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(Originally published at http://blackworthy.com/ray-lewis-redemption-super-bowl/on Jan. 31, 2013)

If Ray Lewis were not about to play in the upcoming Super Bowl XLVII he may have silently slipped into retirement. Optimized-Ray-Lewis-1-120x84However, it does not appear that Lewis does anything quietly.  It may be a coincidence or biblical allusion but three Super Bowls play significant milestones in the public life of the man who will go down as one of the most fascinating and fundamentally sound football players to ever put on shoulder pads.

He entered the NFL in 1996 as the first ever player drafted by the then newly created franchise Baltimore Ravens as an energetic although supposedly undersized middle linebacker from the University of Miami.   But soon, he was regarded as a top player who was feared for his ferocious hits and pass coverage ability.

Yet, it he was actions in the aftermath of Super Bowl XXXIV following his fourth year in the NFL that has made him a media magnet and been his cross to bear.  In the host city of Atlanta, not as a player, but with friends enjoying the post-game partying at a night club, two men were killed by stabbing.  Lewis was charged with double homicide for his participation in the violent attack.  We may likely never know all of what happened that night but it’s thought by most that Lewis either participated in the fight but not the lethal knifing or “merely” provided an escape via his limo for his friends.

Ultimately, he pled guilty to obstruction of justice and testified against the two defendants he brought to the Super Bowl.  The defendants argued it was self-defense and were acquitted while Lewis eventually settled civil law suits with the two victims’ families but was considered murderer walking.

On the verge of almost losing his personal liberties with a potential prison sentence and his career in one fell swoop, Lewis dedicated himself to be remembered for more than that.  He began speaking about his Christian faith and one season later, he was sitting atop of the NFL mountaintop as the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV where his Ravens prevailed over the New York Giants.

Flash forward a dozen years later, the deaths of two men still haunt the victims’ family, the defendants and Lewis’ legacy.  Following a miraculous win over the Denver Broncos, the Ravens dethroned the defending AFC champs New England Patriots in the conference championship game.  In the wake of defeating the Patriots propelling the Ravens to the Super Bowl, the CBS television cameras zoned in on Lewis’ submissive prayer pose.

Many took offense at the apparent unadulterated media attention.  However, Lewis, never known to be shy has entertained with his pre-game dance rituals and preached the gospel from the gridiron pulpit has a following of everyday people – almost deity-style with many in Baltimore – and superstars like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

When Lewis arose, he engaged the cameras one more time with scripture from Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.”  With America’s aversion to mix sports and religion we seem to have created a debate of Lewis as the sports’ super saint versus the football felon who got a get-out-of-jail card.

Maybe CBS, also broadcasting this year’s Super Bowl, was eagerly capitalizing on the moment to set up the stage for a conquering hero, who announced this his 17th season would be his last, returning to a fateful Super Bowl.  But if so, let’s be clear, CBS is agnostic as it surely realizes as many may tune into the game to see Lewis fail and propping him up welcomes the so called haters.

Of course, Lewis has not been perfect during his transformation from thug to theologian but I do think he has been sincere.  But does it really matter what the public opinion is?  The burden of deciding such issues rests elsewhere.  However, what may be lost in the referendum on redemption is the message about how we should live and die.  Using football as a metaphor for life, Lewis articulates how we all win and lose at some point but in the end it matters how we deal with each truth.

The trend started with a Dream and a Nightmare, and has continued to gain steam.

(Originally published at http://www.theshadowleague.com/articles/coming-to-america-the-influx-of-african-players-in-american-sports on Jan. 23, 2013)

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Names like Nnamdi Asomugha, Serge Ibaka, Osi Umenyiora, and Bismack Biyombo still challenge spell check, yet roll off the tongue of the American sports fan. The globalization of markets and cultures has many players from the African continent filling NBA and NFL rosters. How did we get here? Fate, fluke and failure. Let us explain…

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Once upon a time, a dream and a nightmare brought the African-born athlete to the NBA and NFL when Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon and Christian ‘ The Nigerian Nightmare’ Okoye arrived from the Motherland to the Home of the Brave.

