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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.”

 

Atlantic City Celebrates its Storied Boxing History With Inaugural Hall-of-Fame Induction

2 Jun
IMG_0667

Dwight Muhammad Qawi was inducted into the new Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame. Known as the “Camden Buzz Saw,” Muhammad had some memorable fights in Atlantic City. Photo by Chris Murray

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Back in the 1980s, local high rollers looking for entertainment away from the tables in the form of a boxing match didn’t have to go all the way to Las Vegas to scratch that itch.

They only had to go as far as Atlantic City.

Atlantic City was as big a boxing venue as they come and was the setting for some of the greatest boxing matches in the sport’s history.

From the heavyweight title bout between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks, to the Arturo Gatti-Mickey Ward Trilogy, and great matchups between Philly-area fighters like Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Matthew Saad-Muhammad, Atlantic City was a major hub for professional boxing.

That history was honored on Sunday night (May 28) as the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame inducted its first class of boxing legends.

In addition to Gatti, Spinks, Qawi and Saad-Muhammad, boxing champs Mike Tyson, and Larry Holmes, boxing writer Bert Sugar, referee and former N.J. State Boxing Commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr., Philadelphia boxing promoter J.Russell Peltz, matchmaker Don Elbaum and legendary promoter Don King were among those enshrined as part of the first class.

In addition to being a celebration of the Sweet Science, the ceremony at the Claridge Hotel also served as a glowing tribute to what was once one of the sport’s beloved locations.

“When you consider that in the five years from 1984 to 1988, there were 451 fight cards in Atlantic City, which is an average of 90 a year,” Peltz said. “What city, what state has 90 fight cards a year?!”

Like the boxers it celebrated, Atlantic City itself is scrappy. Through the ACBHOF, that scrappiness is celebrated, said Ray McCline, the Hall of Fame’s president and founder.

At a time when the city’s Boardwalk is a shadow of its former self and tourism is spotty, the ACBHOF could be a big help, McCline said.

“It’s a huge boost,” he said.  “It’s really about trying to remind people what Atlantic City was in the past, but to also create a space so that we can be competitive on a boxing level … It’s about promoting the history of Atlantic City and also Atlantic City as a tourist destination for people that love the sport, but also love the city.

Don Guardian, Atlantic City’s Mayor, agrees. The economic impact these athletes had on the City alone makes honoring them this way make sense, he said.

“It’s almost like we owe this to these great athletes that came in their prime and performed in Boardwalk Hall, especially,” he said. “What it meant was that hundreds of thousands of people over a decade came to Atlantic City that wouldn’t have been here otherwise.  … Thousands of jobs existed because of the great athletes that are in that ring.  Atlantic City was the East Coast boxing Mecca and it we hope to return to that again.”

While McCline and Guardian are optimistic that Atlantic City can return to its boxing glory days, Peltz thinks that the increased level of competition from casinos in locations like upstate New York and Connecticut makes it highly unlikely.

“I think Spinks and Tyson was the peak in June of 1988,” he said. “It’s never going to be what it was because the casinos have too much competition from those in New York and Connecticut and they aren’t willing to put up the money they way they used to back in those days.”

For boxing fans, Sunday night’s event provided a chance to envision what Atlantic City’s boxing heyday must have looked like. Seeing Michael Spinks and Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Mike Rossman served as a reminder of the epic battles these fighters had with each other and of the days when Atlantic City was a great boxing venue.

“I don’t try to figure it out, I just accept it,” said Qawi, who fought Matthew Saad Muhammad, both Michael and Leon Spinks. “(Fighting in Atlantic City) brought the best out of me.”

McCline is in the process of trying to find a permanent home for the ACBHOF, he said. The Claridge Hotel is in the running, and he is looking at other locations around the city.

Here are the members of the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017:

Boxers: Matthew Saad Muhammad (deceased), Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Michael Spinks, Mike Rossman, Levander Johnson (deceased), Arturo Gatti (deceased), Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes.

Trainers: Bill Johnson (Levander’s father), Lou Duva (deceased) and Mike Hall (deceased).

Promoters/Matchmakers: Frank Gelb, Don Elbaum, Don King, J. Russell Peltz

Officials: Larry Hazzard Sr., commissioner New Jersey Athletic Control Board, referee Steve Smoger, ringside physician Dr. Frank Doggett (deceased)

Media: Bert Sugar (deceased), Dave Bontempo and Jack Obermeyer (deceased)

Casino Officials: Ken Condon, consultant Caesar’s Entertainment; Dennis Gomes, CEO Resorts International (deceased) and Bob Lee, president of the International Boxing Federation.

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

KaepernickPhoto2

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.

 

The Dilemma: Should the 76ers Sit Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for the Rest of the Season?

16 Feb
embiid-and-simmons

Sixers Joel Embiid and first round draft pick Ben Simmons share a moment on the bench. Will 76ers see the two starting games near the end of the season? Photo courtesy CSNPhilly.com

Unlike years past, the Philadelphia 76ers have a decision to make that doesn’t involve ping-pong balls.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Right now, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves in the horns of a dilemma.

That dilemma? Do they let potential stars Joel  Embiid and Ben Simmons play after the All-Star break if they recover from their injuries, or should the team think about the future and shelve their young phenoms in anticipation of future greatness?

