Kneeling & Tweeting… and Speaking Truth to Power

Written by :
Published on : September 28, 2017

 

On Saturday night in Alabama, and then again on twitter, our hate-monger-in chief made it crystal clear that he has a bigger problem with black athletes speaking their minds than with the rise of tiki torch-wielding Nazis in his own backyard. Sunday, football players across the league came out in previously-unseen numbers to make it clear how they feel about the president’s ham-fisted efforts to quash free speech. And as we wrap-up week 3 of the NFL season with QB-turned-activist Colin Kapernick still out of a job due to the despicable and ongoing attempt by the league’s owners to silence him, here are 6 other moments in the history of sports when athletes have dared to transcend their role as national entertainers and took stands against racism and fascism.

 

1) Master Race No More

Olympian Jesse Owens delivers a swift and graceful repudiation of Hitler’s aryan supremacy theory by besting the Germans, and everybody else in the 1936 Games. In front of an audience that included der fuhrer himself, Owens struck gold 4 times – winning the 100 meter, 200 meter, long jump, and the 4×100 relay.

 

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Not content with the symbolic victory, and knowing that America itself was still lagging behind in the global race towards full equality, Owens later proclaimed that: “When I came back to my native country…I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.” Owens knew the fight against bigotry would be a marathon. What he might not have predicted was that his first strides out of the starting blocks in Berlin would pave the way for generations of “woke” athletes to come.

 

2) “Aint’t No Viet-Cong Ever Call Me Nigger”

Heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali defies his draft notice for service in Vietnam and issues a bold statement of solidarity with oppressed peoples of color the world over. His anti-war stance cost him his belt and earned him a five-year prison sentence (later overturned by the Supreme Court); but it also galvanized a generation of his progressive-minded peers.

 

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“The Ali Summit” as we now call it, is perhaps the watershed moment in sports-activist history. Future Hall of Famers Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and several other athletes and community leaders all came together at a 1967 Cleveland press conference to proclaim their support for Ali’s position and deepen the ties between the anti-war and anti-racist movements. Who knows… if our own orange Il Duce keeps sending hate-tweets about famous black athletes maybe we’ll see something like it again soon.

 

3) The Pre-Kapernick Sit Downs

Kap gets all the flack but he’s far from the first sports star to use the anthem to air a grievance. Long before his controversial kneeling, two marquee players, one from the hardwood and one from America’s favorite past-time were sitting-it-out for different, if not similar reasons.

 

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Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a sharp-shooting guard for the Denver Nuggets, started skipping the pre-game ritual in 1996 because in his opinion the American flag was a symbol of racism and oppression. He was fined by the league, harassed by fans, received death threats and even had his house burned down. His compromise with the NBA, brokered with help of the player’s union that had his back (You hear that NFLPA?) was that he would pray silently with his head down. To this day he remains committed to the right to protest and recently spoke out in support of Kaepernick and others.

 

Carlos Delgado, the two-time all-star first baseman who logged time with the Blue Jays and then the Mets, also made a stand by sitting. In the tense political climate that was post-9/11 America, Delgado began planting himself in the dugout during the 2004 season’s new practice of playing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. Delgado saw the sudden song choice as being used to support America’s ongoing occupation of Iraq. He refused to leave the bench for the whole 162 games that year – including an appearance at Yankee Stadium where boos were probably the nicest thing he heard all day.

 

4) The Round Mound of Tolerance/“That Ain’t on The Cue Card Chuck!”

Basketball legend and outspoken TNT commentator Charles Barkley shocked studio executives at least two different times when he went off script to address issues of social justice while on the air.

 

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During a Martin Luther King Day broadcast in 2011 the NBA Hall-of-Famer invoked the civil rights leader’s legacy to make a passionate speech affirming the rights of the LGBTQ community. And on a Cinco de Mayo themed game-day, Barkley went on a rant about the passage of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, which basically legalized racial and ethnic profiling by the police. He issued a personal ultimatum to the then-governors of Arizona and Alabama: “Leave those people alone. They work their behind off.” He went on: “The Hispanic community, they’re like the fabric of the cloth. They’re part of our community and any time you try to do any type of racial profiling or racial discrimination is wrong.” Not too shabby for a tv talking head — and a one-time Republican at that!

 

5) Say It Loud – The Fists Heard ‘Round the World

Everybody knows the picture. It’s the quintessential image of Black Power. Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 68’ games in Mexico City, with heads down in defiance and with black-gloved fists raised high in the air.

