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On the field and in court, a successful life: Alan Page shares insights at Crosby event

Alan Cedric Page, who served 22 years as an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court and was a defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, shares his story Tuesday, June 12, at the Heartwood Senior Living Complex in Crosby. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 3
More than 100 people listen to Alan Page Tuesday, June 12, at the Heartwood Senior Living Complex in Crosby. The event was hosted by Unlimited Learning. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 3
Alan Cedric Page, who served 22 years as an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court and was a defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, shares his story Tuesday, June 12, at the Heartwood Senior Living Complex in Crosby. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 3

CROSBY—From the the football fields in the National Football League to the courtrooms in the Minnesota Supreme Court, Alan Cedric Page has had a "fair amount of success" and a "great deal of good fortune" in his life.

Page served 22 years as an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court and was a defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears. Page shared his life with an audience of more than 100 Tuesday, June 12, in the community room of the Heartwood Senior Living Complex in Crosby.

Unlimited Learning hosted the event. Unlimited Learning is a nonprofit group seeking to provide quality and broad-based learning opportunities for lakes area residents with an emphasis on older adults.

Page, who grew up in Canton, Ohio, said he got to where he is today because of his parents. He said his parents understood the importance of education and they made sure they passed that along to him. He said he knew he would be successful in life if he worked hard and sought excellence.

Page played for the Vikings until 1978 and then joined the Chicago Bears, where he stayed until 1981. It was during this time he went to law school. He earned a juris doctorate degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1978.

Page joked he may have watched too much "Perry Mason" and that's why he wanted to be a lawyer. On a serious note, Page said he became interested in law because of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision on the civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education. The case out of Topeka, Kan., involved the segregation of public schools, determining it was a violation of the 14th Amendment.

"This case gave me a sense of the real power of the law and the sense that the law was about justice," Page said. "This case left me with a sense of equality, justice and fairness and that is worth being involved in."

In 1992, Page was elected to an open seat as associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, becoming the first African-American to serve on that court. However, this did not come easy. Prior to being elected, Page filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State's office as it refused to place his name on the ballot.

Page said the lawsuit was tricky, as it basically was against the governor and he didn't want to burn any bridges. He said the judges all recused themselves and a subcommittee was formed. After about a month, the court ruled in his favor.

"I was correct on the law and maybe even on the politics," Page said. "I was then able to file for election.

"I started to hear (people say), 'He is just a football player,' or 'He is just a dumb black football player,'" Page said of the election. "But the people of Minnesota didn't buy it and I got 62 percent of the votes and was elected into the supreme court. I will be forever grateful to the people of this state who gave me this opportunity to serve.

"My time serving on court has been the most challenging, the most fascinating, the most fun, the most invigorating thing I have ever done professionally in my life."

Page was re-elected in 1998, 2004 and in 2010. Page retired in 2015 when he turned 70—the court's mandatory retirement age. Since retirement, he and his wife formed Page Educational Foundation, which offers educational opportunities for Minnesota students of color.

Page said growing up he was not interested in playing football and he didn't until he was in ninth grade, and only because his brother played. Page said when the neighborhood kids played games and picked their teammates, he was picked last.

"I was so bad that they would always try to end with an odd number of kids so when they got down to last one, I wouldn't get chosen," Page said, "But I survived that.

"I was a relatively good student. ... Things came easy for me. I would be asked a question and I would have an answer to it. If there was a problem, I could solve it. It's great if you are the kid who doesn't want to work too hard, but if you want to learn something you have to challenge yourself."

Page said learning for him came later in his life. On a football scholarship, Page attended the University of Notre Dame where he received a bachelor's degree in political science in 1967. That same year, Page was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings as a defensive tackle. He helped lead the Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances and was named an All-Pro for eight consecutive seasons. Page is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 1971, the NFL named him its league Most Valuable Player. Page said one may think being selected as MVP would be the best thing that could happen to a person. Not for Page. He said the best thing that happened to him that year was meeting his wife Diane, who was in the audience listening to his presentation in Crosby.

Page said they have four children and are familiar with the Brainerd lakes area, as they have a cabin in Outing.

Page briefly spoke about the books he wrote, including "The Invisible You," "Grandpa Alan's Sugar Shack" and "Alan and his Perfectly Pointy Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky."

There was a short question-and-answer period and an Unlimited Learning member asked Page if he could offer his insight on the controversy on football players kneeling during the National Anthem. Page said the controversy is not about the American flag or the First Amendment, it is about justice. Page said from what he understands, the underlying reason why football players kneel during the National Anthem is to protest police brutality against African-Americans.

Page said it is easy to become distracted by the controversy, but it has nothing to do with the First Amendment.

Page said this controversy goes beyond killing unarmed African-Americans. He said the people and the courts need to find a way to solve the problem on how people of color are treated in the court system. Page said people of color are stopped more by law enforcement, arrested more and receive longer sentences when compared to whites.

Another person in the audience asked Page if he experienced racial injustice at Notre Dame. Page said he experienced racial injustice throughout his life.

"That is the nature of the society that we live in," Page said. "We have the power, each of us to do something about this. We need to each reflect on our own biases and preconceived notions of those who are different from us. We need to set aside our stereotypical views."

Page ended his talk by stating, "We live in a time that is dangerous to our democracy.

"The reason I say that is there is a notion we live in a post-truth world. ... It is deeply frightening to me. As a human being, we relate to each other in a way that requires that we trust, and if we can't trust each other because of lying, then we have nothing. Trust is the truth that binds us together.

"Every one of us is entitled to our opinion and we can have an honest discussion about those opinions. But we can't have a debate about what the facts are. We cannot survive as a nation.

I fear for our democracy. I would ask ... you to emphasize the importance of being truthful to the younger people and that we respect others and ourselves."