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By Dan Pompei Over the last three years, Ra’Shede Hageman spent a night in prison for domestic violence. He started in a Super Bowl and then was cut, and as part of his community service, for more than 110 hours, he prepared meals for the homeless. He drove drunk. He checked his mother into a psych ward. He tried to become an Amway salesman. He dunked his head in a pool of sacred water and was born once more. And, just a few weeks ago, he was rehired by the team that cut him. Maybe none of it should have been surprising, given the unspeakable atrocities in his past, and given the way he took so many gifts for granted. Hageman has gone back to the city where his NFL career began, but he knows he never can revert to his old ways. Now, it’s about making peace with the spirits who came before, and those yet to be born. It’s about trying to finally get it right. It’s about seeking atonement. Hageman, the Falcons’ second-round pick in 2014, started out slowly in his career. But in his third season, the defensive tackle was riding a wave. He sacked Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game and two weeks later, on Feb. 5, 2017, was running out of the tunnel at NRG Stadium behind four American flags and a Falcons flag, between shooting flames and past glittering cheerleaders. He was part of a team at the pinnacle of his sport. He started to think about his second contract, and what he was going to do with the coming riches. One thing stood between him and the glories that seemed at the time to be within his grasp: what had happened on the night of March 21, 2016. Baby Zion was a surprise. Hageman and Janeal Jefferies had known each other since they were kids, and they never got along much. But once, just once, in 2011, after a few too many, neither of them was thinking about what they didn’t like about the other. At age 20, Hageman wasn’t ready to be a father, let alone a partner to someone he didn’t like. But Hageman said he supported his child financially and spent time with him while trying to avoid Jefferies as much as he could. The two tried to see each other only when they were exchanging Zion. When Zion was 5 years old, Hageman said Jefferies took the keys to his Porsche. The following night — March 21, 2016 — he went to her apartment to pick up the car keys. After he retrieved the keys, she followed him to the car. Outside, he said, she physically attacked him, as well as a friend of his. He tried to get in the car, but she was grabbing him and holding him. According to Hageman, he pushed her gently a couple of times to try to create separation. “After the third push, I shoved her for real,” he says. “I shoved her to the ground, hopped in my car and left.” According to the police report obtained by the Associated Press, Jefferies told police that Hageman became angry when she didn’t have his keys and he pulled her hair, verbally abused her and yanked the phone line out of the wall to prevent her from calling the police. She eventually told police Hageman took her wallet and cellphone and left the apartment before being chased by Jefferies. Then Hageman handed her possessions to his friend and pushed her down. She suffered lacerations on her left hand and elbow. Hageman was charged with three misdemeanors: battery family violence, cruelty to children in the third degree (Zion was present) and interference with a call for emergency help. At the Gwinnett County Jail, the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder was given an orange jumpsuit that squeezed him like a full-body tourniquet, and a pair of too-small Jesus slippers. He was put in the general population, where inmates shared wisdom about how to crack a safe and how to break into a locked building. When the door to his cell rolled shut and he heard the click that separated him from everything he wanted to be and everything he did not, he started to meditate. He saw those prisoners with the white uniforms who were performing janitorial duties — they were in for life. He tried to imagine himself in white. He looked around the cell, which was maybe 12 feet by seven feet. There was a cot with a mat on it, no blanket. A toilet. Nothing else. “If I never had another sign in my life, I had one there,” he says. “God was talking to me. He was telling me, ‘Yo, you need to get your **** right. You need to get away from her. This is a warning.’ It was a game changer.” He was released from jail the next day. He continued playing with the Falcons that fall, the season that concluded in that Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. In August 2017, he reached a plea agreement. The domestic violence charge and the other charges were dropped, and he accepted charges of disorderly conduct and simple battery, according to NFL sources. There would be consequences. The NFL put him on the commissioner’s exempt list and gave him a six-game suspension, which he served as a free agent because the Falcons cut him before the start of the 2017 season. And he was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and take two courses designed to help him be a better domestic partner and father. He didn’t realize it at the time, but his life never would be the same. When Ra’Shede Hageman looks in the mirror, he sees soulful eyes, a heavy, round jaw and small ears. He sees the sins of previous generations, and he sees the sins of his own creation. Hageman never met his father; he never even saw a picture of him. All he knows of him is that he died of a heart attack when Hageman was very young. His mother Mae Knox was one of 10 kids. While Mae’s mother worked and went to school, Mae was molested by one of her older brothers, Hageman said. He also said Mae watched one of her other brothers get shot in the head Mae left home when she was 12, and began trading sex for whatever she needed — money, drugs or transportation, Hageman said. She was addicted to crack when Ra’Shede was born. “I was a crack baby,” he said. “I was born with crack in my system.” He still can remember taking a bus ride with his mother and little brother Xavier when Ra’Shede was about 5 years old in their hometown of Minneapolis. His mother stepped off the bus to buy drugs, leaving her sons alone on the bus. He watched her negotiate through the window as the bus pulled away. He recalls seeing Mae running after the bus and banging on the back. And that’s where his memory fades. One day, Hageman says she left Hageman and his brother in a crack house. Police raided the house and found the boys alone. They were taken from their mother. So Ra’Shede and his brother would be in 12 foster homes over the span of about three or four years. There were periodic reunification efforts with Mae. When Ra’Shede was in foster care, he says there was abuse. When he wet the bed, he says he was beaten for it. Multiple foster parents took to him with clothes hangers, sticks and belts, he says. Some memories are so dark, so dispiriting, that he will not allow them to creep across his lips. They have been buried in a place where even he has difficulty digging them up. The worst seemed to be behind him when he and Xavier were told they were being sent to their “forever home,” when Ra’Shede was 6. The plan was for the boys to be adopted after a period of acclimation. But the marriage between their new parents ended during the year they spent there. Their would-be father couldn’t deal with a broken marriage and two adopted kids, so the boys were sent back to the foster care system. “I think,” says Eric Hageman, the man who eventually would adopt Ra’Shede and Xavier, “that being sent back was more devastating than anything else.” At the time, Eric and his wife, Jill, were young, idealistic attorneys. They decided they wanted to be the ones to provide Ra’Shede and his brother with a home. In January of 1998, when Ra’Shede was 7, he and Xavier went to live with the Hagemans. In November of that year, they were adopted. Ra’Shede had not yet experienced a Christmas celebration. He was angry about everything and distrustful of everyone. His parents enrolled him in an all-white Catholic school. He wore a uniform every day, learned bible verses he still can recite, prayed to saints he couldn’t relate to and attended mass on Wednesdays. None of it felt right. He was different from everyone around him, including his parents. “He (Eric) didn’t look like me,” Ra’Shede says. “He didn’t understand being a black kid in the city, what I had to go through. Being a lawyer wasn’t cool. I only saw white lawyers, not someone in my skin color. I told my friends he was my parole officer.” “He certainly didn’t trust us,” Eric says. “He did a lot of testing behaviors to see if we’d give him back. That process went on for a long time. He wasn’t sure what his place was in our family. There were racial issues overlaid on top of that.” His parents transferred him to a public school when he was in eighth grade. There, Hageman found more people like himself, including African-American coaches who became mentors. Now, Eric says he and Jill are proud of Ra’Shede’s perseverance. “All we can hope for with our kids when they are going through difficulties is that they will come out better people for it,” he says. “Regardless of what happens with the NFL, that’s all we want for Ra’Shede.” The Hageman Family: Eric, Joe (17), Jill, Xavier, Ra’Shede; bottom row: Hank (11) and Lizzy (13). (Courtesy of Eric Hageman) Over the course of becoming a man, Ra’Shede would come to understand and appreciate his white parents’ intentions. He leans on them for advice now, and they spend holidays together whenever possible. It would take longer to reconcile everything he had been through. Harbor Light Center