As the 2017-2018 college football season kicks off for the year, it is great to see that there are institutions that are finding ways to create environments of acceptance, compassion, and above all, inclusion.
The University of Southern California granted Jake Olson the opportunity to play in their season opener game, despite his disability. Olson fell victim to a rare form of eye cancer known as retinoblastoma and lost complete eye sight in both eyes at a young age, but he never lost his love of USC football. According to Pete Carroll, former USC coach and now head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Olson has been a fan of the USC football program since the age of ten — before he lost his sight — and has been working hard to play for his favorite team ever since. Olson got the opportunity to snap the ball in a competitive situation on Saturday in which his team successfully scored an extra point.
What makes this particular game so inspiring is that The University of Southern California has begun to activate its journey towards inclusion and is doing so publicly and unapologetically. Hopefully this game will act as a catalyst for other teams to reassess their current programs and find more creative ways to ease access for those with disabilities who, like Jake Olson, want to continue overcoming the obstacles in their path and play the game they love.
Amid such polarizing times in an uncertain socio-political environment, and specifically amid the charged political environment of the NFL (see: Colin Kaepernick and Erica and Seth DeValve), the University of Southern California has made the decision to stand for inclusion, change, and equality, if even in a small way. I’m sure this wasn’t small to Jake Olson. These types of actions, whether small or large, have the power to make a lasting impression on society and show that anyone can make a difference. Could USC and Jake Olson inspire institutions as well as individuals to have courage and take the first step in addressing exclusionary policies and practices? Feel free to weigh in below!