CLEVELAND, Ohio — Audrey Garrett will have a front-row seat at the NFL Draft Friday night when her son Myles takes center stage to announce the Browns’ second-round pick — just like she has for every big event in his life.
In the last year and a half alone, she’s been there for him through the helmet incident, his blockbuster $125 million contract extension from the Browns last offseason, a scary bout with COVID-19, and more.
But Myles isn’t the only world-class athlete Audrey has reared. A former college track and field star herself, she has also raised Garrett’s older brother Sean Williams, a 2007 first-round pick of the New Jersey Nets; and Garrett’s older sister Brea, the 2014 NCAA champion in the weight throw from Texas A&M. She also has stepdaughter Tiffanie Garrett, who’s like one of her own.
Audrey’s unique situation landed her the lead chapter in a recently published parenting anthology called “Creatrix,” by Blake Gunther. The book is co-authored by Chris Mueller and Mary Fischer-Nassib, the mother of former Browns defensive end Carl Nassib, now with the Las Vegas Raiders.
A former technical writer and current doctoral candidate in Strategic Leadership, Audrey agreed to sit down with me to talk about the book and share her insights on Myles, and after an hour and a half, we felt like we were just getting started.
So grab a cup of coffee, or maybe even some wine — Audrey jokes that either red or white was just fine during the pandemic, as long as there was plenty of it.
Come for some straight talk from a world-class mom, stay for the little truth bomb at the end:
Myles has asthma and his dad almost died of COVID-19
Audrey revealed that the real reason COVID-19 kicked Myles’ butt physically last season is that he has asthma. The reason it sacked him emotionally is because he lost his great-grandmother to it over the summer, and almost lost his father, Lawrence, to it right before training camp started at the end of July.
“We got it in July and going into August,’’ Audrey said of her and her husband. “It almost cost Lawrence his life. It was touch and go. He had COVID-induced pneumonia. The breathing was compromised. It’s my understanding that they intubate you at 88% oxidation. He was at 89.’’
Lawrence was so sick that he told his daughter Brea “I’m scared to sleep because I’m scared I won’t wake up.’’
What Garrett’s teammates didn’t know is that he flew back home to Arlington, Texas, on the eve of training camp in late July to visit his parents from a safe distance, unsure if it would be the last time he ever saw his dad, whom he considers one of his few best friends.
“We wouldn’t let him get any further than the driveway to lay eyes on his parents because we didn’t know, technically,’’ Audrey said. “Lawrence sat in a chair in the garage and then I had to help him back into the house, and it was like leaning on the car for five minutes. Just walking from the bathroom to the driveway was like you ran a marathon for him. It was bad.’’
When Lawrence and Audrey went to get tested for the first time, Lawrence couldn’t generate enough saliva to get tested.
“He was so out of it at the testing location, they called an ambulance and took him immediately to the emergency room,’’ Audrey said. “From there, [they said] ‘You’ve got COVID-induced pneumonia. Go home, good luck because we can’t intubate you now.’ “
When Audrey went back to pick him up, “he was sitting on the curb outside. Because they can’t do it. They’re in there fighting for people’s lives on a ventilator.’’
Lawrence was so worried about infecting Audrey, he refused to sit in the passenger seat.
“We have an SUV,’’ she said. “He opened the back and he crawled in the back in the third row area and just laid in this little area, because he was like, ‘If you don’t have it, I don’t want to give it you.’ He was like ‘roll down the window.’ And we got him in the house and it was really bad.’’
Within a couple of days, Audrey lost her sense of taste and smell, but generally had mild symptoms of the virus. Lawrence, on the other hand, almost passed out, so they called the ambulance again and he was taken to a different hospital.’’
For the second time, Lawrence was sent home, but this time with some medication. Audrey also called one of her college sorority sisters, who’s a physician, and asked for advice.
“She put us on a protocol,’’ she said. “She went natural, holistic, bone broth, [vitamins] and within a couple of days we were both feeling much better, and we were still in the thick of it, as far as timewise of what they say COVID lasts.’’
On Nov. 18, Garrett began feeling sick and was kept home from the Browns practice facility for two days. By Friday, he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on the virus reserve list and ruled out for the Eagles game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Missing the next game against the Jaguars too, Garrett was far sicker than he let on at the time.
