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Raiders’ DeAndre Washington to honor slain sister with cleats for cause

Updated November 28, 2018 - 7:31 pm

ALAMEDA, Calif. — She had an energy about her.

It exuded a warmth DeAndre Washington still can feel today.

The Raiders running back stood in the locker room Wednesday, reflecting on older sister Taiesha Watkins. She and some friends had a girls’ weekend this summer in New Orleans when two men, in an incident authorities have concluded was gang related, sprayed gunshots into a crowd before killing a man believed to be the assailants’ intended target.

Watkins, among the bystanders struck, died at the scene.

She was 27. She had a 5-year-old daughter.

“She was one of those types of women where anytime she stepped into a room, it just made everything brighter,” Washington said. “She controlled the room. She always had a bright a smile, a bright personality. I know she’s still up there shining, looking down, smiling, making jokes. That brings me ease knowing that. She was always a happy person. I’m going to go even harder for her.”

This Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, Washington will wear custom-painted cleats designed both to pay tribute to Watkins and raise awareness of gun violence. His symbolic shoes are part of the NFL’s annual My Cause, My Cleats campaign, which enables players to raise awareness and, via online auction, money to an off-field passion.

Washington, one of dozens of Raiders participants, chose March for Our Lives.

“You hear the stories every day, whether it be some of these schools or public places, in malls,” Washington said. “It’s definitely a huge issue. Hopefully we can come together … to limit these things so that people who shouldn’t have the guns won’t have the guns. If they do, they’ll get punished for it.”

Watkins was one of three killed in the July 28 shooting. Seven others were wounded. Washington learned of the incident the next morning while in a hotel room, about to practice during the Raiders’ training camp in Napa, California. He ultimately practiced that day, he said, before taking personal time.

The two siblings were very close.

Their relationship included involvement and support of his football career.

“Texted every game. FaceTimed every game,” Washington said. “She was one of my biggest fans, for sure. … I have some small things that I keep around me just to keep her presence around me. I can just feel her. Before every game, I have a conversation with her. We have our way of communicating. She’s definitely always with me. I feel her spirit at all times. It’s pretty crazy because I’d never lost somebody that close to me, but I definitely can still feel her around me.”

Washington underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August, sidelining him for the start of the season.

The cascade of events, he said, was a “test from the man above.”

In five games this year, Washington has logged 21 carries for 78 yards with a 9-yard reception. Raiders coach Jon Gruden has said he plans to expand Washington’s involvement these final five games. It would make for a powerful, emotional moment Sunday if Washington, given his footwear, was to score his first touchdown of 2018.

His sister’s nickname, “Tai Tai,” is painted in white letters on his right cleat. Above the second “T” white angel wings float upward into a blue sky, above the yellow glow of the sun. On his left cleat, a crossed-off handgun is painted inside a red circle near his heel.

Washington said that Watkins’ death has brought him closer to family and friends. He gained greater appreciation for life’s fragility. He also expressed gratitude for the support received from the Raiders, who offered encouragement and allowed him to take however much time he felt necessary away from the club.

He plans to honor her.

“I already told her, my next touchdowns, they’re all dedicated to her,” Washington said. “If you see me pointing up, that’s definitely a way to signal her and the man above. … It’d be special (to score in the cleats). That’s the goal. That’s the plan. So I’m definitely pushing to get in there this week.”

More Raiders: Follow all of our Raiders coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

 Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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