Venus and Serena Williams: from Compton to the world By changing how the world views black women, they’ve changed everything

It’s really just a makeshift dance floor in a small hotel conference room.

But then a song — some might consider it the Black People’s Party Anthem — drops and everyone falls in line, moving, shaking and, yes, wobbling to the beat of V.I.C.’s 2008 “Wobble,” a song that hasn’t vanished from many black family gatherings, even after a decade. Everyone moves to the beat, celebrating, as if a couple has just jumped a broom.

At the center of this dance-happy moment is Venus Williams. She’s at her most comfortable, dressed in a look from her own athleisure line, EleVen by Venus, and surrounded by family members. For a night, anyway, she gets to just be Venus — instead of “Venus Williams,” who as a burgeoning star tennis player made her Australian Open debut in 1998, playing her baby sister, Serena, in a professional match for the first time at that tournament.

That was the Venus Williams who rocked freshly oiled cornrows adorned with blue and white beads that shook something fierce every time she whacked what became her signature serve return in the direction of Serena Williams, whose own cornrows were bright with green and white beads. This was the Venus Williams who, along with Serena, demonstrated early dominance and took center stage in one of the most stridently white of professional sports. Tennis, a game of rackets and stretched nets, that at times is played in the world’s most stridently white spaces.

But when “Wobble” was on? The revolutionary “Venus Williams” was just Venus — a woman with a mean body roll and a swag surf that dropped so low, gravity was no match for all 6 feet, 1 inch of her very recognizable frame.


Before the holidays, both Venus and her superstar sister sat on a panel to discuss violence in the inner city. A poignant and effective conversation, it reminded everyone at the December 2017 “A Family Affair” that these two beautiful brown women who have both helped change how we consume pop culture — and yes, tennis — aren’t immune to the harsh realities and social justice issues of American “inner” cities.

After all, they both hail from Compton, California — the birthplace of Kendrick Lamar, and the now-gentrifying city that Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre helped make infamous via their provocative supergroup N.W.A. Compton is the city that took the life of their sister, Yetunde Price, who was killed on Sept. 14, 2003, at the age of 31. She was the victim of a drive-by shooting.

But now the Venus Ebony Starr Williams who we all know best is back. And she’s ready to take the place of her rightful throne at the 2018 Australian Open. Serena Williams, a newlywed and new mom to baby Alexis Olympia, is still waiting for what her big return might be. But at the very least — which, certainly is the very most — we get to welcome back half of the duo who helped to change the pop culture game. And Lord, are we ever ready.


Both Venus and Serena Williams have challenged traditional global beauty standards — by simply being.

In 2015, a hater tweeted that Serena Williams was “built like a man.” It was a tweet heard round the world. That affected us all. It insulted us all. Then Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling shut it down by posting a photo of Serena Williams in a slim-fitting red dress with the text: “She is built like a man. Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress. You’re an idiot.”

A year earlier, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpischev, called the tennis legends the “Williams brothers” and said, “It’s scary when you really look at them.” Insulting. The ensuing clapback was mighty too. Tarpischev was fined $25,000 and banned for a year, and Serena Williams called him out for being sexist and racist.

That insult penetrated, though. Throughout history, black female bodies have been both sexualized and besmirched. But the Williams sisters, via presence and practice, have turned any negative black woman body image trope on its head. They create and embrace their chiseled, athletic shapes and flaunt their world championship bodies in public arenas, draped in silks and jewels, in the coolest sneakers, in disruptively fashion-forward tennis “whites.” They continue to shock the world.

Both Venus and Serena Williams have challenged traditional global beauty standards — by simply being.

There are some who are afraid of the Williams sisters’ dominance, confidence and beauty. They both have a similar dark brown hue and features that read very the Motherland. They look like so many woman around the world do. Their hairstyles over the years have transformed as ours have — from little-girl cornrows to micro braids to tree braids to sew-ins with wavy tracks to just a simple hot comb and flat iron of natural hair, at times, brushed back into a bun. So much of this black girl beauty used to be hidden. Right now, at this moment, it’s on the cover of Vogue.

But perhaps the most amazing Williams sisters moment came in April 2016 when Serena made a surprise appearance in Beyoncé’s HBO special Lemonade, which itself turned out to be a surprise album. In “Sorry,” we see Serena (to the tune of close to 250 million views) displaying a not-so-secret talent of hers as she dances and twerks alongside the Bey, who is sprawled across a throne, declaring in a casually aggressive way that she, in fact, is not sorry for the ill behavior of an untrustworthy lover. Beyoncé is queen — and Serena is equally regal.

But perhaps the sisters’ biggest contribution to the culture is just by being excellent, and expanding our horizons through their excellence. The Williams sisters represent us. They make us strong.

Serena Williams and daughter Alexis Olympia grace the cover of ‘Vogue’ magazine The tennis icon and her baby girl have taken mommy and me to the next level

The greatest of all time has done it again! Serena Williams may not be heading to the Aussie Open to win another Grand Slam title, but she has given us the gift of another amazing Vogue magazine cover — and this time baby Alexis Olympia has joined her!

The tennis star gave the magazine exclusive access to her stunning November 2017 wedding to husband Alexis Ohanian. Now the couple’s beautiful baby girl is making her debut, and she’s already got her smize game down pat!

The cover photo, which was shot by Mario Testino, shows Williams in a red dress with a simple sweetheart neckline, gold accessories and her massive engagement ring. Meanwhile, baby Alexis is serving up onesie realness.

In the accompanying article, Williams discusses motherhood, marriage and what’s next in her already phenomenal career, and she doesn’t mince words: There are more wins on the way.

“Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams,” Williams says.

She also plans on teaching her daughter the secrets of black girl magic:

“Women are sometimes taught not to dream as big as men. I’m so glad I had a daughter. I want to teach her that there are no limits.”

Besides adorable mommy and me shots, the issue contains gorgeous flicks of Williams and her husband in full marital bliss, and others of the tennis star with her family looking very pajama party chic.

Vogue magazine has started the year off strong with black women gracing the covers of both the January and February issues. Last month, actress Lupita Nyong’o kicked off 2018 with her cover.

Check out the full article and stunning photos on Vogue.com.

ABC has two more Shonda Rhimes shows coming despite her new deal with Netflix Television Critics Diary: Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan are pals on the new ‘American Idol’ and Roseanne Conner is a Trump voter

PASADENA, California — If you liked Regé-Jean Page’s performance as Chicken George in A&E’s 2015 update of Roots, I have good news for you. The British-Zimbabwean actor now plays a jerk of a federal prosecutor named Leonard Knox in the new Shondaland legal drama, For The People. And because it’s a Shonda Rhimes show, yes, you’ll see him shirtless.

Her company, Shondaland, has a giant new deal with Netflix. But it still has remaining shows at ABC, including For The People, scheduled to premiere in March, and an untitled Grey’s Anatomy spinoff set three blocks down from Seattle Grace in a firehouse.

Paris Barclay, the former Directors Guild of America president, is directing again on The Spinoff That ABC Refused to Name, after previous Shondaland stints on Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.

Barclay is a groundbreaker in all sorts of ways, including as the first black and first openly gay president of the Directors Guild of America. So he knows how rare it is to be directing on a show executive produced by a black woman, for a network run by a black woman — ABC president Channing Dungey is the first black person to run a broadcast network.

“Shonda is a whole new world,” Barclay told me during the Television Critics Association press tour here. “It’s been one of the best experiences of my career. I love going into a room with executives at ABC and they’re mostly women and I think that’s great. And the shows that she creates, with Stacy [McKee], and with other people, put women in the forefront and I guess that’s what I’m going to have to do for the rest of my life because I enjoy it so much.”


The cast of the “American Idol” reboot.

ABC/Image Group LA

ABC is also reviving American Idol, with Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan as judges and Ryan Seacrest still hosting. There was a strict no-spoilers policy in place, so I can’t tell you if the show found any memorable singers this season. But the chemistry between the judges seems amicable and genuine. One of the fun things about press tour is reading the body language between co-stars to figure out which ones aren’t exactly fans of each other. But there’s clearly mutual respect between Richie and Bryan, and it started to make sense why Bryan was tapped to be part of the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony paying tribute to Richie.

“Shonda is a whole new world. It’s been one of the best experiences of my career.”

The tribute acts for the Kennedy Center show are closely held secrets because they’re supposed to be a surprise for the honorees. The Kennedy Center reached out to Bryan about honoring Richie while the two were working together on Idol, leaving Bryan to find a way to keep mum about the whole thing.

“I’m around this man seven or eight times, and I know I’m going to be a part of this secret,” Bryan said.

Bryan said that he really wanted to walk the red carpet at the Kennedy Center but couldn’t.

“You want to get out there and do the red carpet and tell everybody why you were so honored to honor Lionel and just be a part of it,” he said. “It is a beautiful, beautiful night, Kennedy Center Honors. So I get on the red carpet, and I’m, like, going to take my first picture, and they are, like, ‘Get off the carpet! He’s here! He’s here!’

“I guess … either I was running behind, or Lionel was running ahead. And so they run me around, and I’m literally standing outside of a bathroom for about 30 minutes because Lionel is out there hamming it up on the carpet talking to everybody. Then I’m like, ‘The heck with it. Let’s just sneak around the back.’ ”

Richie was none the wiser until Bryan appeared on stage that night.


The cast of “Roseanne.”

ABC/Image Group LA

Roseanne is being revived at ABC, but one of her best qualities has been complicated by recent events.

Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, I wrote in an essay for The Undefeated that many people of color were wondering about public and private truths in American society. Namely, who among us would wish us harm?

Monday, I had the chance to ask that question about a beloved character from the 1990s, Roseanne Conner, who famously and forcefully lectured her son DJ that there was no place for bigotry in their house after DJ refused to kiss a black girl in his school play. It was a striking scene in one of America’s most popular shows. Conner was a groundbreaking character and it was incredibly significant to see a white woman saying that just because their family was economically disadvantaged, that didn’t mean they would stand for looking down their noses at black people.

Well, the Roseanne Conner of 2017 is a Trump voter. And so I asked her creator Roseanne Barr, who was also a Trump voter, how that happened. How did Conner become a person who didn’t see Trump’s well-documented instances of xenophobic and racist statements as disqualifying?

“Well, he says a lot of crazy s—,” Barr said. “You know, I’m not a Trump apologist and there are a lot of things he has said and done that I don’t agree with, like there’s probably a lot of things Hillary Clinton has done and said that you don’t agree with. And so nobody is brainwashed into agreeing with a hundred percent of what anybody says, let alone a politician or a candidate. But one great thing that I read today is that this is the lowest black unemployment. This is the lowest level of that for many, many years. So I think that’s great, and I do support jobs for people. And I think that that’s a great way to fight racism, is for everybody to have a good job.”

Barr continued: “It’s always a lesser of two evils, and we all have to face our own conscience of how we do that. And speaking of racism, I mean, I’m just going to say it: I appreciate your concern, but I am going to say that a large part of why I could not vote for Hillary Clinton is because Haiti.” (In 2009, the State Department under Clinton sided with Haitian garment manufacturers in opposing an increase in the minimum wage because of concerns it would jeopardize efforts at labor reform.)

