Sunday, August 8, 2010

Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters

With every powerful serve and deft ground stroke, with every graceful volley and determined charge to the net, black tennis players – from Hall of Famers Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Evonne Goolagong, and Yannick Noah to future legends James Blake and the sisters Venus Williams and Serena Williams – have forced open the sport’s shuttered gates and demanded to be acknowledged.

In Charging the Net, Cecil Harris and Larryette Kyle-DeBose draw on personal interviews and extensive research to chronicle the humiliations and triumphs of blacks in professional tennis from the 1940s to the present. For many fans and writers Ashe, Gibson, and the Williams sisters personify the achievement of African-Americans in tennis, but others too have made their mark. Charging the Net spotlights a wide range of competitors as well as the American Tennis Association, an organization that thrived despite racial segregation, thanks to such benefactors as Dr. R. Walter Johnson.

The book also introduces readers to two black officials whose success was short-lived; both have sued the United States Tennis Association, alleging discrimination based on race, gender, and age.

Harlem-trained, Harvard-educated James Blake, who overcame career-threatening injuries to achieve World Top Ten status, has written a Foreword to Charging the Net. The Afterword is written by Robert Ryland, the first black to compete in a major college tournament, who later found the doors to tennis’s premier venues marked “Whites Only.” With a clear vision, this eighty-six-year-old coach now looks at how far blacks in tennis have come and how far they have yet to travel.

With 8 pages of photographs.

Cecil Harris has written on sports for Newsday, the New York Post, The Sporting News, and USA Today, and has covered tennis for The Indianapolis Star and for Gannett Suburban Newspapers (now The Journal News) in Westchester County, New York. His other books include Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey and Call the Yankees My Daddy: Reflections on Baseball, Race, and Family. He lives in Yonkers, New York.

Larryette Kyle-DeBose is a player-captain in the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association. She has worked as a photojournalist for the Swazi Times in Africa and is the author of The African-American Guide to Real Estate Investing. She lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Alex Rodriguez joins baseball's 600-home run club

With one mighty swing on August 4, Alex Rodriguez made history.

The New York Yankees third baseman belted a fastball over the center field fence in the first inning at Yankee Stadium and became only the seventh player in Major League Baseball history to hit 600 career home runs.

Rodriguez, 35, also became the youngest player to reach the 600-home run mark. Rodriguez, a right-handed batter hit the historic home run off Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Shawn Marcum in the first inning of a game the Yankees won, 5-1.

After Rodriguez was met at home plate by his happy teammates, a crowd of 47,659 gave him a standing ovation. Because the crowd continued to cheer, Rodriguez emerged from the Yankees’ dugout and waved his batting helmet to the fans.

The other players to hit at least 600 home runs are Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa.
Rodriguez is the only man on the list who is still playing.

Rodriguez hit his 599th career home run in a July 22 victory against the Kansas City Royals. That means it took him 12 games and nearly two full weeks to hit No. 600. He had gone 17 at-bats without a base hit before the big home run.

Rodriguez is a 13-time All-Star, and he has been one of baseball’s finest players since his pro career began with the Seattle Mariners in 1994. He switched from shortstop to third base when he joined the Yankees in 2004 because the Yankees already had an All-Star shortstop, Derek Jeter.

Although he is the highest-paid player in baseball, making a reported $27.5 million a year, Rodriguez is not a sure bet to make it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, where the sport’s greatest players are celebrated. That’s because in 2009, after many years of denials, Rodriguez admitted he took steroids – an illegal drug – to try to improve his performances earlier in his career.

Medical experts say steroids help athletes work out for a longer period of time and recover faster from a workout so they can get stronger, and that gives them an unfair advantage over other athletes.

But because Rodriguez said he took steroids in 2003, several years before baseball began testing for the illegal drug, baseball officials did not punish him for it.

Rodriguez has not failed a drug test since baseball began steroids testing.
Many believe he will someday pass Bonds’s total of 762 and become baseball’s all-time home run king.

