Talks with Hawks: Episode 26 – Kojo Millington

     Kojo Millington played defensive end for Laurier from 1997 to 2000. In 1999, he was the OUA Lineman of the Year, a 1st Team OUA All Star, and a 1st Team All Canadian. He was also the Team MVP.  In 2000, he was a 1st Team OUA All Star and a 2nd Team All Canadian. He was a Laurier HOF inductee in 2007, and in 2011 he was selected as part of the Laurier Team of the Century.

Dave Morrissey: Why did you choose to come to Laurier?

Kojo Millington: At the time, it was a smaller school and I liked the ‘close-knit’, family feel.  That really appealed to me. My 2nd choice would have been Western.

DM: What were your most memorable games at Laurier?

KM: For me, it would have been in my final year. The Homecoming game was a huge battle vs Western. We made a crucial stop late on defense. That set up the offense to drive the length of the field and we won the game on the last play of the game on a TD catch by Matt Babel. The most crushing defeat was the in the 1999 Yates Cup loss to Waterloo.  Just a few weeks before that in the regular season, we beat them by a wide margin.  (Editor’s Note: In the Yates Cup, the Waterloo QB threw a touchdown pass on a botched field goal attempt.  The week before in a semifinal victory over Western, that same QB went 0 for 4 with 1 interception).

DM: In 2000, you were drafted in the 4th round by the Toronto Argonauts. Tell me a bit about your experiences in the Toronto Argos training camp.

KM: It was a tough one. They had a new Head Coach. He put in a 3-4 defense. I am an outside speed rusher and they put me at nose tackle. I got injured in camp. They wanted to put me on the practice roster, but I asked for my release so I could go back and play another year at Laurier. I knew we had potentially another great team there and I wanted to go back and have some more fun with the guys.

DM: Talk to me about your playing experiences with the BC Lions.

KM: After my 5th year at Laurier, I went back to the Argos training camp. I had a great camp, but I got released. Then, I was picked up by British Columbia. Injuries and having to learn new defensive systems kept me on the sideline for a bit, but eventually I earned some playing time.  That year, we were upset in the playoffs by Winnipeg.  After that, Wally Buono was hired to be the new Head Coach. He ‘cleaned house’ and I was part of that. Many veterans were released, including Damon Allen.

DM: What was it like to play in the NCAA East-West Shrine Bowl with a whole bunch of the best college players in the United States?

KM: That was an awesome experience. Certainly, being the only Canadian in that game was an honour, but I also had a bit of an inferiority complex. There were so many future NFL players in that game, including Tom Brady. Every day, as soon as practice ended, everybody seemed to be on their phones talking to their agents. I was treated very well when I was down there.

DM: Rohan Thompson told me to ask you the next two questions. What inspired you to dye your hair blonde back in the day?

KM: One of my favourite basketball players was Dennis Rodman. He was a rebel and did things differently. I admired his work ethic on the basketball court. So, I dyed my hair to look like him. Also, I was a ‘Golden Hawk’, so it just kind of made sense to dye my hair somewhat gold. Finally, I’d always heard that ‘blondes have more fun’, so I figured I should test out the theory.

DM: You were inducted into the Laurier HOF in your 2nd year of eligibility. What did you say at your induction speech?

KM: (Laughing) Of course you would bring that up!  First of all, let the record show that the first thing I did was thank the panel for inducting me, but then I gave them a little bit of flack for not inducting in me in my 1st year of eligibility.  They made me wait a whole extra year!

DM: Were you surprised when you were selected to be part of the Laurier Team of the Century?

KM: Surprised? To be honest, no I wasn’t. I was extremely honoured and thankful, but not surprised.

DM: If you could have played with any Laurier player from a different era, who would it be and why?

KM: I would pick Kwaku Boateng.  I think we would have made a great pair of defensive ends coming off the edge on both sides of the line. He’s a great player and he’s having a lot of success with Edmonton in the CFL. I’ve gotten to know him over the past few years and I think had we been the same age and gone to school together and played together, we would have become great friends.

DM: Who was the toughest opponent that you had to face in games?

KM: Ryan Donnelly from McMaster was a very big, fast, and strong O-Lineman who went on to play with the Argos in the CFL. McMaster was one of the first OUA teams to start using a zone blocking scheme, and it made my ability to pass rush more difficult.

