Leland Stein III

Posts Tagged ‘Olympic Games’

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

USA Women dominate 2012 London Olympics

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 12:19 am

MBy Leland Stein III

LONDON – Triumph and tragedy. Stars were born, and legends were toppled. But in the end the superstars were indeed super.

The 2012 London Olympic Games, lived up to the hype and even more. What makes the Olympic Games so intriguing and captivating is that it happens only once every four years.

Just think an Olympic athlete has to peak at every four years. There is no room for mistakes and/or I‘ll get it done next year attitude if an athlete has a bad day – simply put there is no tomorrow. In the sports genre . . . the Games are the ultimate do it now or never opportunity for many.

Gold Medal winning USA 4x400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Gold Medal winning USA 4×400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Sure there are always a few superstar men and women that have the gift of ability, tenacity, courage, commitment and single mindedness that are all necessary to just compete in the Games let along win more than one title.

Well, superstar swimmer Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double that of the next highest record holders). In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four golds and two silver medals.

Maybe even greater was the effort of Jamaican phenomenon sprinter Usain Bolt. He made himself a true legend of sport with his unprecedented second gold triple triple – winning the 100-, 200- and 4×100-meter relay.

The 25-year-old Bolt in the face of stronger competitors than in Beijing, unleashed that intrinsic determination and drive that only a superior athlete processes.

London famous Tower Bridge. - Jon Gaede photo

London famous Tower Bridge. – Jon Gaede photo

USA gymnast Gabby Douglas, 17, became the first African-American to win the all-around Olympic gymnastics title in London. She later was chosen The Associated Press female athlete of the year. Her autobiography, “Grace, Gold and Glory,” became No. 4 on the New York Times’ young adult list. She, along with here gold medal teammates recently completed a 40-city gymnastics tour, in which she got to meet President Barack Obama.

Another women’s star that rocked the sports world was Serena Williams. She won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the London Games two years after her career was nearly derailed by health problems. She and her sister Venus won their third Olympic doubles title and she also won her first single’s gold medal.

Also high on my memory list is how the American women rocked the Olympic Games. Douglas and her gymnastics squad won the team gold medal. Swimmers Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt were multiple golden. There were track and field stars Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross that chewed up the track.

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

One of my favorite athletes had to have been the 800-meter runner from Kenya, David Rudisha, who set a world record in winning the gold medal. I have never seen anyone with a more beautiful stride and running gait.

Also with the Games being in London, being in the stadium to witness Great Britain’s Mo Farah win the 10,000- and 5000-meters in thrilling style, as well as watching British darling Jessica Enis win the heptathlon . . . at both events if there had been a roof on the stadium it would have come off as 80,000 people roared both to victory while waving the Union Jack.

The Olympics are a celebration of humanity and people, where for close to a month all of this earth’s brothers and sisters come together in a friendly spirit of competition that challenges not only their opponent, but themselves and us to keep the spirit of peaceful integrated humanity alive.

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

 

Obama, Ali helps London Olympics welcome the world

In sports column on August 28, 2012 at 1:46 am

Leland stein III speaking at Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

By Leland Stein III

LONDON — It was a no-win situation for London’s 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, simply because there was no way they could quite outdo what the world’s largest country (China) did during the 2008 Games in Beijing.

I sat in the Olympic Birdcage Stadium in Beijing in complete amazement and wonderment at the Chinese’s’ innovative aerial and mystical presentation, sitting in the London Olympic Stadium I was not sure what to expect.

I asked myself, “How could London match Beijing 2008? They could not.

But, as I sat in the Olympic Stadium with over 80,000 rabid fans and over one billion television viewers world-wide, the London Opening Ceremony surprised me with its fun presentation. It was enjoyable and took us through its rich cinema, comedy, and music history and, a surprising salute to the digital age – although the industrial salute age was a bit boring.

Smartly, the British did not try to outdo Beijing. They produced a uniquely British production that was who they are and what they have been about.

Tower Bridge and the Olympic flame. Jon Gaede photo

Sure the visual musical presentation of every Opening Ceremony reflects the city hosting this mega sports festival; however, the appearance of the competing nations is my favorite part of the Opening Ceremony. Each team’s selection of the flag bearer, the wearing of their native garb, and the different size of each nation’s teams from very large to very small . . . I dig it because it is about the athletes.

Then there was our beautiful First-Lady (Michelle Obama) in the Stadium as our representative welcoming in the USA athletes. Then, there was also former Olympic Gold medalist Muhammad Ali on the field to touch and bless the Olympic flag before it was hung high . . . oh yeah!!!

