Dexter Manley's odyssey in abuse

November 23, 1992|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,John Eisenberg is a sports columnist for The Sun.

Dexter Manley's autobiography is an exercise in abuse.

Mr. Manley is abusing drugs, women and his responsibilities as a parent. His brother and sister are abusing drugs. His mother is abusing alcohol. The football system is abusing him by putting him through high school and college without teaching him to read. The Washington Redskins are abusing him by ignoring a failed drug test to keep him in uniform for a Super Bowl.

"Educating Dexter," written with the help of former Washington Post sportswriter Tom Friend, is about as close as a sober soul can get to going through the 30-day program at Hazelden. There is abuse on every page.

Read this one with a towel to wipe the sweat from your forehead.

At the very least, it is a far cry from the average "I scored the touchdowns and got the girl" as-told-to jock confessional. It is a -- diametric opposite, sort of a "I had it all and messed it up big time" handbook.

The good news is that, unlike so many pro athletes today, Mr. Manley isn't pointing fingers or whining about his trouble. He takes the blame for his fall from grace as the Redskins' Pro Bowl defensive end and resident character. It's all there in print -- marital infidelity, cocaine binges, lying, you name it.

Of course, reading the author's preface, you learn that Mr. Manley was sinking back into drugs during the year he was giving the interviews that became the substance of the book, so who knows if you can believe everything you're reading?

The modern sports fan has become jaded about stories of children of underprivilege using sports as a vehicle to fame. But there is one aspect to Mr. Manley's story that makes it different, and particularly compelling: his adult illiteracy.

He made it to age 28 without learning to read. In the book, he details how he got around this deficiency in grade school, high school andcollege. It is a damning indictment of the system.

In any case, what could be a terribly sad story does not become one because of Mr. Manley's ability to put a positive spin on just about everything. Written in the first person, with interludes from friends and family, the book succeeds in capturing his ebullient, cartoonish personality.

He talks of getting in the middle of a sideline celebration between Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and general manager Bobby Beathard because "I felt like I was third in command." In that regard, the book reads a lot like it was to deal with the man: There was a thin line between joking and seriousness.

The only real piece of news is that Mr. Manley accuses the Redskins of "probably" having in their hands -- and doing nothing about -- the results of a drug test he failed before their Super Bowl victory over Denver in 1988.

Other than that, it's just lively reading about a troubled life.

Don't forget the towel.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Educating Dexter."

Authors: Dexter Manley and Tom Friend.

Publisher: Rutledge Hill Press.

Length, price: 358 pages, $19.95.

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