From bloodletting fans to passive observers, anyone who witnesses what will become a canonized moment in professional sports can appreciate the magic. What percentage of human beings can move with such grace, speed, and accuracy? .00000000000000000000000000001%? And beyond the athleticism, what of the timing of these magical moments? All down to fatalistic fractions of milliseconds and chance, with uncanny alignment only matched by that of solar eclipses and perhaps procreation.
But that’s considering the spectacular, jaw-dropping moments in sport. What about the magic of sport, top to bottom? Peewee to pro? Boxing to bobsledding? With a globalized condition of imminent disaster and worry, where hunger and inequity continue to rise, where everything is politicized, where media’s bottom line more often runs parallel to its divisiveness—sport exists in hallowed ground. Race, depth of pockets, affiliations, beliefs... are all vaporized when individuals, each of their own cellular organization, hit the pitch, the court, the field, and give it one’s all. There is perhaps nothing so humanistically accomplished and yet, so simply distilled.
Now consider DeAndre Hopkins, credited by many as the best wide receiver in the National Football League. Hopkins, who hails from South Carolina and attended college at Clemson, now plays professionally for the Arizona Cardinals. Last season, he was awarded Best Play (across all four major US sports categories) at the ESPY’s, the annual sports awards gala powered by ESPN, arguably the most powerful sports network in the world. The play in question? What’s come to be known as the “Hail Murray”. With seconds remaining and his team trailing, quarterback Kyler Murray launches a pass nearly half the length of the field into a crowd of defenders, whereby Hopkins angelically ascends the pack and somehow comes down with the football. A game winner and a moment that has pundits nearly eating their microphones.
The play’s derivative moniker is not lost on fans. A Hail Mary—foremost a Catholic prayer in honor of its Virgin— is colloquially considered a last resort. Nothing to lose. Lay it out there and hope for the aforementioned chance. That its divinity and desperation are so consummately entangled is not lost on anyone, from a Bears fan to a Pulitzer-winning poet... this is the beauty of a 12 billion dollar industry, centered around a leather ball pushed up and down field by men in tight pants, as some might see it.
Like many of his colleagues and opponents, Hopkins came from humble beginnings, though his were more tested than most. Hopkins’ father, whose brother would later die at the hands of police, passed away at age 25 in a car crash, leaving his mother, Sabrina Greenlee, to care for him and his three siblings. Greenlee would work two jobs to support them, one of which was at an auto factory. In 2002, when Hopkins was 10-years-old, Greenlee was involved in an altercation with a woman who was reportedly having an affair with her boyfriend. The woman threw a boiled combination of lye and bleach into the face of Greenlee, which caused severe burns. This resulted in a life flight to Augusta, Georgia, followed by a three week, induced coma while numerous skin grafts occurred. The attack saw her lose complete eyesight.
At the ESPY awards, Greenlee stood proudly and beautifully at the side of her stylish son. Their smiles lit up the red carpet, the two an endearing force of nature and loyalty. Was Greenlee able to see The Hail Murray, the reason for this awards appearance, the moment it happened? Unfortunately not, though she was no doubt elated by the explosive response from anyone witnessing its occurrence. What could perhaps be said is that Greenlee didn’t need to see this unparalleled moment featuring her five time Pro Bowl-nominated son. No, she didn’t need to see it. She felt it. It’s that mother-son connection. Which, in its finest and purist sense, is well... magic. Here now is a conversation squeezed in between pre-season practice sessions with the exceptionally talented DeAndre Hopkins, who returns to stadiums once again packed with fans this September following this strange and sorrowful recent year, who is also signed by image powerhouse, IMG, and who runs a non-profit—S.M.O.O.O.T.H. (Speaking Mentally, Outwardly Opening Opportunities Toward Healing), an organization seeking to empower women affected by domestic abuse—alongside the woman who raised him.
What’s your least favorite thing about practice?
My least favorite thing about practice is having to stand around and not really being able to compete. It’s just you’re going through the motions—it’s not as fun to compete.
What do you appreciate about practice? What do you actually take from it every single time?
I think a chance to be better from, not even from necessarily going out there and doing it, but just coaching people and helping other people get better. What’s your feelings on the chemistry with the team this season? Are you optimistic? Man, I feel like this team right here has a lot of potential. We got a lot of new players that can help us, so for me, I think this team is one of the best teams I’ve been on talent-wise. It’s just what we do when we go out there. We’ll see if it’s a good team pretty soon.
Tell me about having to play last season without fans most of the time. Did you find that influenced your psyche or the team spirit at all?
I think it did. I think that definitely made us come together more and root for the people that were out there. I would say it before—when you have fans, you kind of let the fans do the cheering. We didn’t have fans. It made us closer as a team.
I would say, like obviously, everybody is in a small space, and once you see somebody else over there cheering for somebody, you obviously know that everyone is kind of in this together. Coaches made a big key point—we are all we have. We don’t have fans and it was new for everybody going out there. I will say after the first game, I still wasn’t used to it. It probably took at least two more games to get in the zone and get in that psyche. When you see players out there that usually aren’t standing up on the sidelines, and they’re standing up... you realize we really are all we have out here. There’s no noise. All you hear is your team on the sideline.