Age: 35
Date of birth: July 27, 1975
Birthplace: New York, New York
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 225 pounds
Job: Baseball player
Current team: New York Yankees
Position: Third base
Previous teams: Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers
Previous position: Shortstop
Reported annual salary: $27.5 million
Family: Divorced with two daughters

(as of August 7, 2010)
1. Barry Bonds 762
2. Hank Aaron 755
3. Babe Ruth 714
4. Willie Mays 660
5. Ken Griffey Jr. 630
6. Sammy Sosa 609
7. Alex Rodriguez 600

J-Lo & Tyler in, Ellen & Kara out on 'Idol'? It's hard to judge

Networks at the Fox Television Network have yet to confirm or deny reports about major changes to America’s highest-rated TV show, “American Idol.”

As auditions for the 2011 season take place around the country, starry-eyed contestants still don’t know who will be judging their singing performances when the show returns for its 10th season in January.

Viewers knew sharp-tongued judge Simon Cowell would be leaving after this year’s “Idol” to bring “X Factor,” a talent show he created in England, to American audiences on Fox.

But “Idol” fans are buzzing over reports that judges Ellen DeGeneres, who joined the show this year, and Kara DioGuardi, who joined last year, are out. Word is they’ll be replaced by Steven Tyler, lead singer of the famed rock group Aerosmith, and popular singer-actress Jennifer Lopez.

The presence of J-Lo would give “Idol” more star power at the judge’s table than the show has ever had. Not even Paula Abdul could compare. Abdul, a quirky singer-dancer-choreographer, left “Idol” in a contract dispute in 2008.

DeGeneres, the host of an award-winning TV show, says she won’t return, citing a demanding work schedule and her reluctance to give negative criticism to “Idol” contestants.

DioGuardi, a singer-songwriter, reportedly has been fired. According to some reports, Lopez has agreed to do the show only if she were the only female judge.

Tyler replacing Cowell could raise eyebrows because “Idol” has long favored pop music singers, and Tyler performs rock music such as the 1980s hit, “Walk This Way.”

If the changes become official, Randy Jackson, a producer and guitarist, would be the only judge left from the original cast. And you may not be able to tell the other judges without a scorecard.

America takes part in Hiroshima ceremony for first time

Each year on August 6, the Japanese city of Hiroshima holds a ceremony to remember the atomic bombing of their city on that date in 1945. The explosion killed 200,000 instantly. Many more died because of burns and radiation illness.

The United States dropped the bomb on Hiroshima in retaliation for Japan’s attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii on December 7, 1941 – an attack that led to America’s involvement in World War II.

The bomb was nicknamed “Little Boy” by those aboard the Air Force bomber Enola Gay.

Because of the tragic event linking America to Hiroshima, our country had chosen not to participate in that city’s annual day of remembrance.

Until this year. U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos took part in the solemn public ceremony, which included the ringing of a bell at a Buddhist temple and the release of a flock of doves. Doves are an international symbol of peace.

For years, America’s reluctance to participate was seen as a way to avoid having to apologize for the bombing of Hiroshima and another Japanese city, Nagasaki, during World War II.

Roos offered no apology or public statement of any kind during the ceremony. But his presence was largely seen as an attempt to promote peace and greater understanding between the U.S. and Japan.

So was the visit of Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba to The White House in January. Mayor Akiba invited President Obama to visit Hiroshima when he travels to Japan in November as part of an event honoring Mr. Obama and other recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The White House has not said whether President Obama will visit Hiroshima.

America has long held the position that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, horrific as they were, helped shorten World War II and prevented a U.S. invasion of Japan that would have led to more deaths.

Japan, which is now a pacifist, or non-aggressive, nation, believes the bombings showed the world what mass destruction nuclear weapons can cause, and that is why they must be eliminated everywhere.

Should America formally apologize to Hiroshima? Today, even the opinions of those who survived the bombing are divided.

“I want President Obama to apologize,” said Tadashi Takahashi, 84, an antiwar advocate. “But even more I want what he wants – a world without nuclear weapons.”

“There is no point in apologizing now, after 65 years,” said Akihiro Takahashi, 79, the former head of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. “We want President Obama to see with his own eyes what really happened here. This will give him stronger willpower to eliminate nuclear weapons.”


