“You hear all the stories and it was like that,” he says. “But that’s the inner city for a lot of kids, not just me. Lot of people I grew up with weren’t as fortunate.”
Even victorious homecomings like last month’s in Cleveland can be tainted. Fletcher learned after the Browns game that four of his family members, including several cousins, had been arrested for what Cleveland police said were altercations with fans. Fletcher said overzealous stadium security led to the problem.
“I take every day as a blessing being in this league,” Fletcher says on Friday before he leaves the locker room. “Never took anything for granted. I’ve been blessed with great health, preparation, all the things you need to be successful. Accountability, just really trying to make sure I’m on top of my game at all times. That’s why I’ve been able to last so long.”
Maybe you feel like you’ve heard this story before, the one about the African American kid from the inner city who overcomes hell to survive and thrive in pro sports. Sadly, it’s still too common. But his beginning was worth repeating.
Because now you know where the anger and the hurt Fletcher plays with came from, how he used things no child should see to become a three-time Pro Bowler, to not miss a game in 15 seasons — how he could leave that violent person on the field and be a committed husband, religious father of three, the man who started London’s Bridge Foundation to target kids like himself in Charlotte, Buffalo, Washington and Cleveland.
I have been to the Capitol with Fletcher and some of those kids, who stared to the top of the dome in awe and wonder. I have seen him honor a charity request by dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” with 30 grade-school kids at Washington Episcopal School.
Look, the football player is flat-out amazing. The consistency, the leadership. Four interceptions in the past six games, 139 combined tackles at 37, days away from a December in which he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month. Given the amount of treatment he has to go through each week just to get on the field and an injury that nearly ended his streak, his season has been incredible. The guy has the pain threshold of a complete “Rocky” DVD set.
But none of the numbers stacks up to London Fletcher, the scarred boy from East Cleveland who somehow ended up triumphing over his environment. When his sister was murdered and his mother was all but lost, that kid gave life a forearm shiver. And he grew up to become not just an ironman of an linebacker but, much more importantly, a man.
Here’s hoping Sunday isn’t his last game. Either way, his story — the 11-year-old still inside that old head of an NFL veteran — deserves to be remembered as much as he still remembers Kecia.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.