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JAY WILLIAMS, HOST:
Welcome to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams. I want to get met for a second. We call this show THE LIMITS because it's about how different stars and power players have overcome setbacks and pivoted into new lanes on their own terms. And all throughout this show, there's been one obstacle that everybody has had to navigate - the effects of racism. After the murder of George Floyd, so many of us had to think about ways to step up and be heard. And I'll never forget how in the summer of 2020, NBA players walked out on the league. It made me so damn proud to be a former player. And it inspired me to use my own voice to speak up and speak out on the platform of ESPN.
My guests on this pod, some of the most successful people in the world that I know, always seem to circle back to just how much race has affected their lives and their industries. You see, as they got higher and higher in the corporate ladder, they noticed that there are fewer people that actually look like them. And this affects how resources are passed down and where they end up. That limited opportunity for ownership has put restraints on the Black community to amass what we all want - generational wealth. Maverick Carter understands this. He's a sports marketing superstar behind the LeBron James empire and runs their company Springhill, valued at over $700 million. He talks about ownership in terms of having a platform. Listen to this.
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MAVERICK CARTER: You start to understand that owning a piece of an enterprise is much more valuable than cash as long as that enterprise is growing and flourishing. And it is because you have much more things you can do because we all need a platform. So once you have an enterprise like - you know, SpringHill has become my platform, right? So people get all caught up on the valuation of this or that. But it's the place I work at. It's the thing - you know, NPR is now your platform, Jay. So we all need a platform. That's much greater if you control a platform - right? - if you really are in control of a platform versus just getting cash.
WILLIAMS: Now, for food entrepreneur Jon Gray, Black creatives need to think about ownership in terms of value capture, not just value creation - genius. Jon is the visionary behind Ghetto Gastro, a food collective that provides fine dining experiences for the likes of Microsoft, Cartier and Martha Stewart herself.
JON GRAY: So I think for me, that's the legacy I want to leave behind - value creation and value capture because even when you think about fine art, like somebody like Kerry James Marshall, he might work in a studio in the South Side of Chicago, make a painting he sells, and he gets paid for it. Maybe let's say he made 100, 200 grand for it, which is good money. But then 10 years later, somebody sells that a Sotheby's for 20 million. Granted, usually - Diddy bought that painting, so it stayed within the community. But usually, those type of stories is somebody else - that value capture's what's going to send their kids to private schools outside the community. So I think - and you look at the music business. You look at athletics, right? Like, we got to capture the value that we're creating. You know what I'm saying?
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WILLIAMS: But to even get to the place of ownership or leadership, there are so many hurdles for us out there rooted in racism. When I talked to NFL head coach Brian Flores earlier this year, he had just filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL alleging racial discrimination around hiring practices. Here's what he told me.
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BRIAN FLORES: You know, when you when you have two back-to-back to back winning seasons, you don't really feel like that's, you know, when you're going to get fired. My son asked me, you know, what happened? You know, my son's - I have, you know, two sons and a daughter. My son Miles is eight. He'll be 9. My son. Maxwell is 7. He'll be 8. My daughter just turned 5. So I was at a princess party a couple weekends ago, right in my element.
FLORES: So my son Miles, who's become a huge football fan - both my sons. He asked me - he goes, you know, what happened, dad? Why'd you get fired? And I said, son, most of the time, you know, you get fired when you fail. That's normally how this goes. So I couldn't give him a real answer. He's like, we didn't fail. I know we didn't fail. You know, they just didn't work out. My son Maxwell came home and said his friend from school - I don't want to say a name - but so-and-so's dad said you got fired because you're Black. So these are conversations I'm having to have with a, you know, 8- and 7-year-old. And those are tough conversations to have.
WILLIAMS: We'll get more into that conversation soon. But before I do that, I want to share a bit of my conversation with Emmy-winning actor Colman Domingo. He's a brilliant, multitalented creative and one of the most thoughtful people I've ever spoken to. He unpacked the core of everything affecting Black America. Listen to this.
This is a heavy question.
COLMAN DOMINGO: OK.
WILLIAMS: I'm curious where you will go with it. And I know it's a lot to unpack. But what do you think is the current state of black America, Colman?
DOMINGO: That's a great question. All right. This is going to be very honest because I had to think about this a lot while being in Atlanta, Ga., Which was supposed to be sort of the epicenter of Black culture and wealth right now. And maybe I'm wrong. But I got worried because I thought that not only at times I was looking for like sort of, like, a central place to, like, go for a walk and see Black culture just on its display wherever, you know, wherever it is - whether it's art, sciences, thought. You know, I was looking for that. And what I saw was a lot of Black people having money. But it was about that money. It was about having Louis Vuitton. It was about shopping. Where I saw the biggest intersection of Black folks was at the mall. And we were out there just loading up on things that had nothing to do with us, just loading up.
