We are in times where the content of what any person has to say now gets pre-judged. It is not just what they have to say, but who is sharing that message.
Why are they saying it? Should they? It somehow interferes with the comprehension of the message itself.
There is a national conversation now taking place about race. It has led our thoughts to many issues, including law enforcement tactics and profiling. That is much-needed dialogue on an important level, but the father of a talented Georgia receiver also shared his concern this week about limited future career opportunities for promising young black professionals in America.
Does it help to share the perspective of the families of the young black athletes on the football team at UGA? The hope expressed here is that it can only help.
It is past time for all of us to listen closely to what they have to say.
The first of those stories comes from John Woods. Woods has a connection to the issues affecting our country. That’s evident by the family photo displayed above.
That’s Woods with his four sons. He classifies three of them as black or African-American. He used those terms interchangeably in a wide-ranging discussion this week on what it has been like to raise them.
The second-youngest of his sons, Dominick Blaylock, was one of the most impressive freshmen on the Georgia football team last season. He was an All-American recruit who arrived with much fanfare. Blaylock quickly delivered upon it.
Woods has spent his career in the wealth management industry and is a co-owner of Double-A minor league baseball franchise. His Twitter bio will also lists his title as the the CEO of Southport Capital and chairman of the Walton High School football booster club.
His family life adds to the conversation going across America today. His views are not shaped by rhetoric, but by his personal life experiences.
“The one good thing that is beginning to come out of this in this country is that people are beginning to have a conversation about race and injustice in America,” Woods said this week. “It is very good that we are now beginning to really have that conversation.”
Race in DawgNation: Diversity for the Woods family
Do the views of a man who moved his black and white sons from an Atlanta private school matter? What about a man who also left his country club because he also didn’t find enough diversity there?
Woods also took that step. He felt that was necessary when he married his wife, Janelle, 18 years ago. She had three sons from her previous marriage to Oklahoma All-American and former NBA player Mookie Blaylock.
Woods has been a dad to those three sons in every way imaginable she wanted him to be. They had their own son, too. That is Ashton Woods.
John and Janelle moved all of their sons to Walton school district. What did the other members of his community think about that? Woods shared a forthright description of that which came about while he was out to dinner one night.
“Somebody said, ‘Oh, that’s John Woods. That’s the guy who brings all the African-American kids to Walton.’”
Woods wants to see more opportunities for black youth in America. That starts with their educational profile. He’s not worried about parents who might see their son lose a starting position.
He quotes a line that he has heard from others about the Walton football team.
“How come all these white people don’t think all these African-Americans should have the same opportunities to use football to get a great education at Walton?” he said. “It is one of the great academic high schools in the state.”
He believes every word. It goes back to his career in the wealth management sector before his current post at Southport Capital.
“We had 39 advisors,” he said. “I worked there 30 years. I think in all my years there we had one African-American advisor.”
“It is crazy.”
He used that “it is crazy” line eight different times along a single conversation held earlier this week.
Flashback to 2011: The first SEC athletes in the family
Woods also saw his older twin sons star at Walton. Daron and Zach were also both scholarship football signees with Kentucky.
He shares a story of racial profiling that affected one of his sons. It occurred while on a traffic stop.
“When Zach was a sophomore at Kentucky, I bought him a car,” Woods said. “It was a Camaro and he said, ‘Yeah I was coming home and got caught speeding in Knoxville. The first thing the guy asked me was if this car is stolen’ so obviously I do think these African-American kids today get it rough, too.”
He had hoped that a scene like that would never repeat itself in 2020.
“I would have told you a year or so ago that the millennials don’t see race as much as our generation or our grandparents,” Woods said. “Especially our great-grandparents. But here lately, I don’t know. I think this country is so divided politically which sometimes means it is divided economically when you are talking politics. But people tend to vote with their wallets.
“It is so divided. I teach my boys there are only two groups you judge. It is just about character. Good character and bad character. Not skin color. Not religion and not culture and not political preference. So many people in this country judge. So many people judge for those things.”
