Every Day Is a Triumph For Redskins' Brown
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The gesture was a brash one for a player making his first appearance since re-signing with the team that had cut him 10 weeks earlier. As he returned a kickoff 91 yards for the Washington Redskins' game-winning touchdown Sunday afternoon in Tempe, Ariz., Antonio Brown never broke stride as he blew kisses to Redskins fans in the crowd.
For Brown, the moment was a celebration of his survival over a childhood filled with pain and sorrow in the housing projects of Miami's Liberty City, and a message to those who remain there that dreams can come true. He had promised his family that, when he scored his first NFL touchdown, he would acknowledge them. And so he was blowing kisses for his teenage brother, Carlos Demitrius, whose murdered body he discovered mere steps from their apartment eight years ago, and for his sister Dushun, who was robbed and killed five months after that, leaving five children whom Brown supports.
The kisses were for Brown's four children as well, and for his mother, Dorothy Williams, who survived a life-threatening heart ailment, and for his father, Richard Brown, who was killed during a break-in at his home when Antonio was 12. The gesture was also in recognition of a handful of coaches and mentors who helped Brown alter his lifestyle after spending two years running in the streets rather than attending high school, and for Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen, who welcomed him to West Virginia University and watched him graduate with a degree in sociology four years later.
When Brown returned to the sideline Sunday after his touchdown, he embraced Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith, the only NFL coach to give him a shot, and the man who reluctantly cut Brown after the season opener, in which he fumbled a kickoff. For the 10 weeks between being released and re-signed by the Redskins, Brown was back in Liberty City, no longer in public housing but still in a rough neighborhood, looking after his mother and the eight children who share his four-bedroom, two-bathroom house, and working out daily in the backyard, just in case another NFL opportunity came along.
That Brown, 27, would capitalize on perhaps his last chance at a career in the NFL with a key return to sustain Washington's playoffs hopes, is the culmination of a long, hard journey and, he believes, is an indication of good things to come.
"I just want people to respect me and give me an opportunity," said Brown, who was named NFC special teams player of the week. "I don't want my story to be used as an excuse, or anyone feeling sorry for Antonio, because I'm all right, and I'm going to be all right. Just give me an opportunity to do whatever I can do, and it ain't no feeling sorry for me. I don't feel sorry for myself. I appreciate life. I love life, and I love what I've been through, because it molded me into who I am today."
Rough From the Start
One of five children, Brown grew up during the height of Miami's crack epidemic. Life on his block was punctuated by crime after crime. Brown credits his mother and sister Dushun for looking after him; his father was not living with the family when he was murdered at age 46.
Brown has 11 RIP tattoos that mention the names of dead friends and loved ones. He got the first when he was only 12.
"People look at Miami as South Beach, but they don't know what's on the other side of that bridge," said Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss, who spent 12 years in a less-menacing area of Liberty City. "Back in the day when we was growing up, drug gangs were always going against each other, and you could just be in the streets and end up caught in something. The man's done did it all and done seen it all and been through it all, and to keep pushing like he did is truly amazing."
As a pre-teen, Brown was in and out of detention homes, and moved from school to school, said Alonzo Boykins, a father figure to Brown and his receivers coach in high school. Brown ended up at Jan Mann Opportunity School, a middle school for troubled youths, and befriended Chad Johnson, now a Pro Bowl wide receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Early in his freshman year of high school, in 1994, Brown made the varsity as a cornerback but was expelled for fighting, and because of his record, he said authorities suggested sending him to a school for adults. He balked at that idea and instead took a path he now realizes would have taken him to an early death.
His first of four children was born at that time. Brown declined to reveal his children's names, but he has two boys and two girls, ranging from 2 to 11. In the fall of 1995, he was accepted at Douglas MacArthur, an opportunity high school for those who had been rejected by standard schools, but MacArthur was not in Liberty City and had no football program. Brown routinely missed the bus and soon stopped attending.