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NFC Championship: A Matter of Luck For Two Snakebitten Franchises and Cities Starving for a Title.

20 Jan
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Can the Eagles rely on Nick Foles to take them to the Super Bowl? The Birds will take on the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo By Webster Riddick.

This weekend’s NFC Championship matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings pits two hard luck franchises against each other.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field will be a matchup of two franchises that have lost six Super Bowls in total and have had more than their share of post-season disappointments.

From 2001 to 2008, the Eagles went to five NFC title games, losing four of them. When the team did win the NFC Championship in the 2004 season, they went on to lose to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings haven’t won a NFC title game since the 1976 season, where they lost to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI. Since then, they’ve lost four title games, three of which were lost in the final minute or in overtime.

(In other words, they know exactly how the New Orleans Saints, whom they defeated on Sunday on a fluke play with seconds left in the game, feel…)

CaseKeenum

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum looking to lead his team to a win over the Eagles.

Since neither team has won the Super Bowl—the Eagles won a pre-Super Bowl NFL Championship in 1960—something has to give, right? The football gods are going to reward one of these long suffering fan bases with a trip to the Super Bowl and another chance to win an elusive championship.

But now that we’ve talked about all that history, let’s talk about the game itself.

Neither of the quarterbacks participating in Sunday’s game is going to make anyone forget former Eagles great Donovan McNabb, Vikings Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton or even Vikings short-termer Brett Favre. But Nick Foles and Minnesota’s Case Keenum, two guys who didn’t distinguish themselves as part of the Los Angeles or St. Louis Rams squads in the early Oughts, have managed to get their teams to the conference final despite pronouncements to the contrary.

Foles is coming off a solid performance in the win over the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round in which he completed 23-of-30 passes for 246 yards with no touchdown passes, but also no interceptions.  He was efficient and kept the Eagles offense moving at key stretches, mixing passes to tight-end Zach Ertz, and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor with screens to running backs Jay Ajayi and   Corey Clement and smash mouth running from running back LeGarrette Blunt.

That’s something the Eagles will have to do against a Vikings defense that ranks at the top of the NFL.

“The quick, short passing game obviously can help, the running game can help,” said head coach Doug Pederson. “Somewhere in there, if you can take a shot, you take a shot and whether you hit, like first play of the game, if you hit it or not, that kind of gets your blood flowing a little bit. And sometimes even tempo, hurry-up, no-huddle offense can get your quarterback into that kind of rhythm.”

It also helps that the Eagles running game, while not great, moved the ball well enough to keep the Falcons defense off balance. The Eagles as a group rushed for 96 yards including a couple of 10-yard plus runs on jet sweeps by Agholor.  Ajayi also averaged close to four yards per carry.

It kept the Eagles from being one-dimensional, Ertz, the tight end, said.

“Yeah, I thought we were really good on first and second down in the second half of that game last week,” he said “We kind had the RPOs (run pass options) early on first down that put us in those positions to be successful. I thought Doug [Pederson] a really good job. One of the things that stood out is that we never got in those third-and-really long situations, third-and-11-plus situations where you have to have the running back and the tight-end chip. You never want to be in those situations and we kind of stayed out of those, so that was definitely huge for us.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles defense is not taking Keenum and the Vikings offense lightly. This is an offense coming off the high of the “Minneapolis Miracle”, when Keenum hit Stefon Diggs on a 61-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left to defeat the New Orleans Saints.

Keenum, who was the NFL’s 12th rated passer, has been efficient. In the game against the Saints, Keenum was 25-of-40 for 318 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

But the Eagles defense is no slouch—they are the fourth ranked defense in the league and are first against the run.  The Vikings running game ranked seventh during the regular season despite the loss of rookie Dalvin Cook. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are averaging close to four yards per carry.

Defensive end Brandon Graham recognizes this and says the defense does as well.

