Any hunter or fisherman knows that wild game and fish – and the hunting and fishing that goes with getting it – makes for the healthiest food you can get for your family. But probably few of us knew it could build a body and a spirit that could win football games in the toughest arena on earth. This is a great story about Kansas City Chiefs new defensive end Allen Bailey, who comes from a tiny community of subsistence and sport hunters and fishermen on Georgia’s Sapelo Island.
Part of the island lies within the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of the richest salt marsh ecosystems along the Atlantic Coast. Sapelo is five miles out, separated from the mainland by cordgrass marsh and the open waters of Doboy Sound, charged with fresh waters from the Duplin River, a wild country of redfish and oysterbeds, raccoons and wild hogs. Bailey’s life sounds like one of the best outdoors’ stories of our time.
Allen Bailey’s secret to reaching the colossal physical proportions necessary to become an NFL defensive end is a protein source unfamiliar to most 21st-century Americans, let alone big-time football players. The University of Miami product, picked in the third round of the draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, sits down to home-cooked meals of slow-roasted raccoon, parboiled possum and hickory-smoked armadillo.
Wild boar, now that’s a real treat. Bailey tips the scales at 285 pounds, having stuffed his gut during his formative years with just about anything on four feet his family could catch on the tiny island off the coast of Georgia where he was raised. Forty-seven people live in Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island, more than half of whom are related to Bailey.
All are part of the tight-knit Gullah/Geechee community, descendants of slaves admired for preserving their African cultural heritage two centuries after being brought to the United States. Bailey’s ancestors were among 400 slaves from West Africa taken to Sapelo Island by a British plantation owner. Some stayed after the Civil War, and they subsisted on a protein-rich diet of deer, boar, marsupials and shellfish.
And still do. Even though game was a description of what’s for dinner before it became a vehicle to a lucrative career, Bailey grew up big, strong and smart. On May 13, he will become the first from his family to graduate from college.