Some of Darius Slay’s earliest memories of Ahmaud Arbery were of him as a water boy.
The Eagles cornerback grew up in Brunswick, Ga., the same town as the Arbery family. That also is where a 25-year-old Black man, was killed by three white men while on a jog Feb. 23, 2020. All three convicted of murder on Wednesday. The trial drew national attention, as millions had seen the video of the unarmed Arbery being chased down by the three men, trapped, and shot to death.
Slay said he was close to Arbery’s older brother, Marcus, during their shared time in high school. Slay said he and his younger brother both were friends with Ahmaud.
He first knew Ahmaud as one of the varsity hopefuls patrolling the Brunswick Pirates’ sidelines with water bottles.
“Me and his brother were the same age,” Slay, 30, told The Inquirer Friday. “He was a younger guy, he hung out with my little brother. He was one of our young guy water boys.
“I was close [to him], but not as close as I was with his brother,” Slay added. “We always looked after him on the field and stuff like that. He always hung out with my little brother, but me and his older brother were pretty tight.”
Despite his lean build, Arbery became a productive linebacker for the Pirates. He graduated in 2012, three years after Slay.
The Slays and the Arberys are distantly related, sharing Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker as a cousin. Still, the connection is strong enough for Slay to have familiarity with the entire Arbery family, including Ahmaud’s parents.
Slay had been active in raising awareness for Arbery’s case since his death. Before multiple games last season, Slay wore a hoodie that read “I WAS KILLED WHILE JOGGING” on the front and Arbery’s name on the back. He also wore cleats that read “Rest in Power” with Arbery’s name last October to go along with the hoodie.
“For me, I grew up with him, I’ve known him for a long time, know his mom and his dad,” Slay said. “I got a big platform, so I’m going to use it. I wanted to draw attention to something like this and let people know. It’s all coming from the heart.”
Slay expressed relief for his hometown in the aftermath of the verdict, both because of the potential fallout in the community if the three men had not been convicted, and the closure the ruling provided. Arbery’s killers each face a mandatory life sentence. The judge will decide if there will be a possibility of parole.
Above all else, though, Slay was relieved for Arbery’s parents.
“It’s a start,” Slay said. “That’s the great thing, man. He’s not here, but his family can sleep better. I know they couldn’t sleep well at all wondering what the verdict was going to be. It’s a good thing that it turned out in their favor, man.”