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

The irony of Trump’s Jack Johnson pardon

He freed the memory of one black man while his attorney general revives policies that lead to mass incarceration

4:20 PMIt took a white president to pardon Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, for having sex with white women.

Barack Obama wouldn’t touch it, to the dismay and puzzlement of many. Perhaps Johnson’s history was too messy. After winning the world title in 1908, Johnson flaunted his lust for money, clothes, cars, jewelry — and especially white women. In an America where black men could be lynched for a stray glance or remark, Johnson viciously beat at least one of his white girlfriends. Even though Johnson was wrongfully imprisoned under a Jim Crow law designed to police interracial sex, the first black president ignored pleas to exonerate the long-dead boxer. Instead, Obama focused his pardon power on living people unjustly imprisoned by the racially biased policies of mass incarceration.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump pardoned Johnson, who died in a car crash in 1946. “We righted a wrong,” Trump said in a ceremony attended by Johnson’s descendants, current heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder, former champ Lennox Lewis and Rocky actor Sylvester Stallone, who brought Johnson’s case to Trump’s attention.

There are many ironies in Trump’s decision, starting with the president being elected despite multiple accusations of sexual misconduct and assault. Add that Obama was handcuffed, to some extent, by a double standard that holds African-Americans accountable for all black sins while allowing whites to be judged as individuals. And Johnson’s gaudy lifestyle bears more similarities to Trump’s than to Obama’s.

But the saddest point is that while Obama used his pardons to free those victimized by mass incarceration, Trump’s Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is reviving policies on criminal charges that disastrously and disproportionately packed American prisons with blacks and Latinos.

Trump just freed the memory of one black man who died 72 years ago. How many living black men are now headed to the place where Jack Johnson never should have been?

April Ryan and Rita Moreno shout-out each other and the power of diversity at Gracie Awards

Pam Oliver also shared advice she gives to young journalists

3:53 PMLOS ANGELES — As April Ryan took the stage Tuesday to accept her 2018 Gracie Award, she shouted-out several fellow award-winners in the audience and got the love right back.

As Ryan began her acceptance speech — “I’m sitting next to a hero, Elizabeth Smart. Rita Moreno, my God, what you went through” — she was interrupted by a familiar voice from the crowd.

“I love you,” shouted Moreno from the audience. Laughs erupted from the crowd of hundreds of women at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, there to celebrate women and to honor Moreno, who received the lifetime achievement award.

Ryan was onstage to accept the best interview feature award in the national radio category for her American Urban Radio Networks show On the Record. After accepting the compliment from Moreno, she continued.

“I watched West Side Story as a child, and I watched you sashay, and to be able to stand here and say you are one of my idols …”

Morento shouted-out to Ryan again, “You have good taste!”

The crowd cheered.

Ryan also acknowledged Smart, a child safety activist, Steve Harvey Show co-host Shirley Strawberry and others, who were part of a diverse group of women who received Gracie Awards.

“We need to be empowered to ask those questions at a time such as this. And I say that as we are under attack as women. I say that as we are under attack as press. But I say most importantly from the late, great Shirley Chisholm, we don’t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. My chair is in the third row of the briefing room. They act like they don’t see me, but I’m there,” said Ryan.

She received her award after the lady of honor of the night, Moreno.

According to Page Six, Moreno told Variety that she thinks the recent women’s empowerment movement “is not a gimmick. … I think it’s going to expand more and more, and it’s about damn time.”

She added that she’d like to see better representation of Latinas in Hollywood. “I think we need to take some very valuable lessons from the black community. They did it and they did it really well, and good for them.”

Fox Sports veteran reporter Pam Oliver said she tells young girls, “You have to protect your dream …” Oliver received the 2018 Gracie Award for on-air talent-entertainment and sports.

Other recipients and honorees included:

  • Issa Rae (Actress in a leading role – comedy or musical)
  • This Is Us (Drama)
  • HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Made for Television Movie)
  • Felicia D. Henderson for BET’s The Quad (Producer – Entertainment)
  • Juju Chang (Reporter/Correspondent)
  • Hoda Kotb for Sirius XM’s The Hoda Show (Host/Personality)
  • Shirley Strawberry (Co-host)
  • The View (Talk Show Entertainment)
  • The Rundown with Robin Thede (Variety)
  • Niecy Nash (Actress in a Leading Role – Comedy or Musical)
  • Naturi Naughton (Actress in a Leading Role – Drama)
  • Danai Gurira (Actress in a Leading Role – Drama)
  • Merle Dandridge (Actress in a Leading Role – Drama)
  • Gabrielle Union (Actress in a Leading Role – Drama)
  • Retta (Actress in a Supporting Role/Comedy or Musical)
  • Lisa Vidal (Actress in a Supporting Role/Drama)
  • Lynn Whitfield (Actress in a Supporting Role/Drama)

Don’t hate on black graduation ceremony at Harvard University

Undergrads participated this year, but other schools have been doing it for years

2:04 PMA year-old article about Harvard University’s first black graduation ceremony resurfaced this week and caused a ruckus on social media.

