Quinton Jefferson’s football cleats are riddled with reminders.
There’s a rose on the toe and black tears along the laces, but the most striking part about the Seattle Seahawks defensive end’s left spike is the sheer number of initials.
Suffocating two Nike swooshes, there are 28 two-letter tributes, each representing a friend or family member that has fallen victim to gun violence.
LM. KP. AR. DS.
You see letters. Jefferson sees faces. He sees names, not initials. He sees so many — too many — people he’s loved and lost, not indifferent smudges printed in black permanent marker.
Last week, the Seahawks participated in the “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign, which allowed each player to shine a light on any number of personal issues. Jefferson decided to raise awareness for gun violence in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He decided to bring 28 fallen friends with him onto the field.
LC. VM. JJ. AG
You see initials.
He sees a need for change.
“(Gun violence) was very prevalent,” Jefferson said of his childhood in Pittsburgh. “A lot of guys from little league and who I met growing up and been with in school to close family friends … I know so many people that have died from it.
“I’m glad I had this opportunity to actually take the time to reflect and look and see how many people I’ve lost, because I didn’t even realize it was that many.”
You see JT. He sees Jerame Turner.
Jefferson and Jerame’s older brother, Jullian, grew up together. They played rec league basketball together. From seventh grade on, they walked to school together. They lost friends together. In a phone interview last week, Jullian Turner called Jefferson “one of my really, really, really good friends.”
But Jerame, he was family.
“We couldn’t be separated,” Jullian Turner said.
That changed at 11 p.m. on Nov. 27, 2017, when Jerame was shot on George Street in Pittsburgh. His brother was the first to find him.
“He was out with some friends and I couldn’t get a hold of him,” said Jullian Turner, who was nine years older than Jerame. “I was trying to get him home. He had school the next day. I had seen him with his two little friends, and they kind of jokingly ran from me.
“A couple minutes later I heard the two gun shots go off and I don’t know why, but I ran towards it. I found him there.”
Jerame Turner was going to be a college football player, just like his older brother. He played baseball and basketball, too, but the junior at Woodland Hills High School starred as a hard-charging linebacker. Jullian jokingly called him “a little crazy when it came to sports.” He was aggressive and unafraid. He had NFL dreams; he was going to be somebody.
Instead, he was pronounced dead at a trauma hospital in Pittsburgh. He was 16 years old.
“It’s always been there,” Jullian Turner said of Pittsburgh’s gun violence problem. “It’s something that’s been an issue in the area for a long time.
“As we got to high school, that’s when we were really coming in contact with it because we were losing friends and close relatives and other kids we went to school with, and we really started to understand that impact and feeling it — feeling the aftermath of those decisions and those actions.”
Almost exactly a year later, Jullian Turner is still feeling it. Jerame’s twin sister, Ciara — a cheerleader and basketball player at Woodland Hills — is feeling it. Jefferson is feeling it.
They aren’t the only ones.
“It’s something that people from the outside looking in don’t realize, that not only does it affect those particular family members and teammates that the young man had, but it affects the school; it affects the community,” said Ronald Coursey, the athletics director at Woodland Hills. “It affects a large group of people, because it’s a ripple effect.”
Between the beginning of 2010 and Oct. 31, 2018, there were 14,719 reports of shots fired in Pittsburgh, according to the city’s online database. There were 1,812 cases of aggravated assault with a firearm and 1,512 non-fatal shootings.
Between January 2010 and Aug. 31, 2018, there were 475 homicides, 86 percent of which included a firearm.
Imagine all the ripples.
Imagine all the initials.
Last year it was Jerame. It could have been Jefferson, too.
“With a situation like that, your life flashes before your eyes,” said Jefferson, who once had a gun pulled on him during an argument at a high school graduation party. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m just trying to go to college,’ but it’s as simple as that. I could not even be here right now. I had it happen firsthand, and it’s just scary.
“You see somebody, you look in their eyes and it’s like, ‘(Darn), they don’t even see you as a human. They don’t even really value your life.’ It could have all been over that quick. That quick.”
Instead, the 25-year-old Seahawks player and former Maryland Terrapin was given a second chance. He’s using it to sack quarterbacks and speak up about the senseless violence staining his hometown.
“I think it’s everything,” Jullian Turner said of Jefferson’s voice. “(Exposing gun violence) is something we’ve been doing back here, but it’s huge just because the culture of that activity is hushed.
“Even when it happens to you, you don’t speak on it. It is what it is. What’s done is done. Even if you know who did what or how it happened, you don’t talk about it. It’s not allowed.”
That’s why, of those 475 homicides in Pittsburgh since 2010, only 51 percent have resulted in an arrest. A year later, Jerame Turner’s murder remains unsolved.
But it’s true, things appear to be improving. The Pittsburgh police reported fewer than 150 shootings in 2017 for the first time in over a decade, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Still, more work needs to be done.
“At any given time something like that could happen to any one of our kids,” said Tim Bostard, the head football coach at Woodland Hills, where Jefferson and the Turner brothers all played. “We had a kid in the past who was just hit with a stray bullet at a Fourth of July party.
“He would have been a senior this year.”
That’s also true of Jerame Turner. Instead, he was represented on Jefferson’s left cleat during Seattle’s 43-16 win over the San Francisco 49ers this past Sunday. The 6-foot-4, 291-pound defensive lineman finished with two tackles, a half sack and a pass batted down in the win. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll called him “a good part of the defense.”
The third-year defensive lineman may be a better part of the Seattle and Pittsburgh communities.
“I have children of my own, so I want to teach them good values and just be a role model for them,” said Jefferson, who has 19 tackles and two sacks in 10 starts this season. “Even for kids in my area, you can make it out of here. You can do something with your life. You always have a chance. You always have options.
“That’s why it’s good for them to see us (come back to Pittsburgh), because some kids don’t think they have any other choice but to get into gang life or sell drugs. I’m just trying to play my part.”
Jefferson is playing his part for his wife, Nadia; for his four kids: Zoey (7), twins Charleigh and Quinn (4) and Yasin (11 months); for the names associated with those 28 initials (and even more, he said, that couldn’t fit onto the cleat).
And, of course, for Jullian and Jerame Turner.
Last Tuesday, Jefferson paid for the Turner family’s dinner, then sent Jullian and his mother a photo of the newly unveiled cleat.
It was Nov. 27, 2018. Jerame had passed away exactly a year earlier.
“He sent me the picture of the spikes and I was completely blown away,” Jullian Turner said. “Jerame’s initials were right on there. I was in amazement for a little bit. I took a step back.
“I was thinking … that’s a lot of initials. I knew a lot of them. There was only two or three initials I couldn’t make out on there. That’s a big shoe … and it was filled up.”
Still, the “JT” was clearly visible, nestled neatly under the Nike swoosh logo.