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Washington’s Jamin Davis motivated by former teammate Chris Oats, who suffered stroke in 2020

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ASHBURN, Va. — When Kemberly Gamble watched the 2021 NFL draft at the urging of her son, one thought raced through her mind: My baby should be there. Instead, her baby, Chris Oats, was beside her in their two-bedroom apartment, fighting to regain full control of his body after a stroke he suffered in 2020.

And it was Oats’ University of Kentucky teammate Jamin Davis hearing his name called in the first round instead of Oats. Davis had replaced his close friend and teammate in the lineup and turned himself into the 19th overall pick by the Washington Football Team.

As Oats works to do things like walk, talk and regain the use of his left side, Davis works to become a quality starter in the NFL for Washington, which plays the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

“The only thing Jamin could have done wrong,” Gamble said, “is messed it up. You don’t have to honor my son, just please remember him. That’s what Jamin stands for. He doesn’t owe my son anything. All he has to do is keep working. This is an opportunity that can be taken away at the drop of a hat.”

Nobody knows that better than Oats. Nobody feels that responsibility more than Davis. They are tied together by friendship and the opportunity created by Oats’ misfortune.

“The way the situation unfolded is just heartbreaking,” Davis said.

In truth, Davis would have received an opportunity for more playing time his junior season after finishing strong as a sophomore. In his final three games of the 2019 regular season, he finished with a combined 19 tackles, including two for a loss. He’s been steadily developing as a rookie starter for Washington.

“He’s made a lot of progress,” Washington linebackers coach Steve Russ said, “especially when it comes to keying and diagnosing and trusting his keys and responding quickly to what he knows. … He’s headed in the right direction. Very accountable; wants to be really, really good, has good work habits.”

Dreaming of the NFL

Oats, a four-star recruit out of high school, was outstanding at times in his second season at Kentucky and the clear leader for one of two starting jobs available for the 2020 season. Oats’ and Davis’ close friend, DeAndre Square, was expected to win the other starting job. In one three-play sequence at the Belk Bowl vs. Virginia Tech at the end of the 2019 season, Oats shot through the line for consecutive tackles for a loss and then made an open-field tackle on third down.

“You’re like, OK, this kid is about to take off,” said Jon Sumrall, Kentucky’s inside linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. “Chris was uniquely gifted. He’s long, rangy, could run really well. In coverage, he did some stuff very easily because of his length and athleticism.”

Said Davis: “We can talk for hours about how good a player Chris was. I remember the Belk Bowl. … It was like, man, this mofo is going to the league.”

That was Oats’ dream since he was young, he said via text. In fact, Davis said he, Oats and Square — a senior at Kentucky — used to discuss becoming first-round picks. Right before the 2020 draft, the three were on a group text vowing to have their name called in future years.

Sumrall called them the three amigos.

“I wasn’t out at the bars and partying or anything like that, so when I came across someone extremely similar to me in a lot of ways, I instantly clicked with Chris,” Davis said.

They would talk, play video games (Fortnite, Madden and NBA 2K) and go to Buffalo Wild Wings once a week. Davis would order the boneless wings with barbecue sauce, mostly to provide more choices to the table. Oats would order barbecued chicken and potato wedges with cheese and bacon. Square opted for the garlic parmesan.

“I get memories on my Snapchat all the time,” Davis said, “from when we were sitting in the locker room laughing or playing videos of Square dancing and me and Chris making fun of him. Outside of ball, all just going over to his house and playing video games or watching film together. Things like that made us closer.”

Which made their next chapter more difficult.

Making Oats proud

The stroke occurred two days before Mother’s Day in 2020, while Kentucky’s players were at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sumrall informed his players, dispensing whatever information he could that Gamble OK’d. Players eventually realized the severity of the situation.

“I thought it was a sick joke,” Davis said. “Then my thought was, ‘Is he OK? Is there any way we can see him?'”

Sumrall noticed an almost immediate change in Davis when they returned to campus. His practice effort was never in question, but he started watching more film — sometimes arriving a half-hour or 45 minutes early before meetings.

“It became like a snowball rolling down a hill,” Sumrall said. “Every day he came into the meeting room with more intentional focus than ever before.”

