UVa grad Martese R. Johnson to incoming class: Get ready to encounter racism on campus ‘Quite often we emphasize to incoming students the virtues of our community, neglecting to share the bitter realities …’

Martese R. Johnson, a 2016 graduate of the University of Virginia, wrote this letter to incoming students as a commentary. He is the black UVa student who was injured while being arrested by Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control officers in March 2015.


Dear Class of 2021,

Welcome to the University of Virginia, and Wahoowa! In the past, when I’ve written letters to accepted students, I aimed to congratulate them and describe the high quality of education they would receive at our university. It was to foreshadow the inevitably frequent encounters students would have with diversity, change and growth on grounds. I would explain how UVa was going to provide each of them with the resources to become dynamic, engaged global citizens. I would boastfully describe our “Community of Trust,” accentuating what it means to champion honor and excellence. With these virtues in mind, I would assert that students should feel elated to become members of our achieved community, joining us in time to celebrate the university’s 200th year of existence.

I will not do any of those things in this letter. I would instead like to begin by apologizing to each and every one of you. I am sorry.

Halfway into my first semester at UVa, I was called a nigger in front of peers at a white fraternity party. It took two semesters to see that very same word written across our university’s popular Beta Bridge, accompanying cartoon graffiti of a creature with an obscenely large penis. Semesters later, I’d come to terms with the lamentable truth that, more often than not, the university would fail to live up to its prodigious advertising campaigns. The skewed nature of the beautiful student anecdotes that had been shared with me before matriculating had been revealed, representing merely the highs in a wildly tumultuous university climate. College would not be the perfect racial and cultural melting pot that could prove my elders wrong in their steadfast anxiety toward prolific racial intermingling. Instead, my experiences at the University of Virginia taught me exactly where their deep-rooted interracial anxiety had originated.

By the middle of my college career, I’d experienced enough ignorance, microaggressions and social cruelty to never be surprised by a negative racial encounter again. When reflecting, I feel grateful that I was afforded the time to gradually cope with these issues, rather than being forced to acknowledge the harsh degree of racism in my new community all at once. I apologized earlier because I know that you will not have the same transitional grace period — not even a minute of it.

Quite often, we emphasize to incoming students the virtues of our community, neglecting to share the bitter realities that oppose what may initially appear a picturesque collegiate experience. We do so in an effort to protect you, allowing you to ease into the many pains that accompany our community’s virtuous attributes. We failed you this time around.

Instead of a smooth transition, you were engulfed all at once by the radical hatred that exists and thrives within our community. You have not yet stepped foot on the University of Virginia’s Grounds, but you have already been exposed to the ability of our “Community of Trust” to breach our most cherished values and replace them with unabashed depravity.

It is less than a week before move-in, and I realize that many of you will walk onto Grounds feeling anxiety and apprehension. That will not change no matter how many words you read from impassioned UVa alumni who vow to stand behind you. I will not ask you to feel comfort despite a highly uncomfortable university environment, as I prefer to address realities with real solutions — and we both know that smiling in the face of an over-present injustice will not quell the fire. Smiling and pretending things are OK will only allow such a fire to grow, burning down the positive institutions that students like you have worked tirelessly to build.

Instead, I ask each of you to find comfort in the challenge — in the possibility of there being a different narrative for students who arrive at the university after you. Understand that when people feel threatened, facades will fade away and the world will consistently show its true colors. This is not a UVa phenomenon, it is a world phenomenon, and running away from this reality will be proven futile with each attempt. Instead, learn to address it.

Stand by your commitment to attend the university, and embrace the opportunity to make an impact now. Our community has faced a myriad of challenges in recent years, equipping us with the knowledge and skill set to approach these issues with productive coalition and solutions. We must remember that the Ku Klux Klan, alt-right and all other radical revolutionaries are mere spawns and remnants of larger institutions that have made it their business to discriminate against difference. Join us in this righteous opposition, learn from our mistakes and continue to grow the countercoalition that we’ve built ground-up. With strength in cohesiveness, we will dismantle obsolete institutions that work to oppress people for their innate traits and personal beliefs.

You have been accepted into a cohort of some of the world’s most powerful minds, tasked with challenging a stubborn world to change for the better. I cannot promise you a picture-perfect college experience — nobody can, because that simply does not exist. What I can promise you is an opportunity to genuinely contribute to the world being a better place. It is the responsibility of all of you — no matter race, nationality, or creed — to come together in addressing these issues during your time as a UVa student and beyond. Behind you will stand many who have, and continue to fight the very same enemy, including myself.

Do not be afraid. You were chosen because you are passionate, driven and quite capable. We are in this together, and we will win.

Warm regards,

Martese R. Johnson, University of Virginia, 2016

P.S. Sometimes the university really does live up to those flashy advertising campaigns. Our proud alumni network is proud for good reason. Reach out and let’s work (johnsonmartese@gmail.com).

The NFL has a Kaepernick problem that’s bigger than just Kaepernick now Thanks, in part, to current events, the question has switched from ‘Who will stand up with Kaepernick?’ to ‘Who could possibly stand against him?’

Last August, the story was about Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem, decrying racism and police brutality with a method that harkened back to the nonviolent protests of the civil rights era. The then-Niners quarterback asked at the time: “At what point do we do something about it? At what point do we take a stand as a people and say this isn’t right?”

This August, a rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee turned deadly when white nationalists, including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan — many dressed in combat gear, some carrying firearms, others torches — infested Charlottesville, Virginia, with their bigotry and violence, only to be confronted by large numbers of protesters who would not back down.

Sandwiched within that reality was an act of domestic terrorism — a car plowed into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others, some critically. Suddenly, the much-discussed racial divide in America was right there for everyone to see. And guess who’s looking more right — more righteous — than anyone could’ve ever imagined:

Mr. Kaepernick himself.

