Kane Snowden, of Norman, Oklahoma, breaks through all roadblocks to achieve his dream of playing football for the Oklahoma Sooners.

Kane Snowden
NORMAN, OKLAHOMA

Living Buddhism: We understand that you play football for the Oklahoma Sooners. When did you become interested in football?

Kane Snowden: When I was around 14, I received encouragement to make a big dream and was told that there are no limits to my life when I chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I had just begun chanting more consistently and attending SGI activities. My parents attended the University of Oklahoma, and the Sooners are the main sports team followed in Oklahoma. I decided then that I wanted to play for the Sooners.

That’s so encouraging. What was it like for you growing up in a Buddhist home?

Kane: As soon as the doctors released me from the hospital after my birth, my parents brought me to an SGI meeting as a cause to connect me to the Gohonzon. Even though I don’t remember that moment, that has stuck with me.

My parents always talk about SGI President Ikeda and often give me Buddhist advice. Growing up, it got repetitive, and I could always predict what kind of guidance they were going to give me. As I faced difficulties, however, I could replay this Buddhist wisdom in my head, and it has greatly aided me throughout life.

Who was the first to practice in your family?

Kane: I’m actually a third-generation SGI member. My grandmother, Willie Mae Brown, received the Gohonzon in New York City over 30 years ago, when my father was 14. She is an accomplished artist and a big inspiration for me. When I was a young child, she would encourage me to chant for two minutes. Those two minutes felt like a long time! But I always got an adrenaline shot of confidence and determination when I chanted. I felt special and confident that I could go out and achieve things. From a young age, although I wasn’t consistent in practicing Buddhism, I knew that chanting worked.

How was it growing up Buddhist in Oklahoma?

Kane: Nearly every block has a church, and when my friends would find out that my family was Buddhist, I often heard: “Rubbing that Buddha belly won’t do anything for you,” or “You’re going straight to hell.” Later on, many of my friends ended up being open to hearing about Buddhism.

How did you challenge your dreams?

Kane: I played little league football, and when I joined my high school team, I was improving, standing out as a strong player on the team.

However, the world of high school football in Oklahoma is cutthroat. In my senior year, a teammate tackled me out of jealousy. I dislocated my shoulder and had to sit out the season. It crushed my dreams. When the season ended, I clearly remember my coach saying to the seniors: “This is the end of your football careers. Maybe, just maybe, one person will get recruited to a college team, but I can tell you right now, from this group, there won’t be any recruits.”

How did you persevere?

Kane: My SGI family encouraged me, telling me: “Don’t give up! You have the Gohonzon! Keep going!”

After chanting intensely, wisdom came forth. I need a great trainer, I thought. I started by working out at the local YMCA, until a high school teammate told me about one of the top sports trainers in Oklahoma. He charged a lot of money, so I got a part-time job at McDonald’s to pay the trainer fee, as well as the gas money to make the long drive to see him. Before I knew it, I was working out with high-profile athletes.

It was a challenge to continue to go to school, work enough hours to pay the trainer fees and work out as much as I needed to. I battled in front of the Gohonzon to keep fighting, day after day.

How did you make it onto the University of Oklahoma team?

Kane: Nearly every Division I college football player is recruited out of high school, and I wasn’t one of them. My challenge was to get on the team as a walk-on, which is all but impossible. It’s so rare that when it happens, movies like Rudy are made about it.

It was a challenge to continue to go to school, work enough hours to pay the trainer fees and work out as much as I needed to. I battled in front of the Gohonzon to keep fighting, day after day.

One day during my freshman year, I received an email announcing walk-on tryouts for the team. These are usually just a formality. No one makes it. I chanted and chanted, and did my best. Weeks later, I still hadn’t heard the results. I found one of the coaches in the athletic building and asked him when we would find out.

He said, “If you didn’t get a call, you’re not on the team,” and walked away.

Tears of pain welled forth. I felt like the whole world had stomped on me. I went back to my dorm room and started chanting, thinking: They’re not getting rid of me! They are just testing my strength! I continued working out with other friends who didn’t make the team. Many nights, I would go to the field, lie on the grass and gaze at the stars for hours. I refused to let my dream die.

What did you do from there?

Kane: I woke up at 5 a.m. every day and chanted for several hours with my father. One day, I decided to talk to the coach myself and share my determination with him. The general public doesn’t have access to the higher-ups, like the coaches. When I got to the building, I ran into the starting running back.

I asked him, “Hey, where’s the coach?”

At first, he said he didn’t know and walked away. But he stopped, came back to me and said, “I got your back,” and he buzzed me into the section of the building where the coaches were.

