When my phone rang, I didn’t really think anything of it. I mean, how many times does your phone ring and it’s nothing? It’s just one of your homies calling to say wassup, or your mom or dad checking in to see how things are going?
When you play on Sundays, Friday night is the last night to clear football from your mind before you go into game mode for the weekend. So I was kickin’ it at my apartment with a couple of teammates, trying to decide where we wanted to go eat. We figured we’d grab some food, hit the bowling alley for a little bit — nothing crazy, keep it low key — and then head home and be ready to fly to Atlanta on Saturday for Sunday’s game against the Falcons. We’d be playing at the Georgia Dome, 90 minutes east of where I grew up, in Oxford, Alabama.
Then my phone rang. It was my mom.
“Brod …” I could barely hear her. She kind of trailed off.
“Lil’ Brod … he got shot.”
Everything stopped. It was like all the air got sucked out of the room and the lights went out. The only thing I could hear was my mom crying into her phone, praying under her breath, and the only thing I could see was my 17-year-old brother’s face.
Lil’ Brod — pronounced BROAD, short for Broderick — was clinging to life.
“They took him to the hospital, Kwon. I gotta … I gotta go to the hospital.”
“It’s O.K., Ma. It’s O.K.” I tried to calm her down, but inside I was panicking.
“Pray, Kwon … pray, baby … pray for Brod.”
“It’s O.K., Ma. He’s gonna make it. Just call me when you get to the hospital.”
Then we hung up.
I just knew he was gonna make it. I can’t really explain how. I just had this feeling.
So I got into the car with my teammates to go grab some food and take my mind off Brod, waiting for my mom to call me back with good news, because I was certain he was gonna be O.K. I just kept telling myself, He’s gonna make it. He’s gonna be alright….
About 30 minutes later, I was in the car with my teammates when my phone rang again. Mom.
She only said two words.
It’s hard to remember exactly what happened in the moments right after that. I know I kept talking to my mom for a minute, but I don’t remember what we said. My mind just kind of went blank. All I know is I told my homey who was driving to take me back to my apartment, and when I got there I didn’t even go upstairs. I walked straight out to the patio, lay down on one of the lounge chairs by the pool, pulled out my phone and started looking at text messages. I found Lil’ Brod’s old messages and started scrolling through them — until I saw one from him that jumped off the screen.
“I love you bro.”
I stared at it for I don’t know how long, and then I put my phone down, looked up at the sky and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.
It was just a fight. Lil’ Brod got into a fight, and somebody pulled out a gun and shot my little brother in the chest. I talked to some of his friends who were there that night, and they said they ran right up to him after it happened and they could tell right away by looking into his eyes that he was gone.
He was less than a month away from his 18th birthday.
Let me tell you about Lil’ Brod. He was goofy, and he just loved life. He was always loose, never stuck-up and he never took himself too seriously. And he would tell the dumbest jokes — jokes that were so bad you wouldn’t even laugh at them. But he would laugh at them, and when you heard his crazy laugh you would start cracking up yourself because his laugh was so damn goofy. I won’t even try to describe what it sounded like, because nobody could do it like Brod.
Except for our dad, Broderick Sr. He could laugh just like Lil’ Brod, and it was spot-on.
I haven’t heard him do it in more than a year, though….
Lil’ Brod was just the kind of kid you would have never expected something like that would happen to. He was the goofy kid who loved life and wanted everybody to be happy and smile.
He wasn’t the kind of kid who got shot up in the street.
Nah. Not Lil’ Brod.
But where we grew up in Northern Alabama, like in a lot of places, violence is a problem. Gun violence, drugs — you know, the usuals. There are people in the communities there trying hard to deal with the issues, but the violence always seems to spike back up. Trying to prevent it is a never-ending battle.
When I left home for LSU in 2012, and even after the Buccaneers drafted me three years later, I talked to Brod at least once a week. Whenever I came home, especially in the off-season, he always wanted to train with me. He played football, too, but he wasn’t really a football player. He was destined to do different things, where he could use his personality and his love of life to make the world a better place.
He was my biggest fan, though. He looked up to me. Any time he needed advice about football, or girls — anything — he called me up and we’d talk it out. He was my guy.
He always used to beg me, “Kwon, can I get a jersey, man? I need a Kwon Alexander jersey!” Like I was a celebrity or something and not his older brother.
I was a rookie last year, just trying to make a name for myself. You couldn’t really buy a Kwon Alexander jersey. And Bucs jerseys in general are hard to come by in Northern Alabama. So I always told Brod that one day I’d get him the dopest jersey I could get him.