Why? Because Kaepernick’s lawful protest now stands in the context of David Duke telling the press, “We are determined to take our country back.” In the context of President Donald Trump’s not only refusing to directly condemn white nationalism but also creating a moral equivalency between them and the ones who came out to fight to keep America free for everyone. A stance Trump walked back only after extreme pressure and a tweet insulting the black CEO of Merck. Enough with the cries of “This is not our America.” This is our America. Maybe the connection between Kaepernick expressing his rights as an American to draw attention to his belief that black lives matter and the events in Charlottesville isn’t a straight line, but it’s not that crooked either. Who can now doubt that the racism that Kaepernick was protesting is real — and far more dangerous and deadly and visceral than previously believed?

That is why Kaepernick needs to get a job in the NFL. Not as a backup in the middle of the season when the quarterbacks start going down. Now. If the NFL thought giving him a job would prove a distraction or somehow damage its brand, it was wrong. Now it’s facing down the opposite problem. First, it was just Kaepernick’s voice needing to be silenced. Now it’s Beast Mode, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins, Richard Sherman, and the list will only grow. All of them using their megaphone to talk about the “blackballing” of the former 49ers quarterback.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=20340614

Kaepernick’s absence from NFL stirring a movement Stephen A. Smith hopes that the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend will open the eyes of NFL owners to what Colin Kaepernick stands for.

And now in one weekend, the question for many inside and outside the NFL quite literally has transitioned from “Who will stand up with Kaepernick?” to “Who could possibly stand against him?”

For now, though, let’s turn our attention just to NFL owners, who have the cash and the platform to provoke change — not TO mention also the power to give him a job. NFL owners not only have their players to contend with but, potentially, millions of football fans to answer to — many of whom never had a problem with Kaepernick exercising his constitutional right in the first place.

Owners want their pockets fattened. By folks watching and patronizing the NFL shield. Once upon a time, they thought they’d be able to LIMIT any damage by simply allowing Kaepernick to drift into unemployment, believing he couldn’t possibly affect their bottom line because he’d offended too many fans who just wanted him TO shut UP and play.

And while some may agree, others may disagree, I have no doubt that it was far easier for owners to give Kaepernick the proverbial finger and tell him to take his activism elsewhere last Friday than it is for them to tell him so now. No owner wants to be seen as being dismissive and detached from what’s going on in this country today. No owner wants to come across as indifferent to the current plight of minorities of all races, colors and creeds.

Charlottesville HAS made Kaepernick’s question — “At what point do we take a stand as a people and say this isn’t right?” — visible. Much like the wildly diverse protesters who came out to fight white nationalists, there are masses of widely diverse NFL fans who once dismissed Kaepernick as a distraction but can now see the bigger picture.

A woman died. Others are fighting for their lives. A 20-year-old has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and malicious wounding. The motive was racism. Bigotry. Anti-Semitism.

Last summer, Kaepernick said, “I want to bring attention to the racial oppression that exists in this country.”

If he was faulted before, he certainly can’t be blamed now.

Not by billionaire businessmen perpetually hesitant to say or do what is right.

Not with the specter of Charlottesville still infesting our collective consciousness.

Not when another Charlottesville is always on the horizon.

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

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

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

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

My great-grandmother, Juanita McCrowey.

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

Clemmie once drank from a whites-only water fountain.

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

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

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

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

My grandmother, circa 1934.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not including Tiger Woods on a list of the 50 Greatest Black Athletes is beyond an oversight — it’s an injustice Tiger, even more than being one of the most accomplished and decorated athletes who ever lived, is the greatest lightning rod sports has seen since a young Ali

Let’s get something straight: Any ranking of the greatest black athletes ever that doesn’t include Tiger Woods is not something I can get behind. This list, the result of public responses to surveys conducted by SurveyMonkey for The Undefeated, could be called “50 Great Athletes People Admire Most” or “Americans’ 50 Favorite Black Athletes.” But it ain’t a credible list of the greatest if it doesn’t include Tiger.

You can dislike Tiger and you can dislike golf, but if you fail to acknowledge his competitive brilliance, his dominance of the oldest sport on the planet, his impact culturally, athletically and economically, then you should recuse yourself from weighing in on an effort to rank the greatest black athletes. There’s no responsible definition of “great” in the context of sports that Tiger Woods doesn’t fit. Any conversation that isn’t driven by personal agenda couldn’t put him any lower than 10th.

Dumping on Tiger became a sport sometime around Thanksgiving 2009, and it hasn’t let up. Surely, some of the folks surveyed hold it against him because of his salacious infidelities, others because he called himself “Cablinasian” or whatever that was 20 years ago, others because he married a white woman, others because his body broke down and he couldn’t catch Jack Nicklaus, others because he didn’t play football or baseball but made more money than anybody who ever played either. Tiger, even more than being one of the most accomplished and decorated athletes who has ever lived, is the greatest lightning rod sports has seen since a young Ali.

But none of that speaks to the criteria. Eldrick Woods is (or was) otherworldly great, and he’s black (or as black as some other people on that list). If it’s easier for people to list, when asked, Gabby Douglas or Simone Biles, go right ahead. They’re great and black AND admirable, and there’s not one reason to object to either. But if you think either — or the great Herschel Walker, for that matter — has had 1/100th the impact of Tiger Woods the golfer, then you’re delusional.

I have five personal heroes who made the list, four of them childhood idols (Gale Sayers, Ernie Banks, Arthur Ashe and Walter Payton) and one who is to this very day one of my adult heroes, a man whose career I covered and whose life is exemplary (David Robinson). But I wouldn’t try to make the case that any one of those five was the best ever in the sport he played (well, maybe Payton) or created the drama week after week after week for more than a decade that Tiger did … or dramatically altered his sport the way Tiger did, or redefined what a participant in that sport can look like the way Tiger did.