“Oh, yeah, you can’t take nobody lightly and I think Case does a good job as far as moving in the pocket, being able to extend plays with his legs and you know just being able to trust himself going out there,” he said. “You know, going out there, making plays because he’s got the receivers. He’s got the running game that’s been helping him take a lot of pressure off of him.”

The Eagles, who managed to become the Number One seed despite a slate of injuries that includes MVP-candidate quarterback Carson Wentz, are once again the underdog despite this being a home game.

So expect the return of the Dog Masks. And a shoulder chip you can see from space.

“The disrespect continues,” said Eagles Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. “For us to be the No 1 seed and to have this championship run through the Linc, what more do you want? At the end of the day, respect is not given, we gotta go out and take it like we’ve been doing all year. I think we’ll go out and dominate.”

The NFC Championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings will be played on Sunday night at 6:40 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia. Tickets are sold out, but if you want to catch the game, it’ll be on Fox-29, beginning with the Fox NFL-Sunday pregame show at 6 p.m.

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NFL Players Continuing What Kaepernick Started and They’re Not Backing Down

2 Sep
Giants Browns Football

Members of the Cleveland Browns participating in a silent protest during the national anthem before their preseason game against the New York Giants on Aug. 21.  Photo  by Cleveland.com 

If the whole idea behind not signing Colin Kaepernick to an NFL contract was to end the movement he started, it’s not working.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With kickoff for the regular season of the National Football League a week away, free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job and the way things are looking right now, he probably won’t get one.

But if the 29-year-old Kaepernick never plays another down in his NFL career, what he started will be way bigger than any touchdown pass he threw or any of his long runs from scrimmage.

A year after Kaepernick began his protest, his symbolic gesture of protesting police violence and mass incarceration against African-Americans by not standing for the National Anthem is still resonating among his NFL comrades as well as fans.

Last week, about 1,500 to 2,000 protesters, led by the Kaepernick’s fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi and the NAACP, gathered outside of the NFL’s Park Avenue headquarters to protest what they see as the quarterback’s blackballing by the league’s owners because of his protest. Some Black football fans have said they will not watch another game until Kaepernick is signed.

Despite the fact that several NFL coaches, including Seattle’s Pete Carroll and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, believe that Kaepernick is good enough to be a starter at best and a capable backup at worst, NFL owners have remained steadfast. Their goal is to make an example of him and to intimidate others from engaging in similar protests.

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(From right to left) Steven Means, Malcolm Jenkins and Ron Brooks raise their fists during the national anthem in protest of unarmed killings of Black people by the Police prior to Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

But if Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, members of the Cleveland Browns and players on other teams around the league are any indication, the ploy has failed—badly.

“I think if that was the goal, it didn’t work,” said Jenkins, who raises a fist of defiance on the sidelines as the Anthem plays. “You had the largest protest (Aug.22) with the amount of players that they had. More and more guys are joining every week.”

Right now, Jenkins said, the focus needs to be on exactly why the players are protesting.

“We want to fight with those who are fighting for equal rights,” he said. “We want to make sure to keep the focus there.”

Another reason why the owner’s gambit isn’t working is because the protests have become multiracial.

Before their Aug. 22 preseason game against the New York Giants, several Black members and one white player, tight end Seth DeValve of the Cleveland Browns took a knee during the national anthem.

DeValve, whose wife is African American, was the first white player to kneel along with the African-American players.  He said that he joined his African-American teammates because he believes that while the United States is the greatest country in the world, “it doesn’t provide equal opportunity to everybody, and I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there’s things in this country that still need to change.”

Three other white players, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders, offensive lineman Justin Britt and Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long expressed support for their teammates participating in the protests.

As Jenkins raised his fists in the air, Long put his arm around the Eagles safety. Britt put his hands on the shoulders of teammate Michael Bennett as he knelt during the national anthem and Carr did the same thing for Raiders defensive Khalil Mack.

While he’s not sure that the players can get Kaepernick back on the field, they can and should continue the dialogue on police brutality and racial injustice he started, Jenkins said.

