Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson, the single best quote in New York sports, is never at a loss for words. But the events over the past few days in Ferguson, Missouri have left the second-year player nearly speechless.
Born and raised in St. Louis, about seven minutes from Ferguson, Richardson knows all too well the area where protests and riots have filled the night for the past two weeks. The shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in the suburb of St. Louis comes in a part of turf Richardson has spent time in. He’s been in the QuikTrip convenience store police said Brown stole cigars from prior to his shooting death. He also knows the McDonald’s nearby where, on Sunday night, patrons streamed out into streets filled with fumes from tear gas canisters as protestors clashed with police.
Richardson, usually animated and gleeful, was sullen as he spoke to Metro on Monday about the scene just a couple miles from his childhood home. The images he saw were “a little wild.”
“People are a little frustrated with how things have gone down. [The police] are supposed to protect and serve and people are lashing out,” Richardson told Metro. “I don’t fully understand what’s going on but I understand where they are coming from. Back in the day, I remember those type of guys.”
The scenes have played out on television ever since Brown’s death on Aug. 9 as peaceful protests have mixed with violent clashes. Images of the police in riot gear marching down streets dotted with strip malls and housing complexes have dominated much of the storylines. Arrests and tear gas canisters have become the norm the past few nights in this predominantly African-American town.
As he watches the media coverage and tracks the events, Richardson wants everyone to be safe as they protest.
“Be safe and stay strong. Whatever the cause is, whatever you think it may be,” Richardson said. “Be safe with it and be strong with it and know how to go about business.”
He talked with his parents recently to make sure they were safe and he keeps an eye on what is happening not too far from his hometown.
Richardson, who the Jets took No. 13 overall in 2013, is the latest product from St. Louis on the NFL stage. After a detour to attend junior college for two years due to his grades, he returned back to his home state to play at Missouri for one season before turning pro. He finished with 77 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks along with a forced fumble in his first season, earning him Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
But even as he sits in New Jersey, his thoughts are in Missouri and the events taking place just minutes from his childhood home.
On Richardson’s left arm are tattoos with the St. Louis Rams and the St. Louis Cardinals logos as well as the famous Gateway Arch. He won’t ever get a Jets tattoo, he says, “because it isn’t home — no matter how much I love this team.”
“It’s just home — good home-cooked meals. It is home. It don’t need to be special, it is home. Home is special,” Richardson said. “It feels good. It is home. People who knew me when I was pissing in Pampers, from high school to college and now. People who disappear and then stay in my life. It’s my home. I met over 200 people last year — swapped in and out of here last year — in this locker room and such, but home doesn’t change.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.