What Had Happened Was Trending stories on the intersections of race, sports & culture

Emlen Tunnell: the first black player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Defensive standout played 14 seasons in the NFL

11:00 AMEmlen Tunnell was the first black player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Born: March 29, 1925

Died: July 23, 1975

His story: Tunnell, born in Philadelphia, played football at the University of Toledo in 1942. He suffered a broken neck, which cut short his season, but he recovered in time to lead Toledo’s men’s basketball team to the National Invitation Tournament finals in 1943. He attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army and Navy during World War II but was denied because of his neck injury. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard and served from 1943-46. He finished his college career at the University of Iowa from 1946-47. He signed with the New York Giants in 1948, becoming the first black player to do so. He played defensive halfback and safety with the Giants until 1958 and spent his final three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, retiring in 1962. He played in nine Pro Bowls over his 14-year career and was part of two NFL championship teams in 1956 and ’61. His 79 career interceptions were an NFL record when he retired. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, the first black player and first pure defensive player to be enshrined. He remained with the Giants from 1963-74 as a special assistant coach and defensive backs coach. (19651974).

Fast fact: His nickname was Emlen the Gremlin.

Quotable: Tunnell’s Packers teammates often came to him for guidance. “I’m old enough to preside over them, but still young enough to be part of them,” he said.

The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.

Points, rebounds, blocks, wins: Anthony Davis kicks up his MVP résumé

With 53 and 18 on Phoenix, the Pelicans big man is a certified candidate

11:39 PMAnthony Davis isn’t a fringe MVP candidate. He’s not a feel-good story MVP candidate. The New Orleans Pelicans superstar is a bona fide MVP candidate. The award is still Houston Rockets guard James Harden’s to lose, but there’s no denying what Davis is doing right now. On Monday night, Davis willed his squad to a sixth straight victory, a 125-116 win over the Phoenix Suns (who were led by 3-point champion Devin Booker’s 40 points).

Davis once again compiled NBA2K numbers: 53 points, 18 rebounds and 5 blocks while shooting 55 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line. In his past five games, Davis has averaged 36 points and 13 rebounds. And on the season, Davis is second in the league in scoring at 27.7 points per game (trailing only Harden’s 31.5) and in blocks with 2.2, grabbing 11 rebounds per night while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 82 percent from the charity stripe. Davis is doing all this, of course, without fellow superstar big man DeMarcus Cousins, who went down last month with a torn Achilles.

The Pelicans are currently fifth in a tight Western Conference. Only 2.5 games separate the third through eighth seeds. Looking ahead, if Davis can somehow will the Pelicans to the third seed, there’s a legit discussion to be had about an MVP award that previously looked like it’d be spending the postseason and offseason in Houston.


Jay Bilas and Clinton Yates join OTL to get to the root of the NCAA investigations surrounding Arizona and other schools

5:59 PMCollege basketball’s 2017-2018 is officially a complete mess.

Between Louisville, Arizona, and the latest Yahoo report that basically shows that most schools with any level of clout have been actively operating in the practice of some form of illegal payments and benefits for college basketball players, no one really knows what to think. Is it fair to assume that any and all schools are doing this? Or are the big schools particularly at fault because of their major sponsor ties?

Also, is any of this really “wrong” per se, or are just rules being broken that could be fixed and thus solve a huge problem in general of exploitation and the major issue of the farcical concept of amateurism? Either way, we know that there are former assistant coaches facing actual federal prison time and that the NCAA tournament could end up becoming a scheduling disaster if any of these schools decide to self-punish before the field of 6o-something is set.

Of course, there’s no real incentive to do that, and we’ve got legal ramifications to come that might not be settled for years, but who cares! Let’s speculate. I appeared on Outside the Lines with Jay Bilas to discuss the matter.

Bernie Custis: the first black pro quarterback to start in the modern era

Syracuse standout found success in Canada

12:54 PMBernie Custis is widely considered to be the first black quarterback to start in the pros in the modern era. He started for Canada’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1951.

