VIDEO: Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders Looks To Level the Playing Field for HBCUs

VIDEO: Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders Looks To Level the Playing Field for HBCUs

Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion “Prime Time” Sanders learned the value of movement after purchasing his first “iced out” Rolex in his rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons. His multi-diamond timepiece wasn’t working properly — or so he thought, until the jeweler told him to move his arm.

“The Rolex works off movement,” Sanders quipped during the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Spring Football Virtual Media Days in mid-January. “I go on movement. Whenever I’m idle, I lose energy. I’m a mover and shaker who makes things happen, and that’s how my life has always been. That’s what makes me – me!”

Sanders, who left a successful career as a football analyst at NFL Network, is now shaking up the HBCU football world as head coach at Jackson State University, one of the premier programs in the SWAC and the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

“Coach Prime” has brought energy and credibility to a proud tradition that includes two fellow Hall of Famers, Lem Barney and onetime rushing leader Walter Payton.

The Jackson State program’s tradition and success position it to level the playing field in intercollegiate athletics at HBCUs. After all, Jackson State’s three Hall of Famers are more than Ole Miss and Mississippi State have combined. Sanders thinks he can change the perception that only large schools with massive resources can offer a path to the pros.

“The playing field is horrible,” Sanders said. “If these kids had the same playing field, many more would matriculate to the next level. We lit the fire that they deserve to be called on [NFL] Draft day.”

Sanders’ first order of business has been to improve the quality of his team’s campus apparel. He has already brokered deals with athletic apparel manufacturer Under Armour to outfit his team with contemporary game day gear and fashionable sweat suits that help them stand out from other students on their “yard.” He believes players’ pride in their appearance gives them a sense of hope that will carry them to success on the field and into their professional careers.

Sanders also has wielded his considerable presence and brand in the community, developing relationships with local Golden Corral franchises so his student-athletes can eat off campus. He has added a training table where players can eat in the athletic department facilities. He is working to improve the practice fields and locker rooms as well.

“It’s like back in the day when I played: If you look good, you play good,” Sanders said.

“We don’t have the best of things, but we make the best of things. We’re trying to develop, nurture and caress them in or to help them reach their goals. Either go pro [as a football player] or professional [in fields other than sports].”

Sanders already faces challenges to recruiting. Despite producing one of the top 2021 classes in America, the school self-reported a minor rules infraction. JSU lost four weeks of recruiting after being placed on probation for a tutoring infraction that happened under the previous staff.

That’s all part of a day’s work for Sanders as he strives to comply with NCAA rules that most administrators privately feel keep HBCU programs behind the eight ball. It’s one of the many institutional challenges that Sanders has discovered since taking the job.

“The new hustle is allowing kids to opt out of their scholarships but penalizing them academically,” Sanders said. “Kids are losing credits to keep them from transferring, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sanders, who left a successful career as a football analyst at NFL Network, is now shaking up the HBCU football world as head coach at Jackson State University. (WEBN-TV/Flickr)

Sanders is having a palpable impact on Jackson State, the SWAC and HBCU sports, bringing unprecedented attention to a conference that has led its division in attendance for 42 of the last 43 years. If the spring football schedule is completed, SWAC will be the only FCS conference playing and figures to be prominently featured on ESPN. Sanders and his program will be under a bright spotlight as he lives the dream of coaching both of his sons, Shilo and Shedeur.

“I feel like I have 100 sons,” Sanders said. “I sometimes have to remind myself that my kids are on this team and this will be the first time they’ve played for a school that has a band. [We] can’t wait to see the [JSU] ‘Sonic Boom of the South.’”

On Feb. 21, America will get its first chance to see Sanders’ first edition of the Jackson State Tigers when they play the Edward Waters Tigers at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.

(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)

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Disney+ Tells the Off-Field Story of Clemson Safety ‘Ray Ray’ McElrathbey

Disney+ Tells the Off-Field Story of Clemson Safety ‘Ray Ray’ McElrathbey

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” Ray McElrathbey embodies the character that Dr. King expressed. McElrathbey — known as “Ray Ray” on the football field — found himself between a rock and a hard place after he committed to play for Clemson University.

With his mother battling addiction and his younger brother left to fend for himself, McElrathbey had to juggle caring for his little brother, Fahmarr, while fulfilling his duties as a student-athlete. The Disney+ film “Safety,” the story of McElrathbey’s life, reveals some of the many challenges he faced, including getting his brother to and from school and sneaking him into campus housing. McElrathbey has since started a foundation to help families in similar situations; it provides help with addiction and training in money management and other life skills.

In a conversation with Zenger News, McElrathbey addresses the accuracy of the movie, discusses the challenges he faced in college, and offers an update on Fahmarr.

Percy Crawford interviewed Ray McElrathbey for Zenger News.

Zenger News: Congratulations on the success of “Safety.” You have an amazing story, and I couldn’t think of a better time to release an inspirational movie like that because we need it.

McElrathbey: I appreciate it. It was a long time coming, so anytime it came out, I would’ve been excited. But it was definitely needed — not just for me, but for the world, with all the trials and tribulations we’re facing.

