Sport, social justice and storytelling
On Thursday, Nov. 7, students from two English classes gathered to see their individual course themes merge together. Wil Haygood, award-winning author and the inaugural resident of the Roger Brown Residency in Social Justice, Writing and Sport, spoke to the Sport & Literature and African-American Literature classes about his career and inspiration for his most recent book, Tigerland.
The Roger Brown Residency, a tribute to former UD student-athlete Roger Brown, was designed to welcome a writer each year with the tools to teach the Dayton community about how sport and social justice issues intersect. Although the University wanted to do something in Brown’s name, Haygood helped lead them to their final decision.
“I met your University President Erica Spina, and he asked me if I knew anything about Roger Brown. And I said, ‘Roger Brown … I’ve got to tell you Mr. President, he’s one of the greatest players ever,’” Haygood said.
He continued to say that he had even watched Brown on the basketball court during his childhood, and eventually proposed the idea for the writer’s residency to President Spina. Naturally, Haygood was chosen as the first of many writers to come.
His most recent book, Tigerland, tells the story of the 1969 East High Tigers in Columbus, Ohio. The all-black segregated high school won two state championships in a time of political chaos. Haygood highlights the achievements of the teams while adding to a broader conversation regarding the events of the time.
“I did not want to write a straight-away sports book,” Haygood said. “If you find a story in this country that revolves around 1968 or 1969, you have to write about what was going on here in the country at that time because this nation really was ripped apart at the seams.”
Tigerland was honored as the nonfiction runner-up Sunday, Nov. 3, at the Dayton Literary Peace Prize event.
Haygood had the opportunity to engage with multiple classes while on campus. In his lecture with Sport & Literature and African-American Literature, students were eager to ask questions.
A popular topic of conversation revolved around Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article "The Butler." Years after its original publication, Forrest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams and other well-known actors brought the story to life on the big screen.
Other students asked questions that directly related to what they had been discussing in their courses. Sophomore Aaliyah Payne was interested in hearing Haygood’s thoughts on how African American communities benefit from sport in today’s society.
Haygood responded, “We need the black athlete now more than ever to speak up because when the black athlete speaks up, it saves everybody.”
Haygood’s residency took place on UD's campus Nov. 5 -7, 2019. Photos by Kat Niekamp ’20.