Explaining Beyoncé’s public performance of pregnancy and motherhood Reclaiming a positive image for black women amid a history of degradation and slander

They’re here!

Finally, really and truly here — according to news reports.

By “they,” of course, we mean Beyoncé and Jay Z’s twins.

For months, we’ve been lapping up whatever dribbles of details we could find about Queen Bey and her pregnancy, dining on a steady diet of Instagram posts and public appearances as her belly kept growing with two more heirs to the Knowles-Carter empire. And true to form, Beyoncé took the opportunity to give us a spectacle laden with meaning.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Beyoncé’s decisions about how her pregnant body would be publicly displayed was her understanding that no one can define themselves by a series of negatives. Black womanhood and black motherhood are always performed in minute-by-minute assertions, and that doesn’t become any less true if you are married, or wealthy, or well-educated. Just ask Michelle Obama.

It’s not enough to say “We’re not welfare queens or breeding wenches or “subfeminine,’ ” to use Eldridge Cleaver’s word. Telling society what you are not is not the same as defining what you are, as evidenced by the efforts of black clubwomen in the early 20th century. Thanks to, as Mary Church Terrell wrote, “false accusations and malicious slanders circulated against them constantly, both by the press and by the direct descendants of those who in years past were responsible for the moral degradation of their female slaves,” black women learned to present themselves as largely asexual to counter prevailing images of themselves as wanton Jezebels. It’s a legacy that’s continued to affect how we see black women, into the 21st century, as we’ve learned that sexual respectability politicking is just as confining as stereotypes that defined black women as irredeemably lustful.

Rather than be pigeonholed, Beyoncé used her second pregnancy to position herself, and by extension black womanhood at large, as the center of life.


Of course it was all connected.

It turned out that the Feb. 1 Instagram announcement of twins and the library of maternity photos released on her website were a harbinger of what was to come at the Grammys less than two weeks later. A club flyer, if you will.

With her last two albums, it’s clear Beyoncé has become wedded to the idea of letting her work communicate in the aggregate. The whole speaks louder, more concretely, and more decisively than any one individual element. That doesn’t apply just to her music, or the music videos (Beyoncé) or cinematic offerings (Lemonade) paired with it. Beyoncé boasts an unparalleled skill in stretching her artistic statements into multipronged events, taking full advantage of the internet, her performances and even step-and-repeat photo ops to present a consistent narrative.

“I think she was giving us a different vision of what black children’s futures could be.”

Her Grammys performance was a continuation of what Beyoncé was already aiming to communicate with her pregnancy announcement, through a series of photographs that had been art-directed and contemplated quite deeply. Looking back, it now seems like the most visible chapter in a highly curated story: how Beyoncé was not only embracing pregnancy and motherhood, but providing new fodder for what it means.

While some rightfully detected traces of Peter Paul Rubens’ many works depicting the Madonna and child in Beyoncé’s explosion of florals, the kitschy, Sears portrait gallery nature of the photographs referenced something else: the provocative, radical appropriating element of a Kehinde Wiley portrait.

Wiley is known for painting black people in a style that references the old masters, elevating ordinary modern black people to the status of nobility by immortalizing them in the same mythmaking environs as lionized white historical figures. With her maternity photos, and at the Grammys, Beyoncé elected to do the same.

At first glance, Beyoncé’s decision to channel Wiley seemed incongruous. She’s not ordinary at all. This is a woman who is known not just as a mononym but as Queen Bey, and for a time King Bey.

Why install yourself like the subjects Wiley recruits off the street when you’re a woman with the power to turn a man into a “black Bill Gates”? Quite simply, Beyoncé was tapping into a pop cultural black populism. She took the subtext of Lemonade and made it plain with the speech she gave upon accepting the Grammy for best urban contemporary album. In it, she aligned herself with and understood herself to be a stand-in for all black women, especially American black women.

“We all experience pain and loss, and often we become inaudible,” she said. “My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history. To confront issues that make us uncomfortable. … This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”

Instagram Photo

Instagram Photo

This might have been surprising if you only paid glancing attention to Lemonade, and took it as Beyoncé giving a public middle finger to her husband for cheating on her with Becky with the good hair. But the gossip was a lure for a deeper message.

Remember, the Lemonade film included the Mothers of the Movement: Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr and Lezley McSpadden, better known as the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, respectively. And so, on the night when Beyoncé was recognized for her work, her decision to depict herself as the madonna, as a multitudinous, many-armed deity, and as the orisha Oshun, was a decision to offer herself as a vessel for black women’s self-love. It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—- is a Star.”

Three years ago, Beyoncé opened the Grammys with a steamy performance of “Drunk in Love.” Seated on a French cafe chair, she writhed and vamped in fishnets and a black sheer leotard, exulting in the bliss of hot marital sexytimes, eventually joined by her husband. A British newspaper, Metro UK, responded with a headline spitting fire and judgment: “ ‘Whore’ Beyoncé angers parents with raunchy act.”

For Beyoncé to then align herself, and by proxy, black women as a whole, with the iconography of the madonna was significant. When you consider that she did so after releasing a self-titled visual album that was a frank celebration of sex, it’s explosive. Even on Beyoncé, released in 2013, the singer was toying with imagery of the Pietà, casting herself as Mary and a black man as the fallen Christ in the video for “Mine.”

Beyonce portraying “Mary” in the “Mine” video


As with just about everything she does publicly, Beyoncé takes basic ideas and remixes them to great effect to suit her own needs. So of course she did it with a public pregnancy, too. Beyoncé’s pregnancy was political because black women’s bodies are laden with politics, whether we want them to be or not. Such is the burden of history.

Government has long sought to define and characterize black motherhood for its own ends. There are the “greatest hits” we all know and detest, such as legally defining black women as unrapeable in service of a “capitalized womb,” or determining that babies born to enslaved women inherited the status of free or enslaved from their mothers. There’s the Moynihan report’s prescription that black women’s achievement needed to be impeded in service to black men, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s use of the mythical welfare queen as a scapegoat, and even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s attempt to characterize the Affordable Care Act, with its provisions for free birth control and well woman exams, as a governmental “Uncle Sugar” enabling the actions of wanton, morally bankrupt women.

But attacks on black motherhood have also manifested in the form of attacks on their children, something that was visceral in Beyoncé’s inclusion of the Mothers of the Movement in Lemonade. Beyoncé communicated that there was no space between herself and these women. She is the mother of a black child, subject to the same dangers resulting from white fear and white supremacy. There’s no daylight between Beyoncé and, more recently, Diamond Reynolds, the woman whose partner, Philando Castile, was shot to death by a police officer during a traffic stop, in front of her young daughter, who was seated in the back of the car.

It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—– is a Star.

But while Lemonade, with its opening salvo of “Formation,” references modern attacks on black children and black motherhood, the fear black mothers harbor runs deeper than the past few years. It spans generations. Perhaps no such attack drives that point home like the gruesome 1918 lynching of Mary Turner and her unborn child in Brooks County, Georgia.

After a black man shot and killed a white plantation owner, a lynch mob murdered Turner’s husband as part of a rampage of terrorism and revenge. Turner, 21 years old and eight months pregnant, had the temerity to protest. Upon learning that Turner intended to seek legal recourse for her husband’s murder, the mob came for her.

According to The Mary Turner Project, a Georgia educational collective dedicated to preserving her memory, “ … at Folsom’s Bridge the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob. Her body was then riddled with gunfire from the mob. Later that night she and her baby were buried ten feet away from where they were murdered. The makeshift grave was marked with only a ‘whiskey bottle’ with a ‘cigar’ stuffed in its neck.”

Simply terrorizing Turner was not enough. It wasn’t just that her husband was considered a threat — so was she, and the black child she surely would have imbued with a sense of justice and liberty had they lived.

Lemonade is partly about defiance and resilience. And arguably, there’s no greater show of defiance than making the decision to bring a black child into this world and shower it with love and pride and joy, knowing the hostility that awaits her or him.

