From Charlottesville to Kaepernick, white anger is all too familiar to my grandmother A little black girl who dared drink from the wrong water fountain has seen this all before

The cries of white men with the burning torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, were familiar to her. Their anger was, too.

The continuous news coverage over the weekend prompted her own highlight reel of memories that included racial taunts, attacks and fears she’s lived with since she was born in the thick of the Great Depression. She couldn’t erase them if she wanted. “You never forget that feeling of being preyed upon,” said my grandmother, Clemmie. “It’s something I’ve been experiencing my entire life. I’m far from alone.”

Clemmie, 86, isn’t surprised by the white nationalist march that made the hometown of the University of Virginia (UVA) a murder scene this past weekend. Her pain is ever-present. Charlottesville; Ferguson, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Selma, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; Detroit; Watts in Los Angeles — the scenes of prejudice, revolt and massacre stick with her. Racism has followed her since she was a little girl growing up in the Deep South, at the apex of Jim Crow segregation.

My great-grandmother, Juanita McCrowey.

There was 1956 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, when a white convenience store owner wouldn’t allow the woman who would become my grandmother to heat up a bottle for her infant daughter — my mom. Clemmie, born in 1931, experienced run-ins with the Klan so frequently it’s impossible to remember life without them. Their presence was a fear tactic. Anyone who stepped them was met with violence. At best, bruises and cuts. At worst, death. At her segregated grade school, young Clemmie and her friends received “new” textbooks with “n—–” written on nearly every page: They were hand-me-downs from all-white schools. During family trips from Rock Hill, South Carolina, to Philadelphia, bathroom breaks meant pulling over and crouching in the woods, because they couldn’t use restroom facilities at gas stations along the route.

Clemmie once drank from a whites-only water fountain.

“I wanted to see if their water tasted different than the colored ones,” she said recently. “It didn’t.” But she harbors a particular memory more than others.

“You know how traumatizing that is? To be cleaning their house and find those sheets? But you needed that $2 a week job.”

My grandmother watched the hatred on the faces of the white nationalist and neo-Nazi Charlottesville protesters. She watched the graphic video of the car plowing into the crowd of counterprotesters (Heather Heyer, 32, was killed). Clemmie had, of course, seen that kind of venom up close before.

She, her older brother, Sonny, and her mother, Juanita, were walking into town in Rock Hill to go grocery shopping. The trip took an abrupt change when the three of them began being taunted by a group of white kids from a nearby house.

My grandmother, circa 1934.

“They just kept saying, ‘Look at the n—–s!’ ” she recalls. Clemmie’s mom, my great-grandmother, who died in 1972, told them to ignore the calls. But Clemmie had had enough. On previous grocery trips, she’d dodged rocks from these same kids. In a fit of rage, she broke away and sprinted after the girl in the group, chasing her into the house. Clemmie beat her up. “I definitely hit her,” my grandmother said of the moment, over 70 years later. “It was worth the beating my mama gave me that night, too.”

But the delivery of a first-round knockout came with an emotional toll. “I put my mother in a bad position,” she said. South Carolina was home to intense Ku Klux Klan terrorism.

“Thankfully, the girl’s parents weren’t home. They could have pressed charges against my mother. The Klan could’ve come to our house and burned it down with us in there. The system could’ve broken my family apart and made me an orphan. My mother, I guess, was just trying to protect me from what later happened to Emmett Till,” she said solemnly. “That’s the thing about racism. The side that’s pushed to the edge is always the one who suffers the most.”


This past weekend, while Charlottesville commandeered the country’s attention, Clemmie, who lives in Virginia, was busy being a part-time dog sitter. Jordan is her dog, as hyper a Yorkie as there is in America — with a penchant for running counterclockwise when excited. Riley is my Aunt Cynt’s dog, named after Cynt’s all-time favorite basketball coach, Pat Riley.

Walking up and down the steps to feed Jordan and Riley and put them outside is a reprieve from the endless onslaught of Charlottesville media coverage. Clemmie made an effort to sidestep the news at times because, as she says, it’s so hard to find good. She’s had Young & The Restless since 1982, and you’d never guess how much of a Pinterest expert she is on her iPad.

Some of the most enlightening conversations I’ve ever had with my grandmother happened when I used to drive her back to South Carolina shortly after receiving my driver’s license. This was years ago, when she was going to see her younger brother, Gilbert, at the nursing home where he lived before his death in 2014. On the road, my grandmother and I never listened to music. Instead, we talked about how she found love, lost it and came to find peace again afterward. We talked about how the death of her son (my uncle) when he was just 42 forever changed her outlook on life.

I mentioned these chats to her on Sunday, when Charlottesville is the talk of the town. She brings up Colin Kaepernick. As the widow of a Division II college football coach, mother of three football-crazed kids and grandmother of an annually depressed and maniacal Dallas Cowboys fan (guilty as charged), she’s familiar with the game and the polarizing characters it creates. “It’s sad what they’re doing to [Kaepernick],” she said. “He’s lost his job forever because he stood up for what he believed in. Him not standing for the anthem didn’t make him unpatriotic.” For context: The Baltimore Ravens signed quarterback Thad Lewis on Monday. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2013.

She sees connections between the exiled former Super Bowl signal-caller and the carnage near UVA.

Clemmie doesn’t watch football as much as she used to. She gets updates from me on Monday mornings. But Clemmie knows the storyline. And she sees the connections between the exiled former Super Bowl signal-caller and the carnage near UVA. My grandmother is concerned for Marshawn Lynch, who sat for the national anthem this past weekend (although he’s been doing that for years). And she’s worried about players who will follow their leads, including the Seattle Seahawks’ outspoken defensive end Michael Bennett, who recently confirmed he’ll be seated for the national anthem the entire season. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman said Monday on Twitter that more players will certainly follow suit — stemming from “league-wide outrage” over Charlottesville and President Donald Trump’s comments.

This isn’t Clemmie’s first rodeo. She remembers Muhammad Ali refusing induction into the Army in 1967, and how he lost the prime years of his career going toe-to-toe with the United States government. “I felt what he was saying,” she said. “All he was asking, ‘Why fight for a place that’s just gonna beat me up when I come back?’ ”

My grandmother is amazed but not shocked that this narrative is still playing out 50 years later. “If you love someone, or something, you tell them their flaws because you want to see them be the best person they can be. That’s all [Kaepernick] was doing for America. At least that’s how I saw it. And this country basically told him, ‘Shut up and stay in your place.’ They tried to do the same thing to Ali. Them speaking on America’s flaws doesn’t make them unpatriotic. America not living up to its promise — that’s unpatriotic. ”


Given all she’s seen, experienced and endured, Clemmie has never succumbed to hatred. Her heart goes out to the family of Heather Heyer, the legal assistant killed in Charlottesville whose last Facebook message read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” And her heart still bleeds for James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, the three civil rights activists whose deaths made national news in 1964 when their bodies were found — murdered by the Klan — under an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi. My grandmother appreciates anyone with a heart because, as she says, she’s seen so many without one.

