For anyone that doesn’t know, the new Tupac movie, All Eyes on Me, was recently released. I haven’t seen it yet, but I heard all about it from my boy Rhakeem Wiggins (one of the interns here at Buffalo) the other day. We were sitting around talking about the new movie and the main part of it being how Tupac wanted to change people’s world from the inside out. What Tupac meant was that, in order to change someone's world, you have to step into it and drag them out. More or less, he didn’t believe you could change it from the outside (i.e. why he spoke of civil rights but portrayed the “thug life” image). This led Wiggins onto the topic of the NCAA.
Rhakeem is a highly intelligent guy, so I know when he says, “Hey coach, what do you think…” the conversation is about to get deep. We talked about the reasons why we became strength coaches and we talked about how we really wanted to make an impact on kid’s lives. We talked about the imperfections of the NCAA and the system in general — the system not just being the NCAA, but life in general. Whenever anyone talks about the system, I think of The Matrix. We’re all in it; some of us are blind to it, some of us are aware but blissful, and some of us are aware and trying to change it. But just like in The Matrix and just like Tupac preached, you can only change the system from the inside out.
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Wiggins posed the question as to where the best spot would be to start making a change. Is it at the top? To this, I responded no. In my opinion, in order to make a change, you have to affect the masses with influence. The masses aren’t at the top; in fact, at the top is only the one to five percent. The rest of the 95-99% is at the ground level. Look at a pyramid: the biggest and strongest part of the pyramid is the base. In the system, the base is the ground level. For us as coaches, our ground level is the athletes, with the system being this thing called college football. When I say college athletics, I don’t mean the NCAA. I mean the entire system that is college athletics — more specifically college football.
Going further into our conversation, we talked about how these kids aren’t always set up for success in some places. That sometimes they are there just to play football for four years and are then thrown to the wind. That even during our playing days, we’ve seen guys receive special treatment entirely due to their status in the record books, or get out of unlawful situations for the same reason. This may all seem awesome at the time while you and your boy are joking around by the bonfire, but is this really setting him up for long-term success? A lot of guys peak in college—maybe not athletically but socially—because they are fed this unrealistic worldview that tells them, “As long as you’re good in football, you will be good in life.” But football is just a game and that’s all it is. It’s not life. It is just a game.
So, equipped with this knowledge of how certain people I knew were treated in college based on their success and how they ended up, I have to make sure my athletes come out of the system better. Wiggins felt the exact same way, that it was his duty to change the system for the better. Wiggins and I had both come out of the system pretty unscathed. Both of us have careers, work ethic, our health, and the knowledge of how to make it out alive. Knowledge is like a God-given weapon. Knowledge is wisdom, and with that wisdom, you can do anything you want. Tupac (just like every influential leader) knew that if you can spread knowledge and wisdom through influence throughout the system, you can lead people out of it. That’s what we, as coaches, have to do.
Our job is to be better than those coaches who let the kids believe football is life. This is not to say you can’t enjoy the game because the game has given me a career I love, but we have to remind them that it’s just a game. We can’t let the game use them. We have to teach them to use it for all that it is worth and make it out alive, better than what they came in with.
College athletics is a way for a lot of people to receive an education they may not have had a shot at otherwise. It’s also a way to market yourself to future employers through building alumni relationships. These are things we need to teach our players that aren't taught well enough, in my opinion. It's also a way for us with the knowledge and wisdom of how to make it out of the system to influence others. My sole purpose for getting into college football was to help others. It just so happens I am a pretty good strength coach as well. Our reasoning should be for them to make it out better than us. We have the power to change lives, so we must not waste this gift we have been given. Like Tupac said, “Let’s be the change.”
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