Born: Sept. 23, 1928

Died: Feb. 23, 2017

His story: Custis, who grew up in Philadelphia, played quarterback for Syracuse University from 1948-50. The Cleveland Browns drafted Custis sixth overall in 1951. Because Custis was black, and also because Cleveland had Otto Graham at quarterback, the Browns told Custis they would move him to safety. Custis did not want to change positions, so the Browns released him on the condition he not sign with another NFL team. He went to Canada to play for the Tiger-Cats, starting every game in 1951 while leading the team to 7-5 record and a playoff berth. He was named an All-Star at quarterback. Still, Custis switched to running back for the 1952 season. He was a member of Hamilton’s Grey Cup championship team in 1953. He played two seasons at running back for the Ottawa Rough Riders before retiring after the 1956 season. He remained in Canada and became a teacher and football coach.

Fast fact: Custis’ roommate at Syracuse was future Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.

Quotable: “Trailblazers are rightly remembered for being the first,” Canadian Football League commissioner Jeffrey Orridge said after Custis’ death. “The first black professional quarterback in the modern era starting with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1951, should be revered as well for being one of our best. A world-class athlete, he excelled both as a quarterback and a running back. A tremendous leader, he was a successful coach who had a positive impact on countless young lives. A true gentleman, he brought honour to our game and our league, and provided us with a role model to emulate.”

The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.

Nike announces limited-edition release of ‘EQUALITY’ LeBron 15s

All proceeds will be donated to the National Museum of African American History and Culture

12:51 PMLeBron James, the greatest and most outspoken basketball player in the world, is continuing to spread his commitment to social justice through his sneakers.

Nike announced a limited-edition release — only 400 pairs (200 black and 200 white) — of James’ “EQUALITY” LeBron 15s, which will be available exclusively in the United States through an online draw, taking place from 9 a.m. EST Monday to 11:59 p.m. EST Friday. You can enter for free, for any shoe size, just once. Afterward, an unlimited number of entries may be submitted, each for a $10 donation, with all proceeds going to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Winners will be notified on Saturday and will receive the shoes (at no cost other than what they donated to enter) the week of March 5.

Originally, the “EQUALITY” 15s, which James debuted last October on opening night of the 2017-18 NBA season, were exclusive to the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar and only came in a black colorway. But a few months after he took the court in the shoes for the first time, James strategically wore them again in December against the Washington Wizards, in the Cavs’ final scheduled trip to D.C. this season. This time, however, James wore one black shoe and one white shoe, while each featured the word “EQUALITY” embroidered across the heel in gold.

“Obviously we all know where we are, and we know who is at the helm here,” James told media after Cleveland’s 106-99 win over the Wizards on Dec. 17. “Us as Americans, no matter the skin color, no matter who you are, I think we all have to understand that having equal rights and being able to stand for something and speak for something and keeping the conversation going.

“Obviously, I’ve been very outspoken and well-spoken about the situation that’s going on at the helm here, and we’re not going to let one person dictate us, us as Americans, how beautiful and how powerful we are as a people. Equality is all about understanding our rights, understanding what we stand for and how powerful we are as men and women, black or white or Hispanic. It doesn’t matter your race, whatever the case may be, this is a beautiful country, and we’re never going to let one person dictate how beautiful and how powerful we are.”

Jarrius Robertson to receive WWE’s Warrior Award

‘Being honored by WWE means the world to me. I feel very blessed.’

11:44 AMWWE announced on Monday that teenage superfan Jarrius Robertson will receive the professional wrestling company’s annual Warrior Award, given to an individual who has “exhibited unwavering strength and perseverance and who lives life with courage and compassion,” at April’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Robertson, a longtime fan of WWE, was diagnosed at 4 weeks old with biliary atresia, a rare chronic liver disease that inhibits weight gain and stunts growth. He’s had dozens of surgeries, including two liver transplants since he was a year old.

“I can’t believe I have been chosen to be the 2018 Warrior Award recipient,” Robertson told WWE.com. “Being honored by WWE means the world to me. I feel very blessed.”

The 15-year-old Louisiana native’s story has been well-chronicled over the past two years, starting with the New Orleans Saints, Robertson’s favorite team, inviting him to games and practices and, in October 2016, signing the teenager to a one-day contract.

In between surgeries — The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reports at least 36 — to treat the illness, Robertson has advocated for organ donation based on his motto of “It Takes Lives to Save Lives.”

Robertson was the recipient of the 2017 Jimmy V Perseverance Award at The ESPYS in July and was awarded the WWE Hero award for “courage, perseverance, and dedication to helping others” a month before that.

The Warrior Award was introduced in 2015 to honor individuals who embodied the spirit of the late Ultimate Warrior, who died in 2014 just three days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Past winners include former football player Eric LeGrand, former Good Morning America host Joan Lunden and cancer patient Connor Michalek.

The WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony will stream live at 8 p.m. EDT on April 6 from the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.


Lauryn Hill is still dropping knowledge

‘Poverty isn’t something that should exist in this world at this point’

11:59 AMHOLLYWOOD, California – There were a lot of stars who offered knowledge at the first “Tech Hustle” from the sports, entertainment, business and tech world. But none was bigger than Lauryn Hill.

“I’ve been away for a while and incubating ideas,” said Hill, who’s kept herself out of the public eye in recent years.

Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown hosted the technology and networking lunch with Base Ventures and the National Basketball Players Association during NBA All-Star Weekend. The speaker who caused the most buzz was Hill. The 42-year-old singer, songwriter, rapper, record producer and actress has dropped out of the public eye except for her concerts.

“The world is filled with way too many bright people for us to still have the problems that we have in the world,” Hill said. “It’s going to be our shame if we don’t sit together and create thought in people who invest with consideration to care to solve the world’s problems. If we can do all these things we can, digitally, technologically, economically, we can feed people. We can educate people through poverty.

“We can solve the problems of poverty. Poverty isn’t something that should exist in this world at this point because we have wealth, we have intellect. We have the ability to develop, design and create whatever we want to. The question is, do we want to.”

Hear more of what Hill had to say in the video.

Alice Coachman: the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal

She took the high jump at the 1948 Olympics in London

3:31 AMAlice Coachman was the first black woman to earn an Olympic gold medal, winning the high jump at the 1948 Olympics.

Born: Nov. 9, 1923

Died: July 14, 2014

Alice Coachman of Albany, Georgia, clears the bar at five feet to win the running high jump in women’s national track meet in Grand Rapids July 6, 1948.

AP Photo

Her story: Coachman was born in Albany, Georgia, and faced two barriers in training to become an athlete: She was black and she was a woman. She ran shoeless on dirt roads and used makeshift equipment to work on her jumping. She joined the high school track team before moving on to Tuskegee. She also competed in the Amateur Athletic Union, and by 1946 she was the national champion in the 50- and 100-meter dashes, 400-meter relay and high jump. She also enrolled at Albany State College in 1946 after graduating from Tuskegee with a degree in dressmaking. After World War II wiped out the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, Coachman finally got her chance to compete in 1948, high jumping an Olympic-record 5 feet, 6 1/8 inches to win the gold in London. She is in nine Halls of Fame, including the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Fast fact: Coachman became the first African-American woman with an endorsement deal when the Coca-Cola Company signed her as a spokesperson in 1952.

Quotable: “I made a difference among the blacks, being one of the leaders,” Coachman told The New York Times in 1996. “If I had gone to the games and failed, there wouldn’t be anyone to follow in my footsteps.”

The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.

Charlie Sifford: the first black member of the PGA Tour

He joined in 1961 after the tour removed its ‘Caucasian-only’ clause

11:23 AMCharlie Sifford became the first African-American to join the PGA Tour in 1961.

Born: June 2, 1922

Died: Feb. 3, 2015

His story: Charlie Sifford was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and started working as a golf caddie when he was 13. Four years later he moved to Philadelphia and played against black golfers. He made his professional debut in 1948. He earned six United Golf Association National Negro Open championships, including five straight from 1952-56. He also tried to qualify for PGA Tour events during that stretch, his first attempt at the 1952 Phoenix Open after getting an invite from Joe Louis. He won the 1957 Long Beach Open, a PGA co-sponsored event. He tied for 32nd in the 1959 U.S. Open. Sifford faced threats at tournaments because he was black. He joined the PGA Tour in 1961 after the end of the “Caucasian-only” membership clause. He won two money events during his career, the Greater Hartford Open in 1967 and the Los Angeles Open in 1969. His best finish in a major was 21st place at the 1972 U.S. Open. He won two senior tour championships, including the 1975 Senior PGA Championship. He became the first black golfer inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.

Fast fact: Sifford, at age 92, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014.

Quotable: “Golf was not a game for ghettos. Neither did it leave any time for carrying picket signs, joining demonstrations or running for office. Charlie birdied, not talked, his way through society prejudice. He broke barriers by breaking par. His weapon was a nine-iron, not a microphone,” Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote before Sifford won the 1969 Los Angeles Open.

The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.