Davis felt it, too.

“It was like a reality check,” he said. “Going forward we knew [Oats] wouldn’t want us to sit around bummed out about the situation and feel pity or anything like that. So in my mind it’s like you’ve got to step up and make him proud.”

Square told Davis: It’s your time now.

“He knew what he had to do,” Square said. “We all knew Jamin was probably the best linebacker on the team. He had freakish athletic ability. We always said if he mentally gets the plays down, he’ll probably start over any of us. We were just waiting for him to show it.

“He was ready for the moment.”

Last season, Kentucky would rotate having a defensive player wear Oats’ No. 22. Before a game against Mississippi State, Davis saw the 22 jersey in his locker. He looked to the locker next to him — Oats’ old nook that contained a picture of Chris.

“I said, ‘I’ll do my best to represent you tonight,'” Davis said.

He finished with 11 tackles and an interception.

Kentucky discontinued that practice this season — it became difficult for the Oats family to see the No. 22 on the field. Instead, the team breaks down every practice with a “22!” Everyone has Oats Strong T-shirts made by Gamble; they’re selling hoodies now, too.

Davis wears a 22 Oats Strong band on his wrist, leaving it on for some games. Sumrall said when Oats attends games, he takes the freshmen over to see him; he wants them to know someone who he said “will forever be a Wildcat.”

‘This is not your end’

While it’s a constant battle for Oats, he isn’t jealous of his friend. He watches Washington’s games when he can and seeks out YouTube highlights. He will text Davis reminders to play fast, play smart. They text weekly; sometimes Davis checks in with Gamble. Oats said Davis’ effort is there and “he just needs more time on that level.”

“I’m not the selfish type,” Oats said. “He got there because he is a freak athlete and his talent, and what I’ve learned during this hard time is that I will get there. It will just take time.”

Oats was the one who pressed his family to watch the draft. They wanted to support Davis.

“We talked to Jamin before the draft,” Gamble said. “We’ve always been supportive of everything, so [Chris] never felt, ‘Man, that should have been me.’ When Chris was able to talk after his stroke, or text, he told him, ‘Go out and ball, this is your time.'”

But there is a definite understanding of his own situation.

“He knows where he could have been to change all our lives,” Gamble said. “But I explained to him: As a mom, you being here and being able to touch you and not being six feet under — because we’ve lost so many people this year — that’s all I need. He’s an awesome kid; never in trouble. He went to school, got his scholarship and went to class and to be a year away from your dream and something like this happens, he doesn’t understand what he did wrong for this to happen to him. That’s where we encourage him and let him know, ‘This is not your end; you have a bigger testimonial in your life.'”

Oats has 100% control of his right side and has increased his left side to 50% — it was 40% just a month ago. He’s able to stand on his own and they’re working on strengthening his core to help him walk again. For now, he’s doing occupational therapy twice a week, allowing him to slowly regain independence. They would like to get him into a physical therapy facility that deals mostly with athletes, key for his 6-foot-3, 227-pound frame.

He attended Kentucky’s home games this season and saw the Wildcats play Georgia last year. His mom found it too tough to attend last year, but has gone this season. She reads her son for clues as to his emotions.

“I make sure I pay attention to his eyes and facial expressions,” she said. “I can tell when it’s too much. He does this thing with his eyes, they get real big and he bites on his fingernails. He’s been like that since he was a kid. That hasn’t changed since the stroke. When he’s getting ready to tear up or holding back tears, his eyes get big.”

He’s constantly watching games, whether of Kentucky or other teams, and he attends high school games on Friday nights. Oats said he tries not to cry while watching games, “but I do get in my thoughts.”

When that happens, he said he turns to a prayer from the book of Isaiah: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

He needed that prayer the first time he watched an NFL game after the stroke. He told his mom: “I should be playing.” She said: “Just get healthy; it’s a blessing you’re alive. Football is just a job; it’s not who you are.”

The simple things

Gamble needed to quit her $11-an-hour florist job to take care of her son full time. She also moved the family into a larger apartment, though that increased her rent by $400. Her 26-year-old daughter, KeAirra, also helps, and Davis has chipped in. Insurance pays some of Oats’ medical costs and a GoFundMe has raised more than $150,000 that helps with living expenses and allows them to buy a custom-made van.

