A career in sports analytics busts another barrier for African-American women I’m in the game to change it, not to be part of the status quo

I was standing right outside of the team personnel entrance when time seemed to slow down. Was I in the wrong place? What if I dressed wrong? Maybe red lipstick was too bold. I’m 17. How in the world am I even standing here even if it is the wrong place?

After an excruciating wait of what could have been two or 200 minutes, the arena door opened and out walked my mentor Calder Hynes. “Hi, Tiffany? Welcome, let’s get you started for the night!” Before his current stint overseeing public relations for some of the world’s most valuable athletes at Wasserman, Hynes was one of the main points of contact for the then-New Orleans Hornets communications team, and graciously took on the role of educating yet another eager high school student in the art of game-night operations.

I’d wanted to take career day off — goof off after four long years of honors courses, two-a-day volleyball practices, and PE Accelerate (physical education for the competitive overachievers if you were wondering). Instead, I marched over to the event, up to the public relations team and asked if I could shadow for a regular-season night or two in order to get skin in this game that would, though I did not yet know it, be my future.

After a rundown of team responsibilities and introductory small talk, Hynes then handed me an all-access pass to the New Orleans Arena, now Smoothie King Center. “I have you assigned to shadow the guys who will be inputting stats while I attend to our celebrity guest for the night, Will Ferrell. I hope that’s OK?” Hynes directed.

“The guys who input the stats?” What about shadowing Will Ferrell? Why can’t that happen? But rather than the response I was thinking, I simply said; “That’s perfect.” I headed off to assist the Hornets game night stats crew disappointed, but determined to make the best of my time with the stats guys.

Following Hynes into an entryway of an 8-foot-by-10-foot space barely big enough for an area rug, I walked into what I noticed was a closet transformed into a makeshift office by dint of the two desktop computers displaying NBA and team websites, a collection of roster posters of the Honeybees dance team pinned to the wall and two men unlocking their gaze from the monitors to greet me.

The stats crew for game nights was in charge of getting box score updates into the hands of prominent front-office personnel during timeouts and halftime, and manual statistical inputs to the team website after the game.

It wasn’t until I started tagging along with said crew as they were handing out stats sheets during timeouts to Monty Williams, the head coach of the Hornets at the time, and entering the suite of former Hornets president Hugh Weber, for the halftime stats update to help with any last-minute team decisions that I realized the significance of the situation.

Never mind Will Ferrell. I’d discovered that stats were what I wanted to do with my life. I’d found a career … maybe even a calling. I now knew that these stat sheets that revealed everything from player on-court contributions to net efficiency were my golden ticket. With these, I could go anywhere … even to the front office of an NBA team. Analytics, coaching and development personnel.

Who should be the sixth man off the bench? How are players developing over time? Should a trade even be entertained?

Still the doubts persisted. Was I really in the right place? The room housing the stats guys were clearly last-minute resources the team scrambled to find. They looked tired … manually inputting stats until 1 a.m. with an emptied bag of Lay’s potato chips near the computers for a postmidnight snack. I was tired leaving the arena before the end of the game news conference. After all, it was still a school night.

Seven years later, I’m still in stats. Moving on from handing out numbers to crafting intelligent insights from those numbers is now my life as a sports analytics associate for ESPN. It is still the career I want but the “Am I in the right place” doubts have never gone away. Sometimes I feel as if they’ve amplified. I have mentors, supportive colleagues and a challenging and intellectually stimulating job that I know I’m good at and to which I can bring my best self. But I have no role model. I am an accidental standard-bearer for black women in sports statistics. The first woman of color on ESPN’s sports analytics team — the only one crunching numbers among all of statistics and information at ESPN. And the shortage of women who look like me hasn’t changed a whit since that day with the Hornets.

Choosing a career in sports had, in part, grown from my experience playing volleyball, basketball and swimming and my hypercompetitive relationship with my older brother Osby (Oz for short). The day I beat Oz in NCAA Football on PlayStation is a day I will never let him live down. But sports became an obsession after that night with the Hornets and still is. I knew then I didn’t want to be what the sports industry expected of me. I wasn’t going to take a job I didn’t feel fit me because it fit the societal expectations of female-dominated roles in sports.

Analytics would be my path. Damn the comments and consequences.

I was and am constantly asked about what I’ll do if I hit that glass ceiling, the infamous old boys’ club that generations of women have struggled to join. And like generations before me, I ignore the question and focus on the work — work that reveals clearly what I bring to my field and hope it does the trick.

I remember receiving a text earlier in my career. A colleague with significantly fewer qualifications than myself was asking for help on statistical methodology that would be used to evaluate him for an analytics position with one of the few NBA teams that were hiring. It was a job I’d also applied for through a well-acclaimed referral (and had heard nothing back). That silence would then turn into apologies followed up with “you’ll end up somewhere soon.”

If I’d known about the glass ceiling on that night in New Orleans, if I’d known how hard it is for women to break new ground in a field that hasn’t ever included them, I’m not sure I’d be in stats right now. But today, it is my work that combats gender and racial stereotypes when I tell people what I do for a living and it is my work that prepares me for the seemingly choreographed head snaps when I walk into a room full of men.

Analytics is my path and I’m not stepping away from it. With a little bit of luck and a more courage than I’d expected I’d need, I found my way to change the perception of what a woman can do in the sports world.

This respect that women, minorities, and frankly any human being should have in pursuing their purpose comes from running toward the gray. It comes from accepting the norm as merely a long inherited social custom to be considered and then rejected or accepted depending on what works for any individual. I chose rejection. By embracing what cultural differences set me apart from my team, I am able to create and quantify different insights that expand the usefulness of analytics.

Analytics is used mostly to help front offices or journalists to find those undervalued players, those Davidson College-Stephen Currys of the world. But what happens when we use analytics for stories about issues that go far beyond pure sports? The stories that intersect cultural experiences and sports. The very stories that create the tension behind the “stick to sports” label.

