From Ken Griffey Jr. to the Braves’ Ronald Acuña — is Major League Baseball still not feeling hats to the back? The long battle cry of the backward ballcap

The baseball cap seems innocuous enough. A brimmed hat emblazoned with a team logo for players to wear while on the field for protection from the sun. Simple. But over the past couple of decades, the baseball cap has become a lightning rod. Depending on the direction it is turned, or who wears it, the cap is a stand-in for the sport’s racially contentious past … and present. From legends such as Ken Griffey Jr. to newcomers such as Ronald Acuña, the baseball cap has been as divisive as a Subway Series.

When is a hat not a hat?


Ronald Acuña (center) of the Atlanta Braves in action during the spring training game between the Atlanta Braves and the Toronto Blue Jays at Champion Stadium on March 13 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

B51/Mark Brown/Getty Images

Acuña walked into an Atlanta Braves training camp interview on Feb. 15 and left having been asked to make a sartorial change.

The Venezuelan outfielder signed with the Braves in 2014 and honed his skills with various minor league teams, getting ready for the big leagues. He’s dominated, garnering comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. for his play, and his swagger. The buzz around him, and superior performance has led him to be named the top baseball prospect entering the 2018 season and has allowed him the leverage to turn down the Braves’ $30 million offer in the offseason. The Braves and the city of Atlanta are head over heels for Acuña and the possibility of what he can bring to the franchise when he gets called up from the Gwinnett Stripers minor league squad at some point this season.

But first, there was that training camp interview.

Braves manager Brian Snitker called Acuña in to address his cap. Acuña had been wearing his hat tilted to the side, and a little bit off of his head because his thick locs were making it impossible for the cap to fit perfectly. The style balked at tradition.

Tradition. Major League baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson day, Latin American athletes, and has launched a diversity pipeline initiative to create more executive positions for people of color, but Major League Baseball and its fans seemingly long for the years of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Ty Cobb. When ESPN ranked the top 100 MLB players of all time in 2015, six of the top 10 players had played before integration. CBS’s 2016 list of its top 10 players also features six players from a segregated league. So when baseball fans talk about traditions or years past, they are talking about a time that excluded black athletes. And that’s not the only hard pill to swallow.

They only saw a black man with his hat backward and all of the negative connotations that come with it — disrespect, nonchalance. Code words.

Other baseball traditions and taboos are alienating to black and Latino fans. Players are supposed to respectfully trot around the diamond after home runs, sans backflips or excessive celebrations. The same self-expression in the form of chest-pounding, trash talk and playing to the crowd that has made the NBA hip — and black — isn’t allowed in baseball. Celebratory dances are frowned upon, part of a culture of unwritten rules with a simple message: Fall in line.

For example, in 2013, Yasiel Puig was pulled to the side by opposing Mets players for rubbing their noses in his home run trot. His offense? Taking 32 seconds to round the bases. All of this is code for following traditions set in stone before black and white and Latino athletes played in the same pro league(s), and when fans were segregated in the stands. And part of those baseball customs is making sure players wear their hats straight.

“It’s the look,” Snitker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 2. “You do respect the game and the organization and the team on the front of it [the hat]. I tell these guys, we don’t do things like everybody else. There’s a lot of Hall of Famers who spent a lot of time in this organization. We wear batting practice jerseys, and people don’t put glasses on over the ‘A,’ things like that, out of respect for the Hall of Famers that put a lot into this organization, and all those flags that are hanging.”

With all due respect, Snitker’s point is not only silly but it’s another reminder that baseball is about its archaic traditions —the Braves organization was founded in 1871, for reference — more than its players, and what those players represent. Acuña, by all indication, is a transformative talent who can turn the Braves’ future around — the franchise hasn’t made the playoffs or had a winning season since 2013 and hasn’t won a postseason series since 2001. The organization is concerned about how he wears his hat, even as plenty of white Braves players have worn their hats backward, to the side and every other way besides straight.


The Acuña hat issue isn’t a new thing. It’s been around, most famously since the ’90s, when the aforementioned Ken Griffey Jr. was a young, swaggy outfielder who seemed poised to take over baseball. But his appearance — backward hats and untucked jerseys — flouted baseball tradition, and one of the biggest defenders of old customs was then-Yankees and current Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

“I shouldn’t say this publicly,” Showalter told the New York Times Magazine in 1994. “But a guy like Ken Griffey Jr., the game’s boring to him. He comes on the field, and his hat’s on backward, and his shirttail’s hanging out.” Showalter added Barry Bonds to his list of transgressors for having his shirttail untucked at the All-Star game. “To me, that’s a lack of respect for the game.” Respect. Tradition. Coded language.

What people who share Showalter’s views didn’t understand or don’t want to understand is that Griffey, who only actually wore his hat backward for batting practice, wore his hats backward as a tribute to his father, Ken Griffey Sr. When Griffey Jr. wore his dad’s hats, they were too big, so his turned them backward so they’d fit. Then he just kept doing it, into his pro career. There isn’t a bigger sign of respect for tradition than honoring a father who also used to play in the very same MLB that wanted to maintain said customs. But the controversy wasn’t about why Griffey wore his hat backward. Nobody seemed to care. They only saw a black man with his hat backward and all of the negative connotations that come with it — disrespect, nonchalance. Code words.

Griffey wasn’t afraid to hit back at his detractors. “Why should I care about a person from an opposing team?” Griffey said to the Seattle Times a week after Showalter’s quotes surfaced. “I don’t take the game seriously? Why, I do believe [Showalter] was coaching third for the All-Star team when I won the [1992] MVP.”

The criticism obviously stuck with Griffey, so he poked at the MLB one last time. When he received his Hall of Fame hat in 2016 during his acceptance speech, the first thing he did was turn it backward. One more reminder that he did it his way.

So what does this all mean for baseball as a whole? It’s about cultural irrelevance. Baseball’s reliance on homogenized traditions is its own Trojan horse, infiltrating the sport’s psyche and destroying it from the inside. Holding on to archaic practices that erase unique expressions uphold whiteness but close the sport off to audiences from diverse backgrounds. And for black fans, it’s demoralizing to see people who look like us, and express themselves like we do get constantly reprimanded for representing our cultural tics on a national stage. It’s a major reason black audiences are flocking to the NBA and the MLB has as few black players as ever.

Here’s a legendary story about Satchel Paige. During a semi-pro game, before his Negro League debut, Paige’s team was up 1-0 in the ninth inning. His outfielders made three straight errors to load the bases. Paige, fed up with his team and determined to show off his skill, walked around the bases and outfield, demanding that his teammates sit down in the infield. Then the legendary pitcher struck out the next three batters to end the game.

It’s a story that has become part of baseball lore for its brashness, showmanship and drama. And it’s the same type of story that would get someone like Paige punished for his bravado if it happened in 2018. However, that story is part of baseball tradition. It’s a part of black tradition. And baseball needs to embrace these traditions — alternative hat placements and all — or else become a cultural relic instead of regaining its place as America’s pastime.

 

Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral, a photographer and a photo that still makes us cry The story behind Moneta Sleet’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo

The proverb says that April showers bring May flowers. T.S. Eliot preferred the darker side, proclaiming April the “cruelest month.” For journalists, April showers can also mean Pulitzer Prizes.

This April also marks 50 years since the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, and thus 50 years since the publication of a famous photograph showing the grieving widow of the fallen martyr. Coretta Scott King mourns at the funeral of her husband, her little daughter Bernice resting her head upon her mother’s lap.

Moneta Sleet, Jr.

Getty Images

That iconic black-and-white image of the veiled widow was taken by a man named Moneta Sleet Jr. (For the record, he used a Nikon camera with a 35 mm lens, with Kodak Tri-x film.) The following year, 1969, Sleet received news that he had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. At that moment, Sleet became the first black man to win a Pulitzer and the first African-American journalist to win one as an individual rather than as part of a journalism team.

(The poet Gwendolyn Brooks won the prize for literature in 1950.)

