NO CHEERING IN THE PRESS BOX: WHEN A HERO AIN’T NOTHING BUT A SANDWICH!
Former Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon, Jim Brown and Lou Stokes (D-Ohio)
A sports column written by Jayson Whitlock (Fox News Sports) last weekend titled “Jim Brown My Hero” must have had legendary Washington Post sports writer the late Shirley Povich turning over in his grave.
A press room at deadline is still the most segregated institution in America, with a church on Sundays running a close second.
Mr. Povich was the author of a best selling book titled “No Cheering in the Press Box.” I admired and respected the man. He and Sam Lacey, sports editor for the African-American newspaper, stood for something and did not fall for just anything.
I dared not miss their commentaries and columns here in my hometown of Washington, D.C. Their kind in sports writing have become endangered. They inspired me to to write commentaries for my radio sports talk show: “The Original Inside Sports.”
Jim Brown once said, “All Sam Lacey did was cover Jackie Robinson; he never really covered the NFL.” I wonder why? In the late 40s and 50s, Jackie Robinson was the most important black athlete of our time.
Mr. Whitlock’s ill-timed and idiotic column defending Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan against Jim Brown’s accusations as “Do nothing Negroes” was cheer leading at its worst. You would think Whitlock’s column would make the next sports columnist think twice before following in the same path. Enter Washington Post columnist and ESPN’s PTI co-host, NBA Playoff analyst Michael Wilbon.
I know this may sound familiar to some, but let me introduce you Michael Wilbon in his own words, “Harold, I have not forgotten when I came to the Washington Post as a 22-year-old right out of college, I didn’t know diddly. You took me under your wing and had me on your sports talk show Inside Sports. You sit me down and made sure I knew the Good Guy coaches in the city.”
On July 1, Wilbon’s column in the Washington Post was titled “Tiger’s Actions Speak Volumes.” Let me clear the air from the very beginning, I like Michael Wilbon, he is really a good person, but he is a go along to get along guy. He has never stood up for anything, including himself.
He has no track record of ever doing anything in the community before the Washington Post, but he should not feel like the Lone Ranger; he has plenty of company in the media. In our long association, he has always been a gentleman and he has always kept his word with one exception.
During my radio days in the 70s and 80s, I had a pipeline into the Washington Post newsroom. My radio talk show, “The Original Inside Sports” was the No. 1 rated sports talk show in town. Long time sports editor George Solomon was my “Go to guy” in the sports department. George was a pretty smart guy, and much like Jim Brown, he thought he was smarter then anyone else. My show was like a “Watering Hole” for writers and sports columnist at the newspaper.
Longtime Washington Post High School Sports Editor Donald Huff once said, “George Solomon runs the sports department like a Nazi Concentration Camp.” Despite that assertion, there were some great writers and reporters who worked for him. My favorites were Byron Rosen and Tom Callahan (class acts).
If George wanted to know the latest on the Black Athlete or something going on in the black community, he knew he could hear it on Inside Sports. He was a consistent contributor, he participated in-studio, and there were long distance calls from Wimbledon and track meets and golf courses from around the World.
My community programs became one of his favorite hangouts, celebrity tennis tournaments, Christmas toy parties for needy children, etc. His staff followed his lead: Rosen, Callahan, Wilbon, Dave Dupree, Donald Huff, and Dave Aldridge all became regulars on Inside Sports. Somewhere in the 80s, I became a regular on the first televised Comcast Washington Post sports talk show.
Good Old Boys like Tony Cornhiser, John Feinstein, and his hatchet-man, Leonard Shapiro, kept their distance.
I clearly remember Shapiro taking a gamble to come on Inside Sports to plug his bogus book titled “John Thompson: The Real Story.” My first question to him was how could this be the Real John Thompson story when you didn’t interview him, or anyone in his family and you never interviewed me? I am sure that was the longest hour he ever spent on radio.
I have known John Thompson since he was in middle school. During his playing days on the playgrounds in Northeast DC. He could have easily played the role of the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” (no heart). I used to chase him off the basketball court and make him sit on the hill until his bodyguard arrived (Sandy Freeman). He wanted to be a jump shooter instead of a rebounder.
John Thompson’s NBA basketball claim to fame: “I backed up Bill Russell.” Red Auerbach put him in the expansion draft after his first year, his NBA career was over and down the drain in two years. He could not play dead. He was also overrated as a college coach. Media Scoop: With Big men like Pat Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Michael Graham, John Turner, etc., he should have easily won three National NCAA titles.
When he was first hired at Georgetown, he could not buy a story on any sports page, or time on any radio or television station to promote Georgetown basketball. I gave him a five-minute time slot every Monday evening on Inside Sports (W-O-O-K Radio) to promote his team.