Zenger: It was 14 years in the making. Did doubt ever creep in and you think this film would be scrapped and never see the light of day?

McElrathbey: Oh, most definitely! Fourteen years is a long time. I can’t say that I was optimistic through it all. No, there were times where I was like, “It’s not going to happen,” but in my mind, it was my life story and I had a lot of life left living, and maybe it will make the story better. I’ve lived enough for a sequel. It’s been a process. Fourteen years, so…

Zenger: What was the holdup? Information-gathering, someone buying in on the idea, or just finding the right fit?

Ray McElrathbey with his younger brother, Fahmarr. (Ray McElrathbey)
Percy Crawford interviewed Ray McElrathbey for Zenger News (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

McElrathbey: Well, a number of different things. A lot of studios were asking, “What will we end it with?” If you’re doing a life story on someone and they’re 19, or 22, or 24, it’s the life story of a kid that most people will say haven’t grown up yet. Even myself, I went through a process where I thought, “Why would they make a movie about me?” But there are a number of different things that happened, and we ended up here, and I’m grateful. The process took 14 years. I signed about three deals within that. You go in, they’ll do an initial option. They pay you a flat fee, and then if the movie goes into production, then you get a lump sum. I did that several different times with several different studios, but the producer of my movie, a gentleman named Mark Ciardi, had done other films with Disney, so there was always that possibility that Disney could pick it up, but until Disney+ came along — it made it a perfect storm type of situation, so it was timing more so than anything, I believe.

Zenger: Anytime you put your life story out there, to a degree you have to be a little bit vulnerable. Were you ever skeptical about putting this film and information out there?

McElrathbey: No! Not up until this point, because the parts that people thought were exciting about my life — which are the parts that the movie covers — I don’t necessarily find that as the most impactful parts of my life. Those were the parts that I think would help the masses the most. Because in the unique situation I was in… I was a college athlete playing D-I football. So, some people will separate themselves from that: “Well, that couldn’t be me because I’m not a D-I football player at Clemson.” But there are more parts of my life when I was more of a regular person. When I was a kid, and I was going through the struggles that I was going through. When I had to worry about where I was going to sleep and what I was going to eat, and if it was going to be a good day. Dealing with my mother’s addiction. Those were more impactful times — and more noteworthy times in my life — where I really had to persevere.

During the times I was at Clemson, not that it wasn’t a task, but I had my basic needs met — what I was going to eat, where I was going to sleep. I was on meal plan and I lived on campus. That’s more than a lot of people can say that they have — a roof over their head and steady meals. With the addiction part, I think that speaks to a whole other community of people that needs to see that. And how I persevered through those times, and how my mom persevered through those times, and the things that she went through. And to know that is not easy. At the end of the day, you see the movie and you think that, even after the movie, that things are great. No! That’s not the case. It’s a process every day. I have my ups and downs, I am not perfect, and there are things that I go through still. And I think those are more important things in my life to highlight.

Zenger: Yeah, it’s easy to get the perception of, since you carried such a heavy load when you were younger, that as an adult everything is roses and all good with you. Do you think the film — and not in a negative way — gave a little bit of a misperception of what your life is today?

McElrathbey: In some respects. Or even what life was like for me then. There were some tough times. But there is only so much that they can cover. There is only so much that we can discuss. In the parts when dealing with my mother or dealing with my father, which are the parts that I think makes me more vulnerable. Talking about those things makes me more vulnerable, and it wasn’t able to be talked about in the film. So, it’s more of a happier picture because, like I said, some basic needs are met in the movie. It’s part of the movie business. I do believe that there will be other ways where I will show and share what I went through and how I went through them.

Zenger: Would you consider writing a book, or do you feel it’s better served keeping it on film?

McElrathbey: No, no, no. I am writing a book, currently. I am hoping to release it in June, no later than July.

Zenger: Anytime I watch a biopic, I am always curious about the accuracy of the film. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being very accurate, how accurate is “Safety”?

McElrathbey: Seven! I would say a seven. A lot of the things that happened in the script was somewhat mixed around in terms of the sequence in which they happened. So, that’s what takes away a lot of the accuracy as far as for me. And then just the characters — the individual people, names and mannerisms, more than anything, weren’t covered. So, that gives a little less authentication to these particular parts of the film. But a lot of the situations, a lot of the things that were shown in the movie, is actually things that I went through, it’s just the order in which it happened, and the people that were there when it happened, are quite different.


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A post shared by Ray Ray McelrathBey (@raymcbey)

Zenger: What did you think of Jay Reeves’ portrayal of you in the film?

McElrathbey: He did a great job. The parts where he might have been doing something different than I would say I would do, I let him know. I was on the set. The director would tell me to always put my two cents in, and he was always willing to hear what I had to say, if I think things should be shown or not shown, because it’s my life. He wanted it to stay as authentic as possible, while doing me justice, as he would say. I was lucky to work out with Jay Reeves and hang out with Jay Reeves. A lot of the mannerisms he picked up on from being around me for so long. We only lived a mile and a half away from each other in Los Angeles when he got the role. We went to the same gym, but never really hung out with each other, never really crossed paths, in a sense. The first day I heard he got the role, I hit him up, and we went and worked out. From there, we were good friends, I trained the cast, and I was there every day on set.