The Ivy League university actually hosted its second black grad ceremony Tuesday at Radcliffe Yard. Similar to what took place in 2017, the event was sponsored by the Harvard Black Students Association and was designed to honor the achievements of black graduating students. No degrees were conferred during this ceremony; that practice is reserved for the school’s general commencement activities Thursday.

Jillian Simons, co-president of the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance, helped plan the event. Last year, only grad students participated in the ceremony, but all students were allowed to attend. Simi Falako, president of the Harvard Black Students Association and a human developmental and regenerative biology major, confirmed that senior undergraduates were included this year. In an email, she also acknowledged that the planning committee used the criticism from last year’s event to improve this year’s. Some tweeted support or defended the event.

It’s hard to tell if this is just an issue of not reading beyond a year-old provocative headline like “Harvard will host first-ever black only graduation” or an issue of understanding the difference between honoring the experiences and accomplishments of a group that shares something such as race, religion or sexual orientation, and racism. The former usually takes the form of an optional, one-day event designed to uplift and unify a particular group, culture or orientation, like Greek Jewish Festivals, Pride parades or girls’ night out. The latter uses economic, social and legislative restrictions to enforce the supremacy of one group over another.

The need and desire for culture-specific graduation ceremonies are not new or even unique to Harvard University. Syracuse University hosted its first black graduation ceremony in 2004, the University of Southern California initiated its in 1999 and Stanford established its black graduation ceremony more than 40 years ago. Columbia University, UC Berkeley and the University of Washington also host ceremonies. At each university, the ceremony is designed to honor the accomplishment of black students, but any student who registers may participate.

Fanta Cherif, graduating senior and head of the 2018 Black Graduation Committee, said Syracuse’s black graduation event has not encountered the same backlash as Harvard’s. She was surprised it took so long for the prestigious Ivy League school to establish the ceremony.

“Every PWI [predominantly white institution] should have one,” she remarked. The only issues she encountered were that the school did not provide any funding for the event, nor did any high-ranking school officials attend.

So black graduations are not anti-anyone. They just celebrate black students, their accomplishments, experiences and supporters at schools where the main or department ceremony might not give them a more intimate opportunity to do so.

Will Harden’s dunk on Green alter NBA history?

LeBron, Shaq and Jordan had other franchise-changing smashes

1:22 PMOn the dunk Richter scale, nothing ranks higher than a smash that alters the course of a playoff series. (Well, almost nothing.) The funeral James Harden gave Draymond Green on Tuesday night could turn out to be one of those dunks. We expect Harden to rain treys and cook dudes’ legs into spaghetti, of course. But to bang on Green, probably the best all-around defender in the league? On Green’s home court? Then beat the Warriors for their first home playoff loss since Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, and tie the series 2-2? The momentous aftershocks of Harden’s and-1 (he actually got fouled twice: once by Stephen Curry on the reach-in and again by Green at the rim) included Green short-arming a wide-open dunk and the Dubs flinging brick after brick in the pivotal fourth quarter.

If the Rockets can use their home-court advantage over the rest of the series to dethrone Golden State, Harden’s dunk will be remembered among these other legendary bang-outs that shook us harder because of the playoff implications:


Back in 1991, Michael Jordan was still a high-scoring guard who had never won a championship. The future revealed itself in a first-round series against the New York Knicks. Y’all know the legend: MJ evaded a double team from Kiki Vandeweghe and John Starks, shook another double from Starks and Charles Oakley, spun baseline, elevated over the 7-foot Patrick Ewing — and cemented the destiny of two franchises with the and-1.


Like Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant had never won a championship when they faced Portland in the 2000 Western Conference finals. After blowing a 3-1 lead, down 15 in the fourth quarter of Game 7, the Los Angeles Lakers mounted a comeback. With 44 seconds left, Bryant dusted Scottie Pippen with an effortless crossover, knifed into the lane and lobbed a big piece of barbecue chicken up for the big fella. Lakers up 6. Three straight ’chips came next.


