Black History Month: Celebrating Anthony “Tonie” Campbell
Spry is thrilled to celebrate the many successful African Americans in the sports industry. We are proud to work with many of these men and women and can’t wait to share their stories and successes with you!
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Anthony “Tonie” Campbell. Tonie is a former Olympian and US record holder and currently serves as the Dean of Athletics, Kinesiology & Health Education at Cuyamaca College. Below is a summary of our conversation:
Please give me a brief history of your life/career.
“I view my life as a three-act play. Act I was the transformation of Tonie the nerd turned pro athlete who would go on to become one of the fastest men in the world. Act II was Tonie the coach, who devoted his efforts to giving back to the sport that had given so much to me, as well as those aspiring to succeed in it. And the final Act (III) was Tonie stepping back from coaching directly to give others an opportunity to coach and working more behind the scenes to support.”
Act I of Tonie Campbell’s life was certainly action-packed. In 1980, he qualified for the US Olympic games as a 19-year-old. As a self-described “naive kid”, he was affectionately known to those around him as “The Happy Kid”. But Campbell would be forced to grow up in a hurry. The naive happy kid would soon find himself in the midst of an international political power struggle. Shortly after being named to the Olympic team, it was announced that the US team would boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow. It was then that Campbell would learn that sports and politics were inextricably bound. “When you wear that USA across your chest, your body is no longer your own. You represent your country, and therefore as disappointing as it was to us as athletes, we had to honor the will of our government.” Not to be denied, Campbell continued to work on his craft and qualified for the Olympic games again in 1984. Misfortune would visit him once more, however, just one week before the Olympic games began in Los Angeles. “I was one of those rare people who was born with 6 wisdom teeth and all six of them became impacted. Unfortunately, I ended up having a negative reaction from the antibiotics and was extremely ill when the games began.” Though he managed to finish 5th in the 110m hurdles, his quest for an Olympic medal would once again be deferred. However, in 1988 at the Seoul Games, Campbell would finally earn that elusive Olympic medal, winning bronze in his signature event, the 110m hurdles.
What advice would you offer young professionals today?
“Politics and sports are interrelated and that is an unavoidable truth. As we’ve seen from the recent social justice movement in sports, we have to do our jobs as athletes and master our craft, but we also have to be “woke’ as citizens.”
Finish the sentence. The best part of my job is:
“At this point in my life, I really enjoy giving back to student-athletes. I stood on the shoulders of the people who poured into me, so I enjoy being the person who can now inspire the next generation through coaching and teaching.”
What Black History Month Means To Me…
“Sacrifice is a part of our collective experience. There were so many who made sacrifices on my behalf and Black History Month is about honoring those individuals. Sport has had a tremendous impact on the Civil Rights Movement. In my office I have photographs of Jesse Owens, The Cleveland Summit which featured Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Jim Brown who had convened to support Muhammad Ali, and images of John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics. I show my students these images because they need to have an awareness of whose shoulders they are standing on. To me, that’s what black history month is all about.”
Tonie Campbell’s life has been epitomized by hard work, determination, and service. It was these traits that allowed him to reach the pinnacle of athletic excellence, and they are also the reason why he is still impacting lives more than 30 years after his athletic career ended. Tonie Campbell is a true American hero and Spry is proud to share his story as part of our Black History Month celebration!