Gamble proudly says they live within their means. But she does splurge for him once a year when it comes to sneakers. She would take some of her tax return money and buy him a pair of size 15 LeBrons, something she did again this past spring for $189. Though he’s still on scholarship and gets shoes from Kentucky, he uses these in therapy.

“I don’t spoil him or give everything he wants,” she said, “but the simple things that people take for granted is joy for him.”

Oats wants to become an announcer or a coach; he wants to stay around the game. He wants to get back to himself.

“Football is his first love, and it hurts,” Gamble said. “I tell him to talk it out. He has anxiety over things. It was rough. This is a rough season for us, but he’s making it.”

Last month, Oats posted a picture on Twitter of himself, Square and Davis from a practice. Oats is sitting on the ground, his boys on either side. They are smiling. Sometimes he posts photos of the past; sometimes it’s of the present.

But Davis said he doesn’t need the photos to remember Oats’ impact. He thinks of Oats, whether it’s at practice or even on game day: “All the time; literally, it’s all the time.”

“It’s a constant reminder that this could be taken at any given moment,” Davis said. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go out and play like every snap will be your last. You should be early to meetings, doing whatever you can to go out and play ball and have fun. … The only thing you can do in this situation is make him and his family proud. We’ll always be close.”

Oats said football remains a part of him. Right now, though, his proudest moments aren’t about his tackles but rather something basic yet profound: “That I will be able to walk and talk again.”



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Ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown says ‘there’s nothing wrong with my mental health’ in wake of sideline outburst

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TAMPA, Fla. — Former Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown said his recent sideline outburst against the New York Jets that resulted in his dismissal from the Buccaneers, and previous incidents he’s been involved in have been miscategorized as “mental health issues.”

In a preview of an episode of “I Am Athlete,” that will be posted in full on Jan. 24, Brown tells former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall that he’s not suffering from mental health issues.

“Everyone in the world got a different form of reactions of what happened to me. And it’s all based upon where you from, how you feel and no one really gonna know that regardless of who you is,” Brown said. “The thing with football players is mental health and CTE is this: These guys are willing to do whatever it take to make some obligated gain. But in the midst of those gains, along that journey, they’re mistreated, there’s a lot of stuff that went on that may not have been handled right.

“And then you started your career on a high. It’s like a rollercoaster. You go up, and then as soon as it bout to go down, everyone leave. … If we all players and we all saying we care about mental health, why every time something happens bad or someone reacts, ‘Aw, he’s crazy, there’s something wrong with his mental health,'” Brown asked. “There’s nothing wrong with my mental health. Someone told me, ‘Get the f— out of here.’ I’m not passive-aggressive.”

Brown and his attorney Sean Burstyn have claimed that the Bucs attempted to mislabel his outburst as a mental health issue and wanted Brown to receive counseling, when Brown claims his ankle was too injured to play on, and that Arians told him to leave the field.

Since his release by the Buccaneers earlier this month, Brown has shifted his focus to his music career and rehabbing his ankle, which will require surgery. He indicated he does want to continue playing football next year. He released a music single, “Pit Not the Palace.” He appeared courtside for a Brooklyn Nets-Memphis Grizzlies game two weeks ago. He’s taken part in photo shoots and has linked up with pals Kanye West, Floyd Mayweather and Madonna.

In the past though, he has acknowledged seeking mental health treatment. His father Eddie Brown told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Brown was undergoing therapy after his release by the New England Patriots in 2019, which coincided with two sexual assault allegations.

Brown has also indicated that he supports mental health treatment. In an interview with ESPN in February 2020, Brown was asked whether he needed mental health help, to which he responded, “We all need mental help.”

At that time, the circumstances of Brown’s life were different. He’d been arrested and charged with felony burglary and battery charges. The mother of three of his children, Chelsie Kyriss, posted on Instagram at the time that her and their children were focused on building a new life “free from any impulsive, reckless and unhealthy” behaviors.” She added, “My hope is that Anotonio [sic] will get help and seek the mental health treatment that he so desperately needs so that he can be the father all of his children need and deserve.”