The legacy of our society’s anxiety toward black female bodies are evident in the work of Beyoncé’s artistic predecessors. After Beyoncé’s Grammy performance, Vanessa Williams tweeted, “They never showed my pregnant belly when I sang my nominated “Save the Best for Last” — Oh how times have changed! Kudos Beyoncé!” The vision of a conservatively clothed, pregnant Williams was apparently too controversial for the Grammys in 1993, two years after Demi Moore appeared nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair.

In her 2003 memoir Chaka! Through the Fire, Khan revealed the angst of male record company executives who worried that her sex appeal would vanish because of a C-section scar cutting its way across her belly.

So what is there to do? How do you find a way to be celebratory instead of huddling in fear? Khan responded by continuing to perform in her trademark itty-bitty stagewear, exposed scar and all. If you’re Beyoncé, you bring the house down at the Grammys. If you’re Erykah Badu, you start ushering in black life.

While there are few public images of Badu pregnant with her children, Seven, Mars or Puma, she appeared in the September 2011 issue of People in a photograph that accompanied a story detailing her work as a doula — a service she provides for free to pregnant mothers, subsidized by her financial success as singer.

Badu appeared with her hair parted in the center. It flows in waves down her shoulders and over her breasts. She’s dressed in a loose-fitting white caftan, accessorized with a long, gold beaded necklace and rings of various sizes on both hands. In her arms, she’s cradling a nude black baby, Marley Jae Taylor, then 2 weeks old, whom she delivered. She’s standing in the middle of a Dallas field, surrounded by tall grass that appears to have parted for her. She called herself the “welcoming committee.”


The Grammys may have been the high point for audience numbers — it was more accessible on network television than Lemonade was on HBO — but Beyoncé’s pregnancy messaging apparatus continued to churn with her public appearances with daughter Blue Ivy and Jay Z at NBA games, when she and Blue Ivy showed up to the premiere of Beauty and the Beast or celebrated Mother’s Day dressed in the high-fashion equivalent of Mommy-and-Me togs.

Instagram Photo

All those images of black fertility and black motherhood rippled across the internet to reinforce the ideas first introduced with Lemonade — and then were reintroduced at the Grammys when Beyoncé deliberately lingered on a line from poet Warsan Shire about the “hips” that “crack” from giving birth.

Even the pink tuxedo Blue Ivy wore communicated a vision of black girl power. When her mother wants to convey messages about female power, she tends to revisit variations on menswear. She did it in the stagewear for her performance of “Love on Top” announcing her first pregnancy. It’s an element in the music videos for “Suga Mama,” “Upgrade You,” and “Haunted,” all of which feature Beyoncé playing with the idea of gender roles.

Blue Ivy Carter and Jay Z during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

At the Grammys, Beyoncé, who endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president with a performance in which she and all of her backup dancers wore pantsuits, seemed to echo the most memorable notes of Clinton’s postelection concession speech: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” Clinton told the little girls of America on Nov. 9.

As she delivered an acceptance and concession speech of her own (if you choose to believe, as I do, that Beyoncé knew before the Grammys that she wouldn’t win Album of the Year), the singer had a similar message.

“It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror — first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable,” she said, again becoming a megaphone for the desires of all black mothers.

Muhammad Ali helped this 7-year-old be proud to live as a Muslim in America His story taught me that patriotism can be not just obedience, but resistance

Muhammad Ali began boxing at the age of 12 because something was taken from him. Perhaps embarking on a career in boxing was an overzealous response to the theft of his red Schwinn bike, but in hindsight, the seemingly quotidian burglary might have been as consequential to history as the abduction of Helen from Troy.

Even as he began compiling accolades, including a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, he was again stripped — this time of his dignity — when he was refused service at a diner in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

Then, as he surmounted the pinnacle of the sporting world as heavyweight champion, he again had something taken from him. This time, it was his career. Banned from boxing because he thought the war in Vietnam was unjust, he remained undeterred. He was aware he came from a lineage of people who would not deny themselves what they rightfully earned, even if the society at large continued to withhold what was due to them.

His patience was rewarded. Eventually, he not only regained his rightful place as heavyweight champ, he ascended to an even loftier throne: the universally recognized greatest of all time. And yet again, he had something taken from him. This time, Parkinson’s disease stole the motor and speech skills that had made him the most magnetic and celebrated personality on earth.

Yet, his spirit endured. His commitment to the cause of his people never faltered. He did what he had always done when something was taken from him. He gave more of himself.

This was the Ali I was introduced to as a boy through worn-out paperback books in my elementary school library. Before Islam was conflated with a menacing brand of terrorism, it was largely invisible, except for the larger-than-life Ali.

My 7-year-old brain puzzled over the question. How can a man so undeniably and unapologetically Muslim be so synonymous with excellence in America? I was at that point resigned to an idea of a life much like Apu in The Simpsons, comfortable in a supporting role providing comic relief so long as I could avoid greater scrutiny and alienation.

It was strange for me to come across such a man. I felt being a Muslim was about as unusual to my classmates in Germantown, Wisconsin, as being an alien from Saturn. In fact, it was more unusual because I actually told my classmates I was an alien from Saturn rather than reveal to them my true heritage.

But there he was, even in the early 1990s, the most recognizable and widely celebrated athlete in the world — no easy feat in the midst of Michael Jordan’s championship run.

And his name, Muhammad Ali.

His story taught me and millions more that patriotism is not merely a metric of obedience but also resistance. That infamy earned by a commitment to human rights could transform over time to universal praise and effusive love. That we are not the sum of the slurs society may project on us, but rather the way we refer to ourselves.

He never hesitated to call himself The Greatest, and so he was.

And for that, we are greater.

“Surely we belong to God and to him we shall return.” The Quran (2:156)

Daily Dose: 6/2/17 Charles Oakley is not letting the Knicks off the hook

Friday is National Doughnut Day. Personally, I’m a guy who likes plain ones, aka old-fashioned doughnut. Not very exciting.

So, Thursday was a doozy. The president of the United States publicly declared war on science, without actually doing so. By pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, he’s basically said that this country doesn’t need the world for anything and he’s not afraid to test that theory, even when it comes to the health of the globe. Now his aides are scrambling to defend that decision, and it’s getting awkward. No one wants to say out loud that Trump thinks climate change is a hoax, including Kellyanne Conway.

It appears things are improving in Chicago. Which is a good thing for the city and also for all the people who like to cite the Windy City every time some situation comes up in which we need to address police violence. “What about black-on-black crime in Chicago?” is the constant refrain. Well, while the numbers are still unacceptably high for homicides and shootings, they are going down in 2017. But speaking of heinous crimes, this also happened recently in Chicago, which is terrifying.

Wonder Woman comes out Friday, but I’m already a fan. Mainly because a theater in Texas decided to hold a woman-only screening of the film and dudes across the nation flipped out because they just couldn’t bear the thought of being denied something based on their gender. The irony is obvious. But on top of that, this just looks like a really good movie, as WW is an awesome character. Here’s everything you need to know about the movie before you see it, in case it’s been a while since you visited that universe.

Charles Oakley is not messing around when it comes to the New York Knicks. Remember a while back when he decided he was going to put his hands on Madison Square Garden security and yell at the team owner from his seat? He got physically removed for that stunt. Yeah, it was special. Well, both sides still believe they were in the right, and this whole thing is actually going to court. Mind you, Oak had a chance to agree to a scenario in which the charges were dropped, but he’d rather fight. This is not going to end well for anyone.

Free Food

Coffee Break: What is a Black Dandy, you ask? On a simple level, it’s someone who dresses better than you, because he can and he wants to. But, in the case of one photographer, the meaning is a lot larger than just fashion. It’s about portrayal and stereotyping, and her new project looks to shatter some old molds.

Snack Time: If the only thing we get from Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league is the possibility of the sport getting to the Olympics, it’ll be a success. The FIBA tourney is always a pleasure, and it looks like it’s on the table for 2020.

