Queen’s Hall-of-famer Sheridon Baptiste speaks to ‘The Journal’ about his talk, “Let’s do our part, one kind act at a time”

Former member of the football, basketball, and track and field teams hopes his wisdom will help current student-athletes use their influence to make campuses better places 

Baptiste is a Queen's legend.
Credit: 
Supplied by Sheridon Baptiste
Sheridon Baptiste, ArtSci ’89, is no stranger to being an athlete—and an exceptional one at that.
 
At one time or another a member of Queen’s varsity basketball, football, and track and field teams, his string of stellar performances during his undergrad netted him a spot in the Queen’s Track Hall of Fame, after which he began competing with Canada’s national track team. Shortly after his graduation, he was drafted into the CFL by the Saskatchewan Rough Riders.
 
If that weren’t enough, he also went on to become a three-time Olympian—in bobsled. 
 
Yet surprisingly, none of those accomplishments were planned—or even dreamed of—by him when he first arrived at Queen’s in the fall of 1985.
 
According to Baptiste, when he first stepped on campus, he was just another Arts and Science student. Although he played a number of sports in high school, nobody had scouted him anywhere, including Queen’s. He expected to spend the next four years of his life staying fit and working on his studies.
 
“When I came to Queen’s, my intention was […] just to focus on academics,” he said, in a sit-down interview with The Journal.
 
All of this changed within a matter of days. 
 
Seeking respite from the antics of frosh week, Baptiste grabbed a basketball and started practicing in the gym one morning. The then-head coach of the basketball team happened to see him and was impressed. After suggesting he try out for the team, Baptiste casually agreed.
 
That decision ultimately led him on a path toward an incredible four-year tenure as an athlete at Queen’s. 
 
Evidently, he ended up making the basketball team—but he didn’t stop there. Shortly after, he sought to pursue an interest he had nurtured since high school for track and field.
 
“I’ll be honest with you,” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t even know [Queen’s] had a track team,”
 
The following year, after making waves in both sports, one more coach came knocking: Doug Hargreaves, the legendary head of the football program. After asking Baptiste to join the football team outright in second year, Baptiste opted to do football and track only from then on, believing he had a better chance of making the CFL than the NBA.
 
Sure enough, he was drafted in the CFL two-and-a-half years later, in 1988.
 
Although he was ultimately never able to play professionally, Baptiste went on to become a member of the National track team—winning a gold medal in the 4 x 100 metre relay at the 1994 Jeux de la Francophonie—as well as performing as a member of the Canadian bobsled team at three separate Olympic games: 1992, 1994, and 1998.
 
After coaching the bobsled team and training professional athletes in the US for a spell, Baptiste eventually moved back to his Canadian hometown of Ottawa, where he quickly began the work he performs to this day as a healthy living coordinator at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, also located in Ottawa. There, he oversees athletic programming, training, and recovery services to members of the local Indigenous community that wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.
 
Baptiste addressed Queen’s student-athletes and athletics staff on Sep. 26, presenting his talk “Let’s do our part, one kind act at a time.” When asked about the nature of his talk, Baptiste told The Journal it’s fundamentally about acknowledging the reality of racialized struggles many BIPOC face in today’s socio-political landscape, as well as recognizing the power of their own voices as athletic figures.
 
“There’s so much we can do as individuals, as athletes,” he said.
 
“You’re very privileged, because you have a voice, you actually get a chance to speak out, you actually get a chance to be noticed in your community.”
 
Baptiste went on to mention that as individuals who carry influence, athletes have a responsibility to reflect on the treatment of themselves and others, and to fight against prejudice and racism wherever possible.
 
“I just want people to be aware that racism exists, and there is something that they can personally do about it.”
 
Reflecting on his own time at Queen’s as a Black student-athlete, Baptiste remembers that during the advent of Gangsta rap in the late 80s, a wave of fear-mongering swept across North America targeting young Black men like himself. As a result, Baptiste felt he constantly had to go out of his way to prove he wasn’t dangerous or violent to his peers.
 
“In that scenario, it almost makes you seem as though you want to be white,” he said. 
 
“People are just trying to make you become them.”
 
In retrospect, Baptiste wishes he could go back and tell his younger self that it was okay to be himself—and to take pride in his identity.
 
“If I could [go] back and told myself, you know, ‘be positive’, […] ‘be more proud of who you are’ […] it would have made a big difference in my life.”
 
Although he doesn’t know the exact state of racial affairs on university campuses today, Baptiste hopes that talks such as his own will nonetheless have a noticeably positive impact on the way individuals treat each other with respect to their racial identities.
 
When asked about what he would like included in his legacy, Baptiste kept it brief.
 
“I would like to be remembered as just a kind person, that just helped people when they needed help,” he said.
 
“It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”

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