The new Thurgood ‘Marshall’ movie is a thrilling What-Had-Happened-Was Superstar Chadwick Boseman and director Reggie Hudlin talk colorism and the black film renaissance

Chadwick Boseman remembers the exact moment when he understood why the work he was doing — not just the grabbing of marquees, not just working alongside Hollywood’s top talent, not just surprising critics with how easily he melts into a role of some of the world’s most famous men — was cemented.

He was on the set of Draft Day, a 2014 sports drama about the Cleveland Browns and its general manager (Kevin Costner) who wants to turn around his consistently losing team with a hot draft pick. “When you’re doing a car shot,” Boseman says, leaning in and slightly pushing back the sleeves of his sharp, black bomber, “you’re following the lead car.” He said they stopped in front of the projects. “I get out of the car, and somebody says, ‘Yo, that’s that dude from that baseball movie outside, right?!’ Everybody in the projects came outside, and they were like, ‘Hey, hey, hey! I got your movie on DVD in the house!’ The DVD hadn’t come out yet. They were like, ‘It didn’t come out yet? Oh, no, no. We didn’t mean it that way. But look — I saw it.’ ” He says that’s what it’s all about. “You want people to appreciate what you’ve been doing.”

This week, Boseman’s latest film, Marshall, opens. Once again, the actor takes on a role of a historical, powerful-in-his-field man. He’s portrayed baseball and civil rights icon Jackie Robinson and the influential James Brown. Now he’s legendary lawyer and eventual Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.

It’s an interesting casting, to be sure. Part of Marshall’s story is rooted in his light skin. It was a privilege. Marshall himself was the highest of yellows, and his skin color — on the verge of passable — was unmissable. Boseman, on the other hand is decidedly black, with striking chocolate skin — and that factor almost prevented him from even going after the role.

It’s an interesting casting, to be sure. Part of Marshall’s story is rooted in his light skin. It was a privilege.

Reginald Hudlin, the film’s director, said it’s been a hot topic, even among his close circle. “I’ve had friends who admitted to me, ‘I went in going I don’t know if this casting works.’ And they also have admitted, within 20 seconds, that concern was gone, it had never occurred to them. Because Chadwick’s performance is the exact spirit of Thurgood Marshall. He said that people who have clerked under Marshall, who knew him intimately, are more than satisfied. They’re like, ‘Oh, my God, how did you capture all those little nuances of his personality? You guys nailed it.’ To have that affirmed by people who have firsthand knowledge is a huge relief.”


But Marshall isn’t a biopic. It’s a dissection of one of the best legal minds in American history. And as he has done in his previous biographical work, you stop wondering about the actor at all, let alone the shade of his skin. “If this was a cradle-to-grave story about Marshall, obviously we would have to deal with his complexion,” said Boseman, who is also credited as a producer on the film. “Right now, we’re dealing with one case. He’s walking into this courtroom as a black man. He’s not a black man passing as a white man. He didn’t try to pass as a white man. He showed up as the black attorney, right? He showed up as a black man and got gagged for being black, right?”

“They didn’t say,” Boseman stops to laugh, “ ‘We’re going to gag you because you’re light-skinned-ded.’ ”

Marshall, at its best, is an examination of Marshall’s brilliance. It’s an up-close, deep dive into how Marshall changed the course of American history. “Everything is a risk,” Boseman said. “No matter what movie you do, it’s a risk. … It’s also a risk, if you look like the person, to play the role because then there’s the pressure of doing certain things a certain way.”

The court case used to examine Marshall’s legal savvy is relatively unknown — a black man in Connecticut (Sterling K. Brown) is accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson) — and Marshall is stripped of his voice. He’s told by a racist judge that he can’t speak in the courtroom. He couldn’t speak on behalf of his client at all. Instead, he had to employ Sam Friedman, an insurance lawyer who is a white Jewish man (Josh Gad), and teach him how to try this case. There’s a tone of Mighty Whitey here, to be sure, intermingled with a lesson on the importance of allies. Timely.

That said, it’s Boseman’s film. And not for nothing, he absolutely nails it. In four short years, the Howard University-educated Boseman has positioned himself as a force. He’s a box-office draw, and at the top of next year he leads the highly anticipated Black Panther, which surely will change the course of Hollywood, or at least continue to challenge the notion that films with predominantly black casts don’t travel internationally.

Not that Boseman isn’t up for the challenge. He’s the black man — sometimes he’s by himself — gracing Vanity Fair-like magazine gatefold layouts representing the next biggest thing in Hollywood. His representation is undeniable. And he understands his worth.


This film feels very much like 2017. It takes place in December 1940, a time when the NAACP was concentrating on its litigation in the South, suing over voting rights and equal pay for black teachers and segregation in higher education. But in the North, issues abounded as well — in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for example, there was a 1933 law that banned racial discrimination in public places, and it went unenforced in 1940. Marshall was 32 years old at the time and just beginning the work that would change the lives of black Americans for generations to come.

That notion of public discrimination is tested constantly — turn to any current news headline or cable TV news lower third for quick proof. And Marshall the movie sometimes feels like a thrilling, current-day, true-life drama. Often, when we talk about the historic work the NAACP did with Marshall as its chief legal brain trust, we think about the work done south of the Mason-Dixon line. But this case is set in a conservative white Connecticut town — away from the hard-and-fast Jim Crow laws that crippled black folks who lived in American Southern states.

“That was very much our intent. ‘Why did you choose this case? Why didn’t you do him as a Supreme Court justice? How come you didn’t do Brown v. Board of Education? Those are all worthy stories, stories that the public thinks they know — ‘Oh, I learned about Brown in fifth grade. I got that.’ You don’t got this,” Hudlin said. “You don’t know this case, you don’t know the outcome of this case, which gives me the chance to be true to genre. Because I think genre is what saves these movies from being medicine movies, which I despise. You want to make a movie that works if it wasn’t Thurgood Marshall. If Joe Blow was against the odds in this legal case, does the movie still work?”

It does. “This crime has all these broader implications, economic implications, for black folk. And for the institution of the NAACP. The truth is messy. Everyone comes into the case with their own particular set of -isms,” Hudlin said. “The challenge is, do you respect the process of the legal system to get to uncomfortable truths? And do you have enough personal integrity to acknowledge uncomfortable truths as they emerge, that don’t fit your preconceived notions? That’s how America works, you know?”


This film premieres right at the start of Hollywood’s award season preseason. In the fourth quarter of each year, we’ve come to expect the year’s best to be presented, or some of the year’s most generously budgeted films to hit the big screen.

But Marshall, perhaps, carries a bigger weight. It feels like a tipoff of a major moment for black creatives both behind and in front of the camera. This is the first time we’ve seen so many black directors working on films of this magnitude and at this level. Coming soon after this film are projects by directors Ava DuVernay (A Wrinkle In Time) and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), and Gina Prince-Bythewood is writing and directing Spider-Man spinoff Silver & Black. And the list goes on.

“He showed up as a black man and got gagged for being black. They didn’t say, ‘We’re going to gag you because you’re light-skinned-ded.’ ” — Chadwick Boseman

“I would say like three, maybe four years ago … in separate moments … we’ve talked about what’s been happening over the past few years. And I remember leaving several of those conversations, and we said, ‘Let’s not say it publicly, but we’re in the renaissance,’ ” Boseman says. “Let’s not say it publicly, because if we say it, then people will think we’re happy with it. That we’re satisfied with that. So let’s not ever actually say it. I think now we’re at a point where there’s no point in not saying it, because it’s obvious that this is a different moment.”

This is a huge moment, but it comes with questions — plenty of them.

“My bigger-picture analysis is that there are 20-year cycles,” said Hudlin. “You have this explosion in the 1970s with the blaxploitation movement, which created a set of stars and a set of icons so powerful they still resonate today. You can say Shaft, you can say Superfly, you can say Foxy Brown, and those things still mean things to people 40 years later.” He said that then there was a five- or 10-year period, a kind of collapsing, where basically in the ’80s you have Eddie Murphy and Prince. They don’t have folks really able to make movies. “Then, in the ’90s, there was that explosion of Spike Lee, and myself, and John Singleton. Those films were different from the movies of the ’70s. More personal, you know?”

He said blacks were telling their own stories, and there were greater production values. “And then like a 10-year period, a shutdown, and really you have Tyler Perry. And now this new wave, right? And when you look at all three of these periods, the thing is, the movies get bigger, they get more varied in their subject matter, and the production value keeps increasing. When you look at the bounty of black images, of black filmmakers working in film and television — no. We’ve never had it this good. We’ve never had material this rich, and to me, the outstanding question is, when does it no longer become a cycle and becomes a fixture and part of the entertainment landscape?”

As they say on social media, that’s a question that needs an answer.

John Carlos, John Wooten know Kaepernick’s road is a long one After 50 years of fighting for change, these old warriors are unbowed but tired

Five decades before a backup NFL quarterback used the national anthem to tell America it can do better — enraging a U.S. president and millions of others, suffering the personal and professional consequences — John Carlos did the same.

He was the original.

He paid his dues, put in the time, working for social change for so long that he and Tommie Smith, his teammate on that Olympic podium in Mexico City, became the gold standard of athlete activism. They’re now so revered for their conviction and courage during the bubbling-over racial cauldron of the 1960s that there are statues of them on their college campus at San Jose State.

Carlos is now 72 years old. But he still can’t smell the roses. Or catch barely a sniff of satisfaction for all the work put in. His voice is raspy. He sounds exhausted. He knew it wasn’t over, this centuries-old cage fight for human rights. He just figured there would be more enlightened soldiers by now.

“It’s been a wakeup call for the last 50 f—ing years to let them know,” Carlos says from his home in Atlanta. “Excuse my language.”

“Like I been sayin’ for 50 years, there ain’t no neutrality. You gotta be on one side or the other. This man [President Donald Trump] is pushing them to make a decision, to find out who they really are. It’s time to get involved, to speak your truth — ‘You’re going to call me for what I am and respond to me for what I am’ — or you’re going to be a sucka for all eternity.”

You don’t want to be a sucka for all eternity.


A group of top African-American athletes from different sporting disciplines gather to give support and hear the boxer Muhammad Ali give his reasons for rejecting the draft during the Vietnam War, at a meeting of the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, held in Cleveland, June 4, 1967. Seated in the front row, from left to right: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Standing behind them are: Carl Stokes, Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and John Wooten.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

John Wooten was blocking for Jim Brown in Cleveland and learned a brother needed help: Muhammad Ali was facing charges for refusing to fight the war in Vietnam. Wooten began calling famous black athletes willing to stand with Ali at the Cleveland Summit. From Brown to the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they all said, “No problem, we’ll be there.”

