NFL star Vernon Davis has opened up about the emotional moment he had to switch off his mother’s life support machine, in an exclusive interview with DailyMailTV.
Davis, now a TV host and Hollywood movie actor, was faced with the painful choice earlier this year after his mother contracted COVID-19, suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and was left brain dead in hospital.
The former San Francisco 49ers tight end said he had only begun to rebuild his relationship with her five years earlier, after her drug addiction during his childhood destroyed their bond and left them estranged.
Davis, 37, also revealed how his family’s dark struggles gave him the drive to succeed as a celebrated pro football player and later as a serial entrepreneur, actor in Bruce Willis action movies, and now as a judge in the new Fox show Domino Masters.
Vernon Davis, 37, opened up on his rough childhood and the death of his mother in an emotional interview with DailyMailTV
The former San Francisco 49ers tight end had recently reconciled with his mother Jacqueline Davis (pictured with Vernon and his three kids in an undated photo) who had been estranged from him after falling into drug addiction when he was a child
Jacqueline Davis died on March 11, 2021, after Vernon and his siblings made the decision to take her off life support. She had been left brain dead after suffering cardiac arrest brought on by COVID-19
Delving into his childhood, Davis told DailyMailTV how his grandmother raised him and his five siblings in a three-bedroom Washington, DC apartment, while his mother struggled with addiction and his father was absent.
He described the shocking moment he discovered his youngest brother Michael would be committed to an asylum age 19 after killing a man with a sledgehammer in a random attack.
And Davis revealed he himself had a run-in with the law at age 12 when he was given two years’ probation for breaking into a neighbor’s home to steal – a turning point he said made him ‘straighten up’ and set his mind on a career in football.
Davis’s social media is full of pictures of him sharply dressed and sporting a Hollywood-white smile, arms around celebrities and actors including Bruce Willis with whom he is starring in upcoming action movie Day To Die.
But he told DailyMailTV he has come a long way from his upbringing in a poor neighborhood in 1980s DC.
‘My grandmother raised my six siblings and I. We grew up in a three-bedroom home in Washington, DC. My mom was always on drugs. My dad was never around. My mom and my dad never came to a football game as a kid,’ Davis said.
‘Watching my mom on drugs walking up and down the street was totally embarrassing for me as a kid.
‘As I got older, it lived in me and I had to learn how to channel those emotions because I had so much anger, pain and embarrassment inside of me.
Davis told DailyMailTV how his grandmother Adeline (right) raised him and his siblings, while his mother (left) struggled with addiction and his father was absent
Vernon’s grandmother tried to keep him and his brothers and siblings on the right path as children, however, he admits he still ended up falling in with the wrong crowd and got into trouble. He is pictured left at age 14 and right at age four
Vernon (back right) and his five sibling grew up in a three-bedroom apartment in Washington, DC
‘It’s not what you have or what’s been given to you, it’s about how you make people feel. That’s very important to me, my grandmother instilled that in me since I was a kid.’
Davis said despite his grandmother Adaline’s teachings, age 12 he fell in with the wrong crowd and started breaking into houses in his neighborhood.
‘As a kid I would always drop my book bag and go out and play. In the community that I lived in, if you’re outside that means you’re more susceptible to get in trouble,’ he said.
‘I broke into someone’s home, we stole some items and I was arrested. I was put on probation for a year or two.’
Davis said that experience – and a scolding from his grandma, 80 – finally woke him up.
‘She picked me up and she was getting on me,’ the ex-NFL pro said. ‘[She said] “You got to get yourself together, I didn’t raise you like this. You have no business doing that, that’s not you.”‘
‘That was the last time I was in trouble. From that moment I changed my life.
‘I separated myself from my friends. I went to a different high school instead of going to the high school in my neighborhood, just so I could start new and get away from all the negative behavior.
‘I was like, hey, if I am going to make it in this life I’m going to have to be strategic. I knew that from a very young age.
‘By the time I turned 13 my whole life was changed. I was in the National Honors Society, I was a grade A student, I started to work out, to train, and I excelled in sports. From that moment, I never looked back.’
The star athlete managed to clean up his act in high school and became a letterman in football, basketball, and track & field at Dunbar High School
His major break came when he was drafted to the NFL in 2006 and moved out west. Davis’s younger brother Vontae (pictured left with their mother) later followed in his footsteps
Vernon said he remained estranged from his drug-addict mother (pictured left with Vernon and his father) for decades, but managed to get clean in recent years. By 2016 he said he felt ready to rebuild his relationship with her
Davis became a letterman in football, basketball, and track & field at Dunbar High School in Washington and ended up being listed as the fourth-best tight end prospect of the class of 2003, according to archive Rivals.com rankings.
He majored in studio art at the University of Maryland, and racked up impressive statistics for the Terrapins college football team.
His major break came when he made the professional draft in 2006, moving out west to sign with the San Francisco 49ers.
Davis’s younger brother Vontae followed in his footsteps, with encouragement from Davis.
‘Vontae used to stay in the house and play videogames all the time. But I knew he had talent. I could just tell as a kid he was unique, he had talent. He just had to tap into it,’ Davis said.
‘He was drafted four years after I was drafted. He played for 10 years at a professional level. He was the best at his position for many years.
‘Emotionally we’re tied at the hip. Everything that he was affected by when it came to our mother and our upbringing, he felt that, and I feel like he used that energy to help catapult him into the position he was in today, in the success he was able to achieve.’
But Davis revealed that the best athlete of the family was not him or Vontae, but their younger brother Michael.
‘He’s probably the most phenomenal athlete in the family. He’s better than myself, better than my brother Vontae,’ Davis said.
