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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.”

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(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.

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(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.”

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[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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Fathers & Sons

(Originally published on theestartingfive.net on June 12, 2012)

I cry silently every time I see a young black man hugging family and friends after donning a baseball cap representing the college he has chosen to attend when scanning the room reveals no one who looks as if they could be his father.

They at least got that far, but umpiring little league baseball games in an urban environment, I see boys surrounded by fatherlessness trying to survive in the hyper-masculinity ‘hood?   Boys full of potential bouncing between tough talk and bright smiles but smoldering underneath is emotional turmoil that explodes through under a scintilla of stress or perceived slight.

The most athletically inclined are harvested without much attention to the terrain left behind.  At best, we have a reflection of the street drug life paradigm.  There, a few may rise above the underbelly but the vast majority of slingers and soldiers squeak out a short-lived existence truncated by prison or homicide.  In the sports world, it wouldn’t be so horrific if those never able to earn a paycheck playing a game were able to carve out a profession tethered to the sweat, muscle and brain power of their former craft.  But even for those who starred or had that sip of coffee often end up thirsty and broke.

Beyond this place of running and jumping loom real riches.  Yet, most, and many professional athletes themselves, believe that athletes are overpaid.  The kajillion dollar sports industry is like manna from the sky for the ruling class and its dependents.  The slice of the pie that goes to the athletes –the flour, sugar, salt and butter- is a sliver, maybe crumbs, compared to the revenues recouped by the owners, broadcasters, administrators, marketers, apparel and equipment suppliers, medical and health providers, sponsors, security, insurance, legal, etc…

Of course, fatherhood is not a panacea to eliminate these woes and God bless the many mothers who raise children alone such as the mothers of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.  These two are not just the best players in the world about to face off in the NBA Finals but are well grounded despite one being billed as the South Beach Villain and the other as humble as Oklahoma tumbleweed.  Of course, neither is accurate but media driven story lines like that simplistic set-up much like demonizing the father figures of Earl Woods and Richard Williams.

The Atlanta Black Star is presenting a week long salute to black fatherhood focusing on books like that by NBA veteran Etan Thomas, Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge.  That book and many others on this subject is not about grooming professional athletes, but realizing how much sports can be used by fathers to meet the challenge is inescapable.

I know because I smile all over recalling my father, after one of my high school football games, tenderly massaging my cramping legs and placing me in a warm bath.  I laugh when I hear myself saying to the now younger dudes toting the pigskin, “Go son, go!” just like my father used to yell at the television.  And I anticipate with glee the next time over a baseball game he can reminisce about life.  Now, I go to bath my own young son in the rivers of my father.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

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(Originally published on thestartingfive.net on April 11, 2012)

Sunday will be the 65th Anniversary that Jackie Robinson broke the so called “Colored Line.”  But black baseball has long gone away like the blues.

The writer and essayist Gerald Early during Ken Burns’ 1994 PBS documentary “Baseball” said that “when they study our civilization two thousand years from now, there will only be three things that Americans will be known for: the Constitution, baseball and jazz music. They’re the three most beautiful things Americans have ever created.”

A year earlier, the sportswriter Ralph Wiley in the essay “Why Black People Don’t Often Go to Baseball Games” in his book “What Black People Should Do Now:  Dispatches from Near the Vanguard,” wrote that the American game of baseball is one of the best games ever dreamed up.

He continued, “In fact, some White men are loathe to admit that there are any other games worth playing at all (outside of golf, which was among other things, the official sport of the Nazi Party).”

Early and Wiley were born nine days apart in April of 1952.  Early born and raised in Philadelphia, Pa. has credited the writings of Amiri Baraka as heavily influencing him.  Wiley who died in 2004 was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee and given his southern roots and love of the blues he might exchange blues for jazz as America’s legacy.

My mission is to discuss how blues and jazz may explain the relationship of black people and baseball or more simply explain black baseball.

Five years before Early and Wiley were born Jackie Robinson in April of 1947 began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Over the next thirty years, the percentage of African-Americans playing in the big leagues rose from one soul to its peak of about 30%.

However, by 1993 when Wiley wrote that essay there were alarms ringing that the game’s popularity was dwindling among African-Americans as the percentage of players dropped about half to 16%.  Now, almost twenty years after that essay, the figure has been halved again to about 8.5%.

Wiley confessed his love of baseball and admired the grace and beauty of black ballplayers but as he also wrote that he was not preoccupied with their participation.  He mentioned that he was concerned more about the lack of jobs and libraries as he believed that the game like breathing would take care of itself, more or less.