At age 15, Olajuwon was in high school at the Muslim Teachers College in Lagos, Nigeria playing soccer (goalkeeper) and handball. But a fellow student persuaded the coaches and Olajuwon to play basketball. A star was not yet born, but he was in utero.

Two years later, the 6-10 (then named) Akeem Abdul Olajuwon was dream-shaking his way to leading the University of Houston to the brink of a national championship. He would later drop Abdul and revert back to his name’s original spelling of Hakeem. Similarly, the school’s official nickname was the Cougars, but was hijacked when it became known as the basketball fraternity of Phi Slamma Jamma. Olajuwon was the leader and Clyde Drexler was his right-hand man. But three consecutive trips to the Final Four came up nathan.

In the 1982 semifinals, Olajuwon, as a freshman, and Drexler lost to North Carolina led by James Worthy and Michael Jordan. The next year, the Cougars played Louisville in the semifinals in what many considered the de facto championship. The game was like Tupac & Leon – “Above the Rim” – with the Cougars winning. But, two nights later, NC State defeated Houston on a Lorenzo Charles put-back dunk. One year later, the Cougars lost again in the finals, this time to Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown.

Olajuwon was then picked No.1 by his adopted hometown Houston Rockets in the famous 1984 NBA Draft. Ten years later his footwork, head and ball fakes marinated into a “Dream Shake,” and he led the Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles in en route to the Hall of Fame.

Soon after Olajuwon arrived in Houston, Christian Okoye, from the city of Enugu, Nigeria began attending Azuza Pacific University in Southern California. As a standout track and field athlete in the shot-put, discuss and hammer throw, Okoye had Olympic aspirations to compete for his native Nigeria.

However, after his hopes were dashed when he was not selected to be a part of the team for the 1984 Los Angeles Games, his friends encouraged him to try football. Although he did not particularly enjoy the game, it only took a few weeks, with his 6-1, 260 pound chiseled frame and sprinter–like speed, for him to dominate the Division II level.

He was drafted in the second round of the 1987 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, and led the league in rushing in 1989 with 1,480 yards, while being named to the first of his two Pro Bowls. His crushing runs were immortalized in the primitive video game Tecmo Bowl. Okoye played until 1992 but was hampered by injuries including a neck and spinal cord issue that forced him to wear those bulging shoulder pads to keep his head immobile.

Now, thirty years after Olajuwon and Okoye entered our highlight reel, who/what is the African athlete in America?

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Basketball is a simple game but it ain’t easy. There were many attempts to locate a seven-footer in Africa, add water and produce a bona fide big-man. There was some degree of success with Manute Bol from Sudan and more with the defensive-minded Dikembe Mutombo from the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). But there were also some outright failures. Another Nigerian, Yinka Dare, was out of the league in a few years after being drafted by the New Jersey Nets in 1993. Another bust was the Nigerian-British player Michael Olowakandi selected in 1998 with the No. 1 pick by the Los Angeles Clippers.

If US basketball scouts didn’t comb the Sub-Saharan to the Serengeti for players, Hollywood told us they did. Just before Olajuwon won his first NBA title in 1994, the film The Air Up There depicted the recruitment of a rural African villager, Saleh, to play college ball in the States. The film was another tale of the noble savage that evoked no similarities to people like Olajuwon, the product of a thriving metropolitan city with a population over 7 million and middle class family with a father who owned a cement business. Yet, the movie could not resist appropriating Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake” with the Jimmy Dolan (Kevin Bacon’s college coach character) “Shake-n-Bake” move that climaxes the movie.

But a little more than a decade after Olowokandi was drafted, things changed. By 2010, the new wave of African imports in the NBA was flourishing with players like Luol Deng, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka. Ibaka, from Congo, is such a force that he made James Harden an unaffordable luxury item, forcing his trade to the Rockets.

