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Corey Washington tries to heal and get mind back on football after Charleston shootings

New York Giants wide receiver Corey Washington runs

New York Giants wide receiver Corey Washington runs with the ball during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J., on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. Credit: Brad Penner

Corey Washington was heading to Charleston, South Carolina. He did not expect to be hearing about it.

But there it was, all over the radio and all over his phone as he made the car ride home from Giants minicamp in mid-June.

Washington had just wrapped up a productive spring and was looking forward to going back to his hometown, spending time with his expectant girlfriend and other family and friends, and getting prepared for the start of his second preseason with the team.

Instead, as he soon would realize, he was heading to what became this summer's epicenter of violence, racial divides, symbols of slavery, and the increasingly hostile battle over political correctness.

On the evening of June 17, a gunman entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a Bible study and killed nine people. Washington heard that news on June 18 and could not believe it.

"I didn't know about the history, but I knew the church was there because I'm from that area," he said Saturday. "I grew up like three minutes from the church. The City of Charleston. Downtown Charleston. That's where I was born and raised."

He also knew the church because that's where relatives of good friend Sidney Sanders prayed. He called Sanders immediately upon learning of the shooting, hoping to find that his family was OK.

They were not.

Sanders' cousin, Tywanza Sanders, 26, and his great-aunt, Susie Jackson, 87, were among the victims. Tywanza was the young man who reportedly told the shooter during the massacre: "You don't have to do this. We are no harm to you."

When he arrived home, his city had changed.

"It was devastating," Washington said of the way the shootings affected Charleston. "And then it hit close to home with it being my [friend's family]. Seeing him down and out, it was a hard case to watch. It was hurtful."

These weren't just names in headlines and sites on a map, as they were to the majority of us watching the events unfold. They were people and places that Washington knew, that mattered to him. It was, he said, surreal to be hearing and reading about these details with which he was so intimate.

It also changed Washington's relationship with Charleston. Instead of socializing with buddies, he said he simply worked out and went straight home because he was hesitant to be a young African-American out in such a volatile atmosphere.

"With [the shooting] and the Confederate flag issue, it was crazy in the city," he said. "There would be groups of people just walking around and they'd have Confederate flags on pickup trucks and people are throwing water bottles and stuff like that. It was crazy."

Did he feel it was dangerous?

"I wasn't going to try to figure out if it was or not," he said, "but yeah."

Washington reported for training camp last week, returning to New Jersey and football and leaving Charleston behind. But he also left those he cares about behind, in a place where he was bunkered down for six weeks.

"I'm glad to get back to football, but it was hard because my girlfriend is down there and I have a baby on the way," he said. "That's the only hard part is leaving the family. I'm worried about them. I'd rather fly her up here and have her stay with me, but being close to the due date, I don't want to have my baby up in the sky."

The baby, Washington's first child, is due Oct. 7. He hopes girlfriend Bria Carter, who also grew up in the Charleston area, somehow can time the delivery after the Sept. 24 Thursday night game against the Redskins, which will be followed by a weekend off for the players. Assuming he makes the roster, that will be his next trip back to South Carolina.

As Washington left Charleston this past week for the drive to New Jersey, he couldn't help but reflect on the month it had been through. A mass shooting. A memorable Presidential visit (which Washington could not attend but watched on TV; he loved it when Barack Obama sang "Amazing Grace"). The eventual removal of the Confederate flag from the state capital.

Washington said his friend Sanders, who played college basketball in this area at Fairleigh Dickinson University, is doing better with time. He is healing. As is Charleston, though it still simmers.

"There's some positives and negatives with Charleston and the whole South Carolina thing," Washington said with emotion of the progress made and the cost of those steps forward. "I don't want to get too much into it."

But that's where he was this summer. In Charleston.

Too much into it.


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