Ryan Haygood made his mark as a football player.
His athletic excellence, recognized as one of six inductees into the Colorado College Athletics Hall of Fame this Saturday, was just the start of his effect on the private school and the nation.
As students in 1995, Haygood, now an NAACP civil rights lawyer, and his wife Charity, a 1996 graduate, co-founded the Glass House, an on-campus residential community that brings together people of all races and cultures.
Forming the house was a reaction to the culture shock the Manual High School graduate felt on a campus where students of color and different cultures were few.
“It was not unusual for me to get up, go to class, lunch, study and not see a person of color before I went to the Glass House,” the former Denver inner city child said. “Being able to talk to people who looked like me and had similar experiences was important.”
The meaning of “Glass House” changed for the 1997 CC graduate and his wife.
“We initially called it that because we felt like we were in a fish bowl; people were watching us to see how things went,” he said. “Now we redefine it as a reflection of the nation’s diversity. The college has embraced it.”
The discontinuation of the football program after the 2008 season was understandable because of financial constraints but had unintended consequences, he said.
“I thought it was very unfortunate because of what it did for the college,” Haygood said. “It really helped draw in and retain students of color.”
As director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund’s political participation group, Haygood represents people in cases involving voting discrimination, including challenging photo identification legislation and restrictions on early voting. Twice, the Colorado law school graduate successfully defended provisions of the Voting Rights Act before the U.S. Supreme Court.
CC now honors Haygood as one its best football players. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end recorded a team-high 102 tackles, including 48 unassisted, as a senior; blocked two field goals; recovered three fumbles; and returned an interception 55 yards to earn All-America honors.
Haygood was humbled by the news of his induction, remembering the other two preseason All-American Tigers, Paul Leroux and Sean O’Connor, as better players. He was a force on the field in his own right.
“Ryan was a very skilled defensive lineman with great anticipation and great body control,” former CC coach Greg Polnasek said. “He also was a tremendous leader who did so by his example of hard work and effort. He was also a great communicator and never really took himself too seriously, which was a great trait for him in his leadership role with the team and on campus.”
Those traits serve him well in his life’s work, which he began to realize during high school history lessons about the civil rights movement, and started with the Glass House.
“I was so impressed by people putting themselves in harm’s way to make our country better and strive toward our beliefs,” he said. “There was no question from then that I was going to law school. I knew that (the LDF) is where I wanted to work.”