This is the button I received last Thursday at the WSU Alumni Breakfast Series featuring Linwood Sexton. For those of you unfamiliar with this gentle man, he is a 1948 graduate of the University of Wichita, a standout Shocker football player who holds WSU’s career rushing record, was named All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team three times, was a charter inductee into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, an honoree of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, and a new inductee into the MVC Hall of Fame. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education, taught school at Wichita’s L’Ouverture Elementary, became a sales manager for Hiland Dairy, and is a lauded community leader who has worked tirelessly for equal opportunity and social justice. And that is just a hint of the man.
At the breakfast, he didn’t speak of his famed college football career, his local icon status, or his many community awards. He told a story. A story of a young black kid who lived in the segregated neighborhood of Wichita who could have easily grown up a bitter and angry man. He shared his experience as the only black athlete at WU and how the university took a chance giving a scholarship to a young black athlete when no one in their conference would dare. He described what it felt like to not be allowed to stay with his teammates on road trips, to be asked to leave the hotel or the restaurant because of the color of his skin, to stay at the “black only” hotel or with host black families, and how his teammates rallied around him. His teammates learned from him and he learned from his teammates. When Tulsa and Texas told the WU program not to bring their black athlete with them because they couldn’t guarantee he would make it back on the bus, the team battled harder, winning for Linwood and the injustice of it all, taking their safety into their own hands to bring him the game winning football. He spoke of what it felt like to be invited into their homes and especially their small white towns, while he in turn invited them to his neighborhood, his home, and introduced them to his mother’s cooking. He spoke gently, with a bit of humor, and he spoke reverently, at times his voice heavy with nostalgia, and at other times he spoke firmly, punctuating his words, driving home how far we have come.
I met Linwood many years ago, introduced to him by my father, and I wrote about their relationship. I knew they shared a love of sports and I knew they shared many of the same obstacles in life, so hearing Linwood’s story was like listening to my father. Their experiences were similar, especially the part where they became compassionate, gentle, yet strong men.
President Beggs declared March 10th as Linwood Sexton Day and I wore my button proudly everywhere I went, even taking the time to share Linwood’s story with those who inquired, in the check-out line at Target, with an afternoon golfer in the parking lot, and with three people at my salon. And each person I spoke with was equally touched by Linwood’s story. I already respected the man, liked him immensely, but on a crisp Thursday morning in March I loved him. Loved him for all he endured, for all he became, and for all he continues to do to ensure others understand what truly makes a man.