I went straight to the office of the recruitment coach and waited on a couch. When he came in, I stood up and said, “I’m Kane Snowden, defensive tackle, and I’m ready to play for this team!”

He asked me some questions and said, “We’ll give you a call.”

What happened?

Kane: I continued chanting, working out and studying. It was so difficult to keep up my determination, especially with no sign that I would join the team.

One day, I simply decided: I’m going to practice with them!

So I went to the field at 7 a.m. and waited, ready to jump in.

When I spotted a coach, I sprinted to him and said: “My name is Kane, and I’m ready for practice! I have my cleats!”

He commented on my bombarding them with too many phone calls and emails, and said: “Look, no walk-ons this year. The roster is full.”

From somewhere in my life this courage came forth, and I said, “Just give me a chance!”

He agreed and scheduled another walk-on tryout! This was unprecedented.

Shortly after the tryout, I received a text message that read: “Congratulations. You made the team.” I was ecstatic!

Kane (left) with his friends at a weekly campus gathering, where students learn how to practice Nichiren Buddhism. Photo courtesy of Kane Snowden.
Kane (left) with his friends at a weekly campus gathering, where students learn how to practice Nichiren Buddhism. Photo courtesy of Kane Snowden.
Congratulations! What was it like on the team?

Kane: Walk-ons are seen as the bottom of the barrel. We are treated like dirt, spoken to like dirt and people act like we don’t exist. We had to share lockers. During workouts, we are discouraged nearly every moment. Sometimes they don’t even let us use the gym.

Once, when I was slightly late (which is regular for most players), I was barred from the main gym and locker room, forced to train in a room with no air conditioning and bad ventilation. My only friends were the cockroaches.

How did you apply your Buddhist practice in these difficult circumstances?

Kane: I started studying The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra. Through reading Sensei’s words, my anger and frustration were transformed into a determination to succeed, no matter what, and I felt overjoyed.

I was also encouraged by these words from Nichiren Daishonin, which speak to his towering life state while in exile on Sado Island: “I, Nichiren, am the richest man in all of present-day Japan” (“The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 268).

I felt that because I was undergoing hardship and persecution, I had the opportunity to better understand Nichiren’s life condition, even if to some small extent. By the end of that semester, I was allowed back into the locker room and the gym.

Although I was going through a lot, I wasn’t the only one. A lot of the other walk-ons were treated poorly, and I saw their spirits spiral. I realized that I wasn’t there only to play football, but also to encourage my teammates and give them hope.

This whole time, I never skipped morning and evening gongyo. I also attended my district discussion meetings and engaged in SGI activities, like Gajokai and Soka Group (young men’s training groups). I also helped several friends receive the Gohonzon, including my roommate who started chanting with me in the morning. We were determined to win over our obstacles.

On the field during a game versus the University of Kansas, Kane Snowden accomplished his goal of playing in a game as a member of the Oklahoma Sooners. Photo: Hoss McBain.
On the field during a game versus the University of Kansas, Kane Snowden accomplished his goal of playing in a game as a member of the Oklahoma Sooners. Photo: Hoss McBain.
Did your situation improve?

Kane: Overall, things were definitely improving. I became well known on the team for encouraging everyone, my coaches liked me, and I was getting closer to my goal of playing in a game.

I was also appointed a chapter young men’s leader. I determined that this only meant I was getting closer to getting on the field.

In August 2016, prior to the start of my senior year, I attended the SGI-USA Student Division Conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center in Weston, Florida. There, I deepened my bond with President Ikeda, writing in a letter to him: “I’m determined to play in a game!” I chanted with a lion’s roar to play, no matter what.

Finally, this season, I was put in the game against the University of Kansas! I thought: Wow, it happened! No one can take this away from me!

After the game, I saw my father in the stands doing a victory sign with his arms, just like Sensei does. Most of all, I was so happy to report this victory to Sensei and the members in Oklahoma who have been supporting me.

That’s incredible! What are your future goals?

Kane: I am now a senior at the University of Oklahoma. I want to become a lawyer and fight for justice. I want to be someone who can make the kind of change in the world that will benefit many people. Learning about figures like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, who were lawyers who fought to protect the people amid great persecution, I determined to stand up in the same way. I see myself as someone going out in the world to protect the dignity of life in a practical way. Currently, I’m studying for the LSAT and researching law schools.

I’m also determined to take full responsibility for the SGI-USA’s gathering of 50,000 determined youth next year. I have become much more courageous in my efforts to share Buddhism, asking my friends, “Have you been chanting?” I want to spread Nichiren Buddhism as much as possible to help build a society of respect for all people, where everyone can learn to live with the spirit, “Victory, no matter what!”