Welcome to The Art of Athletes, a blog series showcasing the underrated creative minds behind Pfeiffer’s athletes. In this interview, I will give you insight of Braxton Harris's story and how he handles being an artist and athlete on a divided campus. In the end, I hope that his story is relatable and inspires other students to embrace their different creative talents.
Presently, what sports and art forms are you involved with? How has this journey evolved?
Currently, I am a part of the men’s tennis team. In terms of art forms, I play the piano, guitar, and I am a part of the acapella group, Standing Ovation.
As far as the journey evolving, I think the very first sport I played was soccer and it was the first sport I ever won a championship, which is also pretty cool. I eventually moved to baseball, basketball, football, and then track and field.
When I first got to college, I instantly picked up volleyball, whereas tennis came later on. My journey has evolved in a way that I have experienced a variety of different athletics along with being exposed to many different art forms. Sometimes I find myself being scared to try something new. Then I realize: I only have one chance at all of this. So, if I don’t do it now then I probably will never do it. This encourages me to try the new things that I have tried and ultimately allows me to experience both athletics and art in all of the ways that I want.
What are your first memories of both your relationship with sports and with music? How did you discover them?
My first memory of sports was at five or six years old. This is also, actually, the first time I entered the foster care program. My mother was a pretty terrible person back then and the care that I needed was not present, so I was placed into the foster care program. My mom is a recurring drug addict and she has been for a really long time. I don’t really know her age, if that gives you any idea of our relationship. It was during my fifth and last home that I discovered and began playing sports. My foster mother, Mrs. Johnny-Belle, introduced me to soccer, and the fondest memory that I have was playing in the corner with the flags during the game. That was my favorite thing to do. I played midfield and in-between each turnover from offense to defense, I would sprint to the corner and mess with the flags. I was really bad, but I do remember winning the championship and I was not part of that because I didn't do much for the team, but I was part of it in a way. After the championship game, she said, “You know what, this might not be for you.” I knew it wasn’t for me because Mrs. Johnny-Belle told me it wasn’t for me. And she then went on to ask me if I liked flags and soccer. I said no to one of them. That’s when I knew I was in the wrong sport.
Fast forward thirteen years later, and that was my first experience with a musical instrument. I began playing piano my freshman year of college. In fact it was only the second day I got on campus. As soon as I walked into the chapel I instantly thought about how beautiful and captivating the chapel was. I distinctly remember the piano and how I wanted to play it. I had no knowledge of piano and no clue of where to even begin. I would search HD Piano on YouTube and I never knew how to read music, so I paid attention to the keys on the screen and I listened for mistakes as I went. I would sit there for hours picking at keys and trying to figure out which ones matched and which ones created the sound that I wanted to create. After I combined all of these and began playing full songs, I would try to sing along with it. I’ve never been a great singer, but I knew that I enjoyed it. In middle school, I was a part of our chorus group and I’m almost 100 percent positive it was way before I hit puberty. I knew this because I sang soprano, which means I was hitting a lot of high notes in places I should not have been. In high school, puberty finally hit and I started really singing. Piano was different from singing though. It challenged me, which has pushed me to want to learn even more about it.
As you were growing up, who were your models or inspiration in music and sports? Why do you think you were pulled to them?
I believe that my singing journey began with a man named Adam Lambert. I can't remember the exact year he was on American Idol or any of his music, but I do remember that before middle school, I would scroll to channel 311 or 312 on Direct TV and watch the MTV music videos, and he was always on it. He had purple hair and he was singing really high, which is something I was doing in middle school, so that’s why I wanted to sing really high. I was drawn to him and his musical abilities because he was viewed differently because of his sexuality, but he still pursued his dreams. He was not like a lot of people, but that didn’t stop him from doing what he wanted to do, and back then, I also wasn’t liked for who I was—or my race. I was determined to not let that affect me and the choices I made and he was a great model to help me with that. Another musical memory I have is the coolest mash-up of country and hip-hop between Nelly and Tim McGraw. That is what really got me in to hip-hop. I started listening to some “gangsta stuff,” but it wasn’t until high school that I started listening to country.