He and Kyriss reached reconciliation and she and their children were on-hand when Brown and the Bucs defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. Brown had also underwent anger management counseling and his probation was terminated one year early for good behavior. On numerous occasions before his departure from the Bucs, both general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians described him as a “model citizen.”

Arians said of his departure, “Yeah, it was very hard. I wish him well. I hope, if he needs help, [that he] gets some. It’s very hard because I do care about him.”

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Green Bay Packers expected to have healthy Randall Cobb; statuses of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, David Bakhtiari less promising

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — The last two times the Green Bay Packers were in the playoffs, Randall Cobb had to watch from his couch.

The Packers had moved on from the receiver following the 2018 season, and he spent the next two years with non-playoff teams Dallas in 2019 and Houston in 2020.

When he tore multiple muscles in his abdomen as he caught a touchdown pass 12 weeks into his return to Green Bay this season, he was determined not to be a spectator again. Sure enough, Cobb is expected to return for Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.

However, even with Cobb’s return, the Packers’ receiving corps may not be at full strength.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was listed as doubtful because of the back injury he suffered in the regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions. He practiced on Tuesday but then was a nonparticipant the rest of the week.

Cobb said he could have played two weeks ago at Detroit, about five weeks after he underwent surgery.

“The past four years I’ve been watching the playoffs from the couch,” Cobb said, counting the 2017 and ’18 seasons that the Packers missed the postseason. “I haven’t seen the playoffs since 2016, so I’m really excited for the opportunity to be out there and help contribute.”

Cobb, who returned to Green Bay last summer via trade from the Texans at the request of Rodgers, said the low point in his career was the 2019 NFC Championship Game, when the Packers played the 49ers. He said he watched the game alone and didn’t even want his wife, Aiyda, with him during it.

“When I got drafted here it was right after the Super Bowl,” Cobb said of the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV win. “We went 15-1, I thought we were going that year. Thought we were going in ’14. Obviously ’16, the loss in Atlanta and I haven’t been there since then and I’ve been watching from the couch.

“It was hard. I was definitely in a dark place when they played the 49ers in San Francisco because in my mind, I’m like, ‘Man, they won the year before I got there and they won the year after I left,’ or, ‘They’re getting ready to go the year after I left, so I must’ve been the problem. It must’ve been me.’ So I was definitely in a dark place that year, but I’m just happy to be a part of it, happy to have the opportunity to contribute and to do my part.”

The Packers activated Cobb off injured reserve on Friday. They had a spot open after they released defensive tackle Kingsley Kekea day earlier. The Packers would also need spots for outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith (back) and Whitney Mercilus (biceps), who are attempting to come back from IR. Coach Matt LaFleur left that possibility as questionable.

Cornerback Jaire Alexander, who is on the roster but hasn’t played since his Week 4 shoulder injury, was listed as questionable.

There are other question marks as well.

When left tackle David Bakhtiari played the first 27 snaps of the Week 18 game against the Lions, it was believed to be a precursor to him playing full time when the playoffs started. That may not be a sure thing. Bakhtiari practiced only one day this week — the middle of three practices — and was listed as questionable.

LaFleur was vague about why or what may have happened in the days since Bakhtiari made his return in the regular-season finale after more than a year away because of ACL surgery.

“He’s working his tail off,” LaFleur said. ‘And we’ll see where he’s at.”

The Packers will have at least one of their two preferred starting tackles. LaFleur said right tackle Billy Turner, who missed the last month of the regular season with a knee injury, has been cleared to play.

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Cincinnati Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson clears concussion protocol, OK to play Saturday

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Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson has cleared the concussion protocol and will play in Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans, coach Zac Taylor announced Thursday.

Hendrickson, who led the Bengals with 14 sacks this season, suffered the concussion in the Bengals’ 26-19 wild-card game victory over the Las Vegas Raiders last Saturday.

Hendrickson had a strip sack of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr before leaving that game.

His 14 sacks in the regular season were a career high. He had 13.5 sacks in 2020 for the New Orleans Saints, helping him to earn a four-year, $60 million contract in free agency with the Bengals last March.

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