Davis played for the San Francisco 49ers from 2006 to 2015. He was then traded to the Denver Broncos, where he won Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season and signed with the Washington Redskins – now Washington Football Team – in 2016 and retired in February 2020
‘He actually taught Vontae how to play. When I was in college I would go home and Michael was probably 12 years old at the time. He would be there critiquing Vontae. Vontae was 16 going on 17 and he was teaching Vontae how to play the game.’
Though Michael had long exhibited some odd behavior, their grandmother was concerned when he became aggressive as a teenager.
‘One day when I was in San Francisco my grandmother called and said ‘hey he’s punching the air, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what’s wrong with him’,’ Davis said.
‘Maybe a year after that a report came out that a kid was going round the neighborhood hitting people in the back of the head with a sledgehammer.’
It turned out that kid was 19-year-old Michael.
After a spate of seemingly random hammer attacks that injured five, in May 2012 Michael was charged with first-degree murder over sledgehammer killing of 66-year-old Denver tourist Gary Dederichs.
He was also charged with two counts of assault with intent to kill while armed.
Despite his rough upbringing, the football player saw success as a professional athlete and now as an actor in Bruce Willis action movies, and a judge in the new Fox show Domino Masters
The 37-year-old has transitioned to TV and films and will star alongside Devon Sawa (left) in upcoming action-thriller, Gasoline Alley
Prosecutors said Michael snuck up on people in his Petworth neighborhood in Northwest DC and hit them on the head with a hammer.
One victim was bludgeoned just 500 feet from the Davis family home.
Davis said his younger brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia after the attacks.
A psychologist determined Michael was incapable of standing trial, and he was committed to a mental facility, where he still resides.
‘Here’s a kid who has a chance to be one of the best athletes to play football, he was that good. Illinois knew about him, Virginia knew about him, Maryland knew about him,’ Davis said.
‘But now, he doesn’t get a chance to do that because he’s struggling with this disability that he has that’s linked to mental health.
‘That was a chapter of my life I had to fight to get through and continue to be the man for the family.’
Davis said he remained estranged from his drug-addict mother for decades. But in the years after the killing, she managed to get clean.
By 2016 he said he felt ready to rebuild his relationship with her – as luck would have it, just when the then-Washington Redskins offered him a spot in his old hometown.
‘It was the perfect set up for me to be able to spend time with my mother,’ he said.
‘I never thought I’d be playing ball back in Washington DC. I never imagined it, but it happened.
‘I totally took advantage of all that time. All those days I spent playing with that team, I spent a lot of them with my mother.
‘We didn’t have the best relationship just because she was never really around. It was just a struggle. She struggled with drugs for so long, it was hard to be able to communicate with her because I was holding on to so much.
‘But when I got back to Washington, in that year my mom and I started talking more… I knew how important it was for me to cultivate a good relationship with her.’
Davis said a turning point came when he used some of his pro footballer salary to get her the gift she’d always wanted.
In addition to being a star athlete, film actor, and contestant in Dancing with the Stars, Vernon is also father to Valaughn, seven, and Jianni, 13, and nine-year-old daughter Valleigh, whom he had ex Janel Horne
Doting dad: Vernon and his kids Valaughn, Valleigh, and Jianni
‘She would say it was the best thing ever in her life. Something she always wanted that she never had: a car,’ he said.
‘I said ‘Okay ma, we’re going to start you off small because this is your first vehicle.’ She was so excited, she was like “oh my gosh,” jumping up and down.
‘I took her to an auction in DC. She found the car that she wanted. It was a Chevy Impala. That was a nice car.
‘That changed her entire life. She was so excited, it was almost as if she got drafted or something. She took such good care of that car, it’s still parked at my grandma’s right now.
‘That made me happy to see her happy like that, knowing I could make her happy before she left this earth.’
Davis said his mother even started coming to his football games, something she never did when he was a kid.
A consummate hustler, Davis was not content with just a top tight end job for a major team. He started taking acting classes in San Francisco and auditioning for movie and TV roles.
Soon he scooped a part in the 2017 Zac Efron and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson movie Baywatch, and Frank Grillo/Ron Perlman western Hell on the Border in 2019, as well as TV reality and game show hosting roles.
While shooting another Frank Grillo and Patrick Schwarzenegger thriller called, The Yacht, out in Mississippi in March this year, Davis got a call from his brother with terrible news.
He said his mother had caught COVID-19 then suffered sudden heart failure, and was in a coma in a DC hospital.
‘By the time I arrived at the hospital they said “your mom’s brain dead, we’re going to have to pull her off’,” Davis said.
Speaking to DailyMailTV, Davis said his own experience with COVID-19 led him to be even more grateful for the time he was able to spend with Jacqueline after reconnecting in 2016
‘That was the woman from [whom] I got everything I had. My ambition, my desire to do what I needed to do to be successful.
‘I looked at her and I took a breath, I called my siblings and said ‘we’re going to have to pull the plug, she has no brain activity and it’s been hours, it’s been days.’
‘So I watched my mother take her last breath. And it was the most painful thing that I have had to go through.’
Jacqueline Davis died on March 11, 2021 aged 57.
In a cruel twist, the actor and former tight end came down with coronavirus symptoms soon after, and had to pull out of the Mississippi filming, losing his spot in the movie.
But Davis said the experience led him to be even more grateful for the time he was able to spend with Jacqueline after reconnecting in 2016.
‘I spent so much time with her, all the time that I didn’t spend with her in the past. It’s like I regained that, those moments that we missed. It was very beautiful,’ he said.
‘I did the best thing a son could ever do for his mom, is show up when she’s about to take her last breath. Other opportunities will come, you just have to be patient.’