“What people don’t realize is, Myles has — and actually all three [of her biologicial kids] actually have asthma, and it’s something I gave them genetically,’’ Audrey said. “And it’s ironic because you don’t view elite athletes as being, respiratorally challenged.
“But every year, Myles goes through a phase where he needs an inhaler, he goes through a bronchitis phase, a sinus infection, and it’s happened since he was a little person. And it just so happened COVID hit him in that same time frame.’’
Audrey and Lawrence didn’t come to visit during that time “because we couldn’t subject ourselves,’’ Audrey said. “My husband said he didn’t think he could live through it again. So, we had to kind of FaceTime with him. He has a girlfriend that lived up there with him and a guy friend that works for him, and they got nothing in the same house, and Myles was like, ‘This took me down.’ “
Garrett, who also put on a few pounds during the two weeks off because he couldn’t work out, admitted when he returned for the Titans game Dec. 6 that COVID “kicked my butt.”
Little did he know it would keep on kicking him for the rest of the season, especially during games when the asthma kicked in. In fact, when the virus struck, he was atop the NFL leader board with 9.5 sacks, and was a legitimate candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But he coaxed only 2.5 more sacks out of his COVID-ravaged body the rest of the season to finish sixth in the NFL with a total of 12.
“It was hard watching him struggle,’’ Audrey said. “I’m always keeping an eye on him, especially in cooler weather. When you have asthma like that, and you’re trying to be an athlete, you’re sucking in cold air in lungs that are already just kind of compromised. It was rough watching him. They didn’t show it a lot on TV during games, but he’d be kneeling on the sideline, or sucking in oxygen on the sideline. As a mom, that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to watch him go through that stuff.’’
After a victory over the Giants on Dec. 20, Garrett suffered a coughing fit in the locker room that rattled him. He revealed it in his postgame video conference, coughing throughout the interview, and also tweeted “F-COVID’’ after the game.
But in spite of the asthma, the same condition that prompted his fellow Browns defensive lineman Andrew Billings to opt out for the season, Garrett “never considered it,’’ Audrey said.
He did have other reasons to curse the virus, however.
“My husband had a 100-year-old grandmother, who early in the COVID fight, lost her life to COVID,’’ Audrey said. “We had just celebrated her 100-year birthday, and within a couple of months, COVID had taken her. And so [Myles] was losing people. Even though it wasn’t COVID-related, We lost several very close family members in the first half of 2020 that were just, it was bad. Our family probably collectively has lost maybe 10 or 11 people, not necessarily COVID-related, just the loss.’’
Audrey said her sister died this February after a battle with cancer “and I was just praying, I didn’t want 2020 on her headstone. It just would have been a horrible reminder of how horrible 2020 was for us.’’
But Audrey and Lawrence recently drove to where Myles was vacationing in Texas, and were happy to see him back to himself.
“They were out in the park, throwing the football, playing frisbee with the dog,’’ Audrey said. “He’s back. It’s one thing about being in Texas, if you work out in Texas in this heat — it’s not really hot yet, but when he came in his rookie year, he definitely had a level of physicality just conditioning-wise that he hasn’t had since because he really hasn’t had the ability to come back and work out in this Texas heat. If you can get some Texas heat going and get yourself in condition, watch out.’’
With the worst hopefully behind them, Audrey found a silver lining in the virus.
“If COVID doesn’t do anything else, it should just remind us to love one another as much as possible because tomorrow is not promised to you in any capacity,’’ she said.
Supporting Garrett through the Helmet Incident
Garrett’s bout with the with the coronavirus came almost exactly a year after The Helmet Incident in which he ripped off Mason Rudolph’s helmet and struck the QB over the head with it during a nationally televised Thursday Night Football Game on Nov. 14, 2019, a 21-7 victory over the Steelers.
Garrett later revealed that Rudolph called him the “N-word,” a charge that Rudolph vehemently denied.
The incident resulted in what amounted to a six-game suspension for Garrett, but took such an emotional toll on him that he contemplated quitting football, he told cleveland.com last year.
