Ravens’ Foxworth Is Building Home Museum to the Civil Rights Movement
PIKESVILLE, Md. — With each step down his basement stairs, Domonique Foxworth descends into his own private bomb shelter. Above ground, he earns millions covering the N.F.L.’s top receivers for the Baltimore Ravens. Below it in his cellar, he seeks different company.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has a dream in the cover of an autographed memoir. Malcolm X defies a detractor in a typed letter from 1963. Rosa Parks sits, Tommie Smith clenches and Thurgood Marshall reasons in framed and signed artifacts that form Foxworth’s growing museum of the civil rights movement.
“Other players around the league, their basements are all jerseys of themselves and their friends in the N.F.L. and the N.B.A.,” Foxworth said. “I feel more comfortable with these people around me.”
Later, looking at the collection, he said: “Not often, but on occasion I feel guilty. I have all this because I run real fast and I tackle people. I recognize why I’ve been able to do this. It’s not all because of me or my family or my teammates or my coaches. It’s more because of the faces on the walls in my basement.”
Foxworth’s face would not fit on the N.F.L.’s current Mount Blushmore of Michael Vick, Donte’ Stallworth, Pacman Jones and others. At 26, he has never started a full season. He swallows books whole, is weighing potential business schools and plans to “gobble up degrees” before he retires.
Not just a hobby, Foxworth’s passion for civil rights will inform his handling of the league’s coming labor negotiations, in which he will participate as a member of the union’s executive committee. He candidly, some would say audaciously, vows to speak for forgotten fans and stadium workers “who would be hurt by a lockout more than the players,” he said.
Foxworth has watched the occasional interviewer stop cold when he acknowledges growing up outside Baltimore decidedly middle class. (“They’re like, ‘Where’s the strife?’, and the story mysteriously never runs,” he said.) As he tries to live his N.F.L. life far differently from the public’s image of it, speaking to middle schools and starting nonprofit charities, every now and then he grounds himself. Underground.
“This is the Little Rock Nine,” Foxworth said, pointing to an autographed print of the black students who in 1957 were blocked from attending a segregated school in Arkansas. “All this stuff is really powerful to me. It motivates me. Football and community work and just day to day. To not waste.”
Foxworth’s father, Lorinzo, attended an all-black elementary school in Charlotte, N.C., before joining the Army and raising two sons with his wife, Karen. In bouncing from post to post, the family made sure to tour the local university — Indiana, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, West Point. Perhaps that is why Lorinzo Foxworth, now retired and pursuing a doctorate in business training and development, speaks of his younger son’s “matriculation through life.”
Lorinzo Foxworth said: “But he has a sixth sense we couldn’t impact. He always had a knack for asking the question of why? How does it work? How did it start? And it all ends with something he wants to impact, to manifest in things that matter to him.”
Domonique left high school near Baltimore midway through his senior year in 2001 so he could begin classes early at the University of Maryland. He entered with an interest in computer engineering but was turned on to history and earned a degree in American studies three years later. He did so despite starring on the football team; he was then drafted by the Denver Broncos in the third round in 2005.
Blocked by the Pro Bowl cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Dre’ Bly, Foxworth never developed a consistent role in Denver and was traded to the Atlanta Falcons before last season. He was so quick on man-to-man coverage that the Ravens bought him away as a free agent with a four-year contract worth a guaranteed $16.5 million, and potentially $27.2 million, to tighten what was already one of the N.F.L.’s stingiest defenses.
Foxworth did not splurge on a Lamborghini. He still drives the Range Rover from his draft year. He did call Mark Mitchell, a collector and dealer of African-American memorabilia based in Fairfax, Va., to do his own kind of splurging.
“Professional athletes really have an interest in African-American history, not just for themselves but to pass it along to their families,” said Mitchell, whose clients include the former Washington Redskins Art Monk and Charles Mann and the basketball player Chris Webber. “I find them very intelligent, curious. They’re almost stunned — honored, in a way, to hold in their hands a letter from Frederick Douglass. They have respect for the people who helped bring about the world they live in. You think of athletes as privileged, in a corner by themselves, but they have a curiosity that would surprise people.”
Foxworth’s curiosity will help guide his own playbook for the union-league negotiations; he will be the youngest member of the players’ 11-man executive committee. He said he understood his responsibility to secure the best collective bargaining agreement for his fellow players. Yet he refuses to forget the thousands of strangers — parking attendants, restaurant owners, souvenir hawkers and more — who would be financially devastated by a prolonged lockout.
“It’s not us against the league, who gets the most money — that’s pretty juvenile,” Foxworth said. “We don’t get hurt, we hurt people around us. Obviously it’ll hurt the billionaire owners a bit. It’ll hurt some players who may not get their chance for a life-changing payday. But by and large, the people that we hurt most are just regular people. I just want to introduce that there’s a third party that doesn’t have a voice. Someone needs to remind both of us that this isn’t a game.”
Few people would recognize Foxworth anywhere but his native Baltimore, if there. He is only 5 feet 11 inches and 180 pounds. He avoids telling people he meets what he does for a living because of what he called “the default image that people have of football players, the default story of the life.”
He added, “If I can have a regular conversation on a plane about life and general things, I would much rather do that than have him ask me what it’s like to cover Randy Moss.”
Foxworth says he has no specific plans for retirement, his body tapped but his mind just reaching stride. Get a doctorate or two, he said. Maybe build recreation centers with academic bents. Keep adding to his museum, which he considers less hobby than homage. He wants a Medgar Evers piece. Bobby Kennedy.Too bad the walls will never include one long-lost item that Foxworth’s father still recalls. When Domonique was 8, just starting Pop Warner football, he walked into his parents’ bedroom with a shockingly good picture he had drawn. It wasn’t Junior Seau or Jerry Rice. It was a parachute.