The football coach in the black hoodie emerges from the high school locker room and walks into the cold night. His gait is slow, but he wears a smile.
It’s around 10 p.m. on Friday, and Michael Peters’ team, the McClymonds Warriors, has just wrapped up a 74-0 decimation of Skyline High. What’s more, the head coach’s son –– Marcus Peters, a star cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs –– had been on hand to watch his alma mater’s big win. Having Marcus in town only adds to the joy of the victory.
Twenty-six years into a career of leading young men at McClymonds, Michael is a football lifer with a reputation as a tough coach. When he advises a handful of players to hurry to the locker room instead of mingling in the parking lot, they obey without hesitation.
That Marcus Peters’ dad is regarded as a disciplinarian –– something Chiefs coach Andy Reid and former general manager John Dorsey each mentioned the night they drafted Peters nearly 30 months ago –– might come as a surprise. Some have already judged Marcus, 24, for his sometimes explosive on-field temperament, his unfiltered postgame interviews and, most of all, his ongoing refusal to stand for the national anthem.
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That Michael Peters’ son –– a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro selection who has already recorded 16 interceptions in his short career –– is misunderstood in turn disappoints Michael, who stands in the shadows of the still-lit field and explains a few things that he wants people to know.
“I mean, my thing is, learn to know him first,” Michael says. “You can’t judge him just because he’s a passionate guy ... he hates to lose, and sometimes it gets the best of him. But he wants to win.”
Marcus’ teammates and coaches in Kansas City say that while he’s still learning to manage his temper, his heart is usually in the right place. Michael agrees, even as Marcus shows little interest in impressing anyone outside of his football family, real-life family and fellow Oaklanders.
Here at McClymonds, they know who Marcus Peters is. To them, he’s not the man who was kicked off the University of Washington football team during his senior year, before being drafted by the Chiefs. He’s the guy who spends his offseason in the same house in which he grew up. The guy who holds a free, yearly carnival at the school every spring. The one who helped send several kids to a foreign country earlier this year.
A man who has invested thousands of dollars into the McClymonds High School football team.
“He doesn’t really want to talk about the things he does,” Michael says, chuckling. “He gets mad at me when I talk about it.”
Why? Because he’s less interested in talking about it than being about it.
“He’s like his dad, man,” says Michael, who guided McClymonds to its seventh straight city title and a state championship last season. “I’m a prideful dude, but it’s not about me and my accomplishments. It’s about me helping these kids.”
While the Chiefs were toiling through the voluntary portion of offseason practices this spring, Marcus was absent. He was back in Oakland, often working out with the kids on the McClymonds football team.
“He’s running routes with us, practicing his craft, helping us (with) all the techniques we need to make it to where he’s at,” said Angelo Edgerly, a senior running back and receiver.
Edgerly, for instance, never forgets the time Marcus went out of his way to explain what the “midpoint” — the point between the No. 1 and No. 2 receiver, or the No. 2 and the No. 3 receiver — is to a defensive back.
But a lot of the teaching that Marcus does back home in Oakland transcends football.
“As a person, heart-to-heart, we get one-on-one time with him,” Edgerly said. “He’s a staple of this society right here. He’s really one of the main figures we’ve got. He lives right down the street from me. He’s my role model.”
To Peters, giving back comes naturally.
“Me growing up and being from there, that’s the best thing that could have happened to me,” he said. “I got so much love and support from my mother, my father, just the community in general.”
Michael says Marcus paid for three sets of football uniforms for McClymonds, as well as the players’ lettermen’s jackets. And Adidas — Marcus’ sponsor — donated 70 pairs of tennis shoes to an organization called SPAAT, a non-profit that gives gear to needy kids in Oakland.
“That’s without me asking for anything,” Michael said.
Marcus does these things quietly. Like his father –– who each spring takes his student-athletes on college tours to places like USC, UCLA and Arizona State, so they can better visualize their goals –– he’d prefer the focus to be on the kids.
Marcus also helped fund a trip this spring for 30 local students to go to Africa for a week. Senior lineman Jorge Abundis made the voyage, and said he will never forget it.
“He helped me personally with going to Africa, which is a real life-changing experience,” Abundis said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have went.”
Many kids in Oakland never leave town, let alone step foot in another country. Going to Africa allowed Abundis and the other students who made the trip to see how big the world really is.
“He really is a role model for us,” Abundis said. “He tells us what we’ve got to do to go to college and play football, if we wish to. He tells us education comes first, then football. He really pushes us.”
For two Aprils in a row now, Marcus has also funded a free “It Takes a Village” carnival at McClymonds. His father says Marcus has spent more than $50,000 each year to provide food, prizes and rides for kids in the community, many of whom might otherwise never get to do such things.
“When he said he wanted to do a carnival two years ago, I was like, ‘OK, son’ — I’m thinking it’s going to be a little carnival,” Michael said. “I come down here and we see the big rigs coming in, and I was shocked. I ain’t gonna lie, he shocked me. He outdid himself. I’m so proud of him for doing that without anyone asking him to.”
Michael, however, isn’t surprised his son shares his passion for helping local youth. After all, they were both raised in — and shaped by — the same West Oakland neighborhood.
Says Marcus, “All the negative stuff people say about Oakland, California, for me to be placed in this spotlight right now shows ... the rest of the community back home that it’s possible to come up from the bottom and make it to the top.”
