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USF hires former undercover cop, NBA referee to combat operational stress

Bob Delaney's passion is helping others work on stress management and mental health awareness.

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  • | 9:30 a.m. March 7, 2024
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Bob Delaney.
Bob Delaney.
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  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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Former mob buster and NBA referee Bob Delaney is joining the University of South Florida's Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education to lead seminars about operational stress, or what Delaney avoids referring to as post-traumatic stress disorder, the university says in a news release.

Delaney learned about such stress the hard way, fighting the mob in the Northeast, and it was that story, told at the Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of South Florida's Sarasota-Manatee campus, that got him noticed by USF officials.

It's a New Jersey story that precedes "The Sopranos" premiere in 1999. It was in the 1970s, when a young cop was recruited by the New Jersey State Police to pose as a thuggish trucking official.

And Delaney posed, throwing on a ski hat and wearing one of those mustaches that extends down to the jawline. The target was the Mafia, or the five families. Delaney infiltrated the mob and won numerous convictions against two of the five big outfits, the Genovese and Bruno families, according to The Mob Museum.

After the undercover assignment ended, he served in the New Jersey State Police for another decade. During that time, he began refereeing middle and high school basketball games, according to USF.

"Basketball, he recalls, became his therapy, offering a sense of peace and structure after the tumultuous years spent undercover," USF says in a statement. "Delaney found solace in refereeing basketball games, a role that eventually led him to become an NBA referee in 1987."

Delaney coped in the unique way of being a referee. He worked as an NBA referee from 1987 to 2011. After dealing with mobsters, being yelled at by Michael Jordan (he was) didn't bother him as much.

But during his time as a referee, Delaney continued to work on stress management and mental health awareness, drawing from his own experiences and research, USF says.

USF liked what Delaney's stories of coming out of the stress. They saw an opportunity for education.

"Delaney will now join USF's Corporate Training and Professional Education team to lead educational seminars and workshops for organizations such as the Sarasota Police Department and New Jersey State Police," USF officials say in a statement. "His journey through this intense undercover work led him to grapple with post-traumatic stress disorder, which he later addressed and managed."

His goal is to provide post-traumatic stress understanding, speak about post-trauma growth and underline that self-care does not mean selfish, says Delaney in the USF news release.

"I believe operational stress takes place in every profession, and having an honest conversation about work and life stressors will provide a healthier workforce," says Delaney, who lives in the Sarasota area and previously lived in Lakewood Ranch. 

Delaney does not like the term, PTSD, USF says. It means something is "wrong with me" in people who experience this condition, he believes. "Operational stress" takes its place as a more approachable term that does not deter people from having a conversation about it, Delaney says.

Delaney has shared his experience with operational stress, from speaking with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to Special Operations forces, NATO troops, and Wounded Warriors, USF says.

Operational stress will happen, Delaney says, but he hopes to provide the education and awareness necessary to better navigate life "post-trauma."

While he will largely offer trainings to first responders, corporate sessions or other special training programs can be designed in partnership with USF, university officials say.


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