He knew it wouldn’t be over in 1967 when he stood behind The Greatest and alongside Bill Russell at that historic conclave of change agents. But 50 years later, Wooten is 80 years old, and there’s no sense of triumph for him either. No sense of finality in his war against inequality.

It’s going on midnight at his home in Arlington, Texas. He’s tired, the words tumbling slowly and deliberately through the receiver.

“It’s obvious to me that nowhere does our president understand the Constitution of this country,” says Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which promotes diversity in the coaching ranks and front offices of the NFL. “Because those players standing or kneeling or sitting did not break one single law of this country, nor have they broken any rule in the National Football League.”

Wooten has a couple of more thoughts before going to bed, so he can get up and fight tomorrow.

“When does unsportsmanlike conduct come in when men are standing to show this country that they are concerned about the young people being killed across the country? Are the football players and athletes to pretend this doesn’t exist?”


These two athletic icons for human rights know that change comes embarrassingly slowly. Fighting for it is soul-siphoning hard. Discouragement and defeat are just as frequent, if not more frequent, than success and victory. It wears you down and can leave you bitter.

“Listen, man, they are out there all the time,” said Carlos of the racists in our midst. “When they come, they come in numbers. The real sad thing is, they’re more united than we’ve ever been. Even people now, they think these dudes [protesting] hate their country instead of fighting for a better world and saying we can do better. Fifty years after Tommie and me, really, how far have we come?”

“It’s time to get involved, to speak your truth — ‘You’re going to call me for what I am and respond to me for what I am’ — or you’re going to be a sucka for all eternity.” – John Carlos

Next summer is the golden anniversary of Carlos and Smith bowing their heads, standing on the podium without shoes to symbolize American poverty, and raising their gloved fists. The next day they were expelled from the U.S. team and sent home. For the next 10 years, “my life was hell,” Carlos told Vox last year. He lost much more than money: friends, his marriage. They loved him. But they were scared they, too, would be ostracized.

Ali’s anti-war position was blasphemy to many Americans in 1967. But “we didn’t care about any perceived threats,” Wooten told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer this past year to mark the summit’s anniversary. “We weren’t concerned because we weren’t going to waver. We were unified. We all had a real relationship with each other, and we knew we were doing something for the betterment of all.”

The country forked in thought with some repulsed and others viewing their acts as courageous.

Just like … now.

“Why does it take for [Trump] to make that one statement to make all [players] react now, when they know they should’ve reacted earlier anyway?” Carlos said. “They should have been out there a long time ago to support [Colin] Kaepernick and Michael Bennett. They all should have been rallying around them.

“But Trump done put it on the line now and told them, ‘If you do it, we gon’ spank your a–.’ And that’s a threat. So now it’s on the owners — should they disrespect the will of their players, their human rights?”

Says Wooten: “I hope these players will … show the president and the country the unity felt by all of us who want to see a better, more just world. And that those who feel it is an affront to patriotism will one day see that this act of solidarity is about making America better, not worse.”

Many NFL owners locked arms with their players on Sunday. Some released statements in support of their socially conscious employees. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith bonded over a common enemy.

“Those players standing or kneeling or sitting did not break one single law of this country, nor have they broken any rule in the National Football League.” – John Wooten

Former Cleveland Browns great John Wooten watches during an NFL football game between the Browns and New York Jets on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010, in Cleveland.

AP Photo/David Richard

Wooten is more measured than Carlos, who is animated, sometimes angry and trying ineffectually to avoid a public scrap with Trump.

“The man is creating so much division in the country,” he continued. “You better get ready for the next Civil War, brother. Not to mention the wall. What can I say, man? If I get out there right now, I’m going to lambaste the man so bad, ’cause I ain’t gonna hold s— back about where his mind his. I don’t want to get into no running battle with this fool.”

Voice rising, Carlos is spiritually back in the ’60s. And, of course, that’s the most wrenching part: Fifty years later, not enough has changed.


Large chunks of our society don’t see black men kneeling for racial justice and a more equitable country. They see people demeaning Arlington National Cemetery’s dead.

Wooten and Carlos know of this historical bait and switch. They refuse to allow #TakeAKnee to be reframed as a referendum on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s a protest of police brutality and racism, the often senseless killing of black men by overwhelmingly white law enforcement. That’s it.

“You would think the NFL is a Hollywood show now, the way they promote it on TV, where it’s about family and inclusive and we’re all happy,” Carlos says derisively.

“Until we go into a meeting to find out why this young man isn’t in the NFL now playing. He’s played for several years. He’s gone to the Super Bowl. He’s better than a lot of quarterbacks in the league. Why is it that he’s not playing? But [Goodell] refuses to answer and address that, and the public refuses to demand him to do that. And everybody eats it up and does nothing.”

Carlos is resigned to the fact that most people will never care as much as he does. Wooten is more hopeful, if equally tired. For 50 years, nothing has happened quickly for either of them.

It’s the right fight; it’s just not an easy one. You devote your life to something for that long, you pay a price. People get burned out. It’s deflating.

But the best of them keep going, because they know the alternative. It’s too important, too ingrained in their identities. Today’s players need their wisdom and strength now just as Ali and Smith needed them then.

John Carlos is 72. John Wooten is 80. Their joints throb. They’re tired. And 50 years later, they still live for the fight.

Life before Death Row: The brief football career of Suge Knight The scariest man in rap was a star lineman at UNLV — and a scab Los Angeles Ram

Marion “Suge” Knight’s original terrordome was the defensive line. It’s where he starred for four years at Lynwood High School, 20 minutes from Compton, California’s much-loved Tam’s Burgers. Knight faces murder (among other) charges stemming from a January 2015 incident at Tam’s in which he is accused of barreling a Ford F-150 into two men.

Knight’s friend, Terry Carter, 55, was killed. Cle “Bone” Sloan, 51, was injured. All of this followed an argument near a filming location for the 2015 N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. For the better part of three years, Knight has been held at Los Angeles County Jail, where he awaits a January 2018 trial. He is claiming self-defense. “He left the scene,” attorney James Blatt said in February 2015, “because he was in fear for his safety, and life.” Knight has shuffled through more than four attorneys since.

Wealthy white kids at Hollywood high schools were often the target of Knight’s shakedowns when he was at Lynwood. During the early ’80s, however, Knight was far more focused on sports than thugging: He earned letters in track and football all four years.


Harvey Hyde became the head football coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1981. At the time, the UNLV Rebels (recently on the wrong side of the most lopsided college football upset of all time) were new to Division I. The school, established in 1958, had gained national prominence via basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian’s “Runnin’ Rebels” program. It was up to Hyde to make UNLV a two-sport school.

Hyde still calls Marion Knight “Sugar Bear,” Knight’s childhood and neighborhood nickname. They met on a recruiting trip that Hyde made to Los Angeles County’s El Camino Junior College, where Knight excelled in the defensive line’s trenches. The Compton native was 6-foot-2 with big hair and an imposing frame.

“How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

Hyde, a player’s coach, brought Knight to Las Vegas. As a junior, he started at nose guard and defensive tackle and immediately became one of the Rebels’ best defensive players. Knight was voted UNLV’s Rookie of the Year, named defensive captain and won first-team all conference honors. In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

“[Knight] played his butt off,” said Hyde, whose coaching portfolio includes NFL stars Randall Cunningham, Ickey Woods and 2017 Hall of Famer Terrell Davis. “[Knight] was a ‘yes sir, no sir’ guy … the type of player any college football coach would love to have on his team.” Hyde was let go in 1986 after a string of damaging events for the football program, including burglary, the beating by a player of an off-duty policeman, the embezzling of video and stereo equipment, sexual assault and domestic violence, among other issues. Knight, a part-time bouncer at Vegas’ then-hot Cotton Club, wasn’t a blip on Hyde’s disciplinary radar. “He never, ever gave me a problem in any way.”

To many members of the UNLV team, and his close friend Tarkanian, Hyde was the scapegoat for a program he helped save. The lack of institutional control, they believed, wasn’t Hyde’s fault. Hyde has never spoken ill or shifted blame to anyone.

Knight may have been yes-sir-no-sir, but he was side-hustling: Books. Jon Wolfson, who in the early 2000s was a publicist for Death Row Records and is now the manager of Hall and Oates, recalls a conversation he had with Knight about his UNLV days. “He’d say something like, ‘Then I’d play the dumb athlete role and say, ‘Oh, Coach, I lost my books.’ ” The staff never second-guessed Knight, said Wolfson. “They’d give him brand-new books, and he’d sell them to make some extra cash.” Knight enjoyed two impressive seasons at UNLV in 1985 and 1986, lettering in both.

Yet, per Randall Sullivan’s 2003 LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, Knight’s demeanor became more ominous and reclusive during his senior campaign. Visitors from his hometown of Compton were frequently sighted, as Sullivan reported. Knight, too, moved in an apartment by himself, and was seen in several late-model sedans. And his reputation on campus evolved far beyond that of the friendly jokester he was the year before. He seemed a man involved in far more sophisticated situations.

Yet when Wayne Nunnely took over as coach in 1986, Knight’s athletic demeanor apparently remained consistent. “He wasn’t a problem guy at all,” Nunnely told the Las Vegas Sun in 1996. This was three days after Tupac Shakur was shot five times near the Las Vegas Strip by a drive-by assailant who remains unknown. Shakur and Knight were at the intersection of Koval Lane and Flamingo Road. Shakur, of course, died. Knight, by then better known as “Suge,” was then gangsta rap’s unquestioned, unrivaled and undisputed emperor. “You didn’t really see,” said Nunnely, “that street roughness in him.”

The gridiron roughness is something Knight didn’t hesitate to talk about. “I think the most important thing, when you play football,” Knight told comedian Jay Mohr in 2001, shortly after being released from prison for serving half of a nine-year sentence for assault charges stemming from the fight with Orlando Anderson in Vegas’ MGM Grand the night Shakur was shot, “you get the quarterback, you stick your hand in his helmet and peel the skin back off.”