Basketball aside, maybe that’s using our metrics to calculate the total quarterback rating (Total QBR) or impact on a team’s football power index (FPI) of Colin Kaepernick vs. well, insert any injured NFL starting quarterback of your choosing. For the record, that would be the Kaepernick ranked 23rd in Total QBR for the 2016 season ahead of seven current starting quarterbacks, including the now-injured Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Either way, analytics should be looked at as a conversation-starter, not ender. And in being just that, it uncovers the rudimentary answers to questions all of us have either had or haven’t thought were relevant, all while trying to strip bias from the equation. This is what I want all individuals to understand about what it is that I do and about what analytics can and will do, prejudices aside.

And yes, there are biases in analytics that I am fully aware of. The bias to strategically exclude racial, gender and educational minorities, or the biased belief that athletes are not bright enough to comprehend these analytical insights. Being that I, ironically, am a target for all four of these prejudices makes me the exception that proves the arguments for and against analytics. I find solace in the coming generations ready and already acting to squash preconceptions of African-Americans, women, athletes, and nonstatisticians. Though it may appear to be but slight progress with me being the lone African-American woman in sports analytics within ESPN, professional leagues – specifically the NBA – and our sports analytics industry as a whole are realizing the significance of not following the norm and following people who look like me.

Shane Battier for the Miami Heat. Aaron Blackshear for the Detroit Pistons. Curry and Andre Iguodala for the Bloomberg Players Technology Summit (the Summit). Rajiv Maheswaran for Second Spectrum. John Scott, Jahkeen Hoke, and John Drazan for 4th Family.

All are “minorities” moving into or helping other minorities move into analytics and data-tech, all while realizing their momentous influence on our industry. But most importantly, they are all building the future of our industry so the next stream of analytics looks like all of us. Specifically, 4th Family and its win in the research competition at our annual conference, what most call the meeting of the nerds – the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, for developing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education using basketball analytics for minorities in underprivileged schooling communities.

Curry and Iguodala are two African-American NBA players in the forefront of investing and all in the battle for startup equity among top venture capitalists interested in the tech right in the Warriors’ backyard, Silicon Valley. Using their own summit to invite other professional athletes to share in their sports tech capitalizing endeavors, my mind can’t help but wander to a player investing in the next startup that revolutionizes the way sports data is managed and how analytical insights are formed.

An investment with professional athletes as primary stakeholders in potential sports tech companies founded on tracking depth perception in arenas and stadiums for holographic experiences that will be used in their team practices. An investment that returns a double bottom line – strengthening on-court or on-field performance and a peek into franchise operations. Now that’s a real key to the city.

My key?

I have accepted my life detour into sports media with open arms, and have complete faith in the handful of women NBA front offices have progressively placed their confidence in. I am an extroverted sister navigating my way in this mostly introverted, analytics industry of men and a few women sprinkled about. I am accepting and learning from role models that do not look like me in order to catalyze change. And that is the exact reason that there is beauty in having no standard. I’m figuring out my own black girl magic.

New York Fashion Week: Why your athlete and rapper faves are wearing Musika Frère You’ll see their bespoke suits at All-Star weekend

NEW YORK — If you’re a hockey player with thighs the width of your waist, a broad-shouldered linebacker, or a 7-foot-2 basketball star, shopping off-the-rack can be a pain. Especially if you want something that won’t leave you swimming in fabric.

Plenty of menswear labels such as Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford or Brioni provide services for hard-to-fit upscale clients. Musika Frère, a bespoke menswear line started in 2014 by Aleks Musika and Davidson Petit-Frère, is quietly trying to upend the business.

They liken their suits to Ferraris: all-bespoke everything, in fine fabrics featuring traditional tailoring. But Musika Frère aspires to the upstart disruptive qualities of Harry’s Shave Club combined with the style and swagger of Ozwald Boateng. The company was born on Instagram, where Musika and Petit-Frère showcased custom dinner jackets on themselves. Interest in their designs grew through word of mouth, and into a business with an atelier in Manhattan. They’re young and hungry, offering the same services as their competitors, but with quicker turnaround and less markup. You can get a bespoke suit, made in Italy, from Musika Frère in four weeks, compared with the usual six to eight. Plenty of athletes and celebrities have noticed. Jay-Z wore Musika Frère to Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys dinner.

Instagram Photo

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Chadwick Boseman, Sterling K. Brown, Omari Hardwick, Kevin Hart, and Alex Rodriguez have all sported their wares.

Musika and Petit-Frère like playing with color, shape, and scale and they encourage their clients to experiment. They recently dressed Nick Jonas in a windowpane check suit for the premiere of Jumanji, and they tend to push more shawl collars and broader lapels than most menswear labels. Their signature contrasting waistband has appeared in their designs from the beginning.

“The days of navy, black, and grey suits on the red carpet are kind of ancient,” Petit-Frère said. “Now it’s, ‘How can I outdo myself?’ ”

The past few years in red carpet menswear have been a parade of tiny suits and skinny lapels, popularized by stars such as Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne. But the style doesn’t work well for athletes.

“If you’re 5-8 and 120 pounds, that looks good,” Musika said. “But we make suits, especially for our bespoke clients, in proportion to their shoulder width. And the fit is not skinny. It’s made for them. It doesn’t matter how big you are. If you’re a football player that plays offensive line, we’re making a suit around your body. Stuff that’s fitted always looks better. It doesn’t matter how big you are.”

This weekend the duo is headed to Los Angeles for NBA All-Star Weekend as they work on raising their profile. They’ll be tending to clients including Russell Wilson and Travis Scott. The goal is for Musika Frère to blossom into a full-on luxury lifestyle brand, and Musika and Petit-Frère say they’re interested in bringing their model of bespoke suiting to women’s wear, too. Perhaps, one day, we’ll see Brittney Griner in one of their suits.

But for now, they’d love to dress a former president. They recalled the flak and endless memes Barack Obama got when he stepped out in a tan suit.

“He looked great!” Petit-Frère said.

“Yeah,” Musika chimed in. “We’re gonna put him in a red one.”

The Harlem Honeys and Bears want everybody in the pool All-black synchronized swimming team is breaking the stereotypes of African-Americans and swimming

On a Monday afternoon in Harlem, New York, Luther Gales emerges from a locker room beside the swimming pool at the Hansborough Recreation Center dressed in black swim trunks. A member of the Harlem Honeys and Bears synchronized swim team, Gales, 77, stands at the edge of the pool, stretches his red swim cap over his head and jumps into the deep end to swim some warm-up laps.

