- Sports. An athlete, play, leader who significantly changes the outcome of a game, contest, mission, product, etc.
- A person(s) or thing that dramatically changes the course, strategy, character of something significant
Game-changing individuals often use their personality traits and attitude to spark change. (Investopedia)
In America, tonight the Super Bowl will be enjoyed by 130 million people, mostly virtually without parties, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs face off to achieve football superiority for Super Bowl LV. As divided as this nation has been, Republicans and Democrats come together around sports, especially football as do citizens, fans and players from all backgrounds, ethnicities and walks of life. Sports can lift us up and out from our stuck, narrow and sometimes selfish perspectives.
Today, we introduce you to two baseball stars, one black and one white, who joined together ten years ago today when the white baseball coach, Tom Walter, stepped in to help his young black athlete, Kevin Jordan, fight his diagnosis of ANCA Vasculitis by donating his kidney and saving his life. Today they mark a decade of fighting systemic racism by empowering young people to take action and create lasting change in their communities. Their non-profit called, Get in the Game, encourages young people to get off the sidelines to create the kind of world in which they want to live in as true game-changers.
Men like Kevin and Tom are modern day game-changers. If all the Super Bowl enthusiasts in their homes tonight watching the game while eating chicken wings can reflect during this COVID-caused pause on what they might do to change the game, to make the world better and to show the sportsmanship of sacrifice, courage, generosity, decency, respect and leadership, no matter who wins, we will all be better for it. Sports is a team game where all are valued. Read the Q&A below of Tom and Kevin to see how the playing field translates into real life wins for all, including saving lives. Enjoy Super Bowl LV and may we all be the sports heroes in our own lives that we celebrate today in Tom and Kevin and all athletes who lead us to be and do our best.
Q&A with Tom Walter & Kevin Jordan
What is your personal story? How did you and Coach Walter develop such a strong bond?
KJ: I grew up in a small town in Georgia, and I loved playing baseball. It was always something that I wanted to do, so I worked hard and did everything I could to compete at the highest level. During the fall of my senior year, I was playing really well. I committed to play at Wake Forest and pro scouts were showing a lot of interest as well. But in January I started getting sick. At first we thought it was the flu, but in April I was diagnosed with ANCA vasculitis, an autoimmune disease that was affecting my kidneys. Even though I was sick, Coach Walt and Wake Forest stuck with me. That next fall, right after I started at Wake, I found out that I was going to need a new kidney. Long story short, when none of my family members were matches, Coach Walt stepped up and got tested. It turned out that he was a perfect match, and on February 7, 2011, he gave me one of his kidneys—just two weeks before the start of baseball season. He saved my life. We’ve obviously had a really strong bond ever since.
What about Get In the Game? How did you come to find yourselves working together nearly 10 years after that life-changing surgery?
TW: The catalyst for Get In the Game was actually a conversation Kevin and I had last spring, shortly after Memorial Day and the tragic death of George Floyd. We were talking about the state of the world and how we wished we could take action and do something that would lead to lasting change. I told Kevin a story that I hadn’t shared with him before about how when I learned I was a match, I went to a dear friend of mine to tell him I was going to give my kidney to Kevin, and he asked me, “Can you do that…isn't Kevin Black?” His question surprised me, but it wasn't one of malice or racism, it was really just a question of not understanding science. My response was, “Well, yeah…my blood and his blood are the same, and that's all that matters.” As I told Kevin that story and heard the words coming out of my mouth, it hit me like a lightning bolt that that's the message that our country —and especially our kids—need to hear. So as our conversations continued, Kevin and I determined that we wanted to use our story to educate and inspire kids and spark meaningful conversations around institutional and systemic racism. Get In the Game really evolved from there.
What is the goal of Get In the Game?
TW: Ultimately, we want to level the playing field and abolish the institutional and systemic racism that still exists in our country, and we do that by delivering a thoughtful, multidisciplinary curriculum to 7-12th graders through school and community Get In the Game clubs. We want to give our GameChangers a voice so they can express their opinions. We want to educate them and help them develop a better understanding of who they are, where they came from, what they stand for, and what kind of difference they can make in the world. And we want them to use that knowledge to take action and create change in their communities. We will equip them with the information, resources, technology and opportunities so they can go out into the world and make a difference.
KJ: That’s right. The America that young people see right now is not the America they’ve been promised, but Get In the Game will empower GameChangers to create the kind of world they want to live in.
What progress have you made since you came up with the idea last May?
TW: It’s really incredible what our team has accomplished in the last eight months. We work with some of the greatest minds in education who have helped develop the curriculum—our “Playbook”—for the pilot season which took place last fall in three North Carolina schools and a community group in Washington, D.C. After evaluating feedback from our facilitators and GameChangers, we’ve made some adjustments and have just kicked off Season 2 of our program and are expanding into two more schools this spring. By next fall, we plan to be in five additional cities across the country.
KJ: It’s really exciting to see it come together. A couple of months ago, Coach Walt and I visited one of our clubs, and it was so great to see those kids opening up and sharing their thoughts and feelings about topics related to race. One girl explained that before Get In the Game, she didn’t think she could talk about race because she was white and had a privileged upbringing. Now she feels comfortable asking questions and having meaningful, and sometimes difficult, conversations. Another one of our GameChangers gave an amazing speech to her entire grade about the Model Minority Myth and her experiences as a child of South Asian descent. We are seeing great success. The program is teaching these kids how to “Get in the Game” and create the change they want to see, it and gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
To learn more about Get In the Game, please visit https://getinthegame.org or follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.