Zenger: How is your little brother, Fahmarr, doing today?

McElrathbey: Ah, man, Fahmarr is getting on my nerves. I say that in a loving brother/father type of way. For me, I want him to know exactly what he wants to do and how he wants to do it, right now. And at his age, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or how I wanted to do it. Fahmarr’s great. He’s living life the best way he knows how, as far as I’m concerned. He’s having fun. He’s actually still living in South Carolina. He will be doing some things with me in the future, as far as speaking is concerned, and he’s helping me out with my foundation. He’s doing great.

Zenger: Tell us about the foundation.

McElrathbey: I’m looking to help individuals like myself and families like my family. Families with a hint of dysfunction, but are good families, and good-hearted people. I’m looking to assist them with various needs — financial needs, organizational needs, and hooking them up with services that are provided for families like those types of families. I did a long stint at a homeless outreach program in Los Angeles, as a career. I saw a lot of homeless people. A lot of people down on their luck, a lot of people who have been through a lot of bad situations. Those are the people that I want to help a lot. Those are the people I adhere to. It’s hard to ask sometimes about all the trials and tribulations that they’ve been through and all their struggles, and then at the end of the day, not be able to help them and provide a hand. We’ll have a lobby of 40 to 50 people, and we’ll have three spots to fill. The rest is just hearing someone’s story and finding out if you can cause some type of assistance for them. These housing vouchers that the state gives away. Seeing if there is a relative that might allow them to stay if we pay the utility bill. Just things like that.

Ray McElrathbey (center) with his mother and younger brother. (Ray McElrathbey)

But my foundation is also looking to educate. Financial literacy is a staple killer in my whole process. Most people are just surviving and not living. And it’s not just dirt-poor people. It’s middle-class people and people that used to be in the middle class, but due to the pandemic are no longer in the middle class anymore. We have a lot of relatively poor people that are not actual poor people or strictly poor, but relatively poor. One check away from being poor. My foundation is looking to assist all those types of families and individuals to make it to the next step and get them to a place where they can live and not just survive.

Zenger: From the outside looking in, watching the film, it seems like one of the more difficult things for you was the deceit. You had to be very deceptive to a lot of people. What would you say was the most difficult part about what you went through?

McElrathbey: That can be true. It might have been the deception, but it was more so me finding my way. The film shows it slightly, but not as much. Initially, Fahmarr wasn’t an individual that I had to hide. He was supposed to be there because I told everybody that he was visiting. It was once he was supposed to leave is when things got… that was the most difficult time, because, yes, there was a lot of deception. At that point, I didn’t feel like I lied; I just didn’t tell the whole truth. It was that and the first initial month. We went through it kind of quiet and alone, in a sense. I was just doing it and not knowing if I was going to be able to be successful while doing it. That was one of the things that bothered me about it, because I was unsure about how I was going to make it work. Up until that point, I didn’t have a whole lot of certainties in life. But I knew, based on the position I was in, if I did the things that I needed to do, I was going to come out on the other side. I would come out better than when I went in. During the early months, it kind of jeopardized whether or not that was going to be the process of how it would happen.

Zenger: You refused to give up your football family or your biological family. For the people that would say, “Why didn’t you just quit football and care for your little brother?” Why was it so important for you to keep both families intact?

McElrathbey: They were both my families. A lot of things that happen to athletes once they are no longer athletes — there is a small depression phase you go through. Because you come from having guys that you have always bonded with … you’re kind of alone again. These are the guys that you fought with every day. And by fought, I mean went to battle with on the field or court or whatever sport you played. It gave you a sense that you always had someone that’s got your back. And to give that up is not something you do lightly. Even as a grownup now, you start to realize, the people that are on your side are few and far between. So, you look back and think about those times when you were an athlete, and you remember when you had 60 guys that would go to war for me and fight for me and not ask any questions. We’ll just try to figure it out on the other side, like, “Why did we do that?” But at the end of the day, we’re fighting. That’s something that you would miss once you don’t have it anymore. I had been on many teams before, so I know what that feeling is like. It’s something that I would never want to give up without a fight. And then there is the band of brothers with my real brother like a sports team as well.

Zenger: Great film. Your story is so inspirational, and I wish you all the best moving forward. Is there anything else you would like to say before I let you go?

McElrathbey: Most definitely! Thank you. I’m looking to build a village of individuals who have the same mind and want to change the world. That’s the goal.

(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)

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Actor Brent Jennings Sees Pandemic as an Invitation to Thoughtfulness

Actor Brent Jennings Sees Pandemic as an Invitation to Thoughtfulness

Actor Brent Jennings has brought scores of characters to life onscreen. He earned praise for his portrayal of Oakland A’s coach Ron Washington in the acclaimed 2011 baseball film “Moneyball.” Working with Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and the late great Bernie Mac, Jennings gave a standout performance as ornery prison guard Hoppin’ Bob in the 1999 buddy dramedy “Life.” More recently, Jennings played Ernie Fontaine, one of the lead characters in “Lodge 49,” a comedy-drama series that ran two seasons on AMC.

