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At March for Our Lives, recognizing racial inequality didn’t dilute organizers’ message — it made it more effective

Speeches by 11-year-old Naomi Wadler and others had a simple message: Gun violence anywhere is a threat to peace everywhere

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There were plenty of invocations of the words and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. His own 9-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, was among the speakers at the rally organized by survivors of the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

King highlighted her grandfather’s wish for people to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Another speaker, 18-year-old Alex King of Chicago, channeled King’s talent for using spirituality and scripture to enhance his message.

But it was the speech of 11-year-old Naomi Wadler that revealed another lesson from King. While it wasn’t quoted explicitly, it was clearly beating within the heart of the march and seamlessly interwoven into the program: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

In her speech, Wadler told the crowd that she helped organize a walkout at her school to protest gun violence. And she added one extra minute to the 17 minutes dedicated to the victims of the Stoneman Douglas shooting to remember Courtlin Arrington, a high school junior who was shot and killed at her school in Birmingham, Alabama, three weeks after the massacre in Parkland.

“I am here today to represent Courtlin Arrington,” Wadler said. “I am here today to represent Hadiya Pendleton. I am here to represent Taiyania Thompson, who at 16 was shot dead in her home here in Washington, D.C. I am here today to represent and acknowledge the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper. These stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls who are full of potential. … I am here to acknowledge their stories, to say they matter, to say their names because I can and I was asked to be. For far too long, these names, these black girls and women, have been just numbers. I am here to say never again for those girls too.”

Part of what’s made the Parkland kids so effective in the weeks since the tragedy at their school — aside from their undeniable authenticity, righteous fury and acumen with Twitter — is their constant appeal to the better angels of the nation’s nature. Do your job, they tell adults: Protect us. They have pleaded with the government to help them, and that in itself revealed something powerful: the ability to take for granted that the government exists to help you, that it’s on your side, that if it’s not working properly, its servants can be voted out and replaced with better ones who will do their duty.

“I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls who are full of potential.”

But those demands have been coupled with the recognition that not all Americans enjoy the same expectations of their government.

“We recognize that Parkland received more attention because of its affluence, but we share this stage today and forever with those communities who have always stared down the barrel of a gun,” Parkland survivor Jaclyn Corin said in her speech Saturday.

The decision to include the voices of Wadler, Alex King and Zion Kelly — whose twin brother, Zaire, was shot to death in a robbery — on the same program with Parkland survivors David Hogg and Emma González showed that the march organizers understood this disparity. Rather than run from those differences or worry that messages about racial inequality would somehow dilute calls for gun policy reform, the March for Our Lives embraced them and used them to strengthen their calls for change. March organizers demonstrated an understanding that you can’t be full of moral outrage at lawmakers’ dithering on making automatic and semiautomatic weapons less easily attainable while refusing to acknowledge their dithering on the gun violence that affects predominantly black and brown communities. Instead of ignoring the reasons why one type of gun violence draws attention and calls for immediate reform while another elicits shrugs or pathologizes people of color as inherently violent, March For Our Lives speakers called out that discrepancy, and then they called BS on legislative dithering as a whole. They refused to give in to sectarianism.

“They will try to separate us in demographics. They will try to separate us by religion, race, congressional district and class,” Hogg warned in his speech of those opposed to changing the nation’s gun laws. But, he said, “they will fail.”

The result was a gathering united in the goal of ending gun violence and the grip of the National Rifle Association on gun policy. But it was also an acknowledgment that, too often, black lives matter even less than others in this country. Ultimately, that didn’t weaken the #NeverAgain movement. Instead, it powerfully illustrated a simple, underappreciated dictum: that together, we’re all stronger.

Sweet 16 supermatchup: Mariah Musselman to interview Sister Jean

Nevada coach’s daughter and Loyola Chicago’s team chaplain are the media darlings of tournament

12:37 PMAs the NCAA tournament resumes with the Sweet 16, the nation is looking forward to one of the most anticipated matchups of the tournament.

Thursday night, Mariah Musselman, 8, the daughter of Nevada coach Eric Musselman, interviews Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 98-year-old team chaplain for Loyola Chicago, before the team’s South Region game in Atlanta.

The made-for-TV meeting — CBS set it up — brings together the two media darlings of this year’s March Madness.

