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Analyze This: A chat with HBCU football analyst Jay Walker

On balancing politics and sports, Kaepernick, and how college players are at the root of current athlete activism

Analyze This is a daily Q&A with African-American college football broadcasters and analysts during The Undefeated’s Fall TV Week.

Howard University graduate Jay Walker is an ESPN college football analyst and staple of the network’s coverage of historically black colleges and universities (The Undefeated is a part of ESPN). He played quarterback for the Bisons, and was selected in the seventh round of the 1994 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. Walker also played for the Minnesota Vikings and the World League of American Football’s Barcelona Dragons. Nowadays, the California native splits his time between calling HBCU games and serving in the Maryland House of Delegates — you can often find him on a plane reading through materials for the state House Ways and Means committee. Before the Sept. 17 matchup between Howard and Hampton, Walker talked about calling games, the need for more black play-by-play announcers and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s right as an American to take a stand against racial injustice.

Broadcaster — but also a state legislator. How do you balance the roles?

It’s a pretty healthy balance — and politics to me is like sports. I’m in the locker room all over again. You’ve got defensive lineman, offensive lineman, wide receivers, you all try to come together for the betterment of the team. But sometimes they think you need to run it more, others think you need to throw it more. Same things with politics. My sports background has helped me with my job as a state legislator.

Do you think there’s value in broadcasters being former players?

There is. My biggest concern is I think the former player is getting underutilized. There are certain things we know about and we can understand — that a guy that hasn’t played the sport doesn’t know. You can talk about a quarterback missing a pass, but until you’ve actually stared down a linebacker, knowing you’re going to get hit and still thrown the football? Easier said than done. So there are a lot of intricacies I believe athletes bring to the table.

“My biggest concern is I think the former player is getting underutilized.”

What’s the biggest difference between calling an HBCU game and calling a Power 5 game?

The amount of talking you have to do. When you do an HBCU game, sometimes you just won’t have the crowd noise to carry it, and nobody likes to just watch TV and there’s nothing being said. But I’ve taken that and made it an advantage. I tell more stories. At HBCUs, it’s not necessarily all about what you see on the field, the plays. It’s what’s going on in the rest of the stadium. Where was the tailgate? Where’d you go eat? Who’d you bump into? What legends? The bigger games, you kind of let the game do most of the talking. Whereas at an HBCU, in the booth we try to create a little bit more ambience.

What’s the best part about HBCU football?

It’s not the bands like everybody says. The greatest part is seeing guys that are hungry. They have these big dreams — I’ve been in their shoes. They want it, and want to do it. At the end of the day, let’s not forget, you’re watching 100 African-American men that are going to graduate from college, hopefully, and go into the workforce and be the next leaders of tomorrow. That’s something you can take pride in. You see the hunger there and the job these coaches do in trying to mold these young men.

Jemele Hill (l) and Jay Walker on the set of His & Hers.

Randy Sager / ESPN Images

How would you assess the state of black representation in sports broadcasting?

Whew. There’s a need for more. Will it ever be perfect? Probably not. I know for play-by-play … there’s not a lot of African-American play-by-play guys. So that’s something that needs to be addressed. There’s a whole generation behind us that probably won’t have to have this conversation in 10 or 15 years — hopefully.

“At HBCUs, it’s not necessarily all about what you see on the field … It’s what’s going on in the rest of the stadium.”

What do you think is the next step for Kaepernick and other NFL players who’ve taken stances with regard to the national anthem?

It’s time to see results. If you just take a stance, people think it’s for publicity. That won’t go anywhere. But if you’re taking money and putting it in a legal defense fund or if you’re taking care of families that have been victimized because of some of the senseless crimes that he thinks have been committed, then that’ll go a long way. I know in the locker room, it’s probably like, ‘OK, we stood there. We took a stand with you. What’s going to come from it?’ Right now, he’s an activist. I think he needs to become a resultist. Once you start seeing results, then I think we can judge if it was all for the right thing.

Do you think Kaepernick’s willingness to speak out could trickle down to the college level?

It has to. I think it’s going to change America. The University of Missouri football team, they started something last year. The Northwestern football team, they said they wanted to unionize so they could be paid. Grambling said they weren’t going to play a game because they didn’t like the way their athletes were being treated. I think the key is you have to be responsible with the platform that you have. Colin Kaepernick is in the NFL. He’s got a platform, which is about a six-year window. So he’s using the platform he has right now, which probably won’t be any bigger than it is now for the rest of his life. I commend him for it. He knew what he was doing. Because if he was a former football player, he wouldn’t be getting this attention. But because he’s a current quarterback in the National Football League, he gets the attention. He knows that and he’s using his platform, which every American has the right to do.

Aaron Dodson is a sports and culture writer at Andscape. He primarily writes on sneakers/apparel and hosts the platform’s Sneaker Box video series. During Michael Jordan’s two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s, the “Flint” Air Jordan 9s sparked his passion for kicks.