Archive for the On Sports! Category

 Magic Mike: Nightmare in Steel City?

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , on October 1, 2015 by playthell

Michael Vick II

Opponents beware!

The Third Resurrection of Michael Vick

Although I don’t wish Big Ben Roethlisberger any harm and hope he completely recovers in a month or so, I’d be lying if I said that I am not overjoyed that Michael Vick will be starting at quarterback for the Pittsburg Steelers. While some will regard my position as amoral or morally ambiguous at best, my attitude is easy enough to understand.  I am a dyed in the wool football fan, down with and can’t quit it.

It’s as simple as that!  And if you like football, Michael Vick at his best is the greatest show on earth!   That’s why it was a drag when the season was about to start and Vick was still sitting at home with no hope of ever leading another team in the NFL.  But Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Steelers and the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, is a longtime Vick fan and convinced management to sign him as a backup to Big Ben.

Since Vick’s signing there has been a lot of invective leveled at him by white dog lovers because of his past history of dogfighting, in which loser dogs who couldn’t compete were put to death.  Yet once a dog has been trained to fight it it would be irresponsible to allow them to roam the streets where they will attack other dogs and their masters too should they attempt to intervene.  And one of the world’s most prominent animal Rights advocates Henry Spira, Coordinator of Animal Rights International, has pointed out the glaring hypocricy of many in the movement:

Looking at the universe of animal suffering in America today, we see pain dominated by the more than eight billion farm animals, who suffer roughly 95% of all animal misery…. Let’s get out of the past and quit ignoring the vast majority of animal suffering.”

According to Mr. Spira’s argument anybody who eats meat is an animal abuser…hence only Vegans are without sin!  Yet to hear the pooch huggers talk Mike Vick is the most depraved person on earth; although most of them are not only guilty of animal crulety according to Animal Rights International, but many of these same people  sympathize or empathize with the Cracker cops that murder unarmed black men!

Some even sympathize with racist asshole murderers like George Zimmerman.  Yet Mike Vick must be a permanent pariah scorned by respectable society because he treated a dog like a dog?  These Crackers are not only racist but crazy!  And I, for one, am tired of hearing about it; especially from a group of people who have yet to join a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration.

To those who scream that the Pittsburg franchise should not have hired him – even after suffering public disgrace, millions of dollars lost at the peak of his career from incarceration, and never reaching his full potential as a player who was on track to win a Superbowl because of it – I say fuck tha pooches; fuck yhall, and on with football!  My contempt for these holier-than-thou crazies, the sob squad that hang around the dog pounds, is exacerbated by the fact that they act as if the quarterback that Vick is replacing is a modern day saint….or like Caesar’s wife, pure as the driven snow.

That’s how they are talking, one need only look at the comments on the webpages of the Pittsburg media. Yet it is a matter of public record that Big Ben has been accused of sexual assault by at least two women!  And although he beat both cases the women insists that they are telling the truth.  I have repeatedly argued that the feminist demand that we “always believe women” is at best dangerous nonsense, since everybody is entitled to the presumption of innocence before the law until somebody proves in court that they have committed a crime, I nevertheless find it curious that white females who make up the majority of Animal Rights astivists are willing to give Big Ben the benefit of doubt – i.e. the White Boy Pass – while refusing to cut Vick any slack even after he has paid dearly for his acts.

In other words Big Ben remains squeaky clean despite the allegations of rape, but they just can’t stop throwing stink on Vick’s good name.  Given the notorious history of racist double standards employed by Euro-Americans in their relations with Afro-Americans – a centuries old tradition that lingers with us today – any reasonable person must wonder if the fact that Big Ben is blond with pale alabaster skin and Vick is very black plays any role in defining the attitudes of white fans regarding the two quarterbacks.  After all, white Pittsburg fans once destroyed the career of a gifted black quarterback – “Jefferson St.” Joe Gilliam – just because they preferred a blond haired player.  The great Terry Bradshaw, who is the white quarterback in question, has repeatedly said on television “I was handed the job; I didn’t win it.”

Bradshaw said when he saw Gilliam he wanted to be traded because he was the best that Bradshaw had ever seen.  Check out Bradshaw’s tribute when Gilliam died.  He also said in an interview with Maury Z. Levy in Playboy magazine six years later: “Joe Gilliam had a phenomenal preseason; he won the starting job and I lost it.” This is why as annoying as the self-righteous blather about the departed pooches is, the incessant commentary from empty headed white fans who regard themselves as football experts – even if the are working a job they despise rather than as highly paid General Managers of a football franchise – disparaging Vick’s skills as a quarterback is an even bigger pain in the ass.

I see some of those old feelings popping up in the assessment of Vick by hysterical white fans who are running around like Chicken Little crying that the sky is about to fall because Big Ben went down and is lost to injury for five or six weeks according to some estimates.  It was the same kind of reaction that wrecked Gilliam’s NFL career and ruined his life, despite the fact that he led Pittsburg to a 30-0 victory over the Baltimore franchise before being benched in favor of Bradshaw by fan demand.  Vick will also be facing the Buffalo team on Thursday night; let’s hope he does as well in the game as Gilliam and fare better than him from the salutory results.

Jefferson St. Joe Gilliam
Joe Gilliam- Steelr Quarterback
The first black Steeler starting Quarterback

I’m taking a wait and see attitude.  But while I think those who expect to see that old black magic that Vick weaved so well, and put all who witnessed it under his spell, will be disappointed, I also believe that at his best Vick was so much better than everybody else that even if his skills are diminished he will still be as competitive as any quarterback in the league.  And if Vick is healthy enough to play his best he is going to give defensive coordinators and players nightmares!

Vick is unquestionably one of the most gifted athletes to ever play the quarterback position and he demonstrated this on every level:  from high school to the Pros.  He is one of the fastest players in the league, a quarterback that can match future first ballot Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss’ 4.25 time in the 40 yard dash, the basic measure of football speed.  He is smart, elusive and has the human equivalent of a high powered rifle for a throwing arm.  The first thing white fans do when they want to disparage a black quarterback is the say that he can run but can’t throw.  Back in the day they would just switch these great athletes to running back, defensive back, or wide receiver- who, by the way, are the best athletes on the field.

As the desire to win triumphed over racism General Managers started trying to get the best athletes that could help them win – in fact their jobs depended on building a winning team – so the black quarterbacks finally got their shot.  And they are changing the game with their dual threat play; equally dangerous throwing or running.  Michael Vick is the quintessential dual threat quarterback, and two of the most dangerous young dual threat quarterbacks starting in the league today – Tyrod Taylor and Russell Wilson – are from his state and watched Vick play during their formative years.  Tyrod actually was mentored by Vick when he first came into the League. And while he has a style of his own, Stevie Wonder can see that it is in the same tradition of Vick.  However the same can be said of Wilson.

It’s got to be something about that Virginia area – great sports programs in the schools I suspect – that enables them to consistently produce great athletes.  For instance, Allen Iverson, a sure shot Hall of Fame basketball player, was also a great dual threat quarterback in high-school and led his high-school team to State Championships in basketball and football; the only athlete to ever accomplish such a feat.  So Michael Vick did not suddenly appear from nowhere, bursting into the world like the goddess Athena from the forehead of Zeus, he represents the grand athletic tradition of his community.

I have not burdened the reader with a lot of talk about statistics, because the objectives of this essay are to address some of the negativity that dogs this superb athlete – who from all the available evidence is a good husband, father and all around solid citizen – the worst that can be said of him is that he treated some dogs badly.  I hope that is the worst that can be said of me after I have danced and joined the ancestors.   I thank the Gods of my fathers fathers that I am not George Bush or Dirty Dick Cheney, who has the blood of a million innocents on their hands!

I also intend this essay as an introduction to the video tapes of Vicks performance from high-school, college at Virginia Tech, and the professional ranks.  Here one can see Vick in action and even hear from his high-school coach about the early revelations of his superb gifts as a runner and passer.  I still expect to see some version of this from Michael Vick in his fourth incarnation and third resurrection with the talent laden, well coached, Pittsburg Steelers.  I can hardly wait for Vick to silence his critics!  Now he’s got to play the game.

Magic Mike at Work!


Vick was the most exciting quarterback in college football at Virginia Tech
He was the same in the Pros!


 First Incarnation at the Atlanta Falcons
First Resurrection with the Philadelphia Eagles

Michael+Vick+Houston+Texans II

After going to the dogs he soared with the Eagles and made All-Pro again!
Second Resurrection


A backup with the New York Jets; everyody thought he was through
Third Resurrection

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Michael Vick (2) passes against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of a preseason NFL football game on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

He’s Baaaaaaack!
And he is starting for the Pittsburg Steelers in a Marquee Matchup


For video of Mike Vick in Action see the following:
Michael Vicks Highlights
The Great Comeback: Eagles vs. Giants
College Highlights
Mike Vick: Sports Science
(This video employs Sports Science to demonstrate why Vick is so great!”)

Black Female Heroes Invisible to White Feminists

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , , on July 11, 2015 by playthell
Althea Gibson ticker Tape
Ain’t she a woman?

New Yorkers turned out to Honor their Own circa 1957

As ticker tape parade honoring the US women’s soccer team’s victory proceeds through the Canyon of Heroes in downtown Manhattan to the cheers of a proud nation, we are inundated by smiling white female faces clamoring about how this is “the first time a female athletic team has been so honored.”  This is only partially true, but I have waited in vain to hear one of these commentators point out that a ticker tape parade was held for a single female athlete almost 60 years ago!  But no one has even alluded to it as I write; despite the fact that the talking heads have been chattering on for hours and grappling for interesting things to say.

The athlete who received this unique honor was Althea Gibson, and Afro-American tennis player from Harlem who won the Wimbledon tournament on July 6, 1957.  A year earlier Gibson had attracted attention in the press as the first black woman to compete in the US Nationals – now the US Open – and had also won The French Open, one of the prestigious Grand Slam tournaments. She conquered Wimbledon in spectacular fashion, winning in straight sets 6-3 6-2 in less than an hour!

Her opponent in the final was Darlene Hard, whom she later teamed up with to also win the Doubles Championship.  Queen Elizabeth II attended the singles final, and Fred Tupper covered it for the New York Times.  “Miss Gibson was in rare form,” wrote Tupper.  “Her big service was kicking to Miss Hard’s backhand with such speed that Darlene could only lob it back.  Behind her serves and her severe ground shots, Althea moved tigerishly to the net to cut away her volleys.”  We hear much praise for “girl Power.”  One commentator Chrystal Ball, an MSNBC talk show host and a vocal feminist did correct the record by going all the way back to the Statue of Liberty in order to cite another instance when a “woman” was given a ticker tape Parade: but no mention of Althea Gibson!

It is further evidence that white women are as much white supremacists as white men, and just as narcissistic, despite the vocal protests from white feminists that racism is a male phenomenon – a claim the is contradicted by the many enthusiastic white female faces in pictures of lynch mobs where black men were being hanged or burned alive!

White women enjoying the Spectacle

White womwn at lynching II

Even little Girls joined the fun at this 1935 Florida Lynching

As black female intellectuals have pointed out, the problem with white feminists is that when they speak of “women” they are speaking about “white women.”  Hence they constantly overlook black women who ought to be their heroes because the personify everything these feminist celebrate.  I speak of women like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Mary McCloud Bethune and Dr. Anna Julia Cooper – who was born a slave and took a PhD degree in French Civilization from the prestigious.  There are no more impressive women in American history than these women.  Yet I have never heard an of them celebrated by white feminists.  Most have probably never even head of them.

