So much darkness, so much light

Everyone around Vic Beasley is dying. That's what makes the Falcons linebacker so determined to live.

By Tyler Dunne

September 28, 2016

Bleacher Report

Butch Dill / AP Photo

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Friends couldn't make sense of how calm he was. It was eerie. Spooky, really. Vic Beasley didn't seem affected by all the tragedy, let alone distraught.

His brother died on Feb. 1, 2014. His father died on April 11 this year. His uncle, his great aunt, his grandmother, all gone.

The Falcons linebacker never broke stride.

He'd crank that country music loud in the car or unveil a new dunk on the basketball court or jam out on the piano or whip your butt in NBA 2K at his apartment. Mourning? Sadness? Depression? These concepts, it seemed, were foreign to Beasley.

"It was kind of—I don't want to say 'odd,' but I don't know any other way to put it," says Kurt Scoggins, his high school position coach and friend. "You talk to him and it's, 'I'm OK, Coach. I'm fine. I'm staying busy.'"

When his brother died? "He didn't take it too hard or show too many emotions," says Garry Peters, a teammate at Clemson.

And his father? Vic Jr. was so unfazed that his former Clemson teammate and friend Shaq Lawson says he didn't even know Vic Sr. had died until three weeks after the fact.

Lounged on a chair underneath a tent at the Falcons' practice facility, Beasley is precisely as everyone describes him. Humble, kind, stoic. Then, he explains how he shuttled from the practice field to the hospital room all last season as his dad's liver disintegrated. There's a chill in his voice. Then, he says his brother died in a car accident and refuses to delve any deeper. There's pain in his eyes.

Maybe the joy the world sees is a facade. Maybe these two deaths—one excruciatingly long, one sudden—led to psychological trauma.

That was the case for Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who like Beasley has lost a slew of family members recently. It's been suggested to Beasley that he reach out to Dareus. The two share an agency. In a moment of vulnerability, Beasley says he's considered giving Dareus a call.

"It'd be good to hear from someone who's been through something similar to my story," he says.

Truth is, Dareus hasn't handled his situation as well. He's been suspended four games by the NFL for substance abuse and checked himself into rehab.

Beasley never slipped into such an abyss. Instead, he keeps smiling, keeps laughing and keeps rushing off the edge as the anointed savior of the Falcons' hyperventilating pass rush. Somehow, so much darkness led to so much light.

He persists as a source of joy to everyone around him. They call him "a different bird," a "devout Christian," a "jokester," a "jack-of-all-trades," a "beacon of light." And whenever her son returns home to Adairsville, Georgia? Mom's eyes glow. The "atmosphere," she punctuates, "changes."

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Daniel Shirey / Getty Images

Alcoholism runs deep in his genes, and his siblings have used drugs. Virtually every kid in his neighborhood did. Yet Beasley never even attended parties, and he became the first member of his family to graduate from college.

Where everyone else yinged, he yanged.

In reality, a player coping with death should be the one calling Beasley.

"You can think of the negative—what bad happened that day, what didn't go your way—but you can always think about the positive," Beasley says. "How you woke up this morning, how you still have a breath in your body. And that's how I approach every day.

"I flood my mind with positivity."


Vic Beasley does not fit into a box. Never has, never will.

To most, he's quiet. He extends the deadest of dead-fish handshakes you'll ever encounter. Limp wrist, dangling fingers 'n all. Before games at Clemson—as coaches delivered fire-and-brimstone speeches—Beasley hardly blinked, as if sitting in a pew, not a locker.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables once asked Beasley's high school coaches in astonishment: Was he always like this?

To teammates, he's the freak athlete with a chiseled physique and zero body fat. It was nothing for Beasley—in jeans, on demand—to grab a basketball, leap, cycle the ball underneath his legs and slam it home with authority. He once broke a backboard in high school.

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

In the weight room, Lawson recalls in awe, Beasley would squat north of 700 pounds, laughing the entire time.

Peters calls Beasley "the second coming of Von Miller" because of this.

"He's 6'4", dang-near 260, but he feels like he's the point guard in basketball," Peters says. "He can move so well. It's just so natural for him. He never really had to work too hard at it. It's like you put the ball down and told him, 'Go get it.' That's what he's good at: making something happen."

To everyone outside of football? He's country. Deep country. Beasley's playlists are full of Sam Hunt, Chase Rice and don't you for a damn second tell him Florida Georgia Line is too stadium.

"I love Florida Georgia Line!" he snipes. "Band-wise, they're my No. 1."

Yes, he's an African-American in cornrows and earrings who loves country music.

The lyrics speak to him. The flow slows his mind.

"There's just something about it," he says. "I don't know how to explain it."

