(WASHINGTON) — An athletic icon and business success, Herschel Walker has the type of background that Republicans hope will propel him to the U.S. Senate, where his presence could very well tip the balance of power in the deeply divided chamber.
But Walker’s political ambitions have also revived scrutiny of another side of his record: allegations of domestic violence, physical threats and stalking. Walker has denied some of those accusations. Others he claims not to remember – a byproduct of his diagnosis with dissociative identity disorder, or D.I.D., a complex mental health condition characterized by some severe and potentially debilitating symptoms.
Recruited and endorsed by former President Donald Trump, his longtime friend and mentor, Walker is expected to win next week’s Republican primary by a substantial margin. Some Republicans fear, however, that if Walker earns the GOP nomination, these claims could catch up with him come November – when he would likely face formidable Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock – particularly if he fails to adequately answer for them now.
“[Walker] will have a better shot to win the general [election] if he addresses those issues that are out there from his past,” Georgia’s Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who has not endorsed any candidate in the primary, told ABC News’ “Nightline.” “If he doesn’t, then I think it’s going to be a tough day in Georgia when we get to the November election, and we’re going to send, unfortunately, another Democrat to represent us as a U.S. senator.”
Walker has insisted that he has made a full recovery and taken responsibility for any past transgressions, and in response to questions from ABC News, his campaign referred to his 2008 memoir, “Breaking Free,” in which he revealed his diagnosis, and a 2008 interview with ABC News’ Bob Woodruff, in which he discussed its effects on his marriage.
Watch “Nightline” on ABC on Tuesday night for a special report on Herschel Walker.
“This is an obvious political hit job [eight] days before an election orchestrated by Herschel’s primary opponents who are failing to get any sort of traction. Voters will see through it. Herschel addressed these issues in detail with Bob Woodruff 14 years ago — he even wrote a book about it,” Mallory Blount, a spokesperson for the Walker campaign, told ABC News. “The same reporters who praised him for his courage are now trashing him because he is a Republican. It is shameful and is why good people don’t run for office.”
But in his book, Walker does not address several claims about his behavior – some of which are documented in police records. Walker did not write, for example, about allegations that he once held a gun to his ex-wife’s head. Nor does he address a claim made in 2002 that he stalked a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. After the book was published, a woman claiming to have had a long-term relationship with Walker accused him of stalking and threatening her as well.
His critics have contended that he has yet to address the full scope of troubling allegations. Walker did not participate in any of the primary debates, and his opponents, most notably Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black, have demanded an explanation in his absence.
“Georgia deserves to know the details,” Black told ABC News’ “Nightline.” “There’s a pattern of deflect, defer, run, hide, twist. It’s unacceptable for service in the United States Senate. In my opinion, I think most Georgians are going to agree.”
A stunning interview
Walker ended a decorated football career in 1997, with a Heisman Trophy and more than a decade in the NFL to show for it. In Georgia, where he attended high school and college, he is an icon – widely considered one of the greatest college football players to ever hail from the state.
In 1984, the New Jersey Generals and its bombastic owner, Donald Trump, selected Walker with the first pick of the upstart USFL draft. It was the beginning of one of Walker’s most consequential relationships. In the ensuing decades, Walker has appeared as a contestant on the Trump-hosted reality television show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” and later served as co-chair of President Trump’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. Walker has also credited Trump with helping him navigate a lucrative post-football career in the poultry industry and other business enterprises.
But shortly after retiring from the game, according to his memoir, “Breaking Free,” Walker’s mental health and 16-year marriage deteriorated. He discussed the book in a 2008 interview with “Nightline,” telling ABC News that many of his struggles stemmed from dissociative identity disorder.
The once fearsome running back claimed that his psyche had fractured into as many as 12 alternate personalities, or “alters,” and he admitted to experiencing both violent urges and significant gaps in memory.
“It’s just personalities that can do different things for you,” Walker told Woodruff in 2008. “I told somebody once, you don’t want the Herschel that played football, you don’t want the Herschel that do business babysitting your child. You want a different person. When I’m competing, I’m a totally different person.”
In his memoir, Walker described one incident, from 2001, in which he became “so angry” with someone who arrived late to deliver him a car that Walker became consumed with “the visceral enjoyment I’d get from seeing the small entry wound and the spray of brain tissue and blood — like a Fourth of July firework — exploding behind him.”
“With murder in his heart and mind,” Walker wrote, he got behind the wheel of his Mercedes – where he kept a Beretta pistol in the glove compartment – to find the delivery man. But he soon spotted a “SMILE. JESUS LOVES YOU” bumper sticker, he wrote, and returned home.
But it was Walker’s ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, who offered the most harrowing glimpse into Walker’s post-football life, telling ABC News that Walker once threatened her with a weapon.
“He got a gun, and he put it to my temple,” Grossman told Woodruff in 2008.
“Put the gun right to your temple,” Woodruff replied, “and what did he say?”
“I’m gonna blow your effin’ brains out,” Grossman said.
Walker told ABC News at the time that he had no recollection of the incident described by Grossman. He did not deny it, acknowledging that he “probably did it,” but asserted that the gaps in his memory, a hallmark symptom of D.I.D., left him unable to address it.
