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NFL Draft

Cal S Josh Drayden Calls Us To Action But Still Has More To Say

  • The Draft Network
  • July 29, 2020
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There was a sea of people around Josh Drayden; he was one of hundreds. He’d been in similar situations countless times on the football field in front of fans at California Memorial Stadium and sporting venues across the country. But on June 10 in Berkeley, California, his home for the past four-plus years, he experienced something new.

It was still a team: people from various backgrounds all working toward a common goal. This fight, however, was different. It was more important and its significance wasn’t lost on Drayden; it empowered him. He wasn’t equipped with pads or a helmet. Instead, he had a mask and a sign that read, “Silence favors the [opp]ressor.”

It was his first protest and 16 days after George Floyd was killed; his death, like the many other Black lives taken by law enforcement, was filmed and those 8 minutes and 46 seconds reignited the Black Lives Matter movement in a way we’ve never seen before. He was in the thick of it with few familiar faces immediately surrounding him—his brother, Jalen, was with him as well as some friends—all amid a global pandemic, but still, Drayden knew that he had to be there. 

He had to be present.

“This is something that you have to feel inside of you to go out there, use your voice and fight for justice and equality,” Drayden told The Draft Network late last week. He grew up with his heroes, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and John Lewis, protesting in the heart of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. “I didn't think I had an excuse to not at least be present in the moment,” he added.

Drayden, a redshirt senior at Cal, is extremely positive in an almost discombobulating way. It isn’t a naive sense of hopefulness that drives him but a lived experience that has seen both the ugliness rooted in our history and the sense of community that has formed fighting against it. The positivity has always seemed to linger in his understanding. 

When Drayden was younger, growing up in DeSoto, Texas, with his mother, Eureka, father, Edwin, and Jalen, Eureka would remind him, “You need to be careful, and watch how you present yourself.” Drayden’s response was, is, “It’s not like that anymore, mom.” We all know it is like that, but when Drayden tried to ease his mother’s worries—a winless task—what he meant was it doesn’t affect him the same way anymore. Drayden’s perspective doesn’t negate his parents’ concerns, and it doesn’t diminish the fear of driving, jogging, praying at church, eating ice cream on the couch, or sleeping while Black. Still, while overwhelmed and filled with the unrest of the movement leaving mainstream consciousness, there’s that positivity; Drayden sees hope.

“We see our friends who may not be Black really appreciating us in this moment and trying to help,” he said. “It's kind of two ends of the spectrum and you can just see how the times are changing and that's why I'm so hopeful for the future.”

Drayden, the now 5-foot-10, 180-pound cornerback, has continued to evolve from one of the top-200 high school players in Texas. He could have talked football, how he was granted fifth-year eligibility, and how he—along with teammates Luc Bequette and Zeandae Johnson, who are also returning for their redshirt senior year—will bring continuity to the Golden Bears defense, but this conversation he enjoyed more. The only time Drayden talked football was when he spoke about coach Justin Wilcox and the team’s plans to continue this conversation, to keep the message about the movement. It wasn’t about Cal’s top defense or how the team improved to 8-5 and tied for second place in the Pac-12 North standings. Drayden’s already started some of these difficult conversations with his roommates, including teammates Cameron Goode, Daniel Scott, and Branden Smith. He calls it positively venting. Drayden’s continued them online, frequently posting to his Instagram story—he’s not currently on Twitter—and fielding direct messages of both graciousness and willingness to learn. It’s something small he can do now. Drayden’s plans extend far beyond social media and the gridiron, but in the wake of COVID-19 and college football in limbo—the Pac-12 recently announced it was canceling all non-conference games—the tangible steps remain swirling in his mind, bouncing off mentors and friends, and as Drayden fleshes out each plan in detail, he’s learning more. 

He has been taken aback by trends and statistics. People, some people, are so smart, Drayden thought. They’re mobilizing more than ever before. According to early demographic data gathered by the New York Times at the height of protests this summer, 61% of the ones surveyed in New York over a weekend in early June were white. In Washington, 65% of protesters were white, and in Los Angeles, 53%. This has been the difference in the Black Lives Matter movement, which started seven years ago this month after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. People who aren’t directly affected by racism or police brutality are mobilizing. It’s what also stood out to Drayden at the Berkeley protest. It wasn't just a Black thing, he thought. Everybody there had the same fire and the same passion; they were a team.