He now has a prominent recurring role in the popular CW football drama “All American.” A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Jennings honed his acting chops on stages in Boston and New York before launching his screen career with a role in “Brubaker,” the 1980 prison drama starring Robert Redford. Jennings makes his characters believable by thoroughly understanding and empathizing with them before the cameras roll. With more than a hundred credits on IMDb, the hard-working actor has consistently delivered on stage and screen for more than 40 years.

In an interview with Zenger News, Jennings offers his thoughts on the success of stage actors on the big screen and explains how the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing our selfish ways.

Percy Crawford interviewed Brent Jennings for Zenger News.

Zenger News: Mr. Brent, it’s a pleasure being on with you. You just said you are packing and preparing to travel. I was going to ask, how are you handling COVID?

Brent Jennings: With prayer, and faith. This is a family emergency involving my mother, so I have to go. At least I feel I have to go because no one from the family will be present at a time that’s critical for her. I think this whole COVID thing is teaching us something that we don’t seem to want to learn. And that is, the only way that we can survive it and defeat it is if we look out for each other. It’s exposing a weakness in our culture that allows us to be totally selfish, even in the face of an impending disaster. We remain selfish and self-centered. We think of our own individual rights, as opposed to the rights of our neighbor, the rights of the guys standing next to us. Our individual rights not to wear a mask but not that person in front of us’ right to be healthy and not affected by something because we don’t wear a mask. It’s almost like this virus has some sort of intelligence that knows who and what we are.

So, the way I’m dealing with the virus is, I’m trying to honor the person next to me. I’m wearing a mask, I am social distancing, I am washing my hands. I’m limiting my movements right now when I’m on my home turf. I go to the grocery store and come home. I go at a time when there’s not many people there. I go to small places opposed to the big, huge, mega stores. And when I travel, I try to travel smart. Which I haven’t done but once before during this pandemic. I’m forced to have to travel again now. That’s how I’m dealing with it. This may be a long answer, but that’s my take on everything.

Percy Crawford interviewed Brent Jennings for Zenger News (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Zenger: I speak with a lot of entertainers and musicians and I was shocked by the answer that a lot of them gave me. They said it made them realize that they needed to slow down, and the pandemic forced them to. Slow down, take a deep breath and look at the big picture.

Jennings: Yeah! I think it’s making all of us slow down. I think slowing down is what made me come to the revelation and the assessment that I just revealed to you. My personal opinion about how we need to slow down and start smelling the roses and taking care of each other. We’re in this get-get-get mentality. We’re in this go-go-go mentality, and it has forced me to self-evaluate what’s important in life. So yeah, I can understand that. Particularly with people who are on the fast track. The ones really going from project to project and really moving at that pace. You do have to sort of slow down and take a look around and see what’s going on and try to understand it. And in that moment, you come to realize what’s important to you. We want to get through this, so I started looking at it like, “How do we get through this?” It occurred to me during that moment of reflection: “Oh, this thing is challenging us to slow down and think about each other.”

You look at countries like New Zealand, which is doing very well with this. Because they cooperate with each other. Senegal is doing very well with this. It’s not a coincidence. It’s the way they’re behaving towards each other. And they’re doing it without vaccines. I think New Zealand has it [vaccine], but I don’t think Senegal has it yet. So yeah, it makes us stop and think and be more aware of what we’re doing and how we’re treating each other.

Zenger: I spoke to Ty Granderson Jones and Hawthorne James, and one thing I am noticing is, a lot of very talented actors like the gentlemen I just named, much like yourself, come from theater. What is it about theater that creates such amazing talents on the big screen?

“I think a good actor has to forget himself to be good in a role.” (Photo courtesy Brent Jennings/@BrentMJennings)

Jennings: [Laughing] I’m going to crack a joke here, but there’s a little truth to it. I think actors of a certain age [laughing] have a stronger theater background, because at the time we came through, if you really wanted to apply your trade at a steady basis, you kind of had to do theater. There wasn’t the work in television and film that there is now. There was, but not to the extent that there is now. I have a son who is acting; he’s done theater, but his primary focus is TV and film. And he’s making progress in that area, because he sees the opportunities there that I didn’t see when I started. He’s always had his eye on that because he enjoys those mediums. So, I think our generation, the guys you mentioned, we’ve opened things up, and the people coming behind us, there are more opportunities for them than there was for us.

