LOS ANGELES — Zenobia Dobson dried her eyes and began to make her way to the 2016 ESPY Awards stage as the tribute to her 15-year-old son, Zaevion Dobson, ended. Television cameras panned across the rows of athletes at Microsoft Theater also fighting back tears as Zenobia’s other two sons walked arm-in-arm with their mother.
Zaevion was not a retiring two-time Super Bowl champion being honored for a storied career. He was not an NBA superstar being celebrated for a record-breaking performance. He was a Fulton High School football player from the community of Lonsdale in northern Knoxville who gave his life to protect others.
Zaevion was shot to death on Dec. 17 after using his body to shield two friends from a barrage of bullets fired in a gang-related shooting not intended for the three teenagers. And Zenobia and Zaevion’s two brothers, Zack Dobson and Markastin Taylor, were there to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on his behalf.
“I’d love to stand up here and tell you even more about Zaevion than you already know — all the hopes and dreams he had for the future, all the things I dreamed about for him,” Zenobia said. “But I feel the need to tell you something else.”
Zenobia explained that just four months after her own son’s death, his 12-year-old cousin, JaJuan Latham, was killed in a drive-by shooting.
She used her platform to call for the redrafting of laws to make the acquisition of firearms more difficult. She used her platform to call on the room full of professional athletes to consider why Zaevion died and what they can do to prevent the future loss of innocent life.
“We as a country need to take a stand to consider the effects of gun violence on families throughout America,” Zenobia said.
Dobson is the youngest person to receive the honor since its inauguration in 1993, which recognizes individuals who “embody the spirit” of tennis legend Arthur Ashe who dedicated his life to human rights advocacy.