The power of sports: The big hug

This was the most exciting night of my life. I clutched my aunt’s hand and jumped up and down swinging through the air with excitement.

I was an eight year old boy, leaving Tiger Stadium moments after the Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees 2-1 to clinch the pennant and a berth in the World Series. There were no playoffs. Only one team in the American League and one in the National League were standing at the end of the regular season. It was baseball’s last pennant race and this was so exciting.

Wild Joe Sparma was on the mound that night. But guess what? He wasn’t wild this night, walking just one Yankee batter while scattering five hits.

The Yankees tied the game 1-1 in the top of the ninth. But as usual the Tiger pulled out another late-inning miracle with two outs in the ninth.

As we left the stadium horns honked and hundreds of Tiger fans danced on Michigan Avenue. Then I saw something that sent chills down my spine and showed that the power of sports could overcome just about anything.

A white man and a black man gave each other an enthused bear hug as they laughed and joked on Michigan Avenue. That might not sound like a big deal today. But this was huge back then. We were a year removed from the 1967 riots where the division between black and white and city and suburb was at its greatest.

People stared in amazement as the two men embraced.

We were at war and it was just beginning of a lot of bitter battles between whites and blacks in our community.

Sports brought us together even if it was just for one embrace.

A year earlier I attended an afternoon game. After the game a white guy and black man got into a racially charged argument on Michigan Avenue and the black guy knocked the white guy out with one punch. It was scary seeing this man shake on the pavement while laying unconscious. I thought he was going to die.

People came to his aid and he was walking around within a few minutes.

One year I witnessed a devastating punch and the burning of my city. The next year there were celebrating horn honks and a huge hug. That shows the power of sports even during our most trying times in history.

 

 

1968 detroit tigers

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Sports media remains a people business

boIn this age of the Internet, fast paced news and anonymous sources we must not forget that sports media remains a people business.

We forget that sometimes. Some reporters become walking note pads. In other words every conversation is on the record and they do not get to know athletes and coaches as people.

We forget that sometimes.

In the movies reporters get scoops by making phone calls 24 hours a day and seven days a week. That happens sometimes. I am willing to bet that most of the news coming out of Washington and the Donald Trump administration is generated between a source and reporter who know each other and have a good relationship.

At least that was the way it was for me. That began when I was a young reporter covering the University of Michigan football team. I met some boosters from Grosse Pointe who claimed to know about the insides of Michigan football. I did not believe them at first until a series of things they said were happening actually happened.

We had a good relationship. They were nice and trusted me and I liked hanging around them. Our relationship began years earlier when they played for Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South. Or their sons played for North and South.

They remembered my prep reports and we became buds.

One day I got a phone call from one of the dads who said Bo Schembechler and the school were in negotiations for Bo to become athletic director. It was one of my first major scoops and I began the nickname “The Michigan Mafia.”

I called Bo’s office to tell him what I knew. I got through to his secretary and she relayed the message to Bo. He angrily shouted: “You tell Foster he runs that story at his risk.”

A few days later I attended a press conference where Bo was named AD. He saw me and laughed, saying “I had to scare you a little bit. I was not ready for the story to come out.”

People business.

I broke a story that Bad Boy Piston Mark Aguirre was talking to the Mexican basketball team to play for Mexico in the 1992 Summer Olympic games. Do you know how I got the scoop?

Gym shoes.

One day Aguirre made fun of reporters for wearing gym shoes all the time. I went off on him saying we wore gym shoes to chase your ass around all the time. Aguirre got a good chuckle out of my tirade and later said “Why you go off all the time? You know you are a little crazy.”

The other reporters left his cubicle and we shot the breeze for about five minutes. Then he mentioned the talks with Mexico. He was eligible to play because his father was born in Mexico. I then interviewed him and had an exclusive story in The Detroit News.

The rest of the media got the story the following day, but I was already working on a story saying Aguirre did not want to play for Mexico.

People business.

 

Soul brother: A Detroit business ruined during 1967 riots

I’d never seen Mr. Smitherman look this sad as we unpacked boxes in his new store front on Grand River in Detroit a few buildings west of the old Riviera Theater.

Basil Smitherman was a business man, the uncle of Marla Gibson who played Florence the maid on the Jeffersons and the best dressed guy I knew. He owned a men’s clothing store on 12th Street near the epicenter of the beginning of the 1967 Detroit riots called The House of Hats.

