Saints LB Demario Davis a leader on the field and in the community

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Demario Davis
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints signed free agent Demario Davis two years ago because they needed an every-down linebacker who could make tackles all over the field.

They got exactly what they were looking for as Davis has led the team in tackles each of the last two seasons and the defense has improved each season.

And they got more. A whole lot more.

They got a leader on the field, a leader in the locker room and a leader in this community and others.

“Demario has been a real strong personality for this team,” Saints coach Sean Payton said during the season, “and I think he has a ton of respect from his peers.”

Davis was named first-team All-Pro for his play this season and just as significantly he was named one of five finalists for the Alan Page Community Award, the highest honor that the NFL Players Association bestows on its members.

The award, “annually recognizes one player who goes above and beyond to serve communities in his team city and hometown,” went to Brandon Copeland of the New York Jets on Thursday.

The other finalists were Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals, Brandon Carr of the Baltimore Ravens and Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks.

“Going above and beyond” certainly applies to Davis, who has served communities beyond his team city and hometown. The start of the football off-season just means more time for Davis to spend on his charitable endeavors.

Davis’ candidacy for the Page Award was tied primarily to an effort that earned him the Week 8 Community MVP Award from the NFLPA last fall.

It started when the NFL fined Davis $7,000 for a uniform violation after he wore a “Man of God” headband during a game against Seattle.

Davis appealed the fine and prevailed after receiving a groundswell of support from fans, including students at St. Louis King of France School in New Orleans, who made their own “Child of God” headbands out of paper in support of him, which he called “the cutest thing.”

“To have the support of the kids in that school was unbelievable and totally unexpected,” Davis said, adding that he was also moved by the degree of support from people around the nation – “believers and nonbelievers.”

The linebacker surprised the students with a pizza party and authentic “Child of God” headbands.

But that was just part of it. Davis and his agents pondered “the best way to turn this into a positive where God gets the ultimate glory.”

Davis decided to start selling replicas of the headbands and donating the proceeds to the emergency department at St. Dominic Hospital in his home state of Mississippi. Davis personally donated $9,000 of the more than $300,000 that has been raised.

Using the headbands to raise funds for a worthy cause enabled Davis to merge his devout faith and determination to help others.

He talks freely about his motivation for adopting social causes and spoke at length about it early in training camp last August and on multiple occasions during the season.

“I am just blessed – not just my journey of being born to a single mom and not having much growing up, but even more so just falling into a lot of the wrong stuff,” Davis said. “I got expelled from school in high school.

“I went to jail my first year in college (at Arkansas State), and then my sophomore year in college I end up giving myself to the Lord and understanding that football is not for my glory, it’s about His glory. And that really just transformed the way I thought about things and made me a better player, a better person, a better leader all around. And so I cannot help but give Him glory and credit for that because who knows, I could have easily been dead or (in) jail a long time ago.”

Davis entered the NFL as a third-round draft choice of the Jets in 2012. A year later he created his own foundation – Devoted Dreamers Foundation with the stated mission “to equip the Next Generation of Leaders (athletes, entertainers, politicians, doctors, lawyers, etc.) with the tools to be successful spiritually, mentally and physically.”

The foundation works to provide inner-city youth with opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable.

Just as Davis is a well-respected teammate with the Saints, so too is he well respected within the NFLPA as a teammate.

He is on the board of the NFL Players Coalition, a social justice advocacy group that former Saints and current Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins helped found in 2017.

Davis has teamed with former Saints tight end Benjamin Watson and current Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman on a variety of causes.

In 2018, Davis and Watson advocated for a bill to restore voting rights for some people on probation and parole, which eventually became law in Louisiana.

Last off-season Davis and Norman spent two days in Flint, Michigan, delivering 400 cases of bottled water to residents in a community plagued by undrinkable, lead-contaminated water since 2014.

Davis and Norman have made multiple visits to the United States-Mexico border, delivering backpacks, books, toys and food to families there.

He and Norman helped pay the $50,000 bail for Jose Bello, an immigration activist in California.

Davis has heard the complaints about professional athletes injecting themselves into debates over social issues: “shut up and play.”

“Jocks are just supposed to play sports. They’re not supposed to be good at school or be socially aware,” Davis said. “I think I speak on social issues mostly because I grew up in them. It’s funny that it shocks people that a lot of players use their platform to speak out against social injustices but a lot of them are because of the environments that they grow up in are directly attached to them.

“My friends and family members have certain struggles and different factors that they have to deal with on an every-day basis that I don’t necessarily have to deal with because I was recruited to go play in college and got drafted into the pros.”

Davis said that people such as himself, who are “lucky enough to make it out” of dangerous environments have a “responsibility to shine a light on the unfortunate issues in the community.”

“I think that’s just part of being a human being. It’s humanity and compassion,” Davis said. “If you look at your neighbor and they’re struggling and you can do something about it you should because – and I’ll continue to say this – injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So if we allow it to happen to somebody else it won’t be long before it gets to us so we should do something while we can do something.”

NFL players’ involvement in social justice causes became a hot topic in 2016 when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting systemic oppression and police brutality by kneeling during the pre-game playing of the national anthem.

Players around the league joined in, but the manner of the protest was seen by many fans as being disrespectful to police and the military. In some cases the message got lost because of the manner in which the messenger presented it.

Davis didn’t join in the anthem protests, choosing to champion causes in other ways – channeling what he calls “the power of collaboration.”

“If it moves toward solutions I’m down for it – moving the needle forward,” Davis said. “If we’re in a house and the house has to be cleaned, we all have to work together to clean it.

“It’s all about responsibility and so instead of dividing and everybody going their own way we’ve all got to find a way to come together and work on these issues.”

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Les East

Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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