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T.J. Callan: If White police learned this lesson from football, it could change how they treat Black lives

Former University of Miami running back T.J. Callan, the gay son of a police officer, finds talking about police brutality “extremely exhausting and frustrating.”

Gay former Miami football player didnt feel welcome on team, wants to inspire change
TJ Callan (43) runs a drill during a University of Miami football practice held at the Greentree Practice Field in Coral Gables, Fla. on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.  
Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

We invited former University of Miami running back T.J. Callan, a friend of Outsports, to offer his perspective on the national crisis that has at long last led some White civic leaders to reconsider how Black Americans are treated: by police, by their White neighbors and by business owners. The murder of George Floyd, 15 days of protests, night after night of unrest, have weighed heavily on T.J.’s mind, and we feel fortunate that this gay Black man, the son of a police officer, shared his thoughts with us, and now with you.

I am not often at a loss for words when describing how I feel with regards to my personal experiences, but somehow this time is different. In the past, I shared with Outsports, my story of being on a Division 1 football program as a gay man, and I’ve also shared my personal experiences navigating life with two marginalized identities as a Black male and being gay. For some reason, the topic of #BlackLivesMatter and police brutality has caused me to have a different reaction. This is extremely exhausting and frustrating to speak about, but I know it is imperative for me to use my voice and I appreciate that Outsports gave me this platform.

I grew up in a predominately White Hispanic community. I was one of three or four Black kids in almost all of my classes, sports teams, and friend groups. Race has always been relevant in my life; Not just because I was taught to have pride in my identity, but because everyone took the opportunity to remind me that I was different. I often heard my peers use derogatory terms and make negative comments about my race. Most were probably joking, but words still carry weight.

In high school, I remember the cops being called on me several times for jogging or walking in my own neighborhood. Thankfully, after proving my residency, I was able to make it home.

When I was in the 10th grade, I was hanging out with a group of 10 or so kids in my friend’s neighborhood, which was located directly across from my high school. Unbeknownst to us, the neighbors called the police and reported that three Black males were running around their neighborhood causing a disturbance. Out of all of the kids that were there, why were WE the ones who didn’t belong? Why did WE look suspicious and not the rest of us? The people who called the police only saw color, they believed that only the three Black kids in that entire group were out of place, and they only chose to report us to the police, only us.

I am frustrated, because what is going on now is beyond personal. You can never escape who you are as a Black man. I am part of two groups that are continually marginalized, and I cannot help the feelings of frustration on both sides of my identity. This is why I find myself searching for the words and the right thing to say to help others understand why many people who look like me are so passionate about this.

My dad is a police officer, and like other Black children, especially young Black men, I had “the talk.” The one that many Black parents have with their children when discussing an inevitable interaction with the police. “Be polite, show your hands, don’t make sudden movements, say yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am no ma’am, whatever you do, make it home alive.” You see, it doesn’t matter what neighborhood you grow up in when you are Black. When it comes to instructions on interacting with police and the justice system, my experiences mirror those of other Black kids who are raised in all-Black neighborhoods.

I recognize that many will make excuses or say what I have experienced is no big deal but each of these micro-aggressions, insults, and misinformed jokes about my race, as well as other incidents that are tucked away just below the surface, are unfortunate reminders that as a Black person I am treated differently.

That I have to be careful of what I say, so that I am not seen as aggressive; that I have to be mindful of where I go, in case a neighbor decides that I don’t belong; that I have to remember the words of my parents and just get home alive.

These are lessons that most Black people grow up having to learn and worry about. Why do people who look like me, have the same concerns and the same fears when interacting with law enforcement? Regardless of our background, socioeconomic status, or parent’s profession, we all get “the talk” and we all know far too well what can happen just because we are Black. What I know is that something has to change. One of the lessons that you learn from playing offense in football is: If one person is not doing what they are supposed to do, it affects the entire team. My hope is that more officers use this same strategy to make changes in how Black people are treated. Everyone in the police profession is responsible and should hold each other accountable. This is especially important because Black lives matter, and my life matters too.

Follow T.J. Callan on Instagram by clicking here.

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Edited by Dawn Ennis