“We were there that night,’’ Audrey said. “Lawrence and I go to every game. I’ve missed a few, but my husband has been at every game and it just so happened that was a game where we were both in attendance. I was actually riding in the car with Myles, so when it happened on the field, Lawrence and I are sitting there. I don’t watch football. I watch Myles. Then I always go back home and I watch the game but during the game, I’m in mommy mode. I’m trying to make sure my child is not hurt and so I was like ‘Oh my God, he’s swinging the helmet, Oh, my God.’ ’’
Knowing her son as she did, Audrey surmised that “some stuff went down. Myles doesn’t have that temperament. He has Lawrence’s temperament. Audrey would’ve hit you with the helmet, probably twice. He’s mine, I promise, but his demeanor is that of his dad’s.’’
Audrey acknowledged that she and Lawrence were concerned about Myles’ level of competitiveness when he was young, because he was so mild-mannered.
“And when he hit Mason, Lawrence and I were like ‘Oh snap,’’’ she said. “First I’m concerned, is the young man hurt? My [next] thought was, what the hell did he say?’’
They went to the car to wait for Myles and it took him an uncharacteristically long 90 minutes to emerge.
“He couldn’t talk in the car,’’ Audrey said. “He was hot. And we probably got halfway to his house and he said, ‘He called me the N-word.’ He said ‘I was hot.’’’
Audrey understood the sentiment, and Myles’ instinct to protect himself.
“But my mind also went to ‘Oh my God, do I call his mother? …That’s still somebody’s child and that could’ve been very, very harmful,’’ she said. “So I was in mommy mode for me and mommy mode for her at the same time.’’
The Garretts supported Myles through one of the darkest hours of his life.
“We’re not saying it was right,’’ Audrey said. “We’re saying we’re going to support you through it. We’re going to lift you and support you in a way that you come through this whole because one thing doesn’t define a person’s life.’’
Knowing how much the whole thing troubled Garrett, especially the erroneous perception that he was a dirty player, Audrey broached the subject a few weeks later.
“I said to him, ‘Have you ever considered just walking away and leaving this alone?’’’ Audrey said. “And he said, ‘Yeah, mom, I actually have.’ He was like ‘I’m not just a football player. I have options. And I’m cool if I walk away.’’’
Myles talked through it with Lawrence, and ultimately opted to forge ahead. His reinstatement by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in February of 2020 coincided with his previously scheduled trip to Tanzania as NFL captain of Waterboys, the organization that supplies clean drinking water to the poor.
“This was nothing Myles did to help his image,’’ Audrey said. “All these things were already in place, because that’s where his heart is. Did he do something wrong? Yes, but he wasn’t going to hide.’’
Over the summer, Garrett used his wider platform to effect more change, paying for the funerals of victims of police brutality, and spearheading the Browns’ social-justice initiatives.
“Myles is more focused on making an impact on the world than anything,’’ Audrey said.
She watched a more mature Garrett return to the Browns determined to repay the team and his teammates for sticking by him.
“Those are his brothers in arms, so I think he came back with a determination to redeem himself with his brothers on the field,’’ Audrey said. “Myles has an inner fire that it took a long time to light, but good gracious when it got lit. …And I think one of the things that that lesson taught him, is it’s a work family. He got to see the support that his teammates gave him off the field when nobody was looking.’’
Audrey was proud of Myles for approaching Rudolph after the season finale in Cleveland to shake hands.
“But if he hadn’t, I’m just as cool,’’ she said. “Ironically when he approached [Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin, that was the one that tickled me because our families go back a bit growing up in the same area….What was he talking to Mike Tomlin about? ‘My mom playing Words with Friends with his brother Ed (laughter).’’’
Guess whose idea ESPN’s The Body Issue was?
What self-respecting mom wouldn’t move mountains to have her son pose nude in ESPN The Magazine’s ‘The Body Issue?’
Audrey, who attended Hampton University on a track and field scholarship, began eyeing “The Body Issue’’ for Myles years ago, and manifested it in 2019.
“I’ve been wanting that body issue since there was a body issue,’’ she said. “I appreciate a good body. I’m a former athlete, so I love muscles. …Saquon Barkley’s shoot was [even] better than Myles’ ….Anyway, I reached out until I got to the right person who could get me to the right person to get him in this body shoot and Myles has always been very proud of [his body]. I used to have to tell that boy, ‘Put on a shirt, sir.’
“In my house, the boys were not allowed to walk around shirtless in the house because they have a sister. And that meant she had to be fully clothed too, I mean I just, it’s just a matter of respect, you don’t leave the house, or be outside unless you’re playing sports, with no shirt on.
