At the joint practice with the Cleveland Browns in 2015, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin converted a Browns fan into a Bills and a Goodwin fan for life.
My brothers and I have always followed the NFL, but, we never have been in love with one team… until that summer. A few weeks before school started, we went to the Bills training camp just for something to do, not knowing that it would be a memory that would last a lifetime.
I spent much of the 2014 season saying that I was a fan of the Cleveland Browns and really wanted to see them in person, so, when I read that they were going to St. John Fisher College for a scrimmage, I begged my parents to take my brothers and I and we went.
Not knowing how it works or whether the players would stop to sign memorabilia after the practice, we kept on shouting the names of certain players, hoping that they would respond to us. No luck with that strategy.
We eventually found a strategy that worked like a charm, but, it required a little guts from my two younger brothers.
When practice was beginning to come to an end, my two brothers started to scheme a way to capture the attention of Mr. Goodwin, who was signing autographs in the VIP section directly across from us.
At first, they were afraid of security, but, after a few minutes, they convinced themselves that, even if they got caught, nothing would really happen. So they raced around half the stadium as fast as they could, waited for security to look the other way, and snuck into the VIP tent, which is where Mr. Goodwin awaited.
He and my other brother, Nino, are living the same life he lives, as they both have siblings who have cerebral palsy and are in wheelchairs because of it. Once they explained the situation, Mr. Goodwin wouldn’t hesitate to fulfill their wishes.
They were right.
When Francesco reached and grabbed his arm to get his attention, Mr. Goodwin turned and said “what’s up little man, do you want a autograph?”
Francesco replied “no, you have to go over and meet my brother, Joey,” to which Mr. Goodwin responded “why?”
My brother said something that Mr. Goodwin told my father he never expected- “my brother has cerebral palsy, just like your sister!”
Mr. Goodwin stood, staring at Francesco like deer frozen in pair of headlights. Mr. Goodwin told them both to hold their arms out, and he proceeded to lift each of them over the fence; first Francesco, then Nino. They started across the field towards me, hesitating only for a moment, while my little brother Nino went to grab Mr. Goodwin’s helmet from the sideline.
After watching the E:60 featuring Mr. Goodwin and his little sister, Deja, my brother, Francesco, and I made it our mission to meet Mr. Goodwin. We both wanted to connect with him on a personal level and could care less about his football stardom or how fast he can run.
Francesco embraced the fact that they were in a small fraternity of brothers sharing the same emotions.
From a personal standpoint, our childhoods were very similar, as we both can relate to anybody who is affected by cerebral palsy, a disability that can have effects on various parts of someone’s body.
His sister, Deja, and I both have this disability and are persistent and enjoy watching our speedy brothers play for us. Because he was personally affected by this disability, he has a different reaction when he sees somebody else who has it. He knows how important it is to somebody with a disability when someone with such a high profile does something like this for them.
When people who haven’t been affected by this disability, there are certain ways that they act towards somebody. As a natural reaction, people look at us as if they have never seen a human being before.
Because of his relationship with Deja, Goodwin really spoke directly to me, unlike the majority of people, who just ignore me. Instead of trying to talk to my family for me, he really spoke to me.
He put himself out in the crowd when he came up and talked to me.
When he came up into the stands, I began to realize that people don’t look at Goodwin and other athletes like they are humans. Although nobody attempted to bother us when we were talking, when we were done, he must have signed 200 autographs and taken selfies with the same amount of people, but, was continuously checking on me.
After everything calmed down and my family and I were able to talk to him, he told me that he was going to get my family and I tickets for the next preseason game against the Browns, but, he forgot that it wasn’t in Buffalo.
When we got the opportunity, my family told him that it wasn’t a home game, and, he told us that he was going to get us to a home game. Because there were a lot of people around, I wasn’t sure if he was going to stick to his word.
A few days after, when everything calmed down, Mr Goodwin contacted my father and said that he got us tickets for a home preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and we were going to be sitting in a box with Deja, his mother and stepfather, and, his fiancée.
When you sit with a player’s family, it feels like you just put glasses on and are finally seeing everything clearly. The biggest problem that a lot of sports fans have is the inability to come to the conclusion that the athletes are people first, and athletes second. Just because they have a little more talent than the “everyday” person, they breathe the same air that we do.
By sitting with his family, I really realized that athletes are just like you and me. When he went down in the second quarter, everybody in the room tried to suck in all of the oxygen in the stadium.
Waiting for him to text his fiancée or mother was like waiting for a doctor to tell you whether or not you have cancer.
It was torture.
You could feel the wide range of emotions spread from one person to another. The whole mood changed when we found out that he had broken two ribs. From that point on, there was a very somber mood in the room and everybody was waiting to see him.
When we went down to meet him after the game, you could really tell that he was in a lot of pain. As he found a way to ignore the amount of pain that he was experiencing, he was just like he is when he feels good- always joking and fun to be around.
Unlike some professional athletes, he puts all of his abilities aside and focuses on being a gentleman and a great person.