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

New poll finds black voters believe NFL colluded to blackball Kaepernick

Survey in eight states says some are also watching less football because of quarterback’s treatment

1:28 PMA new poll of black voters in eight politically competitive states found that nearly 6 in 10 said they believe NFL teams colluded to blackball former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick because of his political views and his stance against police brutality.

And more than 1 in 3 of the respondents say they watched less football during the 2017-18 NFL season because of the league’s treatment of Kaepernick.

The poll findings, collected in a telephone survey of 1,000 black registered voters in mid-March, highlight the competing tensions tugging at the NFL during an era of heightened player activism and increasingly divisive politics.

The full poll, which includes questions probing political attitudes and black voters’ views of the nation’s economic and racial landscape, is scheduled to be released next week.

“There is a legitimate, stated reason why African-Americans are watching less football: They believe there is collusion against Colin Kaepernick among NFL owners,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPac, a political action committee that commissioned the poll.

NFL team owners have voiced concerns about players who raised fists or took a knee during the national anthem to call attention to police violence and the nation’s widening inequality, in large part because they view the demonstrations as a turnoff for parts of their mostly white fan base.

President Donald Trump added to their worries with a series of tweets in which he linked declining NFL television ratings to the protests and by conflating the protests with disrespect for the flag. In a speech in September, he also profanely called on NFL owners to cut any players who protest during the anthem.

At the same time, many African-Americans are angered by the treatment of Kaepernick, who has been unable to land a job with an NFL team for more than a year. The new poll tracks with others that found many African-Americans believe Kaepernick is being punished for launching the player protests in 2016, when he took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

“There is a counternarrative to the narrative that the NFL is losing fans because of the protests,” said Cornell Belcher, president of Brilliant Corners, the research firm that conducted the poll. “That is that the NFL is losing fans because of collusion and racial injustice.”

Kaepernick has filed suit against the NFL for allegedly blackballing him because of his political protest.

Although football remains entrenched as the nation’s most popular sport, television ratings for NFL games fell nearly 10 percent in the 2017 regular season. Viewership for the 2018 Super Bowl was also down, falling to 2009 levels.

The reasons for the decline have been hotly disputed. People have cited growing concern over concussions and off-field problems such as domestic violence. They also point to cord-cutting and the rise of social media, which allows people to follow games without actually tuning in. They also have pointed to the player protests and the racially divided reaction to them.

The BlackPac poll found that 59 percent of black registered voters in the swing states of Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina agree that NFL teams colluded to block Kaepernick from joining a team. One in four disagreed, while 17 percent either did not know or refused to speculate.

The survey also found that 21 percent of respondents said they watched less football in 2017 than they had previously, while 14 percent said they stopped watching altogether. Some 47 percent said their viewing habits were unchanged, while 19 percent either refused to answer or said they did not know.

An earlier version of this story misstated the number of states in the survey.

Meek Mill’s first post-prison public appearance could be Sixers-Heat Game 5

Sixers owner says via Instagram that he’s en route to pick up Mill

4:32 PMWith the breaking news that Meek Mill is a free man, after the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overruled Judge Genece Brinkley’s controversial sentence, comes the question: What’s next? Meek outlines his plans in the below tweet thread, but what happens tonight? Philadelphia 76ers owner Michael G. Rubin, who befriended Meek years ago and has become one of the rapper’s most vocal supporters, announced he was en route to pick Meek up from prison.

Whether Meek actually shows up courtside tonight as his hometown Sixers attempt to complete a first-round series victory over the Miami Heat is up in the air.

It is, however, hard to imagine a scene when he doesn’t. If Meek waltzes in as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons warm up and they all dap and hug, we’re looking at one of the loudest ovations we’ve heard in a basketball arena in a long time. Philly could potentially be looking at a courtside trio of Meek, Allen Iverson and Kevin Hart. That type of cultural star power doesn’t happen every night. Brotherly love for real.

Robert Downey Jr. at ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ premiere: ‘Wakanda forever! I can say that as an honorary black man’

In a crowd including Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana and even coach David Fizdale, Iron Man pledges allegiance to the ‘Black Panther’ phenomenon

8:28 AMNearly 40 Marvel superheroes gathered on the stage at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on Monday night. For 10 years, the studio has been making films that bring comic book stories to life — breaking box-office standards and often introducing the next big thing along the way.

So the actors — Robert Downey Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana and Scarlett Johansson among them — stood there prepped for the opening of Avengers: Infinity War on Friday. According to Fandango, it’s already sold out more than 1,000 screens and has a chance to top the biggest opening of all time, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which collected $248 million on its big night in 2015. Marvel is already celebrating unprecedented success of its February release, Black Panther, which has to date earned more than $680 million domestically and is still growing.

But on Monday night, when Downey Jr., who began his Marvel journey with 2008’s Iron Man, was given the microphone by studio president Kevin Feige, he made his allegiance very clear: “Wakanda forever,” he said as he looked behind him to see Boseman. “I can say that as an honorary black man.”

The crowd, which included Angela Bassett, Courtney B. Vance and Laurence Fishburne, broke out into laughter, reminded of the actor’s controversial turn in 2008’s Tropic Thunder his character undergoes skin surgery so that he can actually become a black man for a role. Infinity Wars screened at just under three hours — and judging by the oohs, aahs, laughter and audible shock reverberating through the space, Marvel has another darling on its hands.

Immediately after the premiere, lucky golden wristband holders were ushered to a rooftop for an after-party where guests feasted on vegan falafel, Thai chicken meatballs, beef meatballs tossed in marinara sauce and an assortment of salads, cheese platters and mini desserts. The crowd was huge and eclectic; the last few Marvel premiere parties (such as the one for Black Panther) have been more intimate. Guests jumped into and out of photo booths, received mini Marvel puppets and sipped champagne.