But she’s incensed about the president’s recent statement about “many sides” (which he awkwardly walked back). There’s just no debate, says my grandmother. For her, those tiki-torch-carrying protesters were a gut punch from the past. “The KKK would march on you in a minute,” she said. “You didn’t know who was under those sheets. It could be the mayor, or governor of South Carolina. Or it could be the people your parents work for. You know how traumatizing that is? To be cleaning their house and find those sheets? But you needed that $2 a week job. Everyone called you a n—–. We didn’t have any protection. We had to ignore it because if we fought back …” Her voice trails off.

It’s hard for Clemmie to hear “both sides” when hers has lost so much. The 1960s are difficult for her to speak about, even a half-century later. The thought of President John F. Kennedy’s murder still moves her to tears. His brother Robert’s, as well. Medgar Evers’ assassination was “proof we weren’t even safe in our own homes.” She recalls the fear that followed the death of Malcolm X, a man whose voice reflected the rage she and so many others were tormented with daily. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination ripped the soul of black America from its chest. And the countless other men and women who fought and ultimately lost their lives during the civil rights era who will never find their legacies in textbooks — this haunts my grandmother, a woman born just 66 years after Emancipation.

“You gotta understand. Every time we had someone, they took them from us. By the end of the ’60s, you were just mad. It seemed like we would be stuck behind the eight ball forever,” she said.

That fear and frustration, in part, didn’t allow her to enjoy the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. She campaigned locally for him in 2008 and 2012. She cried both times he won. “I’ve never been prouder of a president than I was of him. He’s a black man. Michelle’s a black woman. But I was scared from the day he was walking down that street [during his 2009 inauguration]. I just knew somebody was gonna get him, because that’s all I knew. When he and Michelle left on the helicopter this year, I just said, ‘Thank you, God.’ ”

These thoughts and more race through her brain when she thinks of Charlottesville. It’s impossible for her to isolate Charlottesville because the pain, and the forces that cause it, span generations. Her parents and grandparents were terrorized. She was terrorized. Her children were terrorized. And now, she’s scared because what happened near UVA’s campus, what’s happening to Colin Kaepernick, and what could happen to me, are merely new shades of paint on the same car she’s dodged for 86 years.

Charlottesville, in context, is another painful affirmation of a reality she’ll never truly escape. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” she said. “For some people, it’s nothing scarier than that.”

Animated short ‘Hair Love’ to show the bond between fathers and daughters Filmmaker Matthew Cherry wants to help ‘normalize’ black fathers

Matthew Cherry’s evolution has taken him from the football field to a stint as a production assistant to music videos. Now, his résumé includes a heartwarming short film in production called Hair Love.

Cherry said the idea for the film came from watching viral videos of fathers interacting with their daughters. In particular, he focused on ones that showed fathers combing their daughters’ hair, which can be both a chore and a bonding experience.

His five-minute animated film is about the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri, and her hair. Although Stephen has long locks, he is used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair. When she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen has to figure it out and concludes that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.

Cherry said the “story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.” He took to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to fund the film. His initial goal was $75,000. To date he has raised almost $252,000, making Hair Love the best-funded short film in the history of Kickstarter.

Cherry, 35, is a former college wide receiver. In his four-year career at the University of Akron, he finished with nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. After college, he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2007, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment, landing work as a production assistant.

“I was just Matt the PA, and I was here to work,” Cherry said. “I was here to learn and work the game from the ground up, and that’s how I kind of got my foot in the door.”

He has worked on more than 40 commercials and was a director for more than 20 music videos for singers and entertainers such as Michelle Williams, Tweet, Jazmine Sullivan, Lalah Hathaway, Kindred The Family Soul, Snoop Dogg, The Foreign Exchange, Bilal, N’Dambi, Maysa Leak, Dwele, Najee, K’Jon and Take 6.

Cherry’s film The Last Fall received awards at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) for Best Screenplay and Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) for the HBO Best Feature Film Award. After a limited theatrical release, it made its television premiere on BET in December 2012 and is currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu. He recently released a short film, Forward, which premiered on Ebony.com. He also writes and directs the award-winning web series Almost 30 and Almost Home.

Cherry has one sister (visual artist Caitlin Cherry) and grew up on the northwest side of Chicago.

“Sports was a big part of both of our lives growing up,” he said. “I played baseball ever since I was 5. Football ever since I was 6. Played three sports in high school. Had a full scholarship for football in college. … My existence was very much kind of tied into sports growing up.”

Cherry spoke with The Undefeated about his transition out of football, positive representation of black fathers in the media and normalizing black families.


What was your inspiration for Hair Love?

The biggest, and I think the most important, is just we’re seeing a big lack of representation in that computer-generated, animated world.

We really haven’t seen a lot black characters in that space. Bebe’s Kids was the first animated feature film directed by a black director. That came out in 1992; 25th anniversary was a couple of days ago. Peter Ramsey was the first African-American director to direct a CGI [computer-generated imagery] animated film. That was like two or three years ago, Rise of the Guardians. I think in between that time, there’s really only been those two black directors that have done like a full-length feature film in the animated space.

So we only really have had in recent years maybe four or five examples of full-length feature films that really tell our story. But a lot of times you don’t really see the whole, full family dynamic, particularly in these computer-generated feature films. The biggest thing for me is just like really seeing that lack of a presentation. … I don’t have kids myself right now, but got a serious girlfriend, and one day we’re going to get married and be having kids, and I really wanted to make sure that when I did have kids that they had a character that they could relate to.

When you look at mainstream media, and you see all the images, black hair isn’t made out to be the norm. It’s not meant to be the standard of beauty. We have a very Eurocentric standard of beauty in America, and if you watch TV, if you pick up a magazine, if you look at different things, you’re not going to see yourself represented. … You don’t see your curly, kinky hair on these different models, on these different actors and actresses, on these different music videos, etc. It can really do damage to your self-confidence and how you perceive yourself.

That’s why my biggest thing with this project, first and foremost, was just to really hopefully have some characters that were human, that showed black families in a complex but also simple manner, and just have characters that people can relate to but then try to help increase that diversity in the animation world, because representation is everything. I think my biggest thing is if a little girl can see Zuri or see Stephen, and see themselves represented, if it makes them feel better about themselves, to me, mission accomplished.

Who did you consult with about dads, daughters and hair?

I’ve actually had this idea for a couple years. I always thought it would be cute to do a story about a dad trying to do his daughter’s hair. I’ve seen a lot of kind of online videos, and my main dad friends who have kids, they’re always posting pictures and videos online of their failed attempts of trying to do their son’s and daughter’s hair, and just always thought that that would be a really cool angle to hit, particularly because the whole black father angle. I think, again, in mainstream media, we’re really nonexistent.

