The LRSD To Begin Pilot Program with “African-American Athletes in Arkansas”

In the spring semester, Little Rock School District social studies classes will begin to implement my book into curricula.

I’m pleased to announce that Little Rock School District social studies teachers at the high school and middle school levels plan to incorporate lesson plans based off of African-American Athletes in Arkansas starting in January 2018. As an alum of the district (Jefferson, Pulaski Heights, Central), this means a lot to me. It is a significant first step in the public history mission that inspired me to write the book in the first place.

Below is one example of the four lesson plans which have been created off of the book. Here the credit goes to educator Dustin Seaton, and to Jason Endacott, who sent me to Seaton.

If you want me to send you this lesson plan as a separate file, or have any other questions, feel free to reach me at info@heritageofsports.com.

LESSON PLAN

Created by Dustin Seaton, GT Specialist, NWA ESC

 

  1. Descriptive Data

Teacher: __________________________ Date: _____________________________

Subject Area: _Civics/AR History Grade Level: _______7th-12th __________

Unit Title: _U.S. Constitution/Civics        Lesson Title: Challenging the 1st Amendment

 

  1. Standards, Goals, & Objectives (National Middle School Association Standards 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5)

Standards (list local, state, or national standards which will be met upon completion of this lesson): 

Lesson Goal(s):

  • Engage students in lively analysis and discussion of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as it applies to freedom of speech and religion
  • Challenge students to understand another person’s point of view

Lesson Objective(s):

Civics

PD.3.C.1: Evaluate rights and responsibilities of citizens in the United States.

PD.4.C.3: Examine the amendments to the U.S. Constitution in order to determine how the roles of citizens and the federal and state governments have changed over time

(e.g., Bill of Rights, incorporation of states’ rights into government, interpretation, due process, voting rights)

PD.4.C.7: Construct arguments analyzing citizens’ rights protected by the U.S. Constitution and constitutional amendments using multiple sources

AR History (7/8th Grade)

H.7.AH.7-8.8: Analyze social, economic, and political effects of the Civil Rights Movement on various regions in Arkansas from multiple perspectives (e.g., integration, state legislation)

AR History (9-12th Grade)

Era5.5.AH.9-12.4: Analyze the social, economic, and political effects of the Civil Rights Movement in various regions of Arkansas using primary and secondary sources from multiple perspectives

(e.g., segregation; voting; integration of Fayetteville, Hoxie, and Little Rock School Districts; federal and state legislation)

Era6.6.AH.9-12.4: Analyze ways that Arkansans addressed a variety of public issues by using or challenging local, state, national, and international laws

African-American History (9-12)

IE.6.AAH.2: Examine the various influences of African Americans on social change using primary and secondary sources from multiple perspectives (e.g., migration, feminism, military, social organizations)

JU.7.AAH.2: Identify unresolved social, economic, and political challenges for African American men and women from 1970 to the present using a variety of sources representing multiple perspectives

  1. Background

Muhammad Ali’s story of a prizefighter and boxer are known largely for his success in the ring, but students should also know about his successful challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court. Prizefighting has been characterized as a true test of skill, courage, intelligence, and manhood while boxing champions have also become symbols of national and often racial superiority. On October 29, 1960, Cassius Clay fought in his first professional bout as a boxer and continued winning throughout the decade. He earned nicknames such as “Louisville Lip” and “Mighty Mouth” because of his outspokenness and personality both in and out of the boxing ring. By 1964, at the age of just twenty-two years old, he became the world heavyweight boxing champion by defeating the incumbent champion Sonny Liston. Clay soon joined the Nation of Islam, abandoned his “slave name,” and started to go by Muhammad Ali during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. His biggest fight then came from his stance against the federal government in 1966 when he refused to be drafted in the U.S. military to fight in the Vietnam War. Ali cited his religious beliefs and person conviction of being opposed to the U.S. involvement in war as his refusal to be drafted. He publicly stated, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullet on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” He later added, “Man, I ain’t go no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” In April of 1967, he was arrested and found guilty of refusing to serve in the U.S. military. He was later suspended from boxing and stripped of his titles and license to box. Unable to practice his profession, Ali began touring the country and speaking at colleges/universities about Nation of Islam, civil rights, and other things of personal interest. Five years after his initial arrest, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his in a landmark case Clay v. United States (1971) where a unanimous Supreme Court ruled the federal government had violated Ali’s “conscientious objector” exemption which was protected by the First Amendment. “For less than a week in March 1969, the world’s most famous former heavyweight champion toured the state of Arkansas” (pg. 127, Demirel)