What’s your personal style philosophy, and how do you relate to fashion in the space right now?
I would say my personal style is definitely more of a free-flow kind of style. I kind of like things that just kind of flow. I like a lot of nude colors, natural colors. I would say me being myself, and speaking out for other people to be themselves—from how I play football to how I express myself when I walk into a football game. It’s the few moments I get to kind of show the world who I am outside of the football arena. I think for myself and other players obviously, we are protected by a shield, which is the NFL, so it’s our way of creating that shield and making it more unique than what it has been before.
Do you feel like there’s more attention being paid to fashion within the NFL? What’s your take on the sort of evolution over time?
I would say very few players get it. Deion Sanders. I mean, you have some older guys, maybe some older quarterbacks back in the day, but very few, I would say, really embraced it, and wanna make it kind of more an every Sunday or every Thursday night thing. It has definitely evolved, because social media has helped. Brands understand that football players are a key part of a culture and it’s not just sports, but it’s fashion as well. You got guys like Odell Beckham [Jr.] doing GQ things and other stuff like that. I think it’s opened up the eye for other people to realize that there is more to football players beyond the grass.
Do you feel like that’s part of a cultural conversation, whereby people are more attentive to the fringes and what’s up and coming?
Yeah, I would say so. It’s cool because a lot of people now definitely wear their friend’s clothes and just wear people they know. I think social media in itself, you got TikTok, you got Instagram, you got so many different uses and different platforms and people, so I would say more so now than ever, people like grass-rooted things and things they can relate to. It’s definitely growing around the world, where people just want to wear somebody’s clothes who might have only 1,000 followers on social media.
I think, for myself, obviously, I like to just give people a chance for their creativity to be seen on a bigger level than what they’re expecting. You know, free of charge for me. I enjoy what other people have to offer. I would also say I relate to it... people speaking out, expressing themselves. I try to wear a lot of brands that are smaller brands, not known, but I also wear high-end brands. I wear the smaller ones just to give people the chance for their creativity to be seen on a different level.
It makes everything more complex and a lot better. For myself, I think some of the most unique pieces I have are from a guy who worked at a valet in Houston who probably has a couple hundred followers on Instagram. It’s just things like that that make people relate to a public figure.
How do you process the constant scrutiny and being in the media?
I would say it’s definitely something that’s taken time for me to get used to. I think somebody like me, who is obviously at the top of my sport, and always doing interviews... it’s definitely made me grow faster than some people would have to, especially being in the public eye. I appreciate it and I embrace it—everything that has come with it—but I just want to go sit on the beach and get away from it, but this is my job, and once you embrace it and realize this is who you are, it makes it a lot easier.
You went with your mom and aunt to the ESPY Awards; how important is family to you?
Family values means number one. I think that’s for everybody who has a great foundation. It starts in the household. And for me, it’s number one. God first and then my family, then business. Your family keeps you together. Especially now, more so than ever, just with what everybody’s been going through, the crisis and stuff, people realize your family and your loved ones are who is going to be there for you. For myself, it’s always been something I preach and try to practice myself. Your family is always going to be there for you, good and bad, but I think this crisis has definitely made people realize that now more so than ever.
What’s a memory you have that relates to family that helped influence your journey as an NFL star?
I would say older guys in my family who played football like my uncle and my older cousin, they played at the collegiate level. My uncle played for a year or two in the NFL. I would definitely say those guys. Just looking up to them and wanting to be like them. Seeing how my family spoke about them and things they did, it made them proud. I wanted to be like them as well, and once I realized I was talented and athletic, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is my lane.’
Would you describe them as heroes in that stage of your life?
Oh yeah, for sure. I would definitely say they were heroes.
And now as someone who could be described as a hero to aspiring athletes or up-and-coming athletes, do you feel like you still have heroes?
Oh yeah, I definitely still have heroes. I think now my heroes are people that I surround myself around, business people that I come in contact with, and people that I see that I want to be like outside of football.
What’s on your mind dealing with giving back at present?
My mom and I, we have a foundation called S.M.O.O.O.T.H., with 3 O’s. It’s a domestic violence organization. I grew up around a lot of women and families. It’s been something we’ve been doing for the past couple of years, but we also do a lot for our community. Bookbag giveaways, and we’re in contact with families and social workers and stuff like that who need help. We do a lot of things that aren’t seen on camera which we like, but that’s been always something my mom and I knew—once we were able to do something for people who are going through it. It’s been great man.
What’s been something you’ve learned about yourself in that process?
I learned that, just being grateful, man. It’s just something that I’ll forever be in a position that I am in. That’s what I learned. Just being grateful and appreciating the things that I do have. When you come in contact with people who don’t, it makes you appreciate what you do have.
Lastly, let’s talk The Hail Murray. How do you relate to the spirit of that moment? Would you say it was magic?
That was harmony, man. I think magic is the best way to put it. I think something—a moment that obviously took a lot of stuff to happen outside of that catch—I think that was definitely God. And if you believe in that stuff, it’s real, because that is the definition of magic. A little talent, but a lot of magic.
Photographed by Andi Elloway
Styled by Dex Robinson
Groomer: Annette Chaisson at Exclusive Artists
Written by Matthew Bedard
Location: TruFusion and 926 Sycamore