The all-black senior synchronized swim team has been around since 1979. Today, the 24 active members range in age from 58 to 95 and compete in city and state competitions every year. The team meets three days a week to practice its routines, including its signature pyramid performed to “Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis Papathanassiou.

No matter their age, disability or challenge, coach and choreographer Oliver Footé makes sure there is a formation each member can participate in. The recreation center has a pool lift for those who cannot use the stairs. Some members say they feel the freest in the water, no longer needing their wheelchair, cane or walkers. Footé will create different segments for members with disabilities, showcasing their strengths. Swimming helps build muscular and cardiovascular strength and is a great exercise for seniors because it presents little risk of injury, is low-impact and improves flexibility.

Gales, a retired housing police officer and a former Marine, is at the pool about five days a week. When not practicing with the Honeys and Bears, Gales, along with other members of the team, spends afternoons teaching young swimmers for free. Gales wants to break the stereotype that black people can’t swim and wants to integrate swimming into black recreational culture, he said.

According to research from the USA Swimming Foundation, 70 percent of African-Americans don’t know how to swim. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that black children drown at 5.5 times the rate of other children. Formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning significantly.

Rasheedah Ali (left) and Luther Gales prepare for the Harlem Honeys and Bears practice on June 26, 2017, in the Hansborough Recreation Center. Both Ali and Gales are longtime members of the all-black synchronized swim team that practices in Harlem, New York.

Luther Gales puts his goggles on at the edge of the pool before the Harlem Honeys and Bears practice at the Hansborough Recreation Center. Gales recently competed in the national Senior Olympics and came home with three ribbons.

Members of the Harlem Honeys and Bears warm up before practice. Some team members need extra assistance to get into the swimming pool, like Rasheedah Ali, who uses a pool lift to get into the water.

Members of the Harlem Honeys and Bears practice a formation.

Luther Gales underwater before practice on July 14, 2017, in a pose he calls “black Jesus.”

Members of the Harlem Honeys and Bears practice a formation.

Luther Gales practices the backstroke during practice on July 14, 2017, at the Hansborough Recreation Center. The team practices three times a week for one hour.

Members of the Harlem Honeys and Bears practice a formation on July 14, 2017.

Members of the Harlem Honeys and Bears reminisce together while out to brunch on June 28, 2017.

LeRoi Whethers and Luther Gales laugh at a joke after practice.

Luther Gales shows LeRoi Whethers his numerous trophies and awards at his townhouse. The awards range from the 1979-1987 police Olympics and include multiple sports such as cycling, triathlons, running and swimming.

Luther Gales descends the stairs of his home to head to youth swim practice on June 27, 2017. Gales was born and raised in Harlem. He started teaching youths to swim by teaching his own kids. “My children were the hardest ones to teach,” he recalled.

Luther Gales walks to the Hansborough Recreation Center to help reach youth swim practice. He has been teaching the youths for more than a decade. He said he believes “kids compete against themselves and the clock, so they have to be resilient. … The clock takes no prisoners.”

Alandra Luna, 8, (left) and Justine Hill, 10, see who can hold their breath longer during their youth swim practice at the Hansborough Recreation Center on June 27, 2017. The youths practice one to two times a week for an hour, learning from members of the senior synchronized swim team, the Harlem Honeys and Bears.

Luther Gales corrects a girl’s diving form during practice on June 27, 2017. Gales said, “When they leave me, they have all four skills and will have the tools to go to another team. They might not be the best swimmer, but they will have a concept of all four strokes.”

Luther Gales looks out at his youth team practice at the Hansborough Recreation Center. Gales said, “Teaching the youth is rewarding, especially seeing a child with no skills become an accomplished swimmer — it’s great.”

Oprah struck the perfect tone at the Golden Globes, on a night when almost no one else could Her speech remembered the women our society too often forgets

I don’t know what we’d do without the first black woman to be awarded the Cecil B. DeMille award by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. But, by God, what I know for sure is this: We don’t deserve Oprah Winfrey.

Sunday night, Oprah pretty much rendered the rest of the Golden Globes irrelevant, glib and forgettable. The night was supposed to be serious and glamorous but not frivolous, and somehow also funny.

Mostly, it was just weird.

There was a distance and an awkwardness to the show, which is usually a rollicking good time because its guests are spit-shined and boozed up. Sunday’s event had to adjust for the sobering revelations driven by months of #MeToo, days of #TimesUp and an endless parade of expensive black protest dresses. The pendulum indicating the tone of the evening kept swinging wildly and not quite stopping anywhere that felt right, save for host Seth Meyers’ pull-no-punches opening monologue.

Even though #MeToo was the central focus of the evening, even though the movement’s creator, Tarana Burke, was in the room, there was an inescapable whiteness to the celebration. There were the multiple wins for Big Little Lies, which took on the well-heeled lives of quiet desperation led by rich white women in Monterey, California, and barely bothered to consider the details of its one black character, played by Zoë Kravitz. It was also a predictably big night for the adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, which made women of color and the racism they face an afterthought. There were the multiple wins for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film whose worst problem may be that it advances the idea that being an incompetent buffoon of a policeman is somehow a worse character flaw than being a violent, power-abusing racist so long as he tries his best to capture somebody’s rapist.

And then Oprah, in a black velvet gown and hair that recalled the glory of her 1998 Vogue cover shot by Steven Meisel, swooped to the stage of the Beverly Hilton like a patronus, not just for Hollywood but for the nation, and delivered the speech we desperately needed to hear.

In 10 minutes, she told us a story that began with Sidney Poitier and the importance of feeling seen, crested with the recognition of invisible women and ended hopeful, joyous and inspiring. She remembered the oft-forgotten women who, she said, “have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farmworkers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”

Oprah brought us back to earth and out of whatever alternate dimension the rest of the room seemed to be swimming through, and then lifted us up as though she’d been giving Barack Obama speech lessons. When she said, “Their time is up!” she spoke with the authority of a sexual assault survivor who believed what she was saying and made us believe it too.

