Students athletes combat stereotypes one player at a time

By: Jada Woods

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Byron Mason wants people to know that he’s more than just what people see on the outside. In his experience, many people can view African-American athletes in a negative light, but his aim is to change that narrative.

Stereotypes have affected athletes playing other sports in many ways as well.

“I have to show people that African-Americans are more than just the viewpoint of people, such as sagging pants,” Mason said. “We can get a 4.0 GPA and still manage to play football. I call it black excellence.”

Mason was born in Decatur, Ala., but after kindergarten, moved with his  family to Montgomery. Growing up in an athletic household, he developed a love for football. Now 15, Mason plays wide receiver and safety at Park Crossing High School.

He’s found an extended family with his teammates, and said that their sense of togetherness and purpose has allowed him to focus his energy and attitude in a positive way.


Mason uses football as his getaway from potentially negative influences in his daily life as a young black man growing up in Alabama. He wants people to know that not all athletes have to be tall and muscular, and they’re not always angry, as sometimes portrayed in the media.


Byron Mason (football player)
Byron Mason watches as his teammate scores a touchdown. (Photo provided by Byron Mason)

“When most people think of football players, they think of us being mad but we’re not mad at all. We just keep our focus,” Mason said. “I do believe that the viewpoints of people that have been said are negative because when we have tryouts, most small guys don’t want to play and drop out because they think they have to be buff and tall. But really a small person can be more effective than someone who is tall and muscular.”

That focus can lead to further opportunities in life, as 18-year-old Blake Petty learned.

Petty, a member of the 2017 recruiting class, signed a baseball scholarship to Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee. Growing up, he was a multi-sport athlete playing baseball, football and basketball. He dropped football and basketball when he lost interest and lacked time, but his career on the diamond continued.

“Baseball has influenced my life also because it has led to most of his friendships and relationships that I have today,” Petty said.

“My dad loves baseball and I really think he influenced my decision, however, I believe that I would’ve still became a baseball player due to all of my friends being a part of baseball,” he said.

Benedetto is a defenseman for the Alabama’s club ice hockey team. The team practices at least four days a week and plays their games on the weekends.

UA Hockey
James Benedetto greets young fans on his way off the ice. (Photo provided by Alabama Hockey)

“When people think of ice hockey players they think about someone that has their teeth missing but that is not the case because most players still have all their teeth,” Benedetto said.

Benedetto, 20, was born in Kings Park, N.Y., and also grew up in a sports household. He played soccer and baseball, but hockey grabbed his attention. With his team, Benedetto sees sports as a way to learn life lessons.

“From failure, I learned success and when players go into sports I believe that you have to learn to cope with failure,” Benedetto said, “and to get on from maybe losing a game and to get focused.”


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