It was in 1947, remember, that Jackie Robinson (whom Sleet also photographed) broke the color line in baseball. It took another 22 years before a black man crossed that line in the Pulitzer competition.

From 1955 until his death in 1996, Sleet worked for the Johnson Publishing Co. His images, especially in Jet and Ebony magazines, documented every step of the civil rights movement. Beyond that, he captured the work and achievements of black celebrities, performers and politicians in every corner of the country — but also in Africa and around the globe.

Sleet’s eyes were not on a Pulitzer Prize but on a higher calling: to document the life and times of a marginalized and persecuted people in all aspects of their lives, through triumphs, troubles and tragedies.

The historical collection Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs describes Sleet’s most famous image and how it came to be captured on April 9, 1968:

“It has been just five days since a sniper’s bullet killed the civil rights leader. Coretta Scott King has discovered that the pool of journalists covering her husband’s funeral does not include a black photographer. She sends word: If Moneta Sleet is not allowed into the church, there will be no photographers.”

Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr., comforts her youngest daughter Bernice, 5, during services in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, 4/9.

In a Johnson Publishing collection of Sleet’s work titled Special Moments in African-American History, 1955-1996: The Photographs of Moneta Sleet, Jr., Ebony Magazine’s Pulitzer Prize Winner, Sleet offers his own, more modest version of events:

“There was complete pandemonium. Nothing was yet organized because the people from SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] were still in a state of shock. We had the world press descending upon Atlanta, plus the FBI, who were investigating the assassination.

“We were trying to get an arrangement to shoot in the church. They were going to pool it. Normally, the pool meant news services: Life, Time and Newsweek. When the pool was selected, there were no black photographers from the black media on it. Lerone Bennett and I got in touch with Mrs. King through Andy Young. She said if somebody from Johnson Publishing is not on the pool, there will be no pool.

“We … made arrangements with AP that they would process the black and white film immediately after the service and put it on the wire. Later, I found out which shot they sent out. … The day of the funeral, Bob Johnson, the executive editor of Jet, had gotten to the church and he beckoned for me and said, ‘There’s a spot right here.’ It was a wonderful spot.

“What I noticed … this was prior to the funeral — was the little girl fidgeting there on her mother’s lap. I could relate to that, being a father and having a child close to the same age. Mrs. King was sitting there, stoic and stately, but it was specifically the child who I was thinking about at the time.”

In a profession whose practitioners are expected to bring a certain detachment to their work, Sleet saw no reason to apologize for his commitment to the cause of racial equality or for his emotional involvement with those he photographed.

“I wasn’t there as an objective reporter,” he once said. “I had something to say and was trying to show one side of it. We didn’t have any problems finding the other side.” The side of racism and intolerance.

At the same time, his professional standards gave him the foundation to create his best work. He said of covering the King funeral: “Professionally, I was doing what I had been trained to do, and I was glad of that because I was very involved emotionally. If I hadn’t been there working, I would have been off crying like everybody else.”

In the Johnson collection of his work, there is a beautiful photo of Sleet and his family. They are beaming. His daughter sits on the floor holding telegrams of congratulations. Sleet is holding his Pulitzer Prize. This is from the May 22, 1969, edition of Jet magazine:

“You must be joking” were the words Moneta Sleet uttered when informed that he had won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize in news feature photography. “I knew that it was a good photograph, but I knew there were lots of good photographs in the running. So, there’s no need of my lying, I was quite happy to win the award. And my wife, Juanita, and the kids, Michael, Gregory and Lisa, were thrilled.”

At the time, magazine features were not eligible for Pulitzer Prizes. Sleet’s image became eligible because of its distribution by The Associated Press.

The Rev. Kenny Irby, a veteran photojournalism leader and a former faculty member at the Poynter Institute, knew Sleet and looked up to him as a role model and mentor. Via email, he responded to questions about Sleet and his legacy:

As an African-American, a photojournalist, a pastor, and a father, what do you see when you look at the famous photo taken by Moneta Sleet?

I see great pain and promise in this photograph. Moneta gave me a copy in 1996 after the Olympic Games, which was his last major assignment. For me, it’s the obvious pain for the murdered martyr for justice and peace. I see the promise in his daughter Bernice, who would pick up the baton of her father’s work. And I see the promise affirmed by Moneta’s Pulitzer Prize, an honor which paved a path for me and generations of other photojournalists.

This is a black-and-white photograph. What do you see technically that interests you?

The elegance of the black-and-white composition has long transfixed me. I love the stark white dress of Bernice, juxtaposed against the black dress and glove. Then there are shimmering shades of gray that flow from the veil throughout the photograph. Yet, the sadness of the eyes in the photograph says all that needs to be said.

Access is so important to any successful photojournalist. What did it take for a black photographer in the 1960s to get access to important social and political events?

That’s a really great question. It took courage and connections. It was actually Coretta who took the bold stand and insisted that Moneta would be the pool photographer while there was one other photographer inside. Flip Schulke, who was white, also had a relationship with Dr. King.

For Jet and Ebony magazines, Sleet covered the civil rights movement, issues related to Africa, the black social and celebrity scene. How would you summarize his contribution to journalism?

Simply put, he was one of the trailblazers — a tremendously kind human being, a great journalist and nurturing mentor to many.

Parker Curry, a little black girl just being her own amazing self Ever since the photo of her staring at Michelle Obama’s portrait went viral, she’s become a star on the toddler circuit

An hour before her big moment, Parker Curry was doing the same thing that the rest of us were doing at Nationals Park: shivering. With a game-time temperature closer to freezing than not for the Washington Nationals’ home opener versus the New York Mets, standing on the field meant dealing with the just plain cold weather outside. Her pink bubble parka was in tow, but the cameras were out, and she was wearing her Bryce Harper jersey with matching white Converse Velcro Chuck Taylors, so it was time to stunt.

For Parker and her mother, Jessica Curry, this was a slightly less controlled environment than usual for her media appearances, but also the least personal. The 3-year-old rose to fame when a photo of her staring at former first lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery went viral, and since then she’s become a star on the toddler circuit.

“Life has been busy, but good busy,” Jessica explained. “A lot of people have reached out to us for appearances and things like that, and for the most part things have normalized. We’re back to ballet, we’re back to gymnastics. I’d say now it’s been about three weeks since she took the picture … and every week we’ve had a number of opportunities and we just take it one day at a time, and whatever we think is a good opportunity for Parker then, we’re open to.”

The run has been pretty meteoric. She got to actually meet Obama, which for many people would be the highlight of a lifetime. She also got to appear on Ellen, America’s Adorable Child Show of Record. Ellen DeGeneres did her best not to act like she wasn’t tight about the fact that Obama stole her bit and danced with her, but it was all good. They re-enacted the photo moment instead. In all seriousness, the online sensation made it all the way to CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, cementing her status as the most precious child in America for 2018.

But on Thursday, a lot was going on. Both teams had to be introduced. There was a national anthem to be sung. There were accolades to be handed out. Fireworks were going off, and on top of that, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser had just arrived to help with Parker’s portion of the show. Before that, she’d taken a quick potty break to make sure things didn’t go awry before the big moment, but now that we were here, the scene was a tad hectic.

Like many grown-ups would probably be likely to do when feeling a tad overwhelmed, Parker cried a little. For a 3-year-old, surrounded by a crowd of 40,000 people, with people yelling her name and sticking cameras in her face, it was understandable. Luckily, there was a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie to the rescue nearby to lighten her mood.

Bowser, whom Parker had met previously — her mother is a D.C. native and a baseball fan who goes to a fair number of Nats games — was there to yell “Play ball!” and officially open the season. Parker, although a star, isn’t exactly a method actor yet, so relying on her to deliver the line wasn’t easy. Thus, the two rehearsed. They practiced their pageant waves, and Bowser went over the script. “I’m going to say, ‘On behalf of Parker, myself and all Washington Nationals fans: Let’s. Play. Ball!’ ”

By the time the two had scrambled on top of the dugout to deliver the line and get the game started, Curry was just hanging out, watching her child dazzle a ballpark crowd with the mayor of her hometown. Which led to the question, exactly how hectic is this child’s life? Curry, who runs Happy Mama Happy Babies, a motherhood and lifestyle blog, says she’s not letting things get out of control.

