If you only knew what he’d been through, you might be surprised.
Surprised that, in the wake of his tragic death, nobody who knew Demaryius Thomas wants to talk about his football ability. They don’t want to talk about the catch against the Steelers in the playoffs. They don’t want to talk about when he set the record for catches in a Super Bowl. They don’t want to talk about his relentless toughness between the lines.
You might be surprised that those who knew DT want to talk about his smile, his kindness, his pure soul. They want to talk about his infectious personality, his warm presence, his loving spirit. They want to talk about all of the light he brought into the world.
You might be surprised that Demaryius Thomas wasn’t hardened by his childhood, not consumed by the darkness that he had experienced. You might be surprised that he turned that darkness into light.
That’s what always impressed me most about DT.
When he was 11 years old, Thomas watched his mom beg police officers to allow her to walk her kids to the bus stop one last time. Mercifully, they obliged, and after a kiss on the cheek and an “I love you,” Demaryius saw his mother wave goodbye from the window of the school bus.
That day, his mother, grandmother and stepfather were all hauled off.
When he was dropped off by the same bus after school that day, he didn’t know where to go. At the age of 11, he got a job pulling corn at 6 AM before school, trying to make any sort of money to help take care of his two younger sisters.
Known as a mama’s boy to that point—his nickname Bay Bay being a reflection of that—it would be years before Demaryius would see his mom again. He and his sisters bounced around from couch to couch, staying with whoever they could and eventually going separate directions.
Someone who would later be remembered as a man who adored the family aspect of the locker room had his own family torn apart.
Thomas once admitted there was a time during those early years that he’d cry every night. He admitted that he spent much of his teenage years mad at the world. Mad at his mom for not taking a plea deal that included testifying against her own mother.
The age old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child,” could not be more fitting for DT, who would credit countless people in his life, from family members to coaches to pastors, for keeping him on the right track during those teenage years, for keeping a roof over his head.
He didn’t dream of fancy cars or diamonds, DT told ESPN in 2014 that his dream was to build a “family compound” in the Georgia country, where he could bring his mom, his dad, his sisters, his grandparents and his whole family all back together.
He dreamed of a a place where he could give and receive love.
“As men, as athletes especially, we don’t like to talk about love,” he told The Player’s Tribune in 2015. “We talk about brotherhood and all that, but not love. But it’s the most important thing in a child’s life.”
And that leads us to one more thing that those who knew him are pointing out in the wake of his passing.
“DT sat with my son son the entire plane ride home from Super Bowl,” Thomas’ former teammate Tyler Polumbus shared on Twitter Thusrday night. “Held him on his lap on the bus, carried him and hoisted him on fire truck during the parade and celebrated with him as if it was his own kid.”
“He treated my kids like they were his own,” said Peyton Manning.
It was never a secret that Demaryius was Manning’s son, Marhall’s favorite player.
KOA’s Brandon Krisztal told Fox 31 that Thomas used to answer random FaceTime calls from his son and just chat with him.
Thomas spent much of his time in the community working with underserved children.
DT made it a personal mission to bring light into the lives of children, the light that so much of his childhood lacked. He never did have kids of his own, a tragedy in itself to those who knew what a great dad he’d be, but he touched the lives of so many. Whether they came from nothing or everything, he wanted kids to know that he cared about them, that they were loved.
Instead of remaining bitter over the unfair hand he was dealt, DT was the opposite. As football opened up opportunities in his life, he matured. The loyalty preached by his coaches helped him to understand the loyalty that his mother displayed in the court room. He let go of his resentment, cherishing weekly and sometimes multi-weekly calls with mom that began during his college years.
Over time, he regained the bright light that so many had remembered him for as a young boy and those of us who were fortunate enough to know the adult version of Demaryius Thomas, including his mom, who was released in 2016, are lucky for that, though it’s tragic to know that he and his mom won’t have more time together.
But the light that Demaryius Thomas brought into the world will continue to shine. Shine in the eyes of the kids who he cared for and the ones he inspired. Shine through the teammates that he mentored and the ones he called family. Shine through the fanbase that he touched and made roar like nobody else has. Shine through the family that he so desperately wanted to reunite, the family that he had pulled closer as he dealt with heath complications stemming from a 2019 car accident.
That light will continue on, as will the warmth that emanated from it.
Of all the words that have been used to describe him in the wake of this news, the one that feels the most fitting for me is that one, “warm.” DT had this warm, magnetic aura around him that just made you feel good any time you were talking to him. Whether you caught him in a great mood on a victory Monday or hurting after a tough loss, the warmth was always there.
It was almost as if he had so much love to give that he couldn’t help but just exude it at all times.
If you only knew what he’d been through, you might be surprised to hear all of that about Demaryius Thomas, but if you knew anything else about him, you aren’t surprised at all.
Rest in peace, DT.