Capitals

Avant rose from gang life to a man of Christ

Avant rose from gang life to a man of Christ

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jason Avant raises his hands to the sky after every reception in celebration for much more than catching a ball.

Playing football for the Philadelphia Eagles doesn't define Avant. After everything he's endured, the 29-year-old wide receiver is not your ordinary professional athlete.

Avant was 12 when he started selling drugs. He went to elementary school drunk and high. As a teenager, he belonged to one of Chicago's notorious gangs called the ``Gangsters Disciples.'' Dodging bullets and running from the police were common for him.

Yet somehow Avant escaped that life and avoided ending up dead or in jail like some of his friends. Now he's one of the most respected players in the NFL.

``When I lift my hands up, it's me saying `Lord, I know where I could be and I thank you for where I am,''' Avant recalled last week. ``There were times when I was growing up when I didn't have enough to scrounge up a quarter to get an ICEE. I remember the times our house was shot up. I remember when I didn't have any avenues, when I sold drugs. So I lift my hands up and thank the Lord for all He has done for me.''

Avant grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a neighborhood riddled with gangs, drugs and violence. He was abandoned by his mother as a kid and was raised by his grandmother because his father was in and out of jail.

It's no wonder Avant got caught up with the wrong crowd. He lived in the same house with 12 to 14 relatives and was influenced by his cousins.

But his grandmother Lillie wanted a better life for young Jason and she refused to give up on him. She used the power of prayer to steer him in the right direction.

``She was a great woman, a saved woman,'' Avant said with a big smile as he talked about ``Granny.''

``She would pray for me every night. `Lord, let him be different. Let his life change.' I was her favorite and everybody knew it. We didn't have much money, so I would sleep in the same room as my grandmother. She would lay her hands on me for an hour at night and just pray for me.''

Avant would go to church with his grandmother on Sundays and return to the streets to sell drugs with his gang friends. However, words from the service would be ringing in his ears the whole time.

``I was the worst drug dealer in the world,'' he said. ``I had too much of a conscience from going to church, and sitting there hearing the songs would always make me cry because I knew I was selling drugs. But God had a different plan for me.''

Avant's grandmother eventually sold her house after it was raided twice by police. A third raid would've meant the state would seize the house and evict the family. So the cousins scattered and Avant ended up moving in with his Aunt Shirley. Like Granny, she encouraged Avant to go to church and stay in school.

``I quit selling drugs because I was away from my cousins and I got into basketball,'' Avant said. ``Wherever I was going, my grandmother's prayers stayed with me.''

Avant's dad, Jerry, took him in whenever he was released from prison, only to have to send him back after getting arrested again. Three times, Avant moved to Decatur, Ill., with his father, then went back to Chicago. He had no stability in his life and struggled terribly with his grades.

Avant had a tough time finding a high school to start his sophomore year. He ended up at Carver, which was in the middle of the projects.

``There were dead bodies, metal detectors, drugs in lockers, all that type of stuff,'' Avant said. ``A teacher got killed and her body was found in a dumpster all cut up. A guy I played basketball with got shot.''

Sports and prayer helped Avant stay free from harm. Avant was a talented basketball player. His coach, Willie Simpson, also coached the football team and told him he had to play both sports or neither.

Avant's first day at football practice didn't go so well. They put him at linebacker and ran a fullback straight at him. Avant, only 175 pounds at the time, got flattened.

``He wanted to see if I was tough enough, so I quit,'' Avant said. ``But my grandma and dad talked me into going back.''

Avant was switched to fullback, where he got more carries than the starting running back. He moved to wide receiver his junior year and quickly became the top-ranked prep player in Illinois and one of the highest-rated players in the country.

Scholarships poured in from several high-profile universities. Avant chose Michigan.

Still, there were obstacles. The NCAA questioned his eligibility because of his grades. Some of his school records got lost in all the shuffling. Avant feared he'd lose his scholarship. He prayed with his grandmother for a solution, and it was resolved with him only having to sit out one game.