“It’s not stressful because of the fact that I realize that to some extent, I’m in control of the situation,” she said. “I don’t interrupt her nap times, I don’t interrupt her meal times, I don’t take away her activities that she does on a usual basis. If something comes up and it works with the schedule that we already had, that she already had before all this happened, then we do it. And if it doesn’t, then we don’t do it. I’m not letting it get to a point that I’m stressed out.”

Sometimes, however, plans do change. Lunch with the mayor was not exactly on the schedule, but what can you do? By the time we got into the Delta Club at the yard, Parker was walking around the dining room with her giveaway towel looking for food. Up until that point, it had been a day like any other. They’d had a big breakfast at home, and according to mom, she was hoping to see Muriel, her new close personal friend, at the game.

Overall, though, Curry is just glad that they’ve gotten the opportunity. For outside onlookers, the appeal is obvious. And in a world in which our children are so often portrayed in ways that are unfair to every part of their being, Parker’s life is a window into an existence we saw more of: a little black girl just being herself.

“It’s been really cool; we’re really blessed. I feel really honored that so many people are kind of interested in Parker, and interested in following her,” Curry said. “We’re back to doing everything that we normally do. Going to the library, going to museums, hanging out. It’s just that now there’s way more people watching what we’re doing. I’m happy to have the opportunity to inspire other parents to do cool stuff with their kids and inspire their little kids to do great things.”

But we gotta be real. The stunt factor is no joke. Most 3-year-olds don’t have the kind of Rolodex that Parker does and Curry has to manage that, no matter how ridiculous it may all seem.

“I no longer deal with the regular 3-year-old tantrums,” she said with a laugh before brisking off to eat. “I’m now dealing with tantrums that include pleas for Michelle Obama and Muriel Bowser and Ellen [DeGeneres]. These are the types of women that I have to deal with her asking for when she’s upset with me.”

Some call that Black Girl Magic.

The Buffalo Bills’ Marshall Newhouse: ‘Relative to the rest of your life, the NFL is a very, very small piece’ The entrepreneurial offensive lineman adores ‘Seinfeld’ and his Super Bowl ring  

There’s a notation on the Wikipedia page of veteran offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse that jumps off the screen. It’s not that he’s played for five franchises. Nor is it perhaps his greatest accomplishment on the football field: winning a Super Bowl as a rookie with the Green Bay Packers, after the Dallas native was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft out of Texas Christian University.

The line that sticks out is from the “Early Years” section: “He was also very active on campus at Lake Highlands as a member of the Horticulture Society and Japanese Club.” The two extracurricular activities are also mentioned in his old TCU bio, which you can still find online. Despite being more than a decade removed from high school, the 29-year-old Newhouse can’t seem to avoid questions about his interests in “the art and science of plant production for both beauty and utility” or Japan.

So in late March, when The Undefeated caught up with Newhouse not long after he signed a one-year deal to join the Buffalo Bills, we couldn’t help but ask him about the two clubs — among other things, of course.


We’re approaching the annual NFL draft. What do you remember most about the day you were drafted?

I was with my family and a few of my closest friends. We were still at College House in Fort Worth. … In the second round, I got called [via phone] twice … by Kansas City and by Denver. You leave the room and take the call. One of them was the O-line coach, and one was the GM [general manager]. Both of them said, ‘Yeah, we wanna take you with this next pick.’ You come back in the room, tell your family and friends, then the picks come and your name isn’t called. That was a shock. … By the third day of the draft, we got tired of sitting on the couch. I said, ‘Let’s go get some tacos.’ We went to one of my favorite places in Fort Worth called Ernesto’s. Then [Green Bay general manager] Ted Thompson’s on the line, asks me if I wanted to be a Green Bay Packer. It’s kind of crazy how it went down like that.

What do you remember most about winning a Super Bowl as a rookie?

First, it was just the confetti and that euphoric realization, like, ‘Oh, crap, this is happening.’ You try to live in the moment as much as you can. Just soak it in, ’cause winning is incredibly hard. Watching the trophy walk by on the field … my family was there, so I got to hang out with them in the stadium. That was my late grandmother’s last game she saw me play, so that was pretty special. That night, we went back to the hotel and had a party. Kid Rock played … that was pretty cool.

Do you remember any specific moments you shared with your grandmother that night?

She was just so proud and happy. She was a big part of me pursuing sports. When my parents were working and I was playing select baseball, my grandma was the one who took me to practice, or tournaments on the weekends. She was just such an important part of my sports history, so seeing her in that moment, getting to share that with her, was really special.

Where do you keep your Super Bowl ring?

It was in my bedside dresser in a jewelry box, but I’ve been moving so much … it’s at [my family’s] house in a safe right now.

You have some strong bloodlines in the game of football. What are the most important football lessons you learned from your father, John Newhouse, and your cousin Robert Newhouse?

My dad was pivotal in my football upbringing. He was my coach for a lot of years too. I don’t know if there’s one particular lesson, but he was a running back that played the veer at the University of Houston. He went through some adversity, had to persevere and fight through some crazy stuff, and injuries. Robert, who was called my uncle growing up because he’s around my dad’s age, he told me, ‘You never know what your last day is gonna be, so use that as … motivation to continue to work and make the most of the short opportunity.’ Because relative to the rest of your life, the NFL is a very, very small piece.

“Andy Dalton loves The Office maybe more than anyone I’ve met in my life.”

Fill in the blank. If not for the NFL, Marshall Newhouse would have pursued a career in … ?

Man, that’s changed so many times. At one point, I thought it would be graphic design and art design. That was early on in college, and I switched. Then I thought I was gonna be in advertising. It switched even more now to just being an entrepreneur. And that’s such a broad term, just making a business for yourself, being your own boss, kind of getting to pursue whatever you see fit.

What was your experience in the NFL’s recent Sports Business Academy — and how’d you get involved?

That was incredible. I give thanks to Kaleb Thornhill for putting that together, and all the people that were involved. Never in my career had I been around that many guys in the league who were that like-minded. And also the professionals and CEOs and founders were all just there to help us. It was such a learning opportunity, and even past that, the formation of a bond that all the guys that were there will have. It’ll be fun to see how it manifests for every guy … and we’ll stay in touch through it all. Some of us might do business together, and we’ll continue to encourage each other.

Aside from yourself, who would you say is the most business-savvy player in the NFL?

You can’t know that for sure unless they share a lot with you. Some guys are more quiet than others, which I respect. I’m more that way too. But I would say Ndamukong Suh. Talking to him, his mindset is just so on point. Where he’s at right now, the way he’s leveraging, the people he’s meeting. He’s got his hands in a lot of stuff. He’s high-profile, so a guy like that could just sit around and not do much. But he’s … in multiple fields of business and he’s getting it, for sure.

What’s the worst purchase you’ve made since entering the NFL?

I’m frugal by nature, but I think the worst purchase is … man, I bought a gaming PC like four years ago, which I used, but it being a desktop, I couldn’t travel with it. So it sat at my home for eight months out of the year and collected dust until I sold it. That was a couple thousand dollars. It was a custom PC and really nice. But it was a dumb purchase.

Who’s on your Mount Rushmore of offensive linemen?

I grew up watching Larry Allen in Dallas. … Walter Jones, I always looked up to him … and same with a guy like Jonathan Ogden … I don’t think he gets enough credit. I enjoyed watching … Damien Woody play. I kind of compare myself to him in terms of stature and size.

Who’s the most difficult player you’ve had to block during your career?

There’s been a lot … but I would say Cam Jordan. I still don’t think he gets his fair due. He’s a great player. You gotta get your mind right before you go against him.

You played at TCU with Andy Dalton, as well as in Cincinnati. What’s one thing not many people know about him?

He loves The Office maybe more than anyone I’ve met in my life. Like, he has seen every episode multiple times, can quote it. It’s crazy.