‘Black Lightning’ joins the CW’s suite of superheroes Television Critics Diary: Network revives the ’70s DC Comics superhero ‘for the culture’

PASADENA, California — A black superhero has finally joined the CW’s ever-expanding DC universe, and his name is Black Lightning.

It’s probably best not to make him angry, unless you’re really into being electrocuted, but you can see for yourself when the series debuts Jan. 16 at 9 p.m.

Black Lightning is different from the CW lineup of superhero shows because its focus is on a hero who considers himself to be retired. Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is the principal of Garfield High School, a safe space from the violence that’s plaguing his community, called Freedland. Freedland has been under attack from a gang called The 100, led by a villainous albino named Tobias Whale (Marvin Jones III) who maaaaaaybe has some issues with black people even though he is one.

For instance, in the midst of an evil tirade, Whale refers to one of his lieutenants, Lala, as “thick-lipped” and a “darky.”

Pierce has tried to put his Black Lightning days behind him — he got tired of being seen as anti-cop. And his ex-wife and the mother of his two children (played by Christine Adams) left him because she thought he was addicted to being an electrified vigilante. But he’s pulled back into his alternate identity to save daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain), who keep getting into scrapes with Whale’s goons. Black Lightning, which is inspired by the original 1970s DC comic, begins with Pierce realizing his indignation with police violence and gang violence are bringing the blue flash back to his eyes.

The show gets more interesting as Anissa realizes she may have some superpowers of her own. That’s not a secret — the CW has already released images of Anissa dressed as Thunder.

“You know, you have a superhero with her hair in cornrows,” said co-executive producer Salim Akil. “That’s for the culture.”

At a panel discussion here Sunday, NPR TV critic Eric Deggans winkingly asked married co-executive producers Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil why they decided against recreating Black Lightning’s curly Afro.

“You know, if I put that Afro in there, black people would’ve ran me out of town,” Salim Akil said. “You know damn well if I put in that Afro —”

Mara interjected. “ — Or with chest hairs out. We can’t do that. No. No.”

“You know, if I put that Afro in there, black people would’ve ran me out of town.”

Although there’s no Afro, there are nods to the ’70s comic in the show’s music, as well as the car driven by Lala (Will Catlett).

The Akils, the couple behind Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane, were on hand with Williams and the rest of the Black Lightning cast for one of two CW panels at the Television Critics Association press tour. The group was bubbly and energetic, which temporarily mitigated the cloud that’s hanging over the network at the press tour. That cloud comes from Andrew Kreisberg, the former executive producer and co-creator of The CW’s suite of superhero programming — including The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow and Supergirl — who was fired in November 2017 after allegations of sexual harassment from multiple staffers.

Kreisberg worked closely with Greg Berlanti, the executive producer in charge of the DC universe on the CW, who also has a co-creator credit on Black Lightning.

“I know a lot of you asked for journalists here at CW day to find answers on some of the darker disappointing deeds behind your favorite shows and just know that many reporters here are *trying,*” tweeted Vanity Fair senior writer Joanna Robinson, addressing the CW’s conspicuous lack of an executive Q&A with CW president Mark Pedowitz. “I promise you.”

Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’ good run places him face to face with the president Kendrick Lamar’s ascension coincides with college football’s big moment and President Donald Trump

Fifteen-year-old Kendrick Lamar likely never thought he’d be performing at halftime of one of the biggest sporting events of 2018. Certainly not when he, as a teenager, was getting stomped at Compton, California’s, Avalon Swap Meet. But a decade and a half after the fight he references on “ELEMENT.,” from 2017’s Grammy-nominated album DAMN., here he is: headline performer at halftime of the college football national championship — the NCAA’s Super Bowl. The all-Southeastern Conference main event is Monday night in Atlanta.

College halftime shows traditionally feature marching bands. But in an effort to mirror February’s actual Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff and ESPN announced last spring that an artist would perform. Lamar’s résumé of course warrants his booking.

Forbes placed Lamar on its December 2017 cover, lauding the “antisocial extrovert” for his business decisions such as ending his long relationship with Reebok and launching a new collaboration with Nike. Lamar’s tour dates routinely gross more than $1 million per night. And in 2017, not only did he surpass even Beyoncé and Bruno Mars with more than 2 billion radio spins, but Lamar also had five of the most streamed songs of 2017. And while his 2012 “m.A.A.d city” (featuring MC Eiht) is featured in the next week’s Den of Thieves, Lamar recently confirmed that he and his Top Dawg Entertainment are producing the soundtrack for Black Panther, led by a collaboration with SZA titled “All The Stars.”

All the stars are expected to flood box suites to watch the Quavo-endorsed University of Georgia versus the crème de la crème University of Alabama. This VIP list reportedly includes President Donald Trump. From self-doubt to self-proclaimed greatness, Lamar’s ascension coincides and often collides with the United States’ 45th president.

Trump, a frequent sporting provocateur, has been an occasional target of Lamar’s lyrics dating to 2015. So speculation is swirling: What will this moment mean between the lyrically sharp MC and verbal live-wire commander-in-chief? Lamar’s fellow Comptonite, and perhaps hip-hop’s most famous Trump antagonist, YG, has at least one suggestion for Lamar.

There is drama leading up to the moment. What statement will Lamar make? Will outside forces — the NCAA, sponsors or even Disney — attempt to define the parameters of his performance? Will he even make one at all?


