‘When He’s Out There Playing, That’s His Mama’

Diana Askew's son has returned to New York. Darrelle Revis' mother shares the stories of how she taught him to fight for himself, when his perspective on life changed and about the time she beat the All-Pro defensive back in a foot race
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NEW YORK — On a recent weeknight, Diana Askew was in midtown Manhattan at a photo shoot for her oldest child, Darrelle Revis. The next morning, Askew was scouting venues in the city for a 30th birthday party she plans to throw her son this July. A lot has changed for Revis the past few years—he tore his ACL, then was traded from New York to Tampa, then won a Super Bowl with the Patriots, and now is back with the Jets eight years after they drafted him. But the one thing that hasn't changed is Askew’s strong, guiding presence in his life. As a single mother of three, she set him on a path out of Aliquippa, Pa., and on to becoming one of the best defensive players in the NFL. In honor of Mother's Day, The MMQB asked for Darrelle Revis’ story through the eyes of his first fan, his mom.

VRENTAS: You seem happy seeing him out here in a New York Jets uniform. Were you hoping he’d come back to the team where he started his career?

ASKEW: I know he’s always had New York in his heart. When he left, he didn’t really want to leave, so I believe in the back of his mind that it was there. I support him wherever he goes, because you never know and it can change so much in the NFL. But we were big fans of the Jets because he was drafted there, so that was a positive thing. We’re happy as a family that he’s there today.

VRENTAS: I remember back when he was a rookie, you used to make the drive across Pennsylvania to New Jersey, with home-cooked meals or bringing his daughter to visit. How many times do you think you’ve made that drive?

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ASKEW: I couldn’t count. The year after Darrelle got drafted, he got me that little ML350 Mercedes truck, and I ran it into the ground. The motor was done. I ran that truck into the road from driving back and forth so much. It lasted me most of the time he was with the Jets the first time, then I took it over to the dealer, and the guy said, “The engine is gone. You have to get a new vehicle.” I would come up and shop and cook for him. One thing he says about me is that I’m always making him tacos. That’s my favorite, so I’m always making him tacos.

VRENTAS: How is your relationship different now than when he was a rookie?

ASKEW: He has matured so much. Especially with business, and the way he’s handling everything. He’s more focused on building his brand and what he represents for other players, so they can see the things that are out there for them if they come into the league. You have to have a broad perspective of the things you want to get into with charities, sponsorships. He’s been focused on who he is, and staying with that, so other players can see the opportunities they have in this NFL business and what they can do to help themselves.

VRENTAS: How much do you still help run the business that is Darrelle Revis, Inc.?

ASKEW: When he first started out, I was his manager, just trying to keep things in perspective for him and take care of the things he didn’t need to worry about when he was playing the game—his home, making sure things are paid on time. I still do that aspect. But there are things he has recently taken away from me. This time, when he moved, he said, “I can do it, mom. I can get my apartment. I can get the furniture.” The furniture got delivered, and I didn’t have to come up for the delivery, or set it up for him. He shipped his truck from Florida. Usually I handled all of that, but he did it all himself this time. He’s really growing up. I’m like, "Ahh," you know. But it’s good for me, because I’m in a better place with letting go as a mom. It’s hard, but I’m letting him go in the areas where I need to. He’s becoming so much more independent. Now he’s coming to a place where he’s more settled. There were areas I lacked in when I raised him, but I see it does come full-term, when parents keep talking and talking, and we think you’re not listening, but you are. He’s very grounded, he knows what he wants, and he knows how he’s going to do it. He’s already got it mapped out. And I don’t even have to say anything now.

VRENTAS: When did you see a change in him, that he started to grow up?

ASKEW: It happened a few years ago. The season when he had his injury, right after that, he kind of changed. He changed as far as developing, and I guess looking at himself. To have an injury like that, that could have been career-ending, and then wondering, where do I go from here? It took life, and it flipped on him. It made him look more into himself of who he was and where he needed to get back to, to even accomplish the things he’s accomplishing today. It was a life-changing experience for him. God forbid, had the injury been a lot worse, or he couldn’t have come back from it, he would have had to start over and do something else. It’s an awakening for any player to go through that and have to come back the way he did and have to work hard. That’s where the transition happened.