What’s your favorite TV show of all time?

I’m a Seinfeld guy. I grew up watching Seinfeld. My parents say I got some of my smartassness from watching too much of it. Most shows have characters who are redeemable or try to better themselves, but no one on that show tried to be better. They were all just terrible people, and I just thought it was hilarious.

“You try to live in the moment as much as you can. Just soak it in, ’cause winning is incredibly hard.”

What’s your favorite movie of all time?

I don’t know if I could do just one. … It’s obscure, but The Fifth Element … it comes on and I watch it. It’s one of the ones where I can quote most of the movie. I’m a big fan of Pulp Fiction. I’m a big Tarantino fan.

Which actor would you want to portray you in a movie about your life?

I’ll just say Denzel Washington because he’ll make me look more handsome than I am.

What’s one bad habit you wish you could shake?

Socially, I’m never on time. When it comes to my job, or business meetings, I’m always on time. But with friends, like going to dinner or being out, I’m habitually late. It’s something my friends give me crap about all the time, and I really wanna change that.

Were you actually in the Horticulture Society and Japanese Club?

They had a club day at the beginning of the school year where you could sign up for dinner clubs. And I’d always heard the more clubs you’re in, the better your applications to college will look. So I was literally going from table to table and signing up for whatever I could find. With football, I didn’t have time to do it at all … but I always had an interest in Japan and Japanese culture. The horticulture thing was … random. I think I attended, between the two clubs, one meeting. And then somehow that ends up in my bio in high school, college and now the NFL. And here you are asking me about it. It’s followed me everywhere I’ve gone.

Bernard Lafayette Jr. was with King in Memphis just hours before he was killed The two men met at the Lorraine Motel to discuss the start of the Poor People’s Campaign

It was about 9 in the morning on April 4, 1968. Bernard Lafayette Jr. had gotten the final details of his mission from Martin Luther King Jr.

Later on that fateful day in Memphis, Tennessee, Lafayette would pack his luggage at the Lorraine Motel and head to the airport for a flight to Washington, D.C., the site of his assignment.

Eight years earlier, Lafayette had been a classmate of civil rights pioneer John Lewis at the American Baptist Theological Seminary, a predominantly black institution in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1968, he was the national program administrator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the guiding light of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The charismatic and magnetic King was not only the president of the SCLC but also its spiritual force and moral conscience. King and Lafayette met alone in Room 306 that morning to discuss media relations for the Poor People’s Campaign, a monumental undertaking designed to bring national attention to U.S. poverty as the SCLC pivoted toward economic rights. That’s why King and the SCLC were in Memphis in the first place: to help the city’s sanitation workers, mostly black men, address their concerns regarding low pay and dangerous working conditions.

Lafayette, the national coordinator for the Poor People’s Campaign, was to conduct a news conference on April 5 at campaign headquarters in Washington. And the media-savvy King wanted the message to be clear.

“He wanted to make sure I mentioned the inclusiveness of the Poor People’s Campaign,” Lafayette told The Undefeated. “He wanted everyone to know that this was about more than black people. It also was about helping poor whites, Native Americans and Mexican-Americans.”

In this Jan. 16, 1968, file photo, Martin Luther King (left), accompanied by Rev. Bernard Lafayette, talks about a planned march on Washington, D.C., during a news conference in Atlanta.

AP Photo/Charles Kelly

At the end of the conversation, King told Lafayette, “We are going to institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence.”

By sunset, those words proved eerily ironic.

When Lafayette arrived in Washington, Walter Fauntroy, the D.C. city councilman and Washington point person for the SCLC, wasn’t there to pick him up at the airport. That’s when Lafayette had an inkling that something was awry.

He called the headquarters of the Poor People’s Campaign, at 14th and U streets in Northwest Washington. That’s when Lafayette found out King had been shot on the motel balcony in Memphis.

Later, Lafayette called The Associated Press and United Press International wire services. Two pay telephones at once — with the AP in his left ear and the UPI in his right.

“Then, the UPI reporter started crying on the phone,” Lafayette said.

That’s when he first learned King had died. Moments later, Lafayette hopped in a cab to 14th and U.

There, he called the Lorraine Motel. Andrew Young, the executive vice president of the SCLC, told Lafayette not to return to Memphis. Fly to the SCLC headquarters in Atlanta instead, he said.

Lafayette then canceled the D.C. news conference scheduled for the next day.

a funeral for which to prepare

In 1968, Lafayette, at 28 years old, was a veteran of the civil rights movement. In 1960, he had participated in the sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, along with Lewis, Diane Nash and James Bevel. In 1961, Lafayette was one of the original Freedom Riders, along with Lewis, Jim Zwerg and William Barbee, as they tried to desegregate public interstate travel in the South amid physical attacks from angry white mobs.

Lafayette also was one of The Children, a book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam 20 years ago that focused on eight college students, all of whom attended historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs), in Nashville who vaulted to the forefront of the civil rights movement.

Lafayette’s alma mater of barely 100 students, the American Baptist Theological Seminary, is now called American Baptist College and was granted an HBCU designation in 2013.

In 2018, Lafayette, now a 78-year-old minister, makes the 22-mile drive from his home in Tuskegee, Alabama, to Auburn University on Monday afternoons to teach the principles of global leadership for nonviolence, employing the teachings of King and Gandhi. Lafayette’s Alternatives to Violence Project, started in 1975, engages prison populations in conflict reconciliation and is used in 60 nations.

In the 1960s, Lafayette even wrote songs and sang with the Freedom Singers and Nashville Quartet. They sang freedom songs at such venues as New York’s Carnegie Hall, including the “Dog Song,” which was about the irony of dogs from black and white families playing together in rural Southern areas while the children of those same families couldn’t mingle because of segregation. That history has been preserved in more than one Smithsonian museum.

Another singer exhibited his reverence for King and the movement. King’s funeral was scheduled for April 9, 1968; the Academy Awards were set for April 8. Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. and other stars threatened to boycott if the ceremony wasn’t rescheduled, according to the book Inside Oscar.

Davis, during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on April 5, declared, “I certainly think any black man should not appear. I find it morally incongruous to sing ‘Talk To The Animals’ [from the Oscar-nominated movie Doctor Dolittle] while the man who could make a better world for my children is lying in state.”

Yes, Hollywood stopped for King; the Academy Awards were rescheduled for April 10.

“Sammy and several other movie stars came to the funeral,” Lafayette said. “They viewed Dr. King as a star, just like themselves. That’s why they came.”

Some SCLC members bandied about the idea of treating King’s funeral like the royals of Buckingham Palace in England, as in the splendor of men wearing top hats and coats with tails.

“Some of them wanted to treat him like royalty,” Lafayette recalled.

But they ultimately thought better of it, instead opting for the images of King’s legacy.

As King had said, in part, in his previous “Drum Major” address from Feb. 4, 1968, “I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. I just want to leave a committed life behind …”

Martin Luther King Jr. (seated, center), Andrew Young (far left, back row) and Bernard Lafayette Jr. (far right, back row) with a group of people in 1967.

Courtesy of Bernard Lafayette Jr.

Keep it simple, the SCLC decided. Hence regular men’s attire. And a mule-drawn, wooden farmer’s wagon to carry King’s casket, symbolic signs of poverty.

The “Drum Major” sermon served as King’s eulogy, per widow Coretta Scott King’s request.

The next two months were both utterly miserable and marginally productive for the SCLC. King’s successor, the solid but less magnetic Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, was determined to launch the Poor People’s Campaign, undoubtedly one of King’s most ambitious projects, which originally was scheduled for April 22.

King’s master plan: put issues such as jobs, unemployment insurance, a reasonable minimum wage and education for the poor on the national front burner.

The day after Coretta King led a women’s march on Mother’s Day on May 12, a collection of plywood tents and shacks were constructed on Washington’s National Mall. It was called Resurrection City, with a population of about 3,000. Rev. Jesse Jackson was named its mayor.

Then came the rain. “It seemed like for 40 days and 40 nights,” Lafayette remembered. “And, man, it was muddy.”

