What Black History Month Means to: The Athlete

By Morgan Givens
Staff writer

Johnathan Coleman’s stature can make him considerably intimidating. His play style on the football field garners oohs and ahhs with every hard hit and tackle this past season on UWF’s run to be the national runner-up. At one time, though, the 6’2” senior linebacker that homes in and rocks his targets like a missile was a young old boy that had to make a run to the grocery store in his hometown of Delray Beach, Florida. It was that day when someone used a racial slur on Coleman and it was a moment he would always remember.

“That was the first and only time I have ever personally experienced racism,” Coleman said. “Even though it was years ago, and I was a kid it was something that I’ll never really forget.”

(Photo by Morgan Givens)

That day at the supermarket was somewhat of a starting point where Coleman realized the importance the history and legacy of his race. His appreciation for being African American and his openness to embracing all the triumphs and struggles followed him from his hometown roots, up to Cookeville, Tennessee, and all the way back to today here in Pensacola at UWF.

Coleman played only one year of high school football at Village Academy High School in Delray Beach as a senior. In one season, he set the school record in tackles in a game with 21, as well as the seasonal record with 87. His incredible performance earned him a scholarship to FCS school Tennessee Tech, where he played for the Golden Eagles for two years.

Coleman said it was a unique and fun experience playing and learning at TTU but being away from his family did play a major role in his consideration of transferring schools. It was after his sophomore year he was drawn to a football program in Pensacola that was in its infancy but showed promise.

“I heard about the program and it thought it was a great opportunity,” Coleman said. “It brought me closer to home and being part of a new program made me want to play and to maybe make history.”

He and his time did exactly that. Coleman and the UWF football program experienced one of the most unprecedented seasons in college sports, making it into the playoff and making an appearance in the Division II national championship game.

One of the key reasons the Argos were able to make it so far was the strong defensive performances, shutting out Wingate in the first round, stopping West Georgia late in the next round, disabling West Alabama’s second-half offense in the national quarterfinals, and throttling an undefeated Indiana University Pennsylvania’s team into submission in the final four.

(Photo by Morgan Givens)

Coleman was one of the key orchestrators in UWF’s defensive success, with performances that included a 16 tackle game against West Alabama.

“This year was unexpected,” Coleman said. “In the beginning, we struggled to find our identity and let some games slip past us. But when we got the opportunity to play in the playoffs, everyone clicked in and we worked towards that goal.”

With all the success in the athletic arena, Coleman also excels in the classroom. During this spring semester and time off from football, he focuses on his telecommunications and film classes. With every spring semester comes the month of February, also recognized as Black History Month, and it’s this month Coleman says is a time to remember as well as a time to look forward.

“From a generational perspective I think it can sometimes be easy to forget about your history,” Coleman said, “And people are reminded less and less so it’s important to go back and tell those stories and pass on the knowledge of some of the most important people in black history.”

In today’s climate, racial tensions have reached levels that many say are reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Rallies and protests that fight for equal rights turn violent and lives have been lost in the process. When many pick sides and contribute to the divide in our society, Coleman points to his faith in hopes of unity.

(Photo by Morgan Givens)

“I feel like God is always the solution,” Coleman said. “There’s so much going on in the world in terms of wrongdoings and injustices and I feel that we need to all come together and have faith and if we don’t, these bad things will just to continue to happen.”

In postgame interviews this past football season, the first thing that he replies when asked about his success is his praise for God and without him, he would not be where he is today.

“Ultimately, faith is the answer.”