In 2007, a ringless LeBron James was down 0-2 against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals. With the score tied deep in the fourth quarter, James blew past two defenders and destroyed Rasheed Wallace, plus the foul. That set the stage for James’ 32 points, a series-swinging win, his first Finals appearance — and too many more playoff posters to count.

Shooting Rockets at the throne: on the eve of Houston’s most important game of the season

Does Houston want to have a problem — or do they want to be the problem?

10:54 AMThere’s a Jay-Z lyric for any and every situation in life. For the Houston Rockets, their current 2-1 Western Conference finals plight is no different. More on that shortly. After elimination by the Golden State Warriors in 2015 and 2016, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey all but confirmed the Bay Area fetish. “It’s the only thing we think about,” he told ESPN last December. “I think I’m not supposed to say that, but we’re obsessed with ‘How do we beat the Warriors?’ ”

He went on to say, “It’s like 90 percent … if we’re gonna win a title, we’ve obviously gotta beat the Warriors at some point. So we’re extremely focused on that. A lot of our signings and what we do during the year is based on that.”

This year’s Houston Rockets are an all-time great offensive juggernaut. The franchise broke its own record for 3-pointers made in a season this year. But here’s the thing — beating the defending champions in regular-season matchups, as they did two out of three times, is a completely different animal from trying to beat them four times in less than two weeks.

Chris Paul waited his entire career to advance to the NBA’s final four, and it’ll likely end in five if the Rockets put on a repeat performance of their Game 3 curb-stomping.

As currently constructed, the Warriors represent the love child of the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams and 2001 Miami Hurricanes — only the child decided CTE, the lack of guaranteed contracts and football’s stance on social issues were too much to ignore. Golden State is the most overwhelmingly dominant team ever assembled, with four presumptive future Hall of Fame candidates all still very much at their physical apexes. And Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant could very well end up as top-10 players of all time.

Now Houston has to beat that same team at home. That same team that hasn’t lost in Oakland since LeBron James’ block and Kyrie Irving’s shot punctuated the greatest Finals comeback in NBA history nearly two years ago. A loss that, by the Warriors’ own admission, delivered them Durant. Oracle Arena hasn’t felt the agony of playoff defeat in 703 days and counting. That’s 16 games in a row — the longest such streak in league history. This is the task sitting on Houston’s shoulders ahead of tonight’s game.

Do not bark up that tree, Jay-Z warned his foes on the seminal 2001 diss record “Takeover.” That tree will fall on you / I don’t know why your advisers ain’t forewarn you. The best record in the league, with a team specifically designed for this exact moment, only to sit on the edge of self-destruction. That lyric will haunt the Rockets if they lose tonight.

If Harden wants to continue to live under the label of “superstar” without reproach, this is the type of game that notarizes the stamp.

Head coach Mike D’Antoni called his team soft after Sunday’s baptism. D’Antoni understands the magnitude, even if he is saying Golden State has “all the pressure” of tonight’s game. D’Antoni is the forefather of the space-and-pace offense: His mid-2000s Phoenix Suns were the kings of it. Now he’s a mad scientist watching his creation turn against him, as the Warriors are a faster, defensively superior and just more crippling version of those Suns. Chris Paul waited his entire career to advance to the NBA’s final four, and it’ll likely end in five if the Rockets put on a repeat performance of their Game 3 curb-stomping.

James Harden, the leading MVP candidate (although another James continues to make a case), has had his great season come down to one game. These moments define careers. Big-time players, as Santana Moss once poetically put it, make big-time plays in big-time games. And if Harden wants to continue to live under the label of “superstar” without reproach, this is the type of game that notarizes the stamp. Game 4 on the road? In an all-time hostile environment? With a chance to completely rewrite the narrative of both the series and your postseason career? These are dreams that money, not even Harden’s mammoth contract, can’t buy.

Houston called out Golden State like Martin called out Tommy Hearns in the classic 1994 Martin episode “Guard Your Grill.” And, as it stands right now, the Rockets are a two piece and another Steph Curry biscuit away from looking like Martin after the fight. It’s the “s— or get off the pot” moment for these Houston Rockets. Go back to Houston tied 2-2 and it’s a best-of-three series with potentially two games at home — and the reality that they don’t have to win in Golden State again. Go back to Houston down 3-1 and not even the courtside five of Beyoncé, Bun B, Scarface, Travis Scott and Deshaun Watson would prevent the inevitable. Does Houston want to have a problem or does Houston want to be the problem? Do not bark up that tree. It won’t take long to find out either way.