Fear, depression and resignation seem to be winning the day of late. With each passing week, our nation seems more divided, hate-filled and lost.
With the continually disheartening news cycle vomiting out stories of “me first” acts of selfishness; TikTok addiction; vapid celebrities; self-absorbed athletes; incompetent, biased, and corrupt politicians; rising crime; collapsing cities; growing poverty; and acts of terrorism and unimagined suffering, the normal instinct for many is to throw up their hands in frustration.
But then, every once in a while, there is a flash of light frow within that darkness that may instill hope.
I saw just such a flash last week.
Last Sunday, 22-year-old Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud orchestrated one the most amazing games — and last-second victories — in NFL history, as he led his team to a 39-37 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During that game, Stroud set an NFL rookie record with 470 passing yards; his 147.8 passer rating was the highest in a game by a rookie quarterback in NFL history; and he became just the sixth player in NFL history to throw for 450 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Truly a performance for the ages.
Many athletes would have used the press conference afterwards to push the “I’m truly awesome” narrative. Not Stroud.
When the young man came to the podium to talk to reporters, he used the opportunity to “shine a light” on the desperate need for prison reform — a subject which is deeply personal to him.
Stroud’s father, Coleridge Bernard Stroud III, is incarcerated after receiving a 38-years-to-life sentence after pleading guilty in 2016 to carjacking, kidnapping and robbery charges in a drug-related incident.
C.J. Stroud would tell you that his father’s long sentence came about because of a previous conviction more than 20 years earlier. In an appeal of his sentencing in 2018, the elder Stroud argued that he’d “spent nearly 20 years as a successful businessman, pastor, homeowner, husband, and father. When his wife filed for divorce in 2012, his life spun out of control, and he began using illegal drugs again after more than 20 years of sobriety.”
Stroud’s father has been in prison since the quarterback was in middle school and is currently serving time at Folsom State Prison near Sacramento. The record-setting Houston quarterback admitted that initially, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to speak out publicly but was moved to support his father and others in prison.
“What I’ve been battling with is trying to still be a family man, still help out, and still be a football player and do my job,” Stroud said. “It’s been tough.”
C.J. Stroud is a spiritual young man who has leaned on his faith, his mother and a great support system while dealing with this constant family pain.
“Our criminal justice system isn’t right,” stressed Stroud from the podium after his record-breaking performance. “It’s something that I need to probably be a little more vocal about, because what he’s going through is not right … I think just letting it be known that it’s not just my dad’s situation, but the whole criminal justice system is corrupt.”
After the most sensational sporting accomplishment of his young life, Stroud deliberately chose to move the spotlight off himself to address a subject he believed was crying out for attention and reform.
Something like that does not happen in a vacuum. And while Stroud was speaking out in defense of his father and other inmates living in squalid and truly horrifying conditions, it was the love and support of his mother which built the foundation beneath him.
I have spoken in this space before that as a white child, I grew up in abject poverty, was homeless often, and lived in majority Black housing projects. A tough reality that became a blessing to me as I discovered at a young age that Black America was a great America.
My heroes became the single Black moms I watched working two or three jobs to support their children while sacrificing themselves in the process. Women who remain my enduring role models.
C.J. Stroud’s mother Kimberly is such a hero.
With Stroud’s father in prison, she worked multiple jobs and eventually became a property manager for a storage facility that she and her children lived above in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment.
As reported by ESPN and others, the then teenage Stroud took account of the jobs his mom was working to support him and his sister and said: “Mama, you’re not gonna have to do this forever. I just want you to know that.”
Years later, Stroud made good on that pledge thanks to his exceptional athletic ability.
Last Sunday, with that exceptional ability on full display and then literally replayed all over the sporting world, C.J. Stroud took the opportunity to speak out for voiceless prisoners like his father.
In a nation and world going more sideways by the moment, C.J. Stroud created a hope-inspiring flash of humility, humanity and leadership. A flash which must be seen.
Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.
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Author: Douglas MacKinnon, opinion contributor