However, Awasum Awasum II, founder of The African Sports Network Journal, who reports and blogs on the African sports scene, bemoans that many of the brightest African basketball stars are developed elsewhere. Notwithstanding Basketball without Borders, players, like Ibaka, are shepherded away to Europe to cultivate their game, Ibaka developed in Spain’s pro leagues and also plays internationally for that country.

“The NBA doesn’t really try to produce players from Africa,” said Awasum, a native of Cameroon while in his homeland preparing for the African Nations Cup. “They leave it up to the player and the teams in Europe to develop them, leaving many without the chance to succeed. True development would be done right here in Africa where a country could compete at the Olympics in basketball. But the issue is resources.”

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In contrast to basketball, football seems complex, but it can be learned relatively late in life compared to other sports (Okoye was 23 years-old before playing). Yet, it would be four years after Okoye left the NFL before another African-born player would impact the American gridiron.

Tshimanga “Tim” Biakabutuka born in Kinshasa, Zaire (Congo), became a star running back at the University of Michigan. Known as “Touchdown Tim,” he was drafted with the ninth overall selection in 1996 but played six injury-plagued seasons for the Carolina Panthers.

A decade after Biakabutuka left the NFL, there are many Africans playing American football. And approximately 70 percent of Africans in the NFL are of Nigerian descent such as B.J. Raji and Brian Orakpo. Nigeria is also the richest and most populous African nation (the capital, Lagos, has a population of almost 8 million, making it the “blackest” city in the world and the real Chocolate City).

But political developments caused the inevitability of this African presence. There has been a wave of African immigration to America over the last few decades through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 repealing discriminatory national quotas and also the emergence of liberated African states. In essence, legislation and decolonization has brought the player to the game.

“The number of Nigerian players in the NFL is not about the wealth of Nigeria, but the country’s large number of immigrants to America,” said Awasum. “Other countries could and will produce players.”

African countries with similar high-immigration rates play show up on NFL rosters as well. A partial listing includes Joseph Addai, born in Houston of immigrants from Ghana. From Liberia, Mohamed Masaqoui, born in Charlotte and played at Georgia before being drafted by the Cleveland Browns. One exception might be Mathias Kiwanuka with Ugandan roots, born in Indianapolis, and the grandson of Benedicto Kiwanuka, the first prime minister of Uganda, who was assassinated by in 1972 by the dictator Idi Amin.

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Manute Bol, who died in 2010 after contacting a rare skin disease while helping to build a school and fighting election corruption in his native Sudan, may have added to his wide-ranging legacy that includes his great humor and stunts for charity with his son, Bol Bol. Standing a lanky 6-5, the seventh grader in Kansas has already drawn plenty of attention for his basketball exploits. The young Bol has been labeled as one of America’s most promising middle school hoopster with a game that includes three-point range, ball handling skills and pop’s shot-blocking talent.

Myck Kabongo, born in Lumbashi, Zaire (Congo) is a point guard at the University of Texas known for flash and the fundamental. Kabongo played at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, NJ before bolting to Findlay Prep in Nevada. But with assimilation apparently comes corruption. Targeted in a NCAA investigation, Kabongo was recently nailed with a season-ending suspension for taking impermissible benefits of $475 for expenses from Rich Paul (LeBron James’ agent) for a workout. However, after some backlash, the NCAA has reduced it to a 23 game suspension.

Then there is the remarkable story of the Uganda Little League team playing in the 2012 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. The game of baseball was introduced in 2004 to Uganda, but has quickly gone from players with no shoes and shabby equipment to diamond gems. Uganda qualified for the 2011 LLWS but was denied the trip due to visa and age issues. But this past summer, the team from Lugazi arrived at Williamsport. Although the Ugandans lost two games before prevailing in a consolation game, 3-2, versus Gresham, Oregon, far more memorable was the spirit of the kids from Uganda.

As the story begins, so shall it continue? Three decades and one year ago our brothers were brought forth on this continent creating a new sports nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men could ball. Now, knowing the history of America, it goes without saying how much Africa involuntarily outsourced to the American sports nation. This time, though, it’s on the up-and-up.

Who Is Andrew Bynum??

