Hodges still part of the fight

Ex-bull who grew up dur­ing civil rights era pleased with cur­rent nba play­ers protest­ing so­cial in­jus­tice

Chicago Sun-Times - - WHERE ARE THEY NOW - BY DENISE I. O’NEAL | doneal@sun­times.com | @deniseonea­l5

Catch­ing up with for­mer Bulls player Craig Hodges as the Ja­cob Blake po­lice-in­volved shoot­ing in Kenosha, Wis­con­sin, was trend­ing turned out to be an eye-open­ing tes­ti­mony to his pas­sion as a free­dom fighter. There was no talk of NBA cham­pi­onship vic­to­ries with the Bulls while play­ing along­side Michael Jor­dan or win­ning the three-point con­test for three con­sec­u­tive years.

And while Hodges’ stance on racial and so­cial in­jus­tice is well-known, he found him­self hav­ing a new plat­form to ad­dress the is­sue, as the NBA and other sports or­ga­ni­za­tions flooded the news with a pos­i­tive stand in the fight against racism af­ter the Blake shoot­ing.

Hodges, whose at­tempt to or­ga­nize a boy­cott among union bas­ket­ball play­ers af­ter the beat­ing of Rod­ney King by Los An­ge­les po­lice in 1991, has been re­vis­ited count­less times re­cently. He had this to say on the new wave of sup­port for racial and so­cial jus­tice spread­ing among the sports com­mu­nity:

“It’s beau­ti­ful,” Hodges said in an in­ter­view with CBS Sports.

In a mov­ing ex­am­ple of a “it’s never too late” mo­ment, Hodges added, “I felt like all of the an­ces­tors were smil­ing down and said, ‘Man, our young broth­ers got some back­bone.’ ”

And while Black life steeped in the racist cul­ture of Amer­ica is a hot-but­ton topic these days, Hodges has been en­gaged in a long­time mis­sion to stamp out racism.

“I have al­ways had a pas­sion for do­ing the right thing,” said Hodges, who grew up in the eye of the civil rights storm.

Born in Chicago Heights in 1960 dur­ing the dawn of the civil rights era, Hodges was in­tro­duced to the move­ment at an early age. His mother, Ada Hodges, worked as a sec­re­tary dur­ing the day and one dur­ing the night for a civil rights group.

“The civil rights move­ment was lit­er­ally at my front doorstep,” Hodges said.

Hodges’ book, “Long Shot: The Tri­umph and Strug­gle of an NBA Free­dom

Fighter,” is a tes­ta­ment to his ded­i­ca­tion to the fight. First is­sued in 2017 and coau­thored by Rory Fan­ning, the book was reis­sued as a pa­per­back in Au­gust. Co­in­ci­dence or serendip­i­tous, the time­li­ness of the re­lease is un­par­al­leled.

With a strong Black woman for a role model grow­ing up dur­ing the tur­bu­lent ’60s, it’s easy to see where Hodges’ pas­sion for the cause hailed.

“Black women are the foun­da­tion of black life,” Hodges said. “They bring you into the world, they nour­ish and nur­ture you. In fact, they are es­sen­tially the back­bone of not only Black cul­ture but of all cul­tures.”

Hodges’ fa­ther, Saul Beck, was a long­time mayor of Ford Heights. With racial in­equal­ity, pol­i­tics, ac­tivism and so­cial re­form at his front door, it’s hard to imag­ine Hodges not hav­ing a fiery pas­sion for peace burn­ing in his soul.

“The seed was planted early,” he said. “I ba­si­cally grew up in the midst of free­dom fight­ers.”

But 1991 turned out to be Hodges’ Water­loo. Af­ter the Bulls beat the Lak­ers to win the NBA Fi­nals, he tried to or­ga­nize a strike by show­ing up at the White House in a white dashiki and white cap and tried to pass a note to a staff mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H. W. Bush to ad­dress racism in Amer­ica.

Dur­ing the strike, Hodges ap­proached Jor­dan and Magic John­son.

Ac­cord­ing to Hodges, Jor­dan’s re­sponse was, “That’s crazy.” John­son replied, “That’s too ex­treme for me.”

Hodges breaks down be­ing turned off by Jor­dan and John­son to fact, stat­ing, “to whom much is given, much is ex­pected.’’ And he added, “be­hind closed doors, you’re still Black and have to stay in your lane.”

As for his note di­rected at Pres­i­dent

Bush, “I never heard any­thing from him,” he said.

Af­ter the Bulls won their sec­ond ti­tle in 1992, Hodges was cut and felt he was black­listed by the NBA.

“Let’s get one thing straight: Be­ing cut by the Bulls didn’t hurt my ca­reer,’’ Hodges said of his NBA ca­reer end­ing abruptly. “It ended a chap­ter in my life. My ca­reer is ad­vo­cat­ing for peace. We as a peo­ple [Blacks] need to draw a red cir­cle around the word ‘ca­reer.’ It’s a liveli­hood, not a life­style.”

Hodges said Black play­ers could have stepped up to the plate and formed their own league.

“There’s so much money flow­ing through the sports in­dus­try that trick­les down to Blacks in the form of mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar con­tracts, a league could have eas­ily been started,” Hodges said.

Hodges, who re­cently coached at his alma mater, Rich East High School in Park For­est, spends time trav­el­ing with his adult sons be­tween Chicago and Los An­ge­les men­tor­ing stu­dents.

While he could un­der­stand the re­sis­tance of Black ath­letes nearly 30 years ago not speak­ing out about racial is­sues, Hodges be­lieves to­day they need to do more, which is hap­pen­ing in the wake of the Blake shoot­ing.

Be­fore the present wave of Black ath­letes tak­ing a stand against the an­ti­quated ide­olo­gies of racism in re­cent days, and his bold stand in 1991 now be­ing re­ferred to as a “Colin Kaeper­nick-es­que mo­ment,” Hodges talked about the for­mer 49ers quar­ter­back and his lone protest stand.

“Much love goes out to Colin,” he said. “He men­tioned me by name dur­ing an in­ter­view on his stance. I sup­port his courage.” ✶

“Let’s get one thing straight: be­ing cut by the Bulls didn’t hurt my ca­reer. It ended a chap­ter in my life. My ca­reer is ad­vo­cat­ing for peace. We as a peo­ple [Blacks] need to draw a red cir­cle around the word ‘ca­reer.’ It’s a liveli­hood, not a life­style.”

Craig Hodges

GETTY IM­AGES

Craig Hodges, who won two NBA ti­tles with the Bulls and three con­sec­u­tive three-point con­test ti­tles, took a sim­i­lar stance on so­cial in­jus­tice in the early 1990s as Colin Kaeper­nick did more re­cently.

Craig Hodges, wear­ing a dashiki along­side Scott Wil­liams while be­ing greeted by then-Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H. W. Bush af­ter the Bulls won the 1991 ti­tle, wrote a let­ter to Bush about racism in Amer­ica.

ASHLEE REZIN GAR­CIA/SUN-TIMES

Craig Hodges at the South­land Cen­ter gym in Lyn­wood on Wednes­day.

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