Saturday, January 22

In ‘Raise a Fist, Take a Knee’, John Feinstein tells a story about racing and sports that many prefer not to be told


In the 1968 Football League season, which began five months after Martin Luther King was assassinated on a Memphis hotel balcony and a month before sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their silent and powerful voices at the Olympic medal table in Mexico City, Unknown player from the even lesser-known soccer program in Nebraska-Omaha, played 11 games as a quarterback for the Denver Broncos, threw 14 touchdown passes and was runner-up in voting for the AFL rookie of the year.

Marlin Briscoe never played quarterback in professional soccer again, although his career lasted until 1976, he won two Super Bowl rings with the Miami Dolphins and was named to the Pro Bowl once. In his new book “Raise a Fist, Take a Knee,” published Tuesday, author John Feinstein explains that Briscoe discovered he was no longer a quarterback by showing up at team headquarters before his second season upon learning that the Coach Lou Saban scheduled a quarterback camp in advance of training camp and did not invite Briscoe.

Briscoe arrived and found Saban “in a meeting.” When it was over, Saban left along with the team’s quarterback coach, two quarterbacks who had been on the roster the previous season, and two others just added.

“No one would look me in the eye,” Briscoe told Feinstein. “In those days, there really wasn’t much that could be done once a coach made a decision… So I had nothing to do except ask for my release and look for work. I really thought, given what I had done the year before, someone would give me a chance. “
They did, just at wide receiver. He threw just nine more passes in his career.

The issue of racial bias in American sports obviously didn’t end with Jackie Robinson breaking the Major League Baseball color line in 1947 or with Duquesne’s Chuck Cooper becoming the first black player drafted by the NBA in 1950 or Perry Wallace becoming the first black college basketball player at the Southeastern Conference at Vanderbilt in 1967 or even Kevin Warren became the first black commissioner of a Power 5 college athletics conference when he took over the Big Ten in 2020.

There are those who wish this conversation would disappear, even if it persists as an important topic in the world of sport. Although Feinstein has produced several bestsellers among the 44 books he has written, he told Sporting News that five publishers rejected the idea, one without even bothering to look at a proposal.

So “Raise your fist, get on your knees” may not be the most popular book Feinstein has written. It is the most important.

It’s such a big problem that it spans such an important period in our sporting history that it could have filled the pages of an AZ encyclopedia set. Taking on such a project would be overwhelming even without the political troubles that surrounded it, which reached a crescendo with the assassination of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, a tragedy that runs through the pages of Feinstein’s book.

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“A lot of the people I really thought I needed to talk to were people I didn’t know,” Feinstein said. “Usually when I start with a book, it is usually, at least in part, because I know some of the people involved. And obviously I knew John Thompson, among others, but the difficult thing was making a list of people that I wanted to talk to and realizing that I couldn’t talk to all of them. I couldn’t write a full story … So my first thought was that I was going to write about how racially polarized the country was, but then, while doing my reporting, I realized that it was like saying that tomorrow was Tuesday. We all know it, right?

“So my goal shifted to trying to understand what it was like to be a black person in 2021, and even celebrities, even athletes, even coaches have to deal with that.”

Feinstein writes that his first real encounter with the issue of race in sports came in October 1975, when he was studying at Duke and writing part-time articles for the local newspaper, the Durham Herald-Sun. Feinstein was assigned to cover a Duke game against Army, and rookie quarterback Mike Dunn entered the game as a substitute and led a great touchdown series that helped secure a victory. Both Feinstein articles focused on Dunn. However, to his surprise upon reading the articles, the editors inserted that Dunn was a “first-year black quarterback” rather than simply a “first-year quarterback” as Feinstein had written. When Feinstein told this story to Doug Williams, the first black man to win a Super Bowl as a starting quarterback, Williams responded, “Wow, are you naive? Back then, a black quarterback was a big problem anywhere, anytime. “

Researching the book, Feinstein spoke extensively with Thompson, the first of his career to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship as head coach, prior to Thompson’s death in August 2020. Feinstein interviewed such transformative figures as James Harris, the first black starter at quarterback. in the NFL, Tony Dungy, the first black coach to win a Super Bowl and Ozzie Newsome, the first black general manager in the NFL, who is a Hall of Fame tight end and won two Super Bowls as a member of the front office of the Ravens. .