is the largest outreach facility in the state of Minnesota. Whether it’s three squares, a bed, a friend, rehab or a prayer that’s needed, Harbor Light is there for people who are homeless. It is there where Hageman did 90 hours of his community service in 2017. And it is there where his mother had spent many nights earlier in her life. “When I went there, everyone said, ‘You’re Knox’s kid,’” he says. “’Your mom used to brag about you being her son when she lived here and you were in college.’” He also took a lot from an 18-week class at East Side Neighborhood Services on handling domestic situations. Each session was five hours long. “There were people like me and you, and people with bow ties and glasses,” he says. “And there were felons with tattoos on their face. There were horror stories about fighting and beating up. You learn about all kinds of abuse. It was probably the biggest eye-opener for me.” There also was a 12-week program through FATHER Project designed to support and give guidance to fathers in non-traditional circumstances. His son Zion is now 8 years old, though he looks like he’s 13 (and he kills it on the basketball court.) He lives with his mother in Minneapolis, and was prevented from seeing his father much for many of the months when Hageman was out of football. Ra’Shede has been given joint legal custody of him now, but still is at the mercy of Jefferies as to when he can be with him. “When all else fails, I still get to sit back and kick it with him,” Ra’Shede says, who admittedly is wrapped around his son’s finger. “I think that’s something I was taking for granted before. I would see him and then go off to the club in Atlanta.” Ra’Shede lives with his high school sweetheart Gabby Roberts. They met when they were about 11, and have been mostly together since. They got to know each other at a basketball camp, where she beat him in a one-on-one tournament to take the first-place medal. He was her “almost” first kiss, and they went to prom together. Hageman admittedly sometimes feels most comfortable alone, even when he’s in the presence of his longtime companion. When he’s down, he retreats to the man cave in his basement with cool temperatures and dim lights. He won’t surface for hours. But he’s trying to withdraw less and trust more. No one was more surprised to see Hageman accused of being violent with a woman than Roberts. “That’s just not Ra’shede,” she says. “Ra’Shede is my teddy bear, a big, soft teddy bear. Calling him a big baby is an understatement. He’s the sweetest person ever.” Roberts had two surgeries for endometriosis — a disorder where tissue grows outside of the uterus rather than lining it — in an eight-month period, which left her physically and emotionally depleted. While she worried about her inability to one day have children, Hageman was concerned only with her comfort. “Other than working out, he didn’t leave my side for two weeks when I was recovering,” she says. “He helped out, did the yard work and cooked for me even though he can’t cook that well. He kept super happy spirits with me even though he was going through the hardest time in his life. He told me not to worry about having kids. He remained selfless despite what he was going through.” Eric and Jill Hageman, Gabby Roberts and Ra’Shede For the entire 2017 season, Hageman was ignored by the NFL. Then the New England Patriots called the following offseason. They wanted him to work out for them. It looked like the break he was hoping for, and his visit went well. They didn’t sign him, but their interest was an endorsement. Less than a month later, in June 2018, Hageman was with some high school friends at a bar. He says he had two Long Island iced teas. He drove home alone in his yellow jeep with the doors off. On Hwy. 169, near 36thAvenue N. in New Hope, he saw flashing lights in his rearview mirror. The breathalyzer indicated he was over the legal limit. “To me,” he says, “I wasn’t drunk. Maybe I can handle two Long Islands at 320 pounds. But I wasn’t thinking through my decisions. I should have Ubered. I take full responsibility. And let’s be real. I’ve done it 100 times. Just being stupid.” He was booked in the Hennepin County jail at 2:15 a.m. on suspicion of fourth-degree driving while impaired and released 90 minutes later. The DWI charge was later dismissed, but he pled guilty to careless driving and the NFL gave him a two-game suspension that will have to be served before he can play again. The next day, Roberts was getting ready for her brother’s wedding. She told Ra’Shede to get moving. Hageman waved her off. He wasn’t going, he said. All his defenses had been penetrated, and he wouldn’t, couldn’t get out of bed. She moved closer and wiped away the tear rolling down his cheek. “You can either look at this as the end, or you can buckle down, 10 toes down and take it to another level,” she