This past summer, affiliates of H.D. Woodson High School, Marshall College, and the New England Patriots paid homage to Malik Gant, a well-regarded football player, scholar and community leader who suddenly passed away at the age of 25.
In the months since his death, Sirraya Gant, Gant’s mother, has been building a nonprofit in her son’s memory.
She told The Informer that the soon-to-be-launched institution will help athletes maintain a positive attitude as they navigate the various stages of their professional career, and encounter the disappointments they may face along the way.
“Mental health is not discussed enough in these places because football is a man-led sport. Athletes are taught to cry in the dark and not show emotions. It’s lonely,” Gant said.
“With my close-knit community, I can go to every level and talk to the athletes, and use the relationships with the coaches to build resources for athletes going through different phases,” Gant added. “They can talk to other athletes and explain how they maintain a positive mindset.”
Malik Gant died on May 25 in Miami, just days before his 26th birthday. The cause of death has yet to be determined. Toward the end of his life, the late Gant had been exploring entrepreneurship and careers as a personal trainer or a trucker, Sirraya Gant said.
Gant, a Ward 7 resident and community engagement specialist, described her son’s ascent to the New England Patriots as not only unconventional, but indicative of his refusal to give up on dreams that had been brewing in his psyche since he started playing football at the age of five.
In 2015, upon his graduation from Woodson, the late Gant matriculated to Marshall College, located in Huntington, West Virginia, without a football scholarship. He however walked on Marshall’s football team as a safety during his sophomore year. In 2018, Gant, then a defensive back, was named to the Conference USA All Conference Team with a record that included 90 tackles, 10 passes defended, and two interceptions.
In 2019, Gant played with the New England Patriots in a few preseason games. An injury later relegated him to the sideline before the team cut him. In 2021, the Patriots brought Gant on once again and he played three more preseason games before he and the organization severed ties.
In 2022, Gant won a U.S. Football League championship with the Birmingham Stallions.
“Malik was able to get to every level in a place that wasn’t given to him. He worked hard to get there and showed his resilience and dedication. That’s his legacy” the mother said. “His character was way more important than his stamina on the field. He was a leader from high school, to collegiate level, and the pros. Malik was an active child but he was committed to football from the day he got on that field. That was his life.”
Gant said she signed her son up for football to help him better channel his energy. Long before the late Gant joined Woodon’s junior varsity and varsity football teams, he amassed experience at Peppermill Community Center in Capitol Heights, Maryland, Watkins Hornets Youth Association in Southeast, and the Deanwood Youth Empowerment Association.
By his junior year at Woodson, the late Gant had a growth spurt that Jamaal Jones said gave the aspiring NFL player an advantage on the field.
Jones, a first-year varsity football coach at Woodson, met Gant while they both played on Woodson’s football team between 2011 and 2015. Though the duo developed a friendship on the field, Jones said their bond became stronger once they went to college.
While Gant attended Marshall, Jones went on to Virginia Union University. Though miles apart, the two of them talked twice a week about football and other aspects of their life. Jones said those conversations carried on for several years amid the numerous victories and disappointments each of them experienced.
Jones, reflecting on the events of May 25, told The Informer that he felt a deep pain learning about Gant’s passing. Months after bidding farewell to his friend and former teammate, Jones endeavors to carry on Gant’s legacy by creating an atmosphere at their alma mater similar to what he felt while speaking with Gant about serious topics on and off the field.
“We spoke about life, trying to figure out what we were doing and encouraging each other to do better,” Jones said. “Malik was straightforward with me. He knew how to bring me back up. He was a caring person, no matter who you were. He wasn’t too hard on himself, or the people around him, and it just helped with the game.”