POWERFUL WORDS

3 prominent Houston sports figures that have joined the push for racial equality

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stared straight into the camera and spoke bluntly. "We, the NFL" have failed our players and, more important, the American ideal by not acknowledging racial injustice.

"We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter."

Only one thing was missing: an unqualified apology to Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem several years ago. Kaepernick, a Super Bowl quarterback in the prime of his career, was blackballed from the NFL. He lost his career and tens of millions of dollars, but gained his voice against police oppression and brutality toward African-American people. His people, our citizens. Is it possible for Sports Illustrated to retroactively present its 2016 Sportsperson of the Year award to Kaepernick? Time Magazine might want to reconsider its Person of the Year honor, too.

On this day George Floyd is laid to rest, across America protestors, rich and poor, all colors and backgrounds, are marching to end racism. It is thrilling to watch, and if you don't think those protestors won't change America, you just watch. History is on the protestors' side.

It's exciting to watch American athletes, who we cheer in stadiums and arenas, take a knee on downtown streets protesting systemic racism in our country. Roger Goodell finally understands. Michael Jordan, long criticized for not speaking out on social issues, is talking loud and clear now, and he's putting his money where his voice is - $100 million over 10 years from his Jordan brand.

"We have been beaten down for so many years. It sucks your soul," Jordan told the Charlotte Observer. "You can't accept it anymore. This is a tipping point. We need to make a stand. We've got to be better as a society regarding race."

Don't tell LeBron James to shut up and dribble. Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook gave an impassioned speech to a large crowd of protestors in Compton, "I challenge all you guys to continue to stick together. Continue to fight for one another, continue to lift one another up. Protect your home, protect your team, protect your family."

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson appeared with other NFL stars in a video pushing the league to condemn racism. Watson is urging his college, Clemson, to remove the name of a slave owner from programs and buildings. Houston Astros slugger Alex Bregman clapped back at a Twitter follower who advised him to stick to sports and not comment on social issues, or else he'd lose 75 percent of his fans, "If hating the KKK loses me fans, I hope I lose them."

Hundreds of sports heroes in the U.S. and around the world are putting it on the line – racism will not be tolerated. According to one recent poll, 80 percent of Americans think our country is "out of control," Another poll says, for the first time, a majority of Americans believe police are more likely to use "excessive force" against black people. If you want hope that we can do better on fulfilling America's promise, read Cincinnati Reds' first baseman Joey Votto's beautiful op-ed piece titled "My Awakening" in last Sunday's Cincinnati Enquirer.

Last week, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had his own awakening. After making an unintended racially insensitive comment, "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States or our country," Brees received much criticism from teammates and other athletes. Brees educated himself about the national debate on race, and offered a long and tearful apology with no "if you were offended" wiggle room or back pedaling. Then he apologized again. Then a third time privately to his teammates. Then his wife Brittany issued an apology of her own, "WE ARE THE PROBLEM," she posted on Instagram.

President Trump weighed in that Brees needn't have apologized for standing up for the flag. "He should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American flag. Old Glory is to be revered, cherished and flown high," Mr. Trump said.

Brees fired back at the president: "It has never been (about the flag). We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from real issues that face our black communities."

It was particularly disappointing to hear other voices criticizing Brees now. They claim to be Brees fans and say their favorite quarterback appeared weak by apologizing. They say that Brees was forced to do it. Besides, he really didn't mean his "fake apology."

Calling Brees a liar and a racist in his heart, that's not a fan. That's someone who needs to be enlightened about issues of race in America.

When you don't take seriously Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien's message about racism, and wave off his comments because he traded away your favorite player, judge what's in his heart and not worry so much about clock management of a football game.

Some voices dismiss African-American sports celebrities who speak against racism. They say, these players are rich, what do they know about suffering racism? They're showboating for attention. Fake outrage.

What difference does money make when you hurt? Instead of questioning their motivation or doubting their sincerity, listen to what they're saying. In 2015, James Blake, a world Top 5 tennis player, former Harvard guy, was viciously thrown to the ground and handcuffed by a New York cop who mistook him for a different African-American.

The incident was reviewed by an independent oversight board, which determined that the cop used "excessive force" against Blake. There had been five similar complaints from citizens that year, all citing unnecessary physical abuse by the police officer. His punishment for attacking and injuring Blake? The NYPD commissioner took five vacation days away from the officer.

The U.S. is at a crossroads. Sides are drawn. Amazing Americans, protesting peacefully, aren't giving up this time.

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10th-ranked UH looks poised for a great season

Here's why UH could make a deep tournament run

The Coogs are off to a hot start. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Through eleven COVID stricken weeks, the University of Houston football team has mustered three wins.

The UH men's basketball season began on November 25th. It took them five days to catch up.

The Cougars came into last week ranked 17th in the nation in the AP preseason poll, the highest they've begun a season in 37 years. They took little time to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the nation.

UH shot out of the gate last week to a 3-0 start, including a double-digit win over 14th ranked Texas Tech. That, combined with a myriad of week one upsets, sent the Cougars soaring even further up the rankings.

By Monday afternoon, Houston was already one of the top 10 ranked teams in the nation.

Now it's important to note that it's incredibly early in the season, and there is plenty of time for something to go haywire. With TDECU stadium right across the street, they've had a front row seat to see just how sideways COVID can flip a season. The football team may only have 3 wins, but that's partly because they've had to postpone 5 games.

Regardless, they remain 10th in the nation at the moment, and it's no fluke. This is a solid team that has shown glimpses for the past three years.

Led offensively by sophomore guard Marcus Sasser (17.3 ppg) and Kansas transfer guard Quentin Grimes (16.0 ppg), the Cougars field a deep backcourt that has received welcome early contributions from freshman Tramon Mark (14.0 ppg) who's already earned an average of 19 minutes per game.

Speaking of minutes, UH brings one of the most important skills to the court this season: experience. In the era of one-and-done turnover among NCAA programs, the Cougars bring back four players that averaged over 20 minutes per game last season. That type of experience playing with one another and understanding the system head coach Kelvin Sampson plays could prove invaluable come tournament time.

What truly gives this team a shot though is their defense and hustle, both of which are a direct result of Sampson. They're simply relentless on defense. After finishing 11th in the nation last season only allowing 62.1 ppg, they've shown no signs of letting up. Through their first three games they've given up an average of 52 ppg. Even with double-digit leads, this is still a team diving for loose balls and mixing it up for offensive rebounds.

All of those ingredients make for a very salty, and very entertaining college basketball team. The Cougars have proved in the past three seasons that they're legitimately tournament worthy, and as the preseason American Conference champion favorite, this is a team that could—and should—have their eyes set even higher than their sweet sixteen appearance in 2019. Nothing is certain in the COVID era, however, but if they can make it through the season relatively unscathed they should be a tough out during March Madness.

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