The inside story of how his early years shaped his mercurial career.

(Originally published at http://www.theshadowleague.com/articles/who-is-andrew-bynum on Oct. 25, 2012)

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Andrew Bynum’s debut album would have to be called Enigmatic.

Despite growing up in New Jersey and playing high school ball smack dab in the middle of the New York-Philadelphia corridor, Bynum was relatively under-hyped when he popped onto the NBA scene, not even invited to the 2005 NBA Draft. He and his camp had to buy tickets and sit in the stands like fans.  Since then, Bynum has had a career of highs and lows – like an episode of TV One’s Unsung.  Yeah, he’s a two-time champion and All-Star center, generally viewed as the second-best big man in the game behind Dwight Howard; but, as we know, his career has also been one of injury-plagued absences, flagrant foul suspensions and bouts of pouting that would not garner “M” ratings for maturity.

So, he’s risen out of nowhere, spent seven seasons in Los Angeles and then, in the offseason, been traded to Philadelphia (near his old stomping grounds) where he’s expected to be the focal point of a young upstart contender. What’s this dude’s story, though?

“Janet had a vision for her son,” said, a close family friend, Ed Lloyd, whose son Jonathan played travel basketball with Bynum starting in the fifth grade in Plainsboro, New Jersey. “She was ambitious and she deserves a whole of credit for nurturing Andrew.”

That ambition focused on providing the best education and environment for success for Andrew. His basketball career just became a part of the equation. College educated, she set roots in central New Jersey near Princeton, in one of the most highly regarded public school districts (West-Windsor Plainsboro) in the state.  The plan necessitated living in an apartment complex surrounded by homes worth high-six and often seven figures.

Andrews’ father, Ernest Bynum, and Janet divorced when Andrew was one-year-old. That left Janet raising Andrew and his older brother, Corey, in Plainsboro with the boys occasionally spending time during the summer with Ernest in North Carolina.  Living in different area codes wouldn’t interfere with the father’s genetic coding, though.  Janet, no small woman herself, stands close to six-feet. But Ernest stood 6-11 and played ball at Long Island University where he still ranks fourth in total blocks for the Blackbirds.

The father always sensed his progeny would grow as tall and would share basketball tips and pointers, especially on the art of shot blocking during their time together in the Tar Heel state.  However, the estranged relationship between the parents likely impacted Andrew.

“Every young man needs that internal father voice,” said Lloyd. “Andrew is a good kid, but all the acting tough stuff [the flagrant foul on JJ Barea], I think, is the result of him trying to fit in. Clearly, even if you have a strong figure, it doesn’t always prevent things like that from happening but often that little voice in your head stops a lot of that.”

The uber macho culture of the NBA almost demands dissent.  Kobe Bryant gave Bynum an imaginary pat on the head by cosigning his rebellious ill-advised three-point shot last season against the Golden State Warriors.  Every player must figure out how they will navigate the need for self-expression and stupid ish.

Bynum’s basketball career began as a gangly fifth grader where he was the tallest but one of the most uncoordinated.  By the eighth-grade, he had started to grow into his own body.  It was then that Andrew knew he was onto something.  The next year, he entered West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North.  Joining him at the high school was Jeff Torralba, another AAU teammate.

“I give him a lot of credit for the way he handled himself, though,” said Torralba.  “On our AAU and school team, he was the biggest and best kid on the team. He was a good player who could hit the open shot and throw great outlet passes. But, still everybody would ask him, ‘Why aren’t you dominating?’  But, he would block out the negativity and continue to play.”

“If they only knew how far Andrew had come in those few short years,” said Lloyd.  “I saw the development. Yes, he always had soft hands, but it was just taking time for him to catch up to his body.  And, he was always playing against kids that were older.  His birthday is late in the year (October 27) and he should have started school a year later.   At that age, that makes a lot of difference.”

But Bynum played through the exaggerated expectations.

“He knew he had the height and the skills,” said Lloyd.  “It was just a matter of time for it to fully blossom under the right circumstances.”

