It was 10:20 on the morning of October 14, 2017, and Qadree Ollison was preparing to take the field against NC State as a member of the Pittsburgh Panthers.
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Meanwhile, at a gas station in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Ollison’s older brother, Lerowne “Rome” Harris, was shot three times by a man named Denzel Lewis. Harris was pronounced dead later that day at the age of 35.
Ollison, a redshirt junior running back at the time, carried the ball only twice for 17 yards in a 35-17 loss. He was told about the death of his brother after the game.
Fast forward to April 27 of this year, and the Atlanta Falcons made Ollison a fifth-round pick in the NFL Draft while his brother’s killer was at Attica Correctional Facility serving a 25-year sentence. But this story isn’t one of poetic justice or revenge. Rather, it’s one of forgiveness, healing and hope. Ollison helped make it so.
Ollison penned a letter that was read aloud by his father at Lewis’ sentencing on Aug. 2, 2018.
“When I heard what happened, I was devastated like most would be when they hear that their brother’s life was taken,” his letter said, courtesy of ESPN. “During that time, though, I didn’t feel an ounce of hate for whoever had did it.”
Ollison revealed in his letter that God provides him with the ability to forgive through tears.
“Every single life is precious, no matter what they’ve done. I truly believe that,” Ollison wrote to Lewis. “I truly believe that God hand-crafted and molded each one of us and gave us this life. We are all his children. We are all sons, and we are all daughters. … Now here I am, and I have this choice to hate you or not. I choose not to.”
What makes Ollison’s forgiveness even more remarkable is that Ollison and Lewis went to middle school together, and once even considered each other friends. Prosecutors said Lewis never offered an apology.
In an effort to pay tribute to his brother, 14 years his senior, who first put a football into his hands, Ollison switched to a No. 30 jersey for his final year of eligibility at Pitt. No. 30 was the number Harris used to wear as a youth football player.
Ollison gained 1,213 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 194 carries in that jersey. He was named second-team All-ACC and, apparently, caught the eye of the Atlanta Falcons front office.
Among guys like Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith in the Falcons’ running back rotation, a new guy sporting No. 30 may just make the team and vie for playing time. Yet perhaps even more impressive than Ollison’s ability as a 6-foot-1, 232-pound bruiser of a runner is his inability to let hate reside in his heart.
“I still believe that your life is precious and you can spread love around like God wants us to,” Ollison wrote to Lewis. “I choose not to hate you. I can’t hate one of God’s children. I truly hope and pray that you get better from this. I hope that this time is what you need and what makes you love and not hate.”
Lewis is eligible for parole in March 2039, but Ollison isn’t concerned with that. He has already signed his four-year rookie contract and plans to buy his mother a new house. That, and a proper burial site and headstone for the man he pays homage to every time he steps on the field.
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