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Positively Milwaukee: Drills to dreams

Posted at 2:52 PM, Apr 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-25 15:52:29-04

It was a combine for NFL hopefuls from historically black colleges and universities and it was funded by former Brewers President Ulice Payne. Payne was the first African American to head up a major league baseball team.

Payne explains why he made the investment to give 43 young men the opportunity.

"This was my 'sawubona' moment. 'Sawubona' is a traditional Zulu greeting that says 'I know you and I value you.'"

When the pandemic canceled NFL combines, the hopes of young players were dashed. Payne stepped in to help.

He says, "You give time, talent or treasure. Sometimes there's time. When I was younger, I had a lot of time, little talent, no treasure. As you go down that path right you have less time, a lot more talent, and you start to get a little treasure."

Payne adds, "I think about high school players in their senior year. There were no games. No all-star games, there was no tryouts. Despite the fact they did everything they're supposed to do, stay in school, stay eligible, stay physically fit, COVID just wiped it out!"

But thanks to the combine at the University of Alabama the weekend of April 10th young men got a chance to try out for a dream.

"We tried to set up the combine like the NFL will have their combine, which is two days. The first day is really off the field. It's about cognitive testing, emotional stability, and personal interviews. On the lineup, lessons in life."

There was also an award banquet organized and emceed by Andrea Williams of Jammin 98.3. Two players got an award named after Payne's uncle, the late Ernest "Pappy" Ross. He led a National Black college championship football team at Morris Brown College.

Payne recalls, "He inspired me. But for the scholarship, he would have been able to go to college."

Payne knows only about 5 percent of college athletes make it to the NFL. He wants students to think about their future outside of football.

"We talked about financial literacy. What good is it making money if you can't count it!"

Payne recalls the success he had when signing Rickie Weeks Jr. to the Brewers."We gave an HBCU guy a chance. He had a 14-year career in major league baseball.

"As for any potential stars at the camp? We got word right away from the scouts about one of the wide receivers. He got a 4.29 40-yard dash. That's like world-class NFL timing."

Payne was impressed by the 43 men at the combine.

"Before we were done with the weekend, they were thanking us for not forgetting them."

Payne hoped to impart positive examples gleaned from his parents. He remembers his father working two jobs and never complaining. He talks to his late parents daily. and says a recent conversation made him emotional.

"I did cry. I got those tears of joy. They told me, 'Jr. it takes all kinds of people to make a world.' They said just do your part. I feel good for the opportunity to do my part. To me, it was one of those 'sawubona' moments!"

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