WASHINGTON — The Washington Football Team will join the growing list of sports teams honoring the ongoing social justice movement when they take the field Sunday for their season opener. Along with the words "end racism" painted in the end zone, players were able to choose a name or phrase that they wanted to wear on their helmets.
Washington debuted four of their helmet decals that will be worn Sunday, including "Black Lives Matter," "Stop Hate," "It Takes All Of Us" and "Davon McNeal."
A spokesperson for the team said Saturday that quarterback Dwayne Haskins submitted a request to the NFL to wear Davon's name at game one versus the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.
Davon McNeal was an 11-year-old who was shot and killed on July 4, as he headed to an anti-violence cookout. Davon was grabbing a cellphone charger at a relative's house near the Frederick Douglass Community Center in Southeast when he was struck in the head by a bullet, his grandfather said.
Police do not believe Davon was the intended victim of the shooting, as evidence showed it was the result of gang violence between three rival crews. DC Police have arrested four suspects in Davon's murder.
“I’m his number one fan, and it hurt so bad that he’s not here to go to the seventh grade or to play football wit his team," his mom, Crystal McNeal said Saturday.
Davon's grandfather, John Ayala, described his grandson as an outgoing kid who loved playing sports, especially football. He was an active participant in a variety of youth leagues and had big dreams of one day making it to the NFL.
"His dream was to get into the NFL, because being a VIP on his team, and knowing that he likes that sport, this is what he was going to," Ayala said. "This is not another kid that's not out there, causing problems, and not doing anything negative. He got good grades in school, he is doing sports, and all of a sudden he tragically shot down in a community where he should not have been shot.”
Crystal McNeal said, specifically, her son dreamed of playing for the Washington Football Team. So, she was overcome with gratitude when she heard that Haskins would be honoring her son on the field.
“To see the Washington Football Team put my son’s name on a football helmet, I feel so good," she said.
The 11-year-old's youth football coach, Kevin McGill said he got choked up when he heard the news.
“We may not have wanted it to be this type of way, but he still made it, and the impact that he made it now is way more impact than he would have had then," McGill said. "So the fact that he made it, it’s a blessing.”
McGill called Davon a "leader," whose death he believes will help end some of the violence in D.C. He and Crystal are working together to develop programs to help curb gun violence and give back to kids.
“These kids will never forget about my child at all," Crystal said. "I just want to help the kids out and the moms out that are going through what I’m going through, because it hurt.”
They said this helmet, however, has given them a bright spot in the darkness that was the last few months.
Washington's starting quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, tweeted a photo of the helmet he would wear bearing Davon's name, saying "rest in heaven young king."
The helmet decals are not the first time Washington's NFL team has elected to honor the Black Lives Matter movement. Following the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Washington Football Team announced they would be canceling their morning practice to have "an open dialogue" on the issues of racism and social injustice in the country, joining seven other teams in the NFL who held similar conversations.
Head coach Ron Rivera shared his support for the movement in June, noting there still is work that needs to be done.
"Black Lives Matter," Rivera said, discussing the police brutality of George Floyd."We can’t be afraid to say it. I will say it again. Black Lives Matter.”