told him. “It made him realize he’s going to be held responsible for the things he does,” Roberts says. “From that point on, he was a completely different person. More dedicated. More focused.” The problem at the time of his DWI might have been that things seemed to be actually going well. Given where Hageman came from, that can be uncomfortable. “I don’t want to be comfortable, if that makes sense,” he says. “I was too comfortable the first time I was in the league and I kind of went on autopilot. I wasn’t focusing on my craft, thinking it would just happen.” As a rookie, he ran afoul of then-defensive line coach Bryan Cox, who made Hageman’s life difficult. They had a well-publicized sideline confrontation. Hageman also broke his hand in a practice fight with a teammate, and went on Instagram to search for weed when the Falcons were playing in London. Hageman has a history of self-sabotage. Suspensions in school started when he was in the second grade and continued through college. He missed the city championship game his high school senior year because he was suspended for fighting. He was held out of three games at the University of Minnesota for academic transgressions. When he was in college he lived with other defensive linemen in a house they called the zoo. He was arrested for hosting an uncontrolled party at the zoo where minors were served alcohol. He also faced a disorderly conduct charge in his college days that followed an attempt to break up a fight between friends. Hageman always has been best served when he is on edge, struggling to get out of a hole. As a result, he may never have to worry about the curse of being too comfortable again. In 2017, after he was cut by the Falcons, Hageman found Deventri Jordan of Game Face Training. The first time they worked together, Jordan challenged him with speed, footwork and multi-directional movement exercises. Hageman threw up. But he showed up the next day. And the day after, and the day after. He kept coming back and working hard, harder, harder. He also took Yin yoga classes that Roberts taught. The result was more strength, more speed and more flexibility. He recently bench pressed 520 pounds. His previous highest one-rep maximum was 485 pounds. He thought maybe he needed to get some game tape, so he flew to Atlanta for a tryout with the Alliance of American Football. He was turned away, he says, because of his past problems with the law. The league no longer exists. Desperate, he tried out for The Patriots League. He found himself competing with “athletes” whose bellies obscured their belts, and who were more committed to six-packs and smokes than power cleans and sprints. “It kind of reminded me of The Longest Yard,” he says of the tryout scene. The league never got off the ground. Hageman often would lie in bed for hours, replaying everything that happened and thinking about what he could have done differently. And when he slept, it often wasn’t restful. “He would wake up and tell me he had a nightmare that he never got picked up by a team,” Roberts says. “Or that he’d be sitting there waiting for the phone to ring, and it would never ring. Or the phone would keep ringing and he would always think it was his agent with an offer, but it wasn’t.” His girlfriend, his father and his mother told him it was time for him to move on. “I figured he had a good three-year run and he needed to get on with the rest of his life,” Eric says. “I really didn’t think he would get another shot. He didn’t want to hear that from me… There was a slow erosion of hope that he was going to get his career back. That was the real hard part, slowly realizing maybe that was the end.” Hageman started mentoring and training young athletes at Game Face in 2018. “He shared his situation with the kids and told them how he messed up,” Jordan says. “He did some D-Line drills with them. He told them what the recruiting process is like, what it’s like at the D-1 level, what it’s like going through the combine.” Over a three-month period this year, he began working toward being an Amway sales representative. He was resigned to the fact that his future just might be Satinique Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, Fruits & Vegetables 2GO Twist Tubes and Legacy of Clean Multi-Purpose Cleaner, even if deep down he still hoped for his dream. “Amway is different from football,” he says. “It’s suit and tie, shaking hands. You are meeting all types of nerds, people that you can’t joke around with. You can tell jokes in the locker room you can’t tell at Amway. I’m a football player. It’s who I am.” Jordan addressed Hageman’s spiritual muscle as well as his physical muscle. They spoke of how Jesus lived, and of piety and immorality, of angels and demons, of salvation and ****ation. Hageman attended the Bible study led by Jordan. He accompanied him to Passion Church in Maple