Ted Ginn Sr., having defeated pancreatic cancer, has stepped back onto the campus at all-boys Ginn Academy and resumed his duties.
The school, which Ginn founded six years ago on the far east side of Cleveland, had missed its namesake the past year, and his return to work might be the best piece of news the city of Cleveland has gotten in a while.
Against the backdrop of serial kidnappers, a police shootout and a contentious redistricting of city wards, Ginn has had to stand in the background. He seems fine with all of that, because the work he’s done has never been about shining a spotlight on himself; it’s always been about the Black boys he's tried to turn into men.
To an outsider, Ginn might be looked at as simply a football coach; and he is a coach. Not just any football coach, though; he's had more success than any other coach at an inner-city program has ever had. His Glenville Tarblooders have been undefeated in the Senate Athletic League since 1997, and he's fed prime talent to Ohio State, West Virginia, Michigan and Miami for more than a decade. His Tarblooders have enough returning talent to sate any college coach's appetite for blue chippers.
After their college days, Ginn's players have gone on to build NFL careers — players like Donte Whitner, Pierre Woods, Antwaun Molden, Royce Adams, Donnie Fletcher and his son Ted Jr.
You can call that success if you’d like. A football coach should want his boys to grow into men and go on to make a handsome living in the game. Ginn is proud of his boys who have. He can use them as an enticement to keep other Black boys focused on their futures. Unfortunately, too many boys who head Ginn's way bring not much future to speak of.
So he mentors them, counsels them and supports them. He tries to offer them a future. He also provides them with hope — a hope in the unseen, a belief that if they do all the right things, life will be kind; that all the obstacles life places in their path can be sidestepped as if dancing the Tango or driven over with a Mack truck.
Yet in a city where Black boys are failing as Black boys, what hope does the city have that those Black boys will be better Black men?
Well, the city has plenty of hope, as long as it has Ted Ginn Sr. around. Folks in this luckless Rust Belt city can know it has a 57-year-old Black man who cares, a Black man who’s willing to show his selflessness in helping Black boys.
For Ginn, he’s not just helping the boys in football. The academy he runs is a graduation factory. He boasts a graduation rate of 95 percent, numbers that would be the envy of any educator whose building is filled with Black boys.
Critics — and Ginn has had legions of those — have questioned aloud how a man with not a single college degree can do what he’s doing. They snipe from the fringes; they badmouth in private whatever Ginn does; they accuse his football program of wooing talent unfairly.
Such is to be expected, however. Men who are successful find critics everywhere they turn. Critics aren’t what count; the Black boys are.
"A man has to teach a man," Troy Smith, the former Ohio State quarterback who once played for Ginn, said on the night he picked up his Heisman Trophy in New York City.
To them, Ted Ginn Sr. is a man they can trust, a commodity in short supply in a neighborhood where Black boys are as likely to end up in prison than on a college campus. They are lucky that Ginn will be around to steer them to the latter.
Justice B. Hill is a veteran sports reporter who writes for a number of sports websites, including MLB.com and SBnation.com. He has been a sports editor at several major newspapers and taught journalism at Ohio University.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: The Plain Dealer /Landov)