Herschel Walker says he’s been transparent about past violence - has he?

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

When Herschel Walker is asked about his history of violence against his ex-wife, the Republican U.S. Senate hopeful often says he’s been transparent about the tumultuous period when “my mental health was at its worst.”

Instead, at campaign events and in interviews he often dodges questions about his abusive relationship with Cindy Grossman by saying he addressed his behavior in his 2008 memoir, “Breaking Free.”

But the 264-page book never mentions violence directed at Grossman. In fact, it seems to suggest there were no altercations as it describes his struggle with mental illness.

“I can’t point to any major blowups between us, but I felt like things had eroded,” he wrote, discussing the end of his marriage.

Walker’s failure to address the violence undermines his repeated claims of transparency at a time when his history is facing sharper scrutiny. Republican and Democratic groups have aired ads featuring news clips of Grossman describing Walker physically assaulting her and holding a gun to her head.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign last week for the first time launched an ad featuring footage of Grossman in the 2008 interview, along with snippets of court documents and police reports detailing the charges.

“The guns and knives. I got into a few choking things with him,” Grossman said in the interview. “He held the gun to my temple and said he was gonna blow my brains out.”

Rather than speak about what happened during their tumultuous marriage, Walker instead alludes to his struggle with dissociative identity disorder and stresses that Grossman helped him through a rocky time in his life. He calls attempts to bring more attention to his past a descent into “gutter politics.”

“My opponents think they’re hurting me — but I am glad they did this ad,” he says in a video response to the ad. “Because it gives me an opportunity to end the stigma around mental health.”

A troubled history

Walker and Grossman met at the University of Georgia, where Walker was a star football player. They married in 1983.

In his book, Walker said the relationship became strained after he left pro football in 1998. That’s when he also began having mental health issues. He said he was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder — or DID — which had previously been known as multiple personality disorder.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Walker said he wrote “Breaking Free” to remove some of the stigma surrounding mental health issues and, as part of the publicity tour surrounding the book’s release, the two conducted joint interviews even though they were divorced.

Speaking to ABC News, Grossman supported Walker’s claims that he struggled with DID.

“I began to see the alters,” Grossman said, referring to the separate personalities. “Even his physical countenance would change. The first thing I thought was that he had the devil in him or something.”

She also revealed in interviews with ABC and CNN that Walker had been physically abusive.

Grossman has not responded to recent attempts to contact her by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Walker has not denied Grossman’s allegations. In the 2008 ABC story, he acknowledged he “probably did it” but asserted that he couldn’t remember. Memory lapses are common in DID.

Walker has not repeated that explanation on the campaign trail. And although he has given dozens of speeches over the years about his mental health struggles, it does not appear he mentioned the domestic violence aimed at his ex-wife.

Nor does he mention that in 2005 she took out a protective order against him. Grossman’s sister Maria Tsettos alleged in an affidavit that Walker had repeatedly threatened to kill Grossman and her boyfriend. A Dallas County, Texas, judge granted the protective order and temporarily barred Walker from possessing guns.

‘I wrote a book about it’

As he entered politics, Walker has conflated his openness about his mental health with openness on domestic violence. When reporters ask him about Grossman’s claims, he directs them to his book.

“I think people in Georgia know who I am. I wrote a book about it,” he said in March.

In a 2021 interview, Walker suggested that the media “educate themselves, maybe buy my book and read it.”

He told Axios in December: “I’m always accountable to whatever I’ve ever done. And that’s what I tell people: I’m accountable to it.”

In a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, he said, “I wrote a book about my experience — every painful detail.”

Sometimes he ignores the question altogether.

“One thing about me is I’ve been knocked down and I’ve gotten up. And I have gotten up and done some amazing things after getting up,” Walker said in August when the AJC asked about the allegations.

Jan Christianson, executive director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said Walker needs to publicly set the record straight about what those details are.

“There can be no road to nonviolence if there has been an episode and you are not willing to address it,” she said. “You need to take personal accountability.”

His supporters say they believe he has changed.

At a “Women for Herschel” event in Kennesaw last month, Nancy Couch, president of the Cobb Republican Women’s Club, said she trusts Walker.

“I think that was in his past, and if we don’t have forgiveness, what do we have?” Couch said. “I know from knowing him that he has Georgia first in his heart to represent Georgia.”

But Joanna Finkelstein, a Republican from Newnan, said she is undecided in the Senate race. The domestic violence allegations concern her.

“Someone who can’t control themselves, can you trust them?” she asked.

Jenny Delamotte of Cobb County said she’s not sure what to believe.

“I don’t know what went on in his life,” she said of Walker. “I don’t know the story on that. He’s not in jail for it and he’s not convicted of anything, so here we are.”

‘Ask him about his wife’

When he has been pressed about his violent past, Walker and his allies often bring up a 2021 incident between Warnock and his then-wife, Ouleye Warnock. After one recent GOP gathering, he asked an AJC reporter, “Did you ever ask him about his wife?”

In March 2020, Ouleye Warnock told Atlanta police officers that he ran over her foot with his car during a heated argument outside her townhouse, and she described him as a “great actor” after he denied her claims.

The Democrat wasn’t charged with a crime, and medical officials didn’t find visible signs of injury to the foot. Warnock told the AJC in March 2020 that Ouleye Warnock’s allegations “didn’t happen.”

An examination of hours of police bodycam video reviewed by the AJC shows that three Atlanta investigators who responded to Ouleye Warnock’s 911 call said they found no evidence her husband did anything wrong.

The footage shows one Atlanta police officer saying that “I don’t think any intent is there” and a second officer saying “I don’t think he did it.” An official who inspected Ouleye Warnock’s foot said she didn’t see any visible signs of injury and expressed skepticism about her accusations.