Life stories like Darren Waller’s don’t happen very often in sports. He knows it and he wants to leverage that to help others who are on the verge of throwing away their own futures.
With his life in order and his NFL career now thriving beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, the Las Vegas Raiders’ superstar tight end is doing his greatest work off the field by helping at-risk youth in his new home city.
The official name of his foundation is: The Darren Waller Foundation, Dealing hope to at-risk youth!
Waller, 29, is the founder and president of the foundation, while his mother, Charlena Waller, is the vice president. This is the mission statement of the Darren Waller Foundation homepage:
“The purpose of the Foundation is to equip youth to avoid and overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol and support youth and their families during their recovery and treatment journey.”
The Waller foundation’s main focus is the prevention of substance abuse for Las Vegas’ children, by encouraging, affirming and rewarding students who accept the foundation’s pledge. Its secondary focus is supporting Las Vegas youth and their families during their recovery and treatment experience.
“I feel like football is my current calling and I feel like with my life now I live with a different sense of urgency but I feel like ultimately the bigger purpose for me is helping people that struggle with substance issues,” Waller said in a statement to Silver and Black Pride.
“I probably have 70 years after football, so I want to make sure I’m helping someone else’s life and when I look down the road I can look back and say I tried to help as many people as possible.”
When Waller — who has been clean and sober since August 2017 — moved to Las Vegas with the Raiders, he saw a problem among local youth in terms of substance abuse. According to his foundation’s website, 16.8 percent of Las Vegas youth between the ages 12-18 used an illicit drug in the past year. To put that in perspective, the national average is 14.7 percent. Furthermore, 25.6 percent of Las Vegas youth between 12-18 participated in binge alcohol use at least once a month in the past year (which again is higher than the national average of 23.2 percent). So, the need for a foundation such as Waller’s in Las Vegas was obvious.
“There is such a high rate of addiction in Vegas, it badly needs the help,“ Andrea Baker, a spokeswoman for Waller’s foundation, told Silver and Black Pride. “Darren is very focused on helping this city.”
Celebrated 4 years sober yesterday. I thank God daily for transforming my mind and my life. So grateful for the @raiders taking a chance on me and supporting me as a human being since I got here. #WallStreet #JustForToday #ComebackStories pic.twitter.com/rGYTsCMbVT— Darren Waller (@Rackkwall83) August 13, 2021
Waller’s football career has begun to flourish since he has gotten — and stayed — clean and sober. A sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, Waller was suspended for the entire 2017 season without pay for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. (This was after he’d already been suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for the same reason).
“It’s not about being right all the time or being perfect. It’s just about improving day after day after day and knowing that I don’t want to go back to where I was,” Waller said. “I still have that sense of urgency from when I first got clean. I still want to do everything that I can to not go back to where i was.”
The Georgia Tech product was first noticed by the Raiders’ coaching staff in the 2018 season during on-field workouts before a game in Baltimore when he was on the Ravens’ practice squad. The Raiders immediately poached him and he officially signed with them on Nov. 26, 2018.
After a full offseason in Oakland, Waller took off and became an instant star. Waller had a combined 197 receptions in 2019-2020, which was the second most total two-season catches by a tight end behind only Kansas City superstar Travis Kelce in that timespan. Waller is clearly the Raiders’ best player. He went from being on the verge of being jettisoned from the league because of substance abuse to a Pro Bowl player, who could now be a fringe Hall of Fame candidate if he stays the professional course.
So, with his playing career flourishing, Waller leveraged his popularity and success to help build his foundation, which is now his life passion.
Waller felt the need to share his personal experience with substance abuse and that of others with the goal of providing a safe, accepting and encouraging environment for Las Vegas students. The foundation’s ultimate goal is prevention of substance misuse and prevention, according to his website. Baker said Walker was a big part of the program plan, which is based on his own treatment experience. He insisted on a having an after-treatment program because that has been vital in his own recovery, she explained. It’s a major reason why this foundation is so unique, Baker said.
“Darren is extremely hands-on,” Baker told Silver and Black Pride. “When we were exploring the envisioning process, Darren was instrumental and let us know how important prevention and treatment was to it as he tries to pay things forward.”
Earlier this year, Waller held a concert titled “A Concert to Shine On” in Las Vegas to benefit the foundation. The Raiders’ tight end — a musician himself whose grand father was the famous jazz musician, Fats Waller — performed as the headliner.
Waller also writes and produces hip-hop music (his company is called DWall Music) in his spare time and has said it has helped him stay focused in his recovery process. So marrying his off-field passion with his foundation and helping the cause is satisfying for Waller.
Waller often talks to the children in his foundation to give them help and build their confidence. These chats are referred to as “Wall Talks,” and the aim is for Waller to share his own personal experience struggling with substance abuse and focus on connecting those experiences with at-risk kids who may be tempted to turn to illegal drugs and alcohol. The 6’6, 256 pound star tight end, in a sense, serves as a last line of defense for this Las Vegas youth.
The ultimate goal of the foundation according to the website is for Las Vegas youth to turn away from drugs and alcohol; be accepting of others; exhibit integrity; exercise self control; develop social competencies; live with resilience; and, finally, embrace hope.
One look at Waller’s life and you can’t help but believe in the power of hope.
You can donate to, become a sponsor for, or volunteer at for the Darren Waller Foundation here.