Continue reading The LRSD To Begin Pilot Program with “African-American Athletes in Arkansas”

MLB GMs Gushing Over Andrew Bentintendi’s Potential, Dan Shaughnessy Says

The follow excerpt is from an interview between sports talk show host Bo Mattingly and Dan Shaughnessy, a longtime Boston Globe sports columnist. They discussed the rapid rise of outfielder Andrew Benintendi, the former Razorback who has gotten off to a successful 2017 season start with the Boston Red Sox.

Dan Shaughnessy: He wasn’t in the major league clubhouse last spring. You know, the star of the year at single A and then just about to take these three games at double A and then he’s in the big leagues and he’s not a very big guy… I was dazzled that he was so major league ready — a 21, 22 year old kid walking in to that situation and he made everything look fairly easy, he’s a fluid player.

I don’t have to tell you guys, but to see him perform at this level with the same ease and ability that he’s had at all the other levels I thought was quite and achievement. He was a guy we watched really closely at spring training and the job was his. He was the left fielder, and then he went out and double earned it on top of that, and then of course, [had] a big opening day.

I just want to see more. I’m so impressed and I’m kind of a tough mark on this stuff. I didn’t think it would be so seamless, this transition, with so little professional baseball under his belt and very little above single A… It’s like the higher you put him, the level, he raises his game. So I just want to see more. He’s beautiful to watch.

If you get a chance, there’s a picture by Stan Grossfeld. He’s a two time pulitzer prize winner, and he’s been attending at the end of his game yesterday and that home run. He looks like the top of every baseball trophy you’ve ever seen; he’s got both hands on the bat, perfect follow through, head tracking the ball and the way his feet are angled and twisted, it’s just a beautiful shot and again that would be his baseball card if you had to do one right now.

…We’ve had guys come through but generally … with Nomar [Garciaparra] there was a larger sample and Nomar was hitting .370 in the big leagues, right-handed his third year in at a really young age. Brady Anderson was sort of a phenom when he came up and it didn’t really happen for him here. He struggled like most young players.

And Andrew—they all struggle, he will at some point. The comparisons can be unfortunate when we [media] do this, but the Fred Lynn thing is unfair to him because Fred Lynn hit .331 and was MVP in his rookie year, and that’s too much to ask anybody to do. He was playing center field, which is of course Andrew’s natural position. And he’s a little bit bigger. But he had the pedigree of being [from] USC and triple A. I don’t know whether he was MVP but he spend quite a bit of time down in the bushes while they were waiting his turn up here. So this is just a more expedited path and you don’t want to put too much on them.

[Andrew Benintendi] did get bigger in the off season by design. He claims that does not sacrifice any of his speed but he’s a good 15 pounds more muscular than he was. He doesn’t need to be that physical; as a corner outfielder you want more than 12, 15 home runs. He looks capable of being that, but when we first saw him last year that was my first thing. It’s like, you just don’t see corner outfielders that are that short, that slight.

Bo Mattingly: When you talk the scouts and front office types, what is it about Andrew Benintendi that they think gives him a chance to be not just a flash, but a long term all-star kind of player in major league baseball?