He is another “know it all” in the community with no community track record. I assisted his wife, Gwen, in her divorce case. Big Bad John tried to intimidate her. He would show up unannounced and sit in a parked car or hide behind a tree in front of her residence late at night (in the black community, we call this Tree Boxing).
She took him to court and to the bank to the tune somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million. It could have easily been $12 million but she wanted him out of her life. John was a millionaire before he left Georgetown. He was taking money under the table from sports agent David Falk. That is the Real John Thompson story.
Washington Post sports writer Dave Dupree was the first to write a story on my community involvement (Christmas toy parties hosted by the Washington Redskins), but he started to smell himself after he became a columnist.
We covered the Washington Bullets together during the 70s. The Bullets’ media press table was divided into two sections starting at half-court. White media sit to the left and those of us who where black sit to the right. Dave and I fell out of love in the visitor’s locker room after a Bullets’ game. I jokingly asked him why was he a no-show on Inside Sports and he had a curt response, “I don’t work for Harold Bell.”
I mistakenly took it as a Dis aka disrespect. I slapped him in his mouth and all hell broke loose. Several of our colleagues stepped between us and I was hustled out the locker room. I still regret the incident. Dave was not really a bad guy.
The late Mark Splaver was the Director of Media Relations for the Bullets. One home game I arrived late after he had passed out media press guilds for the team. During half-time, I reminded him I had not received a press guild, he walked away without responding.
He returned in the third quarter and threw the guild on the table in my direction. I went after him for an explanation but Jerry Sachs the Vice-President of the team stopped me and asked me to let him handle it and I did.
The next home game, Mark came to the press table and apologized.
There was still a problem, I was appalled by the media seating arrangements, here it was in the late 70s and blacks in media were still being treated like second-class citizens.
In 1954, Rosa Parks had refused to get up and give her seat to a white man on a bus, and in 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King gave his life in Memphis fighting for our civil rights.
Here we are in the late 1970s, Dave Dupree (Washington Post), Ron Sutton (WHUR Radio), Greg Mosso (WHUR Radio), Chuck Taylor (TV 20), Gerald Burke (Afro-American) and me still sitting in separate but equal seats at the press table in the Nation’s Capitol. Something was wrong with this picture.
In 1975, I established a monthly Media Round Table on Inside Sports at W-O-O-K radio with members of the local media. It was here Edward Frankovic, a white sports writer, and I decided we would switch seats at the next home game.
We met in the press room and walked down the steps to our seats, he went to the right and I went to the left. No one batted an eye.
It was integration without a protest sign or march, we just did a sit-in. The following season, the press table was fully integrated. Edward and I gave each other a High Five to celebrate.
My problem with Michael Wilbon started in the Green Room on the campus of Howard University. We were killing time waiting to go on a television talk show together.
It was here he confided in me that he didn’t like the way his editor George Solomon was constantly looking over his shoulder and changing his columns.
Wilbon said, “He never does that to Tony Kornhiser. I am thinking since I am now a columnist, I should be free to write my own stories.”
Jill Nelson, a former Washington Post writer, wrote a book in 1993 titled “Volunteer Slavery/My Authentic Negro Experience.” She said, ‘the Washington Post is The Plantation on the Potomac.’
For a better understanding of his Trials and Tribulations with George Solomon, I am sending Wilbon my copy of the book. I think that he is still without a clue.
My advice to Michael in the Green Room at the time was to take George to lunch away from the paper.
There he could let him know he appreciated his personal attention, but thought that he could manage his column by himself.
I also advised him to leave George with the impression he had no problem calling on him if he got stuck.
It looks like Michael decided to kiss George’s butt instead. He is now saying “Harold Bell, how do you like me now?” I wonder was it worth his peace of mind?
When I see Michael on television playing the “Expert” on anything and everything, I don’t find him believable.
I am thinking much like James Brown, he has been brought and sold several times over. There is a great possibility the system is still telling him how to say it and when to say it.
Much like Jayson Whitlock’s column on “My Hero Jim Brown,” Michael Wilbon crossed the line over and over again. For example; He managed to kiss Tiger’s butt and Jim Brown’s butt in the same column.
Check out the the third paragraph leading into the story ‘Tiger’s Actions Speaks Volumes.’
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve admired Brown’s activism my entire adult life. One of the unforgettable experiences of my life came during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, when Brown through his determination, concern and sheer force of personality, persuaded gang members from the rival Crips and Bloods to call a truce to the violence and talk out their differences at Brown’s Hollywood home.” Would someone please get the toilet paper!
