Month: June 2020

A Nation Heading Toward Change

In 1968, the United States was in the middle of a racial crisis during one of the most tumultuous years in American history. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, leading to nationwide protests, rioting and millions of dollars in damage. Over 100 cities, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Baltimore and Kansas City, were up in flames. There were over 40 deaths, 3,000 injuries and upwards of 20,000 Americans arrested. “In 1968, our country was at a rift. Blacks weren’t liking whites and whites weren’t liking blacks,” Loretta Claiborne said, opening her story of racial injustice. “I would always ask my mom, “why are you so worried?”

Claiborne was born on August 14, 1953, in York, Pennsylvania. Born partially blind, with an intellectual disability and clubbed feet, she was unable to walk until she was four years old and didn’t talk until she was five. Doctors tried to encourage her mother, Rita, to institutionalize her, but she refused and chose to raise Loretta at home with her seven other children as a single mother.

Rita was born in 1931 and lived during a time when the country was greatly segregated. Blacks and whites were forced to use separate bathrooms. Every Black person in America had reasons to be worried, but she had more reason to be concerned. Not only did she have to fight for inclusion because of her skin color, but she also had to fight for inclusion based on her daughter’s abilities.

“She kept me home,” Claiborne said. “We lived in the housing projects, and she made me go out and play with everybody. I had to fight my own battles. It was tough.”

Having to fight her way through life with no shortcuts was just the lesson that allowed Claiborne to embrace the vision Eunice Kennedy Shriver set in stone in 1968. 

Caption: Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver (left) with Loretta Claiborne at 1995 Special Olympics World Games held in New Haven, CT.

Inspired by her older sister Rosemary, who also had intellectual disabilities, Kennedy Shriver held the first Special Olympics competition in Chicago, Illinois on July 20, 1968. Today, Special Olympics is one of the most recognizable and respected charitable organizations in the world. But without Kennedy Shriver including Rosemary in activities and pressuring her brother, President John F. Kennedy, to include intellectual disabilities in his policy platforms, Special Olympics may have never been established.

It was also a remarkable time to have come up with the idea of Special Olympics. 

“I was shocked when I first found out that it started in 1968. I mean, months earlier Chicago was on fire,” Claiborne said. “People weren’t liking each other. Not only was it a revolution for Blacks and Whites, but it was also a new revolution that was started by one woman.”

When Claiborne was 17, a school counselor suggested she participate in the newly-formed Special Olympics. She did, and in 1970, she won her first medal as a runner. Claiborne has competed in six Special Olympics World Games, winning a combined ten medals over a span of 22 years. Still today, she competes in a variety of sports throughout many disciplines. She has completed 26 marathons, finishing twice in the top 100 women in the Boston Marathon. She holds the world record for Special Olympics in the 5,000-meter run, with a time of 17 minutes. She has also earned a black belt in karate.

Caption: Loretta Claiborne at the 1991 Special Olympics World Games held in Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota.

Claiborne always wanted to be seen as an athlete, not an athlete with an intellectual disability. All athletes struggle; all have good and bad days. But, they are still referred to as an athlete. “When I see Dominique Dawes or Simone Biles, you’ll say that’s Simone Biles, the athlete; you know what she does,” Claiborne said. “So why couldn’t it be that way for Loretta Claiborne, ‘the lady who plays tennis’ or ‘the athlete’?”

For many with intellectual disabilities, this is the type of treatment they experience. They are judged based on disability, not ability. They are pushed to the back or silenced. The same could be said about people of color. They are judged based on the color of their skin, and have historically been pushed to the back or silenced all together. Exclusion is not new for either group, and in some areas of the world, things are just as bad as they were 50 years ago. 

Our nation is hungry for change and desperate for inclusion. The events that have taken place over the last month stem from people letting out decades of anger and frustration. The circumstances that led to the death of George Floyd could have been avoided. 

Fifty-two years after the volatile events of 1968, we cannot let history repeat itself. We need to learn from what happened in 1968 and ensure change happens through peaceful means. Protests over the death of Floyd continue throughout the country in all 50 states and hundreds of cities. Since Floyd’s death on May 26, many people in many communities have taken a step toward ending racism and social injustice. Not just for Black men and women, but for everyone, so that in the future, events like what happened in Minneapolis don’t happen again. A successful way history can repeat itself is finding ways to channel negative energy into something positive, just like what Kennedy Shriver did in 1968.

“Eunice Kennedy Shriver fought for equal rights for people with intellectual disability; people think that Martin Luther King only fought for Black people,” Claiborne said. “He fought for people in general to have the same equal rights. The main thing was for him to fight for Black people, but he also fought for those who were poor and treated in the second class.”

