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

An ode to Serena Williams

My favorite athlete of all time

12:15 PMSerena Williams is my favorite athlete of all time. It took me a good decade to come to say this out loud. Not because I had a problem with admitting that, when it came to watching sports, my machismo wouldn’t let me say I preferred to watch a woman, but because for so long Williams has been appreciated by men, particularly black men for nearly everything except for one: her tennis game.

When she first emerged on the scene, all the narratives were wrapped up in her being Venus Williams’ little sister. They were doing it for the culture, and everyone appreciated it. She was part of this “Black Girl Magic” duo that seemingly could not be accepted or understood in the tennis world and that sense of rebellion was a major draw for many black people who still viewed tennis as something for retired people to do in country clubs. But don’t forget, almost immediately, she took those braids to the top.

In the 1999 U.S. Open, she beat four players who’d won Grand Slam tournaments before, knocking off No. 1-ranked Martina Hingis to win the title. Hingis wasn’t ready. (Sidebar: Serena and Venus won doubles at Flushing Meadow that year, too.) As far as tennis is concerned, she never looked back. It took her less than five years to complete what’s now known as the “Serena Slam,” holding all four Grand Slam titles at once, even if not winning them all in the same calendar year.

But when we think about comparisons to the great athletes of our generation, perhaps because she’s black, perhaps because she’s a woman, or perhaps because so many men are blinded by her style, her body or her dance moves, we fail to recognize her on-court ability. We still don’t appreciate Serena Williams the athlete enough.

In a strange way, losing in the last two U.S. Open semifinals has helped us recognize what we had. The fact is that her personality itself might have “Made Tennis Great Again,” but more importantly, her skills made tennis great again. It took a long time for broadcasters and analysts to describe her approach as anything other than power and intimidation because that’s the instant thing they saw when a strong black woman entered the arena. She single-handedly created and destroyed the career of Maria Sharapova because we as a culture are so obsessed with Great White Hopes once black people start dominating sports, never mind the so-called “ideals” of beauty discussion.

Again, the tennis was forgotten. If you’re counting, she’s more dominant that Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, combined.

“There have been examples in other sports of spectators being aware that they were watching a one-of-a-kind talent and ought to cherish the opportunity,” Tom Victor wrote for Joe.co.uk. “Usain Bolt is one such example, as is Michael Phelps where the aura and legend bubble to the top before others catch up with the talent, to the point that they are spoken of in the past and present tenses simultaneously. You have to force yourself to enjoy and appreciate something in the knowledge that there will undoubtedly come a time in which you’ll get to tell your children and grandchildren ‘I was there.’ ”

But as far as the proverbial barbershop convo goes, Williams’ name isn’t coming up much. Maybe her position as a feminist icon scares dudes away from having a real discussion about her court control and mental prowess. Yet, seeing Williams now, even the casual fans notice they’ve witnessed something great for longer than they probably wanted to realize.

“My mind was just a little bit everywhere, but it was what it was. Yeah, serious left knee problems. But fatigue had nothing to do with it. If I was tired, I need to find a new career,” Williams said after her U.S. Open loss to Karolina Pliskova on Thursday, who’d beaten Venus earlier in the same tournament.

She hasn’t hung up her racket yet and is still the No. 2 player in the world. Nobody wants to put an early end to her illustrious run, and she likely still has a couple Grand Slam wins left in her. But now that she seems, well, mortal, your mind does begin to wander off the court.

We’ll be watching Williams do quite a few things for a long time coming, as she is a woman who is successful at everything she does. Fashion, entertainment, philanthropy, literature, politics, who knows. But I, for one, will miss watching her play tennis, the most.

Allen Iverson is late to Hall of Fame news conference

Then reminds the world of exactly who he is

6:33 PM“Allen Iverson is unable to be with us this afternoon.”

Those were the words announced Thursday afternoon, an awkward harbinger for a guy who was finally getting his just due from a league that didn’t always accept who he was. Everyone else was there: Tom Izzo, Sheryl Swoopes, Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming, among others. They tried to stall by interviewing Jerry Colangelo for 10 minutes. Sure, it’s just a news conference, and yes, the real event is Friday night, but you couldn’t help but be a tad let down by the fact that Iverson was missing for his own Hall of Fame news conference.

Then, he showed up. Donning a New York Yankees cap, he got his jacket and sat with the media. Better late than never, I guess. Officially, travel issues were blamed.

