FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Falcons wide receiver Roddy White was in a light-hearted mood on Tuesday when he met with the media for the first time during the offseason.
He cracked jokes and conducted a mock interview with teammate Julio Jones and pretended that he would not be the star of HBO’s "Hard Knocks," which will feature the Falcons during training camp. (Note: he will be.)
Despite the outward display, White admitted that he is hurting on the inside. On May 17, he suffered through the shooting death of his half-brother, Tyrone Moore Jr. White may have been 11 years Moore’s elder, but the brothers were close. Moore lived with White for a time in the Atlanta suburbs and attended high school in the area, as White played a fatherly role in his brother’s upbringing.
"It’s always hard for me to deal with, every day," White said. "I think about him. Just being the older brother, when you go grow up in a single-parent home and you kind of raise your little brother and he’s always around you, it’s difficult because it’s always a piece of you always missing, always gone.
"That’s been really frustrating for me. You go through hard times, you go through difficult times and things like that but it’s important to just remember him and do things that he would do. He’s a very happy guy, always smiling, things like that, charismatic. So I keep those things with me. I got tons of pictures in my house that I keep around so he’s always going to be with me on and off the football field through the rest of my life."
Through the ordeal, White said that his teammates and those around the team, including coach Mike Smith, have helped him to cope. Smith, Jones, quarterback Matt Ryan and fellow wide receiver Harry Douglas were among those who traveled to Charleston, S.C., for the funeral.
There is a lot of lip service paid in athletics, professional and otherwise, towards "being a family" but White said on this occasion it proved to be true.
"It meant a lot," White said. "For those guys to come down there when I went through that with my little brother and him passing away, it meant a lot. We always preach family up here and everybody just coming along and Julio and Harry came down, they’re like brothers to me, so it was a real emotional time for me. For them to help me get through that was tremendous. I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me to this point to just always still being there for me because we always think about football and things like that — family always comes first in that circumstance.
"Just for those guys to be around and help me through this time right now, man, is very, very special. It’s always going to be a place in my heart that I keep (for) those guys because they’ve done such a good job to this point."
Along with defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, who was drafted by the Falcons the same year, White is the longest-tenured player on the team. He enters his 10th season in 2014. As he deals with perhaps the most trying personal period of his life, he also will attempt to overcome one of his most difficult professional seasons.
In 2013, an ankle sprain severely limited him early and then a hamstring injury caused him to miss three games from Weeks 6 through 8 — the first games of his career that he sat out, snapping one of the longest streaks in the NFL at 133 consecutive games played.
On the first day of mandatory mini-camp on Tuesday, Smith said that White did not participate in practice because of precautionary reasons.
During their 4-12 season in 2013, a major factor for the Falcons’ poor performance was injuries, White’s and Jones’s in particular. The Falcons’ hope is that with one of the league’s best wide receiving duos healthy, their offense will regain its potency.
When White was playing hurt last season, Smith praised him as one of the toughest players on the team. Keeping his brother’s memory with him, he will rely on that toughness, and his teammates, to endure.