Ms. Gibson and the Queen
Althea Gibson and the Queen
Queen Elizabeth Came down to the Court and Shook the champion’s Hand

Hence it is no wonder that they know nothing about Althea Gibson, although she was a native daughter of the Big Apple, and was given a big ticker tape parade after her marvelous championship performance at Wimbledon.  Her performance had so moved the Queen that she came down on the court to congratulate her with a hand shake…. Something that goes against royal protocol.  And this at a time when Ms. Gibson couldn’t even sit and drink a coke at a lunch counter that routinely served low life white trash in half of the country!

I was in the tenth grade in High School when it happened and, although I didn’t give a fig about tennis, I was as excited as all of my fellow students, because we were certain that her magnificent victory would help move Afro-Americans as a group forward by demonstrating yet another praiseworthy field of endeavor that we could excel at.  The fact that this was also the year of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the emergence of Dr. Martin Luther King made Ms. Gibson’s victory seem all the ore momentous.

Although she couldn’t sit in the front of the bus in Alabama, nor play on their tennis courts, New York Mayor Bob Wagner was so impressed by her he feted the 29 year old queen of women’s tennis with a full ticker tape parade, and thousands of New Yorkers turned out to cheer her victory.  Although Ms. Gibson went on the next year and not only successfully defended her Wimbledon Championship but won three out of four Grand slam tournaments.  Yet listening to the white females who dominated the commentary on the US women’s Soccer team today, one would never know that Ms. Gibson ever lived – despite the fact that information on her can be found by just doing a little research on google.  It is further evidence, although none is needed – that heroic black women are invisible to white feminists commentators!

That Championship Form!

 Althea Gibson in Action

 Winning Wimbledon
Holding the Championship Trophy
Althea Gibson with Queen
A Congratulatory kiss from her Opponent

Althea Gibson Ticker Tape IV

The World Champion of Women’s Tennis
Althea Gibson
Chillin with her racquet
Click on Links for videos of Althea Gibson
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem New York
July 10, 2015

The Brawl for it All!

Posted in On Sports! with tags , on May 3, 2015 by playthell

Oscar De La Hoya v Floyd Mayweather Jr.

 Pretty Boy Floyd: Reigning Master of the “Sweet Science”
 Money Mayweather and Pacman Cast their Fates in Vegas Ring

Tonight’s the night!  The long awaited fight between Floyd “Money” Mayweather and Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao has finally arrived!  Although it is not the “greatest fight ever” – or even the most popular, a point I shall demonstrate in an essay to be posted on Sunday – it is the biggest match in terms of purses and gross receipts.  By that standard, which is the raison d’etre for prize fighting; this is unquestionably the biggest fight in history! With revenues predicted to rise as high as 400 million dollars it is predicted to break all records for a single event by a large margin.

Hence I believe that Mayweather, the greatest fight hype artist since Muhammad Ali – has played fight fans like a virtuoso violinist by making them believe that he is scared of Manny, and all of the haters are rushing to buy tickets in order to witness Mayweather suffer his first defeat.  However they will be joined by true fight fans in the pay per view market along with the rich celebrities and plutocrats that will attend the live event.

Since everything that can be said about this fight has been said ad nauseum, and has by now become clichés, I shall simply address some mistakes that have become conventional wisdom among fight fans. Here is my take on the fight.  In this matchup we have the possibility of a great fight in which theoretically anybody can win; although against Floyd Mayweather they seldom turn out to be the shootouts the hypemeisters predict.

This is because Mayweather is so good he usually figures out his opponent by the middle rounds and after that he makes they look like stumble bums!  If we go by the numbers there is no doubt that Mayweather is “pound for pound” the greatest fighter of this moment in history and the best defensive boxer ever.  According to Punch Stats, the computerized record that shows how often a fighter lands a punch compared to how many times they get hit, Floyd Mayweather is the most skilled pugilist EVER!  That’s why his record is 47-0, and in boxing that is the only statistic that really matters.

After studying films of all his major fights I believe that Floyd Mayweather is such a slick defensive fighter that Pacquiao can’t hit him solidly with a hand full of rice!!  Hence I am predicting that Floyd will give this Flip a boxing lesson and could well knock his cocky ass out…which would occasion a period of national mourning in the Philipines, where the entire population seems to be emotionally invested in the outcome of this fight.

Although it has somehow become conventional wisdom that Floyd can’t punch the record shows that he has knocked out over half of his opponents…and as many professional fighters have pointed out somebody who can’s punch could not have compiled such a record against world class fighters!

Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out to be a relatively easy fight for Money May.  I have a very good record of picking big fights….the last time I missed was Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvelous Marvin Hagler.  But I picked Leonard by a knockout against Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns, when all the boxing wise guys were putting their money on Hearns.

Hence when Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, predicts a knockout for his guy I think it is either because he is punch drunk from taking too many blows to the head during his undistinguished boxing career, or he is trying to get Floyd off his game by pissing him off before the fight because he knows that’s his fighter’s only chance at victory.  I certainly do.

Much speculation has been offered about the reasons why Floyd has been so quiet as the fight approaches; the haters naturally argue that this is evidence of Floyd’s fear of steeping in the ring tonight with the Pacman but I think it is the quiet confidence of a fighter who has never lost a fight or been without a championship belt in 17 years!

This is the longest championship run in history. For most people the kind of brash confidence Floyd displays is a foreign feeling, never having absolutely mastered any challenging endeavor, but it is a commonplace attitude among those who have never lost in a competition against world class opponents.  On the other hand Manny Pacquiao has suffered six defeats: three by knockouts!  So I think all of his fat mouthin about knocking Floyd out is an attempt to psyche himself up!

Manny was knocked out cold by Jaun Manuel Marquez; put to sleep so thoroughly that his trainer and his wife feared that he was dead.  That fight can be seen on You Tube.  Conversely Floyd gave Marquez a boxing lesson, made him look like an amateur while coasting to an easy victory.  I know all of the blather about how that is no predictor of the likely outcome of this match because “styles make fights,” but in this case the style points favor Floyd since Manny revealed that he is a sucker for the right hand counter – the punch that sent him to Dreamland – and Floyd is the best in the business at throwing the right hand counter punch!  This is partially the reason why Marquez picked Mayweather in this fight…among others.

Marquez looked Confused at Times

Marquez floyd-Mayweather.jb2

Mayweather landed right hands at will as the fight progressed

Another myth about Mayweather is that he has trouble with lefthanders and Manny is a southpaw so he has an advantage going into the fight.  Again this is a game of numbers and in this case Floyd’s won lost record is the most reliable evidence: he is 8-0 against southpaws.  In support of their claim Floyd’s detractors point to the Zab Judah fight, but he beat Judah!

The only way one can make sense of such arguments, after we exclude the impassioned haters, is to recognize that Floyd is so good that fans expect him to shut all of his opponents out by winning every round!  Hence if an opponent wins a round or even hits him with a good clean shot its big news!  That’s why we keep hearing about Floyd having trouble with southpaws although he has never lost a fight to one and has dominated in points, averaging nine out of twelve rounds!

Hence Floyd’s “troubles” with lefthanders is wishful thinking, a contemporary myth that has been repeated so often by haters and dunderheads who understand but little of the art of pugilism that it has taken on a patina of reality.  I believe that Floyd will neutralize Manny’s left hand by staying out of range with his superb lateral movement, and once he takes his measure he will begin to land right hand counterpunches and Manny will become gun shy and hesitate to throw it.

Will Manny’s Southpaw stance and relentless wild style insure Victory?
 Manny Vs. Bradley
Manny employed his straight left repeatedly in victorious Rematch with Bradley

Another myth that has miraculously persisted in the face of contravening facts, like the political line of the Republican Party, is the belief that Floyd Mayweather is a runner who can only fight in the center of the ring, thus in order to beat him one needs to brawl and force him onto the ropes or in the corner.  However a survey of the films of Floyd’s will so clearly reveal that this is such a gross error  Stevie wonder can see it!   The fact is that Floyd Mayweather is great fighting on the ropes and in the corners, when the brawlers attempt to maul him he treats them like Ali treated Foreman – one of the most devastating punchers in boxing history – he ropes the dopes!

The fact is the Floyd is as good fighting inside as outside, he does not have to run because he can stand right in front of these jokers and make them miss; he reminds me of the great Wilfredo Benitez in his defensive artistry…the Sweet Science indeed!   While Mayweather’s fans have every reason to believe that their man’s superior boxing skills and ability to take a punch – as he demonstrated in the Shane Mosley fight and others – will insure victory, Pacquiao fans would be well advised to worry about Floyd’s right hand counterpunch.

Not only is Mayweather the smartest fighter in terms of ring intelligence, which enables him to analyze his opponents strategy and counter it, he can also punch!  And he is the bigger stronger man.  If Manny gets careless, as he is prone to do with his reckless way of raining punches, and leaves himself open to the straight right hand, it’s gonna be lights out!   Hence, for these reasons and more, I am picking Mayweather either by a decision or a late round knockout.  However if Manny really gets reckless and tries to knock Floyd out like he threatens to do, out he could get caught with a pin point power punch and go out early.

But he couldn’t escape Jaun’s right Hand Counter

 Marquez drops  right hand on Many

Manny crumbled like a paper tiger!
Knocked out cold:  Manny’s trainer and wife thought he was dead!

 Manny Knocked out by Marquez

 Can Pacman evade Floyd’s Right Hand?  That is the question


 Click to witness Marquez knock Manny out
Witness Mayweather’s masterful defeat of Marquez
Playthell G. Benjamin
Way Out West
May 2, 2015

At the Track with El Grande Renaldo!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports!, Photo-Essays with tags , , on March 3, 2015 by playthell


David Hardiman, Virtuoso Trumpeter, Professor,  San Francisco Jazz Master

 Watching the Sport of the Gods at Golden Gate

 When I agreed to meet my main man Renaldo Ricketts aka El Grande Renaldo – poet, painter and San Francisco Bon vivant – at Golden Gate Field I hadn’t been to a race track in over thirty years.  Not because of any crazy notions about the horses being treated “inhumanely,” since I believe humane treatment ought to be for humans although it is seldom achieved.  And horses well….they should be treated like horses…Duh?    I was kept away from the track by weightier considerations.  Since I am a passionate horse lover and hold a longtime fascination with the equestrian arts, I attended those marvelous horse shows at Madison Square Garden and often rode my own horses.

However I never missed the running of the Triple Crown Races on big screen televisions and thought I had the best seat in the house until yesterday, when I found myself standing tight down by the edge of the track – so close you could feel the momentum of those powerful Thoroughbred horses as they galloped by.  And since I had my camera with me I was happy as a hog in slop.  Renaldo had invited me to join him at the track on other occasions when I was visiting the Bay Area.   But I always played past it.  But this time it was on the eve of his sixtieth birthday, a landmark in the life of anybody these days, but most especially out spoken high spirited black men like Renaldo.

So I thought what tha hell; I’ll go hang out with my buddy and watch some great equine athletes do their thing, which is run faster and longer than any animal on the planet.  While I like to watch the horses Renaldo loves to play them, and is one of the few people who is successful at it.  The way he does it strikes me as some strange conjuration that’s part art, part science, and part Mumbo Jumbo, which makes it beyond the reach of most rational beings and has led to wreck and ruin for may who tried to unlock the secret to winning money playing the horses.  It is a mystery that I long ago decided was beyond the realm of my comprehension and I wouldn’t give a cripple crab a crutch to wager on a nag!

