On Being a Black Man at Yale: No, I'm Not on the Football Team



This post is by Akintunde Ahmad and originally appeared on The Well, Jopwell's editorial hub.

I've noticed something very peculiar over my past two years at Yale: At least a few times a week during football season, somebody on campus comes up to me and says, "Have a good game this weekend, man," or "Hey, how's football practice been?"

People's support and well wishes would be much more understandable if I were actually on the football team -- or any university sports team for that matter. I may be an athlete at heart, but in actuality, I haven't played football since I was 11 years old.

To be fair, I did briefly play a varsity sport at Yale. But it was baseball, and I purposefully avoided being recruited. I'd gone as far as to wait until after I had gotten accepted to reach out to the baseball coach. I had focused my time and energy on academics in high school, and my 18-year-old self wanted to know that I could get accepted to college based on my intellectual achievements. I ended up walking onto the baseball team, but when I tore both of my quads, I decided to give up on varsity sports altogether.

Still, I've had people tell me to my face that I was only at Yale because I played a sport. They didn't take the time to find out that I was a walk-on, and that I'd be about as useful to the football team as a practice dummy.

I want people to see me as a man of color who studies and values academics. I can't afford to feed into the stereotype that has plagued Black men in college for decades.

I personally don't get offended by people's assumptions, but I can't speak for those I've seen experience similar type-casting. I encourage everyone to try and ask their peers about their extracurricular activities in order to see if they actually are athletes or not. It's a great way to get to know people -- not to mention a great method of preventing that awkward moment when you find out somebody merely looks like your vision of a certain role.


Let me be clear: There's absolutely nothing wrong with being a Black male who excels at a sport in college. It doesn't make you any less worthy of being there. Many of my best friends are athletes, in or outside of college. And guess what? A good portion of them are smarter and more scholarly than I am.

Next fall, when football season starts back up and someone inevitably asks me what position I play or wishes me luck before a big game, I'm going to take their comments as a compliment to my athletic appearance. But I also hope we can all step back and think about where these assumptions and stereotypes come from. Ask someone when they last saw a Black man in a movie. I find that it's usually in the context of a pro athlete, rapper, or criminal. Even among the successful Black men we see in the media, they're rarely depicted as intellectuals. These images of what it looks like to be a Black man in America are ingrained in so many of our minds.

So yes, I am an athletically-built Black man on Yale's campus, and while we still have a lot of work to do on campus and in this country, I'm not the first or only one to be here. I hope I can help my fellow classmates and community rethink what it means to look a certain way. I hope we can all become more open-minded so that the next athletic-looking person of color doesn't get honorary automatic membership to a team he's not on - so that he's not viewed as an anomaly or as needing another reason for being here. Whether we put on a jersey or not, we are right where we deserve to be.

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Images by Clark Burnett