Black mask Kyrie Irving vs. clear mask Kyrie Irving — who wins? A breakdown of the All-Star point guard’s debut masked games — as a Cav, and as a Celtic

The “Masked Man” is back, but is he better?

After missing one game with a facial fracture that he suffered in the first quarter of the Boston Celtics’ 90-87 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 11, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving returned to the hardwood on Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets with shiny plastic strapped to his visage.

“I hate wearing it, but somehow it’s caused a craze on Instagram as well as social media,” Irving said before the game of the protective mask that countless NBA players from Wilt Chamberlain to Kobe Bryant, Richard “Rip” Hamilton and LeBron James have been required to wear after suffering an injury to their faces. “I understand that it’s just for my safety, so I throw on the mask for a few weeks and go about my business.”

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Tuesday didn’t mark the first time that Irving has had to take precautionary measures to protect his face. On Dec. 14, 2012, back in the pre-James teammate days of his tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving broke a bone in his jaw in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. A day later, the then-20-year-old donned a mask while facing the New York Knicks on the road.

So, how did Irving’s first game wearing a mask with the Celtics compare with his first one with the Cavs? Let’s break it down.

Dec. 15, 2012 — Cavs vs. Knicks, Madison SQuare Garden

Mask color: Black

Stat line: 41 points, 15-for-25 shooting (5-for-8 from 3-point), 5 assists and 5 rebounds.

Result: New York Knicks 103, Cleveland Cavaliers 102

Irving, aka Zorro, aka the Phantom of the Garden, went nuts for a then-career-high 41 points while saucing up Knicks guards Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd (then 39 years old) and Pablo Prigioni in 39 minutes on the floor. But remember, this was a Cleveland squad about a year and a half removed from James’ decision to come home. So even on Irving’s monster night, as Carmelo Anthony sat on New York’s bench with a sprained ankle, the struggling Cavs lost. In 19 games wearing a mask (both black and clear) during the 2012-13 season, Irving averaged 24.5 points while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Nov. 14 — Celtics vs. nets, barclays center

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Mask color: Clear

Stat line: 25 points, 8-for-20 shooting (2-for-5 from 3-point), 5 assists and 3 rebounds.

Result: Boston Celtics 109, Brooklyn Nets 102

Before Irving got fitted for his mask heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, his infant daughter, Azurie, accidentally hit him in the face in the spot where he suffered the fracture after teammate Aron Baynes inadvertently elbowed him while going for a block on Hornets guard Kemba Walker. “I did my absolute best not to cry in front of her. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, baby,’ ” Irving said of the moment with his daughter. “She hit me right on that spot.” Irving fought through the pain for a game-high 25 points. It wasn’t the career night that he pieced together while masked four years ago, but Irving led the Celtics to their 13th consecutive win.

As for when he’ll be able to bump that Future and take his “Mask Off?” — who knows? Until then, let’s revel in the fact that there’s just something about Kyrie Irving, in New York, rocking a mask.

Miami’s turnover chain is the best thing in college football — and we’re about to lose it Big, black, loud, arrogant and winning — how long can it last?

Just as a reminder to myself / I wear every single chain even when I’m in the house … — Drake, 2013’s “Started From The Bottom

Miami is hardly the first college team to rally around an inanimate object, the most recent high-profile example being Alabama’s “Ball Out Belt.” Much like Miami’s chain, the Crimson Tide’s belt was given for performance on the field. But unlike Miami’s chain, the belt didn’t have black South Florida roots. And it didn’t become anything like the cultural phenomenon the gaudy slab of diamonds and Cuban links so connected to brothers and sisters in the 305 area code.

The Miami Hurricanes’ chain was inspired by a quartet. First-year Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was looking to motivate his players. Cornerbacks coach and Canes alum Mike Rumph told famed jeweler Anthony John “AJ” Machado an idea he had for a necklace that defensive players could wear each time they forced a turnover. Super Bowl champion and former Canes standout Vince Wilfork was at Machado’s shop for an unrelated piece of custom jewelry and told Machado and Rumph the chain had to personally reflect who and what Miami stood for. Not just the campus, but the community’s culture. “In Miami, what are we famous for? We’re famous for the Cuban chains,” Machado told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in September. “But we need to add a little something to it.”

The chain’s true price remains a mystery, part of its ongoing fascination. But this 6.5-pound, 10-karat piece of jewelry — like so many trophy-esque watches, tennis bracelets and pearl chokers — is loud, boisterous, arrogant. And fun. Miami is famous for many things, and the swag of a Cuban link chain is one of them. The Miami Hurricanes’ turnover chain is Miami culture to its core. And it goes beyond — just ask Raekwon about his classic 1995 Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.

The U’s ascension back into the ranks of the elite programs in the game is directly tied to the allure of its turnover chain. College football, fun but far from radical, needed Miami’s swagger again. The team — led by guys such as safety/leading tackler Jaquan Johnson, linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, defensive end Trent Lewis, quarterback Malik Rosier and running back Travis Homer — is as counterculture as Allen Iverson was to the Jordan years of the NBA. The team is a breath of fresh air in a landscape with dominant but less personable powerhouses like Alabama, Ohio State or Michigan. The NCAA — chided for years for its lockdown on celebrations, which is seen in many circles as the “Miami rule” — enforces the personality of teams over players. So watching a team not only revel in how good they are but also live up to the hype? It’s rich. And the turnover chain has galvanized a defense that’s as physical, violent and cocky as there is in the country — tied for fourth in the country in turnovers forced (24) in one fewer game. Their Sept. 9 game at Arkansas State was canceled as Hurricane Irma barreled toward South Florida.

At 9-0, and currently first in the ACC’s Coastal Division, the Canes are the No. 2 program in the country. They’re also sitting on a streak of four consecutive games of four turnovers, including Nov. 11’s dismemberment of No. 3 Notre Dame — much to the chagrin of Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who all but called the dogs on his own team with a peculiar pregame on-field rant. A recent poll, too, found that many believe the chain is the best story in sports. And even if it’s not, the financial implications and the marketing behind the chain have already paid dividends of hundreds of thousands of dollars for vendors capitalizing on the sudden nationwide appeal with various forms of apparel. It’s great, right? But is it?


Do it for the culture / They gon’ bite like vultures …Quavo, from Migos’ 2017 “T-Shirt

Because already, infatuation with the chain teeters on appropriation. There’s always this tension when something very black — like a big gold chain, being worn by black men — “catches on.” The success of a thing or a gesture or a style is great, but then suddenly it’s not “ours” anymore, the benefit of it is going to everyone else and it’s wrung out and dead before it can be fully enjoyed.

It’s a feel-good story until it isn’t, right? Take the dab for instance, popularized in 2015 by Migos and brought to the doorstep of middle America on Sundays by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Everyone did the dab. That includes candidates such as Hillary Clinton, as well as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s son.

The dab became a caricature of itself. A pure, fun creation of popular hip-hop was bastardized by an American culture that has always fed off its energy — and yet is so very often ultimately demonized. Comedian Paul Mooney talks about in a bit called “Ugly On Us But Cute On Them” in 2012’s The Godfather of Comedy.

He could well have added big jewelry. On black people: grotesque, over the top, showy. On others: bold, edgy, fancy, innovative.

The turnover chain is more talked about right now than the race for the Heisman Trophy. Everyone wants in on the most recent gold mine, the flavor of the moment. But however impossible, how about we try to let the players have this moment? And let’s not forget: Their spontaneously joyful on-field marketing of the chain has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, yet the guys on the field are entitled to none of the profits. The chain should be theirs.

Their spontaneously joyful on-field marketing of the chain has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, yet the guys on the field are entitled to none of the profits. The chain should be theirs.

The turnover chain is a flashback to “The U” that was the baddest, most intimidating and most threatening force in college football. But the rules changed, and the brand of bullying that made Miami nationwide goons (but neighborhood superstars) has been discontinued. So it begs the question, will this new we-the-best momentum of the chain soon feel the clip of new rules? Yes, because, as ESPN’s Dan Le Batard recently said, “This team is still black. And the people doing the ravaging on defense are still black. There will be a turning on that. Showboaty black guy rarely gets embraced. … To be honest with you, if we’re going deep into this, the chain is the only thing from those overtly black Miami teams that is allowed in 2017.”

This season, the Canes have forced 24 turnovers on defense — 23 from black players. The lone exception was defensive lineman Ryan Fines’ fumble recovery in the season opener against Bethune-Cookman.


“Don’t look down on the youngsters because they wanna have shiny things.” — Pimp C, 2013’s “F—WithMeYouKnowIGotIt

How long The U’s undefeated season lasts is no guarantee, especially since there’s a date with No. 4 and defending national champion Clemson on the very near (Dec. 2) horizon. Yet, there’s history that shines brighter than the 900 orange and green sapphires swaying back and forth on the necks of players who have revived arguably the most culturally relevant college football program of all time.

“This team is still black. And the people doing the ravaging on defense are still black. There will be a turning on that. Showboaty black guy rarely gets embraced.”