I’d like to say that his résumé needs no review, but clearly (and sadly) from the results of this flawed exercise, it does. At age 20 he became the first man to win three consecutive U.S. amateur titles. Without having played a single tournament as a professional, he signed the most lucrative endorsement contracts in golf history (and if you think Nike pays hundreds of millions to nonathletes, go ahead and keep deluding yourself). He was the youngest to win the Masters, the fastest ever to ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings and, at 24, the youngest to win the career Grand Slam. You know how many people have twice been named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year? One. Tiger Woods. Not Jordan, not Ali — Tiger freakin’ Woods.

He held down the No. 1 ranking for 281 consecutive weeks, which is to say five-plus years. The Associated Press named him Male Athlete of the Year a record four times. Not Tom Brady, Tiger Woods. Golf, whether we’re talking prize money, TV ratings or weekend hacker participation, shot to the heavens when Tiger came aboard, and they’re sinking like a stone now that he’s gone. Nike, in the context of golf, was a startup company, and Tiger made it the worldwide leader in golf apparel. When he limped out of contention, Nike waved bye-bye to the business of making clubs and balls. Buick was so convinced that Tiger’s association with its cars spiked their sales, the company signed him to a $40 million endorsement deal.

You want to define Tiger Woods by competitive impact: Only Sarazen, Hogan, Player and Nicklaus have all won the four major championships that constitute the Grand Slam. And only Tiger has won all four consecutively.

You want to define Tiger by economic impact: Forbes says only Oprah Winfrey, among people of color, is richer. Golf Digest reported he made nearly $770 million and will soon pass $1 billion. You want cultural impact? Every time he tees it up, even the people who were too dumb to appreciate him from 1996 to 2007 are now begging for a comeback because they realize, as every business in the golf industry does, that Rory and Jordan and DJ and all the young guys put together can’t add up to half of Tiger Woods. He’s still the world’s most recognizable golfer, the world’s richest and most celebrated golfer. Bo Jackson, who made the list, spends most every day of every week of his second life trying to be like Tiger.

And while it’s difficult at best for most folks to muster up any admiration for Tiger these days, what the folks who participated in the survey collectively also fail to acknowledge is that Tiger conquered a sport that directed a whole lot of hostility his way. He wasn’t Jackie Robinson, but it wasn’t like he was walking into an NBA arena every night, especially his first two or three years on tour.

In the context of how we measure athletes, there’s no category in which Tiger Woods comes up short. He’s either the second greatest person to ever compete in his sport (to Nicklaus) or No. 1. The other people who qualify for that discussion in their respective sports (Jim Brown, Jordan, Magic, Bill Russell, Ali, Joe Louis, Serena Williams, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, LeBron) are all included.

Woods being left off is a glaring omission, one that undermines the intelligence and wisdom of thousands and thousands of survey respondents. Kobe Bryant being left off is a head-shaker — so is Mike Tyson — and Jack Johnson is nearly as egregious an error as Woods. The international search to find somebody to beat Johnson is the origin of the phrase “great white hope.” His July 4, 1910, victory over Jim Jeffries in the “Fight of the Century” ignited race riots in more than a dozen cities. No black (or white) athlete since has had that kind of cultural impact nationally. You can’t make the argument that Joe Frazier is greater than Jack Johnson. But I’m willing to believe you have to be nearly 60 years old to have any idea of how important Johnson was not just to blacks and athletes but to the United States early in the 20th century.

You can’t even tell the story of the black athlete in America without serious examination of Johnson. And you can’t carry the discussion into the 21st century, no matter how young you are, without including the incomparable achievements of a black man who, like Johnson, was a first: Tiger Woods.

‘Bachelorette’ finale recap: I’m reclaiming my time Bryan wins in the longest, wackest season finale

We have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok and flat-out deceived. Last night’s three (three!)-hour finale sold Bachelor Nation a fugacious dream. Led to believe that what we thought we knew was going to happen wasn’t going to happen, Bachelor Nation sat through three hours of season 13’s asinine new finale format only to have Bryan, the smarmy, oleaginous Miami sweet-talker, win Rachel’s heart anyway. Yeah, how’s that for SAT words?

So sure were we, we foolhardy loyalists, that a plot twist was around the corner, that speculation quickly turned to fantasy.

Was Eric, the king of emotional glow-ups and breakup beards, our beloved dark horse, going to win it all? NOPE. In a shocking twist, Rachel sends Eric home even though Peter told her he wasn’t ready to get down on one knee and that wasn’t likely to change anytime soon. Let me be clear: I wanted Peter to win. I mean, I knew Bryan was going to win from day one and I wanted Peter to prove me wrong. But when Rachel called out Peter’s name over Eric’s, I let out a noise so primeval I shocked myself and had to apologize to the neighbors.

Eric’s departure was followed by Peter’s. Poor, sweet Peter. Peter, who takes marriage the most seriously of all three men. Peter, whose breakup kiss with Rachel lasted five minutes and who cried when she left and who walked by her eyelashes for two days afterward because he didn’t have the heart to throw them away. How could Rachel just walk away from all that? And then to see Rachel light up on the couch next to him during the live commentary and then try to hide it by being rude because her man is watching — it was too much.

There is one hour left in this finale, and Bryan has won by default. But wait, Bachelorette producer Chris Harrison says, you might want to stick around — do you really think you know who wins? So Bachelor Nation sits tight for naught, although we don’t know it yet.

Let me rant for a second. Rachel, a single, successful black woman in her early 30s, fell into a trap that I see a lot of single, successful black women in their 30s fall into. Here is a good man, Peter. Matter of fact, here are two good men, Eric and Peter. Men with whom you connect on a deep emotional level, who are also attractive and charming but maybe aren’t quite ready to get down on one knee yet (in Peter’s case) or are so new to the love game you write him off (Eric). I know you want to do things the “right” way: engagement, marriage, house, babies, in that order. But come on, Rachel, it’s 2017. There is no right order anymore. Was a ring so important to you that you gave up on love? Because I don’t believe for a second Rachel and Bryan have the kind of strong emotional connection that lasting marriages are built on. But what do I know? I’m not single, I’m not in my 30s, and my “success” is questionable.

