Jacob Vaughan
Category: 2020 High School Winner

Jacob Vaughan

University of Southern Indiana

As a lifelong football player, it has always been my dream to lead my team to victory; however, the lacking motivation of my high school’s team made that difficult. My senior year of football came too quick for my liking and I was determined to become a captain. I researched motivational tips to establish the mindset of a leader. During this search, I came across mostly unhelpful videos. Ironically, I came across an advertisement prior to an ineffective motivational video that featured Colin Kaepernick and his promotion of equal treatment for black communities in collaboration with Nike.

I learned that Colin Kaepernick is an NFL football player who was made notorious for his political activism during his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers in the 2016 NFL season. Like me, Colin is a biracial (black and white) football player who was a captain of his team. He is currently a free agent, or unemployed. His actions as a leader inspired me to motivate my team to play without fear. Colin took a risk by kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance of each game. He did this to stand against police brutality for Black Lives Matter, a pro-black rights activist group. This brought media attention to not only him, but the NFL as a whole.

His acts were seen as disrespectful to the flag, and by extension the brave individuals who serve this country domestically and internationally. A sizable number of players within the NFL joined Kaepernick in his stance against police brutality. His controversial acts created a divide in the NFL and the country. The controversy reached its peak in 2017 when President Trump publicly criticized the protests of Kaepernick and other players during NFL games. The San Francisco 49ers released Kaepernick following the 2016 season for associating the controversial topic to the team’s and the NFL’s reputation. Colin Kaepernick, as a captain, withstood the public, financial, and personal affronts of his opposers.

I adapted the ideals presented by Colin to better lead my team. I wanted to disturb the toxic culture that hovered within the locker room. As captain, it was pertinent for me to agitate my peers to combat the feelings of inadequacy that were within all of us. This role allowed me to build confidence in myself as I was building muscle. Even more, I began to understand that leaders sacrifice the life they previously had for the potential of a life with their goals fulfilled. This meant I would have to sacrifice my spare time playing video games to perfect schemes with my team. Without change, there is no change.

Kaepernick’s courageous behavior in 2016 is my motivation for continuing to lead by example for my peers. It is common for individuals, especially students, to underestimate their capacity to succeed. But, my experience in leading a team from winless seasons to back-to-back regional championship outings was directly influenced by Kaepernick’s movement to risk everything he cared about for the betterment of his country.