(1) Should President Obama visit Hiroshima during his trip to Japan this fall?
(2) Should President Obama apologize for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
(3) Should every country that has nuclear weapons destroy them?

Note: The news item used in researching this article did not say whether Tadashi Takahashi and Akihiro Takahashi are related.

Wyclef Jean to Run for President of Haiti

Singer-songwriter Wyclef Jean, who for many years has been an advocate for Haiti, now wants to be president of his native country.

Jean, 37, submitted the paperwork August 5 to run in the election set for Sunday, November 28. The winner will be elected to a five-year term. Political analysts don’t expect President Rene Preval to be reelected.

People had speculated for years about the political ambitions of Jean (pronounced Zhahn), who was born in Haiti but moved to New York City when he was 9.

Jean said he knows critics will say he’s not eligible to run because the Haitian constitution requires a candidate to have lived in Haiti for five straight years prior to an election.

“They’re going to attack me in the next two weeks,” Jean said. “They think they’re going to get me with the dual citizenship thing. But I have a Haitian passport with a green card.”

A three-time Grammy Award winner best known for being part of the group The Fugees, Jean became highly visible in Haiti after a January 12 earthquake devastated the Caribbean island. The earthquake killed 230,000 and left 2 million homeless in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Yele Haiti, a charity founded by Jean, collected millions of dollars earmarked for earthquake relief and recovery efforts. Much of the money came from people texting their donations.

A 2006 tax return showed one-third of the donations to Yele Haiti had been used instead for miscellaneous expenses. At a news conference in January, Jean tearfully denied knowledge of the financial problems.

Actor Sean Penn, whose J/P Relief Organization has aided Haitians, said on August 4 that in the months after the earthquake Jean “has been virtually silent for those of us in Haiti. He has been a non-presence.”

Although Jean has no political experience, he says he believes he can inspire Haitians in a way similar to that of the first African-American president.

“The United States has Barack Obama and Haiti has Wyclef Jean,” he said.


* Haiti has a long history of political instability. Dr. Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, are among the past presidents widely seen as brutal and corrupt by the people of Haiti.

* Half of Haiti’s 9 million residents are under the age of 25. That could bode well for Wyclef Jean’s campaign since he is very popular among Haitian youth.

* Pras Michel, Jean’s cousin, and Lauryn Hill were the other members of The Fugees. The group’s second album, The Score, won two Grammys.

* Jean’s uncle Raymond Joseph, a former Haitian Ambassador to the U.S., also plans to run for president? “We talked about this; we talk all the time,” Joseph said. “We are family. We won’t allow politics to divide.” There is talk that Joseph and Jean may campaign together. Relatives campaigning together while running against each other for the same job? That’s something you may never see in American politics.

A Supreme Achievement: Elena Kagan Joins America's High Court

With the lifetime appointment of Elena Kagan, three women will serve together on the United States Supreme Court for the first time.

Kagan, a New York City native, joins Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on America’s highest court. Kagan, 50, will be the youngest of the nine members.

Both Sotomayor, who was nominated by President Obama last year, and Bader Ginsburg were born in New York City. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia grew up in New York City.

During an August 6 ceremony at The White House hosted by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Kagan thanked her parents. “I wouldn’t be standing here today without their love, support and devotion,” said Kagan, the 112th Supreme Court Justice.

Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to sit on the High Court and decide many of America’s important legal issues. She was nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and retired in 2006.

Kagan graduated from Harvard University Law School, as did President Obama. She is the first Supreme Court justice in nearly 40 years with no experience as a judge. She is a former dean of Harvard Law School, and she had served as solicitor general under former President Bill Clinton.

After President Obama appointed Kagan for the Supreme Court, she had to be confirmed by a majority of the members of the U.S. Senate. Since there are 50 states and each state has two senators, a total of 100 senators voted.

Kagan was confirmed by a vote of 63-37 to replace the retired John Paul Stevens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the Democratic senator to vote against her. Five Republicans and the Senate’s two independent members voted for her.