The chain creates excitement on the field. The chain is useful because the players are motivated by that gleaming trophy. And the chain is important far beyond just the Instagram ops for celebrities and fly-by-night fans. Don’t let the University of Miami’s turnover chain die the same death as the dab. Don’t let the true essence of the chain be swept under the rug. Don’t allow the history of the chain and its place in Miami culture to be overlooked. Because it’s going to happen. If it hasn’t started already.

Martellus Bennett’s ability to empower and inspire kids caught the eye of Microsoft The tight end is part of the company’s Create Change movement

When tight end Martellus Bennett was a young child, he knew he wanted to create visuals and tell stories.

“As a punishment as a kid, my mom used to make me write stories about what happened. And I used to crush those,” he said. “I started writing like crazy. I always feel like creativity is one of my easiest things to do, ’cause there’s some things that you do in life that just feel right.”

The act of creating is natural for the 6-foot-6 athlete who was raised in Houston, where football is king. As Bennett’s desires grew to create more with his creativity and imagination, he knew he wanted to do more. So in 2016 he followed his passion and created The Imagination Agency, “a place where dreams come to life” and where he wears the title of chief executive officer. He tells stories through children’s books, apps and films. It’s an agency that cultivates and inspires youths to pursue creative career paths.

Under the umbrella of The Imagination Agency, Bennett penned children’s book Hey A.J., It’s Saturday, which was released on Father’s Day 2016 and has an app.

Bennett describes the word imagination as “endless possibilities.”

“I think imagination is the key to the world’s issues,” he said. “I think imagination is a great solution. Therefore, this is why I work very hard to promote creativity in kids, because kids have great imagination and creativity, and to help create great solutions for all of the problems that we have in the world in the future.”

To help him carry out his passion, he has partnered with Microsoft to participate in its Create Change movement. Microsoft’s Create Change program features a video series discussing how handpicked players are using Microsoft technology in their philanthropic endeavors. The company, known for having high standards with its philanthropic endeavors, is pursuing thought creators who are inspired to drive positive change and empower other individuals in their communities. And Bennett fits the bill. They also collaborated with four other NFL players to support the philanthropic work they do off the field: Von Miller, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Greg Olsen.

The charitable foundations created or supported by each player focus on areas that align with some of Microsoft’s core missions and values, including education, accessibility, creativity and health. By partnering with these foundations in providing both resources and awareness, they hope to increase their impact on the lives of those in need.

Each video shows a player discussing the inspiration for his cause. They each tell testimonies on how using Microsoft Surface products help them impact more lives in a variety of ways. In support of the work these charitable causes are doing, Microsoft will be making a donation to each of the five nonprofit organizations involved.

Bennett is also working on launching the Uncle Smarty Foundation, where his goal is to help kids use their imagination to dream bigger. He just rebranded The Imagination Agency, developing a new logo, and he is in the process of relaunching the website.

“A lot of people didn’t even know about it,” he said. “I feel like I had a chance to really rebrand some things before I start putting out my next couple projects.”

Bennett says the Create Change program is “super important” for him and his business.

He’s inspired by his 3-year-old daughter, Austyn Jett Rose Bennett.

“I feel like the stuff I’m doing is because of her,” he said. “I feel like she is going to be a black woman in our community growing up and there are a lot of kids like her.”

Bennett also works with Black Girls Code so he can empower other girls and women. “The more people she sees like her, the more comfortable she may be in those fields that she decides to go in. But right now I let her develop around art. It’s encouraging her to be herself, nothing stuffy.”

When Bennett wakes up, he reads some type of philosophy. Then he starts doodling before and after his workout, and “football stuff.” He later starts creating for his agency and uses the remaining parts of his day toward being a husband and father, which to him is the most important job in the world.

“I would rather suck at everything in life and be great at those two things. So I try to make sure that I stay that way, ’cause I’m super ambitious as a person but I want to make sure that I stay ambitious as a father and as a husband as well.”

Bennett is now back with the New England Patriots, who claimed him off waivers Thursday after he was waived by the Green Bay Packers. Bennett was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft and went on to play for the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and New England, winning Super Bowl LI with the Patriots last season.

Beats By Dre’s global head of marketing talks Dr. Dre, LeBron, Kaepernick and diversity Jason White takes us into his corner of the headphones giant

Jason White defines culture as being ahead of how the rest of the world sees or accepts something and actually being brave enough to put that point of view out into the world.

“Having the courage to be bold enough to try things and put yourself out there is what defines and pushes culture,” White, the global head of marketing at Beats By Dre, explained.

White works in today’s ever-changing culture masterfully. He’s considered to be one of the most reputable corporate quarterbacks in brand awareness, — making sure Beats by Dre is connecting to music, sports and culture and driving relevance and energy on a global scale.

Managing the hustle to the beat of today’s music is the workflow at Beats By Dre. The headphones company, founded by music icons Andre “Dr. Dre” Young and Jimmy Iovine, taps into pop culture in a way that moves with it through the storytelling of high-profile athletes and musicians.

White’s background includes the overseeing of the award-winning Straight Outta Compton campaign, along with LeBron James’ “Re-Established” campaign marking his return to Cleveland in 2014. Before Beats, White worked at Wieden + Kennedy to pursue the longtime dream of defining culture through the voice of Nike, where he led the Nike business in China and captained global campaigns for the 2008 Beijing Games, 2010 World Cup, James, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods. Other clients included Levi’s, Converse, Shanghai Disney Resort and, coincidentally, Beats By Dre.

“For a long time, Omar Johnson [Beats By Dre’s former chief marketing officer] talked to me about coming on board as his No. 2 at Beats, and finally I jumped in [in 2014],” said White. “Getting a bit of the vision into the business was exciting, but then going behind the curtain [as a Beats employee] was 100 times more exhilarating than I could have imagined.”

White, a New Englander and Georgetown grad, spoke with The Undefeated at his Culver City, California, office about the most rewarding and challenging parts of his job, working with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, collaborating with athletes such as James and Colin Kaepernick, and why the importance of diversity cannot and will not be ignored.


What is a typical day for you?

Every day I check in with my leadership team to prioritize short-, medium- and long-term goals that align with our stakeholders. And because we’re a brand that is reactive to culture, it really comes down to what’s on the calendar: Super Bowl, All-Star, Fashion Week, launch of a product, or an artist dropping an album day of. It’s very situational according to the rhythm of culture.

I spent the last two days at Interscope [Records] listening to some of Eminem’s new music, and we were just with French Montana. Having incredible creators like them share their gem with us and then think of how it could connect with one of our athlete’s stories, or how it could be used with what Beats is trying to say about a noise-canceling moment in your life, that’s when it becomes really fun.

What have you learned under the leadership of Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine and Luke Wood (president)?

They are so open to discussion. Jimmy and Luke always say, ‘It’s a band. We all have an instrument.’ It’s because they come from music and a world where you rarely do anything by yourself. When you have that mindset, you learn how to share and build ideas and take criticism.

How is it collaborating with athletes?

What our athletes do amazingly well is perform. They trust us to do the same thing and execute a vision that tells their story. It’s the same trust as with their coaches, like with [Tennessee Titans quarterback] Marcus Mariota telling the story of how Hawaii got him to the NFL.

What was the conversation like with LeBron James in telling his story of going back to Cleveland?

It was a very human conversation that was honest and open. LeBron told us, ‘Go to this house. I saw it get bulldozed when I was a kid. Visit this apartment, it was the first time I ever felt safe.’ To trust us with that type of information was very powerful.

Tell me about an athlete who’s come to Beats wanting to put a voice to a cause.

Colin Kaepernick has been incredibly vocal and consistent about the injustice that he sees and the sacrifice he’s willing to make to address that and raise awareness around it. We’ve had conversations about what role we can play and how the brand can be part of his journey.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I love my job because it’s where creativity and culture blazes ahead. There’s this desire to do something that hasn’t been done before in telling stories and letting the emotion of music fuel a space and change a perspective.

How about the most challenging side of it?

Because we’re working with the most creative people in the world, we have to come to the table prepared to compromise, share and listen. The idea you may bring to the table probably isn’t going to be the same thing you walk out the door with. It’s going to be better, but you have to know and believe that it can be achieved through the dialogue in that journey.

What album will always be a classic to you?

The Low End Theory [second album by A Tribe Called Quest]. My grandmother is from Queens [New York], so I grew up listening to Tribe all of the time.

Tell me about how you got involved with the Marcus Graham Project.

I’ve always had great mentors, so it was important for me to figure out how to give that experience to others and really pay it forward. I remember cold-calling Lincoln Stephens from Ad Age, who is the founder and executive director of the Marcus Graham Project, and saying, ‘I don’t know how or what I can do, but I just want to help.’ Now I’m a board member and deeply involved by either showing up as a mentor or speaking about global marketing and helping them find jobs. The program is incredible and designed to get young, diverse talent into creative careers faster by giving them tools, inspiration, access and exposure.

What is diversity, and why is it important?

Diversity is about having your own point of view, and when you collectively put them together, you get a series of thinkers, makers and doers that all bring something powerful and unique. For far too long, the advertising industry, and to some extent marketing, has not had enough different point of views in the room. It’s about how high is up, and you only get that when that diversity is represented.

What sports did you play growing up? How did it influence the way you lead at work?

In high school I played football and lacrosse, but over the years I competed in soccer, tennis, basketball and swimming too. I carry a football mentality [in the workplace]. It’s all about the team. We win, lose, practice and sweat as a team.

What does it mean when you say, ‘I stand on the shoulder of giants and celebrate the emotion of music’?

[Those giants refer] to Jimmy, Dre and Luke, and on my personal journey it’s my father, my high school football coach, the former CMO of Gatorade Morgan Flatley and Rebecca Van Dyck, who took a chance on me at Wieden + Kennedy to run the Nike business. It’s all of the incredible mentors who have given me opportunities. [The emotion of music] is powerfully special and the reason why we press play and do what we do.

This NFL wife, mother and motivational speaker survived breast cancer twice Niya Brown Matthews is way too fabulous for cancer

Greenville, South Carolina, native Niya Brown Matthews was just 27 years old when she was first diagnosed with stage 2 cancer in her left breast. The outcome left her speechless.

“I didn’t even know anybody with it,” Matthews said. “It didn’t run in my family. I had just moved to Atlanta with my 4-year-old daughter.”

She’d also just recently buried her father, who died of lupus at the age of 50.

“I felt like I was being punked,” she said. “I couldn’t even fathom it. Seriously, why me?”

Matthews said she had no symptoms. She completed a breast self-examination in the shower and felt a knot under her arm. She thought it was a cyst from wearing deodorant that was too strong. She was experiencing no pain at all. So she pushed the idea of getting tested to the back of her mind.

“I’m pretty healthy, like I’ve been pretty healthy leading up to that,” Matthews thought at the time, trying to understand what was happening. She finally decided to see her doctor, mainly to put her mother’s concerns at ease. She got an appointment for a mammogram and felt completely out of place while waiting.

“I was just this black little girl in this waiting room with these older white women wearing robes, and it felt like a movie. It just didn’t feel real,” she said. “When I got the diagnosis and I was still grieving, I’m a daddy’s girl, and my daddy had just died, so I was in a spiral downward. I’m talking about the questioning, mad at God. I wasn’t eating. I didn’t even want to go get treatment at that time. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to me.”

After coming to grips with her diagnosis and accepting the call to battle, she underwent a lumpectomy and endured several rounds of radiation — so many that she can’t recall the number. She’d gotten down to about 110 pounds, and she said her body took the treatment “really, really hard.” But she maintained a strong immune system throughout the entire process.

In a search to find healing for her mind, body and spirit, Matthews took the advice of her oncologist and started a journal to help her through the process. She refused to go to any support groups.

“I felt ashamed,” Matthews admitted. “People know me as always having it together, and I felt like I was like the scarlet letter, red. It was a mess.”

She pulled herself together, fought her way through her treatments and beat cancer. She overcame the disease that claims the lives of thousands of women each year — until one day it resurfaced. Matthews got her second diagnosis years later.

“When it came back in the second breast, I opted to get that one cut off and just rebuild. My amazing husband was my rock, really, the second time around,” Matthews said. “It was about a year of my life. That whole process was about a year of my life, from treatments to appointments. The first time it felt like it went by so long, but the second time, and I don’t know if that’s my faith wasn’t wavering at that point, I had toughened up. When it came back again, I didn’t even tell my husband.”

In 2010, she married former NFL player Eric Matthews, a Super Bowl champion with the 1996-97 Green Bay Packers.

“It wasn’t that Eric wasn’t going to find out. He doesn’t like to see me sick. I know I’m a tough cookie, so I had to,” Matthews said. “I went ahead and told Eric, and we cried together and I was like, ‘This is not it. This isn’t going to be it. We’re going to make it work, and we’re going to get through it.’ And we did.”

Now 37, Matthews is encouraging others through her annual charity event Too Fabulous for Cancer. She is using her platform to inspire women and spread the notion that breast cancer is not a death sentence. The funds from the event, currently in its third year, are used to provide much-needed resources and comfort to cancer patients. She said she fully understands the “bureaucratic red tape and other systematic barriers that often prevent a lot of women from getting help from larger organizations.” So, through a small company, Matthews provides resources and other items to uplift and empower women during their personal breast cancer battle.

Her last event was on Oct. 21 in Atlanta during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each year there is an open call from the organization for letters nominating a patient to be selected for a surprise glam makeover at the event. Funds also go directly to selected women for doctor visit co-pays, gas, food, baby sitters during their treatment if they have children, wigs and other out-of-pocket expenses that are not covered by even the best health insurance.

Throughout her journey, Matthews witnessed a series of family members die after her own diagnosis. Watching and reliving their struggles fueled her passion for giving back even more.

“I had already buried 13 of my family members; even my sister was diagnosed at 31. And she said she never would have thought that she needed to go get checked. She was stage 0, which is great because she caught it early.”

Matthews is an author, motivational speaker, humanitarian, real estate professional, wife and mother. Her compassion for others has been the drive for her humanitarian outreach work. Her goals include helping to inspire, enrich and educate women. As president of the Eric Matthews Foundation, she pushes community outreach projects, feeds the homeless and hosts toy drives alongside her husband.

Her book, The Boss In You, empowers and inspires women and young girls to overcome their obstacles and find success in their lives and careers. “My daughter named that book. She says every time she would hear me on the phone talking to somebody, I was telling them to boss up and get it together.”

Matthews said the hardest part of her journey has been learning how to wind down and shut down her busy lifestyle.

“I have one of the biggest hearts,” she said. “My husband and I, we are philanthropists on every level, humanitarians. We give back. And sometimes you want to just be able to do more, but realistically, we’re not balling. We can’t just give it all, but sometimes we need to shut that off, because you’d be amazed at how many inbox messages and Facebook messages and emails I get from people wanting help, or to listen to them, or give them a resource. I go to bed with that. It’s very hard to shut that off. I want to help them all, I do.”

Matthews created a nationwide tour to help combat bullying and body image shaming. Her Finding Your Purpose Tour sets out to speak to female students at high schools, colleges, women’s organizations and corporations about building self-esteem, making positive life choices and the importance of women supporting other women. She recently kicked off her new project: Soulfood Sessions with Niya, set for Nov. 4. The daylong series is an intimate brunch that empowers, celebrates and uplifts women through Matthews’ golden nuggets of inspiration, and she also allows women to share their thoughts.

A South Carolina invite to the White House could only help Trump The Gamecocks have yet to receive a call but have always planned to go if asked

Since at least 1865, when the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals baseball clubs were invited by President Andrew Johnson, making the trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. has been associated with the glamour of winning a national championship in American sports. Although the practice didn’t become a regular occurrence until the Reagan administration, being honored at the White House for winning a championship has become a long-standing tradition that most athletes seem to take great pride in.

But that moment has yet to come for the South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team. It’s been more than six months since their championship win in April, and the White House has yet to extend them an invitation.

“We haven’t gotten an invitation yet, and that in itself speaks volumes,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “We won before those other teams won their championships. I don’t know what else has to happen.”

During SEC media day, Vanderbilt coach Stephanie White called it a “slap in the face” and Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, who was invited in 2011 after his championship win, agreed: “She deserves that honor, and her team — but, more importantly, the country — needs to see a women’s basketball team in the White House being recognized. That’s something that they’ve earned.”

The Associated Press also reported that the office of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, recently said an invite would be coming later; however, college basketball season is fast approaching and the Gamecocks’ title defense will begin soon. So how long should the reigning champions have to wait?

Blair may be right about one thing: The country needs this. This is a time when protest and political expression have been heightened. And while some individual players have refused to accept an invitation as a form of political objection to the current administration, Staley made clear in April that the South Carolina women would attend if invited because, as she puts it, “that’s what national champions do” and national champions from every major sport this year have been doing it … sort of.

President Donald Trump has been visited by both the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and the College Football Playoff champion Clemson Tigers. The 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs have been to the White House twice, going once during the end of President Barack Obama’s term and making a second trip for Trump in June. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins made the customary visit two weeks ago, and the North Carolina men’s basketball team was offered an opportunity to attend but declined because of a scheduling conflict.

The NBA champion Golden State Warriors at least had an invitation rescinded (it was never clear that the team was invited to the White House anyway) after star point guard Stephen Curry stated that he would not cast a team vote in favor of attending. In response to Curry, Trump stated that visiting the White House is considered “a great honor.” Are the women in South Carolina not worthy of such an honor?

Connecticut Sun power forward and ESPN women’s basketball analyst Chiney Ogwumike offers the perspective that women’s basketball is just not a priority for this government.

“The passions of this administration are just not the same as the previous administration, and it’s unfortunate,” Ogwumike said. “But I don’t think this was a jab or slight to the South Carolina team. Women’s basketball is always fighting for legitimacy and respect, and although we had a good year with the Final Four and [Mississippi State’s] Morgan William hitting a huge shot and watching the Lynx and the Sparks go back at it in the WNBA Finals, there are still some people who just aren’t as passionate about women’s basketball. Is it fair? No.”

