During the Arizona Cardinals' victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Monday Night Football announcers discussed the quickness of Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, the struggles of the Cowboys' defense — and the life story of Denmark Vesey.
Vesey, for the uninitiated, doesn't play for either NFL team. He's a Black historical figure, honored with a monument in Charleston's Hampton Park, who was executed in 1822 for organizing a slave revolt in Charleston.
"A genuine hero," Monday Night Football announcer Steve Levy called Vesey.
The Monday Night Football crew talked about Vesey to a national TV audience because of former Clemson standout DeAndre Hopkins, now a star receiver for the Cardinals.
Hopkins, a native of the tiny town of Central (near Clemson), has been wearing Denmark Vesey's name on the back of his helmet this season. It's part of the NFL's "Say Their Stories" program, in which players and coaches are wearing helmet decals and badges to honor victims of systemic racism, victims of police brutality, and social justice heroes.
Hopkins chose Vesey, who worked as a carpenter in Charleston after winning a lottery and buying his freedom from slavery at the age of 32. He also was one of the founders of what became the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
"You guys might want to do your history research, but Denmark is definitely somebody who was a leader in African-American culture," Hopkins said in September. "He led a revolt. He's somebody who stood out in a time and gave his life for something that he believed in; and that was equality.
"Obviously, his life was taken away for doing what was right. But being from South Carolina and him being from South Carolina, I think it's something that sat with me, resonated with me. Not just now, but my whole life and it's something that they don't teach in history books about people like that."
Hopkins has told reporters that he did not learn about Vesey in school, but from a friend who was from Charleston. As demonstrated by reaction on social media, Hopkins' helmet decal has raised awareness of Vesey's story.
"Never thought I'd hear a Monday Night Football crew going deep in Denmark Vesey," CNN contributor Joshua Dubois posted on Twitter. "Thanks @DeAndreHopkins — small step but makes a difference."
Another viewer posted, "I had never heard of Denmark Vesey prior to Monday Night Football tonight. Nice work @DeAndreHopkins."
Never thought I’d hear a Monday Night Football crew going deep in Denmark Vesey. Thanks @DeAndreHopkins - small step but makes a difference.— Joshua DuBois (@joshuadubois) October 20, 2020
Hopkins wants to make use of his platform as a professional athlete, he has told reporters.
“I’m just glad that I have a platform, (unlike) some of my siblings, some of family members that are incarcerated for petty crimes, some of my family members that have been incarcerated for petty crimes," he told azcentral.com earlier this month. "It’s (unjust), what’s going on, but you know, 400 years of slavery, so it’s going to take a long time before everything comes back to where it should be.”
Vesey was honored with a monument in Hampton Park in 2014.
"The undeniable fact is this: Denmark Vesey was free,” former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said at the time. “He was a free black man, no one owned him ... He risked his life and gave his life to make enslaved people free.”