This Father’s Day, we reached out to a number of our sports landscape’s most prominent African-American dads to talk about the ongoing quest for racial equality. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Local philanthropist and former University of Florida defensive end Thaddeus Bullard — known globally as WWE “superstar” Titus O’Neil — is a single dad of two teenage boys, Titus and TJ Bullard, who co-parents with the boys’ mother, says he regularly engages his sons in conversations about the “systemic issue” in society.
“My kids are 13 and 16 now, so the conversations of (the 16-year-old) getting behind the wheel of a car will be a lot different now that he has to actually get behind the wheel of a car. Fortunately here in Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay area, I have not encountered a bad encounter with law enforcement, but I do know that there is always that possibility, because I have been on the road obviously with WWE, in different small cities and big cities. And there are some places in the South that I was very nervous when I got pulled over, just because I know the history of those areas.
"So it’s about having the conversation with my kids, and then also not just having the conversation but actually showing them vivid images in the form of movies and depictions and having them read about the history of black and brown people in this country.
“I think my sons are more prepared to understand (racial inequality) more, even though they don’t like it, and they never have liked it. They don’t like anybody being treated bad, whether they’re black, white, lesbian, gay or straight. They believe what I believe, and I think a lot of times we as fathers already have enough on our plates, responsibilities. But black fathers (have) the stigma that comes along with it — that we’re deadbeats, we’re all in jail, we’re lazy, the list goes on and on. But I know white fathers that do portray those negative images, and they never really get talked about like they do with blacks.
“I just feel like my relationship with my kids is so strong and to the point where we can have candid conversations, and they can express how they feel about certain things. And I try to put some things in perspective, but I really am at a loss for words when it comes to explaining some of this stuff.”