London is a city in the United Kingdom that has over 7,500,000 million people and it has given us Shakespeare, James Bond, Mary Poppins and Harry Potter, the Tower Bridge, the Thames River, BBC News, English and the beginnings of Democracy. As well as, Wimbley Stadium and the Wimbledon Tennis Center, and, The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Amy Winehouse, Rolling Stones and the Spice Girls. London is recognized as the crossroads of world trade and world culture.

Being that defined as a world power gives London a hustle and bustle greater than New York, a rail system and bus system unparallel in America, a diverse population mostly all live in the same areas, and, a mixture of the old history and the new today.

Still in all its glory London has many of the same problems urban America has – the poverty, classism, congestion and old infrastructure.

In fact, talking to a few Londoners they told me that there had been a Rodney King-type riot. In August 2011, a police officer shot and killed a black man during an attempt to arrest him. From there several London boroughs, districts of cities and towns across England suffered widespread rioting, looting and arson where thousands took to the streets. Places like Tottenham, Hackney, Brixton, Chingford, Peckham, Enfield, Croydon, Ealing and East Ham all experienced rampant looting and arson attacks of unprecedented levels.

In spite of it misgivings, London’s greatest strength remains the diversity of its people. Londoners come from all corners of the world. Reports note that London is witnessing an expansion of cultural and artistic life not seen for decades.

Getting back to the Opening Ceremony, seeing all the world’s nations come together in a celebration of peace through athletic competition always brings me back to the words of the late Rodney King: “Why can’t we all get along?”

Seeing Iran and Israel and North and South Korea all on the same field together proves that it is possible for us to all get along. At least for a few weeks the Olympic moto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” – which translate to “faster, higher, stronger,” will be in the forefront of the international discourse.

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

Olympic pioneer, activist Dr. LeRoy Walker

In sports column on August 28, 2012 at 1:07 am

By Leland Stein III

I remember having a one-on-one interview with NFL legend Jim Brown in his Hollywood Hills home. He invited me to his house and gave me unexpected access to him and his life.

I asked him why, he said: “We have to tell and document our own history.”

That interjection from Brown has stuck with me my entire writing career, and, with the recent passing of Dr. LeRoy Tashreau Walker, 93, it only reaffirmed the objective of the Black press to me.

People all know about Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, so why isn’t Dr. Walker’s name mentioned in the same category? As the London 2012 Games continue to unfold, I continually hear in the Olympic circles the legend of this exceptional man.

Walker, who was born in a poor area of Atlanta in 1918, was taken to Harlem at the age of nine by his brother, Joe, after his father, a railroad fireman, died. According to historical writings, he worked in Joe’s barbeque restaurants and window cleaning business to earn money during the Great Depression.

Leland Stein III

Being the youngest of 13 children he was the one sent away because they could not feed that many mouths. When he got sent to Harlem at about 9 years old, he became the only one in his family to go to college.

In his long life, he overcame poverty and discrimination to earn honors as an athlete and coach, but he also was an academic. He was the first African-American to earn a doctorate in biomechanics, and he went on to become chancellor of N.C. Central University from 1983 to 1986.

Amid all of his other accomplishments, all his firsts, all the ground he broke and trails he blazed, it was the connections Walker made, for himself and for others, that really define his legacy.

As the first black coach of an U.S. Olympic track team, the first black president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the track coach who would one day become university chancellor, Walker became an international figure knowing everyone, and everyone knew him. He could move in any crowd, the kind of person who knew Jesse Owens as well as George Steinbrenner. His funeral, at Duke Chapel drew a crowd from all corners of the world.

When Dr. Walker became present of the U.S. Olympic Committee he quickly noticed that the powers that be were all white males. So in his educated manner he did not attack the USOC; instead, he put together a business plan to a grant foundation and they gave him money.

Walker took that money and cajoled the USOC to match the contribution. He created the Project GOLD Initiative that selected 100 men and women throughout America to come to the USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs to create a talent pool of people for possible selection on the USOC Committee or a National governing body (i.e. USA Basketball, Gymnastics, Swimming or Track and Field).

For some reason I was chosen from the nation-wide search for the Project GOLD Initiative. There I got to meet and know people from all over the country. However, the one the stood out to me was Dr. Walker.

He took advantage of his status as the USOC President and pushed all for inclusion, and, fortunately out of thousands of Americans I was included in the process.

From Dr. Walkers’ outreach I eventually was appointed to an US Olympic Committee.

