A Helping Hand for Peacekeepers Under Pressure
Bob Delaney, a 2010 graduate ofthe M.A. in Leadership program, is one formerpolice officer who knows a bit about stress.
As a young state trooper in New Jersey,he infiltrated the mob in 1975 as part of anorganized crime investigation called ProjectAlpha. For a year and a half, he lived adouble life as trucking company executiveBobby Covert, often wearing a wireto record conversations with gangsters.It was nerve-racking work. “I wouldleave a meeting and pull over to the sideof the road to throw up,” he recalled.
Despite his alias, the mobsterswelcomed him into their fold, and theevidence he gathered helped convictmore than 30 members of the notoriousGenovese and Bruno crime families.Afterward, instead of breathing asigh of relief that he had escaped detection— and certain death — he foundhimself spiraling out of control, caught in amaelstrom of emotions and behaviors thathe couldn’t understand, including isolation,avoidance, anger and paranoia.
“My personality was chipped away,” hesaid. “Bob Delaney was in the rear-view mirror.Bobby Covert was who I believed I was.”Years later, he would co-author a book withjournalist Dave Scheiber about the experiencecalled “Covert: My Years Infiltrating theMob.” But at the time, he was in turmoil, andunsure how to handle it.
One day, after he’d given a speech abouthis undercover work to a local group, a psychologyprofessor approached him and said:
“You’re going through post-traumatic stress.”That’s how Delaney began to learn evenmore about stress, and especially about PostTraumatic Stress, a syndrome that haunts peoplewho have experienced severe or prolongedtrauma. For those who suffer from it, randomevents like a car backfiring can remind themof gunfire, for instance, and send them rightback to the moment of trauma. Even withoutsuch triggers, sustained or suppressed psychologicaldistress can lead to erratic behavior, violenceand even suicide.
“It’s common among those who wear uniforms.They think they can leap tall buildingsand handle anything, but it takes a toll,” Delaneysaid. “Trauma is like an earthquake. It’sfelt strongly at the epicenter; then the aftershocksrock you for days or weeks or months.”To relieve the stress, Delaney turned to oneof his passions — basketball. He had played onthe State Police basketball team, and in the early1980s, he began refereeing at Jersey Shore Leaguegames just to unwind. At one game, Darell Garretson,then the National Basketball Association’shead of officiating, happened to see the young ref.And that’s how Delaney ended up spending 24years as one of the top referees in the NBA, from1987 to 2011.
If there’s anything almost as stressful as infiltratingthe mob, it might be refereeing an NBAgame, where a disputed call can bring you face-tofacewith a seven-footer like Shaquille O’Neal or acoach with anger management issues. But Delaneydidn’t see it that way. For him, it was relaxing.It was during his years in the pressure-cookerworld of the NBA, that he started dreaming ofattending the Saint Mary’s leadership program.He carried an ad for the program around inhis briefcase for years, and finally, at the age of56, he enrolled. Because much of the instructionis online, he was able to continue officiating, flyingin for the bimonthly meetings from whereverhe was on the road.
Like a lot of students in the program, healready had quite a bit of leadership experience.“I saw it in action first. I learned leadershiparound the kitchen table, in the community, evenfrom the mob — the wrong kind of leadership,”he said. “I wanted to understand it froman academic perspective.”
The program helped him to become moretolerant and also more reflective, he said, adding,“I wish I had done it at 26 instead of 56.”It also helped him to make the transitionto the next stage of his life. While stillin the master’s program, he was recruited as anNBA Cares ambassador to provide post-traumaticstress education, prevention and awarenesstraining to the military, law enforcementand firefighters. In 2009, he traveled to Iraq towork with soldiers in the 25th Infantry Division,and after four Oakland policemen werekilled in a shootout with a suspect, he was calledin to offer his counsel.
He has a special feeling for police officers because his father was a cop. Quoting Matthew 5:9, he said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Every time I hear that, I think of my dad. He was a peacemaker.” He shares his experience with the officers,and it helps them to open up and expressemotions they have kept bottled up inside.
“People breathe a sigh of relief when they realize:
I’m not crazy. I’m not the only one herethat’s experiencing this,” he said. “Havingthe courage to speak up is not only freeing foryourself, it’s freeing for others.”Since retiring last year, he has thrownhimself into this work and he has released anew book, “Surviving the Shadows: A Journeyof Hope into Post-Traumatic Stress.”Logging thousands of miles, he has traveledto Afghanistan with the U.S. EmbassySports Diplomacy Program and has visitednine different military institutions. He’s beento Iraq several times and to Landstuhl, Germany,working with America’s “woundedwarriors,” including soldiers recovering afterIED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Post-traumatic stress is “a human condition, experienced by many people. We have to look at it as a human condition, not a disorder,” he said, adding “Those who serve us are being put at risk and we have an obligation to take care of them.”