“Do you not remember something like that because you think that was another alter,” Woodruff asked Walker in 2008, “or do you want to get out of having to talk about it?”
“No, no, no, no,” Walker insisted. “I’m talking about everything else. If I can remember it, I’ll talk about it.”
For Grossman, however, the chilling experience remained clear in her mind.
“[Walker] says he doesn’t remember a lot of these details,” Woodruff told Grossman in 2008.
“He may not,” Grossman replied. “But I certainly do.”
Some observers have suggested that Walker’s diagnosis provides a convenient mechanism for deflecting responsibility.
“It’s an excellent excuse to use if you’ve pointed a gun at somebody,” retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution politics editor Jim Galloway recently told The Washington Post. “‘That wasn’t me; it was somebody else.’”
Walker and Grossman divorced in 2002, and Grossman sought and was granted a restraining order against Walker in 2005. Court records related to those proceedings contain additional allegations that Walker made other threats of violence toward Grossman and her then-boyfriend.
Walker denied the allegations when he was interviewed by police in 2005, and the police report notes that he “was very calm but surprised about [the statements]” and suggested that someone was “making allegations about him to help with future child custody issues.” Walker’s campaign did not respond to questions about the incident.
Grossman did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. Walker’s allies have pointed to the fact that she has participated in several interviews in support of Walker’s condition as evidence that the couple remains on friendly terms.
But police reports obtained by ABC News and others have since shown that Grossman is not the only woman to have made allegations of threatening behavior against Walker.
In 2002, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader told police that she believed Walker was lurking outside her home, and that a year earlier, Walker had “made threats to her” and was “having her house watched.” The former cheerleader declined to comment for this story. She told police in 2002 that she did not want officers to pursue Walker for fear of “[making] the problem worse.”
In 2012, Myka Dean, who claimed to have had an on-again, off-again relationship with the former football star for nearly two decades, told police that Walker “lost it” after she tried to break up with him, and she said he threatened to “sit outside her apartment and blow her head off when she came outside.” Dean died in 2019, but in a statement provided to ABC News from the Walker campaign, Dean’s mother said the family was never aware of her daughter’s allegations, and they are “very proud of the man Herschel Walker has become. We love him, pray for him, and wish we lived in Georgia so we could vote him into the United States Senate.” Dean’s mother and stepfather also served on the board of Walker’s company, Renaissance Man, Inc.
Walker, who has never been charged with a crime, has denied both claims, telling Axios in December 2021 that “people can’t just make up and add on and say other things that’s not the truth. They want me to address things that they made up.”
A complex condition
Dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is a rare mental illness that Walker had said he has struggled with since childhood: “I just didn’t know what it was,” Walker told ABC News in 2008.
Walker was initially diagnosed and primarily treated by Dr. Jerry Mungadze, a Bedford, Texas-based licensed professional counselor with a Ph.D. in counselor education. Mungadze penned the forward to Walker’s memoir, in which Walker described him as “one of my best friends and probably the most essential,” as he has become central to Walker’s recovery narrative.
But Mungadze’s embrace of controversial or unproven psychological theories and treatments over the years have since raised questions about the treatment Walker may have received. In 2008, Walker wrote that Mungadze “played an important role in my healing process,” which featured both out-patient treatment at a hospital in Southern California and a protocol apparently developed by Mungadze himself.
“Dr. Jerry described his procedures and proposed treatment for the part of me I had never truly understood,” Walker wrote. “He said his treatment would focus on the whole person rather than the separate parts of personalities I created. He assured me it was possible to achieve emotional stability based upon the approach and methods he had developed.”
Mungadze did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and Walker’s campaign did not respond to questions about the nature and extent of the candidate’s treatment.
Walker told Axios in December 2021 that he held himself “accountable” for his behavior toward Grossman, and said he has since experienced something close to a full recovery from the disorder that previously led him down that violent path.
“[I’m] better now than 99% of the people in America,” he said. “Just like I broke my leg; I put the cast on. It healed.”
But according to one expert, recovery from D.I.D. is not as straightforward as Walker seems to suggest, and it often requires long-term treatment to manage symptoms that can cause “impairment on work and social function.”
Dr. J. Douglas Bremner, a professor of psychiatry and radiology at Emory University who specializes in the treatment of severe trauma-related conditions, cautioned that he could not speak definitively about Walker’s condition because he had not personally treated him, but he said the goal for most patients would “be more management of symptoms and, in some cases, it can be eventual integration of personalities.”
“In my experience, that kind of recovery is not something that is typical,” Bremner said of Walker’s assertion that he had completely healed. “The treatment is long term, so there’s no quick fixes.”
Walker’s campaign did not respond to questions about the current status of his recovery or whether he still receives treatment to manage the condition, leaving voters to parse Walker’s past statements.
“A lot of people may have this problem, but they’re too ashamed or they’re too scared to come out and say something,” Walker told ABC News in 2008. “I said I’m not ashamed, because guys, I’m human. I’m not nobody special. I’m just Herschel.”
Georgia Republicans will soon decide whether that’s enough for them.
ABC News’ Kate Holland and Jake Lefferman contributed to this report.
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