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A Student-Athlete's Perspective: Brandon Copeland

Penn senior football player Brandon Copeland was a three-time first-team All-Ivy selection and a three-year starter on the Quakers' defensive line from 2010-12. He finished his career in Philadelphia with 160 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 26.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, an interception, a blocked kick, a touchdown and a safety.

1. When you think of the history and accomplishments of African-Americans in our country, what jumps out in your mind?
Copeland: I think that African-Americans have come a very long way in the US. From slavery to the President of the United States is a huge leap. It was a struggle and there have been many heroes that have sacrificed and risked their lives to create a better world for people of color like myself. All of these men and women named and unnamed stick out in my mind for having the courage and perseverance to stand up for equality.

2. What do you enjoy and what are the challenges in your current experiences as an African-American student-athlete on an Ivy League campus?
Copeland: I enjoy being one of the few to make it to an Ivy League campus, but with that blessing there is a stigma as well that is challenging to defeat when you get here. Unfortunately, a lot of people expect an African-American athlete to act in a certain manner, and while I always have continued to be myself throughout my four years at Penn, I have always been challenged and pushed to do better for myself and my family because of these stereotypes and stigmas, so in turn it has become even more motivation for me.

3. As you reflect on Black History month, talk about one person who has influenced your life and why?
Copeland: My grandparents and particularly my grandfather has been the biggest influence on my life thus far. He was born and raised in Hazlehurst, Miss., and faced tremendous hardships in terms of family structure growing up. His father passed away before he was born, and his mother was struck by lightning when he was five in front of him and his brother. He was faced with the racial hardships that were commonplace in the United States in those days and even more prevalent in Mississippi back then. Yet he survived, and somehow made it as an overwhelming underdog to play defensive end for the Baltimore Colts for nine years. He then played a year with the Giants and the Falcons before retiring, but during his career he won Super Bowl V alongside Hall of Famers and moved his family to Baltimore to provide his children with better opportunities than he had as a child.

4. What do you feel is your role in being a leader or role model as African-American student-athlete on your campus and in your communities both at school and at home?
Copeland: "With great power comes great responsibility" so now and eventually I want to try to make someone else’s day better and try to bring other people “up the ladder” as I climb up myself. I think too many people get an opportunity and don’t recognize the fact that they were the beneficiaries of someone else’s help along the way. So it is my responsibility to try to help others, even in the smallest ways. It doesn’t have to take a tremendous effort on my part to make a difference in someone else’s life.

5. Projecting forward, what is one thing you would like to achieve or be part of once you graduate to advance the African-American ideal for future generations?
Copeland: Eventually, I would like to start a program that sponsors children. Young African-American children entering high school would be interviewed and we would actually spend time with candidates to try to determine who would take full advantage of our sponsorship. I would like to sponsor a group of kids, and send them to the best high schools in their area and then go on and help send them to college as well. This way you help sponsor a kid full circle in the hopes that they become successful in a variety of different ways and can eventually give back to the program and provide the same opportunity to another kid. Maybe someone that they see a bit of themselves in!