Grove. On his fifth visit there, in 2018, the church held a revival night. The pastor warned that the devil works in dry places. And then he pointed to a tub of water. He asked if anyone wanted to be baptized. Hageman stepped forward. He changed into swim trunks and a Passion Church tee. He was lowered backward into the tub to the applause of the faithful standing around him. When he was pulled back up, he took a deep breath, the first breath of his life he felt blessed to take. “He broke down crying saying, ‘I’m not the person I used to be anymore,’” Jordan says. Says Hageman, “It was like somebody hit the restart button. I could walk with my chest up. I even started praying for my son’s mother. I used to hate her. But now I pray that she gets her stuff right.” Now, he is remorseful about shoving the mother of his child. “I’m not proud of it,” he says. “Shame on me.” He only communicates with Jefferies through his father now. In recent months, Hageman made an effort to eradicate a number of people from his life. Some were users. Some were pretenders. Some were tempters. All were from the shadows. He was, for the first time in his life, starting to understand control, and learning to differentiate what was his, and what wasn’t. “I was in a deep hole of blaming other people for my mistakes,” he says. “Something told me it’s time to stop hiding behind excuses. I used to cheat on my girl all the time. When I was in the league, it was easy. Girls were just there. My mom and dad, they did things right. If they could, why can’t I? After I was baptized, I was more about being a man.” “My God, he’s a completely different person,” Roberts says. “When he started playing in the NFL, he was treating women like ****** — in and out, someone to satisfy the need. Now he’s appreciative and respectful. He’s completely humbled. He used to go to the store and buy a $1,000 belt, lose it the next weekend and then go buy another one. Before it was, ‘I need this car, that car.’ Now, it’s ‘what business can I start?’ ‘How can I give back and help people who were in my position?’” Ra’Shede’s birth mother Mae, his mother Jill Hageman, his brother Xavier and Ra’Shede. (Courtesy of Ra’Shede Hageman) Foster care awareness, as well as homelessness, are issues that are close to his heart. He was the spokesman for a Kentucky Derby fundraiser for children in foster care on May 4 held by Connections To Independence. “As a person who made it out of foster care, it’s only right that I give back,” he says. Hageman has also paid more attention to his birth mother recently. It hasn’t always been easy. She came back into his life when he was a senior in high school. They call Mae a runner because she will be doing fine — cooking, cleaning, worshipping God and tending to Hageman’s niece — and then she runs. Just runs. It usually begins by jumping on the shuttle bus to Mystic Lake Casino. From there, no one knows where she goes. This past winter, after a few of those episodes and some threats to harm herself, Hageman and his older half-brother Lezal, who had spent his childhood alternating between his father and mother, committed her to a psych ward. When they visited, it was no strings on their clothes, no phones, no metal. They saw detainees in straightjackets. They could only talk to her in a common area — no one was allowed in her room. They tried to help her sort through 10 medications. “It’s some scary ****, man,” Hageman says. “It’s easy to say I don’t want to ever see her again. But you’re not helping her by doing that. Seeing somebody like that you love and it’s really not them, it’s like, what’s going on? All the things she’s been through? I get it. For her to still call me and tell me she loves me, I know Mae, she’s still in there. I’m definitely a mama’s boy, you feel me? I love her to death. Why am I complaining about my life, making excuses when she’s been through what she’s been through?” Mae is out of the psych ward now, and hasn’t run in a while. When Ra’Shede spends the night and the smells of her fried chicken and cornbread fill the house, they both are content. Things are good with Xavier too. He’s a dancer/artist in New York City. Helping someone else can be difficult when you need help yourself. But Hageman and his brothers can handle Mae now. It would take more years than anyone has to untangle his past. But he has begun to work out some of the knots. And after going through most of his life boiling mad, he’s not angry anymore. He has learned to give the forgiveness he had been denying. Including to himself. Ra’Shede with his birth mother Mae. Ricardo Allen and Hageman were part of the same draft class. They were given side-by-side lockers and immediately clicked. Allen was cut at the end of training camp that year, and signed to the practice squad, where he remained for most of the season. During that trying time in his life, Allen