Dan Shaughnessy: …That’s one of the reasons I’m so in on this guy. Not this many people can be wrong, and the folks you’re talking about—they don’t make their judgements based on one game, they see a larger sample that’s telling us he will get the power of the big leagues and he can be a five-tool guy. They’re all in, too, pretty much.

You get [picked] seventh in the country, you’ve got something there. I’m heartened to see that people who are not mutants can still play this game and get it done. When you stand next to Reggie Jackson now, I mean, you’re like “God, he was was never that big.” He was really stacked and muscular, but Reggie’s not that tall, he’s shrank a little bit in his old age but he’s  not big, not much bigger than this kid. You didn’t used to have to be enormous, and most of them are now. Especially the pitchers. They draft 6’5, you know. That’s what they look for and I understand that. That’s why there’s so many guys throwing 96 coming out of the bullpen.

So, it’s nice to see the game, you know, an outfielder come to the big leagues and Mookie Betts is another example of course because he’s not a superhuman physical specimen. …With Benintendi they talk about the usual hand eye coordination, his ability to recognize pitches, to wait to adjust, doesn’t seem to get fooled that much with the big-league pitching…

He hit the exact same in the big leagues that he hit in the minors last year. He had more power this spring. I talked to him about it and he says that was due to the strength and the weight, that the ball’s going further to left center for him. Edge velocity is better. It’s just a lot to look forward to. I think the fans here are really going to be jumping on this and anxious to see more.

***

Make sure to listen to the entire interview at sportstalkwbo.com.


The above excerpts have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. In every case, the speaker’s original meaning has been maintained.

Is Wrigley’s Racism to Blame for Chicago Cubs’ World Series Drought?

Why have the Chicago Cubs been so bad, for so long? Lore has it blame should fall at the smelly feet of a billy goat  Since the day in 1945 when Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley blocked William Sianis from bringing his pet goat through the Wrigley Field turnstiles, the Cubs haven’t won a single National League pennant. In the decades following that rebuff, the Cubs became one of the worst teams in pro baseball.

The real reasons behind Chicago’s struggles don’t entail P.K. Wrigley’s refusal of a goat. They hinge more on his refusal to admit “G.O.A.T.s.” Wrigley worked within miles of some of the greatest Negro Leagues players of all time during the 1930s and early 1940s. Chicago hosted the league’s annual All-Star game and Wrigley Field itself was home to a Negro League team and occasional all-black barnstorming teams featuring the likes of Satchel Paige.

For years Wrigley was exposed to ample evidence black baseball players were as good as white baseball players. He had even more evidence after Jackie Robinson broke down the Major League color wall in 1947, and in the following years the likes of Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Larry Doby and Satchel Paige followed. After Robinson’s first year, “the bold and smart owners reached into the talent-rich Negro League and grabbed instant stars,” columnist Mike Royko wrote in the Chicago Tribune in 1993. By the time the Cubs started hiring black players, “they had established themselves as the most predictable klutzes in the National League. Had Wrigley the brains and/or the courage—he definitely had the money—the modern tradition of the Cubs might have been entirely different.”

In 1942, a local African-American committee advocating for blacks in the major leagues brought this issue directly to Wrigley’s office. Wrigley listened to a representative make his case, then told him while he would like to see blacks in the MLB, “I don’t think the time is now.” He feared the potential of rioting and didn’t think there would be “sufficient public demand” despite enormous crowds which the best black baseball players drew in Chicago at that time.

Wrigley appeared to thaw a bit in the following year. In 1943, he announced the Cubs would soon hire a scout to solely focus on the Negro Leagues. But when pressed on whether this hire meant he was ready to sign black players, Wrigley said “The middle of a war isn’t the spot to make such a departure from custom. I told [the committee members] that we would not stick our necks out now,” according to Steve Bogira’s 2014 article in the Chicago Reader.

Delaying integration wasn’t the only reason the Cubs franchise essentially nosedived after that 1945 World Series appearance. The Cubs depended heavily on purchasing players from independent minor league teams. After those teams folded, the Cubs were one of the last MLB clubs to assemble a minor league farm system. Even then, for decades, they struggled to develop their minor league talent.