I grew up amid horses, my grandfather was an excellent horseman and my uncle was the town blacksmith in St. Augustine Florida, the nation’s oldest city, where people still rode horses through the street when I was a boy.  Hence I not only learned how to care for horses and handle them whether hitched to a carriage or under saddle, but to shoe them too.  I know a lot about horses, which is why I don’t bet on them.  Horses are living creatures that have a mind of their own and can be moody just like humans; or they just might not feel well, but you never know when they will sit down on you.

I’d rather play the lottery, where all I need is a dollar and a dream and one hit can put me on easy street.  However gambling wise guys know that playing the horses offers much better odds, but to win you have got to work at it and do some study.   In the photo essay below you will witness the intensity of the bettors, as the scan the TV monitors that adorn the walls everywhere, and the disciplined concentration with which they study the racing forms.

El Grande Renaldo is something of a legend at Golden Gate Field, the lovely race track nestled on the banks of the San Francisco Bay, especially in the Second Floor Lounge,  where the bartenders and barmaids treat him as an old friend and his seat at the end of the bar is practically reserved.  He was generous in providing my drink of choice, rum and coke with olives and cherries, while he stuck to light beer and sparkling water.  Like most of the people at the track Renaldo is all business.  He is not only placing bets on races all over the country and following them on the many TV monitors about.  It was fascinating to watch.

However there were many fascinating episodes on that adventure at the track.  It began with the ride on the shuttle bus that ferries people back and forth from the BART train station to Golden Gate Field.  The driver, a Pacific Islander who looked to be in his late thirties, was a passionate fan of vintage 1950’s Afro-American Rhythm and Blues, especially the southern artists.  So on the way to the race track I heard Bobby Blue Bland, BB King, Etta James, Sam Cooke, and James Brown.  They were all original recordings which ran about three minutes and change.  As this was the music that I grew up on it was like a trip back in time, except that back in the day in Florida I would never have been on a bus full of white people grooving to the music and seated next to a white woman with a skirt so short one wrong move and we would have seen her tonsils!

Thus I found myself strolling down memory lane and reflecting  on how dramatically race relations  have changed during my lifetime, not that I need any reminders, after all we have a black family in the White House, everything else pales beside that fact.  I say this without fear of contradiction, despite the verbose ahistorical numb skulls who insist that nothing has changed.   When I arrived at Golden Gate and walked into the vast park I began to have second thoughts as to whether I would actually be able to find Renaldo, but he had assured me in no uncertain terms that he would be where he said he would be.  And he was.

The first thing I heard when I entered the lounge was Renaldo’s voice calling out my name.  There he was in his seat at the end of the bar, impossible to miss with his radiant smile and Falstafian girth, holding forth in his lively loquacious fashion as his fellow travelers looked on.  He asked what I was drinking, introduced me around, and then turned his attention to the next races.  As Renaldo worked his strange alchemy, whereby he turns cardboard tickets into gold the way his Moorish ancestors were rumored to have turned sand into gold back in the day, I wandered down to the edge of the track and began photographing the horse and the humans, who were diverse and of interesting variety.

What was conspicuously absent from the multi-ethnic stew was Afro-American trainers and jockeys.  I’ll bet most people never even notice this, or find it unusual even if they do.  This is because most people who visit race tracks have never seen any significant black presence among the horse handlers.  Yet for many years during the late 19th and early 2th century, Black American Jockeys and trainers dominated the tracks; they owned the Kentucky Derby!  Since I have already written about this in another essay I shall not reiterate it here, for a full discussion of that topic enter “Black Jockeys” in the search engine of this blog.

The point is that they were driven out of the industry by white racist who couldn’t compete with these black masters fairly. And if they had their way Brother Hardiman would not be thrilling the crowds with his wonderful trumpet artistry.  They tried to lay him off but the public wouldn’t stand for it, Renaldo first among them in sparking a letter writing campaign to the management of golden Gate.  The lesson here is that we must be eternally vigilant and ready to battle the forces of white supremacy at all times: Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere!

I have often felt that there is a serendipitous quality about how I come to write certain essays.  This is a case in point.  Recently I saw a movie starring Will Smith as a con man who hooks up with a foxy grafter and they paint a fascinating portrait of the high fashion hotties and other characters who hang out a race tracks.  So I was looking closely to see if I recognized any of those types.  However the high point for me was watching all of the beautiful horses; I really got an eyegasm.  Some of them you will see in the photographs below.

A hail fellow well met, everybody greeted Renaldo with a warm vibe, what the French call “bon homie.” But the person that I found most fascinating was the official Bugler at the track who plays the fanfare announcing the races.  I was first struck be the fact that he would play impromptu jazz improvisations during the intermission between races, and they were so hip I wondered who it was.  Well he turned out to be David Hardiman, virtuoso trumpeter, Professor of Music and Director of the San Francisco All-Star Jazz Orchestra.

So when he came out to play his next fanfare Renaldo introduced us and I asked him to play the classic Jazz tune Bugle Call Rag, and he swung it.  I have attached a clip of Hardiman and his orchestra in performance at the bottom of this essay.  Every time I hung with Renaldo in San Francisco it has been a fascinating and culturally enriching experience.  The first time we hung out he took me to the Church of Saint John Coltrane; this time I met one of train’s musical descendants. Hence I knew something fascinating would happen hanging out at the track with El Grande Renaldo!


 After Playing the classic “Bugle Call Rag” at my Request
The Bugler and I became fast Friends
 We had been Properly Introduced by a Mutual Friend
El Gran Renaldo: San Francisco artist and Bon Vivant!
 It Was a Stylish Crowd


 Filled with Free Thinking Fashionistas!
 Folks Still Wear Hats…….
By the San Francisco Bay
 Even Barely Legal Young Foxes
Be Rockin Fly Sky Pieces
 Many Mexican Playas Rock Cowboy Hats …


 …and they play em to the Max!
 Harry Reems Jr Sported a Fedora
 Played off by a Handle Bar Mustache
 And the Star Girls
Bedecked themselves in finery
 Then Strutted their Stuff….
…..before the High Rollers
 Some Fly Girls….
 Put themselves conspicuously on Display
 While Others…..
 Are Low Key
 Most People Came to Bet on the Races


I came to watch these Marvelous Equines
 Among Racing Wise Guys…..Nothing is left to Chance


They study racing forms as if they were Talmudic Text
 Even as they dine on wine and swine


They keep their eyes on the prize
  Renaldo has a special spot in the Second Floor Lounge
From whence he monitors multiple races and watch his fortunes rise or fall
 He has felt the Thrill of Victory…..


 ……and the Agony of Defeat!
 Man’s Best Friend….The King of Beasts!
Thoroughbreds can run longer and faster than any animal on earth!
 The Jockeys are cool, calm and collected
As they wait to board their mo
The Boss Bugler Presented a Fanfare
To Announce Every Race
 And what splendid Races they Were!
The ran like they were running for their lives!
Until One Breaks Away From the Pack


And takes the Money
 The Horses build up such speed
 They need time to slow down
The Losers are quickly unsaddled
And returned to the paddock 
While the Winning Steed


Prances around like a Conquering Hero
 Heading to the Starting Gate


 Racing Horses are so Hyped they must be Restrained by another Rider
 Ready to Run!
The Escort’s job is Critical to Keeping the Racers Under control
 Getting them in the Gates require great skill


 The Calm before the Storm
 The Big Grey took this One!
A Rare Color for a Thoroughbred
 After the dramatic win…
…….this champ got all snuggly
 It was just another Day for the Big Gray


I marvel at his beautiful Conformation


In the Winner’s Circle!!!


 This is what it’s all About!
Double click to see Hardiman and the Jazz All-Stars

Playthell G. Benjamin 
March 2, 2015
 San Francisco





On Sports, Academics and  Black Youths  

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports! with tags , on February 17, 2015 by playthell

Russell-Wilson V

 Russell Wilson: Seattle Seahawks Quarterback
 An Open Letter To Eric L. Watree
 Dear Eric

I have carefully read your essay and here is my considered response.  I have already addressed most of your concerns in my lengthy essay “On Race, Culture and Sports,” as your argument is essentially the same as that of professor John Hoberman, ” the author of “Darwin’s Athletes,” who presented far more evidence for his argument.   The fact that you read that essay yet make the argument you offer here does not auger well for this discussion.

My first inclination is to simply retire my argument and move on to other pressing issues.  I have more important employment for my time and intellectual energies than to re-litigate an issue on which I have already presented my most compelling arguments.  And if it were anybody but you Eric that is undoubtedly the course I would take. Early on in your essay you make the following claim:

Playthell is a huge sports fan and is of the belief that sports have been invaluable in their impact on helping to move the Black community forward. I, on the other hand, see sports as a two-sided coin. While sports have undoubtedly been of great value in helping many young Black people to build character, obtain an education, and financially prosper, in terms of the overall Black community these people represent a limited few. For the greater part of the Black community, however, the lure of sports often serves as a distraction that prevents many from investing in their intellectual development and pursuing more realistic goals.”

 First let me point out that according to the website Inside Higher Ed, in a 2014 article titled More Athletes get to finish Line, the figures show that in 2007, 70% of black male athletes graduated college and 81% of black females.  Among white athletes 93% of them graduated and 85% of white males.  Many of these young people would never have gotten to college without sports scholarships.

However a later study by the University of Pennsylvania put the graduation rates for black male athletes at 50.2%, but the black non-athlete students only have a 55% graduation rate.  No great difference there. I think these young student/athletes should be celebrated for their hard work and discipline rather than besmirched with a bunch of hackneyed clichés that have no basis in reality.

Furthermore, I would argue that there is no question that sports has been “invaluable “in helping to move the black community forward.  We live in a participatory democracy that where black people are concerned has been a “Tyranny of the majority” in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French sociologist who produced the first serious study of the American polity in his two volume tome “Democracy in America in 1831.

This being the case, as a minority in America our progress has depended upon the ability to persuade the white majority that we are worthy of inclusion into this society as first class citizens empowered with the full array of rights enumerated in that much celebrated declaration of universal humanistic values announcing the independence of the English speaking colonies of North America from the control of the British Empire, and codified in the US constitution.  It is useless to lament this extra burden placed on Afro-Americans; it is unfair to be sure, but nonetheless true.

I would argue that no group of Afro-Americans has been more effective at persuading the majority of white Americans of our human value – by demonstrating our beauty and genius – than Afro-American athletes and entertainers!  Since you are not inclined to read history texts you are probably not aware of this fact.  It is impossible to calculate the positive effects of Joe Louis’s defeat of Max Schmeling in their second fight, which was billed as a fight between “Fascism and Democracy, but it is enough to know that President Roosevelt publicly told him  “America is depending on those muscles tonight Joe.”  And his Jewish promoter, Mike Jacobs, announced at the White House gathering “Yes Mr. President, Joe Louis will show those NAZI’s who the real master race is!”  It is difficult for contemporary Afro-Americans to realize the importance of such statements in an openly racist apartheid America, but I will be posting a major essay on the importance of Joe Louis in a few days.

However the famous Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson remembers that in the aftermath of that fight “It was the first time a white person called me an American.”  And the legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant says the performance of USC running back Sam “The Bam” Cunningham did more to integrate the University of Alabama than Martin Luther King when he came down there in that football state and ran for 220 yards in a rout against them.  When Jesse Owens set world records while winning multiple Gold Medals at the NAZI Olympics in Berlin it was a mortal blow to the NAZI claim of Aryan superiority and inspired the Jewish people and anti-fascist forces all over the world!