“This is a moment that me and my fans, my family and friends can share with each other because we always believed in the dream,” he said. “I have the utmost respect for them people [Philadelphia fans] for not giving up on me, but on the other side of that, they knew that I gave them every thing I had night in and night out. I don’t think there’ll ever be another relationship like the relationship with me and the Philadelphia fans. The only thing that comes close to that is probably Mike [Jordan] and … Chicago. We had that mutual love and respect.”

https://twitter.com/Olajiwan/status/773958029670842372

Yes, there are the jokes. Of course, he wasn’t there. But him being late was also one of those reminders of exactly why Iverson was such a confounding person to love. As for Iverson being Iverson, he had quite a bit to say.

“I always looked at it and I always felt like, why isn’t it cool being you? What’s wrong with being you? With your flaws, your mistakes with the way you look with your financial status, the way you talk, what’s wrong with that? God gave you all of those things, that’s who he wanted you to be. So, why are you ashamed of it? I never wanted to be nobody,” Iverson said, before switching gears to Michael Jordan. “When it comes to basketball, yes, I wanted to be like Mike. Didn’t everybody that played basketball? After he arrived. Everybody wanted to be like Mike. But I didn’t want to be him. I didn’t want to talk like him, I didn’t want to dress like him. I felt that it was cool being who my mom loved, who he loved, who my sister loved, who my girl love, who my children love. That’s cool to me. You know what I mean. As a basketball player, I’d rather be MJ status, when it comes to basketball. I trade that part in, if I could have my choice, yeah. I would want to be MJ basketball-wise”

He then went on to talk about what life is like, now that it’s all officially behind him and he’s getting an honor that will forever solidify his place in NBA lore. After all, the internet doesn’t erase, and he’s still Allen Iverson.

“It was never no problem with me being who I am and being the person that I am. I love my daughters and my sons being who they are and feeling good and comfortable about who they are. I love my kids loving the fact that their daddy is their daddy,” he said. “Now, they at that age now to where they can read the newspaper. They can read old articles and go to YouTube and look at old things that happened in my life. And I’m not ashamed, I’m not going to apologize for it. Those were mistakes that I made in my life, just like the mistakes they going to make in theirs. I won’t judge them. I’ll always love them for who they are. I was always just cool with who I am, and why not? That’s a disrespect to my mom and my dad, the people that raised me, for me to have a problem with me trying to be somebody else that I’m not. I’m cool with the guy that they raised.”

Even in retirement, The Answer is still an appropriate nickname.

Marc Spears contributed to this report.

Airbnb: Sorry for being racist

But we’re not changing the major problem

3:30 PMDon’t ever think a hashtag can’t affect change. Ever since #AirbnbWhileBlack took over Twitter a while back, it’s been an open secret that the online marketplace for rental properties was a place rife for discrimination of all sorts, much like the rest of the world. Who knew! On Thursday, the company released a plan to try to combat said problems, one that got former Attorney General Eric Holder involved.

There’s a lot to unpack here, pardon the pun. No. 1 is where this company began. Created in San Francisco, initially out of a desire to raise rent money, it blossomed into a full-blown startup with its founder Joe Gebbia even using his own site as a way to live for some while. But then it suffered from a classic case of not having enough people in the room.

The whole story is a fascinating case of implicit bias and an even better case study on how income inequality, even in 2016, affects leisure services and businesses in ways that make it feel more like the 1950s. Two years ago, Harvard Business School students examined this issue in a paper called “Digital Discrimination.”

“The raw data show that nonblack and black hosts receive strikingly different rents: roughly $144 vs. $107 per night, on average,” they wrote. “Nonblack hosts earn roughly 12 percent more for a similar apartment with similar ratings and photos relative to black hosts.” Of course, there’s a lot of math, regression models and analysis that brings them to such a conclusion. Basically, people are willing to pay more to not stay at a black person’s place.

Not to be forgotten is the issue of being denied a room, anecdotally, based on race. The problem was so bad that competing businesses entirely popped up to solve the problem.

https://twitter.com/Dan_8998/status/769320029871497216

As for what Airbnb is doing to improve, you have to wonder how effective the changes will be. There’s one fundamental issue that has not changed: The company is not eliminating pictures from profiles. Yes, there’s a safety mechanism involved in such a process, but theoretically, that could all be done privately to make bookings happen. By not changing the dynamic on the “what do you look like” level, all the same potential for discrimination is still there, even if you’ve finally admitted your service has a problem and there’s a mechanism to tell on people, so to speak.