She humbled us with her invocation of Recy Taylor, the woman who died recently at 97, never having experienced justice after she was brutally raped by six white men one night in 1944 and threatened with death if she spoke one word about what had happened. Oprah made sure the country knew that there are women who had not just their livelihoods but their very ability to live and breathe threatened by men more powerful than them. She recognized Rosa Parks as more than just a sweet lady who refused to give up her seat on a bus but rather as a woman who kicked off a movement for civil rights because she was tired of black women being violated freely and without consequence.

Oprah took all the rage and confusion and hurt and shame and frustration of the past few months and somehow, in her magical singularity, transformed it into not just a light but a beacon.

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.

Bernie Mac, his ‘Mr. 3000,’ and black baseball’s field of dreams On what would have been his 60th birthday, Mac is remembered for his love of all of Chicago’s games

Mitch Rosen walks into an elegantly furnished condo in Chicago’s South Loop. He doesn’t know what to expect. It’s the spring of 2008, and the longtime program director of influential local sports radio station 670 The Score is about to make a pitch.

Just a day earlier, Rosen had asked a friend for a contact for Bernie Mac, the beloved stand-up comedian, television icon (Fox’s The Bernie Mac Show, 2001-06) and big-screen scene-stealer (Friday, The Players Club and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy). In 2004, Mac co-starred with Angela Bassett (as an ESPN reporter) in Mr. 3000, a film about a retired Milwaukee Brewer Stan Ross, who comes back to major league baseball to go for 3,000 hits. Even before Mac’s star-making 1994 national television debut on the first iteration of HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, Mac had taken the baton from Robin Harris (who died in 1990 at age 36) as the Windy City’s funniest homegrown talent.

It was well-known around Chicago that Mac, a chest-beating, born-and-raised South Sider, was a hard-core White Sox fan. “I always knew Bernie to be around the Sox’s ballpark,” said Rosen. “He’d rent a suite at [then U.S. Cellular Field] for a number of games. I knew he would be fun to have on the postgame show.”

When Rosen made the call, Mac’s daughter, Je’Niece McCullough, answered. “Hold on, please,” she said. Seconds later, a booming voice jumped on the line. “Mitch, this is Bernie. What are you doing tomorrow afternoon? Here’s my address. Come see me.” During their one-hour meeting, Rosen discovered that not only was Mac an unapologetic homer, he was also an animated listener of sports talk radio. Imagine the multimillionaire calling in to passionately debate why a random utility player on the Sox deserved more at-bats.

“Chicago was a different place in the late ’60s and ’70s. This was before the era of Michael Jordan. There was a Little League team in damn near every neighborhood. Bernie was a product of those times.”

“And he was a huge fan of Ozzie [Guillen],” Rosen said, referring to the outspoken White Sox shortstop and Gold Glover who in 2005 managed the team to World Series glory. “We left it at, ‘Hey, let’s follow up in a few weeks and see where the season goes.’ At the time I remember he had an oxygen tank … so it was obvious something was wrong. He told me he was doing a movie out west in California. But we never got the chance to do his segment because he became really sick.”

Mac’s creative work was often deeply rooted in sports fandom. He portrayed a homeless man in 1994’s Above The Rim. In Pride, the 2007 Jim Ellis biopic, Mac scored a role as assistant coach of the first all-black swimming team. The actor detailed his love of competitive sports during a 2007 ESPN SportsNation chat. “I wish I started playing golf earlier,” said the 6-foot-3 Mac, who possessed the frame of a tight end. “But I played baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, and I boxed. In high school,” he repeated wistfully, “I played baseball.”

On Aug. 9, 2008, Bernard Jeffrey McCullough died at the age of 50. He’d been secretly battling a rare immune disease called sarcoidosis. Today he would have been 60 years old.

Bernie Mac sings “Take me out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch of game six of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins on October 14, 2003 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.

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Bernie Mac made it out of the notorious Englewood neighborhood of Chicago to become one of the most successful comedians of the post-Eddie Murphy era. The onetime janitor, school bus driver and fast-food manager decided that comedy would be his family’s ticket out of the ’hood. During the day, Mac told jokes on the L train, where he often pulled in as much as $400 daily.

At night, he delivered those same routines in front of notoriously tough audiences — when he was even allowed to get onstage. It was only after winning a top prize of $3,000 at 1990’s Miller Genuine Draft Comedy Search that he decided to pursue stand-up full time. His popular Emmy- and Peabody-winning television series The Bernie Mac Show was a layered revelation that went beyond usual laugh-track-fueled sitcom high jinks.

Mac got to live out his high school dream of becoming a professional ballplayer when he starred in the family-friendly Mr. 3000. His comically arrogant character, Ross, finds out that because of a clerical error, he’d retired three hits shy of one of baseball’s most hallowed benchmarks. Only 31 real players are in the 3,000-hit club. Adrian Beltre is the most recently crowned member; Barry Bonds just missed the cut. Albert Pujols is currently closest, with 2,825 hits. Other players in the 3,000 community include Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ichiro Suzuki, Rickey Henderson, Alex Rodriguez, George Brett and Derek Jeter. Quite the list.

The film is fun, but it’s Mr. 3000’s on-field scenes, shot at New Orleans’ Zephyr Field and the Brewers’ Miller Park, that jump off the screen like a love letter to the emotional highs and lows of baseball and its idiosyncratic rituals. “Bernie and I would always talk about the MLB player that didn’t know when to retire,” said Charles Stone III, director of Mr. 3000, Paid In Full and the upcoming basketball comedy Uncle Drew, which features the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, as well as Lisa Leslie, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller and Chris Webber. “We even joked about doing an entire documentary about athletes who didn’t know when to walk away. It was obvious Bernie had a real passion for sports.”

Michael Wilbon, a Chicago native and co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, made a cameo appearance in Mr. 3000. He first met Mac in 2001, at a Chicago Bulls game. They bonded. “We both grew up watching the Bears’ Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, the Cubs’ Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, and the White Sox’s [Walt] ‘No Neck’ Williams,” Wilbon said. “Chicago was a different place in the late ’60s and ’70s. This was before the era of Michael Jordan. There was a Little League team in damn near every neighborhood. Bernie was a product of those times.”