 

Tell me what you gon’ do to me / Confrontation ain’t nothin’ new to me/ You can bring a bullet, bring a sword / Bring a morgue / But you can’t bring the truth to me.

— “All The Stars” with SZA (2018)

Lest time forget, Lamar’s 2015 To Pimp A Butterfly is a fingerprint for an era defined by Black Lives Matter, police brutality and the final months of the country’s first black president’s administration. The record features a handful of Lamar’s most complex and analytical cuts: “i,” “Hood Politics,” “Mortal Man” and President Barack Obama’s favorite “How Much A Dollar Cost.” But undoubtedly, Butterfly’s star is “Alright.” It’s the generational equivalent to James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

Presidential critiques aren’t foreign to Lamar’s catalog. Seven years ago, Lamar painted a picture of gangland Compton (decades before gentrification arrived) on “Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils).” 1987, the children of Ronald Reagan raked the leaves, he said of the generation directly affected by the legacy of the 40th president’s Reaganomics, Your front porch with a machine blowtorch.

The Obama era, for Lamar, brought reverence and clarity. The reality of a black president inspired pride and accomplishment. But he wasn’t blind to current and past issues: Streets don’t fail me now, they tell me it’s a new gang in town /From Compton to Congress, set trippin’ all around/ Ain’t nothin’ new, but a flu of new Demo-Crips and Re-Blood-licans, he opined on 2015’s “Hood Politics.” Lamar understood Obama’s power as president was in constant opposition with forces that sought to derail, override and neuter. Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’? / They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs / Make it they promise to f— with you / No condom, they f— with you / Obama say, ‘What it do?’

Later that same year, while then-candidate Trump was still seen by some as a political punchline, Lamar addresses growing right-wing hysteria on “Black Friday,” saying, I’m the son of the pioneer that near the sun /Play with him / B—- you better off voting for Donald Trump.

A year later, in 2016, as Trump-mania gained indestructible steam, Lamar again directed his attention to the candidate nearly two months to the date of the presidential election. Might stay in the Trump Tower for one week, he rapped on “What’s Wrong.” Spray paint all the walls and smoke weed / F— them and f— y’all and f— me. In 2017, as the reality of a Trump presidency set in, Lamar observed.

Donald Trump is a chump / Know how we feel, punk? Tell ’em God comin’ / And Russia need a replay button, y’all up to somethin’, Lamar rapped on “The Heart Pt. 4,” a month before Robert Mueller was named special counsel for the ongoing Russia investigation. But for “XXX.,” on DAMN., the reality set in for Lamar. Donald Trump’s in office / We lost Barack and promised to never doubt him again / But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?

Lamar is an atypical selection for such a widely viewed event. He’s not “safe,” nor is he “routine.”

In the coming weeks we can anticipate an impending marketing avalanche for Panther, perhaps “the biggest and blackest blockbuster of all time,” with Lamar a critical component. Later this month, the seven-time Grammy winner looks to add more with seven new nominations, including going head-to-head with Jay-Z for the evening’s most coveted award, album of the year. I said it’s like that/ Dropped one classic, came right back/ ‘Nother classic, right back/ My next album, the whole industry on a ice pack, he vowed a week before DAMN.’s arrival. The promise has him on the doorstep of Grammy history on Jan 28.

Trump, in Lamar’s eyes, is the complete antithesis of what his much-loved music is about, but in many ways he is a source of inspired frustration. And the nature of Monday night’s halftime performance, even with Friday’s free-to-all dress rehearsal, is difficult to predict. Despite his undeniable star power, Lamar is an atypical selection for such a widely viewed event. He’s not “safe,” nor is he “routine.” It easy to imagine part of Lamar’s performance being veiled shots: I know how you work, I know just who you are/ See, you’s a, you’s a, you’s a— / B—- ...

So, does Lamar feel the pressure to symbolically take a knee Monday night? I, for one, don’t think it’s wise to believe anxiety will play a part in Lamar avoiding The Elephant In The A. He and TDE are from Compton, a cultural ground zero where wearing the wrong hat, or walking down the wrong block with the wrong shoelaces, sometimes came with fatal consequences. A halftime show, by comparison, is a field trip to Calabasas, California.

Illuminating truth to power is daunting. Kanye West knew what would come of his comments about President George W. Bush, but he became a larger-than-life figure afterward. Colin Kaepernick understood that taking a knee would all but involuntarily retire him, but he is now the millennial Muhammad Ali. Lamar’s life has been one risk after another — a butterfly effect set in motion as documented in the mind-numbing odyssey “DUCKWORTH.,” DAMN.’s closing number.

Trump vs. Lamar is quite the undercard for Monday night’s main event. It could very well be a culture-shifting moment spearheaded by the man who has been bestowed with the heavy title of “voice of a generation.” Lamar is well-aware of the moment he occupies and times he’s become a voice for. His message to Trump could very well come in words, via actions or even purely via symbol. Does this mean halftime will be his Kanye West 2009 MTV Video Music Awards moment? Who knows.

Whether he decides to stir the pot, whether he fulfills YG’s wish, there is a reality evident about Lamar. Nothing looks to stop the momentum he’s built over the past year. Not even the president of the United States.

Erin Jackson makes history qualifying for U.S. Olympic team in long-track speedskating First black woman to make long-track team, second ever on Team USA

Erin Jackson, who took up speedskating just four months ago, qualified for an Olympic roster spot on Friday, becoming the first black woman on Team USA in long-track speedskating and the second ever to make an Olympic speedskating team.

Jackson, 25, came in third in the 500 meters at the U.S. speedskating trials in 39.04 seconds, a personal best. She finished behind veteran Olympians Brittany Bowe (38.18) and Heather Bergsma (38.42).

