DeMarcus Lawrence: Why Football Is the Great Equalizer That America Needs Right Now

DeMarcus LawrencePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau

WHAT WILL BRING AMERICANS TOGETHER AT THIS FRAGILE MOMENT IN TIME? DEMARCUS LAWRENCE, THE HIGHEST-PAID COWBOY IN THE TEAM’S HISTORY, HAS THE ANSWER. IT’S FOOTBALL, OBVIOUSLY.

BY LAURA SCHREFFLER
PHOTOGRAPHY STEVEN VISNEAU
SHOT ON LOCATION AT THE COWBOYS CLUB, THE STAR AT FRISCO

DeMarcus LawrencePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau

HE MIGHT BE THE HIGHEST-PAID PLAYER IN DALLAS COWBOYS HISTORY, BUT DEMARCUS LAWRENCE IS FULLY AWARE OF HIS role in life. “I’m a soccer dad. But I’m the new and improved soccer dad,” the father of three boasts. Which is different how, we wonder? His answer: “We drive around in Bentleys.

With his $105 million, five-year deal extension — plus an additional $65 million in guarantees — he could damn well buy himself a fleet of Bentleys, but that’s not what the 28-year-old defensive end is all about. He’ll happily tool around the Big D all day long in his 2019 Continental GT (because exactly no one actually thought he’d allow muddy cleats to dirty up his $500,000 whip; that’s reserved for his Ford Expedition), looking fierce in one of his designer timepieces from Rolex or Richard Mille. But he isn’t trying to live a Daddy Warbucks existence these days. He’s much more focused on being an actual daddy. Case in point: after signing his history-making contract in 2019, he bought his kin a new house instead of buying himself yet another fire Gucci suit. Now, almost everything he buys — really, everything he does — is for his family, and that includes playing football. Or, as it were this year, not playing football.

Lawrence very nearly opted out of the season due to growing safety concerns caused by COVID-19. “I had to weigh my options and do what was best for my family and myself, and my wife, and I came to the conclusion that playing football was the best option,” he shares. [How his tune has changed! Just a week prior, he declared his decision to play was “made by my wife.”]

To avoid any possibility of bringing the novel coronavirus into his home, he checked in to the Omni Frisco Hotel adjacent to Cowboys headquarters, where he and his teammates are quarantining together — their version of the NBA ‘bubble’ — awaiting their COVID-19 test results. They’re also wisely using the time as a substitute training camp (like most everything in 2020, their Oxnard, Calif.-based camp was canceled this year). Yes, he misses his brood — Mariah, 14, Kal-El, 10, and DeMari, 6, as well as his wife, Sasha, who’s pregnant with their fourth child — but spending two weeks alone in a luxury hotel is a small price to pay for their safety.

“I’m just trying to stay safe and stay away from others,” he admits, noting, “It’s best for everyone that we stay in that little bubble, because we don’t need any trouble happening at home while we’re out here risking our lives.”

He’s avoiding another type of problem by keeping himself as healthy as humanly possible ­­­— getting twice-a-week cryotherapy and chiropractic massages. Even while house-bound during the COVID quarantine, he found ways of working out. “[Sasha] was always seeing me run up and down the stairs,” says Lawrence. “She’d be like, ‘Man, what’s wrong with you?’ I’m like, ‘Babe, this is how I am on the football field. I need that repetition and those habits.’ [When you’re playing ball], you might be tired, but you’ve also got to just pick up the ball and go. I’m really pushing my body to its limits now, working all day. And it is really good to be back on the football field.”

DeMarcus LawrencePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau

So, nothing new then. And yet, the world of professional sports feels irrevocably changed. From quarantine bubbles to temperature checks before practices to cardboard cut-out “fans” in stands, there will be very little normality when the Cowboys season actually kicks off Sept. 14 with an away game against the L.A. Rams. (That being said, at the time of our interview, it was unclear whether Cowboys fans would be permitted to attend live games, though Lawrence says, “Knowing [owner Jerry Jones], I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.”)

Lawrence doesn’t care if he’s playing in front of fake fans, teddy bears, or no one at all. Now that he has made his decision, all he wants to do is get back to the business of playing football. And winning, of course.

“It really doesn’t matter to me [whether there are fans present or not],” he says. “I have to bring that same energy every day or I don’t feel like myself. So it’s just all about being focused in the moment and striving to be the best and giving [the game] my undivided attention.”
Lawrence has been bringing his A-game for most of his life, from his teen years growing up in Aiken, South Carolina, to his college career as a player at Boise State University, to becoming the 2nd round pick of the Cowboys in the 2014 NFL Draft. His status as a two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro, in addition to his aggressive passion on the field — he has had 39 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, one interception and four pass deflections thus far — as well as overcoming the injuries and suspensions that challenged him during the onset of his career, have helped him become the player he is today.

