Success isn’t permanent, and failure isn’t fatal.
When I began writing Silent Cry, it was important to me to give readers a look into not only Nate Newton’s past but also his present. My objective was never to expose juicy details about a famous athlete, but to shine a light on domestic violence in hopes of helping others escape it and find healthy and meaningful lives on the other side. To that end, I arranged for my friend and collaborator, Wendy Walters, to interview Nate and learn more about the man he has become. This is what she wrote after interviewing Nate in 2011:
The weather was miserable the chilly October evening I met Nate at a Starbucks in Southlake, Texas. We had never met before, and as Nate entered the café, he scanned the room, looking for the person he was supposed to meet. I could see he was dressed in warm clothes in anticipation of standing outside to watch his son King play football for the Carroll High School Dragons later that evening.
I caught his eye and stood to meet him. “Nate?” I asked, not positive it was him. He’d lost considerable weight and looked very different from the photos I had seen when researching him on the Internet. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, shaking my outstretched hand and sizing me up. This was definitely not his first interview.
I gestured to a corner where I had positioned some chairs to face each other in an attempt at privacy. I was grateful Nate had granted the interview and knew he was fully aware of the content of Dorothy’s book. I could only imagine how he felt about the information soon to come to light. As a high-profile alumnus of the Dallas Cowboys, a well-known member of the Dallas/Fort Worth community, and a current radio personality (The Coop and Nate Show, 103.3, ESPN Radio), Nate is no stranger to public scrutiny of his personal life. Years of fame and infamy stretch behind him like yard lines on a familiar field.
As I prepared for our meeting, I came across words he’d spoken in another interview: “I don’t care what you write about me. What I did, I did. That’s on me.” Other reporters have found him bluntly honest without any attempt to gloss over his missteps along the way. I was curious to know how he would respond to my questions. I began by telling him the purpose of my interview was not to dredge up his past, but rather to offer a perspective on his future. I wanted others who had been abusers to understand that the cycle of abuse does not have to continue indefinitely. There is hope.
“Let me first tell you something about my past,” Nate began. “I always lived life to what I thought was the fullest for me. I’m an emotional person. I’m excitable. If I believe I’m right, I don’t care what nobody say — how dumb it is or how dumb it may seem to somebody else — if I believe I’m right, that’s the end of the story. My highs are very high; my lows are very low. That’s what drove me, and sometimes I took things to extremes.”
He took a sip of his coffee and settled in. He was ready to talk.
“My Uncle Charles died when I was in high school or college — I can’t exactly remember when,” he said. “When I would visit him, he always told me, ‘Son, live life to the fullest. Live it how you want to live it.’ Well, I took that beyond what he meant. He meant for me to live a good life and cherish every day how it comes. Me, being a young buck, I took that to mean for me to be the wildest dude in the world. I took his advice to mean ‘do what you want to do, how you want to do it’ — and I did. I lived like that, whatever I did. Whether it was drinking . . . everything . . . I took everything wrong. Like the drinking, women, living on the edge, mistreating people — I just took everything too far. By the time I realized what Uncle Charles really meant, I had spent a good part of my life living on the edge, having fun — and believe me, I had fun. I ain’t one of these people who look back and say, ‘Oh, man, golly, what have I done?’ I had fun. The good, the bad, and the ugly — I had fun. But by the time I realized what life is all about — and thank God, thank God he saved me before I got too far that I can’t recover — by the time I realized who God was and what
he really meant to me, I had done lived a whole life of pursuing the wrong things. So now this is where we are right now.
“I realize now that if you are a parent or a husband, your life ain’t yours. I was married, but everything had to revolve around me. I had kids, but everything had to revolve around me. Since I’ve changed my life and God is a part of my life, now I know I have to make sacrifices for my kids — for my wife now [Michelle]. It’s kind of amazing the transformation because you just do things differently. That’s basically all I can say.”
“When did you find God?” I asked.
“It was once I got out of prison — you’ll have to do the research — seven or eight years ago maybe. I got out of prison and had to find a job. I went to Deion Sanders; I went to David Wells — he was a bail bondsman — and he said, ‘Man I got just the guy. His name is Omar Jahwar. He’s a preacher out of South Dallas.’