He points to the constant media cycle as a reason for that.
“So many Republicans hate Democrats right now. We live in a world where CNN and Fox and Facebook make things so, well they make things much worse. It does stir it up. When we went from three major news channels and three major networks with news on a couple of times a day to 24/7 on cable and now we have it all on our phones. We have it all in our hands. It is instant and it is streaming on our cell phones.”
When did he start to see things differently? It wasn’t instant.
“Janelle and I do have different conversations with Zach and Daron and Dominick. I married Janelle 18 years ago and I had to drop out of my country club. Nobody asked me to. But I felt compelled to because there were no African-Americans in that country club. I never thought about it, either.”
“Until I started going there with the kids. I thought about how it made them feel.”
“We had Dominick and Ashton at Holy Innocents and I dropped them out. I put Dominick in there and they asked me why I was pulling him out. I said that Ashton has one African-American kid in his class. I don’t want that for my white son as much as I didn’t want that for my African-American son.”
“Dom had one African-American in the class. It was him in kindergarten through the sixth grade.”
The Walton High district had more diversity. The Raiders went to the state championship game when Daron and Zack were seniors in 2011. Woods cites that 12 of the 25 seniors on that team were African-American.
“We wanted diversity. I want my son Ashton to have diversity. It is not the real world growing up in a white world.”
Woods told DawgNation that he even seeks out diversity with where his family goes to church. He feels that some of the churches in Metro Atlanta are too segregated.
The life experiences with racial issues in the Woods family
There’s a paradox Woods knows he’s about to live through. He recalls all the things he told Dominick this week before he moved back to UGA. He thinks of that traffic stop for one of his sons in Knoxville.
When Ashton starts to venture off into the world on his own in a few years, it will not be the same extended conversation. He knows that. That’s because he feels his white son will be viewed differently in metro Atlanta.
“Yes, but I want Ashton to know,” Woods said. “When Janelle and I sit down with Zach and Daron, we talk and have talked a lot about certain things they have to overcome sometimes with racial issues.”
“They take it well, but they understand there are some additional hurdles for them. I’ll never forget Daron had a girlfriend who used to come over and she said ‘My parents don’t know I’m over here’ and she told Daron that. We did not allow the girl to come over. We told the girl she could not come over here anymore behind her parent’s backs.”
“She could not tell them.”
He makes it clear these are the stories that stick out. The same way that a story about traffic stops with a new car should not be an indictment on all police officers.
“Most people were very accepting,” Woods said. “These things like this only happened about 10 percent of the time.”
But they happened enough to make him worry. And wonder.
The differences between 2011 and 2020
Have things gotten better in Buckhead, East Cobb and Metro Atlanta since his oldest sons were in college? Woods thought so for a time, but now he’s not sure.
“I don’t try to be political,” Woods said this week. “I like [President Donald] Trump. I think he’s been a great president in some ways and I think in some ways he’s been a terrible president and a leader in other ways.”
“Business-wise and some things he does for our country, I think he’s done a good job with some of his programs. Socially, I think he’s created hate. More hate. I think now it has gotten worse. Dominick is driving to Athens today in a [Ford] Raptor and I think if he got pulled over on Highway 316 by the wrong police officer, it could lead to problems. You have those fears.”
Woods feels there’s an added layer of tension that goes beyond the commander-in-chief.
“I hate to say it but I think it starts from the top in Washington from not only our President but the Speaker of the House,” Woods said. “The hatred of Trump and Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff and this has set the tone in this country for hate. That has expanded to racism and religion and that’s where we are divided in this country.”
When Dominick went back to Athens this week, Woods said he found himself giving more advice than he ever did before to Daron and Zack. It was about far more things than the novel coronavirus.
He makes sure his boys know how to handle any interaction with law enforcement.
“I just think that a lot of police officers are trained to profile and when they pull over a black person there is a different standard and rules than a white kid,” he said.
