutely not. I was not that player who said, football is the beginning, the middle and the end of life. My thing was to always remember where I came from, but was to get in, first, in college, to get an education. Two, get enough years in the National Football League to get vested and have some savings. After that, I felt like I was going to be OK regardless. I just wanted to create enough of a beginning to give myself a start.
When and why did you decide to make D.C. home?
When we used to come here and play against the Redskins. I loved playing against the Redskins because when we played against the Redskins, back in the day, they were that powerhouse. They had the Hogs, they had the defensive line, they had the Three Amigos, they had the Dexter Manleys, the Charles Manns, the Dave Butz, the [Wilber] Marshalls, I mean, they were bringing it all day, every day.
I just thought it was the most exciting, electrifying moment. Then, when I began to understand that, OK, this is also the nation’s capital. You have the White House, you have the Capitol, you have Arlington Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial. From the Lincoln Memorial, you’ve got the Jefferson Memorial, the Reflecting Pool. Then you begin to look at it in the sense of our whole culture and history runs right up from the Arlington Cemetery to the Capitol.
Then you begin to understand, everything that happens in the world is coming through Washington. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a really cool spot. I’m going to go back.’