Dessert: Party Next Door blessed us with some new music for the weekend. Enjoy.

Muhammad Ali knew how to play the villain, but dodging the draft turned him into a pariah An excerpt from Leigh Montville’s ‘Sting Like a Bee’

The famous quote did not come until a day later. The interviews on the lawn at 4610 NW 15th Street were long finished when Ali took a phone call in the morning from Tom Fitzpatrick, a 39-year-old sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News. The fight with Ernie Terrell was scheduled to take place in less than six weeks, March 29, 1966, at the International Amphitheatre near the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. Tickets had to be sold. There were reasons to talk to sportswriters from Chicago.

The Daily News was an afternoon paper, so Fitzpatrick was looking for a different angle, different words from what everyone would read over breakfast. He was not disappointed.

“I am a member of the Muslims and we don’t go to no wars unless they are declared by Allah himself,” Ali said into the phone. “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

Bingo.

That second sentence, the one about the Viet Congs, would become the defining quote for all that followed for the heavyweight champion of the world. The initial rush of self-indulgent emotion recorded by Bob Halloran and the other reporters was enough to get America agitated about a man who talked too much, loved himself too much. The mention of the Viet Cong, first reported in the afternoon edition of the Daily News, then repeated on the wire services to newspapers across the country, brought a focus to that agitation, put all the anger into a convenient package.

“Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.”

Nothing against those Viet Congs? This was the hook. Was it dissent or was it treason? Common sense or sedition? No boldface or italics were needed. The words would jump off the page without help.

“We Muslims are taught to defend ourselves when we are attacked,” Ali further told Fitzpatrick. “Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.

“These Viet Congs are fighting a very nasty war over there,” he added. “There’s a lot of people getting killed. Why should we Muslims get involved?”

Variations of “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” would be included in all future biographical stories about Ali. This would become his stand, his legacy: the ten words that changed his life. The quote would become part of American historical dialogue, stuff for schoolkids to remember. Who said “Give me liberty or give me death”? Patrick Henry. Who said “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs”?

An added quote would be assigned to him later: “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘n—–,’ ” but he did not say that. Not now, not for many, many years, if he ever did. The quote was said by other people — activist Stokely Carmichael, for one — but somehow was assigned to Ali in slippery history. His quote was, “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

He would try later to give the words context. He would claim in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story, that on his way back from the gym that day when he received the news, he had seen some kids throwing rocks at a little girl. He said he stopped and asked what was happening and the kids told him they were playing “army and Viet Cong” and the little girl was Viet Cong. The words made him flash to pictures he had seen in a magazine of a little girl walking among dead bodies outside Saigon. Troubled, he took this little neighborhood child in his arms and walked her home, away from the trouble. The incident was still in his head when he spoke later.

None of this happened. The autobiography would be filled with these little feel-good memories that were too good to be true, bedtime-story perfect, invented by the champ and ghostwriter Richard Durham. He never mentioned the little girl to any reporters on that day. He never even mentioned the Viet Cong until his late interview with Fitzpatrick. The quote that became remembered was another part of his daily torrent of words. Captain Sam Saxon, the man who first introduced Ali to the Nation of Islam in Miami, said he was with the champ at one point in the day and told him, “You got nothing against those Viet Cong,” and the champ agreed, yes, he had nothing against those Viet Cong. Ali perhaps remembered and repeated the phrase in the interview, nobody really conscious of the impact. There was no plan; the words came out with all the other words. The difference was that these words landed in the catch basin of the national mind.

Those Viet Cong were killing more than 18 American kids every day. The death total for 1965 had been 1,928 (double the casualties of any year in the Iraq War), and that would be tripled, to 6,350, in 1966 with the new escalation (more deaths in one year than in the entire Iraq War). In 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, 16,899 American kids would lose their lives. That would be 46 per day.

Not being upset with the Viet Cong seemed much worse than not submitting to the draft or not wanting to be involved in the war. Graphic pictures of these dying American boys had begun to appear on the nightly news. The enemy was supposed to be the enemy.

“I don’t want to scare anybody about it, but there are millions of Muslims around the world watching what is happening to me,” Ali said to Fitzpatrick. “I’m not making a threat [that they’ll get angry and do something]. I’m just saying maybe.”

This was heavy stuff.


Ali was familiar with the role of villain. He had chosen it in the early stages of his professional career, tried it on as if it were a black hat and a scowl discovered in the back of a family closet. He kept it when he found that it brought increased attention and larger paydays.

His marketing idea was that bad was much more interesting than good, an approach that newspapers, the television nightly news, and the gossipy woman next door had adopted long ago. People were more interested in paying money to see Sylvester the Cat than Tweety, Tom more than Jerry, Wile E. Coyote more than that beep-beep Road Runner.

This approach was adopted when Ali returned from the 1960 Olympics with his light-heavyweight gold medal and found himself back at the beginning in the professional side of the sport, no more than another low-watt attraction fighting unheralded opponents named Terry Hunsaker, Herb Siler, Tony Esperti, and Duke Sabedong. Where was the money, the instant payoff for those hundred-plus amateur fights? (His amateur record has been recorded in various places with various numbers, ranging from 99-8 to 137-7.) Where was that joy the country felt when he stood on that podium in Rome, the “Star-Spangled Banner” played for the world to hear? He was in a hurry. What would make people notice again? The answer appeared on his television screen.

“Soon after I turned pro, I discovered that even though I won the Olympic title, I wasn’t making any money,” Ali said to Alex Haley in Playboy. “I was the only champion who didn’t have no jack jangling in his jeans. . . . One night I was watching Gorgeous George on TV. He was jumping around making a lot of noise and threatening his opponents and I said to myself, ‘This guy’s on to something. I think I’ll put some of that into my act.’ ”

Gorgeous George, whose real name was George Raymond Wagner, was an eighth-grade dropout from Nebraska who had become one of television’s first stars in the Fifties, as notable as Lucille Ball or Milton Berle or Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He strutted into the ring in sequined robes and high-heeled shoes and had bleached-blond hair that looked as if it came from the same bottle Marilyn Monroe used. His personal “valet” preceded him, squirting perfume into the air. George was a sissified, exaggerated stereotype of a homosexual, effeminate to the ultimate, totally in love with himself. He also was a sneaky, dirty wrestler once the matches began. The combination was irresistible. People howled from the moment he was introduced. A ringside spectator named Hatpin Mary sometimes would stick said hatpin into George’s grand backside somewhere during the proceedings, to everyone’s amusement.

Ali, as Cassius Clay at the time, adopted pieces of this act — the villain was known as the “heel” in wrestling, the hero known as the “babyface” — and added some of his own. The adopted parts involved the self-important bluster, the constant confidence, the repeated declarations about how pretty he was, the demonization of every opponent. He became a shouter, eyes bugged out of his head, one of those people who always seemed to be ticking, ready to explode. The predictions, the rhymes, the nonsense were part of his act.

American boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in the ring after his defeat of Sonny Liston in their world heavyweight title fight at Miami Beach, Florida.

Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

He was especially insufferable and comic in the buildup to the first fight with Liston. He called Liston “The Bear,” and wore a light blue jacket that said “Bear Huntin” on the back. He went to Las Vegas, screamed outside the champ’s house, confronted him in a casino, made his life miserable. He asked if that big bear was as “rangy and fast and pretty as me.” Gorgeous George couldn’t have done any better.

Ali was familiar with the role of villain.

“[Clay] is light-hearted and breezy and has just enough twinkle in his eyes to take most of the obnoxiousness from the wild words he utters,” Arthur Daley of the New York Times said before the fight. “When they are imprisoned in print, however, the twinkle is never captured and Cassius just becomes nauseous.”

The twinkle made its last unadulterated appearance in the moments after Ali won the title. He was outrageous, comical, as he shouted in triumph from the ring at the sportswriters who picked Liston to win easily. He boasted about his looks, his ability, his battle plan for the odd fight that he had won when Liston refused to come out for the seventh round. No doubt about it, the night the young challenger captured the title he was a hoot. He made even his worst detractors admit they had been wrong about what would happen.

