Eric Decker had some ups and downs in the Broncos' win over the Chargers last night -- catching a sure touchdown pass before inexplicably falling down, and later scoring a TD in an impressive act of will. But he's familiar with emotional swings, having lived through a school shooting -- an experience that's led him to reach out to survivors of the Aurora theater shooting, including a past Westword profile subject. Details and video below.
Prior to the game's broadcast on ESPN last night, longtime Denverite Rick Reilly followed up on his entertaining September look at Mayor Michael Hancock's time as Broncos mascot Huddles with an insightful Decker profile.
The piece kicks off by noting the charmed aspects of Decker's life, and there are plenty of them. He is, after all, a startlingly handsome specimen whose significant other is country singer Jesse James, recently voted the hottest wife or girlfriend in the NFL. But things take a Reilly-esque serious turn when Decker recounts his experience at Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minnesota.
On September 24, 2003, as recapped in this Minnesota Public Radio article, a student named John McLaughlin brought a gun to Rocori and killed Seth Bartell, a fourteen-year-old freshman; a seventeen-year-old senior, Aaron Rollins, also died after being struck by a stray bullet.
Rollins was a baseball teammate of Decker's, and he knew Seth through the boy's older brother, Jesse. In speaking with Reilly, he recalls Jesse's cries of "That's my brother!," warnings of a "code red" that he didn't understand, and hiding with other students in a closet for at least thirty minutes before police officers gave the all-clear.
McLaughlin was later tried as an adult and convicted of the homicides after a judge rejected his argument that he merely meant to scare Bartell rather than kill him.
No wonder the Aurora theater shooting resonated with Decker. Not only was the Century 16, where twelve people were murdered and 58 injured, a relatively short drive from his home, but as Reilly points out, the Broncos' practice facility is basically a hundred yards or so from the detention center where accused killer James Holmes is currently in custody. So after the attack, Decker was among the first celebrities to visit hospitalized victims, and he made a personal connection with at least one of them -- Stephen Barton.
Continue to read more about Eric Decker and Stephen Barton and see two related videos. As our Sam Levin reported after interviewing him a few weeks back, Barton is a recent Syracuse graduate who planned to teach English in Russia as part of a Fulbright scholarship. But before traveling abroad, he and a friend embarked on a bike trip across America. They were en route when they decided on a whim to attend the July 20 premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, and Barton's life changed. During the assault, Barton was shot in the face, causing a series of injuries that have left a permanent mark on him. Shortly thereafter, he began to speak out against the availability of firearms, becoming the central figure in an ad created by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The ad is below.
"I began to realize I had a unique responsibility and opportunity to talk about gun violence in a way that I hope is compelling," Barton told Levin a few weeks back. "I very quickly came to the conclusion that if I don't do it, how can I expect someone who hasn't gone through this to do the same?"
Reilly doesn't get into the politics of Barton's views. Rather, he focuses on the personal connection between him and Decker, who has offered to provide support for Barton to complete his country-crossing bike ride in 2013, beginning on the one-year anniversary of the theater attack.
Look below to see the Reilly profile, followed by Barton's ad for Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
More from our Sports archive: "Photos: Jessie James, Eric Decker's squeeze, tops hottest football player wife/girlfriend list."
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