LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 6: Defensive end Stephen Bowen #72 of the Washington Redskins takes the field before playing the San Francisco 49ers at FedExField on November 6, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
There isn’t an NFL player with more intestinal fortitude than Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen. One of Washington’s many free agent pickups this offseason, Bowen has experienced more hardship in a six month span than many of us might endure in our lifetimes.
That’s why Bowen was the easy choice to win the team’s Ed Block Courage Award, which is given annually to a player from each National Football League team who displays extraordinary courage in the face of adversity.
Adversity hardly begins to describe Bowen’s situation. His wife, Tiffany, gave birth to twins prematurely in June. Both Skylar and Stephen III weighed just over a pound. Skyler passed away a week after being born and Stephen moved to Washington with Stephen III still in a neonatal intensive care unit in Dallas.
It wasn’t until September that Bowen finally got the chance to reunite with his family and hold Stephen III for the first time in months.
Now his five-month old son is healthy – “a regular baby” according to Bowen.
“[Stephen’s] doing great,” he said. “I want to say he’s like 13 pounds… He’s strong, man.”
Throughout the ordeal, Bowen never failed to bring the same professional attitude to Redskins Park everyday. Even more impressive was the upbeat way in which he went about his job.
"It's amazing. He's been through a lot and he still comes to work – works hard everyday [with] a smile on his face and you'd never really know,” said fellow defensive lineman Barry Cofield.
Bowen’s rocky year took another hit this past Sunday morning. In the early morning hours before the Redskins took the field to play the New York Jets, he was notified that his mother-in-law had passed away.
Most players wouldn’t have played. Bowen did.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I really don’t know,” he said when asked how he was able to muster up the drive to play.
Remarkable. Especially considering he took the field with a third degree PCL tear in his knee.
“That wasn’t even factored in anything,” he said. “My mind was just somewhere else. I wasn’t even thinking about my body, just thinking about how my family is doing.”
Despite all of the turmoil, Bowen’s game hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, he’s set career highs in tackles and sacks while coping with several devastating personal tragedies. The dedication on display to both football and family is astonishing – a sterling example to anyone experiencing similar events in their own lives.
"It's a testament to his character and he's had an amazing season considering everything he's been through,” Cofield said. “He’s a guy that I’m definitely pulling for everyday.”
The mental and physical grind of an NFL season is one thing. The pain of losing loved ones is another. Bowen has balanced both and has done it beautifully, authoring a heart-wrenching tale attesting to the strength of the human spirit.
“It’s unbelievable that he has dealt with the situations that he’s dealt with and really hasn’t said anything to me,” said Mike Shanahan. “Knowing [about] the problems he has at home and still [going] about his business and the way he does it, that’s a professional.”