EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Antoine Winfield took his usual place in the Minnesota Vikings’ starting lineup for last week’s regular-season opener at the Metrodome, but he was playing through emotional pain four days after learning his brother had been murdered in Akron, Ohio.
Winfield, 35, played the Vikings’ win over the Jaguars with his brother in his thoughts. Anthony Travis, 30, was killed last week in Winfield’s hometown. The cornerback will be in the lineup again this week after missing Thursday’s practice to attend his brother’s funeral. He has used the game he loves as a respite from the emotional pain, and he played Sunday in his brother’s honor.
“I play for me,” Winfield said Friday. “I still love the game, still going out there. But last week I played a lot harder, running around just trying to hit everything, just feeling no pain.”
Winfield received word last Wednesday that his brother had been shot and killed. The shooter still hasn’t been apprehended. Meanwhile, Winfield believes he made the right decision to stay in Minnesota until leaving for the funeral, but the emotion of the week wore on him.
On Friday, he finally talked about the past 10 days.
“The support system, you need that,” Winfield said. “You definitely need that. It’s not all about football. Everyone has their own life. We’re all grown men. We all have families, but there are some things that’s more important than football.”
Winfield remained strong while answering questions, but there was clear emotion in his face and his words. Last week, Coach Leslie Frazier excused him from Thursday’s practice for personal reasons.
“I didn’t sleep Wednesday night at all, went through the morning meetings, the walk-through and talked to Coach, and he said just go home and get some rest,” Winfield said.
Frazier tried to support Winfield in the tough situation.
“I tell you, I have so much respect for Antoine,” Frazier said. “To experience the loss that he experienced this week and to come to work, to work as hard as he did and then to play in the ballgame and play as well as he did, I don’t know that I could have done that. I don’t know many people that could have done that. It’s just a very courageous young man, very strong young man, and his teammates, they were very supportive. They were pulling for him. A lot of guys were encouraging him throughout the game and throughout the week as well. But I have tremendous respect for him. My heart goes out to him and his family. We know how difficult this is for them. And we’re going to try to be there to support him and his family — our entire organization.”
Winfield said he has appreciated the support from the Vikings staff and his teammates. Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman attended Thursday’s funeral with the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback.
Travis was described as a “good guy” by Winfield and left behind two young daughters.
“That was tough,” Winfield said of the funeral. “Probably one of the toughest days of my life, go and bury my younger brother, which is a very difficult situation.”
Unfortunately, Winfield said such instances are too common in the rough neighborhoods of Akron, where he was All-State and Defensive Player of the Year as a high school senior before playing at Ohio State.
“I’m dealing with it,” Winfield said. “But, it’s Akron, Ohio. It’s rough there. It’s rough. A lot of guys aren’t going to school, doing the wrong things and you get caught up in a bad situation and that’s what is going to happen.”