Do they have any interest in anything else, or was it just about having, I did this? I arrived. It's about me. It's about - then what are you pouring into the culture? What are you doing? What is your thoughts? What - how are you advancing who we are? And that's - I got worried, to be very honest, because I felt like I met a lot of people who wanted to be a star, to be seen, but there was no reason for it. Because I think that we've been sold a deal, in many ways, to expose - you know, to give up everything. And it's just about, like, you know, I'm fly. I got money. I got a car. I got, you know - but what are you filling up your soul with? What - you know, that's not why all these civil rights leaders whose names are on boulevards worked so hard for you to do, for you to just, you know, oh, now I'm just out here in these streets with, you know - just, you know, what we think the constructs of what we think is success. We're trying to find and redefine ourselves right now in many ways. And there's a lot of influences, in many ways, of saying what makes you human, have access. A lot of things, I think, are Band-Aids to say, you know, I'm somebody because I can afford this, I can wear this, instead of you just believing you're somebody and knowing your history and knowing who you are and knowing the impact you can have in the world.
We've always been in trying times since we've been in America. That's the one thing I recognize. I've always recognized that, that, like, you know, the things that we're worried about that are traumatic that we see generations have had to deal with that. So I'm not, like - I don't want to say I'm callous about it, but I understand it. I'm like, no, this is who - this is racism in America, and that has not changed. If anything, it's a bit more amplified because, you know, the more that we can see it, we know it's there. But, like, it's been there. We're just more aware of it now. But now we can do something. We can have an impact in a different way. I think that we're in a place that we have to do some soul-searching about who we are and just about who - just us, you know, and not in relation to others and white folks and stuff like that. But we have to really talk about who we are and who we want to be.
WILLIAMS: And one of the things that I see from doing TV on a day-to-day basis is, you know, there are so many polarizing comments that are out there now and there's such a heavy reaction to everything that's polarizing. And sometimes I think factual comments then become polarizing because a lot of people feel uncomfortable recognizing that the history of our country was built off slavery. And do you think there is a lack there of history, of understanding of Black culture being, yes, suppressed because we don't get a chance to learn about it because we live in a country of history revisionists?
DOMINGO: Yes. They don't want white people to learn about it either, that, actually, this is our country. If you go - you know, the most incredible thing about Germany is that they recognize the errors and their humanity and the ways and things that have gone down there with Nazi Germany. There's statues that says never again. You know, I go to - I've been visiting plantations on "The Color Purple." Do I see a sign, a plaque of what happened here, who was here, what families were here? For white and Black to know, so we know our history. If we understand exactly who we are and what we come from and what our legacy is, then we can move forward. That's the healthiest thing. But because this country is so concerned more with big business and keeping us separate so that, you know, the people in power, the people in wealth, the people who, you know, the 1% can win. That's the whole reason.
But once we understand that and understand that's the truth and deal with the truth, then we can move forward. I have hope that the next generations - because these young people are way more advanced than these older people with thought. They're very interested in having these conversations. And they're cool with it. Your grandparents, your great-grandparents owned slaves. That's not cool. But you can actually just talk about it and understand that it's part of your history. You don't have to take on that guilt. You didn't do it, but you have to understand where your wealth comes from, where your access come from, where - you know what I mean? And then you understand, and you can make things better.
DOMINGO: That's it. You don't have to take on all that. And I think that's the thing people are afraid of. I don't want to take on this uncomfortable stuff. It's OK. We live in a very uncomfortable country. It's OK.
WILLIAMS: I'm telling you, Colman was so real for that. Race cuts deeper than just the color of your skin. It's these entire systems of oppression that you get stuck in, and so much gets forgotten and revised. It's affected so many people on this show, just like former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. After the break, more from my conversation with him and how he handled the pressure of speaking out against the NFL as a Black man.
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WILLIAMS: Earlier this year, THE LIMITS helped tell an historic football story. Head coach Brian Flores was fired by the Miami Dolphins. Just days after he filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL, he came on the pod to talk about his experience dealing with what he says was racial discrimination. Despite the risks to his career, he said he had a responsibility to speak out against his employer. I wanted to revisit that conversation in light of this episode. I asked him about how he's been dealing with the pressure on him and his family. And then Brian told me what he thinks players in the league should do to enact change right now.