“I think there’s a need for that next step,” said Jenkins, who has testified before Congress on the issue. “We’ve gained the attention, we’ve done the protests, we’ve had the stage, we have the microphones and now people are looking for solutions. I think there’s opportunities for guys to educate themselves about the system and the situation in their particular cities.”

“For instance,” Jenkins said, “In (Pennsylvania) when it comes criminal justice reform and mass incarceration, they trying re-introduce mandatory minimum sentencing. We’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. “

What Kaepernick started by simply is taking a knee is gradually into a movement and that’s worth more than any Super Bowl ring or accolades he will ever receive as a player.

Silence is Golden For the NFL: Players, Black Community Have to Stand up For Kaepernick

10 Aug
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Colin Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid (left) take a kneel during the national anthem to protest the unarmed killings of Black people by the police. As of Aug. 10, Kaepernick remains unsigned.

While fans are talking an NFL Boycott to protest Colin Kaepernick’s lack of a new team, voices that should be speaking out aren’t.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With NFL teams still avoiding quarterback Colin Kaepernick like the plague because of his national anthem protest, African-American football fans on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are saying they’ll “boycott” the league if he remains unsigned.

While it sounds like a good and principled stand on the surface, I doubt that it will move Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners all that much. If folks decide to go after the league’s advertisers, that might move the needle, but it would take an organized effort and would also depend on the advertisers involved.

That said, there are a number of entities within the African-American community that have been eerily silent on the issue of Kaepernick and his obvious blackballing at the hands of NFL owners.

Civil Rights organizations like the NAACP haven’t said much. I haven’t heard anything from Jesse Jackson and it was until late this week that Al Sharpton mentioned Kaepernick on his radio show.

In fact, the most obvious effort on Kaepernick’s behalf appears to be coming from his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. On Aug. 23, the fraternity, the Justice League of New York City, as well as other civil rights organizations, are planning a rally in front of the NFL’s headquarters to protest what they see as the league keeping Kaepernick from plying his trade.

There is also a website soliciting for petitions,#StandingforKaepernick https://standingforkaepernick.org/ that outlines its plans for boycotting the NFL on behalf of Kaepernick.

That will probably be the closest thing to a collective effort by the Black community on behalf of Kaepernick.

Another group that hasn’t said much publicly has been the NFL Players Association and executive director DeMaurice Smith.

While I was unsuccessful in getting in contact with Smith, a source close to the NFLPA told me the union is in contact with Kaepernick on a regular basis and is monitoring the situation. The source also said the union is there for Kaepernick if he needs them.

If African-American fans really want to stand behind Kaepernick and make their voices heard, it’s going take a truly collective effort.

And it’s also going to have to include the players themselves to be truly effective. They’re going to have to be the agents of change here.

If all the African-American players were to come together and say that they were sitting out the season until Kaepernick is signed, it would bring the NFL to its knees.  Black men make up 70 percent of the NFL’s players.  Without those players, NFL teams wouldn’t be able to field a special teams unit.

While individual players like Seattle Seahawks safety Richard Sherman and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins have voiced their support for Kaepernick, but the players as a group or even as a rank and file members of the NFLPA have not come together as an organized collective to challenge Goodell and the owners.

The league’s African-American players see the blackballing of Kaepernick as the owners’ way to keep the players in their place and to intimidate any future activists from coming up. It’s the NFL’s way of saying, “Just shut up and play.”

Back in 1965, Black American Football League players, Abner Haynes and Cookie Gilchrist, organized a boycott of African-American players, who were being discriminated against in various throughout the city of New Orleans. The players said they would not play in the AFL’s All-Star game unless the game was moved from New Orleans.

The collective efforts of the Black players and a few whites who joined them eventually got the game moved to Houston.

At the end of the day, the African-American players themselves have to stand up for Kaepernick because this is nothing but a power move by the owners to instill the fear of the shield into the players.

Especially the Black ones.