We look at a lot of these movies and TV shows, they always depict black dads as deadbeats, nonexistent, abusive. These fathers, they’re getting girls pregnant, running off, that whole thing, and while obviously in every race, every group, you have that negativity, but it’s always made out in the black community like that’s just all black men are. We just are deadbeat dads. We’re not in our kids’ lives.

So for me it was just really important to normalize black fathers, normalize black families. And really I think in starring a young black father and his daughter, I think that would just do wonders to kind of help normalize those images, because it’s important.

What’s been the most difficult part of moving from football to filmmaking?

The most difficult part of my journey is feeling like you have to constantly create your own opportunities. Like, to this day, nobody’s ever hired me for anything. All my opportunities have been self-generated in some fashion. Outside the music video world, from feature films to short films, it’s all been stuff that I either created with some friends or I created on my own, and sometimes it gets frustrating because you feel like, ‘I made this. This premiered at a major festival. Help me.’

Help me get to the next level. I did the work. I followed the blueprint. I did everything that they say you’re supposed to do in order to have somebody help you get to the next level. …

You make all these sacrifices like putting your mom’s life insurance money into the making of your first movie. It comes out, hey, you get a little bit of press, but nobody hires you. Damn. OK. You go away for a couple years. You do random things to kind of stay alive. Then my second feature film, 9 Rides. We shoot it on iPhones and that’s the thing that gets you noticed and gets you an agent and then you realize that all the work you and your team put in mattered after all.

They’ve seen us doing the short films for no budget. They’ve seen us doing the music videos. They’ve seen us doing these feature films and all this other stuff, so. I think the biggest, most difficult part of the journey has just been having to continuously create your own opportunities to kind of continue to put yourself in the game, and I think that there’s a lesson in that, in that you can’t predict what’s going to be the thing that hits, or is going to be the thing that helps put you on. You’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding, and eventually something’s going to hit, or eventually someone’s going to help.

Do you miss football?

Not at all. Not in the least. No, I don’t, especially with all this news about what’s been going on with players’ heads and CTE. I’m actually glad that I didn’t play too long. People have been playing since they were 5 years old, too. You know what I mean? Between Pop Warner, high school, college, you might have your five or 10 years in the league, but if you’re 25 you might have played for 20 years.

How did you prepare for your career after sports?

I studied radio, TV, broadcast and media production in college. I interned at a lot of radio stations, and I was the music director at my college radio station at the University of Akron. I interned up at the Cleveland radio stations, KISS and then on WENZ. And so I would always be kind of dabbling in production, but more of an audio-radio side, and it was something I was really interested in. I loved cutting promos, loved working with all these other kind of post-production programs, and I kind of knew even in college that whenever I got done playing ball I’d either be working in radio or some level of entertainment on the production side of things.

I signed as an undrafted free agent. My rookie year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I knew after training camp, I was like, “Yeah. I’ve got to get my plan B together,” because it was just so political. When you come in as an undrafted free agent it’s like being a walk-on, so all these things have to happen that are outside of your control in order for you to make it. Guys will generally have to get hurt or traded and all these other things. It’s not really about how you perform, necessarily. It’s about, ‘OK, can you justify putting this guy in over the guy we’re paying millions of dollars?’

And I knew literally in training camp like, ‘Yeah. This is kind of unfair. I’m doing my thing, but I’m still not getting rewarded for it on the field.’ I actually got cut during training camp, and then they re-signed me to the practice squad. That’s how they do it, and I learned when I first got cut by just feeling there was nothing more I could have done. I felt like I balled out. I did everything that I should have done to be able to make the regular team, and it didn’t happen for me.

What’s up next after Hair Love?

This has all been a roller-coaster ride. The biggest thing for me is just really trying to just continue to do projects that are personal to me. Things that I really love. We hope to be able to use the characters from Hair Love and turn it into a feature film

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

‘Ballers’ recap: A timely season three opens with potential NFL-to-Las Vegas move Yet even with a big look from Steph Curry, can Spencer Strasmore deliver?

SEASON THREE, EPISODE ONE | ‘SEEDS OF EXPANSION’ | JULY 23

Was HBO’s Ballers working to deliver a pro football team to Las Vegas on a similar schedule as the real-life NFL?

It sure seems like it, based on Sunday’s season three premiere, which ends with the former NFL player turned financial adviser Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) asking Las Vegas hotel tycoon Wayne Hastings Jr. (Steve Guttenberg) the simple question, “How would you feel about bringing an NFL team to Las Vegas?” They were on a terrace overlooking the Miami skyline after a dinner party. “I love that idea … I love that idea,” Wayne responds before clinking glasses with Spencer as the show appropriately fades out to Kodak Black’s “Patty Cake.”

That episode aired four months after NFL owners voted 31-1 to approve a relocation of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas in the next few years. In July 2016, three weeks into season two, HBO announced that it would be bringing back Ballers, the Entourage-esque series that takes a look into the lives of pro football players, as told through the people around them: financial advisers, agents and their homies.

The renewal gave showrunner Evan Riley a year to craft the direction of Ballers around the timely conversation of the NFL making a move to Sin City. And as we wait to see how negotiations spearheaded by the polarizing Spencer will unfold, Riley teases us in the first episode of the new season with added layers to a select group of his core characters.

Let’s start with Spencer, who is now pain-free after undergoing a hip replacement, yet still having money problems while on a quest to pay back the $5 million he borrowed from his client Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), which he put up to become a co-partner at Anderson Sports Management. We learn that Spencer has his mind on being a father, when Ricky tells him his girlfriend might be pregnant. The question is, can Spencer even have kids? A trip to the fertility clinic ensues.

Speaking of Ricky, after spending much of season two handling daddy issues with his estranged father, Dennis, and trying to figure out which NFL team he’d sign with (don’t forget, he decides to take a massive pay cut to play for the New England Patriots), he has new problems. His girlfriend, Amber, is in fact pregnant, meaning his playboy days might be coming to an end. Or will they?

After two seasons of dumb off-the-field decisions, most of which came from the steering of his childhood friend Reggie (London Brown), Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter) is finally showing signs of growing up. At an autograph signing, Vernon is shocked to discover that a young kid regards him, not Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott, as his favorite Cowboys player. Vernon responds to the heartfelt moment by giving the kid his marijuana leaf-adorned hoodie. So maybe Vernon isn’t the best role model just yet, but the sweatshirt is part of his startup clothing line — a $200,000 brainchild investment of Reggie’s.

That brings us to the fact that some characters still haven’t changed much. Reggie is still Reggie — a bit of knucklehead. And while continuing his journey into the throes of front-office NFL management as the assistant general manager of the Miami Dolphins, the gentle giant Charles Greane (Omar Miller) remains under the thumb of the manipulative Dolphins general manager Larry Siefert (Dulé Hill). Without Spencer by his side, fellow adviser Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry) still can’t seem to get anything done with a client, like persuading Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs to give up one of his houses in order to save money for the future. Yet, Joe’s ability to be a voice of reason is essential to Spencer’s decision-making and livelihood. “You are the asset,” he tells Spencer heading into the dinner party, which concludes with the genius Vegas idea.