Yet, for Chicago fans, it’s hard not to daydream about what could have been. What if P.K. Wrigley had even half the guts of Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who signed the Negro Leagues stars and launched his franchise to the top?

 

No doubt, the question loomed large in the minds of Chicago Defender writers in May 1949 as the Cubs slogged through another dismal campaign. Robinson and Campanella had just helped the Dodgers twice clobber the Cubs, inspiring a Defender to take a jab at Wrigley:  “Some years ago when efforts were made to get Negroes in major league ball clubs, the stock reply was that the public had to be ‘educated’ before this could happen. Branch Rickey, who is the kind of American that keeps democracy alive, simply hired Jackie Robinson and told those who did not like it to lump it. Now this is the kind of ‘education’ that really educates.”

 

The columnist continued: “Incidentally, the Cubs got two powerful lessons last week out at Wrigley field and the two professors were Robinson and Campanella.”

 

***

 

In the 1950s, the Cubs brought on board African-American star Ernie Banks, but their record still remained dismal. As I read through Steve Bogira’s article, I was struck by a couple Arkansas ties. I present them here simply for the sake of trivia:

  • Banks convinced Arkansas City, Ark. native John Johnson, the publisher of Ebony and Jet, to buy Cubs season tickets for a year in the 1960s. “To Banks’s knowledge, Johnson was the Cubs’ first African-American season-ticket holder. But not long after Banks sold him the pair of tickets, Johnson ‘called me and said, ‘Ernie, I gotta cancel my tickets. I can’t get nobody to go with me!’”
  • In 1964, the Cubs traded El Dorado, Ark. native Lou Brock (a future Hall of Famer) to St. Louis for Ernie Broglio, a pitcher who would win six games in two seasons. It has gone down as one the worst trades in baseball history. While some of the Cubs’ reasoning involved Brock’s subpar fielding, prejudice also played a role, according to an essay written by former Cubs coach Buck O’Neil.

When general manager John Holland was deliberating on the move, O’Neil warned him not to trade Brock away. Holland’s response involved pulling out a mass of letters from season-ticket holders. Complaints about the increasing number of black players signed by the Cubs filled them. O’Neil recalled Holland saying some of the fans wrote: “What are you trying to make the Chicago Cubs into? The Kansas City Monarchs?”

 

“Their Joy was Unrestricted” – When State Prisoners Played Pro Baseball Players

This is a fascinating post which will make you consider a new definition for “free agent.” It looks at a group of pro baseball players who locked horns with California state prison inmates called “the Midgets.”

Unfortunately, not many details could be released about who these prisoners were. But we do know prisoners No. 27784 and No. 26130 had some serious skills…

Will Hogs Join Duke, Ohio State & Arizona State to Hit Rare “Player of the Year” Trifecta?

ADG_SPT_UA_BBC_UK1_005_r600x400One opposing SEC coach called  Andrew Benintendi the nation’s best college baseball player. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.

In the early 1990s, Arkansas joined the SEC and the conference began awarding a baseball player of the year award to complement already established football and basketball MVP titles. Since then, the conference has soared to lofty heights, becoming arguably the NCAA’s most powerful organization. Much of that has to do with stretches of dominance by Alabama, LSU and Florida in football; Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida in basketball and the likes of LSU (five national titles 1993-2009) and South Carolina in baseball.

Many of these programs have produced multiple players of the years in various sports, yet no one school has yet been able to hit a POY trifecta by having a male player win the ultimate individual honor in each major team sport in one calendar year.

That may soon change.