We know that African-Americans make up about 75% of the NBA and 65% of the NFL.  But the leading reasons usually studied to explain the declining participation in MLB are usually either sociological such as the lack of fathers to pass the game down or economic such as the cost to play the game or simply just too slow.

Those ideas have merit but perhaps there are deeper root explanations.  Perhaps, it’s like the blues.

Early’s exemplar, Baraka, then LeRoi Jones, in “Blues People; The Negro Experience in White America and The Music That Developed From It” (1963), examined the development of the blues to trace the transition of the Negro in America and by extension what it reveals about the country.

The blues is an original American musical form that was birthed by former black slaves.  But it is a bit more complex than that.

The blues musical precursor was the low pitched African (specifically West African) vocalizations, rhythms and styles (such as call and response).  Those elements formed the farming work songs in Africa that were adapted in America for work chants, shouts, and hollers to ease the burden of bondage.

But the context from which blues emerged was also the result of cultural clash of African and European worldviews.  The African supernatural worldview was that mankind had an ever present relationship with God(s).  Colonial America, however, a commercial enterprise, was a byproduct of post Renaissance Europe worldview that separated the sacred from the secular and ultimately was about mankind’s happiness and pursuits.*

This Western construct also viewed others who didn’t see the world their way as inferior.  So inferior that the slave masters initially didn’t consider slaves “worthy” of being converting to Christianity.

However, slaves after being rebuffed adapted the faith probably for several reasons.  Although the slave master eventually realized that converting would pacify rebellion in many ways conversion was initiated by the slaves as it was the sole form of social release.  Also, as mentioned, religion was so essential to the African’s worldview that adopting a captors’ “stronger gods” was the experience in Africa.

Baraka concludes that the profound anxiety regarding the reasons for his status and for the white man’s domination may have been reconciled by adapting Christianity.  This conversion led to the Africanizing of the Christian hymns and spirituals that would later help form the musical basis of the blues.

But it was after emancipation that blues blossomed.  For former slaves, the idea of returning to Africa after over 200 years of being in America was likely seen as possible as migrating to the Mars.  Thus, the best thing to do was to become American.

After slavery, blacks were free to explore other secular sentiments and the new songs began to explore concepts of redefining one’s relationship to his surroundings much like his post Renaissance white counterpart.  The form was developed by black men migrant workers seeking a livelihood roaming the south.  Yet, blues underwent an even more dramatic development as the post-Reconstruction era, Jim Crow and the Black Codes beginning in the late 1870s separated blacks from white influence.

Blues expanded in a black vacuum.  The blues man was a soloist who crafted the form with his own personal style. This would be primitive blues whose secretive nature was its beauty as that allowed the uninhibited black attitude or stance to produce a powerful expression of humanity.  However, as part of blacks Americanization, blues would eventually influence and take on other American influences.

The peak of blues as a mainstream musical form was called the classic blues era in the 1920s and 1930s after the first phase of the Great Migration where Southern blacks moved north.  In the North and Midwest, blues began being recorded and extended its mass appeal.  Woman performers also leaped to the forefront as the blues was no longer as with its origins relegated to men wandering around the country side looking for work.

But blues’ was confronted with the New Negro Movement that grew out of the Harlem Renaissance and other middle class values that trumpeted black humanity and demand for equality.  This shift dismissed blues as lower class.  Although “progress” was made it was critiqued as mimicking the white mainstream and deserting the rich black cultural heritage.  Thus, by the 1940s, the “gritty” often called “gutbucket” blues gave way to swing jazz a blues based form that was diluted enough for even whites let alone middle class blacks to appreciate.**

Mirroring blues, baseball for blacks developed separate from white influence due to the same political and social changes in America starting in the late 1870s through the early decades of the 20th century.  A few blacks during this period played with white professional teams but soon enough blacks began to develop their own teams and leagues.  The same period of the 1920s and 1930s while blues was expanding its footprint in America several Negro Leagues were formed including most prominently the Negro National League.  These leagues although not as romantic as have mythologized were perhaps the first black national operated businesses.

Black baseball preceded and perhaps precipitated the desegregation of the United States military (1948) and public education (1954).  But black baseball, like blues, although it allowed blacks to access the American mainstream it too would suffer under attack of cultural environmental change.

