Minter describes how football changed his life

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A packed house heard former BSU and NFL football star Cedric Minter describe life growing up as one of the few blacks in Boise, as part of his keynote address to the 18th annual Black History Banquet.

Organized by the Mountain Home Community Black History Committee, the annual banquet, held this year at the Hampton Inn, also featured the presentation of the group's Person of the Year award to Aaron Thomas, a long-time committee member active in a number of projects, particularly involving children, in the local community.

"I enjoy what I do," he said in accepting the honor, "and I love Mountain Home. We have a great community."

The banquet featured a number of dignitaries, including Kim Moore, executive director of the Black History Museum in Boise, Mrs. Leslie Goddard, director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission, and Jerome Mapp, a former long-time Boise city councilman who had started Mountain Home's economic development effort while working for the city in the early '90s.

Mayor Joe B. McNeal presented Mapp with a key to the city during the banquet ceremonies, in recognition of his service in that role to the community. "They said (at the time) that the Elmore County Impact Steering Committee wouldn't last a year," Mapp said. "I'm happy I had a small part in making Mountain Home what it is today."

Also honored during the banquet were the poster and essay winners, Courtneigh Owens, Corena Wright and Michael Thomas. Owens placed first in the essay contest, an poem she wrote and which she also read at the banquet. Thomas placed first in the poster contest. The winners received $550 in cash, while Wright, who placed second in the essay contest, received $40 in cash.

The Martin Luther King award for service to the committee was awared to the Elmore County Hispanic Organization, and the Thurgood Marshall award for community service was presented to One-to-One Nails and Hair Salon.

Minter's speech highlighted the banquet.

Although born in South Carolina, when he was only a few months old his father, who was in the Air Force, was transferred to Mountain Home AFB. Minter grew up in Boise, part of a very small minority of blacks in the city.

He described his first day at school, the only black child in his class. During recess, he took part in a game of tag called "keep away from the monster. I was the monster," Minter said. When he tagged one girl, another boy in the playground slugged him, saying "don't you dare tough my sister, you (n-word)," Minter related.

"It was my first introduction into a world not so kind," he said, "a world where people would judge me by the color of my skin, not the content of my characture."

Constantly teased and shunned, "I hated school," said the man who is now a principal in the Boise school district.

Then, when he was nine, his older brother took him to sign up for Optimist football. "I had no idea how to play football," said the man who would later lead BSU to the NCAA Division 1-AA national championship in 1980 and go on to play for the New York Jets for several years. "The coach told me I was going to be a running back. I didn't know what that meant. But they gave me the ball and I ran with it. I'd learned to run that fast to stay away from the kids that were after me."

But something unusual happened that day. "The majority of kids (on the team) were kids I didn't think liked me. But they next day, they actually talked to me.

"Suddenly, it seemed like they treated me like a friend. The color of my skin didn't matter.

"Football changed my life."

But it wasn't the only time he faced racism on or off the field. In 1980, BSU played Grambling, led by the immortal Eddie Robinson, for a berth in the NCAA championship. BSU was not expected to win.

At the banquet preceding the game, one side of the hall was all black -- Grambling, the other was almost all white -- BSU.

When the game started, the Grambling players went after Minter. "One player called me an Uncle Tom. The whole game they called me that."

Minter didn't respond with words. That day was one of the best of his career as he ran over the Grambling defense to help lead his team to victory.

"I couldn't make myself shake their hands" after the game, he said. "It hurt. I alwasy thought that at least on the football field, color was not an issue. But to feel racism from within your own race, that hurt," he said.

"I call these moments of ignorance," he said, but the anger, fear and uncertainty they brought him remain "etched in my soul."

"They say that sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you. But names can leave bruises on the inside that never go away."

An educator most of his life after leaving football, Minter noted that "it's so important to listen to children and to raise them properly. To be role models. Young children learn right and wrong, goodness and bad, from you," he told the audience over over 100 persons attending the banquet.

In addition, he said, children "have to be told they have worth," and that education is important.

At the conclusion of his speech, which drew a standing ovation, Minter was presented with a plaque from the black history committee and Mayor McNeal also presented him with a key to the city.

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