Sunday, 16 June 2024

CyberSoulMan: Hangin

Image
T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.


 


After a couple of semesters at Willamette University ending in the spring of 1969, I returned to Hayward, Calif., and attended Chabot College for a few quarters. I had a great friend at that time by the name of Walter Pittman.


One day during a Black Student Union program, in strode Walter Pittman with Big George Forman. Mouths dropped open. Your CyberSoulMan thought it was due to some profound utterance he had stated. You see, I was standing at the podium, reciting for the assembled audience some self-composed poetry.


When I realized that my oral musings had been preempted by the presence of the then-recently turned professional, 1968 Olympic Heavyweight Champion, I got a little steamed. I turned up the heat and directed my diatribe toward George.


A little explanation is due here. Judge not thyself, CyberSoulChildren! Perhaps only wizened geezers like me remember the tenor of the times during the 19th Olympiad held in Mexico City.


When American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were awarded the gold and bronze medals for placing first and third along with second place and silver medal awardee, Australia’s Peter Norman, the demonstration of the African-American athletes at the podium during the playing of the national anthem caused an uproar heard around the earth.


According to a history of the Oct. 16, 1968, event by The Tommie Smith-John Carlos Project, Smith's “raised right black-gloved fist represented black power, the knotted black scarf around his neck represented pride, and the box in his left hand contained an olive tree sapling which stood as an emblem of peace. John Carlos’s raised left black-gloved fist represented unity in black America and the

beads around his neck signified lynchings suffered by blacks. Both men wore black socks but were shoeless during the ceremony to represent black poverty in racist America. Together they formed an arch of unity and power.”


The crowd booed men the men as they left the podium.


*****


George Foreman won the Olympic gold medal for his heavyweight boxing prowess three days later. In celebration of his victory, Foreman danced around the ring with an American flag held high, seemingly disavowing the somber protest of Smith and Carlos.


So, in my youthful exuberance and agreement with the protesters, I kinda scowled at Big George that poetic day in 1969 in an effort to let him know that I was supportive of what Smith and Carlos had done at the Olympics.


When I left the podium, Big George walked up to me and said, “Hey, man. I really dig your poetry.”


BLAM. It was like a straight right to my temple. George Foreman had totally TKO’d me with kind words. We became pretty good friends.


Walter Pittman and I would hang out at George’s apartment. He intimated to us that he hoped Ali and Frazier would both retire before he got to the top. I remember once we were walking down Mission Boulevard just minding our on business. As we walked past the Ford Lincoln car dealership a very excited salesman ran up to us with jingling keys.


“George. George. Check out that Lincoln Towncar. Just check it out. Take your time. No rush. Just check it out.”


We piled in and took a Sunday drive to Oakland. Took our time. Ah, the perks of celebritydom. A Sunday drive in the middle of the week!


I eventually interviewed George for print media twice. The first time was when he was training for Kenny Norton. He was training at the fairgrounds in Pleasanton. It was my first time at a professional boxers training camp. All this machismo strutting and posturing. All these big, buffed dudes. Foreman had a cadre of sparring partners with different boxing styles. Then there was the wannabees. I remember one huge guy, walking around all puffed up, spouting believable nonsense.


“Where’s Foreman at? When I see him, I’m gonna knock his ass out!”


It was amazing theater. This cat looked like he could pull it off.


I remember George sparring with Stanford Harris and George hitting him so hard his protective headgear flew off. Wow.


I was able to be in the locker room with Big George, the great Archie Moore and George’s manager Dick Sadler.


After the training session was over George invited us to dinner. I never will forget that George had a medium rare steak and tossed salad with no dressing. I had brought my cousin Ronnie along to take pictures. When it came time to get a shot of George and I, my cousin wouldn’t take the picture. He was too scared! I ended up taking a picture of George and Ronnie. I was so mad I sold Ronnie a copy.


Some of you may remember the Rumble in the Jungle, Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope and George Forman’s loss of his heavyweight title in 1974. When he lost the second fight of his pro career to Jimmy Young in 1974, Foreman has stated he had a near-death experience in the locker room after the fight. George became a born-again Christian. He didn’t box professionally again for 10 years.


I interviewed George again on the comeback trail in 1990 after he TKO’d Gerry Cooney. Two things sticks with me that George said in that interview. The first is how he envisioned that he could win the Heavyweight Title again at age 40-plus.


“I took 10 years off from the ring. I wasn’t being pounded on physically and I treated my body well. No drugs or alcohol. A lot of young guys in the boxing game can’t say that. They train but damage their bodies and minds in and out of the ring. I believe my body is in the shape of someone in their late 20’s.”


Turns out he was right. The second thing that that I remember about the last time I interviewed George was what he said to me as we were saying goodbye, “Man, I still have a picture of you.”


That makes me feel pretty good.


Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts!


*****


Upcoming cool events:


Blue Wing Blue Monday Blues. Hansen Raitt Band. Monday, March 9, 6:30 p.m. at the Blue Wing Saloon & Café. 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. 275-2233


The Paramount Theatre at 2025 Broadway in Oakland presents The Whispers, Stephanie Mills Howard Hewitt and Andre Williams on Friday, March 13. 510-465-4600.


Calling For Light: A Spring Concert of Poetry and Music. Carolyn Hawley, piano, plays Chopin and original works. Accompaniment to poetry. T. Watts, accompaniment on trumpet. Lake County Poets Laureate Mary McMillan, Sandra Wade, Carolyn Wing Greenlee, James BlueWolf and Jim Lyle. Sunday, March 15, 3 p.m. Galilee Lutheran Church, 8860 Soda Bay Road, Kelseyville. Tickets cost $10 in advance at Watershed Books, Lakeport, and Wild About Books, Clearlake. $15 at the door. Children free. A benefit for KPFZ 88.1 FM.


T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at www.teewatts.biz.


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06.16.2024
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06.18.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
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