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Penn State Football: So Used to Leading, Sean Clifford Is Now Listening

by on June 03, 2020 1:50 PM

For almost all of Sean Clifford's career he has had the answer. Or in the very least he has been equipped with the tools to find it.

That's the nature of being a quarterback. People look to you for leadership, for guidance and in the heat of the moment, for a calming presence to focus a team and prepare for the next play.

But Sean Clifford is also white, and for the first time he has to do a lot more listening than talking, a lot more learning than leading. In a way there is a leadership skill in knowing when to be quiet and admit that you don't know everything, that maybe this time you don't have the answers.

"Obviously I think that it's good that this is starting to come to light," Clifford said on Wednesday in regards to ongoing nationwide protests and rallies against police brutality in the black community. "The situation is obviously terrible but it is good that as a country we're starting to actually feel this.

"It's been exhausting to be honest with you, but I think that it's good that it's been exhausting because we're finally feeling what it's like to be an African-American in our society. And I told the guys that I've talked to that I really feel for them and I've never been more proud to be their teammate, especially guys that are speaking out on the issue. I just hope that we really change as a culture and as a country, and I think a lot of good can come out of a very terrible terrible situation, but overall I think that it's all going to be rooted in love because love conquers all."

Of course the issue is complex and the answers are not clear-cut, Clifford's teammates don't necessarily have the answers either, but they do have the experiences. Penn State defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins recently posted   online about a racially charged experience, but for every story that is shared there is a truth that comes with it: Hawkins has been black his entire life, something that has undoubtedly been pointed out to him more than just once at a gas station. For every recorded slight, there are more than never make the public eye.

So for the likes of Clifford, the past week or so coupled with Jonathan Sutherland receiving a letter about his long hair last season has been an education up close and personal. While some injustices can feel far away and disconnected from reality, they've hit home for everyone in Penn State's locker room, and locker rooms across the country.

"The whole situation is definitely a very difficult one. The time that we're in as a country is definitely an interesting one as well," Clifford added. "I think [the conversation is] long overdue honestly, but from a team perspective and that's where I kind of wanted to keep it, is what I tell the guys and what I've told them from the start is it's like for me, it's all rooted in love. And I love every single one of my teammates and I would never wish anything upon them that, what has transpired in the past week.

"You know I don't know what it's like to be an African-American in this culture. I don't have to deal with what they go through every day. And I tried to express that to them and it's not the first time that we've talked about this, you know, this has obviously been something that has been pressing in our culture."

What happens next is anyone's guess, but Clifford is slowly adding another tool to his arsenal, one that will help him become a leader off the field as much as he is on it. A leader in a place where things matter just a bit more than touchdowns and interceptions.

"It has been brought to light now," Clifford concluded. "And people can't ignore it."

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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