Football has been a priority for Anquan Boldin. But after 14 seasons, more than 200 games and nearly 14,000 yards receiving, the veteran wide receiver now feels a higher calling, which is why he left the Buffalo Bills on Sunday after only two weeks with the team and plans to retire.
“Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work, and at this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority,” Boldin said in a statement to ESPN.com. “My life’s purpose is bigger than football.”
Boldin, 36, has spent parts of the past two years on Capitol Hill fighting for criminal justice reform. His cousin, Corey Jones, was shot to death by a plainclothes police officer in 2015 after Jones’ van broke down on the side of a South Florida highway.
Since then, Boldin has sought to give a voice not only to his family but also to those who feel that their cries for justice and change are falling on deaf ears.
“No. 1, you want to hear that they hear you,” Boldin told ESPN in 2016 before a trip to Capitol Hill. “You want to make sure they understand the things that we, as an African-American community, are going through. I don’t think our community feels that way right now, especially when it comes to law enforcement and the way we’re being policed.
“Our neighborhoods are feeling hurt. No. 2, you want to see changes in policy, in terms of how we train our police officers. And lastly, you want to see accountability — that justice will be served for all — to make sure that the relationship between the African-American community and police can be better. There’s work to be done on both sides because there’s a huge mistrust there. I want to help close that gap.”
Boldin and his wife, Dionne, have been heavily involved in community work in their hometown of Pahokee, Florida. The couple, who have two young sons, have touched thousands of families by providing educational and life opportunities, and in 2014, they established an endowment that has supported 15 four-year college scholarships.
“We respect Anquan’s decision to retire from the NFL,” Bills GM Brandon Beane said. “We appreciate the time he gave us over the past two weeks. He is one of the best receivers to play this game and wish him and his family all the best moving forward.”
“Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work, and at this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority.”
Boldin — who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, where he played his first seven seasons — will be remembered as one of the game’s toughest wideouts if not players. He once returned in the season in which he sustained a broken jaw and played with it wired shut. He walks away from the game with 1,076 receptions for 13,779 yards and 82 touchdowns. He won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 season. He also played for the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions.
“Anquan, on the field, was one of the greatest professionals and competitors I ever had the pleasure of playing with,” former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner told ESPN. “With all the great players I shared a field with, Q is one of top two players I would want with the ball in their hands and the game on the line. I am a better player for having played with him. But more importantly, he is one of the greatest people I was able to meet in my time in NFL. He has a heart to be a great husband, father and philanthropist — and is committed to making sure his legacy goes well beyond the [football field].”
Boldin won the NFL’s Walter Payton Award in 2016 for his charitable works off the field as well as his play on the field.
“Football in its purest form is what we all strive for as a nation,” Boldin said in his statement. “People from all different races, religions and backgrounds working together for one shared goal. The core values taught in football are some of the most important you can learn in life: to always be there for the guy next to you and not let your fellow man down. You do whatever it takes to make sure your brother is OK.”
Boldin now wants to help those beyond the football field, which is why he is walking away.