was supported unconditionally by one man. “When I was just running cards in practice, Ra’Shede was one of the people who always kept me positive,” Allen says. “I wasn’t just a practice squad dude in his eyes. I was Rico. He always told me to keep working. He encouraged me through tough times.” Allen was signed to the 53-man roster that December. The next season he was switched to safety from cornerback and since has become a Falcons mainstay. After Hageman was cut, it was Allen who lifted him continually with phone calls and texts. Hageman told him about the things he missed — “the weight room, the cafeteria, the routine, the game planning, the winning, the losing, the blood and the tears.” He even missed running with his teammates. The day dawned bright in Atlanta on April 19, when Hageman came back to the Falcons. For Hageman, it was a dream—signing with the only team with which he could close the circle of his story. When he arrived at the team’s Flowery Branch facility the Friday before Easter, not many players were there. But he found Allen in the training room. To Allen, two things stood out about his old friend — the warm smile on his face, and the cold look in his eyes. “You could see the difference — the determination” Allen says. “We’re getting him back with a vengeance. It’s going to be good.” Hageman may be near his physical peak at 28 years old. “In my opinion, he’s Pro Bowl ready,” says Jordan, who has trained many NFL players. “I’ve never seen a 6-6, 320-pound guy move like he’s moving.” Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager who drafted, cut and re-signed Hageman, has more restrained expectations. “He’s going to have to prove that he’s worthy of being here in the spring and through the summer camp and preseason,” Dimitroff says. Hageman’s contract says as much. He is making $720,000 (the NFL minimum for a player with three years of experience), with a $15,000 signing bonus. That’s nearly $1.9 million less than he was paid as a rookie. Hageman is content just to have a chance. Some would say he doesn’t deserve one. Dimitroff and Falcons coach Dan Quinn discussed the implications of bringing back Hageman with team owner Arthur Blank in considerable depth. “We are vehemently opposed to domestic violence,” Dimitroff says. “But we feel he was a member of our brotherhood. He did what he was supposed to do legally, and more. This is an opportunity for him to continue to grow, and for us to add some value to our defensive line. Welcoming him back into the brotherhood seemed like the right thing to do. We have told him point blank, however, that we will have a zero-tolerance policy about domestic violence.” Dimitroff believes the Falcons can help Hageman more than they helped him during his first stint with the team. He says Hageman will be monitored more closely this time. Hageman has been set up for regular visits with a therapist. The Falcons are not the same team they were when Hageman was last with them. Seventy percent of the coaching staff is new. The stadium he called home back then was dingy, and the air was heavy with shattered hopes and broken dreams. Now, he will be playing in a comparative palace on a hill, where people want to escape to, and not from. Hageman wants to make the crowd in Mercedes-Benz Stadium roar. He wants to watch replays of his big plays on the largest video board in sports. He wants to see kids in the stands wearing his jersey. He wants to get back to the Super Bowl, and this time put his lips on a silver trophy. But he wants more than that. He wants something that will last much longer, and have much more meaning than that. “I want to set a legacy for my family,” he says. “I want to break the bloodline.” What happens next could be the finale of a football tragedy. Or it could be the beginning of a deliverance — for a football player, for his ancestors and for his descendants. It’s all up to Ra’Shede Hageman now. https://theathletic.com/964746/2019/05/07/rashede-hageman-atlanta-falcons/
So, seeing as one of Pompei's tweets from today has already been posted, I thought we could discuss another. Dan Pompei @danpompei · 7h7 hours ago6. I don't think many teams have a feel-good about Dorial Green-Beckham. Recommend this @larsanderson71 story on him. http://thelab.bleacherreport.com/DGB/ The Question is simple: How high would you be OK with us taking him, if we were to do so? Keep in mind, he does say that he met with "nearly all" the teams at the combine, so there's a strong likely-hood that we were among them. Also, for those not in the know, he allegedly broke into his girlfriend's home in anger, pushing a person down several stairs, which is why he was kicked off the team at Missouri. He has also failed multiple drug tests for pot, just like with Gregory. I'm going to say the 3rd, personally, and even then, I couldn't feel totally comfortable with it.