Joe Delaney lost his life trying to save three young boys, 39 years ago today

Every year on June 29, we remember Joe Delaney. Every year on June 29, many hear his story for the first time.

Joe Delaney was 24. He had played two years in the NFL, with the Chiefs. He rushed for 1,121 yards as a rookie, immediately becoming one of the bright young stars in the NFL. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Due to injury, he appeared in eight games during his second NFL season.

Joe Delaney and his wife, Carolyn, had three young daughters. On June 29, 1983, three young boys Joe Delaney didn’t know had gotten into a two-acre, man-made pond. They were struggling. They needed help. Joe Delaney jumped in to help them.

“I can’t swim good, but I’ve got to save those kids,” Joe Delaney said. “If I don’t come up, get somebody.”

One of the boys managed to get out of the pond. The other two boys drowned. Joe Delaney drowned, too. Here’s the original Associated Press story regarding Delaney’s death.

It happened 39 years ago today. Every year on June 29, we remember the heroism and selflessness of Joe Delaney. We also remember the tragedy, for Delaney, for his wife, for their children, and for the rest of his family and friends. He was 24. He acted without thought or hesitation. Those boys needed help, and Joe Delaney sprang into action.

In 2020, Marvin Dearman, the diver who retrieved Joe Delaney from the pond, successfully lobbied for a permanent memorial to Delaney at Chennault Park in Monroe, Louisiana, the site of the incident.

“It’s never left my mind,” Dearman said at the time. “Basically, he died in my arms, and it’s something I’ve never forgotten.”

It personally comes to mind for us every June 29. The world needed Joe Delaney then. The world could definitely use a few more Joe Delaneys now. Hopefully, remembering Joe Delaney today will inspire others to do what needs to be done regardless of the potential consequences, especially because in most situations doing the right thing includes consequences far less permanent and severe than the ultimate sacrifice Joe Delaney made, 39 years ago today.