Commentary: Off the court, LeBron James’ vital role as father

Originally published in Chicago Tribune, Feb 17, 2020

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” The remarkable line from author Ralph Ellison’s book “Invisible Man” may seem hard to apply to LeBron James, a 6-foot-8 African American man known for his unparalleled athleticism on the basketball court. But, for a father with unmatched enthusiasm for the success of his sons, society has struggled to view James as the loving dad that he is.

Nevertheless, slowly he is silencing the belief present in society for many years that black men do not play a role in raising their children.

James’ enthusiasm at his son’s basketball games has been seen as juvenile, outrageous and childlike to some who refuse to see the love, compassion and fortitude in his movements. I remember as a young athlete looking into the stands and seeing my father — a validation of my dedication and being. In a similar manner, I suspect James is teaching his sons one of the most important lessons my father taught me: The world is full of opportunities for you to discover, and if you must, to create.

LeBron James, who then played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, celebrates with his sons LeBron Jr. and Bryce Maximus after defeating the Atlanta Hawks during the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 26, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio.
LeBron James, who then played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, celebrates with his sons LeBron Jr. and Bryce Maximus after defeating the Atlanta Hawks during the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 26, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio.(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

In 1972 a young black man, trunk packed and ticket in hand, boarded a bus headed to Philadelphia. For the first time in his 18 years of life, my father, Thomas Campbell, was leaving home in pursuit of a college degree — the only one of his siblings to do so. One of eight children, born into modest beginnings, my father persevered to college at a time when only 20% of black men had achieved more than a high school diploma. This was only the beginning, as he persevered to earn a law degree.

 

Forty-six years after my father embarked on his journey, I climbed six shallow steps to receive my medical degree. In that very moment, what I struggled to understand is what my father must have felt as I was declared “Dr. Campbell.” Growing up with a father who could neither read nor write, it must have been unimaginable for my father to believe he could cement a path for my sister and me to earn five degrees between the two of us.

 

But, in actuality all of my father’s actions have continuously encouraged my sister and me to pursue opportunities he never had. Thus, the magnificence of our achievement truly belongs to him. Similarly, James continues to inspire his sons to not only dream but to believe in the realism of their dreams.

LeBron James and my father serve as shining examples of the many black fathers who have created a future for their sons to change the world — a far cry from society’s vision for young black men. These fathers exemplify a view of the world where the finish line is not dictated by the starting line, but is full of boundless direction and achievement — and is not tied to skin color.

Once criticized for their invisibility, our black fathers are now visible, illuminating their brilliance for the world in a way they always have — for us.

Writing A Personal Statement: Who Are You and Who Do You Want To Be? Tell Me!

Every time I hear someone mention they are lacking a mentor or guidance I cringe. One of the true disadvantages in this world is having no one to call a mentor. Many applications require personal statements and without guidance this part of the process can be very daunting. I hope my personal statement from 2018, below,  for a residency position in a department of anesthesiology might help. Here’s my essay:

My first experience under general anesthesia was terrifying. A whirlwind of emotions taunted me as I laid in the pre-operative suite. On one hand, I was excited to finally get my torn labrum repaired; however, I was anxious about the anesthetic aspect of the operation. The anesthesiologist also recommended a nerve block to help with postoperative pain control. Even as a first-year medical student, attempting to understand lower extremity anatomy and the mechanism underlying local anesthetics was unnerving. Despite feeling unsettled due to my limited knowledge of the procedure, the anesthesiologist gained my trust only after five minutes of interaction. His demeanor, empathetic manner and smile—a very caring one—gave me the desire to pursue a career in anesthesiology. I admired his ability to swiftly ease my fear of receiving general anesthesia. This reminded me of my experience with AmeriCorps (City Year DC) in which I worked countless hours with students on various English and mathematic assignments. During my year-long experience, I helped the students grow more comfortable with their studies, their public speaking and increased their desire to learn. This service year required many hours of multi-tasking, working as a team player, and working well under pressure. These attributes will translate into the field of anesthesiology, allowing me to excel.

I have known for a very long time that I wanted to be a physician, yet I was unsure of which specialty.

Following my surgical clerkship, I began a rotation at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in pediatric anesthesiology. I love children thus I entered this rotation excited for the opportunity to serve this patient population. Small in stature but powerful in their own right, the pediatric patients undergoing surgery left a lasting impression. I realized that caring for the pediatric population is more than an “interaction.” The young boys and girls were scared as they minimally understood their situation except that they were being separated from their parents. The ability for the anesthesiologist to simultaneously calm these patients while placing the parents at ease was nothing short of an art. In a way, the pediatric anesthesiologist is forced to bridge the gap of the health care provider and friend. This evidenced the notion that trust is not earned by who we are but rather by what we do. I watched as Dr. Whitaker sat on a patient’s bed and inquired about the name of the stuffed animal she was cuddling tightly. She did not care too much about Dr. Whitaker’s occupation, but rather her newfound excitement was directed at his most recent question. At that moment–eager to experience that same level of patient interaction one day–I began contemplating a career in pediatric anesthesiology.