I’ve always been in the South and when I was younger my accent was very prominent. It was something that people could tell apart from others because I was bi-racial with a strong southern accent. As far as role models in sports, it would probably be my grandparents. My grandfather wasn’t the type to go outside and play with me, so I would always feel like I was not paid enough attention. I didn't feel needed. I did not have that relationship with my legitimate parents, so this longing for attention went on for awhile. I didn’t feel needed. At seven, I was adopted by my grandparents and I remember that my grandfather wasn’t able to be active and go outside with me all the time. I would work really hard to be more athletic and stronger because I just wanted them to be proud of me. I didn’t care if they played with me as long as I could just show them what I could do. I would say they are the biggest inspirations I have when it comes to sports. Playing baseball and basketball were decisions made by my grandma and the only decisions I really made by myself was the decision to do track and field and football. My grandma was extremely scared about me playing football and my grandfather said he supported it, but I always sought out a mutual-support system because that was something I hadn't experienced.
Does your work on the field/court inspire your artwork and vice versa?
When I think about my drive, I think that I am able to draw a correlation about how I approach the sports I play and the music that I play. Whenever I am on the court or out on the field, whenever I get upset or down, I tell myself to calm down and do better and it's the same with music. With music you aren’t really competing with anyone; it's not really a competition. It's a challenge between you and your capabilities with your voice and your hands. For instance, when I am playing piano and I can't figure out how to bridge my hands in certain parts of a song, it irritates me but in a positive way. It's like someone putting their hand on my back and patting me while saying, “It's okay, but let's do better the next time.” The hours I spend on the court, and the hours I spend in the chapel, fuel one another because in each of those areas you have to be able to slow down and tell yourself that you always have to keep working to get the results you want to see.
There appears to be a disunion between artists and athletes—even one that extends beyond our university. Why do you think this is so?
I think it’s because they are not the same thing. I know that sounds like a very simple answer, but I think it's pretty common when we look at groups and how they affiliate with other groups. Take college, for example, you'll have a group of friends that have some similarities and like the same things as you do and they know how to have fun with one another. Then you have another group that may be completely different, but they hold the same qualities. I think the disconnect is so strong because not many people enjoy going outside of their comfort zone and a lot of people like to hold onto stability. When things are perfect, stable, and the way they should be, then we cling onto that versus stepping outside of that and experiencing what else is outside that bubble. The disunion is there, but it may be there for a reason.
Another example could be race. I would say each race hangs out with their own race because that's what they are used to and that's what they have grown up around. I think that each of us create different personalities based on which group they are surrounding themselves with.
Although the disconnect may be understood in a way, I truly wish that it could be fixed. I’ve had a very troubled upbringing and then the things I have been through in twenty-one years have helped me develop a sense of diversity.
"When things are perfect, stable, and the way they should be, then we cling onto that versus stepping outside of that and experiencing what else is outside that bubble that we are in."
Do you ever think you have fallen short in smoothing the union between these two worlds on campus?
I personally don't feel as if I have fallen short. If anything, I feel as if I have become another piece of the bridge that helps artists and athletes reach one another. I believe that with being a part of both of these worlds, it has given me the ability to be more personable to multiple types of people and to leave better first impressions. I remember from being a student-ambassador that whenever I gave tours I would meet different athletes or artists and when I would mention a sport or an extracurricular activity. If that person had a similarity they wouldn't hesitate to talk to me about it. I think one thing that is very stereotypical is that athletes only focus on athletic stuff and artists only focus on artistic things.
In your four years of being at the university, how has the relationships changed between artists and athletes?
I remember quite fondly that my freshman year at Pfeiffer was absolutely horrible at making both worlds feel welcomed at the same time. When you walked into the cafeteria or went to any type of event, you could notice by looking at one shirt or person, that everyone surrounding them was a part of that team. Not multiple teams, THAT team. Softball was softball, basketball was basketball, there was no one else allowed to sit at that table. It was really bad.
Basketball and softball had the worst attitudes on campus. The basketball team didn’t even recognize other people who were outside of themselves and they were very arrogant. It was so bad. They treated people with the utmost disrespect and not only on weekdays, it was on the weekends at parties too. They traveled in groups and would only stay in one room the whole night. If there was one argument with a person on a sports team, you could physically see the rest of the team piling in behind them. It felt like war when it could have just stayed a petty verbal argument.
