Am I Black Enough?
On the heels of what has happened and continuing in Ferguson, MO; we would be remiss if we didn’t comment on these things strictly from a sports perspective. I am not going to go into ANY details about the shooting of Michael Brown, Jr. by officer Darren Wilson as the justice system needs it’s time to work through this tragedy and sort fact from innuendo and rumor.
What we can do is compare the volatile 60’s Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War to current events. In those times, black athletes realized that they were role models and their communities were looking to them to lead and/or set the tone.
In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos who had won the gold and bronze medals in the 200 meter race decided to make a political statement about how blacks were treated in the United States. These medalists raised their fists in the air for all African Americans. What isn’t wildly reported is Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore a badge in support of the two black athletes.
Jim Brown is widely considered the greatest football player to ever put on cleats, talented actor, but most importantly a civil rights activist. In 1967 Brown organized a summit in Cleveland where himself and other prominent black athletes such as Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) met with Muhammad Ali when the boxer drew controversy for opposing the Vietnam War and refusing to be drafted into the US Army.
Brown and other athletes eventually gave Ali their public support. Brown has been critical of today’s athlete saying “If I had to call that summit today there would be athletes I wouldn’t even think about calling. Kobe Bryant would not get a call from me.” In fairness to Kobe, who would one call today? The Miami Heat were hailed for putting on hoodies and taking a picture when Trayvon Martin was killed. Call me jaded, but they only did that because Martin was a native of Miami. Where were they when Jordan Davis was killed in Jacksonville, FL nine months later?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. changed his name as he converted to Islam.Abdul-Jabbar stated that he was “latching on to something that was part of my heritage, because many of the slaves who were brought here were Muslims. My family was brought to America by a French planter named Alcindor, who came here from Trinidad in the 18th century. My people were Yoruba, and their culture had survived slavery. My father found out about that when I was a kid, and it gave me all I needed to know that, hey, I was somebody, even if nobody else knew about it. When I was a kid, no one would believe anything positive that you could say about black people. And that’s a terrible burden on black people, because they don’t have an accurate idea of their history, which has been either suppressed or distorted.” It should be noted that Abdul-Jabbar has stated the events in Ferguson are more about class than race.
Then there is the greatest of all time, Muhammed Ali. Like Kareem, Muhammed was named after his father Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. but changed his name when converting to Islam. Ali is largely regarded as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time yet a controversial and polarizing figure during his early career. Ali is today widely regarded for the skills he displayed in the ring plus the values he exemplified outside of it: religious freedom, racial justice and the triumph of principle over expedience. Ali was prohibited from boxing ANYWHERE after being banned by boxing for his refusal to be drafted into the army and fight in the Vietnam War. Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, stating publicly that, “no Vietcong ever called me nigger.” He was systematically denied a boxing license in every state and stripped of his passport. As a result, he did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970—from ages 25 to almost 29—as his case worked its way through the appeal process. In 1971, the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction in a unanimous 8-0 ruling (Thurgood Marshall, the only black Supreme Court justice abstained from the case). Soon, the Vietnam War was being protested by everyone because the United States were losing and the loss of American lives were staggering.
All of these things happened before I was born, but my father Tyrone Hodge (deceased) taught me about these events as they were important. Today’s athletes are too concerned with their endorsement deals or “branding,” to publicly come out against anything deemed controversial. Sad, not only for today’s youth but also for anyone in the future looking back to see which great athlete had the back of the blacks.
All Pictures From SI (Sports Illustrated).
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TK’s Bio: Terrence Kyrell Hodge I was born 9/13/79, in what was then W. Berlin Germany, to Qualise and Lieutenant Tyrone Hodge of the United States Marine Corps. He lived in London England and graduated from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor in 2000 with BA in English and Political Science. Terrence writes about any and everything. Terrence is planning a series of novels that are works of “faction” part factual (nonfiction) and partly fictional. He plans to bring a dual vision of American and European observation and opinions to PMA. He will bring blunt honesty with a sense of comedy. He says “I will write wherever I’m needed as I am NOT a one trick pony.