None of these achievements led to instant change, because massive social changes do not occur overnight, especially where there are concrete material interests involved , but I can cite endless examples of the positive effects of sports stars in advancing the race in America and abroad.  One final example.  When I interviewed some participants in the bloody Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine Florida, where I grew up, I asked them how they mustered up the courage to go on a particularly dangerous night march – which has been well documented by the historians Steven Oates and Taylor Branch Heyward Fleming told me: “Well Jackie Robinson came down and marched with us, and when we saw Jackie we knew we couldn’t lose.”  It is instructive to note that DR.MARTIN LUTHER KING WAS ALREADY THERE!  This reverence for Jackie Robinson provides a measure of the importance of Jackie having broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball, even though almost 20 years had passed.

Jackie Robinson and Dr. King

jackie_robinson & Martin King

Two Giants in the Struggle

Your comment that “the lure of sports often serves as a distraction that prevents many from investing in their intellectual development and pursuing more realistic goals” is undoubtedly true, but the same thing can be said of those who aspire to be singers, rappers or Jazz and classical musicians.  How realistic is it that one will be able to make a living at any of these occupations?  Furthermore your statement begs the question of what would these youngsters in question be doing if they were not involved in sports?

I think your argument here is based on a false premise: that these young men would be engaged in serious intellectual pursuits if they were not participating in sports.  I see no evidence that this is true, for there is certainly no paucity of failures among those who are not involved in sports.  Alas,  I’d wager that there is a mountain of statistical evidence to demonstrate that impoverished underclass youths and even working class youths who don’t participate  in sports are more likely to end up in jail, dead, on drugs, etc.  That’s because the problem of arrested development is not participation in sports but structural impediments to their advancement and BAD PARENTING!!!!!

There is no evidence of which I am aware that prove sport as such is the main cause of a “lack of intellectual development” in young black males.  If so, would you please acquaint us with it?   Since your essay here is supposed to be a response to my essay “On Race Culture and Sports” I can only conclude that you are not a careful reader.  Since you have repeatedly told me about all of the wisdom you gained from “winos” and other “hood  rats” how could you fail to note this passage about my experience as a devoted football player and the intellectual enlightenment and encouragement that I received from black athletes in my youth:

Hence there was no dichotomy between athletics and scholastics In the black communities I came of age in.  Although I doubt that anyone of my generation loved playing football more than I did, that love didn’t stop me from dreaming about becoming a symphony conductor, nor diminish my curiosity about the wonders of science, nor prevent me from becoming a civil rights activist – although certain football players at A&M shunned involvement in the movement because they thought it could hurt their athletic careers – nor did it dampen my love  for reading Shakespeare…or later becoming a published Shakespeare Critic. (See: “Did Shakespeare Intend Othello to be Black: A Meditation on Blacks and the Bard” in Othello: New Essays By Black Writers, Howard University Press

I first heard the ideas of European philosophers like Kant and Spinoza passionately debated by local black college football and basketball players like “Bubby Robinson and “Big Bama,” outside of McCall’s barbershop, which became an important center for organizing the civil rights struggle when Martin Luther King came to town in 1964, and one of its proprietors, Clyde Jenkins, became a hero of the movement. And, I might add, another hero of that movement was baseball great Jackie Robinson.”

Aside from ignoring personal testimony regarding my experience as a football athlete and being mentored by older athletes, you repeat that hackneyed cliché about participation in sports as the cause of intellectual underachievement in young black males. Yet this bogus claim was demolished by distinguished scholars from several disciplines who participated in the conference discussed in my essay.  Did you not read this passage?

…even if it’s true that Afro-Americans have a love of sport that amounts to a “fixation,” it is not automatically a bad thing. The most persuasive argument for that point of view was put forth by Dr. Keith A. P. Sandiford, an Afro-Barbadian cricket expert who is a Professor of History at the University of Manatoba, in Canada. ‘Some former colonial societies have succeeded extremely well here by emphasizing the value of education, by arguing that athletic triumphs depend to a large extent upon mental acuity, and by promoting their black, brown, and yellow heroes in all disciplines.’ Hence Sandiford, who pointed out that Barbados has the highest literacy rate in the world, argued that  ‘It cannot be disputed that Barbadian cricketers continue to be lionized by a society still enthralled by the cult of cricket, but the Barbadians (committed as they have traditionally been to  the competing cult of education) have never lost their respect for intellectual genius.  There is, in the final analysis, nothing wrong with the sports fixation itself- so long as it leaves time for other constructive addictions.’”

 Since these passages obviously made no impression upon first reading – which is evidenced by the fact that you made no mention of them – I don’t expect them to have a different effect upon a second reading.  Hence the main reason that I am engaging in this exchange is to educate other readers who may happen onto this page.  But any evidence you have that shows a causal relationship between participation in sports and low intellectual achievement would benefit us all in grappling with this critical issue.

 Russell Wilson and Dad
 Russell and Harrison Wilson
 Athletic and Academic Stars!

You insist that the problem of low intellectual achievement in young black males is due to their participation in sports, yet Russell Wilson has been a sports fanatic all of his life.   Excelling in football, baseball and basketball – he is one of a very small group of elite  athletes to be drafted by two professional teams in sports in history – and all of these men have been wildly successful American icons.  No down side there!  Russell Wilson graduated from a major university in three years while starring in two varsity sports.

His father was a sports fanatic who played briefly in the NFL, then went on to a distinguished career in the law.  Russ’s father’s mother and father, his paternal grandparents hold PhD’s, and his grandfather was a basketball star on the black college circuit when the black schools had the best players in the nation. It was he that turned Russ’ father Harrison onto sports.  Yet Harrison and his brother, who is also a sports enthusiast, went to Dartmouth and Harvard.  Calvin Hill, a former star running back with the Dallas Cowboys held a master’s degree from Yale, and his son, basketball great Grant Hill, graduated from Duke.  Tiger Woods has been obsessed with playing golf since he was three years old, but his father, a former officer in the Green Berets, made playing golf conditional on his getting good grades, so he became the greatest golfer in history and was admitted to Stanford.

Richard Sherman, the best corner back in football maintained a four point average in high school and a 3.9 average at Stanford!  He says the work ethic which made such high achievement possible was inspired witnessing his father rise at four in the morning to go out and drive a trash truck around LA, then come home and work on their house in the evenings. And rapper Snoop Dogg’s son Cordell is on his way to UCLA to play football, a sport his father introduced him to and coached his Pop Warner teams, but the coach says when he met with Snoop and his wife on a recruiting visit “He didn’t talk about football; he talked about educating his son for life after football!”  (See the video clip below.)

If you had been playing football like your LA homies, chances are you would not have been a juvenile delinquent faced with jail or a stint in the Marine Corps!  For instance John Wideman was obsessed with basketball as a kid and remained entranced by the sport his entire life, playing the game until halted by age.  His Brother Robbie however had no interests in sports and decided to become a street player instead, killed a man during a robbery, and  ended up spending his entire adult life in jail…where he will die.

John on the other hand won a state wide competitive Benjamin Franklin Scholarship that provided an all expenses paid education at the University of Pennsylvania, which stopped granting athletic scholarships years before Wideman joined the student body.  And despite having to deal with the racism and elitism of white students he became a basketball star and a Rhodes Scholar. Writing about Wideman in a 2002 paper for the University Archives, Elliot A. Greenwald tells us:

“As a Rhodes Scholar, Wideman was heralded in the national media. Look magazine’s article, ‘The Astonishing John Wideman,’ by Gene Shalit, introduced Wideman to the nation, providing a stylized version of his Penn experience, focusing on how he overcame simple racial differences to succeed. Even though Shalit and others from Look followed the team on a road trip to Yale and Brown and attended Wideman’s classes the article fails to discuss racial issues concretely… Shalit explained, ‘Girls call him up for dates, professors invite him to their homes for dinner…[T]he world is his plaything…Obviously it is not. John Wideman is a Negro….'”

Choosing an academic career over pro basketball  Wideman went on to become one of the most distinguished  American writers on the 20th century, and now has an international community of scholars devoted to the study of his work ( see: The John Wideman Society.”   I would hazard a guess that fascination with street life is a far greater danger to black males than sports!

Paul Robeson starred in four sports yet made the highest score in New Jersey on his college entrance exams, tutored his white classmates in Greek and Latin and graduate Valedictorian of his class at Rutgers –  then one of America’s elite universities.  However Robeson’s father had escaped from slavery and worked his way through Lincoln University – where they studied the same curriculum as Harvard – and thus placed a good education at the top of his list.

Alas, since you have declared on numerous occasions that you are not impressed by elite university educations, the academic achievement in such schools by the athletes mentioned above may  make no difference to you Eric, but for a multitude of people admission to elite universities and earning doctorate degrees are outstanding accomplishments; this writer included.  But you can’t have it both ways Eric, either you are for high academic achievement or not; and if you are for it then how do we measure it?  There are so many examples of black athletes who were high academic achievers that I could  go on ad infinitum; especially if I look at it Globally.

For instance Dr. Bartholomew Naji, who came from Nigeria to attend St. Johns University in New York.  Naji not only set collegiate athletic records while graduating in three years, but went on to take a PhD in Industrial Engineering and become one of world’s foremost authorities in Robotics. His expertise in the field was such that the State Legislature in Massachusetts created a special chair in Industrial Engineering to keep him at UMass.

Despite this effort he has returned to Nigeria and if he can get the politicians to fund his projects we will see some cutting edge ideas coming from Nigeria in computer science and robotics.  I knew him well and he too had parents who demanded that he excel in school.  These examples alone – although I could cite numerous others – leave no doubt in my mind that the parents you get are far more important to success in life than an obsession with sports!

It is interesting that you dismissed this argument elsewhere because you claim that it is based on “anecdotal evidence,” when you have offered NO EVIDENCE for your sweeping generalizations: anecdotal or otherwise!  As near as I can tell, it’s just about how you see things; we should take it on your word.  Furthermore you have a tendency to state the obvious as if it were a profound revelation.  The following statement is a case in point:

 “I view sports much like I do morphine. In small doses it can be of great medicinal value against pain, but if you overdo it, it can destroy your life, and it seems to me that many in the Black community are about to overdose from a lack of substance as a result of its abuse, both literally, and figuratively.”

 Of course too much of even a good thing can be harmful, too many vitamins can hurt you, but what evidence do you have that “…many in the Black community are about to overdose from a lack of substance as a result of its abuse, both literally, and figuratively.” Have you read sociological studies that demonstrate this statistically?  Or do these bits of wisdom descend into your head from the ether.

I have no way of knowing how you arrive at these conclusions because you have already told me that you believe sociology is a pretentious fraud, mumbo jumbo I think you called it; so how do you know the claims you make about the cause and effect of large scale social phenomena are true?  Or are we to again take your word on this critical issue because you say it is so?   Is it just common sense?  Well I require a bit more persuasion: what is your evidence for these sweeping generalizations?

