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A Courthouse Moment: A former NFL player finds himself on the defense

A broad-shouldered, thick-calved man gently followed his public defender toward the mahogany podium in between the defense and prosecution’s desks in Courtroom 4D.  Staring down at the charcoal carpet, ceiling lights reflecting off his bald head, defendant Reginald ‘Reggie’ Brown listened as his lawyer described to Judge David Hall an agreement that relieves Brown of any prison time. He could have served up to 150 days in state prison. 

This is the first time Brown has been on defense. He spent seven years on offense as a running back, playing most of his career in the National Football League with  the Atlanta Falcons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles. But on this Wednesday morning in September, Brown stands with his hands behind his back in Durham County District Court, facing one count of misdemeanor child abuse. 

Brown has been teaching in schools since 1987, including when he was playing pro ball.  When he was with the Philadelphia Eagles, his Newark, N.J., students would watch him playing on Sunday and see him in class on Monday. 

 “They got a kick out of that,” he said, “and I loved it.”

Back then, he was a substitute teacher and drug and alcohol prevention counselor on Mondays and Tuesdays when his team did not practice. 

His mother had taught special needs  students for decades, and he eventually  followed her path. Brown said he grew up around many children with special needs. “Newark, New Jersey is nothing but special,” he said, his teeth white and perfect. “The special need then was they needed an ass whooping. They couldn’t read or write so therefore they acted out.”

Earlier this morning, defense lawyers bustled in and out of the courtroom, pointed to their clients to privately talk before their case was called. The metal hinges on the doors constantly clutched and unlatched,  punctuating the buzz of whispering from the gallery. In the gallery, packed with defendants, victims and witnesses, people ignored the social-distancing blue tape on the pews.

By the time Brown’s case is called, the gallery is empty and the buzz ceases. The silence accentuates Hall’s rustling of Brown’s case file. 

“Old school stuff doesn’t work anymore,” Hall said as he perused the file. Brown, wearing a green-checkered polo and tan southern-style khakis, hmm-mm-ed in agreement.

Brown, in his role as a special-needs teacher at a Durham elementary school, had pulled the left ear of a boy, walked him down the school hallway and dragged him by his shirt into a classroom, according to an arrest warrant. The warrant says security footage captured the incident. 

“I just grabbed him to get him back to me,” Brown said following the hearing. He said the boy was throwing a tantrum on the ground.

“My father would have been okay with this,” Hall said during the hearing.

After the incident, which occurred in March 2022, Brown lost his job and has been banned from being employed or volunteering in any school or childcare setting. During his 24-month probation, he cannot  supervise children. “It’s unfortunate,” he said,  “but I teach anyway.”

Brown now works in a psychiatric hospital in Raleigh,  helping people deal with  mental health and substance abuse issues: “That’s what I want to do. Help somebody else.” 

At the hospital, he is a counselor much like he was back in Newark while he was playing and teaching. The difference is now he counsels adults struggling with drug and alcohol abuse rather than diverting children from that path. “I’m doing the same thing but on a different level,” he said. “It’s not something to do just because you want to get paid.”

While he played football, he  spent most of his life back and forth between New Jersey and Philadelphia, and after he retired from the Eagles in 1987, he earned his sociology degree from New Jersey City University, while being married with two kids. He  moved to Raleigh in 2017 to be closer to his daughter.

 After his move, he taught at a Durham high school for four years before moving to the elementary school for a year.

“It’s a calling to teach,” Brown said, adding, “That’s what I do.”