Posted on Leave a comment

Vikings hopeful Khari Blasingame has clear goals beyond NFL

The students in Dr. Gilman Whiting’s classes at Vanderbilt often arrive carrying twin loads: the demands of being a Southeastern Conference athlete, and the academic rigor associated with one of the nation’s most prestigious universities. Whiting, a former sprinter who competed in the 1984 U.S. Olympic trials, has spent 16 years at Vanderbilt, teaching African-American and Diaspora Studies courses designed to reach young black athletes who’ve landed at the school because of their athletic gifts but might not yet realize the depths of their potential in other areas. As soon as Khari Blasingame — a chiseled football player from Huntsville, Ala. — spoke up in Whiting’s classes, the professor could tell he was different. “He could be at Vanderbilt without the scholarship,” Whiting said. “He was engaging in the beginning. He’s a kid who actually reached out, and I’m kind of, ‘If you take a step toward me, I’ll take two toward you.’ I have 15 guys in one class that all play football or basketball, or some other sport, and he stands out among even elite athletes that way.” Blasingame arrived at Vanderbilt with plans of becoming a doctor, but his loves were history and the neuroscience classes he took there, not the calculus courses that tested him early. As he commiserated with professors and counselors about what he should do, he realized: Maybe my future isn’t as a doctor, but as the person who can help make the health care system better. His focus now is on making the Vikings’ roster, as an undrafted free agent who shifted from defense to offense at Vanderbilt and built his reputation as a bruising and versatile fullback. The Vikings guaranteed him $30,000 this spring, and Blasingame’s resourcefulness gives him a chance at a roster or practice squad spot as the team begins training camp. “Smart kid, obviously,” offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. “He catches the ball extremely well, which has been impressive. He’s very diligent about his work. We’re lining him up in different positions because when you get out here and your roster numbers are a little bit low, we’re going to have to line him up at a few different places and he hasn’t missed a beat.” Whenever his career ends, Blasingame has big dreams beyond football. He plans to finish the graduate degree he started at Vanderbilt, with the goal of becoming the CEO of a hospital or health care system. Once there, Blasingame wants to focus on improving health care outcomes for disadvantaged populations. “You kind of see how things get run wrong sometimes,” he said. “I feel like maybe I can be somebody to help change something.” The son of a brick mason-turned-Boeing engineer and a podiatrist who got her start in the Army, Blasingame grew up with few illusions about the importance of academics. At age 5, he wanted to play tee ball; his parents told him he had to learn to read first. In high school, he was told he’d be pulled off the field if he got a B. “They probably exaggerated, but I believed it at the time,” Blasingame said. “It worked. They wanted us to do our best.” A National Honor Society member who landed at Vanderbilt as a safety, Blasingame switched to linebacker. After his switch to fullback, he began to see a pro football career as a legitimate possibility. By that point, he’d done plenty to prepare himself for success off the field as well. “You’re at a top-15 school in the country,” said Whiting, who’s known to his students as “Dr. G” and counts Red Sox pitcher David Price and former Bears receiver Earl Bennett among his pupils. “Whether you ever touch a professional football field or not, the degree you have is a piece of currency. You chose the SEC because you’re going to play against teams like Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and you’re going to be on TV every week. That’s calculated. If you’re going to calculate that much, calculate the fact you’re going to get a degree from this place.” Blasingame spent parts of his summer and winter breaks volunteering with “I See Me,” a film seminar Whiting led to promote positive examples of the black male experience. With the help of counselors like Elizabeth Wright — who encouraged Blasingame to pursue an interdisciplinary degree in medicine, health and society — he learned about disparities in maternity outcomes between different racial groups, and why minority women experienced such different levels of care from white expecting mothers during their pregnancies. “Even Serena Williams — she probably had the best health care, and she still had problems [in pregnancy],” Blasingame said. “It’s just making sure there’s an intention to listen to African-American women when it comes to their maternal health. A lot of times, when African-Americans come into a hospital and talk about pain, they’re treated less sensitively for whatever reason; they’re given fewer [pain medications,] things like that. “I think knowledge is power; if the doctors know they have an implicit bias, they’re more likely to prevent it.” Whatever Blasingame does after football, it doesn’t have to happen soon. “I don’t think having a degree takes any [urgency] off of it,” he said. “I still want to play just as long.” If anything, the degree might grant him more freedom in Vikings camp. After Blasingame signed with the Vikings, one of his first calls was to defensive end Stephen Weatherly, his former teammate at Vanderbilt. The two talk frequently about Weatherly’s tips for NFL success; Weatherly has told Blasingame he can pour himself into his football career without fear of what he’ll do if he doesn’t make it. “You know that’s there when you need it — not if you need it,” Weatherly said. “Other guys, maybe it’s extra motivation for them, to know that, ‘I’m trying not to get a 9-to-5; I’m trying to do this for the rest of my life.’ But I feel like it’s better when you play more relaxed.” His goal, for now, is to make the Vikings’ roster. If he does, it figures to be far from his final ambitious pursuit. “He’s a guy who was always leaning forward; I guess that’s how he runs the football. But that’s going to take him beyond the NFL,” Whiting said. “I see him not only as a successful athlete but as a future businessperson in the industry, because he’s just that smart.”

Vikings hopeful Khari Blasingame has clear goals beyond NFL

Leave a Reply