The night was soundtracked with tunes from George Michael, Janet Jackson, Prince, Tupac Shakur, Jay-Z and Michael Jackson, and industry insiders mingled with cast members such as Saldana, Winston Duke, Josh Brolin and even former Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale.

The party started closing out shortly after midnight, with straggling well-wishers issuing kudos to film producers for pulling off what likely will be another box-office blockbuster. Fans will have to wait until next year for the film’s second part — a year too long.

Donovan Mitchell is becoming a legend in Utah

Rookie sets playoff scoring mark as team closes in on second round

8:05 AMDonovan Mitchell was about to be interviewed after leading the Utah Jazz to one win away from the second round of the NBA playoffs when the home crowd gave him a roaring standing ovation. Mitchell had just surpassed Hall of Famer Karl Malone to score a Jazz rookie playoff-record 33 points in a 113-96 victory in Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night.

A touched Mitchell was at a loss for words. He threw his hands in the air in appreciation and turned away to hug teammate Derrick Favors. And while the 21-year-old’s scoring and dunking have spoken volumes during his rookie campaign, he learned on this night that winning is what makes you a legend in Utah.

“To be honest, a lot of this is surreal,” Mitchell told reporters. “I’m just taking it game by game and not really getting caught up in the big picture. Just focusing game by game.”

Mitchell was a superstar during NBA summer league after being selected 13th overall in the 2017 NBA draft. The former University of Louisville star averaged a rookie-best 20.5 points per game this season while making the highlight reels with his athletic drives, high-flying slams and nailed 3-pointers. The four-time Western Conference Rookie of the Month set the Jazz rookie scoring record and also won the 2018 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

Malone and Darrell Griffith were great rookies for the Jazz, but truth be told, they have been surpassed by Mitchell. And while Mitchell showed his youth and had fun engaging in a Rookie of the Year battle of words with Philadelphia forward Ben Simmons, Mitchell’s focus has changed solely to winning in the postseason.

“I am just focused on the task at hand,” Mitchell said. “The biggest thing with me is if I start thinking about the individual stuff and all the stuff that really matters to the team, that’s when you kind of lose your head.

“You’ve got to give your all for your teammates. I’m just trying to give my all any way I can. It’s definitely an honor.”

Said Jazz coach Quin Snyder: “I don’t think he’s trying to do anything special. He’s playing.”

The NBA playoffs are a different level, and the expectation was that this rookie would crawl at first. Reality is nothing has changed, as Mitchell has been the best player on the floor in this first-round series against a Thunder team with three future Hall of Famers in 2017 NBA MVP Russell Westbrook, five-time All-Star Paul George and 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony.

Mitchell joined Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Lou Hudson as the only rookies to score more than 100 points in their first four playoff games.

While the Jazz’s young star seems to be setting a new scoring mark each game, the number Mitchell is most interested in is a series-ending fourth win.

“We have one more game, so I’m focused on that,” Mitchell said.

Said Favors: “He has been doing it all year for us. Making plays. Making shots. He has been huge for us all year, and hopefully he can keep it up and we can keep it up as a team the rest of the series.”

Why a Jack Johnson pardon would be easier for Trump than Obama

The first black heavyweight champ went to prison for sex with white women

2:48 PMDon’t be surprised that Donald Trump is expressing enthusiasm about pardoning Jack Johnson while Barack Obama ignored it.

The first black heavyweight champion was wrongfully imprisoned a century ago by racist authorities who were outraged by his destruction of white boxers and his relationships with white women. In 2004, a group of people began seeking a pardon for Johnson, but they were rebuffed by then-Presidents George W. Bush and Obama.

Now, President Trump is tweeting that he’s considering the idea. Here’s why a pardon is easier for Trump than Obama:

Exonerating Johnson would have opened Obama up to racial repercussions unique to the first black president. The boxer enjoyed rubbing white America’s face in his profligate habits with sex, money, cars, clothes and jewelry. At a time when black men were lynched for even looking at white women, Johnson not only flaunted his Caucasian companions, he viciously beat at least one of them.

Johnson’s lifestyle was like “the hip-hop culture of its day, widely associated with black criminality and black masculine pathology,” wrote American University history professor Theresa Runstedtler in her book on Johnson. Obama pardoning Johnson would have appeared to some people like pardoning Tupac Shakur or Bobby Shmurda. Black Americans, meanwhile, are more uncomfortable than whites with interracial unions.

Even though Johnson deserves to have his record posthumously cleansed, Obama was focused on clemency for living victims of mass incarceration policies, which disproportionately affect the black community.

Heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, circa 1909.

The Ring Magazine/Getty Images

Trump, meanwhile, was elected despite multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Pardoning a womanizer like Johnson doesn’t dent Trump’s image as much as it would have tarnished Obama’s (evidence that black folks still need to be twice as good to succeed).

Pardoning Johnson would send a valuable message to white America, which is Trump’s main constituency. “It helps us white people more than black people,” the filmmaker Ken Burns, who directed an illuminating Jack Johnson documentary, told me in 2016. “Black people don’t need this information [about racial injustice]. Black people know this already. It’s us white people who don’t know it.”

Finally, a pardon would provide Trump with an opportunity to do something, albeit symbolic, about racial injustice. Trump’s Justice Department is reviving the “tough on crime” policies that created the racially biased disaster of mass incarceration – the exact catastrophe that Obama tried to mitigate with both policy and his huge number of commuted sentences.

Overall, it’s a fitting irony that Trump is weighing a pardon Obama never chose to pursue.