Jan/Feb 2011 A Redskin's Resilience Joshua Cooley
This was not good.
Training camp was less than a month away, and Reed Doughty’s right hand resembled one of those oversized “We’re No. 1” foam fingers.
Last June, the Washington Redskins’ safety arrived as the keynote speaker at the Metro Maryland FCA Power Camp in Gaithersburg, Md., with a heavily bandaged hand that kept his index finger perpetually extended. A day earlier while weightlifting, he had pinched his finger between two dumbbells.
“Broke the tip and took some meat with it,” Doughty said.
For some NFL athletes, especially those fighting for a starting position and trying to impress a new head coach, a setback like this would be cause for alarm. But considering everything Doughty has endured in life, a broken finger ranks right up there with a paper cut.
Doughty’s NFL journey has been fraught with enough trials to make lesser men question divine sovereignty, and yet he sees God using difficulties to teach him invaluable spiritual lessons.
“Being in the NFL has really taught me to give wholehearted trust to God because I know I can’t do it by myself,” he says. “The immense pressure in this job—what it takes to succeed—is beyond me.”
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The coaching staff could tell that something wasn’t right. Every NFL rookie faces a major adjustment period coming out of college, but Doughty in particular seemed to lag a little further behind his coaches’ instructions during his first offseason workouts in 2006. Before long, Gregg Williams, then the Redskins’ assistant head coach of defense, approached Doughty about it, and the rookie informed him of his hearing impairment.
Playing any sport with a hearing disability is tough enough, but pro football is particularly challenging. Between coaches barking orders from the sidelines, on-field communication among 11 teammates, adjustments at the line of scrimmage and 70,000 screaming fans, it is high-decibel bedlam.
Nevertheless, Doughty, a gritty 28-year-old safety and special teams workhorse, made his way to what is now his fifth NFL season, outlasting the NFL’s average three-year career. His hereditary hearing challenges—his father, Marlon, also has severe auditory loss, and one of his grandmothers was deaf—have worsened in recent years, but he has learned to compensate on the field by wearing hearing aids, reading lips and relying on hand signals from defensive coaches and teammates.
“I’ve told [Redskins linebacker and defensive captain] London Fletcher when we’re in the huddle, ‘If I can’t see you, I can’t hear you,’” Doughty said. “So he just makes sure we’re clear.”
Doughty’s profession is dog-eat-dog, and it chews up its participants without mercy. The fact that Doughty has found success despite a hearing impairment is a testament to his resolve, skill and a James 1:2-4-like faith that has never failed him.
Perhaps more than any other, Doughty may embody these verses, which are so often cited in specific life occasions. In his case, however, they seem to be more of a life motto: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
It was a faith that first took root for Doughty in Johnstown, Colo., a small town situated in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. His parents took Doughty and his two older brothers, Mitch and Cameron, to church each week, sponsored an FCA Huddle at a local middle school for 10 years, and taught their sons to seek God’s Word.
“If they had a question about something, we went to the Bible for the answer,” said his mother, Susan. “It wasn’t my standard; it was God’s. When we talked about tattoos or piercings or drinking or whatever it was, we went to God’s Word to find out what He said.”
All three Doughty brothers accepted Christ and began walking with Him at early ages. Reed placed his faith in Jesus at an Awana meeting when he was 6 and has gone on to reach the world of sports for Christ through his career and by volunteering with ministries like FCA. Cameron Doughty and his wife have been missionaries on the Mediterranean island of Malta for four years, and Mitch is the principal at Cornerstone Christian Academy in Denver.
“It’s a blessing that they all love the Lord,” Susan said. “They’re all serving God in some way or another.”
Doughty was an early starter in the romance department, too. At age 17, he met his future wife, Katie, during a youth group event at a Christian coffeehouse. He bought an engagement ring the day he graduated from high school, proposed five days later and got married as a 19-year-old college freshman.
But the road ahead wasn’t as smooth for the Doughtys. Just four short years later, the avalanche of challenges began.
On Aug. 30, 2006, Katie gave birth to Micah, the first of the couple’s two sons, who came five weeks premature with chronic kidney failure. It was a test of faith for the husband and wife, who were separated by 1,600 miles. While Katie remained with Micah in the intensive care unit of a Colorado hospital, Doughty, an NFL rookie at the time, returned to the Redskins’ training facility in Ashburn, Va., to compete for a roster spot.