The change came the next day with his announcement that he was a member of the Nation of Islam. The comedy of the past was overwhelmed by the message of the present. The bigmouthed character became a Black Muslim. This was not what most of the paying public wanted to hear. The villain’s words now meant something. The jokes took second place to personal philosophy.

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” Ali said at his press conference. “I’m free to be who I want.

“I go to a Black Muslim meeting and what do I see?” he said. “I see there’s no smoking and no drinking and their women wear dresses down to the floor,” he said. “And then I come out on the street and you tell me I shouldn’t go in there. Well, there must be something in there if you don’t want me to go in there.

“In the jungle, lions are with lions and tigers with tigers and redbirds stay with redbirds and bluebirds with bluebirds,” he said. “That’s human nature, too, to be with your own kind. I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted.”

The softness here was in contrast to the national image of the NOI and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. For the white folk who had paid attention, not a large group at the start, this was a cult more than a religion, a theology that talked about white devils and spaceships and a black scientist named Jakub, who had an enormous head and created the white devils 6,000 years ago to persecute the black man.

The Muslims had demands. What was it that Malcolm X always said? “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Most national stories about the faith mentioned the large number of convicted criminals who now were members.

At first, there was the thought that Ali’s conversion was a phase, a mistake by a 22-year-old guy — 22 years, 39 days at that — who had landed in a new situation with new levels of fame and economics. He had been brainwashed by some slick salesmen, sold this bill of curious religious goods. He would grow out of it soon enough. A Black Muslim? He would realize a heavyweight champ could have a much easier life.

“He’s always been such a good boy,” said his mother, Odessa Clay. “He’s been taken in by these Muslim people. We pray he’ll see the light — and we think he will.”

Muhammad Ali at the Howard university with the Muslim journal ‘Muhammad Speaks’ produced by an African American organization (Nation of Islam).

Henning Christoph/ullstein bild via Getty Images

“That Muslim stuff is a phony religion,” said his father, Cassius Clay Sr. “They brag that they don’t drink, smoke or fool around with women. That is only one commandment. There are Ten Commandments.”

The depth of Ali’s belief soon became established. If this was a brainwash, it was a very good one. Standing at the side of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad after Malcolm X’s death, the heavyweight champion of the world became a potential target for revenge. He never blinked.

As city after city rejected the idea that it should be the host for his rematch with Liston because of worries of Black Muslim violence, because of the potential for his assassination, his commitment never changed. As the fight finally landed in a hockey rink in Lewiston, Maine, and he trained in Chicopee, Massachusetts, trailed by five policemen every day as he went from his motel room to the converted banquet hall where he sparred, he laughed about the threat. As he was guarded by more than 200 policemen on the night of the fight, with hourly reports of Malcolm X Muslims coming north from New York to kill him, he laughed some more. He then dropped Liston in one round with one “anchor punch,” supposedly taught to him by old-time actor Stepin Fetchit, and as all of America wondered what the hell was going on, he exulted.

“Nobody wants to kill me,” he said. “If they shoot, the gun will explode in their hands, the bullets will turn, Allah will protect me.”

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play.

The Lewiston win was followed six months later with the 12th-round TKO embarrassment of Floyd Patterson. Poor Floyd, 31 years old, was a gentle man, a practicing Catholic, a two-time heavyweight champ who had been knocked out twice by Liston in the first round, causing him to disguise himself in shame when he walked the streets after the fights. He was cast here as a classic babyface by Ali, drawn for the fight as “The Rabbit,” as the white man’s version of a good black man, yessir, nosir, Uncle Tom. Ali cast himself, of course, as the heel. He was the belligerent black man the white man feared in the night.

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play. True Black Man pummels Fake Black Man. He would use this plotline often during his boxing career, no one ever sure if he was kidding to hype the crowd or was as serious as could be. The answer was left to the observer to decide. Ali simply laid out the story.

His domination of Patterson was obvious. The challenger, who claimed he hurt his back in the fourth, didn’t win a single round. Ali played with him, taunted him, called him “the white man’s black man,” said, “Come on, black man, fight for America.” He seemingly could have knocked him out in any round, finally dropped him in the sixth, then finished him in the 12th. Ali would claim that he was waiting for the referee to stop the fight all night, that he tried not to hurt Patterson, but the ringside view mostly was that he punished the challenger for insisting on calling him “Clay,” not his Muslim name, in the prefight publicity whirl. Fake or real, the villain was in charge all the way.

“He’s mean,” legendary retired champion Joe Louis said. “He worked that poor Floyd over good. He handled him like a baby and he gave him more than he had to give him. I think he could have knocked him out from the first round if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to. I think he just let him have it for fun.”

“While we were fighting, Clay said maybe once or twice in the earlier rounds, maybe like in the third or fourth, ‘What’s my name?’ and I said ‘Cassius,’ ” Patterson said years later. “And finally, in the latter part of the fight, I’d say in the ninth, tenth or eleventh round, and I was really taking a really bad beating, suffering, he said ‘Now what’s my name?’ I believe I said the same thing, ‘Cassius Clay and that’s what it’s always going to be, regardless of the results of this fight. Cassius Clay.’ ”

“Round one, I said, ‘What’s my name?’ ” Ali said, some number of years later. “He didn’t say nothing. So round two, round three, I hit him with my right hand. ‘What’s my name?’ He said, ‘Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali.’ ”

Either way, the fight was a showcase for Ali. This was how well he could box. The two bouts against Liston had been characterized by their strange conclusions. This fight was characterized by Ali’s abilities. He had dazzle, flash, incredible speed. There never had been a heavyweight champ like this young guy. He danced and moved like a middleweight, but had the size and power of a heavyweight. He had told everyone before the fight that Joe Louis would have been too slow to beat him. Rocky Marciano would have been too short. Jack Johnson would have been too ugly. Jack Dempsey would have been too light and couldn’t punch. That left him at the top. The Greatest. He looked the part against poor Patterson.

He said he didn’t need love. He had talent.

“I’m not worried about those boos,” he said. “Those were white people. I got all the black people, some white people, too, and the people of Africa and Asia.”

That theory would be tested with his remarks about the draft and the Viet Cong. The volume became louder. Starting now.

UFC’s Daniel Cormier used family tragedies to fuel his rise to light heavyweight champion He’ll defend his title at UFC 210 and is running a wrestling program for kids

Every morning at 6:30, UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier travels about 20 minutes from Gilroy, California, to San Jose, California, to begin his training.

“It’s crazy,” Cormier said of his training schedule. “I do something in the morning at 7 a.m. Either running, hitting pads, sitting in the sauna. Then I train again at noon. Then I get a break until 7 o’clock at night. I train three times a day some days, two times a day some days. I look forward to Sundays when I have a rest day, where I just get up and I just chill with my family.”

The reigning champion will defend his title against Anthony Johnson on April 8 at UFC 210, a 13-bout lineup at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York, headlined by the rematch between Cormier and Johnson, the No. 1 contender.

Cormier said he feels great going into the fight and he’s done everything he needs to do to face Johnson.

“I’ve worked hard. I’m managing my weight. I’ve trained smart. I’ve covered all my bases, and I’ve dotted my i’s and I’ve crossed my t’s,” Cormier said. “All I can do out there is go out and show the world what me and my team at the American Kickboxing Academy [AKA] have been working on. I’ve gotta go out there and do what I’ve been trained to do. I do that, I’ll be fine. By the end of the night, I’ll still be the UFC champion of the world.”

The duo first faced each other at UFC 187 on May 23, 2015, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas for the vacant title. Cormier won with a second-round submission. A rematch was expected to take place on Dec. 10, 2016, at UFC 206, but Cormier withdrew because of injury.

The fierce rivalry between the two makes for one of UFC’s most highly anticipated rematches.