 

An Unappreciated Legend: Michael Spinks Was One of Boxing’s Best

2 Jun
Michael Spinks

Former world Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight champion Michael Spinks gives his acceptance speech after being inducted into the Atlantic City Hall of Fame.

Thanks For The Memories

With his induction into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame, Michael Spinks reminisced about his stellar career.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

For many casual sports fans, one of the most vivid memories of Michael Spinks was his being on the receiving end of a devastating first-round knockout from a Mike Tyson en route to becoming the youngest Heavyweight Champ.

For Spinks, it was the only blemish on an otherwise stellar boxing career. Before winding up on the wrong end of that Tyson knockout blow in Atlantic City on June 1988, Spinks was the undisputed light-heavyweight champion of the world and had become the first light-heavyweight to become heavyweight champion when he upset a then unbeaten Larry Holmes.

Spinks was in Atlantic City last Sunday as an inductee in the inaugural class of the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame. He was inducted beside some of the guys he bested in the ring –Holmes and Dwight Muhammad Qawi—and the one guy who beat him—Tyson.

Spinks retired with a record of 31-1 with 21 knockouts and championships in two weight divisions.

SpinksvsQawi

One of Michael Spinks most notable wins was his 15-round unanimous decision over Dwight Muhammad Qawi in 1983.

And oh by the way, Spinks was also a part of the nation’s greatest Olympic boxing team, the 1976 squad that won five gold medals, one silver and one bronze. In addition to Spinks, that team included Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael’s brother Leon, Leo Randolph and Howard David. In fact, the Spinks brothers became the first brothers to win gold medals in the same Olympics. Five members of that team—Leonard, the Spinks Brothers, Leo Randolph and bronze medalist John Tate—won world titles as professionals.

Spinks had a strong overhand right known as the “Spinks’ Jinx” He also had a solid left jab and could just straight knock you out.

But the thing that stood out to me was Spinks’ toughness in the ring against top-notch competition.

That toughness in the ring as a pro was forged in part by being a member of that 1976 Olympic Boxing team, Spinks said. The competition on that team was as strong as any he would face in his pro career, he said.

“Every guy on that team was an ass-kicker,” Spinks said. “They kicked ass and took names. It prepared me (for the pros) for sure. We learned how to compete fiercely. We learned not to take no for an answer. We learned not to take any butt-whippings from everybody. We learned how to fight hard.”

Another thing that made Spinks a tough guy in the rink was his older brother Leon. Michael told me that he knew he was getting better when he took Leon to a local gym in St. Louis, sparred with his brother, and actually beat him.

“We did three rounds and I whupped my brother’s butt for the first time,” Spinks said with a smile. “ I said, ‘Leon, I kicked your ass. … That gave me confidence that I got a little better.”

While Leonard, Leon Spinks, and Davis, who was named the most outstanding boxer of the Montreal Olympics, garnered most of the attention, Spinks was relatively unknown and got to the finals via a pair of forfeits.

But Spinks overwhelmed Rufat Riskiyev of the Soviet Union in the gold medal match  and dominated him with a third-round TKO to win the gold medal in the middleweight division. Spinks had lost to Riskiyev earlier that year.

“After he beat me in Russia, I said I think I can beat him. It’s just so happened that I got him in Montreal and I had it in for him,” Spinks said. “Every time I thought of (Riskiyev), I got down and did 10 pushups (during training). It was him and I in the finals and I got him.”

As a professional fighter in the light heavyweight division, Spinks took on all comers, went up the rankings and beat everybody they put in front of him in an era when contenders for crowns actually fought each other.

To get an opportunity to fight for the World Boxing Association light heavyweight crown, Spinks had to fight a former world champion in Marvin Johnson, whom he beat with a fourth-round knockout in March 1981. Four months later, Spinks took on Eddie Mustafa Muhammad for the World Boxing Association light-heavyweight title and defeated him in a brutal 15-round unanimous decision

Spinks unified the title in another, hard fought 15 round unanimous decision against his former sparring partner Dwight Muhammad Qawi. He also added the International Boxing Association title. He was unbeaten in world title fights at the light heavyweight division.