Doughty had enjoyed a standout college career at Northern Colorado, an NCAA Division I-AA school, where he became the program’s first-ever three-time Academic All-American. But intelligent sixth-round draft picks aren’t guaranteed anything in the NFL. Micah’s extreme medical bills made Doughty’s non-guaranteed base salary and signing bonus seem small. He was one bad game or injury away from unemployment.
“I made the team, but the coaches were like, ‘This isn’t a sure thing. You’ve got to do more or you’re not going to be here,’” Doughty said. “That’s an unreal amount of pressure in your professional life. And then my wife was at home in Colorado, I was here, and we were going through that whole thing with my son in the ICU. I just realized what’s really important in life and how much I have to trust God.”
Eventually, Katie and Micah were able to join Reed in Northern Virginia, but for the next 18 months, Micah required daily injections, nightly dialysis treatments and occupational therapy. Finally, in March 2008, he received a successful kidney transplant. At present, Micah is doing well, but he will remain on immuno-suppressant medication for the rest of his life to ensure that his system doesn’t produce antibodies that reject his kidney.
“He’s doing great,” Doughty said, “just running around like crazy like any other 4-year-old.”
The next trials in line for Doughty all seemed to stem from the gridiron.
“I’m not selling a sad story here with the adversity. I’m in the NFL; I have a wonderful family; I’ve got healthy kids; I have a wonderful wife. There are so many positives.” – Doughty
In November 2007, Doughty’s teammate, Redskins’ Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor, was killed during an attempted burglary at his Florida home. Doughty soberly took over Taylor’s starting role under circumstances no teammate would want.
In 2008, Doughty made three starts in Washington’s first five games, but then a fractured vertebra forced him to have seasonending lumbar fusion surgery that November.
The next year in 2009, Doughty enjoyed his finest season to date with a career-high 93 tackles and one interception before a high ankle sprain sidelined him for the season finale. Then, prior to this season, Doughty broke two bones: his hand in May, and his pointer finger in June.
Add to this the Redskins’ struggles of recent years, which included a 12-20 record from the start of 2008 to the end of the 2009 season, and the added complications from a change in coaching staff.
“It’s been something every year,” Doughty said. “But again, you just have to choose to trust God with it all.”
Under the new coaching staff, Doughty lost his full-time starting role. But by now he knows not to fret in such situations. When your firstborn’s life is in jeopardy, a teammate is inexplicably murdered, or a back injury threatens your health, your perspective on depth charts and playing time tends to change. If anything, Doughty knows that little in life comes easily other than God’s grace. Amidst the struggles and uncertainty, he sees a providential hand lovingly guiding his path.
“If you look at anybody’s life, you’ll see plenty of ups and downs,” Doughty said. “I’m not selling a sad story here with the adversity. I’m in the NFL; I have a wonderful family; I’ve got healthy kids; I have a wonderful wife. There are so many positives.”
It’s a point he makes when sharing his faith: the blessings amidst the trials. Doughty knows that, if he shares his experiences, someone else might be encouraged to hold fast to their faith in the midst of their own hardships. And, at the end of the day, he knows that’s what matters most.
“People might see the things I’ve been through as negatives, but, at the same time, you have to look at the blessings I have,” Doughty said. “My faith in Christ has helped me keep a good perspective on things, and that’s definitely the most important thing.”
|FCA MEETS THE PRESS |
Virtually every athlete who attends an FCA Power Camp loves sports. No newsflash there. But last summer, four kids who attended the Metro Maryland FCA Power Camp discovered what it was like to engage in sports from a different angle: that of a journalist.
The group included a small collection of local students who got a taste of life in the media during the five-day camp at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md.
Coordinated by FCA’s Metro Maryland Area Director Mark Stephens and camp volunteer Sue Hynes, the weeklong media session was the first of its kind for FCA Camps worldwide.
Throughout the week, the campers learned various print and broadcast media skills from local journalists and took a trip to the Newseum, a state-of-the-art media museum in Washington, D.C. The highlight of the week, however, came on Wednesday, when the group interviewed Reed Doughty, who also spoke to the entire camp later that day. Before the camp’s end, each of the budding journalists wrote a story about the Redskins’ veteran safety.
“You really have to find a love and a passion, whether it’s football or any kind of job,” Doughty told the group. “You have to let that love and passion for it really take root if you are going to have any sort of success.”
In light of the positive experience, Stephens and Hynes are planning to continue the sports media segment at the 2011 camp.
“The sports media component of our camp totally exceeded my expectations,” Stephens said. “The students involved loved it and had a great experience, and it ended up impacting the whole camp.”
Click here to read the campers’ stories about Reed Doughty. And, to sign up for an FCA Camp in your area, visit fcacamps.org.