Raise a Fist, Take a Knee - John Feinstein's Great Book on Racism and Men's Sports

RAISE A FIST , TAKE A KNEE: Race and the Illusion of Progress in Modern Sports – by: John Feinstein -  is a Must Read – for anyone interested in men and sports.  It is also an excellent read for others!

If anyone has any doubts – about this book – watch a video about it – one – interview by Judy Woodruff from the PBS News Hour (9:11) – one example -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT-Ldoag-YU .


Jones ended up making two Olympic teams – the 2008 team and the 2012 team that went to London.  He had become the first African American to hold a world record in 2007 (note: men’s swimming) … (p.302)

The night after George Floyd’s murder, Jones took his dog out for an evening walk.  He was staying at his brother’s house in Charlotte, North Carolina, because he and his wife were building their own house nearby.

“I’d gone about a block when a police car went past me,” he said.  “All of a sudden, the car screeched to a stop.  The cop made a U-turn and came back to where I was walking.  He said, ‘Where’d you get the dog?’  I told him it was my dog.  He said, ‘Really? What kind of dog is it?  I told him it was a French bulldog and it was seven years old.  He lingered a little while longer and then finally said, ‘Well, just wanted to make sure everything’s okay,’ and drove away.

“I was really angry.  Do you think if I’m white there’s any way he screeches to a halt and turns around to come back and question me that way?  No way.  He saw a six five Black dude walking in a nice neighborhood and he decided something was up.  Did he think I was stealing someone’s dog?”

Jones had become a victim of a new phenomenon: WDWB – Walking Dog While Black. (p. 304-5)

In October of my junior year, I was looking forward to Duke’s game at West Point against Army… (p.8)

But when I got to the third paragraph in the lead, I froze.  “The game turned around when Coach Mike McGee brought black freshman quarterback Mike Dunn into the game.”

A “black freshman quarterback”?  I was stunned. …

I couldn’t believe it.  Duke had a start freshman linebacker named Carl McGee.  Nowhere was he identified as “Black freshman linebacker Carl McGee.”  Tony Benjamin, the starting fullback and Troy Slade, the team’s best receiver, were never identified as Black.

Forty-five years later, I told the story to Doug Williams, the first African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl.  He couldn’t stop laughing. “Boy were you naïve,” he said.  “Back then, a Black quarterback was a big deal – anywhere, anytime.  One of the reasons I went to Grambling was because I wanted to go somewhere where they had no choice but to play a Black guy at quarterback – because everyone on the team was Black.” (p.9)

George Raveling ... "I know you'll talk to a lot of Black people and you'll learn a lot.  But you can never know what it's like to walk in the shoes of a Black man.  You just can't" (p.20)

(Note: Brent Musburger in 1968 – regarding Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s Olympic medal ceremony protest)  “Smith and Carlos looked like a couple of black-skinned storm troopers, holding aloft their black-gloved hands during the playing of the national anthem,”… “One gets a little tired of the United States getting run down by athletes who are enjoying themselves at the expense of their country.”

This was 1968, not 1858.  Musburger could easily have been a plantation owner who couldn’t understand why his “darkies” were complaining about working twelve hours a day in the cotton fields when, after all, he fed and housed them. (p.29)

(Note: Tommie Smith talking with Feinstein when he was researching the current book) “He said,’I had to do it to protect my job, to take care of my family.  I had to do it.’  I waited for him to say ‘I’m sorry.’ Instead he came over to me and started crying, put his arms around me and said. ‘I had to do it.  I had to do it. He never actually apologized, but I still felt sorry for him at that moment.  Not for what he did, but for the fact that he had to know how wrong he’d been.  To me, the tears were his apology, but he never actually said ‘I’m sorry’

“He knew the column was racist; he had to know it.  He just couldn’t bring himself to say it.” (p.31 – note: Musburger refused to be interviewed for the book)

 Tapscott, a graduate of Tufts, had been a successful college coach at American University – succeeding future Hall of Farmer Gary Williams – before moving to the NBA, first as the top assistant for New York Knicks general manager Ernie Grunfeld and then as the Knicks general manager.

During his time with the Knicks, Tapscott had an apartment in tony Riverdale, in the Bronx, east of the George Washington Bridge, near the northern tip of Manhattan. …

“Once or twice a year – at least – I’d get pulled over somewhere between the Garden and my apartment,” he said.  “I drove a nice car, not anything crazy, but a nice car. The closer I got to Riverdale, the more likely I was to get stopped.”

Tapscott’s crime?  Speeding? No. Drinking and driving? Absolutely not.  Broken taillight? Expired license plates? Highly unlikely.

No. Tapscott was pulled over for the catchall that most African American men – especially those who drive a high priced car – experience at some point: DWB. Driving while Black.

“Believe me when I tell you.  I wasn’t just careful, I was extra careful,” Tapscott said. “But if a cop caught a glimpse of me, there was a decent chance I was going to get stopped.”