Although local legend has it that Bynum was cut from the North team, the truth is that he along with Torralba, played freshmen ball while also being allowed to suit up for JV.

“But after two games, he was gone,” said Torralba.  “He left the school over the Christmas holidays and never came back.”

The issue with basketball was just a symptom of the overall concerns that the school and Andrew were not a good fit.

“Janet didn’t have faith in the school to cultivate Andrew,” said Lloyd.

The school was just a few years old and the sports programs suffered during this infancy period.

“The entire district philosophy would not have been best for Andrew’s needs,” said Lloyd. “It didn’t really care about scheduling top flight competition. Janet was a dedicated, single-mom who always talked about providing the best education for her sons. She could have got that at North for Andrew but, by this time, she also began to realize that basketball could be essential to his overall development.”

And Andrew, sensing his own basketball destiny, was up for the challenge of a new school.

“I think that Andrew got really excited about playing varsity as a freshman,” said Torralba of the school that Bynum would next attend.

The Solebury School is a small private school in New Hope, Pennsylvania, a northern suburb of Philadelphia, located about thirty miles from Plainsboro. A graduating class of 50 would be considered large, but the basketball teams – led by coach Cleve Christie and fueled with many inner-city kids looking for a place to blossom – play on par with all the premium programs in the New Jersey-Philadelphia region.

One issue, though: Bynum would have to board at the school. So, just after recently celebrating his 14th birthday, Bynum was alone in the woody environs of East Coast prep school life.  Many of the urban kids playing basketball at a school like Solebury do so to avoid the hazards of urban education.  Bynum, however, was a suburban kid leaving a school with a highly acclaimed academic reputation.

“I was impressed and respected that,” said Christie.  “I mean, the greatest sacrifice a mother can make is to send off her youngest son.  And she did her research. I think she knew about our success with big kids.  We previously had Dikembe Mutombo’s brother, Shatangi, play for us and at the time we had two upperclassmen that stood 6-7 and 6-8.”

However, it still wasn’t all love for the big kid.

“Andrew was very, very young,” recalls Christie. “He was a good kid and I knew he could play, but I already had a junior and a senior both taller and stronger than Andrew playing in the post.  I would have had to play him at the three.”

The family would, however, respond with providing Bynum more protection.  Despite being miles away, they all made their presence felt in one way or another.  While Bynum’s mother was working and unable to make some games, Bynum’s older brother Corey was always there as a shadow.

“His brother, Corey, would come to all the games up and practice with us,” said Christie.  “He was about 6-4 and could play, but he realized that the little brother had the potential. He would push Andrew in practice all the time. Only then, would Andrew begin to push back – not only with Corey, but against his teammates, too.”

“But one time, I was running a drill on how to take a charge and Andrew ended up getting hurt,” said Christie. “Soon after that, his mother told me that he didn’t need to learn how to take a charge.”

Christie talked about the two types of kids he usually coached: “One is the tough kid who got knocked around all his life and the other full of love and advice.  The tough kid may work a little harder but you never know what kind of bad things they are likely to get into while the other kid may lack that fight they may need at times. I never had to worry about Andrew getting into trouble. He would more likely be in his room playing video games or just wanting an ice cream cone.”

Christie saw Bynum as a “Big East center” and wanted to him prepared. Although Christie never met Andrew’s father, he did occasionally talk to him on the phone.  Christie recalls the elder Bynum telling him, “Be patient with my son.”

Bynum finished up his freshman season strong and began to draw some attention as a sophomore but still was not starting.  After two years at Solebury, Bynum’s mother decided it was best for Andrew to leave for St. Joseph’s, in Metuchen, NJ, an all-boy parochial school, which had graduated Jay Williams, the Duke All-American and former first-round NBA selection.

Christie, however, believes that the decision had more to do with than just playing time.

“I wanted to become a Nike school and they seemed interested in sponsoring us,” said Christie.  “But our gym is kind of antiquated and around here it’s called ‘The Barn.’ It seems they didn’t want to be with us because of our facilities.  But they [St. Joseph’s] ended up becoming a Nike school. However, it went down, it worked out for the best for Andrew and I am more than happy for him.”

