Leland Stein III

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Al Davis – Mr Raider

In sports column, Uncategorized on October 23, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Davis broke barriers, believed in inclusion.

By Leland Stein III

Al (Mr. D) Davis a maverick, revolutionary, icon, innovator, and most of all, a shatter of the good-old-boy business as usual NFL starting in the 1960’s to his passing recently at age 82.

I owe my inclusion in the professional sporting world to Mr. D. As a fledging writer for a respected African-America owned newspaper, that did not have a sportswriter, I perused every sports entity in Southern California for an opportunity to bring the sports news to our readers.

USC, UCLA, the Rams, Lakers and Clippers all said in unison, send me some clips and we will look at whether we will credential you or not. I had no clips.

Then a miracle happened for me. I wrote a column about the NCAA and the Black Coaches Association’s (BCA) confrontation concerning the implementation of Prop. 48 in 1986, an NCAA regulation that stipulated minimum high school grades and standardized test scores that student-athletes must meet to get a scholarship.

Now I agree that there had to be a standard and BCA did too, no one was saying a complete idiot should be allowed in college, but the standard should have been use to find out where a potential student/athlete was and used as inclusion and not exclusion, based on the background of many of these young men.

The column I wrote after going to Chicago to interview all the BCA coaches talked about how the NCAA’s so-called good intentions would have a discriminatory impact and reduce opportunities for many. Men like John Thompson and John Chaney knew they could take the marginal kid and through their guidance and influence, coach them up.

The column I wrote went national and I sent it to Davis for him to read. He wrote me back and noted that he understood what Thompson and Chaney were about in trying to get the NCAA to understand their position concerning inclusion.

Through Davis, Raiders executive assistant Al LoCasale gave me my first professional sports credential. From there I wrote and wrote and got clips that we used to get inclusion from the Rams, UCLA, USC, the Clippers and Lakers.

When the Raiders left Los Angeles to go back to Oakland in 1995, LoCasale and Dave made sure that I had season credential for the Raiders. My camera man and I covered every Raiders home game for six consecutive years.

My first Super Bowl covered as a journalist was Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California where the Raiders were the host team and Davis and LoCasale made sure we got credentialed through the NFL. We have not missed a Super Bowl since that day.

I’m sure that since we were representing an African-American newspaper Davis made sure we got access, just because he could push the envelope. His outreach to me and my newspaper was nothing new. Davis was always out on the fringes of what the ruling gentry pushed out as the way to do business.

Davis breached several barriers in relations to civil rights and diversity during his career with the Raiders. In 1963, the Raiders were scheduled to play a preseason game in Mobile, Alabama. Due to segregation laws in that city, Davis demanded the game be moved to Oakland. In 1965 an AFL All-Star game was scheduled in New Orleans. He again refused to let the game be played there because of the racial barriers present.

When it came to hiring, Davis was colorblind. He was the first NFL owner to hire an African American head coach, Art Shell and the first to hire a Latino head coach, Tom Flores. He also promoted a woman Amy Trask to chief executive.

Sure the Raiders fell on hard time recently, but five trips to the Super Bowl and coming away with three titles cannot be minimized. “Just Win, Baby” and “Commitment to Excellence” are monikers that Davis coined and are etched in football folklore.

I’m not sure why Davis took a liking to me, I never asked in our many conversations, but his passing leaves a giant silver and black hole in my personal space. He believed in inclusion and he stepped on professed and superficial barriers to make sure it changed on his watch.

 Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

Coach English: Love conquers all. Pamela gives the gift of life to her husband, a kidney.

In sports column, Uncategorized on September 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Coach English: Love conquers all

 Pamela gives the gift of life to her husband, a kidney.

 By Leland Stein III

 Life is strange. For most people they sleep, wake up and eat and sleep and wake up and eat. It is a gift that too many take for granted. As long as things are moving along most of us never think about how and why that happens.

 For one family, Donshell and Pamela English, they have come face-to-face with the reality of the everyday function of the body. Not that every organ in the body is not important; however, the English family has had to come to a hallelujah meeting with their kidneys.

 The kidneys play a vital role in our health. As the renal organs, kidneys job is like a chemist which is to constantly monitor the quality of the blood. Its main job is to ensure that the blood circulating around our body is pure and are free from harmful organisms like bacteria, viruses, waste products, excess water and many more.

 The bean-shaped organs that act like the waste disposal of the body, became the focal point in the lives of Donshell and Pamela. They are both teachers and have been married for 18 years, and, have two children Kaylen and Kendall.

 Donshell was an exceptional athlete at Cass Technical High School graduating in 1986. He attended Eastern Michigan University, where he was instrumental in helping the team win the MAC Conference Championship and the California Bowl in 1987. He played defensive end and served as team captain.

 Strong and athletic, Donshell appeared to have everything a person could want sitting right in front of him. Taking over the Southeastern football program in 2002, in two years he took the Jungleers to its first Public School League (PSL) Division IV Championship, and was runners-up for the City Championship.

Donshell and Pamela English

It did not stop there as he guided Southeastern to a two year record of 22-3 (2008 and 2009). English and the Jungleers won a city title in 2008 and took all on an unforgettable ride to the state semifinals and played in one of the most memorable and talked about games in PSL history – a close loss to Sterling Heights Stevenson.