When Jackie Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger, the Negro Leagues aggressive, seemingly out of control running style, in comparison to the Major Leagues, was only seen when Robinson would occasionally juke around on the base paths or make a mad dash stealing home.  Also, Hank Aaron’s cross-handed batting technique was “fixed” only upon arrival to the major leagues.

Through the years black baseball grew in popularity as it seemed a means to the mainstream major leagues while paradoxically at the same time it was dying as the style of play was being devalued.  One example is how the stolen base in major league baseball is almost as obsolete as the three yards and a cloud of dust model in the NFL.

But perhaps more importantly what was being devalued was the black attitude or approach to the game.  Where has the improvisational allure of the Willie Mays basket catch or base running of Rickey Henderson gone?  As is the case often with things that reach its peak the downfall is already underway.  Black baseball reached its peak of popularity with participation in MLB in the late 1970s.  That run lasted 30 years but the change was already afoot a decade or so earlier.

You see, playing the blues, jazz or rapping is not a rebellious act of black people.  It is within the context of white America but it’s squarely within the tradition of making sense of this culture that historically devalues its existence.

The most transformative moment for re-contextualizing this dilemma for black music may have been the 1940s black jazz musicians.  This was years after Zora Neale Hurston, the famed writer and lone voice among the Harlem Renaissance crowd that tried to remind blacks of its rich heritage.  But these jazz bluesmen who witnessed black music degenerate into soulless imitation by black and white artists alike and drift toward a composer medium rather than a musician where individuality and improvisational mattered.  They returned it back to its roots with bebop.  This music much like blues was not for dancing but for thinking.

It’s easy to see that in America being black has it liabilities but artists like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk began to grasp that their root blackness was not only not a liability but a strength.  And it was the culture that is lacking that will not appreciate these roots.

However, many of these great bluesman jazz artists tended to opt out and shunned the larger culture.  Their stereotypical image as heroin abusers was not an accident as the drugs were a part of their removal. Not until soul music exemplified by James Brown’s “Say It Loud-I’m Black and I’m Proud” worked its way into the mainstream in the 1960s did this become a cultural shift for black people.

Baseball mined the Negro Leagues (besides players it also began to play under lights five years after the Negro Leagues) but never adopted the stance or attitude of the players.  In fact, the pathos and joy of the player and fan were expected to be forsaken for “dignity” for the purpose of not disturbing white folk.  The decision was made to sacrifice the national business interests of the black community for cultural assimilation.

However, the cultural environment had changed by the time blacks began to play professional basketball and football in larger numbers.  The NFL and NBA were around during the 1940s and 50s when MLB was swelling with black players but they were not as longstanding or desirable economically or culturally.

The American Football Leagues (AFL) and American Basketball Association (ABA) in the 1960s was a time and a place that was aligned with the cultural shift.  Unlike the staid NFL, the AFL used more black players and at all positions such as “thinking” positions of middle linebacker and even quarterback.  And the ABA success was entirely based on the free flowing style that blacks brought to the game.

In essence, the AFL and ABA were akin to the Negro Leagues.  Yet the difference is that the Negro Leagues were used to acquire players and eventually folded whereas the AFL and ABA merged with the mainstream NFL and NBA.  In doing so, the mainstream league inherited the black aesthetic those other leagues cultivated.  If the color line had been broken in 1967, black people en masse might know a player like Matt Kemp one of the best players in the game other than for dating singer Rhianna.***

Early, a few years ago and long pass his interview in the “Baseball” documentary, concluded that there is not a problem with the amount of blacks playing in MLB as the percentage actually reflects the population of blacks.  Black people still do play baseball and maybe it’s not the game that is too slow – it’s just that America has sped up.

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*  Thus, the tendency for whites to view blacks as fearful and childish and blacks tendency to view whites as dismissive and foolish.

**  Blues returned to its autonomous origins and a subculture as well later forming the basis of rock & roll, rhythm and blues, soul and rap.  However, each form has confronted dilution and tension to remain authentic just like jazz.

***  In comparison, Latino and Asian players and fan base place place more value on the economic gains and considerably less value in connecting MLB with culture as professional leagues still remain in their native countries.

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(Originally published on http://www.thestartingfive.net on January 16, 2012)

There are rumors and scuttlebutt that President Barack Obama on Martin Luther King Day or Muhammad Ali’s birthday, a couple days later on January 17, will convene a covert committee to commence an all inclusive study on race, sex, movies, music, sports and politics to help shape the nation’s future.

