SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Gates took to the field for the opening of San Diego Chargers training camp Thursday with a heavy heart. His sister, Pamela, died Wednesday after a prolonged battle with lupus. She was 22.
Gates missed most of his team's offseason workouts to be in Detroit supporting his family and ailing sister.
"No one is immune from trials and tribulations in life," Gates said. "And I think when it happens, it's just something you have to deal with. Life goes on for the most part. But I felt at that time, being with my family was the right thing to do."
Gates said that dealing with the death of his sister is the toughest thing he's had to face in his life. He thanked the Chargers organization for its support during his sister's illness. And Gates said he took solace in the opportunity to take the field Thursday with the rest of his teammates.
"It puts me at ease, with all the things I've had to deal with from my family's standpoint and a personal standpoint," Gates said. "This is where I'm comfortable at -- competing and doing the things I'm accustomed to doing playing football. And it takes a lot off of your mind."
Some NFL observers believe Gates, 34, is past his prime, anointing fellow tight end Ladarius Green as San Diego's breakout player in 2014.
However, Gates believes he still has some gas left in the tank. He can point to his 2013 campaign as evidence: Gates led the Chargers in receptions with 77 for 872 yards and four touchdowns.
"I feel good," Gates said. "That's the nature of this business, and the nature of this game. One thing I can say is I wasn't a silver-spoon athlete who got drafted in the first round. So I'm accustomed to working for whatever I earn, whatever contract or whatever situation it is.
"One thing about me is I'm going to compete. I've been a competitor my whole life. So it really doesn't bother me at all. Someone who says things about me -- particularly whether or not I can still do it -- they don't watch film. They don't watch practice. They're not around our organization, which to me doesn't matter."
Added Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers: "He can physically and mentally still perform like he did last season."