His post-campaign analysis: “It was very challenging and difficult. It was Dr. King’s idea, but he wasn’t with us. So we had to glean from him what we thought was his interpretation of the campaign.”

Lafayette spoke of a bizarre backstory to the campaign: For many of the nation’s poor, especially in the rural South, their only mode of travel was by mule. Therefore, some of the campaign participants wound their way to the nation’s capital by mule-drawn wagons. The federal government authorized some staff members, Lafayette said, to make sure the mules were equipped with special shoes for travel on pavement and soil as well as the correct food.

What about special precautions for the impoverished human beings making the journey? “No, the people had to care for themselves,” Lafayette answered.

The campaign did result in a few lesser victories, such as the federal government allocating free surplus food for distribution in hundreds of U.S. counties in need and agreements with government agencies to hire the poor to lead programs for the poor.

Abernathy, of course, desired more impactful actions, but he had to settle for the pocket-sized ones.

A half-century after the assassination of King, the implementation of the Poor People’s Campaign and the prophetic “Drum Major” speech, a part of King’s legacy was displayed on March 24 in Washington.

His granddaughter, 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King, spoke in Washington at the March for Our Lives rally against gun violence. She told an international audience: “My grandfather had a dream that his four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world, period.”

She was part of a remarkable scene mixing the past and the present before our very eyes. And it was a gun that killed her grandfather, a horrific murder by a white man that triggered race riots and street violence in at least 100 cities nationwide.

Said Lafayette: “That’s why I have great hope for the future. These young people are making sense, and they seem very determined. You call it passing the torch.”

For Lafayette, Yolanda Renee brought back memories of his last conversation with her grandfather at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

On that fateful day, 50 years ago.

Andrew Young on MLK assassination: ‘You’re going to heaven and leaving us in hell’ Every moment of April 4, 1968, stays fresh in the mind of the former top lieutenant for King

He was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives. He became only the second African-American mayor in Atlanta’s history. Perhaps most impressive, Andrew Young operated as one of the top lieutenants for Martin Luther King Jr.

When the drum major for justice was assassinated at 7:01 p.m. Eastern time on April 4, 1968, on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, Young rushed from the parking lot below to his side.

“People say, ‘Andy, why don’t you take a rest?’ ” said Young, 86, referring to his nonstop travel from his Atlanta home during the past 50 years to promote his various causes for the disadvantaged between delivering speeches on King’s message of nonviolence. “Well, I mean, I stay active because, right now, I can still see Martin’s blood on that sidewalk, and I can still remember the way the bullet tore into his spinal cord.”

Every moment of that day stays fresh on Young’s mind, and he gave his first-person account of what he saw and felt before, during and after King’s death to The Undefeated.


I was in court all day long, and Martin had closed on such a poignant note the night before [at Mason Temple in downtown Memphis], when he came out to speak with a fever in the pouring-down rain. But there were 11,000 or 12,000 people there, and he dragged himself up, and that’s where he made that famous speech, ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I’ve seen the promised land.’ He had been feeling really bad that day, and that next morning of April 4, I expected him to sleep late, and he probably did. But I had to be in court at 9 a.m. because we were challenging the injunction that wanted us to stop from marching [in Memphis for striking sanitation workers].

So after being in court that whole time, and really on the witness stand for about an hour, I returned to the Lorraine Motel just about 4 o’clock. Dr. King, his brother [Alfred Daniel Williams King, known as ‘AD’], Ralph Abernathy, well, they were all in his brother’s room downstairs, which was the bigger room. They had been eating catfish, because Memphis was famous for its catfish dinners and somebody had brought in a whole tray. So they were all eating and drinking that sweet tea, and they were laughing and having a great time, sort of like his old gang, the guys he grew up with.

When I came in, Martin started joking with me, saying, ‘Where have you been all day long? What have you been doing?’ I told him, ‘I’ve been in a courtroom this entire time, trying to keep you out of jail.’ And he laughed, and then he said, ‘You don’t have to keep ME out of jail.’ Then I told him I wanted him to be able to continue this march in Memphis. Then he said, ‘Why didn’t you call me?’ I usually didn’t talk back to Martin, but I did this time by saying something I normally wouldn’t have. That’s when he said, ‘Oh, so you’re a smartass, huh?’ I said, ‘No, I’ve been doing the best I can, and you all have been sitting around here eating catfish and I haven’t had anything to eat.’

That’s when somebody picked up a pillow and threw it at me, and I threw it back. The next thing you know, you’ve got Martin and Ralph and everybody grabbing pillows. It was one of these big rooms with two double beds and sort of suite, and then everybody started to pick on me. I made a feeble effort to fight back, but finally, Dr. Billy Kyles knocked on the door and said, ‘You all need to be getting ready. You’re supposed to be at my house for dinner at 6 p.m.’ The pillow fight stopped, and Martin said, ‘Well, I better get ready. I need to go upstairs and put my shirt and tie on.’ He left.

By the time Martin got his shirt and tie on, Ralph wasn’t dressed yet. But Martin came out on the balcony, and I was down in the parking lot with [civil rights activist] James Orange, who was about 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, and I was even smaller than I am now. Despite our size difference, James and I liked to shadowbox. So we were shadowboxing in the parking lot, just clowning around, and at first I thought it was a firecracker.

That’s when I looked up, and I didn’t see him.

Martin wasn’t there.

So I ran up the stairs, and he was lying on the ground in a pool of blood. The rifle shot came from somewhere across the street, and the police were over there but they came running toward us. That’s when we all began pointing and shouting, ‘No, go back over there! The shot came from over there!’ But the police kept leaving the area from where the shot came from to run to where we were.

When I looked down again at Dr. King, my first reaction was that it was such a clean wound that it literally severed his spinal cord. You could see it. It wasn’t messy, just a very clean shot, and I realized he probably didn’t get a chance to hear it, and he probably didn’t feel anything. Even though he still had a little pulse, there was no way he could have survived that shot. I thought while looking at him, ‘You’re going to heaven and leaving us in hell. How are we going to get along without you? We were barely making it with you.’

We called [Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s wife] and told her what happened, and the ambulance came to take him to the hospital. Even though I went to the hospital, I knew there was no hope.

On April 8, 1968, Coretta Scott King led 10,000 people in a march through Memphis in memory of her husband Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been killed just four days prior. In front row are (left to right) singer Harry Belafonte; King’s daughter, Yolande; sons Martin III and Exter; Mrs. King; Rev. Ralph Abernathy; and Rev. Andrew Young.

The thing that disturbed us the most was that people started rioting, and we kept trying to talk to the press about getting folks to realize that this isn’t what Dr. King would have wanted. But the reporters wanted to talk to the rioters more than they wanted to hear from us, and that was kind of tragic.

We left the hospital, and we got back to the motel about 10 o’clock that night, and we basically said, ‘Look. We have to keep Martin’s movement going.’ I don’t know how, but we already had planned to go to Washington with 24 different groups of poor people [for the Poor People’s March on Washington that spring]. For the first time, the movement wasn’t mostly black people, but we had invited several Appalachian groups, white groups from the big cities and rural areas, senior citizens, three or four Hispanic groups from the West Coast and Native American groups. It was following Martin’s desire to raise the question of poverty. From the very beginning, the civil rights movement was about leading America away from the triple evils of race, war and poverty.

Here we are, 50 years later, and we haven’t solved those three problems, but Martin gave us the dream. Also, when I look back 50 years, I know he died instantly, and it became clear to me on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel that only his body had been killed, but his spirit lived.

In so many ways, it still lives today.

The Stop: Racial profiling of drivers leaves legacy of anger and fear From ministers to pro athletes, they all get pulled over for “Driving While Black”

An idyllic afternoon of Little League baseball followed by pizza and Italian ice turned harrowing when two police officers in Bridgeport, Connecticut, stopped Woodrow Vereen Jr. for driving through a yellow light.