A case could be made that women’s basketball is still on the back burner, as it has been for years in American sports. Still, snubbing these ladies feels like a missed opportunity to rewrite this administration’s narrative and include a group of people who have felt alienated and excluded since the beginning of Trump’s term of office.

In the current climate of our country, where racial and gender tensions are high, one would hope the White House could see the benefit of having the Gamecocks appear before the president and how that moment could bridge that gap to overturn the public perception that this current government spreads a message of divisiveness as opposed to unity. A genuine congratulatory moment with one of the greatest players in women’s basketball history — who coaches one of the most distinguished collegiate programs, which happens to hail from the same state that not two years ago was torn apart by a racially-driven mass shooting — could very well have been a grace note for this administration for both sports fans and women.

Geno Auriemma and the 2016 champion University of Connecticut Huskies made the trip six times during the Obama administration. Women aren’t going away anytime soon. It’s time this reality is accepted.

Are we entering the end times for the NFL? Professional basketball offers the NFL a blueprint for success: embrace the black culture of the majority of your players

The National Football League, the American sport that comes closest to resembling a religion, has its end times in sight: the year 2021. “The likelihood,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in August, “of either a strike, or a lockout is in ’21 a virtual certainty.”

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them.

Every religious text has mention of the end times. In just the past 30 years, we’ve survived Halley’s comet, Y2K, the end of the Mayan calendar and the rapture that was supposed to happen in September. But nothing lasts forever. The NFL has survived lockouts and strikes before and has seemed like Teflon for the past decade with sky-high broadcast ratings, massive revenues and an annual American holiday called Super Bowl Sunday. But the league has serious competition for American pastime status from the National Basketball Association.

This may seem far-fetched now, while the NFL’s television ratings lead the NBA’s by a wide margin (although numbers were down last season, and some wonder whether television ratings, in a streaming world, matter as much as they used to). And the NBA doesn’t have anything close to dominating a whole day in America like the Super Bowl. But the NBA, which is as popular as ever in this social media era, continues to embrace an important fact about American culture: Black culture and black people determine cool. Cool resists linear structures. If the NFL wants to maintain its dominance, it needs to embrace black culture or get left behind. Just like baseball.


Let’s be clear: The 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers was the league’s most watched Finals since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls played the Utah Jazz in 1998. But the average 20.4 million viewers who tuned into each game is equal to the average viewership for a single Sunday Night Football game in 2016. And the NFL is still an unmitigated cash cow, with a net worth of more than $13 billion, dwarfing the NBA’s $6 billion figure. The average NFL franchise is worth $2.5 billion. Worth of the average NBA franchise: $1.36 billion, a 3.5-fold increase over the past five years. Over at Major League Baseball, the average team is worth $1.54 billion, but 50 percent of viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent in 2010. And in its defense, the MLB can still captivate the country when it has historic World Series matchups like last year’s battle between Cinderellas in the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. And they almost doubled back with a monster championship series between the Yankees and Dodgers if the former hadn’t lost to the Houston Astros. ESPN data shows the average age of baseball viewers at 53. The average age is 47 for the NFL, and it’s rising. The average age is 37 for the NBA, and it seems to be staying there. Baseball’s television ratings continue to trend downward.

Howard Bryant, ESPN senior writer and author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, summarizes the NFL’s stance in relation to the NBA and MLB: “Post-ABA merger,” he says, “basketball has done by far the best job of adapting to the people who play the sport, baseball the worst. The NFL has been in between, leaning towards a bad job.”

Why might the NFL be on its way to becoming MLB? Because the NFL is looking at a 2021 season that may not even be played. Because the NFL’s ostensibly mainstream stars — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning — who have dominated the past decade, are getting old. And many kids are being steered away from playing the game in its tackle form. “Participation has dropped,” Mark Murphy said in January. He’s president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers and a board member at USA Football. “There’s concern among parents about when is the right age to start playing tackle, if at all.” In a recent (nonrandom) study of NFL players, 110 out of 111 brains examined showed signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

But the NFL could spiral mostly because, perhaps more than at any other time in pro football history, the league is at a crossroads when it comes to race. League news right now leads with racial conflict. Players are protesting. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and owners are somewhere between demanding and begging them not to. And in the middle, fans fight over whose boycott of the NFL is actually having an impact on the ratings, if any at all.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor. Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.” — Andrew Brandt, director, Moorad Center for Sports Law at Villanova

Free agent Colin Kaepernick, to bring attention to systemic racism and police brutality, opted on Aug. 14, 2016, not to stand for the national anthem. This has placed the NFL at the center of a discussion about race and sports. Kaepernick’s protest has spread around the world, from European soccer games to Midwestern high school football games. By most accounts, the NFL has botched the handling of the protests. A year later, Kaepernick isn’t in the league despite evidence of him being good enough to start on some teams, and he could surely be a backup.

The reason the anti-protest backlash has become so impactful for the black community is because there’s an understanding of what the fervor about protests is really about—silence. There are contradictions in just about every sentiment of outrage about the protests. Just look at the viral image of an NFL fan wearing a “I stand for the National Anthem” shirt while sitting on a flag. And at the fact that the NFL didn’t even start requiring players to stand for the Anthem until 2009—after the Department of Defense paid the league $5.4 million for “paid patriotism.” And at the fact the NFL actually violates flag codes in some of their representations of patriotism. Jerry Jones himself sat during the anthem at his first Cowboys game, in 1989. And Donald Trump’s finger-pointing at players (and owners) doesn’t erase the fact he insulted John McCain for being a prisoner of war and has lied about calling Gold Star military families who lost soldiers in battle this year. The anger over protests isn’t about patriotism, it’s about silencing black athletes. Steps the NFL may or may not make to quell protests will be seen as an endorsement of that silence.

On Oct. 15, Kaepernick filed a formal grievance against the NFL alleging collusion by team owners. “I think he should be on a roster right now, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers said in August. “I think because of his protests, he’s not.” Jay-Z rocks a custom Kaepernick jersey on Saturday Night Live, and his actual jersey leads the 49ers’ sales, even though he hasn’t taken a snap for them this season. Kaepernick’s likeness rules the streets. All the while, Kaep rarely speaks, instead continuing his push to donate a million dollars of his own money to various charities across the country, volunteering to donate backpacks to students and suits to parolees. Without so much as a news conference, Kaepernick is part of a daily news cycle, thanks to a massive social media following that watches his every move.

What Kaepernick is learning is something NBA players have known for years: Their social media channels are the best ways to get their points across. So when NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo reinforcing the rule that players had to stand for the anthem, NBA players (J.R. Smith notwithstanding) mostly took it in stride. That’s because they understand their social impact reaches further than the average NFL player’s. (Odell Beckham Jr., with 9 million Instagram followers, has the most by far of any NFL player.)

LeBron James, who has 39 million Twitter followers and 33 million Instagram followers, expressed that much in a news conference after he called Donald Trump a “bum” on Twitter: “My voice … is more important than my knee. What I say should hit home for a lot of people [to] know where I stand. I don’t believe I have to get on my knee to further what I’m talking about.”

The NBA, its individual players, and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors goes to the basket against the Houston Rockets on October 17, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

And that’s where the NBA dominates the NFL: at social media, where everything is happening. On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, NBA teams have an average of more than 7 million followers, while NFL franchises average 4.6 million. Even during the NFL’s last season, there were more hashtags on Twitter dedicated to the NBA. In 2016, Forbes ranked the top athletes on social media: Four of the top 10 players were from the NBA, and the rest were international soccer stars. NFL players didn’t crack the top 10. The NBA social media connection allows players to enter lives and households in new and intimate ways.

Another major reason for the NBA’s ability to lap the NFL in social media is the NFL’s draconian rules about sharing videos online. Last October, the league sent out a memo barring teams from posting clips or GIFs of games. Teams that did so would be fined up to $100,000. While teams such as the Atlanta Falcons use clips from Madden video games to “show” highlights every Sunday, the NFL’s hard line limits many teams’ ability to deeply connect with fans where they are — which is, so much of the time, on their phones.

“The NBA is the more progressive league when it comes to digital,” said Jaryd Wilson, digital content manager for the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have become an online darling thanks to creative Twitter posts and engagement with fans online. “In-game highlights are our highest digital performers and our most engaging types of content.”

The NFL’s limits on social media, and teams’ subsequent mockery of the decision, exposes a blind spot about American culture. African-Americans dominate what’s trendy on social media, and if “Black Twitter” determines that something is viral, it often becomes an American cultural phenomenon. Think of phrases such as “lit” and “on fleek” or crazes like the mannequin challenge — these began in blackness. On any given week, a new black-centered sensation, such as the NSFW #ForTheD challenge that dominated social media last month, takes over the country.

The NFL had that viral moment with Cam Newton doing his signature dabbing celebration in 2015, but he was as chastised for it as he was celebrated. Letters were written to newspapers about his “pelvic thrusts,” and Newton’s “arrogance” became the center of the story. And after a humbling Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos, Newton seemed put in his place. Instead of embracing him, the NFL demonstrated that it didn’t understand what moves the needle in American culture. It cut down one of its viral superstars — something the NBA just doesn’t do.