 

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What most don’t know is that the two runners — Smith who won gold in the 200 meter, and Carlos who netted the bronze in the same event — had carefully planned their moment on the world stage. As the two victorious sprinters approached the podium, their outfits cleverly spoke to the myriad struggles and oppressions which they sought to shine a light on. They took off their shoes to protest poverty, wore beads and a scarf to protest lynching and Carlos un-zipped his jacket, despite Olympic rules, as a salute to “all the working-class people — black and white…who had to struggle and work with their hands all day.” How about that for inter-sectionality? Neither the sports world nor the country would ever be the same.

 

6) Teachers and Teamsters and Cheese-heads?

When mini-dictator and Wisconsin Governor, Paul Walker, launched his attack on the rights of public sector workers in 2011, thousands of union members helped flood the streets and government buildings of Madison in response.

 

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But perhaps none were a more welcome addition to the picket line than the members of everyone’s favorite publicly-owned home team, the Green Bay Packers. About 6 or 7 lesser known players were the first to come out and show face; and then local workers got the big-game play they deserved – Charles Woodson, the team’s defensive captain, union-rep, and all-around football icon released a moving statement in solidarity with all of Wisconsin’s working families. The heinous anti-worker bill was rammed through anyway but workers in Wisconsin will never forget when #21 and his crew of Packers laced up their spikes and knew which side to play for.

 

 


SBS Film Vault: Space Jam

Written by :
Published on : April 25, 2016

 

 

The Monstars, the Tune Squad, Michael Jordan and Bill Murray. How could Space Jam not be great? It’s got that sweet R Kelly song “I believe I can fly” plus Danny Devito lends his voice to the roll of of the villianous manager of the Monstars, Swackhammer. 1996 could only be so lucky. This was obvious pandering but it worked out so well. So let’s take another look at a perfect hybrid of NBA action and Saturday morning cartoons that was Space Jam. Hands down, Jordan’s best movie. Maybe the best thing he has ever done.

 

Plot

During a relaxing game of golf, hall of fame basketball player, Michael Jordan gets sucked into the cartoon world where he is recruited by Bugs Bunny to play a basketball game against the Monstars. A super charged group of aliens who mean trouble for the tunes. Jordan agrees to help Bugs and the others. Now, MJ must whip the Tune Squad into shape before the big game. But that is easier said than done.

 

Space-Jam 2
                                                                               Squad goals

 

Good guys

Besides Jordan, the Tune Squad is made up of Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Taz and Daffy Duck. These are your starters with Michael as player/coach. On the bench is Elmer Fudd, Tweety, Sylvester, Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote, Yosemite Sam and some other animated scrubs. Bill Murray Joins later.

 

Bad guys

The Monstars come from a place called Moron Mountain and are led by coach/evil space tycoon Swackhammer who will stop at nothing to trap the Looney Tunes and force them to be entertainment back on Moron Mountain. Swackhammer stole the athletic ability of known NBA stars Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing and Muggsy Bogues and transferred that power into his own team. Making a pretty lethal squad. Luckily for the tunes, they have Jordan.

 

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The big game

At halftime, the Tune Squad is getting destroyed. MJ gives this great speech and all the tunes drink this secret potion they think is going to make them play great. It’s really just plain old water but the stupid tunes don’t know any better. I’m kind of surprised they went with a performance enhancing drug angle. But hey, it was the 90’s.

 

Let’s talk real basketball real quick. The Monstars literally have no bench. You think that fatigue would catch up to them in the second half. Also, if the ref (Marvin the Martian) called even a faction of the fouls that the Monstars routinely commit then they would all foul out of the game by the second quarter.

 

Also there is this insane Pulp Fiction reference where Elmer and Yosemite pull guns on the court. Totally illegal by the way.

 

space jam pulp fiction

 

Cut to the end of the game. It comes down to the last possession. Jordan gets the ball. Clock running out. He takes a dribble and…well I’m not going to spoil it. If you don’t know then go watch it.

 

There have been rumors about a Space Jam 2 with LeBron James but I don’t ever think that is going to happen. Maybe drop James and replace him with Kevin Durant or maybe Steph Curry. I know they will make (or remake) anything these days but I kind of hope they never make a part two. The original was a perfect storm of popular things colliding that trying to reproduce it will almost certainly be a failure. If one must expand the world of Space Jam, then can I suggest changing the sport? Make it soccer with Messi or football with Cam Newton. I’d pay to see that.

 

 

I believe I can fly.

 

 


Old School? Not Cool…

Written by :
Published on : March 4, 2016

 

 

 

The NBA is in its prime. The Magic, MJ, Bird, Bad Boys era was incredible. But right now, the NBA is just as good and the proof lives online.