Almost without fail, Tapscott would have to wait while the cop ran a check on his plates and on his driver’s license.  Because he had maintained his residence in Northern Virginia, he was asked, “What are you doing in this neighborhood at this hour?”  When he explained that he worked for the Knicks and kept an apartment in Riverdale, he would usually be asked to show some kind of Knicks ID.

One night, when the cop finally told him he could go, Tapscott couldn’t resist asking, “Do you think this is fair?”

The copy shook his head and said, “No, it’s not fair.”  (p.63-4)

Fifty-two years ago, when Ozzie Newsome was in eighth grade, he knew he had no chance to play quarterback for a Pop Warner team.  Today, Lamar Jackson is quarterback of the team Newsome led for twenty-three years in the front office.  It took Newsome – a Black general manager – and a draft in which four white quarterbacks were chosen well ahead of Jackson – to get him there.

In 2019, his second season and his first as the Ravens  full-time starter, Jackson became the second player in history to be unanimously voted the league’s MVP.  The first was Tom Brady.

Not bad for a running back. (p.140)

John Thompson

Thompson though was different.  He was, as he often said, big, Black, and angry.”

He was frequently labeled a racist by the media.  One writer called him “the Idi Amin of college basketball.”  Most of the time, his team was all Black.  In fact, Georgetown had become the school among Black teenagers.  There were some who thought it was an HBCU. …

“Tell you what, John,” I said.  “Let’s go outside.  If what I’ve heard about you is true, I’ll kick your ass.   If not, you’ll kick mine.  Either way, I’ll be famous.

Thompson started at me in disbelief for a second, then burst out laughing.  He put an arm around me and said, “You know something, motherfucker, I don’t like you.  I don’t like you at all.  But I respect your ass because you’re fucking crazy.   I’ll talk to you when I’m finished.” (p.155)

(note: Thompson) “Do you think if we’d played exactly the same way we did in the eighties with a white coach and a lot of white player, we’d have been called the names we were called by the white media?  We had three strikes against us every night:  we had a loud Black coach, we had Black players, and – worst of all – we won.  That combination made a lot of people crazy.” (p.206)

(note: Doc Rivers) "Ken Norman [a teammate] had it worse than I did.  He stopped to get gas one day; cops pulled up, assumed he'd stolen the car, and threw him across the hood and handcuffed him.  He wasn't even Driving While Black; he was Getting Gas While Black.

"Cops are supposed to be there to make sure we get home safely, not to make us worry that they might be the reason we don't get home safely." (p.242)

I remember watching Sanford and Son back in the seventies, and there's a scene where Lamont [the son] is trying to get Fred [the father] to change his diet.  He says to him that eating bad food is the number one killer of  Black men.  Fred looks at him and says, 'Oh really? I always thought it was the police.' (p.245-6)

(Note: Steve Kerr talking about his [Black] assistant coach Aaron Miles )

He said to his dad, 'Does this mean that we can't run in our neighborhood because we're Black?'  Imagine having to explain that to your eight-year-old." (p.253)

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, a Republican for most of his life, is also someone for whom Black men - as friends, players, and coaches - have been extremely important.  Before the pandemic and the Floyd killing, he was much like Kerr (Note: Steve Kerr), thinking he understood what it was like to be Black.

"I was wrong," he said, shortly before announcing that he would retire from coaching in the spring of 2022.  "Really wrong.  I wasn't just living in an ivory tower when it came to having a sense of what it was like to be Black; I was living above the ivory tower.  If the building was twenty stories high, I lived my life on the twentieth floor." ...

After talking at length with his assistants, Krzyzewski decided to organize two Zoom sessions with his players - past and present.  In all, about a hundred players took part.

"It was eye-opening, to say the least," he said.  "I asked the guys to be very honest and I think they ere.  Some were very emotional talking about their experiences.  Some cried.  They all talked about systemic racism they'd faced.  All of them.  It was intense.  I'm not going to say there was an aha moment.  It was just an education for me.  ...

(Note: regarding a 2:47 video Kryzyzeski posted 6/26/20, a month after the Floyd murder)

"This is a problem, a disease, a plague that has been with our country for four centuries."   ... (Note: from cadet prayer K had learned 50+ years earlier at West Point) "Help me choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong."

He concluded: "It is time to choose the harder right .... It's time Black Lives Matter." (p.255-7)

(Note: Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDH56J2_ZmI )

It never occurred to Randolph  that there would be no next job.  ... Jeff Torborg, one of Randolph's predecessors with the Mets, managed fiver major league teams and had a winning record with only one of them... Among the thirty men managing MLB teams at the start of 2021, ten were on at least their second jobs.  Only one of those, Houston Astros Dusty Baker was nonwhite.   Unlike many of baseball's recycled managers, Randolph had a winning record (302-253), and, as a person, was liked by who ever worked with him.  There is also the fact that the Mets had losing records every year from 2009 to 2014 after his departure.

