With the football season already over, Cutcliffe joined Jamison’s parents, Brenda and James, and his younger brother, Jamaris, in the stands for a basketball game while Jamison was a senior at Monroe High School in North Carolina.
Jamaris was born with Down syndrome and is nonverbal. Though Jamaris can not audibly cheer on his older brother, Cutcliffe immediately realized he was in the presence of Jamison’s biggest fan the moment he sat with the Crowders.
“To watch Jamaris watch his brother, the intensity in his eyes, you could see the joy, although he can’t express it to anyone,” Cutcliffe recalled.
“After that ball game, to see Jamison greet his brother and his brother greet him, Jamison was so sincere. His first attention went totally to Jamaris and I loved it. It wasn’t to come see the head football coach. It was truly focused on Jamaris. I just knew I was in the presence of more than one special person at that time. It was that powerful.”
By the time Cutcliffe left that game, he was no longer viewing Jamison through the prism of a future student-athlete. Instead, he saw Crowder at his core — one forged by the patience, humility and responsibility he’s gained from being a big brother to Jamaris.
The Washington Redskins visit Charlotte, North Carolina this weekend to play the Carolina Panthers, a game Crowder’s family has been anticipating ever since Crowder was drafted in the fourth round in May.
‘He’s my little brother’
Jamison Crowder was 9 years old when Jamaris was born on Dec. 7, 2002. During Brenda’s initial ultrasound, she and James learned that the baby was going to be born with some type of birth defect, though the severity wasn’t yet known. It wasn’t until Jamaris was born that he was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“We didn’t really talk about it with Jamison at that time because he was 9,” Brenda said. “My husband and I are very strong in our faith, so that kept us going through the term of the pregnancy. Once the doctor gave us that news, he discussed other options — which he called ‘options’ — but we didn’t have any other options but to bring our baby into the world.
“Once Jamaris was born and we talked about it with Jamison, he said he didn’t understand a lot and we didn’t expect him to, but we didn’t want to speak a lot of negativity about Jamaris and his development because we were still exercising our faith that it wouldn’t be as bad as we thought it could be — or some of the doctors may have thought it could be. Jamaris was born and all Jamison knew was that he had a little brother.”
Though the situation might have been difficult for Jamison to understand, it never stopped him from being the big brother he always wanted to be.
“He’s my little brother. We showed a lot of love for Jamaris and we still do now,” Jamison said. “We always treat him just like he’s another child, the way my family treats me. We never looked at Jamaris any differently. We just always treated him the same way.”
From an early age, Jamison was hands-on with Jamaris, doing whatever he could to make sure he had everything he needed. Though Jamaris could not talk, he had his own way of telling his brother what he wanted. He’d bring Jamison a cup or a straw when he was thirsty and Jamison would get him a drink. When Jamaris wanted to play, he’d bring Jamison his basketball that the two would bounce back and forth constantly.
Jamison’s care for his brother extended well beyond the household. Brenda and James never expected Jamison would treat Jamaris any differently, but as Jamison got older, Brenda worried a day would come when others would not be as understanding.
That day never arrived because Jamison never let it.
“Jamison as a child, as a teenager, he always wanted his friends and anybody else to know how much he loved Jamaris,” Brenda said. “Not that we had the doubt it would be any different or Jamison would act or treat Jamaris differently around his friends, but he never did. Even when his friends came around, they knew the love Jamison had for Jamaris, and it was like Jamaris was their little brother. They just saw that love and it helped a lot of them to understand that Jamison’s little brother has a disability, but Jamison loves him, so we love him, too.”
Never far apart
The only time James missed a game was the ACC championship in 2013 — the year Jamison set a conference record with 108 receptions — because he was hospitalized with an illness. Every home game, Brenda, James and Jamaris would make the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Monroe to Durham’s Wallace Wade Stadium. The only time Jamaris missed games was when Duke played beyond driving distance.
“It was cool with Jamaris coming out and to be able to see me play college football and experience all the different games and everything like that,” Jamison said. “That was really good for him, helping him grow and develop. When he came to the games, I’d always make sure Jamaris and my family were taken care of. I thought it was a good experience for Jamaris and my family comes to my home games and always brings Jamaris along.”
Takoby Cofield, a right tackle on the Redskins‘ practice squad, also played with Jamison at Duke. He met the Crowders during his redshirt sophomore year when Jamison was a freshman. The first time Cofield met the family was during the annual Blue Devil Walk, when the team marches through Blue Devil Alley to Wade Stadium ahead of the season opener.
