Coach, The Brooklyn Saints 9U team
Jul 13, 2021
When “We Are: The Brooklyn Saints,” a four-part Netflix docu-series, came out in January, it provided a smidgeon of escapism and joy in the depths of our winter pandemic. “Saints” tells the story of a boys’ youth football program in East New York. In it, we meet a group of inner-city kids, aged 7 to 13, learning the fundamentals and hoping for a shot at the championship in Florida.
If you think you know where this story is going, you’re probably wrong. “We Are: The Brooklyn Saints” is about community, character, love, fraternity, fatherhood and resilience. It just so happens the conduit to all of those things is football—which keeps the kids off the streets, committed to each other and hopeful for a shot at higher education.
And in a cast of compelling real-life characters, by far the most dynamic and heart-filled is Edwin Gawuala, who coaches the 9-and-under team. Only, Gawuala isn’t there merely to teach his “young men” how to play the game. A human Monster drink of potent (and sweet) energy, Gawuala is a father-figure, hype man, cheerleader, role model and the inventor of both the program’s three-tap handshake, and its mantra of “ADD”—“Any Darn Day.”
In one of his chants, Gawuala yells, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And the team responds, “You already know!”
“We teach the kids fundamentals of football. We teach them how to be young men,” he says in the series. “They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, the Brooklyn Saints is that village.”
In some ways, Gawuala is filling a void left by the death of his own son. Raised by a single mother along with his five siblings, he explains early in the series about how he was “lost in life” and “reckless” as a child.
Spoiler alert for those who haven’t watched, yet: In the series finale, we learn that Gawuala, who had lost his maintenance job, was offered a new position that might make it impossible for him to coach the following season. A man’s got to work and watching him make the decision is heart-breaking. The good news is, according to the series director Rudy Valdez, Gawuala’s employers threw him a little party when they saw the series and learned about Gawuala’s volunteer work—and were more than happy to find a way to let him stay involved with the Saints.