Which is one of the reasons that, when Mac was asked by the Chicago Cubs to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field, just months after wrapping Mr. 3000, it was a surreal moment. The prominent Chicago White Sox fan is forever connected to the infamous “Bartman” Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series in which the North Siders suffered a monumental collapse. Some Cubs fans even blamed Mac for purposefully jinxing the team when, instead of singing, “Root, root, root for the Cubbies,” he sang, “Root, root, root for the champions!” Mac admitted to Wilbon that he grew up hating the Sox’s crosstown rivals.

Bernie Mac sings a “black version” of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

“This is how you came up as a South Sider,” Wilbon said. “You hated the Cubs because back in the days they were not very hospitable to people that looked like my father. Bernie and I come from that tradition. But a lot of those great black Cubs players like Ernie Banks lived on the South Side with us, so while he didn’t always root for the Cubs, Bernie was a civic person. He didn’t actively root against them. When it came to the [playoffs], he rooted for all teams that had Chicago on their chest.”

Mac of course understood the historical significance of Mr. 3000’s lead character being African-American. Jackie Robinson’s peerless legacy is rich with immortals such as Roy Campanella, Mays, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr., as well as current stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen and Addison Russell. But African-American participation in professional baseball over the decades has steadily declined.

At its height in 1981, professional baseball boasted a robust 18.7 percentage of black players. Today that figure is 7.7 percent, according to MLB. “Blacks no longer being a huge part of baseball is something we’d always talk about,” said Chicago-based SportsCenter analyst Scoop Jackson. When Mac was cutting his teeth at local nightclubs such as All Jokes Aside in the early ’90s, the two would often discuss their mutual admiration for the underrated 1976 Negro Leagues baseball film The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.

“We both loved that film,” said Jackson. “How important Bingo Long was … you had James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor speaking on the importance of the Negro League. It wasn’t just black history … it was baseball history. I know what a film like Mr. 3000 was rooted in.”

And there’s even more to the legacy of Bernie Mac the sportsman. Mac frequently sent messages to Kenny Williams, then the White Sox’s general manager (now the team’s executive vice president), imploring him to improve the staff’s pitching. Mac also grew up idolizing aforementioned legendary Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente. Mac’s standing as the quintessential sports guy was so high that even before he was starring in films alongside the Oscar-winning likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Billy Bob Thornton, he was given the unofficial title of 13th Man by the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls during their historic six-title ’90s run.

The Bulls adopted Mac’s signature “Who You With?!!!” catchphrase as their championship battle cry. “When Bernie came into the locker room, that’s all Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the others would scream,” Jackson said. “That meant a lot to Bernie personally. He never really left Chicago, or his love of its teams. … Bernie was a true sports fan.”

At American Legion Hall, patriotism is complicated by the persistent realities of being black Discomfort with national anthem protests coupled with disgust over Trump’s denunciation of players

Old Glory flapped in the breeze outside American Legion Hall 263 near Baltimore Sunday as a group of black veterans and their relatives gathered inside to enjoy America’s game.

The Baltimore Ravens were getting roasted by the Jacksonville Jaguars on television, but much of the talk was about the groundswell of national anthem protests triggered by President Donald Trump’s angry outburst denouncing them. Dozens of Ravens and Jaguar players took a knee in defiance of Trump, and many others stood on the sidelines locking arms in a show of support.

“This much is for sure, Trump only fueled the fire,” said Richard Smith, 71, who served with the 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam War before going on to a career as a butcher. “It is amazing that he had more to say about this than he did about those racists marching in Charlottesville.”

Smith is proud of his military service and proud of his imperfect country. Truth be told, he was ambivalent about the NFL players who took a knee or raised a fist during the national anthem. But once Trump weighed in — calling on NFL owners who see players “disrespecting the flag” to “get that son of a b—- off the field right now” — Smith felt disgust, not solidarity, with the commander in chief.

“I don’t agree with taking a knee when the Star-Spangled Banner is played,” Smith said. “I thought it was not the right way to protest real problems. But, that said, I know Trump never served in the military. Now, he is cursing and disrespecting these guys. It only makes their point.”

Many of the Legionnaires and their family members voiced similar sentiments as they came to the hall for an afternoon of football as they do every Sunday during the NFL season. On one hand, they know better than most the sacrifice of military service. They also believe deeply in the promise of America. They spoke proudly of leading happy, productive lives and having children and grandchildren living the American Dream, with good jobs, nice homes, and successful families.

Ronald E. Randall Sr., outside of Jackson and Johnson Memorial Post 263 during the Ravens game.

Reginald Thomas II for The Undefeated

But their sense of patriotism and reverence for the nation’s symbols are complicated by the persistent realities of being black. They salute the American flag that flies in front of their stucco-faced hall. They rise for the national anthem. But they also know firsthand that their allegiance to the flag has not always protected their rights. For them, the national anthem can come across as both a song of soaring inspiration and a hollow tune.

Ronald E. Randall Sr., 69, a retired school custodian whose father and brother served in the Navy, grew up not far from the legion hall in an enclave that has been all black since just after Emancipation. As a kid, he was barred from the white-only swimming pools during Baltimore’s sweltering summers. His mother could not shop along the local commercial strip. That was for whites only, too. He was in junior high when the public schools were integrated, and he remembers he and his black friends having to brawl with insult-hurling white students before they were left alone.

Legal segregation was struck from the books more than six decades ago, but the stretch of wood-frame homes in the neighborhood, now known as the Winters Lane Historic District, remains overwhelmingly black. Economics, it turns out, is as effective as the law when it comes to limiting mobility. Homes just a few blocks away in mostly white Catonsville sell for at least double the cost of those on Winters Lane.

“That’s the kind of thing that makes people say really nothing has changed,” Randall said. “The players see that and that is what they are protesting. I don’t carry hate in my heart, but I know a lot of white folks have no respect for us.”

They rise for the national anthem. But they also know firsthand that their allegiance to the flag has not always protected their rights.

Smith remembers family members telling stories from when housing segregation in Baltimore was enforced not just by compliant real estate agents, but also by the fists and bricks of whites who could not countenance black neighbors.

“People used to attack you if you went into certain neighborhoods, just for being black,” he said. “We’ve come a long way, but racism is going to be with us for a long time.”

Consuella Rheubottom, 77, who has two sons who served in the Army, tends bar at the hall. Fewer than a dozen people are in the dimly lit bar, a couple are playing on slot machines and others sit on their stools, watching the game on two flat screens.

