Black lives matter
American Family Insurance sales leader Cary Radisewitz shares what he learned about race when coaching football at a small university.
Before working at American Family, I was head football coach at a small university from 1985 to 1992. During my time at the school, my players faced several racist incidents from the community.
The first happened when I arrived. A community member asked me about the “cans” I was bringing to the town. Confused, I asked for clarification. He told me, “You know, cans … Mexicans, African-Americans, Puerto Ricans.” It was dehumanizing. I told him my players were good kids, and he should get to know them.
A neighboring community had an annual celebration some of our team attended. At the event, a drunk, off-duty police officer attacked a young, Black player. The police were called. With a wink from the off-duty officer, my player was arrested and placed in the police car.
Others who saw the fight were deathly afraid they might never see the player again. When the arresting officer went to retrieve something, they freed him from the car and ran for their lives. I was notified by authorities that there was a warrant out for the young man who was attacked. He was wanted for misdemeanor fighting and felony escape.
He ended up being placed in jail and had to plead guilty to a reduced sentence. He paid a fine, was put on probation and now had a criminal record – all because he was a Black man targeted by a drunk, off-duty police officer.
Despite that incident, we were blessed to have admirable mentors from the criminal-justice system. Our sheriff cared for others regardless of race. Our police chief taught classes at our college, getting to know many of the players. Our local judge was tough as nails but treated everyone equally.
With time, the sheriff started hiring players to help run security at large events. The police chief got minority students interested in pursuing criminal-justice degrees. The judge contacted me and my wife when he saw two of my players being accused of crimes they didn’t commit. He asked if they could be put in house-arrest at our home with hopes of avoiding the trauma of being arrested and jailed.
These two became part of our family and were amazing big brothers to our daughters. They were appreciated for helping the community – providing security at events and visiting and counseling at-risk youth in the detention center.
Because of these young, Black men and our criminal-justice instructors’ efforts, we have graduates who are now local law enforcement, state penitentiary guards and U.S. Marshalls. Others are teachers, coaches, counselors, businessmen, preachers and salesmen. One is a world-class blues guitar player. More importantly, these men are amazing husbands, fathers, mentors and volunteers. My wife and I couldn’t be more blessed to have them in our lives.
When someone responds to the phrase “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter,” they’re misguided. All lives do matter, but that’s not enough. Saying “Black Lives Matter” pushes us to understand.
Individuals shouldn’t be held back because of their skin color. They shouldn’t be dehumanized by being referred to as a “can.”
Black people should be able to attend events without fear of being attacked, arrested or gaining a criminal record despite their innocence. None of these events happened to our white players, but constantly plagued our team’s Black members – an example of white privilege.
Possessing white privilege doesn’t mean life hasn’t been hard. I grew up in a family of eight led by a single mother, often in houses without running water. How can anyone say I am privileged? Isn’t the word “privilege” meant to describe the wealthy?
Having white privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t struggled or worked for everything you achieved. It means your skin color does not diminish or eliminate your rights or opportunities.
People of color go through the same life challenges AND carry the burden of being treated differently because of their skin color.
We need to understand the same racist issues are happening today that occurred when I coached in that small town. It’s not enough to express sympathy over what happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Rayshard Brooks only to make it a talking point of anger at the looters. We need to walk with those in pain.
Recently, I listened to an interview with a Black NBA coach. He noted how powerful it was that white coaches in the league boldly stated it’s time to end racism. He mentioned when the Black coaches speak out, it’s just some guys complaining. But, when they join their voices with their white peers, amazing things can happen. This white coach is committed to join others and speak out against racism.
Get to know your community members of color. Spend time with them. Ask about their experiences while understanding yours may never parallel theirs. Learn about injustices that plague communities of color.
Though it won’t be easy, it will be worth it to grow to be a better person by walking hand in hand with communities of color.
About the American Family Insurance group
Based in Madison, Wisconsin, American Family Insurance has been serving customers since 1927. We inspire, protect and restore dreams through our insurance products, exceptional service from our agency owners and employees, community investment and creative partnerships to address societal challenges. We act on our belief in diversity and inclusion by constantly evolving to meet customer needs and preferences. American Family Insurance group is the nation’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group, ranking No. 254 on the Fortune 500 list. The group sells American Family-brand products, primarily through exclusive agency owners in 19 states. The American Family Insurance group also includes CONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance (formerly Ameriprise Auto & Home), The General, Homesite and Main Street America. Across these companies the group has more than 13,500 employees nationwide.