Meanwhile, staying neutral and keeping his mouth mostly shut (unless it’s to say something positive) is how he’s managed to survive in the limelight. “Any false move you make, you’re going to be everywhere,” he notes. Thus, somewhere in the middle has strictly become his default.

He urges others to vote, though he won’t discuss his political leanings, and is vague about whether he has personally considered taking a knee as Colin Kaepernick first did. But make no mistake: this, too, is a choice.

“I always tell myself that, ‘You can’t carry [anybody] else’s problems,’” Lawrence maintains. “Even though they say that two brains are better than one, two brains can have three confused. It’s really hard to make a lot of people believe in one thing.”

That said, he also has to think about the future, and what that looks like for his children, and how to prepare them for when the world doesn’t always treat them right — or fairly. “My family is bi-racial, and I need to teach them what to do around police officers, help them try to understand the type of communication skills you need to have in order to know when someone is trying to hurt you,” says Lawrence. “Do I want to have to teach them this? No, but it’s a fact of life. The brutality in our communities has to stop. That’s point-blank, period. Now it’s really about what’s the next step to make sure it stops, to make sure we give our kids and grandkids a different picture of how we survive and thrive in this world.”

Isn’t that the truth. One only needs to look at how divided America is right now to see it. But if there’s one thing that can bring everyone together — and the star defensive end is banking on this — it’s football.

“The type of guy I am, I stand by the guys beside me, and that’s my team,” says Lawrence. “We’re out here playing for the same thing. I don’t really want to keep saying ‘black lives matter’ because it’s [not just about black lives. It’s] really all about equality. Being able to look at each other and say, ‘I know you have a different skin color from me, but you’re actually my brother. You’re going to fall for me, I’m going to fall for you. If it comes down to it, I’m going to put my life on the line for you just to save you because I know you’re worth it.’ It’s really about bringing each other together, and that’s why I believe people in America need football, because it shows equality on a whole different level.”

DeMarcus LawrencePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau Wearing the Cowboys star gives him an unspeakable amount of pride, and he isn’t going to let anyone tarnish that feeling, or make him see his teammates in a color blind light. His teammates, both black and white, are his brothers. They’re family, compatriots, the ones who will always have his back.

“For me,” says Lawrence, “it’s about the bond and friendships I make while I’m in that locker room. They’ve made me the person that I am. I do think football brings people together, and gets them on the same level of understanding. That’s all I’m trying to do for America — play this game, give [people] entertainment, make sure they’re at the bar giving high-fives, fist-pumping and chest-bumping and having a good, old time. [Fans] may never have seen each other a day in their lives, but they’re coming together for the same thing. Football gives people joy, and it’s one thing I love for damn sure. I want to be able to bring that kind of joy, and I know that America’s Team will do it this year.”

His confidence is refreshing, as is his positivity. But this is how he lives his life. “I believe that you need to lift up the people around you, and always have positivity around you,” he admits.

In addition to his daily positivity practices, Lawrence joined forces with fellow defensive line teammates Tyrone Crawford, Antwaun Woods, Jaylon Smith, Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder and Robert Quinn to create the “Hotboyz” (their on-field alter egos) to do charitable deeds, sprinkling goodwill like muscled magical elves. Recent efforts have included a donation of 100 meals through a local outreach program and urging residents of Lawrence’s hometown to register to vote. During the quarantine, Lawrence also started the group’s Twitch account, where fans can watch the defensive line play video games and get involved with their community. “We’re trying to do our part to help as many people as we can with what’s going on in the country, and to show the world what it is to be a Hot Boy,” he explains. “It’s all about living by family rules and the understanding that you’ve got to take care of yours.”

And that’s just what he intends to do. When he says, “Family and football is what I breathe, but family always comes first,” we believe him. He’ll be proving that in spades this fall. Sasha is due to give birth to their fourth child on Oct. 16, in the midst of the season. But after missing the birth of their son, DeMari, while in Texas for 2014 rookie minicamp (he tuned in virtually, via FaceTime), Lawrence has vowed not to miss another important life moment again. “The three weeks around her due date, we’ve got home games. I’m not going to miss this one for the world,” he declares. “I’ll be there.”

Just as he’ll be there for his children, whether he’s on the gridiron or off. “My kids are my joy,” he admits. “They light up my day every day. To be able to come home and understand that you have somebody that really looks up to you and depends on you, it helps you get after your goals in football and in life, period. I want to teach them that the sky is not the limit. If you keep doing right by your family, right by your community and right by your team, you’ll finally get somewhere in life.”

Take note kids: Your dad is setting the best example.

DeMarcus LawrencePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau

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