In 2015, the Razorbacks athletic department has a chance make SEC history by sweeping these honors. The push started earlier this spring with sophomore Bobby Portis winning basketball SEC Player of the Year. Then, on Monday, sophomore Andrew Benintendi was announced as SEC baseball’s player of the year. Benintendi, of course, has helped spearhead the Hogs’ surge from a 1-5 start in SEC play to 18-7 finish including two wins so far in the SEC Tournament. The outfielder from Cincinnati, Ohio leads the nation in slugging percentage (.760) and ranks first in home runs. “He’s probably the best player in college baseball right now,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bob Holt.

I write more about this unique record in the context of SEC sports and the Razorbacks’ upcoming football season for Sporting Life Arkansas, but here I want to look beyond the SEC.

Specifically,  how many times has a school pulled off this one-year POY trifecta among all major conferences?

Three times – sort of.

Here they are:

1994 Duke

In basketball, Grant Hill secured ACC player of the year and first team All-American honors. But thanks to the Razorbacks, “national champion” was one honor he didn’t grab for the third straight year. Ryan Jackson took home ACC POY honors after setting a single-season school record with 22 home runs. In football, bruising back Robert Baldwin won it after helping lead Duke to its highest national ranking in 23 years.

Baldwin was the last Duke player to win ACC player of the year honors in football, but was the 10th such POY in school history (which is a surprisingly high number to my 33-year-old self. It reflects how un-dominant Florida State once was).

Continue reading Will Hogs Join Duke, Ohio State & Arizona State to Hit Rare “Player of the Year” Trifecta?

Upcoming Movie about Arkansas Traveler Legend / Native American MLB Pioneer Mose YellowHorse

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A film production company has optioned the rights to a screenplay about Mose J. YellowHorse, a star on the Arkansas Travelers’ first championship team and the first full-blooded Native American in the MLB. Enid, Okla.-based River Rock Entertainment will work with screenwriters Todd Fuller and his wife on developing the script after their first draft is finished, according to Fuller.

YellowHorse was not the first Native American in the big leagues, nor the best, but was certainly one of the most colorful. As a child growing up Pawnee, Okla., he performed as a child in the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show and, according to the story of his relative, Albin LeadingFox, learned how to throw a baseball by hunting rabbits and birds with rocks. His fastball became elite.

In 1920, he led the Arkansas Travelers, then in the Southern Association, to their first league championship. The team went 21-7 and included included Joe Guyon, who in football had starred in the Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s backfield with Jim Thorpe and Bing Miller, who went on to post a .316 lifetime batting average in sixteen major league seasons, according to Fuller’s 60 Feet Six Inches and Other Distances from Home: The (Baseball) Life of Mose YellowHorse.”  The screenplay will be an adaption of this book.

YellowHorse then spent a couple of seasons in Pittsburgh, where his roaring fastball and gregarious personality made him a kind of cult figure for decades afterward. His final career tally was eight wins, four losses and 3.93 ERA in 126 innings, but his most memorable stat might have been a purposefully mis-hurled foul thrown at Ty Cobb, one of the greatest players of the early 20th century.

Fuller relays the story from an interview he conducted in 1992 with one of YellowHorse’s friends:

“Ty Cobb was crowding the plate anyway, he always did. And Mose wasn’t going to let him get away with it. Cobb was up there yelling all kinds of Indian prejudice, real mean slurs at Mose, just making him mad anyway. So he shakes off four pitches until the catcher gives him the fast ball sign, and Mose nods his head. I mean everyone in Detroit was whooping and all that silliness. So he winds up and fires the ball as hard as he could, and he knocked Cobb right in the head, right between the eyes. Mose knocked him cold. And a fight nearly broke out at home plate. All the Tigers’ players came rushing off the bench. The Pirate players started running toward Mose. But no punches were thrown. They just carried Ty Cobb off the field. And all three of the Pirates’ outfielders just stood together in center and laughed. Said they wished they could see it again.”

