By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
New York Giants safety Antoine Bethea is getting a chance to live out his dreams. In 2015 Bethea went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts. After 13 years,183 games, and a Super Bowl victory, the former Howard University safety heads to training camp again with no apparent end in sight.
Bethea, now with his fourth NFL franchise, was overlooked on both ends of the BW Parkway. Despite a stellar career, neither the Ravens nor Washington’s NFL franchise brought the future Black College Hall of Famer to camp. However, the Bison legend heads to his 14th season still playing with a chip on his shoulder that drives him into the twilight of his career.
“My path was my path and I embraced it,” Bethea said to the Shadow League Radio’s “Bring It Home” podcast. “The Indianapolis Colts gave me the chance and all I knew was that it gave me a shot to compete. Once I got in the playbook and stayed out of trouble I made the team and started from game one. When I was given that opportunity in my mind never let go of this opportunity.”
That Bethea has played more than a decade without having his name called is what makes him a dream for NFL franchises. Undrafted players aren’t guaranteed anything but an opportunity to compete in training camp. Most don’t last beyond the final days of camp and some end up on practice squads where they infrequently are relegated to special teams, which allow them to find work on other teams when the inevitability of injuries lead to roster spots opening around the league.
However, Bethea had other ideas. His work ethic that was carved in the Tidewater region of Virginia as a youngster, was honed on the “ghetto turf” of Greene Stadium at Howard. Just having the opportunity to earn that HBCU Ivy League education was already a win in life, but football gave him the chance for something more. He dedicated a performance and training center for student-athletes that bears his name inside Burr Gymnasium.
“The game has been good to me because I’ve been good to the game,” Bethea said. “My time at Howard were some of the best years of my life. It was a chance to learn about my culture and develop who I am as a person.”
Bethea remains low key as a new generation of players have taken off its mask. He doesn’t run away from the attention but doesn’t seek it either. There is no commitment to personal branding other than to play the best he can on the field. By no means is he the most active player on his Madden 2019 video game rating, but he still has a different resolve.
“When the Giants posted it, I was like ‘77?’ But that’s all good,” Bethea said. All time I should probably have a rating high 80’s to low 90s if you look at my body of work.”
As camp opened for the Giants, Bethea arrived without any fanfare while the outside conversation was about his former teammate and now Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. The soft spoken safety still carries a big stick on the field. His contract negotiations have never played out in the media, though New York is the biggest market he’s played in since college which presents opportunities potentially masking themselves as distractions.
“You’ve got to make an effort to use social media in a positive way,” Bethea said. “Once it’s [posted], it’s up there and what you must decide what you want people to take from that.”