VRENTAS: Coming back from the ACL injury was a pivotal part of his career. How did you help him through it?

ASKEW: He was training a lot. He stayed in the gym working out. It was him doing it on his own. But when he needed our support, he could come back home, and we would sit around as a family as we do. When he comes around us, he wants to be who we know him as, Darrelle Revis, my son. He wants to be home, sitting on the couch with our blankets watching movies, laughing as a family, eating, barbecuing. He loves linguine, that’s his favorite dish, so my daughter or my mom or my sister always makes that for him when he comes home. He comes home for that. He comes home for peace.

VRENTAS: Your past as a high school sprinter is often credited for giving him his speed. What was your athletic career like?

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ASKEW: I just ran track in school. I ran the 100m, the 200m, and I think the 50m dash, too, and the relay. I thought I was fast, but I don’t know. There were other people faster than me, but I had a little bit of speed. Darrelle and my brothers used to try and race me all the time. They were always wanting to race me, saying, “You’re not fast,” but I was fast enough to beat them when I could run. I beat Darrelle when he was a teen and tried to race me, and when my brother, Sean [Gilbert] was in the NFL, I beat him, too.

VRENTAS: You knew early on, I’m sure, that he had athletic gifts. How did you encourage them?

ASKEW: I tried to keep him busy, always doing something to get better. He loved basketball—that was his thing back then. There wasn’t a day I can remember when he didn’t have that basketball in his hand and he was at that court playing. That was his life. I would have to sometimes go get him to bring him home from that basketball court. He was there all day, every day. Later he was on an AAU team and we traveled. I kept him involved in things so he could enhance his craft.

VRENTAS: Through his career, he’s talked about the challenges kids face making it out of Aliquippa. How did you keep him on a path out of your hometown?

ASKEW: I searched for him. I went outside of my area to search for stuff for him to do, to keep him out of the streets. And if he went to the streets, I would go get him. I would come on the corner, and I would say, ‘Let’s go. This is not the life for you.’ I told him, you need to make a decision. There are a lot of people pulling at you to come another direction. Is this what you want to do? You have to sit down and talk to the kids and tell them and show them, this is what this life would lead to, and this is what that life would lead to. Darrelle had friends that pulled at him to come another way, but he had his own mind. I’m talking about in high school, when they could go to parties and people would be smoking weed and drinking, and he would leave. He wouldn’t even stay. That’s not what he did. I used to tell him, you’re a leader, you’re not a follower, so you have your own mind. You know how to walk away. And he did. As a parent you have so much control and power that you can put into your child, and build your child up enough to teach them the things they’re going to encounter in life, and then they have to make the decision.

VRENTAS: How early on did you believe he might be the next great athlete from Aliquippa and western Pennsylvania?

ASKEW: I remember when. It was right before he got drafted. I had been at one job working with at-risk youth in the city of Pittsburgh, and I left that job and applied for another job working with the mentally ill. I got hired, and I was in the training program, and my brother Sean called me and said, “Where are you?” I told him that I was in training for this job I just got. I was going to make sure I had a job, because I needed health benefits. And my brother said, “You need to leave that job right now. Your son, he declared, he’s going to the NFL, and you’re going to need to manage him. He needs somebody close to manage him, and you are the only person that he trusts.” Oh, wow. I think reality set in on me as I was driving home. My son is going to the NFL. OK, wow. Let me get ready for this. I had to get my mind prepared for it. Things work out the way they do, because Darrelle has always been a competitor. Even from when he was a young child, he hated to lose—chess, basketball, it was always something. He could play ball against my brothers when he was a little boy, and he didn’t like to lose. I knew within him, as I watched him develop through the years, that he was going to become something. I didn’t care if it was football, basketball, whatever. I just knew Darrelle was going to be successful in whatever he did, because he conquered everything he ever put his hands to, and he mastered it.

VRENTAS: Do you remember the first time in his athletic career that he needed some encouragement, and what did you say to him?