And what would an episode of Ballers be without a celebrity cameo? The first family of basketball, Stephen and Ayesha Curry, make an appearance on a call with Spencer, who’s attempting to sign the two-time NBA MVP. “You thought it was a date night,” Steph tells Ayesha as they board a private jet. “I’m tryna get you in the mile-high club.”

We see you, Steph. We see you.

Is it time to release O.J. Simpson? We asked people at the Goodman Basketball League in Washington, D.C., if the Juice should be loose

After serving more than eight years in prison, O.J. Simpson moves one step closer to freedom on Thursday.

That’s when the former NFL great will appear before a Nevada parole board to determine whether he will be released as early as October from the Lovelock Correctional Center, where he is serving a nine- to 33-year sentence after his 2007 arrest on charges of kidnapping and armed robbery of two men he thought stole his memorabilia.

The Simpson case still divides the nation. Many feel upset that Simpson was acquitted in the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. Others believe Simpson’s sentence in 2008 was unjust.

The Undefeated took its cameras to the Goodman Basketball League in Washington, D.C., to ask fans for their thoughts on the possible release of Simpson.

Colin Kaepernick’s hair is not our business. Michael Vick telling him to cut it is a problem. Vick’s job advice to the free-agent QB is one of the oldest plays in the ‘black isn’t beautiful’ playbook

When I was an intern at the Kalamazoo Gazette, one of the longtime reporters there pulled me aside to offer up a piece of advice: Cut your hair. More specifically, he said I wouldn’t get a job in journalism with “those things in your hair.” I could see the Jheri curl juice pooling in the pores of his forehead as he spoke.

I initially started growing my locs because of Speech from Arrested Development. As my hair grew along with my taste in music, I learned Bob Marley was a lot more political than the songs on his greatest hits compilation Legend would indicate. Still, I had not considered my locs to be a statement until I was told my hair was a problem by a black man who had relaxed his.

Of course, he was wrong.

But I can’t definitively say having locs didn’t cost me something along the way. Natural black hair makes some people uneasy. Long natural black hair can be downright frightening. Especially for the folks who unwittingly buy into the outlandish propaganda that deems Eurocentric features as the singular standard of beauty. The propaganda that helps fuel the millions spent on black hair care products such as relaxers and weaves and drives plastic surgery in Asia.

On an episode of The Talk, Sheryl Underwood jokingly said Afro hair was “nasty” before praising white hair as “beautiful.” It was like watching a skit from In Living Color minus the satire.

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This is why it’s difficult to entirely dismiss Michael Vick’s assertion that Colin Kaepernick needed to cut his hair to find a job in the NFL. We all know his hair has nothing to do with his play, but it does play a part in how he is viewed.

Consider that earlier this week NPR published a fascinating, and disturbing, report on the rash of little black girls being suspended from school for wearing their hair naturally. In September 2016, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employers can ban natural hairstyles. The case started when Chastity Jones, a black woman in Alabama, was told by a white human resources rep that her locs were against company policy because they “tend to get messy.”

Even the iconic Viola Davis admitted that ditching her wigs and wearing her natural hair at the 2012 Oscars was an act of bravery.

I repeat: bravery.

That reporter at the Kalamazoo Gazette didn’t mean anything malicious when he told me to cut my hair. Based upon his worldview, I am sure he believed he was doing me a favor. Just as Vick didn’t mean anything malicious when he talked about Kap’s ’fro, he was just suggesting he play the game. Notice he didn’t suggest Riley “I will jump back in and fight every n—– here” Cooper needed to cut his long hair before welcoming him back into the Philadelphia Eagles locker room, as Cooper doesn’t need to play the game. Or at least not the one blacks have been told they needed to play since Juneteenth. The problem, of course, is that the game’s rules keep changing.

We can relax our hair, cut our Afros, smear on bleaching cream, turn our laughter down or pull our pants up in a pointless effort to be more “presentable,” as Vick said. But embracing respectability politics as some sort of cure-all for systemic racism doesn’t end this game.

It just takes it into overtime.

Pots & pans: As the NFL season approaches, every fan has championship dreams In our national fairy tale, curses will be ended or endured and even the stars are expendable

“Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch.”

Hans Christian Andersen

In a month, the National Football League training camps will open, and I will imagine wide-eyed fans crawling onto the laps of storytellers to hear the old tales animated by new names.

This year, as always, players once deemed too slow, too small or too inexperienced will emerge as too determined to be denied. This year, as always, can’t-miss prospects, winners of what a Connecticut barber once called the genetic lotto, will fail to cash in on their talents. And this year, as always, players and fans hope their season will end with their index fingers in the air, proclaiming to the world, “We’re No. 1.”

This year, curses will be lifted. The chosen will lead their teams toward the promised land. Curses will also endure and fans, spurred by the mouse-click mob of social media, will exile players and teams who disappoint them to Palookaville.

This year, as always, to get ready for some football, fans and the sports media must get ready for the ways the crosscurrents of our roiling society flow through the game. Stark questions will be posed anew: How much will the players, largely African-American, be able to freely express themselves in celebration or in protest? Which transgressions will be shrugged off or punished? Who will be banished from the games? And which prodigals will be welcomed back to the playing fields, just so long as they can play at high levels?

NFL football, the nation’s defining pastime, brutal and unforgiving, is a serious game based upon acquiring turf and defending it with blood, sweat and tears.

And no matter how productive, respected and celebrated they have been, the players are expendable and disposable, just like most other American workers. All of them. All the time. Sid Luckman to Peyton Manning.

The NFL, with its long-term contracts not fully guaranteed, is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, a game where few players control their futures. The games grind the players to dust. And too many players throw what’s left of their spent selves to the wind.

It’s as if they sing lines from “Going Down Slow,” a blues song whose lyrics change depending upon who sings it, though the meaning remains the same. It’s a song of rueful dissipation: I have had my fun if I never get well no more/All of my health is failing/Lord, I’m going down slow.

But none of that matters to those who love the game. The magic moments matter, the great catches, the exhilarating runs and the game-saving tackles. The roar of the adoring crowds matter. And, more than anything, the championships matter.

In each era, star players move through space in signature ways: Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown, Joe Montana and Barry Sanders, Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson. When the players move, the fans ride with them, spiraling through the air as if perched on one of Warren Moon’s pretty passes.

As always, as we look to the opening of training camps, the NFL football world turns on an axis of expectation. Anything can happen.

With a championship to win or defend, players begin each season as potential heroes in a modern fairy tale. But only the Super Bowl winners get to live happily ever after, at least until the next season.

Are you and your index fingers ready?