Cormier is an Oklahoma State University graduate with a degree in sociology, but nothing came easy for him. His father was murdered in 1986 by the father of his second wife on Thanksgiving Day. In 2003, his 3-month-old daughter, Kaedyn, died in a car accident. He later almost died from kidney failure during the 2008 Olympics while trying to make weight.

Now, Cormier runs a wrestling program for kids at AKA Wrestling Club. The two-time Olympian trains children ages 5 to 12. According to the club’s website, “All are offered the opportunity to participate on the Daniel Cormier-AKA Wrestling team if the student wishes to compete. Daniel’s program is currently ranked as one of the top youth wrestling programs in the state of California. He values family. He and his fiancé (sic) Salina Deleon are raising their 6-year-old son Daniel and their 5-year-old daughter Marquita. His life teaches a great lesson, to never stop fighting for the life you want no matter what is thrown your way.”


How do you feel about being the light heavyweight champion?

Unbelievable. It was a journey that I started in 2009, and the idea was to be the champion of the world. Now it’s been two years that I’ve been the champion, and it just felt like a dream come true. When you start doing something and then you accomplish the ultimate goal, there’s nothing like it. It kind of feels like a fairy tale, because never in my wildest dreams could I have thought that my career could have gone as long as it has done.

How did you get started in mixed martial arts?

After the 2008 Olympics, I took a year off and I was like, ‘Man, I’ve gotta do something.’ Because I was working a job at a local TV station in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and I started playing NBA 2K. I played NBA 2K9. Might have played 700, 800 games online in one year. I was ranked in the top 100 in the world. I was beating everybody. I was so good. I was like, ‘If I’m spending this much time on a video game, I know that I’ve gotta be doing something competitive, because I’m just trying to find an outlet to compete right now. Playing basketball games is not gonna do enough.’ My friend King Mo, Muhammed Lawal, he had started probably a year prior, and he’s like, ‘Man, you should try mixed martial arts.’ He was like, ‘I think you’d be good at it.’ I went up to California, trained with him a couple times and came off the American kickboxing chat and training with those guys there. I just was like, ‘You know what? This is what I’m gonna do.’ Three weeks later I was in the octagon.

What piqued your interest in wrestling?

Initially, the WWF [World Wrestling Federation]. I’ll tell you this: My mom took some old mattresses and she put them in our backyard for us to do the WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment]. We were trying it all. We were trying it all. My mom was like, ‘Please go burn some energy.’ We would wrestle in my backyard. Then one day the high school wrestling coach saw us playing outside, and he goes, ‘Why don’t you guys try wrestling?’ We were out there fighting, tussling. I live like 100 yards from the high school. I went in there thinking that I was going to be doing some WWE, but it was actually like referee position, being that you’re on your hands and knees and I’m like, ‘What in the world is this?’ I went. My parents really had never let me quit anything, so I fell in love with the sport.

Daniel Cormier punches Anthony Johnson in their UFC light heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 187 event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Who do you idolize in the wrestling, MMA, kickboxing worlds?

In wrestling, man, my idols were the best wrestlers in the world: John Smith, Kevin Jackson, Kenny Monday, those types of guys. I looked up to the champs. Bruce Baumgartner. I looked up to those guys. American champions. Kurt Angle, those types of guys. I always aspired to be like them. When I was in high school, I saw Kurt Angle win the ’96 gold and I saw John Smith win the ’92 gold when I was in eighth grade and I was like, ‘You know what? I want to be an Olympic champ.’ I was like, ‘I’ve gotta be an Olympic champ, because I want to feel what those guys felt.’ They were flying, they were carrying the American flag. They’re learning.

That moment, it was like, wow, these guys experienced euphoria. They will never be happier in this moment, because how can you be? That’s what I thought I was going to do. Then after the 2008 Olympics, I didn’t compete and I didn’t win, so obviously I never got that feeling. Then when I saw the fight and I was like, ‘Wow, I get another opportunity to change that.’ I experienced it when I became the UFC champion. Fighting my idols again, one of the greatest prizes of all time. The Randy Ortons and the Chuck Liddells. All those guys that have wrestler’s backgrounds and have reached the top of the pool.

How do you make time for family?

It’s tough. I do things like this, I pick up my kid from school so that on the way home I can talk to my son and my daughter. She’s not at school today. She only goes three days a week; he goes five.

How do you eat while in training?

I’ve got a nutritionist. His name is Daniel Lee, and he lives with me. He just feeds me all kinds of stuff. I’m from Louisiana, so I like his stuff. Red beans and rice, gumbo and all that. I can’t eat it between training and training camp. Dan, bless his little heart. He tries, he tries. He calls it healthy red beans and rice. What he does is he makes red beans and he puts chicken apple sausage in it, puts all the stuff in it, but he puts it over a bed of cauliflower rice.

I really do like your effort, bro, but don’t ever make me cauliflower rice and red beans again. I love that he tries to individualize it to me and who I am. I like steak. He makes a good filet with some avocado. Last night I had asparagus with some chicken. He also makes this really good, it’s not my favorite meal that he makes me, but he takes a long piece of collard greens. He’s learned how to wrap it like a burrito. He fries that with turkey. He cooks ground turkey with tomato and onion and all the right stuff. That’s pretty good. That’s one of those health moves that you can actually deal with. It ain’t red beans and cauliflower rice.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

The hardest part is balancing. It’s tough. Outside of the fighting, I do analyst work. I now fight at a smaller weight class than I did in the beginning. That’s tough, dieting and making the weight. In terms of athletically tough, the hardest thing I’ve dealt with was losing to Jon Jones on Jan. 3, 2015. I’ll never forget that.

Why was that so hard for you?

It’s tough because there was so much buildup. I felt like I was ready to become the UFC champion at that time. I wanted to be the guy that many consider the greatest fighter of all time. I thought that I was ready to get it done. Then with everything that had happened for him and I as buildup, with the fighting and the arguing.

How has family tragedy shaped you into the person you are today?

Well, when I lost my father, it was tough, obviously because I was young and also my stepdad, Percy, had been such a strong figure in my life. Through him and my mom and my family, they actually were able to elevate me and teach me that, with that law, you know you’re not going to see that person again, but know that you have a dad. A person that is really trying to care for you and nurture you and is going to be a guiding light for you in terms of how to be a man going forward. My mom and dad had divorced before that happened, so I had already spent four years with Percy as my dad, my stepdad. I learned all my lessons from him. Every part of being a man that I carry in my life now, that I try to pass to my boy, is going to be lessons I learned from my dad, Percy.

I had a very strong figure in my life to help me get me through that tragedy, but also to guide me in the way of hard work and commitment and everything else, because I wouldn’t have been that way. My dad got up at 7:30 every morning and went to work for the city of Lafayette. He cleaned bathrooms, he put chalk down on baseball fields. He did all that. When he would get off at 5, he would come home, he would take a bath, get dressed and go back to wash dishes at a pizza parlor for 15 bucks. Or he would take us with him to mow the grass at a cemetery to make money. I understood hard work at a very, very young age because I saw it day in and day out. That’s why I take my son to the gym sometimes, so he can see the work that I’m putting in, to know that nothing is ever going to be free.

My daughter, that was the hardest thing because there are no guidelines, there are no books or anything to read and you don’t know how to deal with loss of that nature. There is nothing that’s going to help you cope better when you lose something so precious and so dear. Then as I started to lean on the people closest to me — my ex-wife at the time, Robin, my coach John Smith, Kevin Jackson and Cheryl McCall, all my friends — I asked myself the question, ‘Is this going to cost you, or is this going to propel you and be a force of inspiration for you?’ That’s what it became.

Everything I did every day of my life going forward was for Kaedyn. For a long time, it was singular. She may have been the guiding force of everything I was doing, from the moment she passed in 2003 until 2011 when I had Daniel. She has always been my guiding light. As she is still today, her and Daniel and Marquita, for me and the rest of my family. Some people don’t recover from a loss like that, and I’m just lucky that I was able to take that energy and use it to actually encourage me to train harder, work harder, work smarter. Make sure that I can be a good father to my children that are here on this earth with me today. I always want to make her proud. Every day in my actions, would she be proud? I think so far the answer is yes.

