The XFL is still brand new, but the chance to play football professionally means a lot to some of its players. For Eli Rogers of the DC Defenders, it meant enough for him to miss his mother’s funeral.
The former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver decided that he would play against the New York Guardians on Saturday, the same day his mother, Tranae Jackson, was being laid to rest. Jackson, who had lived with AIDS since Rogers was 8, died on Feb. 5 at age 50.
Jackson raised Rogers and his four siblings as a single parent in a suburb of Miami that was considered both poor and dangerous. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2017, Rogers said that his mother considered him a “special child,” and hoped he could be the one to “bring change” to their family.
Hours before he was to take the field, Rogers went on Twitter to explain his decision.
Rogers knows that his mother understood the person he is, and that’s why he decided to play on Saturday. That doesn’t mean Rogers hasn’t been dealing with difficult emotions, though. Rogers played in the Defenders’ Week 1 game, which took place just three days after his mother’s death, and told the media how tough it was.
“It’s been pretty emotional for me. One practice this week, I couldn’t even go out there. It came down on me pretty hard,” Rogers said after the game last Saturday, via USA Today. “But I thank my teammates, man, my coaches, for being there with me and having my back, telling me everything’s going to be all right, take my time.”
Rogers’ decision to play on Saturday paid off. The Defenders beat the Guardians 27-0, and Rogers himself had five catches for 49 yards, including some important catches on the Defenders’ opening touchdown drive. After the game, Rogers talked a little more about the relationship between him and his mother.
“I was really just thinking about her, and what she would want for me. We have a certain relationship where she understands that I’m not too fond of certain things. I just wrote a letter. I let my family read it at the funeral. They said it was a great turnout. I can’t wait to go back there and speak to them, let them tell me all about it.”
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