 

 

In general, can we all wrap our heads around the notion that things are not better right now than they will be? I know it’s popular to prep for doomsday, but that’s just one possible scenario. Can we try to band together to project a positive outlook regarding the innovations and changes taking place throughout our lifetime and beyond? The Earth might be a literal garbage dump, but it’s not too late to turn it around. Instead of lamenting about the so-called “Good Ol’ Days” of the way things used to be during “simpler times,” let’s realize now that life evolves. So when this generation of millennials ages, we don’t sound bitter and shortsighted. Just like Oscar Robertson talking about Steph Curry:

“He’s shot well because of what’s going on in basketball today, In basketball today, it’s almost like if you can dunk or make a three-point shot, you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.

There have been some great shooters in the past. But here again, when I played years ago, if you shot a shot outside and hit it, the next time I’m going to be up on top of you. I’m going to pressure you with three-quarters, half-court defense. But now they don’t do that. These coaches do not understand the game of basketball, as far as I’m concerned.”

 

Barring a dystopian future (which is plausible, especially if Trump 2016 happens…), life could and should get better. All aspects can progress positively: technology, convenience, our attitudes toward improving the environment, our treatment of one another, quality of entertainment to distract us in case none of the above comes to fruition. When platforms like Vine and Snapchat dropped, I was very Oscar Robertson about them. Didn’t get it. Didn’t care. Bitched about them. Felt old and simply dismissed them. A few years removed from their inception, I can admit I was wrong. Vine has made my favorite sport, basketball even more fun and accessible.

 

Oscar Robertson
                                                                              Oscar Robertson

 

However, the old guard of the NBA loves to bitch about the state of the game. Lots of NBA Hall of Famers complain about the lack of defense due to rule changes and the focus on the league’s public relations making the game and players “soft.” Charles Barkley and Shaq, two of the game’s most entertaining players, both on and off the court, are also culprits of being such old timers who whine about “how much better the game used to be…” The game done changed. Just get on (hover)board so you don’t seem so dated.

 

I’m not saying The Diesel and Round Mound Of Rebound need to become the equivalent of a middle-aged white dude named Noah in a backwards hat and board shorts, calling everyone “Bruh,” attending Coachella year after year as he suppresses stories of Woodstock ’94 so he seems relevant. Noah’s old school buddy Dean still wears a 2012 AC/DC tour shirt unironically regaling anyone who will stand close to him about the “hey-day of culture” peppering in critiques of everyone having their nose in their phone, how computers ruined music and how rappers only rap about money. That’s what Shaq and Charles sound like when they bitch about guards not getting nearly paralyzed when they drive the lane and the league lacking “True Centers.” Hopefully one day people will be able update the way they operate easier than downloading the latest version iOS.

 

                                                                               Shaq and Charles

 

Fuck ESPN, they’ve jumped the shark (a term that itself has jumped the shark). ESPN is totally corporate and thus becoming obsolete, but it’s not going anywhere for the time being. Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Reddit and Podcasts give everyone instant highlights, genuine coverage and access to all our favorite players, coaches, teams, plays and behind-the-scenes discourse. Social media, more than rule changes, player safety protections and PR concerns have revolutionized sports overall.  With the NBA being the biggest benefactor. Go ahead, bemoan “everyone being on their phones all the time” instead of engaging in the moment, but maybe you’re the one who isn’t engaging in this moment. You can cry about how “defense just isn’t the same” so players like Steph Curry wouldn’t be able to light it up in the past the way he does now.

 

Shout it from the rooftops how no one talks to each other face to face anymore. No one will hear you because you don’t have a relevant outlet/wifi signal. Regardless of whether you’re right or wrong, you’re wrong because your time’s expired. Society changes. Sports evolve with it. Games are watched in their most important 6-12 second increments on people’s phones without having to hear Stuart Scott-knockoffs make bad puns and bastardize current slang. Isn’t it convenient that there just isn’t that much footage of what Oscar Robertson is talking about is supposedly missing from the present day game of basketball? Cool grainy highlight of the Big O literally running circles around a bunch of dudes who would get cut from teams in China if they played today.

 

Nevertheless, coverage of every aspect of life has changed, it’s not so easy to hide mistakes, for better or worse. The way the NBA is played and consumed now is not perfect. Nothing is. The implications on our own personal entertainment being a distraction from the miserable, violent, unjust (and hopefully temporary) present state of the world has its pros and cons: the speed and efficiency of how we consume Steph’s latest 35 foot swish or Kristap Porzingis’s putback slam happen so rapidly we don’t get a break from our timelines of watching to think or do anything about who and what are hurting the world. That’s a cause I wouldn’t mind hearing retired sports legends speak out about. Ya know, those who lived through protests that brought about change.

 

porzingis
                                                                                          Porzingis

 

They’d rather criticize DeAndre Jordan’s free throw percentage. Bill Russell gets overlooked for his on court talent because he absolutely annihilated inferior competition, but his contribution to activism gets overlooked along with it. Bill Russell dwarfed his competition the way social media is dwarfing Sportscenter. However, he didn’t have as much of a platform to spread his message to fix inequality during an era when people were more proactive about causes that meant something to them. Yeah, LeBron and some other players wore that t-shirt because their publicists told them to stand with Freddie Gray.