“I had to get a job, you see, because I was on parole in Louisiana and on probation here in Dallas, so I had to get a job or I’d be in violation. They were giving me time to get a job, and I had a big fine I had to pay back, so I went to David Wells and Deion, and they were trying to help me find a good job — not just any job. At the time, I just needed to get a job and start paying these people back their money.
“David Wells told me one night, ‘Meet me at Hooters. I got this pastor I want you to meet,’ and I was like, ‘Whoa, meet you at Hooters? Okay.’ He told me he had the perfect guy for me to meet, and he introduced me to Omar. I was like, ‘I’m meeting a pastor at Hooters!’ So Omar tells me he has a job for me mentoring kids in South Dallas. I said, ‘What do you want
in return?’ He told me, ‘Nothing really, but I’ll think of something.’ As the evening went on, Omar asked me to introduce him to Deion Sanders and ask him to come to a function to raise money for Vision Regeneration. I said, ‘Well, cool, that’s easy.’ We spent several more hours talking in that Hooters, and it was like I had known Omar all my life. It seemed like I grew up with this dude.
“You asked me when I found God. Well, I don’t know what day it was. I know most people can remember this epic day of when they recall finding God. I’m different from most people. How do you find God? God has always been there. When I decided I was going to be a part of God’s plan, I was just in my truck — I think I had this little diesel deal — something small because I had just gotten out of prison. I was driving around, and I said, ‘You know, God, you’ve always covered me through everything — multiple car wrecks, bad marriage, how I was, drug-related deals, me selling drugs, and you’ve always covered me. I’ve never really had to work a day in my life, and I’ve always known you. I’ve always known that you’re about right and good — but I chose the other route.’ ”
Nate stopped his remembrance here and looked me right in the eyes. “I was never ignorant, you see. I always knew there was a God, but I also knew that — and here is where Dorothy and I may disagree: When I met her, I never played like I ever wanted to be a Christian. I didn’t ever even say I was gonna try to be a Christian. She’ll say that, through the bad times we went through, I would say, ‘I’m going to try to be better,’ and I would ask her to pray for me. But I was trying to be a better husband. I never said I was trying to be better with God.
“So when I decided I was going to better my life and get right with Christ, I knew I was going into it wholeheartedly, and if I saw it wasn’t working, I wasn’t going to stick with it. One thing about it, you’re either with God 100 percent or you’re going to hell.
“When I decided to change and get my life right, I was well aware of what it took because of the people around me. I knew Dorothy was a Christian; I knew my son Tré was a Christian; I knew my father, my mother, Deion Sanders, Tony Hayes, Charlie Biggers — these people were Christians. They never told me it was thunder and lightning, and all of a sudden your life just miraculously changes. I knew it wasn’t like that because I knew the struggles they went through.
“So, when I became a Christian, I already knew what it was going to be like for me. I saw Dorothy, Deion, Charlie, Tony, Tré, my mother and father — I saw that they couldn’t be shaken. I knew I would be like that. I told you if I believe something is right, I don’t care what anybody else says or thinks. I did feel like they would probably be closer in their faith and in their walk with Christ than I could ever be — not because I started late, that isn’t what determines it. Because I lived in the flesh for so long — I think if you could start earlier, you wouldn’t have the habits, you see? The habits from my past . . .” Nate’s voice trailed off.
“What I mean is, I think with Dorothy, or Tré or Deion, they started earlier with habits of love, and the earlier you start with those habits, the easier it is if you fall off the wagon to get back on. I’m not saying they love God more than me, but they’re already at the meat of the Word, and I’m just still getting past the milk and the mash. I don’t have the same habits they have.
“I still have a lot of flesh to fight. The things that Dorothy went through with me — there is no way I could ever look good to someone. I would never look good to women, and I don’t expect to look good. I’ll deal with that. I don’t need acceptance from you or anybody. All I need for you to understand is that even though I can’t change what has happened, you can’t stop it that now I live in peace. Who I am now, what I’ve been through, what Dorothy has been through, how we have come through it, how our kids have prospered — you have to let your kids know that you can change your mind. You can be different.”
Nate talked for a few minutes about his parents and the differences between how he was brought up and how Dorothy was brought up. He spoke very fondly of his mom and dad and of his sons. He believed he and Dorothy shared the same basic core values all along, just that his path caused him to make very different choices.