A music minister at his church, Vereen struggled to maintain eye contact with his young sons as one of the officers instructed Vereen, who is black, to get out of the car and lean over the trunk, and then patted him down. Vereen could see tears welling in the eyes of his 7- and 3-year-old sons as they peered through the rear window. He cringed as folks at a nearby bus stop watched one of the officers look through his car.

He never consented to the 2015 search, which turned up nothing illegal. The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut sued on behalf of Vereen, alleging that police searched him without probable cause. Last year, two years after the incident, he received a settlement from the city. His tickets — for running a light and not carrying proof of insurance — were dismissed.

Yet the stop lives with him.

Traffic stops — the most common interaction between police and the public — have become a focal point in the debate about race, law enforcement, and equality in America. A disproportionate share of the estimated 20 million police traffic stops in the United States each year involve black drivers, even though they are no more likely to break traffic laws than whites. Black and Hispanic motorists are more likely than whites to be searched by police, although they are no more likely to be carrying contraband.

Across the country, law-abiding black and Hispanic drivers are left frightened and humiliated by the inordinate attention they receive from police, who too often see them as criminals. Such treatment leaves blacks and Hispanics feeling violated, angry, and wary of police and their motives.





“You’re pulled over simply for no other reason than you fit a description and the description is that you’re black.”

Activists have taken to the streets to protest police shootings of unarmed black people. Athletes, including NFL players, have knelt or raised clenched fists during the singing of the national anthem at sports events to try to shine a light on lingering inequality.

Vereen had always told his children that the police were real-life superheroes. Now that story had to change. “Everything I told them seems to be untrue,” said Vereen, 34. “Why is this superhero trying to hurt my dad? Why is this superhero doing this to us? He is supposed to be on our side.”

The first time my now-28-year-old son was stopped by police, he was a high school student in Baltimore. He was headed to a barbershop when he was startled by flashing lights and the sight of two police cars pulling up behind him. The stop lasted just a few minutes and resulted in no ticket. It seems the cops just wanted to check him out. My son’s fear morphed into indignation when an officer returned his license, saying, “A lot of vehicles like yours are stolen.” He was driving a Honda Civic, one of the most popular cars on the road.

“A very familiar feeling comes each time I’m stopped. And that’s the same feeling I got the first time I was stopped, when I was 17 years old.”

Shaken by cases in which seemingly routine traffic stops turn deadly, many black parents rehearse with their children what to do if they are pulled over: Lower your car window so officers have a clear line of sight, turn on the interior lights, keep your hands visible, have your license and registration accessible, and for God’s sake, let the officer know you are reaching for them so he doesn’t shoot you.

Drivers of all races worry about running afoul of the rules of the road. But blacks and Hispanics, in particular, also worry about being stopped if they are driving a nice car in a modest or upscale community, a raggedy car in a mostly white one, or any kind of car in a high-crime area. It affects everyone, from ministers and professional athletes to lawyers and the super-rich.

“It’s been more times than I care to remember,” said Robert F. Smith, 55, a private equity titan and philanthropist, when asked how often he thinks he has been racially profiled. Smith, with a net worth of more than $3 billion, is listed by Forbes as the nation’s wealthiest African-American. Yet he still dreads being pulled over.

“A very familiar feeling comes each time I’m stopped,” he said. “And that’s the same feeling I got the first time I was stopped, when I was 17 years old.”

Rosie Villegas-Smith, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen who has lived in Phoenix for 28 years, has been stopped a couple of times by Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies, who are notorious for using allegations of minor traffic violations to check the immigration status of Hispanic drivers.

In 2011 federal investigators found that the department pulled over Hispanic drivers up to nine times more often than other motorists. The stops were part of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants ordered by Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff from 1993 to 2016.

Courts ruled the stops illegal, but Arpaio pressed ahead and was found guilty of criminal contempt in July 2017. President Donald Trump — who has stoked racial tensions by bashing immigrants, protesting athletes, and others — pardoned Arpaio the following month. Arpaio recently announced plans to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

The statistics on traffic stops elsewhere are spotty — neither uniformly available nor comprehensive — but they show the same pattern of blacks and Hispanics being stopped and searched more frequently than others. The disparity spans the nation, affecting drivers in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Men are more at risk than women, and for black men, being disproportionately singled out is virtually a universal experience.

A 2017 study in Connecticut, one of the few states that collect and analyze comprehensive traffic-stop data, found that police disproportionately pull over black and Hispanic drivers during daylight hours, when officers can more easily see who is behind the wheel. Many police departments have policies and training to prevent racial profiling, but those rules can get lost in day-to-day police work.

“One reason minorities are stopped disproportionately is because police see violations where they are,” said Louis Dekmar, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who runs the Police Department in LaGrange, Georgia. “Crime is often significantly higher in minority neighborhoods than elsewhere. And that is where we allocate our resources. That is the paradox.”

Too often, officers treat minorities driving in mostly white areas as suspect, Dekmar said. “It’s wrong, and there is no excuse for that,” he said.




“I felt embarrassed. Emasculated. I felt absolutely like I had no rights.”

Robert L. Wilkins was a public defender in 1992 when he and several family members were stopped by a Maryland state trooper while returning to Washington, D.C., from his grandfather’s funeral in Chicago. The trooper accused them of speeding, then asked to search their rented Cadillac. “If you’ve got nothing to hide, then what’s your problem?” the trooper said when they objected to the search on principle.

The trooper made them wait for a drug-sniffing dog. As Wilkins and his family stood on the side of the highway, a German shepherd sniffed “seemingly every square inch of the car’s exterior,” Wilkins recalled. Before long, there were five or six police cars around them. At one point, Wilkins, now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, noticed a white couple and their two children staring as they rode by. He imagined that they thought the worst: “They’re putting two and two together and getting five,” he said. “They see black people and they’re thinking, ‘These are bad people.’ ”

Wilkins filed a class-action suit alleging an illegal search and racial profiling, and the state of Maryland settled, largely because of an unearthed police document that had warned troopers to be on the lookout for black men in rental cars, who were suspected of ferrying crack cocaine. The settlement required state police to keep statistics on the race and ethnicity of drivers who were stopped. A second suit forced police to revamp their complaint system. Those changes brought some improvement, and racial disparities in traffic stops in Maryland were cut in half.

What lingers, though, is the indignity and anger that drivers feel over being singled out. “There’s a power that they want to exert, that you have to experience. And what do you do about it?” Smith said. “There’s an embedded terror in our community, and that’s just wrong.”

About this story: The Undefeated teamed up with National Geographic to ask people of color across the U.S. what it’s like to be racially profiled during a traffic stop, and the ripple effect such incidents can have on families and communities. This report also appears in the April issue of National Geographic Magazine and online at natgeo.com/theraceissue.

How Big Papi’s ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover captured Boston’s journey from tragedy to triumph Ortiz put on for his city when it was most needed

April 20, 2013, at Fenway Park — it was the most Boston of all days.

Just five days before, two young men had left bombs near the iconic finish line of the Boston Marathon. In those five days, the city had endured the deaths of three people at the blast site, injuries to 264, a controversial “shelter in place” order and a massive manhunt. Later came the deaths of two police officers.

April 20 was the Red Sox’s first home game since all of that. The Sox were sitting on a record of 11-4 before the first day game in a series against the Kansas City Royals, but it was the city that needed a win. The last game the Sox finished at Fenway had been on the day of the bombings. Something positive to hold up after so much chaos. Before the two-hour, 58-minute game commenced, as dozens of uniformed police marched off the field and a gigantic American flag was unfurled in front of the Green Monster, 10-time All-Star David Ortiz spoke into the handheld microphone.

“All right, all right, Boston. The jersey that we wear today, it doesn’t say Red Sox. It says Boston.” That’s what the then-two-time World Series champion said. “We want to thank you, Mayor Menino, Gov. Patrick and the whole Police Department for the great job they did this past week. This is our f—ing city, and nobody gonna dictate our freedom. Stay strong, thank you!”

The Red Sox would go on to win that game 4-3. In front of 35,152 people, Ortiz had two hits and an RBI. Big Papi’s comments kicked off what was a turnaround season for the Red Sox. They would go on to win the pennant and the 2013 World Series, making Ortiz a three-time World Series champion.


