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Dallas Cowboys players coaches and owner protesting on September 24

After building for over a year, the National Football League in America is being swept up in a wave of peaceful protests, as players, coaches, and in some cases, owners, are finding ways to silently protest what they believe to be an insensitivity to the issues of race, sparked by comments made in September by the President of the United States.

Referring to an athlete who gets on one knee during the playing of the American national anthem, the President said that such an athlete “disrespects our flag,” and is a “a son of a bitch” who should be fired.

When asked on September 25 at a press conference if the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) would support similar protests in at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, USOC CEO, Scott Blackmun, answered in a way that symbolizes the challenge of protesting at the Olympics.

I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t. We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.

Scott Blackmun

Blackmun’s words are sympathetic regarding an athlete’s right to express views that are deeply personal and important to them. But he does say that the Olympics prohibits “all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise.” In other words, we respect your right to protest peacefully. But you need to respect the IOC or a National Olympic committee’s right to kick you out if you do so.

In 1968, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who famously stood with gloved hands raised in fists on the medal podium after their gold and bronze medal victories in the 200 meter finals, were consequently forced to leave the Olympic venue.

In 1972, Americans Vincent Matthews and Wayne Collett, protested in their own way by standing nonchalantly on the medal stand while the American anthem was playing. Their perceived disrespect resulted in their suspension from further participation at the Munich Olympics, and subsequently in the US team failing to field a 4×400 relay team, an event they were favored in.

Collett explained in 1992 his actions in 1972 in a way that likely reflects the feelings of many athletes who are linking arms, removing themselves from the field or kneeling during the playing of the American national anthem:

I love America. I just don’t think it’s lived up to its promise. I’m not anti-American at all. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in America at the time.

Indianapolis Colts protesting
Indianapolis Colts protesting on September 24
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Bob Hayes_Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service
Bob Hayes, from the book Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service

He was born on Third Street on the east side of Jacksonville, Florida. People called it Hell’s Hole.

The youngest of four, Bob Hayes remembers growing up chopping firewood to keep the house warm, his mother working as a maid to keep the children fed and clothed, and a father that made little effort to recognize his son.

In his, at times, brutally honest autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, Hayes writes of his father George Sanders, who had an affair with Mary Hayes, while her husband, Joseph Hayes, was fighting in World War II in the US Navy. When Joseph returned, he accepted the situation. But when Sanders, who also went off to fight in World War II, came back, he rarely recognized Bob Hayes as his son. When Sanders was asked if Bob was his son, he would reply, “That’s what his mother says.”

And yet, his father needed his son. Sanders ran a shoe shine parlor in Hell Hole, but that was not his main source of revenue. In fact, as Hayes explained in his book, the shoe shine shop was a front for a numbers racket, and a lucrative one at that. Bob was helping out by manning the shoeshine parlor in the afternoons.

When Bob Hayes was in high school, the football coaches all thought Hayes was a potential talent and wanted the young man to be groomed into a star. But Sanders refused, putting his business ahead of Hayes’ potential. In the end, the assistant football coach, Earl Kitchings, and Jimmy Thompson, the head coach of the football team, visited Sanders to plead their case. When told no, a prominent alumni in Hayes’ high school, Josh Baker, stepped in and said he would fill in at the store while Hayes attended afternoon practice. At that stage, Sanders relented, and Hayes started practicing with the high school football team. Baker went to work…but for only two days. By then, Sanders couldn’t be bothered, and Hayes began a hall of fame football career.

And yet, Hayes yearned for his father’s support. And in his first year as a football player in high school, Hayes did not get that many touches, carrying the ball only 9 times as the team’s backup halfback. But there was that one play, when he took the hand off in his own end zone and scrambled for a 99-yard touchdown. “That’s when my father finally claimed me as his son.”

As Hayes grew up, one could say, like father, like son.

His first sexual experience, at the age of twelve, as he describes in his autobiography, was with his father’s girlfriend, a woman named Edith who was fifteen years older. At the age of sixteen, Hayes got a girlfriend pregnant, who had an abortion as they both felt they were not ready to take that next step as a parent.

During and after his days as an NFL star, Hayes would provide Quaaludes to women in order to have his way. “You give a female a lude, and all she knows how to say to you is yes.”

By the time he got to college, Hayes had two daughters, whom he did not raise. In fact, he was surprised one time after his football career had ended to have a woman in her early twenties come up to him and say, “You’re my dad.”

Hayes wasn’t a great father, which he readily admitted. When he and his then wife, Janice, had his first legitimate son, Bob Jr., he flew to Jacksonville to see his father George Sanders. Sanders had been in poor health since returning from the War in the Pacific. But a few hours before Hayes made it to Jacksonville, his father passed away.

Hayes won two gold medals and a super bowl championship, one of only two people to do that. He had the right coaches at the right time which helped him develop into a tremendous athlete. And yet, he never had the right coach in the game of relationships.