The message is clear. It goes beyond just sports; Special Olympics has provided a beacon of hope to nations for change. In 2019, Special Olympics World Games were held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai – the first event of its kind in the Middle East. It was the largest humanitarian and multisport event in 2019, spreading the message of inclusion through sport to an area of the world many may not think of as the most inclusive.

During those Games, the Middle East saw its first female Special Olympics referee; it’s first Emirati figure skater to compete internationally and of the 7,500 athletes who competed, about 40 percent were female. In a part of the world where there are still strict limits on females, they created the first steps of change.

A few weeks ago, in Richmond, Virginia, protesters called for the removal of a statue of Confederate Army commander Robert E. Lee as an act of resistance against police brutality and racism, including “Black Lives Matter” and “Blood On Your Hands” in mostly red spray paint.

The killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others have led to actions like this around the country and the world. In the sports world, individuals, teams and organizations are calling for and implementing change. NFL players posted a video asking the League to defend black rights and support freedom of protest. The University of Missouri athletes led a march to the Boone County Courthouse in Columbia, Missouri, taking a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of Floyd. US Soccer repealed a rule that banned kneeling during the National Anthem, to allow for freedom of expression. The University of Alabama, which does not have the best history, has begun taking down monuments and plaques, symbolizing the Confederate Army and its intensive slave history. NASCAR has also banned Confederate Flags at their events. And though many of these places are still generations away from real change, it is a step in the right direction. That’s what America needs. 

Caption: Loretta Claiborne poses with a few of her many Special Olympics medals. Photo by: Yachin Parham

Special Olympics athletes are doing the same. Claiborne was the first to give an official statement from Special Olympics on the events in the past month. Following her lead, statements have been made by other athletes, U.S. Youth ambassadors, and a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger from Pakistan. Special Olympics Indiana held a Zoom call for athlete leaders around the state to discuss what’s happening around the country openly. Special Olympics Northern California did something similar and invited Claiborne to join. The step these Programs made by openly talking about the racial divide in our country sends a message about what everyone needs to be doing. For change to happen, it is necessary to have uncomfortable conversations.

Claiborne has led the charge for inclusion her entire life and will continue to fight for equal rights for all. Her fellow Special Olympics athletes have followed and are setting an example of what change looks like. Now, she calls upon all of us to join her.  

“Go out there and do more, positively and peacefully,” Claiborne says to move forward. “Don’t tell me what you can’t do, show me what you can.”

Stop blaming Bubba Wallace

Stop blaming Bubba Wallace.

He is not at fault.

He didn’t ask for the attention. He had nothing to do with the events that happened at Talladega Superspeedway over the last 72 hours. It was his team and NASCAR that ran with the story. He never saw the alleged noose.

Wallace handled everything with class and dignity. In the next several days and perhaps beyond, he will receive uncalled for hate and blame.

But he’s the only person who isn’t at fault.

Late Sunday night, seven hours after the GEICO 500 was postponed due to inclement weather NASCAR released the following statement:

“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming for all.”

A noose.

NASCAR released the statement and then jumped on a call with reporters. Later that night, the news broke on Scott Van Pelt’s late-night SportsCenter episode.

Wallace is not to blame.

Initially, the Talladega Sheriff’s office investigated, but the case was eventually passed over to the FBI. After investigating, it was announced that there was no hate crime. The noose was a rope used to manually pull open an overhead garage door, tied as a small noose and had been there since Oct. 2019.

But why was it tied in a noose, to begin with? How can members of Wallace’s crew and members of NASCAR and the racetrack get so easily confused? Was it just a misunderstanding, or is there more to the story than what we are told?

NASCAR acted quickly. They stood with Wallace. But, they moved too fast, not correctly investigating before making the news public that Wallace was the victim of a hate crime.

It’s not Bubba’s fault.

He didn’t report the noose. He had no knowledge of it. With the events that have taken place in America over the last several months, Wallace believed it. He has every right to as NASCAR’s only black driver.

Wallace was the driving voice behind NASCAR’s decision to ban the confederate flag from the sport. He wore a shirt featuring the words “I can’t breathe” and had “Black Lives Matter” painted on his car.

And yet Sunday afternoon, someone flew the Confederate flag with the words “DEFUND NASCAR” on a plane over the racetrack.

“I’m pissed. I’m mad because people are trying to test my character, the person I am and my integrity. They’re not stealing that away from me, but they’re trying to test that,” Wallace told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday night. “As a person, Don, that doesn’t need the fame, doesn’t need the hype, doesn’t need the media, I could care less.

