CHESTERTON — Retired NFL player turned broadcaster Howard Griffith didn’t talk about his two Super Bowl rings or his fame on the football field, instead he encouraged the students at Chesterton High School to be sponges and to be open to getting to know people from different nationalities.
Griffith, who played 11 seasons in the NFL for the Denver Broncos, the Carolina Panthers and the Los Angeles Rams, and is now one of the lead-in studio analysts for the Big Ten Network, was the guest speaker for Cultural Day sponsored by the Chesterton High School Multicultural Association.
The association was co-founded last school year by senior Alaina Patterson, who is also president. Patterson started the club, in part, to achieve a gold award for Girl Scouts and to undo stereotypes of cultures that people don’t understand.
“The purpose of the Chesterton Multicultural Club is to explore the different cultures in our community and have a deeper understanding of them, to encourage students to understand cultural differences rather than fear or stereotype them, and to volunteer in the community and be a beacon of leadership and encouragement for the future generations,” she said.
In line with the organization’s mission, Griffith said he was adopted and grew up on the south side of Chicago. He attended the now closed Mendel Catholic Prep High School until his sophomore year, then transferred to Julian High School for his junior and senior year. He told the students he played basketball, baseball and football, but excelled at football.
“I couldn’t hit a curve ball,” he said, drawing laughter from the students and staff.
“On the south side, we were not exposed to other cultures, to other stuff,” he said. “I wasn’t exposed to other cultures until my parents put me into a program at the Museum of Science and Industry. You have to be open and be willing to be exposed to other things. There are people out there who can enhance your world.”
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While at the University of Illinois, Griffith set the NCAA record for touchdowns (eight) in a game Sept. 8, 1990, against Southern Illinois University in a 56–7 Illinois win.
Griffith won two Super Bowl rings in Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl XXXIII. Griffith was a big contributor in the Broncos Super Bowl XXXIII win, scoring two rushing touchdowns in the game. He also made a key 23-yard reception in the final quarter of Super Bowl XXXII, setting up Denver’s final touchdown of the game.
Griffith told the students it’s okay to like someone who is different.
“In football, you play with people from all walks of life,” he said. “There was one guy who didn’t have running water in his home in 1988. I had other teammates who were wealthy. No one cared about race. We were trying to win championships. We cared about football. We cared about winning Super Bowls. We had team goals.
“When you talk about diversity, it’s a mindset. Open your mind. Be willing to accept and look past what people look like. You have to have tolerance for people. You have to be willing to listen and accept that people are different,” Griffith said.
Seniors and football teammates Anthony Zelenika and Derrick Hardin Jr. say they are friends, and don’t pay any attention to skin color.
Zelenika said Griffith’s comments made him stop and think about the kind of future he wants, and how he interacts with other people.
Hardin said the discussion made him realize that college could be a culture shock.