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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.

The Drake-Kelly Oubre ‘beef’ proves just how good the rapper really is

Drizzy is firmly planting himself as a storyline in the NBA playoffs — and the Wizards star may just be a pawn

5:58 PMThe Toronto Raptors are up 2-0 in their first-round series against the Washington Wizards. And in those two games, Drake has finagled his way into the series’ storylines. Before Game 1, he engaged in Instagram comment warfare with John Wall. Exhibit A:

This led to the “God’s Plan” rapper taunting Wall from the sideline during Tuesday night’s Game 2. Exhibit B:

During the same game, Drake and third-year Wizards forward Kelly Oubre crossed paths as the cameras caught the former calling the latter “a bum.” Exhibit C:

Leave it to social media to recover an old Oubre tweet from 2011 in which he said the rapper had no swag — which was deleted almost immediately after Tuesday night’s game. Oubre downplayed the incident, saying the two were jawing back and forth all game. Exhibit D:

The trash talk compounds to a fascinating subplot in the playoffs that highlights courtside celebrities involving themselves in the game, most recently evidenced by Dwyane Wade and comedian Kevin Hart in Game 2 of the Philadelphia 76ers/Miami Heat series. But the dynamic isn’t new — the league’s greatest athlete-celebrity rivalry was basketball star Reggie Miller and film director Spike Lee. But let’s focus on Drake for a second. Whether you deem him a fair-weather fan or not, there’s no denying his love for the NBA. There’s also no denying everything he does is with a purpose. Drake is either rap’s savviest director, an evil marketing genius or a love child of the two. Look no further than last week’s Atlanta episode, appropriately titled Champagne Papi, which even served as part of the rollout for his newest anthem, “Nice For What” — which, this week, replaced his previous No. 1, “God’s Plan,” as the top song in the country. And on Monday, he announced the title of his highly anticipated new album, Scorpion, dropping in June. All the pieces matter.

His hometown Raptors are the top seed in the Eastern Conference. A potential second-round matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers looms on the horizon. And his album could very well drop dead-square in the middle of the NBA Finals. From Fortnite to hit TV shows, Drake has firmly entrenched himself in several culturally relevant conversations. The NBA playoffs are just his latest muse.

James Harden is the front-runner for NBA MVP, but not in jersey sales

The Houston Rockets superstar’s No. 13 only ranks ninth — and something isn’t adding up

4:52 PMThe annual drop of the NBA’s top-selling jerseys has arrived, and there’s an especially glaring takeaway. For some reason, Houston Rockets superstar James Harden — the most gifted offensive player on the planet, whose name is essentially Sharpied in as this season’s league MVP — ranks ninth in sales.

Ahead of him (in descending order) are Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo and a top three of Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

Harden’s mark at No. 9, which he also notched in 2016, ties the highest spot he’s ever reached in his career. And this year — despite leading the league through the regular season in points per game (30.4), while ranking third in assists per game (8.8), on the best team in the NBA — the jerseys of four players younger than him (Embiid, Porzingis, Irving and Antetokounmpo) are flying off the racks at a higher rate than his Rockets jersey.

But maybe folks in Houston just don’t like jerseys like that. J.J. Watt, the leader of the Texans and a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, ranked 16th in NFL jersey sales from March 1, 2017, to Nov. 30, 2017.

You gotta think the Beard isn’t trippin’ though. He has a $200 million contract with Adidas to go along with the four-year, $228 million extension he signed with the Rockets last summer. And by June, Harden will be named league MVP. Maybe that’ll give more fans a reason to put his No. 13 on their backs.