Of course, the signature fight of Spinks career came against Holmes, the then-unbeaten heavyweight champion who appeared to be on his way to breaking Rocky Marciano’s record of 49 wins without a loss.

To boxing observers, Spinks was attempting to do the impossible as a light heavyweight…defeat the reigning heavyweight champion of the world. While he admitted to being extremely nervous before the fight,  something in him clicked and told him to relax and fight his fight—defense and counterpunching.

“I told myself you haven’t gotten your ass whipped and to stop thinking that way,” Spinks said. “I just do what I do best. I moved on Larry and I threw punches to let him know that was there. I fought in a circle and made it difficult for Larry to hit me.”

Spinks would beat Holmes in a 15-round unanimous decision and would beat Holmes again in the rematch. He would beat every other heavyweight he fought, except for that loss to Tyson. At the time, I thought Spinks because of his style and defense would give Tyson problems. Unfortunately, a Tyson right knocked him out in the first round.

But even in losing that fight, Spinks has no regrets and said he left everything in the ring.

“My coach told me that I better not walk out that ring as a loser. He said if I lose they’d better be carrying me out on a stretcher,” Spinks recalled. “I had the fighting spirit. If you’re going to beat me, you’re going to beat me trying.”

 

Defying the Shield: The Blackballing of Colin Kaepernick

23 Mar

Snowflakes In Designer Suits

 When it comes to free agent NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, NFL owners appear to want a “safe space” where they don’t have to think about the racism he was protesting.

 

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down…
Buffalo Springfield

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Colin Kaepernick is still without a team and he may never get one because of his refusal to stand for the national anthem during the 2016 season. Photo courtesy of ESPN.com

The words to “For What It’s Worth”, a classic of the 1960s heyday of protest music, feels particularly relevant when we talk about athletes speaking out on social issues and the sports culture overall these days.

It’s become especially relevant when the subject of free agent NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick comes up. As of press time, the former signal caller for the San Francisco 49ers is currently the most high profile free agent without a football home.

A lot of sports writers and commentators have speculated that the reason why Kaepernick has no football bench to sit on is because he refused to stand for the National Anthem during the 2016-2017. Shortly before the free agent period began, he announced that he wouldn’t be taking a knee during the anthem this year, something that disappointed a few people.

But in spite of that, NFL owners, fearful of getting a nasty tweet aimed at them by Recalcitrant 4-Year-Old In Chief Donald Trump, haven’t been calling Kaepernick to his services despite the tons of money being thrown at the feet of career backups and people that will never be able to include an NFC Championship or a trip to the Super Bowl on their resumes.

Because we’re not really big on remembering our history, there are probably more than a few people who are looking at the travails of the former Nevada star, who is still sending money to feed folks in Somalia and gave $50,000 to the Meals on Wheels program that the Recalcitrant 4-Year Old In Chief is looking to cut despite not having a contract, and see something new.

But in reality, Kaepernick is just the latest NFL star to get smacked down and blackballed by the league for protesting the national anthem. Defying the “Shield” has consequences no matter how talented you are.

Back in 1969, John Mackey, then a star tight end for the Baltimore Colts, helped to form the National Football League Players Association and served as it’s resident from 1969-1973.  Mackey led the first players strike in 1970 and stood up to some brutal coercion by then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

According to Washington Times columnist Thom Loverro who co-authored a book with Mackey, Rozelle and then Washington Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams tried to get Mackey to sign a document to end the players strike by blaming them for the death of Vince Lombardi, who was then dying of colon cancer.

But Mackey refused to be manipulated and won the right to receive disability and widow’s benefits and having an agent negotiate salaries for the players. Mackey also led the legal fight against the Rozelle Rule, which made a player’s new team compensate his old one when they switched.

Shortly after Mackey beat Rozelle and the NFL court in 1971, the Colts traded him  to the San Diego Chargers after the 1972 season. Mackey, who is considered one of the greatest tight ends in the history of pro football, was denied entry in the Pro Football Hall until 1992 because of his union activities.