A power ranking of Odell Beckham Jr.’s custom cleats from the 2016 NFL season The New York Giants wideout was determined to break out the heat on any given Sunday

Every NFL Sunday is a footwear fashion show for Odell Beckham Jr. Over the past few seasons, the New York Giants wide receiver has shown up and showed out on the field with the freshest cleats in all of football. His secret? Well, it’s not really a secret at all, because OBJ takes much pride in his custom-made creations, for which he entrusts the skill and creativity of Los Angeles-based sneaker artist Troy “Kickasso” Cole, who cranks out masterpieces inspired by every concept fathomable. From album covers to video games and movies to personal tributes, whatever Beckham Jr. dreams up in his imaginative mind, Kickasso can translate onto cleats.

Yet, as a result of the NFL’s enforcement of its strict in-game uniform and equipment policy, most of the kicks in OBJ’s one-of-a-kind collection are worn exclusively during pregame warm-ups before he changes to a more traditional pair for games. But every now and then, Beckham Jr. will risk a fine to ensure that his flashiest shoes find their way onto the field when the game clock starts rolling.

During the 2016 NFL season, the anthology of custom cleats that OBJ unveiled was second to no other player in the league. Throughout the regular season, playoffs and Pro Bowl, he truly became a titan in the sneaker world, which certainly contributed to Nike recently inking the 24-year-old to the biggest shoe deal in NFL history, estimated to be worth more than $29 million over five years.

Hopefully the huge new contract with Nike doesn’t prohibit Beckham Jr. from continuing his tradition come next season. As we anticipate what else OBJ and Kickasso have in store, let’s take a look at their creativity through this definitive, descending-order power ranking of 20 custom cleats they made pop last season.


20. WEEK 10 VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS — LSU

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s cleats before the NFL game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 14, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every NFL player deserves to rep his alma mater however he sees fit, but, man, these cleats in the signature purple and gold of Louisiana State University — the school the Giants drafted Beckham Jr. out of in 2014 with the 12th overall pick — are quite hideous. A more appropriate salute to LSU would’ve been cleats featuring detailed illustrations of tigers, the mascot of OBJ’s former school. As for these plaid concoctions — in the words of the illustrious 21st century musical talent scout Randy Darius Jackson, “yeah … that’s gonna be a no for me, dog.”

19. Week 5 vs. green bay packers — Breast cancer awareness

Since 2009, the NFL has been committed to spreading breast cancer awareness. Every season in October, players take pride in wearing the color pink as a display of their dedication to finding a cure. Beckham Jr. didn’t disappoint last October. His breast cancer cleats were a simple but very classy tribute to every woman and family affected by the disease.

18 and 17. week 7 vs. Los angeles rams — Burberry and Rolling Stone

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When the Giants traveled to London to face the Los Angeles Rams in October 2016, OBJ channeled his inner European designer by breaking out pregame cleats embossed with the beautiful pattern of British fashion house Burberry (the iconic brand of clothing that Jay Z rapped about swimming in on his 2002 track with his then-future wife Beyoncé, ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde”). These cleats are uber-swaggy, but don’t hold a candle to when Beckham Jr. went full-on designer and commissioned a pair of Supreme x Louis Vuitton customs to be made after the season.

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OBJ changed his kicks before kickoff, but remained authentic to the game being played across the pond by switching to red, white and blue cleats, and matching gloves, featuring the legendary logo of the English rock band the Rolling Stones.

16. week 12 vs. cleveland browns — Paint splatter

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. stands on the field during practice before a game against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

These are just really fun. Camouflage is always a good look, and the extra splash of color with the rainbow flecks and green and yellow shoestrings set them over the top. Stay tuned for more camo cleats from OBJ.

15. week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys — sept. 11 tribute

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants wears cleats as a tribute to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 11, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Giants’ 2016 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys happened to fall on the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 — one of the most infamous days in the history of the United States. Beckham Jr. illustrated his patriotism in the form of U.S. flag-themed cleats with bald eagles on the outer soles of each shoe. OBJ was certainly proud to be an American on the first night of football last season.

14. Week 6 vs. baltimore ravens — “Kirby”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike cleats during warm-ups before the game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HUGE shout-out to OBJ for throwing it back to our childhoods by paying homage to the one and only Nintendo character Kirby. He unveiled these in the middle of October 2016, taking the NFL’s tradition of wearing pink to advocate for breast cancer awareness and running with it. Beckham Jr. chose a pink character and crafted an entire cleat design around it with the utmost detail, from the warp stars to the Whispy Woods (Kirby’s recurring foe in the video game series). On this NFL Sunday, OBJ represented the video game nerd that resides in every one of us.

13 and 12. week 13 vs. pittsburgh steelers — Make-a-wisH (Dora The EXplorer and The Simpsons)

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation during warm-ups before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

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For one week during the season, the NFL, aka the “No Fun League,” allowed players to wear their in-game cleats however they wanted, outrageous customization and all, without receiving fines in violation of the league’s uniform policy. The #MyCauseMyCleats initiative, which required players to commit to supporting a charitable cause, saw approximately a third of the league (around 500 players) participate. Beckham Jr. chose to represent the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, according to its website, has a “vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.” And true to his cause, OBJ depicted the child within himself on two pairs of cleats he had designed. One pair was inspired by Homer and Bart Simpson, two of the main characters of the popular animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The other pair, which he wore during the Week 13 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, featured characters from the educational children’s series Dora the Explorer. Not the league, nor Swiper, could steal these cleats from Beckham Jr.’s feet on #MyCauseMyCleats Sunday. OBJ did it for the kids.

11. WEEK 2 VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — “NOLA BOY”

New Orleans Native New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears Nike cleats with Nola Boy on them before the game between the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Beckham Jr. has surely come across this legendary James Baldwin quote at least once in his life — or heard a variation of it from his grandma, aunties and uncles, or parents — while on his journey from growing up in Louisiana to becoming an NFL wide receiver in New York. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is OBJ’s hometown, but he also claims New Orleans. So when the Giants faced the Saints early in the 2016 season, Beckham Jr. made his allegiance to the city known with “NOLA BOY” custom cleats in Mardi Gras colors. These are pretty special.

10. week 9 vs. philadelphia eagles — “Salute to service”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats with a camouflage pattern while warming up before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 6, 2016, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day, Beckham Jr. honored the nation’s armed forces with camouflage cleats reminiscent of the Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape’s fresh camo print. These are pretty sweet.

9. Week 14 vs. dallas cowboys — 300

Division matchups in the NFL are always battles. And no one went to war like the Spartans, whose combat skills were epically portrayed in the 2006 film 300. So when the Giants went up against their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 14, OBJ imagined he was taking the battlefield for Leonidas I, unleashing these SUPER dope 300-inspired red, black and gold cleats.

8. wild-card playoff vs. green bay packers — “grab the cheese”

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In January, the Giants journeyed to the land of cheese for a wild-card matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Before the playoff game, Beckham Jr. countered Green Bay’s cheesehead fans with cheese feet. He donned a pair of yellow cleats that resembled blocks of cheese, with carefully drawn holes and images of Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Itchy the Mouse from The Simpsons. Like these two mice, OBJ was after the cheese. Too bad the Giants took that smooth L.