He jokingly suggested, even after selling tens of millions of records and doing nearly a five-year bid, that he could still play in the league. “I think I could strap up and intimidate most of those [guys]. I think we could make a few deals and I’ll be like, ‘OK, look. Lemme get ’bout three, four sacks. I’ll let you get a few blocks. We’ll enjoy it.’ ”

According to teammates, Knight dropped out of UNLV before graduation. By 1987, he was back in Los Angeles. One of the biggest songs on the streets was Eazy-E’s gangsta rap bellwether “Boyz n Da Hood,” which dropped in March of that year. But before turning to hip-hop to plant the seeds of a future empire, Knight had one last gridiron itch to scratch: the National Football League.


The first overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft was Vinny Testaverde, who played until he was 44. The second overall pick was defensive stalwart Cornelius Bennett. There was also current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon and Rod Woodson, the only Hall of Famer from this class. Former University of Oklahoma megastar linebacker Brian Bosworth and future Hall of Famer wide receiver Cris Carter were chosen in the supplemental draft. Marion Knight was not one of the 335 players selected. But the NFL eventually did come calling. The league was desperate.

As documented in the new 30 for 30 film “Year of the Scab,” NFL players went on strike shortly after the start of the 1987 season. Today, football players influenced by exiled Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick fight for their freedom of expression. Thirty years ago, players bucked back at ownership for freedom of agency. In 1982, players went on strike demanding 55 percent of revenue. The 57-day standoff cost the league seven games and $275 million in revenues. And another $50 million returned to networks. While united in both strikes, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) gained little ground in either.

“Free” agency in the 1980s wasn’t the spectacle it is today, with hundreds of players changing teams annually. “This was before free agency,” said veteran Los Angeles Times sports reporter Chris Dufresne. “[NFL players] really were indentured servants. They couldn’t go anywhere!” Players were, for lack of a better phrase, property — bound to teams for life. With rare exceptions, they did move to new teams, although many times those were star players with leverage, a la O.J. Simpson’s 1978 trade to the San Francisco 49ers.

Teams could sign free agents, but the cost was steep. The “Rozelle Rule” stated the NFL commissioner could reward the player’s original team with draft picks, often first-round selections, or players. NFL salaries did rise in the ’80s, primarily because of the brief existence of the United States Football League (an entity that featured team owner Donald Trump) and its willingness to lure NFL players with large contracts. But by 1985, the USFL was defunct. Even that era couldn’t hold a candle to the second strike. “The 1987 Rams season,” said Dufresne, “was the craziest I’ve ever had in journalism.”

In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

Training camp started with star running back Eric Dickerson warring for a new contract. On Aug. 21, 1987, running back and former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, after drug issues that plagued him while with the Cleveland Browns and at USC, was arrested after being found in a field. “[He had a] trash can lid, pretending to be the Trojan Warrior,” Dufresne recalled. “That’s how the summer started.” White led the NFL in rushing that same strike season, with 1,374 yards.

The strike started after Week 3. Players said they wouldn’t show up for Week 4, owners called what they thought was bluff, and then had to scramble to fill rosters with replacement players: former college players, undrafted players, construction workers, bartenders, even ex-cons. Replacement players, otherwise known as “scabs,” were ridiculed.

Somewhat like Faizon Love and Orlando Jones in 2000’s The Replacements, Knight was one of those replacement players. Dufresne, 30 years later, doesn’t recall the future head of a gangsta rap empire. “I have no recollection of Suge being there. I must have seen him,” he said. “[But] why would I remember him? How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

The strike lasted only a few weeks, but it got ugly. It sounds ridiculous to say Knight was bullied, but such was life in the NFL during the 1987 lockout for “scabs.” Knight, a man who would evolve into an intimidating pop culture tour de force, had eggs thrown at him. First-year Rams offensive tackle Robert Cox smashed the window of a van carrying replacement players after union players began rocking the van.

These incidents were common throughout the league. Frustrations were at a boiling point. Once stars such as Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Dorsett, San Francisco’s Joe Montana, the Oakland Raiders’ Howie Long and Seattle’s Steve Largent crossed the line, the NFLPA recognized the ship was sinking. “They had a weak union compared to the baseball union,” Dufresne said. “But the things they were fighting for were real.”

The strike lasted 24 days. Knight officially played two games as a Los Angeles Ram, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and against the Atlanta Falcons. Although Knight’s official stats are all but lost to history, this YouTube video compiled his official NFL stat line: eight plays, zero sacks, zero tackles and one penalty. John Robinson, Rams head coach from 1983-91, said the team had too many bodies that year between union and replacement players. He, too, has no recollection of coaching Knight.

“Suge,” said Dufresne, “was just an anonymous nobody in the surroundings.” The anonymity wouldn’t last long.


In October 1987, as the regular NFL players reported back to work, Knight’s rap sheet ballooned and his boogeyman persona began to take shape. In Los Angeles, Knight was charged with domestic violence after grabbing future ex-wife Sharitha Golden (whom he’d later implicate in Shakur’s murder) by the hair and chopping her ponytail off in the driveway of her mother’s home. That Halloween, he was arrested in Vegas for shooting a man in the wrist and in the leg, and for stealing his Nissan Maxima. With felony charges looming, Knight skated away from any serious penalty in part because of a contrite courtroom appearance and his history in the city as a famed football player. The felonies were reduced to misdemeanors: a $1,000 fine and three years probation. “I shot him with his own gun,” Knight told The Washington Post in 2007.

Three years later, in Vegas once again, he pleaded guilty to felony assault with a deadly weapon after pistol-whipping a man with a loaded gun and breaking his jaw. Knight again evaded serious penalty.

Knight by then was immersing himself in the music industry, serving as a bodyguard for superstars such as Bobby Brown. He eventually maneuvered his way into the circles of rappers like The D.O.C., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E. Knight partnered with Dr. Dre to create Death Row Records in 1991. Dr. Dre’s 1992 The Chronic (Death Row/Priority) and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (Death Row/Interscope) the following year became instant pop gospels and solidified Knight and Death Row as not only major players but also undeniable and controversial cultural focal points.

It’s been years since Coach Hyde has seen his former player. He’s not sure if he will again, but, “You can’t get me to say anything negative about Suge Knight,” he said. “Whatever somebody is accused of, he’s still a football player of mine. He’s still part of the family when I was at UNLV.” Hyde pauses momentarily, then continues, “I’m not endorsing all the certain things they accuse him of, because I really don’t know. I have no idea! He doesn’t judge me and I don’t judge him. We just have our old feelings of each other. I just think that’s what it’s all about. You don’t forget people.”

“When I watch the news, it’s like I’m watching someone else,” Jon Wolfson said. “That’s not the guy I know.”

As for Dufresne, he’s not on either side of the aisle. He’s more shocked that Marion Knight, a guy he only mentioned in passing through roster lists, morphed into Suge Knight, the Death Row Records impresario who was once worth more than $100 million. Suge, he recalled, wasn’t the only notorious figure to come about during his time covering the Rams. Darryl Henley, a former cornerback for the Rams (1989-94), was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1995. He is currently serving a 41-year prison term for conspiring to murder the federal judge who presided over his trial, as well as the former Rams cheerleader who testified against him. And the Rams’ 1996 first round pick, running back Lawrence Phillips, received a 31-year sentence for domestic violence, spousal abuse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft and was later charged with first-degree murder of his cellmate. Phillips committed suicide in 2016.

Dufresne recalled the bitterness of rap in the ’90s, the “East/West thing” as he dubbed it. And he remembered the personal sadness that followed Shakur’s murder. Yet, it wasn’t until this phone call where he put one and one together. Marion is Suge. Suge was Marion. Suge Knight was a replacement player during the most untamed year of my career.

“Marion Knight, out of UNLV, who did what a lot of guys did and had a dream to play [in the NFL] and maybe didn’t understand what the players were fighting for, he was just another guy,” he said. He stops, as if he’s shocked. “Little did we know.”

LaMelo Ball gets his own basketball shoe and other news of the week The Week That Was Aug. 28 – Sept. 1

Monday 08.28.17

In “life comes at you fast” news, former Baylor football coach Art Briles, who once won back-to-back Big 12 titles, was hired as an assistant coach with the winless Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Grand opening, grand closing: Briles was not hired by the Tiger-Cats. A Colorado man who said he was attacked with a knife because his haircut resembled that of a neo-Nazi actually stabbed himself. The Indianapolis Colts played themselves. President Donald Trump and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad relationship with Russia continues to get worse. As one final middle finger to former Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher, 56-year-old Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson will sign a one-day contract with the team. Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler, really shedding that “lazy” reputation, didn’t prepare for his job as a TV analyst. The New York Jets, a little too on the nose, signed a man named “Armagedon.” Trump is upset about crowd sizes (again) and TV ratings (again). Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a leader of the birther movement, wants the “media to stop saying he is racist.”

Tuesday 08.29.17

ABC News anchor Tom Llamas was out here snitching to the feds. Texas Republicans who once voted against Hurricane Sandy relief aid in 2012 will now be forced to ask for hurricane relief aid. “Heritage, not hate” has caused a boon in Confederate flag sales in Pennsylvania after a white supremacist rally in Virginia earlier this month. Trump is excited about crowd sizes (again). The head of the Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy once called former President Barack Obama’s mother a “fourth-rate p&*n actress and w@!re.” The Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook cupcake war is still not over. The Houston Rockets, Astros and Texans donated $9 million to hurricane relief efforts; the city of Houston gave over half a billion dollars to build each of the franchises’ respective stadiums. Supposed man of faith Joel Osteen finally allowed hurricane victims into his church. A white Georgia state representative told a black female former colleague that she would “go missing” and be met with “something a lot more definitive” than torches if Confederate monuments were removed from the state. Sixteen U.S. Postal Service workers in Atlanta were charged with distributing cocaine through the postal system.

Wednesday 08.30.17

A day after Trump promised to “take care” of Houston after Hurricane Harvey, Republicans are set to cut nearly $1 billion from the disaster relief budget. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics finally completed their trade a week later. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), who signed one of the strongest anti-immigration bills into law earlier this year, said he will accept hurricane relief assistance from Mexico. The Jets made former quarterback Tony Romo want to remain retired. The Tiger-Cats, in the news again somehow, worked out former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball still can’t figure out a way to get rid of Cleveland’s racist mascot. The American Red Cross, a charity, still doesn’t know how much of the money it raises goes directly to relief efforts. Florida, because of course, was named the state with the worst drivers in America. A New Hampshire inmate, who has a face full of tattoos and will definitely not be spotted walking around town, escaped from a halfway house. Fox Sports 1 host Shannon Sharpe said model Nicole Murphy’s derriere is “FATTER than a swamp-raised opossum.”