Alabama is known for turning out NFL players. But not the town where I’m from. I was one of few who made it to the league out of Oxford. And that week — the week I got the news about Lil’ Brod — my whole family was supposed to make the 90-minute drive to Atlanta to watch me play. It was supposed to be a homecoming for me. It was supposed to be a special game that I would never forget.
But after I heard the news, I was ready to book a flight to Alabama and skip the Falcons game. I knew how much my family was hurting. I was feeling it, too, and I wanted to be there for them.
But my mom said no.
“You better not come home, Kwon,” she said. “Brod would have wanted you to play. So you go play.”
The Bucs told me that they would support me no matter what. Whether I decided to go home or play, they had my back.
So I decided to get on a plane to Atlanta with the rest of my team, because my mom was right. It’s what Lil’ Brod would have wanted. I knew I needed to be strong for him. All he wanted me to do was ball.
So that’s what I did.
When I stepped on the field in the Georgia Dome, I was more focused than I had ever been. And when the game started — I know it’s a weird comparison, but it was like that Adam Sandler movie, The Waterboy. You know how he would pretend the dudes on offense were the people who always made fun of him? And he had to play with that rage, or he couldn’t play?
Well, I pretended that whoever had the ball was the person responsible for taking my little brother away from me and my family. So I was trying to destroy everybody in a red jersey. Period.
And I played the game of my life.
In the first quarter, we were down 3–0 when Julio Jones caught a pass over the middle. I was chasing him down from behind, and I could hear Lil’ Brod’s voice in my head, loud and clear, saying, “Go for the ball. Go get the ball!”
So I went and got it.
When I had the ball in my hands, taking it back the other way, all I was thinking was, How did I do that? Did I really just do that?
I did — because Lil’ Brod was out there with me.
And late in the first half, when I dropped back into coverage and Matt Ryan threw the ball over the middle, I just kind of froze, and the ball came right to me.
I was like, Why did I stop? How did that ball come right to me?
It was because Lil’ Brod stopped me. He was out there with me.
I had those two turnovers, plus a pass-breakup and 11 tackles, which at the time was the most I’d ever had in a single NFL game. It was enough to help lead my team to a 23–20 overtime win in a divisional game. I was even named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Everything about that game was special.
I just wish Lil’ Brod could have been there to see it. He would have been turnt.
Like I said, all he wanted me to do was ball.
That game against the Falcons was my seventh in the NFL. It was my seventh game in the NFL. I hadn’t done anything yet. When I got drafted in the fourth round, everybody told me the same thing: “You’re starting over. It doesn’t matter what you did in college, or at the combine. It doesn’t matter if you were the first overall pick or if you went undrafted. You’re starting from scratch. You have to go out and earn everything.”
That’s why, in the locker room after that game, after the whole Buccaneers organization had rallied around me, I broke down.
After losing my little brother — to have those guys there be my brothers? That was something so special that I don’t think I could ever put it into words. In that moment, I had never felt so blessed while still feeling so cheated — like I had been robbed of something. I felt like I was a part of something so much bigger, but there was still this void inside me where my brother used to be. All I wanted was to be with my family, but I had a second family right there to pick me up. It was highest of highs and the lowest of lows, at the exact same moment.
I left the stadium that day with my Auntie, who was the only member of my family who had made it to the game. The rest of my family was back home in Oxford, trying to sort out what had happened and what was going to happen next.
Two days after playing the game of my life, my family and our community gathered in Alabama for my brother’s funeral.
When I walked into the church and down the aisle between the pews and saw him lying in that casket, that’s when it really hit me that he wasn’t coming back. I guess that’s one of the things about funerals. They’re so … final. You go there to mourn and to celebrate the memory of a loved one. Then, when you leave, you have the rest of your life ahead of you and they don’t. It’s just over….
When it was my turn to approach the casket and talk to Lil’ Brod one last time, it was hard. I don’t remember what I said, but I know I didn’t say much — I couldn’t. I just took the game ball that my teammates had given me after that Falcons game and placed it in the casket next to him. Then I finally gave him the Kwon Alexander jersey he had always wanted — the one I wore in that Falcons game. I mean, he would never have gotten a jersey as dope as the one off my back from the greatest game I ever played, right? So that was one promise I made sure I kept.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year already. Every day, when I wake up, I send him a prayer, and I know he’s looking down with that goofy smile of his, watching over me.
Sometimes, when I think about him, I pull out my phone, find the old text chain and scroll up through the messages. And when I get to the one from him that says, “I love you bro,” my thumb stops scrolling and I look down at my phone, like he’s on the other end, and I say, out loud, “I love you too, baby boy.”