The final hour was a blur. A mindless blur. What happened? Doesn’t matter, because the winner was revealed long before the end of the show. That means you have official permission to zone out. Did I mention the asinine new format? Anyway, congrats, Rachel. You might not have gotten the man you wanted, but you got the ring. The gaudy, pear-cut halo pavé ring.

Whatever, fam. Maybe Cardi B will be the next Bachelorette.

Clinton Yates contributed to this report.

Pots & pans: From Sally Hemings to Jane Doe, ‘throwaway’ women demand their places in history and in court Accusations against Pete Rose show a view of women that is toxic

In the wake of allegations that decades ago Pete Rose had sex with an underage girl, this week’s planned celebration of Rose by the Philadelphia Phillies, his team from 1979 through 1983, has been shelved.

Thus, Rose becomes the latest male celebrity to have his past tainted and his future shrouded by allegations of sexual abuse. Rose was barred from participating in major league baseball because he gambled on the game while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the sex scandal puts another bolt on the door that stands between Rose and baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Of course, Rose, major league baseball’s all-time career hits leader, denies doing anything criminal. He says his accuser was 16, or that he thought she was 16, and at the age of consent in Ohio when the teenager and the then-married Cincinnati Reds star began their sexual relationship. I don’t seek to convict Rose of a crime. He deserves a full exploration of the events that prompted the allegations, just as does his accuser, who has been identified only as Jane Doe.

Whatever happens with the allegations against Rose, or Bill Cosby or any number of men accused of abusing women, the significance of privileged men being accused of abusing women can’t be denied.

For too long we’ve focused upon what sex scandals would mean to the accused men, their careers, reputations and legacies. But when we change our focus, we see that when men stand accused of abusing women it underscores grudging changes in our society. After all, powerful, prominent and popular men have always been able to sexually exploit and abuse women without fear of being held accountable for their actions: It’s not the abuse but the potential consequences that are new.

Indeed, from Sally Hemings to Jane Doe, our society continues to struggle with women maintaining sovereignty over their bodies.

For decades, Hemings was Thomas Jefferson’s slave and nothing more, at least outside her family. Family stories about her relationship with Jefferson, America’s third president, were just tall tales about one of the nation’s most towering figures.

But today, the family stands vindicated as academic inquiry and DNA evidence have built a consensus that Jefferson probably fathered Hemings’ children.

Now a woman seeks to hold Rose accountable for a relationship that began when she was a teenager and he was a married baseball star twice her age. A few months here and there could add up to the difference between Rose having done something criminal and exploitative in the 1970s and his doing something merely exploitative.

But no matter how old his teenage lover was, Rose behaved like a man who sought to use a young woman and then ball her up and throw her away. The inconvenient truth for Rose and for others of his generation and ilk is that there are no disposable women. Indeed, the notion of disposable women is toxic and unsustainable and must not be recycled.

Women will have sovereignty over their bodies. They will say yes or no, when and how, and with whom. And men who can’t understand or respect that could find themselves in a world of hurt, as they should.

As women assert sovereignty over their bodies and control of their futures, they will be met with opposition from the bedroom to the boardroom.

But if American society is to climb toward higher ground, women must walk beside men, and sometimes take the lead, just as the nation’s female athletes did during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Since its beginnings, America has been defined by white men. Its history has been framed and interpreted through what white men said or did, thought or imagined. But it is likely that 21st-century America will be significantly defined by the actions and decisions that women of all races make for themselves, the nation and the world.

One of the telling decisions modern American women have made is that they will not be defined by the tastes and whims of men. They will not be disposable. Instead, old notions about the value of women and the men who hold them will be.

Somewhere, a teenage Sally Hemings, with her life and body her own, says no to Thomas Jefferson, and, broom in hand, chases him away.

Rachel is the Bachelorette black women have been waiting to see In the hands of Rachel, the rose has become a rare sign of black female value

Past hurts can make you do strange things — including watching a TV show you know is absurd.

For 15 years, I turned up my nose at The Bachelor and its spin-off, The Bachelorette. When The Bachelor premiered on ABC in 2002, I was too busy raising school-age kids to be distracted by a show in which a bunch of single women cloistered themselves in a secluded mansion to compete for the hand — or other proffered body parts — of a man they’d just met. The show’s setup seemed unlikely to foster true love. I could see why the titular bachelor would enjoy a bevy of attractive females battling for his affection — offering roses to those he wanted to know better and showing the door to those he didn’t. But what sane woman would court such humiliation unless she was A) an aspiring entertainer for whom the exposure could be lucrative, or B) the type who’d do anything to have millions of eyes on her? And in a world in which romantic attraction routinely crosses color lines, the show’s overwhelmingly white cast seemed out of touch. Why bother?

The following year, ABC flipped the script, getting a gaggle of guys to vie for a Bachelorette. Though slightly more amused by the thought of a bunch of men undercutting each other to woo a woman they barely knew, I never considered watching it.

Until Rachel.

ABC’s announcement in February that it had selected its first black Bachelorette intrigued me in spite of myself. The pool of potential mates for Rachel Lindsay, 31 — a Dallas lawyer who’d been a popular contestant on the last Bachelor — would doubtless be diverse. How would Rachel, the sophisticated daughter of a district judge, negotiate the complex racial dynamics that permeate all of American life when they inevitably surfaced on the show? Would her awareness of the program’s black fans — who’d waited 33 seasons for the franchise to anoint an African-American lead and might understandably have expectations — complicate her choice? A member of the African-American Culture Committee while attending the University of Texas, Rachel — who resembles the Boomerang-era Robin Givens — was open-minded enough to have told white Bachelor Nick Viall she was falling in love with him before he sent her packing. This season, Rachel made it clear she wanted a fiance (“not … a boyfriend”) at the conclusion of her Bachelorette “journey,” and now reports that she is happily engaged to the man she chose from among three finalists in next Monday’s finale.

