A year after I started my newspaper career at the Atlanta Constitution in 1979 – first, as the coffee-fetchingest copy boy you’ve ever seen and later, after being promoted, as the obit writingest obit writer – Herschel Walker began what would be a legendary career down the road a piece at the University of Georgia.
I mean, everybody in Georgia loved that dude, and why wouldn’t they? He won a Heisman Trophy and brought renown and riches to the school.
How venerated was Herschel Walker in Georgia from 1980 to 1982?
In a recent tribute to my dear, late friend and colleague Dennis Rogers, I mentioned a caller who criticized him for writing too often in his columns about his beloved barbecue.
We – co-workers – made the same observation about Atlanta Constitution columnist Lewis Grizzard, because I swear, it seemed that half of his columns were about Herschel’s gridiron exploits.
There was even a popular song called Give Herschel Walker the Ball, Y’all or something like that.
Aside from his ability to run with a football, part of Herschel’s appeal was that he ran away from controversy the way he did from would-be tacklers.
Walker’s hometown, Wrightsville, was engulfed in racial tensions, and some people tried to enlist the town’s most famous resident to speak out.
He declined, saying, in essence, “I just want to play footbaw.”
It was, of course, unfair to expect an 18-year-old kid to speak out intelligently on anything as serious as that, and I applauded him for knowing his limitations.
Now, though, 40 years later, Walker is a boss talker who can’t be shut up – especially not when he’s giving a full-throated endorsement to President Trump, his friend and former employer, and attacking other athletes who don’t think as he does.
Trump is no racist, Walker insists, and he’s insulted that people think he’d be friends for 37 years with anyone who was.
Gee, just because Trump ran for president based on questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship and intelligence – and the fact that he was sued for not renting to blacks and he took out full-page newspaper ads demanding the death penalty for five boys of color who were subsequently proven to be innocent – why would anyone think he’s racist?
The late congressman, vice president and president Gerald Ford was, like Herschel, a star college football player. When Ford, a Republican, made some ludicrous comment, President Lyndon Johnson observed “He’s a nice guy but he played too much football with his helmet off.”
After Herschel took the stage at the Republican National Convention recently and fawned over President Trump and stiff-armed his critics, some people might’ve been tempted to say the same thing about Herschel.
But not I. Just as LeBron, Steph and other athletes have a right to voice their support for change, Walker has a right to voice his support for the status quo.
Among other things, he lambasted athletes for taking a knee to protest police killing. He said it was disrespectful to the flag.
And killing unarmed people isn’t?
Come on, homes. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has acknowledged that such protests have nothing to do with the flag and that he shouldn’t have been dismissive of Colin Kaepernick’s protest four years ago.
Such nuance wouldn’t have gone over well with the RNC crowd, and Walker doesn’t strike me as a person who does nuance, anyway.
Speaking to the RNC crowd, he said “In society today, if you’ve got a Black friend, oh, jeez, you’re like king… But not one time has (Trump) asked me to speak for him. I don’t even think he knew I was going to speak this time. I’m the one that asked.”
To test Walker’s theory, I asked two of my white pals if being my friend made them feel like a king. These, with an unprintable expletive deleted, are their responses.
“I thought you stopped drinking,” one said.
“&@#k you,” the other one said and hung up.
Walker was right about one thing when he emerged from his decades-long silent slumber: he excoriated Biden this summer for saying that anyone who didn’t support him “ain’t black.”
Now, nobody in the world has the right to question a person’s blackness - except me, and I say that any person of African American descent who is qualified to vote but doesn’t not only isn’t black, but doesn’t deserve to be invited to the family cookout, the family reunions – when they resume – should be banned from the dance floor when Frankie Beverly and Maze comes on and should have all of their Temptations albums confiscated.