It’s hard to get any sense of angst from Drayden, even though it’s there. You wouldn’t be able to see the unrest; it’s a condition of an unjust society that has placed the brunt of its burdens on the oppressed. He recalled something his father taught him. He can’t let words or different things detract him from his main goal; whether it’s a racist remark or trash talk on the field, Drayden has been the bigger person. 

“You have to set the example because if you don't—if I retaliate then we're just going to end up in a certain cycle,” he said. “We have to try a different approach.”

The overwhelming crowds that have filled streets across the country since Floyd’s death are part of a different approach. Collegiate athletes, more specifically white collegiate athletes, using their platforms like never before is a different approach. It’s working; we’ve all seen the changes, but the movement can’t get lost. Drayden’s voice cannot get lost in the X’s and O’s because at the end of the day—no pads, no helmet, no protection—Drayden is a Black man in a country that, while lethargically progressing, still fears him. It’s why he wanted to bring this message to you.

“It just sucks the same thing that was happening 50 years ago is happening right now. But, you know, 50 years ago, I think it's pretty safe to say you didn’t see both black and white people coming together as they are today and that alone shows improvement from last time, but we still have a long way to go,” Drayden said. “I feel like more people are starting to hop on that other side of the fence that they were straddling of being silent to actually be vocal about it; not just letting it happen or not being okay that it's not happening to you.”

Drayden penned a reflection on Cal’s website. In a series titled, Golden Bear Voices, he talked about his platform and how he refused “to be reduced to a field.” His words were a thoughtful reminder of the space he occupies: over-representation on the field and under-representation everywhere else. Drayden used his words as a call to action; it was the same call he heard and answered. It’s one that’s fostered by the team, among friends, and through the athletic department. 

The same optimism that exudes Drayden also comes alive in Bobby Thompson, director of student-athlete development at Cal. Thompson, who has been in his role for more than three years, was equally impressed with Drayden’s drive. He saw it in the Black Student-Athlete Committee (BSAC), where Drayden went from being a regular attendee to holding an executive position. Thompson went a step further; Drayden isn’t just positive, Thompson said, he’s solution orientated. 

“Imagine what a positive person is going to do when facing adversity,” Thompson added. This was one of the many hypothetical questions he posed. Thompson’s use of quotes, analogies, and symbolism was reflected in Drayden. After hearing one talk you see influences of the other; it goes both ways. “The only way you're even going to remotely come close to scratching the tip of the surface of identifying what one of those demographics or groups or causes are, the only way is if you're solution-oriented, right?” Here is another hypothetical from Thompson and with each question he took a micro view and gave it a macro lens.

Drayden is using an accumulation of his experiences to drive the conversation. Thompson called it a synergetic concoction. He’s seen it first hand. Drayden’s engagement in BSAC and a number of name drops from Drayden’s close friend Mia Corbin caught Thompson’s attention and what’s kept it is Drayden’s actions. Thompson just loves that potential.

“Josh is thinking steps ahead, but not in a way that's bypassing necessary processes, but just in a way that’s he’s so thoughtful and visionary in the sense,” he said. “He understands the ripple effect of various acts or actions.”

Whether there is college football in the fall or in the spring, Drayden wants to continue to relay these messages. In the short time his attention has been allowed to focus on other things besides football and schoolwork, Drayden has become more resourceful and more knowledgeable; he’s a sponge, if you will, absorbing the information he can use to help continue these conversations. Professional athletes have already commanded the stages of their respective sports to put the Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name movements at the forefront, and even in place of, play. If Drayden can play out his final season at Cal, he sees collegiate athletes having that same power. 

Everyone has their own way and place in the movement, but if everybody can get behind the same thing and look at stuff a different way than they might have looked at it before, Drayden explains, that's where we can really start to change things. 

“At the end of the day, I'm a Black man and I know that a lot of people that will be playing or not playing are Black men and I know there's a lot of people that are on the team that aren’t Black that support this movement,” he said. “We all understand that this is way more important than a game or a touchdown or interception or forced fumble.”

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