Super Bowl XLI was memorable for its football. It was the first time ever two African American coaches faced off against one another. The game started with a touchdown on its first play, a kick-off return TD. Peyton Manning was named MVP. And the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17.

But today, what many will recall lovingly from that Super Bowl on February 4, 2007, was the electrifying performance by the artist, Prince. As New York Times writer, Kelefa Sanneh, wrote of the 12-minute performance, “His performance last night at Super Bowl XLI will surely go down as one of the most thrilling halftime shows ever; certainly the most unpredictable, and perhaps the best.”

Watch this short documentary produced by the NFL on Prince’s performance and the concerns leading up to it. There had never been a Super Bowl in the rain. Rain is fine for the football players, but it was a worry for the producers of the half-time show. As one said, “We were told ‘It’s never rained in a super bowl in 40 years. Don’t worry about it.’ We were in a booth at the top of the stadium. The rain is pouring into the booth. It was so windy and rainy we couldn’t even see.”Prince performing in the rain at Super Bowl XLI

 

Another person on the production team said this. “I was must panicked. Prince was using four separate live electric guitars. The stage was made of a very slick tile, which when it got wet, was even more slippery. He had two beautiful dancers with him – The Twinz. They were wearing, I think eight-inch heels. And I was thinking, ‘what’s going to happen now?”

But apparently, the unexpected rain storm did not faze Prince. As the production designer of the half-time show recalled in a conversation that was had with Prince before the show, “‘I want you to know it’s raining.’ And Prince said, ‘Yes, it’s raining.’ ‘And are you OK?’ And Prince is like, ‘Can you make it rain harder?’ And I was like, ‘right on!'”

Sanneh thought that “the heavy rain made the smoke and lights seem mysterious, instead of merely ridiculous.” Alan Light, who wrote a biography of Prince called “Let’s Go Crazy” said in the documentary, “It felt spontaneous. He turned the weather to his dramatic advantage. It was almost like a special effect. He could totally lean in to that, and make it seem like, ‘Sure it’s raining. I would have wanted it to rain.’ Like, ‘I ordered that.'”

John Pareles, the Senior Music Critic of the NY Times, marveled at Prince’s song choice and performance in the documentary. “Prince’s set is so wild. He does other people’s songs. He’s not promoting himself. He’s just making music. It’s profound. It’s loud. It’s funky. It’s one performer, shaking the entire world.”

Prince’s final song of the set was his anthem, Purple Rain, one of my favorite songs. As one of the producers of the half-time show said in the NFL documentary, “When he did do Purple Rain, things worked magically, and there’s nothing you can say except ‘thank you’.”

Prince performing in the rain at Super Bowl XLI_2

rings and nflSunday, February 7 is Super Bowl Sunday – half of America will be watching the Carolina Panthers battle the Denver Broncos for supremacy at the 50th iteration of this quintessential American experience, while the other half will enjoy comfortable seating at movie theaters, as well as restaurants not showing the game.

As you are aware, American football, the version with the oval, rugby-like ball, is not an Olympic sport. So unlike basketball, or soccer or tennis or ice hockey, there are not so many Olympians who have played in the NFL, let alone win a Super Bowl.

Irvin Bo Roberson was the silver medalist at the 1960 Rome Games in the long jump, and had a distinguished career as a wide receiver for several NFL teams. In fact, he is the only person to be an Olympic medalist, an NFL player, an Ivy Leaguer and a PhD, but he never went to the Super Bowl.jim thorpe card

The legendary Jim Thorpe, who was essentially brilliant at any sport he played, was the gold medalist for the pentathlon and the decathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, and was actually the first president of the American Professional Football Association in 1922, so of course, never went to the Super Bowl.

In fact, there are only two people in the world who were Olympians, and who played in a Super Bowl.

Willie James Gault was on the US track and field team as a sprinter in 1980. Unfortunately, that was the year the US boycotted the Moscow Summer Games. Gault would go on to become a star wide receiver for the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Raiders, and was on the Bears team that won Super Bowl XX in 1986.

willie gault bears

Bullet Bob Hayes won two gold medals in the 100 meter and 4×100 relay at the 1964 Tokyo Games, and had a hall of fame career as a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. In 1972, he became the first Olympian to win a Super Bowl, contributing with a 16-yard run and two catches for 23 yards in Super Bowl VI against the Miami Dolphons.

Michael D’Andrea Carter took the silver medal in the shot put at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. He was then drafted by the San Francisco 49ers where he played one of the more violent positions on the field, nose tackle, better than anyone else in the game. And he played on a 49ers team that won the Super Bowl three times, in 1985, 1989 and 1990. Carter is only the second person to have won an Olympic medal and a Super Bowl ring ever, let alone in the same year.

michael carter card