“When I was in the eighth grade in 1970, I went to Pop Warner soccer tryouts,” Newsome told Feinstein. “In testing, we were told to go into whatever position group we wanted to test for… I started running towards the quarterbacks, that was my position. Everyone who was there was white. I stopped and thought, ‘There’s no way they’ll let me play quarterback.’ He knew that Marlin Briscoe had played the Broncos’ job in the AFL a couple of years earlier. He also knew that he had played well and that he had been made a wide receiver next season. I went to where the wide receivers were. “

Feinstein acknowledges in the book that he felt like a curious candidate to write it, but was encouraged by African-American acquaintances, friends, and colleagues. Thompson told Feinstein that he “must” do the book. Kevin Blackistone, who has worked for the Dallas Morning News, the Washington Post, ESPN and as a professor at the University of Maryland, explained why it would work for Feinstein to write it.

“If I write this book, a lot of people will dismiss him as a black man trying to create racial problems that don’t exist,” Blackistone said. “Some people are going to accuse you of being a target doing the same thing. But it will be different. “

It is not a criticism of Feinstein’s book that some of the anecdotes begin to seem a bit repetitive. It’s more of a sad reflection of how even the most successful and prominent African American men can be pushed into the same circumstances, over and over again, just by changing the details.

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Almost every major figure Feinstein interviewed was able to share their own story about how often they have been pulled over by DWB: “driving black.”

That is, until it features Olympic gold medalist swimmer Cullen Jones, who was questioned by a police officer for walking his elegant dog near the posh neighborhood where he lived.

“It’s all up to me, as I’m driving here on I-95, if I’m stopped by a cop, I’m going to get mad, I’m going to get mad because I could get a ticket. But I’m not going to be afraid of dying, ”Feinstein said. “And for most blacks, if they are stopped, especially at night, especially if they are male, especially if they drive a good car, there is a fear that goes far beyond the idea that they are going to get a ticket.

“Everyone I spoke to, everyone, had at least one story about DWB.”

The title of the book refers in part to the Carlos / Smith protests of 1968, when the two men raised their fists in the “Black Power” salute to protest the treatment of African Americans in a period in our history not long after. of Alabama Governor George Wallace publicly proclaimed: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Smith and Carlos were initially expelled from the Olympics; there is now a statue honoring his statement on the San Jose state campus, where the two men attended college.

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Does that mean that all the problems that existed then have been solved? Obviously not. The second part of the title refers to the protest of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem before the 2016 NFL season games. He initially chose to sit on the bench during the anthem before an exhibition game, then was encouraged to kneel by a former Marine, Nate Boyer, who he thought would be “more respectful.”

The following fall, Kaepernick was out of the league and, as it turned out, never got another NFL job. President Donald Trump declared during a “rally” speech in Alabama that teams should fire any “son of a bitch” who continued to kneel to hear the anthem.

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“I was working on a quarterback book in 2017, so I was at an NFL stadium every Sunday,” Feinstein told SN. “Blacks would kneel, whites would boo. Whites would complain that they were ruining their enjoyment of soccer. No one interfered with the game in any way, and the game started on time.

“In Baltimore, the week after Trump’s spiel, the players, all the players, knelt before the anthem and then stood up during the anthem. And they still booed them.

“On the one hand, we can see all kinds of tangible ways that we’ve progressed, but still in 2018 Lamar Jackson was told that he was a wide receiver.”

At least someone believed in Jackson, winner of the Heisman Trophy in Louisville. It turned out to be Newsome, one of the few black executives to have risen to such prominent roles at NFL headquarters.

“There is still a long way to go,” Feinstein said. “I hope, it will be after we leave, that people will eventually look back at the way people now view slavery.”




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