Kansas City, Mo. — Wide receiver Jason Avant arrived in Kansas City a few days ago, a midseason signing by the Chiefs. He was leaving his hotel Tuesday when a woman mustered up the courage to approach him.
She didn’t want to welcome him to the team. Or wish him luck on Sunday.
“She said, ‘My grandson came downstairs crying, saying Eric Berry may have cancer,’” Avant recalled quietly. “For him to have that kind of impact on someone is impressive.”
It was a common reaction to the news Monday that Berry, one of the franchise’s most popular players, was found to have a mass in his chest that doctors believe could be lymphoma. The veteran safety spent Tuesday consulting with specialists at Emory University in Atlanta, near his hometown of Fairburn, in the hopes of establishing a definitive diagnosis.
Only then can the former first-round pick begin tackling what is certain to be his toughest opponent.
“I’ve played against Eric; I’ve had a few brief conversations with him,” said Avant (Michigan). “But everyone I know says he’s one of the humblest people you’ll meet in your life.”
Berry began to complain of pain in his chest during last Thursday night’s loss in Oakland, and the pain persisted when he showed up to the Kansas City practice facility the following day. He underwent tests, and the mass was discovered last Friday night. He informed his teammates Monday before departing for Atlanta.
The rest of the Chiefs were left to prepare for a critical AFC West showdown against the Broncos on Sunday night without one of the central figures in their defense, a former All-Pro who in just a few short years has established himself as one of the NFL’s best safeties.
“Everyone around here, they’re dealing with it and coping with it, but your heart goes out for them,” said Avant, who was released by Carolina last week. “I’m feeling around my neck and everywhere else — if it can happen to a guy like that, it can happen to anybody.”
Indeed, Berry is considered one of the strongest players on the Chiefs, a guy built like granite who spends long hours in the weight room. He has become a model for younger players in the way he goes about his business, a big reason why he has received so much support.
Berry is hardly the first professional athlete to be faced with the likelihood of lymphoma, and many have returned from the illness to resume their star-studded careers.
Perhaps the most famous is hockey great Mario Lemieux, who played five more seasons after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. All-Star pitcher Jon Lester was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in 2006, then pitched the Red Sox to a World Series title the following year.
Phil Fulmer, who coached Berry at Tennessee, said the news of his illness was “shocking and concerning.”
But he said Berry’s close-knit family, including twin brothers who play for the Volunteers, and legions of fans he’s made over the years will help to support him.
The Chiefs placed Berry on the non-football injury list Monday, and a team spokesman said doctors at Emory hope to have more details on what Berry will face in the coming days.
Two poke fun at NFL
With the help of a cardboard cutout, Seahawks teammates Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin took some digs at the NFL during a news conference Tuesday after the league issued a $100,000 fine to teammate Marshawn Lynch for not speaking to the media.
Baldwin hid behind a cutout of himself, with Sherman standing to the side of the podium as the pair bantered for about 21/2 minutes.
Sherman took only one question and after the pair referenced a number of personal sponsors — many of which are not NFL sponsors — walked off without speaking about Thursday’s game.
Hernandez trial delayed
A judge has agreed to delay the trial of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in the 2012 slaying of two Boston men.
His trial was scheduled to begin in May, but during a court hearing Tuesday, Hernandez’s lawyer cited a separate murder trial Hernandez faces in the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd.
The Cardinals signed running back Michael Bush on Tuesday and released Kerwynn Williams.
... The Bengals put right tackle Andre Smith on injured reserve with a torn left triceps on Tuesday, ending his season.
... The Titans have placed center Brian Schwenke on injured reserve and released veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips. They replaced Schwenke with Eric Olsen.