How did you end up with kidney failure?

Well, that was a lot of mismanagement on my part. Not taking the weight very seriously, not dieting and being professional in my approach to the Olympic Games in 2008. Getting too big and then having to drop off massive amounts of weight. It was a life lesson. Now I have a lot of things in place to avoid those traps. More resources at my disposal, financially, even though the idea of the training center is it gave you everything you needed. I wasn’t mature enough at the time to seek out all the help that I needed to make this journey down to my weight class easy. Now I do that. I have a guy that lives with me for a month before every single fight to make sure the weight cut is as easy as possible. It’s tough. It was very tough.

Made the weight. I got on the scale at 211 pounds, 211.5 pounds. I had depleted myself so tremendously that my body couldn’t handle the loss of water and the strain that I had put on myself to get down to 211. They thought I was suffering from renal failure. It was very scary. I was in the hospital for days after that incident. Again, what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger, and I learned from that.

What motivated you to start your wrestling program for kids?

Just the fact that wrestling has given me so much. Gave me my education, gave me an opportunity to go to Oklahoma State and pursue a degree. It gave me an out. I know that without the sport of wrestling, I don’t know what I would’ve become. I could have just been another good athlete from Louisiana. There are so many people that just didn’t have opportunities, they’re at home. You can go to any park around the country in an urban area and somebody tells you about this guy that walks around, they’re like, ‘He was so good. He was the best that’s ever been in this area.’ Well, what happened? Well, the streets, wanting to make fast money, lack of opportunity. Same stories in every urban area in the entire country.

Wresting is just a great sport. The drive that it instilled in me, I could have been that fool. ‘Oh, man, you should have saw Daniel. When Daniel was a kid, he could play football, he could wrestle, he could do this. What happened to him?’ I wouldn’t know what happened because of the sport.

Do you feel that in the future, mixed martial arts will welcome more African-American fighters, other fighters of color or even women of color?

Yes, I do. I think that the more that we as African-Americans are at the forefront of the sport, the more influence we will have in the black community. Then more people will say, ‘This is something I can do.’ Right now, in terms of African-American women, Angela Hill stands out as the person that’s kind of leading the charge in the UFC in that sense. Karyn Bryant has been on TV for a long time. She’s a reporter and a studio host for the UFC on Fox Sports. You have myself and Tyron Woodley. Demetrious Johnson.

I believe that with that, we are able more now to reach more of the community. I really want that. I believe that in terms of fighters, you can go to any city and find kids that are willing to flat-out fight. We give them some skill, give them some training. It’s definitely a needed transition. Cain Velasquez told me that he looked up to Julio Cesar Chavez. He followed him as the champion of the world. It was real to him because there was someone that looked like him that had reached these unbelievable heights. I think when kids see myself and Tyron and Demetrious, they could feel the same way.

Have you and your fiancée set a wedding date yet?

Yes, we have. Salina and I are going to be married May 27 of this year. We’re less than 70 days away from her becoming Mrs. Cormier. I told her, I said, listen, ‘It might seem fun, but the name comes with a lot. It ain’t easy.’

About those women: Florence Griffith Joyner and Cicely Tyson blazed trails we’re still walking The first was a track and field phenom and fashion icon while Tyson remains a first lady of film and TV

To close out Women’s History Month, The Undefeated features late track star Florence Griffith Joyner and award-winning actress Cicely Tyson, who both paved the way for black girls and women in the sports and entertainment world.

Florence Griffith Joyner

It was the 1988 Olympics in Seoul when Joyner, known to the world as “Flo Jo,” soared to greatness. With her long, flowing hair, 6-inch nails and colorful one-legged outfits, she charmed America and took home three gold medals.

Griffith Joyner had made her Olympic debut in 1984 at the Summer Games in Los Angeles, where she won a silver medal for the 200 meters. Her world records for the 100- and 200-meter events are still standing.

The “world’s fastest woman” and sister-in-law Jackie Joyner-Kersee sprinkled some serious black girl magic in track and field during the ’80s. According to biography.com, Griffith Joyner had a “range of talents outside the track realm. She excelled in the fields of fashion design, acting, writing, sportscasting as well as being a wife and mother. One of her most impressive achievements was her appointment as co-chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.”

Born Florence Delorez Griffith on Dec. 21, 1959, in Los Angeles, the Olympian started running at the age of 7. By the time she was 14, she’d won at the Jesse Owens National Youth Games. She was the anchor of the Jordan High School relay team and went on to purse her degree at California State University. She transferred to University of California-Los Angeles, where her legend began emerging as an NCAA champion in the 200 meters in 1982. She was coached by Joyner-Kersee’s husband, Bob Kersee, and later married Joyner-Kersee’s brother, Al Joyner, who also became her coach.

Griffith Joyner retired after the 1988 Olympics among a swirl of controversy in the form of speculation she’d used performance-enhancing drugs, thanks to her outsize success and muscular physique. She never failed a single doping test (11 in 1988 alone) and always maintained that she never used any drugs.

Griffith Joyner was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1995. She was named The Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year and Track and Field magazine’s Athlete of the Year. Griffith Joyner died unexpectedly of an epileptic seizure on Sept. 21, 1998, at her home in Mission Viejo, California, at the shockingly young age of 38. But her undefeated spirit and swagger live on.

Cicely Tyson

Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson has been delivering heart-fluttering performances in film and on stage for decades. The 92-year-old, Harlem-born nonagenarian was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine more than six decades ago.

Actress Cicely Tyson poses for a portrait for BET’s 2017 American Black Film Festival Honors at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 17, in Beverly Hills, California.

J. Countess/WireImage

In 1957, she began acting in off-Broadway productions. She had small roles in feature films before she was cast as Portia in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968). Four years later, Tyson was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress for her sensational performance in the critically acclaimed film Sounder (1972). In 1974, she went on to portray a 110-year-old former slave in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), which earned her two Emmy Awards. She also appeared in the television miniseries Roots (1977), King (1978) and A Woman Called Moses (1978). While Tyson has not appeared steadily onscreen because of her vow to only portray strong, positive images of black women, she is without a doubt one of the most talented, beautiful actresses to have ever graced the stage and screen.

Tyson has recurring roles in two of television’s top-rated shows: ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, as the mother of Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), and the Netflix drama House of Cards. Last year, she starred in the Broadway hit play The Gin Game alongside James Earl Jones.

Tyson has appeared in several Tyler Perry films, as she continues to stay true to her craft. During her career, she has been nominated for 12 Emmys, winning three. In 2011, she appeared in the film The Help.

When Arizona lost the Super Bowl because the state didn’t recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day The big game was moved to Los Angeles because state voters refused to honor MLK Day as paid holiday

On March 19, 1991, NFL owners voted to remove the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix after Arizona voters failed to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday.

The NFL originally awarded the game to the Arizona Cardinals and owner Bill Bidwill on March 13, 1990. Before the state vote on the King holiday in November 1990, Bidwill expressed confidence that the legislation would pass.

“I believe the political situation in Phoenix has changed dramatically,” Bidwill told The Associated Press.

Two yes/no referendums on MLK Day were on the ballot, and both were defeated. The league had been upfront about what would happen if the paid holiday was not enacted.

“We should remove the game from political controversy and avoid being made a target,” then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue told the Chicago Tribune. “So long as it is in Arizona and the alleged controversy is unresolved, people will reach out and use us as a target.

“We’re not infallible. It’s a complicated situation. I don’t think we did very much wrong. The problem existed long before we arrived on the scene.”

Then-President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that established the first national holiday in honor of King in 1986, and then-Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt followed suit.

Babbitt’s successor, Gov. Evan Mecham, rescinded that decision in 1987, explaining that the governor didn’t have the authority to decide by himself on a new paid state holiday.