Cofield, who grew up in Tarboro, three and a half hours away from Monroe, grew closer with Jamison and his family through his time at Duke and was inspired by the way Jamison always looked after Jamaris. Cofield, who has two older brothers, said his perspective changed the more he saw Jamison and Jamaris interact.
“In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Man, that’s got to be rough,’” Cofield said. “But I’d keep seeing them and Jamison would be messing with him and poking with him and Jamaris would mess with Jamison sometimes.
“He’d act with him the way he was with us, joking with us, picking with us, but I’d say it was, I guess, one of those things it was like that’s why [Jamison] became what he is now. I feel like God allows certain people to go through interactions within your life and that was one, for his brother to have disabilities. Jamison treats him no different and looks out for him. I just honestly feel like after I saw how they were, saw how everything was, that’s why he is the person he is. It’s cool to sit back and just watch them hang out sometimes.”
Gracious and grounded
As Crowder has made the transition from college to the NFL, the change in lifestyle has been trying.
Crowder graduated from Duke in three and a half years with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in African & African American studies. He also earned a certificate in markets and management, working diligently to balance his rigorous athletic and academic schedules. Crowder was initially surprised at how much free time he had now that he was no longer taking classes and could focus on football.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment has been being away from Jamaris, his family and the tight-knit Monroe community.
Two weeks ago, Monroe was playing rival Forest Hills. Coach Johnny Sowell noticed some of his former players were in attendance, including current Duke wide receiver Quay Chambers. Sowell was perturbed about the fact that Chambers was on his cell phone the entire time, rather than watching Monroe cruise to a 55-7 win.
“I’m like, ‘Who y’all talking to?” Sowell said. “He was going back and forth and I was like, ‘What are you doing?”
Chambers was on the phone with Crowder, providing updates throughout the game. One week earlier, during the Redskins‘ bye week, Crowder spent all of Thursday and part of Friday at Monroe High, visiting his former teachers and coaches, pausing to sign countless autographs and take pictures.
“That’s just the kind of person he is,” Sowell said.
Though Jamison is nearly 500 miles from home, he still sees Jamaris routinely. Brenda, James and Jamaris haven’t missed a Redskins home game this season, having made the eight-hour trek to Washington five times already. They leave on Friday and get to Jamison’s apartment between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Saturday, but he’s usually waiting up, even though his parents have a key to let themselves in.
“When Jamison goes to practice, he’ll give Jamaris a hug and a kiss, even if he’s asleep,” Brenda said. “He’ll tickle him just to make him laugh. It’s valuable time Jamaris needs. There’s still those years, the age difference and all of that and Jamison could just move on. He doesn’t do that. He makes sure he’s allowing some Jamison-and-Jamaris time so Jamaris is understanding that this is my brother, and even though he is away from me, when I see him, he’s still spending time with me.”
“Any time I can see Jamaris and see him happy, it brightens up my day,” Jamison said. “Whatever situation I was going through, just to go home and be around him and my family, it always made me feel a lot better. It’s still the same now. If I’m having a tough day, I’ll FaceTime mom or whatever and see Jamaris and it always helps me be on the positive side and have a brighter day.”
In Crowder’s first season with the Redskins, he has emerged as a dependable slot receiver, catching 42 passes for 402 yards, the second-most on the team. After Crowder caught his first career touchdown pass in the Redskins‘ 47-14 win against the New Orleans Saints, the mother of one of Jamison’s former teammates called Brenda later that week. A churchgoer was excited to find out she knew Brenda and wondered if Jamison would sign his autograph the next time he was in Monroe.
“I’m just grateful Jamison is the young man he is and he hasn’t forgotten where he’s came from,” Brenda said. “He’s still Jamison, Jamaris‘ brother, and he still has time for Jamaris and the people here in Monroe that he has known all of his life and I just pray he will remain that way.”
On Sunday, Jamison expects at least 20 family members and friends to attend the game against the Panthers. Anticipating the high demand, Jamison called his mother earlier this week to assure her he was going to find tickets much closer to the field than the ones available through the Redskins.
The thought of Jamaris and his parents sitting in the upper section did not sit well with Jamison. More than anything, Jamison wanted to be certain Jamaris would be comfortable, because that’s what he has always set out to do.
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