Although I’m a diehard Dancing with the Stars fan who loves watching klutzy celebs sweat their way to ballroom proficiency, I find most reality TV shows too anti-reality. Anyone who has recorded a smartphone video knows that pointing a camera at people compels them to change everything from their posture to their professed points of view. A dear friend who loves reality shows swears that “people’s veneers inevitably come off.” But how “real” can an engagement that results from such a show be? We’re talking about a relationship forged in a few brief dates with a man fending off dozens of competitors while everyone concerned is stumbling over camera crews and cut off from loved ones and social media.

It’s crazy, right? So why has Rachel’s Bachelorette stint so thoroughly pulled me in? Is it the fun of watching presumably smart people make fools of themselves? Memories of my own distant, wanna-meet-somebody days as a single black woman? Sure. But mostly, it’s been the irresistible weekly prospect of watching black, white, Latino and Asian men employ lying, manipulation, innuendo, self-pity — every trick in the reality TV playbook — to woo a black woman.

Why not? Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lupita and Serena may be desired by millions, but in the real dating world, being a black woman has its challenges. Sisters, who historically are more desirous than other females to date men of their own ethnicity, outnumber black men in most cities. Those willing to look beyond the black-man cohort aren’t always made to feel welcome. Despite the widespread debunking of an infamous Psychology Today blog in which an evolutionary biologist falsely suggested he had scientific evidence that black women are less attractive than other women, it’s easy for a black woman to question her worth in a culture that still glorifies European beauty.

Old wounds can go deep. As a little girl, I swooned over the romantic entreaties offered by men who pursued Disney princesses and rom-com heroines in my favorite movies. So what if none of these damsels with whom they found happily ever after resembled me? Yet, the fact that I was invisible in the love stories I adored may explain why the rapturous declarations offered by Rachel’s suitors feel oddly validating. Where else can you see dozens of attractive men rhapsodizing over a brown-skinned sister’s brilliance and beauty? Whenever Rachel has invited a competitor to join her on a coveted one-on-one date, the guys left behind gather to sigh about her sexiness and smarts all while subtly savaging the guy she’s with. It’s totally bogus. Yet part of me loves it.

I should be embarrassed to admit that. Grown women are supposed to at least pretend they’ve completely outgrown their vulnerable inner child — like mine, who felt barred from the culture’s narrow interpretation of who and what was worthy of love. Everyone wants to be seen. And even women who know they have far more to offer than their ever-changing outer packaging may find it hard to shake the old whispers that once diminished them. Like every child, the girl-I-was deserved to be valued for her all her innate beauty, including her hair’s complex texture, her nose’s roundness, her skin’s warm darkness. Part of me agrees with the male friend who calls The Bachelorette “the fakest thing I’ve ever seen.” But if Rachel being swooned over by men of every shade offers even a tiny corrective to black girls’ general feelings of invisibility, I can’t dismiss it. Pop culture is a festival of falseness. But it teaches kids — and more than a few adults — what to love (and hate) about themselves. The Bachelorette is silly and manipulative. But this season, it suggests to black fans of all ages a little-acknowledged truth: Sisters, too, deserve to be desired and cherished by every type of guy.

So I’ve played along. I rolled my eyes when roguish white suitor Lee — who relentlessly bedeviled Kenny, a black rival far too willing to take the bait — was “discovered” to have posted sexist and racist tweets. I was moved when Rachel told Dean — a sweet white Californian who whispered he was falling in love with her after their excruciating visit with his estranged father — she was falling for him, too. Shortly afterward, she gave him the boot. Not knowing what’s real or fabricated on The Bachelorette doesn’t change my last reason for watching: the possibility of witnessing a miracle. What if one of the 31 men who emerged from limousines to greet Rachel on the show’s premiere is actually her match? One who isn’t a self-promoting fraud, but a decent guy who signed on to this nutty show for fun, adventure or the what-the-hell possibility of finding true love?

The trio of remaining bachelors — one black, one Latino and one white (like THAT’S a coincidence!) — actually seem like such guys. Whichever takes a knee on Monday’s finale, I wish him, Rachel, and every sister who’ll sigh when he pops the question the happiest of ever afters …

Why the hot black bodies on ‘Insecure’ are more revolutionary than you think The sex looks like what humans actually do

We have to talk about the sex on Insecure.

The hit HBO comedy from creator and star Issa Rae has a lot to say about it — specifically, the sex between black people.

The bug-eyed reaction to Lawrence’s (Jay Ellis) sex scene at the end of season one wasn’t just because viewers identified with Lawrence’s emotional pain after Issa admitted to cheating on him. It’s because it looked familiar in a way that black sex on TV or in film rarely does. Lawrence’s revenge sex closely resembled the way people actually have sex.

For one, Lawrence is completely nude, and so is Tasha (Dominique Perry), the woman whose back he’s blowing out. Tasha’s the flirty teller from Lawrence’s credit union who’s had her eye on him since before he was single. They’re in an apartment that’s appropriate for her salary. It’s outfitted with dingy mini blinds and a metal bed frame that could easily be a thrift store find or a hand-me-down. Tasha’s at the edge of the bed, bent over, and Lawrence is pulling her hair. The sex is … vigorous.

“Watching those sex scenes makes me feel aroused and uncomfortable at the same time,” said Numa Perrier, who, as co-founder of the subscription-based network Black and Sexy TV, collaborated with Rae on some early web-based content ventures. Perrier is also the writer-director of Jezebel, a film based on her experiences experimenting with internet porn. She expects it to hit the 2018 festival circuit. “It’s uncomfortable because I feel like I’m peeking into a very private moment that I shouldn’t be watching, and I think that is what great art does.”

After seeing Chi-raq two years ago, I had a giggle-filled conversation about how the early sex scenes in the film felt real in a way they rarely do on screen. Chi-raq was devoid of actors covered in sheet forts, dragging their top sheets with them to the bathroom, or women sleeping in their bras and full makeup.

