Thomas Davis: Returning to Panthers helps cope with family tragedy

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was tough enough for Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davisto miss the first four games of the 2018 season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Then his mother had emergency surgery -- twice.

Then his father died on Saturday, two days before the suspension ended, after a monthlong battle following a heart attack.

Davis didn't know how much he would miss being able to communicate with the coaching staff or his teammates during the suspension until having to deal with these unexpected personal issues.

The three-time Pro Bowl selection said successfully coming back from ACL surgery on the same knee, something no other NFL player had done before him, and having to play in Super Bowl 50 with a broken arm didn't compare.

"When you lose a parent, when you have your mother have two emergency surgeries, and besides the family, not really have the guys you depended on so much over the years to lean on, it makes it that much tougher," Davis said Wednesday in his first interview since returning. "It's definitely good to be back.

"Being able to go out there and practice takes you away from things you have going on in your life, some of the things you have to deal with on a daily basis."

Davis had to gather himself before the interview, and then several time during it, to fight back the emotion of what the past month has been like.

He was especially emotional talking about the loss of his father and having to deal with that without being able to communicate with the team or be around the stadium. He's glad many from the team will be with him on Saturday when his father, Ulysses, is buried before the Panthers leave for Sunday's game at Washington.

"I'm pretty sure things are going to be pretty difficult Saturday when we have the funeral," Davis said. "Seeing that situation he was in for a whole month and coming to grips he really wasn't getting any better ... you start to feel like you can't no longer be selfish in wanting him to keep staying in that position."

Davis hasn't talked much about his father in the past. In 2016, he wrote in The Players' Tribune' that his father and mother separated when he was young and that he lived with his mother until he was in the 11th grade. That's when his mother moved from Shellman, Georgia, to Alabama to take a better job to provide for Davis and his sister.

But on Wednesday, Davis said his father "meant a lot."

"When you lose [your father], it makes you reflect and think about all the good times you had and you just try to remember those," Davis said. "It's all about remembering the good times."

Watching the Panthers go 3-1 in his absence helped ease the pain of the last month for Davis. He also admitted it was tough, although he "just knew"Graham Gano's 63-yard field goal with one second left in Sunday's 33-31 victory over the New York Giants would be good.

"I've seen him do that a hundred times in practice," Davis said.

That still didn't make not being at practice or at the games any easier. Quarterback Cam Newton, whose exchanges of taunts with Davis during practice are almost legendary, understood.

"It's therapeutic," Newton said of being around a team during hard times. "I can only imagine what he was going through. Heaven forbid the personal aspect of it. But we're grateful to have him back. I know I kid him the most, but I just know from my perspective, Batman needs his Joker back."

Davis admitted it felt good "to be able to come back in and talk trash, particularly to No. 1 [Newton]."

He said his level of hunger to play on Sunday is at "an all-time high."

"When you have the game taken away from you for a period of time, and it's not injury related, it's extremely tough," Davis said. "It's something, had I known I could have been avoided it, that makes it that much difficult. It just adds to the excitement of me wanting to be back out there."