It’s a good effort, and apparently an honest one, albeit from Airbnb. But with this nation’s history of housing discrimination, both legal and otherwise, the company has a chance to serve as a vessel for a discussion that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable having. It’s a lot more direct and a tad easier to digest than, say, the effects of redlining from yesteryear. But you’ve got to let everyone through the door, first.

Team turns its back on Megan Rapinoe

Washington Spirit moves up national anthem to prevent her protest

12:19 PMAs far as athletes go, Megan Rapinoe is about as much an American hero as anyone who’s ever competed for the United States. And the league she plays for, of which she is arguably the most recognizable player, decided that her protest of the national anthem in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was not appropriate for game day. So instead of allowing a player to exercise her constitutional rights, the Washington Spirit got sneaky.

Rapinoe wasn’t allowed the opportunity to kneel during The Star-Spangled Banner because, at the venue, the Washington Spirit became the first team to take an actual stand against self-expression. Many athletes, loudmouth coaches and others have but this is the first time we’ve seen an actual sports franchise take such a stand. “To willingly allow anyone to hijack this tradition that means so much to millions of Americans and so many of our own fans for any cause would effectively be just as disrespectful as doing it ourselves,” the team said in a statement.

We’re just going to ignore the fact that this letter is double-spaced, but that alone should clue you into just how out of touch whomever wrote it is. Let’s analyze the word choices here. This statement uses the word “hijack,” specifically, more than once. There is also a reference to “overseas conflicts,” which we’re just going to presume is a veiled reference to the Iraq War and its fallout. That war happened because this country started it following the 9/11 attacks.

Yet, the Washington Spirit seem to think that Rapinoe taking a knee during a song is aptly described as “hijacking.”

Rapinoe is a gay American who’s been on the forefront of the fight for equality as long as she’s been in the public eye. Her identity as a woman who has not been afraid to stand up for her rights is well-documented. Her own team, the Seattle Reign, had her back.

Back in 2013, Spirit owner Bill Lynch — a U.S. military veteran — wrote a public letter to the fans of his franchise, titled “Why I’m Doing This.” In it, he explained his reasons for why he supported women’s soccer and was getting back into another iteration of a professional league.

“I don’t know of a better environment where this level of role models exists for our kids today,” he wrote. “By the way, there are a few things that most of us adults can also learn from the players.”

You don’t say.

Daily Dose: 9/8/16

Ryan Lochte gets his comeuppance

12:00 PMThe NFL starts Thursday, so if you haven’t set your fantasy lineups yet, don’t forget to remind your significant other to do so, as well.

If you’re running for president, you should probably have a decent grip on foreign policy. But if your name is Gary Johnson, you have no shame. The Libertarian candidate was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Thursday, and offered up what I’ll call the worst gaffe I can remember in ages. When asked about the conflict in Syria, Johnson had no idea about the city of Aleppo and said as much on live television. Seriously, my man actually said, “What is Aleppo?” Get out to vote, people. It matters. ABC News reports.

Someone finally penalized Ryan Lochte for his behavior. The American swimmer who decided that he wanted to start an international incident by lying about getting robbed at gunpoint in a country that depends on tourism for its livelihood fell upward into a TV role and never really took the hit he could have for his role in the problem. Until now. On Thursday, Lochte was suspended for 10 months by the United States Olympic Committee and USA Swimming. ABC News’ Morgan Kinsor reports.

Like it or not, a lot of football players smoke marijuana. You know why? Because they beat each other’s brains in every single play and subject themselves to all sorts of pain that other athletes don’t. There’s also a large contingent people who believe that if you wanted to curb the NFL’s use and abuse of painkillers, allowing them to use marijuana would be a pretty decent option. In a new episode of Weediquette on Viceland, titled “Gridiron Ganja,” they look deeper into the matter.

Cam Newton takes his clothing very seriously. Pants, hats, you name it, the Carolina Panthers quarterback knows how to find a nice piece that gives you something more to talk about than his ability to pass and throw. And considering that he’s playing in the season opener Thursday night against the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, it’s a serious style moment that needs to be taken seriously. If you don’t know, Newton gets his hats custom made. Like, every single one, which feels like a waste, but to each his own. This week, though, he had a bit of an emergency. ESPN’s David Newton reports.

Free Food

Coffee Break: We’ve discussed this clown situation down in the Carolinas here before, but there’s an interesting twist on things. People forget that there are a lot of legitimate clowns out there, entertaining children and being decent people. They aren’t all terrorizing innocent people. And the regular clowns need you to know that.