There’s not a lot of art that reflects how people actually have sex, period, and that’s even less true for black people. So Insecure joins a short list that’s otherwise occupied by film: Baby Boy, Chi-raq, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, A Good Day to be Black and Sexy, How to Tell You’re a Douchebag, Love and Basketball, Jason’s Lyric, Set It Off and Belly. (This is by no means a comprehensive list, so feel free to email me with others.)

“We’re telling the story of these women’s real lives and sex is a real aspect of being a 30-something-year-old woman … Instead of leaving that part out, we’d like to explore it and capture it in a unique way,” said Melina Matsoukas, an executive producer who frequently directs on the show. “What you find so unique about it is that it feels real.”

In Hollywood, who gets naked on screen often indicates something about the power dynamics of gender. So does who we see having sex, and the type of sex they’re having. It also says something about the power dynamics of race. And in Insecure, we get implicit commentary on all of it.

For starters, we see a lot of Ellis and that’s not by accident.

Courtesy of HBO

His, er, visual presence reminded me of an interview actor Tony Goldwyn, who plays President Fitzgerald Grant in Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal, did with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

In Hollywood, who gets naked on screen often indicates something about the power dynamics of gender.

“The rule, exactly as quoted to me, is, in Shondaland, the women can do whatever they want and the boys have to take off their clothes when Shonda [Rhimes] tells them to,” Goldwyn explained after Colbert held a still of a shirtless Goldwyn embracing a fully clothed Kerry Washington. It was noteworthy precisely because Rhimes’ rule is such an anomaly.

So it’s significant that the first bare butt to appear on Insecure was Ellis’. In 2012, Rae was tapped to develop a show for ABC with Rhimes called I Hate L.A. Dudes. The network ultimately passed on the show, but Rae’s time in the Shondaland incubator clearly had some influence on her. So did her tenure as an actor, collaborator and fan of Black & Sexy TV. Mix all that with the aesthetic of Matsoukas, and the show’s approach to sex starts to make sense.

“We just wanted to flip the script a little bit and there’s always an expectation that we just have to be like, t—–s and a– out,” Rae said at a Television Critics Association panel discussion about season one. “I think with this we had an opportunity with two female leads to be like, ‘There’s going to be a lot of sex in this show. Our guys are game, so let’s just have them bare all.’ And they did. They were great about it.”


There’s nothing inherently wrong or shameful about nudity. The actors and actresses who make the decision to disrobe are doing what their stories and characters require of them, and that’s also true on Insecure, where the women show just as much skin as the men do. But in television and film, the expectation to disrobe falls disproportionately to women.

Premium cable is notorious for encouraging nudity. That’s part of what you’re paying for: freedom from Federal Communications Commission censure to deploy F-bombs, bare chests and lots of sex. There’s an unspoken ethos of “If we can do it, then we should.” But there’s a difference in the way nudity is used for male and female actors. Seth MacFarlane’s number at the 2013 Oscars titled “We Saw Your Boobs” provoked intense reaction, but it was basically a song and dance celebrating how little power women have in Hollywood. Everyone loves to talk about Game of Thrones, but think about The Sopranos and its use of the barely clad women of the Bada Bing as wallpaper for whatever happened to be taking place in Tony’s life. Ballers uses women’s bodies in a similarly dismissive way, and New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum tore HBO a new one for perpetuating this practice in the first season of True Detective. In season three of the Starz comedy Survivor’s Remorse, a trip to a strip club featuring older women is played for laughs and disgust: How dare these women show us bodies that aren’t taut, hairless and wrinkle-free? For men, full frontal is generally reserved for comedy, and that’s true across television and film, from Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall to the hobo who exposes his junk in Girls Trip.

For men, full frontal is generally reserved for comedy.

“The way we usually capture sexual experiences on our show — we depend more on the male figure for nudity,” Matsoukas said. “It’s not something you normally see. It’s usually about the female body and capturing the male gaze, and we somewhat reverse that, I think, and like to focus on our very handsome male leads. We show the stuff that we find sexy, which is Jay’s [Ellis] butt half the time.”

Having female directors, Matsoukas said, engenders a special level of trust on the set when sex scenes are shot. Rae told her she feels “protected,” in part because the women on set are working to make sure Rae, or Perry, or Yvonne Orji, who plays Molly, feel comfortable. That’s also contributed to another anomaly in television: “We have a very diverse crew,” Matsoukas said. “We have a primarily female camera crew this season … I’ve literally never seen it.”

Layer on top of that the history of how black nudity, black sex and black romance have been depicted on screen. Images of black intimacy and sexuality faced censorship from the early days of the film industry, while films starring white actors were heavily marketed using romance.

Courtesy of HBO

The prevailing attitude in Hollywood was that black romance would be disgusting to white audiences, UCLA professor Ellen C. Scott told me. Scott, who specializes in media history, African-American cultural history, and the history of censorship and cultural studies, is the author of Cinema Civil Rights, which examines Hollywood’s foot-dragging on civil rights issues and the way it was manifest both within the industry and in the films it produced.

Scott said white Southerners worked with Hollywood self-regulation offices to ensure such images didn’t appear.

“Censorship of Black romance onscreen begins most clearly [in 1929] with Hallelujah — King Vidor’s film — where the Hollywood self-regulator Jason Joy feared that white audiences would be disgusted by two Black characters kissing,” Scott said in an email. “In early cinema — Black romance is treated as the subject of humor and stereotype rather than as a center.”

But this censorship wasn’t just about the absence of black intimacy on screen. It was also about the narratives that sprung up to fill those gaps.

“Often Black romantic relationships onscreen existed primarily by implication rather than any case in point — and were not, unlike white romances, tied to a marriage trajectory,” Scott said. “Often this marriage trajectory was abandoned or impossible because of the stereotypical assumption that Black men were always ‘good-for-nothings’ when it came to many things — hard work, keeping a job, and staying with a woman.”

While representation of black intimacy is arguably better now than it’s ever been, that’s not necessarily saying much.

