The family dynamic
Hankerson’s kids perked up when the waiter served a plate of honey butter croissants at lunch. They’re an adorable trio whose bright personalities are outdone only by their energy.
All five family members go by nicknames. Just about everybody calls Hankerson “Hank,” including his kids sometimes. To his right sat 7-year-old Leonard III. They call him L.J., short for Leonard Jr., a misnomer with a tragic subtext.
Hank is the Redskins‘ quietest player, an observant man who usually speaks only when spoken to. L.J., on the other hand, always has something to say, whether he’s showing off the golf swing his dad taught him or a new game on his Nintendo DS. With his wide smile, earrings in both ears and fauxhawk haircut, he looks like an NFL wide receiver in training.
Lenaris — Naris, for short — sat in a booster seat next to L.J. He picked up the package of three crayons provided for kids by the restaurant and put it in his mouth. Hank told L.J. to replace the crayons with a French fry. Naris’ face illuminated when he tasted it, and Hank laughed.
Marketria, known as Kie Kie, is the glue that holds together the operation. She’s the fulltime caretaker. During the football season, she lives in North Lauderdale as a single mother of three. Her relationship with Hank is complicated by ups and downs not uncommon of a partnership between a 24- and 25-year-old.
It’s obvious Kienarria, whom they call Na Na, has her father’s genes. She’s 4 going on 7. She’s strong enough to carry Naris up and down the stairs, and she’s only five pounds lighter than L.J. “Her feet are growing overnight,” Kie Kie said. “Pretty much every month she’s up another size.” The plastic beads in her hair augment her warm smile.
The family lunch, spurred by a reporter’s invitation, was one of their last experiences together before Hank left for training camp four days later. They generally dread his annual departure.
Football has a bilateral impact on Hank’s fatherhood. It enables him to provide for his loved ones well beyond his impoverished upbringing — he is scheduled to earn $580,000 this season, his third, according to league records. But it also pulls him away for half the year to Redskins headquarters in Ashburn.
Kie Kie and the kids could move to Northern Virginia, but Hank prefers his South Florida roots stay rooted, and changing the children’s school district mid-year is not an option. So Kie Kie and Lisa commute to all 16 games, and they bring the kids to Washington for the eight home games.
“The kids, they kind of understand, but they don’t understand why we don’t stay with dad,” Kie Kie said. “It’s really hard for them, if anything. They like flying up and flying back, but they don’t like leaving him. That’s the hard part for the kids. It’s a lot on them.”
Kie Kie has help when she needs it. Her mom and Lisa are two of many extended family members who pitch in, similar to how Lisa had help raising her six children. But the daily routine during the football season casts Kie Kie in a solitary role.
“She do a great job,” Hank said. “It’s hard work 24 hours a day.”
Hank stays connected to his kids by video chatting over cell phone. L.J. got his own phone this year, partly because Kie Kie got tired of him hounding her for hers. L.J. calls him up to 50 times a day, Kie Kie said, and Hank confirmed that’s no exaggeration. The second grader just started riding the school bus for the first time; that’s usually when he calls.