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

‘Essence’ celebrates black women at annual pre-Oscar gala

Tiffany Haddish, Danai Gurira, Lena Waithe and Tessa Thompson all honored

9:23 PM 

Just about everyone in the space at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel was patting away tears.

The General — our general — was in the middle of delivering an impassioned speech about beauty and about how, despite having physical attributes that run contrary to traditional American beauty standards, as a child she was embraced by a majestic-looking woman 31 years ago with long flowing braids who cupped her face in her hands and told her she was beautiful.

And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. That woman, said actor Danai Gurira — whom the world now is coming to know as General Okoye from Marvel’s Black Panther — was Susan Taylor, the legendary editor who ran Essence magazine for many years.

It was appropriate that Gurira was honored by the magazine at its 11th annual event that always happens the week of the Academy Awards. The luncheon is preamble to the big event, and in many ways is as significant as the Academy Awards themselves. It was the place where Lupita Nyong’o delivered a powerful speech about being a dark-skinned little girl in 2014 — days before she would go on to win an Oscar for her portrayal of Patsy in 12 Years A Slave — a speech that had everyone in the room that year nodding their heads in understanding, regardless of the actual hue of their skin.

Tiffany Haddish speaks onstage during the 2018 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Oscars Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on March 1 in Beverly Hills, California.

Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Essence

This event is a safe space. And it’s a place where black women are celebrated by the communities that cultivate them, inspire them and uplift them even when the rest of the industry doesn’t know to do any of those things. It’s a place where before Gurira even launched into her beautiful, tear-inspiring speech, she led everyone into the Stevie Wonder version of the “Happy Birthday” song for Nyong’o, who turned 35 this week.

This year, the event also honored Tessa Thompson — who talked about how awful she felt about the advantages lighter-skinned women in this industry have, and how she loved existing in a time where diverse representations of black womanliness was ever-present.

“She told me that my broad features and my brown skin looked beautiful when classmates did their best to convince me otherwise. She went to a beauty supply store with me, where she bought an eco relaxer, which we were prepared to apply together,” Thompson said of her mother, who is of Mexican descent, while the crowd laughed. “But she was proud and patient when I decided I wanted to keep my then-crusty, crunchy, over-gelled curls because she realized that being the fullest expression of yourself is an act of bravery. She wanted me to be brave and because of her, I aim to be.”

Tiffany Haddish brought laughter and levity despite talking about having been a foster child and a homeless adult. Lena Waithe talked about being a gay black woman from the South Side of Chicago who grew up loving the Wizard of Oz because of a scene where the Good Witch tells the munchkins to “come out,” a refrain Waithe repeated while asking others in the room — in the industry — to embrace who they are regardless of fear. “They were forced to hide in hopes that one day we wouldn’t have to and now look at us, still hiding. Being a gay black female is not a revolutionary act,” Waithe said, talking about the black LGBT community that came before her. “Being proud to be a gay black female is.” And, of course, Gurira also talked about the power that Black Panther is having on young kids.

“Sometimes I forget what it was like to be that young, to struggle in your own skin that much,” she said. “To grapple with a world system that was clearly not made with us in mind. To be unsure of your place in this realm, of how you will ever find it or how you will ever like yourself, let alone love yourself.”

Each of the afternoon’s honorees were presented by someone remarkable: Gurira was honored by Nyong’o, Thompson was honored by Janelle Monae, Waithe was honored by Justin Simien and Angela Bassett and Haddish was honored by Lil Rel Howery. The event was hosted by Yvonne Orji and will air on OWN on Saturday at 10 p.m.

‘The Plug’ podcast: ‘Run Me My Money feat. Jalen Rose’ (Episode 12)

The ‘Fab Five’ legend sheds light on exactly how it feels to be young, dumb, talented and broke

1:57 PM

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With the NCAA news exploding over the weekend, The Plug crew brought in an expert to discuss the state of collegiate athletics. Fab Five phenom, now NBA analyst, Jalen Rose sheds light on exactly how it feels to be young, dumb, talented and broke. Rose also talks about how he thinks the NBA can stand in solidarity with its collegiate counterparts, as well as how he became the first “Jalen” and what that means to him. Plus, we gear up for the Academy Awards and discuss the upcoming clash of two of the most powerful black women to hit the small screen. And, of course — the hot takes are plentiful. As always, please make sure you subscribe to The Plug using the ESPN app!

Previously: ‘The Plug’ podcast: NBA All-Star recap + Chris Tucker on ‘Rush Hour 4’ (Episode 11)

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.

Bobby Grier: broke the color barrier in the Sugar Bowl

Georgia’s governor wanted to block Georgia Tech from playing against Pittsburgh in 1956

2:55 PMBobby Grier was the first black football player to play in a bowl game in the South.

Born: 1933

His story: Grier grew up in Massillon, Ohio, and played fullback and linebacker at the University of Pittsburgh during the 1952-55 seasons. When the Panthers made it to the 1956 Sugar Bowl against Georgia Tech, there was controversy about Grier, Pittsburgh’s lone black player, being allowed to play in the game in New Orleans, Louisiana. Georgia’s governor, Marvin Griffin, wanted Georgia Tech to boycott the game because of Grier’s participation. Georgia Tech students protested, and the Georgia Board of Regents voted to allow Georgia Tech to play but barred Georgia teams from playing future games against integrated teams (a rule that was never enforced). Many people in New Orleans also wanted to block Grier playing in the bowl game in the racially segregated South. But the game went on and Grier became the first black player in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia Tech won, 7-0, after a pass interference penalty on Grier set up the game’s only touchdown. Referee Rusty Coles, who was from the Pittsburgh area, later admitted it was a bad call.

Fast fact: Grier received strong support from his teammates and the university. They would not play in the Sugar Bowl without him: “No Grier, no game.”

Quotable: “I didn’t push that man,” said Grier, who was in tears after the Sugar Bowl. “I was in front of him, how could I have pushed him?”

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

My Brother’s Keeper creates grant competition focused on youth violence and mentoring programs

Up to $500,000 in grants available for organizations working with Obama Foundation initiative

11:25 AMMy Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an initiative of the Obama Foundation, announced Monday that it is launching the MBK Community Challenge Competition for $500,000 in grants to help uplift boys and young men of color and other underserved youth.

The program is aimed at finding solutions to youth violence and increasing the number of mentors for boys. In addition to the planning grants, it will provide winners with a team of experts and practitioners and access to more funds to hire full-time local project leads.

“Four years ago, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and since then hundreds of communities have stepped up and shown up for their boys and young men of color in extraordinary ways. We are excited to let these communities know the Obama Foundation remains committed to their success, and provide some tools and resources to help them accelerate the pace of impact and inspire action nationwide,” said Michael D. Smith, director of MBK Alliance and Youth Opportunity Programs at the Obama Foundation.

MBK Alliance is especially dedicated to improving the lives of children in the city of Chicago, where Obama began his political career. A Chicago nonprofit will be selected in the inaugural competition, and other Chicago nonprofits will have the chance to compete for mini-grants of up to $50,000.

The organization will release eligibility requirements and a technical assistance schedule in the coming weeks and will begin accepting applications in March. Interested individuals and organizations are encouraged to sign up to receive updates.

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.