Snack Time: Apple is removing headphone jacks from the iPhone. Harambe is still a meme going strong. Here’s a funny image that links both. You can probably guess what it looks like.

Dessert: I could watch Vines of Houston Rockets guard James Harden dancing all day long.

Karl-Anthony Towns wants you to get out and vote

Timberwolves team up with Minnesota secretary of state for public service announcements

5:15 PMWhen it comes to professional basketball, Minnesota is officially the wokest state in America. On Wednesday, in conjunction with Secretary of State Steve Simon, the NBA’s Timberwolves launched a series of voter registration public service announcements designed to educate state residents ahead of the polls opening this fall. Of course, they don’t endorse any particular candidates, but they’re important nonetheless.

Featuring second-year star Karl-Anthony Towns, the first one is short and to the point. These ads are currently running on FOX Sports North in the state. As a friend put it to me, “Can you imagine a top 10 NBA player from a decade ago doing a sincere importance of voting PSA?”

My answer was simple: Absolutely not. Which is the most basic way to explain how far this league has come in terms of what social activism means to its players. Not everyone can get on an ESPYS stage and tell America that enough is enough. All players don’t necessarily feel empowered enough to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt during warmups.

For younger guys such as Jabari Parker of the Milwaukee Bucks, who’s written eloquently about his hometown of Chicago for The Players’ Tribune on a couple of occasions, the activism isn’t necessarily as bold or as brazen, but for the impressionable kids watching at home, it can be equally effective. The softer diplomacy of community involvement on a level larger than just giving food to the homeless or basketball clinics (which are important in their own right) can work, too. Setting an example for young people that civic involvement is a necessary part of change is as good a reason to use the spotlight of the league as any.

Mind you, this is also the franchise that on the WNBA side players wore T-shirts in protest of gun violence and the community where Philando Castile was killed in front of a 4-year-old while riding with his girlfriend in a car. For a state with a population that’s 75 percent white, their hoopsters are as progressive as it gets.

Daily Dose: 9/7/16

Bill Cosby gets a court date

10:45 AMAnother podcast under the belt. This week, we talked about the return of football, the South by South Lawn Festival and Miss Karin makes her second appearance. Have a listen.

We’ve finally got a date for Bill Cosby’s trial. June 2017 is when we’ll see the well-known comedian finally face his accusers in a court of law. If you watched any of the footage Tuesday, you know that he’s not doing particularly well, health-wise. But the critical question here comes in whether or not a judge will allow other women who’ve accused him of drugging and raping them on the witness stand. If so, this trial takes on a totally different identity. ABC News reports on the latest developments.

In Tuesday night’s debut episode of Atlanta on FX, the topic of transphobia, among many things. was addressed. If you didn’t see it, there’s a fascinating scene that unfolds in a jail, involving a man seeing an old flame of his from high school. In an added twist that introduces the elements of anti-gay prejudice often so closely intertwined with it, a guy says, when referring to homosexual relationships in prison, “That’s not gay, that’s jail.” Anyway, check out this VICE Sports story about being a girl in the boys’ locker room in high school sports.

Oprah Winfrey’s got a new show out, as well. Queen Sugar is a program on her OWN network that was created in conjunction with director Ava DuVernay. I missed it Tuesday night, but am looking forward to it. Now, in her personal life, there are apparently rumors that Winfrey is possibly going to see wedding bells? I feel like these rumors are as old as I am. She’s responded, once again, but I still have no idea why people care so much about whom the media mogul chooses to spend her life with. Although the Chappelle’s Show skit is still funny.

As a basketball player, Stephen Curry’s appeal is obvious. Great shooter, great dribbler, fun passer and reasonably sized human. Particularly for kids, he’s a lot easier to mimic if you’re a young athlete with little experience. Head to a youth league game sometime soon. Every kid is shooting like Curry. But that’s in this country. How does that everyman appeal translate, in say, China? How about even better than here. The Golden State Warriors guard has been there all week and ESPN’s Darren Rovell tagged along.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Rapper Drake is opening a strip club. Not just any one, though — one that only comes with the care, grace, respect and love that Drizzy could offer. Of course, it’ll be in Houston, but there’s something inherently funny about the Canadian rapper trying to launch a spot for sensitive thugs who want to contribute to college funds.

Snack Time: Details seem to be sparse right now, but Ferguson, Missouri, activist Darren Seals was found shot dead in a burning car on Tuesday in St. Louis County. It’s sad, it’s disturbing and a huge loss for the community.

Dessert: Rapper Anderson .Paak’s got a new live album out. It’s pretty dope.