A group of friends silently unpacked boxes of silk shirts, dress pants, alligator shoes and hats. Mr. Smitherman was forced to move because these 2,000 buildings that were burned to the ground during the five days of looting and civil disobedience all have human stories and lives behind them.

I was confused as an eight year old. I believed that if you were a black owned business that the looters left you alone.

“Didn’t you spray paint soul brother on your building,” I asked.

“Yes I did,” Mr. Smitherman said breaking into his only smile of the day.

But those eyes turned sad again as he went about the task of unpacking and folding and ironing clothes.

The House of Hats survived the first two days of the riots. The moment of truth came on night three when Mr. Smitherman huddled inside a back room of his business. A huge rock slammed through the front window smashing glass into the front display where clothes used to lie.  He’d smartly removed much of his merchandise but some clothes remained.

“Soul brother,?” the guy who threw the brick asked.

“Yes, soul brother,” Mr. Smitherman shouted back.

The guy looked remorseful and did not want to devastate the place. But it was too late. It was like a wild frenzy of shark pouncing on chum in the water. The House of Hats was torn to shreds that night and set on fire.

Mr. Smitherman tried to talk sense to the looters. He told them they were not making a statement toward the revolution by ripping his stored to shreds or getting back at the police in anyway.

No one listened and Mr. Smitherman drove himself home among the chaos, military tanks, police cars and shootings.

A few days later, the House of Hats had a new location. It did not seem right. He belonged on 12th Street, not on Grand River.

Business was never the same and neither was Mr. Smitherman, a soul brother.Detroit riots 2

Life lessons during the 1967 Detroit riots

1967 Detroit Riot (10)The first signs of an uprising hit me nearly a year before the deadly 1967 Detroit riots.

We were playing alley basketball in the fall of 1966 when one of the older boys got up on top of a giant garbage can and said: “This MF is going to burn. The brothers are tired of the police. We get treated like (bleep). Dudes ain’t even doing nothing and they get popped. We sick of this.”

Heads bounced up and down in agreement.

Detroit burned the following summer and the city still has not full recovered from the five days of burning, looting and gun fire. A total of 43 people were killed, 1,189 injured and 2,000 buildings were lost.

I was eight years old and lived the riot on Detroit’s west side when police raided a blind pig about five miles away. The riot spread quickly and became a part of my daily life. We took daily car rides down Grand River, Livernois and 12th street where a family friend owned a family business to see what buildings were burning and which ones were lost. Through it all I was never scared. It was exciting for me. Maybe I was too young to know better.

Everybody in my neighborhood referred to it as a “race riot” because blacks were so pissed off at the establishment.

I saw the riots from a different light. These were friends, uncles and neighbors doing the damage. These were people I liked even though my grandmother said we should not destroy our own community no matter how angry we were. She was mad at these people because our neighborhood was hit hard.

My family taught me life lessons even during the riots. One day a group of men carried couches, lamps and television sets from a furniture store they looted earlier that day.

On one of the couches lay an unopened box of 24 Almond Joy bars, my favorite chocolate bar as a kid. I immediately saw the chocolate bars as I sat on the front porch with my grandmother watching the parade of stolen goods being marched down the street.

“Hey little brother,” one of the men carrying the couch shouted. “I did not forget you. We got your favorite candy.”

I bounced off the porch toward the candy. But I was stopped in my tracks half way there.

“You better bring your narrow ass back here,” granny screamed at me. “That candy don’t belong to you.”

My grandmother used the term narrow ass when she was really mad at me. I tried to plead my case that the candy had already been taken and that the riots made it OK because everybody was stealing. My grandmother stood up and repeated her demands and she looked like she wanted to snatch my narrow ass off the side-walk.

No candy for this kid. The man shrugged as if to say “I tried.”

The candy bars disappeared down the street into another kid’s stomach.

They burned down Mr. Solomon’s party store, nearby apartment buildings and a local furniture store in my neighborhood.  After the riots we went to Redford and Livonia to grocery shop. I took up tennis later and had to go to Southfield when I ran out of tennis balls for games at Northwestern High School.

There was no retail in the hood.

The nightly gun fire became back ground noise at night. We got used to it and I remember missing the nightly gun fights when things settled down.  My job at night was to hose down our roof with water. Fire balls of debris floated through the air at night and my aunt feared that something would settle on our roof and catch the house on fire. I made sure it didn’t by making sure the house was wet from top to bottom.