Thursday 08.31.17

Late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel cost the Los Angeles Lakers $500,000. High school basketball phenom LaMelo Ball is already set to incur an NCAA infraction two years before he attends college. Someone gave LaVar Ball a reality series. The Trump administration, creating an issue where there wasn’t one, is considering not putting Harriett Tubman on the $20 bill. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke resigned from his position; Wisconsin state Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) wants “to thank Sheriff Clarke for his decision to step down. After years of abuse at his hands, the people of Milwaukee can sleep soundly tonight.” Trump makes secret phone calls to recently fired chief strategist Steve Bannon when chief of staff John Kelly is not around. In “boy, that escalated quickly” news, Missouri state Rep. Warren Love (R-Osceola) responded to vandalism of a Confederate monument by calling for the culprit to be “found & hung from a tall tree with a long rope.” UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs had to practice taking a knee. Further proof that bottom has met rock, former New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher will appear on the next season of Dancing with the Stars. The Cleveland Browns won one fewer game during the preseason (four) than they are expected to win during the entire regular season (five). A CBS executive blamed the NFL’s sagging TV ratings on Colin Kaepernick, who played two games on CBS last season. Trump, who once offered $50 million for proof of Obama’s citizenship, pledged $1 million to hurricane relief efforts.

Friday 09.01.17

New Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, almost guaranteeing a sassy passive-aggressive response from former teammate LeBron James, said he hasn’t spoken to James and that “me leaving [Cleveland] wasn’t about basketball.” A nonpartisan watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and Department of Justice because musical artist Kid Rock keeps lying about running for U.S. Senate. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is still trying to send a 61-year-old woman to jail for laughing at him. Trump “liked” a tweet that he’s “not Presidential material” for misspelling “heeling” (again). In other Trump Twitter news, the president is definitely about to fire Kelly. Professional boxer Manny Pacquiao, who is absolutely not still shook, pulled out of his rematch with Australian teacher Jeff Horn for government duties; in 2014, Pacquiao was present for Congress of the Philippines for just four days.

Jon Jones tested positive for drugs (again) and other news of the week The Week That Was Aug. 21-25

Monday 08.21.17

The Secret Service has already run out of money to protect President Donald Trump and his family. While the University of Texas removed four Confederate statues from its Austin campus, a dissenting protester claimed that “white supremacy is over because of Obama, pro athletes and Jay-Z.” Comedian Bill Cosby, like a job announcement, tweeted that he is “pleased to announce his new legal team for his criminal retrial.” @daM00N_ blocked the @sun. R&B singer Chris Brown solved racism through the gift of dance. Trump stared directly at the sun. Wile E. Coyote A Texas man was charged with attempting to blow up a Confederate statue. Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, called an Instagram user “adorably out of touch” after the user criticized Linton for posting a photo of her expensive wardrobe while disembarking a U.S. military jet. A Florida man involved in the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two weeks ago and who once killed a goat and drank its blood is running for U.S. Senate. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who once referred to nonwhite people as “sub-groups,” posted a photo of a solar eclipse with a superimposed photo of Harambe, who was born in Texas, because King was in Tanzania at the time. Former Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, surprisingly not a member of the current administration, said slavery is “good history.” Boxing legend George Foreman, who voiced support for Hulk Hogan the same day a tape in which the wrestler called a black man a “n—–” was leaked, called LeBron James and Kevin Durant “sore losers” for refusing to visit the White House.

Tuesday 08.22.17

Country musician Kid Rock, while singing a song with the lyrics And I will vow to the shining seas/And celebrate God’s Grace on me, yelled, “F— Colin Kaepernick” to an Iowa State Fair crowd. A former Ku Klux Klan member once indicted by a federal grand jury for threatening to kill Coretta Scott King is taking a temporary leave of absence as a Roman Catholic priest. Ben Carson, the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, doesn’t understand how lead-paint reduction works. UFC champion Jon Jones was popped for reportedly using an anabolic steroid one month after tweeting, “Daniel [Cormier] says the only reason I defeated him the first time is because I must have been on steroids, wonder what his excuse will be this time.” Proving definitively that you can’t fix stupid, physicians across the country treated “sprains, strains, lacerations,” fractures and eye damage after Monday’s solar eclipse. The Girl Scouts of the USA and Boy Scouts of America are beefing. The organizer of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville is back from self-exile, telling all the “Commies, conspiracy wackos & nazi optics cucks” to “pucker up.” Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-North Carolina) said the Black Lives Matter movement is “just as engaged in hate” as white supremacist groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis. Despite military drafts being banned in 1973, an Ohio Supreme Court Justice called members of the Cleveland Browns who kneeled for the national anthem “draft dodging millionaire athletes.”

Wednesday 08.23.17

An anonymous NFL executive said quarterbacks “Tom Brady or Philip Rivers would never consider making a stand … while they’re at work” like Kaepernick; Brady once prominently displayed a Make America Great Again hat in his locker. After 18 piglets were saved from a barn fire in England earlier this year, the farmer who owned the litter served them up as sausage to the rescuing firefighters. Less than 12 hours after agreeing to not publicly feud with Arizona’s two senators, Trump tweeted, “I love the Great State of Arizona. Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!” Jon Jones, a white New York game developer and not the black MMA fighter, was inundated with Twitter messages after the announcement of the other Jones’ failed drug test, with one user writing, “Oh s— u just a white dude my bad nig lmao.” A 77-year-old Pennsylvania woman with a hearing impairment was severely beaten by her daughter and granddaughter because the volume of the Pittsburgh Steelers game she was listening to was too high. Disproving the theory that teenagers don’t follow the news, six students at a private Atlanta school were suspended or expelled for playing a drinking game called “Jews vs. Nazis.” Joanie Loves Chachi actor Scott Baio, stretching the definition of “successful,” responded to criticism of Trump by stating, “I don’t give a s— if I ever work again. … I guess I’m just an old, angry, successful white guy who stole everything he has from someone else.” Even the United Nations, which famously played the “my name is Bennett” routine during the Rwandan genocide, is “alarmed by the racist demonstrations” in the U.S.

Thursday 08.24.17

Floyd Mayweather plans to visit the Las Vegas strip club he owns every night before his fight on Saturday. A Twitter user whom Trump retweeted in the morning once posted, “We have enough Jews where I live.” A South Carolina man, seconds after pleading that Confederate statues are not a “symbol of racism,” called a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. “Martin Luther Coon.” The Baltimore Ravens played themselves. A year after Trump tweeted, “Mexico will pay for the wall!” the White House can’t confirm whether Mexico will indeed pay for the wall. Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, who got into a fight at a nightclub in 2016, said teams don’t want to sign Kaepernick because of the “chaos that comes along with it.” More baseball players don’t know how to properly scrap. A 21-year-old New York man was arrested after having his driver’s license suspended 81 times. San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, still old, has decided to continue playing basketball. In the ongoing war against Skynet, Apple’s latest phones will use facial recognition to unlock the device. Famed director James “Draw Me Like One of Your French Girls” Cameron said blockbuster film Wonder Woman was “a step backwards” for lead female characters. Durant, the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, said he would still drink actress Scarlett Johansson’s bathwater. The St. Louis Cardinals are feuding with a nonprofit over a stray cat.

Friday 08.25.17

A Washington, D.C.-based agriculture lawyer says Department of Agriculture chief scientist nominee Sam Clovis has “iron testicles.” Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, who once said paying college players would make him “do something else, because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is,” will now make $7.5 million this season. Another team that will not sign Kaepernick said it would “absolutely” sign Kaepernick. UPS’s stock suddenly dropped 500 percent. San Francisco residents, including one named Tuffy Tuffington, plan to leave dog poop in a local park ahead of a planned right-wing rally in the same park. For dangerous investigative work that will surely win it a Pulitzer Prize, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ate at Arby’s. Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown, accused multiple times of domestic abuse, said, “I’m not gonna do anything against the flag and national anthem.” Metta World Peace is back playing basketball … for Master P.

Daily Dose: 8/25/17 How the Browns’ national anthem protest came together

What’s up, gang, hope your week’s gone well. I’ll be hosting #TheRightTime with Bomani Jones on Friday afternoon from 4-7 p.m. EST on ESPN Radio. There will be quite a lot to discuss heading into this weekend.

When multiple Browns players took a knee in Cleveland during the national anthem last week, it wasn’t impromptu. As it turns out, this was a decision that went through multiple channels and happened with the blessing of the franchise. You might recall that head coach Hue Jackson made some comments on the matter a while back that some viewed as unproductive. Well, he felt he was misinterpreted. Check out this in-depth look at how it all came together for the Browns. Also, let’s not forget what one Ohio Supreme Court justice said on it.

We’ve all been on family vacations. Sometimes there are multiple parties involved, as in, different constituencies who don’t necessarily live in the same household. So interests are not exactly congruent, and even though you all love each other, so to speak, that doesn’t mean you’re always going to get along. In many ways, it can feel like a competition. And if you were to hold a news conference after one in which people had to answer questions like athletes, you’d probably get a hilarious scene.

If you’ve never been to Africa, you don’t know what it’s like. Ancient and modern depictions of the continent are typically rooted in racist, colonialist and otherwise just stupid, misguided generalizations. As a result, people still believe that Africa is full of jungles and darkness. FYI, that’s not the case. So when a Harvard professor decided she wanted to re-create the Heart of Darkness boat cruise and write about it, we knew we were in for a trip. But there are ways to report on the continent, which ain’t one country. Take some time and learn something.

Saturday’s finally the night. Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. will get into the ring Saturday night in Las Vegas, and hopefully McGregor will deliver a vicious roundhouse to the face of Mayweather and set off a vicious brawl that will be far more entertaining than the described bill. Alas, most people want an actual fight, but we all know that’ll likely be super boring. That said, multiple $1M bets on Mayweather have come into Vegas, which have caused the odds to move a little bit. Awesome.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The 1992 riots in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict were a seminal moment in U.S. history. Not because riots were anything new, but these were all over TV in the news cycle in a new way. Nonetheless, there were two sides. A new movie explores the Korean store owners’ side of the situation.

Snack Time: If you think the New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony’s relationship is somehow getting better, you’d be wrong. He’s been left out of their marketing plans for next season.

Dessert: Happy weekend, y’all. This is how you educate the youth.