Some top aides wanted legislation mandating that by the year 2020 African-Americans effectively run the sports world.  However, Obama reminded them of the dismal failure that met President Clinton when he tried to move forward with too much too fast in implementing his massive health care reform initiative.

The goal would not be to change the participation of Blacks in sports in which they already dominate like the NBA or NFL.  Or would the purpose be to increase the population of people of color in sports like golf and hockey.  The hope is more audacious.

As a matter of record, we all know that the NBA is about 75% black as many seem obsessed with the figures and reasons while as far as the President is aware there has been not one study commissioned with respect to NASCAR to determine if people of West African have the genetic code for steering.  Furthermore, President Obama in a personal unscientific survey seemed to stump all when asking what percentage of the U.S. Congress is white.

However, Obama did find that although the European influence in the NBA is still present it can no longer be labeled an invasion with its inconsistent impact and that it has been the counterbalanced with the emergence of African-born players.  Thus, most African-Americans are okay with maintaining the current melanin count on the hardwood.

President Obama on the playground.One brother was quoted as saying to the president at one of his secret runs at a playground in the SE corner of the

President Obama on the playground

district, “There’s three things in life fo’ sure; death, taxes and the NBA stay black.”  The games were so secret that not even the Secret Service was aware until some agent noticed in passing the blacktop impressed with the footprint of the president’s one of a kind Air Force One sneakers.  They have been present at every game since.

In fact, the same dude who gave that existentialist exegesis was also heard to have mumbled something about the Secret Service presence messing up the flow.  After the president’s squad spanked his team 21-0 like ‘Bama did LSU in the BCS title game, he claimed that he couldn’t figure out how to defend that left hand weak stuff Obama was bringing but he also was fearful that if he did block it, the men with ear pieces would have taken him out.

Nor is the NFL with it being approximately 66% black and no white cornerbacks on the horizon to replace Pacman Jones in jeopardy to revert to the old NFL days where the black quota had to be an even number to avoid interracial roommate pairings on the road.  If one black player was let go based on performance another would face the same fate for no other reason than to resolve the roommate dilemma.

One former NFL player later turned blaxploitation actor Willy Yardbird said, “Negros were treated worse than animals boarding Noah’s Ark as they would get cut during training camp in twos.”

However, an unveiled memo from one NFL team found at an old dilapidated Holiday Inn marked for razing during the early stages of the establishing the study at hand is now in the hands of the administration and reveals a startling discovery.  The policy nicknamed “The Odd Man Out,“ was considered more humanitarian than the MLB housing black players in boarding homes miles away from spring training sites.

And no, as alluded above, the purpose is not to infiltrate the lush greens of Augustus with collard greens or replace the NHL hockey rinks with black ice.  Quite the contrary as it’s believed that for the most part black folk are just fine not dominating every sport.  Administration research concluded that doing so would believe to unnecessarily raise the animus of those from the majority population who find suffering in not being able to say the N-word as freely as some that bear its hallmark characteristic.  In real terms, blacks want to avoid a potential backlash like the burning down of basketball hoops in the ‘hood.

The real impetus behind this movement was an incident that happened that became a political brouhaha in February of 2011.  President Obama was reflecting on his relationship with outgoing press secretary Robert Gibbs at his final press briefing.  Obama jokingly recalled how at the last moment before addressing the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he borrowed Gibbs’ tie as none of his own options were that well like.  Obama says that he asked Gibbs to “take one for the Gipper.”

Conservatives went ballistic by firing off that Obama was again tendering himself as the new Gipper, the persona based on a film role that forged the foundation of Ronald Reagan’s Hollywood and political legacy.  Some also were on the attack as he bungled the quote that revealed his true Un-Americaness.  It’s clear that Obama jumbled the phrase “take one for the team” with the immortal movie quote “win one for the Gipper” from the 1940 release Knute Rockne: All American Story.

The film purports to tell how the legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne with an anecdote about George Gipp, the first Norte Dame All-American football player, inspired his 1928 Fighting Irish to defeat heralded Army.

In the film, Pat O’Brien played the role of Rockne and Reagan played Gipp and it climaxes with Rockne’s halftime speech recalling how Gipp, on his death bed at the young age of 25 in 1920, told Rockne he wasn’t afraid to die and “Some time, Rock, when the team’s up against it; when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys — tell them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper.”

However, Obama, several months after taking all the guff about Gipper found more about the story and realized he needed to distance himself from even one of his political heroes.  He discovered that the Gipper was more myth than Microsoft paying people to circulate an email.