Michael grew up in his mother’s house, which is located across the street from McClymonds’ football field. Marcus grew up there, too, raised by Michael and Marcus’ mom, Doreen.
“Going back to the sixties with the Black Panthers, then the drug era, everything was so tough,” Michael said. “You had to be tough here, and that’s how we –– how I –– was raised.”
Michael pointed to a row of homes across the street from McClymonds, a school of roughly 300 students that counts pioneers Curt Flood, MC Hammer, Frank Robinson, Bill Russell and Paul Silas among its graduates.
“All these homes right here, if I was over here cursing, my friend’s mom would whoop me, and I’d get a whooping from there all the way around the corner,” Michael said. “And right now, in this day and era, it’s not like that.”
This bothers Michael, and the same can be said for Marcus. The things they’ve seen over the years in this neighborhood have caused them to have empathy for young people.
“Marcus has seen a lot of things in this neighborhood that those people in Kansas City have never seen before in their lives,” Michael said. “I’ve been coaching here 26 years and I never thought I’d be coaching long enough to see my son graduate and go to college and make it to the pros. But I’m here because I know these young men need someone like myself and all the men we have around us (coaching), because a lot of them don’t have a daddy.”
That’s one of the reasons Marcus prefers to hang around his old neighborhood during the offseason, Michael said. He remembers bringing Marcus to the football field in a stroller until he was able run around, and now Marcus does the same thing with his own young son, Carson.
Marcus believes that, as an NFL player who made good, his presence could inspire kids in Oakland to dream bigger.
“I’ll ask the kids what they want to be in life ... and they don’t know,” Michael said with pain in his voice. “Marcus sees that, so when he comes back, he talks to them. He even comes and sits up in the school and listens to what goes on in my principal’s office. He’ll hear kids’ stories and he gets on them, because sometimes they just don’t have (that at home).”
Michael said the need for more positive male role models is why he and Marcus have taken neighborhood kids on fishing trips — “We’ve gotta do it,” he said — and why Marcus, who is still fond of riding his bike around the neighborhood, issues corrections to kids he sees doing wrong.
“One little kid coming up the street, Marcus took his own shoes off and gave the kid some Jordans — he did that right in front of my mom’s house,” Michael said.
Michael has no doubt that social injustice has fueled Marcus’ decision to sit during the anthem.
Hours before the Chiefs’ season opener against the New England Patriots on Sept. 7, Marcus posed for a photo in which he held a pair of cleats with the words “liberty” and “justice for all” on the bottom of the soles. The caption: “Stand for what you stand in. If you see the potential for good, speak up. Don’t be quiet.”
When asked if Marcus is sitting to bring attention to injustice of all kinds and police brutality, Michael nodded.
“Yes — and he wants liberty and justice for all,” he said emphatically. “Not just black, not just white. I mean, for everybody.”
Michael then referred to Abundis, the football player Marcus helped send to Africa this spring.
“You see Jorge –– he’s Mexican, but look how he loves him,” Michael said, pointing toward Abundis. “That guy right there, he would do anything for Marcus. This kid, he never had a birthday party. Never had certain things.
“Marcus was a kid that really didn’t have to go through some of that stuff, but he sees some of that stuff. Some of his best friends’ mom and dad weren’t fortunate enough (to do things for them). So even in Kansas City, he brings guys out to see the games, and you’d never know he’s done that.”
And those who think Marcus is disrespecting the flag by sitting? Michael simply shakes his head. Michael’s first cousin was in the Air Force, and Michael’s recently deceased uncle was a veteran, too.
“It ain’t about that,” Michael said, “but everybody’s making it about that.”
This dichotomy — Marcus the role model, Marcus the villain — speaks to why people from Oakland are so insular. Outsiders don’t understand them, so they take a certain pride in protecting each other. If they don’t, no one else will.
During Thursday night’s Chiefs-Raiders game at the Coliseum, Oakland running back and native Marshawn Lynch rushed onto the field when Marcus began jostling with a handful of Raiders linemen. On Monday, it was reported that Peters will be taking up for Lynch’s cause during the latter’s appeal of a one-game suspension by the NFL. The two are extremely close, and have been since before Marcus became a star at McClymonds.
“It’s all love in Oakland,” Michael said. “We talk about how bad it is, but one thing is we do travel together, and we do stay together.
“Marshawn was looking out for Marcus, looking out for everybody and trying to keep the peace. (A fight) was never gonna happen. I don’t even think the crowd would let that happen.”
After the game, a video surfaced of Lynch and Peters leaving Oakland Coliseum together on a train. Lynch and a handful of Raiders fans were playfully chanting “(expletive) the Chiefs” at Marcus, who was laughing and giving them the finger in response.
Some fans won’t understand how Marcus could take those chants in stride after a loss. To them, it will probably underscore their negative perception of him.
Michael is used to this by now. The parking lot next to the football field is starting to clear out, the air is getting chillier by the second, and it’s time to go. But he’s got one more thing he wants you to know.
“I really don’t look at (the criticism) too much, because I know they don’t know my son,” Michael said. “So I really can’t go off of what other people really think about him.
“As long as I know he’s a good guy, good person, and the community knows he’s a good guy, good person … I believe that’s what he really wants.”