The entire sports world and President Obama himself paid tribute to 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson during the 2016 ESPY Awards on Wednesday night.
It was an emotional tribute, one that tore into the fabric of the American psyche in these most volatile of times.
For those of you not familiar with Dobson’s story, it’s as harrowing as it is heroic.
A high school football player in Tennessee, Dobson was hanging out on a Friday night with friends in his hometown of Lonsdale this past December. They were simply teenagers doing what teenagers do. Interacting on the front porch. Joking about the day’s events. Looking forward to winter vacation.
Then, in one instant, Dobson’s life came to an end. As stray bullets sprayed the porch where his friends and him were hanging out, the 15-year-old teen jumped on top of his two female friends, shielding them from the gunfire.
They would survive. He would not.
In a tribute to Dobson, the ESPYs ran this rather emotional video Wednesday night.
— White House Archived (@ObamaWhiteHouse) July 14, 2016
Immediately after the tribute played, Dobson’s mother and two brothers took the stage to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on his behalf. It’s one of those moments most of us who watched it will have stick with us for a while.
For Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, Wednesday’s tribute wasn’t the first time he heard Dobson’s story. A former star player at Tennessee, the Pro Bowler knew this hero quite well.
In paying homage to the 15-year-old hero on The Players’ Tribune, Berry showed us just how small the world can be. How one meeting, one interaction and one memory can create a string of events that changes a man forever.
“One day, out of nowhere, there were five or six little kids out front banging on the door, and a teammate of mine came into my room to let me know what was up. “Hey man,” he said, ‘there are some kids out here looking for you.’ So I went outside, and as soon as I got out there, the kids were all like, ‘I told you! I told you! I told you he stays here! I told you! I told you!’ It was Zaevion, his older brother Zack and some of their friends.”
According to Berry, this chance meeting came following his sophomore season at Tennessee when he and a bunch of teammates decided to move off campus to Lonsdale as a way to avoid the distraction of celebrity status on campus.
“I couldn’t help but laugh at the whole thing. But, unlike the door-knockers from campus, these kids weren’t annoying. They were hilarious,” the All-Pro wrote. “Zae was eight at the time. His brother was nine. They were just little kids running around and laughing, and I was actually really glad to see them.”
Instead of finding himself annoyed by the attention-seeking young kids, Berry took to Zaevion and his brother. Weekly meetings would end up ensuing.
Berry also discussed Dobson’s heroic act, one that saved two girls from danger while sacrificing his own life.
‘When something like what he was faced with happens, all anyone is ever thinking is, Run! Or Get Down! Zae’s first instinct was to save his friends. That is just amazing to me,” the safety continued. “Bullets whizzing by, a whole bunch of mayhem, no one knows what’s going on, and this boy makes himself into a human shield.”
It’s in this that we as Americans can use a young man as a role model moving forward. As Obama said in the clip we linked above, it’s important that we use Dobson’s example moving forward.
In no version of the United States should a 15-year-old be forced into the situation to play hero.
The ESPYs did a tremendous job paying respects to the young man, as did Berry in his heartfelt piece on The Players’ Tribune.