The Ocala, Florida, native was an inline skater for 15 years and started speedskating in March 2017, but she’s consistently trained on ice only since September. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Jackson will join 17-year-old Maame Biney, who in December became the first black woman to qualify for a U.S. speedskating team when she won the 500 meters at the short-track trials.

Four-time Olympian and two-time gold medalist Shani Davis qualified for the U.S. men’s team on Wednesday after he finished second in the 1,000-meter race at trials.

“I really wasn’t expecting any of this, just coming in as a newbie, just trying to do the best I can,” Jackson told reporters Friday. “I still don’t even know.”

Kamara for the culture He grew up with the Migos, wears nose rings and a grill in games and is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year — but who really is Alvin Kamara?

Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.


NEW ORLEANS — At the kitchen table of his split-level downtown condo, a hop and skip from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Alvin Kamara scrolls through the video call log in one of his two iPhones. “I can FaceTime him right now,” he says. “He’ll probably pick up.”

It’s Christmas Eve, and four hours have passed since the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons, 23-13, to clinch the franchise’s first playoff appearance in four seasons. For Kamara, the Saints’ 22-year-old running back and the NFL’s runaway favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, the moment calls for some reminiscing about the journey.

Back to when he was juggling Division I offers and chasing league dreams. Back to when he was dominating on high school football fields in and around his hometown of Norcross, Georgia. After games, three of his childhood friends who aspired to be big-time rappers would show up at local clubs. “They’d come in with 100 people, perform and walk out,” Kamara remembers. “Just tryna make it.”

A music executive everyone calls “Coach K” is the man who gave the trio a chance, and to Kamara, Kevin “Coach K” Lee is his uncle. Coach K — who has managed the careers of Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, and who is credited by The New York Times as taking Southern U.S. black culture global — is about keeping family close, and keeping it winning.

Instagram Photo

Kamara is the first and only athlete to be represented by Solid Foundation, a sports management division of Coach K’s Quality Control record label. And with a strong and close-knit support system, Kamara, a Pro Bowler and seven-time league Player of the Week, has revitalized the culture of the Saints, the city of New Orleans — and perhaps, in a tough year, of the NFL itself.

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, aka the No. 1 hit-making, Grammy Award-nominated Migos. “It’s dope to see the growth,” Kamara says. “Seeing them come up from nothing.” In 2017, the Migos emerged as the world’s most influential rap group, perhaps the best since OutKast.

“I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

“I was talking to Qua yesterday,” Kamara says before tapping on Quavo’s contact to initiate another FaceTime. “He was like, ‘Man, I’m proud of you. You just been ballin’. I remember when shit was bad and you stayed true to it.’ ”

Instagram Photo

True indeed. In his first season in the NFL, Kamara has averaged 7.7 yards per offensive touch, more than any player in league history (minimum of 200 touches). Not since Gale Sayers in 1965 has a rookie scored five rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns in a single season — until Kamara. And Kamara’s ballsy, fake-kneel, 106-yard kick return for a touchdown in the regular-season finale is the longest play in Saints franchise history.

No other NFL player in the league is doing quite what he’s doing, and no other player looks quite like him either. In addition to wearing his hair in twists, he rocks two nose rings and a shiny gold grill in his mouth — on the field. And off of it, Kamara has plenty of gold around his neck, Louis Vuitton on his wrists and Alexander Wang on his feet. In a season polarized by protests, and missing star New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Kamara brought swag to the NFL. He might even mean as much to the culture as the Migos right now.

Nine long rings on the call to Quavo, and no answer.

“I don’t know what he doing,” Kamara says. “He might call back.”


The recruitment of Alvin Kamara resulted in offers from just about every powerhouse college football program. On national signing day in 2013, with his mother, Adama, and Coach K beside him, Kamara decided to roll with the Alabama Crimson Tide, the school that once sent him 105 letters in a single day. He made the announcement during a crowded news conference at Norcross High School.

“Of all the kids I’ve ever recruited, I probably got closer to him and his family than any kid,” says Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, the former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator who secured Kamara’s commitment. “I don’t know why. He took a liking to me, I took a liking to him. We respected each other.” The two keep in touch via text and FaceTime. Kamara ends those calls with, “Love you.”

Kamara was poised for playing time despite a loaded depth chart — future NFL backs Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake — at his position. But a knee injury requiring surgery forced him to redshirt. “Alvin got put down with the scout team,” Smart says. “I can remember Nick Saban having to kick him out of practice: Hey, if you’re not gonna run the ball with the scout team, get out of here. Alvin didn’t like the idea of that, and I think he’d be the first to admit he didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. He ended up saying, at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara called Coach K to help him pack up his dorm room, and his uncle dropped everything he was doing — the Migos were just months from releasing their breakthrough hit, “Versace” — to be there. “Don’t even look back,” said Coach K. “We good. Whatever the next move is, we’re gonna execute it. We just gonna be A1.”

But on Feb. 13, 2014, at 19 years old, Kamara was arrested in Norcross for driving with a suspended license. “I’m sitting in the back of a cop car, like, What the f— am I doing?” He had enough pocket money to bail himself out, but police made him wait hours in a cell for his mother to come get him. “That was my sign,” he says. “Things had caught up to me.”

Kamara decided to stop dodging calls from Hutchinson Community College and boarded a plane to Kansas. He says he essentially “disappeared” for a year into his version of Last Chance U. It took one super productive, conference-offensive-player-of-the-year season — 1,469 total yards of offense and 21 touchdowns in only nine games — to make him a five-star junior college prospect. Kamara returned to the SEC, this time to Tennessee. “AK is a good dude,” says Hutchinson recruiting coordinator Thaddeus Brown. “He just had to figure it all out.”

