To Hit a Passer and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Devon Kennard’s Two Sides


“I didn’t want to be supergeneric,’’ Kennard said. “I didn’t want people just to look up on SparkNotes for the answers. I wanted to actually have them be able to relate it to their own lives and what it means to them. Especially those two books, I feel like there are life lessons in there that you can take from both of them.”

To many fans, Kennard is overshadowed on the Giants by the offensive stars Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning — as well as more brash defensive teammates, such as Landon Collins and Jason Pierre-Paul — though he was a key component in 2016 for the second-best defense in the N.F.L. Kennard speaks softly and uses social media to occasionally promote things like canned salmon and wearable fitness monitors.

But Kennard is a reader, a passionate one who feels strongly that people, especially children, should discover different worlds in the pages of books.

“People think that reading is not cool,” Kennard said. “I know when I was younger I was outside playing games and stuff. It seems like kids are doing far too much video games, and on computer and on social media. I want them to get outside and get active. And if they are inside, find something productive to do. Like reading books and doing things that’s actually going to help them learn about things and gain perspective, rather than mindless things.”

Photo

Kennard posted a message about his book-reading contest this summer.

Credit
Devon Kennard, via Instagram

When Gomez heard about Kennard’s reading contest — which incorporated the hashtag #ReadingwithDK — she promptly drove her two children, Brendan and Haleigh, 8, to a Barnes & Noble to pick up the books.

As the two devoured “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, she transcribed their interpretations into Facebook comments that she posted on Kennard’s public profile.

“Santiago overcomes his fear of failure by trusting his heart,” she wrote about one of the book’s major characters. “It takes him years to find the sand dune and he thinks about giving up a lot but then he realizes it was all worth it. He doesn’t give up.”

To her surprise, Kennard would respond each time.

“Remind Brendan of this whenever it is taking him a little longer to reach his goals than he originally expected,” he wrote once. “Perseverance is key!”

Gomez said: “I was screen-shotting these things to show people, ‘Look! He’s responding.’ I made copies. So that they can know, this person could be an N.F.L. player, but he’s not too good to talk with you.”

Kennard also promised to mail autographed memorabilia to those who gave insightful answers to questions. Max Moore, a senior at Southern Connecticut State University, received a signed T-shirt and a photo. But he appreciated even more that Kennard prompted him to read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird’’ a second time.

“It made me think outside the box in regards to the story as a whole — the diversity and challenges that the story tells,” he wrote in an email about the novel, which he first read in high school. “I was actually really happy to see this was the book he chose because I had a decent amount of personal information on the story.”

Lauren Russell, a Fordham freshman studying journalism, is a sports collector and a lifelong Giants fan. But it was not the offer of an autograph that got Russell to interact with Kennard and his book club. It was the opportunity to share a tidbit about her appreciation of Scout, the narrator and protagonist of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“I feel like I relate so much to her, how she was like the tomboy growing up, playing outside with the boys, that was me,” Russell said. “I just thought why not answer this? I relate to this so much.”

Now, she wants to purchase a Kennard jersey for the start of the season and feels invested in a football player who made her think.

“That’s why you go to the stadium and buy tickets.”

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