Last week, Faith, the 4-year-old, brushed her soft fingers across the scar on the back of her father’s neck and asked him the question.
“What happened, Daddy?” she said.
Faith had forgotten the story of her father. She was reminded that he was a professional football player before she was born. He played for the Buffalo Bills before he had an accident while colliding with another man. He had to go to the hospital and have an operation to make him feel better.
That’s the abridged version, simplified so a child could make sense of her father’s life even though, 6½ years after he lay motionless on the 20-yard line at Ralph Wilson Stadium, it doesn’t always make sense to him. Anyone in attendance that day knew there was much more to a complex story.
Kevin Everett stopped asking years ago. The hows and whys that accompanied him breaking his neck and suffering a dislocation of his spine, ending his career and nearly ending his life, became insignificant in his search for peace and happiness over the past seven years. Finally, he’s content.
“I’m happy where I’m at in my life,” Everett said Saturday. “No complaints, pretty much. I have a beautiful family. Life is good.”
Everett, with his dark suit and smart tie, still looked like a professional athlete while attending the Call to Courage breakfast presented by Frank Reich in the Hyatt Regency. At 32 years old, he appeared healthy and strong when standing before a microphone and sitting at the head table Saturday.
At 6-foot-5, he still has a presence about him.
Even if you don’t know him, you know he’s … somebody.
In fact, he’s somebody special. The same man who doctors feared wouldn’t survive the injury has become a doting father of three young girls. Faith is the middle child between 5-year-old Famatta and 1-year-old Kelani. They don’t care about his place in football. They depend on his place in family.
He depends on them, too.
Everett’s family, and his faith, gave him purpose that didn’t exist before Sept. 9, 2007, when he collided with Domenik Hixon while covering a kickoff against the Broncos. For Everett, it signaled the end of a promising career and the beginning of another life and, maybe, a better one.
“God and my family are the most important things. Focusing on them more takes my mind off of me,” he said. “There was a point in the past where it was a selfish time for me. I was wondering why, ‘Man, why did it have to end so soon for me?’ I had such a promising future. I saw so many great things that were going to happen. But, you know, God allows things to happen for a reason.”
Everett was intent on making sure his life wouldn’t be defined by what was taken from him on that fateful day. Instead, he concentrated on the blessings given to him in the years that followed.
People breeze through life taking so much for granted that they can’t comprehend their existence until they’re gone. Everett was much the same way. He didn’t stop to appreciate privileges such as walking to the bathroom, brushing his teeth, buttoning his shirt and tying his shoes.
He thinks about that often these days during quiet moments, the few remaining with the girls running around. He spent his childhood pursuing the glamour, fame and fortune that comes with the NFL. Only after it was stolen did he realize how much he cherished the life of an Average Joe.
“I’m thankful every day for that,” he said. “I think about it every morning that I get up. Throughout the day, I’m thanking the Lord. Everything happens for a reason. For me, it’s to talk to people on both sides of it – chasing an abnormal life and now living the regular life of an everyday American. That’s the peace.”
In the two years following the injury, Everett suffered from periodic flashbacks in which he would relive the fear he endured at the time. Often times, he would grit his teeth and stiffen his back to resist the emotional stress while thinking about how life could have been – would have been – if he came away unscathed.
Modern medicine and intense therapy in the months after the injury enabled him to walk again. For that he will forever be grateful. He’s lucky he’s not in a wheelchair. He’s lucky he’s alive. But his physical limitations, even when performing the simplest of chores, cannot be ignored.
Everett needed to reprogram his body after the injury, but his progress tapered off after the first year of recovery. It’s unlikely that he’ll ever regain full feeling in his extremities. He steadied himself when sitting down and walked carefully Saturday, as if his feet were slow to get the message from his brain.
“You know when your foot goes to sleep? That’s how his body feels all day,” his wife, Wiande, said Saturday. “He blocks out that pain. I see him trying to be so strong, but I know it hurts. He doesn’t complain. He’s just thankful that he’s here. That’s the main thing that I admire about him.”
Everett wasn’t looking for answers Saturday. He found comfort knowing he was helping others. He learned there was much more to life than football. He discovered his faith. He gained a greater appreciation for people around him. He became a better man. And he became a terrific father.
You see, Faith, that’s what happened. The evidence can be found on the back of your daddy’s neck.