You tell us with brimming confidence:

“So I’m not against sports, per se, but I do think that sports should be kept in perspective. It’s perfectly natural for kids to want to indulge in games, but while they are indulging in these games it’s very important that the adults in their lives constantly remind them that sports represent the “Toy Department” of life, and that there are many other things in life that are much more important. But due to our mass societal fixation on sports, and the virtual “worship” of sports figures, they’re rarely getting this instruction. As a direct result, we’ve become a society of easily manipulated, undereducated, and totally distracted sports junkies. “

 First of all,  virtually everything you say about sports in this passage can also be said about music and musicians!  The biggest musical acts fill up those same stadiums and the fans get just as crazy…if not worse!  Here again sports is being made a scapegoat for your rightful concern about other societal ills. Furthermore, since you have cited Socrates as your role model, it should interest you to know that his prize pupil Plato, from whose writings we learn most about Socrates’s life and thought, considered music and sport of equal importance in the education of the youth in his ideal Republic. He also thought the athlete was superior to the spectator and poets should be banned from the Republic!  Hence a joker like you, a poet who disdains sport, would not have fared very well in Socrates’ crowd, for the cultivation of mind and body equally is the essence of the Greek ideal of human development.  Remember Eric, it was the ancient Greeks that gave us the Olympics: the greatest sporting event in history!

I would argue that love for and participation in sports has caused many young men to remain in school that might have dropped out, and raised the academic achievement of many other youths: THOSE WHOSE PARENTS VALUE EDUCATION ENOUGH TO MAKE PLAYING SPORTS A REWARD FOR ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT!!!    I am not guessing about this Eric, that was what me and all of my friends did who had kids that were athletes!  Just like YOUR SON DOES WITH HIS KIDS!   You have no trouble recognizing the good that sports is doing for your grandchildren; so why wouldn’t sport have the same benefits for other youths if they enjoyed the guidance good parents too?

I didn’t tell my children that sport is the “toy Department of life” because that’s not how I see it. I regard your statement as little more than an expression of personal prejudice that bears no observable relationship to the reality of sports in human experience.  And it is certainly at odds with the bulk of the scholarship on the subject.

For instance Dr. Marianne Engle, a professor of Sports Psychology at the distinguished New York University Child Study Center, published a paper in 2004 title “Kids and Sports: Creating a Healthy Experience for Every Child.”  This paper sums up the conclusions of the major researchers in the field of sports participation and human development, and Dr. Engle tells us:

“Participation in sports, whether as an individual or as a member of a team, plays an important role in the social, emotional and physical development of children and adolescents. Successful sports experiences provide benefits – gains in social and interpersonal competence, fitness, health-mindedness, and psychological well-being – that have been shown to last throughout life. As expressed by William Damon of the Stanford Center on Adolescence,” The future of any society depends on the character and competence of its young. In order to develop their competence young people need guidance to provide them with direction and a sense of purpose. They need relationships that embody and communicate high standards. They need to experience activities that are challenging, inspiring, and educative.”

It is an undeniable fact that sports competition is fundamental to all human societies; the more complex and advanced the society, the more complex and advanced the games they play. That’s why football, the quintessential American game, is the fastest most physically and intellectually demanding and complex game in the world!  And I know for sure that whatever a young person wants to do in society – any society in the world – all other relevant factors such as intellect and talent being equal, their chances of success will be enhanced if they are also a great athlete!

I have repeatedly implored you to read “Beyond a Boundary,” by CLR James – an athlete, sports fanatic and one of the most brilliant intellectuals of the 20th century – so you can gain a much broader view of the role of sport in society and how one can share an equal love for sport and scholarship… but to no avail.  It is hard to have serious conversations with you Eric because you do not have a proper respect for intellectual authority; as you have repeatedly told me.  This makes it difficult to build a systematic argument based on that authority and I often get the feeling that I’m wasting my time…..which is like burning money to me.

Far too much of your argument rest on intuition, subjective observations, or outright hyperbole; which as near as I can tell, is totally innocent of facts.   The following passage is a poignant case in point.

“Many in this country can tell you the starting lineup and various statistics of every football team in the country, but they can’t tell you who their congressperson is, how they voted, or what they voted on. That’s not good, and it’s having a negative impact on not only the Black community, but the nation as a whole.”

Well, I have been an avid football fan for over half a century and I have NEVER met anyone who “can tell you the starting lineup and various statistics of every football team in the country.” I have a fabled memory, in fact when I was a professor my colleagues nicknamed me “Univac,” after the giant IBM main frame computer: AND I COULDN’T TELL YOU THE ENTIRE STARTING LINEUPS OF THE  NEW YORK JETS, THE GIANTS OR MY FAVORITE TEAM THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS IF YOU PUT A GAT TO MY HEAD!!!   Frankly I do not believe that such a person as you describe exists accept in your imagination.  As to your point about not knowing who your congressman is, I’ve got news for ya dog: I’ve known highly educated people with no interests in sport who DON’T KNOW WHO THEIR CONGRESSMAN IS!!  I challenge you to present any evidence that sports fans are more politically ignorant than non-sports fans…..this is nothing more than BASELESS CONJECTURE!  How am I supposed to take such arguments seriously?

There are other passages in your essay that sound about as scientific as astrology.  Would you please cite a scholarly source for the following claim?

“What many people fail to realize is how profoundly their thinking can be shaped by social manipulators through the use of sports and other forms of public “entertainment.” The passion engendered through sports allows social manipulators to circumvent an individual’s cerebral cortex, or intellect, and exploit a direct line to the fan’s brain stem, or the most animalistic and condition-receptive part of their brain. That allows manipulators to condition an individual’s thinking and attitudes without  the individual even recognizing it.”

I have a former student who is now a professor of Neuroscience at Harvard, he is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Krolinska Institute in Sweden, where the award the Nobel Prizes for medicine and biology, and he not only played football but considered going out for the New England Patriots as a free agent.  He is a Florida boy and loves football like me…do you suppose that you know facts about these deleterious effects of sports on the brain but it escaped his notice?  Frankly, given your often expressed disdain for intellectual authority and your high opinion of your own intellectual abilities I would not be surprised to discover that you do. But it strikes me as beyond ridiculous.

Surprisingly, you seem unaware that your concentration on sports rather than the “other forms of public entertainment,” such as musical performance, exposes an anti-sports bias that nullifies your pretentions to objectivity.  Since you have openly expressed your ignorance of history and your disdain for sociology, on what do you base the following conclusion:

“But most Americans have blindly accepted the proposition that it’s our ‘competitive spirit’ that makes this nation great. But what evidence do we have of that? How do we know that we wouldn’t have been even greater if we’d embraced a philosophy of enlightenment and the pursuit of excellence with the same amount of zeal as we’ve pursued the need to say, “I’m better than you?”  And why must our national motive be to be “the greatest nation on Earth?” We’d UNDOUBTEDLY be much greater if we’d resolved to compete against who we WERE to become the greatest nation that we can BE. How many minds do we have locked up in the nation’s prison systems who may have the unique intellect to solve the world’s problems? Is it possible that due to this nation’s ‘us against them’ mentality that they might have lynched the very person who might have found a cure for cancer?”

.Unfortunately, sentimental prattle like, “How do we know that we wouldn’t have been even greater if we’d embraced a philosophy of enlightenment and the pursuit of excellence with the same amount of zeal as we’ve pursued the need to say, “I’m better than you?” is not a serious argument!   Maybe in Socrates’s time, when most things were a matter of speculation,  but not now, in the age of quantitative comparative sociology and scientific historical research.  There is a vast scholarly literature on this subject!  Apparently you are unaware that this question has been discussed ad infinitum.

We know that the competitive American system produced the most powerful nation in the history of the world, that’s an incontestable fact, as it the fact that the productivity and efficiency that made the US economy the richest in the world is a direct result of competition between business firms to make a better product at a cheaper price!  Your position on the other hand is baseless conjecture; wishful thinking.  It is your task to convincingly demonstrate that we could have been a greater nation without the American emphasis on competition, not simply pronounce from on high.  That may be enough for you but I am unimpressed.  Your argument denouncing the evils of competition is especially curious coming from a Jazz musician.

One of the most intriguing questions regarding the art of Jazz is “How did Afro-American musicians create and develop an art form that requires virtuosity and originality on the part of every instrumentalist in the orchestra, without the benefit of a formal conservatory?” The answer is to be found in the ruthless competition between musicians striving to be ”the best” on their instruments. Without job security, written contracts, vast financial endowments for orchestras, or retirement pensions for performers, the Jazz world is a Darwinian milieu, red of tooth and claw, where survival of the fittest is the order of the day.  It’s a jungle out there!

The trials and tribulations of the professional Jazz musician are well documented in interviews by the musicians and the writers who covered them.  A poignant description of what life as a Jazz musician was like during the most popular period of modern Afro-America complex instrumental music can be found in “Good Morning Blues,” The Autobiography of Count Basie.” 

Written in collaboration with the great Afro-American writer and cultural critic Albert Murray – author of the classic “Stomping the Blues,”  for my money the best book ever written on Afro-American music – Bill Basie’s autobiography  provides an in-depth look into the world of the working Jazz musician that covers most of the 20th century, when Jazz developed.  It takes us back to a time when Jazz was a new and evolving art, and moves to a time when many big bands worked regularly and some – like Andy Kirk, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, et al  – worked three hundred days a year and could have worked 365 days if they had a mind to.

 Bill Basie
He finally Made the Cut

  There was more work for black Jazz musicians during this period than anytime in American history, but you could only work if you were considered “the best man available” by whatever standard the bandleader wished to judge you – just like today.  So the more versatile and original your sound the better your chances for getting steady work.  And the major venue of instruction in their art was The Jam Session!  The central feature of these events was the “cutting session” in which musicians on every instrument tried to outplay their counterparts.  Basie describes how the competition was so thick for seats in a working orchestra that you could lose your gig from “getting yo head cut” by a musician invited to sit in on your instrument during a gig!

He recalls an incident early on in his career when the band leader gave everybody but him a different time to return from a break, because he wanted to check out a local cat on piano.  Basie says he was outside having a smoke when he heard the band strike up, but by the time he got in the room the cat on piano was wailing.  After listening for a few choruses Basie says he went straight to the owner of the club and asked him for a job parking cars!

That’s how competitive the jazz environment that produced such great musicians was.  And nobody was more competitive that the “Be-boppers” led by Bird and Diz, who took jazz to another level of harmonic and rhythmic complexity.  To get a feel for what this environment was like you should read Ralph Ellison’s seminal essay on the origins of Bop “Things Remembered, Times Past: On Bird, Birdwatching and Jazz.”  Here is a firsthand view live from Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, where this new genre was molded in the heat of fierce competition and only the strong survived the savage cutting sessions.

Ellison, a trumpet player from Oklahoma who was studying composition with the famous black classical composer William Dawson at Tuskegee Institute, thought he was a bad man on the trumpet.  But the fierce playing of the musicians at Minton’s scared him.  “They were playing bebops,” he wrote of the horn players “I mean rebopped bebops.”  And he described the drummers as “frozen faced introverts dedicated to chaos.” It was a heroic act to take the stage in Minton’s Playhouse, where the rhythm section often included Theolonius Monk on Piano, Oscar Pettiford on Bass, and Kenny “Klook” Clark on drums!

There are endless stories about the day Bird strolled into that lion’s den dressed like a country boy from Kansas City, whipped out his axe from a raggedy cardboard case, and slayed them all!  Dizzy Gillespie said they had been hearing bits and pieces of what Bop might sound like, but when he heard Bird play “Cherokee” it all came together. Everything about Minton’s was highly competitive – including the gangsters who regularly hung out in there and competed with each other for everything from the flyest cars, to clothes, to girls!

