Former Austin-East Head Coach shines a light on Albinism

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – For the last few years it was easy to spot the, now former, Roadrunners head coach Jeff Phillips on a crisp fall evening during football season. All it took was a quick scan of the sidelines to find his bottle-blonde hair.

“I would get people like, well why’d you dye your hair blonde?” Phillips recalled.

Most people assumed it was just following a trend, or that maybe he was trying to imitate Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The latter a notion that made Phillips chuckle at the thought of imitating a man several years his junior. In reality, Phillips reached for the bleach for a man far younger than Beckham and far more important to him.

“My son has albinism,” he said. “That was one of the things I could really do to support my child at the time and he loved it. When he sees a picture he’ll say ‘You have hair like me.'”

It started as a form of solidarity towards his son Sebastian, but as more people began to ask about the startling blonde locks, his hair quickly became a way to spread awareness for Albinism.

His hair has since been cut short, but Phillips remains a champion for, often posting articles and facts on social media to help educate others.

“It’s normal, they’re normal people,” he said. “The one thing they do is they don’t produce melanin and I think that’s one of the biggest things. There’s nothing wrong with them. Or with the person.”

On Saturday, June 13th, international Albinism Awareness Day, Phillips took to his twitter to post a video in support of those with the genetic disorder. He discussed his family’s own experiences having a child with Albinism including the odd, and somewhat hurtful looks his wife gets when she’s at the store with Sebastian.

Phillips also encouraged viewers to educate themselves.

“A lot of time people refer to people with Albinism as Albinos and over research and time I’ve learned that using that word has been used as a derogatory word, it’s been used as a negative word to describe it,” Phillips said in the twitter video.

If there’s one message Phillips aims to hammer home is that Albanism is normal, although many of those born with it experience added hardships.

“People with albinism are going through so many things in life that we would take for granted,” he said. “I think the one thing about people with Albinism is that they are not respected from any race. When you learn more about the condition and learn more about how many people have the genetic marker for it, you’d be so surprised.”

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