I love Jaylen Fisher. I loved him from the first time I watched his game film, shortly after the Frogs made a late push to sign the talented point guard out of Tennessee. I loved him even more once I saw him suit up for the Frogs, where he showcased court vision well beyond his years and a ball-handling skillset that not many true freshmen have in their back pocket. I loved him through the wins and the losses, the jaw-dropping assists and freshmen mistakes, and maybe most of all for the way he carried himself as a teammate despite missing TCU’s entire post-season run with a broken wrist.
But today, I love him even more.
On Thursday afternoon, Fish gave an exclusive interview to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel, speaking for the first time about dealing with albinism and how he feels called to use the platform college basketball is giving him to help others accept their differences. If you weren’t a fan before, you will be after reading it, I guarantee it.
“Where I came up from, you had to have thick skin,” he said. “It didn’t matter who you were. You were going to meet somebody mean. You had to take it. I just brushed it off. It’s nothing but words. Of course, words can hurt. But when you’ve been through and seen things, real life experiences, words can do nothing to you.
“You ever heard of ‘checkin’? It’s embarrassing someone. That’s a way of life in Memphis. It’s people coming at you saying, ‘Boy, you ugly.’ Or things like that. That’s what gets people through the day. If you get mad about it, they’re going to keep doing it. They are going to look at you and come at you. If you stand up for yourself, it won’t fly too long.”
Fisher was ‘protected’ his first year on campus, as TCU made it clear that the subject was off-limits to the media. And it makes sense - as a true freshman, inserted into the starting lineup from nearly the moment he stepped foot on campus - Fish had plenty on his plate. But as his profile grew, so did his exposure, and along with it, the negativity and cruelty on social media. Eventually, the young man realized he could use his voice to make a difference.
“Embrace it,” he said. “Everybody is different. There are worse things,” he said. “I’m pretty blessed to be even talking about this.”
Though albinism is rare - just 1 in 20,000 people are affected - Fish’s willingness to embrace his differences is a message that everyone can appreciate. Nearly all of us have experienced “the stare” at one point or another, either ourselves or with someone we love. There’s nothing worse than being on the other side of that look, wondering if you or your loved one is being judged, mocked, or targeted, and feeling helpless to do anything about it. But imagine that feeling on a national scale, and having to deal with the cruel words of strangers on social media every time you logged on. That’s the position this young man has been in for years. Hopefully, Fish speaking up can make the best kind of waves, and make a difference for kids struggling to accept their own differences, whatever they may be.
Fisher seems ready to take on the fight, and become an inspiration to thousands. He will absolutely have the support of his Frog Fam every step of the way.
Fisher is starting to recognize that as an athlete, he has a larger platform to tell his story, a story that could be inspirational to others.
He’s ready for everyone to hear it now.
“I do want to lay low,” Fisher said, “but how can you miss a black guy who is blond?”
Meanwhile, Fisher is averaging 11.3 points per game and leads the team in assists, having started 11 of 13 games this season for the #16 Horned Frogs. He is coming off a masterful game against Baylor, one in which he had 14 points, four assists, and just two turnovers in 42 minutes, helping the Frogs defeat the Bears in Waco for the first time since 2002. He will next lead his team against the Kansas Jayhawks Saturday, as TCU looks to get a signature home win. The sell-out crowd will certainly be in his corner all night long.