7. week 15 vs. detroit lions — craig sager tribute

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Craig Sager tribute cleats during the third quarter of the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions on Dec. 18, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beckham Jr. was fined only once last season for violating the NFL’s uniform and equipment policy with his flashy cleats. The penalty was issued following Week 15, when OBJ played against the Detroit Lions in a pair of multicolored, and multipatterned, cleats honoring longtime NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, who died at age 65 three days before the game. Known for his bright and brazen sideline outfits, Sager would’ve loved OBJ’s cleats, which he auctioned off following the game to benefit the Sager Strong Foundation for cancer research. Yet despite Beckham Jr.’s heartfelt gesture, the NFL still slapped him with an $18,000 fine, which didn’t sit too well with the superstar wide receiver.

Yet if you asked Beckham Jr., he’d probably tell you that, for Sager, the fine was worth every single penny.

6. WEEK 17 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — KANYE WEST “GRADUATION”

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Kanye West dropped out of college and became a 21-time Grammy Award-winning musician. Beckham Jr. never graduated from college, either, deciding to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the NFL, where he is now an All-Pro wide receiver. So the only commencement the two have in common is OBJ’s cleats he had designed after the cover of West’s 2007 album Graduation. On these kicks, the colors morph from an orangish-pink to a drank purple, and illustrations of Kanye’s signature bears are beautifully done. Hot take: Graduation is one of the best, if not the best album of West’s career. Obviously, it’s up there in the ranks for OBJ, too.

5. week 4 vs. Minnesota vikings — OVO

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s OVO custom-made cleats are seen on the field during the first half of a game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 3, 2016, in Minneapolis.

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

If you didn’t know that Beckham Jr. and Drake are BFFs, you must have been living under a rock like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants for the past year. Last NFL offseason, Beckham Jr. house-sat the hit-making musical artist’s Calabasas, California, mansion, known as the “YOLO (You Only Live Once) estate,” while he was on tour. Drake later shouted out his bro OBJ on his October 2016 track “Fake Love” with the seminal line, Just when s— look out of reach / I reach back like one, three / Like one, three, yeah — a reference to the most revered play of the NFL wide receiver’s young career, which also happens to be arguably the best catch in league history. And even this year, Drake stopped one of his shows to get Beckham Jr., who was in the audience, to sign a fan’s jersey. Yet, before all of these epic chapters of their friendship, OBJ paid tribute to his big homie during the 2016 NFL season with these simply gorgeous October’s Very Own (OVO)-themed cleats. The sky blue base of the shoes, with softly drawn white clouds, is a subtle nod to the cover of Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, and the perfect complement to the metallic gold illustrations of Drake’s trademark owl on the outer soles of each shoe. Man, these cleats are a truly a work of art.

4. 2017 Pro Bowl — Toy Story

OBJ definitely “gotta friend” in Troy Cole, because the artist appropriately known as Kickasso absolutely did his thing with these Toy Story-themed cleats that the wide receiver sported in January’s Pro Bowl. What a beautiful touch to dedicate one shoe solely to Sheriff Woody Pride, and the other to space ranger Buzz Lightyear. Beckham Jr. is surely ready for 2019’s Toy Story 4, and so are we.

3. WEEK 16 VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — GRINCH

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants warms up wearing Christmas cleats featuring the Grinch before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

There’s only one way to celebrate Christmas on your feet, and that’s with the Grinch. Basketball great Kobe Bryant did it with his signature Nikes in 2010, and Beckham Jr. continued the tradition in custom fashion last holiday season. The vibrant colors and details on these cleats are amazing. We wouldn’t be mad if Beckham Jr. rocked them all season long — they’re that nice to look at. Yo, OBJ, if you’re reading this, next Christmas you gotta go full Home Alone with your kicks. It’d be the perfect way to tell every D-back in the league, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal! … and a Happy New Year.”

2. WEEK 11 VS. CHICAGO BEARS — “BACK TO THE FUTURE”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike Cleats with “Mattel Hover Board” and “Back to the Future” on them before a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears on Nov. 20, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All three films of the Back to the Future trilogy were released before Beckham Jr. was born in 1992. But as we saw last season, OBJ is a young Marty McFly at heart. He and Kickasso put their creative minds together to give the people not one, but two pairs of Back to the Future-inspired cleats, incorporating multiple elements and moments from Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015. Beckham Jr. wore the first pair during warm-ups before a Week 11 matchup with the Chicago Bears, which included illustrations of the Mattel hoverboard, Marty’s metallic hat and the DeLorean time machine, all featured in the film. These cleats are glorious, but Kickasso saved his best work for what OBJ wore during the game. The wide receiver took the field in a pair of remarkable silver-and-electric blue creations, designed after the self-lacing Nike Mags that debuted in the 1989 film. Nike released the shoes for the first time nearly three decades later, and again in 2016, making OBJ’s Back to the Future cleat idea timely and relevant in the world of sneakers.

1. WEEK 3 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — THE Joker

OBJ has a unique obsession with The Joker, which we’ve seen translated through his on-field apparel in the past few seasons. The wide receiver first made his infatuation known during a December 2015 Monday Night Football game, when he wore cleats and gloves illustrating the comic book supervillain’s chilling face. Last season, however, he took the obsession a huge step further. Everyone knows OBJ and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman aren’t too fond of each other. And, coincidentally, Norman’s favorite superhero is Batman, The Joker’s archnemesis. So, in all his pettiness, Beckham Jr. had two more pairs of Joker cleats made for a 2016 Week 3 matchup with Norman and the Redskins. The pregame pair featured graphic details in bold colors, from The Joker’s eyes on the tongue of each shoe and his stained teeth on each toe, to his tattoos and catchphrases such as Why So Serious?, on the inner and outer soles. The pair he wore during the game were more subtle — mostly white with speckles of lime green around the laces, and red ink circling each shoe to represent The Joker’s blood-stained smile. With 11 catches for 121 yards against Norman and the Redskins, Beckham Jr. became the fastest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 200 career receptions and 3,000 receiving yards. So, now, his in-game Joker cleats are displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. You know what that means, right? OBJ has a Hall of Fame cleat game.

Retired NFL safety Chris Crocker wants athletes to get their fair share in sports memorabilia business His new tech company FanFlow aims to help players protect their brands

When retired NFL safety Chris Crocker was at the peak of his career, like many other athletes he signed countless autographs. Many of the autographs were done face to face with fans, while others were signed for dealers who negotiated with fans.

From that experience, Crocker set out to focus on the next chapter of his life: starting a technology company that would connect fans directly with athletes and teams to purchase signed merchandise while allowing players to maintain control of their brands.

In 2014, Crocker hung up his cleats after more than a decade on the field, and now he’s in the beta phase of his new technology company FanFlow, a website and app that will help fans purchase memorabilia online without a dealer acting as a middleman.