“So, as he was building into this Greek God that he was in high school, when he started lifting weights, he became very, eight-pack, you know? I mean let’s celebrate the human body. I believe in celebrating it — male and female. If I could have got Brea in there. I would have too.’’
Audrey said Garrett was intrigued from the start.
“He didn’t say no when I asked him if he’d do it,’’ she said. “I said, ‘[You’d be] covered appropriately,’ and I showed him a couple of issues. And he was like, ‘Oh that’s cool. Will you really be able to get it done?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I can be rather rather tenacious about some things when I really want them done.’’
Audrey and Lawrence traveled to Joshua Tree with Garrett for the event, but made themselves scarce during the actual photo shoot. When they saw the prints, they loved them.
“To me, it was really about the artistry of it,’’ said Audrey.
Her next mission? To get Jadeveon Clowney into the now all-digital version of the issue. Audrey got to know Clowney a few years ago when he was represented by Myles’ agent Bus Cook. When she first approached him with the idea, he told her he needed to get in better shape.
“If he’s gotten his body to where he needs it to be, I’m gonna try to get him in the digital [issue].’’
Raising Myles, one of her three world-class athletes
The hardest part about raising Myles was delivering him at 11 pounds.
“I knew once I had Myles, I wasn’t having any more children,’’ Audrey said with a laugh.
After that, it was smooth sailing. With Myles coming 10 years after Sean and 2 1/2 years after Brea, Audrey had the benefit of hindsight.
“Myles was the easiest kid ever,’’ she said. “Brea would talk for him, and he literally didn’t have to say anything. He was a kid who never asked for anything, and he was easy to please. He never complained. He was just an easy kid to take care of.’’
With the family’s heavy emphasis on academics for all of the kids, Myles didn’t start playing football until junior high.
“He had one year [in grade school] where he attempted to play football and he was out there in the Texas heat and it’s not for the feint of heart, and he came off that field, and he was like ‘Daddy, I don’t want to play football,’’’ Audrey said. “I couldn’t believe Lawrence let him quit, but he was the youngest, so we were a little more lax with him.’’
Besides, Garrett fancied himself a basketball player like Sean, the No. 17 overall pick of the New Jersey Nets in 2007 out of Boston College.
“He was always outside in the driveway playing basketball with Sean, and his passion was actually basketball,’’ Audrey said. “He actually got two offers to play at the Division I level, but he was Myles Garrett ‘the football player’ at that point.’’
One of them was from Providence College head coach Ed Cooley, who had recruited Sean at Boston College.
“As a family we had known him for a long time, and then when he got to see Myles, he was like, ‘Are you kidding me? How does this happen? How is nobody offering this kid? ‘’’ Audrey said. “But most most people saw Myles as the up-and-coming college football player at that point.’’
Before that, Garrett had to undergo surgeries on both feet to correct his flat feet, one operation at age 11 and one at age 12.
They discovered the issue when Lawrence went in for back surgery, and the surgeon told him it all began with his feet. They told him Myles had the same feet, and he urged them to bring him in.
“His bones were collapsed,’’ Audrey said. “He had no arch, no anything. So they put in arches and they snipped a tendon in the back that was too tight.’’
Garrett was largely confined to the couch for six months after each of the surgeries, unable even to play pickup basketball.
“Before those surgeries, Myles couldn’t even dunk the ball,’’ Audrey said. “He had no hops whatsoever. So when you see him doing the standing [60-inch box] jump, it’s amazing because the kid had no jumps until he got that surgery. At that point he started dunking the ball and became the freak athlete Myles Garrett.’’
Even now, Garrett’s feet hint at the road he’s traveled to become one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL.
“If you ever watch him walk, he walks with his left foot kind of turned in,’’ Audrey said. “Always very slow in his gait when he walks. In fact, when you see him run and he pushes off, his left foot is kind of turned in.’’
But flat feet were the least of Garrett’s worries at times as a kid. His big brother — his hero and his role model — got hooked on weed and it cost him his career at Boston College and in the NBA, where he bounced around before landing in the D-league, the Chinese Basketball Association and the Turkish League while also giving the NBA another go.
Sean’s struggles, including an arrest that made ESPN, took such a toll on the family that Garrett shunned marijuana and alcohol, and still has yet to drink a beer.