The great Max Roach, arguably the most influential improvisational percussionist of the twentieth century, told me that they had heard about bird from musicians who had passed through Kansas City on tour and came back talking about what a “monster” he was on the saxophone.  “But our attitude was Sheeet, we in the Big Apple baby, ain’t nothing this country boy can play that we ain’t heard before.”  So all the horn players were laying to “cut his head”  and ended up dead…slain by a yard bird from the sticks.

 Bird and Dizzy: Taking no Prisoners!
 Bird and Diz
 Two Innovative Geniuses that Changed Western Music

That was the highly competitive environment in which the fine art of Bebop was born Eric.  Louis Armstrong – a seminal figure in the evolution of Jazz – hated both bebop and the beboppers; the music and the musicians.  He once remarked that they were mean and evil people who just wanted “to carve everybody up.”  He said The music was just a bunch of chords and notes “that don’t mean nothing!”  I have never known a great Jazz musician who was not egotistical about their playing and highly competitive, and I’ve known legions of them over more than half a century. In fact, I don’t know anybody that is great at anything of whom that is not true.

The competitive nature of Jazz as a method of creating a better product is one of the things that makes Jazz the quintessential American Art.   Like athletes, who generally embrace each other after the contest – including boxers after vicious fights – musicians form a unique band of brothers and are generally friendly after the competition on the bandstand.  In fact they embody the highest ideal of sport, unless one’s lively hood is at stake: “It’s not whether you win or lose… but how you play the game.”  And I have never known a great Jazz musician who wasn’t an avid sports fan.

The great Earl “Fatha” Hines says that after his gig at the Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chi Town he and the band members would go play baseball as soon as it was light outside; Louis Armstrong had his own baseball team.  Every chance he gets, the great Wynton Marsalis plays pickup basketball games with the youths in the projects across from Lincoln Center, and is quite proud of his jump shot!  The master percussionist Rachid Ali and innovative trumpeter Miles Davis – a seminal figure in 20th century music – were both boxers and fanatical fans who never stopped going to the Gym until hobbled by age.  Miles was best friends with Sugar Ray Robinson, who also idolized Miles.  The peerless Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis, trained to Jimmy Lunceford’s “I’m a Rug Cutter,” and the powerful Sonny Liston trained to Bill Doggett’s “Night Train.”  There has always been a close relationship between black musicians and Black athletes, now it is mostly hip hop, but in an earlier period it was Jazz. So it looks like you are just an odd ball Eric; I’d bet all of these great Jazz musicians would find you as strange as I do.

In its philosophy and practice Jazz successfully embodies the highest ideals that American civilization aspires to but seldom achieves.  It is democratic; prizes individual Freedom; promotes innovation; grooves to the tempo of a machine age milieu, and sharpens performance through fair and open competition.  These are the characteristics that make Jazz the most representative American art.  Frankly Eric, as a Jazz musician I am surprised that you don’t recognize this….but then playing music and contemplating its social significance as art are two different things.

Finally, your above passage confuses  and conflates issues that have little to do with each other. People commit crimes and go to jail in every society in the world, including communal ones where competition is not encouraged.  Contrary to your faith based belief, there is no evidence that the prisons are overflowing with geniuses.  Conversely, there are numerous studies which show that the majority of prison inmates have below average IQ’s, that’s partially why they are in jail in the first place. If you do a Google search of the scholarly literature addressing the correlation between crime and IQ levels you will discover that there is abundant statistical evidence showing that incarceration rates are higher among those with the lowest IQ’s.  This proves true even when the studies are controlled for age, race, gender, and economic status.  There is no debate about this among scholars in the field.

The following passage strikes me as self-indulgent nonsense, a mindless diatribe on the evils of sport  uttered during a public temper tantrum that dramatically fails to rise to the level of what I consider serious argument.  Mostly what it does is expose an embarrassing ignorance of the ideals  and virtues promoted through sports.

 “You see, sports appeal to, stimulate, and feed upon the very worst characteristics in human nature, or what’s referred to as the “Seven Deadly Sins” – wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.Each is a form of Idolatry-of-Self wherein the subjective reigns over the objective.” The very point of sports is to prove that “I’m better than you.” Sports also promotes the “Us against them” mentality that’s at the very root of every form of bigotry – racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.”

 If you really believe that this is the Message young people get from sports competition, why do you  celebrate their grandchildren participating in such a nefarious activity?   It would take a deranged person to proudly post their pictures on Face book openly engaging in an activity that by your description promotes ideas that have inspired mass murder!!! Racism and Xenophobia inspired the murder, enslavement and dispossession of black peoples all over the world before any of these sports were invented…they also inspired the Armenian genocide and the German  holocaust in the 20th century.  Will you please present some evidence of the role sport played in these atrocities Eric.  It is POLITICS NOT SPORTS that led to these atrocities!!! This is patent nonsense …foolishness!!

Let me share some real information that you obviously know nothing about, or you would be more careful in your argument.  In his 1986 book  “Jessie Owens: An American life,” the  first scholarly biography by a professional historian on the life of the great Afro-American Olympic athlete Jesse Owens, Dr. William J. Baker tells us how the Germans were so impressed by the athletic grace and prowess of Jesse Owens  and the other black American Olympians, that when they went out to nightclubs in Nazi controlled Berlin the German men and women flocked around them and several German men asked them to dance with their wives so they could take pictures….this was in NAZI GERMANY ERIC!!!!

Jesse Owens and Lutz Long in Nazi Germany

Jesse Owens and Lutz Long

In what arena other than sports could this friendship happened?

Obviously sports worked to alleviate the vices of “racism and xenophobiain Nazi Germany among those who met these great black athletes!  Jesse became life- long friends with the German he beat in the broad jump, and Max Schmeling, who turned up to boxing camp in a NAZI officer’s uniform to train for the second fight against Joe Louis, became his life-long friend after Joe kicked his ass in such fine fashion!!  There is plenty of evidence that sports create friendships among different peoples, often overcoming the imperatives of politics and the preachments of religion to do it, that’s the raison d’etre for the Olympic games…where is the  evidence for your charges; or are we once again supposed to just take your word for it?  Well your argument strikes me as baseless!

Sometimes your arguments contain elements of truth and fiction.  The following paragraph is an excellent example of this.

 “Now, if you’re a lifelong sports fan, you’re probably reading this and saying, “That’s ridiculous.” But it’s not surprising that you feel that way, because your conditioning is so ingrained, and so deeply seated at this point that you can’t even recognize the dysfunction in something that you’ve embraced and loved all of your life. It’s like a religion, or someone raised to believe in Voodoo – sticking pins in dolls seems like a perfectly natural way of life to them. So let me give you an example of how the system works, and how you’re being manipulated.”

 Your lead sentence is undoubtedly true,  because you sure sound “ridiculous” to me.  However your diatribe soon sinks back into the murky pseudo-intellectual quicksand  of issuing wild proclamations without the evidence to support them. You seem to take delight in spouting amateur pop-psychological analysis of complex mass human behavior….something southern California is famous for among  Easterners.  Which is why many New Yorkers refer to it as “LaLa Land.”  Alas, psychological analysis is a highly specialized esoteric practice, and I don’t trust ANYBODY who does not have a PhD to conduct it…just Like I wouldn’t think of going to a brain surgeon who didn’t have an MD.  Hence your Psycho-babble means nothing to me.  Can you cite some scholarly sources for your diagnosis? Otherwise I shall just dismiss it as spurious prattle.

Your comment “. It’s like a religion, or someone raised to believe in Voodoo – sticking pins in dolls seems like a perfectly natural way of life to them,” reveals a shameful ignorance of the culture from which so many of our ancestor came.  Voodoo is one of the world’s oldest religions, it is a polytheistic religion much like the one Socrates grew up in, as opposed to the antiseptic monotheistic religion that you grew up in – from whence your silly idea of Voodoo arises.  It is a religion that produced some of the world’s greatest art, such as the Benin Bronzes. Sculptures produced by the Yoruba people rooted in Orisha Voodoo, inspired the innovations of the creators of modern European Art such as Picasso, Salvadore Dali, and others.

The Voodoo Inspired Art of Benin


The Brilliance of Benin Bronze Sculpture is widely acclaimed

And by the way, despite your cavalier dismissal of religious belief: THE GREATEST ART IN THE WORLD HAS BEEN INSPIRED BY RELIGIOUS BELIEF!   I need only cite the Sistine Chapel, Bach’s B Minor Mass, and the Ellington Orchestra’s recording of “Come Sunday, with Mahalia Jackson as soloist, plus any other great traditional African art to end that conversation.

The music of the Yoruba peoples, inspired by Voodoo, supplied the basis for much of the great neo-African music of the America’s when it blended with European music….such as the Afro-Cuban Rumba and Son Montuno as well as Afro-American Spirituals, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues  and  Jazz; musical forms that have influenced musicians  of all races world-wide! The idea of Voodoo as some evil black magic consisting of people “sticking pins in dolls” is a Hollywood fantasy created by ignorant and racist white folks as part of their demonization of EVERYTHING AFRICAN!

Yet contrary to Hollywood’ s depiction of Africans as ignorant savages terrorized by a naked white man called Tarzan, here is a first-hand description of the Oba’s – Divine King – Palace in Benin, the ancient African city that produced the world famous bronze sculptures, written by the Dutch traveler Olfert Dapper in 1668, over a century before the birth of the United States.

“The king’s palace or court is a square, and is as large as the town of Haarlem and entirely surrounded by a special wall, like that which encircles the town. It is divided into many magnificent palaces, houses, and apartments of the courtiers, and comprises beautiful and long square galleries…resting on wooden pillars, from top to bottom covered with cast copper, on which are engraved the pictures of their war exploits and battles, and are kept very clean.”

The religion practiced by these people is the basis of what would later be called Orisha Voodoo.  And it makes about as much sense as any other religion in the world, but the emphasis on music and ceremonial objects made it a fertile source of artistic production. You really do need to study some black history and culture Eric.

If you want to learn something about voodoo read “Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief,” by Bolasi E. Idowu;Art and Alters of the Black Atlantic World,” and “Tango: A History of the Dance of Love,” by Dr. Robert Farris Thompson, Professor of Art History and Dean of African Civilization at Yale University.  Although you have repeatedly told me that you have no respect for Academic degrees and University affiliations, I am still including them because most people do respect such accomplishments…the present writer included.  For unlike you, I do not consider myself wise or learned enough to comment on the complex problems of the world without constant reference to the work of great thinkers.

Finally, we have trudged to the end of your tortured and curious polemic, only to  find that the contradictions so characteristic of this impassioned tirade persist to the bitter end.  You tell us:

When a fan goes to a football game, what a fan THINKS he sees are two teams on a football field with the coaches and their staff on the sideline. But what the fan’s subconscious and emotions see are two armies on the battlefield preparing to go into combat, with two generals on the sidelines. And that’s not by accident, because the spectacle is DESIGNED to psychologically condition every male in the stadium to be willing to go into combat and sacrifice his life in a blaze of illustrious glory for “The Gipper” – or The Standard Oil Company. The very same is true of the “All-American” pastime of baseball and other sports.”

 Evidently you believe this passage to be pregnant with wisdom. But I’d bet the family jewels that the only spectators who see what you have described have unwisely dropped a hefty tab of acid….it is my fondest hope that you are not among them!    After  reading your essay carefully I am reminded of the man my grandfather says thought he was speeding when he wasn’t doing five miles an hour!   How do you know what football fans think? What studies have you seen that demonstrate this?  Is this another one of your original revelations?  Alas, it sounds like pretentious jibberish to me.   Are you so blinded by ideology that you cannot see that SPORTS COMPETITION IS AN ALTERNATIVE TO WAR!!!!