When I was young and I decided that I wanted to do this, I lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, which is far removed from the beaten path when it comes to theater, if you want to take it seriously. So, I used to go and research it. I used to go to News Mart on Tuesdays, and I would get the New York Times and read what was going on in New York. And I would be reading about the Negro Ensemble Company, New Lafayette Theater Company, the Public Shakespeare Festival, and the off-Broadway scene. So, I’m reading about … at that time the Black Arts Movement was in full swing. And I’m reading about all of this theater and black actors on stage. So, my thing was, I gotta get to New York. That’s what was going on in my formative years. So, that’s what I aspired to. To be a part of that. Eventually, I ended up in Boston, where I went to college, and then I moved to New York to do theater. And my desire when I got there was to just focus on theater for five years and refine my skills. And then start looking at film and TV, and it kind of worked out that way for me. It was just the world that I lived in at that time, and what I saw, and what was going on, and what made an impression on me. And I think now, it’s a different world, and younger actors can aspire for different things. It’s all timing.

Brent Jennings working as a Broadway understudy. (Photo courtesy of Brent Jennings/@BrentMJennings)

Zenger: Do theater and television and film go hand and hand, or was it an adjustment for you?

Jennings: Well, there’s a saying that it’s easier for a theater actor to adapt to film and TV than a film actor to theater. And I found that to be true for me. It wasn’t that much of an adjustment. The things you have to learn are technical. If you scratch your nose on a certain line, and you come back to do that scene again, you gotta scratch your nose in the same place at the same time. The continuity things and stuff like that. You have to be able to repeat actions so you can match it and it can be edited together. Knowing a little bit about the lenses and what the camera is doing. How wide it’s shooting or how close it’s shooting, and learn how to adjust your performance for that. A lot of people pay a lot more attention to that than I do. I just kind of get what I feel is a comfortable sense of it and rely on my own instincts to tell me when not to be too big for the camera or when to scale it down or scale it up. I just communicate with the cameraman and get them to guide me a little bit when I feel I need that.

But theater, you work from a different place. It’s a verbal, literary median. It’s words that presses it forward and what moves it. That’s the engine for theater, words. It’s your solar plexus, your vocal command, your ability to be loud, but be intimate at the same time. To project, to be heard in a 1,200-seat theater or a 500-seat theater. It takes a totally different type of adjustment, and people who haven’t done it … It’s something you learn by repetition and guidance. I think it’s a good place to start, but that’s because, I feel like if you can do theater, you can do it all. But that’s my bias because that’s also my background.

Jennings: Well, thank you for that compliment. It’s a matter of doing your homework and having empathy for the character that you’re playing. Once again, it just goes back to, you’ve been doing it a long time, you have your own sort of method of getting yourself involved in the character. It’s basically understanding the character and trying to communicate the truth to that character. That’s about the safest way to say it.

Zenger: Your character Hoppin’ Bob in the movie “Life,” starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, but obviously having an abundance of amazing talents in the film: When you have such a star-studded cast, does it bring out your A game?

Jennings: Well, in that case, I think you’re right. But I don’t think acting is a competitive sport. We were just all having fun with each other. I guess in that sense, you can say good actors bring out your A game. But I think good actors always try to present their A game. There is the old saying, “There are no small parts — just small actors.” I think a good actor always wants to be on his A game. And that’s just really fulfilling the requirements of the role. And be the best representative of that character that you can be. And good actors make it easier to do that for you. It’s like playing ping-pong. You start bouncing that ball back and forth across the table, and then the rhythm gets really fast, and people start dancing on that ping-pong table, slamming that ball back and forth. And that’s what acting is like. Like we were saying earlier, it’s really give and take, sharing the moment.

Zenger: It goes back to being selfless.

Jennings: Right, right, right! I think a good actor has to forget himself to be good in a role. To embody that, to give yourself to it. And I’m a character actor, so that’s my orientation. I’m not a guy that puts the butts in the seats. I’m the guy just doing the part that fills some ties in telling the story. Of the better company that you’re with, the easier your job is if you are really aiming to do the best job that you can do and be as honest and open to your character as you can be. “Life” was a very special experience for all of us. I feel very fortunate to have been working with all of those guys. We all were good to each other on the set, and it showed on film.

Zenger: With you, your son and your wife, Mrs. Juanita [Mahone], all being involved in the entertainment field, is there a fine line or a balance on when and when not to discuss work?

Jennings: [Laughing] Well, we’re all very passionate about it, so talking about it is something we like to do. There are times where you go, “Oh, let me back away a little bit,” but sometimes you feel like you can’t be around people but the people who do what we do because we’re the only ones that understand each other [laughing].

Zenger: I see you mess around in that kitchen a little bit too. You’re definitely a Southern man.

Jennings: Oh yeah, I do a little bit. I do get in there and do a little bit [laughing]. I can cook my collards and barbecue ribs. I can do all of that stuff. Even though I switched to vegan about a year and a half ago. So, I’m learning how to cook that stuff too.

Zenger: Any reason for the switch other than health precautions?

Jennings: Just to be healthier and keep everything under control.

Zenger: The evolution of technology and film from your start to now has been drastic. Does that change your approach or anything that you do as an actor, or is that for the directors and technicians?

Jennings: Oh, no, it hasn’t changed what I do at all. I do what I do, and I let all the technicians and experts push me around and tell me where to be, and I do it. I focus on telling my character’s story, and that’s always been the same.

