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IOWA CITY — Broderick Binns didn't always target Rafael Eubanks, but during one practice, a play sent the former Iowa defensive end up the middle, charging toward Eubanks.
'He ran right into me and said it was kind of like running into a brick wall,' Eubanks, the former Hawkeye center, said over the phone on Saturday.
Maybe it's not as funny now as he recalls it all these years later, but it was those moments, when the practices grew long and tiresome, that Binns didn't give up.
Binns served as director of player development at the University of Iowa, but assumed the interim role as director of diversity, equity and inclusion in 2019. The role, born out of his leadership in a diversity task force to address the low graduation rates of Black male athletes at Iowa found in a 2018 USC Race and Equity Center study, became a full-time position in July 2020.
Since then, Binns has not only educated others, but is learning more himself.
'I had stayed in Hillcrest Hall on campus where all the athletes stayed,' Binns said. 'Across the street is Slater Hall, I had to find out when I came back in 2015 that it was named after Duke Slater. I think for me, in this job, especially this month, we've been trying to highlight some of our firsts within Iowa athletics.'
Slater, a member of Iowa's 1921 mythical national championship team, became the first Black NFL lineman and was the first Black member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He posthumously was named to the 2020 Pro Football HOF Centennial Class.
Binns advised a social media campaign where Hawkeye football posts video stories about Slater and Frank 'Kinney' Holbrook, the first African American athlete at the University of Iowa.
All-American. All-Pro. Hall of Famer. Hawkeye. February 2, 2021
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball)
A snapshot into the life & legacy of Duke Slater.
But Binns said Iowa can't rest on the breaking of historical barriers. The program has room for growth. That was evident by the separation with former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle last June over allegations of racist behavior.
'It's interesting that, a place I'll call home, was breaking down barriers,' Binns said. 'But sometimes I think, the state of Iowa, the University of Iowa, I think we hang our hat on that. We checked the box, right, but what else have we been doing to push the needle forward to make our community more inclusive?'
That means hosting town halls for athletes, senior administration and coaches, with the most recent having guest speaker Dr. Derek Greenfield to teach how to foster an inclusive environment. Last summer, following the murder of George Floyd, Binns hosted a screening of 'The 13th,' a documentary about incarceration and systemic racism, with a conversation afterward led by the Iowa Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (ISAAC).
Binns grew up in St. Paul, Minn., not far from where Floyd was murdered. In fact, his mother, Ericka Binns, said Broderick and his wife, Kailey, were at the same location of Floyd's murder just the day before.
'We don't live in fear, but it's always on the back of our minds that it could happen to us,' Ericka said. 'Either one of us, my boys, my husband. That's why we stay in prayer so that we pray to have protection around all of us, so we won't have to experience that as a family.'
Broderick grew up in the church. His parents were pastors and he played drums in the church choir.
He also went to a Catholic high school, Cretin-Durham, where he was one of few minority students in his class. Marcus Binns, his younger brother, said watching Broderick make the move from a diverse public school to a mostly white Catholic high school helped with his transition.
'I don't want to say that I don't know how to act, but you're going into a different world,' Marcus said.
Marcus said Broderick always has been the quiet, reserved type who takes things in, analyzes and thinks before he speaks. Marcus was usually more outspoken. He thinks that's why Broderick is in the perfect role — he takes a measured, productive approach to any situation.
The culture from Catholic school wasn't much different coming to Iowa, but Broderick noticed as he got older what micro aggressions made him feel different, whether it was kids purposely sticking pencils in his Afro in high school or feeling like he had to wear his Tigerhawk athletic apparel to show he belonged at Iowa.
Sometimes, he felt like his teachers were surprised at his intelligence.
'I was in rhetoric class, and I got an A on this paper,' Broderick said. 'My teacher looks at me and asks, 'You wrote this?' At the time, the way that I took it was like, because I'm an athlete, right? Then on top of that, I'm a Black athlete. I think you're like really surprised that I could produce this type of work.'
It's these little things that make Binns want to not only foster an inclusive environment at Iowa, but also one where people can be their most authentic selves.
Realizing his role was better spent off the field took time, however. His NFL dreams were crushed in 2012 when he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals.
'It was the first time in my life I've been told I'm not athletic,' Binns said.
He knew he belonged in athletics and had a degree to fall back on. Through coaching at his high school and back at Iowa, he found he was most at home in player development before moving into his current role.
Never a public speaker, Binns is now speaking to hundreds of athletes, administrators and coaches. He's researched the diversity, equity and inclusion positions at other programs, and hopes he can help Iowa change for the better.
After all, Iowa is where he learned how to run into a brick wall and get back up.
'I know what it takes to be a successful college football student-athlete,' Broderick said. 'I've been there, I've done it, I had some hardships, I overcame them. And then when I had the opportunity to step into the DEI framework, I found out, that's where I could be most helpful.
'Because in that role, I have the opportunity to positively affect more student athletes than just a roster of a football program.'
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