DeAndre Hopkins and his mother, Sabrina Greenlee, are the subjects of the latest ESPN Cover Story, written by Mina Kimes.
The profile goes in depth on the moment that changed Sabrina and DeAndre’s life forever.
Sabrina was involved in a series of abusive relationships, according to the piece, and on July 20, 2002, she paid a heavy price. She woke up and found her car missing and called the man she was dating at the time, and he provided her with an address to pick up the car.
“When she showed up at an address the man had given her to retrieve the vehicle, he came out and started apologizing,” writes Kimes. “Then a woman -- a stranger but presumably another one of his girlfriends -- ran out with a bucket of bleach mixed with lye. The next few seconds were a blur: liquid splashing onto her skin, her back hitting the grass.”
Sabrina was on the ground with skin falling off all parts of her body. The boyfriend drove her to a nearby gas station and left her.
Sabrina was eventually airlifted to a burn center in Augusta, Georgia, where she underwent multiple skin grafts and lay in a coma for several weeks.
Upon waking from the coma, she had trouble speaking and lost her vision. DeAndre was only 10 years old at the time, and he recalls the state of uncertainty being extremely difficult to handle.
“Having her taken away temporarily like that, it was hard," he said. "You don't really know what your next day is, or what you're gonna do ... because you feel like you're all alone in the world without your mom or dad."
Transitioning back into some semblance of a normal life was hard, but Sabrina was able to manage. She had DeAndre and his siblings to provide for, and that made the realities of a recovery too real.
Sabrina admits to not being the best role model for DeAndre and his siblings. “I've not always been your typical role-model mother,” she said. Sabrina used to sell drugs out of their home to make ends meet.
"I thought I was doing what I needed to do," she continued. "In hindsight, it was the worst thing I could've done, when you have kids that are just trying to go to sleep and get up in the mornings to go to school ... but I was just seeing it as a way to make money."
Seeing strangers (customers) come in and out of his house at night, DeAndre knew it wasn’t right. But as a kid, what could he do?
He did what he knew. Concentrating all his efforts on football. He had preternatural hands at a very young age and dreamed about where football could take him and his family.
It took him to college, where he starred at Clemson University, opting to stay close to home near Sabrina.
It led him to the 2013 NFL Draft, where he was the 27th pick.
Fast forward to today, and DeAndre is in the second year of a five-year $81 million dollar contract extension, with $49 million dollars guaranteed.
DeAndre is one of the best wide receivers in the game and has the means to take care of the woman he says he owes his entire career to. Even though she can’t see him play anymore, she’s at every home game, and he sees her.
"I always knew I took care of more than myself from a young age. People depended on me... I'm always picturing her, whenever I make a catch, her reaction.”
(Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)