When Avant got to Ann Arbor, his roommate, running back Alijah Bradley, was a pastor's son. Avant and Bradley were typical college freshmen on a big campus, living it up and having fun.

But when Bradley got hurt during the spring before sophomore year, he decided he needed to go to church. Avant went with him. For two months, they would go each week.

On May 4, 2003, Avant's life changed forever. He was listening to Pastor Lovell Cannon's sermon at True Worship Church in Detroit when images from his life started flashing in his mind.

``The Lord began to replay all the times my was house was shot up when I was selling drugs. The bullet hole right where my grandmother sits and she wasn't in the chair. All the times the bullets just missed me or the shooters didn't see me,'' Avant said. ``I was in places where I had 15 guys running after my car with bats, weapons and all this stuff. God is replaying this through my mind and the last thing he says:

`I made a way for you to go to school. After all I have done for you, Jason, you can't surrender your life to me?' It was a miracle for me to go to school. I needed everything to go right. So I surrendered my life to him.''

Avant stopped drinking, partying, and even waited to get married before having sex again. Avant began studying the Bible as if it were his playbook.

Nowadays, he walks around the locker room singing gospel music and always carries the Bible. He leads teammates in Bible study on Thursdays and mentors young players and veterans. He quotes scripture the way movie buffs recite lines to their favorite film.

``The enemy can place thoughts in your mind through television, commercials and other forms of temptations,'' Avant said, ``so you have to have something to combat him, and studying scriptures and learning the word can combat him. The word gives you something to fight him.''

In an era of self-promotion and diva receivers, Avant is perhaps the most humble player in pro sports. He's in his seventh season with the Eagles and the third year of a five-year, $15 million contract extension signed in 2010. But Avant and his wife and two daughters live a modest lifestyle.

``God has blessed me with so much,'' he said. ``I think a Bentley looks fine. But what's that going to lead to? It's not necessary. What that is going to lead to is more distractions. ...

``You are a steward over what you have and if you let it get to your head, it can get stripped away.''

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The biggest ‘what ifs’ in Capitals history: What if Lars Eller never scored the 2OT goal?

The biggest ‘what ifs’ in Capitals history: What if Lars Eller never scored the 2OT goal?

This week NBC Sports Washington is looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals. Last week, we looked at what ifs for the season. This week, we are looking at some of the bigger what ifs from franchise history.
 
Today’s what-if: What if Lars Eller had not delivered the game-winning goal in double overtime of Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets?
 
Lars Eller scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, but that arguably was not the most important goal he scored during that 2018 postseason.
 
Down 2-0 in the first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Eller scored the double-overtime winner to give Washington its first win. It was a fluky one that bounced off a number of body parts on its way into the net, but it still counted. But what if he had not scored that goal and the Caps had lost Game 3?
 
While Washington was able to erase a 2-0 deficit to win four straight against Columbus and win the series, it’s hard to believe they could have done the same thing if down 3-0. At that time, despair would have started to sink in. 

RELATED: WHAT IF THE CAPS HADN'T WON THE 2004 NHL DRAFT LOTTERY?
 
In terms of moves head coach Barry Trotz could have made, he would have had to get creative because the standard panic move of a goalie change would not cut it. Philipp Grubauer started Games 1 and 2 and was replaced by Braden Holtby in Game 3. Going back to Grubauer was not a realistic option at that point. Chances are, Washington would have suffered a first-round exit.
 
Considering Trotz left after winning a Stanley Cup, it is hard to imagine him staying after a first-round exit. So with another year of falling short of expectations in the postseason and in need of a new head coach, this is the point where I believe Brian MacLellan would have had to seriously consider dismantling the team. 
 
I don’t think there was ever a scenario where Alex Ovechkin would be traded considering what he means to the franchise, but I think everyone else would have been on the table. After all, by 2018 what reason would the team have to believe the core was good enough to make a deep playoff run? It had not done it after four seasons with Trotz and about as loaded a lineup as a team can have.
 