“It looks better but not good enough,” Scott wrote. “In my opinion many of the so-called ‘black films’ that treat Black romance are still mired in the world of defined by Blaxploitation style sexuality.”


Recognizing that the physiques of its male stars are part of Insecure’s appeal, the show’s second season features liberal doses of Ellis’ toned back, shoulders, pectorals, triceps, biceps … I’m losing focus here.

On some level, that’s to be expected. Insecure is a show about sex and relationships, chiefly filmed by Matsoukas, who made her name directing music videos for Rihanna (“We Found Love,” “You Da One,” “Hard,” “S&M”), Lady Gaga (“Beautiful, Dirty, Rich,” “Just Dance”) and Beyoncé (“Diva,” “Formation,” “Pretty Hurts”).

Matsoukas is a pro at helping women sharpen and articulate their attitudes about on-screen sex. “Melina, as a director, comes from a very sensual place,” Perrier said. “With all of the work that she’s done in the music videos landscape, she was always kind of etching out what intimacy and sexiness looked like for black women.”

Courtesy of HBO

Her penchant for the sensual is especially evident in her work with Beyoncé. She’s the director behind “Suga Mama,” “Kitty Kat” and “Green Light,” all songs from B’Day. In the album, released in 2006 just before Beyoncé’s 25th birthday, the singer writhed in fetish heels and latex minidresses in “Green Light,” offered herself up as a gender-flipped benefactress in “Suga Mama” and spurned the attentions of a sometimey lover in the not-so-obliquely-named “Kitty Kat.” Similarly, Matsoukas helped Rihanna develop an answer to the media coverage of her assault at the hands of her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown in the 2010 video for “S&M.” The video depicted members of the press as identically dressed, ball-gagged automatons.

“I enjoy capturing sexual freedom visually … without being limited by what society feels and what that should mean,” Matsoukas said. “I don’t think it’s a demeaning act. I think it’s a very loving act and it’s very freeing and having control of your sexuality is something that I think is important for me as an artist and as a woman.”


Insecure occupies the Sunday night time slot formerly held by Sex and the City, another show praised for its depictions of the many ways women discuss sex and have it. It’s one of the few to entertain the possibility of a M-M-F (male-male-female) three-way, when the word almost automatically implies F-F-M.

We’re experiencing something similarly revelatory with Insecure. It’s just that these women are black, and there’s nowhere else on television that shows their lives in this way. Girlfriends and Living Single might have come the closest, but they were both network comedies, with their bundle of standards-and-practices-imposed restrictions.

Furthermore, Rae is just the third black woman to create and star in her own television comedy, after Wanda Sykes (Wanda at Large) and Whoopi Goldberg (Whoopi). When it comes to exploring this ground through the eyes of women of color, television is still in its infancy.

As for the sex in Insecure? “Things are going to jiggle and things should jiggle,” Perrier said. “I think we’re at a point now where we want to see a real representation of everything across the board.

“When it gets hot, it’s like an electric jolt. And we need that.”

Locker Room Talk: What kind of black man will O.J. Simpson be now? Chris Darden, a prosecutor in the ’95 murder trial, says money and fame got him off again

What type of black man will O.J. Simpson be when he gets out of prison?

Simpson was convicted in 2008 of kidnapping, armed robbery and other charges related to a botched sports memorabilia holdup in a Las Vegas hotel room. On Thursday in Nevada, a parole board granted Simpson’s request for parole.

So now what? At age 70 and presumably in the fourth quarter of his life, what role will Simpson play? What kind of black man will he choose to be?

When the decision was announced Thursday, I was in a Manhattan television studio with Christopher Darden, the former prosecutor who was part of the team that prosecuted Simpson in the double murder trial of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1995. Darden listened intently to Simpson’s testimony before the parole board.

When the board gave its unanimous decision, Darden said he was not disappointed but not surprised.

“I think he is more than a subtle reminder of how money and fame provide him and people like him a different standard of justice,” Darden said.

I asked Darden what he would like to see Simpson do, going forward.

“I don’t know that there is anything positive he can do or contribute,” Darden said. “He beat the murders. You would have hoped that would have changed him, that he would have been a changed man, that he would have appreciated his freedom more, that he would have invested in becoming a more positive public figure. He didn’t.”

Simpson was acquitted of murder charges but was found liable in a wrongful death civil lawsuit.

What kind of black man will O.J. Simpson be now that he has been granted his freedom after serving nearly nine years?

I’ve asked variations of this question of Simpson for more than 40 years, going back to the fall of 1975 when we first met.

I was on assignment then for Ebony magazine, which I had joined a year earlier as an associate editor. My assignment was to spend a week in Buffalo, New York, with O.J., who at the time was completing his seventh season with the Bills. Despite the passage of time, a couple of scenes and conversations stand out.

I remember playing the card game bid whist on Simpson’s living room floor and talking a lot of trash. Don’t ask me why that stands out, but it does. Perhaps because playing whist has always been one of those superficial but real measures of blackness. Given the debates surrounding the depths of Simpson’s blackness, that was revealing.

What also stands out — and this is particularly relevant to the arc of Simpson’s life — were our conversations around the politics of change and transition. I was two years into my career with Ebony; Simpson was winding down his pro football career and was transitioning into acting. Two years after the story was published, Simpson was traded to San Francisco, where he ended his Hall of Fame career.

Other than Muhammad Ali, Simpson was the most prominent athlete of his era, certainly among black athletes. He was the clean-cut, clean-shaven star who married his high school sweetheart, with whom he had three children. Four years after our interview, the youngest child drowned at the family’s Los Angeles home while Simpson was in Buffalo.

The Simpsons divorced that same year.

During our conversation in 1975, Simpson stressed repeatedly that he would not be boxed in by his so-called image. “Whatever image I have is based on the way I see things and the way I live, and I don’t want anybody to all of a sudden try to stop my personal growth and confine me to some special niche.”

During the same conversation, Simpson said he would not be boxed in by racism, he would not allow being a black man in America to determine the neighborhood in which he lived or the acting roles he pursued.

