Why Rashad Jennings doesn't let racism define him

Black History Month is a time to acknowledge and honor important contributions and achievements of African-Americans throughout our nation’s history. During this month, Yahoo Sports celebrates black pioneers who have impacted sports.

Many athletes had to overcome racial barriers to pave the way for black athletes today, like Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, who were landmark figures in African-American sports history. And if these athletes allowed prejudice and discrimination to hinder them from pursuing their dreams, sports would look a lot different today.

Now sports are more diverse than ever, but the new generation of athletes still goes through similar experiences as its predecessors. Not only do the athletes experience racism within their respective sports, but also in their everyday lives.

Rashad Jennings played seven NFL seasons. (AP)

Rashad Jennings , who played seven seasons in the NFL with Jacksonville, Oakland and the New York Giants, shared with Yahoo Sports pivotal moments in which he’s overcome racism.

The former running back who retired in 2017 reflected on times throughout his athletic life in which he’s been called derogatory names by opposing teams’ fans and even had the “n-word” written inside his locker.

But in high school, there was a moment Jennings would never forget.

The self-described “chubby kid with asthma and glasses” was invited to one of his friends’ house for dinner, and as soon as he sat down at the table, he felt an awkward tension that he could not have predicted.

There was no dialogue — nobody would speak to him.

Thinking there was something wrong with him, Jennings said he politely excused himself and went to the bathroom.

As he pondered what could possibly be going on, his eyes wandered from wall to wall and all he could see were Ku Klux Klan symbols. Realizing his friend’s father was in the white supremacy organization, he immediately felt betrayed for being put into this situation.

He decided to leave the dinner table to go home and told the father, “I’m sorry to intrude.”

It wasn’t until two years later, after one of Jennings’ football games, that his friend’s father came up to him and apologized for that moment at dinner.

“I could’ve addressed it with fury that I had inside or I could’ve respected somebody’s decision,” Jennings told Yahoo Sports. “He didn’t do anything to me physically, he just has his own choices to the way he lives.”

Today, the Dancing with the Stars winner says he doesn’t let other people’s choices and behavior affect his way of life. And although Jennings frequently battles with discrimination, he doesn’t let racism define him.

“The more love and support that I receive, makes me look past all of the negative things.”

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