Daily Dose: 8/22/17 BuzzFeed publishes more on R. Kelly

Another day, another R. Kelly story. Longtime journalist and Kelly chronicler Jim DeRogatis, after last month’s bombshell story for BuzzFeed, is back with more explosive reporting on the Grammy Award-winning singer and his sexual exploits with underage girls. In a story published late Monday night, once again on BuzzFeed, DeRogatis spoke with a woman who claims she started a sexual relationship with Kelly when she was 16 and said she suffered mental and physical abuse from him for nearly two years. Despite all that has been reported about the singer since the early 2000s, the most disturbing accusation to date may be that Kelly met the woman, Chicago native Jerhonda Pace, at the Cook County Circuit Court while the former was on trial in 2008 for making child pornography. Pace was 15 at the time.

The first white NFL player took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. After public displays of support — but no outright protests — by white players Chris Long, Justin Britt and Derek Carr, Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve joined 11 of his teammates in taking a “knee in prayer” before Monday’s game against the New York Giants. With that gesture, DeValve became the first white player to join a movement begun last season by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (who retweeted a message of support for the Browns players). There are two interesting wrinkles here, as well. First, Browns coach Hue Jackson said just last week that he hoped his players wouldn’t protest the anthem; also, DeValve is married to an African-American woman, one prominently displayed on his personal social media accounts. He added that he wanted to take part in the kneeling because “I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me.”

America is beefing up its war in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump, in a prime-time address to the nation Monday, said the U.S. military will deploy more troops to that country, extending the 16-year-old conflict in the region, the longest in U.S. history. This is a stark departure from Trump’s previous views on Afghanistan, which included questioning when the U.S. would “stop wasting money on rebuilding Afghanistan” in 2011 as well as multiple pleas between 2012-14 to get out of the conflict altogether. During the Republican primaries two years ago, he flip-flopped on whether the invasion was a “terrible mistake” or not. To be fair, Trump acknowledged his past conflicting statements, but he also refused to announce a number of troops to be deployed and found a way to blame former President Barack Obama, despite offering a strategy similar to his predecessor’s.

Houston Rockets guard James Harden will donate $100,000 to Texas Southern University. The NBA MVP runner-up will designate the funds for students at the historically black university who are in financial need. TSU president Dr. Austin Lane told Fox 26 Houston that the funds will serve students “from what I consider to be one of the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds in the city, if not the state or the country.” Harden follows in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who donated $1 million each to Alabama A&M University and Clark Atlanta University, both HBCUs, last November.


Things that make you think …

  1. Speaking of Trump, the commander in chief once implied that Kaepernick should leave the country instead of protesting the national anthem and took credit for the quarterback not having a job. After Monday’s Afghanistan announcement, what’s more harmful to the troops: not standing for (an arguably racist) song or sending more soldiers into a conflict that has already claimed more than 2,200 lives?
  2. At least 25 Confederate monuments across the country have been removed since Heather Heyer was killed 10 days ago during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Like the aftermath of the murders of nine parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, two years ago, it took the death of a U.S. citizen for state and local governments to finally remove relics of the Confederacy.

Walter Beach, who was at ’67 Cleveland Summit, says he was ‘never contaminated’ by white supremacy He says now is the time for black athletes to stand for ‘their dignity and their worth’

At age 34, Walter Beach III stood in the back of a stuffy room in sweltering Cleveland next to Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Lew Alcindor. The year was 1967. Eleven athletes and attorney Carl Stokes stood before a host of microphones in support of Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War.

The summit demonstrated the power that black athletes possessed when unified against a specific cause. Beach, now 84, has seen the evolution of athletic protest in the 50 years since the summit.

“ ‘It’s what we have to do, what I’m doing,’ ” said Beach, referencing the summit. “That’s the way I did. It was nothing special, and [I had] no anticipation to what it would ultimately be in terms of a historical context.”


During the 1960s, the battle for civil rights had turned bloody. The bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church coupled with the murders of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner between June 1963 and the summer of 1964 revealed just how resistant some were to racial equality. This was even more apparent at the John Lewis-led march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 that would end up as “Bloody Sunday.

All these events highlighted the need for social equality within the United States. Other than the breaching of the color barrier, professional sports had remained independent of the battle for social equality. That changed in 1967.

The event, effectively named the Cleveland Summit, was the first of its kind. Black professional athletes had never banded together to use their platform to express their discontent about a specific issue. The summit was a catalyst that signaled the importance of unity and triggered a chain reaction of similar protests.

Beach was an integral part of the dawn of black athletic activism in 1967 that reached a significant milestone in 2016 when four future NBA Hall of Famers took center stage at The ESPYS. Before the summit, Beach played cornerback for the Boston Patriots from 1960 to 1963 and spent the next three seasons with the Cleveland Browns before retiring in 1966. Beach was cut by the Patriots in 1963 and labeled a “troublemaker” for organizing a protest among the black players against the segregated living conditions during the team’s road trip to New Orleans.

“I didn’t grow up in a community where we thought white people were more intelligent or better or brighter or beautiful more so than black people,” said Beach. “So I was never contaminated with that virus, and that’s the operative term: contamination.”

Shortly after Beach joined the Browns, he forged a friendship with running back Jim Brown that has lasted more than half a century. The Pontiac, Michigan, native went on to help lead the Cleveland team to a world championship in 1964 thanks to Brown’s willingness to stick up for his friend. When Beach received the call to support Ali, there was no question that he would return the favor.


The man responsible for assembling the group seen in the iconic photograph was John B. Wooten, a former teammate of Beach’s who happened to serve as the executive director for the Negro Industrial Economic Union’s (NIEU) Cleveland office. The organization, later renamed the Black Economic Union, was founded by Brown in 1966 with the purpose of creating “an economic base for the African-American community,” said Wooten. After being instructed by Brown to piece together a group that would hear out Ali before the news conference, Wooten’s mind went to socially conscious athletes who had supported the NIEU in some way.

“Everybody that I called was in that picture,” said Wooten, referring to the iconic image of the Cleveland Summit. “There was no one that I called that was not in that picture.”

The lack of resistance that Wooten received reveals a stark difference in many of today’s black athletes, according to Beach: Not too many players will be willing to “jeopardize their livelihood.” Russell, Alcindor, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and even Wooten himself were all still playing professionally when they decided to offer their support. Even Brown, who had partnered with the company that promoted Ali’s fights, stood to lose a substantial chunk of change if The Champ followed through with his conscientious objection.

They all recognized that the issue was bigger than themselves and their careers.

Beach cited a variety of emotions, including shame, fear and anxiety, that ultimately prevent many black athletes from speaking out against racial injustice. Although the former cornerback had retired a year before the summit, football was never more important than his personal sovereignty.

“I didn’t have any fear,” said Beach. “It was never an issue with me whether I would play football or not play football when it came to personal violation.”

Beach recalled a story in which Art Modell, the former owner of the Browns, told him that he could not read Message to a Black Man by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Beach balked.

“You own this football team, but you don’t own me!”

Still, Beach maintained his optimism about the future. He spoke with fervor recently as he acknowledged the possibility of another summit in the future. He also praised Dwyane Wade’s Ebony cover, which paid homage to Trayvon Martin. From Wade’s cover to the 2016 ESPYS to Colin Kaepernick’s dissent, these acts of social activism resonate with Beach because of his undying love for black people.

In the 50 years since the summit, Beach attended Yale Law School, studied Surat Shabd Yoga in India, published his memoir and devoted his life to being a dissident to racial injustice in all of its forms. Nowadays, Beach serves as a lecturer who’s passionate about black young people, most of whom likely idolize athletes such as LeBron James, Cam Newton and Stephen Curry.

To them, he has one message:

“Everything they [black athletes] do in the public domain should be that which affirms their dignity and their worth,” Beach said.

Celebrating family: A few famous children and their famous parents Here are some you know, and others you might not

Many athletes, artists, actors and other superstars have followed in the footsteps of their parents. Some we see on the big screen, others we see on the field or basketball court. Others are behind the director’s chair making some of our favorite films. And we are all here for it.

In 2016 when the HBO hit series Ballers graced the scene, if you closed your eyes for about two seconds during scenes with break-out wide receiver Ricky, you’d think you were hearing actor Denzel Washington. That’s because the role is played by his son, John David Washington. Or when the role of director, actor and rapper Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton was played by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who had an uncanny resemblance to his father. Many superstars fit the bill of the famous parent/child combo. Here are just a few, as The Undefeated continues to celebrate families.


Maya Rudolph/Minnie Riperton

Though Maya Rudolph experienced the pain of losing her mother, singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton to breast cancer two weeks before her seventh birthday, their time together was enough for the two to bond through their love for music. “… My mom was music,” Rudolph told NPR in 2012. “Music poured out of my mother, and I’m sure I heard it before I even got here when I was in her belly. … [My parents] were on the road a lot. My brother and I would go with them, I think when we were very little, because my mom did not want to be away from us.” Through Rudolph’s own career, her Riperton lives on. Rudolph, who has established herself as an exceptional actress and cast member on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, sometimes sprinkles subtle tributes in her performances to honor her late mother.

Mario Van Peebles/Melvin Van Peebles

Actor Mario Van Peebles (left) and director Melvin Van Peebles attend the 2011 Eye On Black — A Salute To Directors at California African American Museum on Feb. 25, 2011, in Los Angeles, California.

Neilson Barnard/FilmMagic

Actor and director Mario Van Peebles has been on the screen since 1971. He has directed several episodes of shows such as 21 Jump Street but he made his feature film directorial debut in the drug-filled crime movie New Jack City, for which he is best known. This was followed by Posse in 1993, Panther in 1995 and Love Kills in 1998. He gets his art chops from his famous father Melvin Van Peebles, who is most known for the iconic film and action thriller Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

Rashida and kidada Jones/Quincy Jones

From left to right: Kidada Jones, Quincy Jones and Rashida Jones during Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party at Private Residence in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Donato Sardella/WireImage for Disney Consumer Products)

Actress and director Rashida Jones has spent her life in the celebrity world but she grew into the breakout star in the series Parks and Recreation. The daughter of writer and composer Quincy Jones, Rashida Jones’ turn into the spotlight does not come without her acknowledging her father. Her sister, designer Kidada Jones, was the best friend to entertainer Aaliyah and was engaged to Tupac Shakur. Their father was the producer, with Michael Jackson, of Jackson’s albums Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), and Bad. Rashida Jones’ new show Claws on FX has been catching waves. For Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, Rashida Jones wrote a tribute to her father for Variety.com titled Billion-Dollar Maestro.

