January 25, 2021

An inspiring spirit gone too soon

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I was in foreign territory Friday evening.

The last Friday night at the start of an Iowa high school football season that I was not on a sideline working was the fall of 1979, when I returned to Iowa City for my last semester at Iowa after a summer internship in Gainesville, Florida.

From that point forward, during every start to the football season I was working a game for the Atlantic News-Telegraph, Mason City Globe-Gazette or Creston News Advertiser.

Last Friday, I was parked on my couch taking advantage of modern technology and watching the Creston/O-M Panthers earn a hard-fought 7-0 win at Boone, thanks to an online streaming service in Boone similar to the partnership of Creston Radio and the school for Panther TV.

I felt a little left out, but it was nice to watch the game and I’ve been assured that I’ll be back on duty this fall. We just don’t have the exact date.

During the weekend, without a lot of football coverage duties to catch up on like usual, I watched a lot of TV. One was ABC’s airing of the movie, “Black Panther,” on Sunday night followed by a tribute to its star actor, Chadwick Boseman, who died Friday of colon cancer at the age of 43.

During these tumultuous times, it was nice to learn more about all of the inspirational, positive ways Boseman touched people, particularly young people of color. He was the first movie super hero that looked like them. He was at the top of his profession as a black man born in the United States.

The tribute came on the heels of the suspension of play by the NBA and some other athletes in the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So, emotions were already a little raw in terms of racial justice and equality.

Actor Michael B. Jordan, who played Boseman’s adversary in the Black Panther movie, called him “a legend and hero.”

“I’m dedicating the rest of my days to live the way you did. With grace, courage and no regrets,” Jordan wrote in an Instagram tribute.

Boseman was so versatile, capturing the essence of his character in “Marshall” about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice; about famed singer James Brown in “Get On Up”; and about the first black Major League Baseball player, Jackie Robinson, in the film, “42.”

It’s so important to portray those important figures of color in American history at a time when we’re still trying to chip at the foundation of racism in this country.

For example, on the same day as Boseman’s death, I heard Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press tell a story on the Sports Reporters podcast about three young men from the orphanage he runs in Haiti. They came to America to attend college three years ago, and just before they moved into their college residences, Albom took them to Disneyland.

They were new to this country, and had no prior experience with prejudice. Albom was the only white person they knew prior to leaving Haiti.

Albom had to take a call for a few minutes, so he told the young men — all 18 or 19 — to find a ride they wanted to try and to meet back at a prescribed location in 45 minutes.

When Albom returned he saw them sitting with their heads bowed, in silence. This wasn’t like them, he thought, because ever since their dream to come to America had become reality, they were almost giddy with excitement.

“I asked them what happened, why so sad?” Albom recalled. “They told me they showed a map of the park to someone in trying to ask where a particular ride was, and the man responded: ‘Why don’t you ask someone who looks more like you do.’ They didn’t know what to think. Nobody had ever made their appearance an issue before. It was one of those times when I had to explain how there are many different types of people in the world, and not all of them are nice and inclusive. It was very sobering.”

Also last weekend, I watched a documentary on the 1968 Olympics, which included the black glove-fisted protest during the anthem by U,S. sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the medal stand, as their statement about racial injustice in America.

Sometimes you wonder how far we’ve come in five decades. Some days, it seems not far at all.

During the suspension of play last week by the NBA, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, the son of a Chicago police officer, gave a powerful, emotional statement about race relations and law enforcement in this country.

"My dad was a cop," Rivers said. "I believe in good cops. We're not trying to defund the police and take all their money away. We're trying to get them to protect us, just like they protect everybody else."

His wife is white, and when they became a couple during his years playing at Marquette University, her parents’ tires were slashed in their Milwaukee driveway.

But, it’s people like Chadwick Boseman who can inspire all of us to remove the black and white labels and open doors of opportunity to anyone who deserves it, and works for it.

The late great tennis player Arther Ashe once lamented, after contracting HIV from a blood transfusion: “Being black is worse in this country than having HIV.”

We can only hope that the messages from positive role models like Boseman can move this country above the constraints, hardships and deaths rooted in racism.

We have to strive to do better to enact that simple phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance: "with liberty and justice for all."


Contact the writer:

Email: malachy.lp@gmail.com

Twitter: @larrypeterson