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WILLIAMS: So before the show, I sat with you and your legal counsel who are also childhood best friends, your whole crew. And it was a very joyous vibe, right? Like, you can tell you guys have a lot of camaraderie and you need that in times like this. But you're a husband. You're a father to some amazing kids. Football is such an American sport. And it feels like regardless of whatever happens, if that's domestic violence, if that's, you know, issues of drug abuse, racial discrimination, it feels like the league is Teflon in a way, and it just keeps moving - right? - and it keeps being beloved. Have you received any backlash from people or fans that think you're trying to hurt the league or trying to hold the league back? And if so, like, has that affected you or your family?
FLORES: I feel more support, but I know there's backlash. That comes with the territory. And I block it out. And I surround myself with that group that you mentioned earlier. Friends, family - my wife is my rock - my kids. Look, I know this is - this isn't going to be easy. I realize that. But if we want change, I think it will be worth it.
WILLIAMS: So many times people see the intensity of you on the field, hear you talk at, you know, post-press conferences, hear you deliver speeches. But for all the people out there who don't really pay attention to football or don't get a chance to hear you, how would you describe to them who Brian Flores is?
FLORES: Oh, I'm thinking about my mom right now, who passed away three years ago from cancer. She raised us to be respectful. She raised us and was constantly talking about integrity and character. She laughed with me, and she had fun with the people she loved. And I would say the people who don't know Brian Flores should ask the people in my circle - players, coaches, support staff, friends. I like to think that I'm caring and genuine and giving and loving. Yes, I will yell at players, and I'm demanding. But I do also put my arm around these guys also. And that's the same for all the people in my life. My daughter, on the other hand...
FLORES: ...It's over right there.
WILLIAMS: It's over?
FLORES: Yeah, it's over. She has yet to hear no from me.
WILLIAMS: I laugh at the yelling part because Coach K used to always say, hey, when I stop yelling at you...
FLORES: That's a problem.
WILLIAMS: ...That's a problem.
FLORES: I say the same thing to the players.
WILLIAMS: One last thing - what do you think players could do to try to push this narrative? Obviously, NFL's a predominantly Black league. You know, we were talking about this today on air, and I was saying, you know, the players are unified through their voice through the players' union, but there's no coaches' union to represent you guys, which is another intriguing conversation. But what could the players actually do to try to create and evoke change?
FLORES: I don't think players - I don't think as a society we really think about the limits we're putting on young Black, brown, minority children and girls when they don't see leadership in the head coach, GM - they don't see people that look like them in those positions. I think if players thought about it that way, they would speak out on it more. I think anytime somebody hears it that way, they go, oh, my goodness. There are no Black head coaches for a young Black boy to look up to. There's one. There aren't enough female coaches coaching in the National Football League. It's, you know, it's moving in that direction. But there's too few. There aren't enough GMs. Why, you know, why would a young, you know, Black, brown, minority feel like they can be an owner? So I think if players start to think about it that way, because, look, our players are - there are some stars in the league from a leadership standpoint. I've been fortunate to coach a few of them. And if you paint that picture for them, they'd probably speak out a little bit more.
WILLIAMS: I really appreciate you giving me the time. I know the last 48 hours have been a whirlwind, but I commend you for the stance that you are taking. I also commend you for what you represent. And as a father to two kids, in particular, my son Zane, who is nine months, I try to be that. But you know, your kids eventually are a byproduct of your surroundings, right? And I hope that my kids are lucky enough to be around people like you. And I appreciate what you do.
FLORES: Thank you very much. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: A big thank you to Brian Flores and his team for trusting us with this conversation. Shoutouts also to Mave, Jon Gray and Colman Domingo. Race percolates throughout this and almost every conversation on THE LIMITS. And as we're talking about our own limits, we need to think about the limits that have been placed on us by race, gender, class and sexuality, and how we can all be more empathetic human beings to help overcome these inequalities. This is THE LIMITS from NPR. I'm Jay Williams. And as always, remember, stay positive, and let's keep it moving.
THE LIMITS is produced by Devan Schwartz, Mano Sundaresan, Max Freedman and Leena Sanzgiri. Video production by Kaz Fantone, Langston Sessoms, Christina Shaman, Iman Young and Nick Michael. Our executive producers are Karen Kinney, Veralyn Williams and Yolanda Sangweni. Our senior VP of programming and audience development is Anya Grundmann. Music by Ramtin Arablouei. Special thanks to Christina Hardy, Rhudy Correa, and Charla Riggi.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.