Leland Stein III

Archive for June, 2018|Monthly archive page

THE ROLE OF ATHLETES AND ACTIVISM HAS A STORIED HISTORY

In sports column on June 30, 2018 at 5:19 pm

 

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Iconic Black Economic Union summit (sitting l to r), Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Standing (not in order) attorney Carl Stokes, Curtis McClinton, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Jim Shorter (Redskins), Walter Beach, and John Wooten.

By Leland Stein III

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Leland Stein III

As a kid growing up – outside my family – some of the first role models I drew inspiration from were athletes.

First, there was Joe Louis, whom my father trained along side of at Detroit’s renown Brewster Recreation Center. Then there was NFL Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Gale Sayers and my friend, Lem Barney. Next, tearing up the track was two-time Olympic Gold medalist and Northwestern High’s Henry “Gray Ghost” Carr.

I know I’m not alone in this declaration. Generally, after Mom and Dad, most youth look up to the people they see and hear both in newspapers, music or on television.

Throughout the Unites States long history, there have been musicians, politicians, television personalities, actors and athletes who have used their national platforms, some understood the vehicle they have and found ways to lend their collective voices to perceived injustices in America’s society.

So, when a Fox news anchor proclaimed that LeBron James and Kevin Durant should keep their political commentary to themselves and just “shut up and dribble and stick to sports,” calling their comments “ignorant,” I just cringed!! 

Just like President Trump, this Fox news reporter was serving her own agenda, while completely whitewashing The First Amendment which guarantees the right of freedom of speech, the right of peaceable assembly, and the freedom of the press.

Trump and that Fox reporter, both have no learned understanding of history and of the things that have truly “Made America Great.”

The worlds of sports and politics are invariably intertwined in a multifaceted, complex and convoluted mixed that is in the words of jazz legend Miles Davis, a “Bitches Brew.”

On one hand, sports are entertainment, and an escape from the doldrums that permeate peoples’ everyday existence. Yet on the other hand, sports entertainment presents itself as a much too serious endeavor for too many. Politics, unquestionably, is the vehicle that generates laws and govern our everyday movements through humanity.

Still, sports are an undeniable vehicle that galvanizes entire communities, towns and even countries into a collective discourse that move many into civic, regional and national pride.

Long before America admitted, recognized or documented that its segregation policies and laws, both unwritten and written, were racist … sports took center stage.

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Jack Johnson and wife.

When Jack Johnson won the World Heavyweight boxing title in the very early 1900’s, most African Americans could not live, work, marry or compete in sports activities with their white American brethren.  So, the politics of that day passed a law that would not let him travel with his white wife over state lines. It caused him to leave the country for eight years and when he returned he was put in jail.

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Joe Louis knocked-out Max Schmeling and Hitler’s Aryan Supremacy with one punch.

In 1936 and 1938 two men changed many perceptions and some perceived prejudices – albeit not the educational, political or the economic plight of most African Americans. They were Jesse Owens and Joe Louis. Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, as Germany was on the eve of World War II.  Owens on the track debunked Hitler’s Aryan Supremacy rhetoric, making him a national icon and world figure.

Later in 1938, Louis knocked out Germany legend, Max Schmeling, moving him past just a boxer to a true American hero. Whether either of them wanted it, they became political figures that represented an entire race. Many of our white brethren in America embrace Louis and Owens – white and black, rich and poor.

Yet the politics pouring out of Washington still did not change the segregation and racist agendas of the courts or police or military.

After Louis’ and Owens’ break through, Jackie Robinson furthered the cause of the African American in the United States as he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 – a significant moment in race relations that Louis and Owens helped forged.

Like bacon and eggs, socks and shoes, grits and butter… sports and politics, like it or not, have always walked hand in hand.

So, I think it is safe to postulate that Barack Obama becoming the country’s 44th and first African-American president was cleared in part by athletes whose courage, heart, determination and talent helped the country move through the slow, violent, tedious and painful process of desegregation.