“I want to be a good actor in all areas,” he said at the time, “not just a good black Super Fly.” Simpson said his Super Fly comment was not a swipe at Ron O’Neil, the star of the iconic movie, part of a genre of so-called blaxploitation films. “Don’t get me wrong, Ryan O’Neal is a good actor, but he’s been limited by his parts.”

In 1975, Simpson was already running through airports, wearing designer sunglasses. He still has options. How he uses those options will be critical to how he is perceived in the court of public opinion.

The buzz surrounding Thursday’s parole hearing extended the fascination with Simpson’s life that has existed for decades. The public was riveted by the Bronco chase. The fascination with Simpson’s life led filmmaker Ezra Edelman to do a riveting five-part Academy Award-winning documentary for ESPN, O.J.: Made in America.

In 1995, Simpson was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in what became known as the “trial of the century.”

On Thursday, Simpson’s attorney conceded that his client continues to be a polarizing figure.

In the court of public opinion, O.J. Simpson may forever be guilty. But on Thursday, Simpson was made a free man, effective Oct. 1.

“I’d like to see him pay on that judgment,” Darden said, referring to the civil suit. “I’d like some real contrition an apology, something to give comfort to the victims. Then I’d like to see him go on with his life, be with his family and just be quiet.”

Mostly, Darden said, he wants to put the O.J. saga behind him.

“I’m ready to go sit down and shut up about the whole dammed thing if he will,” Darden said, referring to Simpson. “I mean that, sincerely. I’m trying not to dwell in the past. I’m concerned about what my future is going to be and how I’m going to live. That’s all that matters to me right now.”

And I’m eager to read this next chapter of the O.J. Simpson story.

Now that a Nevada parole board has set Simpson free, I wonder, what kind of black man O.J. will be?

O.J. Simpson is going free. If only he would go away A diminished Juice brings back all the stains that can’t be scrubbed clean

After O.J. Simpson’s hearing before the Nevada Board of Parole Thursday, these were the options: He could go back to jail or he could go free.

Now that he has been granted parole, making him eligible for release in October, what we really need is for Simpson to go away.

Simpson, 70, is serving a nine- to 33-year sentence for a botched 2007 armed robbery to recover sports memorabilia from a Las Vegas hotel room. For many Americans, who believe he got away with murder in the 1995 “trial of the century,” where Simpson was acquitted of killing ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman, it was a proxy sentence. A little cold, off-camera respite from the contradictions of race, class and celebrity that the Simpson ordeal exposed and the convulsions it caused.

I was a new reporter during Simpson’s first trial, one of dozens who fanned out across Washington, D.C., to get reaction after the verdict was read. I talked to one high school football player who said, “Now O.J. needs to stay black, for real,” and advised him not to “mess with no more white people.” None of that happened.

The spectacle of the Simpson murder trial faded, but for more than a decade, O.J. kept showing up. He gave interviews, showed off new girlfriends, tried to climb back into the grace of his Hall of Fame life. He struggled to reclaim that beloved pitchman swagger and the lifetime of cheers, forever disbelieving he had lost all that good white American love he’d been on the receiving end of since his days as a standout running back at USC. He thought he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose voters. But prison time took him out of circulation, and granted the rest of us a reprieve from grappling with whatever it was we were sure he stood for, or just from arguing with older relatives at the family barbecue who all wanted to share their theory of the case.

Watching the parole board hearing brought back a sampling of the attendant Simpson drama: the cast of courtroom characters, the endless cable analysis, but most of all, Simpson himself. He is a man much diminished, which makes him more painful to watch than I remember.

He has represented all these plate tectonics in the world: excess, hyperbole, sensationalism, lurid headlines. Murder and domestic violence. He’s a reminder of the sanction of poverty and the triumph of celebrity. He’s the subject of TV series and award-winning documentaries and even so, it appears there is more to unpack and I don’t want to. We’ve already been waterboarded by all of that.

This was Simpson in micro. I looked at this old man who was still trying to conjure some of his old charm, but kept catching himself, realizing he doesn’t have the same currency, the same “Here comes the Juice!” ways. But he was using what he had left to make itty-bitty points that are important to his life but don’t stand for anything else — his classes in computer application to communicate with his grown kids, and shortcomings around regularly attending church services. He used to be this icon, running through airports in a white America that would never want to shoot him, and now he was partially relitigating his case at a parole hearing, talking about a gun he didn’t see but felt bad about anyway.

Simpson says he’s been a model prisoner and that a class about alternatives to violence has helped him, but mostly, he’s “lived a conflict-free life.” And we think about the photos of his second wife from his first trial, from when she was alive, and just beaten up, and we need him to stop talking now.

Arnelle Simpson, the oldest of Simpson’s four children, spoke on his behalf. “No one knows how much we’ve been through, this ordeal in the last nine years,” she said. She teared up and paused. “He’s my best friend and my rock.”

Simpson’s friend Bruce Fromong, a victim of the Las Vegas robbery who’s since reconciled with Simpson, spoke on Simpson’s behalf as well. “We all make mistakes,” he said, “and O.J. has made his.” Simpson was just trying to retrieve his personal effects, family photos, including pictures of his wife, Fromong said. “His first wife,” he hurriedly corrected, and we want him to stop talking as well. It’s a sad life and here’s this broken family and we want it all to disappear, because the only thing O.J. leaves us with is our wincing.

In the end, Simpson’s release came down to a parole procedural — an adding and subtracting of small factors that made him eligible to be released. Then we were left with analysis and replays. Simpson expressions on loop.

Simpson walked out of the hearing, and soon will walk into the wider world, but we’re still stuck in his spectacle. It’s spectacle we return to because it’s without resolution. A spectacle of racism, violence, wealth and uneven justice — all our founding stains. Simpson gets us scrubbing at the edges. But the stains remain, even if, magically, mercifully, we could make Simpson somehow disappear.