It was his best performance of the season despite a devastating loss. Bashaud Breeland requested an Uber Black car to drive him home Monday night, as he often does following a home game. The Washington Redskins cornerback gets bored during the ride back to Ashburn from FedEx Field and opens up Twitter to kill time.
Trolls are in his mentions, as is often the case for NFL players. He doesn’t respond to them directly. Instead, Breeland thumbs together a string of indirect tweets an hour after the loss to the Carolina Panthers.
“I wanna thank my trolls for the wake up,” Breeland tweeted at 12:06 a.m. on Tuesday.
Breeland claims his tweets are purely for entertainment purposes, although his responses have been a common sight on social media following Redskins games for most of the season. Chalk it up to Bree being Bree, as his teammates say.
That’s the simple answer for a complex individual, a talented third-year cornerback with depth beyond 140 characters. When the Redskins (7-6-1) play at Chicago on Saturday in a game pivotal to their playoff hopes, Breeland again will be the subject of fans’ scrutiny on social media. Does Breeland care what people think about him?
“I like keeping people on their toes, like who am I or what am I,” Breeland said following Thursday’s practice. “If you don’t know me, you don’t know me. That means you never really took the time to get to know me face-to-face, not what you read or what you hear. If you come talk to me, you’ll know what kind of person I am.”
Deep down, Breeland does care. The first adjective he uses to describe himself is “caring,” though “survivor” also applies.
“I’m just a product of my environment,” Breeland said. “That’s all I am, a product of my environment.”
He grew up in the small town of Allendale, S.C., the oldest child of a single-parent family with his mother, Tanya Jordan.
He didn’t know his father, Darren Breeland, until he was 16 years old, and the relationship is now more companion than father-son. The male figure he did have in the house, his stepfather, was abusive toward his mother during the nine-year relationship that began when Breeland was around 7.
Breeland felt angry and powerless and took it upon himself to protect his three siblings.
“That marriage was abusive. I really wasn’t living like I wanted to live,” Breeland said.
Jordan wanted to leave the relationship, but she didn’t know how she would be able to provide for four kids by herself.
“I stayed that long because I thought it was security for my children,” said Jordan, who filed for divorce when Breeland was 16. “No matter what abuse that I had to endure, at least my kids were secure. Don’t get me wrong: Even though he was abusive to me, he was a good provider. But I paid for him providing with the abuse. And I’m still picking up the pieces from that. It’s not something that you can get over overnight. Just because I left, it don’t mean it was over. I still have to rebuild this relationship with my kids because of it.”
The little guidance Breeland received during his childhood came from an uncle, Randell Bradley, who passed away during Breeland’s freshman year of high school. Breeland said Bradley accepted him for who he was.
They shared a love — and little else. Bradley slept in a trailer without lights or running water. When he received his food stamps, Bradley drove by Jordan’s house, scooped up Breeland to take him to the store and got him anything he wanted.
When Breeland had an earache and his mother couldn’t take him to the doctor, Jordan said Bradley went to the club, picked up Breeland’s father by his neck and made him take his son to the doctor. When Bradley got in a fight and was knocked to the ground after being hit by a brick in the back of the head, Breeland didn’t leave his side until the ambulance arrived. The times were difficult, but the bond was strong.
“Those were the joyous days of my life,” Breeland said. “It wasn’t the money, none of that. It was just the experience and how he showed he cared when neither one of us had nothing.”
Breeland’s mother urged him to play football at 10, and he viewed it as a method to cope with his anger. And he became good at it, which allowed him to cross paths with Wayne Farmer, Breeland’s coach at Allendale Fairfax High. Farmer views Breeland as his son: He helped him out financially when he could and took him to football camps to show him that he’s talented enough to play college football.
“Going to play up against other talent and not seeing how other people play, you just feel like everybody is better than you and you’re not worthy,” Breeland said. “But once you start competing against them at other places, it’s like, ‘Dang, I really can do this.’ I got my mind right, and things started happening. As the moments was coming, I was just grasping a hold to them.”
The game provided a way out of Allendale, a predominantly African American town of fewer than 4,000 with a median income of $25,327. It took Breeland to Clemson, where he was second-team all-ACC as a redshirt junior. He was taken in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Redskins.
Breeland quickly showed he belonged. He missed one game over his first two seasons and was poised to make the step to No. 1 cornerback entering this year. Then Washington signed free agent Josh Norman to a five-year deal worth $75 million, the largest for a cornerback in NFL history. Breeland was a No. 2.
“To be honest, at first I took it as disrespect,” Breeland said on SiriusXM NFL Radio two days after Norman’s acquisition. “Me being a competitor, trying to be at that level of a No. 1 corner, not only for the team but the league as well.”
Breeland used it as motivation, and he excelled during training camp. But once the season started, things didn’t go according to plan.
Breeland allowed two touchdowns to Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the season-opening Monday night loss. He nearly made a play on both scoring passes, only to watch Brown twerk for the cameras and later hear fans and media question his ability
“Everyone is going to get beat, and it happened,” Farmer said. “But it’s like the Pittsburgh game, they destroyed him. . . . Antonio Brown is going to beat a lot of corners. It’s how you defend him, and I just thought he thought he had a bad deal. Why not put Josh on [Brown] in that first game if you’re going to want him to travel?”
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry chose to have Norman trail Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant the following week during the fourth quarter after Bryant made a few catches in zone coverage, although Breeland stopped Bryant on multiple occasions in the end zone on fade routes. The following week, Breeland hurt an ankle against the New York Giants and missed the next two games.
“I don’t feel pressure,” Breeland said. “It’s like I like pressure. I like when my back is against the wall. That’s what brings the best out of me anyway. When things are easy-go-lucky, I’m just out there doing it. When things are hard, that’s what really makes me think and really get in tune with what I’ve got to do.”
Farmer emphasized to Breeland just to focus on being himself, and he has displayed the promise that was on display the previous two seasons serving as an outside and slot corner. Against the Panthers, Breeland made two huge stops on third down to force field goals in the red zone.
It was the type of play from Breeland the Redskins will need to see more of as they seek to salvage their season with two games left. The playoffs are still a possibility, and Breeland is still a talented player with a promising future.
He still carries the weight of his childhood even as he has moved his family up with him to Ashburn, where he has established himself. At Thanksgiving, he donated about 100 turkey dinners in his home town and gave Christmas gifts to six foster kids during the holiday season.
If he gets beat by a Chicago receiver Saturday, he knows he will hear about it — from his coaches, his critics and the Twitter trolls. But as he continues to redefine himself away from Allendale, Bree will just be Bree — whether you understand him or not.
“He just wants to see the fairness, which isn’t always going to come true,” Farmer said. “. . . He’s a guy that if you support him and you believe in him, he’s all in. But he has to know that you support him. He has to know that everything he gives, you’ve got his back.”