At the time, only 3 percent of Arizona’s population was black, but most of the players in the NFL were African-American.

King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, musicians Stevie Wonder, Public Enemy and U2, and writer Harlan Ellison led a charge for events and talent to boycott the state, and in 1988, Mecham was impeached. A year later, the state legislature approved the holiday, but Arizona’s constitution required a popular vote.

Even though the league was aware of the political climate in the state, the owners voted 16-12 to give Phoenix the game in kindness to Bidwill and his family, who had been in the league for more than 50 years.

Norman Braman, then-owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and chairman of the site selection committee, was open about having the game relocated if the holiday wasn’t approved.

“I think it’s tragic for the people who worked so hard to get the game there,” Braman told The Washington Post. “But I think it would be an affront to our public and our players if the game was played there.”

Los Angeles, which had hosted the 1984 Summer Olympics and the 1987 Super Bowl, was awarded the Super Bowl with the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, as the host venue. It was estimated that the Phoenix-area economy missed out on nearly $200 million to $250 million in revenue.

“I know we can support this important game and provide the amenities necessary for a gala on the scale of the 1984 Olympic Games,” Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley told The Associated Press. “In addition, the 1993 Super Bowl will provide an economic bonanza to the Southern California region as it embarks on the preparations for this incomparable event.”

While the league was able to resolve the issue during that instance, Arizona was on tap to host the Super Bowl in 1996 as a compromise between Tagliabue and then-Arizona Gov. Fife Symington. It was important to the commissioner that the league pay close attention to the civil rights issue and respond accordingly.

In 1992, the holiday was again placed on the ballot, and with 62 percent approval, Arizona recognized MLK Day, and the 1996 Super Bowl was played at Sun Devil Stadium.

Simone Biles and Sasha Farber reel in the highest score on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ debut The Olympic gold medalist is looking to win her own Mirrorball Trophy

On Monday, Dancing with the Stars kicked off its 24th season, marking the show’s 400th episode. After 11 dances, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles — the most decorated gymnast of all time — took to the floor with her partner Sasha Farber in hopes of raking in the Mirrorball Trophy in the end.

One could make the argument that Olympic gymnasts make the best dancers. That at least has been the case on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. First, it was Shawn Johnson to win in season eight. Last season, Laurie Hernandez won. Now, it’s Biles, Hernandez’s Olympic teammate, competing to win. Two consecutive gymnasts taking the Mirrorball Trophy? That would be a first.

Performing last, Biles and Farber earned the highest score (28 out of 40 points) from judges Julianne Hough, Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman after their opening night’s dance to Tritonal and Cash Cash’s “Untouchable.”

“You are the power couple,” Inaba said of Biles and Farber’s performance. “That was an exquisite exhibition of technique, elegance and power all wrapped together in a crunchy, yummy tango.”

Biles won four gold medals and one bronze at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Her athleticism, rigorous training routine and passion for performing under pressure gives her a leg up in the competition.

She winked at Hernandez before they began. Biles donned a long, silver back-out gown, and the commanding dance showed off her tenacity and precision. Biles recently told espnW that her first experience with dance was not so great. “She was 13, full of bouncing-off-the-walls energy, and taking ballet lessons in hopes of improving her gymnastics skill set. However, convinced her teacher didn’t like her, unable to follow instructions and struggling with some of the skills, Biles stepped away from the barre and focused all her energy on her chosen sport.”

Despite her resistance, she was still interested in the competition and joining the cast.

“I remember thinking after the Olympics, ‘If I ever got a call [from the show], I would want to do it,’ ” Biles said. “But the first time they called — unfortunately I had to decline because I was on the post-Olympics tour. Now it’s my turn.”

Goodman called it “the dance of the night.”

“You are the whole package, your frame, your posture … , ” Hough said. “You guys are the dynamic duo.”

Biles also showed off her new tattoo on Monday — of the Olympic rings. Accompanied by her friend, singer Jake Miller, she posted the photo to her Twitter page.

This season’s lineup includes actor Mr. T, NFL running back Rashad Jennings, Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, Glee actor Heather Morris, performer Charo and Fifth Harmony’s Normani Kordei.

Simone Manuel, Stanford swim team win first championship title in 19 years The 20-year-old continues to make waves and break records

Since making a splash at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games seven months ago by becoming the first African-American woman to win Olympic gold in an individual event, Stanford University sophomore Simone Manuel has been lying low and off the radar after deciding to return to college, forgoing endorsement deals that she could have received as a professional swimmer.

For fans who only follow the sport during the Olympics, things have been relatively quiet for Manuel. That was until this weekend, when the 20-year-old helped her team win its first NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship since 1998.

Manuel, along with teammates Ella Eastin, Ally Howe, Janet Hu, Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal and Kim Williams, set a NCAA, U.S. Open and American record of 3:07.61 in the 400-yard freestyle relay, and finished with a combined 526.5 points, besting California (366) and Texas A&M (292.5) to take home the championship title during the four-day event at Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis.

Simone Manuel of the Stanford Cardinal warms up between events of an NCAA PAC-12 Women’s swim meet against the USC Trojans on January 28, 2017 at the Avery Aquatic Center of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

David Madison/Getty Images

After winning the 50-yard freestyle during the second day of the event, Manuel joined teammate and fellow Olympian Ledecky for the 200-yard freestyle, a race Manuel seemed to have until losing the lead after a slow push-off during the final turn. The following day, Manuel competed in the 100-yard freestyle, where seven of the eight swimmers are Olympians. Early on, Manuel found her pace during a tight race against University of Georgia senior Olivia Smoliga, who kept up with Manuel until the final turn of the event. After pulling ahead, it was Manuel racing against the clock in an attempt to beat the current NCAA, American, U.S. record of 46.09 that Manuel herself set in 2015.

Manuel won the 100-yard freestyle with a final time of 45.56 seconds, setting an NCAA, American and championship record and becoming the first swimmer to complete the event under 46 seconds.

As gratifying as the moment was for Manuel, Olympic medal-winning swimmer is no stranger to breaking records.

Last August, Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympics gold medal in swimming during the women’s 100-meter freestyle. Manuel would go on to rack up three more medals, another gold and two silver, before leaving Rio de Janeiro.

“The gold medal wasn’t just for me, it was for people who came before me and inspired me to stay in the sport,” Manuel said shortly after her Olympic win last August. “And for people who believe that they can’t do it, I hope that I’m an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming.”

Sugar Ray Leonard talks about Usher, Muhammad Ali and singing in the shower He still can’t watch the last fight of his career

Twenty years ago, Sugar Ray Leonard, 40 years old and more determined than ever, stepped into the ring for the first time in six years in an attempt to strip Hector Camacho of his International Boxing Council middleweight title.

The energy in New Jersey’s Atlantic City Convention Center kicked into high gear as fans anticipated the start of Leonard’s first bout since his loss to three-time world champion Terry Norris in 1991. It would be a redemption of sorts, and was broadcast live on pay-per-view. Leonard needed to prove to himself, if not to the world, that there was still some fight left in him.

At least that was the plan.

Today, the 60-year-old boxing Hall of Famer still can’t bring himself to watch the last fight of his career.

“I have not seen the film,” Leonard said. “I have not watched the tape of the loss. I put it on, and the minute they announced my name, I turn it off. I swear to God.”

In the fifth round, Leonard was rocked by a blow to the head, followed by three left hooks from Camacho. Leonard fell flat in visible pain and stumbled as he returned to his feet. Leonard continued on, but the fight was stopped soon after as Camacho pelted a defenseless Leonard with a barrage of punches to the face.

“It’s tough because I’ve always worked so hard and I’ve always overcome many obstacles,” Leonard said. “This was one, it was like Father Time. It was time for me to hang the gloves up and I pushed the envelope. And I paid for it, but put it this way: Do I regret it? No, not necessarily, because I am who I am because of my life, because of what I’ve endured. It’s pretty cool. It’s a weird thing, but pretty cool.”