He plays the piano. At Clemson's "Ladies Clinic," Beasley tore it up on the keys—"He was incredible!" Lawson says. Beasley specializes in gospel hymns.

He's devout. Rather than join Lawson and friends at campus parties, Beasley stayed home and played NBA 2K. He could go for 12 hours straight, Lawson says. He never drank. Never partied. College coaches used him as an example for younger players. Youth football coaches remember Beasley reading a Bible on his porch when they picked him up for practice.

He's a comedian. Playing the role of a pastor during a church play as a high schooler, Beasley had the crowd in stitches. He has one of those voicemail greetings that makes you think he's actually on the other line. (I fell for it twice.)

"[Beasley is] infectious, contagious. I don't know the correct way to say it. People like being around him."

— Former coach Kurt Scoggins

He's beyond curious. An avid bass fisherman, Beasley learned this summer how to fly fish from a professional. He also bought a handgun to let off some steam at the shooting range. Scoggins told him to take shooting classes and research a bit.

"And he's done that for the most part," says Scoggins with a tick of unease, "but he's gotten comfortable now."

He's loyal. Beasley's best friend, to this day, is his mentally disabled neighbor. Beasley wore No. 3, so his friend did, too. And when these two aren't attending Atlanta Hawks games during a lull in his schedule, Beasley is ducking into a gymnasium for cheerleading camp. Really. Scoggins' pre-K-age daughter was there, so in walked Beasley mid-cheer for support.

There's no defining him. Beasley is a kaleidoscope of characters.

Everyone agrees on one trait, though: He's magnetic.

"He's infectious, contagious. I don't know the correct way to say it," Scoggins says. "People like being around him. He has that energy, that aura about him."

Two deaths threatened to destroy that aura.


Fresh off a game of basketball with friends, Beasley checked his cellphone. One of his brothers had sent a simple, three-word text message.

"We lost Fly."

Beasley didn't believe it. No way was his big brother Tyrone Barrett—"Fly," everyone called him—dead. He frantically dialed his niece. At least he thinks it was his niece. Maybe it was a cousin, a sibling. Everything happened so fast he can't remember. All Beasley heard on the other end of the phone was inaudible wailing.

He connected with his mother, and the truth sank in.

Fly, 40 years old, had died in a car accident.

"It was just…" Beasley says, "a terrible feeling."

Barrett was traveling northbound on Interstate 75 at 10:15 p.m. when his 1995 Chevrolet Caprice Classic drifted off the road, struck a guardrail, spun across the road and smashed into trees on the driver's side. He died on the scene. Police suspected alcohol was a factor, per reports then, though his mother says she's not sure it was.

Replaying the crash in her mind, Teresa Beasley's eyes tilt up and well with tears. Her voice cracks.

"It was…it was…devastating. It was…whew."

The house goes silent, still, eerie—as cold as Beasley was the two weeks following Fly's death.

This was the brother who bought him a pair of basketball sneakers—Vince Carters!—for his rec league. Beasley cherished those VCs for years. Fly had a "detective"-like personality, constantly seeking the truth in any confrontation. And above all, Mom says Beasley learned how to be "truthful" from Fly.

Most everyone around Beasley assumed he was OK.

But deep down, no, Beasley didn't take this news well. For two weeks after the crash, he refused to speak to anyone—Mom, family, friends. He secluded himself in his bedroom and totally shut down.

Door closed. No visitors. He missed classes back at Clemson and didn't care.

"Vic was broken," his mother says. "He just went into a shell. And when he goes into that shell, he's quiet and you just have to wait and let him come out on his own. Don't bother him. Let him come out on his own."

What pained Beasley most was that he had started to drift away from Fly in college.

"That whole time, really, man, I wanted to throw in the towel and just give up," he says. "I felt like everything was falling apart for me. I was losing the one who gave me the extra fuel to chase my dreams."

Two weeks later, he was back at Clemson. Nobody sensed a blip of sadness.

It hit Beasley that his older brother had left a son behind. He needed to be strong for him, if nothing else. He was, after all, the entire family's "beacon," Mom says. Beasley returned to Clemson for the 2014 season, had 21½ tackles for loss (12 sacks) and was drafted eighth overall by the Falcons.

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Chris Keane / AP Photo

Then Dad died.


This was suicide.

Only much slower. Only much more painful to everyone around him.

Everyone told Vic Sr. he'd kill himself at this rate. His wife. His son. Doctors even gave him five years to live. And yet, Dad could not stop drinking. He'd promise to go to rehab, then the date would creep closer and he'd head to a bar instead. By 2015, Dad had beaten his liver to a pulp.

"Do you want to live?" Mom remembers Beasley pleading.

Dad's addiction reached a point of no return. So this is where Beasley saw his father take his final breaths.