“When I did stupid things, there were only three entities I apologized to for the wrong that I did. One was Dorothy and the boys — that’s one because they are my family. Two was my mother and father. I had to apologize to them separately, you see. My mom was a schoolteacher, and I put her through a lot. My father was self-employed. He owned a store, a gas station, and several properties, and he talked and bragged about his kids. I hurt them, and I had to apologize to my parents separately. Finally, the third entity I had to apologize to was the Dallas Cowboys organization and fans. I mean, the Cowboys knew my antics — they knew — but I lived a dual life. I presented one thing and did another.
“I told some of my friends that Dorothy was going to write this book, and they told me, ‘Oh, man, that’s gonna make you look bad.’
“You know what? I prayed about it, and I said to myself, ‘I’ll deal with that when it comes.’ ”
We both took another sip of our coffee. I shared with Nate that the purpose of this interview was not only to lend credibility to Dorothy’s story and to keep the press from doing a “he said; she said,” but my main purpose in interviewing him was to reach out to those who had been abusers — men who found themselves trapped in a cycle of violence, hurting those they care about the most. I was curious about his perspective — not only on what caused him to be abusive, but even more on what caused him to stop. I wanted to know what he would say to men who abused women.
Nate dove right in. “Whether you hit a woman once or you hit her fifty thousand times, there is no place in our makeup as a man that allows for us to ever do that. It’s unacceptable; that’s the bottom line. Any man who knows God understands that as a man, hitting a woman is never, ever acceptable.
“Will men do that? Yes. Men will fly off the handle and do that, but I’m telling you that it is never okay. For a woman to think she has to accept that [abuse], she needs to seek help now — and much faster than that man does. For a man to beat a woman, and this is what I had to come to grips with, for a man to beat a woman, he’s a coward.
“You’re a coward! That’s all there is to it!”
Nate took a moment to regroup. He was visibly stirred up.
“I went to God,” he said, “and started seeing a change in my life, and a lot of things started to fall into place. There were things I had to do right away. I went to Dorothy right after I got out of prison and apologized to her, but I had to go back after I found God and apologize again. When I made my apologies as a Christian, only then could I even begin to understand forgiveness. Only then could I start to feel good about it. Yes, I apologized when I got out of prison, and I was grateful for the way she stuck by me and showed love, but it wasn’t until I was a Christian and then made my apologies to Dorothy, to my mother and father, to the Cowboys and fans, that I began to feel good.”
“Do you feel free now?” I asked.
“I do feel free, but I never want to forget and fall back into that. I have a [new] wife now. I still get mad. I still have real, real bad days and real, real bad nights, but I don’t ever want to get so angry that I would put my hands on her. It takes God to keep me from that. Only God can do that.
“For athletes, I think it’s worse. We’re conditioned for aggression. We’re conditioned to respond physically. Larry Allen [a Cowboys teammate] asked me one time, ‘Nate, do you sometimes just get so wound up? So full of anxiety?’ I told him, ‘Yeah, I do. Let me tell you how to fix it — you gotta start praying. Don’t go get a drink; don’t go talk to your wife. When the anxiety attacks come, you gotta start praying. That’s the only thing that’s gonna fix it.’
“I tried drinkin’. I tried going away and being by myself, but that didn’t work. Nothing I tried worked. It takes God’s intervention. Now I surround myself with Christians — even my doctor is a good Christian. Michelle and I have been married now for a long time. We attend North Dallas Community Bible Fellowship . . .”
Nate looked down at his watch and reminded me that he didn’t want to miss the start of King’s game. There is much more I want to ask him, but I know our interview has come to an end.
I’m left with the impression that this man’s journey has led him to a very different place than where he was many years ago, and that he has a journey ahead of him still. I am convinced that he deeply regrets his behavior and the pain he has caused — not only to Dorothy but also to his sons, his family, and his fans. I offer a prayer for Nate as he walks out into the cold mist. I ask God to fully reveal the power of his forgiveness and acceptance to Nate. I thank God that he is faithful to complete the work he has started in Nate’s life. As I watch him drive off toward Dragon Stadium, I believe that God has much, much more in store for Nate Newton.