George Gipp was a drinking, gambling pool shark who didn’t attend class.  But while playing at Notre Dame and being canonized in the press he had the time to bet on college football games and hustle marks in pool and poker.  As the writer of this bit of history reveals this would be analogous to Rasheed Wallace while playing in the NBA setting up a three-card monte table in Rittenhouse Square (a posh Philadelphia neighborhood).

Finally, the deathbed visit never happened and neither were the words “win just one for Gipper” ever uttered.

President Obama found that the myth making machine of mixing sports and politics was like weaving with a magical loom.  Reagan himself would later brag to a Notre Dame alumni group in Los Angeles that same year the film was released that when he was a radio sports announcer he had the chance to talk to Gipp.  But Reagan was only nine years old when Gipp died.

Nonetheless, two score later, the Gipper becomes president and we still have trickle-down Reagnomics in effect and the aftermath of the War on Drugs.  And then, of course, the ills perpetuated by Reagan’s hand-picked successor George H.W. Bush and more of the same but worse with George W. Bush.

Upon this realization, all that could be heard emanating from the Oval Office was a piercing shout of “damn!”

Later on, a White House kitchen staff member revealed that Obama took a couple of drags from a Kool’s cigarette he bummed from him just to calm down and contemplate his next move.  The staff member recalled that the president said, “Michelle would just have to understand.”

As the president began to relax under the influence of the nicotine, he remembered a long email message he had earlier dismissed as the ranting of a deranged man.  The subject line of that email was “KK.”  The Department of Homeland Security initially thought it was from a member of the KKK who couldn’t spell.  But since nothing is ever deleted from the White House files, especially a potential threat, the president easily recovered the email.

In essence, the email recounted how the selection of Marvin Gaye to sing the national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles had set off a series of events that are wreaking havoc to this day.  So, Obama was now also linking how not only sports movies but the national anthem at sporting events shaped our future.

The original singer proposed for the gig was Lionel Richie but he was passed over as not being viewed as “big enough.”  You see, this was pre-pop music Lionel Richie; no one beyond the color barrier new Commodores Richie when he was known in his native southern funk drawl as LION-nel before his transformation to Line-NEL.

More on that development later but now back to Gaye.  Gaye, high on coke and riding a revival with his last big hit “Sexual Healing” turned an old English drinking song tune that was sampled for the Star-Bangled Banner known as our national anthem into a spiritual groove thang.  The crowd and the all-stars playing that day were swooning and swaying in rhythm.

However, as the letter writer concluded, there were many so called patriots pissed off at Mr. Gaye’s treatment.  Almost a year later he was dead.  The official report was that his father shot him but conspiracy theorists do not see his death soon after that performance as a coincidence.

Anyway, Richie so upset over being overlooked for the all-star game cranked up his crossover to pop music.  He released “Stuck on You” and later “Dancing on the Ceiling” on the heels of that disappointment.  The deal with the devil paid off.  Next thing you know, Richie is involved with “We Are the World” and performing at the 1984 Olympic Games also held in Los Angeles.

Richie, at the time, full of hubris, was known to yell seemingly out of the blue, “I’m Richie!”  Rick James heard it one night and later imitated it adding street flavor with “I’m Rich James, bitch!” and that was later comically and famously incorporated into a skit by Dave Chappelle.

But the dark side of this deal was that Richie would be infamously physically beaten by his three times a lady wife, Brenda, after discovering his infidelity.  There was also an inexplicable and sharp decline in popularity despite onerous attempts to maintain musical relevance.

But the worst part was that his adopted daughter, Nicole, became a problem child.  She would ride on the coattails of her father’s pop success and ultimately befriend rich socialite Paris Hilton.  That crew would expand with none other than Kim Kardashian (KK).  Now, perhaps there was a parallel plan for her entry into the sports world as her father Robert, was of course a friend and lawyer for O.J. Simpson.

But President Obama as he was digesting the email contents began to connect the dots.  The root cause be it Gaye or O.J. was almost immaterial.  KK had already sexually sabotaged football players Reggie Bush and Miles Austin.  The email written well before her 72 day “farriage” (fake marriage) with NBA player Kris Humphries just gave more credence to its allegations that maybe the fateful decision to go with Gaye at the ’83 NBA All-Star game has been far reaching.  Then, Obama, once the rumors surfaced that Kobe Bryant allegedly cheated on his wife Vanessa Bryant with a girlfriend of KK, knew that it was time to act.

