MLK Day is a day to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and his life of service. Today, we will like to join in the celebration by highlighting a former Clemson athlete who embodies King’s dream for African Americans.
Chad Richardson, is a former walk-on Clemson football linebacker from Lakewood High in Sumter, SC. Like most football players, he had dreams of suiting up for an NFL team but an injury and maybe a program shift indirectly, adjusted his future plans.
The two-time ACC Academic Honor Roll member did leave Clemson with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Health Science, Master of Education (M.Ed.), Counselor Education (Student Affairs) and worked as an Assistant Director in Health Professions until last year. Today, he is studying to become a physician at MUSC.
See Richardson can dream about a future in the NFL and become a doctor, because the late Dr. Martin Luther King fought for equal rights for African Americans before he was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
Richardson is aware of King’s sacrifice, a sacrifice that allows him to have better job options than his late grandmother. That grandmother was reluctant to cheer on his gridiron career out of fear of injury, but she was the most vocal cheerleader for any of his achievements.
Dr. King stated in his ““I Have a Dream Speech” he was once asked as a Civil Rights devotee, “When will you be satisfied?”
Richardson is happy but not satisfied with his current course. He has more work to do just like our country has in race relations. With approximately three and a half years left to realize his dream of becoming a physician, he keeps his ‘head down and goes to work’, words from his former coach Dabo Swinney, but lifts it up enough to mentor young African American men and anyone striving to achieve personal goals.
We talked to Richardson about being a walk-on at Clemson, playing for Dabo Swinney, his career choice and MLK Day.
When did you start medical school?
What is the ultimate goal?
Right now to become a physician. Exactly, which one? I haven’t decided on yet. We don’t typically have to decide until applying for residency, but I do have an interest in Orthopedics.
What was one of your motivations? I did read something somewhere. 2015. Does that ring a bell?
Yeah. 2015, that was the year my grandmother passed away. I kind of use her for motivation, because she was one of the main people who was excited about whatever I told her I wanted to do. She always wanted me to push for things that she wasn’t able to do herself. I also watched her health deteriorate through the years as she suffered from diabetes and heart disease both common in the black community. It hurt me, and I wanted to be able to do something about it.
Besides your grandmother, what else drew you to a medical profession?
I knew I wanted to do something with the body. Originally, I thought I wanted to do physical therapy, because I knew for medical school you had to take organic chemistry and I wasn’t feeling that. I was trying to run away from it but my major required me to do an internship so my professor made me split it with a physical therapist and a physician. I learned that semester that I liked physical therapy but being a doctor fits me. The leadership it takes, the teamwork and the problem solving are things I enjoy doing coupled along with the things I saw in the community and the impact I wanted to make physician was the perfect career for me. But I knew black males weren’t necessarily in the medical field, and I learned that even more along the way. That’s why I’m speaking at an event this Saturday. One of the problems is when you’re a young black male being a pro athlete or entrepreneurship seems to attract you. I don’t think we cultivate the interest in sciences like we should.
You’re a former walk-on like Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow has been a part of the most successful era in Clemson football and Clemson sports as a key player. There are many walk-ons who don’t see his success. Tell me, Why do walk-ons walk on?
I think all of us have the dream. You always grow up in your hometown as one of the better players on your team. You also believe like others that you have the opportunity to turn pro and or to have the success of Hunter Renfrow.
For me, I believed I was a sleeper prospect. I believed I could come in and be able to play, grow and go to the NFL. But for most guys, they love the game and enjoy being around football.
I referenced above the success of the football program. You left Clemson right before the school’s second national championship in three years. Did you see the program reaching its current success?
I definitely saw it, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU kind of just spring boarded the program to the current ascension. From my perspective, I started looking at the players coming in, and they all had the love and a heightened level of skill. It was a different type of player and the coaching went to another level. Really, it was a steady climb. But it took consistency in winning, better players, players buying in, one great player like Deshaun Watson, a heart and soul guy like B.J. Goodson and a Ben Boulware on defense to grow leadership. All of that took things to another level and now the program also looks to have staying power.
Every former Clemson football player seems to have a Dabo story. What is yours and what do you think of him?
People always ask, is he really like that? I’m like, yeah. What you see is what you get. When you hear some of his sayings and his down to earth funny nature, to me, in the public eye, he always comes off as the uncle or family member who is always happy, free, and saids whatever comes to mind.
So as a player, I started realizing this guy has the amazing ability to take any situation and make it a learning lesson that is interesting. He came up with the crazy saying, “I’ll do all I can, while I can, so that while I can’t, when I cannot, I would not wish that I could have, when I should have.” He said that to us twice a week one season, and I would be sitting there like I’m so tired of hearing this. At the time, I just didn’t understand the magnitude of the things that he was feeding us but three years later, I remember those words verbatim. I now know exactly what he was talking about too.
There are things, you learn from him along with how supportive he is, that you realize you don’t get from other coaches or other programs. He does coach and will get upset and fired up, but as a person, he is what people see on TV, and I think that is hard for some outside the program to believe sometimes.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is today. What do you usually do on the holiday?
Typically, I would participate in a MLK day of service but the one here at MUSC is postponed until Friday. At Clemson, as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, we had sponsored trips to historical places in South Carolina and one in Alabama to commemorate his memory.
King was a central figure in the fight for civil rights and helped bring awareness to racism and inequality. If you were able to sit and have a conversation with King today what would you ask him?
What do we do now? Things are so different now with all the social media outlets. In his era, fighting for equality was new and people had to warm up to the idea of him, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and others standing up for equal rights. People have marched, had silent protest and done extravagant means of protest and nothing seems to get to the root of the problem. Of course, things have progressed from 50-60 years ago. But if some are convinced what they are doing is right and haven’t acknowledged what happened in the past. What do we do now? Especially, since people know better now. Again, that would be my question.