“Although we would like to reduce a lifetime of accomplishment to the 27 Grammy Awards, seven Oscar nominations and numerous lifetime achievement awards, we shouldn’t. No, the most important contribution my dad has given this world is the life he lives. My dad is an enormous beating heart. I am deeply honored to consider myself the daughter of the best role model on earth. Happy birthday, Daddy. I love you without end.”

Tracee Ellis Ross/Diana Ross

Recording artist Diana Ross (left) and daughter actress Tracee Ellis Ross attend the 42nd Annual American Music Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Nov. 23, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross and her mother, singer Diana Ross, have always been supportive of each other. And there’s nothing that expresses a mother’s love like taking out a full-page ad when your daughter receives an Emmy nod. For Ellis Ross, this is completely normal for their mother-daughter bond. And even when Diana Ross was in her prime, she found time to be the mother Ellis Ross hopes to be when she starts a family of her own. “My mom was very glamorous, but that was her work world,” Ellis Ross told the New York Times Magazine. “Our home was filled with beautiful things. My mom had beautiful clothes; my mom is elegant; my mom is glamorous. But my mom is also really real, and I grew up with a mother who had babies crawling on her head and spitting up on her when she was wearing gorgeous, expensive things, and it was never an issue.”

Zoe Kravitz/Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet

From left to right: Zoe Kravitz, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet arrive at the Saint Laurent at The Palladium at Hollywood Palladium on Feb. 10 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Growing up with a Grammy-winning rock star father and a sultry film star mother, actress, singer and model Zoe Kravitz was bound to take advantage of her creative genes and follow in the footsteps of both parents. Kravitz’s father, Lenny, and mother, Lisa Bonet — best known as Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show — were in their 20s when they decided to elope in 1987. Yet, the pair, who divorced six years later, was sure to grant their daughter the opportunity to live as a regular kid. “[My mom] wanted to give me an opportunity to be a normal kid,” Kravitz told Complex magazine in a 2015 feature interview. “She wasn’t raised by nannies; she has a close relationship with her parents (whom she calls her “buddies”). I don’t think anyone knows how funny we are. It’s like this whole thing where people think we’re so cool and hippie and wear velvet, but we’re the nerdiest people.”

Lil’ Romeo/Master P

Master P (left) and Romeo Miller attend WE TV’s Growing Up Hip Hop premiere party at Haus on Dec. 10, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

Percy Romeo Miller III, better known as Lil’ Romeo, was always told he could do whatever he wanted to in life. And so, he tried. Lil’ Romeo captured the hearts of preteen girls across America when he entered the rap scene in 2001. From there, he went on to star in his own Nickelodeon show, and even gave his hoop dreams a chance at the University of Southern California. Now, Lil’ Romeo is spending his time following in the footsteps of his music mogul father Master P, who created his multimillion-dollar No Limit Records empire back in the early 1990s. The New Orleans native has never lost focus of what’s really important in life. Even early on in his career, Lil’ Romeo knew there was always one thing that would remain consistent: “My family,” Lil’ Romeo said during a 2003 interview with CBS. “Family always gonna be there. The material things, they come and go.” As far as Lil’ Romeo’s successful career at such a young age, Master P couldn’t believe it himself. “I never expected Romeo to grow up and be a big superstar entertainer,” Master P said. “I was just, like, ‘Man, this is my child. I want him to have better things than I had.’ ”

Jaden and Willow Smith/Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith

From left to right: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Willow Smith attend the UK film premiere of The Karate Kid at Odeon Leicester Square on July 15, 2010, in London. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

When actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith got married in 1997, no one knew two superfamous children would come of their union. Jaden and Willow Smith have both made a name for themselves. Jaden has become a young actor whose first movie debut was with his father in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness and he later starred in 2010 remake of The Karate Kid. His younger sister Willow is triple-threat singer, actor and dancer who caught the world by storm in her when she launched her music career in 2010 with Whip My Hair. The two shared their first cover together for Interview magazine’s September 2016 issue.

Willow said: “Growing up, all I saw was my parents trying to be the best people they could be, and people coming to them for wisdom, coming to them for guidance, and them not putting themselves on a pedestal, but literally being face-to-face with these people and saying, ‘I’m no better than you, but the fact that you’re coming to me to reach some sort of enlightenment or to shine a light on something, that makes me feel love and gratitude for you.’

Said Jaden: “My parents are definitely my biggest role models. And that’s where me and Willow both pull all of our inspiration from to change the world. It all comes from a concept of affecting the world in a positive way and leaving it better than it was than when we came.”

Stephen Curry/Dell Curry

Stephen Curry (left) of the Golden State Warriors poses for a portrait with his father, Dell Curry, with the Larry O’Brien trophy after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals on June 16, 2015, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Golden State Warrior star Stephen Curry grew up in the basketball world under the wings of his famous father, NBA guard Dell Curry. He learned not only the game of basketball from his father but the game of life. He uses his parents as an example of how to care for his young family. Curry’s 2015 MVP acceptance speech brought all the tears and tissue as he spoke about his father.

“I remember a lot of your career. And to be able to follow in your footsteps, it means a lot to me. This is special. I’m really proud of what you were able to do in your career, and I don’t take that for granted at all. A lot of people thought I had it easy with Pops playing in the NBA, but — I’ll get to that part at the end of the road — but it was an interesting journey, and just who you are, you made it OK for me to have family at my age when I started it, and to know that if you take care of your business, you’ll be all right. So thank you so much.”

John David Washington/Denzel Washington

From left to right: John David Washington, Pauletta Washington and Denzel Washington arrive at The Book Of Eli Los Angeles premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Jan. 11, 2010, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)

John David Washington took it as a compliment when people didn’t know he was the son of arguably one of the best black actors in Hollywood, Denzel Washington. John David Washington feared having to prove himself to masses while creating his own lane, but after gaining a following during his role as Ricky Jerret on the HBO hit series, Ballers, the trepidation over not measuring up to his father’s legacy subsided. “If I try to act like him or make movie choices like him, I’m going to fail,” John David Washington told Men’s Journal. “I love him. He’s one of my favorite actors of all time, but I can’t do that. Nobody can do that.”

Laila Ali/Muhammad Ali

Laila Ali (left) and former boxing champion Muhammad Ali during the Liberty Medal ceremony at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall on Sept. 13, 2012, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Bill McCay/WireImage)

When Laila Ali mourned the passing of her father, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died of septic shock last June, the world mourned along with her. After all, Laila Ali learned some of her best moves from her father’s cheat sheet although he wasn’t entirely the reason a career in boxing piqued her interest (she credits seeing women’s boxing for the first time on television as the main reason she became a fighter). Now, Laila Ali finds comfort in the small reminders that her father is still with her. “My son is a spitting image of my father when he was young and he has so many of his same similar characteristics and qualities,” Laila Ali told TODAY. “And he’s definitely going to live on through him. He’s learning more and more as he gets older how special papa actually was.”

Grant Hill/Calvin Hill

Grant Hill (left) and Calvin Hill attend the 29th Annual Great Sports Legends dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria on Sept. 29, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Manny Hernandez/WireImage)

Retired NBA standout and Duke-educated Grant Hill has sports in his blood. His famous Yale-educated father is retired NFL running back Calvin Hill, who spent 12 seasons in the league with the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns. Grant Hill found his talents in basketball and played in the NBA for almost two decades. In an excerpt written by Grant Hill for the book Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge by Etan Thomas with Nick Chiles, he talked about his love for his father.

“When I think about my dad, Calvin Hill, unconditional love and support are the first things that come to my mind. He has so much personal integrity in the way that he’s lived his life; he’s always been the perfect role model. From a genetic standpoint, in my mannerisms and things of that nature, I obviously got a lot from him. But now that I’m an adult with my own children, I’m getting even more from him: how to interact with my children, how to deal with adversity, how to be a role model myself. I now realize how fortunate and blessed I have been over the years to have him there.”

Barry Bonds/Bobby Bonds

Barry Bonds (center) and Bobby Bonds (right) during a ceremony honoring Barry Bonds’ 500th stolen base. (Photo by Jon Soohoo/Getty Images)

The late Bobby Lee Bonds was a speedy and powerful right fielder who spent most of his career with the San Francisco Giants. He became the second player to hit 300 career home runs and steal 300 bases along Willie Mays. So his son Barry followed in his footsteps. The left fielder spent his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants and received seven National League MVP awards and 14 All-Star selections. According to ESPN.com, in 2015 when Bonds was hired as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach, he credited his father for the things he taught him.

“It was something I had no intention of doing,” Bonds said of taking the Marlins job. “And then I started thinking about my dad and everything he taught me … I need to try this. I’ll never know if I like it unless I try. Baseball, that’s my thing, that’s who I am. With everything I’ve done as a hitter, I’m the best at that … So I kind of want to honor my dad for what he did. Honor my godfather [Mays] for what he did.”

Ken Griffey Jr./Ken Griffey Sr.

Ken Griffey Sr. (left) and Ken Griffey Jr. during the Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders at the Great American Ball Park on July 13, 2015, in Cincinnati.

On Aug. 31, 1990, Ken Griffey Sr. and his son Ken Griffey Jr. made history when they both played for the Seattle Mariners in a game against the Kansas City Royals. This father-son baseball combo was one of the toughest. At the time, Griffey Sr. was 40 years old. Griffey Sr. played right field on the Reds teams that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76. He was a three-time All-Star, and was named All-Star Game MVP in 1980. Griffey Jr. was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2016, where he talked about his father during his acceptance speech.

“To my dad, who taught me how to play this game, but more importantly he taught me how to be a man. How to work hard, how to look at yourself in the mirror each and every day, and not to worry about what other people are doing. See, baseball didn’t come easy for him. He was the 29th round pick and had to choose between football and baseball. And where he’s from in Donora, Pennsylvania, football is king. But I was born five months after his senior year and he made a decision to play baseball to provide for his family, because that’s what men do. And I love you for that.”

Ice Cube/O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Actors Ice Cube and O’Shea Jackson Jr. attend the All Def Movie Awards at Lure Nightclub on Feb. 24, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/WireImage)

If imitating your parent in front of millions seems stress-inducing, O’Shea Jackson Jr., son of rapper and actor Ice Cube, will tell you it’s every bit just as nerve-racking as it sounds. Luckily for Jackson Jr., who portrayed Ice Cube in the 2015 blockbuster Straight Outta Compton, his performance received rave reviews and struck up conversations about the similarities between the father and son. Although Jackson Jr.’s career is off the a great start, he said having his dad by his side and Ice Cube’s involvement in the movie made the process a lot smoother.