 At the peak of his success life and his kidneys took control forcing him to resign from the game he loves to focus on getting his health in order.

“Fourteen or fifteen years ago I was told my numbers were not right,” Donshell recalled. “I did everything the doctors told me to do as far as medicine and other stuff. It all worked out okay until 2007 when I started feeling bad and having pain. Eventually they diagnosed me with diverticulitis. I had to have surgery where they removed part of my colon and I had to wear a colostomy bag for a year. Man my life changed unbelievably.”

 Through coaching, teaching, and the kids, he managed to find a deterrent that helped him not dwell of focus too much on the health issues that took over his life.

 “Being a coach in the inner city is a full time job,” he explained. “There is so much more than just coaching needed if you want to do the job right. I had to make sure they were going to class, I had to clothe some of them, feed some of them and be a father or big brother when needed. Football became a safe haven for many of my kids.”

Donshell was one of the PSL’s best coaches and mentors, plus coaching was also a safe haven for him until January of ’09. Not feeling too good for a while he finally went to the doctor and his test results showed creatinine level had climbed to 15. The next morning he had his first kidney dialysis and stayed on a schedule of dialysis three times a week until this past June.

 “We were at a meeting and the question came up about a donor kidney, so I raised my hand and said I’d try,” Pamela recalled. “After some test I found we were a match and it was a no-brainer from there. It was life and death and the quality of life possible for my husband and the father of my kids.

 “We never had any doubt that my kidney would take, because we have a strong faith in God. After the surgery recovery went good for both of us. We have had great support from our church and family. We are trying to live life to the fullest. We are happy!”

 Said Donshell: “Everything is working fantastic. It is a true blessings I’m done with dialysis! I hope to be back coaching next year.”

 Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII


Curt Flood HBO special off base

In sports column, Uncategorized on August 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Curt Flood documentary off base

By Leland Stein III

HBO has produced some memorable sports documentaries in recent years, like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, the integration of black football players at Southern universities, Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV, Ali versus Frazier I: One Nation Divisible, Do You Believe In Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team and Nine Innings From Ground Zero just to mention a few of my favorite.

HBO Sports recently released “The Curious Case of Curt Flood.” He challenged Major League Baseball when its owners had a plantation mentality where teams owned players forever. Only the owners could they trade, discard and set salaries.

Then in October 1969 Flood was traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies and he said no I will not go. What he actually told reporters was, “In the history of man, there’s no other profession except slavery where one man is tied to one owner for the rest of his life.”

I agree, it all went again America’s preaching about freedom, a right to choose, capitalism and fairness.

People reacted to the slavery comparison like he’d set fire to their shoelaces. “Slavery?” many exclaimed. “Heck he is getting paid $90,000 to play a game!” Flood interjected, “A well-paid slave is still a slave,” thus he started down the horrendous and dreadful path of suing MLB, striving to get the reserve clause declared illegal.

With that as the backdrop, I was eager to catch the HBO documentary, but the title kind of knocked me back, “The Curious Case of Curt Flood.” What did that mean? Was it curious like bizarre or like weird or strange?

Flood fitted into my sphere as a noteworthy, courageous and socially conscious athlete. Like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Carl Lewis, Muhammad Ali, Spencer Haywood, John Carlos and Tommie Smith. All men that were not afraid to stand on what they believed were necessary and worthy issues that confronted them beyond the playing fields. 

The film reminded me that Flood’s stand was remarkable considering the climate. As pitcher Bob Gibson, Flood’s Hall of Fame team and roommate and fellow black athlete honestly said in the documentary: “Was I behind Curt? Absolutely. But I was about 10 steps back just in case there was some fallout.”

Flood was an exception outfielder and hitter, who helped the Cardinals win a World Series title, but he saw his career essentially ended in 1969 when at age 31 he challenged the reserve clause that made MLB players the property of the owners of the teams with which they signed. Sounds extreme, it was.

MLB athletes had it only a little better than track and field athletes, who could not get a dime for their superior efforts. That’s why legends like Jesse Owens was relegated to race horses after his record setting four gold medal effort in Germany in front of an enraged Hitler.

Instead of focusing the narrative on a young Flood’ unprecedented challenge to the so-called American Pastime’s unfair labor system and his appearing at a civil-rights rally in the deep South, at a time when black athletes ducked controversy the way they ducked the Klu Klux Klan, HBO spent a lot of the documentary focusing on all that was wrong with Flood.

As one reporter noted: “This courageous athlete is depicted as an alcoholic, a womanizer, a woeful husband, a dreadful father, a lousy businessman, and, oh yes, he was a chain smoker who died of throat cancer. In the history of warts-and-all biographies, this one slithers near the top of the list.” 

Flood lost the Supreme Court ruling 5-3 as MLB kept its antitrust exemption. His life unraveled as he fled to Denmark, then Spain. Instead of focusing more of the isolation he felt that and the loss of his livelihood, the documentary went for the jugular and his flaws. The man that ushered in arbitration, free agent, and salary cap deserved better. LeBron James and Alex Rodriguez all owe their monetary wind falls to Flood.

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