I got in trouble with my friends because I openly felt sorry for Mr. Solomon who lost his store. Mr. Soloman was white and we were in war with white people. But he was a kindly man who gave us store credit and doled out candy when we were short on cash.

I remembered his kindness but my friends were not in a forgiving mood, even for Mr. Solomon simply because he was white, which made him the enemy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The little guy is being pushed out in downtown Detroit

downtownThe Cornerstone restaurant on Woodward is a great place to stop before a game or concert at Comerica Park.

A few of us gathered there a few days ago to discuss the future of downtown. Places like the Cornerstone may not be there for long. It could disappear just like Henry the Hatter and other venerable downtown establishments.

The good news is Dan Gilbert and his Bedrock group have spruced up downtown with billions in improvements. The bad news is rent is sky rocketing downtown and some places won’t be able to afford it and will be forced to close.

The little guy will lose out and the big guy with the big name will prosper.

That’s the way gentrification works.

The word in the streets is that places with Hollywood names and national resumes get rent or tax breaks to relocate downtown. Henry from down the street does not.

“I don’t know what downtown is going to look like in five years,” said my friend James. “It might not have that Detroit feel.”

One guy lived in a one bedroom apartment that was going for $1,500 a month. He’s been told that price is going up to $4,000 although he will get a little big more room.

One business woman told me that her building is not owned by Bedrock, but her rent is going to go up anyway.

“The thing I appreciate is that they said they are willing to work with me,” she said. “And they are trying to delay it for as long as possible.”

I am not supportive of a downtown run entirely by outsiders. There has to be room for those who stood by the city when it was a shit hole. They’ve sunk millions into their buildings and should prosper when the city becomes paved with gold.

There needs to room for Henry the Hatter and the Cornerstone just as there should be room for Nike and Under Armor.

I root more for the little guy because he is more likely to make Detroit great again than the big-time outsiders. But the little guy is being pushed out and we need to keep an eye out for that.

 

 

 

A friendly homeless murderer walks among us

I bought lunch for a talkative guy named Demetrius Holloway during my last visit downtown.

He kind of smelled and was missing parts of teeth in his front grill and wore an old dirty T-shirt and torn jeans.

Here is something else you should know about Demetrius. He is a homeless friendly murderer, convicted to 30 years in prison for killing his twin bother during a dispute. His uncle, also named Demetrius Holloway, was one of Detroit’s biggest drug lords and was murdered in broad day light inside The Broadway Clothing store about a half mile from where I met his nephew.

You just never know who you are going to run into on your way to a Tigers game.

During the hustle and bustle of a Tigers pregame thousands of people filled restaurants and drank beers. Others finished up work before heading home. And there was Demetrius who had no home to go to since his mother died a few weeks ago.

I’ve grown weary of people who beg for money because I believe the money often supports drug habits. I’ve offered to buy people a meal and they turn it down. Demetrius was different.

“I’m hungry,” he said. “Could you buy me lunch? I will take anything. I have not eaten in two days. I don’t give a (bleep) what I eat.”

I thought about all the times I told myself I would help a beggar out if I knew he  or she wanted a meal. So I broke down and bought lunch for Demetrius who appeared to be in his late 60s.

We walked to Josey’s Tacos on Grand River near Harmony Park and it appears as if Demetrius was a repeat customer.

“They got the best cheeseburgers,” Demetrius said.

The woman behind the cash register eyed us suspiciously and asked: “Are you sure you want to pay for his meal?”

I told her I did and she charged me $8.95.

Demetrius kept chatting and said his twin brother pulled a gun on him during an argument. But the gun jammed when he pulled the trigger. They tussled and the gun went off killing his brother. Demetrius Holloway got 30 years for that which leads me to believe there is a little big more to this story.

I’ve always wondered how people end up homeless. I’ve heard of bad business deals and bad marriages that led to people being on the streets. Drug abuse and mental illness is also a leading cause from people I’ve talked to.

demetriusAnd some are murderers who like to talk too  much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Calvin Johnson frustrations led to retirement

calvin-johnson.jpgThere used to be a saying in the Lions dressing room when players  visited with former teammates who were playing elsewhere in the league.

“You have arrived,” they would tell their buddies.

In other words you are playing for a real organization in the NFL and have escaped the Mickey Mouse Lions. They said it to guys who “arrived” in Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami and New York.