The incident is notable as a reversal of the common narrative often framing the relations of Indians and Anglo-Americans in this era. Here, it is a full-blooded Pawnee “who holds the weapon (a ninety-five mile-an-hour fastball) and inflicts harm,” Fuller writes. It’s also significant YellowHorse’s teammates eagerly enter a fracas to protect him, suggesting a loyalty and camaraderie that would prove so instrumental in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ success with Jackie Robinson a quarter century later.

When reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities here between YellowHorses’ actions and those of one of the “Jackie Robinsons of the NBA” – Arkansas native Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton. In the early 1950s. Clifton had no quibbles about flattening those who would spew racist vile at him. Instead of throwing baseballs, though, the 6-7 center threw enormous fists at the faces of offenders.

The rest of YellowHorse’s life is one of sadness (alcohol addiction) but ultimate redemption found in his homeland. His story, like those of other minority baseball pioneers, is an important one. Godspeed to those who would make a movie about it.

I’ll leave with the following poem intro. The scene is Pittsburgh, 1921, in the moments before Moses’ major league debut:

What it Means to Wear #50 (for the Pittsburgh Pirates)

This moment begins in the dim light
Of a locker room, and Mose Yellow-
Horse struggling against his uniform

Buttons. It’s just y’r nerves the boys
Tell him, but he knows it’s butterflies
And the sparkle of Opening Day.

Soon enough he’ll take in the field,
The crowd of twenty-five thousand,
See mustard dripping from the chins
Of enchanted fathers.

This will be the first time they’ve seen
An Indian in Pittsburgh. And some
Whoop and holler; mumble & inquire.

Some will cheer. They watch the Reds
And Pirates battle deep into the tussle;
Nip and tuck from the start.

It’s April 21, and Mose YellowHorse
Doesn’t know that kids are peeking
Through cracks in the outfield wall…

Read the rest of this  Todd Fuller poem here.

Possibly the Greatest Game Program in the History of Hallucinogenic MLB Memorbilia

This is a Houston Astro in a rocking chair. This is also a Houston Astro in a rocking chair, holding a Chicago Cub drinking from a milk bottle full of LSD.

The end.

Razorbacks’ Latest Baseball Signees Nationally Ranked No. 2

Little Rock native Blake Wiggins bypassed the MLB for a shot to make history with the Hogs. He's off to a good start.
Little Rock native Blake Wiggins bypassed the MLB for a shot to make history with the Hogs. He’s off to a good start.

Chances are the University of Arkansas baseball team’s most recent recruiting class is better than your most recent recruiting class.

Want proof? The class, which consists of 20 players (14 true freshmen and six junior college transfers) has now been nationally ranked at No. 2 by Perfect Game, No. 4 by Baseball America and No. 16 by Collegiate Baseball.

“We held our class together maybe the best since I’ve been here,” head coach Dave Van Horn told the UA Sports Information department. “We have a lot of talent coming in and plenty of returners who can help them gain some experience and they can push each other a little bit.”

Four players in the class were selected in the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and put their pro careers on hold to attend the University of Arkansas and become Razorbacks. Outfielder Luke Bonfield (Skillman, N.J.) was selected in the 21st round by the New York Mets, first baseman and right-handed pitcher Keaton McKinney (Ankeny, Iowa) was taken in the 28th round by the New York Mets, infielder and catcher Blake Wiggins (Little Rock, Ark.) was a 36th round selection by the Philadelphia Phillies and Nathan Rodriguez (Yorda Linda, Calif.) was taken in the 39th round by the Colorado Rockies.

In addition to the drafted newcomers, Arkansas welcomes outfielder Jack Benninghoff (Overland Park, Kan.), infielder Matt Campbell (Chesapeake, Va.), right-handed pitcher Cannon Chadwick (Paris, Texas), left-handed pitcher Ryan Fant (Texarkana, Texas), infielder Cullen Gassaway (Bedford, Texas), infielder Keith Grieshaber (St. Louis, Mo.), right-handed pitcher Mark Hammel (Cypress, Texas), infielder Max Hogan (Belton, Texas), infielder Rick Nomura (Waipahu, Hawaii), left-handed pitcher Kyle Pate (Fayetteville, Ark.), right-handed pitcher Jonah Patten (Indianapolis, Ind.), catcher Tucker Pennell (Georgetown, Texas), left-handed pitcher Sean Reardon (Smithville, Mo.), infielder Kevin Silky (Dublin, Calif.), outfielder Darien Simms (Spring, Texas) and catcher/first baseman Chad Spanberger (Granite City, Ill.).

