Damario Solomon-Simmons is a Tulsa native, an attorney and legislative liaison for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a recent Booker T. Washington Hall of Fame inductee, a University of Oklahoma graduate and a former OU linebacker. He also is writing a book with the working title, “How the Sports Lottery is Destroying Black Communities,” that suggests a paradigm shift in the ways young African-American men approach decision making about their futures.
1. Growing up, you dreamed of playing in the NFL. Why? I played linebacker (growing up), so I liked all of the linebackers in the NFL. … I saw football as my way to get my mama out of “the hood” and poverty … I loved football. … And that’s what I wanted to do; that was my calling in life. … I was very short sighted in high school because of my 100 percent belief that I was going to the NFL. …
When I walked onto the football team at OU … (I) saw what NFL-caliber athletes looked like, how fast and powerfully they moved, etc. The impact of coming to that realization (that he would not play at the professional level) was not bad because, by that time, I had already completed my “semester of life” in Dallas and was OK with being a “regular person” in the real world. Additionally, I figured I could stay connected to high-profile athletics through my legal and academic work, and through the grace of God I have been able to do just that.
2. What motivated you to write a book? Just seeing too many young African-American men who are relying solely on athletics as their sole and best way to social advancement. It’s a myth. It’s not the only way, and it’s not the best way … For the average person and the average kid (athletics) should be seen as a plan B. The purpose of this book is to change the paradigm … People ask, “What is your plan B if sports doesn’t work out?” They should be asking, “What is your plan A?” And sports should be your plan B.
3. If you could pinpoint one moment that shifted your life’s course, what would it be? I would say when I dropped out of my first college (Northeastern State University) and moved to Dallas. … I was on my own, working and paying bills, just really experiencing what life was like as an adult and … without an adequate education. It … motivated me to come back to this state, take education seriously, have the motivation to walk on (to the OU football team) and to be successful. I wanted to be a role model for my younger peers. I was a lot more seasoned because of that “semester of life.”
4. You’re involved with mentoring Tulsa’s young African-American community. Tell me about your second annual MVP Fatherhood Weekend. We have partnered with KIPP Academy and Big Brothers Big Sisters to impact 20 seventh-grade boys that are from single-parent households. It’s an eight-week curriculum that started in March with young men and their mothers or their guardians. … (Activities in May will include) giving them some practical skills — how to change a tire and things that they would (learn) if they had a father in the home … (programming with parents and) our Fatherhood panel with national experts to discuss this important issue. Our motto is, “All in for our young men.”
5. You were recently asked to be a guest on the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s radio show. What was your reaction? Regardless of what people may think, he is … one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. He has been fighting for justice and equality for so many years, and to have the opportunity to be asked on his show was amazing. I had written a blog on African-American athletes that a friend posted on his blog, and it went viral. (Jackson) called me and said, “Young man, I’m impressed with you,” and I was speechless. The humility that he expressed was amazing to me. After the show, they asked me to be on his national sports commission, and it’s been so great. I am just so blessed to call him a friend.
By LANE CLEGG