I have some really good news about former Charger football player Kenny Graham.
And I have some really bad news.
First the background.
I started writing about Graham in May after his friend Mark Downing brought him to my attention.
Graham was a star player in the late 1960s.
I mean like a superstar.
He played defense as a strong safety and still made 28 career interceptions and five touchdowns (including a pick off the famous Joe Namath.)
He was a four-time pro bowler and one-time first team all pro in the American Football League from 1965 to 1969.
If he were playing today, his would be a household name.
But he got blacklisted and cut from the Chargers in 1969 after trying to help another player with a lawsuit against the AFL.
The intervening years are a blur to the now-74-year-old. Perhaps not always worth remembering.
He came to Bakersfield, where his father had lived, around 2009 or 2010.
After bouncing around with relatives, Kenny ended up living on a vacant lot left by his father.
He made his home on an abandoned couch under a fig tree.
That’s where he was when Mark Downing, a waiter at Sorellas and website designer, befriended him at the downtown post office.
Downing realized Kenny’s thinking wasn’t exactly working in a linear fashion and worried he might be suffering from CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — repeated brain injuries.
If so, he might qualify for benefits from the proceeds of lawsuits brought against the NFL by former players.
Downing started working the internet and phones and eventually found the NFL Player Care Foundation, which is loosely connected to the NFL but not directly funded by it.
The Player Care Foundation ultimately agreed to pay for a long-term hotel room for Kenny and some medical benefits.
Kenny got off the vacant lot in mid-June and started going to a series of doctor appointments set up by the Player Care Foundation.
So here’s the really good news.
On Monday, a doctor approved Kenny for funding to pay for a permanent, assisted living facility.
“This is what I’ve been working for,” Downing said. “This is bigger even than getting him off the lot.”
It hasn’t been easy.
Kenny’s dementia can make him extremely difficult to deal with.
Three times, he’s agreed to get a needed medical procedure done. And three times, he backed out. Then he doesn’t remember the previous visits or why he backed out and Downing, along with one of Kenny’s lifetime friends who happens to also live in Bakersfield, Howdy Miller, have to start the process all over.
And sometimes Kenny gets agitated and cantankerous.
But Downing put up with the random bouts of anger and accusations because he knew how important it was to get this final medical OK.
“Kenny is a huge undertaking,” Downing said. “I’m exhausted!”
Now that he’s got the go-ahead for funding, Kenny can stay permanently in a facility that’s more than just a room.
“He needs people to attend to him,” Downing said.
From laundry to meals and medication, Kenny needs help.
Though he doesn’t think so.
“He says, ‘I take care of you, you don’t take care of me!,’” Downing repeated and chuckled.
Whether Kenny will accept living in an assisted-care facility has yet to be seen.
For now, he’s content going from his hotel, to the downtown post office, to lunch and back again.
But here’s the really horrible news, which I had to break to Kenny.
Kenny couldn’t take his two dogs, Blondie and Pee Wee, with him to the hotel.
With no other options, I offered to hold on to them.
Then on Friday, Aug. 19, Pee Wee bolted out of my office and I haven’t been able to find her since. I’ve scoured downtown all the way to Baker, down to 4th and Union and all in between.
My heart is absolutely broken for her.
Kenny’s broke, too, when I told him.
I didn’t think it was possible for me to feel even worse about Pee Wee, but in that moment I did.
Then he said the most amazing thing to me.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry for putting you in that position. It’s not your fault.”
If I were Kenny and someone had lost my dog, I can’t imagine being so generous and kind.
“Well, that’s life. There’s good times and there’s bad. This is one of those low points, for both of us.”
He may be abrasive sometimes and forgetful and maybe he didn’t make the best life choices along the way.
But Kenny Graham is a very kind man. For that I thank him.