Zenger: Mr. Brent, it has been an extreme honor speaking with you. Best of luck with your mom. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Jennings: We just all gotta take care of ourselves and each other right now.

(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)

The post Actor Brent Jennings Sees Pandemic as an Invitation to Thoughtfulness appeared first on Zenger News.

Soccer: Argentines Keep the Ball Rolling

Soccer: Argentines Keep the Ball Rolling

With more than 900,000 federated players, soccer is the Argentinian sport par excellence — a core element of the country’s identity, along with tango.

More than a sport, Argentines consider playing soccer an art. It is the sport most practiced by Argentinian men and women, who celebrate it every May 14 on Argentina’s Soccer Player’s Day. Created in 1893, Argentina’s Football Association (AFA) is one of the oldest federations outside of Europe.

Argentina’s former president, Mauricio Macri, greets the people, along with then-Buenos Aires Mayor, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, and the First Lady Juliana Awada, in an event called “Yes We Can.” *** El expresidente de Argentina, Mauricio Macri, saluda a la gente, junto con el entonces alcalde de Buenos Aires,  Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, y la primera dama Lady Juliana Awada, en un evento llamado “Sí Se Puede.” (Marcos Brindicci/Getty Images)

Soccer connects Argentines regardless of their social class, creating a joyful layer that covers collective wounds. It has tremendous economic and political relevance in Argentina, being almost part of the country’s DNA.

“Soccer in Argentina represents us, dresses us, showcases us,” said Andrés Eliceche, a sports journalist. “With its good and bad things, it leaves us naked, facing our miseries and virtues. Argentina does not exist without soccer.”

Many Argentines see soccer as a way to climb up the social ladder. So, they begin preparing themselves from a very young age, training with great passion and dedication.

On the other hand, soccer often creates fanaticism. Rivalry among local or national teams has caused some murky events in the past. But when teams are on the field, overflowing passion is under control.

In film, literature, theater and comedy, soccer has found a way to become immortal since the beginning of the 20th century. It is the primary means of entertainment for Argentines, and its consumption has become a colossal business.

Media have played their part in soccer’s growing popularity, broadcasting for years television shows focused on sports, especially soccer.

Every weekend, Argentine society turns to soccer to escape routine and learn about their favorite players, their training and other details.

“It is part of our inner-self. We can’t imagine what our life would be like without soccer. For the fans, seeing their team win is the most important thing. How the team manages to do it is an alternative element that one does not necessarily consider. So, our first concern is to win, and then we see how. The national team not only has to win, but it has to play well, filling people’s eyes. It has to score beautiful goals for the whole thing to make sense,” said Eliceche.

Argentines are undergoing a national mourning after the November death of iconic athlete Diego Armando Maradona Franco, an Argentine soccer player and coach. At age sixty, he died from a cardiorespiratory arrest in his Tigre’s house, where he settled after a head surgery for a subdural hematoma. He served as a forward and offensive midfielder and was considered the best soccer player of all time.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Carlin Becker.)


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Black Colleges Use Esports to Attract Students and Hook them on Science and Engineering

Black Colleges Use Esports to Attract Students and Hook them on Science and Engineering

The holiday gift that keeps teenagers on the sofa with game controllers in their hands may help parents pay their college tuition. For some, training to compete in cyberspace contests like Fortnite and NBA2K could soon replace training for team sports — and create a new scholarship pipeline and professional opportunities after graduation.

Gaming and esports are becoming sources of camaraderie and competition for students at HBCUs. Three of the four HBCU athletic conferences have corporate partnerships with developers of gaming platforms that allow students to compete against on-campus peers as well as students at schools in their conferences. And this popular form of social entertainment is quickly becoming more than just a pastime.

“Having an esports presence is very important to our institutions in the future,” Southwestern Athletic Conference Associate Commissioner Jason Cable said.

Fortnite is a wildly popular videogame whose best players can compete for college scholarship money. (Epic Games)

Esports teams and individuals compete head-to-head in live online competitions. The industry has grown rapidly worldwide, with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion and global audiences of more than 443 million, according to research by Green Man Gaming.

Most conventional sports franchises took financial losses last spring as American sports leagues postponed events and slashed their schedules to avoid exposing players and fans to the coronavirus. Esports tournaments picked up the slack through sports network TV. College and high school students looking for new ways to live, work, learn and play turned to competitive video gaming more than ever, making esports a cultural force.

Total enrollment at America’s 101 black colleges and universities dropped by 6,000 in the 2018-19 school year. School administrators see a new way to help recover.

“Our institutions are looking to increase enrollment and retain students, and esports gives them a chance to do both,” Cable said.  “It’s the next big thing.”

Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said gaming and esports, which are grounded in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, benefit students academically.

“The move into esports aligns with the educational experience in STEM and overall strategic plan that remains consistent with efforts to continuously grow our brand and advance our students,” McWilliams said.

McWilliams’ athletic conference is one of three dedicated HBCU sports leagues that have attracted corporate sponsorships for competitive gaming platforms and tournaments while athletic sports remain on partial hiatus.