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff.

It may have helped that somewhere along the road from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville, Kamara embraced who he is, especially with regard to his personal style. His middle school classmates had called him, as Kamara puts it, “weird as f—.” But ever since, he’d run from himself. It was time to return.

It started with a stud in his left nostril that he’d always wanted. When Kamara noticed too many others with their noses pierced, he one-upped them with a septum piercing. At Tennessee, he began wearing both, and, instead of the usual plastic mouthguard, he wore a grill during games. Kamara: “I was just like, ‘Bruh, I’m about to be me.’ It’s gonna be real hard for y’all to make me not be me.”


“He’s so unassuming,” says David Raymond, Kamara’s day-to-day manager. “If you just see him on the street, you wouldn’t be like, ‘That’s a running back.’ ”

At the 2016 NFL scouting combine, Kamara, who had declared early, topped higher-profile running backs — Dalvin Cook now of the Minnesota Vikings, Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers — in both the vertical leap (39.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches). He ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash. Yet his history at ’Bama, coupled with his arrest, and even his choice to leave Tennessee early, made some skeptical. “You see the gold teeth,” says Raymond, “and the nose rings, but you don’t see the young man.”

Alvin Kamara runs the 40-yard dash during the 2017 NFL combine.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Kamara notched a 24 on the Wonderlic. It was the highest score posted by any Division I running back prospect. And Kamara says that while he was training in Miami with former Hurricanes strength coach Andreu Swasey, he “never took one m—–f—— practice Wonderlic. I don’t know if people look at me and think, ‘He just plays football.’ I can chop it up on anything you want to talk about — from football … fashion … current news … history. We can do all that. I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

Kamara’s stylish singularity, he feels, caused him in many cases to be condescended to, and in other cases to be racially pigeonholed. Kamara chooses not to reveal the name of an NFL owner who talked to him through a sneer. “You like fashion,” the man said. “Your friends are rappers. You got the look. You got the nose rings. You look like you could probably do something else … like you don’t need football.”

Kamara pondered: Just because I know some people? I’ve not made one song. If I wanted to be a rapper, I would’ve been doing that a long time ago. After the interview, the team’s running backs coach approached Kamara and confirmed what the prospect already suspected: The owner didn’t believe Kamara “loved football.” And that it was unlikely Kamara would be listed on the team’s big board come draft night. The interaction begged questions: Does a person have to “need” football in order to love it and play at the highest level? And can one love football and possess a full identity outside of it?

“He didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. One thing led to another and he ended up saying at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara says at least three other teams tossed up similar red flags. “If somebody feels a certain way about the way I carry myself, or the way I dress, the way I talk, I don’t know what to tell you … because I don’t hate nobody. But if you don’t like me? I’mma keep it moving.”


Kamara’s flair may have been lost on some owners and front-office executives, but not on JR Duperrier, a sports marketing manager for Adidas. He had gone to the combine to sign former Michigan star Jabrill Peppers. When he got to Indianapolis, he found Kamara.

“My first impression of Alvin,” says Duperrier, “was he’s kinda swaggy.He looked like he could dress a lil’ bit, and I could dig it.” Duperrier is quite fashion-forward himself, having been named by BET as one of the 25 most influential people in sneakers last October. “Given a platform, Alvin can excel. He’s his own person. He doesn’t follow what other people do.”

Adidas announced the signing of Kamara on Twitter, 17 minutes after the New Orleans Saints selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft with the 67th overall pick (63 spots behind Fournette, 59 behind McCaffrey, 26 behind Cook and 19 behind Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon). For Kamara, his pre-draft gathering was a blur. Just a simple chat with head coach Sean Payton and running backs coach Joel Thomas. “They weren’t pressing me,” Kamara says matter-of-factly. Something about the Saints just felt right. When he reported to the team’s training facility for the first time, he noticed it again.

Saints running back Alvin Kamara jumps over Darius Slay of the Detroit Lions.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Maybe it was how defensive end Cam Jordan, a three-time Pro Bowler, greeted him for the first time. “This man got a nose ring! You f—ing millennials!” And the first time he met Drew Brees, the future Hall of Famer knew about Kamara’s skills, and recognized the potential. “ ‘I wanna work with you,’ ” Kamara recalls Brees saying. “ ‘Let’s grow together.’ ” Brees and Kamara have found common ground and channeled it into a rejuvenated winning culture in New Orleans.

“He always seems like he’s having fun,” says Brees, “and he definitely has a swagger to him. He fits in great with our locker room.” Throughout his first months in that locker room, Kamara won the rookie Halloween costume contest. He treated his offensive line to surprise rib meals in their lockers for helping him win FedEx Ground Player of the Week. And he sat on a throne of Airheads, a candy partnership Kamara had in his sights on since the draft. He always carries a pack of the taffy with him, offering some to anyone who crosses his path.

Most notably, Kamara has established a playing and personal relationship with the veteran of the backfield, Mark Ingram. The rookie has become what New Orleans calls the “zoom” to Ingram’s “boom” in games, after which the pair conduct hilariously informative postgame interviews together in front of their adjacent lockers. This season, they became the first running back duo in NFL history to each record 1,500 yards from scrimmage.

“This guy has so much on his plate,” says Ingram, “where he has to line up, how many different ways we wanna get him the ball. It says a lot about him as a professional. He deserves all of the success that’s coming his way.” Ingram calls Kamara not just a special player but also a special human being. “Offensive Rookie of the Year … we got it.”