However  if what you say were true: How did a non-sports fan like you become a gung ho Marine?  Everybody who has seen the Academy Award winning documentary “Hearts and Minds” or read the path-breaking book “Deadly Deceits ” by longtime CIA field agent Ralph McGhee, understands the connection between football training and military training.  Having been a high school football  players was how I was selected for a special unit in the US Strategic Air Command.  But so what Eric?  Every nation has their ways of preparing young men to bear arms in defense of the homeland…why should the US be different?  Are you suddenly a pacifist?  Well for the record, I think pacifism is suicidal in a dangerous world, and evidently so do you; as you repeatedly mention your service in the Marine Corps with evident pride.  Do you want to denounce it now? If not what’s your beef?

However after carefully reading your near hysterical screed, I have come to the conclusion that you understand about as much about sports as a mule knows about playing a saxaphone.  Your essay is full of half-baked ideas based on erroneous assumptions that I found tedious to read and from which I leaned nothing that will have any effect on my feeling about sports.  In regard to the values that sports can teach, well  when my daughter Makeda came to me to ask me if she could join the cheer leading squad in the 9th grade, which seemed like a natural progression for a young lady who had studied ballet since kindergarten, I vociferously opposed the idea.  I was writing a column for the New York Daily News editorial page at the time.  I stopped, looked her in the eye, and said: FUCK BEING A CHEER LEADER, YOU GET IN THE ARENA AND COMPETE!  LET SOMEBODY CHEER YOU!

Well, instead of becoming a cheerleader she took all of that ballet training, joined the Peter Westbrook Foundation, became a student of Peter Westbrook – the greatest American fencer of the 20th century, a five time Olympian  – and became a fencer.  Peter was convinced that the combination of her ballet training and athletic skill – which enabled her to compete in Division I as a sprinter for the University of Delaware, while a Science Merit Scholar and a Dean List Student – could make a world champion out of her if he could just get her to devote herself to fencing.  I was interested in my kids participating in the sport of fencing because it was filled with high achievers from many fields.

 Makeda Voletta Dancing in the Ring of Fire

Makeda Dances in Hawaii

Celebrating the Goddess Pele in Hawaii

Today Makeda is a sports scientist, Certified sports nutritionist, a licensed fitness trainer who travels all over the country and abroad lecturing on women’s health and fitness! She also performs and teaches sacred dances from all over the African world, See “Magical Realism” on this blog.  She has thanked me a million times for encouraging here to become an athlete.  Why? Because that’s where she learned to compete on an equal basis with men, since men learn to compete through the games they play.  She also learned hard work and discipline – attributes which all good athletes must have, and she learned how to be magnanimous in victory and Gracious in defeat, she learned that you win some and you lose some battles…just like in real life!

My son also studied at the Peter Westbrook Foundation, where you had to maintain a high average in school in order to compete.  It was one of the best experiences of his life and he could have gone far in the sport if he had not loved baseball so much.  However what he learned about the price of excellence and what could be accomplished from hard work and perfecting one’s skills from Peter was priceless!  If anyone wanted a compelling example of how sports can save a young man from destruction and provide an avenue to the good life it is Peter Westbrooks.  Growing up in the dangerous rough and tumble  projects of Newark New Jersey, Peter was an angry young man who was headed to jail or an early grave.

 Peter Westbrooks

Peter Westbrook

America’s Greatest Fencer

Half Afro-American and half Japanese, he was small in stature and regularly picked on, but being spunky he was always getting into fights.  One day his mother came home, handed him a new Saber,  and said:” If you want to fight, learn to fight with this.  It will introduce you to a noble class of people.”  Peter began to study Saber fencing and began to love it.  He won a scholarship to a Catholic high school  – which has managed to consistently combine high academic standards and great athletic teams – and from there he won a scholarship the New York University from which he graduated with a degree in business.  After making a fortune in commodities trading he decided to devote his time and energies to introducing the sport of fencing to inner-city kids combining high academic achievement with mastery of sport.  He has now sent several of his students to the Olympics, and Keith Smart, who along with his sister Errin, has gone twice and Keith came within a touch of winning the gold Medal in the Peking Olympics: both are college graduates!

The salutatory effect that sports had on my son’s life was dramatic.  As a young kid he was skinny, asthmatic, and kind of withdrawn and timid.  However I would take him over to the park and throw footballs and baseballs with him. Greg Tate, a writer with the Village Voice, was my neighbor and wrote that I was a splendid father citing all the times he saw us together in the park.   However if we are to take you at your word Eric, you must believe I was actually wounding him psychologically, although even you must recognize that sports is good for developing strong bodies.

However in real life experience, as opposed to the ideological drivel of non-sports fans, sports turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to my son.  When he was five the preschool he attended, which was partially funded by the Dave Winfield Foundation, Samori went on a field trip to Yankee Stadium, to watch their benefactor, star centerfielder Dave Winfield  play, he gave Samori a baseball glove and it magically transformed his life.  The Harlem Little League was just forming, and the next year he was one of their players.

Once he made the baseball team I witnessed a marvelous metamorphosis in him.  He became more self-confident and grew steadily stronger physically.  I had no trouble getting him to eat right, and he became very organized, because that’s what it took to excel in a demanding school and play ball…which was contingent upon his performance in the classroom. I hosted an evening drive time radio show on WBAI FM that dealt with a variety of topics involving politics and culture, and by the time he was nine years old he began writing sports commentaries for the radio.

I began to give him the sports section from the New York Times to read to insure that he was reading the best writers, and people of all races remarked about this little kid riding the subway with his head stuck in the New York Times.  And when he visited his Aunt Claudia, an avid sports fan who directed a large job training program in Carlisle Pennsylvania,  her mostly white employees told him how they wished they could get their kids to read a newspaper.  And they were speechless when my sister let them hear his radio commentaries via the internet!

All of this gave him tremendous confidence in himself and his abilities. Then one day the great Peter Westbrook watched him playing baseball and approached me about enrolling him in his fencing program.  Where he was one of the few black kids competing in fencing in New York City.   In his first year of high school he started a Sports News Letter, posting a notice on the bulletin board for potential writers to submit a sample of their writing to him., who as Senior Editor would decide who made the cut.  Samori’s involvement with sports coupled with his studies, left no time for idleness and I never had a moment’s trouble with him during his teenage years despite the fact that we lived in Harlem during the height of crack and gangsta rap!

By his senior year Samori was the Captain of both the baseball and the fencing team…and he was the only black kid on either team.  Both Samori and Makeda, who are twins, graduated with honors from the prestigious Beacon School in Manhattan, a first rate academic school in the New York City public school system.  After a stint at Norfolk State University he would become the Sports Editor of WBAI, the station he read commentaries on as a child, and he is now finishing his degree and an important book on the disappearing Afro-American athlete in Baseball, a book from which you could learn much about Afro-American history.  But I have seen no evidence that you are inclined to read serious books by black authors.

 Intrepid Sports Reporter Samori Benjamin
 Samori and Reggie Jackson
 Interviewing Hall of Fame Yankee Reggie Jackson

 If the past is any guide to the future I suspect that this essay will have no discernable effect on your opinions about sports, as muddled as they are.   I say this because of your response to “On Race Culture and Sports;” I cannot imagine how you could have gotten less from that broadly learned treatise had you not bothered to read it at all.

If you had been assigned to read and respond to it in the Journalism and Media Studies seminar I taught at Long Island University, you would have received a failing grade. But beyond your failure to present a convincing critique that spoke to the arguments in my essay, I am genuinely puzzled at how you fail to see the beauty, grace, drama and prowess in the performance of Afro-American athletes: the greatest show on earth!   Your failure to recognize such magnificence is compelling testimony to the power of dogmatic ideology to distort reality!

It is even more puzzling that you fail to see that the real danger to the survival and progress of black youth are the decadent, self-destructive values propagated through the thug life ethos of certain genres of Rap Music!  By contrast the values propagated through sports are a God send!

Alas, as the old adage reminds us: “There are none so blind as he who refuses to see.” Although I am not in the habit of wasting my time and energy on lost causes, you insisted that I read and critique your essay….now you have it.  I sincerely hope you found it an enlightening read for I gave it my best effort….in any case, this is my last word on the subject.



*See: “Thug Life,” and “Is Russell Wilson Black Enough?” ( Both on this blog)
** Hear the Coach that recruited Snoop Dog’s Son
 Playthell G. Benjamin
On the Road
February 2, 2015


A Dream Deferred!

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , , on February 4, 2015 by playthell

Russell Wilson

The Little Big Man Leaves the Field: Beaten but Unbowed

 Reflections on the Super Bowl 2015

“I knew what was going to happen,” “I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. I just beat him to the point and caught the ball.” Says Malcolm Butler.

It was one of the most exciting Super Bowls I have witnessed….and I’ve seen them all.  It was a close game with grand competition and many great plays.  But because sports is what it is, a test of our physical and mental abilities on a level playing field where hard work and talent can’t be denied even by people who set up arbitrary standards for excellence, you can never predict with certainty how a game will end – who will emerge the victor or the vanquished. This is because sport has objective standards for performance and the competition to meet or exceed those standards are held in a public arena where anyone willing to pay the price of the ticket can witness it,  thus preventing foul play by corrupt cabals in back rooms who seek to fix outcomes.   In such an arena, where the pressure to win is unrelenting, greatness can arise from anywhere on the playing field.

This is clearly what happened on Sunday night in Super Bowl 2014, when two undrafted players on both sides of the ball performed on a level that might have won them co-MVP honors.  For instance, Chris Matthews, a 6’ 5” wide receiver who looks like a tight end is a compelling candidate.  Most football fans, including this writer, had never heard of Matthews before he recovered that onside kick which put Seattle in a position to win the game against Green Bay, the game that was the gateway to the Super Bowl.

A Star is Born!


 A Saving Grace!
NFL: Super Bowl XLIX-New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks
Matthews kept the Hawks in the Game

Then Matthews,   who had never caught a pass in the NFL, came into the Super Bowl – the biggest arena in the world – and became a star right before our eyes.  Catching four passes for over a hundred yards and a touchdown, most of them spectacular, Matthews kept the Hawks in the game.   The way he was used in this game offers yet another example of the tremendous skill and football intelligence of quarterback Russell Wilson.

With his go to receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse covered by the great cornerback tandem of Durelle Revis and Browner, Russell turned his attention to Matthews, providing him to opportunity to make some critical plays.  It was in keeping with Russell’s contention that he functions like a point guard in basketball, whose role is to distribute the ball to the players who are in the best position to make great plays.  Wilson threw the ball all over the field and his only interception was on the final play that cost them the game.

The defensive back that picked of the ball, Malcolm Butler, is another miraculous story.  Like Matthews, he was undrafted and unheralded.  I had never heard of him either.  But if you have ever watched the program “Undrafted” on the NFL Network, you will have some idea of the hellish experience such players go through on their rocky road to the NFL. And the performance of these two players demonstrate the excellent athletic gifts some of the also ran’s possess.  However Butler, a safety on the Patriots squad, thought his career was finished after he was burned on that fantastic catch by Jermaine Kearse that put the Hawks in the red zone.  Butler recalls “I just went up and deflected it. Nine times out of 10 it usually goes away from him but as I was looking, I saw him bobble it catch it. Which was devastating.”

