The square next to “football player” is marked, but don’t box in Demario Davis.
If you do, you’re cheating him.
If you do, you’re cheating yourself.
True, Davis indeed is a football player, and a very good one at that. Good enough that the New Orleans Saints coveted him as a free agent following his 2017 season, one in which he led the Jets with a career-high 165 tackles, to go along with five sacks, three passes defensed and a fumble recovery. And he has played to a level that justifies the three-year deal he signed with New Orleans; entering Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Davis leads the Saints with 55 tackles, and has tossed in two sacks, a pass defensed and a forced fumble.
But don’t sleep on the “woke” Davis, whose depth won’t allow for confinement to the shallow.
Extraordinary football player? Yes. Socially conscious community leader? Absolutely.
Which is why, possibly, Davis treasures the In Pursuit of Justice Award, presented to him Oct. 11 by the Bronx Defenders, even more than he enjoyed capturing NFC Defensive Player of the Week following a two-sack, 11-tackle performance against the Giants on Sept. 30.
The Bronx Defenders is a public defender nonprofit dedicated to representing low-income people in the Bronx. Davis allied with the group when he played with the Jets.
“In my eyes, what we do on a football field is very small compared to what’s going on outside the field,” Davis said. “What we provide for people (via football) is a few hours of entertainment.
“But peoples’ lives are being affected every day, and in a situation where these people can’t help themselves. I feel like we’re in a position to bring light to these issues and kind of help these issues. I think we’re looked at in society as being leaders, so we try to lead and show how we should respond to these issues. And hopefully, that encourages others to do the same.”
It'll take some doing to catch up to Davis’ lead. The seven-year veteran, who prepped at Brandon (Miss.) High and earned his bachelor’s degree in communications at Arkansas State, founded the Devoted Dreamers Foundation. Devoted Dreamers attempts to equip the next generation of leaders – entertainers, athletes, politicians, doctors, lawyers, etc. – with the tools to be successful spiritually, mentally and physically. Davis also hosts annual youth summer camps in Brandon.
Also, he supports legislation to restore voting rights to some felons in Louisiana. He champions bail reform, noting that 70 percent of people in jail have not been convicted of a crime but are incarcerated because of the inability to produce a cash bail.
He has been able to garner support from the league and from team owners – Saints owner Gayle Benson and Jets owner Chris Johnson attended the Bronx Defender gala when Davis was presented his award – in the pursuit of social justice.
Benson has met with goodwill and city leaders on reform, and feels it is important as an owner to support Saints players.
“What we’re doing in the community, especially around social justice, just to be able to have the support of the league – commissioner, team owners – they don’t have to do that,” Davis said. “For them to be behind us and support us, it’s important and it’s powerful. I just wanted to make sure I let them know how appreciative I was.
“I invited (Mrs. Benson) to come. Any time you can have the support of team owners behind players, and the league and the shield behind players in their efforts off the field, it’s amazing. Especially when it comes to social justice and what’s going on in our country right now. I think for Mrs. Benson, along with Chris Johnson, I think it’s just part of who they are as people.
“They’re great people who care about the community, who care about other humans and doing what’s right. I think that sends a message in itself. It was amazing to have her there. I know she had a busy schedule and she was able to drop some things to come, so my wife (Tamela) and I were very appreciative of that.”
The appreciation is genuine, because Davis understands personally how important is his cause. In his youth, he dabbled in drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence, and he spent time in jail.
“I think it’s very important because the social justice things that we’re fighting for are a lot of things that are affecting the black and the brown community,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s easier to support issues that are kind of viewed the same across the board. It’s easier when you’re fighting for a cause like cancer or you’re fighting for a cause about a disease where it’s all kind of viewed the same – bad, across the board.
“But when it comes to black and brown communities and the issues that they face, not everybody feels the same. I think that’s where lines can kind of get drawn in our country, but issues are issues that affect human lives. And so, we’ve got to treat it as such and look at it with compassion.
“A lot of the players that are fighting for these issues come from these communities, so they understand them. But it’s also important to have the support of the league when they step out into these areas. To have the support from the league, the commissioner and team owners, which we spoke about when we sat alongside them and met with them, the response from the league and the owners has been nothing but amazing. For them to step out and show they support their players when they go out and speak about these issues is amazing.”
No more amazing than one of the players who felt compelled to address them.
“I didn’t expect (the involvement) it to be this much (when I entered the NFL),” Davis said. “But I’ve always been a person who was socially conscious, I was always aware of what was going on in the communities that I come from, the disadvantages that existed there.
“I’ve always looked at me playing the sport not just as what I do, but it’s a platform to go out and share a positive message. And so, those two have come together and now, I just think we’re living in a time where you can’t be politically correct. You’ve got to stand up for what’s right.
“I think everybody is getting pressure to be politically correct, not offend anybody. But we’re also in a time where, if you don’t do anything, you’re just as guilty as the people who are doing wrong and the oppressors. I just try to stand up for what I believe is right, and it just comes across as that.”