Having been a sportswriter my entire professional career, I have had a ringside seat to watch African American athletes be treated as nothing more than “entertainers” for rich professional sports owners or mega-bucks college athletic programs.
It was only a matter of time before the pushback to oppression now being seen in demonstrations across the country and around the globe would make its way into the stadiums and arenas where this generation of Black athletes performs.
Now, they too are saying, “I can’t breathe.” Enough is enough.
NBA players only recently decided to resume the league’s playoffs after threatening to end the season in protest over the police shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha. NFL players followed suit by boycotting practice sessions this week; America’s beloved NFL season is suddenly up in the air. And many college players are declaring that their health is more important than satisfying a rabid football fan base in the midst of a pandemic.
Wake up America. The floodlights have lit up the dark specter of racial injustice.
As a Black sportswriter from the South in the 80’s and 90’s, I’ve had my own up-close encounters with racism.
There was the little old white lady in St. Louis who pushed her half-eaten shrimp shells on my plate, mistaking me for the hotel’s “help” instead of a guest at the same place she was staying. And the guy at a golf club in Birmingham, Ala., who yelled to ask me if “Sadie was still in the kitchen?” as I waited to interview players on their way back to the clubhouse after a tournament.
And let’s not even mention the numerous cabbies I tried to hail on an Indianapolis street corner for more than an hour in frigid weather, all of whom passed me by.
For centuries now, Black people in this country have had to wake up every morning and deal with one thing: We were brought here to never be anything more than slaves to white America.
Slaves and entertainers is what a great majority of white people still believe we are. Nothing more, and in too many cases, a lot less.
The people who cheer for the jersey Black athletes wear are the same people who would cringe if that player walked toward them on a downtown street. Or if any other young Black man approached them wearing that same jersey.
For me, a direct descendant of the last load of enslaved people illegally brought to America 160 years ago aboard Clotilda — all to settle a bet between two wealthy white men — racism is clearer now than it’s ever been.
And it hurts more, too.
It hurts to see an innocent Black woman, a first responder, killed by cops while lying in her own bed.
It hurts to see a Black jogger chased down and killed by two white men all because he was running in what they deemed was the “wrong neighborhood.”
It hurts to see police shoot a Black man in the back seven times in front of his young sons just because he was attempting to enter his vehicle.
It hurts to see a Black man choked to death by a white policeman for … nobody still knows why.
If you were a Black athlete, would you continue to entertain a largely white audience that only looks past the color of your skin because you can run and jump and catch and throw for the TEAM they love?
Of course you wouldn’t.
If Colin Kaepernick had played any position other than quarterback, his taking a knee during the national anthem to bring attention to racial injustice might very well have gone largely unnoticed. But because he was the quarterback, the face of the San Francisco 49er’s franchise, he became that runaway slave who needed to be punished so everybody else would fall in line.
It didn’t work.
And now, Black athletes across this country are taking a stand against racial inequality that even their white teammates, coaches and some owners agree must be addressed for the good of the country.
It has been almost two months since the wreckage of slave ship Clotilda was found buried in murky waters north of Mobile Bay.
And since then, the one burning question constantly posed to we descendants of those 110 Africans aboard that last – and illegal – slave vessel has been: “How do you feel?”
I’ve been asked it by journalists from The Americas, Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia and reporters from other places I don’t even remember.
But the one thing constant, no matter which descendant they ask, is their reaction to what they hear us say.
And when they hear it, their emotions range from amazement, to awe, to shock to downright disgust.
I simply don’t think many … if any … are prepared for what they’re going to get.
Just the other day, a group of us were interviewing a lawyer our Clotilda Descendants Association was seeking advice from.
At the end of the session, and in her attempt to simply know more about us, again came those words: “How do you feel?”
Now, I don’t know if it’s the detail in our answers, or the passion with which we say it, but the look on that attorney’s face was like so many others.
It screamed: Wow!
For us, the living, breathing extensions of those people thrust into slavery thousands of miles from the place they called home, emotions are raw and sincere.
In so many ways, slavery in this country still exists, even though it’s nothing like it was when our relatives were in bondage.
But just the thought of what they endured, not only for those two months on the boat, but in the next five years of slavery … toiling for wealthy white men and being treated like animals … is enough turn a simple question into a vivid 20-minute description of unthinkable atrocities committed by one human being upon another.
I KNOW there’s disgust in my voice when describing how naked men, women and children were crammed into a dank ship’s cargo hold, then for the next eight weeks forced to sleep in the same place they deficated, urinated or even threw up.
They had no choice but to also eat in those conditions … filthy surroundings that weren’t even cleaned up by the ship’s crew until our relatives were allowed out on deck for just a few minutes at a time, about one day a week … FOR EIGHT WEEKS!!
Even then, they were only allowed brief minutes of daylight and a paltry form of exercise so their bodies wouldn’t become atrophied … their muscles wasting away, rendering them useless, and dead weight cargo to be thrown overboard.
And all for what?
To settle a bet by wealthy slave owner Timothy Meaher and another man that a load of illegal slaves couldn’t be smuggled into the country, right under the government’s noses.