It would not have meant the end of the Ovechkin era as he would have stayed, but it probably would have meant the end in terms of the Ovechkin-led Caps pursuing a Cup. By that time, it would have been clear it was time to start over and it would have meant a very long 2018 offseason.

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Elena Delle Donne put in tough spot by WNBA, reveals health struggles with Lyme disease in open letter

Elena Delle Donne put in tough spot by WNBA, reveals health struggles with Lyme disease in open letter

For anyone that has covered Elena Delle Donne in her professional career, there is one thing that you know: the two-time WNBA MVP battles Lyme disease which directly affects her ordinary way of life. 

She's been open about it and does not shy away from questions regarding her symptoms. Her openness and status in the league were so prominent that when the WNBA said it would allow players with preexisting conditions - and potential vulnerabilities to the coronavirus - to sit out and receive pay, it was assumed she fit. 

But yet the WNBA denied her request, leaving her in "disbelief" and her best response coming in a tell-all Player's Tribune article

I take 64 pills a day, and I feel like it’s slowly killing me. Or if it’s not killing me, directly, then I at least know one thing for sure: It’s really bad for me. Longterm, taking that much medicine on that regular of a regimen is just straight-up bad for you. It’s literally an elaborate trick that you play on yourself — a lie that you tell your body so it keeps thinking everything is fine. 

It’s a never-ending, exhausting, miserable cycle.

But I do it anyway.

Much of what she says is nothing new. By battling “Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome," more commonly known as Chronic Lyme Disease, her life has been uprooted. Delle Donne has to take 64 supplements a day. She is immunocompromised where a common cold sends her immune system into a frenzy and a flu shot does more harm than good.

RELATED: CLOUD RIPS THE WNBA'S DECISION TO DECLINE EED'S REQUEST

She's been battling it since 2008 and now her league, that she represents on the highest stage, turned its back on her. She is more at risk of developing serious complications due to the coronavirus because of her compromised immune system. Her own doctor said that it's not safe for her to risk traveling to a state where cases are skyrocketing all to play basketball. 

Lyme disease is not one without controversy. For most affected, treatment is easy and simple (about a month of steroids and you're back to normal). However, symptoms get more serious the longer it is not treated and for Delle Donne it took multiple doctors to figure out what was going on. 

Many brush off the disease, mostly because there is so much even the medical community does not know. 

Yet, the league isn't giving her a fair option.

Instead of giving her a choice to remain safe, at home, the WNBA's panel of doctors said that she is not high-risk for the virus. 

I’m now left with two choices: I can either risk my life….. or forfeit my paycheck.

Honestly? That hurts.

It hurts a lot. And maybe being hurt just makes me naive. And I know that, as athletes, we’re not really supposed to talk about our feelings. But feelings are pretty much all I have left right now. I don’t have NBA player money. I don’t have the desire to go to war with the league on this. And I can’t appeal.

So really all I’m left with is how much this hurts. How much it hurts that the W — a place that’s been my one big dream in life for as long as I can remember, and that I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears to for seven going on eight seasons — has basically told me that I’m wrong about what’s happening in my own body. What I hear in their decision is that I’m a fool for believing my doctor. That I’m faking a disability. That I’m trying to “get out” of work and still collect a paycheck.

Her disease and symptoms didn't come out of nowhere. And of all people in the league to be 'faking' a disease, it's not her. She played the WNBA Finals last season with three herniated discs, a face mask and a knee brace from injuries she suffered on the court. 

Her decision to play is still forthcoming - a decision that she should never have to make. Delle Donne admits that her choice is no different than what many Americans have had to weigh during the pandemic and many are in worse financial shape than she is. But if this situation taught her anything, it's to admit when someone doesn't know something.

"Probably the best lesson I’ve learned through my experience with Lyme disease — is this: There’s so much in the world that we don’t know," Delle Donne said.

And right now there is so much the WNBA doesn't know about Lyme disease. 

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