They also used an acronym to describe people who weren’t athletic. The word NARP, or Non-Athletic Regular Person, was used frequently. I was genuinely scared to be a NARP. I eventually told myself if I wasn’t playing sports then this was not the place to be. I think back then, people were really bad about creating a version of themselves that was specifically tied to an athletic or social group. My junior year it got a little better because things became more diverse and were changing all together. I notice now as a senior that it is still a problem, but I believe that even with 20/20 vision you would need glasses to fully notice it. I think it has changed in a positive way, but the issue hasn’t been solved yet.
If you could give your freshman self any advice about the disconnection between artists and athletes, what would you say?
I would tell past Braxton to not be afraid to tell people what his talents were. I feel as if I kept that part of me hidden and the only time I would share those parts about me was when I wanted some reassurance about if what I was doing was good enough. It wasn’t something that I would promote across campus, but I would promote it to my friends back home. I was just so scared because I knew that the culture was demeaning towards people who did things other than athletics. You were less of a person if you weren’t an athlete. If I could tell myself that it wouldn't be a problem when you become a junior or senior, then I definitely would have told myself that freshman year.
Where do you think you would be if you had neither sports nor art?
That’s a really tough question. If I didn’t have sports, I would have never found art and if I didn’t have both then I probably would have fallen into my biological father and mother’s footsteps. My mother and father had horrible experiences with life and I think that’s something I would have been a part of if I didn’t have these two things to keep me driven toward a goal. I don’t mean to knock them as people because everyone goes through different things, but it's about how you get through and persevere. I’ve never really thought about a life without the things I have today, so to really sit back and ponder on what it would be like, I can’t help but to imagine that it would be similar to what my biological parents had been through.
What similarities do you think artists and athletes posses and how can they be used in building a greater connection for students on campus?
Sports and art both show the dedication required to make both of them look and sound good. I know athletes have to go through countless hours of practice doing the nitty gritty. I can’t think of a time where an artist hasn't gone through the same thing. There are different sports that require more use of your mentality and it’s the same with different art forms. With guitar, it is easy to understand the chords, but when it comes to picking the strings, you have to be precise and at a level to where you don’t have to think too much about what you’re doing, you just do it. I would say it’s the same with tennis and basketball. When I would dribble down the court, I didn't have to think too much about the mechanics, but I’d have to think a lot about the strategy I would use to get the ball to the hoop. With music, my goal is to finish songs, but I have to be able to put everything together in a smooth manner. I think that the mindset is similar with both artists and athletes as well, because we want to be the best at what we do. If I’m placed around people who are better than me and want the same outcome as me, it makes me work that much harder. If I’m not placed in that scenario, I’m frustrated. Both concepts require growth at all times. We have to grow to achieve what we want to, so why not help each other and figure out a way to live in unison.
"We have to grow to achieve what we want to, so why not help each other and figure out a way to live in unison."
What are some new types of arts that you would like to try out and what advice would you give others when trying out a new sport/art?
I want to try writing. I think it would be a great opportunity for me to express myself on a deeper level. With everything I’ve been through since foster care and situations with my parents, I think it all entails a pretty cool story. If I were to put that on paper, I think it would be something I could fall in love with pretty easily.
As far as advice, it’s pretty overwhelming. The feeling that you get when you realize that this thing you are about to do could be the thing you fall in love with, is so overwhelming. It’s similar relationships. Everyone you meet for the first time is brand new and if you sit there and think about the different outcomes of the relationship, it's euphoric. The best advice I can give is to feel it out. I know that so simple, but that's what I have done in the art forms that I have picked up. The only reason I began playing tennis was because I loved playing ping-pong. I was pretty good at it, but I had met these tennis guys my sophomore year and they beat me so badly. I realized that maybe if I played tennis I would be even better at ping-pong. I really wanted to beat them, so I started playing tennis. Let me tell you, tennis is absolutely NOTHING like ping-pong. However, I had a goal. I wanted to be good so I could beat people in ping pong, but when I started playing I noticed how much I actually enjoyed it for fun. It was so cool and challenging and I think that’s what keeps me focused. As long as you really want to pursue it, it should be so rewarding. You only get one chance at this stuff, so why not give it everything now instead of regretting it later?
Have any questions or suggestions?
Email us: ThePhoenix@pfeiffer.edu