SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Austin Holman is the coach of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School football team. He sent this letters to his players, coaches, parents and supporters. With Coach Holman's permission, TAPintoSPF has reprinted his thoughtful and moving letter.
Dear Raider Family:
I write this to you as the leader of the football community in the district of Scotch Plains-Fanwood. However, today I’m writing to you as something more than that. I’m writing to you as a Black man who was given an incredible opportunity in your community, to lead and be an example for your children.
I take great pride in this commitment, but with it comes responsibility. As a coach, I take pride in using a coaching style I term, “coaching everyone THE SAME but Different.” I teach everyone the SAME message but utilize DIFFERENT methods for each individual. Today I must speak to all of you as one. My heart is very heavy due to the events that have been taking place in our country and world.
Today I want to coach a different message; one of hope and awareness for our children and community. I am a black coach. Our coaching staff is diverse and composed of another black coach, a Hispanic coach, and several white coaches. Our team also boasts a mix of players from different races and backgrounds, and that is what makes us SPECIAL. The great thing about this team is that we can all relate and connect with each other beyond the color of our skin. My “Same but Different” approach has helped me relate to all my players.’
Twenty-two years ago, I too was a senior wondering how my season was going to unfold and what I could do to win a State Championship. I understand and share the drive and desire to win. However, outside of football, I see myself in many of these young men like Hayden, Christian, Kenny, and Shawn. I see similarities in our families, personalities, leadership skills, and peer relations. To me, these similarities make me more than just a black football coach. The same way that Hayden is more than a White Quarterback, and Marshall is more than a Black Defensive Back. These similarities, relationships, and bonds unite us as a family. One Raider Family. My HOPE is that outside of practice and games that we treat each other as so.
My hope is that what is transpiring around the country can be changed. As the leader and coach of this family, I want to start with my locker room. To me, the only thing that is solely Black and White is Right and Wrong. For young men and women, the line between right and wrong can sometimes be the hardest thing to figure out. However, when you have trust in your brother or sister, your family at home, or your Raider family those decisions can result positively.
Today you are young men and women, but soon you will grow and become the leaders I believe you to be. How do you want to lead? It starts now. Make the best decisions possible, take time to think and reflect, and you will achieve positive outcomes. My hope is that you don’t see me as a Black Football Coach, but as just a coach, leader, and someone that you can come to at any time to help you facilitate these hard conversations. I hope that one day you see a piece of yourself in me, too.
As a black man, I have personally experienced and witnessed inequalities and injustices due to the color of my skin. At times, I believe we are moving in the right direction and at other times I feel we have taken a large step back. The recent events in Minneapolis are not new or unique. Racial injustice and hatred toward people of color, specifically black men and women has taken place for over 400 years. I believe Black Lives Matter. I believe Hispanic lives matter. Indian lives matter. White lives matter. Police lives matter. ALL lives in this country and world matter.
Nothing can be changed by the actions of just one group in our society. We all must work together to combat the racial injustice in our world. Awareness is a steppingstone to change. How can we affect it? We must be aware of our surroundings, the company we keep, the actions we take, and the words we speak. We cannot stay silent about the injustices in our society, but riots and looting are not the answer. Violence brings about more violence. Understanding, Love and Compassion create change.
How do we fight back? We fight with responsible actions: voting and research within our local and state communities, civic action, and peaceful protests. Demonstrating empathy, understanding, and listening are also ways we can fight peacefully and together. We need to have these hard conversations even if they are uncomfortable. We need to be able to acknowledge our biases, and not be afraid to speak up when we hear racial slurs, jokes or remarks. We need to let our friends know that these comments and actions are not accepted and will not be tolerated.
The movement we see happening now cannot be a June 2020 movement only. We must acknowledge that there is a problem and continue to make a conscious effort to affect change until this problem is solved. It starts with us, in our locker room. If we can love and respect one another in our locker room, our school, and our community, we can affect change. The HOPE is that this will create a ripple effect and others will do the same. Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” It starts with our LOCKER ROOM. I love you all and am proud to be your leader.
Coach Austin Holman
Head Football Coach
Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School