Experience with domestic violence inspires DeAndre Hopkins’ mom, Sabrina Greenlee, and Annie Apple to help others at Valley event

Sabrina Greenlee has long support her son DeAndre Hopkins, whether he played for the Texans or the Cardinals. And he supports her work helping domestic violence survivors. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – With the WM Phoenix Open and Super Bowl 57 serving as a backdrop, another significant event unfolded in the Valley, one that attracted far less fanfare.

Sabrina Greenlee, the mother of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, hosted SoftLite Fest, a celebration for domestic violence survivors who have made the choice to free themselves from their abusive situations and seek a life free of emotional and physical trauma.

“You can turn past pain into a prison or a platform,” Greenlee said. “Miss Annie and I have turned it into a platform.”

Greenlee and Annie Apple, the mother of Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple, co-hosted the event, a safe circle for domestic violence survivors with uplifting singing, dancing and other activities. The message was an overwhelming feeling of community.

Greenlee has been open about her past experiences with domestic violence, acknowledging she had dated a number of men who abused her.

“By the time I was 15, I had been beaten about four times, put in the hospital once,” she said to ESPN.

She was also the victim of a horrific crime in her late 20s, when a jealous woman threw a bucket of bleach and lye on her that left her blind. Her goal now is to help others.

Last Saturday, women gathered together to celebrate life. Those who passed by wouldn’t have guessed that each individual had survived incredible struggles to reach the level of happiness they all shared that day.

Greenlee has been an avid voice in domestic violence awareness since 2013, where she founded S.M.O.O.T.H, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering women who have been impacted by domestic violence. The program provides counseling for victims and mental health support, as well as financial assistance to those in need.

Apple is a journalist and founder of the HealHer network, which also supports the healing of domestic violence survivors with group events and workshops, while also providing a safe space. Since its founding in 2019, HealHer visits a different city each month during the NFL season to provide uplifting and empowerment parties for domestic violence survivors.

The two joined forces the day before the Super Bowl to host SoftLife Fest. The event was a joint effort among S.M.O.O.T.H., HealHer Network and Chrysalis, who all share the common goal of providing financial and emotional aid to domestic violence victims.

With the distraction events such as the Super Bowl and WM Phoenix Open can provide, there is an increased chance for women to be subject to predation, whether it be domestic violence or trafficking. It was important for the two to host this event surrounding the big game, to both provide a safe space for those who wanted to participate but also to raise awareness on the issue in an otherwise distracting time.

“People just need to be kinder with their heart,” said Patricia Klair, the CEO of Chrysalis Shelter for Victims of Domestic Violence, which partnered with HealHer and S.M.O.O.T.H. to help put on SoftLife Fest. Others supported the event, including Ageless Anatomy, Sienna Smiles and the NFL.

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Greenlee and Apple share a deep respect. On top of their bond, both are driven by the common goal of raising awareness for domestic violence, while providing for those who have already been impacted.

“I love Sabrina and the reason we came together is because I’ve been a huge fan of her, not just because of her story, but from the woman she is,” Apple said. “The opportunity to be here with her and do this and exhale this love. For us to come together, with the NFL being about teamwork, we are out here to let every woman know that just because you went through it, it doesn’t mean you have to stay there.”

Greenlee and Apple have experienced the ups and downs of the NFL lifestyle, with heartbreaking losses and incredible wins creating an emotional rollercoaster. While the on-field results are important, both women believe there is a far greater impact to be created from the sport. The platform created by the league gives an opportunity for awareness in all sorts of key societal issues.

One in every three women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives, as will one in seven men.

Often, people don’t realize they may be in an abusive situation, but for those experiencing it, Greenlee wants them to know the point of freedom can come.

“It’s a transitional part,” she said. “When a woman decides that I choose to get out and get my power back, you have organizations (like HealHer and S.M.O.O.T.H.) that are there to let them know that if they choose to get out, we want them to stay out. We want to give them the necessary tools to do that.”

One of the primary messages of SoftLife Fest is to love yourself unconditionally so that you may love those close to you with the same intensity. That is how Greenlee and Apple feel about their sons for their financial and emotional support.

For anyone struggling, the women want them to know there are organizations that want to help.

“This is not the end of your story,” Annie Apple said. “This is a beautiful beginning every day you wake up. Life is not a competition, it’s a journey.”

Alex Sutton A-leks SUH-tin (he/him)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Alex Sutton expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Sutton, who is assigned to Cronkite Sports Phoenix this semester, is going on his fifth year of covering the Arizona Cardinals for USA Today.