Training Camp had come to a close; the 2018 regular season was about to start; and while members of the Oakland Raiders were focused on their playbooks, running back DeAndré Washington was focused on something far bigger than football.
Washington and his family were mourning the loss of his sister, Taiesha, a victim of gun violence.
Preparing for an NFL season is a daunting task in and of itself, but compiling that with the loss of a loved one would be overwhelming for anyone. On top of that, the third-year back had just undergone arthroscopic knee surgery, while trying to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster in a crowded backfield. The Houston native went on to make the roster, but 2018 has been difficult for the 25-year-old.
Only months removed from the death of his sister, Washington is dealing with grief in his own way. Still, he finds solace knowing she's with him in spirit daily.
"It definitely hasn't been easy, man," Washington shared. "I still have those days where some are worse than others, but I know she's looking down on me.
"I know she's watching me, man, and she's taking care of me. She had a huge heart, a big personality, so I can still feel her… Certain occasions I can just feel her spirit, man. I know she's shining down with that big smile she always had."
For the next three weeks, the NFL allows players to represent a foundation or charity of their choosing for one home game, as part of the league's My Cause, My Cleats initiative. This Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, Washington will honor his sister by wearing cleats in support of the March For Our Lives organization.
"It's just a way that I want to honor her with a small gesture," he said. "That's kind of how mine came about. March For [Our] Lives – basically an organization against gun violence – I just wanted to bring awareness to gun violence, so [my shoes] are orange, and I'll be representing her."
Washington – who has deeply rooted family values – has always taken the field trying to make his family proud, but this season has meant a little more to him than years past.
"It's just an extra motivation, I've always played for my family, but I know she would want me to go out there and go twice as hard, so I'm trying to do the best I can for her," Washington explained. "I know she's looking down on me, and I'm just trying to make her happy."
The tragic loss of Washington's sister is a reminder to always tell the people you hold dear that you love and appreciate them. My Cause, My Cleats is giving Washington a platform to share his story, one of several saddening stories, and he's grateful for the opportunity to wear cleats bringing light to a serious situation.
"I think it's a beautiful thing, man, because a lot of these guys have different stories," he said. "A lot of guys have their own personal experiences, whether it be hands-on, or with family members and friends, so I think it's a nice thing for the NFL to bring awareness to some of those things. Be able to represent those, and the people that they're honoring for this game, so I love it, and I think it's a great way to bring awareness to a lot of different causes that are going on in the world."
Watching Washington run out of the tunnel at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum wearing his cleats this Sunday will be a special moment for him and his family.
Get an exclusive look at the Raiders custom cleats for the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats game to be played on Sunday, December 2, 2018, against the Kansas City Chiefs.