The Full Picture

Barnett Harris

I was reminded recently of the first time I told one of my teammates that I was thinking about pursuing law school after college. It was during my sophomore season, and I had a lot of basketball left to give. I had long aspired to pursue the law, and at that time in my life, I thought about it more and more. So I wanted to see what others thought of the vision. I went to my right-hand man, Sean, and told him, “I am thinking about law school after UD. What do you think?”

“I love it, bull,” he responded in his classic charismatic way.

“The way you go on and on about this stuff, I expected you to do this. I just hope after you crush the law and become President, you just don’t forget about me,” he continued as if I could ever forget the unforgettable. The conversation lasted no more than thirty seconds, but it took no more than that to realize the dreams I was hoping to manifest were evident to others.

A few weeks later, after I had conversations with some of my other teammates, Curtis, Cazom, and Devonne (TP), I had another conversation with Sean. This time he brought it up to me. He asked me if I wanted him to connect me with his dad about pursuing law school, and how to go about it more concretely. We had been in a rough stretch of the season, and the focus and pressure were on trying to get a winning streak going heading into the conference tourney. I was so appreciative that, at that very moment, he was concerned about the vision I had expressed to him.

University of Delaware Men’s Basketball players Sean Locke, Barnett Harris, and Devonne Pinkard share a smile during a first-half run against Northeastern.

Sean recognized that his friends, and especially his teammates, always had a lot more going on than met the eye. While the traditional image painted of a student-athlete is one of strength, relentlessness, and the ability to persevere, an entire side of the image is almost completely neglected – that of the vulnerability, compassion, and desire to help others. It is not hard to miss this side of the student-athlete when the side most people see is the former. However, I have spent my entire life around athletes, including four wonderful years around student-athletes at the college level, and those individuals possess that other half of the image as well. All of them also had their struggles, yet it is easy for people to believe that all is well when they only see the public image. The largest part of the iceberg is the part many do not see, and the vulnerable side of the student-athlete is the side many neglect.

That is something Sean knew, and that is why Sean’s House is so important. Sean’s House will provide the home away from home that allows student-athletes and students in general, to show and express the other half of the image many do not realize they possess – a place to be vulnerable.

For as long as I could remember, I had received the same two questions every day. Standing six-feet nine inches, the first question was, “How tall are you?” The follow-up almost routinely would then be, “Do you play basketball?”

My time at the University of Delaware was like a dream. I played in front of thousands of people on a nightly basis, I traveled the country playing the game I loved, and I made life-long friends on the court and in the classroom. I played in March Madness and experienced the excitement of playing on the most significant stage for college basketball. As my daily experiences would suggest, that is what most people saw in me. But are student-athletes not more than the sport they play? For every student-athlete, there is also another half of the picture, and in my case, that half is a law student at Georgetown.

Georgetown Law student Barnett Harris converses with Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine after Georgetown Law’s State and Local Government Policy and Law (SALPAL) panel on addressing hate crimes and online extremist recruitment.

Until I went to college, I rarely left Pittsburgh. I grew up around the same community, seeing many of the same individuals almost every day. When I got to Delaware, all of that changed. I rarely could come home (if at all), and I was in search of a home away from home. I wanted to find a place I could go to be around the “family” that cared about more than just my stats on a given night.

I was lucky. I did not have one set home away from home. I had a bunch of them. With Sean, my home away from home was the restaurant Taverna. It was a remarkable place to eat, a friendly setting to talk to someone about life with, and, somehow, every time we ate there, Sean knew someone. It was here where Sean and I discussed my law school ambitions in detail. It was here where I met with Sean’s dad (the famous, Chris Locke) and the wonderful Kevin Healy to discuss approaching law school more strategically – putting a plan to the dream. And it was here which led to my current environment, a student at Georgetown Law.

Another home away from home was Sean’s actual house. Being a college basketball player can be challenging in many ways beyond the physical demands, and that includes missing many holidays with loved ones. Sean’s home was my home for Thanksgiving and Easter on more than one occasion. It was a place where I felt as if I was back in Pittsburgh with my own family.