“Believe it or not, having my dad there on set calmed me down,” Jackson Jr. told NBC News. “It’s kind of like when you’re a kid and you’re doing the school plays and programs and you get that sense of relief when your parents walk in. There’s just this comfort in knowing that they’re there. My dad has been my coach my whole life, so it felt totally natural. When he’s there, I know I can’t get it wrong.”

Jim Brown has no time for games Fifty years after standing with Muhammad Ali, the aging warrior is still working on his legacy of responsibility and economic empowerment

Jim Brown forgot his cane. A piece of breakfast is stuck to the front of his shirt. He has let his beard grow out, woolly and gray. It’s 7:39 a.m. outside the Cleveland Browns headquarters, across the street from Ohio Nut & Bolt Co. A backhoe has torn up the parking lot. Time to get to work.

The 81-year-old legend retrieves his walking stick from a black SUV, flanked by his wife, Monique, and loyal soldiers Rudolph “Rock Head” Johnson, James Box and Rob Wood. Everyone wears black except for Rock Head, a former Original Compton Crip, who is dressed in blue. They unload two rolling suitcases, one old-school valise without wheels and a raggedy cardboard box. Navigating past chunks of broken pavement, they enter the offices of the once-proud franchise.

Brown will not impart much football wisdom to his former team on this muggy day in May. No rah-rah to rouse the athletes after last season’s 1-15 debacle. His purpose here is as far removed from football as Cleveland is from its last NFL championship, in 1964, when Brown led the league in rushing for the seventh time, with 5.2 yards per carry.

Independent, intelligent and sometimes angry, Brown walked away from football at the peak of his abilities, for a movie career and to preach a gospel of economic empowerment, self-reliance and social justice. His thinking on those latter subjects is contained inside the suitcases: dozens of 142-page manuals titled The Amer-I-Can Program — The Responsibility of Self-Determination.

These are the textbooks for a 60-hour self-help course. They contain the heart and soul of Brown’s life and legacy. They illustrate both the greatness of Brown’s gifts and, after a half-century, their inevitable decline.

Thousands of people on three continents have benefited from Amer-I-Can since Brown founded it in 1988, an outgrowth of his earlier work with the Negro Industrial and Economic Union. Lives have been changed, even saved. But the Amer-I-Can foundation’s revenues have plunged 80 percent in the past few years, and far fewer people are studying the manual. Prominent staffers have been convicted of crimes. The curriculum is unavailable online and out of step with younger activists’ focus on structural racism and social media. Brown is hoping an infusion of cash from President Donald Trump’s slashed domestic budget can revive the program.

Still, he plows forward, dragging Amer-I-Can manuals from city to city with the determination that used to gain him as many yards after contact as before it. He says the program is far more meaningful than anything he did in the NFL.

This trip to Cleveland also shows that Amer-I-Can is fading away, along with the greatest football player of all time.

“The common concern of the group is that each of us helps the other become a better person.” – Amer-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 2

“The youngsters now have to catch up and become more involved in making this a better world,” Brown tells me, referring to the Browns players and coaches, most of them in their 20s and 30s, who are gathered inside the auditorium-style team meeting room. An Amer-I-Can manual rests on each of the 126 chairs.

Brown, who is employed by the team as a senior adviser, steps to the front, clutching his cane with huge, gnarled hands. He wears a faded baseball cap, not the famous red, black and green kufi. You need to strain to hear his voice.

“Communities across the country need us to take more interest in what’s going on,” Brown says. He takes a moment to decry African-Americans killing each other. “But you are football players here this morning,” he continues, “so we’re gonna concentrate on giving you a philosophy that you might already have, but we’re also going to include community work in what we hope will be your motivation to be the greatest players you can be.”

The players give Brown their full attention. His football résumé demands it. In nine dominant NFL seasons, all with Cleveland, Brown never missed a game or practice. Playing the 1963 campaign with a broken big toe, he set a record of 1,863 rushing yards — in a 14-game season. He delivered so much punishment, many defenders feared tackling him. He still holds the career record of 104.3 rushing yards per game. He retired at age 29, coming off his fourth MVP season.

But one of Brown’s most significant accomplishments occurred two years after he left football. Fifty years ago, on June 4, 1967, Brown organized the Cleveland Summit, a gathering of star black athletes who came to quiz and ultimately support heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. The athletes Brown convened included Lew Alcindor, who would soon change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Celtics great Bill Russell; Carl Stokes, soon to be elected Cleveland’s mayor and the first African-American to lead a major U.S. city; and football stars who would become bankers, radio station owners and a U.S. ambassador.

A group of top African American athletes from different sporting disciplines gather to give support and hear the boxer Muhammad Ali give his reasons for rejecting the draft during the Vietnam War, at a meeting of the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, held in Cleveland, June 4, 1967. Seated in the front row, from left to right: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Standing behind them are: Carl Stokes, Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis mcClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter, and John Wooten.

Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

After meeting with Ali, the 12 men stood in front of the cameras in downtown Cleveland, a united front of negritude that altered the course of the war, the civil rights movement and the nature of athlete activism.

“Can you imagine LeBron, Serena, Durant, Tiger, Simone Biles, Mayweather and Odell Beckham Jr. meeting to discuss the role of black athletes in the age of Trump?” says Leonard Moore, a University of Texas history professor. “That’s how powerful and impactful this meeting was.”

That meeting took place a few miles from the current Browns team meeting room, where the session is now being led by Box and Rock Head. The two facilitators will review two of the 15 chapters in the Amer-I-Can manual, which cover topics ranging from motivation and focus to family relationships and emotional control, plus details on how to behave in job interviews, set financial goals and avoid drugs. At every step, the program insists there are no excuses for failure: “Individual responsibility and determination are key factors,” it says. “Your success ultimately rests with you.”

Box steps to the front. “I grew up here in Cleveland, I’m 55 years old. I’ll just cut to the chase, we all men here. I spent 9 1/2 years of my life in the penitentiary, used to sell dope, gangbang, rob, steal, all that craziness.”

He discusses the “conditioning” he received as a child with no father and a mother addicted to heroin. Box speaks smoothly, without notes. He’s been working with Amer-I-Can for 27 years. He passes the mic to Rock Head, another Amer-I-Can veteran, who tells his own story of a misguided life, of the attitude change and motivation needed to succeed. Both facilitators use language straight from the manual. Both refer to Brown as their father.

At first, it seems like the presentation has little relevance for a team of highly paid athletes who must have had plenty of motivation and focus just to reach this room.

Then Box reaches Page 5, which he calls “the most intimate part of the training program.” It’s a list of 231 “feeling words.” Box tells the players he’s going to provide a topic, and they should say how it makes them feel.

“Father,” Box says.

The players start to open up. “I didn’t have a father,” one says. “He was a good guy,” says another. “Role model.” “Leader.” “Protector.” “I didn’t know him.”

“My father wasn’t there for the early part of my life. God was my father,” says linebacker Demario Davis (who was recently traded to the New York Jets). “But I was able to forgive, and now we’re best friends.”

Brown tells the players he saw his father only four times in his life. He asks for all the players without a good relationship with their fathers to raise their hand. About a dozen of the 100-plus men respond.

“The main ingredient to a lot of the problems we have in these streets is based on the fact that a lot of these young men do not have a father,” Brown says. “You’re an elite group of individuals. If you work together with other like-minded individuals, we can make a dent, a great dent, in the violence in our community. There are young people who need our help.”

Afterward, I ask Brown why he brought Amer-I-Can to the team.

“I know I could help them,” Brown says.

But Brown also needs help from the team — to keep Amer-I-Can going.

“We alone are responsible for the degree of financial stability that we create; we must not depend on, blame, or hold others responsible for our lack of monetary security. ” – Amer-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 86

After giving the players a two-hour taste of Amer-I-Can, Brown and his crew met with Dee Haslam, who owns the team with her husband, Jimmy. Brown wants the team to take the full 60-hour curriculum and to help expand the program in the Cleveland community. Peter John-Baptiste, vice president of communications, said the team is trying to determine the best way to support Brown’s efforts.

In 2010, the nonprofit Amer-I-Can Foundation for Social Change had $1.15 million in revenue from grants, donations and contracts with local and state governments, according to public tax records. In 2014, the most recent year for which tax forms are available, the foundation had $182,489 in revenue — a drop of almost $1 million.

What happened? A decades-long contract worth six figures annually to teach the curriculum in Los Angeles County correctional facilities dried up. A major annual donor, shopping mall developer Mace Siegel, died in 2011. The former president of Amer-I-Can, Oregon State Police Lt. Col. Dean Renfrow, retired in 2011 and has yet to be replaced.

In Cleveland, the Amer-I-Can program lost support when Box was charged with inappropriate sexual contact with two women participating in a court-ordered program that he facilitated. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to attempted abduction, assault and unlawful restraint and was sentenced to three years of probation. In 2016, Cleveland Amer-I-Can staffer and former Browns receiver Reggie Rucker was sentenced to 21 months in prison for embezzling money from Amer-I-Can and other nonprofits.

The engine of Amer-I-Can has always been Brown. He raised a family of facilitators in cities across the country and improvised ways to fit his curriculum into existing endeavors at schools, prisons, community centers, even FBI training centers. Amer-I-Can’s only formal structure seems to be the curriculum itself. Dozens of Boxes and Rock Heads, from all walks of life, were drawn to Brown’s passion and empathy. His message of self-responsibility appealed to conservatives; his attacks on injustice excited liberals. Brown’s family and friends say he’s too proud to ask for money, but when the Hall of Famer showed up in a troubled city and talked up Amer-I-Can, rich folks found their checkbooks and politicians found room in their budgets.

From left, Pastor Darrell Scott, former professional football player Jim Brown and Omarosa Manigault arrive at Trump Tower, Dec. 13, 2016, in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high-level positions for the new administration.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

But the magic is wearing off. His fierce intelligence remains, but facts can slip and he is starting to forget things. He tells the Cleveland Browns that Amer-I-Can is 15 years old, instead of 29. He tells me that former President Barack Obama has never explained his feelings about his mixed racial background, which was the subject of Obama’s best-selling book, Dreams From My Father.

Rock Head used to be paid $6,000 per month as a facilitator. Now he’s driving an Uber and running a youth basketball foundation in California. Box’s salary has dried up too.

