Black [Her]story Sports Icon: Edith McGuire

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Edith McGuire

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While Black America in the 1960s was filled with marches, Freedom bus rides, protests and more of the Civil Rights Movement, there was another form of footwork being done in the realm of track and field.  Edith McGuire sprinted into history by becoming a triple Olympic Champion at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Edith was the youngest of four children and began her track and field days in elementary school.  Having participated in cheerleading, basketball and track in high school, McGuire chose to attend the Tennessee State University (TSU), a historically Black institution, on a track scholarship in the fall of 1961.

As a member of the stellar TSU “Tigerbelles” sprinting team, McGuire excelled in sprinting and long jumping.  She was selected to represent Team USA at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, bringing home one gold, and two silver medals.  She won gold in the 200m race, setting a world record of 23.0 seconds at the time, and silver in the 100m and 4x100m relay.

In addition to her Olympic achievements, McGuire won six Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championships and is the only American woman to hold three titles at different times.  She also competed in the Pan American Games in 1963 in São Paulo, winning Gold in 100m and Silver in the long jump.

Upon graduating from TSU, McGuire went on to teach in elementary education for nearly a decade.  She later married Charles Duvall, and together they have opened a few fast-food restaurants in Oakland, California.

Since hanging up the spikes, McGuire has been inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, Track and Field Hall of Fame, and Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

For her strides of success in track and field, her story is iconic in Black sports history.

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Black History Sports Icon: Shani Davis

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While many enjoy skating outside on a warm and sunny day, Olympic Gold Medalist Shani Davis would prefer gliding on the ice.  Becoming the first African American to win a gold medal in an individual sport, Davis should rightfully be dubbed “King of the Ice Rink.”

One of Chicago’s finest, Davis first began roller-skating at the tender age of two.  Having grown bored with the roller blades, he soon ventured into speed skating and joined the Evanston Speed Skating Club by age six.  Within two years, Davis began winning regional age-group competitions.  But growing up in the city’s south side area, there were not many speed skating rinks nearby.  Rather than dealing with the hassle of long distance, Davis’ mother moved the two of them to the north side, closer to the skating club.

With nearly three decades of speed skating experience, Davis has many titles on his résumé.  To list a few, he is a five-time National Age Group Champion (1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003), Two-time World Allround Champion (2005, 2006), and all-time leader in World Cup points.  Some of top his Olympic achievements include Gold and Silver Medals at the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games.  It was at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy that Davis cemented his name in history as one of the “Firsts.”

In acknowledgement of his speed skating success, Davis has been enshrined in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  He is one of many greats to be featured in a life-size statue.

For Davis’ swiftness on ice, his story is iconic in Black sports history.

Black [Her]story Sports Icon: Donna Marie Cheek

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As a lover of horses since her childhood years, Donna Marie Cheek broke barriers when she became the first African American member of the United States Equestrian team in 1981.  Specializing in show jumping as a hunter/jumper, Cheek has had many years in the business in different capacities.

At the age of seven, Cheek began taking English-style riding lessons once her parents realized she was serious about horse-riding.  By the age of 11, she was competing at high levels across California, Arizona, and Nevada.  She soon became a standout, not only because of her talent but also because of her race.  She was a minority taking prominence in a White-majority sport.

Despite being recognized by many celebrities, featured in magazines like Ebony and Jet, and starring in the 1984 NBC special feature One More Hurdle: The Donna Cheek Story, Cheek never made it to the Olympics, which was one of her biggest aspirations.  She trained to compete in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  However, she struggled financially to sustain herself and thus was unable to compete at top tier levels.

Cheek went on to become an equine trainer and do stints in public broadcasting.  Her love for animals never wavered as evident by her formerly owning a horse consignment and training center in Paso Robles, California.  She was also inducted into the Women Sports Hall of Fame.

For Cheek’s talent and contributions to equestrian, her story is iconic in Black sports history.

The Falcons are Flying to Fifty-One!

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The Atlanta Falcons are going to the Super Bowl.  I repeat, the Atlanta Falcons are going to the Super Bowl.  Wow, it still feels surreal to write those words.  As an Atlanta native and die-hard fan, it brings me tremendous joy and excitement to know that my boys did it!  We shredded the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship Title Game, closing the doors to the Georgia Dome the right way.  And how ironic that we’re going to Super Bowl LI and it’s our franchise’s 51st season.

This past October, I wrote about how it was time for the rest of the world to “Rise Up and Respect Us” because nobody was giving us the proper credit we deserved—and some people still aren’t today.  And I’ll be honest, at that time I wasn’t thinking we’d be Super Bowl contenders.  I was just taking the season one game at a time without getting my hopes up.  But I must say, each week since, they have continuously impressed me.

Now to the nitty-gritty…

Let me start by praising my MVP-performing QB Matt Ryan.  During the 2016 regular season, Matty Ice passed for 4,944 yards, averaging 309 yards per game.  In the NFC title game, Ryan passed for 392 yards, 4 passing TDs, and 1 rushing TD—one of the best offensive plays of the game, especially his celebratory spike after getting into the end zone!  Did I mention he had zero sacks and zero interceptions?  Ryan clearly showed that he has become comfortable with rolling outside the pocket, turning his back to the defense to run a play-action, and overall more knowledgeable of OC Kyle Shanahan’s system.  Essentially, Ryan is developing into a true athlete.

Credit must also be given to our offensive line for protecting Ryan.  It helps that LT Jake Matthews, LG Andy Levitre, C Alex Mack, RG Chris Chester, and RT Ryan Schraeder have been the same five starters all season, making for a great lineup.  Thanks, guys!

