Talks with Hawks – Episode 4: Rohan Thompson

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Laurier Football scout Dave Morrissey has spent his time in quarantine reaching out to and catching up with former Golden Hawk Football alumni. The result was a series of interviews with notable members of our Laurier Football community, which Dave was kind enough to share with us.

Our fourth episode features Rohan Thompson, who played with linebacker for the Hawks from 2000 to 2002.  In his 3 years at WLU, he was selected as the team MVP once and an OUA 1st Team All Star twice.

(Dave Morrissey): Where did you play high school ball and why did you come to WLU?

(Rohan Thompson): I grew up in Mississauga and I played high school football at Woodlands and Streetsville. They were Tier 2 programs but I also played with the Mississauga Warriors in the summer. After high school, I worked and went to college for a bit, and then I was about to go out east to play university football at St. Mary’s, but some of my local buddies said I should check out Laurier. I did a visit and saw a practice and truth be told, a big selling feature for me was the number of black players that I saw. My local buddies were going to choose to go to WLU and I felt it was a good fit for me.  Moving from a racially diverse city such as Mississauga to a very white city like Waterloo was a big move. Having people around me that I knew made it feel like a safer place to me.

(DM): What was your most memorable moment as a WLU football player?

(RT): Lots to choose from! In my era, we didn’t win any championships, but with the exception of my final year, we won a lot of games. We scored a lot of points and we did some special things on defence. In my final year, we went 1-7 but lost 5 games by a total of about 12 points. We went through numerous QBs, there was a school strike. It was a bizarre year. I always wanted to play middle linebacker, but I was playing the ‘Will’ LB position because I was too small, but in my final year, due to injuries, I finally got moved over to the ‘Mike’ spot. There was a game at Queen’s. We ended up losing 9 to 7. I think it was my best game as a WLU player, and I even scored a touchdown on a blocked field goal. I remember getting on the bus and Coach Jefferies was sitting there on the front seat and he saw me, grabbed my hand and said, “Son, that is one of the best games I’ve ever seen a LB play in Laurier history!” Despite feeling bad because of the loss, I have to admit, that comment put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

(DM): Tell me about your current job and the irony of performing your job in that location.

(RT): I am employed by the Peel District School Board. I am the Workplace Equity Manager. I am responsible for ensuring we have fair and equitable hiring practices & promotion policies. As well, I am involved with establishing projects to address anti-black racism within the board. Given the racial problems that exist within my board now, such as the Director of Education being fired, and given the fact that I was a student in this same board myself many years ago, it is certainly ironic to be doing what I do where I do it. In my opinion, the anti-black racism that existed 20 years ago hasn’t gotten any better, and in some respects, it has even become worse.  I am also a clinical social worker with my own private practice, specifically working with black clients. The focus of my work is dealing with the impact of racial trauma.

(DM): You have been a coach and a scout with WLU football in some recent years. I know you reached out to the players on the team recently after the murder of George Floyd. Can you tell me a bit about that meeting?

(RT): I know that WLU has a very high concentration of black players. Given everything that’s been going on for such a long time but has now been brought into greater focus, I thought it would be a good idea to have a healing discussion with the black players on the team. I reached out to Coach Faulds and he thought it was a great idea. It was a great opportunity for our black players to speak about what was happening in the world as well as their own experiences in terms of anti-black racism that they have experienced.

(DM): In the late 60s, the civil rights movement in the United States was led by Dr. King and Malcolm X. Since then, different men such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have often been out in front of this cause. Why do you think we haven’t seen an equivalent presence in Canada?

(RT): Actually, I would disagree with the premise of your question. Such leaders have existed and do exist in the black community in Canada. I would argue that the media in this country hasn’t really paid much attention to anti-black racism, and as such, most people don’t know about some of the tremendous leaders we’ve had. One example is Hugh Burnett. Most people have never heard of him. In the 1940s and 50s, he played a huge role as the leader of the National Unity Association (NUA), which was a coalition of black community members pushing for equal rights. He was instrumental in bringing about legislative change such as the 1954 Fair Accommodation Practices Act. There are many amazing individuals taking leadership roles in the black community even now, one of whom is my wife Kike Ojo-Thompson.

(DM): You are very charismatic, very intelligent, & very passionate. Have you ever thought of running for political office?  If you were Prime Minister, what would be your first priority?

(RT): Have I thought about it? Yes. Would I consider it? No. In terms of my skill set, I feel that  I can do more on the ground level, working directly with people in communities. But if I was the leader of this country, I would seek to enact policies that would directly address some of the inequalities that exist in our nation. Establishing a Universal Basic Income program would be one of the first things on my list. A national housing policy that made home ownership more affordable would be next.

(DM): Shirley Chisholm was a black woman who ran for the democratic presidential nomination in 1972. She said being a woman put more obstacles in her path than being black did. What are your thoughts on that topic?

(RT): There is no doubt that being a black woman is difficult, because not only do you have to deal with anti-black racism, you have deal with sexism. On this issue, I encourage people to learn about Kimberle Crenshaw and her writings on intersectionality.  Crenshaw is university professor who earned degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Cornell, and Harvard.

(DM): If you were put in charge of the NFL, what rule change would you make?

(RT): Absolutely, it would involve hiring practices for coaches and senior management. Over 70% of the league is black. Simply put, there should be a similar % of black head coaches and black general managers. The Rooney Rule has been a failure. Policies need to be put in place to ensure when vacancies come up for key positions, they go to qualified black individuals.

(DM): On this issue, I would like to commend my Raiders. They were the 1st team in the modern era to hire a Latino head coach (Tom Flores), a black head coach (Art Shell), and a woman in a senior management position (Amy Trask). 

You are in phenomenal shape, but I want you to imagine it is a ‘cheat day’ for you. What is on the menu? 

(RT): This is simple. It’s one of two things, or probably both! It’s Cinnabon, heated up in the microwave and Ms. Vicky’s jalapeno chips.

(DM): Okay Ro, we have talked in the past above music, here are 3 ‘old school’ rap lyrics. It is trivia time. I need you to tell me the name of the song and the artist.

“I’d like to say hello to the black to the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow”

(RT): That’s classic man, that’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by The Sugarhill Gang. That’s Godfathers of hip hop.

“Sample a look back and you find nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check”

(RT): That’s simple…that’s ‘Fight the Power’ by Public Enemy. I appreciate during these times that you reached for that lyric. That is probably the best hiphop song EVER! I get energized even just reading that lyric.

“Chances are usually not good, cause I freeze with my hands on a hot hood”

(RT): You stumped me on that. I feel so disappointed in myself.

(DM): That is ‘500 Miles and Running’ by NWA. It wasn’t nearly as big a hit as ‘Straight Outta Compton’, but I had to challenge you bro!

Talks with Hawks will return soon with Episode 5: Chris Vlowianitis.

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