Former American Football League star running Abner Haynes, one of the leaders of the 1965 AFL All-Star boycott that moved the league’s All-Star game from New Orleans to Houston because of the Crescent City’s racism, was traded from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Denver Broncos because of his activism.

“(The Kansas City Chiefs) wrote me a two-page letter explaining to me how a football player’s role is not to help his people. All I’m supposed to do is to keep my mouth shut and play football,” Haynes said in the Showtime documentary,“Full Color: A History of the AFL”.

That’s the message that’s being conveyed to Kaepernick and other Black players who have dared to speak out on issues pertaining to race. According to my friend and “Bleacher Report” columnist Mike Freeman, a large number of NFL executives and owners despise what Kaepernick did.

In an article Freeman wrote in “Bleacher Report”, he said that one league executive he spoke with said that the owners “genuinely hate him and can’t stand what he did [kneeling for the national anthem]. They want nothing to do with him. They won’t move on. They think showing no interest is a form of punishment. I think some teams also want to use Kaepernick as a cautionary tale to stop other players in the future from doing what he did.”

During the course of the 2017 NFL Combine, Freeman also reported that some of the players, according to their agents, were asked about the Kaepernick situation during the course of the interviews. That lends credence to the idea that the owners are saying to guys around the league and to the new guys coming in that this can happen to you if you dare to protest the racism that African-Americans live with on a regular basis.

Of course, you can point to some football reasons that there is no interest in Kaepernick. He’s got some accuracy issues. The scouts also say he has difficulty hitting receivers in tight windows and will run even when receivers are open. Even though he is 3-16 in his last 19 starts, Kaepernick still has thrown 22 touchdown passes against nine interceptions and has an 88.2 passer rating.

That said, Kaepernick is still better than guys like Josh McCown,  Mike Glennon or even Eagles backup Chase Daniel who don’t have his ability or his accomplishments.  Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers to two straight NFC title games and a Super Bowl.  He was one play away from pulling off a huge comeback against the Baltimore Ravens in Super XLVII (47).

Two current Philadelphia Eagles—safety Malcolm Jenkins and wide receiver Torrey Smith—took to Twitter to let the league and anyone else reading that they’re not falling for the “Kaepernick isn’t good enough” okey-doke.

Malcolm Jenkins‏Verified account @MalcolmJenkins

Following

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Malcolm Jenkins Retweeted NFL Total Access

hhhhmmmmm… @nfl GM’s you can try to act like talent is the reason @Kaepernick7 isn’t employed …but we know the real reason.

 

 

Torrey Smith‏Verified account @TorreySmithWR

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Torrey Smith Retweeted Cameron

Colin Kaepernick is not currently employed. However, his skill set vastly exceeds others who were on the market.

 

But if you’re one of the folks agreeing with the owners that Kaepernick should have just “shut up and played”, I have a question for you. Are you going to hold Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway to that standard? Elway not only wrote a letter supporting President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, but did it on the team’s letterhead. I’d also like to know if you’re going to, at long last, tell New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to stick to sports in light of his support of Trump and his refusal to accompany his teammates to visit the White House when President Barack Obama was president.

To quote a line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”

But when it comes to the NFL, the treatment of Colin Kaepernick might be the incident that forces Commissioner Roger Goodell to look at his Animal Farm a little more closely.

When “Shut-Up and Play” Hits Home

23 Feb
dexter-fowlers-wife-aliya-fowler-instagram

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, picture here with his wife Darya, who is from Iran,, received some hate-filled messages on social media for expressing concern that President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from coming to the U.S. would affect his wife’s family. Iran is one of seven countries listed on Trump’s executive order. Photo courtesy of Youtube.

When Black professional athletes are often told to stick to sports, sometimes it’s asking too much.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

I used to think of sports as a way to bring people of different backgrounds together with the possibility of getting to know each other and learning somehow to negotiate the things that divide us.