Then there’s this former sixth overall draft pick, standing 6-foot-3-inches tall, weighing 220 pounds, named Julio Jones who caught for 180 yards, making it to the end zone twice, all while playing through a lingering toe injury.  The reality is, Jones is unstoppable.  Period.  And what’s even more admirable is his discipline and humility.  He always performs at an optimal level, he doesn’t let the outside noise get to him, and he’s a team player and not a ball hog.

Oh, and in case you weren’t watching, we had a 24-0 lead going into halftime.

Shifting gears, our young defense is continuing to improve.  The pivotal defensive play in yesterday’s game was CB Jalen Collins stripping and recovering the ball from Packers FB Aaron Ripkowski in the end zone for a touchback.  This allowed us to gain even more momentum.  Another big defensive play included S Ricardo Allen intercepting the strong-armed Aaron Rodgers, and DT Ra’Shede Hageman and DE Tyson Jackson sacking Rodgers.

As you can tell by the numbers, the Falcons have earned the right to play in Super Bowl LI.  And for us faithful Falcons fans and city natives, this accomplishment is heartwarming.  To be on the verge of bringing home the city’s second-ever professional championship title revitalizes a sense of pride and respect.  It is my hope that #InBrotherhood, the team will finish the deal on February 5th at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX.

#RiseUp

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The Battle of the NFC South: Who Will Reign Supreme?

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It’s the end of Week 14.  Playoff hopes are high.  Division titles are on the line.  And for the NFC South,the battle for the “Kings of the South” crown is going to come down to the wire for the Atlanta Falcons (8-5) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5).

Despite being a die-hard Falcons fan, I believe the gridiron evidence speaks for itself that my boys have a greater chance at winning the division title.  Allow me to indulge…

The Falcons lead the NFL in points scored this season, averaging 32.9 per game.  Franchise quarterback Matt Ryan has 4,050 yards, 30 touchdowns, and has a 113.2 passer rating.  It is equally important to highlight the depth of offensive talent for the Falcons because over 10 different players have gotten into the end zone thus far.  Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both have nine total touchdowns, receiver Taylor Gabriel has six, Julio Jones has caught five, and Mohamed Sanu with three.

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Forget Who’s Got Next, ESPN’s Michael Smith and Jemele Hill Got Now!

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In the words of the late-great Godfather of Soul James Brown, “Say it loud: I’m Black and I’m proud!”  This phrase comes to mind anytime I watch ESPN’s His & Hers with co-hosts Michael Smith and Jemele Hill.  They are unapologetically Black, embracing and incorporating Black culture into their everyday work life for the entire world to see—diversity and inclusion at its finest!

In the wake of an unfathomable time for America’s political climate, sports serves as a great outlet for people of varying backgrounds to unite.  But particularly for the Black community, the opportunity to view a sports talk show hosted by two people of color on the world’s premier sports network has a multi-layered impact.  Allow me to break it down, because it’s deeper than just sports.

Keep reading here…

Dear World: Rise Up and Respect Us!

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Cue the 2014 Atlanta Falcons Rise Up video featuring the one and only Samuel L. Jackson.  That’s right, say it with me, “What do Falcons do??  Falcons RISE UP!”  And it’s about time the rest of America’s football fans do the same by giving the Falcons the respect and credit they deserve!

It’s the end of Week 5 and my Atlanta Falcons are 4-1.  We lead the NFC South Division 2-1.  We just beat the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos 23-16 on their home field–huge statement game.   Last week we dominated the Carolina Panthers 48-33, who were last year’s NFC Champions.  And in Weeks 2 and 3, we handled business on the road against the Oakland Raiders 35-28 and New Orleans Saints 45-32, respectively.  We quickly regrouped after a Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-24.

Nevertheless, the 2016 Falcons have been effective in all aspects of the game, and I am loving it!  I have not seen us dominate the field like this in a long time!

Offensively, quarterback Matt Ryan’s leadership and athleticism has been immaculate.  He’s been more mobile in-and-out of the pocket, audible at the line of scrimmage, thrown for deeper passes, and overall exudes more confidence in his play.  Ryan has an array of talent to deliver the ball to, as evident in his 1,740 yards thus far.  While defenses have been focused on double and triple coverage of our explosive wide receiver Julio Jones, Ryan has tossed a lot to running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, with blocks from fullback Patrick DiMarco, plus taking advantage of tight ends Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper.  The off-season acquisition of receiver Mohamed Sanu has been a great addition, too.  But Jones still leads the pack in receiving yards this season with 517; he had a 300-yard game against the Panthers and set a franchise single-game receiving record.  Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has made efficient play calls and I look forward to us keeping it up.

On the defensive side, the rookie talent in linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal, combined with skillful linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. and safety Kemal Ishmael, is working pretty well for us.  Beasley, or should I say BEASTly, stripped Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch twice and recorded 3.5 sacks.  The veteran leadership of defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and defensive end Dwight Freeney gives the younger guys people to learn from.  Though we don’t have outstanding statistics, we are continuing to improve week-by-week which has to please our defense-minded head coach Dan Quinn.

So as we enter Week 6, it is time that my boys receive the proper acknowledgement they have rightfully deserved by “experts” in the industry.  If and when the Falcons are mentioned, it should not be followed by statements of doubt, or expressions suggesting the winning streak will not last long, or excuses in favor of our opponents.  This die-hard Falcons fan doesn’t want to hear another negative notion about my boys!

In Week 6, we’re on the road again as we take on the Seattle Seahawks (3-1).  This is sure to be a great matchup, and I will definitely be tuned in!

#RiseUp

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