Obama felt that KK, a confirmed white woman with a classic black booty was a lethal combination that if used for evil could unduly influence the sports world.  Yet, he also realized that KK was but a pawn in the bigger picture that must be addressed.  The issue, much like the theories behind the Military Industrial Complex and Prison Industrial Complex, required a comprehensive examination of the intersection of race, sex, movies, music, sports and politics.

The administration began to seek input from various think tanks and organizations.  What they got in return were several groups lobbying the president to institute reforms, initiate studies and policies that promoted their political platform.

The first group led by Davis Dubois, called The 10%, not to be confused with Five Percenters or the 1%, wanted to mandate that black athletes must attend college for four years.  The NFL could no longer operate a combine that paraded athletes almost nude for eyeballing and measuring.  All black broadcasters have to pass an Ebonics language test.    Rather than the Star-Bangled Banner being sung at sporting events, a rendition of the song that Alicia Keys and Angie Stone sang at the 2002 NBA All-Star Game in Philly that mixed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with “America the Beautiful.”

Also, a study concerning how no one with the surname of Jefferson played in the NBA until Richard Jefferson was drafted in 2001 (Al Jefferson doubled the figure when he entered the NBA in 2004).  This statistical oddity is suspicious in that Thomas Jefferson or his brother (or both) were known to have fathered children with slaves, most famously Sally Hemings.  Another study would be to exhume the body of Babe Ruth and subject it to DNA tests to determine once and for all if he was of African descent.

Finally, this group would have the movie Remember the Titans starring Denzel Washington as the film and the quote “I don’t scratch my head unless it itches and I don’t dance unless I hear some music.” that would propel Mr. Washington to the White House.

Another faction called the JDubbs led by John Washington is maybe what would be considered more grass roots.  They see the problem that blacks got away from playing the national pastime.  They desire that blacks only play baseball.  And they want an investigation as to how the horse racing industry no longer has any black jockeys when the sport was dominated by blacks in the 1800s.  They see a possible direct link into the dwindling numbers of African-Americans playing in the Major Leagues.  They would have the movie The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars & Motor Kings pave the way for Billy Dee Williams’ political path.

The more radical group led by Funky X. Hampton want to investigate whether James Naismith actually invented the game of basketball.  There are buoyed by the fact that Abner Doubleday has been depicted as a fraud who by no means invented the game of baseball.  Hampton wants to ensure that Robert Griffith III is drafted number one overall in the upcoming NFL draft and not the golden boy Andrew Luck.  The group known as the Funky X Bunch or FX Bunch also demands the commissioners of the NFL and NBA have barbershop summits to talk smack and resolve disputes among the brothers.

They see no reason why an NBA All-Star game can’t be held at Rucker Park in Harlem with Rakim spitting the national anthem as well and a corresponding televised spades tournament.  But the longtime prospects of the FX Bunch rely on Brian’s Song catapulting Billy Dee’s political career.  The major concern with that is that, as mentioned already, the JDubbs also want Williams.  They, however, think Williams will throw his hat in the ring with them because as a former alderman in Chicago from Mahogany he has a kinship with their urban coalition.

The last group thought to have influence would be the Iso’s led by Markeese Garvey.  The Iso’s want to return to an era of the Negro Leagues, Harlem Globetroters and Harlem Rens where blacks played in their own leagues or barnstormed against white teams while maintaining control over the finances and such.  They want to nationalize BET but allow TV One to remain independent but both undergo major upgrades in facilities and staffing to broadcasts the all-black leagues.

Their platform also wants a study into who slept with more women: Wilt Chamberlain or legendary boxer Jack Johnson.  But most importantly, they see the movie Hurricane as the vehicle to take the White House.  They don’t want Denzel though who portrayed Rubin “Hurricane” Carter as their candidate.  They want the real deal, Mr. Carter himself.  They just have to get him to renounce his Canadian citizenship and move back to the States.

Well, there is another group but they are not gaining much traction.  The Venus Vote led by Fannie Boo Rudolph is a feminist group that wants the WNBA to cease operation unless they lower the rim to 8.5 feet.  The Venus Vote is also spearheading the movement to have Whitney Houston’s recorded version of the national anthem sung at Super Bowl XXV to be used at all sporting events.  Their hopes for future political power rest in highlighting Love & Basketball and Sanaa Lathan becoming the first African-American woman president.

The President has advised these groups that he will consider their thoughts and ideas as he forms the committee and he left each group according to Hampton, with the words, “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”

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