Rheubottom said she felt some discomfort with the anthem protests. Yet, she felt repulsed — and scrambled to turn her television off — when she heard Trump insulting the players who chose to demonstrate.

“I was not sure what I thought about the protests. I can’t say that I firmly support them. I did not oppose them either,” she said, looking up as she mixed whiskey sours. “But I do know that what the president said is ignorant.”

Edward Neal, 85, a retired laboratory technician wearing a Ravens cap, slowly settled into a corner stool in the hall’s bar as conversation about the protests wore on. It was not long before he joined in.

Consuella Rheubottom makes whiskey sours at Jackson and Johnson Memorial Post 263 during the Ravens game.

Reginald Thomas II for The Undefeated

He has mixed feelings about it all, he said. Neal agreed that the protesters have a point. While race relations have improved during his lifetime, he said, there is still is a long way to go to achieve equality. At the same time, he has deep respect for those who choose to serve in the military, because has seen the physical costs of war up close. Serving as a medical corpsman during the Korean War, he helped treat troops with severed limbs and horrific burns. That kind of sacrifice, he said, should always be respected. The anthem protests can lead people to think that the sacrifice is not being honored, he said.

He added that teams should stand together. Unity is tested when some kneel and others stand for the anthem. And issues of social justice, he argued, are best debated in the halls of government and the courts.

Despite that, Neal took no comfort from Trump’s words. “What the president said was out of order,” he said. “If that is all he had to contribute, he should have said nothing.”

Black people don’t surf? This org proves that’s not true The Black Surfers Collective aims to dispel the myth by offering free surf lessons

Four years ago, Detroit native Mimi Miller had never been in the ocean. Now she’s a devoted bodyboarder, surfer and volunteer for the Black Surfers Collective — a group that, according to its mission, raises cultural awareness and promotes diversity in the sport of surfing through community activities, outreach and camaraderie.

On Aug. 12, you could find Miller standing on the shoreline of Los Angeles’ Santa Monica State Beach, clapping and cheering on newcomers who took part in the collective’s monthly free lessons to introduce black people to surfing, called Pan African Beach Days.

Being active in the L.A.-based collective, with its 799 members on Facebook, has allowed her to do something she enjoys in a supportive, vibrant atmosphere: “I love the community,” she explained in between chasing down stray boards and yelling “Good job!” to kids and adults alike.

About 111 people signed up for the Aug. 12 event, although the collective cannot safely accommodate such a large number. Still, a good 40 people, ranging from young kids to middle-aged participants, got training and coaching. Most did not have experience surfing.

Miller and the rest of the collective’s members are part of the proud if lesser-known tradition of black surfing, which some would argue goes back to native Hawaiians (descendants of Polynesians), who are credited with inventing the sport in the first place. Among the legendary surf icons are Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani, a black Hawaiian whom Surfer magazine called “the father of modern day surfing.”

L.A. has its own lore, beginning with black surf pioneer Nick Gabaldon, who frequented the Inkwell Beach in Santa Monica in the 1940s, where black beachgoers congregated during segregation. Also, the late Dedon Kamathi, a radio host and onetime Black Panther, was a surfing devotee, as was police abuse victim Rodney King.

Founder and co-president of the Black Surfers Collective, Greg Rachal is a former skateboarder who found his way onto a longboard early on. “I’ve been in and out of the water all my life, since I was 13,” he said.

Rachal and his wife, Marie, are beach enthusiasts and a vital presence in the collective, which organizes camping and surf trips and takes a leadership role in an annual tribute to Gabaldon.

Rachal’s son, Greg Jr., 15, volunteers on the collective’s surf days because he likes giving back. He is on his school’s surf team, which sometimes comes as a surprise to his white classmates. Greg Jr. would like to see more African-Americans in surfing. Until then, he said, he enjoys defying stereotypes.

He’s not alone. Waterman Michael Brown Parlor has been surprising people with his prowess in lifeguarding, surfing and sailing since he was a college student in South Carolina in the 1970s. He’s retired from surfing and mentors female surfers in competitive events, believing girls don’t get the respect they deserve in the sport. He spent Pan African Beach Day encouraging newbie surfers and taking pictures for his Facebook page devoted to surfing.

Pan African Beach Day was launched a few years ago because too few black people in L.A. get to the beach, and they don’t always have a background in swimming to enjoy the water, Rachal explained. He credited the Surf Bus Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes ocean sports and safety in L.A., for helping make Beach Day a success by supplying the boards, instructing students and providing additional volunteers. Beach Days are open to anyone, although most participants are people of color.

Before they took to the waves Aug. 12, participants gathered on the beach for a talk about ocean safety and played some games that got them into the water. Then it was time to plop themselves on boards laid out in the sand, where they learned how to position their arms and feet and practice their “pop up,” the tricky move from prone to upright, ending in a stance with knees bent and arms extended.

After some popping up, volunteer instructors such as Rachal and other members of the collective took participants into the water, finding the right wave and giving them a push forward. Some newcomers rode the boards on their bellies, zooming into shore with their arms extended, while others proved agile enough to stand up, maintain balance and ride in — always an exhilarating moment for a student and instructor. Waves were small, and wipeouts were minor.

Participant Pierre Scott had attended a few Pan African Beach Days before and was having a good run, standing up and even angling into the barrel of the wave, not just riding into shore.

“I love it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Scott said.

“It’s a hype experience,” said Garry Maxwell, who chuckled about the language of surfing, explaining that “I’m stoked.”

Devin Waller was a beginner and felt a bit nervous. But she felt the stoke the first time she stood up on the board.

“It was awesome,” Waller said after the session ended, depositing her board on the sand. “Heck yeah, I’m going to do it again.”

Star Wright and the Philadelphia Phantomz make a place for hard-hitting women For this women’s football team and its founder, the motto is ‘I can play’

PHILADELPHIA — Sitting in her doctor’s office in early June, Star Wright didn’t know her football season was over, not yet.

But she had a feeling. The damage to her liver and spleen where the helmet had hit was too great, and the Women’s World Championship was too soon. She had bounced back from injuries before, though: a car accident that fractured her skull and crushed her ankle, a shoulder broken during her stint in the Lingerie League, a torn MCL.