That day’s win, and the eventual World Series victory at the end of October, brought some joy back to a city that desperately needed to feel normal. And Sports Illustrated needed to illustrate the city’s tribulations for the Nov. 11 cover shot. They needed Big Papi, who was also named MVP of the 2013 World Series. There are many moving parts when it comes to a multiperson photo shoot, let alone a cover shoot. And this one needed police officers too. Officers Javier Pagan and Rachel McGuire were chosen, as well as Detective Kevin McGill because of their appearance, in action, on the April 22, 2013, cover of SI the week of the bombing.

Planning the new cover started immediately after the series was settled in six games. The police officers’ appearance needed to be OK’d with the police commissioner, and access to the ballpark was required. “The photo editor at the time, Brad Smith, called after the Sox won the championship, and they needed to close a cover,” said cover photographer Joe McNally. “You gotta get Fenway Park on board, you gotta get Big Papi on board and the Boston Red Sox and the public relations people — and all of the sudden everything cracked open, and we got a time with Big Papi.”

It wasn’t that it was surprising that he agreed, but that he had time. “At that point,” said McNally, “he was the most famous baseball player on the planet.”

Soon McNally headed to an empty Fenway Park. “It’s always cool to get out on a major league baseball diamond,” he said. “It’s vast, and always just cool to be there when the crowds are not. And Fenway has so much history.”

“It’s vast, and always just cool to be there when the crowds are not. And Fenway has so much history.”

The setup was hectic. “They let me in like two hours before Big Papi would be available,” McNally said.

“I shot four distinct cover possibilities. You can’t go back to SI with just one option.” Obviously. “So I had a backdrop set up under the stands, sort of a studio feel. Then I did three different solutions in the outfield.”

One of the “solutions” in the outfield would be used for the cover. In that shot, Pagan, McGuire and McGill stand in uniform together with Ortiz, who is wearing a black suit and red scarf and holding a bat. The configuration seems a bit odd at first for a story that would be about the importance Ortiz had played in the history of the Boston Red Sox. But McNally said it was the “only way” the picture worked.

“Because Big Papi … he’s not called Big Papi for nothing. He’s a big man,” he told me with a chuckle.

Not only were the sizes of everyone involved a problem, but also there was the issue of the lack of color in everyone’s clothing. “I had to deal with the fact that Big Papi was not in uniform. I wanted him in uniform, and of course he showed up in a Hugo Boss suit and that was it. Thankfully he had the scarf, which gave me a little bit of color to work with,” McNally said. “Because the police officers were in dark blue … I was like, What the hell am I going to do for a little bit of color here? Those are the challenges that go along with the turf.”

While the outfield provided a great backdrop, Fenway is an iconic stadium. Why not shoot toward the Green Monster? “It’s legendary, of course, but it’s kinda faceless too,” McNally told me. Later, he did turn Ortiz toward the nearly 38-foot-tall wall, where the graphic for “Boston Strong” was on display.

“A big Boston Red Sox ‘B’ out there … and underneath it said, ‘STRONG,’ so I wanted that in the picture,” he said. The photo didn’t end up making the cut, but McNally also put the three officers together, with Big Papi to their right, in a studio setting, which was used inside the issue.

The police officers weren’t used to being photographed like Ortiz, but they were good sports about it. “They knew the police commissioner had blessed this, so everything was cool … relaxed,” he said. “All of the sudden, you’re on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That’s pretty cool for a cop on the beat.”

As for Ortiz, he was in high spirits. “I’d never worked with him before and asked him, ‘Big Papi, how much time I got?’ He said, ‘I’ll give you 20 minutes.’ I was like, ‘All right, all right.’ I fudged it. I kept looking at my watch and being like, ‘We still have 15 minutes left.’ And he was like, ‘No way, man!’ I was saying that, and of course had burned my 20 minutes. He knew I was bulls—-ing him, but he was in a good mood,” McNally said.

And why wouldn’t he be? After a long, hard season, Ortiz had, according to Sports Illustrated, become the first non-Yankees player to win at least three championships with the same club in the past 30 years. “He was the hero,” McNally said, “and the cops represented Boston. It was kind of a big deal.”


Nearly three years later, the cover feels like an anomaly. In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality against people of color. He was quietly joined by other football players and Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe, and slowly more and more athletes knelt, held up a fist or locked arms during the national anthem. All in protest of police brutality. While this cover isn’t an exact comparison — working with police during a terror attack versus regular interactions with citizens, which Kaepernick was getting at — it does seem like this cover wouldn’t happen with a black athlete in 2017. This is to say nothing about how the Take A Knee protest has evolved (and gentrified) since President Donald Trump’s outsize reaction to NBA champion Stephen Curry expressing his resistance to simply attending a White House ceremony.

I got a chance to briefly talk with Ortiz in January when he was promoting his new docuseries, Fusion’s Big Papi Needs A Job. The conceit: Ortiz wants to do something new with his retirement and sets out to try a variety of jobs to varying levels of success — and let’s just say Big Papi as a manicurist is a hoot. While he wouldn’t speak to the particular Sports Illustrated cover, Ortiz spoke frequently about the empathy he developed doing a job he didn’t previously understand. “When you don’t know about things, you just fly through. You don’t know,” he said. “I think everybody has different things to do in life, different jobs. Now I give people the credit they deserve.”

Reflecting on that turnaround season was pleasant all around; for McNally, it meant shooting a celebratory cover. “As a photographer for many years, you prepare for disappointment. You just hope Mr. or Mrs. Big Time Athlete is not a Big Time Jerk, which they can be. But Big Papi was great,” he said. “I have to say that was the pleasant outcome. He’s enjoying himself and is massively talented, and he was cool to be around.”

McNally also remembered the “our f—ing city” speech while photographing Ortiz and the three police: “He went out onto the Fenway pitcher’s mound and he was on loudspeakers at the stadium, and he actually said, ‘This is our f—ing city!’ It takes some guts to curse in front of 50,000 people. He’s real.”

Finally, Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ is back The FX show’s L.A. premiere brought out the entire cast and celebrity fans

After making fans wait a wee bit longer for a new season of one of the hottest new shows, Donald Glover’s excellent Atlanta finally returns next month — and sports will play a major role.

The creator and star of FX’s hot show about a Princeton-educated dropout trying to boost his cousin’s would-be local rap career had to postpone the series’ return because Glover is also starring in the soon-coming hotly-anticipated Han Solo Star Wars prequel. But finally, he and his cast and crew were celebrated Monday night at the show’s Los Angeles’ premiere at the Ace Theater downtown.

And the latest installment of the Golden Globe-winning series — according to the robust applause and cheers from the celebrity-filled premiere — was for sure worth the wait.

“We kind of looked at it like a mixtape,” Donald Glover told The Undefeated before the event began. “You come up with a first good mixtape and people say you have your whole life to write a good album, and then the second one you got eight months! But you can’t think about it in those terms.”

Indie film star Lakeith Stanfield — who also as the comic-relief truth-teller Darius, was one of show’s biggest breakout characters last season — flew in directly from Germany, where he’s filming a new movie. Because he was wearing a black ski mask and a bedazzled black jacket, initially no one knew it was him as he walked the blue carpet.

“There were a lot of new challenges,” Stansfeld said, mask still on. “I think we were less concerned about the eyeballs watching and more with the material that was departing from what we had done before it was stepping into new terrain. It was a lot scary, a little bit.”

The event was peppered with famous folks such as Oscar-nominated director John Singleton, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown and Emmy winner Lena Waithe. They were part of a stream of celebrity and accomplished faces giving the cast kudos after seeing the first two episodes of the new season.

This new season is a bit of a sharp turn from the show’s inaugural season so far, vastly different from what the first season gave us.

“A lot more exploration of darker themes,” said co-star Zazie Beetz, who portrays Glover’s ex-girlfriend Van. “We explore death and major transitions within all of the characters — each character sort of has a bent. Within that, there’s still humor and comedy, but I think this season in general has a much more somber feel.”

