For Broderick Cobbs, football was more than a skill and hobby. It was a saving grace from racism – admittedly, it did not always work. Cobbs thought if he became an essential part of the team and school, maybe he would not get in trouble for the things black students got in trouble for and the school could treat him like a white student.
When Cobbs graduated from Jack C. Hays High School around 2001, he left Buda as soon as the opportunity opened. Cobbs said he loves Buda and its people and still has friends that live in his hometown, but there is no return to a city that rejected the Cobbs family. As soon as they all had the chance, they left.
“Countless times I would watch my mom cry and my dad trying to keep his calm,” Cobbs explained his mother’s reaction to racist comments parents made to her when she drove the school bus.
The Cobbs’ experience is not isolated. Perhaps, he might have had it better than the few other black students uninvolved in athletics, who, according to Cobbs, were always getting in trouble for unknown reasons. After attending a historically black university in Louisiana, he realized that so many of the things he witnessed in Buda were derogatory to black people. He had to unlearn racist notions that were ingrained into his brain over the 18 years he spent in Hays County.
When he got to the university, he said his goal was to go from an all-white environment and into his own culture.
“I couldn’t survive,” Cobbs said. “There were so many stereotypes I had in my head; I had the wrong feelings about my own people. That was an eye opener for me. I didn’t even know how to operate amongst black people, I was afraid of things I wasn’t supposed to be.”
Overall, Cobbs was not the first or last student to experience constant racism that affected his perspective on black culture. In fact, many years have passed since Cobbs was a student, and now as a football coach, he sees a similar cycle happening to his students. The racism has not vanished – Cobbs is still subject of it.
Throughout his life in Buda, Cobbs and his siblings were all failed by the same teacher. His father, a computer engineer, felt suspicious about why this happened to all three kids. He finally took action by doing his daughter’s homework, ensuring all the answers were correct. When the grades came back as a fail, he knew the teacher was grading for color, not for answers.
“It’s not life-threatening, but it’s life-changing,” Cobbs said, analyzing the effects of racism. “It affected my perception of people as I grew.”
Teachers were not the only ones remarking on Cobbs’ skin color. One of his teammates constantly called him harsh racial slurs until Cobbs jumped on the teammate.
“I warned him enough times to run out of patience,” Cobbs recalled. “We got into a locker room quarrel over it, coaches heard about it and I had to do 20 extra wind sprints. All my teammates were behind me. I ran for that until I couldn’t breathe to defend my right.”
At times, Cobbs could not differentiate between coaching style or racism. For example, during the last game of his senior year, Cobbs, an extremely skilled player, was benched because a sophomore student’s father was angry his son was not playing.
Some of these experiences were shared among the entire family. Cobbs’ older brother, ranked as one of the state’s top three linebacks, did not receive a single visit to continue his football career. Meanwhile most of the team players got numerous letters.
The racism spans beyond the three siblings; Cobbs said that his grandparents, aunts and uncles that lived near the area never made it to any of the games. The kids had familial support, but his family could not bear the idea of walking into a stadium that played Dixie as its anthem, raised the Confederate flag and had the Rebel mascot.
“It was very difficult for my parents to ignore it while all that history is thrown in our faces,” Cobbs said. “It’s so roundabout but directly in your face.”
After moving, there were still incidents of racism. Recently, Cobbs was at the grocery store with his red-headed wife when he was approached by a man that told the couple they “need to pick a side.”
It took Cobbs years to understand the mistreatment he underwent; from attending a historically black university that opened his eyes to the racism he experienced as a child, to joining the military where everyone had a different background and no one cared about race. As a black man living in the U.S., Cobbs has had to strategize for protection from his color. He has had to learn deep levels of patience so he can move along his daily life.
“I’m 38,” Cobbs said. “The problem is it wears on you after a while of turning your back and saying ‘I need this money from my job. I love playing football so I won’t respond because I love what I do.’ Hopefully we get to a point where we don’t have to do that because that’s not mentally sound.”
As a football coach, Cobbs uses his influence on the players by telling them to persevere when they are wronged.
“I spend a lot of time helping kids get pulled out of these environments,” Cobbs said, “These experiences are not new. The only option you have is to persevere. I try to teach kids to stay the course. Don’t let them drag you into the conversation where you have to defend that you’re black.”
Although Cobbs has chosen the route of patience, he knows that something in our society is missing. There have been decades of protests and laws that are meant to protect people against racism. Regardless of what the laws state, many of these behaviors are learned at home and Cobbs acknowledges that teachings within the home cannot be controlled by an outsider.
Allyship might be the road to recourse. Cobbs said he believes if someone witnesses racism, they should act in the moment, call the abuser out on their behavior. When society waits until people die, or get wrongfully imprisoned to speak up, it is too late, he explained. It is not wrong to talk about it on social media, but the real work gets done in real-time during the moments of racism.
“Do something now, don’t wait and protest after a man is killed,” Cobbs told the Hays Free Press. “It’s not useful to parents and kids, it’s only useful in getting some attention. We’ve been protesting for decades. If people want to see action, they need to act right then and there. The moment is now, not on social media. If you call somebody out directly, you might see some progress.”