“The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

“Diversity is very important to us,” said the Hawks’ Wilson. “We know our demographic, and our audience, and it is about keeping up with those trends. We always think about how can we tap into diverse communities while trying to push ourselves forward.” It affects the Hawks’ bottom line significantly. The organization has taken things a step further by offering a full-on embrace of Atlanta music: acts such as T.I., Gucci Mane and Big Boi perform at halftimes throughout the season, which has resulted in increased ticket sales and price inflation every time a concert is announced. The Hawks’ Philips Arena is even now home to rapper Killer Mike’s Swag barbershop.

The NBA understands that rock is no longer the dominant genre of music. Last year’s Finals marketing soundtrack featured songs from Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. while the NFL featured the return of Hank Williams Jr. — who was dropped from ESPN’s Monday Night Football six years ago for likening President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. And while the NBA features a list of rap stars and rhythm and blues singers during All-Star Weekend festivities, this year the Super Bowl will feature Justin Timberlake, whose last, 2004 Super Bowl performance featured him pulling off a piece of Janet Jackson’s clothing, exposing her breast. Whether or not the move was planned, it went awry, and Jackson caught the backlash as Timberlake’s career flourished. These kinds of things resonate, and the NFL’s de facto pardoning of Timberlake is another reminder to the black consumer that the league doesn’t cherish their concerns the way the NBA so often does.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor,” said Andrew Brandt, director of the Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at the Villanova University and host of The Business Of Sports podcast. “Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.”

Yet, even as black America is ravaged by socioeconomic disparities, a 2015 Nielsen study explains that we’ve reached a tipping point with regard to black economic influence. “Today’s American mainstream is rapidly changing, and that change can be attributed in part to the growth and activities of African-Americans in the marketplace. Social media and the internet have become go-to communications platforms for African-American stories and content.” The study goes on to state that black consumer power is growing at unprecedented levels, reaching $1.2 trillion in 2015, a 275 percent increase from 1990. So the appeal to the black consumer is about more than just what’s “cool.” It’s about a consumer base that is increasingly vital.


The NBA season kicked off last Tuesday with a display of the chokehold professional basketball has on compelling storylines. LeBron James faced off against his former teammate and passive-aggressive foe Kyrie Irving. The Warriors lost a buzzer-beater to the newly constructed Houston Rockets that now boast Chris Paul — all while a Klay Thompson doppelgänger was the social media joke of the night. But the NBA’s offseason was almost as entertaining, full of memed stories and social media buzz, from the petty feud between Irving and James to Thompson’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-like adventures in China, Hoodie ’Melo and Kevin Durant’s bizarre Twitter dramas. The NBA, its individual players and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Meanwhile, the NFL is years-deep into a seemingly never-ending barrage of Spygate, Bountygate and Deflategate. There was the Ray Rice domestic abuse case. Accusations about covering up CTE analysis. All of this, though, seemed only to slightly dent the NFL’s impenetrable shield: People seemed to have accepted the judge and jury status of Goodell, the misogyny and abusive history of too many players who continue to play despite domestic abuse cases, and folks kind of knew that playing football was damaging to athletes in the long term. But Kaepernick’s protest and its fallout illuminated a sharp and deep conflict within the NFL—and among its fans—that many weren’t expecting.

“Go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds.” — Howard Bryant

An Oct. 11 study by The New York Times makes clear that the NFL is now one of the “most divisive” brands in America. The league doesn’t have to choose between its black players and white audience, but it does have to find a middle ground between black players and fans, and its white fans, a dilemma unique to the National Football League. The NFL is the only major male American sport that has mostly black players and a mostly white audience. The NFL is 67 percent black, but its audience is measured at 77 percent white. And although the league is two-thirds black, its top stars are white. In 2015, seven of the NFL’s nine top endorsement earners were white. Since then, black athletes such as Cam Newton and Odell Beckham Jr. have stormed the top ranks, but endorsements largely focus on quarterbacks. The New York Giants are the only team in the NFL that has never started a black quarterback. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, there were six black starting quarterbacks as of Week 7.

But by the time of the 2021 labor negotiations, the aforementioned Brady/Brees/Rodgers/Manning quadrumvirate will be out of the league. Andrew Luck, Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota are the quarterbacks most poised to be the league’s next torchbearers, and with them are Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston and Dak Prescott. So what happens when the faces of the league are as black as the rest of the players? How the NFL reacts will determine the future of the sport. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have both been at the same racial crossroads. One league offers the NFL a blueprint for success, and the other a cautionary tale.


The NBA has had multiple eras in which it has had to realign based on demographics and its top stars. In 1979, three years after the NBA merged with the ABA, the league had a nearly identical demographic makeup as the NFL. Seventy-five percent of the NBA’s players were black, up from 60 percent a decade before, and only two of the league’s top 20 scorers were white. At the same time, 75 percent of the audience was white. Attendance was down, as were ratings, to the tune of a 26 percent decrease against the previous season. A 1979 Sports Illustrated article titled There’s An Ill Wind Blowing For The NBA laid out the question plainly: Is the NBA too black?

The article examined the feeling among fans and some owners that black athletes were “undisciplined,” “overpaid” and played “playground basketball” — all dog whistles. An unnamed executive was quoted: “The question is, are they [the black players] promotable? People see them dissipating their money, playing without discipline. How can you sell a black sport to a white public?”

There was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport.

The NBA answered that question two ways. One, David Stern became commissioner in 1984. “Stern said, ‘I’m just going to put the best people on the floor,’ and he said the same thing for the front office,” said Richard Lapchick, founder/director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sports (TIDES). “The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

The league also lucked up by being able to lean into its racial divide with a ready-made rivalry between the bombastic and very black Los Angeles Lakers, led by Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics. Stern, to his credit, embraced the clash, marketing the rivalry and letting the racial subtext become one of the main storylines. The league rode that popularity through the ’80s and ’90s with respectable black stars like Michael Jordan who didn’t upset the American status quo. Jordan was, in many ways, the perfect black athlete for corporate America. He stayed out of politics, seemed nonthreatening, and was a money machine.

Then came the NBA’s next racial crossroads: Allen Iverson. AI, the anti-Jordan, had cornrows, tattoos, jewelry — and he just did it his way. Iverson tested the limits of Stern’s acceptance of black culture. Iverson was from the ’hood, had been embroiled in a nasty fight before going to college, and didn’t bother cleaning up his language. While the NBA struggled with Iverson’s imaging, Reebok embraced his persona, tying their AI shoe to urban culture. They called it The Answer, and it was a monumental success.

A generation of athletes looked up to Iverson. And as those players mimicked his style, the NBA cracked down. In 2005, Stern instituted a dress code for the NBA, making players drop the baggy clothes and dress business casual. LeBron James, just entering his third year, was amenable to the change: “No it’s not a big deal, not to me.” The usually reserved Tim Duncan had stronger thoughts: “I think it’s a load of crap.” Of course now NBA players are the most style-forward athletes in the world. Every night is a runway show.

In 2014, when a tape of the Clippers’ then-owner Donald Sterling uttering racial slurs leaked online, new commissioner Silver was quick and decisive, issuing a lifetime ban. It was the only viable option. The fans were ready for Sterling (who had a long history of animus toward African-Americans) to go, and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry had planned on walking out during a game if Sterling kept his status. There could be no wiggle room. In fairness, the NBA had to work out many of its racial battles before the era of social media. So while the league’s virtual expulsion of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the mid-’90s was just as despicable as what’s happening to Kaepernick, the league didn’t have to fight those issues in real time on social media, like the NFL does now.

“There’s a cottage industry in predicting and hoping for some sort of downfall in the NFL due to concussions, or domestic violence or whatever the latest crisis people seem to make of it,” said Brandt. “I kind of smile when I hear that, because we’ve been talking about that for a long time and NFL continues to grow financially.”

But it’s important to remember that there was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport. There are numerous reasons for baseball’s dwindling cultural impact: steroid scandals, strikes and shrinking attention spans. However, it’s undeniable that baseball’s lack of connection with America as a whole is directly tied to its refusal to embrace black culture.

“You go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds,” said ESPN’s Bryant. “It was the greatest threat to the integrity of the game because the best player in the game, who all the young people loved and wanted to emulate, was doing something cool, and they shot it down. That was baseball’s last opportunity to catch people and be hip to Madison Avenue, because drugs ruined the game for the next 25 years.”

Baseball’s tacit insistence upon “tradition” and unspoken rules are all too often coded language for a refusal to accept cultural norms that aren’t firmly white American. Bat flips and celebrations are seen as being anti-baseball when they’re really bits of culture inserted by nonwhite athletes. In 2015, Chris Rock landed a scalding indictment of baseball’s popularity during a video for HBO’s Real Sports.

