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A Proper Perspective

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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I have needed Ben Troupe, and so many other people like him in my life, to really make me a more complete, more aware person.

I got down on my knees and prayed before writing this. I also called my best friend.

As a white guy in America, my perspective on race has long been framed by such. It has taken time, maturity and the perspective of some truly transformational people in my life to help me better understand and better process the plight and strife that so many others continue to so unfortunately face. The consequences of hate are absolutely unfathomable, the subtle looks, judgements and predispositions included. All of us have a responsibility to stand up for what is right and stand up against what is wrong. Countless, some by sitting, others by kneeling, have been doing it for generations.

Many know Ben Troupe as a former Florida All-American and star tight end for the Tennessee Titans. I know him as someone who has directly shaped and influenced the lives of me and my family. He is a man of advocacy and authenticity, passion and persistence. Above all else, Ben is a man of love. Perhaps more than any other person I have ever met, Ben loves people. Somehow, he sees the good in all of us and goes out of his way to give others the benefit of the doubt. Ben, brilliant, thoughtful and witty, is a walking smile and a welcoming laugh. His personality is so dynamic and inspiring that, even though he was one of the great tight ends in SEC history, you become fascinated with everything about Ben beyond football. 

Ben is also a 6'5'' black man. Spending countless hours with him has helped me see the way outsiders sometimes see him.

For the vast majority of my adult life, I have had the honor of being around Ben, either directly or indirectly, almost everyday. We work together. And our personal relationship will always come well before that. After we met a near-generation ago, we immediately remained close and intertwined. He started as a weekly guest on my afternoon radio show, his "Troupe Talk" segment empowering and uplifting others. I then discovered Ben's true passion when he started involving me in some of his philanthropic ideas and started traveling, regardless of where he was in the country, to be part of various community events in south Georgia. I fell in love with the man.

Over the years, I fell in love with his family. I am in awe of Ben's mother, strengthened by Ben's father, indebted to Ben's brother and warmed by Ben's sisters. His children bring constant joy to my life. I have been to the homes of Lucus and Nikki, along with Ben's parents, and have shared holiday meals, meaningful milestones and even, getting the room with the PlayStation in it, spent a number of nights on location. When a hurricane threatened our shores a year ago, Ben's family was there for us with open arms and doors. From birthday parties to weddings to Ben's Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame banquet, every moment has been genuine and true. 

I, never once, felt judged for who I was or how I looked. 

Clearly, that hasn't been the case for Ben and others like him. I am better in tune with that now as I have seen and felt some of the reactions or preconceived notions as they pertain to Ben; more powerfully, he has shared intimate feedback with me about how much of it has made him feel. I remain deeply humbled, changed forever, by all that he has shared. His powerful outlook on life is the foundation for a special project he and I have been working on for years. Though I haven't been around Ben in months, as I am a type one diabetec sheltering in place during the coronavirus, I have talked to him on the phone constantly and, in some ways, have felt his presence through recent horrors. 

Even with our own life responsibilities, Ben and I, almost as if we were back in college, have still made it a point to sit around and talk. Sometimes we do it in the car, running errands together or on trips out of town. We always have deep discussions, from race to politics to religion to relationships. The unfathomable stories of the likes of Ahmaud Arbery, a young man from the very same streets we travel in coastal Georgia, and George Floyd, in addition to the countless others, have profoundly struck us both. The killing of Arbery, with three men charged with murder, was especially staggering as it happened right where we are. It remains impossible to see the world the same way. 

Ben always shares with me how he fears any of the victims could have easily been him or someone he loves.

In ways I never could have imagined, Ben has changed me for the better. Sometimes he does so with depth, other times with simplicity. Ben has offered to me that it's not fair to say "I don't see color" as that is looking past who he is. Ben has shared that America is not a "melting pot", rather a stew, because you can't, not shouldn't, take out of him who he is. Ben has also helped me better adjust my frame of reference through simply sharing in his; just like I, at 5'10'' literally sometimes can't see what he does at 6'5''. The same idea, only much more seriously, obviously exists with race.

I have needed Ben, and so many other people like him in my life, to really make me a more complete, more aware person. That growth, for me, has been vital.     

Even if we think we have before, we, as white people, need to continue to listen to our black brothers and sisters. We, as all people, need to continue to support them. What is happening is unacceptable. We are all in this together and, before anything else, our humanity is on the line. I'm no expert on anything, certainly not race, but I am concerned, outraged and scared. I have been influenced by so many amazing black people in my life and, working covering college football, with a high percentage of African-American participants, have personally seen so many incredible stories that validate the black excellence that so often goes under-appreciated and under-discussed.

Anyone who knows him knows that Ben Troupe has a saying for any situation. He always shares that we are all two people, the person we are and the person we are becoming. Thanks to the courage and selflessness of many like him, I am still taking those words to heart. I hope and pray our nation is, too.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports