Twelve Buccaneers players filed into the Hillsborough Detention Center on Tuesday, where they met with 51 youth at the facility who are detained while awaiting trial. The visit was the first installment of the Bucs Social Justice Initiative for the 2019 season and was led by Social Justice Board Members Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith, Carlton Davis and Bradley Pinion.
Players were split up and joined three groups of youth, two groups of boys and one group of girls, who they stayed with the entire day. They went through football drills with their group, held discussions with their group and even sat down to a lunch of chicken tenders from PDQ with their group.
Quarterback Jameis Winston, along with Pinion, Davis and Zach Triner hit the enclosed field area first. Surrounded by chain link fences and concrete walls with barbed wire, the players just simply played with the kids. It was backyard football, plain and simple, complete with razzing back and forth and some incredible catches on a few fade routes from Winston himself.
It served as an ice breaker for the next part of the day, which was a small-group discussion. Each player took a group and mostly just listened. They offered advice. Winston had his group in a tight circle, all leaning in intently. Pinion fielded questions about punting, including, 'You get paid for that?' which was answered with a lot of laughs.
The bleak-looking facility where the doors also locked behind you was unfamiliar territory for many. For a couple players, however, it wasn't as unfamiliar as you'd think.
Triner, whose father had been in the system most of his life, understood a lot of the circumstances these youth face.
"I was just letting them know that I had to create my own role model, too," Triner said of how he connected with his group. "I think just having a role model is the biggest thing. You don't really realize what it's like to make a decision or to live your life on a daily basis and be like, 'oh, why did I do that?'"
Triner gave examples of one boy who wants to be the best tattoo artist he can be. Another wants to get his GED. For Triner, it was always football.
"I visualized myself on the field thousands of times," said Triner. "But I probably visualized myself equally as much talking to these kids. Hopefully, there's no promise that you'll take something away from it but it's not about me, it's about them."
Davis, whose mother is a correctional officer, grew up seeing his brothers, cousins and friends all fall victim to the system. His mother would come home often with another story of someone he knew getting locked up or detained, just like the youth at the Hillsborough Correctional Facility, while they await their trials.
"I just want to kind of guide them in the right way, whatever I can," Davis said. "I'm not really here trying to force something upon them, I just want them to kind of understand what they have in front of them. There's so much life to live and I understand there are certain situations in life that you come from because I've came from them.
"I'm just here trying to relate."
That relating including showing his own tattoos and explaining their meaning. The group moved to lunch, where a spontaneous rap battle among the kids broke out in one corner. In another, Pinion and Davis took on a few kids in 'shadowboxing'. It was a room with murals painted on the wall with the illusion of the wall being broken down, revealing blue sky beyond it. Perhaps it was aspirational or motivational, letting kids know there is something beyond the concrete walls and barbed wire of their immediate surroundings, which is exactly what the players were there to reinforce.
The Bucs Social Justice program is focused on reducing barriers to opportunities in the areas of police relations, criminal justice reform, racial equality, workforce development and youth empowerment. It garnered national recognition in its inaugural year in 2018 and is accompanied by the $1 million Social Justice Match Fund.
"It starts from the top down," Triner said. "The Glazers are here and helped put this event on. To realize that [Darcie Glazer Kassewitz] is here and she's emotional about it and invested is truly awesome. Then trickling down, [Head Coach Bruce Arians] has such an awesome family atmosphere here. Work your butt off, we expect to win but you're also playing for your teammate next to you and this is such a testament to that."