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An American football sits untouched on a field.
Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

This article was first published by San Quentin News, a newspaper that reports on rehabilitative efforts to increase public safety and achieve social justice from inside San Quentin State Prison. Visit SQN’s website or follow them on Twitter. The article has been lightly edited to add clarity and conform with PJP style rules.

San Quentin State Prison’s All-Madden football team tried to kick off a season this year to no avail. However, it held one exhibition game with intertwining messages of both inspiration and social justice, all in honor of Coach Dwight “Sleepy” Kennedy who scored a “touchdown” by making parole.

With its 62-2 win over newcomers the New Era Squad, opening day for the All-Madden team marked the end of an era for Coach Kennedy.

Kennedy was granted parole earlier this year and has since been paroled from San Quentin. He left these words with his players:

“All-Madden is a platform that has brought and will continue to bring people together,” he said. “I especially want the young men who participate in the football program here to learn and build life skills and to teach each other to be social. It’s important to me that they become men of good moral character and continue that path once they are released. I want this game to really mean something to the youngsters.” 

About the game: It took place on the baseball field on a Friday morning. The sky was clear with a mild breeze, and the atmosphere was one of excitement and electricity. Two teams took photos and gave interviews to San Quentin’s TV media team, headed by Brian Asey and Joshua “JB” Burton. 

Before the game began, the “Star-Spangled Banner” was played, and several players from both squads took a knee in recognition of the social injustices perpetrated against people of color in the United States.

“It was a group thing that we did for social injustice and to take a stand for something that matters,” said All-Madden center Jonathan Jimenez.

Defensive lineman Gregory “JuneBey” McDonald said, “I participated in the kneeling to support the youngsters. I understand the struggles of our youth and I support the Black Lives Matter movement. I want to see justice for the lives lost in a system that regards the lives of people of color as insignificant and disposable.”

Former Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Boom” player Brandon Browner also gave his perspective on the event.  

“Man, this is cool,” he said. “This has a feel of normalcy to it and gives us an opportunity to be out here to listen to music and to just have some fun. I am not out here to play, but the foundation is great.”  

Jamaal “Do It All” Harrison, Carrington “Brother C” Russelle and Anthony “T-Bone” Taylor manned the PA system. 

“We are going to call it as we see it,” said Harrison. “If they can’t play or catch, even though this is all in fun, they are going to get clowned. Make no mistake about it.” 

Both teams came together for an uplifting fellowship prayer of praise, forgiveness and love given by Coach Kennedy. All-Madden won the coin toss by Darnell ”Cleveland D” Godfrey.  

On the opening drive, quarterback Brandon Riddle-Terrell threw a pass across the middle to stand-out receiver Montrell, who shook off two defenders to go 20 yards for an All-Madden touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt was successful, giving the All-Madden team an 8-0 starting lead.

“Before the game I imagined I would throw at least two interceptions, bounce back and take the team to victory,” said Riddle-Terrell. “I did see that. However, when I was getting into game mode, I took the time to talk with my grandpa who passed away a few weeks earlier — which was a tradition he and I had — and I knew the game would be a success.” 

In orange jerseys, the New Era team, with quarterback Charles “Pookie” Sylvester at the helm, lined up but went three-and-out. Play-by-play announcers Harrison and Russelle gave Sylvester a good dose of ridicule for his ineffective play. 

With a 34-0 lead at the start of the third quarter, incoming All-Madden Head Coach Bryant, in his last game as a player, showed off his skills with a catch from a Riddle-Terrell toss that Bryant ran for a touchdown, giving his team a 40-0 boost.

Standouts on the All-Madden team were wide receiver Montrell, who had three touchdowns in the first half; defensive player of the game “All-Purpose Trey” Delvy; and Marshall. 

On the other side of the ball, the New Era team changed quarterbacks regularly in an attempt to mount an offense against the dominant play of All-Madden. 

The most notable standouts for the orange jerseys were D. “Savage” Cox, cornerback Southwood, Supreme and DeWayne Scott. 

“Moving forward, we want to develop the new guys and continue to build on the platform of inclusion,” said New Era Head Coach Jerry “JB” Brown. 

“With the enthusiasm that I see in these guys, I will do all that I can to get them there. I want to also thank Coach [K.] Bhatt and Lt. [Sam] Robinson. Without those two, we could not have had the camaraderie that we had on the field today. We would not have a sports program to participate in. They have all of our utmost respect and gratitude.” 

To inspire the young athletes, Coach Brown delivered some encouraging advice. 

“My outgoing advice for future players: Stay focused and get to know yourself while you’re here. Get involved in self-help programs. Take advantage of what’s being offered around you. Play sports but don’t become the sport. Most importantly, don’t allow your situation to dictate your life.”

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Vincent O’Bannon is a 2020 graduate of San Quentin Writers’ Guild class and contributing writer for San Quentin News, an award-winning newspaper published out of San Quentin State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated.