Berkeley Magazine, Summer 1999


On the football field, Chuck Muncie was gridiron gold. A star running back for Cal during the 1970s, he broke six records that remain untouched, including most touchdowns and most yards in a single season.

A strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy, Muncie appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the only Cal athlete ever to do so. He was the No. 1 pick in the 1976 NFL draft and enjoyed 10 stellar years in professional football, winning a Pro Bowl Most Valuable Player award and divisional championships. In the early 1980s, he retired at the top of his game.

Then, away from the warm glow of the stadium lights, Muncie began a losing streak.

"I had too much time on my hands and went to a lot of parties," said Muncie. "Because I was famous, everyone gave me cocaine so I would hang out with them."

His involvement in drugs increased when he went through a divorce. By 1989, just two years out of the NFL, Muncie was in federal prison on cocaine distribution charges.

But today, Muncie is back on campus mentoring Cal football players. He also runs a nonprofit, community service foundation in Southern California.

The road back to success wasn't easy.

While serving his 18-month sentence, Muncie had time to reflect and turn his life around. He remembered the rewarding volunteer work he did while in the pros and developed a game plan -- once out of prison, he would devote his life to helping others.

Muncie was born and raised in a rural Pennsylvania town, one of six kids. His three older brothers all played professional football. Following in their footsteps, Muncie played during his sophomore year in high school and saw athletics as his only escape from small town life.

"I didn't want to work in the coal mines or the steel mills," said Muncie, who watched relatives slowly die from black lung disease and suffer severe burns at the mills.

Then, a brutal tackle left him with a concussion and amnesia, and his mother forbade him to play football again. Muncie turned to basketball and got a scholarship to Arizona West Junior College. The coach was so impressed by his talent that he convinced Muncie to try out for football as well. Lured by the extra stipend he would earn, $52 a month instead of just $26, Muncie took the suggestion and made the team. He never did play basketball for Arizona West and was recruited by Cal after one year.

The rest is Golden Bear history.

After graduating from Berkeley -- he earned a BA in social studies with a minor in business -- Muncie was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. Although he went to the Pro Bowl and broke the Saints' rushing record, living in the South proved difficult.

"After Berkeley's tolerant atmosphere, it was quite a culture shock coming to New Orleans," he said. "I lived in a very nice neighborhood, but my house and car were routinely vandalized by racists."

Mercifully, Muncie was traded to the San Diego Chargers, where he again was selected for the Pro Bowl and helped lead the team to three back-to-back, divisional championships. He retired in 1987.

The end of his football career marked the beginning of Muncie's cocaine-induced, downward spiral, which culminated with his incarceration at Lompoc, a minimum security federal prison in Southern California.

But going to jail saved Muncie's life.

"If I had stayed on that track," said Muncie, "I'm sure I would have ended up dead."

Eager to prevent others from succumbing to drugs, Muncie committed himself to mentoring at-risk youth. As director of two branches of the Boys and Girls Club of America, he raised millions of dollars, increased membership by thousands and won numerous awards for his delinquency prevention programs. Muncie was proud of his achievements, but wanted to do more. So he created his own foundation.

The Chuck Muncie Foundation, based in Southern California, works to move youth and adolescents, many of them gang members, off the streets and into productive, responsible lives. Using mentorship programs, job training, wellness fairs and health camps, Muncie and his volunteers comb the communities to reach those in need.

The foundation also offers laser tattoo removal, an important step for former gang members looking for jobs.

"People won't hire kids with gang markers on their faces, arms or hands," said Muncie. "We'll remove their tattoos, free of charge, in exchange for 40 hours of community service. They often get hired by the very organizations they volunteer for."

Muncie said the foundation once treated a two-year-old boy who had been tattooed by his gang member parents. Because of this abuse, the child was placed in the custody of his grandmother, also a gang member.

"The grandmother wanted to stop the cycle and performed the community service work on behalf of her grandson," said Muncie.

In 1997, Cal football coach Tom Holmoe heard Muncie speak about his incredible success with mentoring youth and asked him to teach life management skills to the athletes on the team. Holmoe knew that Muncie, a former star player familiar with life's ups and downs, would be a positive influence on athletes struggling to stay out of trouble.

Muncie now flies to Berkeley every week, on a volunteer basis, to teach team members anger management, victim awareness, accountability and crucial life skills that will help them better adjust to life after football.

"If this kind of program had been in place when I was at Berkeley," said Muncie," I may have been able to avoid a lot of my setbacks."

To learn about other distinguished alumni, select from the following links:

by D. Lyn Hunter



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