Having grown up in a homogenous environment, I experienced minimal diversity throughout my adolescence. The people I was surrounded with were very similar to myself – Caucasian, middle income, two-parent kids. Most Black Americans that I was exposed to were professional athletes or famous musicians, no one that I knew personally. This absence of a personal relationship with someone of the Black American race left me with impressions and biases that were based solely on media and stereotype portrayals rather than personal experiences. Fortunately, this changed when I had the privilege of being taught and coached by David Wood during my high school years.
Coach Wood is a Black American and one of the most influential people in my life as he altered my perspective regarding my responsibility to ensure that I’m an advocate and ally against racism. It seems cliché to say that a great coach is more concerned with developing young men than winning games, but that statement is the simplest and truest way to describe Coach Wood. During the four years he coached me, he taught me far more about how to be successful in life than about how to be a better basketball player. His lessons were direct, backed by stern messages, clear feedback, strong accountability, and actions that conveyed more than most people accomplish with a speech. Other lessons he taught through examples or personal experiences, such as his encounters with racism and bias, drove home the profound and lasting damage discriminatory behavior can cause.
When two Black American members of our team were called a derogatory term on their way to practice one day, Coach Wood advocated for them by getting the appropriate officials involved including sharing the story with our local television station and newspaper. His active response brought awareness to the racism in our community and sent a clear message that it was unacceptable and should not be tolerated. His response made me realize that as someone in the majority, it was not acceptable to feel like racism didn’t affect me, rather that it was my obligation to address the effects of prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination on our society.
The incredible impact that Coach Wood has had on my life is immeasurable as I work to implement the lessons he taught me as I begin my coaching career at a high school with great diversity and extreme poverty. Ironically, this season is Coach Wood’s last and my first as he is retiring the same year that I am starting my coaching career. We had the opportunity to coach against each other, and after my team won, we met at center court for a hug and sharing of sentiments with no regard for the scoreboard. I had the opportunity to tell him the insurmountable impact he has had on my life and how I intend to honor his legacy by serving as a role model in young men’s lives by the example I set and the lessons I share.