Read an Excerpt
Running for My Life
My Journey in the Game of Football and Beyond
Face to Face
To get to Angola State Prison from Baton Rouge, -Louisiana—a distance of fifty-six miles—you go north on Highway 61, then take a hard left on Highway 66. Or you can get there by committing the most serious of crimes.
For years I had wondered about Kevan Brumfield. He had confessed to killing my mother, Baton Rouge police corporal Betty Smothers, in the early morning of January 7, 1993, in an ambush at a local bank. Two years later a jury deliberated a little more than sixty minutes and decided that Brumfield should die for murdering Mom in the fatal attempted robbery.
In the months and years afterward, I wrestled with one question that was never answered: Why? What was on Brumfield's mind as he and another man, Henri Broadway, lay in wait in near-total darkness as Mom's police cruiser pulled up to the bank's night deposit box? What did Brumfield think when he and Broadway charged out from behind bushes and fired shots into the car, killing my mother and wounding her passenger, Kimen Lee, night manager at a local Piggly Wiggly store, as she made a store deposit? Did Brumfield understand the severity of his actions as he and Broadway piled into the getaway car driven by a third man named West Paul?
It made absolutely no sense. Why?
Then an opportunity presented itself in October 2007 to go to Angola State Prison and actually get the chance to ask Brumfield the questions that have haunted me for years. Questions that kept me awake for so many nights. Questions that caused me to cry. Questions about amoment that changed my life like no other.
The meeting took months and countless telephone calls to arrange. There were casual and personal conversations with lawyers, prison officials, and football coaches. There were delays, changes of minds, emotional highs and lows. But it finally all came together on Tuesday, October 23, in a bye week of my NFL season with the Atlanta Falcons. My coaches realized how important this was and they decided to cut me loose for a day.
I flew from Atlanta into New Orleans, where my younger brother Derrick Green picked me up and drove me back to my hometown of Baton Rouge. I was accompanied to the prison by Maelen "Choo-Choo" Brooks, my youth football coach and mentor. I was also accompanied by Don Yaeger, this book's co¬author. Choo-Choo is probably as much like a father as anybody I'll ever have. He was one of the first people I saw after Mom's murder, and his guidance and support have been invaluable over the years. Still, Choo-Choo couldn't believe I wanted to do this. That was the reaction I got from almost everybody. Most people couldn't believe I wanted to make this visit. But I knew it was important for me to finally face my demons.
Before I went to Angola, I spent hours in conversation with my Atlanta counselor, Pauline Clance. She believed it was a good idea, a positive move, because she clearly understood that there were some things in my life that I would never get over until I sat across the table from him.
It was set.
I found myself in a small break room on Death Row at Angola State Prison, eye to eye with Kevan Brumfield.
The days and nights leading up to the visit were somewhat unsettling. I tried not to let it dominate my mind, even pretending the meeting wasn't happening. I went to the movies. I slept a lot. I started gathering my thoughts and talking to my brothers and sisters, compiling questions they wanted me to ask. The weekend prior to the trip was difficult because we also lost to the New Orleans Saints on that Sunday. It was our third consecutive defeat and the sixth in our first seven games. Drained and tired, I actually just wanted to relax and enjoy the time off. It was really my first break since the start of the 2007 season.
As I prepared for the visit, however, people often said or asked, "Do you need anyone to go with you? Do you need anyone to be there for you? How do you feel? I'm proud of you that you have the courage to do this. Hopefully, you will find the answers you are looking for." It was crazy. I think they made it more of a big deal than I had. The truth is, I was ner¬vous but really didn't want to let it show. How would the conversation go? What if he said something horrible or acted as if this were no big deal? How would I maintain control?
There were more questions than answers. Friends tried to caution me, prepare me. What I have always tried to tell people is that sometimes in life, you really don't know what you can do until you have to go through it. If my mom were still on this earth, I would probably tell people that I couldn't go on without her. But I have overcome that one. I knew that no matter how bad this meeting was, I could overcome that, too.
It was a calm, cloudy morning on Tuesday, October 23. We had an official escort named Chad who drove us to Angola State Prison from Baton Rouge in a prison SUV. While we navigated the long roads in near silence, the text message alert on my cell phone kept going off. It was my sister Summer Smothers and others all sending me notes wishing me luck, praying for me. An earlier text nearly brought tears to my eyes. It was from Hue Jackson, my offensive coordinator with the Falcons, who encouraged me to remain strong. He hoped that I would find the answers and peace my heart looked for.
As we got closer, there's no question that I became more physically tight. It had been a roller coaster of emotion. One day I was ready for the visit, another day Iwasn't. Earlier dates had been scheduled but were snatched away. I also contemplated asking Summer and Derrick to join me, since they are only a few years younger than me and they remembered that horrific night vivdly. While Mom's murder also had greatly affected them, I just didn't think either one was in the right frame of mind to meet face to face with Brumfield. I still appreciated their support, along with that of my three other brothers and sisters, because everyone felt this meeting could offer some type of freedom for me.Running for My Life
My Journey in the Game of Football and Beyond. Copyright © by Warrick Dunn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.