Also, I’ll be joining SiriusXM FC (Channel 85) from 11 .am. to 2 p.m. for a special on soccer in the black community. Tune in.

All Day Podcast: 9/6/16

College football is back and the SXSL Festival is upon us

5:39 PMSummer might be over, but you know what that means? College football season has arrived, and the All Day Podcast crew is here to break down the best moments from Week 1.

Staff writer Justin Tinsley recaps perhaps the most exciting game of the weekend — a Texas upset of No. 10 Notre Dame — while podcast host Clinton Yates tackles the question of why Louisiana State struggles to produce a solid quarterback. With the NFL season starting this week, stay tuned for weekly chats about everything football.

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Also on the pod: A discussion surrounding an exciting upcoming event in the nation’s capital — the South by South Lawn Festival. Last week, it was announced that the White House will host this arts, film and music festival in October. In terms of music, the question is who will be taking their talents to the South Lawn stage. Senior style writer Jill Hudson has the perfect candidate to organize the musical lineup.

Our segment Missed Connections with Miss Karin is also back this week, in which Undefeated copy chief Karin Berry reads entries from the “Missed Connections” section of Craigslist.org and provides her own commentary. Keep a lookout for this segment on future podcasts.

Give it a listen, and if you have any feedback or show ideas, feel free to email us at allday@theundefeated.com.

Daily Dose: 9/6/16

Obama is still righting wrongs committed by the U.S. military

12:22 PMAlright, kiddos. Labor Day is done, football has started and all the first days of school are behind us. It’s time to kick things into overdrive.

You know what sucks about school? Homework. The existential dread that exists for all of us who’ve ever sat in a classroom is something that you learn to manage, but never really enjoy. No one likes homework. All across the country, people have been questioning whether or not sending kids home with more tasks is an effective learning tool, so one school in Massachusetts is doing the smartest thing ever. They’re banning homework. I have no words for how genius this is. ABC News’ Morgan Winsor reports.

The Vietnam War was an extremely destructive process. We don’t even need to get into the human capital that were killed, injured or otherwise affected from an American standpoint, while the physical damage to the lands was extensive. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama pledged $90 million to help fix that in Laos, where the United States once held a secret bombing campaign. There are still bombs littered across that nation’s countryside, which is a terrifying thought. The president calls it a moral obligation.

Your boy spent two days stuck in Florida because of Hurricane Hermine. Daytona Beach is not that exciting of a place, but I can tell you that I know a whole lot more about NASCAR than I did when I left. Let’s just say that I spent a lot of time watching old guys smoke 100s while drinking beer out of Styrofoam cups. But the storm itself was interesting. Garden variety stuff for those parts, but I’d never been around anything that might be considered a hurricane. FiveThirtyEight’s Eric Holthaus explains from a meteorological standpoint why this storm was different.

So, football’s back. If you didn’t catch any of this weekend’s action on the gridiron, I don’t know what you were doing, because it was excellent. LSU lost a game the Tigers definitely should have won, and Florida State showed the country that the Seminoles are for real. On top of that, Tennessee got a huge scare from Appalachian State, which has been known to knock people down a peg. But the most interesting story of the weekend is probably Oklahoma, which got throttled by Houston in a game that many expected to be close, but not like that. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops is in trouble, no doubt.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I love a good revenge story. Particularly when it’s between two lovers when one is wronged. But this story of a woman setting fire to the wrong vehicle in an attempt to get back at her boyfriend is absolutely hilarious.

Snack Time: Things are a tad hectic over at Fox News right now. Roger Ailes was ousted recently, Gretchen Carlson was awarded $20 million to settle a sexual harassment suit and Greta Van Susteren straight up walked out on Tuesday. Wow.

Dessert: Come for the story, stay for the picture of the back of my head.

The other side of the tracks in Whistler

has some art gems that aren’t easy to find

7:00 AM

Most people know about Whistler, British Columbia, from snowboarding. The town north of Vancouver, British Columbia, has hosted the Winter Olympics and is generally just considered a mecca for the sport. So tourism there is a huge deal. People come from miles away to not just board, but also hike and enjoy outdoor activities in the mountains. But there’s one spot that’s become a street art haven in a unique way.

It’s called the Whistler Train Wreck. An artificial accident created a site where old boxcars were overturned in a forest. Eventually, it got so popular that local tourism boards had to stop telling people to go there because the trails were too dangerous to guarantee safety. Anyways, the homeys over at Mass Appeal took a trip up there and brought their cans with them. Check it out.