That brings us to former Lion Calvin Johnson who retired because his body is beaten up and he was tired of losing with the Lions. The Lions broke Johnson and his heart was no longer with playing for this organization.

I broke the Johnson retirement story and my source emphasized the number one reason Johnson was retiring was health. The Lions stinking was a secondary issue. However, it was a bigger issue then I was led to believe.

It seems as Calvin wanted to “arrive” during recent comments to reporters.

“I was stuck in my contract with Detroit, and they told me, they would not release my contract, so I would have to come back to them,” Johnson told reporters last week in Italy while attending Italian Bowl XXXVII, the country’s American football league championship. “I didn’t see the chance for them to win a Super Bowl at the time, and for the work I was putting in, it wasn’t worth my time to keep on beating my head against the wall … and not going anywhere.”

Johnson is not moaning and complaining. He is stating facts. The Lions were not going to release him so he retired. The NFL and NBA are different. The top NFL players have way less leverage than the top NBA players.

If this were the NBA Johnson could have formed a super team with Tom Brady. But Kevin Durant and LeBron James situations are unheard of in the NFL. Different league and different rules.

Johnson decided to walk rather than beat his head in frustration.

 

 

The unlikely Ty Tyson award winner

tyson awardWhen I got into the rat race called sports media I never dreamed that broadcasting would be part of my career.

I said as much Monday when I accepted the Ty Tyson Sports Media Award that honors a top Detroit broadcaster. I got into this business to be an ink stained reporter that dug for stories and scoops. I looked down on broadcasters because they were pretty boys and girls that did not work as hard.

But life changes. My newspaper wanted me to do more broadcast spots and my radio station asked me to write more. The profession became more integrated and more blurred. That is one of the things I will tell young journalism students when I begin mentoring them at Madonna University in the fall.

You must be a jack of all trades.

I’ve won national writing awards for game stories and columns but stopped entering contests because our reward should be about informing people. If you got something out of a column I wrote that was reward enough for me.

I never expected to win the Ty Tyson Award. That is reserved for guys like Ernie Harwell and real broadcasters. Even during the 13 years I spent yelling at Mike on 97.1 the Ticket I never believed I was a real broadcaster. I was this guy on the radio fighting Mike Valenti.

However, I have a long broadcast career beginning in the 1990s doing The Sports Doctors on WDFN with Art Regner.  We began by doing a Saturday show, were moved to week nights and finished up doing mid days before Art left for WXYT to enhance its Red Wings coverage.

I did a few weeks of the show with Eric Pate, who is now Athletic Director at Detroit Pershing High School.

I am retired now and entering another phase of my life, trying to help others in this business. I hope to also get more writing opportunities.

Catch me on Friday as I accept the award during the Tigers pregame show on FS Detroit. I cannot believe I won this award. I still view myself as an ink-stained wretch.

 

 

 

 

Gun play

gunMy friend Big Mac and I took a different route home from Webber Junior High and for a few moments I thought it would be a fatal move.

We walked down Ivanhoe Street toward his home when some dude with a pistol motioned for us to join him on his front porch.

“Do you two N-words want to get shot today,” he asked waving the gun toward us.

That was an easy question to answer but the words got stuck in my mouth.

“No,” I  finally said quietly.

I can’t tell you how scared this seventh grader was. Fear gripped me like a giant cobra and sucked the air out of me.

I don’t know why he randomly singled us out. I’d never seen this dude before and never saw him again. I assumed he was an upper class man in high school, but I am not sure of that.

This was a power play and later I realized he had no intention of putting a bullet in our heads. He said he didn’t want us walking past his property again, something he did not have to worry about happening again.

For three or four minutes my future sat in the chamber of a cheap gun and in the hands of an idiot. I didn’t like my chances.

“I’m in a good mood today,” he said. “You two N-words take your bitch asses home.”

Those were the best words I’d heard since Alabama Kathy said she’d make out with me on Belle Isle.

We turned and headed down Ivanhoe to the safety of home. I’m sure he’d forgotten about us but I could feel that gun trained on my head every step I took.

What if he shot?

Who replaces me on the Bad Boys 30 for 30? Is it the Valenti and Parker Show or the Valenti and Riger Show for 13 years?

Who does Debbie June Coleman go to prom with and who breaks the Calvin Johnson retirement story? There is no Celine Margaret Foster or Little B. You are not reading this blog.

Thank God he did not shoot.gun

 

 

 

 

 

 

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