The Olympics are a one of a kind international event. It embodies all that is good with humanity, competition, dedication, nationalism, and human excellent in a given genre.

Sure the terrorist in our world recognize that the Olympic Games is the biggest collective of humanity it our world, so there have been Olympic moments where politics turned to violence.

No matter, since Dr Walker selected me as a worthy candidate for an USCO appointment in 1996, I have covered every Olympic Games since, and, what an eye opener to the world it has been for me. That is exactly what Dr. Walker told me about what he wanted Project GOLD to accomplish.

Walker became a member of more than a dozen halls of fame, but his most impressive legacy maybe not in what he accomplished, but in what he inspired and enabled others to achieve.

Walker was an inspiration for me and is the main reason I will be headed to London for the 2012 Games as one of only four members of the USA Black Press.

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

Segregation handcuffed Jesse Owens

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2012 at 1:00 am

2012 Olympics fresh in our minds, PBS recalls Owens’ run through America’s segregation policies

By Leland Stein III

ImageWith the 2012 London Olympic Games in our rear view mirrors, it seems appropriate to revisit one of the great legends of the Olympic Games.

Leland Stein III

Doing my usual channel surfing, I came up on a PBS documentary an “American Experience: Jesse Owens.”

Most sports aficionados, and history buffs, know of the legend of Owens; however, his compete and dehumanizing degradation delivered by America’s intense racial separation kind of got lost in the real picture of this oxymoron of a man.

Even today, over 70 years later, many Americans take pride in recalling how Owens undermined Adolf Hitler’s theory of Aryan racial superiority by winning four gold medals (100-, 200- , 4×100-meter relay, and, long jump) at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

“Jesse Owens,” directed by Laurens Grant and written by the frequent PBS collaborator Stanley Nelson (“Freedom Riders”), is a level and striking production that suffers from its shortness: about 52 minutes. There’s not much time to get below the surface, and Owens’s troubled post-Olympic life gets particularly abrupt treatment.

The triumph of this “American Experience” documentary on Owens, who died in 1980, is that it enshrined his Hitler greatness without ignoring the depressing extent to which Owens’ own country also treated him as second class citizen.

As an Olympian in that time, he was under the authority of U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) chief Avery Brundage (an acknowledged racist), who admired Hitler and infamously replaced two Jewish sprinters on the 4×100 relay team because it could have further embarrassed Hitler if they won.

After embarrassing Hitler in his own stadium in 1936, Brundage stripped Owens of his amateur standing, effectively depriving him of the chance to make a living from his skill. For years after the Olympics, this superb athlete was relegated to a sideshow — until finally, in 1955, President Eisenhower made him a national “goodwill ambassador” promoting the high ideals of America.

However, before Eisenhower’s benevolent spirit, Owens had to race against horses and other degrading actions to support his family.

Just like Joe Louis, who knocked out German champion Maximillian Adolph Otto Siegfried Schmeling, and in spite of their color each became an American hero; however, like Owens it did not carryover to life in America. Louis was attacked by the IRS and it destroyed his life. Owens fared no better.

But the irony of both their lives in segregated America was that they did not outwardly complain. Maybe it was the times, where many thought it was better to go along to get along. The fact of the matter is it was life threatening to oppose the status quo.

In fact, Owens in the 1968 Olympics of the African-American’s discontent with how they were being treated at home, spilled over into one of the most famous protest in USOC history, the Tommy Smith and John Carlos black gloved raise fist during the American national anthem.

No matter how badly treated Owens was by the establishment, his nemesis Brundage, help recruit him to talk to the African-American athletes while at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The threat of protest was in the air and the USOC wanted Owens to help defuse it. In fact, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar brought the discontent to the forefront, by refusing to join the USOC Basketball team.

With American cities smoldering in discontent and hungering for change and equal rights, the athletes ignored Owens’ cajoling, all but George Foreman, who won the heavyweight Olympic title and pranced around the ring with two American flags. He was scorned by the black community on his return home.

Foreman told me in an interview that he was a young country boy that had no understanding of the complexity of life and the anger of his fellow African-American Olympians. He said he was just happy to be there and out of his situation at home in Houston.

Carlos and Smith became the poster boys of standing up to the injustice that was permeating American society, while Foreman and Owens took on the appearance of Uncle Toms.

For me Owens is an almost preternaturally graceful and heroic figure, asserting his will despite isolation and scorn even greater than Jackie Robinson had to face. But he also represents the power of segregation at that time, when a man of his caliber was so beat down he was afraid to challenge inequality face-to-face.

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