Willie Davenport was born in central Alabama and was a college track standout in Baton Rouge, La. He qualified for four consecutive U.S. Olympic track teams as a hurdler, winning the gold medal at 110 meters in Mexico City in 1968 and a bronze eight years later in Montreal, and, in 1982, was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. Davenport would later become a very successful track coach.
All of which makes it extraordinary that, arguably, Davenport's greatest Olympic legacy may have been in the Winter Olympic sport of bobsled. After his hurdling career ended, Davenport accepted an invitation to train with the U.S. national team in Lake Placid, N.Y., where the 1980 Winter Games would be staged. He wound up, at 36 years of age, making the Olympic bobsled team as a push athlete and managed a respectable 12th-place finish in Lake Placid.
Amid the "Miracle on Ice" frenzy at that Olympics, bobsled was not even a blip on the American sports radar. However, Davenport's Lake Placid run proved to be a historic milestone, impacting both the sport of bobsled and the overall fabric of the Winter Games: Davenport and his sled-mate Jeff Gadley, a college decathlete, became the first black men ever to compete at the Winter Olympics.
Earlier this week, Michael Sam came out publicly with the news that he is gay. When asked about his parents' reaction to the news during an interview with ESPN, Sam said, "I told my mom and dad last week, and they just pretty much said, 'We knew and we love you and support you,'" he said.
"I'm their baby boy. I'm the first to go to college. I'm the first to graduate college. Something like this is just another milestone."
Sam told his Missouri teammates back in August, but he didn't disclose his sexual orientation to his parents until last week. On Tuesday (Feb. 11th) , the New York Times reported that Michael Sam Sr. is struggling with his son's announcement. Michael Sam Sr. told the New York Times that he received the news last Tuesday after his son sent him a text that said: "Dad, I'm gay."
On Sunday night, Michael Sam made history. The college football standout publicly acknowledged that he is gay, making him the first American athlete in a major professional team sport to announce he is gay at the very beginning of his career. Sam's announcement is already one of the biggest sports stories ever, but the timing of his announcement could make it one of the biggest cultural stories ever as well.
Some of you may be scratching your heads right now trying to figure out why this story matters in an age in which the president of the United States is on the record supporting same-sex marriage, and NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay last year. But Sam's story will likely have a far more significant impact than either of these milestones. Here's why:
President Obama certainly has a measure of influence, particularly among black audiences. When he first ran for president, data showed an "Obama effect" among black test-takers whose scores markedly improved when he won. But influencing test scores in a condensed time frame is very different from having a long-term impact on community behavior. For instance, so far there is no data to suggest that the image of the president's nuclear family, comprised of two married parents raising their children and two dogs together, has significantly altered the landscape within the black community, in which single parenthood has become the norm. That is simply to say that altering social behavior in a meaningful way is a tall order for any one man, but it may be particularly tough for a president.
With ESPN's College GameDay and the No. 23 Gonzaga Bulldogs in town, members of the True Blue Nation packed the FedExForum Saturday night (Feb. 8). They came with great expectations and the Tigers delivered with a 60-54 win.
For most of the first half, Gonzaga controlled the pace. They were able to force Memphis into a half court set and the Tigers' offense looked non-existent.
Memphis started to speed things up with around five minutes remaining in the half, but the Bulldogs seemed to have an answer every time the Tigers tried to rally.
Brevity and directness often mark post-game assessments when the team you are trying to catch and pass for a playoff spot comes onto your home court and beats you solidly.
"They played good. We couldn't stop them," said the Grizzlies Zach Randolph after the Dallas Mavericks exited the FedExForum court with a 110-96 win Wednesday night. "They've got a great defensive team. They play well and they execute."
Randolph led the Grizzlies with 25 points. Late in the third quarter, however, Dallas seized a lead they would not relinquish partly by bringing Randolph under control in the paint. They maintained the lead going into the fourth quarter and led by as many as 17.
Back in 2007 and just a few days before historic Super Bowl 41, I spoke with Claude Humphrey and later crafted a story that led with this assertion: "A lot people think Claude Humphrey should be in the NFL Hall of Fame."
Seven years later, Humphrey, who graduated from old Lester High School in Binghampton before going on to Tennessee State University and the NFL (where he played from 1968 to 1981), has made it into the NFL's shrine.
Last Saturday (Feb. 1st), the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Selection Committee held its annual selection meeting, electing Humphrey – an exceptionally talented defensive end – as part of the seven-member Class of 2014.