Since he was a kid growing up in California, Dante Pettis has always been an artist on the football field.
There are enough snapshot moments from his days at JSerra Catholic High School and the University of Washington to fill several photo albums.
Pettis’ NFL success didn’t materialize the way he had hoped after the Niners drafted him with the 44th overall pick in 2018. However, he added to his NFL scrapbook with a 51-yard TD reception that helped fuel the Bears to a 19-10 victory over San Francisco at Soldier Field drenched in rain at the season opener.
These were the 53 players achieved in their careers.
While Pettis hopes to add to that total in the coming weeks – including Sunday in the Meadowlands when he faces the Giants side he played for in 2020-21 – he is also focused on using his passion for photography and art to help those struggling with mental health.
The Pettis Foundation, CR18, was created for this very purpose.
“It’s for the artists — to help fund them,” said Pettis, who presided over a charity auction in Los Angeles ahead of the Super Bowl last February. “It’s also to let people know that art is an outlet. You don’t have to resort to unhealthy things.”
Strange push back
Pettis’ main focus when he was young was on sports. It wasn’t a huge surprise there as his father, Gary, won five Golden Gloves while playing for Angels, Tigers, Rangers and Padres from 1982 to 1992.
“He would throw a basketball, soccer ball, or baseball in the air,” said Dante’s mother, Peggy, who was a Raiders cheerleader in 1989-90. “He was always running around because he was crazy – or he was playing video games. He never wanted to come to dinner.”
The “artistic spark” lit during Bettis’ final year of high school when he took Shakespeare’s class. He loved plays and began to dive into books. “The Alchemist” (which he read several times), “Catcher in the Rye”, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Relentless” are among Pettis’ favourites.
During his time at the University of Washington (where he brought back his NCAA-Record 9 number for TDs), Pettis developed a love of photography. He loves taking pictures in big cities, something he was able to do a lot in San Francisco and New York.
With the 2018 draft date approaching, Pettis said he has come under a lot of criticism for his hobby.
“I was like, this is weird,” said Pettis, who had 15 assists from TD as a youngster and 7 others as a senior. “It’s no different from someone who loves to fish or something else. …
“There was this big thing about my name: OK, how much does he like football because he’s an artist? I had to answer a lot of questions about that during the whole merger.”
San Francisco has already been traded to pick Pettis. He had a decent rookie season, collecting 27 assists for 467 yards and 5 TDs, but he was unpopular with coach Kyle Shanahan in 2019 and wasn’t as active as the Niners lost Super Bowl 54 to Kansas City.
Visitors to Pettis’s CR18 website are greeted with two messages: “Art is a universal language” and “United we make.” Then there are four facts that the Pettis team investigated:
• 50% of students need mental health support
• Only 12% of schools are at the level of good arts education
• 35% of elite athletes suffer from a psychological crisis
• Engaging in 45 minutes of art making significantly lowers cortisol levels.
Wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who loves photography and owns a Sony A-7 III, noticed Pettis’ Instragram taking pictures and the two instantly clicked.
“Nothing else matters at that moment,” Mooney said of how he felt while taking the photos. “You can see everything from a different point of view, through the lens.
“I’ll go into town, put on a jacket, put on some music and just take pictures. There’s nothing else—no football, no life. Just taking pictures.”
Pettis has a very close friend – so close that he considers him family – who has been having a hard time. A great influence was Pettis’ suggestion to use art as an outlet.
“A lot of times when they were in a dark place, they were using a lot of drawing or writing,” Pettis said. “They told me how much it helped me. They really felt like they put a lot of their feelings on paper. Not many people found a way to express themselves and get those feelings out.
“Art is one of the best ways to do that…it has helped him a lot.”
“You need to share”
Raised a Catholic and with parents who understand the importance of giving back, it’s no surprise that Pettis has become so influential.
“My mom had multiple sclerosis, so that was a huge fundraiser for me,” Peggy said. “We also give church every Sunday. Our kids have always seen you help the less fortunate. Always. All my four kids know that even if you only have a little, you need to share with others.”
A CR18 auction in February raised funds for an art school in California. The Foundation also allocates funds for scholarships.
The Pettis team will lead the ideas and review what the next few months should look like. They are planning an event in Chicago that is currently scheduled for December.
Pettis uses his connections in the art community to determine who should receive the donation.
“They’ll send me some profiles on Instagram or their website and I’ll just go through and pick someone,” Pettis said. “Or I’ll send it to two people on my team and say, ‘You. What do you guys think of this person? “
Bettis started last season on the Giants coaching staff, then earned 10 assists (including a TD) for 87 yards in weeks 6 and 7. Disaster struck the following week, as Pettis suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the season in Kansas City.
At the offseason, the Bears were “the first team to call” and Bettis signed a one-year deal on May 12. His smooth run impressed offensive coordinator Luke Jetsie and the rest of the staff.
“He did a great job,” Jitsi said in late August. “He had a chance and he went out and took it from centuries.”
Pettis returned the balls in the first three matches and gained that momentum turning the TD against the Niners. He’s been pretty quiet otherwise, so it will be interesting to see what happens when rookie Philos Jones Jr and Neil Harry return from injuries. (Jones may play Sunday against the Giants.)
No matter what, Pettis will continue to work hard because he knows not many WRs get a second chance, let alone a third. If he can show enough bears the rest of the way, maybe a long-term deal can materialize at some point.
But regardless of his future in the NFL, he has already shown his friends, family, and plenty of entertainers how he plans to spread the fortune off the grid.
“I’m really proud of him,” Peggy said. “He wants to improve the world… He’s always been very kind. He’s very calm, but he has that part in him that wants to be a shining light in people’s lives.
“He just wants to help people.”