The show’s break gave her the chance to come back to the table with a bit more confidence to help take Van to new terrain.

“I felt so happy to go back and at ease. The first season I was kind of a wreck. I was such a bundle of nerves and I felt so much pressure. For me at the time, it was the biggest thing I had done and I just wanted to do a good job and I was very, very nervous. And coming back, because we had established our characters, I felt much more room to play and improvise. I was like, ‘I’m going to have a good time.‘ And I did.”

The time off — in some ways — is reflected in the new season. This new season is called Robbin’ Season, and we’ll see that theme explored throughout this new offering.

“I think us having that time off was really important. We got to watch the world change and shift underneath us without our permission most times. I think it was great to go back at the time we went back because I feel like this year all of us feel like we’ve been robbed,” said show’s co-star Brian Tyree Henry, who portrays local rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles. “Things have lost value that we thought was valuable. Having that time off coming back when we did was absolutely what we needed. Sometimes you need a moment to really take it in. [The show is] very different. Our lives are in the same area, but it’s not in the same area. It’s become a dangerous place to have these relationships and be in the area we are. There’s an exposure that’s happened. There was a nervousness about ‘Where is Alfred? Will I know who Alfred is anymore?’ But that’s life. We don’t know who we are on a given day either. It was nice to figure that out with them. But it was good to do that together. Nobody was out there left astray on their own.”

The real trepidation comes from how the show’s loyal audience will take to the shift in direction (“My brother was like, we’re the ones who are our worst critics. We shouldn’t be sitting here trying to outdo the audience,” Glover said of his brother Stephen, the show’s head story editor and a writer on the series. “We should be trying to outdo ourselves. It’s really up to us. We put the boundaries on us. We tell ourselves what’s good and what we think is cool will translate. And if it didn’t, we did what we were supposed to do.”)

One thing that will develop in this new season is a sports theme — but how it comes about is shrouded in secrecy. It’d give too much away to talk about it, both Glover brothers insist. (Though Donald Glover hints that Serena Williams is referenced somehow in this new season.)

“Atlanta rappers and ballplayers — they call it Black Hollywood. Just being in the South in general, sports is a big part of black culture and Southern culture and identity,” Stephen Glover said. “You can’t really tell the story of Atlanta without talking a little bit about the ballplayers.”

And as for the time off? It’s only made the show that much better, Stephen Glover added.

“It was good that we had some extra time. I think there’s always the thing of topping yourself for next time. There was definitely the thought of we gotta come back and do better. People liked this first season, let’s try to top that,” he said. “But at the same time, we didn’t want to chase anything and try to get the easy win. We just approached it one day at a time and luckily we had some time on our side to help with that.”

The top 24 sneaker sightings of 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend Style, swag, originality, and strong statements — who’s the All-Star sneaker MVP?

LOS ANGELES — The hottest stars on the planet, from the worlds of basketball, entertainment and fashion, descended upon the City of Angels for the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend. And they brought the hottest shoes they could get on their feet. The festivities of the weekend — from pop-ups from the biggest brands in the sneaker industry to spontaneous concerts to the celebrity all-star games, the actual NBA All-Star Game, and even the lead-up practices — was a cultural explosion when it came to sneakers. These are the top 24 (shout-out to the greatest No. 24 in L.A. history, Kobe Bryant) pairs we saw at All-Star Weekend, along with the stars who made them shine.


LeBron James

LeBron James was named the MVP of the All-Star Game, and we’re also declaring him sneaker MVP of the weekend. Heading into practice before the game, he debuted a low-top version of his Nike LeBron 15, as well as a red, white and blue player exclusive (PE) edition of his first signature sneaker, the Nike Air Zoom Generation. On Instagram he broke out another Air Zoom Generation PE — this one designed with black pony hair and a glow-in-the-dark sole. His pregame All-Star shoes were a custom pair of “More Than An Athlete” Air Force 1s — a nod to the recent critical comments about the world’s greatest basketball player from Fox News’ Laura Ingraham. And last but not least, on the court at Staples Center during the All-Star Game, he rocked a regal pair of Nike x KITH LeBron 15 PEs, featuring rose and vine stitching and gold embellishment fit for a king. God bless Nike, KITH and James for delivering all this heat.

Migos’ Quavo

Quavo took home the trophy as MVP of the NBA’s Celebrity All-Star Game after balling out in not one, but two pairs of custom kicks. With the help of Finish Line, and famed sneaker artist Dan “Mache” Gamache, the rapper a part of the hip-hop trio Migos wore Nike LeBron 15s and Under Armour Curry 4s, both of which were inspired by the supergroup’s No. 1 album Culture II. We caught up with Mache, who discussed his process of bringing the specially designed “Culture Brons” and “Huncho Currys” to life.

Justin Bieber

Instagram Photo

From afar, it looked like pop star Justin Bieber was wearing a pair of Off-White Air Jordan 1s while running up and down the court in the Celebrity All-Star Game. But actually, he donned the Fear of God All-Star Pack, crafted by L.A.-based designer Jerry Lorenzo (the son of former Major League Baseball player and coach Jerry Manuel).

Odell Beckham Jr.

Instagram Photo

Instagram Photo

Customization was a theme of the weekend, especially for Nike. And one of the brand’s biggest athletes, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., couldn’t leave L.A. without getting in the lab and getting his custom on. The end product? A red pair of OBJ Air Force 1s, which he swagged with a red and white Supreme x Louis Vuitton shoulder bag on the sidelines during the All-Star Game.

Kanye West

Instagram Photo

Kanye West made a surprise appearance at Adidas’ #747WarehouseSt in his “Blush” Yeezy Desert Rat 500s. The shoes were also available at the event to the public in limited quantities through a raffle. Shout-out to everyone who got a pair.

Xbox

It’s been the year of the Air Jordan 3, and Xbox is riding the wave. On Feb. 16, the video gaming brand announced that three limited-edition consoles — inspired by the “Black Cement,” “Free Throw Line,” and “Tinker Hatfield” 3s — will be given away to three fans through a Twitter sweepstakes taking place from Feb. 16 to Feb. 21.

Kendrick Lamar

Grammy Award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar took the stage at Nike’s Makers Headquarters on Feb. 17 in his newly dropped Cortez Kenny IIs. An iconic L.A. shoe for an iconic L.A. native.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, DeMar DeRozan

Nike x UNDEFEATED have the collaboration of the year so far, with the Zoom Kobe 1 Protros that were released to the public in a camouflage colorway at an exclusive pop-up in L.A. during the weekend. Toronto Raptors star, and Compton, California, native DeMar DeRozan wore a mismatched pair of the Protros — one green camo shoe and one PE red camo shoe — during the All-Star Game. We also saw pairs of PEs from Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks during the Celebrity All-Star Game, and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns during the 3-point shootout.

Usher

Yes, that is Usher wearing a pair of Air Jordan 5s, signed by Tinker Hatfield, the greatest designer in the history of sneakers.

Damian Lillard

Portland Trailblazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard is endorsed by Adidas and is a huge fan of the Japanese streetwear brand BAPE. So this weekend, he brought us the BAPE-inspired Adidas Dame 4 in camo, red and black. Simply beautiful.

Kyrie Irving

There have been reports for quite some time that Nike and Kyrie Irving would be coming out with a new and affordable basketball shoe separate from his signature line. It appears to have arrived. On the practice court before the All-Star Game, Irving broke out the unnamed sneakers, which honor the Boston Celtics with the words “Boston” and “Pride” featured on the outsoles, as well as the years of Boston’s championships on the laces. Look for this shoe to eventually drop at rumored retail price of about $80.

Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade poses with the raffle winner of the new limited-edition All-Star Way of Wade 6 shoe, Moments during a private NBA All-Stars event Feb. 17.

Courtesy of Li-Ning

One pair of Dwyane Wade’s Li-Ning All-Star Way of Wade 6s, which were unveiled and presented to fans in limited-edition fashion through a raffle on Feb. 17, went to this little girl. What a moment.