Calling himself an “endangered species, a black baseball fan,” Rock insists that baseball’s focus on its history, a history that excluded African-Americans for the first half of the 20th century, is a turnoff for black fans who aren’t into a time when only white players were allowed to play. And Rock suggests that baseball will fall further away from mainstream popularity as long as it continues to ignore the black fan and players. “Maybe if baseball can get a little hipper, a little cooler and just a little more black, the future can change,” he said in the monologue. “But until then, blacks and baseball just ain’t a good match anymore. Blacks don’t seem to care, but baseball should be terrified.”

The NFL may be gaining an understanding of its need to let black players express themselves to their fans. The league has loosened up the penalties for touchdown celebrations, which has so often been a vibrant space for black player expression and trash talk on the field. Now, players can celebrate while using the football as a prop, celebrate as a team and celebrate on the ground, which were previously 15-yard penalties. And the ESPN Twitter account promoted a Week 5 Packers vs. Cowboys game with a video of battle rappers DNA and K-Shine rhyming about their favorite teams at a barbershop. It’s a start, and a sign that the NFL is inching toward some of the cool points that the NBA snatched. But with Kaepernick still unemployed, the league, stuck in its ways, continues to scramble without a sophisticated strategy or uniform approach in place.

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them. But the NFL is at a crossroads at a time when black culture is simultaneously as powerful, relevant and under attack as at any point in American history. What side of that history is the NFL going to stand — or kneel — on? The almighty National Football League has decisions to make, and so do its players and fans.

‘The Black Cowboy’ will shine light on history hidden in plain sight Documentary in production lends insight into African-American cowboys and rodeo

Denard Butler is not the typical cowboy in Checotah, Oklahoma, known as the steer wrestling capital of America. He holds an advanced degree in behavioral health and worked for a time as a therapist. He speaks routinely about “the laws of the universe” and quotes Bible verses.

Oh, and he’s black.

Of all Butler’s attributes and uniqueness to his profession, his race is the most surprising — and polarizing.

At 33, he is a third-generation cowboy from Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, meaning he went into his chosen career aware of the challenges that come with it because he was not white. And he chose it anyway.

“It’s a passion,” said Butler, an accomplished steer wrestler who also owns a trucking company. “When you’re black and competing in places like San Juan Capistrano, California; Price, Utah; and Prescott, Arizona, you’re not going to see many people who look like you. So you will hear the N-word. A lot. I use it for power. I feed off it. I tell myself, ‘You’re going to read about me. You’re going to get sick of seeing me.’ I want it more than most, and so I use it as fuel. My belief system is different.”

Butler’s story, which includes four bar fights with white cowboys or patrons who put their hands on him, is part of a revealing documentary in production that promises to lend heretofore unknown insight into black cowboys and their history in America.

Charles Perry’s film, The Black Cowboy, takes a high-definition and comprehensive look at the legacy of African-Americans as cowboys, which dates to the beginning of the lifestyle, up to today’s influx of black cowboys in Oklahoma and other places across the country.

Perry, of Carson, California, said he “escaped” suburban Los Angeles to play college basketball at Northwest College in Wyoming in 1994. In 1997, he visited a friend’s home in Lewistown, Montana, and attended a rodeo.

“And there was this black kid participating,” Perry said. “And it was loud in my mind: ‘That kid must be adopted. A white family must have taken him and made him become a cowboy.’

“That thought stayed in my mind as I drove from Georgia to Portland, Oregon, [in 2014] with a friend. We ran across the Okmulgee Black Rodeo in Oklahoma. I was in a daze, seeing all these black cowboys. I didn’t understand what was going on.”

But it was at that moment that the budding filmmaker embraced the idea for his first major project. He had worked with others on small films where he served various roles. Perry also worked on films as an extra or bit, nonspeaking roles and said he would stick his head in directors’ discussions, and “they never told me to get out, so I learned a lot.”

In April 2015, the resourceful Perry took a job driving a U-Haul truck from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Portland. He drove “directly to Okmulgee, to tell the Okmulgee City Hall my plans of making the documentary.”

He met Delta Higgins, who worked at City Hall and who has been a guiding force for Perry — “my angel,” he called her.

“It is an incredibly important yet omitted story within America’s narrative,” the 41-year-old Perry said. “How often do we see now or in the past the cowboy of the Wild West represented as a black man or woman? Very rarely … and yet, they were there in important ways. Black cowboys and their story have been neglected.”

Filmmaker Charles Perry.

Ivan McClellan

Perry has spent the better part of three years traveling the country, mostly by car, to research, meet and film black cowboys in all points of the country. He said the film should be completed in time for entry into the renowned Sundance Film Festival next summer. He also plans to enter it at Cannes, Tribeca and other festivals.

He used online crowdfunding to raise $25,000, which allowed him to hire Emmy-nominated cinematographer Erik Angra and respected African-American photographer Ivan McClellan, who are working at discounted rates, Perry said, because they “see the vision of the film.”

Perry’s younger brother, Marcus, is on the staff, as well as two high school friends — J.R. Redmond, who won a Super Bowl ring as a member of the New England Patriots, and Tony Harvey, who once played for the Utah Jazz of the NBA — who serve as executive producers.

“It’s been a grind, something Nate Parker [director of Birth of a Nation] told me last year at Sundance what it would be,” Perry said. “But I’m determined.”

The total budget of the film is $220,000, and Perry said he used his savings and supplemented the support and donations he’s received by eating less and working side jobs more. “I will pass up on an extra hamburger but not skimp on using the best-quality cameras we need,” he said.

Mostly, Perry said, “I know how to hustle” to keep afloat. To support himself and the film, he edits online video content, including short films and music videos.

“I’m a one-man crew for $2,500 a job. I get three or four jobs a month [to] sustain myself,” he explained. “I’m doing what I have to do to make this film. It’s that important to me.

“So I’m taking my time, not rushing,” Perry added. “This thing is deeper than I thought when I started.”

Perry, for instance, has learned that the term “cowboy” originated when farmers would instruct black farmhands to “go get that cow, boy.”

He learned that Oklahoma, first home of Native Americans, was a haven for African-Americans who fled the South in the 1800s. Blacks owned land and built thriving communities.

Government officials asked Congress to designate Oklahoma as a “black state” or “Negro Colonization.” It never happened, but the influx of African-Americans produced countless farmers and, yes, cowboys.

“I grew up playing at Will Rogers Park and Will Rogers Beach in California, so to learn the most famous black cowboy, Bill Pickett, was Will Rogers’ right-hand man, well, that was something of a confirmation for me that this was a film I should make.”

Prominent in the film is the story of Pickett, who is credited with creating in 1903 the sport of “bulldogging,” now known as steer wrestling. It is a rodeo sport in which the cowboy rides on a horse alongside a steer, leaps onto the bull and wrestles it to the ground by its horns.

Pickett is a cowboy legend and was the first African-American to be inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma. He died in 1932 after being kicked and stomped in the head by a horse when he was 61.

His legacy did not die with him, however. Pickett also is in the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame and has been honored with the annual Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Oklahoma. Pickett’s emergence spawned a wave of black cowboys that, the documentary will show, has continued over all these decades.

“It’s a good thing this story is finally going to be told,” said Clarence LeBlanc, 65, a former black cowboy who retired 13 years ago, but not before twice claiming the world steer wrestling championship (1983 and 1990). “Every ranch since the beginning had black cowboys on them. But when you saw the movies or heard the stories, we were excluded. This film will help let people know our impact.”

LeBlanc said he was quite “uncomfortable” much of his career because “prejudice was strong. When I started out, it was really bad. Most schools weren’t even integrated. Over time, the white cowboys began to get to know me because we were seeing each other every week at different rodeos. Many of them let go of the ignorance.

“But the towns we went to, those people had never been around black people before, and they didn’t want us there. And they let us know that.”

He said he never felt his life was in jeopardy, but “I knew when I was in a place that was more [volatile], and so I stayed close, I didn’t venture off at all. … But I don’t think there was anything anyone could do to run me off, I loved the sport so much.”

That love among African-Americans continues to rise, according to Perry, who estimates there are more than 100,000 black cowboys in the United States. Most are in Oklahoma, but others are in Georgia, California, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, Mississippi and Arkansas.

“There are small pockets of black cowboys in many parts of the country, and we visit those places and the people wonder why we want to take their pictures,” Perry said. “It’s like when blacks go to Japan and the Japanese want to take our photos because they don’t see many black people. That’s how it is with the black cowboy.”

This is news to many, including a man Perry recently encountered at a party in Boston. Perry said he wears a hat and T-shirt with “TheBlackCowboy.com” on it almost everywhere he goes. “This was a smart, educated white man,” Perry recalled. “He noticed my hat and I told him a little about the history of the black cowboy, and he said no way in the world was what I told him true. He said, ‘Oklahoma is white.’ He just didn’t want to believe it.”

Perry said he has received skepticism from some in the cowboy community because others before him had committed to documenting its history of blacks in the profession but failed. So many did not “take me seriously,” he recalled.

To gain trust, he paid out of pocket for a sizable portion of historic footage — and has been consistent in his efforts to complete the movie.

“I’m excited about seeing the film myself,” Butler said. “I haven’t studied the black cowboy. I am into Warren Buffett and Napoleon Hill. But do know the black cowboys have two things in common: talent and perseverance. That’s the only way to make it with all we have to go through because of our race.”