During my years as a sports writer, I’ve found that more often than not, that notion is still a long, long, way off, especially when it’s an African-American athlete who dares to speak out on race in a way that’s critical of American society.

Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals newly signed outfielder, recently found that out the hard way. During an interview with ESPN, Fowler was asked about the Executive Order President Donald J. Trump recently signed banning immigration and travel from seven Muslim nations.

This ban hit home for Fowler because his wife, Darya Baghbani is from Iran, one of the seven countries listed in the order. Fowler, like any husband and father would, expressed how the travel ban would affect his family.

“It’s huge,” Fowler told ESPN. “Especially anytime you’re not able to see your family. It’s unfortunate.”

Never mind that Fowler neither mentioned Trump by name nor said anything disparaging about him, the speedy Cardinals outfielder was hit on social media with “shut-up and play!”, a time-honored bon mot that’s been thrown at a who’s-who of Black athletes that includes Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, the Black players who boycotted the American Football League All-Star game in 1965 and more recently Colin Kaepernick and Martellus Bennett.

That plantation mentality has been ingrained in the minds of some White sports fans and even sportswriters when it comes to African-American athletes. You can hit homeruns, slam-dunk from the free-throw line, and score touchdowns all you want, but once Black athletes veer off of that very straight line and talk about the ills they see in society, they’re told to remember their place and to be grateful that they live in a country that allows them to earn millions of dollars from playing a sport.

What’s really sad to me is that the White sports fans who spew this kind of vitriol seem to believe that Black athletes give up their First Amendment rights the moment they sign their first pro contract or even when they sign that collegiate letter of intent. You also have to wonder what their attitude toward the 13th Amendment is. I mean, it was former St. Louis Cardinals great Curt Flood who once said is a slave is still a slave even if he’s a well-paid one.

But even worse than telling a Black athlete to just shut up and play is the hypocrisy that sometimes comes with that statement. For example, when white athletes like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady refused to visit the White House when President Barack Obama was president, none of the fans criticizing Black Patriots players like Martellus Bennett for skipping the visit or giving Fowler grief would ever tell Brady to just shut up and play.  He’s an American hero to them.

That’s the folly of conflating nationalism, patriotism and racism in these situations. If an athlete like Fowler can’t even express concern for his family without being raked over the coals for making a “political statement”, we have a problem.

The larger issue in my mind is that Blacks, the LGBTQ community, Hispanics, and Muslims are supposed to just lay down and take it on the chin in the face of bigotry. It reminds me of the mentality of calling out the Native Americans as “savages” for daring to fight back against the theft of their land.

In the end, all Fowler did was express concern for how a misguided policy decision on the part of a President who built is entire campaign and large chunks of his administration on fear and bigotry. To his credit, Fowler has managed to stand is ground despite the backlash.

But to the people telling Fowler to shut up and play I say this:

When you’re telling a fellow American to “just shut up and play”, you’re not only being a bigot, you’re also being downright un-American because the Constitution of the United States gives every American the right to speak his mind—

And that’s whether you like it or not.

 

Barack Obama and Jack Johnson More in Common Than You Think

16 Feb
jackjohnsonbarackobama

Both Barack Obama and Jack Johnson held positions no one thought a Black man would ever hold in this country. They were both cheered and vilified for it.

While it’s tempting to look at Barack Obama’s eight years as President of the United States through the eyes of Jackie Robinson, viewing them through the eyes of Jack Johnson might be more accurate.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

One of the most compelling and important African-American “firsts” in America’s history ended last week when Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States.

Barack Obama left the White House and went back into private life after an often-tumultuous eight years as the leader of the free world. In his two terms as President, Obama managed to save America from a depression through his economic stimulus plan and helped 20 million people get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

But while the Obama Presidency had some great moments, what many will remember, and what some will attribute to the Rise of Trump, will be the opposition he faced, much of which was based in racism.