Alvin Kamara (right) and Mark Ingram talk during a game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

And contrary to popular belief, which Kamara dispels any chance he gets, there’s no animosity between him and Adrian Peterson, whom the Saints traded to the Arizona Cardinals before Week 6, just as Kamara’s stock began rising exponentially. The rookie soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the future Hall of Famer. “Keep playing,” Peterson told Kamara once in practice. “Keep being you.”

He took the advice to heart: 1,554 total yards from scrimmage through 16 regular-season games. He also owns the highest yards-per-carry average (6.1) for any first-year rusher in the Super Bowl era (minimum of 100 carries) and broke a 36-year-old franchise record for most touchdowns by a rookie, with 14. Simply put, Kamara got all he could ever ask for in his first NFL team. Because the Saints let Alvin be Alvin.


It’s a party in Suite 354 at the Superdome — jam-packed with Kamara’s people. “I just got here,” says Coach K, fresh off a private jet to see his nephew play. “All he had to do is play ball when he got here. Be young. Bring the swag. Do his thing.” Quality Control co-founder Pierre “Pee” Thomas is there, along with David Raymond and Duperrier. New Orleans rapper Young Greatness is rocking a custom Alvin Kamara hoodie, created by the designer/stylist Tvenchy, who’s responsible for many of the rookie’s day-to-day outfits and is in the suite vibing as well.

It’s hard to miss the boisterous Tonee, who played high school football with Kamara before becoming Atlanta singer 6lack’s official DJ. Or JAT, a friend from Tennessee who runs her own hair business. Saints superfan Jarrius Robertson even pops in. Along with his mother (who watched from home, although she hates to see her son take hits on-screen, or in person), this is Kamara’s foundation. “I kind of try to block it out when I’m playing because it’s distracting, but at the same time … my friends are here, so you wanna do good,” Kamara says later. “Not only for me, but for them.”

Alvin Kamara celebrates with fans after scoring a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

After the playoff-clinching win that Kamara finishes with a solid 21 touches for 162 yards, he and the crew partake in his season-long tradition. They make the 1.1-mile journey from the stadium exit back to his apartment — on foot. Along the way, he’s stopped every five steps by curious Saints fans, wondering, Is that really Alvin Kamara? Yes, it’s him. And he’ll take a picture with anyone who asks. “If I sign an autograph, somebody will be like, ‘Put Rookie of the Year,’ ” he says. “Do I want to be Rookie of the Year? Of course. … You can only do it once. But I can’t put it until I win it.”

“All he had to do is play ball. Be young. Bring the swag. And do his thing.”

Hours after the walk home, New Orleans is abnormally quiet, save for the few packed restaurants. A Kamara and Quavo FaceTime happens, as the Migos’ genius sits in a glowing Atlanta studio and chops it up about jewelry and such — “Show me the ice!” he says — with the NFL’s most explosive offensive weapon. After the call, not even the star rookie running back of the Saints can secure a last-minute reservation downtown on the night before Christmas.

So it’s into his black Audi S7 V8T and on to a chicken wing joint on the outskirts of the city, where he’s perhaps even more heralded as he places a food order fit for an army. It’s apparent that the stone-faced cashier sort of recognizes him, though she can’t fully put her finger on the exact identity of the nose-ringed, beanie-wearing figure before her.

“We need that Super Bowl!!!” a middle-aged man shouts.

“Off rip. I got you,” Kamara responds with a dap. “A hunnid.”

A moment of clarity overcomes the cashier, who looks at her customer with a warm smile. “Alvin Kamara?” she says. “I thought that was you.”

Chef and entrepreneur Ayesha Curry says she won’t ever call herself an NBA wife ‘I don’t think my husband would call himself ‘chef’s wife’ ‘

Author, restaurant owner and Food Network personality Ayesha Curry holds many titles. But one she says she will not use is “NBA wife.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever call myself that,” she told Nightline co-anchor Juju Chang during an interview that aired on Wednesday. “I mean, I don’t think my husband would call himself ‘chef’s wife.’ ”

She’s married to Golden State Warriors star and two-time NBA champion Stephen Curry. She just opened her flagship restaurant International Smoke in San Francisco, her third location with chef Michael Mina.

The 28-year-old’s show Ayesha’s Home Kitchen was launched in July 2017, and she was also a co-host of ABC’s The Great American Baking Show. She’s an author and one of the new faces of CoverGirl, has a cookware line and a home cooking service and is the mother of two daughters, Riley and Ryan.

“Obviously, mom and wife first,” Curry said of the many titles she juggles. “Those are the two most important titles.”

Their courtship began in 2002 as a church friendship when they were 14. Curry’s family joined the Central Church of God in Charlotte, North Carolina. Retired NBA player Dell Curry and his wife, Sonya, along with their three young children, Stephen, Seth and Sydel, were members of the church as well. The couple wed in 2011.

“One thing that my mom always told me was to never lose yourself inside of your marriage. I’m happy that I’ve been able to find that so-called balance and be able to pursue my passions and take care of my family,” Curry said during the Nightline interview.

“My family values are really, really important. When you’re a little more traditional, it’s almost shunned upon. Like, if you’re doing something wrong — and I feel really strongly about immigration because my mom is … from Jamaica. She still has a green card here,” Curry continued. “I just think about all the families that could be affected by these, you know, ill decisions that are being made, and it breaks my heart.”

According to ABC News, Mina says Curry is “really humble.” “Everything that she wants to get out of this industry, it’s all about this idea of how you continue to create just great food for your family, for your guests,” he told Nightline.