The World Championship only comes around every four years, and at 34, this could be her last chance. “I feel like I can play,” she told the doctor.

Philadelphia Phantomz founder Star Wright waits nervously as a University of Pennsylvania doctor reviews her charts during an appointment in West Philadelphia.

“I can play.” It’s a phrase that sums up the determination and athleticism that define Wright’s life. It’s why she founded the Philadelphia Phantomz, a professional women’s tackle football team based in North Philadelphia.

Finishing their second season in June with a record of 4-4, the Phantomz are one of the newer additions to the Women’s Football Alliance, which now boasts 65 teams in the United States and Canada and is the largest of three women’s tackle leagues in the country, along with the Independent Women’s Football League and the United States Women’s Football League. They play their home games at Simon Gratz High School in North Philadelphia, where Wright lettered in swimming, basketball and track. Admission is $15, although the players aren’t paid.

Most of the women on the Phantomz were standout athletes in their youth. Some turned to football as a new opportunity for competitive play in their 20s and 30s. Others heard about the team from friends and decided to try out, seeking the camaraderie and motivational environment of the team. The 36 women on the Phantomz, who range in age from 18 to 51, often describe the team as a sisterhood.

“We teach women who’ve never played football, who know nothing about football,” said Wright, who plays linebacker and is the team’s president. “We teach them the ins and outs, how to compete and how to be players. And I think that contributes to becoming a family, too, like we’re friends where we care about each other.”

Many team members say that playing football is a chance for women to finally get the recognition they deserve, to prove they don’t need to play with men to compete at the highest level.

And let there be no doubt: These women hit hard.

“It’s very, very physical,” said running back Angie Wells, 30, who led the team in touchdowns this year despite constant knee pain from a previous surgery. “We don’t have a lot of subs. You get tired and it’s like the 12th round in a boxing match.”

“We’re trying to make a point here,” said linebacker Ebony Fowlkes, 30, an assistant basketball coach at Harcum College in nearby Bryn Mawr and its assistant director of residence life. “We’re trying to say that women can do anything.”

Members of the Philadelphia Phantoms women’s tackle football team practice in Hunting Park in Philadelphia, PA.

Members of the Philadelphia Phantoms women’s tackle football team practice in Hunting Park in Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Phantomz coaches look on as defensive back Sade “Murda” Buie runs drills at Hunting Park in North Philadelphia, May 31, 2017.

Members of the Philadelphia Phantomz suit up for practice as family members and girlfriends hang out beside them at Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Teammates attend to Shantia Creech after she injured her foot during practice at Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Star Wright, her children Kyla, 10, Kion, 13, and team manager Robert “Bam” Flood grab slices of pizza for dinner before an administrative team meeting at Wright’s home in North Philadelphia.

Ebony Fowlkes, center, jokes around with Kia Ivery, right, and Angela Sherman, left, before piling into a rental van for a five-hour drive to Boston play the Boston Renegades, in Philadelphia, PA

The Philadelphia Phantomz practice offensive plays in the parking lot of their hotel shortly before an away game against the Boston Renegades in Boston, MA.

Sade “Murda” Buie applies green-colored eye black to her face before an away game against the Boston Renegades, in Boston, MA.

Star Wright, coaching instead of playing due to an injury, gives advice to her teammates before playing the top-rated Boston Renegades in Boston, MA.

Jacque Dorsey, center, makes a big tackle during an away game against the Boston Renegades, in Boston, MA.

Philadelphia Phantomz founder Star Wright drives to a doctors appointment from North Philly with downtown Philadelphia in the distance.

Philadelphia Phantomz quarterback Satoria Bell, center, and teammates during practice in Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Friends and family members meet members of the Phantomz at the gates to wish them luck before their game against the New York Sharks.

North Philadelphia residents watch the Philadelphia Phantomz play against the New York Sharks from a pavilion in Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Star Wright on the field before the start of the Philadelphia Phantomz game against the New York Sharks in Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Members of the Philadelphia Phantomz hold hands before the start of their game against the New York Sharks in North Philadelphia.


‘Being Mary Jane’ star Richard Brooks is taking on more and starring in new show ‘The Rich and the Ruthless’ The ‘Law & Order’ vet is going beyond acting to writing, producing and directing

Actor and singer Richard Brooks can read over a legal document and break it right on down. He’s not a lawyer, but he played one on television as Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette in the first three seasons (1990-93) of NBC’s hit drama Law & Order. And the research that went into preparing for the part gives him some expertise on the matter.

“Sometimes, I think of myself as a jailhouse lawyer now because I help people with their legal issues,” Brooks said as he chuckled. “It makes no sense. I’d read the contract, and people are like, ‘You read my contract?’ ‘Yes, I read the full contract.’ ”

Now, Brooks is in the fourth season of the hit show Being Mary Jane on BET and is a co-star in Victoria Rowell’s new dramedy The Rich and the Ruthless, which premieres July 28 on the Urban Movie Channel.

Alongside Gabrielle Union, Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery and now Michael Ealy, Brooks plays Patrick Patterson, the older brother of Mary Jane (Union). Patrick is a recovering addict trying to get his life back on the right track while raising a young daughter and advising his older children, who now have children of their own. He plays a grandfather on the show who faces adversity of his own, but he is still helping the Patterson family through their separate personal issues.

In the fictional show The Rich and the Ruthless, Brooks plays self-made businessman and showrunner Augustus Barringer. After finding out his show, the first black soap opera on a big Hollywood network, has been booted, he decides to fight for his rightful place in Hollywood. He does what he has to do to keep the show going and moves the company to Jamaica, but his unpredictable wife, Kitty Barringer (Rowell), is not too happy about these changes.

Brooks said he met Rowell on the set of Diagnosis: Murder in 1994.

“I came in for a special guest star on that, and in the show we were paired off together, we had to break the case together,” Brooks said of his character on the nighttime drama. “I was a former heavyweight boxer who, I believe, was being swindled or something by my promoter, and she’s helping me break the case. We really had a great time just being together. There’s a little romantic spark in the police character. We’ve just been friends ever since then, looking for an opportunity to work together again.”