Jermaine Kearse’s Magical Catch

Great superbowl catch by Jermaine Kearse

Kearse’s Circus Catch put Seattle in position to win!

Many Patriot fans began to get that doomsday feeling as they remembered the fantastic catch made against them by a receiver with the New York Giants in an earlier Super bowl that they lost.  However fate would soon present Butler with an opportunity for redemption and he made the play that won the game and ascended to instant superstar status whose name is now recognized around the globe!  He tells us how he came to make such a spectacular and consequential play: “I knew what was going to happen “I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. I just beat him to the point and caught the ball.”  And with that the intuitive Malcolm Butler enters into the realm of Super Bowl heroes whose deeds in that game will last as long as football is played.

                                                                  Malcolm   Butler’s critical interception
Butler Malcolm Super Bowl Hero     
The Safety who Saved the Patriots Season

For Russell Wilson the Super Bowl loss must be especially bitter, although he is taking it graciously despite the fact that some are blaming him for the loss.  Alas, nobody is more dedicated to winning than Russell.  Fans are also second guessing the coach and declaring his play calling “the dumbest play in Super Bowl history,” yet a close viewing of the video of the play reveals that it was a clever manuever against a defence that had stacked the box to stop Marshan Lynch, who every football fan in the world expected to get the ball. But the play was foiled by a ngreat dfensive play….which is how the game goes sometimes. Other malevolent trolls, racist and garden variety haters used Russell’s decision to throw the ball as proof that they have been right along: he just doesn’t have the right stuff to be a pro-quarterback.

Astonishingly, the haters repeat this mindless jibberish despite the fact that Russell played splendidly in this game, putting his team up by ten points in the fourth quarter and coming within a footstep from winning his second Super bowl in two years!  Had Russell made the goaline throw he would have secured an honored place in the pantheon of the game’s immortals and been well on the road to the Hall of Fame.  Once again we see that both success and failure are grand imposters that can switch places in the blink of an eye!  Alas, perhaps the Gods were not with Russell on this occasion….or maybe he is the victim of an incompetent coaching decision as multitudes believe.

Nevertheless Wilson has set exceedingly high standards and lofty goals for himself.  For after all is said and done, in the end he remains the winningest quarterback in NFL history over his first three years. And despite his graciousness in the face of defeat, he hates losing.  The fact that this game was in the pocket can only make defeat worse than it otherwise might have been.   But he kept his chin up, predicted victory next year with complete confidence, then exited the stage beaten but unbowed.


See Malcolm Butler’s Interception 
See Chris Matthews Touchdown Catch

How Good is Russell Wilson?

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , , on February 1, 2015 by playthell
Russell-Wilson V
Launching the bomb with his Howitzer Arm

 They Call him Dangeruss!

Every time the question is raised regrding Russell Wilson’s standing among  today’s quarterbacks in the National Football League, whose  teams contain the greatest football players on earth, we get ambiguous prattle that damn him with faint praise like the following comment from football Sean Thomlinson of Bleacher Report: “

The human mind falls victim to recency bias far too easily, so foremost in our memories right now are Wilson’s two overtime throws that sealed an improbable comeback. It’s convenient to forget that until the 3:52 mark of the fourth quarter Wilson had eight completions, and he was the reason a series of miraculous events were needed to resuscitate title defense hopes.”

Sean offers this observation in an article titled “Russell Wilson’s Decision-Making Is a Concern Heading into Super Bowl,” where he also tells us “If Wilson’s decision-making and accuracy don’t reverse course swiftly, the Seahawks could have a repeat performance of the NFC Championship Game, just without the ending.” And to unambiguously demonstrate his point he reminds us that “Russell Wilson had a 0.0% accuracy rating under pressure in NFCCG. Just digest that. 0-of-6 with 5 sacks. Still won.” Wow!  Speak of damming with faint praise.  While the facts speak for themselves, what they actually mean depends upon how the observer interprets them; it’s the old bottle half empty or half full conundrum.

As for me, I think Thomlinson is emphasizing the wrong things.  I watched the game and what left the most lasting impression on me is the fact that Brady threw as many interceptions as Wilson when you consider the fact that two of the picks attributed to Wilson were dead on strikes but were dropped by the receivers.  And instead of overemphasizing the fact that Wilson had a bad first half, I am amazed by his poise under pressure; his never say die attitude; his ability to lift the morale of his players and inspire them to believe they can win, even as all the objective facts suggest that to continue to believe is a retreat into fantasy, and the consummate skills and superb judgment to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and make the plays he needs to make while leading his team to victory!  That’s what left the lasting impression on me in the NFC championship game.

Russell Launches the bomb where only his reciever can get it……
Russell Wilson launching the bomb
………..And Kearse Cradles it for the Win!
Russell puts ball in Kerses arms to win
A Missile from Mr. Magic gets the W!

The more I watch young Russell Wilson the more I am convinced that he is capable of making any play the situation requires in order to win.  In an era of Fantasy Football which is obsessed with personal statistics Russell only cares about the win….which is the only statistic that matters to the entire team.  And, although many fans and commentators alike seem to forget it….winning is why you play the game!  If, as Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells points out, “you are what the numbers say you are,” Russ has got some very good numbers.

In terms of personal records, based on the length of time he has played in the NFL nobody can boast a better one.  For instance, he tied Peyton Manning’s all-time passing record for a rookie, and he set an all-time record by rushing for over a hundred yards and passing for over three hundred yards in a single game.  His quarterback efficiency record in playoff games was higher than Aaron Roger’s coming into the 2015 NFL Championship game; he is only quarterback in the history of the League to start in two Super Bowls during his first three years, and he is the winningest quarterback ever after playing his first three seasons in the NFL.

Despite this amazing record we still have people saying crazy things like he is “just a game manager,” or “he’s not that good a passer.”  Part of this reflects the desperation of disillusioned white guys who are suffering from an overload of black dominance in football.  Like me they have witnessed professional and major college football become increasingly dominated by black athletes.  However the quarterback position – which is equivalent to a Captain of a ship. Or the commander of a combat brigade in terms of his leadership responsibilities in running the operation – remained a white boy preserve long after the other positions were being masterfully and often spectacularly played by Afro-American athletes.

There was a mythology developed around the quarterback position that only Caucasian males had the right stuff – rapid decision making, accurate passing, poise and calm in the face of charging defensive lineman, etc.  – to effectively play the quarterback position.  Fran Tarkington, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback who lost four Super Bowls announced that he though guys with “blond hair and blue eyes” made the best quarterbacks.  He was of course blue eyed with blond hair.

However Dog Williams, a black man of “deepest dye” – as the 18th century Afro-American scientists Benjamin Banneker described himself to Thomas Jefferson in a letter calling Jefferson out about a racist remark he had made regarding Africans – murdered that myth when he humiliated John Elway in a crushing defeat of the Denver Bronco’s by the Washington Reskins in the Super Bowl.  The fact that the big blond blue eyed Elway looked like a Teutonic super hero, proved no advantage as Williams went on the set nine records in the championship game.

By the time Russell Wilson entered the NFL in 2012 black quarterbacks were no longer exotic figures, the lone exception that proved the rule, and rather than denouncing the athletic mobility that black quarterbacks bring to the game, they were being celebrated as “dual threat” quarterbacks – Randall Cunningham, .“Air” McNair, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Colin Kapernick, RGIII, et al.   Ironically, in the contest between John Elway and Doug Williams it was Elway that was the “duel threat” and Williams was strictly a pocket passer who has said “I don’t believe in the quarterback running the ball.”

Yet, ironically, white quarterbacks have always been celebrated for their ability to “scramble” i.e. run away from the defensive players to avoid a sack should the pocket break down before they have an open receiver to throw to without fear of in interception.  Tarkington was famous for his scrambling ability, as was Elway and Roger Stauback aka “Roger the Dodger.”  In fact Bill Belichek, the great coach of the New England Patriots who will oppose Russell in the Super Bowl, and is tasked with stopping him, recently compared Russell to Staubach who is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

The hood wearing Belichek looks like the Grim Reaper in a bad mood and is notorious as a mumbler, a man of few words, who appears to be in pain each time he utters a word, yet he has been effusive in his praise of Wilson.  After studying Wilson on film Coach Belichek said the Seattle quarterback did everything well and “seemed to have a sixth sense about where the defensive men are” and this is what enable him to make spectacular running or throwing the ball.”  However draft “experts,” like the much celebrated Mel Kiper, denounced Coach Pete Carroll and the Seattle GM for drafting Russell Wilson, who they said was a good college quarterback but had about the same chance of surviving in the pros as a snowball in a pizza oven.

Watching video of Kiper and other wise guy naysayers at the time is an unending source of amusement for me.  Especially in view of the fact that some people saw Russell for the great player that he has always proven to be.  One of those who recognized his special gifts was his coach at the University of Wisconsin, Bret Bielema. Having graduated from North Carolina State University in three years, Russell was drafted by several baseball teams and spent a year on a Major League farm team before realizing that he would rather play professional football.  Since he had a year of college football eligibility left Wilson looked around for a team with a pro-style offense then applied to the University of Wisconsin to play his final year of college football.

Aside from their pass oriented pro-style offense Wilson was attracted by their huge offensive line whose shortest member was 6’ 5” and averaged over 320 pounds.  They would have been the fourth largest line in the NFL; hence Wilson would get a chance to show that he could throw the ball accurately behind the kind of huge offensive lineman he would encounter on the professional level.  And the person who had the best view of his performance that year was his head coach Bret Bielema, who had done such an impressive job at Wisconsin that he was being wooed by the Miami Dolphins for the head coaching job.

In a recent interview Bielema say he told the Dolphin management that he would guarantee them a Super bowl victory within five years if they took his quarterback Russell Wilson in the upcoming NFL draft.  The coach recollects what happened next: “

“They all looked at me like, ‘You can’t say that. That’s the difference between college and pro. He’s undersized. He can’t throw.’  I was like, ‘OK, all right,’ and I honestly, that day, kind of pulled myself out of it.”

Russell Wilson at Wisconsin
Russell wilson at wisconsin
Russell had no problem throwing the ball behind this massive line

Bielema was so certain that Russell Wilson was going to be a star in professional football that he turned the job down because he was convinced that they didn’t have the necessary vision to produce a championship team.  Well, history has proved him right.  The dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill and have come nowhere the Super Bowl, whereas Russell will be starting in his second Super Bowl in three years!!!  One can only speculate about the fallout from the decision to take Tannehill over Russ, the proto- typical tall stiff white guy with a big arm over the smaller dual threat black guy, but I’d bet my bottom there are some hurt feelings and puzzlement over that decision…..and I would not be surprised to discover some heads have rolled.

While Russell Wilson is not the first, nor the most spectacular duel threat quarterback in terms of size or athletic prowess – see: “Is Colin Kapernick Transracial?” on this blog – he has been the most successful.  Wilson is the only duel threat quarterback yet to win a Super Bowl, and now he is poised to do it again. His record in games against the so called “elite” quarterbacks, most of whom have won at least one Super Bowl, is 10-0!  And he may well win the 2015 Super Bowl, which would make him the only quarterback to win two Super Bowls in his first three seasons in the NFL: Russell Wilson is a baaaad boy!  That’s why they call him “Dangeruss.”


Highlights at the University of Wisconsin 2012
Highlighs from Pro Career
Russell Dancing with Gransma Carroll
The throw that won the NFC Championship
Steven A: Damming Russ with faint praise


Playthell G. Benjamin
Feburary 1, 2014

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