“… None of the allegations of it being a hoax will break me or tear me down. Will it piss me off? Absolutely, but that only fuels the competitive drive in me to shut everybody up to get back on the race track next week in Pocono under a tremendous amount of B.S.”

He should not be getting hate. He should not be compared to Jussie Smollett. Ever.

Whether it was a garage lever, or not, a noose was found tied in Wallace’s garage stall. According to the FBI, it may not have been a threat to Wallace’s life, but it was a noose.

And that’s not Bubba’s fault.

Hate crime against Nascar’s Bubba Wallace strengthens the fight against racism

It has got to stop.

There is no place in the world for disgusting acts like this.

A crime was allegedly committed at Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR’s lone black driver, Bubba Wallace, had his life threatened by a hanging noose in his garage. Justice needs to be served.

Who was it?

Whoever it was does not belong in the sport. And NASCAR will make sure he/she never sees the racetrack again.

“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team,” NASCAR said. “We are angry and outraged and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”

According to NASCAR, the noose was left inside Wallace’s garage area late Sunday afternoon, but the entire infield was shut down to fans all day because of COVID-19 protocols. With limited access to the garages and tightened security, was it someone associated with the sport? Or was it a security breach?

The race was canceled due to inclement weather late in the afternoon and rescheduled for 2 p.m. CT on Monday.

NASCAR has their fists ready and are taking a firm stand. They are doing everything in their power to change the sport of racing for the better. NASCAR released a statement on Wednesday, June 10, saying, “The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.

“The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties,” the statement continued.

The move came just one day after Wallace called for action from the racing league to remove the offensive flags. He wore a shirt featuring the words “I can’t breathe” and had “Black Lives Matter” painted on his car.

Ahead of the race on Sunday, confederate flags were seen flying across the street from the track. An airplane pulled an enormous Confederate flag around the track in protest. Behind the flag, the words “DEFUND NASCAR” flapped in the air.

Is it upsetting? Yes. It’s disgusting. It’s not ok. It’s foul. Sunday’s actions set the state of Alabama back even further from change. And that’s not ok.

For decades, the stars and bars have flown above the racetrack. They fly no more.

It’s time for real change.

The sport of NASCAR is hurting. But I’d like to believe that the sport, its racers and the fans will come out of this dark hour stronger than when they went in.

The Alabama doesn’t play nobody debate is over

Nobody better use the “Bama don’t play nobody” phrase ever again.

On Thursday, Alabama added another home-and-home series against Ohio State. The games, slated for 2027 and 2028, will first be played in Ohio Stadium and then in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

It will be the first time the teams have played during the regular season since 1986.

“This series with Ohio State adds another outstanding non-conference opponent to our future football schedules,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said in a statement. “We are thrilled at the progress we’ve made in securing such quality home-and-homes that will provide tremendous opportunities for our team and an exciting game-day atmosphere for our fans in the coming years.”

Since taking over as athletic director, Byrne has locked in 11 home-and-home series, including the upcoming neutral site game against USC, on September 5.

In the next 15 years Alabama has scheduled Texas in 2022 and 2023, Wisconsin in 2024 and 2025, Florida State in 2025 and 2026, West Virginia in 2026 and 2027, Ohio State in 2027 and 2028, Notre Dame in 2028 and 2029, Georgia Tech in 2030 and 2031, Oklahoma in 2032 and 2033, Arizona in 2032 and 2033 and Virginia Tech in 2034 and 2035.

Alabama also has games with South Florida for 2023, 2024 and 2026.

Nick Saban will likely coach a few of those games, but it will be interesting to see who the head coach is at the time of the Ohio State matchup. Nonetheless, this type of series is what’s so great about college football.

Byrne gets it, neutral site games are great, but home-and-home matchups between two storied programs is how it should be. The College Football Playoff committee has valued overall record over the strength of schedule, but with the possibility of expanding the playoffs to eight teams, the expectations could change. A larger playoff would allow teams to schedule tougher regular-season non-conference opponents and have more room to breathe with a loss.

Critics will continue to argue against Alabama, but its an argument that no longer is supported. The Crimson Tide has its toughest schedule in over a decade. They play USC to open the season, then Georgia two weeks later in Tuscaloosa. They travel to LSU and play Auburn at home. According to ESPN’s FPI, Alabama will face one of the toughest schedules in college football.

Alabama deserves a lot of credit for its efforts to schedule powerhouse opponents in the coming years.

The message Byrne is sending is that; Alabama will play anyone, anytime and anywhere. Just as long as the opposing team wants to do so.