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Penn State Football Stars Discuss Social Justice In Two-Hour Livestream

James Franklin and former Penn State football linebacker Jason Cabinda took part in a social justice livestream event Sunday night. During the two-hour program, they discussed systemic racism, racial equity, and more.

The panel conversation, titled “Movement for the Movement,” began with a discussion about systemic racism and its history within the United States. That conversation pivoted into how racism has made its way into the daily lives of Black people.

Franklin spoke on this issue and specifically discussed how the stereotypes of Black men have impacted his career as a coach.

“There are 133 Division I football programs, and there are only 14 head coaches of color, which is pretty telling right from the beginning,” Franklin said. “For me, however, I have this title as coach, but I see myself as a teacher. I’m a huge believer that we are using the game of football to teach life habits. In terms of systemic racism, unfortunately, many of our student-athletes and many of our students on college campuses don’t really understand what that is.”

Franklin continued and discussed his “responsibility” to have uncomfortable conversations with players to teach his student-athletes what’s “currently happening in the world.”

Franklin emphasized he is the only person of color who holds a head coaching position at Penn State. One of the things he did was challenge the other 30 coaches to watch the Netflix documentary “13th.” He noted a lot of those coaches had no idea about the issues discussed in “13th” and that there were many great conversations about those issues.

The head coach realizes these conversations are hard to have and hear. However, he knows they’re critical to his student-athletes’ growth.

“My hope is that everyone can be true to who they are, but that isn’t the society we live in,” Franklin said. “I talk differently to my friends then I would to the Athletic Director or the President of the University. It’s all about figuring out how to navigate this world.”

Franklin reiterated everyone should be themselves, but it’s his responsibility to ensure his student-athletes know that in order to be successful in today’s society, they must adapt. He still wants to have conversations so society can move past these issues in the future.

The conversation later shifted toward Black head coaches and how they are viewed in the football landscape. Franklin noted that Black coaches are viewed as the “recruiter” and that Black NFL coaches are viewed as the “players coach.”

“It’s never about our ability to be a CEO that makes decisions and runs a very complex organization,” Franklin said. “They want to put us in a category of the ‘recruiter’ or the ‘players coach.’ I think those stigmas are powerful and I try to address those stigmas as much as I possibly can to address them.”

Cabinda also weighed in on this issue and supported Franklin’s comments and point of view.

“I know in certain environments, there is only a certain Jason Cabinda I can be,” Cabinda said. “When I’m speaking to certain coaches, when I’m in certain rooms, there are only certain aspects of me that I can allow to come out in order to be successful. I know I have teammates that come from different backgrounds who don’t know anything but the person from where they came from. There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever, but it’s how they are looked at by these people and because they are who they are, it is assumed by those same people that they cannot survive in this environment.”

Franklin also discussed promoting diversity at Penn State and other universities across the country.

“The first thing is I know I have to be successful at Penn State to open the door for others. I carry that weight every single day,” Franklin said. “We have one of the most diverse staffs in America, and not just with our on-field coaches but as well as off-the-field. But I also have a responsibility to talk to search firms about qualified African-American coaches that are out there. I have a responsibility to talk to college presidents that I am familiar with. I have a responsibility to talk to athletic directors.

“I have to lead by example and show that people that look like [me] can be in this position,” Franklin continued. My personal goal is to be the first African-American coach to win a national championship. Yes, that’s for our players and it’s for Penn State. But I also understand what that will do for our community.”

Moderators returned the spotlight to Cabinda and initiated a conversation surrounding getting involved with social justice movements around the country.

“When asking what people can do to help out, it’s important to note that there are scales to it,” Cabinda said. “On a larger scale, look at a guy like Colin Kaepernick. He sacrificed his entire career for this movement and for bringing social justice where it needs to be. Look at Saquon [Barkley] and other athletes who are pouring in money to their communities and giving kids more resources and opportunities. They’re doing a lot of good.”

Cabinda fondly recalled skipping school to attend Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. The Detroit Lions linebacker emphasized he and other Black kids felt his appointment opened doors and opportunities they previously thought impossible.

“Unless you see somebody that looks like you and you see someone you can relate to that are in those positions or has that success, it’s hard to envision yourself having it as well,” Cabinda said.

Additionally, Cabinda is using his social media platforms to promote these conversations and help create change within the community. So far, he’s launched an Instagram Live series to host conversations in a “safe space without hate.”

“It was important to do it in a way that’s all about educating each other,” Cabinda said.

Both Nittany Lions ended the program by sharing their final thoughts on how folks at home can be better allies moving forward.

“The one thing I want people to understand is the importance of having conversations with people who don’t look like us,” Franklin said. I think we have an understanding in college sports that we have the ability to build relationships with people that don’t look like you. The reality is, one of the problems we face in our country is too many smart, intellectual people have avoided the conversation for too long because it has been uncomfortable.

“We need to engage with people that know this is wrong, but really just stayed out of the conversation,” Franklin continued. “We need to make sure they know how important they are in making a difference in our country.”

Cabinda echoed that sentiment and implored athletes to use their platforms in positive ways in the future.

“Eliminating the whole ‘shut up and dribble’ stigma is something that’s important,” Cabinda said. “Athletes have the experience of working and coming together with people who share different backgrounds. The whole ‘politics need to stay out of sports’ is nonsense. If anyone knows how to work together and get towards a common goal, it is athletes.”

You can catch a replay of the entire two-hour program here.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey was a Secondary Education major before he graduated from the wonderful institution known as Penn State. When he was not writing for the blog, he enjoyed rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, dreaming of all of the ways he would win the TV show "Survivor," and yes mom, actually doing school work. All of this work prepared him to teach his own class of students, which was always his true passion. He still can be found on Twitter @theowenabbey and can be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]

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