For most, the name James Brown conjures images of the late musician known as the “Godfather of Soul”, while others recall the host of The NFL Today on CBS, known by many simply as “J.B.” As we celebrate Black History Month in observance of important African American figures in history, let us not forget the strong African American male role models in society like James Brown of CBS Sports. J.B. holds men accountable for the way they treat women, teaches young people about the importance of making responsible decisions in life and puts his faith and family at the forefront of his life. He maintains humility and lauds people who put aside their egos for the benefit of others. Isn’t this the definition of a true black leader? Isn’t this the type of man that every young black male should look up to? For some reason, the J.B.’s of the world have not received the recognition they deserve. This man fights for causes, such as Special Olympics, and gives of his time to speak to audiences about what it means to be a man. How many men do you know who speak out against those who mistreat women? These are the kinds of messages that our youth need to hear today.
J.B. attributes his success in life to his middle class upbringing and a mother who served as a strong, positive role model. At home, Brown learned never to test his mother, who, while small in stature, did not stand for disrespectful behavior. He fondly remembers the example set by his father, a man who worked several jobs to provide for his family, laying the groundwork for achievement in life. These served him well when he fought to end verbal, emotional and physical abuse against women through a national campaign, known as “A Man Can.”
In his latest book “Role of a Lifetime: Reflections on Faith, Family and Significant Living”, Brown writes about one of the most difficult periods in his life. His dream of playing basketball in the NBA abruptly halted when he failed to make the Atlanta Hawks in 1973. Brown possessed natural, God-given ability and was a standout player at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, MD, where he played under legendary coach Morgan Wootten. He also starred at Harvard before his tryout with the Hawks. J.B. was sure he reserved a spot on the roster until Coach Lowell “Cotton” Fitzsimmons took him aside. Though the tryout failed, it proved to be a seminal moment in J.B.’s life.
J.B. explained to an audience at Georgetown University that he went home and cried for weeks from the devastation. Once reality set in, he looked in the mirror with deep introspection and had an epiphany. J.B. knew he was cut because he didn’t work hard enough, having strayed from the principles he had learned at DeMatha. That failure became the bedrock of his future achievements. He would never let another opportunity pass him by. J.B. told the audience that it did not matter where you started or what trials you faced. The only thing that matters is how badly you want something. He reminded the crowd to avoid being the victim and encouraged them to take advantage of opportunities presented. J.B. certainly did. Through stints at Xerox, Kodak, the D.C. Government and local broadcasting that paved the road to CBS Sports, Brown has become one of the most recognizable faces on television.
J.B. once filled in for the late sportscaster Glenn Brenner on WUSA 9, the local CBS affiliate in Washington D.C. Despite being extremely nervous, J.B. felt ready for the moment. Then, the script and prompter acted up. Brown looked down at his script and back up, only to realize he was still on camera. Embarrassingly, all he had to say was “hi.” What did he learn? Just another speed bump on the road to bigger and better things. Perhaps J.B. listened his old high school coach’s motto, “success is failure turned inside out.” Mistakes are a part of life as well and J.B. is not afraid to speak about some of his. Today, when he speaks to young people, he stresses the importance of responsibility and choices.
In his book, J.B. drives home the importance of faith, family and work ethic. However, the overriding theme is his belief that a person is only as good as the people around them. Sports are a microcosm for life and winning comes from finding the talents of others and accentuating what they do well. For J.B., a man who has succeeded in the business and the media world, he believes deeply in foundational truths. These include achieving personal and professional balance, never compromising integrity or character and being a team player, who encourages others by playing to their strengths. Here is a man with talent to lead from the front and the wisdom, learned through faith and humility, to support those on his team. J.B. surrounded himself with successful people, learning from their triumphs. Nothing can be achieved by operating alone. What a powerful lesson that is for all of us.
True role models are not folks who dunk basketballs or catch footballs, but people who work hard to help others achieve greatness. Unfortunately, this is a contrary point of view from the “me first” society we live in. Everyone can learn a lesson in humility from J.B. He has always been a starting player, but he also knows how to be a bench player, making passes to others so they can score winning baskets. Anyone who has ever worked with J.B. will tell you he made them much better at what they do because he found their strengths and let them shine. Maybe we need to remind ourselves that the pass that leads to the score is more important than the score itself. If you are looking for strong, influential men to praise during Black History Month, look no further than James Brown.