And don’t forget money, added Butler, who also raises and sells horses on his ranch. “Really, you have to be close to rich, or have someone in your family with money, to compete,” he said. “My family isn’t rich, but my parents made some real sacrifices to get me out here.

“You’re talking $21,000 in fuel to travel to events, $20,000 fees to enter. A horse trailer: another $40,000. Then there are all kinds of miscellaneous stuff. It’s the No. 1 reason there aren’t a lot of blacks on the [rodeo] circuits.”

For LeBlanc, who has lived in Oklahoma all his life and raised prize-winning horses, seeing the number of black youths in rodeos makes him proud. “I know, in at least a small way, we paved the way,” he said. “I have a little grandson, and I can’t wait for him to get old enough to get out there.”

In the end, Perry anticipates a work that enlightens and entertains. “Our goal is not only to bring their story to the mainstream but to establish resources for young aspiring cowboys and cowgirls to follow their dreams,” he said. “I have almost been like a detective, digging for the truth, and it’s been fun.

“Imagine being a cowboy in a rodeo — the sole black person in an entire arena. It’s as close to Jackie Robinson as you can get. This is a history that has been hidden in plain sight … while going on today.

“Well, we’re bringing it all to light with this film.”

Draya Michele on her swimsuit empire, her Dallas Cowboy fiancé — and two new movies Plus, she’ll take heels over sneakers any day

Self-made millionaire Draya Michele is a designer, actress, mother and soon-to-be wife. She made her first impression on the public on VH1’s Basketball Wives, but her lasting impression has become that of a businesswoman. Andraya Michele Howard turned a $12,000 dream into a reality when she launched swimwear line Mint Swim, a “swimwear line designed with all shapes and sizes in mind.” Mint, with big nods to Michele’s on-screen stardom and a social media community of close to 10 million, exploded with more than $1 million in sales in 2015.

“It’s difficult to start any type of clothing line, because your head is filled with a bunch of ideas,” said Michele. “You want to make something that you love, but then there’s a fear that everyone else isn’t going to love it.” It’s safe to say that Michele is past that fear, with six successful swimwear summers under her belt. She’s launched two more apparel lines: Fine Ass Girls and Beige & Coco. “Fine Ass Girls is streetwear,” she said. “Beige & Coco is a little more sophisticated, and matches how I’m growing up as well.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Michele is starring in two films opening this month. Opposite Columbus Short and Vivica A. Fox, Michele is a drug lord’s ex-lover in True to the Game (Imani Motion Pictures). It’s based on the best-selling Teri Woods trilogy. And on Sept. 29, Michele portrayed a waitress in the nationwide premiere of ‘Til Death Do Us Part (Novus Content/Footage Films), a thriller starring Taye Diggs.

While Michele got her hair and makeup spruced up before slipping into a delicate Chanel lace top for an afternoon in New York, she talked about her fiancé, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick, getting acting advice from Jill Scott and more.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

Don’t have a baby until you get married.

What’s your favorite memory from growing up in Pennsylvania?

I hated the snow growing up, but now that I live in L.A., I miss the snow and I realize just how beautiful it actually was.

Last song you listened to?

Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid.

Heels or sneakers?

Heels.

First concert you ever went to?

A Mary J. Blige show, with my mom, when I was a kid.

Favorite social media platform?

Instagram.

Last stamp on your passport?

Thailand.

What made you try out acting?

Living in Los Angeles, it’s just something that you end up trying. If you’re good at it, you keep doing it, and if not, you move on from it. It’s not easy, but I was really determined to try.

What acting advice have you received?

I took a big piece of advice from Jill Scott. I asked her about acting classes, and she told me how important they’ve been for her.

What does ‘self-empowerment’ mean today?

To me, it means being your own boss and making decisions for yourself. I do that every day.

Who is your Super Bowl pick?

I mean, duh, Dallas!

What is your demeanor when you’re watching your fiancé on the field?

Every time Orlando plays, I get nervous. I’m quiet until something big happens.

What was your first date with Orlando?

We went out for ice cream. It was important to me to see him during the day outside of a low-lit restaurant or movie. I wanted to get the real version of him.

How have you two grown together?

Besides raising [four] kids together, we are best friends. I learn from him and he learns from me. He’s taught me so much about finances. … I’ve become more financially responsible.

Why did you choose to put your toddler on a vegan diet?

I wanted to make sure he wasn’t exposed to growth hormones that are in [some] foods and give him the opportunity to reach his natural growing infant and toddler size. We prepare his food fresh every day. I’ll start introducing different animal proteins at age 3, and of course they’ll be hormone-free.

What sports do your kids play?

My oldest plays soccer, Orlando’s twin girls play basketball and the baby is still deciding.

What is your workout routine like?

I used to be an occasional gym rat whenever I felt out of shape. But once I got pregnant, I needed to make it part of my regular routine. I wanted a hobby that was constructive, so I started going to the gym. I love all cardio-type workouts. Cardio helps me burn off fat and reach my goals.

Tell us about your partnership with Headbands of Hope.

For every headband purchased, one headband is given to a child with cancer. I go to the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and give out headbands to the sick children there. A lot of them are going through chemotherapy. You can’t help their health conditions, but you can help their attitude. And it really brightens their day, as it does mine.

O.J. Simpson is a relic in a new culture that celebrates unapologetic blackness The Juice re-enters American society at its most divided since his ‘Trial of the Century’

O.J. like, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” / Okay / House n—a, don’t f— with me / I’m a field n—a with shined cutlery.

— Jay-Z, 2017’s “The Story of O.J.


Fate has a fetish for O.J. Simpson. Oct. 1 is nearly 22 years to the day of both his acquittal after the double-murder trial that captivated the world and nine years since being sentenced for armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas. Both happened on an Oct. 3. And now the sharp winds of the judicial and correctional system once again gust in the direction of the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner. After serving nine years, the man known as “Prisoner 1027820” in Nevada’s Lovelock Correctional Center is free.

Emphasis on free. Because what does it mean? What has it ever meant? And can O.J. Simpson, in particular, ever truly obtain freedom? He re-enters American society at its most divided since his “Trial of the Century,” and we are right now in an era defined by social, cultural and racial injustices — and the resistance and protests against them. The line between sports, culture and politics is as blurred and polarizing as it’s been since the 1960s. And the black world that Simpson sought to escape via football and a white wife is a world he can no longer run from — if he ever could. “The heartbreaking truth is,” says columnist and author Rochelle Riley, “O.J. Simpson is coming out of prison, and having to wake up black.”


Simpson’s former employer, the National Football League, looks a lot different from the one that existed before his 2008 conviction. There are Ezekiel Elliott’s crop tops and Dez Bryant’s custom Air Jordan cleats, Richard Sherman’s and Marshawn Lynch’s locks, and Odell Beckham’s Head & Shoulders-endorsed blond hair. There’s the NFL’s more cautious style of play apropos of player safety. Some aspects remain the same though — like the ongoing issue of the league’s embarrassing, harmful and erratically applied discipline for domestic violence offenders.

The NFL’s biggest lightning rod isn’t even in the league. Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest, intended to shine light on police brutality and the inequalities that persist within the criminal justice system, has reverberated far beyond football. Athletes like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, Oakland A’s rookie Bruce Maxwell and the WNBA’s Indiana Fever have lent support to the exiled former Super Bowl signal-caller.

Kaepernick’s won adoration from and influenced Stevie Wonder, Tina Lawson, Chuck D, Carlos Santana, Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B, J. Cole and others. Jay-Z donned a custom Colin Kaepernick jersey on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, as Nick Cannon rocked a classic one at a recent St. Louis protest after the acquittal of Police Officer Jason Stockley for the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith. His No. 7 San Francisco 49ers jersey is now in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture announced in May that various Kaepernick items will be featured in future exhibits.

There’s no hierarchy in terms of the pain of dealing with black death, but it’s no secret Travyon Martin stands out. He’s this generation’s “Trial of the Century.”

The NFL also sits embroiled in a beef with President Donald Trump over protests inspired by Kaepernick — the same Donald Trump who entertained the idea of a reality show with Simpson back in 2008. And while we’re on reality shows, Simpson enters a world dominated by Kardashians. Keeping Up with the Kardashians has been a fixture in American pop culture since its premiere, 10 years ago this month. The family became famous during the fracas of Simpson’s first trial, where attorney Robert Kardashian — Simpson’s close friend and father of Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and Rob — was part of O.J.’s legal “Dream Team.” Kim’s husband, the Adidas designer and Grammy awardwinning producer/rapper/cultural live wire Kanye West, references Simpson in 2016’s “THat Part”: I just left the strip club, got some glitter on me/ Wifey gonna kill me, she the female O.J.

Where we are now is this: Athletes and entertainers (and many, many others) have called the president of the United States outside of his name — and the president and his supporters clap back, tit for tat. There’s a culture war going on, and while it’s different from the 1960s and ’70s, it’s a vibe O.J. is all too familiar with. He’s seen it move like this before.