Sister Jean’s become such a celebrity watching Loyola’s two nail-biting games from the sidelines that former President Barack Obama gave her a shoutout last week.

And Mariah Musselman, the daughter of Musselman and former ESPN anchor Danyelle Sargent-Musselman, has proved she has a bright future in journalism with her interview of her dad.

Eric Musselman, who has demonstrated a personality of his own with his postgame locker room celebrations, is happy for his daughter’s exposure.

“I just hope my daughter can make as much money as my wife did in broadcasting,” he said. “It would really, really be great for our family if she could start on her broadcasting career as soon as possible.”

Mariah, who wore wolf ears during Nevada’s upset of Cincinnati on Sunday, showed a tremendous amount of poise and charisma during the interview with her father. She said she wants to follow in her mom’s footsteps and be a sports anchor or an actress.

“It was a good start,” Eric Musselman said, beaming, as he discussed being grilled by his daughter in front of a national television audience. “It was a big, big moment for her. It was a big moment for our family.”

What a week for Naomi Osaka, who won her first WTA title and beat her childhood idol Serena Williams

Forget winning, Osaka was all about that post-match handshake

12:16 PMEver since Naomi Osaka celebrated her 20th birthday in October, the Afro-Japanese youngblood has done no worse than quarterfinals and fourth-round exits.

On March 18, Osaka defeated Daria Kasatkina in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, to win her first WTA title. Osaka played nearly perfect tennis, dropping only one set in eight matches and beating three players who have been WTA No. 1s (Maria Sharapova, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep) and a No. 2 (Agnieszka Radwanska) en route to the title.

Hours after her first WTA win, Osaka’s coach informed her that she got paired up with Serena Williams, her childhood idol, in the first round of the Miami Open. Osaka would end up winning the match fairly easily, 6-3, 6-2. While winning was certainly a high point, it was the post-match handshake that really resonated with Osaka.

“This is going to be really bad,” Osaka cautioned. “Sometimes when I’m in a really important position, when I’m serving, I’m like, ‘What would Serena [Williams] do?’ ”

Osaka, ranked 44th in the world heading into Indian Wells, has risen to No. 22.

Buffalo’s Mark Alnutt becomes 15th black athletic director at an FBS school

He replaces Allen Greene, who left for Auburn

8:12 PMThe University at Buffalo announced on Wednesday that Mark Alnutt, the deputy athletic director at the University of Memphis, will be the school’s next director of athletics, replacing the recently departed Allen Greene.

Alnutt, 45, spent almost three years at Memphis, where he helped raise more than $40 million for the athletic department and was instrumental in the hiring of men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith in 2016. Smith was fired and replaced by former Tigers guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway this month. Before that, Alnutt served as athletic director at Southeast Missouri State University from 2012 to 2015 and held multiple leadership positions at the University of Missouri from 2000 to 2012, including associate athletic director. A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Alnutt also played linebacker and tight end for Missouri in the early 1990s.

In January, Greene left his post as UB’s athletic director after just two years to take the same position at the University of Auburn, paving the way for Alnutt to take over a program that had its first NCAA men’s basketball tournament victory last week and its first Sweet 16 appearance in school history when the women’s basketball team upset Florida State on Monday.

With the hiring of Alnutt, the number of black athletic directors in the 130 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools increases to 15 (11.5 percent). He joins Northern Illinois’ Sean Frazier as the only black athletic directors in the Mid-American Conference.

“We are so excited to have Mark join our UB family,” University at Buffalo president Satish K. Tripathi, who himself is one of just five school presidents of Asian descent among FBS schools, said in a statement. “His time in NCAA athletics has been defined by his leadership and vision. We believe that he possesses exactly the qualities needed to elevate UB Athletics to our next tier of excellence.”

Alnutt’s first day will be April 11.

