I’m not afforded certain privileges as an African American. The system is not staged for me. I don’t have the privilege of learning about my race in school. The only subjects I remember from school are Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.
It was required for me to learn European and white favored American history in order to graduate school. Other histories, if offered, were optional.
I don’t have the privilege of escaping stereotypes that are based on what the media and the movies present. The preconceived notions that belittle my intelligence and misinterpret my passion for aggression are battles that drain the energy out of me on a daily basis.
Neither do I have the privilege of stopping in a small town for gas and not worrying about a person approaching me with bad intentions. I need to be more vigilant in an area that I know is predominantly white.
I am rarely in a space where I can relax and be at ease with those around me. My skin color doesn’t unlock the privileges that enable others to trace back their family generations, be regarded as the protagonist in films, or feel protected anywhere in the country.
I have to find other ways to be myself while being surrounded by people who wouldn’t know my daily struggles.
The Privileges of Sports
Playing sports is a phenomenal privilege. Sports have the power to attract people from all walks of life and provides the opportunity to interact with teammates from different backgrounds. On game day, we get to showcase our team’s hard work in front of family and friends.
Ultimately, teams want to prove that they are the best at their craft. On the field, you don’t care where your teammates are from as long as they don’t disrupt the team's goals. Whether a team has 8 or 57 players, we are one unit on and off the field. We need sports in our lives and we must protect those that rely on sports as a source to express themselves.
Watching sports is a privilege. That was the first time I saw someone on TV, besides my parents, who looked like me performing the unthinkable. I was hoping for my dad’s golf game to improve so we could meet Tiger Woods. The Williams sisters dominated to a point that made me think tennis was a Black sport. Kobe Bryant made me pick up a basketball and ignited the competitive fire in me. Unfortunately, that fire didn’t heat up my basketball game.
Without seeing other African Americans dominate their sports, I wouldn’t know I’d be capable of achieving greatness. Sports was the only space where I saw my people thrive. Popular television shows didn’t cast people of color as their main characters, I didn’t have my first Black school teacher until the 11th grade, and didn’t have my first Black sports coach until college. I didn’t grow up around people who looked like me.
There are many more daily reminders that I set for myself when I enter an environment where I am the clear minority. People are taught to approach and deal with me in a certain way because of my skin color. I don’t know other people’s intentions. The places where I feel the most secure, and comfortable to express my emotions are in competitive situations.
Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, and the Williams sisters were not turned back because of the color of their skin but had the ability to compete and be good at their jobs. They’ve had white coaches and teammates but their skin color, religious or political beliefs did not deter them from reaching a shared goal: greatness.
The Family Values of Football
Football is a family. When I step on the gridiron, nothing else matters except for me, my teammates and my coaches. We all have one goal; we want to win. It doesn’t matter their gender, their beliefs, or what they had for breakfast. A team is one unit. We battle together.
Playing football has its privileges. At the beginning of my school years, I automatically have a circle of 50 friends who mutually agreed to enforce pain on our opponents every Saturday. It gives me the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds that also put in the work to become the best student-athlete they can be.
This sport is able to breed a sense of confidence that I don’t think I could achieve in the classroom or in everyday life. I feel like I can achieve anything that I put my mind to. Knowing I am capable of performing these athletic feats don’t just make me happy at the moment, but carries over to strengthening my mental health and lessening my worries.
The time dedicated to sharpening my football skills granted me the privilege to attend prestigious camps and have the best minds in the game coach me. Football introduced me to so many accomplished people and impressive players that I wouldn’t have known without following my passion. I don’t think about my race much when I wear my cleats. I just think about how to do better on the next play.
My teammates and competitors react in the same way. We want to get better, otherwise, we wouldn’t be on this field together. While personal reasons may differ, we want to achieve greatness for our teams.
We can choose to go our separate ways off the field but shedding the blood, sweat, and tears on the playing field will be the experience that keeps the bond strong among all of us. I am privileged to have a group of people that understand my dedication to my craft. I can’t reach greatness by myself, it takes a team, a family.
Together, We Fight
There are teams all over the country made up of different ethnicities, genders, and skillsets. Just neighbors at first, on the football field they learned that they had to battle for the starting job. Parents of both households failed to acknowledge each other. The competitiveness seeps into the players’ daily lives. They learn to respect and appreciate their pursuit of greatness on and off the field and the bond grows stronger.
The difference in skin color doesn’t stop them from being best friends. Football created a separate bond apart from their households. The more they talked and listened to each other, the better they were able to understand each other. Both have different experiences in this country. But, they support each other off the field so they can be more comfortable on the field and unlock a new level of competitiveness.
At Smash Routes, we strive to encourage players to learn together.
By competing towards a common goal, bonds are created as players motivate each other to improve. When this confidence transfers to the field, their best is put on display.
Our jerseys remind us we represent the same family, the same community. We are brothers and sisters. We have the same goal, and that’s to achieve greatness.