The Razorbacks are one of just seven teams in the country to advance to each of the last 13 NCAA Tournaments as they look to make it 14 straight during the 2015 season. Arkansas has appeared in seven College World Series, five Super Regionals and 27 NCAA Tournaments in program history.

Arkansas opens the season at home on Feb. 13 against North Dakota, one of 35 games at Baum Stadium during the 2015 season. The Razorbacks will play 22 games against 2014 NCAA Tournament teams, including eight opponents that appeared in NCAA Regional finals in 2014, three that played in NCAA Super Regionals and two that advanced to the College World Series.

The above is a modified press release from the UA.

Tying Brandon Allen, Chris Weinke & Zack Greinke to the Big Funny

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Click on 53:44 mark of below podcast now. Ask questions later.

 

On Saturday, Brandon Allen completed 18 of 31 attempts for 175 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. In helping  his unranked Hogs hang with No. 6 Auburn through the third quarter, the Arkansas quarterback played an even stronger game his numbers indicate. His receivers dropped a few easy ones, including a touchdown, and the interception came after his arm was hit as a  result of a breakdown in protection, not bad decision making.

Overall, despite the Razorbacks’ defensive breakdowns in the second half of a 45-21 road loss, Hog fans can be excited about the progress Allen has shown bouncing back from an injury-riddled stretch in the middle of last season. His confidence was at an all-time high, his footwork and accuracy demonstrably improved.

Some of the credit here can go to Chris Weinke, the 2000 Heisman Trophy award winner who tutored Allen over the course of a few days earlier this summer in Florida. “I had a lot of problems with my balance in the pocket,” Allen told Razorback Nation. “Making a lot of off balanced throws and things that were hurting my accuracy. So we did a lot of balance work. A lot of bag work. A lot of foot drills.”

Weinke should also receive some credit for his name’s part in the one of the funniest sports skits you will hear in the latter part of this summer. The aural glory starts below, at the 53:19 mark of Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast. The skit’s premise exhibits solid humor fundamentals by matching the normally humdrum world of sports award show introductions with an unexpectedly Seussian-cum-Clockwork-Orange type twist.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/164747668″ params=”color=ff5500″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

The outcome: the most imaginative concatenations of the names “Mookie Wilson,” “Melky Cabrera,” ” “Zack Greinke, “Mark Lemke,” and “Pokey Reese” I’ve heard.

But the “key” to making the conceit really work was balance. It was too baseball-heavy, and needed a well-known name from America’s most popular sport injected into this particular Greinke/Mookie/Melky/Lemke/Pokey milieu to push it to the next level.

So, thank you, Chris Weinke. From lovers of Hog football and comedic consonance everywhere.

(You’re pretty cool, too, Dokie Williams)

Arkansan NBA pioneer to be Inducted in Hall of Fame, Featured in Major Motion Film

In 1958, Arkansans Nat Clifton (L) and Goose Tatum teamed up again a decade after starring as Harlem Globetrotters
In 1958, Arkansans Nat Clifton (L) and Goose Tatum teamed up a decade after starring as Harlem Globetrotters

Technically, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton was the second black player to sign with an NBA team. He was also the first black player to play in the NBA Finals, as well as being the oldest player in NBA history to make an All-Star game debut (at age 34).

Technicalities aside, it should be obvious Clifton’s place in sports history is significant. Basketball, after all, is the world’s second most popular sport primarily because of the exploits of African-American players. There is no Julius Erving, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan without the efforts of Clifton and his contemporaries.