On the fireplace mantle rests an 8x10 framed photo of Mom, Dad and Beasley. On a nearby table top rest nine more framed photos with the inscribed silver letters "F-A-M-I-L-Y." Everywhere you look are crosses, Bible verses and other signs of faith that make this home Beasley bought for his family feel more like a church.

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Tyler Dunne

A glistening bronze plate behind Mom's shoulder reads, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Next to that is a framed photo of Vic Sr. in a backward "Tigers" hat.

He didn't follow his own advice, but Dad gave his son many words of wisdom those final days.

Be alert. People will try to take advantage of you.

Watch your spending.

You're going to have to get tougher on the field. Stop acting like you don't want to hurt anybody.

You can be as good as you want to be. I want to see you do great things. I know that you're tough enough. That's why we call you Madman.

In April, Dad was gone.

Beasley repeats that his father was loving and supportive. Dad would toss him the football from the couch as a kid, play Madden and attend his games. When Beasley received a scholarship offer from Auburn—where Vic Sr. played from 1982 to 1984—Dad fully supported his son's decision to attend Clemson instead.

"Even though he did drink a lot, he had a great mind," Beasley says. "He imparted so much into me as a young man."

After losing his own sister, mother and father, Vic Sr. turned to alcohol. His niece and two of his uncles had the same problem. Now, all four are dead.

"People deal with death in different ways," Teresa Beasley says. "Some deal with it through drinking or drugs or trying to ease their mind. So Vic chose to drink, and he never stopped."

She gets choked up again.

At the bar. At home. He couldn't break the addiction.

It, she acknowledges, "was tiresome."

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Beasley with his parents (Tyler Dunne).

As his dad's health decayed last year, Beasley booked it from practice to the hospital two or three times per week to be with his father while fluid was drained from his liver.

"That was probably one of the breaking points in my life," Beasley says. "Just knowing at practice that I'd have to go to the hospital to see my dad. Things like that run through your mind at practice. I'm like, 'Man, I wonder how my dad's doing.' I'm in a three-point stance thinking about my dad. It's just a tough time."

Soon, his dad was moved into hospice care and died, and Beasley again locked himself in his room.

"He shut down," Mom says. "He knows how he tried, how he tried to help his dad, and he just wanted the best for him. He wanted the best for his dad.

"I'm sure he still has thoughts. He just doesn't say much.

"I'm sure he had thoughts going through his head."

What were those thoughts? Initially, Beasley replayed everything he tried to do. The pleading, the begging, the praying. He tried everything shy of literally ripping the bottle out of his father's hand. Once he reached peace, was content that everyone did everything in their power to change Dad's ways, Beasley looked in the mirror.

"Normally when your dad does, you just do," he says. "I just said, 'No, I'm going to be different.' I'm going to break this generation curse."

So on April 15, Beasley didn't attend his dad's funeral. No, he had promised to headline "Rally on the Runway," a charity function benefiting childhood cancer research. More than 300 people would be at Buckhead Theatre for this, and Beasley had given them his word.

Beasley wore a maroon suit and white kicks, and his hair was neatly tucked into a bun. Pictures of the event show him hugging one "rally kid," Mary Tipton, and striking a pose with another on the runway.

A record $250,000 was raised. He's smiling in every photo.

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vicbeasley3 on Instagram

Elsewhere, his father was buried six feet under.

"I needed to be there," Beasley says, "for the kids who were battling something I've never battled."


There is one major difference between the plights of Marcell Dareus and Vic Beasley. One lost his mother. One did not. The search for Vic Beasley's inner strength begins and ends with Teresa Beasley.

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Tyler Dunne

This day, Mom walks out onto the patio and gazes at her massive yard. Fox. Deer. Wild hogs. She sees it all here.

"Patches took down a hog last week, actually," she says, nodding toward one of Beasley's American pit bulls.

With that, Patches slobbers and wobbles over for a stranger to pet his head.

"Oh, don't worry about him! He's the nicest one."

Mom heads inside, closes the door and takes a seat. It's only her and "Mason" living here now. Who? "Mason Boswell," she says, pointing to the newspaper clipping on the dining room table. It's a picture of Mason, a high school sophomore, carrying a football in a recent Adairsville scrimmage.

Three years ago, Boswell's biological mother showed up at Teresa's doorstep homeless, on drugs and out of answers. She asked Teresa to raise Mason as her own. So without thinking twice, Teresa did exactly that. Boswell's biological mother is now incarcerated.

Alcoholism may be in Beasley's genes—he only drinks a little wine at dinner, if anything—but so is Mom's resilient spirit.

Teresa was abandoned by her own parents and raised by a different couple from age 6 to 16. When this couple died, she lived on friends' couches. Home to home. Night to night. But when her biological mother became ill, Teresa forgave.