Hall of Fame slugger, Hank Aaron, who experienced first-hand the ugliness of racism as he chased Babe Ruth’s hollowed homerun record, told a reporter that he was just overwhelmed when Obama won. “Every time I see him on television I just smile because he represents me,” he said. “No matter how I look at it, he’s me. For the first time you can see this country becoming the kind of country that we all are very proud of.”

Aaron and other Black athletes broke barriers and changed the political climate before the Civil Rights Movement commenced. In fact, Aaron was among the early influx of black players to follow Robinson, breaking into the majors in 1954, a month before the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that opened the way for school integration.

Then in the 1960’s, men like Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Curt Flood and even Spencer Haywood, challenged America’s First Amendment and segregated policies and used their celebrity to force the political climate to become more inclusive.

In particular, gold medalist sprinters, Tommie Smith, along with bronze medalist John Carlos, raised black-gloved fist at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City to protest the racism and segregation overwhelming too many in the United States.

The controversial salute during the national anthem by Smith and Carlos came six months after King’s assassination. Predictably both athletes were denigrated and disparaged by white America for their actions.

“People wanted to label me a militant,” Smith, told me in an interview. “The fact of the matter is what we did was a Project for Human Rights. We needed to bring attention to the negative condition of too many in the States.”

The world’s biggest gathering of nations, the Olympics has and will always live with the politics of humanity. Sometimes it has been very good like China using the 2008 Beijing Games as a coming out party to the world showcasing its rich history, culture and creativity.

On the other hand, it has also been used to further political agendas like the Palestinians taking the Israeli athletes in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. All the hostages were killed. Then the United State boycotted the Russian Games in 1980 and Russia did likewise, boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Sports and politics go hand in hand, much to the chagrin of many; however, they will always be wedded.

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Kevin Durant and LeBron James celebrated 2012 USA Basketball Gold Medal.

James seems understand and embrace his platform saying: “When I was growing up, there were like three jobs that you looked to for inspiration. It was the president of the United States, it was whoever was the best in sports, and then it was like the greatest musician at the time. At this time right now, with the president, it’s at a bad time. We cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, but we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us, that this is not the way.”

Added Durant: “What’s going on in our country, it’s all about leadership. We need to empower people, we need to encourage people, and that’s what builds a great team. And I feel like our team, as a country, is not run by a great coach.”

Other athletes understand their political opportunities like the:

The St. Louis Rams “Hands Up” to raise their arms in awareness of the events in Ferguson, MO.

Miami Heat wearing “hoodies” to protest the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin, who was on his way home to watch his beloved Heat.

Billie Jean King’s stance for “equality” for women in tennis. Prize money for women’s tennis increased because of her advocacy.

And then there was Colin Kaepernick who took a knee during “The Star Spangled Banner.” He launched a protest that sent aftershocks everywhere.

The fact of the matter is sports and politics are married, and, after a lull, some of today’s athletes seems to grasp the enormous cultural and economic influence they possess, and it is heartening that some have started to understand how to leverage that status for something more than selling sneakers.

Leland Stein III can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and twitter @LelandSteinIII

Shields overcomes knockdown, outlast Gabriels

In sports column on June 24, 2018 at 3:01 am

 

 

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Claressa Shields gets left hook on Hanna Gabriels. Bob Ryder – photo

 

By Leland Stein III

 

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Leland Stein III

 

DETROIT – I have covered over 100 championship boxing matches and every other sporting event too, but there is something about a sweet science title contest that is simply electric.

Flint, Michigan’s Claressa “T-Rex” Shields (6-0, 2 KOs), a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (2012 and 2016) and now unified women’s super-middleweight champion versus Costa Rica’s Hanna Gabriels (18-2-1, 11 KOs), who despite the loss is still unified women’s junior middleweight champion, together they not only illustrated how far women’s boxing has come, but more importantly, they put together an action-packed fight that was indeed worthy of a national event presented by Showtime Boxing.

At Detroit’s historic Masonic Temple one boxing’s more famous combatants, 23-year-old Shields, undeniably had the estimated 3,000 in a frenzy throughout as fisticuff enthusiast stood from the third round to the final bell as “T-Rex” craved out an exciting unanimous decision.