Gamers can compete in tournaments for scholarship money and for the attention of professional sports franchises that may hire the esports movement’s most talented competitors. There were 500 known esports franchises that earned between $95,000 and $36 million in tournaments by the end of 2019, according to Esports Earnings, which tracks the flow of money in the nascent industry. Some socially distant tournaments award as much as $750,000 in prize money.

Educators are more excited about the impact on black students’ professional opportunities when they embrace STEM fields as part of their immersive gaming experience. Programming, software development and cybersecurity can give them the inside track on lucrative career paths.  Some are groomed through academic programs as early as high school, preparing them for athletic esports scholarships.

More than 100 U.S. and Canadian schools offer esports scholarships, following the lead of Robert Morris University Illinois, an institution that has since merged into Roosevelt University. Robert Morris Illinois offered subsidies for members of its first varsity-level Sports League of Legends team in 2014. Some packages today can be worth as much as $76,000 over four years of competitive eligibility. The most talented gamers can defray half of their tuition, room and board.

HBCUs aren’t offering scholarships but want students to think outside their Xbox. HBCU Heroes, a nonprofit launched by former NCAA and NBA champion George Lynch and business partner Tracey Pennywell, raises money to help those schools level the playing field with competitive scholarship offers to student athletes. Now that platform includes esports.

The most talented gamers in America can earn college scholarships that cover half of their tuition, room and board expenses. (campuspartymexico/CC)

Larger universities have vastly more support from sponsors and alumni than most HBCUs.

“My experience at [the University of] North Carolina was on a whole other level,” Lynch said. “We played in the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference], who had the big TV deal, then went to the Final Four and brought back millions of dollars to subsidize the Olympic sports. But most of the traditional HBCUs that we played when I was coaching didn’t have the funding in the athletic department to support the student-athlete’s needs.”

Lynch saw how tight budgets held back athletes at small black colleges while he was head men’s basketball coach at Clark Atlanta University.

“We learned that STEM and cybersecurity is part of gaming,” Lynch said. “Our goal is to fund 12 labs at HBCUs where students can have a curriculum in STEM and develop their skills that give them options other than [major universities] to learn about them.”

Texas Southern University in Houston has extended its sports management program to include an esports curriculum. The interdisciplinary approach is focused on the management side of staging events, designing games and developing sound systems.

Dr. Kenyatta Cavil, interim associate dean of academic affairs in TSU’s College of Education, said he oversaw development of the program to empower students.

“We want the students to get out of the mindset of just being on the couch. We want them to know what’s on the other side of the games,” Cavil said. “We’re trying to be intentional about getting HBCU students into the business segment of the [esports] marketplace.”

(Edited by David Martosko and Jameson O’Neal.)

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After Surviving Horrific Car Crash, Errol Spence Jr. Ready to Prove He’s the Best

After Surviving Horrific Car Crash, Errol Spence Jr. Ready to Prove He’s the Best

Arguably one of our generation’s best fighters, undefeated (26-0) welterweight boxing champion Errol Spence Jr. was riding high after defeating Shawn Porter in 2019.

He couldn’t have known he was on a path that nearly ended his life. Just a month later, photos surfaced of Spence’s demolished vehicle. One look at the condition of Spence’s Ferrari and many critics wondered if he would ever be able to fight at the same level again.

As speculation about Spence’s health circulated, more graphic footage hit the Internet revealing just what one of boxing’s pound-for-pound best had endured. Somehow he walked away with no broken bones. He came back with something to prove.



Many thought Spence’s career was over. It hasn’t been an easy road, but a little more than a year later, Spence is finally ready to defend his WBC and IBF welterweight titles on Dec. 5 against the dangerous Danny Garcia of Philadelphia.

Spence opens up about facing Garcia, the car accident, fighting in Dallas and much more.

Zenger: What’s up with you?

Spence Jr.: Nothing much, tired of doing interviews (laughing).

Zenger: They gave you country-ass livestock and acres! You are a full-fledge farmer now! (laughing).

Percy Crawford interviewed Errol Spence, Jr. for Zenger News (Photo courtesy of Percy Crawford)

Spence Jr.: Yeah, man. Well, I’m not a farmer, I’m a ranch hand. Farmers got all types of fruits and things like that, I just got cattle. So, I’m a ranch hand. I got horses, cows, I’m going to get some chickens in here when this fight is over with and some more horses and stuff like that. I’m a real Texas boy now.

Zenger: That’s a lot of work. Do you get a hand with it, or is it mostly you right now?

Spence Jr.: Me and my dad. I have people come and put horseshoes on and stuff like that.

Zenger: Danny Garcia got into the ring after your win over Shawn Porter, and we see fighters enter the ring all the time. Sometimes those fights come to fruition, sometimes they do not. From the outside looking in, it seems this fight was fairly easy to make. Is that accurate?

Spence Jr.: It was easy to make for the most part. Danny Garcia and myself have the same advisor, so we only had to talk to one person. I feel like it was basically simple, A to B. There was no negotiation or anything.