With the team still dealing with the fallout of not being on the level with the public about the torn meniscus in  Embiid’s left knee, the big talk around town is whether or not the team should shut down the former Kansas star for the rest of the season.

Because Embiid’s injury won’t require surgery, he could theoretically be back before the end of the season.  There’s also the possibility that rookie Simmons, who is recovering from a foot injury, could be ready late in the season.

But given Embiid’s history with injuries, especially the foot injury that sidelined him for the first two years of his career, and the fact that the team isn’t within striking distance of the NBA playoffs, it wouldn’t seem illogical for the Sixers to put both players on ice until next season to give them the chance to get completely healthy for next season.

But Sixers head coach Brett Brown wouldn’t necessarily agree with that line of thinking.

Since Dec. 30, the 76ers have a 14-11 record. During that time, they’ve been fun to watch as the team, led by Embid, has started to show flashes of what could be.

Brown even appears to be having fun coaching the team despite a 21-34 record. He believes that the team is finally buying into his defensive philosophy and has been making progress.

During a gathering of reporters earlier this week, Brown said he was more concerned about keeping the team focused for the rest of the season and getting better.

He’d like to see them end the season on a high note.

“We want to take this final third [of the season], move the program forward, and try to set the stage for a great summer,” Brown said on Sixers.com  “I’m excited for that final third, and so is my staff. This All-Star break will be dealt with on those terms.”

It’s safe to assume that Brown would love to see what the team would look like with both Embiid and Simmons on the floor. He wants to build some momentum and perhaps create some buzz for next season. After stinking up the joint the last few years in the name of getting a lottery pick, Brown wants to show fans a glimpse of what could be a promising future.

But for Sixers fans still smarting from the Andrew Bynum debacle, seeing Embid dancing on stage at a Meek Mill concert caused flashbacks of a Bynum too injured to play taking to the bowling lanes.

While I can see both sides of the argument, the outstanding play of Dario Saric and Nerlens Noel in the absence of Embiid and Simmons makes me lean toward shutting both of them down for the season so that they can get healthy and tear through the NBA next year.

Considering the dilemma that the Philadelphia 76ers usually face at this point in the NBA’s regular season, that’s an improvement.

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.

Light at the End of The Tunnel: Young Sixers Showing Promise

21 Jan
embiid

Rookie Joel Embiid is giving Sixers fans hope that better days are ahead in the City of Brotherly Love.

Now that the team appears to be making progress, the phrase “trust the process” is no longer a laughing matter for the Philadelphia 76ers.

By Chris Murray  

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown visited the Philadelphia Eagles training camp at Nova Care, he told reporters that he could see the light at the end of a long tunnel with his young team, expressing some cautious optimism with the pending debut of Joel Embiid and No. 1 draft choice Ben Simmons.

So far this season, Brown has a reason to believe that this light at the end of the tunnel is no longer an oncoming train.

Fans are starting to see some semblance of progress thanks to the way that the Sixers (14-26) are playing. While that probably won’t lead to a playoff spot this year, you get the feeling that a playoff game at the Wells Fargo Center isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

“We’re all starving for some success, we’re starving for some good feelings and some wins,” Brown said. “Fans are dying for us to get this right and pull this off.  This city and these fans deserve it.”

The Sixers have won seven of their last 10, three of which came against playoff teams, the most recent being a 94–89 win over the Toronto Raptors (28-14).

The Raptors took the NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference finals and currently have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

His team’s effort on defense over these last 10 games is something that Brown can be proud of. The Sixers held a Raptors squad that averages about 111 points per game to just 89 points.

“We’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief in each other amongst the team that it’s the best that it has been since I’ve been here. There’s a rhythm to what we’re doing, there’s a beat to what we’re doing.”

One of the obvious reasons for the Sixers current run of success has been Embiid, who despite being limited in terms of minutes has proven that quality is far more important than quantity. He has scored at least 20 points in his last 10 games.

In the win over the Raptors, Embiid scored 26 points and pulled down nine rebounds.  It was his defense and clutch free-throw shooting in the last 30 seconds that enabled the 76ers to come away with the victory.  On the defensive end, Embiid came up with a huge block and rebound of a shot by Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. He sank four free throws.

“When you have a five man that can make free throws … if you can find a five man that has the defensive presence that Joel has and isn’t a liability on offense when they start fouling. … If they wrap him up and he’s a 40 percent free-throw shooter, you’ll have problems,” Brown said. “[Embiid] shot 32 free throws in the last two games. So apart from the percentage, the volume that he gets there (free-throw line) makes it a luxury, too.”

Embiid said the biggest takeaway from beating Toronto was the confidence they gained from beating a playoff contender like the Raptors.

“Winning against the second-best team in the Eastern Conference is just amazing and we’re going to keep on working,” he said. “Everybody is buying into the system and coaches are doing a great job of preparing us and everybody has bought in and we’re playing good basketball.”

Brown said he was really impressed with Dario Saric’s commitment to contribute on the defensive end. In the second half of the Raptors game, Saric had two consecutive blocked shots including one against Raptors power forward Jared Sullinger.

Known as a guy who likes to hit the outside shot, Saric has really made a commitment to playing defense.

“I try to bring the teams some kind of energy,” Saric. “I just want to be in the game.”

The Sixers aren’t ready to be a playoff team just yet, they’re still are a work in progress and that’s what the fans want to see. They want to root for a team that’s moving in the right direction.

Finally, fans have a reason to trust the process.