 

Nobody really remembers or cares because the media cycle revolves too quickly. Today, you don’t like the way cops treat black people. You tweet something self righteously or post something indignant on Facebook and get to feel like you’re part of the solution. You want to try to make a difference today? Your message has to be constant, but ya know, don’t mess up your endorsement deal. There are always drawbacks, holes to be poked in the innovations by those who have lived to witness the change, but not ready to accept it. Sometimes those flaws are very real, but the criticism is hard to take seriously when it’s served upon every stand-out player.

 

Way back at the beginning of this decade, before Snapchat, LeBron moved from Cleveland to Miami so he could play for a team with his best friends and win. Not a single NBA alumni even remotely encouraged LeBron to do what made him happy. That’s indicative of the difference between the old versus new guard: the old guard doesn’t understand or appreciate millennial’s choice to do what makes us happy.

 

                                                                                 James and Wade

 

Say you have a buddy from college, the kind of guy who partied his ass off but still managed to get all A’s. Charismatic, friends with everyone, the kind of guy who could stay up for two days on a bender then go to brunch with your parents and charm their pants off before acing a test he barely studied for. This guy graduates, but moves back to his hometown to work for a notoriously fledgling local business that has potential to turn it around now that he’s there, but has organizational problems that no one man could turn around on his own no matter how focused, talented or committed.

 

Then one day, this guys gets an offer to be a partner at a hot new start up, run by his college drinking buddies who still party, but are more mature now. The salary is comparable, company HQ is in a cool city with great weather, social life and no income taxes. If you’re this guy, what would you choose? We know what his parents and their friends would think. The older generation loves to glorify their loyalty, the same loyalty that makes them miserable. Romanticize sacrifice, suffering and hard work in the same breath exhaled with carbon monoxide-like sentiments.

 

 

That’s why old timers can’t let go of the notion that their way was better. They’re haters. Generally, most people over 47 can’t and won’t wrap their minds around today’s conveniences and innovations in both technology and lifestyle choices. Why? They’re “stuck in their ways,” which is old people code for “refuse to accept the possibility of an easier path.” Too tired out from doing what they didn’t want to have to do most of their lives. Sacrificing joy and satisfaction for “security.” I get it, it’s hard to change once you’re used to a routine, but what if that routine suddenly got way easier and more enjoyable, but just took a litttttttle bit of effort to figure out?

 

With all this said, when we as a generation hit middle-age, let’s all agree to examine the way things with an open mind. Realizing most things get better, not worse. Or at least let’s pretend to get on board so we don’t age faster than we need to. Being someone like Noah with grey hair and saying shit like “stay woke” while Snapchatting might seem like it’s trying too hard.

 

stephen-curry
                                                                                   Steph Curry

 

Albeit, that’s immensely less sad than not knowing how to text message on your LG Flip Phone as you lament how sports were better when athletes were slower and way more barbaric to each other, when it wasn’t even broadcast live over the medium of terrestrial radio. Maybe the sound bite goes viral, but the person saying it doesn’t even know what that means. “Going Viral,” whether you get it or not, is the most significant way to convey a message today. The How and Why of Going Viral is still puzzling. I’m rocking the White Van’s trying to get everything I do to Go Viral. Damn Daniel! Tomorrow will be different. Get on board or bundle up to suffer through the winter in Cleveland.

 

The NBA is better now than it’s ever been. I stand by it. NBA basketball might have been better 25-30 years ago, but it didn’t have a constant flow of memes and Vines. Who knows if Steph Curry would be as prolific against MJ, Isiah or John Stockton? I do know this: Spudd Webb would be global phenomenon if Instagram was around in the 80s.

 

Webb_17
                                                                                               Spudd Webb

 

Final Note: I’m doing my best to swallow my own pill and adapt to the future, but the old timer in me still gets ornery observing that anyone under 16 only knows Michael Jordan for crying and his shoes, they think Kobe is better then him, the OJ Simpson Murder Trial is a comedy series on FXX and everyone who retired from pro sports before 2000 is a whiny old fart. Instead of diminishing today’s stars, we all should just focus on ourselves.

 

Post Script: can Turner Broadcast turn TNT into an all sports network? ESPN is like a dumpster behind a Trading Card shop: there might be a treasure in there, but contains mostly flammable garbage. Fox Sports 1 is that dumpster on fire. How awesome would a Turner Sports channel be headlined by Charles, Shaq, Ernie and Kenny The Jet?

 

I’m just writing it here so when it happens I can claim to be ahead of my time.

 

 


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