From the Trump-championed “Birther” movement and the social media memes that often accompanied it, to Congressman Joe Walsh shouting “You lie!” during the first State of the Union Address and other random acts of disrespect, Obama’s presence in the White House seemed to bring out the worst in a lot of Americans.

When Obama assumed the office, many compared his ascension to that of Jackie Robinson integrating Major League Baseball and I guess that makes sense on some level. During his first season in the league, Robinson faced all kinds of racist taunts from fans and was told not to fight back by Brooklyn Dodgers’ management.

But while the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to Robinson as “the first freedom rider,” and the comparison between he and Obama works on some level, I submit that there may be a better sports-related analogy we can apply here, and that’s the rise and reign of Jack Johnson, the first African American boxer to become world heavyweight champion.

There’s a lot of commonality to their circumstances.

At the top of the 20th century when Johnson was making his push toward history, it was thought impossible for a Black man to attain boxing’s most prestigious prize. At a time when the concepts of Social Darwinism and Manifest Destiny relegated people of color as inferior in the early 1900s, the heavyweight championship was seen as the private domain of white men.

When he defeated Tommy Burns to become the first Black man to win the heavyweight belt, Johnson turned that notion on it’s head and with it the prevailing notion of White supremacy. 

The whites who ran boxing at the time were so invested in not recognizing Johnson as the heavyweight champion that they initiated a search for a “Great White Hope” that they hoped would defeat him. Even as Johnson continued to mow down these “Great White Hopes”, the news media that referred to him as “the playful Ethiopian” while portraying him as an “ape” or an African tribesman with exaggerated features joined fans in refusing to recognize Johnson as champion.

When Jim Jeffries, the man that White fans and the mainstream media did recognize as heavyweight champion, got into the ring with Johnson on July 10th, 1910, it was seen as not only the “Battle of the Century”, but as the fight designed to Make Boxing Great Again.

When Johnson’s win led to race riots, American newspapers reinforced White anger at the outcome including an editorial in the Los Angeles Times that warned African-Americans to be aware of their place in society:

“You are just the same member of society today you were last week. … You are on no higher plane, deserve no new consideration, and will get none … No man will think a bit higher of you because your complexion is the same as that of the victor at Reno.”

Johnson didn’t get that message. His self-confidence allowed him to flaunt his relationships with White women at a time when doing so would get you killed.

An aging Johnson finally lost his title to Jess Willard under a sweltering sun in Havana, Cuba in 1915 when he was knocked out in the 26th round.  Of course, the New York Times proclaimed Willard’s victory as restoring “pugilistic supremacy to the white race.”  It would be another 22 years before an African-American would fight for the heavyweight title.

Like Johnson 100 years earlier, Barack Obama broke through a barrier that no one thought a Black man ever would. When Obama began his trek to the White House, few African-Americans gave him a chance, thinking he would go the way of Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. But Obama not only won the Democratic nomination, he easily won the presidency over Republican Sen. John McCain.

Conservatives in Congress got together the night Obama was inaugurated and promised to do all they could to block anything the new president proposed. In a meeting of top GOP luminaries on the night of Obama’s inauguration, they came up with a plan to fight the new president on everything.

The Republicans did it to the point that it exceeded the bounds of decorum at times.

While Obama was a family man who was devoted to his wife and family, he and First Lady Michelle Obama were often the recipients of the most racist vitriol on social media. Conservative media outlets like Fox News often slammed Michelle Obama for daring to point out racism in American society, as she did in a 2015 speech at Tuskegee University.

When Obama was re-elected in 2012, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly loudly proclaimed that “traditional America” was over and the White people were a minority because of America’s changing demographics. Of course, traditional America translates into a White America where racial minorities, especially African-Americans, were invisible and knew their place.   

It was that energy that the Trump campaign managed to tap into through portraying Mexicans as rapists, Muslims as terrorists and African-Americans as a threat to law and order because of groups like Black Lives Matter.

In 2017, African-Americans, even with all the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, see themselves in the same perilous situation as they were in the early 20th century.