Another home for me was spent at the house of my teammates and roommates, Dylan Miller being one in particular. Dylan became a confidant early on in my time at Delaware. Having grown up in Delaware, he did not have far to travel. It did not take very long for him to extend his home to me – and even shorter for me to accept this offer. In my four years at the University of Delaware, a good year and a half were probably spent at the Miller’s – and it was in these settings in which I was able to manifest in ways that had nothing to do with the sport I played.

Sean, Barnett, Dylan Miller, and the University of Delaware Men’s Basketball players celebrate after making a twenty-point comeback against College of Charleston. The Blue Hens would go on to win the game.

These examples just scrape the surface. I was extremely fortunate that Delaware provided me many different versions of “Sean’s House” in my time. One of my vulnerabilities is loneliness – I dread being alone. I am my best self when I am with those around me, a reason I loved playing basketball so much. I had the great fortune of having teammates and friends who provided me the ability to be the best version of myself in a variety of settings. Sean’s House can be this home for so many who desire it.

Sean showed me more than anything that people have a lot more going on than what you think. I understand that my classmates are more than just law students. Yet, we are not immune to being perceived as machines that do not go through the stresses of life many people deal with. This is an idealized image that does not portray us accurately.

Second-year Georgetown Law student Barnett Harris shares a laugh with Dean of Admissions Andy Cornblatt as they welcome new students to campus and the Georgetown community during New Student Orientation Week 2019.

So I try to be there for my classmates and provide a home away from home for them in many of the ways Sean was there for me. I try to go to different restaurants around D.C. to try anything other than cafeteria food on campus as often as I can — and to learn about what led them to law school. I try to go to Georgetown and Washington Wizards basketball games with classmates as often as possible to enjoy the greatest sport on the face of the earth and get a refresher from the demands of legal education. I also make an effort to simply stop around campus and have a conversation about anything other than the latest Supreme Court ruling — to see how the person is doing, not just the law student. And, of course, I never turn down an opportunity to dress up and enjoy an event with the many remarkable individuals I am fortunate to learn alongside of.

I spent many hours at Taverna with Sean, in Dylan’s room at his home, at Curtis’ apartment on campus, at the Suki Hana at the Christiana Mall with Cazmon, in TP’s hotel room on away trips expressing my vision about going to law school, and hearing nothing but love and support for this ambition. Sean’s House will provide that haven for many students, especially students of color who may be far away from home. It will also be a place student-athletes can express their feelings, dreams, desires, and fears without worrying about having to put on an image that just is not the complete version of themselves.

I cannot understate how important it is to have an environment where you can become the best version of yourself. This requires the ability to be vulnerable and express all the aspects of your life to others.

I want to recognize that this is not a new issue. I played my entire career under the image that only told half of my story. So did many of my teammates. So did countless others that have come before me. And so do so many athletes today. We all have grown up in a world where we must fit this idolized image that does not accurately portray any student-athlete, or student in general for that matter. Things have gotten better, but we are far from done. I genuinely hope we can accomplish something momentous with Sean’s House, but I know we need your help. Sean’s House can provide the space where students who are battling all of the stresses of life can go to and become a better version of themselves – by simply being THEMSELVES.

Happy Birthday, Sean – you will always be my inspiration.

8 Replies to “The Full Picture”

  1. So proud of your vulnerability and the path you’ve chosen. Mac is so lucky to have you as an Uncle! Love you forever.

  2. Sean was so lucky to have you as a friend, a brother, a confidante.

    I am so proud to have you be part of our family.

    Love you Barnett.

  3. A wonderful, heartfelt post. I am sure you were an inspiration to Sean, also, as he was to you. Love the happy photos. Best of luck finishing law school, it’s obvious you have a bright future.

  4. You are and always will be Riley and Tyler’s favorite player. And it was because of how you treated them off the court whenever they asked for an autograph. Continue to just be you.

  5. Barnett,
    On senior night, I thanked your Mom for trusting her son to us and she immediately responded, “thank you for looking after him.” As boosters, there is so little we can do for you guys while you are playing but know that my husband and I have invested ourselves and our treasury to a number of our Blue Hen basketball guys so they can continue their dream. If we ever win the powerball, the first thing I’ve always said was I’m paying off all Barnett Harris’ student loans for law school. You men are our country’s future. Kathy Garrett tachib@aol.com

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