Again – Janet Bynum had a vision.

Matched up against heralded North Jersey parochial teams such as St. Anthony, St. Patrick’s and St. Benedict’s, Bynum began to receive more attention.  But due to injury he only played 16 games in both his junior and senior season. Despite that, the natural maturation of his game led to somewhat gaudy senior averages of 22.4 points, 16.8 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game and earned him a scholarship offer from the University of Connecticut.

The added exposure helped him get invites to the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Classic.  Bynum didn’t wow anyone with statistics, scoring nine points while grabbing five rebounds in the McDonald’s game, but he received rave reviews for the Jordan game held in nearby Madison Square Garden.

His skill set also began to draw the eye of many NBA talent evaluators.  Conditioning and weight loss seen at pre-draft workouts impressed the Lakers. In need of a big man to fill the void of the recently departed Shaquille O’Neal, they made a commitment to Bynum to take him at the tenth spot. Very interested in that scenario, Bynum and his camp decided to shut down workouts for other teams.

“Before Andrew declared he was turning pro, I just happened to be at the Newark Airport making a business trip to Boston and ran into him,” said Lloyd.  “He told me he was off to LA to snag a deal. Now, seven years later with all that he’s cultivated in LA – the good and the bad – he’s back close to home. I think, if healthy, he will be phenomenal.”

As Bynum approaches his 25th birthday, the City of Brotherly Love has already welcomed him home like a long lost sibling. But that’s only because it’s October. His grace period will be slight, and his penchant for loafing will put a target on his back with the quickness. If he thinks he’s gonna slide by with occasional bursts of energy in Philly (like he did in L.A.), he’ll quickly be recast as a loser. He better be ready.

(Originally published at http://www.theshadowleague.com/articles/the-gate-philly-edition on Oct. 1, 2012)

tailgate1Tucked about a mile away from Lincoln Financial Field – where gridiron gladiators battle, far from the pricey parking lots – gathers a group of tailgaters who have seized a piece of land for their own like squatters through adverse possession.  This occupy movement that began in the 1990s is a diverse coalition of blue-collar dudes and professional cats holding it down in the space between a few warehouses among the many that dot the South Philly landscape.

The warehouse walls would be ideal for that open face brick look so desired in many chic condos and lofts, like in a nearby neighborhood of Old City.  However, it’s not décor here but just a functional part of the place where fellas from various sections of the city – like West Philly, Germantown and Mt. Airy – can groove like Pieces of A Dream.  For a few hours on an autumn or winter day they exhale.

In this case, it’s the early evening before the Sunday Night game between bitter NFC East rivals Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.  But to paraphrase a Philly superstar, we’re not talking about a game.  Brothers gather together to get through this thing called life.  Along the way, they grab a drink and fish samich with Biggie, Schooly D, Marvin and a catalogue of good music as the score, while rapping about football, women, politics and more.

The ‘gate-goers embrace each other as they arrive with warm hugs and smiles not worried about the pause-clause.  What follows is more true interaction, unavailable through social media platforms.  Although there is a discussion about learning how to synch Pandora playlist with the television audio while watching a college football game, the gathering is mostly void of tech talk.   This Twitter and Facebook-free gathering is reminiscent of heads at the barbershop riffing on local and global matters.

The ‘gate started back in 1995, the last season that Randall Cunningham, the ultimate weapon, played in an Eagles’ uniform.  Since Cunningham’s arrival, perhaps no city more than the City of Brotherly Love has embraced the black quarterback.  It begs the Bell Biv Devoe type question of who do you like more: Randy, Donnie or Mike?

Ira, also known as “Pete,” a graduate of Central High School (a city landmark as one of the nation’s oldest high schools) and marketing representative, who now makes his home in Central New Jersey, recollects with glee about Cunningham’s pure athleticism – it makes it hard not to pick him as his favorite.  Bob, from West Philly, who recently began his second tour with the ‘gate after a brief job change took him to Wichita, countered that Donovan McNabb was steadier and, unlike Michael Vick, could and take the punishment.  But even he, after pondering for a moment, couldn’t deny that Cunningham was also his favorite.

