Every year in the NFL there are examples of a lucky handful of diamonds who have weathered the pressures of life and circumstance to emerge on top. Though this is only his first year in the NFL, Arizona Cardinals rookie wide receiver John Brown has proven to be one of those rare diamonds. In this life promises are strewn around with carelessness that go unrequited. But then there are times when these words possess a life and significance all their own upon being uttered.
Raised in Homestead, FL, Brown’s erstwhile companion, older half-brother and best friend James Walker was also his teammate. True brotherhood is something there is too little of. Though there are plenty of men who can call themselves brothers for some genetic, religious or philosophical reasoning, the bond between men is often strained due to massive egos, disingenuousness or jealousy. But then there are many examples of true brotherly love that outlasts the spark of life, examples that need to aknowledged and promoted more often, especially among men of color. This was the relationship between Walker and Brown. Both had plans to go to college and then on to the National Football League. John made All-Dade County (FL) and earned a scholarship to Division II Mars Hill of North Carolina.
But cruel circumstances dealt them a critical blow in 2010. Home from Nazarene College on summer break, Walker was shot during an altercation between his friends and a group of individuals at a Miami nightclub. Two bullets struck him the chest, one in the brain. But James was a fighter. He remained in the hospital for months before passing. Before his brother’s eventual death, John promised him that he would graduate college and eventually play in the NFL. Lofty goals by any measure.
It goes without saying that he was greatly affected by his brother’s demise and began having academic issues that forced him out of Mars Hill after a single season. He enrolled at Coffeyville (KS) Community College before being noticed by Pittsburg State during a practice and was offered a full-ride. While school and college football wasn't as much of a priority due to Walker's passing, Brown kept hearing these voices saying "remember what you promised me." So he re-focused himself and fulfilled another promise to his late brother by scoring a touchdown the very first time he touched the football in a game for Pittsburg state; an 85 yard punt return.
At 5 foot 11 inches and 179 pounds, John Brown isn’t the prototypical specimen of a professional football player; however, his talent, drive and tremendous heart has earned him a spot with the Arizona Cardinals after being drafted in the third round of the NFL draft.
Thus far this season he has become an immediate contributor to Head Coach Bruce Arians NFC West leading squad. There have been ups and downs for Brown this season but his uncommon speed and agility have been utilized with great success. He’s tallied 399 yards and 5 touchdowns, including 73 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals’ undressing of the pesky St. Louis Rams on Sunday. But it regardless of the numbers, it is his promise to his brother that remains the most important, impressive and inspirational statistic in both his career and life. And it is because of that promise that he points to the sky after every touchdown, letting James know that he's still with him.
ESPN captured Brown's story below. Though the catalyst for his strength was heartbreak and tragedy, John Brown has turned his life into a textbook lesson on perseverance in keeping a promise to his brother, one that more in our world should recognize and follow. Respect due.