Vontae Davis is at peace a year after his shocking mid-game retirement

Vontae Davis isn't letting his sudden retirement define his post-NFL life. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Vontae Davis isn't letting his sudden retirement define his post-NFL life. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Vontae Davis surprised everyone — even himself — when he retired in the middle of his debut game for the Buffalo Bills in 2018. Some called him a quitter and criticized him for making what seemed to be a rash decision.

It was sudden and shocking, but Davis is at peace with his decision now, just as he was then. In an interview with Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, Davis discussed that small, memorable slice of his past, but also gave people a glimpse into his present and future.

Davis is happy with how his career ended

To sew up his past, Davis revealed the thought process behind his unexpected retirement. It began with him wanting to prove that at 30, he could still contribute to an NFL team — though his wife Megan was ready to see his career come to a close.

From the Post:

“The whole time he was in Buffalo, his body and his mind I don’t think were on the same wavelength,” Megan said. “One was a lot older than the other.”

Megan was right, though it took Davis a little longer to catch up. It wasn’t until he was on the sidelines of his debut game that he realized that it was time for him to move on.

When he returned to the sideline after a series in the first half, something felt out of place. He describes the sensation now as an “out-of-body experience” and a “spiritual moment.” He had never felt anything like it on a football field. He heard a voice: “I have given all I’ve got. Leave this chapter behind.”

When Davis reached the locker room at halftime, he removed his No. 22 Bills uniform and texted Megan, “I’m done.”

Davis didn’t even stop to get his personal belongings. He left them, and his career, in the locker room. When the couple met back at their home they toasted with shots of tequila, and Davis hasn’t looked back since. He calls it “one of the best decisions of my life.”

Davis wants to share lessons from his life

Davis didn’t plan for his career to end the way it did — he even told Kilgore that he has no idea where the impulse to retire came from — but he views it as a strength as he continues to live his post-NFL life.

“I think it’s more powerful how I ended,” Davis said. “We all got stories to tell.”

It’s part of the story he told to a group of high school students at his alma mater, Dunbar High in Washington, D.C. In a Q&A, he brought them his knowledge, his experience, and copies of the kid’s book “Middle School Rules” he wrote with Sean Jensen. The book might have been a little young for his audience, but the lessons of overcoming a tough upbringing resonate with everyone.

Davis and Jensen were honest about Davis’ past in the book, even though it’s aimed at children. He recalled having to protect his younger siblings when his father, injured and bleeding, burst into their apartment with the police outside. His mother, who was addicted to crack, would sometimes not be there in the mornings, so Davis took on the responsibility of caring for his younger brother and sister. He also shared the story of his grandmother adopting Davis and his six brothers and sisters and saving them from foster care when his mother could no longer care for them. These aren’t happy stories, but they’re part of who Davis is, and how he became the man he is today.

Davis told Kilgore that he was sad when he realized that so many of the high school kids at Dunbar understood the world that he came from, which involved a drug-addicted parent, jail, and foster care. But that’s precisely why he came back, and why he feels his message is so important.

“I come from the same environment,” Davis told the room, his voice cracking. “But this message means more to me. It means more to me, because I’m not just a football player. I want to leave you guys with knowledge. … That’s why I came back, because I care about you guys, man. Y’all my brothers.”

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