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Reflecting on Black History Month

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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When we watch our favorite teams play, we have to see more than just the silhouettes of those who suit up.

As a white man, I spent a lot of time thinking during Black History Month. I also spent a lot of time listening and a lot of time learning. So many of the stories shared, including those within the world of sports and college football, are so powerful and profound. 

I continue to be both inspired and encouraged by the bravery, courage and success of countless Black heroes, while also being heartbroken by the hate and oppression that so many still face. As a Brunswick, Georgia-native, it's impossible to see the world the same way as I once did. The story of Ahmaud Arbery is a crushing one. A year later, the community and the nation remain in mourning. His killing, with three white men charged in his murder, is unfathomable and unspeakable, though also a tragic and terrible reality. 

Ahmaud remains in the thoughts and prayers of so many. #IRunWithMaud

Daily talks with my dear friend Ben Troupe have also helped me become more aware and more in-tune to Black experiences. A former first-team All-American at Florida, NFL tight end and radio co-host with me, but more importantly a tireless advocate and unrelenting philanthropist, Ben continues to lead me through growth and improvement as a person. His perspective has long directly shaped mine. I am deeply grateful for that. I have needed his voice to help me find mine.

Hearing from Ben has, additionally, allowed me to see many student-athletes in a different light. College football is such a big business and the game itself is so consuming that we often mistake people for players and young men for yards. It's easy to forget who is playing, what they have been through and, importantly, what they think and feel. Recent news headlines have made it even more critical that student-athletes, many of whom are Black or Brown, are heard, supported and valued. #BlackLivesMatter. 

Student-athlete empowerment is a development that has long been needed. Not only to spotlight their stories, but to help with their hopes and dreams as well. It is humbling and inspiring the work that so many of these players do. Beyond their demanding responsibilities in the classroom and on the field, tens of thousands of student athletes volunteer their time and their perspective to encourage and uplift those around them. Last summer, with entire teams taking a stand against police brutality and racial injustice, was an ultimate example.

Black excellence is everywhere and college football is just another showcase. Not just on gamedays, either. But on campuses, in neighborhoods and around towns. Those who play are very often those who lead.

It goes without saying that Black History Month is a powerful time. Black history is American history. In college football, too, Black history has shaped the game. An impossible number of players to name remain beloved figures for an impossible number of fans to count. They regularly remain role models, for work done away from the sport, very often activism, as well. That example is one we all can and should follow. 

When we watch our favorite teams play, we have to see more than just the silhouettes of those who suit up. Their trials and tribulations don't just come on second and third downs; their triumphs don't just come with touchdowns, either. College football has become more personal than ever and, for Black and Brown players specifically, that's an important thing.  Who they are matters and means a lot to a lot of different people. Supporting that shouldn't only be standing and cheering. 

All of us are shaped by what we see, especially when we better understand it.    

College football comes with a remarkable stage. It's one many are powerfully using for commitment and change.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports