A Black Entertainment Roundup Joint, Volume 4


(L-R): Ebonee Noel, Yaani King Mondschein, Karen LeBlanc, and Rance Nix

(L-R): Ebonee Noel, Yaani King Mondschein, Karen LeBlanc, and Rance Nix
Photo: Headshots courtesy of OWN Communications

Before we go, I must make you aware of some wonderful casting news from the Oprah Winfrey Network.

In a press release sent to The Root, it seems the upcoming drama series from Janine Sherman Barrios, Kings of Napa, has found their four leading actors: FBI’s Ebonee Noel, For All Mankind’s Yaani King Mondschein, Jack Ryan’s Karen LeBlanc, and Zero Issues Rance Nix. To help jog your memory, Kings of Napa will center around “a gorgeous and picturesque Napa Valley, California vineyard owned by the Kings, an aspirational African American family whose wealth and status lands them on the pages of design magazines and society pages. The wine business has brought the family success and acclaim, but following the patriarch’s sudden exit from the company, his three children must grapple for the reigns to the kingdom—to their own power, wealth, and legacy.”

Illustration for article titled The Root Presents Role Call: A Black Entertainment Roundup Joint

The characters descriptions, per press release:

Ebonee Noel (“FBI,” “Wrecked”) plays the role of August King, the middle King sibling and the family’s brilliant marketing whiz. She is passionate about wine and always looking for new ways to expand the business.

Rance Nix (“Zero Issue,” “Amsterdam Ave.”) plays the role of Dana King, August’s older brother and the savvy CFO of the winery. He and August often butt heads when it comes to the family business.

Karen LeBlanc (“Ransom,” “Jack Ryan”) plays the role of Vanessa King, the matriarch of the King family. Vanessa is a former news reporter who gave up her career to help run the winery in Napa. She and her husband Reginald seemingly had a picture-perfect marriage — until she discovered things about his past.

Yaani King Mondschein (“For All Mankind,” “Bad Hair”) plays the role of Bridgette Peele, August’s cousin and right hand who works as the vineyard manager for King Estate Wines. When secrets threaten to change the family forever, her life turns upside down.


An entire generation owes DMX for his lesson in resilience He defied expectations during an era when the public and media weren’t kind to his struggles with drug addiction

DMX’s entire life story has felt like him standing down at the prospect of an early death — and the Grim Reaper retreating to a corner. But not even the old adage that “all dogs go to heaven” makes the truth any less arduous. After being rushed to the hospital on April 2 following a heart attack brought on by an apparent drug overdose, the man born Earl Simmons died Friday at a White Plains, New York, hospital following his family’s decision to remove him from life support. The Yonkers-born rap titan was 50.

His life, and now forever in death, will continue to revolve around what he ultimately couldn’t escape. This isn’t the only conversation to be had about DMX, as none of us are defined simply in the manner of how we take our last breath. Those inner demons and fights against them, though, are a large part of the fabric that made him the complex man he was.

Oftentimes, all an addict has in their fight against addiction is their own resiliency. That test of wills has made it seem like DMX has lived at least 100 lifetimes with everything he endured, making the news of his death all the more sobering. The life of Simmons has been a personal odyssey lived on the most public of stages. He was a nuclear bomb of equal parts passion, pain and, most important of all, perseverance. His interviews and moments of intense introspection, too, have never hidden the source of his life’s pain that fueled one of rap’s most historic, and concurrently, troubled careers.

DMX, in one way or another, is a portal into our own lives or many of our families’ darkest secrets. That’s why DMX matters to the depths that he does. In so many ways, he is us. We’ve lived with his music while witnessing loved ones or even ourselves battle demons. 

So when the news broke last weekend about X having to be rushed to the hospital, an all-too-familiar sense of anxiety and grief engulfed the hip-hop world. Death is a part of life, but in rap, so many artists define periods of our lives. X’s music, which always had an overwhelming element of mortality, is a poster child of this belief. His music is littered with tales of near-death experiences and each album in his catalog contains a passionate prayer directed at God for the blessings and curses in his life. That dichotomy, plus a penchant for creating aggressive and animated hit records, made DMX not just a famous rapper, but also one whose art soundtracked a generation in its most intimate and personal moments of need.

“The reason I think my fans love me is because I let them know so much about me,” X once said. “I bare my soul. I’m not ashamed to cry. I’m not ashamed to hurt. I’m not ashamed to fall. ‘Cause I pick myself up.”

In the genre’s history, few come close to how transcendent and transparent DMX and the music he produced were. With two No. 1 albums in 1998 alone in his magnum opus Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood and It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot — and later the only artist in history to have his first five projects hit No. 1 — he was a true one-of-one in an industry where carbon copies are often celebrated.

X’s sound was an avant-garde act that diverted from Bad Boy’s “shiny suit era” that was flooding airwaves and radio stations in the post-Tupac and Biggie Smalls hip-hop universe. His music felt dark, genuine and honest. His connection to dogs felt closer than people, an admission he’d make in “Slippin’,” a landmark record from a landmark catalog. But brazen confessions in songs such as “I Miss You,” an ode to his late grandmother, or “Coming From” could not have been any more human. His music proved phenomenal, but the same demons that helped create the music were very much co-pilots in his life.

From the crippling economic collapse in New York in the 1970s to the crack cocaine’s vise grip the following decade, his life was a product of many wrong turns in American history. Trauma was a constant companion, specifically in his personal life. His father was absent, causing X to once lament that life made him live through that in return, as he rhymed on “I Can Feel It,” for a talent and being able to survive when it’s harder. He never hid the violence he suffered at the hands of his mother when he was a child — once having two teeth knocked out by her with a broom.

He’d later say of the life his mother and absentee father involuntarily afforded him, “I personally struggle with forgiving my parents. But until you learn how to forgive others, you can’t forgive yourself. You can’t forgive yourself if you don’t know how to forgive.”

But forgiving himself proved difficult. What was also rough was the life he lived whenever he stepped foot outside of his front door. He was arrested for the first time when he was 10 years old for arson. In those same streets he was running were also older men with whom he sought peace and belonging. One man in particular was someone who X considered a mentor and role model. When X was 14, that mentor gave him a blunt to smoke. He never told X that it was laced with crack. X never recovered from that betrayal. Abandoned at home and manipulated on the streets, the severe mental and physical pain took a deep toll on X, who in turn plunged deeper and deeper into the streets. I’ve got a good heart, he once said on “Look Through My Eyes,” but this heart can get ugly.

Had it not been for Simmons’ resiliency, the world would’ve never heard of DMX. He’d been on the music scene in New York for years prior to his major label debut — even appearing in The Source’s famed “Unsigned Hype” column in its January 1991 issue. He didn’t have one foot in the streets while trying to get into the music industry. He was still fully immersed in it.

For years, X had earned a reputation as a fearless stickup kid. But he was also known for street rhymes that were so gritty they couldn’t have been coming from a guy who watched from afar. They were coming from a guy who lived the life. A guy who, in 1988, once escaped from an upstate New York prison in the middle of winter and survived in the cold by rubbing multiple layers of vaseline over his body, wrapping it in Saran Wrap and wearing multiple layers of clothes. That’s the type of realism, however flawed, that would later live in his music. Before linking with Def Jam, DMX was jumped by a rival street crew who believed X had robbed them days earlier. The truth is it was a case of mistaken identity. The end result was a wired jaw, but that didn’t stop him from rhyming through his teeth to then-Def Jam executive Lyor Cohen. An impression was made before he mouthed the first word.

Open conversations surrounding addiction and mental health awareness in the ’90s were taboo. Society was not mild when it came to unleashing its cruelty toward artists such as Whitney Houston and Kurt Cobain who openly suffered. Yet, struggles have historically made for the greatest and most personal of albums (see: Marvin Gaye, Mary J. Blige or Adele). X has always been a living, breathing and rapping cry for help. He’d admit, on the Dame Grease-produced “F—in’ wit D,” that he was listed as a manic depressive with extreme paranoia.

Unable to treat his condition, the only place of solace for DMX was the same streets that would make him a well-known figure in New York’s criminal justice database. X once said that his rap sheet was read in court one time and that it stretched across half the courtroom. Over the course of his life, X has been arrested nearly 30 times. If X had nothing else in his life, he did have the revolving door of the penitentiary.

“Before I really had a life,” X told GQ in 2018, “jail was a playground.” 

Later, as X’s star power rose to make him the biggest rapper in the world by the late ’90s, his access to certain vices increased, too. As high-level peers such as Jay-Z and Nas remained consistent in their output, X teetered as his addiction and various arrests for a litany of charges led to jail time and even a failed 2010 reality TV series that would document his journey toward sobriety. In 2016, he was found “lifeless” in the parking lot of a Yonkers Ramada Inn. X’s attorney said it was asthma, though investigators noted the police report stating that he ingested an unknown substance. For so long, X’s music and even his life in the headlines had always been about what was going wrong and why X’s life was on borrowed time. Dogs were kindred spirits and his bark would signal his alliance to them — but DMX seemed to have more lives than a cat. He always bounced back.

Regardless of the setbacks both self-imposed and unavoidable watermarked by the unaddressed grief still on his heart, X found a way to survive. He brought with him the joy that survival afforded him to places like homeless shelters. His smile during these last 18 months produced a visceral joy. Now, it felt, he was taking that time back. Dancing and singing along to songs with his daughter on Instagram. The highly anticipated and well-received Verzuz battle with Snoop Dogg last summer. And his incredibly revealing and entertaining Drink Champs sit down in February. He looked to be basking in the joy that he deserved, not just as a hip-hop icon, but as a man.

Like so many rap luminaries to precede him, we’re left to wonder what the second half-century of his life could have offered. Yet and still, I’m both inspired and haunted by two things DMX has said, both a decade apart: “I think my life,” he predicted in 2011, “is just beginning.”

Just two months ago he’d say, “If I was to drop dead right now, my last thought would be I’ve had a good life.”

Perhaps this light, ultimately more than any of the demons he fought for a half-century, is the best way to remember Dark Man X: A man who finally found peace in a life of so much chaos.

Features — The Undefeated

In ‘Beautiful Scars,’ legendary backup singer Merry Clayton walks by faith After a car accident took both her legs, the ‘20 Feet from Stardom’ singer testifies to God’s grace on her new album

There comes a point in talking with Merry Clayton when it becomes clear, like the prayers of the righteous, that you’re tuning in to a ministry, a walk, a testimony that unfolds like an extended sermon.

“I know one thing, I know God is in control,” said Clayton, who began her recording career singing a duet with Bobby Darin at 14, and by 16, was the lead Raelette, performing with Ray Charles. The “queen diva” of background vocals has worked with Carole King, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Joe Cocker. She lent the Rolling Stones a searing authority with her iconic turn on the 1969 anti-war anthem, “Gimme Shelter.”

Hers is a worship service already in process. “I thank God every day. ‘God, thank you for my gift!’ ” she said.

Clayton, 72, was trained up in her father’s church in New Orleans in the ways of the Lord, and as a woman and an artist, has never departed from them. Which is not to say she hasn’t been tested.

In the Academy Award-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, Clayton starred as one of the mostly Black female background singers whose sound defined popular music, even if their names never rang a bell. Months after the film’s 2014 win, Clayton was in a near-fatal car accident not far from her Los Angeles home. She woke up in the hospital to the news that to save her life, doctors had to amputate both her legs below the knee.

But her voice, she had to know, was it still all there? 

Clayton’s new album Beautiful Scars, her first in 25 years, out Friday on the Motown Gospel/Capitol Records label, features songs of uplift and faith. Co-produced by Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Lou Adler and gospel artist Terry Young, it includes songs by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, covers of Sam Cooke and Leon Russell, and the title track written by Songwriters Hall of Famer Diane Warren.

To get to this moment, Clayton spent five months in the hospital and nearly five years in rehabilitation.

“I thought I knew patience,” she said. But “you don’t know patience until you have lost both of your legs from the knee down.”

Until you have to learn to steady yourself in prosthetic legs to move about your home. 

Still, Clayton says she wouldn’t change a thing. “Even the bad, because everything that made me break, it made me who I am.” 

And allowed her to walk on faith. 

In the documentary, Clayton reflects emotionally on her solo albums in the 1970s, which enjoyed only moderate success, never getting higher than No. 36 on the R&B charts. “I felt like if I just gave my heart to what I was doing, I would automatically be a star,” Clayton said in the film. 

“I think at that time, there was only room for Aretha,” said Adler. He first worked with Clayton on Bob Dylan’s 1969 gospel album, Dylan’s Gospel, and throughout her solo career, eventually becoming someone she considered family. “She had the same talent” as Franklin, Adler said. “It was just the situation.”

An image of Merry Clayton behind the scenes during the album photo shoot.

Mathieu Bitton

Or perhaps it was not her time. But this time is different. 

Clayton began singing in New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father, A.G. Williams Clayton Sr., was an accomplished musician and pastor. This is where she met guest singers such as Cooke and Franklin. She’d always sit with Mahalia Jackson, another New Orleans native and close family friend, or stand in the corner mimicking everything Jackson did.

“From the time that she was in church with her father, and the people that she came in contact with, it’s always been about the artistry and singing,” said Adler, 87, whom Clayton calls Uncle Lou.

During her hardest times, Adler says, they weren’t working on records, they were working on recovery. 

“My thought was, if anything could bring her back to where she was before the accident, and what she thinks about and what she feels, it was music,” Adler said. “And that’s why I might’ve been overly obsessive, but she allowed me to be when I kept on saying, ‘You’ve got to sing, Merry, you’ve got to sing.’ ”

Maxine Waters is part of the storied Waters family of vocalists who also starred in 20 Feet from Stardom, and sang backup on the world’s bestselling album, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and The Bodyguard, the most successful film soundtrack. She and Clayton met in 1970 when the two altos bonded as part of the backup choir for the song “Are you Ready?” by Pacific Gas & Electric. They’ve been best friends ever since.

Lou Adler (right) first worked with Merry Clayton (left) on Bob Dylan’s 1969 gospel album, Dylan’s Gospel, and throughout her solo career, eventually becoming someone she considered family.

Lester Cohen/WireImage

Waters was there in 2002 when doctors told Clayton that her husband, renowned jazz saxophonist Curtis Amy, who had cancer, had only a week to live. The couple had met when she was a Raelette and he was the musical director for the Ray Charles orchestra, and they had been married more than three decades. They’d lost a child to miscarriage after the strain of the “Gimme Shelter” recording, Clayton told the Los Angeles Times in 1986.

At a restaurant across the street from the hospital, Clayton started planning who she needed to call to come say their goodbyes, and what she was going to sing at her husband’s homegoing. 

On the way back to the hospital, Waters says Clayton broke into song. “We were on Third Street, that’s here in Hollywood. We were walking. People were looking and she was just singing ‘A Song For You,’ you know?” It was a song she and Amy performed together on Clayton’s eponymous 1971 album. “I was just crying and she was singing,” Waters remembered.

After the car accident, when Clayton was in the intensive care unit surrounded by family, she called Waters. “This was right after the amputation,” Waters said. Clayton told her, “Max, I’m just going to sing.” So she started singing the gospel standard, “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.”

Waters knew then that her friend would be OK, because she doesn’t sing softly. “She was blasting it out in her regular voice that she does.”

“I live by faith, not by sight,” Clayton said. “I always knew who I was, but I also knew whose I was.” She says she would have been fine if she’d never been able to sing again, because “I had done my duty here on earth.” But like the song says, God was not through with her yet.

When she woke up from surgery, the doctors “were very tender and very sweet,” Clayton said. “They said, ‘OK, Ms. Clayton, in order to save your life, we had to amputate both legs from the knee down.’ I said, ‘OK, but did you, did anything happen to my voice?’Oh, no. Nothing happened to your voice.’

“Then I just started to sing,” Clayton said. “I knew if I could sing, I would be OK. But I also knew that if I couldn’t sing, I would still be OK. It would take me a minute to get it back together.” She felt that, she believed it. “I knew that in my spirit. As my pastor would say, ‘I know in my knower.’ ”

She’d learned a long time ago when she was complaining about some show business thing to her godmother, actress Della Reese, whom Clayton sang with in the mid-’80s gospel group Brilliance. Reese had told her, “That’s called L-I-F-E. And you don’t get through this life without going through some things.”

“You can’t have a testimony without going through a test, darling,” said Clayton. “And I’ve been through the fire. I’ve been through the fire, honey, and through the rain, and came out sounding like gold, like pure gold. I’m just glimmering.”

Young, the singer and songwriter who toured with Dylan and whose “Circle of Life” arrangement plays at Disneyland, first met Clayton decades ago when both were singing background around town. Session friends, Young calls them. In 1994, he wrote five songs for her gospel album Miracles.

Adler, who’d worked with Young on a children’s gospel album, called to say Clayton wanted to do an album. On the phone, Young sang them a song he’d already written.

Singer Merry Clayton (center) in the studio with producer and record mogul Lou Adler (right), circa 1970.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He sent full tracks and backgrounds for three songs, including “Oh What a Friend” and “God’s Love.” “When I brought the track to Merry’s house,” Young said, “Merry was just excited to just have the right kind of music to sing to.” She went right into “Oh What a Friend,” and her granddaughter Kyliyah, 17, kept saying, “Grandma, grandma!” because it was incredible. Adler felt the same. “He just told me, ‘Terry, I could give you the whole album,’ which is exactly what happened.”

Young put together a choir of 15, including the Waters family and singers Clayton had known for years who wanted to be part of the project. Some didn’t even want to be paid.

Adler also reached out to Martin. Clayton had sung on the 2015 Coldplay album A Head Full of Dreams, just months after she’d returned home after the accident. At the time, Martin had told Clayton that when she was ready to do her own album, he’d write a song for her. When Adler called, he sent over “Love is a Mighty River.”

Warren shouted into the receiver when Adler called her, and, a few days later, she gave them “Beautiful Scars.”

I’ve been on the battlefield of Life, I’ve been through it
But I just had to go through that/to get to this
I, I’ve been knocked out/I’ve been kicked down
But faith brought me back/ And I’m still standing here now
These are beautiful scars that I have on my heart/
This is beautiful proof that I’ve made it this far

Many artists with long careers lose something in their voice, Adler says. “If it isn’t how high they can go, what note they can hit, there’s a little bit of a change of key. Not for Merry. She has got all of that.” He muses that the years after the accident, when she sang less often, might have had something to do with that.

The only thing that’s different about Clayton’s singing is, “we record her mostly sitting. … However, if she has to reach for a note, we have bars, very similar to parallel bars, like in gymnastics, and she’ll have to reach up on those,” Adler said. “Before she just had to reach within herself. Now she has to do something physically to get it.”

“I just really had to pray to get through it,” Clayton said. Had to say, Lord, please. “I’ve got to sing this song and I’ve got to sing it with love and with dignity, but I can’t sing it crying, you know?” So she asked God to dry her weeping eyes.

“I got through it,” Clayton said. “But, boy, that ‘Beautiful Scars’ did a number on me.”

Young added two more original songs, “Room At The Altar” and “He Made a Way,” and rearranged a Cooke gospel song, “Touch the Hem of His Garment.” There’s a medley where Kyliyah Merry Amy takes her grandmother’s vocal torch and sings a lead part.

And Clayton updates her performance of the Russell classic, “A Song For You.” As a surprise, Adler lifted the Curtis Amy tenor sax performance from the couple’s 1971 recording of the song and dropped it into the new arrangement.

As he was songwriting, “I was really thinking about what a representative and an ambassador they would be,” for Clayton, said Young. “In big arenas, coming onstage, on wheels or however she’d come onstage. She would be such an inspiration.”

When the singing community found out about Clayton’s accident, “We were devastated,” said Young. “To lose both your legs, especially in our industry, that was a big pill to swallow.”

But Clayton has a strength in her and that’s why they’d stay in the studio sometimes until the early morning. Clayton never complained, and she’d call or text to check on Young. She gives people “who might be feeling a certain way, she gives them strength, so she turns it around,” Young says. He credits the spirit that’s God’s given her.

A lot of singers perform gospel, “but not everybody’s gospel has understanding,” Young said. Clayton has come into her own, he says. “It’s almost like her voice is better. I think it’s better than it was before the accident. … People will wonder how can you not serve a God like that.”

Sometimes on social media, people write, “I don’t know who needs to hear this … ” before sharing their thoughts. Listening to Clayton, something similar applies. It’s not clear if a grieving world needs to hear this more, or if she needs to sing it. The answer, of course, is both.

Clayton calls the album right for a time when so many have suffered so much. 

Your scars are hidden, or secret, or sometimes on display for the whole world to see. Sometimes you might not even know they are there yourself, and there’s just no accounting for the ache. “That’s a scar. But you know what makes it beautiful is how you came out of it. It’s how you worked your way out of it. What did you do in the midst of that situation? That’s the beauty of your scar. What did you learn from it so that you won’t have to go through it again?” said Clayton. “Why don’t you just go ahead and say, ‘Preach, Ms. Merry?’ ” she asked rhetorically, like the Spirit has gotten to her. And in the background, you can almost hear the organs and a chorus of amens.

Features — The Undefeated

Junie Shumpert does the walk challenge


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Teyana Taylor In Concert - Miami, FL

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Baby Junie has done it again. The 5-year-old daughter to Teyana Taylor and Iman Shumpert has a personality that bursts at the seams. We’ve seen her give model face, we’ve heard her sing on her mother’s records, and now she’s showing us why she is the official winner of the “Walk” Challenge.

In a video posted to Teyana Taylor’s Instagram page, she wrote, “Was scrolling thru my phone and found Junie doing what she does best. BE JUNIE 😩😩 I told y’all I can’t make this up 😂😂😂 @imanshumpert what we finna do with her? It’s giving @1saucysantanaofficial I BLAME YOU 🤣🤣🤣🤣”

Junie’s personality is a dead ringer for her spirited mother. This lil baby is an entertainer! Teyana Taylor is definitely raising her daughter to be her authentic self and it shows. Junie’s confidence is infectious and I’d love to see her start a YouTube channel like Zhuri James. It won’t be long before baby Junie is making her acting debut on the big screen.

It is so fun to watch this generation of celebrity kids grow up. Tots like Kaviaa James, Blue Ivy Carter, and Junie Shumpert will eventually become the leaders in years to come. Nurturing their creative sides is extremely important during these years. What do you think?


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Why Clutter Can Be So Bad For People With Anxiety (And What To Do About It)


Stacks of mail and papers cover your desk. Piles of clothes accumulate on the chair in your bedroom. Makeup, toiletries and other products crowd your bathroom counter. Toys are strewn across the living room floor. For some people, a messy home is a minor nuisance or something they can easily overlook. For others, it can have a significant impact on their mental health.

As Wendy Wisner, who has an anxiety disorder, explained in a blog post for the site Scary Mommy, “Cleaning up clutter is not just another thing on the to-do list like packing my kids’ lunches, changing the car’s oil, or making my next dentist appointment. It’s a full-on ragey kind of panic.”

“It’s the feeling that I literally can’t breathe with all the clutter that’s filling our house,” she said. “It’s a feeling that the world is a chaotic place that I can’t control, and all of that chaos is represented by the loud, unruly, angsty wreck that is my living room.”

Research seems to back this up, too. A small 2009 study found that women who described their homes using words like “cluttered,” “messy” and “chaotic” had levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) that did not show a normal, healthy decline over the course of the day. Rather, their cortisol levels followed a flatter pattern that’s been associated with greater chronic stress and has been linked with other negative health outcomes.

A 2016 survey of people with mild to severe issues with clutter found that their disorderly living spaces had a negative impact on their perception of their home and satisfaction with their lives overall.

It’s important to recognize that, when excessive, clutter can be both a cause and effect of mental health troubles, said Cindy Glovinsky, who worked as both a psychotherapist and professional organizer during her career. Many of her clients with more severe clutter issues had been diagnosed with conditions like depression, attention deficit disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“And people who are grieving can sometimes go through a temporary period of clutter and disorganization that improve as they begin to heal from their loss,” said Glovinsky, author of “Making Peace With the Things in Your Life.”

Why Clutter Can Trigger Anxiety

Generally speaking, our external environment can have a strong influence over how we feel internally and how we behave. Think about how energized you feel at a concert or sporting event or how calm you feel when you hike through nature, said Gina Delucca, a clinical psychologist at Wellspace SF in California.

“Our environment can affect our mood for better or for worse, and different people may respond differently to certain environments — for example, some people may feel annoyed by the crowds of people at a musical festival,” she added. “Your home environment is no different.”

Similarly, individuals have different levels of tolerance when it comes to clutter and disorganization, Glovinsky noted. Those prone to anxiety (or people with the highly sensitive personality trait) may have a lower threshold for messiness in their surroundings than the average person.

“Some people actually like a certain amount of chaos in their environment, as it makes them feel freer and more creative, while others feel overwhelmed by even a small amount of clutter,” Glovinsky said. “Those who feel overwhelmed may become anxious or depressed as a result.”

“It’s the feeling that I literally can’t breathe with all the clutter that’s filling our house.”

– Wendy Wisner, associate editor at Scary Mommy

If you fall into the latter camp, then a home that’s in disarray can make you feel mentally overloaded, drained or lacking control — unpleasant sensations that are all too familiar to people living with anxiety.

“For many people, their home is a sanctuary away from the overstimulation of the world and its daily operations,” said Kim Strong, a licensed clinical social worker at Wellspace SF. “A messy or disorganized environment at home can be a tangible reminder of this chaos and may cause a feeling of being out of control or anxious. Looking around at a messy room can be a reminder of a long to-do list, unfinished tasks or, in general, can make moving around and finding things one needs more difficult.”

Decluttering, however, can be a productive way for some people to channel their anxious energy.

“It may also serve as a nice mental distraction, taking your attention away from whatever you were anxious about in the first place,” Delucca said. “You may feel more in control afterward and experience a feeling of accomplishment or satisfaction, which can help to alleviate some of your anxiety.”

How To Deal If A Messy Home Triggers Your Anxiety

Experts offer advice for people whose anxiety is greatly affected by the state of their living space.

Experts offer advice for people whose anxiety is greatly affected by the state of their living space.

When you live alone, it may be easier to keep your home up to your personal cleaning or organizational standards. Perhaps you already have your own system in place. But if you don’t, The Spruce, a home decor and improvements website, recommends decluttering your space room by room. Or, you can break the process down into even smaller chunks by just focusing on your bedroom closet, for example.

Before you start, create five baskets: one for stuff that needs to be put away, one for items that need to be recycled, one for things that need to be repaired or cleaned, one for trash and one for donations. Then tackle each room part by part, making sure you’ve fully completed one area before moving on to the next.

Once you’ve gotten things organized, it does take some effort to keep them that way. Strong recommends employing a mantra like “finish the task” whenever you do everyday things like open the mail or change clothes.

“This helps to ensure that the junk mail actually gets thrown away or recycled and the dirty laundry makes it into the hamper,” she said.

However, when you share your home with other people — be it a significant other, roommate, kids or other relatives — it can be more of a challenge to maintain a level of order that doesn’t put your anxiety into overdrive. Below, experts share some advice to help you cope.

Have a conversation with your partner or housemates about your individual levels of tolerance for clutter.

Talk about what you need in order to keep your mental health in check. Ask them to share their preferences, too.

“If theirs is different than yours, approach this as a problem that you can solve together so everyone’s needs can be respected and met as much as possible,” Glovinsky said.

Ask for help — and be specific about what you need.

Do you feel like you have more household tasks than you have time to complete? Are you constantly cleaning up after your spouse or kids? Even if you find organizing therapeutic, it can be hard to manage the mess all by yourself when you already have a lot on your plate. If that’s the case, then you probably need others in your home to pitch in.

“Ask your family members, partner, or roommates to help out a bit instead of trying to do it all on your own,” Delucca said. “Be specific on which tasks you’d like others to do, especially if they’re not in the habit of taking things upon themselves automatically. By not saying anything, you may build up frustration and resentment on top of your anxiety, leading you to feel worse.”

If it’s within your budget, consider hiring a housekeeper to come every so often. “Sometimes the extra cost can be worth the time and energy you get back in return,” Delucca said.

Keep at least one room super neat and organized, if you can.

That way, when the rest of the house is a mess, you have somewhere you can escape from the chaos — “even if that’s the bathroom,” Glovinsky said.

If you have kids, teach them how to tidy up.

Expect that children — younger ones, in particular — will require some (or a lot of) hand-holding in this department.

“Help the children to learn to pick up toys during ‘clean-up time’ and to keep their possessions in their own rooms or other designated areas,” Glovinsky said. “No child was born knowing this, and some children need more guidance than others. Adults too often assume that cleaning a room is easy for a child when it may not be.”

You can also try turning straightening up into a game, Strong suggested. Set a timer and have the kids put as many things away in their proper place as they can before the buzzer goes off.

“You’d be surprised how much you can actually get done in just 60 seconds,” she said. “The emotional benefits — like less anxiety — of a clean and organized place can be achieved in a small amount of time, indeed.”

Take a deep breath and accept that your home may not be as neat as you’d like it to be.

Your dream of having one of those Instagram-worthy, immaculately organized living spaces may not be realistic for you — at least not right now. Try to make peace with that if you can.

“For example, if you have small kids, chances are things will always be a little messy,” Delucca said. “By practicing acceptance and letting go, we can sometimes offer ourselves some relief from our anxiety and the pressure we put on ourselves to have things a certain way, rather than constantly trying to control and fight against our reality.”


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Warriors’ Rick Welts reflects on his journey as a leader in sports Golden State’s president and chief operating officer, the first prominent sports executive to acknowledge he was gay, shares stories from his NBA career

SAN FRANCISCO – A nervous Rick Welts knocked on Bill Russell’s door in Seattle 10 years ago to ask a huge favor. The longtime NBA executive wanted the Hall of Fame center to do a rare interview on his behalf regarding the news that he was coming out as gay.

While Russell is known for disliking media interviews, the 11-time NBA champion said without hesitation that he would help his old friend.

“I remember walking up to that front door and was like, ‘I have no idea what I’m going to say,’ ” Welts told The Undefeated in an interview this week. “He opens the door with his Boston Celtics hat on. Bill takes me into his little den where there are two chairs and there’s a table in between us. There is a framed picture of Barack Obama on the table with an inscription that read, ‘To Bill. You are my inspiration.’ There is nothing intimidating about this at all.

“I say to him, ‘I don’t know what you know or don’t know, but I am gay. I am going to ask you to do the one thing you hate to do more than anything in your life, which is talk to a reporter. He was like, ‘Yeah, of course. Sure.’ And then the next hour all I heard was that amazing cackle laugh about something that happened way back when or talk about people or players we can make fun of. It was incredible. It was such a weight off me.”

Welts, who became the first prominent executive in American sports to be openly gay, took another weight off of himself on Thursday with his announcement to retire as president and chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors at the end of this NBA season.

A Basketball Hall of Famer, Welts is one of the NBA’s most respected executives having worked for the Seattle SuperSonics, Phoenix Suns and Warriors over the course of nearly 50 years. Welts worked with the Sonics when they won a championship in 1979 and with the Warriors when they won three titles last decade. He also oversaw the building of the state-of-the-art Chase Center in San Francisco.

Warriors president and chief operating officer Rick Welts becomes emotional as a 47 seasons commemorative banner is unveiled after the Golden State Warriors defeated the LA Clippers at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, on April 7, 2019.

Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The Seattle native also worked for the NBA, playing a major role in marketing the league, including promoting “The Dream Team” and the WNBA, and developing the idea of NBA All-Star Weekend.

The Warriors expect to name a new president within a week.

“One of the things I’ve always been good at is knowing the right time to leave a position I’ve been in,” Welts, 68, said. “For me, the time is perfect. When we were having the [retirement] discussion, nobody saw a pandemic. If it would have been a year ago, I think I would have struggled with that, just because we were a total mess. We would have no idea how to find our way out of this. That would have not been a good look for me and the organization.

“Now, just this week, we have state guidance to maybe have fans in the stands hopefully before April is over and a path, hopefully, towards normalcy next year. I’m ready. The organization is ready. We’re not going to miss a beat. … I’ve done the big things that I can do. It’s time to pass that on to somebody else.”

The following are reflections from Welts on his Hall of Fame career, as told to The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears.

On his first NBA job …

The Sonics came to Seattle in 1967 and I became a ball boy in 1969. This is my only great career break. At Queen Anne High School in Seattle, the coolest kid was Earl Woodson because he was a ball boy with the Sonics. And I was obsessed with the Sonics. We’d sit in the back of our English literature class together and I’d be like, ‘Give me the scoop. Tell me about this guy. Tell me about that guy.’

He came in one day and had this look like he lost his best friend. I said, ‘Dude, what is wrong?’ He said, ‘My family is moving out of town.’ I said, ‘Earl, you got to take me downtown and introduce me to whoever hired you with the Sonics.’ I got to get my shot.

​He introduced me to a trainer named Jack Kern, who went on to be a Lakers trainer after the Sonics. And I got hired.

I got to see Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell play in person.

I got a big promotion my first season to assistant trainer at 16. All that meant was I knew how to use the washers and dryers and had the right uniform in the right lockers before the game. I had to be really good at it. At the end of high school, I thought that’s it. And then a guy named David Watkins, who ran marketing and public relations for them, said, ‘Hey, you want a part-time job in the office?’ So, I did that through college. When I graduated from college, they wanted me to work full time.

There is no sports management class in the world that could teach you what I got to observe as a ball boy. I learned a lot about the NBA, but I learned a lot about people, too.

African Americans were my bosses and heroes. I had role models that were supersuccessful.

Hall of Fame basketball player Bill Russell (left) speaks with Golden State Warriors president and chief operating officer Rick Welts (right) on March 26, 2013, at McClymonds High School in Oakland, California.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

On his friend, Bill Russell …

Bill Russell is the ultimate champion. Eleven championships in 13 seasons. He’s also a fascinating evolution of a human being. Just to see how he’s been willing to change over time has been really incredible.

I wasn’t important enough to have a desk in an office at the Sonics for most of my career. So I was in the opposite end of the hallway from where his office is. He is a notoriously early riser who would get in really early. And I would be the only one in the office. We went through about three months where he’d walk out of his office and be like, ‘White boy down the hall, give me a cup of coffee.’ ‘Yes, sir, Mr. Russell. I can do that.’

He still calls me, ‘White boy down the hall.’ I don’t know why, but one day he just opened himself up and he has been a friend ever since.

On the time he heard an NBA coach say the team needed more white guys …

I never told this story before. We had a coach, Tom Nissalke with the Sonics. The teams have gotten out on the court. And we weren’t playing that well. And he’s talking to his assistant coach in the locker room and I’m in there. Nissalke says, ‘We need some more white guys on this team.’

I’ll never forget that. That was the first time I ever heard something like that. OK, we need more white guys on our team? And this is coming from a head coach. It startled me. I’ve been there for a while. All my favorite players were Black. It didn’t make sense to me. Why would that make us a better team? I didn’t understand that.

On what he learned from his mentor, the late NBA commissioner David Stern

By far the biggest thing that I learned from David Stern, and I don’t think there will be anyone who will ever do it as well as him, was the value of intellectual curiosity. The way he approached every day was, ‘I’m going to learn something today that I didn’t know yesterday, that’s going to be valuable to me for the rest of my life.’

He approached it in a way that you were willing to challenge what you thought was probably the right way to do something or the right idea. To be able to say, ‘We’re doing it this way, but they are doing it that way. What do they know that we don’t know?’ Force yourself to think, put yourself in that person’s shoes and think all the way back. Sometimes you think you’re right. Sometimes you’ll think, ‘I can change that.’ It’s such a discipline to live each day that way. But you get better every day. You do. Other people are really smart. I’ve never learned anything when I’m talking.

I had some good mentors in my life. But he stuck with me the whole way. … Always when there was a life decision to make, that is who I would call.

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe (center) and WNBA star Sue Bird (right) are given Golden State Warriors jerseys by Warriors president and chief operating officer Rick Welts (left) during a timeout of their game against the Phoenix Suns at the Chase Center on Oct. 30, 2019, in San Francisco.

On coming out that he was gay …

I got hooked up with a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer still at the [New York] Times named Dan Berry. Dan flew out to Phoenix. We tried to hatch a strategy over two or three days on the best way to tell my story about being a gay sports executive. He gave me a very honest assessment like, ‘Dude, with all due respect, nobody knows who the hell you are.’ But everybody knows the people that you’ve come in contact with over your life. If we could get them to tell the story, it would be so much more relatable to people through their eyes.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, for sure.’ So then the hard part. First one on the list is Bill Russell. …

The story was to be posted online at noon and be in the paper in a story edition the next day. I’m at SFO with Todd [Gage]. We’re flying to New York the next day because I have interviews with Time magazine, CNN, PBS, the New York newspapers and on and on timed with the day I was going to publish. But I had a BlackBerry at the time, and I had written an email with a list of about 100 people I wanted to send it to, to say, like, ‘I’m taking off at 10 in the morning, like somewhere over Kansas, you know, my life is going to change and this story is going to post.’ There is no Wi-Fi. So it’s so weird.

The story posted while I was in the air somewhere over the Midwest. I’m freaking out on the plane. We land at JFK, and I reach for the BlackBerry. I turn it on. It was almost like it exploded with messages. It was crazy.

I literally, to this day, have binders that have printed out copies of every email. I got thousands of emails. People sought me out. I will look you in the eye and swear on the Bible, there was no one that took the time to actually find out how to send me an email or write me a letter who sent one that was negative. There was not one negative email over 1,000.

On the day he heard about former New Jersey Nets center Jason Collins becoming the first NBA player to reveal that he was gay

I get up one morning getting ready for work to go to the Warriors [San Francisco office], and my phone rings and it’s Casey Wasserman. Casey, at about 8 o’clock in the morning, says, ‘You sitting down?’ Yeah. ‘I just want to call you and tell you that Jason Collins was going to come out today.’ What? Really, an NBA player, really, it’s going to happen.

This is just freaking amazing. So I couldn’t wait to get dressed, get in my car. I called friends and family. And I’m getting on the on-ramp to get on the Bay Bridge. And right next to me is a cop, and I’m talking on my phone with it to my ear. The lights go on. And I have to go the whole drive of shame across the whole Bay Bridge with a cop whose lights are on me and is going to pull me over.

And I just said, ‘You got me.’ I said, ‘But do you want to know why?’ I told him about Jason. He goes, ‘Really? You’re not kidding. Is this really true?’ Yeah. The cop says, ‘I grew up in San Francisco. So that’s awesome. Get out of here.’ I thought it was going to cost me a lot of money. But it turned out it got me out of a ticket.

On being a mentor for other gay people in sports …

Probably a week doesn’t go by where somebody doesn’t reach out that is in a situation where they want me to connect with somebody. That is what I didn’t have. I wish I had that person.

I didn’t regret the timing or anything. It’s worked out all amazing for me. But there were a lot of years that might have been spent a little bit differently if there was somebody out there that was visible, gay, and in sports and successful.

It will be great when others in real positions of success will feel comfortable enough that they can come out and be successful at doing what they’re doing. And that’s NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball players. That’s owners. That’s coaches. That’s all the people in the ecosystem who just don’t feel like it’s their time, or it’s comfortable and what they would have to deal with.

On being the Warriors president during the pandemic and the social justice movement …

When we got together last March and sent everybody home due to the pandemic, honestly, I was not optimistic that we’d be able to culturally keep us together and work as well as we’re working. So I made a decision at the beginning of this, that every employee is going to hear from me every day. So, that was going to be a part of how we were going to stay connected. I started doing this daily email. I sent an email [Monday] talking about the Major League Baseball All-Star Game moving out of Atlanta. So, we share kind of stuff people have to know about coming to work, then hopefully, I can add some context to what’s going on.

I didn’t realize I’ve been doing that for over a year. It was focused on trying to figure out what was going on with this pandemic and George Floyd. And so, it changed everything. But by then we were doing some town halls, you know, we had Adam come on, Steph did a town hall for all the employees. Great programming. And it just morphed into something completely different to focus on social justice. And the thing I’m proudest of is how safe our employees felt about sharing their incredibly personal stories, especially about the experience of growing up Black and what they have actually gone through in their lifetimes that they had never shared with us co-workers sitting at a desk next to them. We gave them a daily platform.

When it all happened, I thought I had a pretty sophisticated grasp on the subject of being Black in America. It’s the most humbling thing I’ve ever been through in my life to find out you had no clue even though you thought you did. And to get these employees together to share their personal stories or what they dealt with in life, and what they dealt with there in San Francisco, we became closer. We created a seven-week anti-racism course that was voluntary and more than half our employees went through it.

On working with Stephen Curry

I just could have never imagined the blessing that having Stephen Curry as the face of your franchise brings. It defines everything. It give us an opportunity to be great and better than any organization has ever been.

He never disappoints. That is the part about him that I just marvel at every day. He’s got Tara VanDerveer on FaceTime after she’s won the [NCAA] championship. How does he do that? He got Dr. [Anthony] Fauci [on social media] when nobody could get a hold of Dr. Fauci. He’s wearing black and yellow sneakers this week for anti-Asian violence. How can anybody be this good? To have that as the cornerstone franchise is unbelievable.

On the game of basketball …

The game of basketball is just joy. Everything about the game and what it comes to mean in our world just brings me joy.

​On what’s next …

I want to use my passport but I can’t go nowhere. Seriously. I can’t wait to go back to Barcelona or Paris. I just can’t wait to do that. … It’s going to be amazing. I don’t know when that is going to be. Obviously, no time soon. …

This is my 46th NBA season. To be good at this, you have to work hard always. I’m ready not to do that.

Features — The Undefeated

New York To Give Thousands To Undocumented Workers Hard Hit By Coronavirus


Undocumented workers who lost jobs or income due to the coronavirus pandemic will be eligible for payments of up to $15,600 in New York, thanks to a bill passed by state lawmakers this week. 

Money from the $2.1 billion Excluded Worker Fund will go to workers who have been ineligible for unemployment insurance due to their immigration status, and have also been excluded from all three stimulus payments. It’s the largest such fund in the country.  

The legislation passed after weeks of hunger strikes by undocumented organizers in New York. It was negotiated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who hasn’t yet signed it into law.

Nearly 300,000 workers could potentially benefit, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Undocumented immigrants are among those hardest hit by the pandemic and its economic fallout. They are overrepresented in fields that have seen massive layoffs due to COVID-19 restrictions, including the restaurant and hotel industries. Undocumented workers also make up significant portions of those deemed essential on the frontlines of the pandemic ― including grocery workers, farmworkers and cleaners — who are risking their lives to work while millions of others in the U.S. are able to stay home. 

As the virus’s death toll passes 559,000 in the U.S., Latinx and Black people have been about three times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 as white people, and are twice as likely to die

In February, California passed smaller-scale relief for undocumented workers in the form of $600 one-time payments to those who pay taxes.  

To be eligible for the new relief in New York, undocumented workers would have to qualify for “Tier 1” by showing official employment forms or their individual tax identification numbers — which many undocumented workers use to pay federal taxes, since they don’t have Social Security numbers. Funds in “Tier 2,” which only provides $3,200 in relief, would go to those who don’t have proof of employment, The Intercept reported. Some immigrant advocates have raised concerns that requiring too much documentation for eligibility will block some who are owed funds from receiving them. 

Undocumented immigrants contribute about $1.1 billion in state and local taxes in New York, per a 2017 Fiscal Policy Institute report. 

“To the hunger strikers: I am grateful for your leadership … today is a day of victory, a historic day,” Marcela Mitaynes, a New York Assembly member, wrote in Spanish on Twitter. The lawmaker joined the hunger strike for 12 days. “Celebrate today because tomorrow we keep fighting.”

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus


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Former NFL Player Phillip Adams Kills 5 People in South Carolina, Turns Gun on Himself


San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams sits on the sideline during the first quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams sits on the sideline during the first quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco.
Photo: Paul Sakuma (AP)

These are the exact type of stories I hate to hear about, let alone report on, but since The Root is in the business of news, here we go.

The Associated Press reports that former NFL player Phillip Adams committed suicide shortly after midnight on Thursday. But as tragic as his loss is, it’s the details surrounding his death that are far more shocking than you can imagine.

From the Associated Press:

The gunman who killed five people including a prominent doctor in South Carolina was former NFL player Phillip Adams, who killed himself early Thursday, according to a source who was briefed on the investigation.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said Adams’ parents live near the doctor’s home in Rock Hill, and that he had been treated by the doctor. The source said Phillips killed himself after midnight with a .45 caliber weapon.

Adams’ NFL career, which included stints with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, was marred by a multitude of injuries. It’s unclear of the extent to which Dr. Robert Lesslie treated Adams, but Lesslie was among those pronounced dead at the scene at his own Rock Hill, S.C., home on Wednesday. Others pronounced dead at the scene include his 69-year-old wife, Barbara Lesslie, and his grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5.

Outside of the Lesslie’s home, James Lewis, 38, was found shot to death, and a sixth person who has yet to be identified has been hospitalized with “serious gunshot wounds,” according to Trent Faris, a spokesperson for the York County Sheriff’s Office.

For decades, Lesslie was a popular ER doctor in Rock Hill who practiced both emergency and occupational medicine. He had served as an emergency department medical director for nearly 15 years at Rock Hill General Hospital, per his website.

“Dr. Lesslie was my doctor growing up,” Faris told the Associated Press. “Dr. Lesslie has been one of those people that everybody knows. He started Riverview Medical Center in Rock Hill and it’s been a staple in Rock Hill for years.”

“Many people have asked questions. We certainly understand,” Riverview Medical Center said in a statement. “There are still many questions to be answered. For now, we ask that you keep the Lesslie family and our office in your prayers.”

Per Faris, deputies were called to the Lesslies’ home at approximately 4:45 pm ET on Wednesday and spent hours searching for the suspect.

The investigation is ongoing.


HBCU combine gives 42 players a spotlight to impress the NFL Two dedicated organizers, with the NFL’s help, are making the two-day event happen in Alabama

Rico Kennedy still can hardly believe he got the call. One of his former teammates at Morgan State was telling him that one year after the inaugural HBCU draft combine was canceled by COVID-19, he and several of the invitees were going to get another chance to audition for the NFL.

“I didn’t ever envision it,” Kennedy said last week from his South Florida home. “I’ll be 100% honest with you. I thought football was over for me.”

It isn’t. Not for Kennedy, or the ex-teammate who called him, DuShon David, or another teammate from Morgan, Ian McBorrough, or any of the 42 players invited to a combine for players from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on Friday and Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama.

Twenty-six of the invitees had been scheduled to gather in North Miami in March 2020 in the initial group of 51, for an NFL-organized combine solely for those HBCU prospects chronically overlooked and uninvited to the national combine.

When the NFL called off the combine due to the pandemic, many of the players were deprived of their best opportunity to go to the next level – or, as Kennedy believed, their only opportunity. With the support of his parents, Art and Yolanda, and his wife Destinee, who is expecting their third child this fall, Kennedy spent the past year training and staying ready for a call from a football franchise anywhere.

“It’s been like I took a redshirt year,” he said.

Now, thanks to the determination of a group who believed in those HBCU prospects, and a few strokes of good luck, another combine for those players and some prospects in this year’s draft class is less than two weeks from coming to life.

As was the plan last year, it will have all the elements of the regular combine, from the 40-yard dash to physical measurements to the Wonderlic test. It will also have strict COVID-19 protocols, organizers say, just like the on-campus pro days that are serving double duty as part of the NFL’s reimagined combine with draft-related travel and gatherings still prohibited.

The University of Alabama-Birmingham will host the combine on the same weekend it’s holding its own pro day and its spring game, and its collaboration with the organizers was the biggest hurdle to clear.

UAB’s assurances that it could host a safe combine saved the day, said Ulice Payne Jr., the combine’s chief financier, a Milwaukee-based businessman and former president of the Milwaukee Brewers.

“It could be a superspreader event, potentially,” Payne said, adding that finding a location that was available and safe was what worried him most. But, he said, “If you do things for the right reasons, usually things will work out.”

He recalled a Zoom meeting with several of the invited players as plans were being finalized, in which one invitee said, “I want to say thank you to you guys for not forgetting about us.”

“No, brothers, you’re not forgotten about,” Payne said.

The idea of reviving the combine came from Charles “Yogi” Jones, Bethune-Cookman’s assistant head coach and Payne’s cousin, as well as his former client when Payne was a player agent and Jones was still playing.

Jones had seen up close how the pandemic had derailed the hopes of HBCU players. Just one HBCU player, Tennessee State tackle Lachavious Simmons, was drafted in 2020 (in the seventh round by the Chicago Bears), and only a handful of others managed to make an NFL roster or practice squad during the season.

Then three of the four NCAA HBCU conferences (the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) canceled football. The fourth, the Southwestern Athletic Conference, had its defending champion Alcorn State opt out after Bethune-Cookman was one of the first programs anywhere in the country to abandon the season.

Just two of the 323 players invited to take part in this year’s version of the main combine are from HBCUs: cornerback Bryan Mills of North Carolina Central (who chose to opt out even before the school canceled the season) and guard David Moore of Grambling. Last year, there was just one out of 337 at the full, pre-pandemic combine in Indianapolis.

Jones told Payne that he didn’t want two entire classes of HBCU players to get erased in this way.

Payne didn’t hesitate, in the spirit of a similarly bold move with an HBCU athlete from his days as a baseball executive: drafting Rickie Weeks out of Southern second overall in the 2003 amateur draft. Weeks became an All-Star and played in the majors for 14 years. “There were people [involved in the draft] who said, ‘We didn’t even know they played baseball there,’ ” he said.

The lesson: “Just because you’re not from the Power 5 conferences doesn’t mean you don’t exist,” Payne said.

The NFL’s restrictions on in-person scouting – which wiped out the traditional national combine it holds every February – made it impossible for it to oversee one for the HBCUs. But league officials have been in on the planning the entire way, for the same reason they supported the combine last year: There was no other way for those players to get exposure.

Whether every team will send scouts to the site remains to be seen, but holding it at the site of UAB’s pro day increases those chances.

Scouts from the CFL and the European pro leagues – and, presumably, the XFL, which is negotiating a possible merger with the CFL – are also expected. Organizers said video of the workouts also will be made available to everybody, as is the case with player workouts elsewhere.

The need to pull the combine together in a short time – Jones and Payne first talked about the idea in late 2020 – and the uncertainty of the NFL’s ability to take part convinced Payne to pick up the full tab. Making sure the workout would be up to the standards of NFL scouts was a priority, so they went to the league’s regional combine directors to join the effort.

Phillip Blackwell, an NFL regional combine director since the concept’s inception in 2015 and a recreation center director in Baltimore, quickly agreed when Jones and Payne came calling. And, Blackwell emphasized, it really was just those two putting everything together from scratch. “It has steamrolled into something that has become really huge,” he said.

The number of invitees will not only make it possible to put the players through a full combine experience and do it safely, but emphasize this is a selective group, just like the one planned for last year and the annual national combine.

“It’s not as much the size, it’s the quality,” Blackwell said. “It’s not just somebody walking in off the street. It’s a great representation of the quality of player at these schools. These are the players the NFL wanted last year, and it’s also the players the NFL and CFL and others had on their radar for this year. We can tell them, ‘These aren’t the players we say you should look at, these are the players you say you want to look at.’ ”

Payne also made sure to include educational sessions on career counseling, mental health, personal finance and adapting to professional life. There also will be an awards dinner, with longtime NFL writer D. Orlando Ledbetter as head speaker. Two players will be honored for community service. The award will be named for Payne’s uncle, the late Ernest “Pappy” Ross, a former Morris Brown football player who became a successful businessman and earned a doctorate from Georgia.

“With these brothers, I want them to know, ‘I don’t know you, but I value you, and I’m going to help you,’ ” Payne said.

Everybody involved emphasized this is a legitimate opportunity for the players. It isn’t a publicity stunt, they said, or a way to cash in by selling tryout spots. Players are only required to get to Birmingham on their own – and, organizers said, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has provided a travel grant for players who need it. Once there, everything is paid for, Payne said.

The UAB program, meanwhile, made room in the middle of a busy football weekend to accommodate dozens of players unaffiliated with the school.

“We’ve all had our fair share of challenges through this pandemic, some much more than others, but pulling together and fighting through the challenges is the trademark of football players and teams,” said Randy Pippin, UAB’s director of player relations under head coach Bill Clark.

“I say all that to say, these HBCU guys certainly deserve a shot to get a fair evaluation, and fortunately our whole campus, starting with Coach Clark, is on board to help make that happen, along with the Blazers.”

After tracking down many of last year’s invitees and finding players in this year’s class with pro potential, there should be little doubt that this is a serious tryout.

“If anyone asks about the authenticity,” Payne said, “you’ll find out.”

A few of the invited players themselves had their own doubts.

Kennedy had spent the past year training and staying ready for a call from a football franchise anywhere. But when he got the call from David (who had transferred from Morgan to Bowie State and became an all-CIAA tight end in 2019), he wasn’t sure what to think.

“I was kind of shocked and taken aback,” Kennedy said. “I was like, ‘Is this real?’ ”

“I didn’t get my hope up immediately,” McBorrough said, adding he wasn’t ready to trust it until he saw something in writing. When that arrived, he said, “OK, this is legit.”

Asked how he felt when he saw the official invitation to the combine, he laughed and said, “You already know the answer to that.

“The whole past year was full of uncertainty. Did they forget about us? Is the 2020 class just gonna get passed by?”

It won’t be.

Features — The Undefeated

How racism prevented Lee Elder from being among golf’s Big Three The golf pioneer’s arrival at the Masters as an honorary starter with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player is a reminder of an era in a game that didn’t promote great Black players

Shortly before 8 a.m. on Thursday, Lee Elder will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the first tee of the Augusta National Golf Club as an honorary starter for the 85th Masters Tournament. Honorary starters have been a tradition at the Masters since 1963, but Elder will be the first African American to play this role at golf’s most prestigious event.

Elder’s first visit to this tee box came when he broke the color barrier at the 1975 Masters after years of fighting for his rights as a Black man to compete alongside the game’s elite. By then, Nicklaus, Player and Arnold Palmer had long been considered the Big Three — defining for a generation the rivalries and popularity of the game. For several years until Palmer’s death in 2016, this trio of Masters champions served together as honorary starters at the tournament.

The Big Three was the invention of IMG founder Mark McCormack, who saw it as a clever way of marketing his clients as the top three players in the world. Fred Corcoran, a legendary tournament promoter of the PGA Tour in the 1930s and ’40s, considered the trio the “third great cycle of golf.” The first great cycle, he said, had consisted of Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, and the second was Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson.

Lee Elder, seen here on April 11, 1975, is the first African American to play in the Masters.

Eric Schweikardt/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

In the parallel world of the all-Black United Golfers Association (UGA), where the best Black players shined before the PGA’s Caucasians-only clause was struck down in 1961, Elder might have formed a big three with fellow Black golfers Charlie Sifford and Pete Brown. Before them, there were Ted Rhodes, Bill Spiller and Howard Wheeler. Had racism not kept these Black players off the PGA Tour in the prime of their careers, they might have formed their own triumvirates to shape a century of golf in America.

Since the Masters Tournament announced in November that it was making Elder an honorary starter, I have felt a certain ambivalence about the gesture that arose out of the upheaval in the summer of 2020 over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many other African Americans at the hands of police. It’s worthwhile to honor Elder and to use the moment to call attention to racial disparities in our society and the game of golf. However, the whole notion of honorary starters is a fierce reminder of the Black golfers who did not have a chance because of their race to build reputations in the mainstream game to warrant this lofty perch. In other sports, I saw examples of Black athletes helping to shape the character and culture of the games. Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson unintentionally fashioned a big three in the NBA. For baseball, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron formed a big three with Mickey Mantle.

Lee Elder (left) and Arnold Palmer (right) share a laugh during a tournament.


Like Elder, Aaron was born in 1934, the year of the first Masters, to a poor Black family in the Deep South. When Aaron died in January, 45 years after his retirement in 1976, he still held MLB records for RBIs (2,297) and total bases (6,856). For a better part of the ’50s and ’60s, Mays, Mantle and Aaron formed a trio of the most dominant sluggers during baseball’s golden era. Even as segregation ruled the South, Mantle appeared on baseball cards with Mays or Aaron signifying the trio’s stature in the game. While we may remember most how Aaron endured death threats during his chase of Babe Ruth’s home run record, it’s also important to know that Aaron made his major league debut as a 20-year-old in 1954 and was able to amass record-setting statistics over a 23-year career.

When they were both in the prime of their careers, Elder toiled on the UGA circuit for $ 500 purses while Aaron blossomed into one of the most recognizable names in sports. In one stretch in the early ’60s, Elder won 21 of 23 events on the UGA circuit, a dominant record by any standard. Yet he’s most discussed for breaking the racial barrier at the Masters and less for a playing career that included four PGA Tour wins, eight Senior PGA Tour Champions titles and a Ryder Cup appearance in 1979.

In Aaron’s New York Times obituary, his career was compared with those of Mays and Mantle because they were the big three who helped define the game for a generation of baseball fans that transcended race. For legions of adults and kids, they were to baseball what Palmer, Nicklaus and Player were to golf in the formative years of televised sports. With these three octogenarian men at Augusta — Elder, Nicklaus and Player — we have players of a generation who harken memories of segregation and racism. The same racist systems that made Elder’s pilgrimage to Augusta very rocky are the same systems that made the passages for Nicklaus and Player a lot smoother. These two white men are no less important than Elder to understanding the powerful racial symbolism of this moment in Masters history.

The Augusta National Golf Club and Masters tournaments can’t erase their pasts of keeping Black people in largely servile roles and out of the tournament field. … But what the PGA Tour can do is recognize the records of Elder, Sifford, Rhodes and so many other pioneering Black players as a part of its official record.

Nicklaus was raised in Upper Arlington, Ohio, an affluent white suburb of Columbus. One of the earliest settlers of Upper Arlington was Pleasant Litchford, a freed slave who migrated from Lynchburg, Virginia, to the area with his family around 1832. Litchford became a successful blacksmith and one of the largest landowners in the settlement with 227 acres. He was active in the anti-slavery movement and allowed his property to be used in the Underground Railroad. He donated land to build a school for Black children. Litchford died at 89 years old in 1879 with his obituary notice in the Daily Ohio State Journal describing him as a man of “iron constitution.” In his will, Litchford designated a half-acre of land for a family cemetery that would also be the final resting place for his family and friends, including his 11 children and their many offspring.

In the early 1950s, the city of Upper Arlington bought a large tract of land that was once owned by Litchford to build a new Upper Arlington high school. During construction of the school in 1955, workers found the half-acre Litchford Cemetery underneath what would become the science wing of the school, a portion of the parking lot and a sports field. The school district moved 10 bodies to another cemetery in town. In 2017, an archaeological team returned to the site and found one fully intact grave with a complete set of remains, two partially exhumed graves and three fully exhumed graves. A planned new high school will include a memorial to the gravesites.

By winning the Monsanto Open Tournament in Pensacola, Florida, Lee Elder became eligible to play in the Masters in 1975.

Two years after the Litchford Cemetery was first discovered, Nicklaus graduated from this new Upper Arlington High in an all-white senior class. This was not by accident. In 1970, an Upper Arlington homeowners association was forced to disband by court order for restricting African Americans from buying homes in the suburb for more than 20 years. Owners were forbidden from selling, leasing or renting “to a person or persons of any race other than Caucasian.”

In both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, Nicklaus was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, who along with his father, Fred Trump, faced charges from the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department for discriminatory housing practices in the 1970s. “In my opinion, [Trump] has been more diverse than any president I have seen and has tried to help people from all walks of life — equally,” Nicklaus said on his social media a few days before the election.

On Jan. 6, Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol, where a joint session of Congress was voting to formalize the election of Joe Biden as the next president. Yet in the same endorsement of Trump before the election, Nicklaus asked voters to look past the president’s words. “You might not like the way our president says or tweets some things … but I have learned to look past that and focus on what he’s tried to accomplish.” Less than a week after the attack on the Capitol, the PGA of America terminated the agreement to play the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey.

Lee Elder (left) and Gary Player (right) together on the golf course.

PGA of America via Getty Images

One person who did not change his plans with the president was Player, who accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with LPGA Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, in a private White House ceremony on the day after the Capitol riots. “This is the greatest honor that I have ever been bestowed to me in my 70 years of playing golf around the world,” Player said during the ceremony.

Player had gone through an evolution with his political beliefs from early in his career when he made apologies for South Africa’s apartheid regime to challenging the system principally through his role as an international golfer. In America, he was the focus of the anti-apartheid protesters during tournaments. During the 1969 PGA Championship at the NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio, protesters threw ice and telephone books at him and shouted obscenities in the middle of his shots. Player was in the group with Nicklaus when a protester charged them on the green. Nicklaus kept the protester at a distance by threatening to hit him with his putter. “I wasn’t bitter about it,” Player told Golf.com. “I mean, our country practiced the most terrible system, as America did.”

Player had become synonymous with apartheid to Americans and, for many years before South African Black activist Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 after 27 years, the golfer born in Johannesburg in 1935 was the most visible South African athlete in the world. Four years before Elder first entered the field at the Masters, Player invited him to play in two tournaments in South Africa in 1971. Player convinced South Africa’s prime minister, John Vorster, to allow Elder to play in the events at a time with apartheid laws placed severe limitations on the mobility and freedoms of the country’s Black people.

Each of us is born into stories that we didn’t start. The question isn’t so much about whether Nicklaus and Player are racists or what responsibility they have for racial inequities in their communities. But Litchford is as much Nicklaus’ story as it is mine or Elder’s. The Black cemetery underneath his alma mater is rooted in the systematic uprooting of Black bodies and families for centuries that made his life possible. Player and Nicklaus cannot claim on the one hand to profess great admiration and respect for Elder, and on the other hand support leaders and policies that would challenge his fundamental place in society.

In 1994, Nicklaus was asked by a reporter why there were so few Black golfers in the professional ranks. By then, dozens of African Americans had played on the PGA Tour. Nicklaus had famously beaten Elder in a five-hole playoff in the 1968 American Golf Classic in Akron, Ohio. But still he could say, “Blacks have different muscles that react in different ways.” The 18-time major champion later tried to qualify his statements.

“I said the kids today are gravitating to the sports that best fit their body and the environment where they’re growing up,” he told Sports Illustrated. “The white society to a large degree is becoming nonfunctional. Whites are spending time in cars, they’re sitting behind desks, they’re not out exercising, whereas the young Black kid is in an environment where he’s exercising.

“His muscles develop and they develop to the degree of that type of sport. I think the opportunity is there for young Black kids to play golf, just like the opportunity is there for young white kids to play basketball. But I don’t think they’re gravitating to the same level.”

Nicklaus can’t erase these statements or the historic roots of his hometown. The Augusta National Golf Club and Masters tournaments can’t erase their pasts of keeping Black people in largely menial roles and out of the tournament field. The club can’t award Elder a winning record at the Masters to rival the other honorary starters. But what the PGA Tour can do is recognize the records of Elder, Sifford, Rhodes and so many other pioneering Black players as a part of its official record. In December, MLB announced that it would include the statistics and records of the Negro Leagues as a part of MLB history. If Elder’s UGA wins were included as a part of his PGA Tour record, he would have a great case for inclusion into the World Golf Hall of Fame alongside his fellow honorary starters.

When Elder steps on the first tee at Augusta National on Thursday morning, it will mark the 47th anniversary of Aaron hitting his 715th home run to break Ruth’s record. “A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol,” Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said on his call from Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on April 8, 1974. “And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”

Almost exactly a year later, Elder arrived on the first tee for his first Masters to “polite applause.” This time around he will get Hammerin’ Hank’s standing ovation in the Deep South, not for any records he set, but for his role in changing the game — an achievement worth a place at the table with any big three in the sport’s history.

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