His Brilliant Career

Brett Perriman's gridiron days with the Dolphins may be over, but his commitment to the community where he grew up is just beginning

When Brett Perriman heard about the shooting, he was at one of his homes, near the Dolphins training facility in Broward County. (His primary address is on Williams Island in North Dade.) He made it to the C-Town market in less than fifteen minutes. By the time he got there, Garyn's body was already covered with a white sheet. A quart of milk lay on the ground nearby.

At age 28, Garyn was the youngest Perriman brother. (Brett is second-youngest.) Like some of his older brothers, Garyn, who went by the street name Coota, had fallen into a life of small-time crime not uncommon for black men raised in Liberty City. His record reveals a string of arrests on felony charges for robbery and assault.

His death echoed the 1990 murder of his older brother Randy. Brett is vague on the details of Randy's death. "I don't know the whole nine yards of his story," Perriman admits. "Across the avenue where we lived were certain areas that were high-drug-traffic areas. When you are in an environment where you are always surrounded by drugs and crime, chances are higher of you getting caught up in it. Eventually it led to his downfall."

Perriman's football prowess, and the millions of dollars he has earned because of it, helped him avoid his brothers' fate. He knows this. The talent he showed for the game, starting as an eleven-year-old receiver for the Northside Optimist Club, provided him a different path. "I had some brothers who got in trouble when I was younger. They tended to kind of influence me. They made sure I stayed away from crime. When they got in trouble they told me, 'You don't got to do this. You've got a chance to be successful in life. Go ahead and take it.'"

While he acknowledges the role sports played, he passionately believes that education -- coupled with religion -- was the most important ingredient in his success. He passes on this belief at his football camps, which are designed primarily to teach neighborhood boys that there are alternatives to crime. So strongly does he believe this that he chose to hold this year's camp as scheduled, only two weeks after Garyn's murder. In memorial, each camper received a T-shirt emblazoned with Garyn's picture.

As Perriman and twenty other NFL players signed autographs, denounced drugs, and preached the virtues of education, the Miami Dolphins coaching staff huddled across town, debating their picks in the upcoming college draft. The coaches spent a third round on Larry Shannon, a wide receiver from East Carolina. A few days after the draft, Perriman was asked if he was worried the new player would take his position away from him. "Nah," he said confidently.

Why not? He'd always found a way to succeed before. Although he didn't play football at Northwestern until his senior year, he caught more passes that season than any other receiver in Dade County. His extraordinary speed helped him win a starting job at the University of Miami, a school loaded with talent. He survived the pros for ten long years despite a string of injuries. Playing for the Detroit Lions in 1995, he and receiver Herman Moore caught more passes than any other tandem in the history of the franchise.

Yet the Dolphins promptly released him on April 22. Two knee surgeries in the last six months caused Perriman to fail his team physical. The release leaves him free to sign on with the team if he regains his health, and he openly talks about returning in 1999. But the odds are long. The average NFL tenure is less than five years. At age 32, he's pushing the envelope no matter what his health status. "He won't be back with the Dolphins this year," reports his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. "He'd love to continue to play, but there is a lot of doubt. I think his injuries to his knee are potentially career-ending. Right now the focus is on getting healthy. I don't know if he can."

Perriman acknowledges that he is not physically ready to play this year. And because of the murder, he says, he isn't mentally ready, either. "I'm taking this year off to recover," he announces, with some positive spin. "While I do, I'm applying myself to the development of our community. I'm disappointed in the route it has taken. Instead of improvements it has gotten worse."

It's a typical weekday morning for Perriman and, typically, he's in a hurry. He guns his mammoth Lincoln Navigator through the small side streets of Liberty City as he makes his way to Charles R. Drew Middle School, where he's scheduled to talk to the students about his brother's murder. Tangela Sears, Perriman's personal assistant, briefs Perriman on his itinerary. "You're going to discuss the importance of education, sports, gun violence, and growing up in the Scott projects," she says, reading off a list in a manila folder.

Perriman reaches over to flip through the folder. Under his breath he repeats the items on the list, audibly emphasizing the words "gun violence." In the back seat sits Barbara Miller, Garyn Perriman's former fiancee. Miller hasn't been able to eat anything but soup since the shooting, causing her weight to plummet. (She's dropped four dress sizes in less than a month.) Perriman thought it would be a good idea to keep her company.

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