“The one thing that I will always say — and I think Myles would say same thing — Sean was the best big brother he could have asked for,’’ Audrey said. “Because while he was in the midst of his own struggles, he was also talking to his younger siblings about ‘this might not be the path for you. I know I’m making these choices and you’re seeing me, but this is my journey.’
“Myles observed some things, and decided that wasn’t the path for him. He got a front seat to what it was like to choose an alternate path, but Sean is the biggest supporter for Brea and Myles. He always has been. When he went into the [NBA], the one thing he did consistently was reach back to his siblings, and make sure they were involved.’’
The hardest for Myles during Sean’s troubles was watching Audrey break down.
“Myles is very sensitive,’’ Audrey said. “There’s no way to hide as a mother when you have children in the house. The pain, I mean, I was crying. It’s very humbling to see your child’s face go across the ticker of ESPN that says he’s been dismissed or might have been arrested or whatever. They’re calling your child names and they don’t know the inside child, but I know the hearts of my children.’’
Like they did later with Myles, the Garretts supported Sean through the ups and downs and are proud of the man and father he’s become.
“Sean walks to the beat of his own drum,’’ Audrey said. “He’s comfortable in his journey. He’s like ‘I made decisions. I had consequences from my decisions, but it all makes me the man that I am.’ ’’
Audrey, who does speaking engagements on parenting and has the lead chapter in Creatrix, had a confession to make.
“I don’t like children,’’ she said. “I never have.’’
She didn’t break a smile. Wasn’t joking, not even a little bit.
“I’m not that woman,’’ she said. “I’m not and it’s so ironic, because my siblings all wanted children, and I’m the only one out of four that had them. I didn’t have a maternal bone, until I had children, I did not know that I had the capacity to love anything like I love those three children that I gave birth to, and my bonus child is just like mine too. I will fight a bear for her.
“With that said, because I didn’t appreciate the gift of motherhood, in the midst of it. I was so busy trying to get them to be like little people, adults, because I’m just not a kid person. Then, as they grew up, I understood the value of childhood when Sean left. And it gave me a better appreciation to kind of slow down and appreciate the younger kids, when you see how quickly that first one went out the door, and I think that’s when I really started trying to smell those individual roses. But I would tell anybody, ‘I’m not a kid person, naw, you can have them.’’’
Ultimately, Audrey’s children have brought her greatest pains and biggest and “not because of ‘I’m drafted No. 1 or I’m in the first round or I’m a national champion.’ Your biggest high can come when nobody’s watching.’’
It’s watching Myles with a sick child, Sean feeding the hungry, Brea caring for Audrey’s sister in the final stages of cancer in February.
“It has nothing to do with athletics,’’ she said. “It’s the heart that they have within that is my greatest joy. As I said at the end of the chapter of Creatrix, at the end of the day, we’re just walking each other home and I don’t mean home as your address, my address. Be kind to one another upon the journey.’’
Browns playoffs shirts, hats for sale: Here’s where Cleveland Browns fans can order shirts and hats celebrating the team qualifying for the 2020 NFL playoffs.
More Browns coverage
Myles Garrett on adding Jadeveon Clowney and others to the Browns defense: ‘We’ll be very scary’
How the Browns win NFL Draft 2021; what about a trade up? Dan Labbe, Tim Bielik on Thursday’s ‘Sports 4 CLE’
Coach Ski or not Coach Ski? How do we feel about a Kevin Stefanski nickname?
NFL Draft 101: Everything to know for the Browns, Ohio State and Cleveland
Diving into Jadeveon Clowney’s disruptive style and what it means for the Browns defensive line on Gotta Watch The Tape
Linemen Liam Eichenberg, Jackson Carman lead Ohio’s top prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft
Liam Eichenberg’s NFL Draft stock pushed by head-to-head matchups at Notre Dame
Landing a corner, an edge rusher and lots of depth is how the Browns can win the 2021 NFL Draft
Loosened jersey number restrictions and no overtime in preseason highlight NFL rule changes
Lamar Jackson to Cameron Heyward: The best first-round NFL Draft picks at No. 26 or later in last decade
Brian Brennan: A lonely dorm room, finally drafted, then feeling ‘like Minnie Mouse’ – Terry Pluto