There’s a listing of habits he shares with his three black sons.
“I told my kids don’t talk back, let them see your hands and don’t get out of the car and just answer all their questions,” Woods said.
Other parents have told DawgNation that they have told their sons to announce what they are going to do before they do anything. At all times. Make sure the officer knows every move before you make it. There’s also a need to immediately drop to the ground if things become heated in any way.
Football players are generally physically imposing by just their appearance. The thinking there is to neutralize any notion they could be seen as a threat. Does Woods see that as smart advice?
“Absolutely,” he said.
It goes beyond the typical fears right now.
“You’re always worried when your kid goes out,” he said. “About everything. Getting hit by a drunk driver. Are they safe? Are they experimenting in life with something like smoking dope for the first time? There are always fears. This is just another layer of fear when you have sons of color as far as them being targeted not only by a police officer but one that is a bad police officer that is going to shoot and ask questions later.”
Talking in slang, he feels, is a profile characteristic.
“I think if you have dreads or if you have tattoos, then that is a profile trait,” he said. “I think that some police officers can jump to conclusions.”
Woods shared his views on the George Floyd tragedy.
“This gentleman that got killed the other day is a big guy,” he said. “I don’t care what he did. Nobody deserves to get murdered like that. I call it murder because that is basically what it is. I do think there are some police officers in this country who just hate black people. They think every black person is a drug dealer and they think every black person when they pull them over has got a gun in the car.”
That is one man’s perception. Not a blanket statement. DawgNation asked for the viewpoint of a veteran police officer who serves in a Metro Atlanta district very close to where Woods resides.
“I have been a law enforcement officer for over 20 years and I can honestly state, unequivocally and with my hand raised to God, I have never witnessed a fellow officer ever make a decision solely based on a personal bias, race or otherwise,” the veteran police officer stated. “Think about that. Never. That’s not to say that racial biases don’t exist, I’m not naive, but, again, it’s not an epidemic that has ever existed where I served.”
That police officer, who is white, also served our country in the Air Force and National Guard.
A lack of opportunity is a real concern
Woods has the stories and experiences of his two oldest sons to lean on. About things that happen with star athletes and athletes on a college campus.
There is a lot more than that now on his mind with Dominick than missing a class or doing his homework or coming back too quickly on his surgically-repaired knee.
“I tell him to be careful about putting yourself in bad situations,” he said. “You don’t need to be out in certain areas in Athens late at night because I really think there are people out there that whether there are these extremists seem to be growing in popularity in those because they hate people for their skin color.”
These are trying times for the families of a young black athlete at UGA.
“It has gotten worse,” he said. “It is just another worry but right now if I am an African-American kid, it is bad enough to worry about if I get my degree will I get my chance and the same opportunities.”
That’s a major talking point with Dominick. When asked what he believes is at the forefront of his son’s mind, it comes down to something that won’t be a part of any protest march.
“Look at what these kids are seeing right now in the NFL with the Rooney Rule,” Woods said. “32 teams? We can’t hire more African-American head coaches? That’s a visible thing for these kids and they see it. They think where we are in 2020. These African-American kids have been told their whole life they are not smart enough to be a quarterback. They are not smart enough to be a coach. With the NBA, it looks like 90 percent of the league is a white man in a suit.”
“I really think these kids see this and they feel like they don’t have the same opportunities. Some of them do not. Unfortunately. It is a shame because they don’t have the opportunities and education growing up that some of these other kids do.”
With that, Woods recalls his time at a previous firm. Those 39 advisors across 30 years and the diversity that was just not there. There is a real concern there about exclusion from future career opportunities as much as racial tensions or any “bad” police officers.
“I think a lot of the kids do now doubt that,” Woods said. “Or they see all of this and it causes doubt. It causes them to have less dreams and aspirations of being something bigger and better. There’s a lot of doubt in their minds with their dreams and aspirations outside of football with what they do see going on in this country.”