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Shields hits canvas for first time. Bob Ryder – photo

The victory gave Shields the IBF and WBA middleweight world championships.

Having glided through an exceptional amateur career and her first five professional fights, Shields found herself in uncharted waters. First, she gets knockdown in the first round (her first time touching the canvas), getting hit more than in any fight she has engaged in, and, getting head butted numerous times with one opening up a large cut on her left cheekbone.

Still she found or elevated that special intrinsic something that all champions possess, heart and swag, and, she needed it all.

“Once I went down,” Shields recalled in the post-fight press conference, “I took a deep breath and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m about to whip this girl a*s.’ I just remember thinking let’s use the jab, be smart, move your head and tire her out.

“What I proved to myself was I can get put on my a*s, get up and come back and win. This was my night and I had to show the world I’m the greatest of all-time. I showed who I am. Now, I’m really dangerous because you can even put me down, and I’ll still come back to win.”

Indeed, she came back to win. Shields represents more than just boxing, as everyone knows about the horrible decisions made in the Flint water crisis that hurt so many. Also, the city has become a victim of the economic and manufacturing changes that happens to cities that rely too heavily on any one industry, and, the subsequent poverty that follows.

“I know I am one of the most popular people to come from Flint,” Shields deadpanned, “so, I represent my city, my community and the U.S.A. I know a lot of people are expecting great things from me, but no one expects more from me than I do from myself!”

Shields is a female Sugar Ray Leonard, in terms of her hand speed. She always unleashes punches in combinations and flurries that puts unrelenting pressure on her opponents. She came at Gabriels, 35, in tsunami like waves of smites that just overwhelmed her opponent.

She commanded the exchanges after the first round, but got a stern test from Gabriels, a former welterweight world titlist, in her toughest fight yet. According to CompuBox statistics, Shields landed 162 of 506 punches (32 percent) and Gabriels landed 133 of 510 (26 percent). Shields averaged 66.5 punches thrown per 2-minute round and landed 46.6% of her power shots. She out landed her opponents by more than 3-1 in power shots.

“I was a little surprised at her speed,” Gabriels said in the post-fight press conference. “She has a lot of heart, but so do I. I left my heart in that ring. I trained to go the distance but my heart betrayed me, because after that first knockdown, I was looking for another one. I wanted to show everyone I had a warrior’s heart. I didn’t feel I had an advantage after the knockdown. I felt I had to work round after round to even have a possibility to win.”

Said Shields: “[Gabriels] a good fighter. She has skills and just the way she carries herself. She’s very calm and her facial expressions never change. I think she’s tough, but not as tough as I am. I know I’m the better fighter.”

The victory over Gabriels set up a fall showdown for the undisputed women’s middleweight world championship with fellow two-belt titleholder German fighter Christina Hammer. Hammer routed Tori Nelson to retain her belts in the co-feature.

Shortly after the decision, Team Shields and Team Hammer began the hype for the mega fight, as an ugly scrum broke out after the fight.

“I’m just tired of Hammer disrespecting me all the time,” Shields said. “She comes into the ring after all my fights, stealing my shine, talks trash, and then she goes in there and looks like s— against Nelson. I’m sick of it. But I let her know I’m more than ready for a fight against her. She wanted me to lose tonight, but I wanted her to win because I want to fight her. We have to unify now.”

Said Hammer: “I’m really looking forward to fighting Claressa. She will try and fight me on the inside, but my footwork, and my reach, will be the difference. The fight with Claressa will be a game-changer. It will be the biggest women’s fight ever.”

In the opening bout of the Showtime-televised tripleheader, light heavyweight Umar Salamov (22-1, 16 KOs), 24, of Russia, knocked out Brian Howard (13-2, 10 KOs), 38, of Atlanta, in the ninth round. Salamov was ahead on all three scorecards when he dropped Howard for the count with two right hands at 53 seconds.

Leland Stein III can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and twitter @LelandSteinIII