Still, if only somebody from their family would say the words, “We’re sorry,” it would go a long way toward healing this town and the entire country.
So, I ask YOU now … the reader … this question: If those were your relatives, how would YOU feel?
Of all the things special about being a direct descendant of Africans who were aboard slave ship Clotilda, recently found lying under 20-feet of water in Mobile Bay, finding out what really happened to the 158-year-old relic might be the most exciting.
From the minute on May 24 when SEARCH, Inc., Vice-president James Delgado uttered the words, “Yes, it is Clotilda,” through the massive community celebration of its discovery two days later, a whirlwind of new information has surfaced about the sunken ship.
Some background: Although slavery was still quite prevalent in the South, the practice of smuggling slaves from Africa had long been outlawed by the government. But in 1860, wealthy Mobile shipbuilder Timothy Meaher bet a friend that he could secretly sneak a boat-load of slaves to Alabama undetected by authorities.
He hired friend and veteran boat captain William Foster to sail the refitted schooner Clotilda to the west coast of Africa and return with a load of mostly slaves from the Yoruba tribe, captured and sold to him by the King of Dahomey, a rival tribe.
But upon his return to Mobile Bay, Foster got word the feds were onto the scheme, so he hastily off-loaded his cargo of 110 slaves, then set the ship ablaze and sunk it somewhere in the bay.
Fast forward to today:
SEARCH, the largest archaeology and cultural resources management company in the world, is just one of several partners that had been looking for the Clotilda ever since al.com journalist Ben Raines began his quest to find it earlier this year.
Upon its discovery, Delgado had samples of the ship’s wood and fasteners analyzed by experts, who concluded they were consistent with materials used to build it that were on record with the government.
But during his summary of the findings to a room full of descendants, Delgado dropped this bombshell: Since its sinking, there is evidence that the ship’s site (now under 24-hour surveillance) had been “disturbed.”
Now, Delgado made it very clear that his use of the word “disturbed” didn’t mean the ship had been hit by other present-day boat traffic, slammed by a school of fish or even been boarded by aliens.
He specifically mentioned that divers detected the use of “dynamite” as a tool of destruction, and intimated that the disturbance had taken place since the ship was sunk, although he couldn’t exactly say when the disturbance happened.
Now, it’s very possible – repeat, extremely likely – that any number of things could have happened to produce visible evidence of the remains being bothered.
But, it’s also within the realm of possibility that someone intended to finish the botched job Foster started more than 150 years ago when he struck a match to Clotilda in an effort to destroy evidence that the ship had been anywhere near Mobile Bay.
And, if true, it would have to be someone who knew the location of the sunken ship … a location very few people not named Foster or Meaher would know.
I’m jus’ sayin’.
During Wednesday’s meeting with the descendants, veteran diver Kamau Sidiki of Diving With a Purpose, another of the partners who searched for Clotilda, near tears emotionally said “now is the time for justice.”
It was a not-so-veiled reference to the fact that someone should be held responsible if a crime is proven.
In 1861, Meaher and his co-conspirators were eventually charged with illegally smuggling slaves into the country, but charges were dismissed for “lack of evidence.”
National Geographic Society Archaeologist-In-Residence Fredrik Hiebert said Wednesday that the cargo hold of the ship will eventually be tested for DNA. And if that DNA matches that of even one descendant, evidence of a crime could very well exist.
If that indeed happens, where this story goes and what estates might be liable is anybody’s guess.
From the time we were young our parents either told us, or non-verbally got their point across (if you know what I mean), that ‘Whatever happens in this house, stays in this house.’
But, what’s openly happening in America for the entire world to see now … the racism, petty in-fighting by the president with athletes voicing their opinions, strippers coming out of the rafters claiming they’ve slept with him, cowardly congressmen who don’t confront him for fear of being voted out of office by the very people he tricked into voting for him, folks on his own staff trying to keep him from starting a war, AND his attempt to wipe out anything done by the previous president (who just happened to be African American) … is beyond embarrassing.
And, worse, its feeding right into a playbook so many other countries just love: Watching America eat itself alive. Too bad our president cares more about himself than he does about the picture he’s painting of America for the world to see.
But what’s happening now isn’t all completely new.
I mean, there’s always been … and will always be … racism. After all, our country was built on it, and I’ve said forever that it should be taught in schools so kids growing up here know its origin, why it’s been able to survive so long and how to deal with it.
I mean, people of color are the single reason for those first 10 amendments to the constitution (i.e. the Bill of Rights, that assures equality for citizens), which had to be fixed when slaves were legally freed.
Now, every president has had their detractors, but realized they somehow had to try and unify the entire country.
But never have we had THIS … a president many in his own employ think is so mentally unfit that they’re secretly hiding things and keeping information away from him they think could hurt this nation.
Man! This is NO way to run a country!
I’m sure my father and mother never thought they’d see something like the attack on Pearl Harbor in their lifetime, just like none in my generation probably never in their wildest dreams thought they’d see 9-11.
But what we’re witnessing now is a full-out division of the races either wittingly or stupidly being fueled by the President of the United States, and is rising to very dangerous levels.