Perhaps, prisoners of the moment, no one was eager to tab Vick.  Last week’s performance (17-37, 217 yards in the 24-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals) and his turnovers has Vick on death row.  How quickly Vick has faded like a Philly fade haircut.

The ‘gate began with a couple of guys staking out the corner at Pattison and Galloway with a simple hibachi when the Eagles played at the worn down Veterans Stadium.  It mushroomed after a few diehard Bird fans – disillusioned with the team during the late 1990s after three consecutive losing seasons – considered giving up their season tickets before discovering the joys of the tailgate.

The Eagles have moved to the more modern facility in the Linc’ that share a sports arena corner unlike in any city, with Wells Fargo Center (Sixers and Flyers) and Citizen’s Bank Park (Phillies). However, the ‘gate has merely moved from the corner to a spot a few hundred feet deeper into the warehouse property.

One of the original tailgaters, Mark, mans the grill and cooks up the standard meat products but also usually provides a surprise dish.  This week it was a Black folk New Year’s Day dinner of rice with black-eyed peas.  A few years ago, had to give up his season tickets, but he still chooses to remain at the ‘gate to watch the game on the TV.  A few fellow ‘gaters remain with him.

The men for the most part are in their late thirties and forties having seen life’s ups and downs – as well as the down and out pass routes – know the score.  As in life, they can depend on the Eagles to give them a few moments of ecstasy as well as agony.

This day, two tailgaters share a similar situation.  Courtland, an executive with Merck, treks from Central New Jersey and, en route, checks in with his dad since he moved to the Philly burbs. His pops, although relegated to a walker, is full of life.  The other, Eric, who himself is undergoing health issues drives the two hours from his home in Maryland to not only get with the crew, but also spend some quality time with his ailing father.

As the moment strikes that the mile hike is ahead to get to the stadium for the game, Courtland sums it up with a toast.

“Wins will come and go, but the fellas are forever.”

(Originally published at http://blackworthy.com/strahan-harvey-the-new-black-men-of-daytime-tv/on Sept.17, 2012)

Optimized-Kelly-Michael-290x160The last frontier of white bread entertainment in daytime television has recently been invaded with some colorful personalities.  The open secret that former NFL player Michael Strahan would be selected as the co-host of Live! with Kelly was almost anti-climatically revealed during the season premiere; now rebranded  Live! With Kelly and Michael.  On the same day, Black radio host Steve Harvey made his debut as the host of his own network daytime talk show.

Now, this isn’t a shock and awe attack with Flavor Fav (nor would it be imaginable as desirable for most Blacks) but the appearance of Strahan and Harvey to the talk show circuit is almost a minor miracle.  Previously, the morning hours have only been visited by “safe” Black interlopers like Bryant Gumble, Al Roker and Wayne Brady.  However, political conscious and well-adjusted these gentlemen are, their TV persona has been “non-threatening”.  But these brothers; Strahan and Harvey even have facial hair!

Strahan as a pretty large sized former NFL player and Harvey as the former comedian thrust decades ago into the national eye via the raucous HBO Def Comedy Jam hopefully represent a presentation of Black men without being neutered.  That means they are likely to venture into subjects with not only a Black perspective but do it with charm and, yes, sex appeal.

Prior to the official announcement about the debut of Strahan and Harvey, the Shadow League penned “Brothers Gonna Work it Out“ highlighting the time has arrived for voices and viewpoints these men are likely to bring.  Furthermore, the Grio, remarking about the daytime developments asserts that the hires reflect a fracture in the image of the Black man as scary and oversexed.

Over forty years ago, there was the 1968 controversial television kiss between Harry Belafonte and British pop singer Petula Clark. But now, as evidenced by the second nature smooch shared by Strahan and Ripa upon his entering the set last week; maybe (finally) a kiss is just a kiss.