“Essentially as an athlete, you’re indirectly an employee of that shop or that memorabilia dealer,” Crocker said. “There’s a huge disconnect between yourself, him or her, and your fan base. I just didn’t like any of it. I just didn’t like the fact that I own my name, and you leverage my name for your monetary gain as a memorabilia dealer. I just thought that was just so wrong. All my colleagues dealt with this, but it was the only way. There was no other way.”

According to Crocker’s business plan, fans will choose the item and the player and customize their message. FanFlow will take it from there. The business is still in its initial phase.

“Choose the athlete you want that has an article you want, and then have that athlete personally inscribe it,” Crocker explained. “Along the way, we video verify it, and we give that to you. That’s really a connect, and the thing that we do with the video, which is an integral part of what we do. We’re able to expand on that video, and that customizes as well. It’s a form of engagement, it’s an experience. It’s really awesome.”

Each athlete’s signature has a specific price point, and they will be paid accordingly. FanFlow will take a percentage of each transaction.

“We not only offer a premium form of authentication; our platform makes it significantly cheaper to acquire memorabilia for consumers because there are no markups in the product, and alternately more profitable for athletes because of the same fact,” Crocker said.

According to Crocker, memorabilia dealers charge higher rates for the same product because they have to pay the athlete to sign and then sell the item to make a profit. “This easily doubles the price,” he said.

FanFlow’s beta phase was launched in 2015 and has only one team on board: FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League. No other teams are under contract in any major sport yet.

“This is for intentional reasons, as we don’t necessarily want to divulge our go-to market strategy,” Crocker said. “Our platform doesn’t depend on having working relationships with sports franchises. We have the option of working with big-box retailers as well. Everyone sells the same merchandise, and FanFlow gives the competitive advantage because of that very same fact.”

Crocker has invested a significant amount of his own money. He says he has attracted outside funding, which he is not yet disclosing. “We are in a seed round of fundraising, and the company valuation has yet TBD,” Crocker added.

Crocker was a third-round pick in the 2003 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. After two years with that club, he spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings. He spoke with The Undefeated about the transition from football, getting his business off the ground and investing in yourself.


How did you become interested in a tech company?

I conceptualized this while I was playing. Before we actually dove into this, it was all about the research and trying to figure out who does it, and who’s in this space, who’s doing what we’re doing, what are some of the similarities. Then trying to sort the company, who could help us build it, because at that time I could never put together a team.

How did you decide on sports memorabilia?

I felt like if I could just create a platform where you could empower the athlete so that he could control it, it really is the right thing to do. It’s about time that the athlete can leverage his own brand, and if someone else is going to sell your likeness, it should come directly from you.

That’s why I wanted to … really create something that, in my opinion, really transcends the relationship between athletes and their fans. Because when you think of memorabilia, it references a point and a time, whether that’s in your life or what you were doing at that particular time.

What’s been the hardest part of the tech journey?

It’s probably just getting people to listen sometimes. I think with any entrepreneur that’s probably the common struggle, that when you think of something, when you want to invent something, you just need people to listen. You need that feedback, because some people are going to say, ‘Hey, it’s a great idea.’ Then some people are going to tell you, ‘No, that’s a terrible idea.’ You’re able to evolve and to really create something great because of not only the good advice but the bad advice.

I would say that’s probably the struggle, just that it’s hard sometimes to get people to listen to you and believe as much as you do in the product you’re trying to build. I think it was hard for people to listen to me because, I’m a former athlete, right? I’ve never been in business for myself, I’ve never done anything like this. They’re looking at me as just, what are you doing? Obviously, I could build this product from the point of view of an athlete, but they’re like, ‘You’ve never been in business for yourself, so how are you going to really create something out of thin air that doesn’t exist and get people to adapt?’

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

The biggest struggle any entrepreneur faces is that you can only infuse so much of your own money into your product.

The best advice I’ve gotten on that front is people would talk about the power of being broke. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was broke, OK, that wasn’t the analogy, but sometimes you’re forced. What that can do is that can force you to make bad decisions. You can go either way, because there’s some entrepreneurs who let that affect them, and they build a product that’s not necessarily applicable to what they’re trying to do because they’re cash-strapped.

Someone once told me, don’t let that affect your decision-making process. You have to be very resilient that when you get to a point in your business where you need more capital, you still have to make sound decisions. I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind as, OK, I need the money but, Chris, make a sound decision. Don’t let that affect your next step. I would say that’s probably the best advice that I received.

During your playing years, were you seriously thinking about your post-NFL career?

I was thinking about tech. I was thinking about everything everybody else was thinking about. Investing in mutual funds, stocks, IPOs, franchises. I was thinking about everything everyone else was thinking about, but my wife [Karrie], we had a conversation one day and I was really hell-bent on doing this, and my wife was kind of on the fence.

It just hit me one day, and I just said to her — it just literally came out of my mouth — ‘Hey, we invest in other people’s businesses, other companies.’ I really felt, I was convicted, I really felt like why don’t we invest in yourself? Let’s take a risk on us. We can do this.

Instead of investing in the mutual funds and all the other stuff that is normal, I said, ‘Let’s just put the money into us and let’s take a risk. Why not? There’s a 50-50 chance it goes up, there’s a 50-50 chance it goes down.’ I put my money on myself. I’d bet on me any day.

What advice would you give to other NFL players or athletes about their post-NFL careers?

I would say, I think the opportunities are there now where they weren’t as much when I was playing. I think the NFL, the NFLPA [National Football League Players Association], they’re doing a much better job of allowing guys to sort of dive into other businesses, whether it’s internships, whether there’s a program for the opportunity programs that they put on.

I would say do as many of those as you can because you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to end up loving, but if you never try them once you’re done, those doors close. Every athlete told me that prior to me retiring: ‘Hey, you have these opportunities in front of you. People are more willing to listen to you now than they will be when you retire.’ I’ve experienced that firsthand.

I would just say, networking is really immersing yourself in other communities. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Do other things. Those opportunities could really turn into something else post-career.

You have two daughters (ages 2 and 5). What are you teaching them this early in life?

You really write your own story, and that you get out of it what you put in it. I also say that I do believe in luck, but you have to work really hard to get it. I continuously tell my daughters that there’s no reason why you can’t do that. You have all the opportunities right in front of you.

Entrepreneurship is real; you’re going to succeed and you’re going to fail by your own means. You are literally your own worst enemy as an entrepreneur. That’s the lesson that I teach my daughters. You’re going to get out of it what you put in it. If you don’t work hard, then the only person to blame is yourself.

Was your transition from football difficult?

I think for me, it wasn’t difficult at all. I think it was a little bit of a shock, in my opinion. I still have relationships and I stay close to the game. I’ve been afforded the opportunity where I can still go back to Cincinnati and walk into that building, and there’s no problem.