Willie Randolph

And yet, Randolph has only been seriously considered for another managerial job once....(p.274-5)

A little more than a year ago, Varner and his wife, Amanda - who is white - pulled up to the front door of the Greenbrier, a West Virginia resort that annually hosts a PGA Tour even, and were greeted by a valet who said, "Caddies park outside."  (p.297)

(Note: regarding Jeff Ward, Black National Hockey League hockey player) 

"And then, just like that, I get the chance to win the game.  It was an amazing feeling."

The feeling didn't last long.  On the plane home that night teammate Jeff Halpern told Ward he was seeing some "really ugly stuff" on social media.

Most of it - though not all - was coming out of Boston.  There were the usual "stick to basketball" gems, and the N-word was all over the place.  "We don't need a N____r like you polluting our sport" was a familiar refrain.  Ward shrugged most of it off - until the threats started.   ...

"After the Bost goal, it went to a different level.  People weren't just calling me names.  They were saying, 'You should be dead.'  I couldn't believe it.  This was a hockey game.  I tried to shrug it off, but there was a point when I couldn't do that, because it was too serious.

"I can tell you exactly when it got really serious: when the FBI called and said they felt I needed protection.  That was serious."  (p.311)

(Note: concerning protests of South Africa [under apartheid] participation in tennis competition) 

In his PhD dissertaiion Lapchick compared apartheid in South Africa to the Nazi movement in Germany. (p.314 ) ...

Shortly before the matches were schedule to be held in Nashville, two men broke into Lapchick's office, pinned hi to the ground, and carved the N-word onto his stomach.  Except they misspelled it, and it came out "niger".  Although Lapchick says  now the word was "more scratched than carved" into his stomach, he spent four days in the hospital with liver and kidney damage, a hernia, and a concussion. (p.316)

Lapchick likes to point out that most of the numbers he and his group have tracked have slowly improved but are still a long way from being close to where they need to be.  Almost 50 percent of those who play football at FBS schools are Black; the number in power-five programs is closer to 60 percent.  Thirteen of the 130 head coaches are Black.  That's 10 percent."  (p.322)

(Note: regarding Black (mostly) players kneeling before NFL games)

People said - among other things - that the protesters, who were almost always referred to in an angrily pejorative way, were ruining their enjoyment of football.

How were the protests doing that?  None of the protests took place during a game or delayed a single kickoff.  There were peaceful and nonviolent.  After a while it became clear to me that what upset the white fans so much was that the sight of the protesters force them to think about something they didn't want to think about - or even admit existed.  Their lives were unaffected by racism.  They didn't have to fear for their lives during a routine traffic stop, and they didn't have to sit down and give their children The Talk so that they would understand that any interaction with police could quickly become dangerous.  

Nor did they have to deal with the three letters - DWB - that almost every Black person, but especially men, knows in the same way that we all know DUI.  Not one Black person, who I  interviewed for this book had not been stopped for DWB at least once; most have dealt with it multiple times.

"And the first question is almost always the same," said Kenny Williams, the executive vice-president of the Chicago White Sox.  "Where'd you get this car?"

If you combine being Black with driving a nice car in a nice neighborhood, you will almost certainly be pulled over for DWB early and often. (p.332-3)

The NFL once again sold the bogus notion to the media that the league had wanted to give Kaepernick a chance, but he wouldn't comply with their rules.  Shame on him!

There was never any doubt that the workout wasn't going to result in Kaepernick's getting a job.  He went along with the workout to try to quiet all the anonymous voices claiming he didn't want to play football or wasn't good enough to play again in the NFL. (p.336)

Not mentioned is Elston Howard, who in 1955 was the Yankees first Black player, someone who went on to win an MVP award and to be selected for nine All-Star Games.  My guess is there was no malice in leaving Howard out, but somehow he was left out.

That sort of thing tends to go unnoticed.  Most white people would shrug at that sort of oversight and see it as a mistake, nothing more.  They would say that to put any racial implication to it is creating an issue where there's no issue.

Which gets to the crux of the problem.  As George Raveling point out to me almost at the outset of my research, there was no way - regardless of how many people I interviewed  or how sympathetic I might be to the Black experience - that I could truly understand that experience, because I have never lived it.   ...

(Note: re: England in the most recent World Cup)

Italy won the penalty kick tiebreaker 3-2.  The last three Englishmen to attempt penalties were Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka - all Black.  All missed.

Within minutes of Saka's miss, the internet was filled with racist bleatings directed at the three players.  A mural of Rashford in Manchester - where he plays for Manchester United - was defaced with racial slurs in what police described as a hate crime.  The mural had been placed there to honor Rashford for the work he has done dealing with poverty and hunger among children.

The Football Association of England denounced the racist rants, as did Prime Minister Born Johnson, who called them "appalling."

The incident reinforced what we all already knew: racism is an issue well beyond the shores of the United States. (p.340)


I hope that the quotes above - help give the reader a sense of the fantastic insights and detail John Feinstein has provided!   I found this book simply incredible!


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