Zenger: Where Ángel García seems to irritate other opponents and their camps, it seems like you like the fact that he believes in his son so much to make such boastful statements when discussing Danny.

Spence Jr.: I mean, that’s what he’s there for. He’s the man’s father, so it’s only right that he does believe in him. And he’s his trainer too, so it’s only right that he believes in him. I’m not irritated by him. I’ve been seeing his dad talk crazy to other people and everything, but he’s been showing me a lot of respect. I don’t have anything bad to say about him. I just think that it’s a father that believes in his son and he knows how to pump his son up. I feel like the way he be ranting and stuff like that, it’s a way to get his son ready for the fight.

“For me, it was the anniversary, and I just wanted people to see my journey. How hard it was to get to the point where I am now? I just wanted people to see how hard it was. It wasn’t an easy comeback journey to get to where I am now.” (Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

Zenger: Aside from the Kell Brook fight where there seemed to be a little animosity, you always seem to share a mutual respect with your opponents. Do you have a mutual respect for Danny as a fighter and his body of work?

Spence Jr.: I think so. He is a great fighter, I’m a great fighter. I respect his skills and the opponents that he fought, he respects the opponents that I have been in there with, and I feel like, it’s going to be a great fight come December 5. So I appreciate him taking this fight. I know he appreciates me taking the fight and putting my two-belts on the line to fight him. He’s coming to my hometown; I appreciate that too. I feel like it’s going to be an electrifying fight in front of my hometown. I just want everybody to tune-in to Fox PPV or grab their tickets because it’s going to be a one-sided legendary fight for myself.

Zenger: I remember we spoke years ago when you first fought in Dallas and you were kind of hoping that it would become a thing. Now, you have the fanbase, the city behind and it is a thing. It’s gotta be a great feeling to have that thought manifest into what it is now?

Spence Jr.: Definitely man! Fighting at home, I just feel like a lot of fighters don’t get a chance to do that or can do that, but they don’t put butts in the seats. At the end of the day I feel like I’m able to do that and put on great performances when I do that. I’m not losing or anything like that. It’s basically shutout decisions. Last time I fought in Dallas, it was a unanimous decision, the time before that it was a knockout.

The other time was a knockout too. So, every time I have fought there it has been great performances. I want to continue to do that on December 5th and if this all goes well maybe I can come back sometime soon and fight again.

Welterweight world champion Errol Spence, Jr. prepares for a match against Danny Garcia on Dec. 5 in his hometown at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Ryan Hafey / Premier Boxing Champions

Zenger: It feels like you are the chosen athlete in Dallas right now and maybe even the entire state of Texas. With so much violence in Dallas of late, do you hope your fight and your story can bring a little bit of unity to the city?

Spence Jr.: Definitely! It’s been a lot of crazy stuff happening in Dallas. Hopefully, my fight will bring people together, everyone stay safe so nothing tragic happens. I want to see everybody come together. Praying for Dallas.

Zenger: How do you view Danny as an opponent and size him up from being around him?

Spence Jr.: He’s tough. He can be rugged. He’s a guy with a great chin. I feel like he is a counterpuncher with great timing. He is a guy that will punch when you punch, or he will take a punch to give a punch. That’s basically how I size him up. He’s not quick, he’s not fast, he just does everything right.

Zenger: You eventually shared the picture of you in the hospital bed after your car accident. What made you share that picture? Was it just a matter of letting people see what you overcame, your journey leading to December 5th?

Spence Jr.: For me, it was the anniversary, and I just wanted people to see my journey. How hard it was to get to the point where I am now. I just wanted people to see how hard it was. It wasn’t an easy comeback journey to get to where I am now. It was real hard. I put it out to remind people that you can persevere through anything. The power of the mind and staying focused, if you really want something if you put your mind to it, you can do anything and you can persevere through anything.

Zenger: You look to be in amazing shape, physically, how do you feel?

Spence Jr.: I feel good physically. Mentally I feel great. I’m just 100% focused. I’m just ready to put on a great performance, man.

This is something I’ve been waiting for. This is my second opportunity, not only in boxing but in life. I’m not nervous at all or anything like that. If that was anybody else, probably wouldn’t be here right now or they would probably be a vegetable. For me, it’s about staying focused and getting ready for the task at hand and that’s winning in front of my hometown.

Zenger: It didn’t even seem like an option for you to take a fight against a lesser opponent to test out your mental and physical standings after the crash. Why not?

Spence Jr.: I was going to fight him [Danny Garcia] before my accident.  For me, I felt 100%, I felt prepared and I felt like Danny Garcia is the type of guy, his record, who he is and his name, he was going to push me to get back to 100%. I couldn’t slack off because if I would’ve slacked off, there’s a chance that he could have beat me. So, I knew that I had to focus and have tunnel vision and make sure that I’m all the way back. If I do that, I will make this a great, entertaining but one-sided performance.

Zenger: Always great talking to you, good luck and I look forward to December 5.

Spence Jr.: Appreciate it!

(Edited by Daniel Kucin, Jr. and David Matthew)

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