Feb 20, 2013, 1:09 PM EDT
Editor’s Note: In honor of Black History Month, CAA Football will interview a different league coach every week throughout the month of February to get his thoughts on black history as it relates to his life, his career, the sport of football and society at large. This week we talk with Towson defensive line coach Rubin Carter.
In what ways does black history relate to the game of football?
I think that black history itself relates to all aspects of our lives as African Americans. Football was a part of the progress that created many opportunities for blacks to be able to participate collegiately and in professional sports.
Can you speak to the contributions that African-Americans have made to the game both on and off the field?
African Americans have added great diversity to our society, including the sport of football. Football is about teamwork, trust and toughness. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you’ve been, it’s about where you’re going as a team to win a championship.
Another contribution that African-American players is that they have sent the message to the younger generation that they can have dreams and set goals to make those dreams come true. If they’re committed, willing to make sacrifices and have a great work ethic, they can be successful.
How significant is it for a sport like football to have been so shaped by this legacy established by black players and coaches?
I think it’s very significant to the overall progress of a country where decades ago opportunities to participate were few and far between – from playing on the field to coaching on the sidelines to working in administrative offices. I think our legacy has been established in this country and a tremendous contribution has been made to football.
Who were the African-American individuals, famous or not, who influenced you as a child?
Muhammad Ali of all celebrities influenced me the most. I met him in Fort Lauderdale when I was just 10 years old. He was in town to promote one of his new Champ Burger franchises, and I stood in line for three hours to get an opportunity to shake his hand. I’ve always thought Ali had an air of confidence about him that most people inferred as cockiness, but it was just the way he carried himself. He had a heavy influence on me.
My mother was probably the biggest influence on me growing up though. My father died when I was nine years old. My mother was full of faith and was very strong throughout this trying time. She helped me develop as a young man and to set goals for myself so I could be successful in the future.
The other guy I would mention is the singer James Brown. He sang songs about being proud of our heritage and how God made us in His own image. I used to listen to him a lot and he had a heavy and positive influence on me.
Who were your Black mentors or role models during your playing days?
In college it was Chuck Foreman, who became a running back for the Minnesota Vikings. Chuck was a senior at the University of Miami when I arrived. He had been through that transitional period in collegiate sports when schools were beginning to recruit more black players. He was at the forefront of that transition along with Ray Bellamy, who was the first black to attend the University of Miami back in 1967. Those two guys had a significant influence on me.
I had some difficult times as a young player after my mom died when I was a freshman, so Chuck’s family took me in and helped me through some emotional ups and downs. Both he and Ray were guys that really helped me in college.
Professionally, it was Floyd Little, the running back from Syracuse who played for the Broncos. He was a tremendous mentor to me when I was a rookie coming out of Miami. Floyd would pull me aside after practice and give me words of wisdom. He would tell me to continue to work hard, try to get better every day, make sure I was taking care of my body, give my best effort and do the right thing. All of those things really stuck with me during my time as a professional player.
And of course Floyd was mentored by Jim Brown, who was mentored by Ernie Davis. So there was a legacy of mentorship passing through the ranks there.
Can you think of an instance when race played a part in your playing days?
I do remember the time I first walked into the University of Miami’s Football offices, which was a time when the program and many others were trying to recruit more African-American players. I remember walking down the hallway and not seeing any black faces on the wall. As I stood there and spoke to the secretary, I pointed to a bare spot, put an x on it and told her I wanted her to put my picture right there. I felt as though it was time for a change and I wanted to be a part of that change. I wanted to be something special while I was there.
But there were no black All-American faces on the wall, and sure enough I was able to ultimately put that picture in the exact spot. I’m proud to say that I was the first African-American All-American defensive lineman at the university.
Are there any African-American individuals who have served as personal mentors since your joining of the coaching ranks?
Yes, John Wooten certainly was. He played for the Cleveland Browns and was involved in coaching for a long time. John helped me build relationships throughout my tenure as a coach.
I would also say Ted Cottrell, who I coached with while I was with the Jets. He was very professional in the way he went about his business and taught me a lot about not only x’s and o’s, but about what it’s like to be a good person away from the field as well.
I coached with Ray Rhodes during my time with the Washington Redskins, too. He had a tremendous work ethic and a great legacy of mentoring guys in the profession.
What does it mean to you to be a black coach and to have a number of black coaches serving on your staff?
Even though I’m an African American, I don’t necessarily see myself as a black coach. As a coach, I’m always working to promote the ideas of the institution and to build the program. I’m always working to build relationships and to mentor and teach young men how to be competitive not only on the field, but in today’s society as well.
I also think it’s important to have positive black role models on a staff so that we can relate and communicate with African-American kids. Many of those kids come from single-parent homes and lack a father figure, so it’s important that their coaches are people who build relationships with them and try to help them with anything in their lives. This is true both during their four or five years at school and throughout their lifetimes.
Those kinds of relationships carry on beyond the walls of a football field or an institution. I still have regular communication with many of the guys I’ve coached who have appreciated what I taught them about life. Those are the kinds of relationships that I enjoy the most.
Thanks to our digital world, children of all backgrounds are consuming sports and now have the opportunity to follow the careers of African-American players like never before. How important is it for the younger generation to have access to these kinds of potential role models, many of whom are African American?
Growing up, we didn’t have the resources that kids have now. I had to read a lot of books, many of which were biographies of people of all different races. I remember reading about Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens and Abraham Lincoln. I enjoyed reading about these individuals and following their stories. It gave me a sense of purpose for my own life.
There’s much more access to this kind of information today than there was then. I believe the youth of today understand that positive role models can have a big impact on their future success and to think that if these people did it, then they can do it as well.
Who would you consider some of these positive Black role models for the younger generation nowadays?
First of all, I would say our president. What Barack Obama has been able to achieve is tremendous. I would include his wife, the First Lady, too.
General Colin Powell is also a guy to admire and has been very successful in coming up the ranks of the military and politics.
When it comes to sports, you have to mention Tony Dungy, who is a man of character and an African-American coach who been a part of successful organizations. I really like the way he carries himself. He is such a positive role model, and that extends across all color lines.
Similarly, I would have to say Ozzie Newsome is someone I also really admire. His work ethic is wonderful and it has certainly paid dividends.
And I’ve got to mention Muhammad Ali again. Just his presence alone was big. He didn’t even need to speak. He’ll always be the greatest. He had a positive influence on many different people.
Sports, and football in particular, over the years have brought people of all backgrounds together to play in a spirit that that exists outside of factors like race, color and religion. How important has this tradition been?
I think breaking barriers like race, color and religion is like breaking the sound barrier. When you can see people from different backgrounds and different walks of life coming together for a common purpose, that’s very special.
I think the tradition in football has and will continue to create a stronger will among the American people to work together for the good of our country.
Black History Month is an important month for not only Blacks, but for people from all different backgrounds alike. Why should this month be celebrated by all people?
The United States is a melting pot of a lot of different people who have all had to overcome some sort of injustice and who have been helpful in building this great country into what it is today. Regardless of color, I think we’ve all had to overcome some things in order to become who we are and to help this country continue to grow as a great nation.
What would you consider the most important takeaway that we can all glean from Black History month?
I would say when looking back at the history of our nation, black history proves that the people who lived before us have been incredibly important to the growth and development of the United States today. Blacks have helped create one of the greatest countries in the world.
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