In his next breath he goes on to tell how misguided Jim Brown is when it comes to Tiger’s contributions. He points out all the great things Tiger has done since he turned pro.
He reminds Jim that the Tiger Woods Foundation does not teach golf. He names the foundations activities; the courses taught at the academy such as, engineering, robotics, and marine biology.
Then he cites the 25 scholars the programs has produced and the schools they attend like Georgetown, Florida A&M, Spellman, Penn State, UDC, Marymount, the University of Arizona and the University of Idaho.
The learning center in California has had between 20,000 and 25,000 young people come through the doors.
Would someone please slow Michael down and fit him for a short skirt and pom-poms. No Cheerleaders in the Press Box.
The bottom line, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Michael Wilbon are nobody’s bargains in standing up for the rights of minorities. Jim Brown is heads and shoulders above the three, but he now stands for Jim Brown.
Since Tiger has been on the pro circuit he has never hired a black caddy for the tour and he has had an opportunity to give a brother a chance to become a millionaire.
According to my former high school teammate and college roommate Richard “Jelly” Hansberry, Tiger barely speaks to the black caddies on the tour.
Jelly once served as the Caddy Association’s Vice-President. He has been on tour for several decades.
Black caddies have become an endangered species on the pro tour (I used to be one in high school).
When the ruling was made that the tour’s pro golfers had to start paying the caddy a percentage of their earnings, they immediately started to hire people that looked like them (family and friends).
I have no problem with that. Tiger on the other hand, hired people he wanted to look like.
Keeping it simple, track star legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Charles Barkley both got it right, Jim Brown is about Jim Brown.
Michael Jordan used to be Wilbon’s go-to guy. He has evidently fell out of a favor since Wizards owner Abe Pollin ran him out of town with his tail tucked between his legs and his foot on the gas pedal crying foul.
On the HBO special, Jim lumped Michael and Tiger in together, but Wibon never mentioned or defended MJ in his column.
Michael Wilbon is a contradiction. He closed his column with “I asked Tiger if it’s possible that a conversation with Jim Brown might be productive, and Tiger answered, ‘That depends on whether both parties show up open minded.'”
Wilbon needs to get his own house straightened out before he can straighten out someone else’s.
In the three decades I have known Michael, he has never made an effort to donate a toy, book, shoes, a dollar or Send A Kid to Camp for my non-profit organization Kids In Trouble, Inc.
But he says “I have not forgotten.” He has made promises but has never followed through. He is still a lovable guy, but he is mis-guided.
He should not feel like the Lone Ranger: neither have benefactors like John Thompson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Adrian Branch, James Brown, and Adrian Dantley (he almost lost of millions of dollars to David Falk’s Ponzi scheme until I alerted him). David Aldridge finally made an effort to reach back last year.
There are some champions and some chumps among the group, mostly chumps.
There is one thing that is certain, whatever they are doing in the community or in the media, they are all following my Footprints in the Sand.
Last year, Michael had a life and death health crisis. I e-mailed him wishing him well and a speedy recovery.
He responded with “I was not surprised to hear from you, and I thank you for the thought. I am just disappointed when you get upset when people disagree with you.”
Michael is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He has never expressed to me vocally or in written word about something I had written that he disagreed with.
I e-mail James Brown, Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael, whenever their names appear in my commentaries.
I don’t want them getting second-hand information. He say, she say and anonymity are dangerous weapons often used in my community to purposely cause confusion among the natives.
I understand that I am on the firing line every time I pen a commentary or column. My greatest asset is that I can tell the difference between Constructive Criticism and Destructive Criticism. My friends take everything personal, if the shoe fits wear it.
On chance encounters with Michael over the years, for example, there was the time I bumped into him coming out of the Washington Post in 2004.
The first thing he wanted to talk to me about was the book he was writing with Charles Barkley. No mention of any conflict with me.
In a more recent encounter I went out to my first Wizards game last year to witness the return of Agent Zero aka Gilbert Arenas. The Wizards were facing the best team in the NBA, the LeBron-James led Cleveland Cavaliers.
I met Michael in the press room and you should have seen the surprised look on his face when he saw me. The relief came when he saw I had my wife Hattie with me. She was his comfort zone.
He knew I would not be all over him with her by my side. We smiled and made small talk about his $1,000 suit and $500 pair of shoes.
There was never a word about my commentaries or columns about him or his colleagues. There is still no defense against the truth.
Michael, I understand the need to have access to Tiger and have him on your side, but you don’t need to be a cheerleader. I suggest you try speaking volumes about your own life and let Tiger speak for himself.