Leonard first announced his retirement in 1982 after undergoing surgery to repair a detached retina in his left eye. He would return two years later to win four bouts, with one draw, until his loss to Norris. Leonard retired for good after that fight, carrying with him a record of 36 wins, three losses and one draw.

One thing retirement couldn’t do is keep the Olympic gold medal-winning boxer from the sport he loved. Leonard continues to stay close to boxing as an analyst, most recently as a color commentator for the welterweight title bout on March 4 between Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia — a unification fight that ended with Thurman getting a victory by split decision over Garcia.

Leonard sat down with The Undefeated to discuss his thoughts on the state of boxing, how he overcame the hardest moments in his life, his relationship with Muhammad Ali, and what it was like transforming Usher from R&B singer to prizefighter.


How do you feel about the state of boxing today as opposed to when you first started?

It’s not like it used to be. If you really think about it, nothing is like it used to be and that will always be the case. But I’m an optimist by nature. [The Thurman-Garcia] fight was a major fight of this magnitude in a lot of years. Maybe 20. Unification of the title. I’m just happy to be a part of it. It’s wonderful to be a part of this time, part of history. I’m just gonna enjoy it.

When you’re watching today’s fighters as an analyst, what emotions come up?

Doing broadcasting, especially at this point in my life, I’m 60 and I’ve done this for 50-something years. It’s such a part of me, it’s such a part of my life. There’s such an appreciation of what I’ve accomplished. It’s such a blessing of what I’ve been able to do with my parents and loved ones. Now, sitting better than ringside doing commentary with CBS is — I’m like a kid. I’m like a kid because I love the position, I love the sport, I love the fighters and I see a lot of myself in these young fighters trying to achieve greatness, so it’s a very special time for me.

Are there any fighters who remind you of yourself?

There’s a number of young guys who, from just a personality standpoint, remind me of myself, because when I was young in my 20s as a professional fighter, I look back on my videotapes and I was pretty cocky. I talked a little trash, but I was able to back it up, so that was pretty cool. And I also like to see these young men as they continue to graduate and grow and develop, and not just as great fighters but great men, great people, great individuals. And once they reach that level of greatness, that they give back to those that need it.

Was there some apprehension at first when you heard an R&B singer would be portraying you in a film?

It’s funny you ask that question about Usher. He called me one day and he said, ‘Ray, can you help me be you?’ I said I think I’m pretty good at that. But I was very impressed with Usher because he worked hard, extremely hard. He wanted to make me proud of him. I thought he did a fantastic job. One funny thing is the fact that he had like an eight-pack and I only had a six. I said take two of those off. He trained hard for that position, for that role. I actually think the movie was great. It didn’t get great reviews, but to me, personally speaking, I thought it was fantastic.

Sugar Ray Leonard and Usher attend the “Hands Of Stone” U.S. premiere at SVA Theater on August 22, 2016 in New York City.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

What was it like coaching Usher through a portrayal of yourself? Was it weird trying to teach someone how to be you?

The weird thing about it, and the tough thing about it, is Usher never boxed, per se, but because of his timing and his rhythm, being a dancer, having that ‘thing’ that’s hard to define, he had that and he’s a guy that works hard at whatever he does. I thought he could do it, but wasn’t too sure. I thought he pulled it off.

How do you feel about the young female boxers like Claressa Shields coming in and making names for themselves?

Claressa, she’s amazing. I’ve always admired her. She is really one tough cookie, and I like the ways she’s developed in her mindset. She’s an amazing lady.

If you weren’t a boxer, what would you be doing?

I’m almost embarrassed to answer the question, but I’ve always wanted to sing. I’m so bad at it. I’m so fricking bad! My name is Ray Charles and I wanted to sing. I used to sing in church, but I can’t sing. I’ll tell you what, I’m a closet singer because I put my music on when I’m in the shower and I sing my butt off. I sound good to me.

What professional athlete would you never want to trade places with?

I’ve never been asked that question. Any athlete in lacrosse, I guess. I heard it was pretty tough.

What’s one of your proudest moments as a boxer?

I’ve been blessed to have had quite a few, but the Olympics. Nothing compares to the Olympics, because it wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about fame. [I was] representing myself and my country. But I’ve had a number of significant fights with Tommy Hearns back in 1981, the ‘No Mas’ Duran fight in November 1980, and Wilfred Benitez in 1979 and Marvin Hagler in 1987. I trained hard, I worked hard. People may see the finished product, but what went into me being successful is that I had determination, heart, discipline and I believed in myself.

Are there any fights that, even today, you look back at and think you should’ve done this differently or that differently?

All the ones I lost, yes. I should’ve done this, should’ve done that. There are three fights that I had that I lost. The first Duran fight back in June 1980. I lost that fight to Duran because he took me out of my game plan. Terry Norris, who beat me. That was some time ago. And then Hector Camacho beat me, my last fight back in 1997.

Do you think you’ll ever be able to watch?

Hopefully, I will. I don’t have to.

What was one of the hardest parts of your journey?

Fame and fortune is very seductive, and it can take you out. It can kill you and that’s been proven. When I first retired, I was like 25 or 26, at the top of my game. And I retired because I suffered a partially detached retina and I, all of a sudden, started finding new friends who were involved with cocaine. I drank and I did cocaine for a number of years, trying to cushion my sadness. It sounds crazy that I was having all this success and still not happy, which proves money doesn’t really buy happiness. It helps, no question about that, but what brings happiness is that when you have substance in your life, and I didn’t realize that until it was almost too late. But thank God I pulled out. I stopped doing drugs. I stopped drinking. I’ve been 10 years sober and my life is so amazing. I’m still doing commentary all these years later. It’s déjà vu and it’s something that I enjoy participating in and working ringside with my friends. I’m truly a blessed man.

I’m listening to you and I don’t think you realize how much of a legend you truly are.

You know, I just have to feel good inside. I have to feel good about myself instead of being just Sugar Ray Leonard.

Today, we’re seeing a lot of athletes in contact sports who love the game, but wouldn’t want their kids to participate. Were you that way with your kids? Or were they free to do whatever and be whomever they wanted?

I’m no different. I don’t want my kids to do that. Boxing is dangerous as most contact sports are because of the trauma that comes with it. I mean, they can train. But to actually fight, because fighting takes a test of fortitude, it takes heart. And when you’re at your lowest, you have to reach down. But if you’ve never been knocked down, you don’t have it. My kids, they don’t box. Especially with their styles, they can’t box. It’s not a pretty thing. If they want to and they show me that they have the passion and the talent, I’ll support them. I support them no matter what. They’re old enough to understand what it requires.

How did the passing of Muhammad Ali affect you?

It was bittersweet. I knew Muhammad was not healthy, but I loved him so much. To me, he was like a part of my family. And as that disease, Parkinson’s, was taking a piece of him each day, he was still so strong to have endured as long as he had because he’s a champ. He’s the greatest. And when I heard of his passing, I didn’t accept it. For a couple days, I didn’t believe he was gone. It wasn’t until I went to the funeral services in Louisville, Kentucky, that it really hit me that he had left us. But, you know what, he was so special. They call him the greatest of all time, and it doesn’t just apply to in the ring. He opened so many doors for so many people. Because if there wasn’t Muhammad Ali, there definitely would not be Sugar Ray Leonard.

If there was a message that you could deliver to your younger self, what would that be?

Be a leader. I would definitely say that, because for so long, and it happens to millions of kids, people, that we are affected by peer pressure. If your friends do it, you’ll do it no matter what it is. I’ve learned to, later on, be a leader. I tell my kids that, too. I tell my kids, if your gut tells you it’s wrong, nine times out of 10, it is wrong. Your gut is saying, ‘Why are you so nervous?’ You’re nervous because it’s not right.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received that still guides you today?

My parents always told me treat people like you want to be treated, because the same people you meet on your way up, you’re gonna meet on your way down. I’ve always wanted to be respected. The greatest thing that has happened to me, that I made possible, is that I’m respected. You may not even like me, but you respect me.