NFL Legend Charles Haley Attempted Suicide at a Young Age Before Becoming a Mental Health Advocate

Longtime San Francisco 49ers pass-rusher Charles Haley spent his days terrorizing quarterbacks, from college through his final game in the NFL.

A five-time Super Bowl champion, Haley is among the greatest pass-rushers in modern NFL history. Haley is so revered that he eventually earned a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Before he ever dreamed of taking the stage at Canton, Ohio, Haley had to address his mental health. Haley is now speaking out about those experiences, including an attempted suicide at a young age.

Charles Haley is a 49ers and Cowboys legend

There is a general rule of thumb in North American sports, especially in baseball and football, that a 10-year stretch of elite play to earn someone a spot in the Hall of Fame.

That logic certainly applies to Haley’s first 10 seasons, beginning with his rookie campaign on the San Francisco 49ers in 1986 through the last snap he took for the Dallas Cowboys in January 1996.

In 148 regular-season games across that span, Haley totaled 96.5 sacks, forced 25 fumbles, recovered eight loose balls, and even brought one back for a touchdown. Haley added 10 postseason sacks in that span and won five Super Bowls, three of which came with Troy Aikman and the Dallas Cowboys.

A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Haley earned first-team All-Pro honors twice and won Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1994. Injuries and personal issues — his daughter, Brianna, had leukemia — temporarily ended his career after the 1996 campaign.

Haley returned to the 49ers in late-1998 and had three sacks as a reserve pass-rusher during the 1999 season.

Haley had a difficult reputation with the 49ers and Cowboys

Charles Haley was a dominant player who often found himself in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Haley, by his own admission, had a temper. He let his frustrations out on the field — and, sometimes, around his own teammates.

During the 1993 season, Haley smashed his helmet through a concrete wall after losing to Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills. Haley was frustrated with the Cowboys and running back Emmitt Smith, who held out for a new contract.

Dallas quickly reached a new contract with Smith, who returned and helped the Cowboys win a Super Bowl.

Haley only joined the Cowboys because he feuded with 49ers head coach George Seifert. San Francisco traded Haley to the Cowboys in August 1992 for two draft picks.

Charles Haley just opened up about his mental health battles


49ers Linebacker Milt McColl Quietly Attended Medical School Behind Coach Bill Walsh’s Back

Years after Charley Haley retired and left football behind; a doctor diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. 

Haley has spent recent years opening up about his journey in football and his mental health experiences. The Athletic transcribed comments that Haley recently made on a recent web seminar about mental health. 

Haley recalled attempting suicide at a young age — Haley estimated that he was 12 or 13 years old — and how surviving changed his outlook on life.

“I knew then that God had some purpose for me. I got down on my knees that day and said, ‘God, just give me one thing I could be great at.’ At that moment, it feels like I grew six inches. I became the great athlete. But the anger that I brought to the game, to my brothers, to teammates … I lived in fear all the time because I always felt like people were out to get me. And I couldn’t understand that.”

Haley also thanked longtime 49ers teammate Ronnie Lott for his role in Haley’s life. Lott shared how proud he is of Haley for being open about his journey.

“You are trying to figure out how to make even your friends better,” Lott told Haley. “And what I love about you, man, is that there are times you will kick me in my rear end, but there are times where you will pick me up and make sure that I shine.”

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.