She moved in with the woman who once abandoned her. She fed her, cleaned her, took care of her until her death in 2003. Three years ago, Teresa began bonding with her father again, too.

"It wasn't difficult because I felt like the love of God was in my heart," she says. "So it wasn't difficult. It wasn't."

Don't let this quaint town of 4,700 fool you. Drug dealers once ran rampant. Teresa's other children have succumbed to drugs and alcohol like so many in their neighborhood. It was easier for most of Beasley's peers to sell drugs than take on 9-to-5 jobs.

But he was different. The youngest of five kids became an inspiration.

Scott Cunningham / Getty Images

"He has that spirit about him," Mom says, "and we miss him when he leaves and are so happy when he comes!"

Whenever Beasley is home, he takes the family to the Olivet Baptist Church 60 miles north in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The pastor's message awakens something inside of him.

"He has that spirit about him, and we miss him when he leaves and are so happy when he comes!"

— Teresa Beasley

Go ahead and dig and dig and dig all you want, Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop says. Beasley is "clean as a whistle."

Adairsville High School now has a "Vic Beasley Day," and Beasley recently bought new uniforms for Adairsville's football team.

Those old words from Dad come to mind as you hear this: Get mean. Is his son too nice to play a ruthless game? Too gentle of a soul?

Even Garry Peters says he's never seen Beasley mad. "Ever. Not once." In high school, Scoggins adds, Beasley needed to get beat on a play or two "before he turns it up."

In Atlanta, no, he hasn't turned it up yet.

Beasley was supposed to wave a magic wand for a pass rush that finished 30th, 29th, 28th, 19th, 20th and 26th in sacks the six seasons prior to drafting him. Last year, the Falcons finished dead last. When he wasn't at his dying father's side, Beasley was totaling only 26 tackles and four sacks on the field. He was overwhelmed physically, and a sore shoulder zapped his trademark explosion.

The Falcons' 2016 opener was a new low. Beasley didn't record one tackle, let alone a sack, in 39 defensive snaps.

The pressure is on for him to produce.


On the phone after that goose egg, Beasley assures he feels the pressure, too. He hears outsiders clamoring, "He ain't doing this" and "He ain't doing that."

"I know what is to come," he says. "So that's why I don't really get into all of that. I keep working, man.

"I know it's going to come."

Chris Keane / AP Photo

His job title might as well read "Ass-Kicker," yet Beasley's personality screams everything but. Mean is the one trait he doesn't seem to possess. Mean is a necessity at his position. If these Falcons have any hope of contending, Beasley must drill Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Jameis Winston. Then, he must drill them again.

And again. And again.

Atlanta is hitching its hopes to the dead-fish handshake.

"Everybody talks about, 'He needs to play mad,' and all this," Beasley says. "I'm myself out there on the field. But I play to a level when I'm on the field. I play like I'm fighting for my brothers, man. We all want to win the Super Bowl, and I know it's going to take some tough men, some hard-working men."

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Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Scoggins is also quick to note this is the same competitor who told coaches to put him in as the punt returner and then proceeded to take a punt to the house. The same competitor whom Peters calls "a quiet monster, a quiet bear."

Says Peters, "He won't bother you, but if you do something to him…"

Says Scoggins, "He could preach at a church service at 11 a.m. and then play a game at 6 at night."

Because in those moments after death, Beasley learned so much about life. There's always a foundation to host. A hobby to pick up. A concert to attend. A nephew to raise. Fly's son, Tyrese, comes to all of Beasley's home games. He's "goofy," just like Beasley.

Beasley tries to be the father figure both he and Tyrese lost.

When people around him died, parts of Beasley died, too.

The parts that didn't die—goofiness, curiosity, kindness—were accentuated to full capacity.


Beasley is thrilled to learn he sold a stranger on Florida Georgia Line.

"They've got some good stuff, right?!"

Next up, he instructs, check out Chase Rice. "Everybody We Know Does" and "Gonna Wanna Tonight" are gems. That was the last concert Beasley attended.

It can get tough listening to all that rap in the Falcons' weight room. Beasley would love to hijack the stereo system and blast some country. He hasn't played a lick of Rice or Florida Georgia Line or Zac Brown Band.

"There will be a day!" he promises. "There will be a day!"

Indeed, Vic Beasley will figure out this whole NFL thing on his terms. Don't expect him to change. He's not crunching quarterbacks, no, but is anybody prepared to doubt him?

His entire 24 years, he's been a beacon of hope. Of life. He'll continue flooding his mind with positivity, and, chances are, everyone who meets him will do the same.

"People want to believe," he says. "They want to believe in miracles. You want young kids, day to day, to enjoy your miracle."


Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @TyDunne.