ASKEW: The one moment I talk about is when we where in Memphis. I had moved there for a year, and he was going to a basketball day camp. I heard about the camp through the city, and I took him over there, because I knew he had talent. I saw the talent. But I think because he was small, and the guys were so much bigger than him, his confidence wasn’t good. He was sitting in the car saying, “They’re so big.” I hadn’t seen that in him before, and I said, “Let me tell you something. I don’t care who is in there, you are better than most of those guys in there. I’ve watched you, and I know what you’ve got in you. You wipe those tears, you get out of this car and you go in there and ball out like you always do.” He got out of the car, and he went in there, and I left him. Then I got a call at work, I was at Time Warner Cable, and I found out Darrelle got MVP for the camp. They were saying he was dribbling through those guys like they weren’t even out there on the court. I knew what he had in him.

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VRENTAS: He’s had a lot of ups in his career, but also some downs. What has been the toughest part of his career for you, as a mom?

ASKEW: Going through the injury, that was a hard time, and watching him during the holdouts. The Jets drafted him, and then when they drafted him, it was like, We don’t want to do what we said we were going do. I’m thinking, is this how it’s gonna work? As a mother, you’re looking at him, thinking that he’s thinking that maybe they drafted me and they don’t really want me. I told him, “Darrelle, pick your head up. We’re going to start this off now. This is business. This is the other side of it. You’re all gung-ho to get out there on the field and play ball, but now you’ve got to deal with the business side of football and how the NFL works. This is what teams do. You are expendable to them. You’ve got to know that early.” Every time those type of situations happened, both of the holdouts, I had to give a pep talk to him. I had a knot in my stomach, because you can’t tear my son down. That’s one thing you’re not going to do. I’m not allowing it, and if I have to talk to him every day, whether he wants to hear my mouth or not, I said, my voice will ring in his ears when he’s not around me. I told him, “You are exceptional, and every team is going to need you. You make them have to need you. You go after everything you know you worked for.” And I kept doing that every so often, because I know him and I know where he needs to be picked up at. And then I would text him and say, “I love you so much.” That’s all I would say sometimes. No big special message, just send him little texts like that. We are a family, and we are going through this together.

VRENTAS: The Super Bowl win ticked off a box. Did that change at all what he’s looking to achieve the rest of his career?

ASKEW: Yes. It was one of his goals. Every year he has goals, and usually he writes them down. I know that one’s been in his head, that he wanted to win a Super Bowl. The crazy part is, we have a suite most of the time at the stadium of the team Darrelle goes to, and the Patriots already knew they were going to the playoffs. You get a case of the tickets for the suites at the beginning of the season, and we already had tickets for the playoffs. That’s amazing. Bill Belichick put that team together, and that was a Super Bowl team. You think about Malcolm Butler. He hadn’t played all year, but Darrelle said at practice he was doing exceptional things already. They put him in the game at the end and he makes a couple plays at the end. They knew the kind of team they had.

VRENTAS: What else do you want him to achieve in his NFL career?

ASKEW: The Super Bowl is the greatest thing, right? I hope they win and do the same thing this year. And I believe they can. I believe they can do it. Now that he has been there, helped a team get to the Super Bowl, he has the perspective of what needs to be done to get where we need to get to with the Jets. I think they can do it.

VRENTAS: Best Mother’s Day gift you’ve gotten from him?

ASKEW: He told me I’m getting a package Friday, so I’m kind of excited about this year. All three of my kids are telling me, your gift is coming Friday. They all get together and try to put their heads together. I don’t require a lot. I’m very practical. I just like to see him happy and healthy. Gifts don’t faze me. But there was one thing he did do for me in the past that I did love. When he was with the Jets the first time, Marc Anthony came to MSG, and he got me tickets because he knew I loved Marc Anthony. I used to play those songs for them all the time growing up. I was in awe.

VRENTAS: What is something you wish the public knew about him, that they don’t?

ASKEW: That he is a very down-to-earth, humble guy. It’s crazy how people really just don’t know him. Most people who meet him are surprised. They tell me he’s nothing like they thought he was. Even Mr. [Robert] Kraft made that statement to me. He said, “Your son is nothing like he was portrayed. He is so nice and humble.”

VRENTAS: Of all the traits you’ve passed on to your son, what is the most important one?

ASKEW: His fight. The fight he has in him. When he’s out there playing ball, and he’s going after that guy, that’s his mama. And I got it from my mom. You stand up for yourself, and you fight.

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