Penn State Football: Lamont Wade Talks Advocacy, and Better World for His Son
LaMont Wade seems tired, maybe not outwardly, but there are hints between his words, clues sneaking out after each breath suggesting that sometimes it’s just too much.
And it’s hard to blame him.
Because imagine being Wade over the past several days: watching video of a man, who later died, motionless on the ground on a street in Minneapolis as a police officer keeps his knee on his neck. Another man bird-watching in Central Park, threatened by a woman walking her dog who subsequently called the police.
There’s Penn State defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins who retold his own experience on Twitter, about a man he didn’t know, shouting racially charged language at him at a gas station this weekend.
There’s also Wade’s teammate Jonathan Sutherland who last year was subjected to a letter disparaging his hair in ways not short on racial motivations.
There’s Ahmaud Arbery, allegedly chased and killed by two armed men while he was jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.
Five stories, all so familiar that their occurrence seems a routine. The only thing that changes is where they happened and when; everything else we have come to expect.
And as a father of one, and as a person of color, Wade knows that could have just as easily been him. It could have been him on the road unconscious, or him minding his own business enjoying a hobby or simply living his own life. He runs too, but on Tuesday he just so happened to run his stairs inside. To some, his "crime" is his skin color, and no amount of perceived conformity or politeness in the presence of others will change that.
So yes, it is tiring. Tiring to be you, and having to look behind your back because of it.
“I don't want my son to grow up in….with how much evil [there is],” Wade said on Tuesday during a previously scheduled call with reporters. “Even though you can't avoid it, honestly, but what I feel like I'm trying to do is diminish it as much as possible so, whenever the next generation comes up they don't have to deal with as much as evil, or just how people look at people sometimes because of just their appearance and not knowing people.”
Wade is not new to speaking publicly on such things, an active Twitter user as well as an advocate in person as well. In 2018 Wade traveled back home to Pittsburgh to protest the shooting of an unarmed black man during a traffic stop, making a brief appearance on CNN in the process.
Like many athletes who have taken more public stances on various social issues, Wade looks to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as inspiration. Kaepernick is not the only modern athlete with a large platform who has spoken out, but he does hold the crown as the hottest flashpoint, one of the first out of the trenches as the modern day athlete finds his or her voice.
“I definitely admire him for that and because of how brave he was,” Wade added. “You know, to just do something that's way above just himself. [To use his] platform for his community, to raise awareness and to shed light on it.”
There is a risk inherent to these choices though. While the Kaepernick story is complex, there’s no denying the connection between his public statements and actions and the abrupt end of a career that was often promising and not yet completed. Kaepernick will be fine financially, but Wade bears a much less complete set of armor, his future far less spoken for, his career far less set in stone.
To speak up now is a risk.
Maybe that’s the most tiresome thing of it all. That Wade can say the right things, speak out against what is wrong and stand in the face of evil and see his career impacted because of it. On top of the death and profiling and the pain and the loathing and the hate, Wade will almost certainly join a list of athletes who find themselves disliked for their willingness to stand up for themselves.
Wade will go to Beaver Stadium, and somewhere in the crowd a fan will lean to another fan and talk about his Tweets and his statements. And then they will cheer, because to them, Penn State is an idea, not a collection of people.
“If we were to talk more about the football games and everything and less about the other stuff, then we'd be real happy,” Wade said. “But if we were to talk more about the other stuff and less about football, then there would be differences. So I think it's just real important to realize what brings us together, instead of what separates us or, or the divides us.”
There is sadness in this. Police violence shouldn’t divide us, bigotry and hate shouldn’t be a political platform debated as if it requires nuance. Wade’s advocacy for peace and understanding shouldn’t be controversial, his hope for a better day shouldn’t make people angry. His willingness to stand up for himself should make you uncomfortable because these topics are uncomfortable.
Instead, Wade, in spite of a lifetime of being Black in America, will opt for the higher road. He has every right to be angry, every right to shout, every right to cry. Perhaps in private he does all of those things.
But in public he doesn’t. In public he says to love, not hate. In public he wants his son to have it better than he did.
“I want him to grow up in some type of environment where everybody does things through love,” Wade said.
Hopefully he will, but some days you wonder.