Most of Brown’s income comes from speaking engagements, memorabilia signings and his Cleveland Browns salary. Through Amer-I-Can, he and his wife paid themselves modest annual salaries of $18,000 to $50,000 from 2010-12. Brown’s salary was $120,000 in 2011, when revenues were $1.1 million. He was paid nothing in 2013, when revenues were $310,000, and nothing in 2014. Unless the Browns are paying, Brown often flies coach. On the trip for the team seminar, he stayed at the airport Sheraton.

Many members of the extended Amer-I-Can family told me there was money in Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget for the program. Brown voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but after the election he accepted an invitation to Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect. He hosted an Amer-I-Can fundraiser in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration.

But specifics are scarce on the Trump budget promise. Monique Brown says Amer-I-Can has “basically been approved,” but she won’t elaborate. Messages left with HUD and the House committee overseeing the budget were not returned.

When I ask Brown how he thinks Trump is doing as president, a flash of his famous fight emerges. “What kind of question is that?” he growls.

“Trump is the president sitting in the seat of power … so my way of looking at my contribution or our contribution is that we can’t ignore that seat and just call names of the person that’s sitting in it,” he says. “Calling names won’t do anything.”

It’s right there in the manual: Your success ultimately rests with you.

“If I analyze myself, what am I doing?” Brown continues. “Not what Donald Trump is doing, what am I doing to make this a better country?”

“Some people who are conditioned at childhood never break through the blanket of suppression in order to achieve their full potential.”– Amer-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 10

Swinton “Sweet Sue” Brown, a boxer, gambler and womanizer, left a few weeks after James Nathaniel Brown was born Feb. 17, 1936, on St. Simons Island in Georgia. Two years later, Theresa Brown left baby Jim with her mother and grandmother to work as a maid on Long Island, New York. Jim didn’t rejoin his mother until he was 8.

Sweet Sue lived down the street from Theresa with his new family. On the rare occasions that Sweet Sue visited, he argued bitterly with Theresa. “They would fight in one part of the room, and Jim would just sit there in another part of the room and not say a peep,” Ed Walsh, Brown’s high school football coach, said in Mike Freeman’s unauthorized biography of Brown.

After becoming a football star in the 1950s, Brown hit the sexual revolution and indulged to the fullest, including while he was married to his first wife, Sue, from 1958 to 1972. He appeared in his first film, Rio Conchos, in 1964, and became a movie star with 1967’s The Dirty Dozen. Brown filmed some of Hollywood’s earliest interracial love scenes. He bought a home in the Hollywood Hills above Sunset Boulevard, with a commanding view from his rear deck of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, where he still lives today.

Publicity still portrait of American actors Jim Brown and actress Raquel Welch in the western drama ‘100 Rifles’ (20th Century Fox), 1969.

John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images

In his 1989 autobiography, Out of Bounds, Brown devotes an 18-page chapter to his seduction methods, orgies he hosted at his home and his preference for petite women — the younger the better.

Near the end of Out of Bounds, Brown says he has “slapped women. … In a perfect world, I don’t think any man should slap anyone, and I don’t consider slapping people a sign of strength. In my case, it’s related to a weakness. If I’m dealing with someone, and they do something I feel is wrong, I’ll tell them that, and that I don’t like it. If they continue to provoke me, I’ll say, ‘Okay, you leave now, or leave me alone.’ That means we’re at an impasse, and I’m about to lose my temper. At that point, in that situation, I have slapped women, and put my hands on men. … I regret those times, I should have been more in control of myself.”

Authorities have accused Brown of violent acts seven times, five of them against women. Two accusations remained tattooed on his reputation.

One involves the model Eva Bohn-Chin, whom Brown met while filming The Dirty Dozen. In 1968, Bohn-Chin moved in with Brown when he also was dating Gloria Steinem. As Brown recounts in Out of Bounds, at home one night in L.A., “I slapped Eva and she slapped me back.”

Police found Bohn-Chin beneath the rear deck of Brown’s home. Authorities said Brown threw her over the railing. Brown maintains that after police arrived, Bohn-Chin jumped off the balcony trying to escape the situation.

Bohn-Chin gives a cryptic explanation in Spike Lee’s documentary Jim Brown: All-American. “He came toward me, and I found myself in the hospital the next day,” she said. “I was not able to jump. … I was a young, good-looking person who loved life. Why would I jump?” Brown was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, but charges were dropped after Bohn-Chin would not name Brown as her assailant.

The second incident came in 1999, when Monique Brown called 911 after her husband smashed the window of her unoccupied car with a shovel during an argument over whether he was having an affair. Brown was convicted of vandalism and served several months in jail rather than accept the sentence of counseling and community service.

By phone from Los Angeles, Monique Brown tells me that questions about domestic violence make her angry.

“The people that know Jim, obviously we’ve had our ups and downs like any other marriage, we’ve been together for 22 years, but more ups than downs. There’s no marriage of that length that hasn’t gone through things, but I’m far from abused.”

Jim and Monique met in 1995, when she was 21 and he was 59. Monique was a model making an appearance at a TV station in her native Buffalo, New York, that was interviewing Brown. The day after meeting Brown, she went to an Amer-I-Can meeting.

Monique Brown, now 43, majored in liberal arts at Denison University in Ohio. She speaks as passionately about Amer-I-Can as her husband does. They live in the Hollywood Hills home with their 15-year-old son, Aris; a 13-year-old daughter, Morgan; and two pit bulls adopted from a shelter. Brown has a mostly distant relationship with his three children with his first wife, as well as three children with three other women.

He’s no longer the same man who wanted to fight teammates over locker room debates or assaulted a golf partner over the placement of a ball. “He’s way more tolerant of differences and opinions,” Monique says. “He doesn’t have to have the last word or, things don’t always have to be a personal offense just because you disagree on certain things.”

Hall of Fame fullback Jim Brown poses with his wife Monique during the unveiling of his statue outside FirstEnergy Stadium prior to game the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns on September 18, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.

Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

“Having that purity in our hearts for what our purpose is that’s bigger than us has really been a unifying factor,” she says. “No matter what we’re upset at each other about, we’re still committed to what we’re doing. Like, yeah, you know what? You pissed me off, but that’s not gonna stop the work.”

As long as people are suffering, the work remains. The work will outlive Brown.

Will Amer-I-Can?

“It’s like understanding the secret of life that we’re all going to die,” Brown tells me. “Old age is a challenge, but when you’re fortunate enough to have your business in order, your family will be all right, you’ll leave something that can be built upon, and you go away.”

“I’m very happy because I think that my wife and the babies will be all right. I think my friends can build upon what we set up. I think the country can benefit, and consequently the world. When I say benefit, I’m not talking about changing the world or changing everything. I’m talking about just contributing to something positive.

“What age tells you is that it’s not complicated. It boils down to being the best person you can be and helping others wherever you can. What else can you do?”

“There is opportunity and room in the world for each one of us to make a contribution …” – Ameri-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 34

Brown’s contribution is real. He conquered a violent game, then used that strength to help people from some of the most troubled pockets of America.

Rock Head was a hardened criminal with years of prison under his belt when he led a caravan of 60 Compton Crips to Brown’s house in 1991 as part of a peacemaking effort. But when he saw news cameras, he left in disgust. Brown kept phoning him, but the gangster wouldn’t answer. Finally, Brown got him on the phone and asked, “Are you a man, or a b—-?”

Rock Head recalls grabbing his .357 and rushing to Brown’s house. Brown answered the door.

“What did you say?” Rock Head demanded.

“I said are you a man, or a b—-? Are you gonna shoot me, or come inside and deal straight up with your problems?”

They talked for five hours and have been together ever since. When Rock Head’s daughter was shot and killed, when Rock Head himself survived being shot 11 times at point-blank range, Brown talked him off the ledge.

“He is my father,” Rock Head says. “When people ask what I do, I tell them I work for my dad.”

Erica “Tati” Carey grew up gangbanging with the Mansfield Hustlers in West Los Angeles. She was introduced to Brown through her longtime boyfriend Ronald “Loon” Barron. Around 2002, they began taking the Amer-I-Can curriculum together in a gang intervention program. It changed their lives. Their graduation ceremony was held at Brown’s home.

“Loon used to kill, steal and destroy. He ended up being one of the most effective gang intervention facilitators in all of America,” Carey says. “I was with him for 10 years. The program 1 million percent did it.”

Barron was killed in 2010 by a 16-year-old he tried to stop from writing graffiti on a wall. Carey now is a skin care specialist with her own line of products and celebrity clients such as Floyd Mayweather. “Amer-I-Can changed the way I make decisions,” she says. “It can change the perception of one’s entire life. You can change. It explains very specifically how to make a change.”

Amer-I-Can changed East Hartford High School in Connecticut, where the dropout rate plunged 50 percent after principal Steven Edwards secured a $50,000 per year state grant to offer the curriculum in the late 1990s. “We spend so much time on content and high-stakes testing, essential skills just don’t get taught that are needed not just to thrive, but survive in life. Amer-I-Can filled that void,” says Edwards, who is now an education consultant.

The program also helped keep good kids on track. “It was a head start of guiding me,” says Roy Roundtree, an assistant football coach at Indiana State University, who experienced Amer-I-Can at his middle school in Canton, Ohio. “I could have been on the wrong path. Growing up in the ’hood, you have a lot of distractions. I learned a lot of core values.”

Memories of these victories push Brown forward. He wants to duplicate as many as possible, change a few more lives before he’s gone. He wants his wife and Amer-I-Can children like Rock Head and Box to keep his legacy alive.

“If it’s not set up right, it will [fail],” admits Rock Head. “I’m worried. We all worried. We want to show that although the engine of Amer-I-Can is Jim Brown, that he does have enough guys that he respects and loves enough to run this program. I’ve been with him since ’91, ’92, never went back to jail, no trouble, never accused of anything. I’m a true example of change.”

But there is only one Jim Brown. Without his celebrity presence, without him carrying Amer-I-Can into ghettos and owners’ suites, the manual is a nice collection of inspirational quotes and pragmatic advice.

One man can only do so much. Your success, after all, ultimately rests with you.

When the players have left the meeting room, I ask Brown whether Amer-I-Can is his greatest accomplishment.

“I don’t think that way. That’s almost like standing back looking at yourself,” he says.

He gestures at the empty room. “This is the Cleveland Browns, man. That guy used to be Rock Head Johnson. We’re sitting here with Rock Head Johnson giving the Cleveland Browns a lecture. This guy was incarcerated. So was this guy,” he says, pointing at Box.

“But they’re sitting here now in a National Football League team headquarters. That’s not bad.”