MR. NEVER-NEVER & ROPE-A-DOPE

1940 – CLEARWATER, FLORIDA
I remember him as being “light skinned” with blue eyes and “good” hair.. His name was Orientes Martinez. He was Cuban, but despite having light blue eyes, curly, almost blonde hair, in Clearwater, Florida in 1940 he was considered a “negro”. It was only later that I learned that one 32nd per cent of “colored” blood was all it took for him to be classified as a “negro”. However, It was not his ethnicity that concerned or confused me. It was something I overheard my mother say to a friend of hers regarding the Cuban that caused me to pause.
Girl, what is wrong with you ? He just another nigger. There ain’t no such thing as “good” hair. Don’t let that light skin
and light eyes fool you. You KNOW what he want !
If that is what he want, then he need to come over here and get some. I GOT something for his ass.
Hussy ! Hush your mouth. Don’t you see my boy over there ?
I see him. But if he understand what I’m saying, then it already too late.
I don’t see what all you women see in him. He’s not all there in the head. He’s tetched.
It ain’t his head I’m interested in.
Again, it was not what they were saying about the Cuban that bothered me, it was something he always said.
Never told a lie,… Never did, Never will.
This was his greeting to us kids when we approached him with questions that we teasingly asked him to hear his sing song response.
Never told a lie,…Never did, Never will.
I never learned his real name at that time because to me he was Mr. Never-Never because of his refrain. But his pronouncement was also very troubling to me because of something my mother drove home to me at every opportunity.
Boy,… the two worsest words for a colored boy wanting to make something of hisself is NEVER and CAN’T . Don’t EVER let
me hear you say them. They are the baddest, nastiest words you can say if you want to get ahead in this here world. You
hear me ?
Yessum. I Hear you.
So “never” and “can’t” have been eliminated from my coaching vocabulary. Every time I catch myself about to use one of them, I think back to that six year old boy and what his moma said about them and the fact that she made me swear not to use them. She was critical in my not being able to set my mind in a place where I could even entertain them. Having Mr. Never-Never around from time to time help to strengthen my resolve against giving in to the thought patterns and concessions that make these words possible and probable.
1973 – Zaire, Africa
Muhammad Ali had a very famous fight with George Foreman in Zaire, Africa in 1973. It was called, “The Rumble In The Jungle”. George Foreman was the most intimidating and formidable heavyweight in the world at that time. He had slugged and pounded his opponents into oblivion in most of his fights. He was generally considered unbeatable. Ali employed a very novel, but highly effective strategy against Foreman. He made sure the ring ropes were loose and leaned against the loosened ropes and allowed Foreman to punch away, throwing his heavy artillery with all the force and might he could muster. Ali merely covered up and protected himself as best he could and absorbed everything Foreman threw at him. Once Foreman had punched himself out, Ali proceeded to knock the expended and expired Foreman out. This tactic has been termed ROPE – A – DOPE.
Combining the two strains of thought manifested above pretty much sums up a part of my strategic view of drugs and druggers in the sport of track and field.   On the surface they look so formidable and invinceable that many coaches and athletes simply throw up their hands and throw in the towel. Not I. I take something that I once heard the black female comic, Jackie “Mom” Mabley said in one of her routines. Please keep in mind that at the time she spoke these words she was well into her high sixties in age:
I can not stand old men! I want me a YOUNG man ! The only thing an old man can do for me is to show me where a
YOUNG man is.
When I first heard these lines back about forty years ago at the Regal Theatre in Chicago, Illinois,…. it was a very funny line. Now that I am seventy-five,…. I no longer see the humor. But I DO see the wisdom and practicality of what she said. For me, the druggers can only show me where clean athletes can essentially go. What they do is show the way to something that once discovered, can ultimately be achieved,……clean. This is no way an apology or excuse for the use of drugs. There are ethical, moral,medical, and economic reasons why they should be eliminated from sport. It is ethically and morally wrong to cheat ! It is medically playing Russian Roulette to do drugs because a certain percentage of users are going to have serious health issues later. Economically the cheaters are taking money away from honest and clean athletes by getting paid money that would otherwise go to clean atheltes. So there are no real redeeming qualities to drug use,….either for the drugger or the clean athlete.
Given the fact that drugs are used in our sport, and the collective will at the highest levels is not sufficient to eliminate them at this time, then I am left with my mother’s wisdom and “Moms” Mabley humor for guidance. The first thing to understand is that “never” and “can’t” are the most profane and obscene words in humor performance. The words, and what they conjure up, are the most negative and self-destructive elements of progress. They are vehicles to defeat. Once that is understood then we need to ROPE – A- DOPE. By that I mean we need to develop a strategy that will allow us to absorb what the dopers are throwing at us and then come back and knock them out the ring. That strategy is based upon a positive approach to human performance and the realization that left to our own devices we would no doubt settle for something less than is actually doable. We tend to stagnate and rest on our laurels as coaches and athletes, very rarely thinking much beyond the existing the world records. In many cases,…certainly not all, it takes dopers to lead the way into establishing what clean athletes can actually accomplish. A recent phone conversation I had with a very prominent and successful track coach went like this.
Brooks, I agree with you about what dope performances do. I can remember when anyone running under 10 flat for 100
meters was suspect. Anything in the 9.9 – 9.8 range was assumed to be tainted. Now clean guys run that routinely. Travis
Padgett, who I am sure is clean, ran 9.89 as a twenty year old. It was not that long ago that a similar time would have
everyone suspecting him. Once the barriers are pushed back, then clean guys follow right behind them.
“Moms” Mabley was right.
Who ?
She and Muhammad Ali have the answers.
Are you kidding me ?
Nope.
Then what is the hell are you doing ?
Just getting you in touch with your
Mr. Never-Never.
My Never-Never ? I NEVER say never !!!
That’s what I mean.
Oh.
Brooks T. Johnson
I do not have the time to spellcheck this ebcause I have to pick up my youngest son from middle school. How’s that “Moms” ?
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