I’ve seen that I have a lot of colleagues or former teammates who can’t even go back into a building anymore. They treat them like a commodity, and I thought that was very, very sad and very tough to deal with for every athlete. That’s the thing that I think guys struggle with the most. I didn’t deal with it as much, but I did feel the fact that people didn’t respond as much. People weren’t as correspondent. Me being in my post-career, I just felt like athletes experience that, and I experienced it firsthand.

I was fortunate, and I said I’ll attach myself to something, such as officiating, at the time. I was fully immersed in that, but I had to step aside from that because this demanded every ounce of my attention, and you can’t do anything great if you’re not hands-on.

It was like I went from playing to directing to officiating and also from there into this venture. Both of those things, whether it’s officiating or this, it really was sort of, like, it allowed me to be flexible. I think that’s something that really attracted me about entrepreneurship is that, you know you work hard, you get to enjoy that. You’re on your own schedule. You’re your own boss. The ceiling is as high as you want. There’s an endless lot of opportunities.

It’s been good since I retired. It’s been very good. My wife has been great. Our daughters are young, and so we’re all about them. My life is really good. I think I was getting to the point, though, where I was going to be bored. If I wasn’t doing this, I can’t imagine the athlete that doesn’t do anything. He’s just bored.

What would you tell other entrepreneurs?

Chronicle every step so that you have the opportunity to look back. Because, shoot, where we were a year ago, we’re a completely different company. I think sometimes you have an idea as an entrepreneur, but it has to evolve. It may not end up looking like the end product, but you’ll get there some way, somehow. You’ll figure it out.

We were a completely different company from inception to now. Our product is all about the end user, and the end user for us is the athlete. Nothing works without the athlete, and so we had to build a product that we knew the athlete would use. The demand is already there, but you have to make it simplistic, you have to make it easy to process. When it comes to fulfilling these orders, the autograph signing, you have to make all those things simplistic for the athlete where it becomes a part of their schedule.

Leah Still’s mom talks strength and endurance during difficult times Channing Smythe celebrates her cancer survivor’s 7th birthday right before Mother’s Day

Last weekend, young Leah Still, daughter of NFL defensive lineman Devon Still, celebrated her 7th birthday. It is also the week leading up to Mother’s Day, and her mother, Channing Smythe, is just like any other single mother who wants the best for her children.

The 28-year-old proud “East Coast Girl” is all about love, motherhood and family, and she is dedicated to helping others like those who have helped her become more than just Leah’s mom.

Smythe has stayed out of the spotlight by choice, with the blessing of her 92-year-old grandmother. “That’s my baby,” Smythe said of her daughter, as she chatted for nearly one hour outside of her Baltimore residence. “As my grandmother watched everything on TV with Leah and her father, she simply told me to remain behind the scenes.”

With Leah now cancer-free for two years, Smythe believes it is time to share her story of raising Leah and her son, Perez, as well as a work-life balance that every mother can relate to.

Smythe and Devon met as students at Howard High School in Wilmington, Delaware, and conceived Leah a few years later. Leah was born a healthy child on May 6, 2010, but at age 4 she started having health problems that were initially thought to be just a stomach virus.

“When Leah was being tested and examined, the doctors said that her ailments could have been one of six or seven different things, with cancer being at the bottom of that list,” Smythe said.

Of course, no parent wants to think of the worst-case scenario, but Leah was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer. As devastating as this news was, Smythe did not have to go far at all to receive a strong support system. Family, friends and even complete strangers showed their love.

The toughest thing for Smythe, though, may have been where to live during Leah’s medical stays that began at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, and on to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“At the time, Devon was playing for the Bengals and he wanted us to move to Cincinnati, but my support was here [in the Philadelphia area],” Smythe explained. “I had no friends or family in Cincinnati. It would have been just me, along with Devon and his wife.”

Smythe also mentioned how difficult it was to work while Leah was in and out of the hospital, on top of being pregnant with Perez.

Leah Still and her mother, Channing Smythe, visit Fox 29’s Good Day at Fox 29 Studio on Sept. 20, 2016, in Philadelphia.

Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

“I was an assistant director at a day care center at the time, doing a lot of the administrative work, but once Leah’s dad decided to continue playing football I had to be there for my child by taking a lot of sick time. Even now, it’s still difficult to work,” Smythe said.

Smythe endured many experiences during Leah’s battle with cancer, inspiring her to start the Leah Still Foundation.

“It was a challenge to buy food, paying bills and for parking,” Smythe said. “After talking to a hospital social worker to help with those things, I decided to launch the foundation and do for other families I know that may have an even tougher time keeping up with bills than I did.”

She echoed her mission to align with her struggles, as it states on the foundation’s website:

“It is our impassioned desire to be able to enhance the lives of children diagnosed with cancer by providing support and guidance for their families. Our ultimate goal is to be a resource for families to ease some of the burdens caused by having a child with cancer.”

Since launching the foundation in August 2014, the feedback has been tremendous.

“I’ve even had siblings of young cancer patients reach out to us. That’s the most fun, sharing the stories,” Smythe said. “We have served other families by having a couple of food and toy drives. However, we haven’t been able to generate as much funds as we would like, and the marketing, which my mother handles, are also a factor with costs.”

Smythe said the hardest part of her journey was watching Leah change emotionally and physically as she went through the chemotherapy and radiation, and being pregnant with Perez.

“I felt the world was crashing down on me after the diagnosis,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. Dealing with Leah having cancer was much different from a grandparent suffering. I felt helpless because she was so young and I wanted to trade places with her. That said, I had to prepare myself, focus, not stress, and keep my faith.”

Smythe said other mothers dealing with similar struggles often reach out to her for advice.

“I tell other moms to keep pushing, be strong, be there for your child, believe in your faith,” she explained. “Research is also key to prevention when it comes to your child’s diet and intake, and following the doctor’s orders. I tried as much as possible to keep a normal life for Leah by taking her skating, trips to the park, going to the movies and out to eat. She did have to wear a mask at times, though, which prevented normal trips to places like the mall.”

Throughout Leah’s battle, Smythe has remained positive and has been inspired by her daughter.

“Leah always tells me that I’m a good mom and I do a good job. It’s inspiring that she stays strong and smiles through it all and says she’ll bounce back. She’s so smart for her age,” she tearfully explained. “Leah is very protective of her brother, and vice versa. She loves him very much, although she won’t let him play with her toys and says he can be annoying at times.

“SixTwo represents so many important dates and milestones in my children’s lives,” Smythe said. “I’ve been passionate about design since I was a little girl sitting in my bedroom drawing blueprints for clothes, homes, etc. I still have those blueprints around somewhere. I’m looking to relaunch my clothing line by the end of 2017. I tried to launch it previously but just didn’t have the time. Currently, you can go to my website, sixtwointeriors.com, where I specialize in interior decorating and home organization/cleaning and wardrobe styling. I also want to go back to school. I also credit my mom and dad for my work ethic.”

Smythe continued, “I wouldn’t change anything. This journey builds character, maturity, and has made me wiser. I asked, ‘Why me?’ at first, but then I thank God because had this not happened, I wouldn’t have been able to help others.”