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Dexter Manley was a defensive end in the National Football League, mainly with the Washington Redskins in the 1980s. He was extremely talented, earning 97.5 quarterback sacks over his career, which is a very impressive total. He also won two Super Bowl rings with the Redskins, in Super Bowl XVII and in Super Bowl XXII.

But he had two big problems. First, he was a druggie. Second, he was illiterate.

His drug addiction was, sadly, unexceptional for a star professional athlete of his era. Not that everyone did it, but there were more than a handful of players who were caught. (The great New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor comes to mind.) And, like other players, his career was ended by drugs — which was most likely cocaine; the NFL keeps the specifics of its drug tests private, but a retired Manley was charged with coke possession in 2001. As a player, three positive tests ended his Redskins career; he tried to make it with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals later on, but he failed tests each time.

Manley's illiteracy, on the other hand, had nothing to do with his NFL exit. But it's what most people remember. Like practically every NFL player, Manley attended college — four years at Oklahoma State University, to be precise — and like many college football players, he didn't come close to graduating. Deion Sanders, the star cornerback who attended Florida State University, openly admitted that he never went to class in three years there.

Still, Neon Deion could read. Manley couldn't, and he still couldn't in 1989 — almost a decade after leaving college after the fall of 1980 — when he came out of the proverbial closet at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on literacy.

It was awful to watch. Manley cried throughout his whole testimony. It must have been worse for educators in the state of Oklahoma, as their largest educational institutions were going through embarrassing scandals. (This was near the end of coach Barry Switzer's era at the University of Oklahoma, when players were shooting Uzis on campus and quarterbacks were wearing orange jumpsuits after drug busts.)

Testifying at the capitol, Manley was a figure worthy of pity. But pity didn't keep him clean. And pity didn't help his Oklahoma St. classmates, who I'm guessing would have been more worthy beneficiaries of all the time and effort the university must have spent keeping Manley eligible to play football.

So ... all that's left to say is this: Kids, reading is good. Drugs are bad.

Sources/additional info:
http://redskinshq.com/other/vote/manley.shtml
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/football/nfl/news/2001/05/12/manley_court_ap/
http://enquirer.com/editions/1999/12/05/spt_why_james_cant_read.html

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