This is why, come August, Clifton will be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame alongside Nolan Richardson. It will surprise some to learn Clifton was born in central Arkansas in the early 1920s and spent the first six years of his life in England, Ark. He and his family then moved to Chicago’s South Side, where he starred in baseball and basketball for DuSable High School. He landed in New Orleans for college, then served three years in the U.S. Army before bouncing around a few pro leagues. He wasn’t exactly a scrub journeyman, though: In 1948, Clifton signed a $10,000 contract to become the world’s highest paid black pro basketball player with the Harlem Globetrotters (which featured fellow Arkansan Goose Tatum, considered by many the greatest Globetrotter ever).

In 1950, he signed with Knicks, where he became one of the franchise’s most popular players and helped lead New York to three Finals appearances. According to the Chicago Tribune, Clifton was primarily a rebounding forward and center, who at 6-foot-6-inch, 200 pounds averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds a game in eight NBA seasons.

A tenacious defender, Mr. Clifton was called on night after night to guard some of the league`s toughest players, including George Mikan, Dolph Schayes and Ed McCauley.

Following his retirement from professional basketball in 1958-seven years before the league instituted a pension plan-Mr. Clifton played two seasons for Globetrotter spinoffs, the Harlem Magicians and the Harlem Americans. After injuring his knee in 1960 while playing with the Magicians, he began driving a Chicago cab.

`I might not be, but I think I`m the best cab driver out there,“Clifton once said. “The way I look at it, if you`re gonna be something, be good at it.’ ‘

Indeed, at age 63, Clifton died of a heart attack at the wheel of his Chicago taxicab.

The story of Sweetwater’s life appears to be adventuresome, inspiring and possibly sad.  It’s remarkable he lived in a world – the pro basketball circuit of the late 1940s and 1950s – that as far as I know hasn’t yet been portrayed in a major motion film.

Others have noticed this too. That’s why spring 2015 is the scheduled premiere of “Sweetwater,” a biopic featuring stars such as Nathan Lane, James Caan and Brian Dennehy. The film’s currently in pre-production, and appears like it will exercise some creative license to widen its appeal. As an example of how this could happen, look at this character outline (which is six years old and could have changed in the meantime).

In it, we see Sweetwater has the ambition of the becoming the “Jackie Robinson of basketball” and is disappointed when the distinction of being the first black to play in the NBA goes to Earl Lloyd. I haven’t yet researched Clifton’s life in detail, but I would guess this distinction wasn’t so important to Clifton. For starters, the NBA had just started a few years before and was nowhere near as established as Major League Baseball. At that time, there was no guarantee the NBA would even survive and one day become a league as important and influential as it is now. I could be surprised, though. Obviously, Clifton was a competitive man and Jackie Robinson was still on everybody’s mind.

Another likely history twist: Clifton had a blues-singing white woman lover soon after arriving in New York City . I’m 99% sure this didn’t happen, but injecting this affair and blues singing will definitely help at the box office. Romance or not, I’ll be fascinated to see how the movie actually comes together. I certainly salute its producers for seeing it through despite complications over the last six years.

My goal in the coming months is to learn as much about Clifton’s Arkansas years and family as I can. There’s scant info out there now. It’s been said his grandmother apparently used snuff, and young Nat – who loved sweets – put cocoa in his cheeks to emulate her and get a bit of sugar rush. We know he lived with his mother and an aunt in Chicago, and that’s about it.

It’s unclear what year he was born, although the best guess is 1922. It also appears he was born as “Clifton Nathaniel” so now the task is to find any Nathaniels who used to live around England, Ark. (Lonoke County). If you have any tips, please reach out to me.

More than six decades after he became a pioneer, Sweetwater will again make headlines in the coming year. Help me make sure his life’s full story is told.

 

The above is Part 2 of a series about Chicago and Arkansas sports ties.