Brooks founded his own production company, Flat Top Entertainment, through which he released his first solo rhythm and blues album, Smooth Love. In 2013, he appeared on the public TV series The Abolitionists as Frederick Douglass. He spoke to The Undefeated about The Rich and the Ruthless, Being Mary Jane and his journey.

How do you feel that you’re entertaining us on one of the hottest TV shows right now, Being Mary Jane?

I love it. I feel like we helped start the whole trend of there being a lot of black dramas and shows like this, like Empire and Power. It’s great to still be pumping out great episodes and great drama, bringing that to BET. The character I play I really love, because he’s a fully dimensional black man. I feel like I get to portray the struggles I think that a lot of black men are going through, and we’re trying to rebound and rebuild our lives, and have a second chance to be the kind of men that we want to be. It’s a great production, great quality writing and acting, so I just love it. It’s really a joy.

Is it weird playing a grandfather?

I guess not really. I feel like I’m a young grandfather. I guess it’s amazing. I think that throughout my career, I’ve managed to sometimes snag these roles, like it’s just laying there or whatever, where I have a full family dynamic. What’s really challenging and satisfying about the part especially is that I’m a grandfather, I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a brother, you know? I have to play the dynamics of all of those relationships and those roles all at the same time. It’s just great to have a show where my parents are there, too, and I’m still dealing with my parents. My son also. And then try to be a good father, and I have grandkids who I’m trying to be a good grandfather to, and so it is kind of crazy. It’s crazy to get to that part of your life where that is your possibility because that’s who you are. Your kids can have kids, you know? I don’t think we get to see that that much in characters on television or on the movies who actually have that whole world, that whole experience, happening for them. It’s like I’m the emotional center of the show. I get so emotional, so fragile. It’s funny.

What inspires you to keep pouring into our lives through your craft?

It’s funny because I look back and then I realize I’ve been doing this since I was 10 or 11, when I first saw a school play, I think, in sixth grade, and I think they were doing Hansel and Gretel. I found myself going, ‘Why am I not Hansel?’ I was sitting in the audience, and then I started trying to plot my way into the drama department of my junior high school and found a way into a summer job program. They had a student program at the time. The kids were out there picking up garbage and helping do construction stuff and all that.

I was making money being paid actually to act, as a kid. It’s funny now to just look back and realize this was all I’ve done, all I’ve had to do pretty much my whole life, is to be an actor, and I’ve always wanted to be a great actor and really represent men, and black men. My mother always put it upon me to try to teach black men how to be men, or something like that. So that inspires me, and I am just so happy to have roles that may illuminate something about what we go through as men out here.

What’s been the most meaningful role you’ve ever played?

Well, I like to think of my current role, of course, as Patrick, and now Augustus Barringer on The Rich and the Ruthless, and all the roles that are to come. Of course, Law & Order in Paul Robinette had a more transformative role for me because I had to really grow as a man, as an intellect, as a scholar. I had to become more versed in current affairs, and law, and politics and things like that. Before then, I had been pretty much just an artist kind of mentality and just wanting to act, and that role forced me to learn contracts and laws, and my research for it actually influenced me as a person a lot, so that one was probably the biggest stretch at the time. To grow into that role, I think, has helped me with the rest of my career to take on more challenging parts and things like that.

But I have a theater background. I think that had a big effect on me, too, the work of August Wilson.

If you weren’t an actor and an artist, what do you think you’d be doing?

When I started going to a prep school I was acting, and I went right to another grad school, Circle in the Square. But my mom had wanted to get me a full scholarship to medical school actually in Cleveland. She spoke with someone, and he was like, ‘Wow, this is great. We really need black men as doctors. We could give him a full ride, eight years.’ He’d pay for it, you know? But I was committed to acting, and also, I never really liked dissecting. I didn’t like biology. I didn’t really like dissecting frogs and things like that.

I think that law would have probably been one that I were to find myself more practically thinking of. There’s a certain amount of performance to it, and there’s the intellect. I do like legalese and the complexities of law and stuff.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

Probably just surviving the process of the ups and downs of the industry, and dealing with the other people’s expectations, whether they are ahead of me or behind me. You start off and no one really believes you could do anything, they think it’s impossible, and so you have a lot of doubt. Then, as soon as you start to do something, then people are ahead of you, and then they might be like, ‘Well, how come you’re not a major superstar already? How come that movie didn’t … ‘ So it’s always good, just sort of gauging it and trying to keep a level head. You’ve got to keep a balance and continue to think positive.

What do you look forward to most in your future?

I’ve really been into directing a little bit. I was shadowing on Being Mary Jane this season. Right now I’m doing an intensive at New York Film Academy out here in L.A. for the summer. Trying to squeeze that in between acting parts and stuff, and so I really want to expand into writing, producing, directing and creating concepts. Sort of what Victoria [Rowell] is doing, which is why I really want to support her in anything she’s doing. Because I think it’s incredible, the way she’s managed to put this project together and carried it to this point where we’re premiering, and somebody thought of her. That’s what artists have to do sometimes. We can’t just sit around and wait for other people to create opportunities for us; we have to create the opportunities.

We’re the ones who have a lot of the experience. We know what works. We’ve read hundreds and hundreds of scripts, and been on hundreds and hundreds of sets, so it is our time to actually step up and create opportunities for the next generations. So, kind of where my mind is right now.

What would you tell an aspiring actor who came to you for advice?

I do believe in studying and emulating a trained actor. I believe in excellence, I believe in using the art form as a way for personal growth. So whether you succeed at it or not, I think it’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself while you’re exploring other characters. I would definitely tell them to persevere and also innovate, because everything is changing and there’s no right or wrong way to make it these days. Who knows what’s coming in the future? With social media and the new way that stars are coming up the internet now. But definitely, I would tell them to try to be the best, and study with the best, and supplement all their education with books and learning.

Are there any roles that you haven’t done that you’d like to do?

I’ve done so many roles. I definitely want to do some more movies. I wouldn’t mind getting into some new superhero comic book. I think that would be fun. And maybe something on the musical side, too, I wouldn’t mind. I haven’t really done a hit Broadway musical, or I haven’t gotten much singing out as much as I would like to. That would be fun. I think just to get my music out, or to be a part of something musical.

What are your hobbies?

My singing, music. Songwriting is one. Sports. I like basketball and swimming, reading, going out and partying. Still like to party.