The Plug, ‘Happy New Year’ (Episode 4): with special guest co-host Mike Golic Jr. Isaiah Thomas’ comeback on deck and the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl recaps

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After taking time off for the holidays, it’s back to business for The Undefeated’s newest podcast, The Plug. Our country cousin Mike Golic Jr. fills in for me this week after being officially reported in the box score as “DNP — SUNBURNS” while having a tad too much fun in Colombia on vacation.

Regardless, as they say in the industry, “the show must go on,” and it absolutely did. The quartet chopped it up on a multitude of topics, including Isaiah Thomas’ long-awaited comeback, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, one of the most provocative stories in sports right now — UCF’s undefeated season (no pun), and should they have been in the College Football Playoff — this weekend’s slate of opening-round NFL playoff games and the NBA All-Star Game rules changes.

As always, subscribe to The Plug on the ESPN app! See you all next week!

Previously: The Plug, ‘Pure Gold’ (Episode 3): Dave East closes out 2017 with one of the year’s best interviews.

These ladies star in Secret’s campaign highlighting successes of women in football The company partnered with the NFL to showcase inspiring women

The success of women in the sports world, particularly those who have been pioneers in their areas, is something that Secret, the antiperspirant brand, deemed worthy of a celebration. This football season, the company partnered with the NFL to showcase women who are rocking out in the field and inspiring others along the way.

“At Secret, we understand the pressures women face both in their personal and professional lives on a daily basis,” said Janine Miletic, Secret’s brand director. “When you add the stress of working in a male-dominated industry to navigating societal and cultural expectations, it can be a very real barrier to achieving your dreams. The women in the NFL are exceptional examples of people who have dedicated their lives and careers to redefining expectations. Our hope is that with more visibility, they can inspire even more women to take their careers and the inevitable stress head-on.”

The series kicked off during the opening week of the NFL regular season with a video tribute during the Sept. 11 Monday Night Football game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos. The four-part video series features Jacqueline Davidson, director of football administration for the New York Jets; Kimberly Fields, the NFL’s special assistant to the commissioner; Michele Tafoya, the Sunday Night Football sideline reporter for NBC Sports; and Samantha Ponder, host of ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown.

According to the annual Racial and Gender Report Card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, NFL hiring practices have improved from previous years, including an increase in the number of women and people of color at or above the vice president level. In the league office in 2015, there were 21 people of color at or above the vice president level, and in 2016 there were 24. This year, that number increased to 31, and women at or above the vice president level jumped from 35 to 45.

The percentage of women at the management level in the league office increased to 35.4 percent in 2017 from 31.6 percent in 2016, becoming the highest percentage in the report’s history. The percentage of diverse employees at the management level increased by 1.5 percentage points, from 26.9 percent in 2016 to 28.4 percent in 2017. The NFL league office earned an A for racial hiring practices, the report stated.

The women involved in the campaign have always had a love for sports, and their determination to be the best at what they chose to do kept them grounded.

“I was inspired to work with Secret because I think it is important for young women to see themselves represented in every industry, and this partnership is highlighting women across the NFL and providing the next generation with examples of what is possible,” Davidson said.

Davidson always knew she’d be involved in sports, beginning as a young girl growing up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She spent her days watching Alabama football games, and by the time she was 15, the popular 1996 sports film Jerry Maguire helped Davidson confirm that she indeed wanted a job in the sports industry.

Davidson enrolled at Davidson College in North Carolina as an economics major and spent a semester at Howard University in Washington, D.C. While there, she landed a summer internship at ESPN, which would be her first time experiencing what it was like to work in sports. After graduating, Davidson headed to Cornell Law School in New York and interned with the NFL Management Council. Although she worked as a law clerk for years, her heart remained set on finding a job within the NFL.

“In 2007, the opportunity came along, and I took a football administration position with the New York Jets,” Davidson said.

Davidson immediately noticed and appreciated that her colleagues valued her opinion as a woman, but she also recognized some of the struggles women face in the field.

“I attribute that to [NFL chief administrator of football operations] Dawn Aponte having preceded me,” Davidson said. “Having a strong, competent woman most likely made my experience unique in that the idea of a woman in this type of role was not a novelty to the Jets organization. Outside of Dawn, however, there were not many women in this field, so when you are young and finding your way in this profession, your options for a mentor or a sounding board are really limited.”

Ponder knows all too well about the downsides of being a woman in sports. Her father, a football and basketball coach, and mother, whom she describes as a “jill of all trades,” kept Ponder and her three siblings busy. Each of them played three sports a year in their hometown of Phoenix.

“All of our free time was spent either playing, watching each other play or watching Dad coach,” Ponder said.

After graduating from high school, Ponder moved to New York City with dreams of becoming a sports broadcaster. She interned at ABC Sports for three years before reporting for a cable channel while in college at Liberty University. Since then, Ponder has worked for Fox Sports, the Longhorn Network and ESPN’s College GameDay.

Now serving as the host of Sunday NFL Countdown, Ponder said she is continually learning.

“The real pressure I feel is to help make a show that our crew is proud of,” Ponder said. “There are so many people in front of the camera and behind who are so invested in the success of this show. I don’t want to let them down. I know there’s outside pressure to be perfect, but I’ve come to embrace my imperfections on television. … Generally speaking, people want authentic more than perfect.”

Although every woman featured in the campaign has traveled a different path to success, they’ve learned several things along the way, including advice that other women aspiring to join the sports industry can use.

As for Davidson, she keeps it simple.

“Don’t let someone talk you out of your dream.”