(Originally published at http://blackworthy.com/bell-wilmore-new-black-comedy/ on August 30, 2012)

TB-290x160Proponents of post-racial America or “Post-Blackness” might revel in the two recent comedic forays Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, the half-hour weekly series on FX and the Showtime special Larry Wilmore’s Race, Religion and Sex.

However, it’s still Black comedy.  Both shows are entrenched and nuanced with the humor that for centuries has had Black folk laughing to keep from crying.  This time the audience of Bell just happens to be a rainbow coalition while Wilmore’s show, shot in Salt Lake City, Utah had an audience that was almost lily-white.

Totally Biased produced by Chris Rock and hosted by the San Francisco comedian Bell, who is bespectacled with a cheerful grin, looks like a gentle Questlove from The Roots.  The show has some of the sensibility of Rock’s successful comedy talk show that ran on HBO from 1997-2000 but it also has similarities with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Bell, like Stewart, takes the format of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, that parodied the news, to another level with sophisticated and humorous insight such as cleverly highlighting America’s mainstream media biased treatment toward the Sikh attacks in Wisconsin.

The show also features casual interviews of figures like Alex Wagner, an MSNBC political analyst, whom Bell jokingly said was considered Black in his household.  the racially ambiguous Wagner laughed and accepted the honor before explaining her Burmese heritage and digging into the hard news of the day with light candor.

While Bell is a relatively newcomer, Wilmore has for the past two decades established himself as a comedy writer extraordinaire before most notably co-creating and producing The Bernie Mac Show.

His special could lead to similar treatments in other locations but for this show, Wilmore probes race, religion and sex through the prism of Mormonism and Salt Lake City.  Using the man-on-the- street interviews we find that not even on MLK Blvd in this ultra-white city will you find a Black person.

The bulk of the show was a town hall set-up poking fun at the hang-ups we have with race, religion and sex.  Unfortunately, the panel members were not that funny.  Jeff Garlin, the sidekick from Curb Your Enthusiasm, tried a bit too hard and two other panelists offered very little.

However, the Mormon tradition of “floating” that allows sexual penetration between a man and a woman without violating the sanctity of one’s virginity was explained and hilariously linked through video to The Floaters classic “Float On.”

Race-Rooting in Sports?

[Originally published at http://blackworthy.com/onrooting-for-your-race-in-sports/ on August 29, 2012]RG3-290x160

Last week, former sports writer and now provocateur Skip Bayless announced on ESPN’s First Take that human nature will cause White Washington Redskins fans to root for fourth-round rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins – who is White, over Robert Griffin III (RG3) – who is Black and the team’s first-round selection.  Similarly, he explained, Blacks root for Black players.

Bayless first attacked the selection of Cousins as putting undue pressure on Griffin months ago immediately after the draft but only alluded to racial reasons.  Although never mentioning race, he cited the 1970s quarterback controversy surrounding the Los Angeles Rams perhaps undercutting starting quarterback James Harris who was Black by using a high draft pick for Ron Jaworski who was White.  Another typically racially charged QB controversy during that era was between Joe Gilliam and Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers before Bradshaw led the team to four Super Bowl championships.

This time around, Bayless specifically couched the issue in racial terms and instead focused human nature:

“I’m going to throw it out there. You also have the black-white dynamic and the majority of Redskins fans are White. And it’s just human nature, if you’re White to root for the White guy,” Bayless contended. “It just happens in sports. Just like the Black community will root for the Black quarterback. I’m for the Black guy. I’m just saying I don’t like the dynamic for RG3. It could stunt his growth in the NFL.”

But Bayless’ analysis is also oversimplified at best. Although some White fans, given truth serum, would likely prefer a White quarterback and some Black fans would prefer a Black quarterback, most sports fans couldn’t care less because as former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis once said –“Just win baby.”  Truth be told, some Blacks would actually prefer a White quarterback or one that played the “white” way – that is from the pocket without so much running thinking it provided a better chance to succeed.

You might call the desire for your team’s quarterback to share your pigmentation as reverse racism but don’t tell me it’s human nature.

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