Beyond the Rhetoric
By Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow
I fell in love with the sport of football as a young boy (four years old). My father bought me a football uniform for Christmas. Of course, it was a Los Angeles Rams uniform. We would attend most of the Rams home games with my cousins and uncles. It was truly a family tradition. By the time I entered high school my body was muscular and coordinated. The mighty Oxnard High School Yellow Jackets would become legend. Letters still are received, coming from old high school friends reminiscing on the great times back in the day.
My obsession was to graduate and receive a scholarship to either the University of Southern California or UCLA. In the end both schools ignored our high school and I was hurt. However, in the end there were plenty of colleges to choose from. The focus was on the West Coast or somewhere in Big Ten country.
To further improve my skills and chances I decided to go to a community college for my freshman and sophomore years. Then I would make the final decision. Ventura Community College was a great selection. The biggest improvement came from experience playing against competition from the Los Angeles area. Schools with a noticeable number of Black players like Compton, Los Angeles City, Pasadena, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Harbor City, etc. would give us our greatest competition. Speed and meanness would usually become the deciding factors.
Intimidation could be your friend. Laugh at them while they try to hurt you and bounce right back at any challenge. Defense was my specialty in high school, while at community college I played offense (tight end). My highest honor was to be chosen All Western Athletic Conference Tight End unanimously. That caught the big schools’ eyes. Soon, I was flying across the nation visiting major colleges and trying to decide which one to select as my college/team. In the end, I leaned toward the Big Ten and finally chose the mighty Wisconsin Badgers. I never regretted it.
When Kay and I married she promised to deliver two boys and she made good in one try – we had twin boys. The boys would grow up and earn athletic scholarships to the Big Ten Conference just like their dad. They signed for Maryland. However, the sport this time would be Lacrosse which is extremely popular on the east coast. Our sons did well in school because of the competitive spirit they were born with.
Harry, a 2-time All-American, ACC Tournament MVP, and ACC All-Tournament Team as a goalie on the Maryland Lacrosse team (2003-2007), holds a BA from the University of Maryland, an MA in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown University, and an MBA from Babson College. Harry also has experience playing professionally in Major League Lacrosse. Harry lives in Washington, DC with his family.
Thomas, as a midfield on the University of Maryland Lacrosse team (2003-2007), won back-to-back ACC titles and made Final Four appearances in 2004 and 2005.
He was also on the Dean’s list for seven consecutive semesters and named to the All-ACC Academic Honor Roll three years in a row. Thomas holds a BA and BS from Maryland, a Master’s in Communication Management from University of Southern California, and an MBA from Johns Hopkins University. He continues to stay close to the game by coaching at Gonzaga College High School for 11 seasons in Washington, DC.
We proudly say we are a successful family and that success was grounded in our competitive roots.
Things have not changed that much. Today, 70 percent of professional football is played by Black players. They are Black and educated. Most are doing quite well with the money.
Football has been good to Americans. For Black Americans it can be a life saver and character builder. If it were to go away it would decimate our Black communities and lower our educational accomplishments. Right now, it instills pride in Black neighborhoods and helps build new Black middleclass neighborhoods.
It is without a doubt that going through the football experience makes a person a better veteran, a more responsible father, a brighter businessman and a valued citizen. Taking away that sport from our culture would be devastating and tragic in so many ways. Our graduation lines would shorten, and our jail cells will overpopulate. The cultural gains that have been made will all be for naught. Football promotes health and rewards hard work.
So now, Kay and I look at our grandsons. Will they be given the same opportunities as their fathers? We see a very big risk being laid before them and their ilk. Will it be damaging to their futures? It was a lifesaver for their grandfather. They deserve at least as much. They and the generations to follow are going to be at risk. Can America stay strong and mighty as a free nation? It seems dubious.
Let us concentrate on our health and cultural disciplines and defeat the illness before us rather than destroy our future.
Harry C. Alford Jr. is the Co-Founder and President of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Kay DeBow is the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of the Chamber. www.nationalbcc.org firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.