COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Locker rooms, fields and courts serve as a safe space for young athletes. It’s a space where racism and hatred can seem rare. It’s a space where teammates are brothers and sisters working toward a common goal, no matter their race or background. Coaches watch that blending of society up-close.
At Reynoldsburg High School, Buddy White has served as the football coach for nine years. He coaches a team, which he says is about 75 percent young black men. He’s among the few black men to serve as a football head coach in the Ohio Capital Conference. It’s a mentorship role Coach White takes seriously.
“We play the role of the father in many different situations,” White said. “The kids come and talk to us about things that I’m not sure they talk to their own parents about. The one thing we have to do is care about these kids.”
Many of those young men now carry new questions and concerns as they talk with their teammates and coaches. With the death of George Floyd and numerous other instances of black men and women killed in police custody, kids are seeking answers, and it’s a tough conversation to have.
“Not only the kids . . . it scared me,” White said.
With local school districts starting to permit athletes to return to schools for in-person voluntary conditioning, it’s the first time many of those athletes have seen their teammates or coaches in nearly three months. Reynoldsburg junior quarterback Dijon Jennings is one of the players eager to ask questions and serve as a leader.
“Being a young black man myself, it’s unfortunate for the community, the things that happen,” Jennings said. “We’re just looking for change.”
Coach White says his message to his players remains consistent.
“We definitely teach and urge our kids to respect authority in all situations, in the school, on the football field and in the community, and our kids do such a great job with that,” he said.
White says he plans to have a Reynoldsburg police officer visit one of his team workouts this summer, so players and police can get to know each other and better understand the challenges they face.
“I would like to know from law enforcement what can we do to change it,” White said.
Jennings, who is hoping to earn a college scholarship in football, says he’s eager to get in front of the issue for his teammates and future athletes at his school.
“We’ve been given a platform with social media and just embracing change and pushing to do better,” Jennings said. “We are young, but there’s other people coming up behind us that look up to us as I look up to athletes now . . . LeBron James . . . many more, to take a stand in their communities and embrace change.”