President Obama said the senators “got a pretty good look at Elena Kagan…her formidable intelligence, her rich understanding of our Constitution…and occasionally her irreverent sense of humor.”


The U.S. Supreme Court traditionally begins its session on the first Monday in October. Here are the nine members and the years they were nominated:

Chief Justice John Roberts (2003); Associate Justices: Antonin Scalia (1986); Anthony Kennedy (1988); Clarence Thomas (1991); Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1993); Stephen G. Breyer (1994); Samuel Alito (1994); Sonia Sotomayor (2009); and Elena Kagan (2010).

Ask students to come up with words and terms that mean the same as: irreverent – making fun of, mocking, saucy, flippant

majority – best part, more, most

What does a solicitor general do? The solicitor general is the chief lawyer representing the federal government, and decides what legal position the U.S. will take in the Supreme Court.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sports Team Owners Are Still Channeling P.T. Barnum

P.T. Barnum, the 19th century entertainment impresario, best known for creating the world-famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, said famously, "There’s a sucker born every minute."

Barnum, who died in 1891, could not have known how much he would have in common with professional sports franchise owners in the 21st century.

No way could Barnum have foreseen how the sham of "personal seat licenses" (PSLs), used for the building of pro sports teams at greatly reduced costs for team owners and exorbitant costs for sports fans, would be such a cash cow today.

Imagine people being asked to pay for the right to buy tickets to a newly constructed stadium, as if ticket-buying was not already an inalienable right of any citizen. And then imagine millions of fans falling for this scam – paying a team for a "license" to buy a seat and then paying again for the actual overpriced seat.

Unfortunately, common sense has not permeated the minds of enough fans to make them say, "We are going to stop paying for personal seat licenses and say to team owners. We’ll just buy tickets after you build the stadium or arena instead of giving the owners an interest-free loan worth millions of dollars."

If fans ever wake up, then the odious and usurious PSL sham would end post-haste.

Old P.T. must be laughing over in his pine box and wondering why, oh why, didn’t I think of PSLs?

Yes, there are suckers born every minute, and they walk around wearing the logo of their favorite team while believing they have a personal say in how the team conducts business.

After all, it’s "my" team, right? Yeah. Sure, it is.

That’s why the Baltimore Colts packed up their belongings in the dead of night and the football team moved to Indianapolis. And why the Browns left Cleveland high and dry and became the Baltimore Ravens. And why Al Davis moved his – not Oakland’s – Raiders to Los Angeles because he got a better deal only to move his – not L.A.’s – Raiders back to Oakland because he got a better deal. And why Davis may yet move his Raiders out of Oakland again in pursuit of a better deal.

Davis has used the PSL sham in two different cities, with perhaps a third to come.

But this is not just about Davis. His brethren in the owners’ sky boxes are doing the same thing.

The New York Jets are still peddling PSLs in the hope of filling seats at the new stadium in New Jersey that they’ll share with the New York Giants, the stadium still without a corporate name. In radio and TV ads, the Jets say ticket prices have been "reduced by 50 percent."

Usually, that last sentence would end with an exclamation point. But in this case, a 50 percent decrease is the difference between a high-priced seat and an obscenely priced seat – after the fan/sucker pays for the right to buy the overpriced seat.

The New York Yankees reduced ticket prices by 50 percent for their best seats at the new Yankee Stadium in 2009. The cost went from $2,500 per ticket per game to $1,250 per ticket per game. Still, those seats have gone largely unsold despite the Yankees’ winning the World Series in 2009 and being in first place this year.

It is tempting to assume that sports fans are finally waking up because of the vast rows of empty seats behind home plate at nearly every baseball game, or at courtside or rinkside of almost every televised pro basketball or hockey game. However, I’m convinced the empty seats have infinitely more to do with America’s ongoing economic recession than fans’ refusal to overpay the owner of their favorite team.

When the recession ends (and it should eventually), more new stadiums and arenas with even more luxury suites for the rich will be built. And even more middle-class fans will be asked to spend hard-earned money for the right to spend even more of their hard-earned money for tickets to watch the games in person.

That is, unless sports fans finally see the light and prove me and P.T. Barnum wrong.