Getty Images

Consider the American psyche leading up to the pivotal year of 1967, Simpson’s first season as tailback at the University of Southern California, a private, predominantly white institution surrounded by black neighborhoods in Los Angeles. In 1961, 61 percent of Americans disapproved of the “Freedom Riders.” Fifty-seven percent viewed lunch counter “sit-ins” as hurtful “to the Negro’s chances of being integrated in the South.” The 1963 March on Washington was viewed unfavorably by 60 percent of voters. And by January 1967, 53 percent of voters believed black people, instead of protesting for equal rights, would be better off taking “advantage of the opportunities that have been made available.”

Compare all this to a survey conducted by Global Strategy Group for ESPN from Sept. 26-28, just days before Simpson’s release. A clear racial divide exists: 72 percent of African-Americans strongly or somewhat agree with the protests, which were started by Kaepernick last season. Sixty-two percent of white people strongly or somewhat disagree. Other polls revealed similar numbers.

In 1967, like in 2017, everybody makes the decisions they make. On April 28, 1967, when Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title after refusing induction into the U.S. Army, the revolt of the black athlete entered the living rooms of Americans. This was the same year O.J. Simpson rushed into USC immortality and the American consciousness with 1,543 yards and 13 touchdowns. This was the same year that, on Thanksgiving Day, Harry Edwards, a sociology professor at San Jose State, organized the Western Regional Black Youth Conference. The gathering of about 200 people discussed the possibility of boycotting the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Sprinters Tommie Smith and Lee Evans were there, as was UCLA’s star center Lew Alcindor (who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). “Winning gold medals for a country where I don’t have my freedom is irrelevant,” Smith said at the meeting. “So far I have not won my freedom, and I will not turn back from my decision.” Alcindor refused to try out for the Olympic team, prompting critics to label him a national disgrace and an “uppity n—–.”

Though at a Western school, O.J. Simpson didn’t attend the conference. His epic 64-yard touchdown vs. UCLA, less than a week before, propelled USC to the national championship. Edwards had approached Simpson about lending his name and influence to the cause. Simpson disassociated himself from the movement, famously telling Edwards, “I’m not black. I’m O.J.” Smith and Carlos’ decision to speak out hurt their careers, in Simpson’s eyes. He wasn’t going down like that. “He absolutely distances himself from everything, which turns out to be a pretty good career move,” says Dr. Matthew Andrews. “It opens up all these doors in advertising, movies and so on.”

Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The assassinations of Martin Luther King and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy defined 1968. Riots erupted throughout the country. Black America had seemingly reached its breaking point. The defiant and painful image of John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s black power fists at the Mexico City Olympics ingrained itself in sports and American history. Meanwhile, O.J.’s celebrity ballooned as he separated himself from the swelling movement. He won the Heisman in 1968 and was the first overall selection in the 1969 draft. For the next two and a half decades, Simpson enjoyed the fruits of his decision and became one of the most recognizable, marketable and celebrated black men in America.


“You see, O.J. was under that illusion — ain’t been black since he was 17. Under that illusion of inclusion — [until he] got That N—- Wake-Up Call. Only n—- I know that could get on any golf course in America. They loved that boy! He had to come home when it got rough.”Paul Mooney, 1994

Simpson’s goal seemed to be: live a deracinated life. He didn’t want to make white people uncomfortable. He was handsome, charming and safe — and so, with 1969’s Chevrolet deal, became the first black corporate pitchman before playing a down in the NFL. Long after his playing career, Simpson was one of the few black faces on screen, as an actor or a commentator, during the late ’70s and early ’80s. “O.J.’s providing a very meaningful image for black kids in America,” said Ezra Edelman recently. He’s the Oscar-winning director of 2016’s O.J.: Made In America. “He deserves his due for the way he influenced culture, beyond being on trial for murder in 1994 and ’95.”

O.J. Simpson for Hertz, in 1978

Master Tesfatsion, 26, doesn’t remember the “Trial of the Century.” He’s a Redskins beat reporter for The Washington Post, and one of his most recent stories is about cornerback Josh Norman pledging $100,000 to Puerto Rico’s victims of Hurricane Maria. Tesfatsion’s first memory of O.J. is the 1997 civil case that ordered Simpson to pay $25 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Growing up Eritrean-American in Section 8 housing in Irving, Texas, Tesfatsion’s early O.J. knowledge primarily came from the neighborhood. “I just trusted the OGs,” he says. “If everyone on the block was telling you O.J. ain’t do it, what are you supposed to think?”

“O.J. really is this wisp of memory that is not as important because so much has happened since.”

Tesfatsion’s generation? They were kids when Simpson’s criminal trial happened. And they are well-aware of how deeply racial dynamics and police distrust played into Simpson’s case, and into their own lives. “People always think because you have a certain wealth status, whether it’s white people or even black people who are rich, they think they can escape colorism,” says the Arizona State graduate. “O.J. has proven on the highest of levels that that’s not the case.”

Tesfatsion remembers the passion the case evoked in his parents, and what was clearly two different Americas. So many white people mourned the not guilty verdict. So many black people celebrated quietly, or as if it were an NBA Finals victory for the home team. “The heartbreaking point about O.J.,” says Riley, whose The Burden: African-Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery is being published in February, “is not whether he got away with murder — if he did — but black Americans have been so mistreated and denied justice so many times and for so long that his acquittal was seen as a needed win.”

Simpson is a poster child for race and the legal system, but for Tesfatsion’s generation, he’s not on whom they hang their hat. Simpson’s verdict now of course has rivals in cases that have come to define this generation’s adulthood. “For a generation and a half, O.J. is not this larger-than-life person who meant so much, and who people paid attention to so much,” says Riley. “[O.J.] really is this wisp of memory that is not as important, because so much has happened since.”

Many of the same factors that came into play during the “Trial of the Century”—black bodies, white superiority complexes, and the assumption of black guilt have defined the cases of the Sandra Blands, Philando Castiles, Tamir Rices and Michael Browns. There’s no hierarchy in terms of the pain of dealing with black death, but it’s no secret Travyon Martin stands out. He’s this generation’s “Trial of the Century.”

“[Trayvon] was mine,” says Tesfatsion. “It was crazy how caught up I was into it.” Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict was delivered on his 22nd birthday. “To expect one thing, and see the other result, you know, as an African-American, the anger that you feel and the disappointment you feel it’s hard to explain.”


The question no one can truly answer is what happens next for O.J. Simpson. Fresh out of jail, he missed the entire presidency of Barack Obama and enters a world driven by Donald Trump — whose Twitter-fueled presidency has roots in the 24/7, reality-TV celebrity obsession culture rooted in the insanity that was his first trial. Rumors of a return to Hollywood even exist.

Former football legend O.J. Simpson signs documents at the Lovelock Correctional Center, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Lovelock, Nev. Simpson was released from the Lovelock Correctional Center in northern Nevada early Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017.

Brooke Keast/Nevada Department of Corrections via AP

But if there’s one reality starkly different from the one Simpson encountered pre-prison—and the beginning of it was the 24/7 coverage of his trial — it’s the extinction of the veil of anonymity. Does he attempt to live a life of modesty and recluse? Or has a nearly decade-long, state-mandated vacation done little to change him? Simpson’s been called a sociopath, one who craves constant attention strictly on his terms. Yet social media, his lawyers suggest, won’t be an issue for him. But he’s never dealt with the monster that is this iteration of media: social breaks stories and develops narratives before the first byline is written. Cameras don’t just sit on shoulders anymore, they sit in the palms of everybody’s hands. One click equals global broadcast.

Many already aren’t willing to deal with the potential fallout. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is attempting to bar him from the state — the same Sunshine State that houses the infamous generational antagonist George Zimmerman.

Dr. Andrews thinks that whatever the case, it will be interesting. “Which O.J. is he going to be? One would argue that pre-trial O.J. would distance himself from what many NFL players are doing. Certainly distancing himself from what Kaepernick’s doing. What Kaepernick did is exactly what [Tommie] Smith and [John] Carlos did in 1968. O.J. wanted no parts of that. [This] O.J. might get it a little more.”

But, Andrews asks, “Do you really want O.J. to be the spokesperson for this battle in racial justice?”

Riley is more than willing to answer. “The most important thing he could do for himself and America is to not answer the question,” Riley says. “To not weigh in and not try and make himself relevant in any way that he shouldn’t.”

It’s not just the NFL, and O.J. Simpson, but America itself that sits at a crossroads. All three face illness they never really addressed let alone medicated. O.J. walked out of prison Sunday a ghostlike relic of injustices he ignored, injustices he experienced and injustices he helped create. There is undeniable irony in karma greeting Simpson more harshly than his generational contemporaries. Ali, Abdul-Jabbar, Smith, Carlos and so many others were in their early 20s fighting demons older than America itself. The athletes were considered pariahs then but stand as saints of progress now. The same will one day be said about Colin Kaepernick. And about those for whom the killings of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown and others inspire a lifetime of resistance and service.

This is the third time O.J. Simpson experiences the first day of the rest of his life. Everybody isn’t that lucky.