DM: What were your favourite pre game ‘get hyped’ songs?

KM: ‘Troublesome’ by Tupac Shakur and ‘Ruff Ryder’s Anthem’ by DMX  (“Stop, drop, shut ‘em down!)              

DM: I saw that you went to Australia for Teacher’s College.  Like you, I went out of country to get my degree, but I went to the USA.  What was it like in Australia?

KM: Overall, it was very good. I was initially in a small, country town called Lismore. It was a little rough at the beginning. There certainly weren’t many black people there. Not many people talked to me at first, until I started to play rugby with them, and then after that, everything changed and things became great.

DM: Talk to me a bit about what you are doing currently.

KM: I have worked with the Peel District School Board for the past eleven years. My position is called ‘Contact Teacher’. I love it. I work with students with behavioural issues and students that have significant emotional issues such as anxiety or depression. When students are struggling at school, there are always underlying factors that come into play. What I do is a lot of problem solving, working with the students, their families, and outside agencies. My goal is to help them become happier and more successful in school and in life.

DM: Can you elaborate on some personal experiences that you have had to deal with concerning racism?

KM: There is not enough time to go through all of them! Well, most recently, being a black male in the education system is tough. I have felt racism with colleagues and I have seen the way black students are treated. I’m an adult, I can take whatever is thrown at me, but it really ‘gets to me’ the way the education system treats our black youth. The systemic racism beats them down starting even in the early grades. A lot of work needs to be done. Black students and their families need to be treated fairly and equally, and not stereotyped, marginalized, or oppressed.

DM: The OUA has 11 schools that have football teams and all 11 have white head coaches. Nation-wide, only three Canadian university football programs have black head coaches. Do you think the OUA needs something like the NFL’s Rooney Rule?

KM: As sad as it is and as much as I don’t like the Rooney Rule, maybe we do need something like that here.  In the NFL, it ensures that an ethnically diverse coaching candidate must be interviewed for a vacant head coaching position. However, it appears this policy has lacked substance. Many times, It’s just been ‘throwing a bone’ to diverse candidates, suggesting that black candidates should be satisfied just to be considered for the top positions. Black candidates need to be provided opportunities within a systemic racist system that has a clear bias towards hiring white coaches for the top jobs. Opportunities need to be provided to show that black coaches can thrive in leadership roles. Establishing something like the Rooney Rule might allow for improvement in that it would allow a black candidate to ‘get their foot in the door’, but it wouldn’t be enough. Blacks need to be hired into these positions. The people at the top are white. They have the power. People in power are often reluctant to give up any of their power. They don’t want to be told who to hire. (Editor’s Note: A couple of the most successful coaches in the NFL over the past quarter century have been Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin.  That should’ve opened the door to many more opportunities for their black peers, but it really hasn’t. Also, consider the amazing quick turnaround of the Miami Dolphins that Brian Flores has overseen!  While slightly over 70% of NFL players are black, currently only 5 Head Coaches are black, and 2 of them are merely midseason temporary replacements for former Head Coaches that got fired in Atlanta and Houston. Ten out of 32 Defensive Coordinators are black and only 2 Offensive Coordinators are black. Kojo pointed out in his interview that it took a guy like Randall Cunningham to finally put to rest the notion that blacks couldn’t be effective QBs.  His success opened the door for guys like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb.  And their success paved the way for the dozen or so current elite QBs in the league who are black. I’d like to think that issue has totally been ‘put to bed’. I’d also like to repeat a point I made in Episode 7. My favourite team is the Oakland Raiders. I am proud to say that they were the first team in the NFL to hire a latino Head Coach (Tom Flores), a black Head Coach (Art Shell), and a woman (Amy Trask) into a senior management position. Just be diverse baby!  Stereotypes are hard to break, and it’s not just about colour, it’s often also about size. Look at Tre Ford in the OUA and Kyler Murray in the NFL. Those guys are thriving. Before their success, there were many non-believers. Not anymore! They are so dangerous, and because they are so athletic, they always manage to avoid taking big hits).

DM: Thanks Kojo for doing this.

KM: I appreciate this. Thanks for the questions and letting me relive some of the good times in my life.

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