Football locker rooms are often a melting pot of cultures, backgrounds and belief systems. Individuals with a cauldron of experiences who chose to put it all on the back burner in pursuit of one common goal. The only colors that matter are those of the uniform, and a central tenant of team is to build trust in one another with the understanding that in a moment of need, one young man will stand side-by-side with the next.
Such is the landscape of high school sports; a space where blood, sweat and tears routinely bridge racial divides. This was the case when Hopewell running back TreVeyon Henderson faced rejection for standing up for his beliefs, and his All-American Bowl teammate Landon Tengwall of Good Counsel was of the first to have his back.
Peaceful demonstrations and riots have flooded the streets of major cities in America in protest of the graphic killing of George Floyd at the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Video of the tragic event sent shock waves through the nation; Henderson, an Ohio State commit, finds himself deeply affected in the aftermath.
"It really hurt watching that video. Just seeing him begging for help and getting treated like that," Henderson said. "It's crazy he had to go out like that. Honestly, I don't feel safe living in this country, just knowing I could get treated like that because of the color of my skin."
Henderson is not satisfied with the relationship between law enforcement and his community. He is grappling to find ways to help the situation.
"People say we need to be more respectful, but you see in these videos people who are listening to what they're [law enforcement] saying, and they still get treated badly," Henderson said. "We've done peaceful protests, we did all of that, so at this point, I'm just trying to figure out, what can we do?"
Henderson decided to use his social media platform to shed light on issues with police brutality and systemic racism. He began retweeting content that called for justice and equality. Though he knew those that follow him may not agree with his messaging, he viewed the Floyd homicide as a moment in history that he could not stay silent during.
"In my heart, I just felt I had to use my platform to express what I'm feeling and what I'm going through," Henderson said. "As a black young man, it's just not right to see these things that are happening to people [who are] our color.
"You see Colin Kaepernick and what happened with him in the NFL, but this is bigger than football. This is people getting killed."
Henderson began losing followers with seemingly every retweet of content supporting the movement that followed Floyd's death. He says he is not certain the exact number of followers he lost or if the detraction was centered around a certain demographic or fan base, but that the loss was significant and he took it as a sign that perhaps some of the people who cheer for him on Friday and Saturday nights may not support the causes he deems important in life.
"As soon as I started retweeting things about the justice system, people started unfollowing me and it made me feel some type of way," Henderson said. "Just knowing that by posting that type of positive stuff -- we should have justice -- and knowing they don't respect that is crazy. That tells me a lot about people. It tells me your followers aren't down for you the way they say they are."
TreVeyon's response was to press send on a tweet that read, "Sorry followers if standing up for my people offends you." One of the first to reply was Tengwall, tweeting "We are standing with you!" a moment of solidarity that reminded Henderson that the support cultivated inside locker rooms has no walls.
We are standing with you!💪— BigLan✖️ (@landon_tengwall) May 29, 2020
"It meant a lot to me that he would tweet that," Henderson said. "That's my brother. It made me feel better knowing that there are people who may be the opposite color of us but who have good hearts."
For Tengwall, it was more than a tweet, it was a statement. Equality and social justice play a central role in his life as well. Thus, he wanted to make certain Henderson knew he wasn't alone.
"This is something I feel very strong about," Tengwall said. "I have black friends and black teammates that are just like my brothers. I have a black girlfriend. Seeing anyone treated unjustly makes me so mad.
"Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.' Until white people stand up for black people, things will never change. WE gotta stand up together and say this isn't right!"
A football locker room is a microcosm of America at her best. It represents what she can be in her finest moment; a melting pot of different cultures, backgrounds and belief systems coming together for one common cause. Henderson believes the sooner Americans begins treating each other like members of the same team, the sooner we can unite.
"On every team I've been a part of, I've had so many people come from different parts of the area; some people come from bad parts, others from good parts. Some people are different races, and nobody is judged. That's special right there," Henderson said. "I feel like if the world was like that, it'd be so much of a better world."
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