The pediatric patients from Nationwide Children’s Hospital shaped my desire to not only serve, but illuminated how a life in service to children is a life worth living. It is incredible to fathom that the face of the anesthesiologist is the last and first person a patient sees before and after a surgical procedure, respectively. Although–quantitatively limited in patient interaction compared to other specialties, from a qualitative standpoint an anesthesiologist’s interaction highlights the importance of compassion and enthusiasm. These are qualities that I possess and will afford me the ability, if given the opportunity, to fully care for my future patients. This specialty will allow me the flexibility to pursue being a highly competent clinical-educator, to conduct minority health disparities research analyzing anesthesia-related outcomes on various ethnic populations and to augment the relationship between anesthesiologists and surgeons to improve the overall patient outcome. Observing Dr. Whitaker and the pediatric patients has shaped my desire to pursue a career in the field of anesthesiology.

 

 

A Beloved Team & A Beloved Mentor

The last time the Cleveland Browns won, I texted Dr. Kevin Olson.

During the 2016 season, I arrived very early one morning, to a small clinic on the West Side of Columbus. As I knocked on the side door, I was greeted by a middle-aged red-headed woman named Tina. This was Dr. Olson’s right-hand woman–sweet as pie but tough as nails–knowing exactly how to give Dr. Olson a dose of his own medicine. She tried to prepare me for what would happen next, but none existed. The back door to the clinic flew open, entering a man yelling what I heard as offensive football play-calls, and the more I got to knew him, it became the most accurate assumption. After he sat his black briefcase down in his office, I went to greet him. “Good morning, sir. My name is Jason Campbell.”

“Jason Campbell, the quarterback?” he posited.

“Something like that, sir” I smiled.

I felt automatically accepted. Jason Campbell, my namesake, had played for the NFL Cleveland Browns at one point in his multi-team career. From that day forth, I was the former QB from his beloved football Browns—young Jason Campbell—as he referred to me. Each day Dr. Olson would share a piece of Browns’ history, which included rattling off the entire list of players who once carried the reigns for the Browns.

Sipe. Kosar. Ryan. Graham. Couch. Nelsen. Phipps. Plum. Anderson. Testaverde. McDonald. McCoy. Weeden. Frye. Hoyer. Kizer. O’Connell. Holcomb. Quinn. Ninowski. Dilfer. McCown. Garcia. All men who have hurled the pigskin for the Browns for at least 10 games and Dr. Olson knew each one, their college institution, and their NFL winning percentage (occasionally off by .1).

Every day in clinic was filled with yelling, laughter, frustration and insight. Once, after we had addressed a patient’s rotator cuff tear with multiple physical exam maneuvers, the patient went on to list four or five more problems he wanted Dr. Olson to assess. “You just tore up, from the floor up, aren’t ya?” Dr. Olson said, aloud. With no delay, the patient responded, “Yes sir. I am!” Dr. Olson’s patients had come to love his lighthearted demeanor interwoven with the knowledge of a medical savant.

For me, these little moments have become threads of memories, which are woven into a picture that show the legacy of a great man. A man who embodied the true character of a doctor. Family physician trained, Dr. Olson received a master faculty appointment by Ohio University for his exceptional contributions to clinical training in this sphere. But there was more to Dr. Olson than any award could describe. He made his patients feel whole even when they were the most ill, just like only a die-hard, ever hopeful Browns’ fan could. I walked into countless patient rooms where the entire family had been treated by Dr. Olson—grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter. This all-encompassing trust was shared by more than a few in the community.

If I wasn’t sure of it before the memorial service, I was absolutely certain of it after. Lines and lines of people flooded the funeral home: from the bustling main hall, the filled lobby, and through the parking lot. Multiple photographs of Dr. Olson and his wonderful family, friends, and colleagues were on display. The most lasting one…the one of him in his Cleveland Browns sweatshirt.

A beloved physician proudly representing his beloved team.

A few weeks ago, as I watched Baker Mayfield perform in his splendid brash manner, as he had done for the Sooners of Oklahoma, I knew a cheerful Dr. Olson was reliving the 1986 days of Bernie Kosar, with an incomparable grin on his face. Finally, his team looked like the team he grew up loving.

For me, Thursday September 20th, 2018 was more than a football victory & more than a team overcoming the weight of the world; it was manifested joy by a beloved and unforgettable man.

After his passing, it is near impossible to fathom a Browns’ win without imagining Dr. Olson’s excitement. I always had difficulty understanding his love for the Cleveland Browns with what I saw to be their errors, burdens and faults. But, now I realize those were the exact human qualities that made him love his team and his patients. As a physician, his passion for his patients—through their sickness, addictions, and infections—gave him purpose so, they too, would heal again.