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Peyton Barber’s family adds context to his claim about his homeless mom

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Peyton Barber was a surprise entrant into this year’s NFL draft. Sure, he led Auburn with 1,017 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns as a third-year sophomore in 2015, but he began to lose carries to junior college transfer Jovon Robinson late in the season. “No ‘wow’ factor,” reads the official NFL.com critique. He’s expected to be a late-round pick, at best.

But on Wednesday at the NFL combine, Barber revealed that he had a very pressing reason for his decision to leave school early: His mother Lori is homeless.

“My mother is homeless right now,” Barber said, per the Associated Press. “Right now, she’s staying with her sister. It’s her and her three kids staying in an apartment back home.

“I just decided to do what’s best for me and my family,” he added. “It’s just a little bump in the road for us. We’ll overcome it.”

Everyone immediately picked up on this, because writing about the guy-who-saves-his-homeless-mom is much more important than, say, writing about hand size. It’s a too-easy headline, one that will get clicked over and over. But the reporters who actually got in touch with Barber’s family painted a somewhat different picture.

Like Michael Niziolek of the Ledger-Enquirer, who has talked to Barber’s father, Ken, on multiple occasions.

Here’s Ken Barber in January: “This is not a decision cause he has to support family. He’s eating well, doesn’t have to worry about his clothes or staying warm at night.”

And here he is on Wednesday after his son made his much-talked-about comments:

“All of this has been taken so out of context,” Ken Barber said. “It has taken off like wildfire.” …
“(Lori) She has faced her own challenges,” Ken Barber said. “Everybody has done a number of things to try and help her, but she isn’t suffering for anything.”
Ken Barber said his former wife has moved around “quite extensively” in recent years, but hasn’t been without a roof over her head while Peyton was growing up.
“Her and my daughter chose to live together,” Ken Barber said. “She’s not homeless.”

Lori Barber also took issue with her son’s “homeless” designation in comments made to AL.com’s Brandon Marcello:

“Homelessness is a strong definition,” she said. “Do I have a home of my own? I do not. Do I have a bed of my own? I don’t. Where we’re living is a little crowded, but we’re making it work. We’re taking our 50 cents and stretching it out to make it a dollar.”

This is not to say Lori Barber doesn’t face challenges, or that anyone should downplay her situation because she doesn’t meet the dictionary definition of “homeless.” Marcello reports that she and her son slept in her car at points along the way, and she’s currently on disability after being involved in six car accidents. And one certainly shouldn’t begrudge Peyton Barber for publicly wanting to help out his mother. Who wouldn’t do that if they had the means and ability?

But sometimes more context is needed before the story reveals itself, as was the case Wednesday.

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