He blows dog whistle commands to constituents by using phrases like “if I’m impeached there will be violence,” and plants fear in others by saying “if I’m removed from office the stock market will crash.”
But I think he is missing a critical point. He is not a King nor dictator (something he openly admires in Putin, Bashar al-Assad and Kim Jong-un, who played the president like a video game in Singapore).
America, with all its faults and racist divides, WILL survive without the president … which some of us only hope isn’t too long from now.
Blacks, whites and the multitude of races which now dot the American family-scape, WILL go on surviving right alongside each other.
There will be tense moments, and some people … sadly … might even die at the hands of misguided souls like Charleston bible study shooter Dylan Roof, who thought he could provoke a race war.
But for every act of evil, there will be many more of love … across many races.
And no ONE person will ever be able to kill THAT America…
The two meaningful relationships I’ve had in my life came with an added component: A step daughter.
And along with the responsibility of being the new man in their mother’s lives, also came a commitment of being the best guiding force I could be to them.
So, when the time came, the one thing I told both those girls was the first time a boy puts his hands on you in an abusive way should be the last time.
Too many women, young and not so young alike, overlook the signs of a bad relationship in the making. They stay too long, then try to get away after it’s too late.
Some make it, but … sadly … others don’t.
To quote John G. Taylor, MA, in his Psychology Today article, Behind the Veil: Inside the Mind of Men That Abuse … Domestic violence and unmasking the terror of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:
“Domestic Violence is the leading cause of injury to women, sending over 1 million every year to doctor’s offices or emergency rooms. This violence isn’t occurring from the hands of a stranger, but from the hands of the man that has said ‘I love you.”’
Taylor says there are three important phases that lead to abusive relationships:
Phase 1: Tension building (Usually begins with arguments between the batterer/abuser)
Phase 2: Explosion (Where the assault happens);
Phase 3: Honeymoon Phase (Where the batterer/abuser apologizes for his behavior buying the victim gifts or flowers).
I’m saying all this for one reason: Ohio State Football Coach Urban Myer.
His three-game suspension for looking the other way about abuse former assistant coach Zach Smith brought on his ex-wife Courtney is a joke, and shows how “the privileged” in America walk by a different set of rules.
According to a university investigation, Myer didn’t follow proper procedures by not informing administrators about Smith’s conduct, which included:
A 2013 charge of drunken driving;
Running up a $600-plus bill at a strip club on a recruiting trip;
Failing to show up at scheduled high school recruiting visits;
Taking sexually explicit photos of himself during a team visit to the White House;
Addiction to prescription drugs that resulted in admission to a drug treatment facility;
Having a sexual relationship with a secretary on the football staff.
Oh, and let’s not forget abusing his wife as clearly illustrated in pictures she took of her injuries for police.
Myer finally fired Smith on July 23, but only after his wife filed a Personal Protection Order with police.
Did Myer overlook ALL these things because Smith’s grandfather, former Ohio State football coach Earl Bruce, gave Urban his first coaching job as a graduate assistant in 1986?
Did the OSU Board of Trustees fight like mad dogs for no Myer suspension or outright dismissal, against the objections of university president Larry Drake during a marathon meeting that began at 8 o’clock Wednesday morning and went well into the night?
Kudos to Drake for not wavering on the suspension, despite loud cries … and threats … from Buckeyes football faithful, who obviously put Myer’s 73-8 seven-year record (that includes a national championship in 2014) over that of a battered woman.
Unfounded reports say Myer, who makes $7.6 million a year, bucked hard for no suspension at all … saying he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Hadn’t done anything wrong?
Well, I guess if Myer overlooking abuse of a woman because of some misguided football loyalty to her abuser’s grandfather is OK, and the OSU board willing to forget about it, too, then this country is even more worse off than I thought.
There’s no magic to effective crisis communication. It’s a forthright, up-front approach to talk about what happened, how it came about and what you plan to do so that it never happens again.
With the reputation your company has hopefully built over time is why customers do business with you. One misstep shouldn’t wipe out months and years of trust.
But the one thing that’s a sure nail in a company’s coffin is believing you’re smarter that everyone else, can tell your customers anything and try to talk your way out of a bad situation.
One of the best examples of horrible crisis communications I can think of right now is what’s going on with the Trump White House and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
It’s no secret the 45th President has made mistakes, but the name calling, contradictions of fact and outright lies only play to a certain segment of his “customers” … NOT the entire American public.
A more effective way to combat the issues surrounding him are well-placed “mea culpas,” sincere talk about what he learned from those mistakes and what he plans to do going forward.
A great segment of this country knows what “45” is … a brash talking, controlling egotist.
I’m only stating the facts that are obvious to not only his detractors, but his supporters as well.
But this isn’t about what he is. This is about the great example he is of how not to win over those “customers” … a good portion of the American public … who’re just waiting for a reason to like and trust this man.
One of the most important things in effective crisis communications is to assemble a team of people who will give you straight answers and not feed you a ton of horse … well, give you bad advice.
And upon assembling that team, you MUST trust that they have you and your company’s best interest at heart.