He was born on Third Street on the east side of Jacksonville, Florida. People called it Hell’s Hole.
The youngest of four, Bob Hayes remembers growing up chopping firewood to keep the house warm, his mother working as a maid to keep the children fed and clothed, and a father that made little effort to recognize his son.
In his, at times, brutally honest autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, Hayes writes of his father George Sanders, who had an affair with Mary Hayes, while her husband, Joseph Hayes, was fighting in World War II in the US Navy. When Joseph returned, he accepted the situation. But when Sanders, who also went off to fight in World War II, came back, he rarely recognized Bob Hayes as his son. When Sanders was asked if Bob was his son, he would reply, “That’s what his mother says.”
And yet, his father needed his son. Sanders ran a shoe shine parlor in Hell Hole, but that was not his main source of revenue. In fact, as Hayes explained in his book, the shoe shine shop was a front for a numbers racket, and a lucrative one at that. Bob was helping out by manning the shoeshine parlor in the afternoons.
When Bob Hayes was in high school, the football coaches all thought Hayes was a potential talent and wanted the young man to be groomed into a star. But Sanders refused, putting his business ahead of Hayes’ potential. In the end, the assistant football coach, Earl Kitchings, and Jimmy Thompson, the head coach of the football team, visited Sanders to plead their case. When told no, a prominent alumni in Hayes’ high school, Josh Baker, stepped in and said he would fill in at the store while Hayes attended afternoon practice. At that stage, Sanders relented, and Hayes started practicing with the high school football team. Baker went to work…but for only two days. By then, Sanders couldn’t be bothered, and Hayes began a hall of fame football career.
And yet, Hayes yearned for his father’s support. And in his first year as a football player in high school, Hayes did not get that many touches, carrying the ball only 9 times as the team’s backup halfback. But there was that one play, when he took the hand off in his own end zone and scrambled for a 99-yard touchdown. “That’s when my father finally claimed me as his son.”
As Hayes grew up, one could say, like father, like son.
His first sexual experience, at the age of twelve, as he describes in his autobiography, was with his father’s girlfriend, a woman named Edith who was fifteen years older. At the age of sixteen, Hayes got a girlfriend pregnant, who had an abortion as they both felt they were not ready to take that next step as a parent.
During and after his days as an NFL star, Hayes would provide Quaaludes to women in order to have his way. “You give a female a lude, and all she knows how to say to you is yes.”
By the time he got to college, Hayes had two daughters, whom he did not raise. In fact, he was surprised one time after his football career had ended to have a woman in her early twenties come up to him and say, “You’re my dad.”
Hayes wasn’t a great father, which he readily admitted. When he and his then wife, Janice, had his first legitimate son, Bob Jr., he flew to Jacksonville to see his father George Sanders. Sanders had been in poor health since returning from the War in the Pacific. But a few hours before Hayes made it to Jacksonville, his father passed away.
Hayes won two gold medals and a super bowl championship, one of only two people to do that. He had the right coaches at the right time which helped him develop into a tremendous athlete. And yet, he never had the right coach in the game of relationships.