“You see white people paying people and bribing people to get their kids in school. Or certain schools. There’s obviously a lot of doubts of the minds of African-Americans where they will have the good opportunities to pursue their dreams.”
He realizes things will be much different for those who did not star on the football team at UGA. Or that will not have a productive career in the NFL.
“What is in it outside of the NFL, which is short-lived, is what matters,” Woods said. “What’s the opportunity for me? Do I get the same type of opportunities in job interviews? For Dom, I think he will have it better than most. He’s a smart kid. He will have a Georgia degree. He’s got other opportunities beyond football. Some of his peers his age might not.”
Taking a knee during the national anthem
There are at least two commitments in the 2021 Georgia class that have expressed a desire to support the current movement in a way that feels right to them.
They will take a knee during the national anthems during their high school games this fall. How does Woods feel about that? What would he do if one of his sons wanted to do the same?
“I would support them to do what they feel like in their minds they are doing to bring recognition to injustices in this country,” he said. “Personally, I think it is the wrong platform because what I think happens is what they want this country to be and what that flag represents. I think what happens is the whole message gets misconstrued to they are disrespecting our flag and our country and our military.”
“I think that causes anger on the other direction. I think for them to kneel for the national anthem is what we see as looters who interfere with peaceful demonstrations. By the way, they don’t have anything to do with that. It conflicts with the real important message. I hate that people are also equating these demonstrators who want change as thugs that are using this cause as an excuse to loot. That, to me, is two different things.”
It is another example he sees of what America has to put in the past. But this, to him, also seems different. Woods worries about how much further this is going to go before it gets better.
“I do think that this has gotten a lot of people’s attention – a lot more people’s attention – and they are realizing there are some issues out there about how some African-Americans are treated,” he said.
“I do think there a lot of people in this country – and I think it is the majority of this country – wants everybody to be treated equally. Fairly. I do believe that and I see that. There are some people that want to have an image issue. They just want to have an image that they do care and feel like they do have to put a comment out there and their actions are different. But I do feel like the majority of this country does care. This country is not as segregated as it used to be and I think it is more than just me. Because I’ve raised three African-American kids. They are interracial but society sees them as African-American.”
He feels there are more opportunities for diversity in 2020. It allows more people to see their struggle and to show empathy. Woods perceives that as something his grandparents didn’t have.
“Things were so segregated back then,” he said. “Our grandparents weren’t around African-Americans a lot so they didn’t understand them.”
It brings up another “crazy” talking point with Woods.
“I’ve never understood this country with World War II,” he said. “That was the greatest generation. We go over and fight Hitler for what he was doing to the Jews and we come back to America and make black people sit at the back of the bus and make them have their own fountains and bathrooms. It was crazy.”
Woods has grown close to the other parents in his son’s signing class. He considers Stead Walker, the father of Travon Walker, to be a great man. He loves talking to him on the phone and getting to know him. He can’t wait to see him before and after games this fall. Chris Goede, the father of Ryland Goede, is another close friend.
Their sons grew up as inseparable best friends. Woods hosted the extended family of linebacker Nakobe Dean for Thanksgiving this past year. His wife and Nakobe’s mother, Neketta, were fast friends. But they will be fierce rivals on any type of board game they will ever play together.
That’s the diversity he seeks in his life. Not because they also wear the red and black. It all traces back to his notion of looking out for good character. And yet he also knows what it out there, too.
“There is just a lot of racism out there,” he said. “There still is. Janelle and I do see it.”
Woods was gracious with his time while he was on a beach vacation with his family. His voice only adds to the discussion we need to continue across our nation.
God didn’t create races but he created brothers and sisters. God’s word in Genesis states that all men are created in God’s image. We all bear the imprint of the Creator and are enlivened by the breath of the Holy Spirit. Dr Pettigrew @SouthportChatt @DawgNation @Mansell247 pic.twitter.com/51kx153U5G
— John J. Woods (@JohnJWoods) June 3, 2020