Lions' Justin Coleman says friend Ahmaud Arbery's life had a purpose

Justin Coleman was in college at Tennessee when he came home to Brunswick, Georgia, and while hanging out with friends got into a conversation with one of his closer family friends, Ahmaud Arbery.

Arbery, his football and track teammate, had just graduated from Brunswick High and said he felt lost.

"I just remember Ahmaud saying something like he's not sure what his purpose in his life was," the Detroit Lions cornerback said Wednesday. "I'm just thinking in my head [now], dang, like, your purpose, basically, you know what I'm saying, was to start this movement and try to change the world.

"Now, your life does have a purpose. Your name is being continuously talked about every single day now."

Coleman said the conversation happened years ago. He had forgotten about it.

Then Arbery, 25, was killed while jogging on Feb. 23, allegedly by two white men. After video surfaced of Arbery's death, a movement started that intensified after the killings by police of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The movement turned into a national conversation on race and social injustice and led to protests around the world seeking equality and an end to police brutality.

That led Coleman to remember the conversation he had with his family friend -- his younger brother was best friends with Arbery and their older brothers were also close.

"I didn't know what to say to him. I don't know your purpose, didn't know what to say to him," Coleman said. "At the time, I thought he was just talking around, just talking. And I mean, now, it's something that came to my attention.

"Like, dang, he said something along those aspects and wow, now this happened. It was years before this happened. Years. But it's still just, it fit that way in my mind."

Coleman remembered Arbery as someone who would always make him laugh, like when he came off the football field after tackling an opponent in a game Brunswick was losing and said, "Man, that's a grown man out there." It offered levity in a time of struggle.

Coleman laughs, too, because the hashtag #IRunWithMaud was the antithesis of the Arbery he knew in high school who hated to work out and lift weights.

"He was always a funny person in general," Coleman said. "Like, he was like a comedian and everything he said, to me, made me crack [up] and laugh. He was always, in a workout sense he wasn't so positive but when it came to just life and handling situations, he was always a positive person."

Coleman was shaken by Arbery's death because it happened so close to his network, to his family. When he talked with Lions teammate Tracy Walker, who is Arbery's cousin, they discussed wanting to know details and getting more information. They discussed how wrong it was that Arbery was killed and how difficult, emotionally, it has been.

Coleman said he has been trying to educate people on what's going on in the world because "we want to make it a better place," potentially a catalyst for change started because of the death of one of his friends.

"Honestly, I never thought a situation like that would hit so close," Coleman said. "I've seen it happen across the country. I've seen it happen another state over or something like that, but for it to be someone that I actually grew up with, it kind of, like shocked me."