Black athletic directors in FBS

  • Allen Greene, Auburn
  • Bernard Muir, Stanford
  • Carla Williams, Virginia
  • David Williams II, Vanderbilt
  • Derrick Gragg, Tulsa
  • Eugene Smith, Ohio State University
  • Damon Evans, Maryland (interim)
  • Lynn Swann, USC
  • Martin Jarmond, Boston College
  • Michael Williams, California
  • Ray Anderson, Arizona State
  • Sean Frazier, Northern Illinois
  • Stan Wilcox, Florida State
  • Warde J. Manuel, Michigan
  • Mark Alnutt, Buffalo

Ava DuVernay to be honored by Gordon Parks Foundation

The group also will fete Ronald O. Perelman, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Sherrilyn Ifill

1:28 PMAva DuVernay will soon be toasted by the Gordon Parks Foundation in late May, the group announced Tuesday. The group’s annual dinner happens May 22 and honors individuals who make strides in performing and visual arts as well as humanitarianism.

The A Wrinkle In Time filmmaker will be joined by businessman and philanthropist Ronald O. Perelman, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill, photographer Sally Mann and documentary photographer Jamel Shabazz, all of whom also will be honored at New York staple Cipriani 42nd Street. The night will be co-chaired by Karl Lagerfeld, Kendrick Lamar, Valerie Jarrett, Alicia Keys, Kasseem Dean (megaproducer Swizz Beatz), Usher Raymond, Janelle Monáe, Common, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault, Judy and Leonard Lauder, and Alexander Soros.

Previous honorees include Monáe, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and photographer Annie Leibovitz.

DuVernay’s honor comes on the heels of good recent news: Last week it was announced that DC Comics tapped her to direct the superhero film The New Gods for Warner Bros., which makes her the first woman of color to tackle a DC Comics film.

Larry Drew to replace Tyronn Lue on Cavs’ bench

Interim coach has been a head coach with Hawks and Bucks

4:44 PMThe Cleveland Cavaliers announced on Monday that head coach Tyronn Lue will “step back from coaching for the time being” to focus on his personal health, leaving the team in the hands of assistant coach Larry Drew.

Drew, 59, was hired by the Cavaliers in 2014 to serve under then-head coach David Blatt just weeks after LeBron James returned to the franchise after four seasons with the Miami Heat. Previously, Drew had served as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks (2010-13) and Milwaukee Bucks (2013-14) and was an assistant for nearly 20 years with the then-New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers.

In three years in Atlanta, Drew averaged 42 wins a season and made the playoffs each year, advancing to the conference semifinals in 2011. After a second consecutive first-round playoff exit in 2013, the Hawks elected to not renew Drew’s contract and he was replaced by one of his assistants, Mike Budenholzer. Drew signed a three-year contract with the Bucks the following season, but after a league-worst 15-67 record (which netted the No. 2 overall draft pick that eventually became Jabari Parker) during Giannis Antetokounmpo’s rookie campaign and a failed coup by Jason Kidd with the Brooklyn Nets, Drew was fired after just one season and replaced with Kidd.

Before getting into coaching, Drew was selected 17th overall out of Missouri by the Detroit Pistons in the 1980 NBA draft. He spent 10 seasons in the league with the Pistons, Lakers and Kansas City/Sacramento Kings, where during the 1982-83 season he averaged a team-high 20.1 points and 8.1 assists per game.

Drew has three sons who also play basketball. Larry Drew II is a guard with the New Orleans Pelicans, Landon Drew spent four seasons at Cal State Northridge and Lindsey Drew is a junior forward for Nevada, which is set to play Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16 of the men’s basketball tournament on Thursday.

‘The Plug’ podcast: ‘The Madness Begins’ feat. Jenisha Watts (episode 14)

All things March Madness, Odell Beckham Jr., LeBron Sr. playing with LeBron Jr., and more

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Thanks to Mother Nature making sure we felt the effects of winter one last time before spring, we had a delayed recording this week.

It’s no worries, though. The show was still lit. Jenisha Watts, an editor with espnW, joins Terrika, Kayla and me (and later Tes) to talk about Ryan Coogler’s letter to Ava DuVernay, Cam Newton and much more. From there, the crew chops it up on Odell Beckham Jr.’s recent video controversy, whether or not LeBron James Sr. will actually stay in the NBA long enough to play with LeBron Jr., the validity of Tiger Woods’ latest impressive showing and, of course, all things March Madness.

We’re back on our regular schedule next week — provided it doesn’t snow another 10 inches again next week, of course. Rain, sleet, ice, snow or heat wave, you can always subscribe to The Plug via the ESPN App. But you knew that already, didn’t you?