19th Annual MESHOF Induction and Community Awards Ceremony

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(Left to Right) Eddie Wright, presenter; Mickey Hall, MESHOF president; Taj Tashombe, Community Sports Advocate Award inductee, Oakland A's vice president of external affairs; daughter Isley; Mark Ibanez, emcee and KTVU sports director. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

Roll Call at the Hall of Fame
by Pete Elman

Arif Khatib, in his younger days, was, among other things a record label owner and concert and boxing promoter. In 2000, feeling burned out, he took a trip to Tahoe to clear his head out and came up with a vision. Thus was born the Afro Sports Hall of Fame, which eventually became the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame (MESHOF), a Bay Area non-profit which has inducted 64 athletes and helped countless others. Their mission is,  "to broaden and enhance the public's understanding of multi-ethnic history and the role that diversity and cultural tolerance plays in the growth of professional sports."

At this year's 19 th annual induction and community awards ceremony at Scott's Seafood at Jack London Square in Oakland, Khatib passed the torch to new president Mickey Hall. I asked what he was most proud of. "The wide acceptance of the honorees all over the world. I knew it would have an impact, especially when I call them to say they've been inducted. A while back we changed the name of the organization from 'Afro' to 'Multi-Ethnic' so we could induct anyone. The idea has always been to inspire people and honor those athletes who should not be forgotten, who left it all on the field--and often gave back to the community. It's never been about me. And I want to make sure that every person who comes to this event leaves with a memory."

Mission accomplished. Early in the evening eight individuals were honored with community awards in a variety of fields, including: Rachel Chambers and Arthur Renowitzky (Don't Give Up Award), Jeff Meyer and Joe Hawkins (Community Trailblazer Award), Leslie West (Founders Award), Tal Tashombe (Community Sports Advocate Award), Vince Owens (Mark Manning Tennis Award) and Elisha Greenwell (Entrepreneur of the Future Award).

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(Left to right) Arthur Renowitzky, Don't Give Up Award inductee; Arif Khatib, founder and president emeritus. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

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(Left to right) Mickey Hall, MESHOF president; Steve Cornell, presenter; Lynne A. Rolly, Class of 2019 Tennis inductee; Mark Ibanez, emcee and KTVU sports director; Kyle Fisher, assistant to the president. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

Incoming MESHOF president Mickey Hall has been involved in the Bay Area non-profit sector for several years. As CEO of Triple Play, a tech company, she is combining three worlds to achieve awareness and help people. She describes her mission as, "the triple play of weed, music and tech." Hall speaks passionately about issues; "People of color need to catch up," she says, and, "we need more women on board." At Friday's awards event, we witnessed the confluence of sport, service, and courage. I asked Mickey to speak on that connection. "Arif's vision was to celebrate, encourage and support what athletes can do on-and-off the field." I asked Hall about her plans for MESHOF going forward, now that she's transitioned from volunteer to president.

" We want to bring this organization into the digital age, be more out in the community. Our goal is to get youth involved in other aspects of sports, to find students that are passionate about tech as well." In addition to her work for the Hall, she is on staff at the Oakland Public Education Fund  and is a member of the Oakland mayor's Council on Aging.

This year there were six inductees into the Hall. From the world of track and field came Larry Walls,  who ran with John Carlos, Lee Evans and Tommie Smith at San Jose State in the 1960s and went on to work in the DA's office in Los Angeles County, eventually founding a foundation to help scholar-athletes. Lynne Rolley  became a national junior's champion and then a celebrated tennis coach who has taught the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati; she is also a renowned speaker and tennis writer. Bay Area baseball personality Shooty Babbitt  was inducted, honoring a career that has lasted 42 years. Currently a scout for his hometown A's, Shooty acknowledged the great athletes who came before him and inspired him to reach for the sky as a player; he now inspires others as a mentor to Bay Area youth. Former Philadelphia Eagles and Oakland Raiders All-Pro linebacker Jerry Robinson  was also inducted and in his light-hearted speech described a journey from Santa Rosa to UCLA to 13 seasons in the NFL.

But it was former San Francisco  49ers tight end and Super Bowl champion  Eason Ramson who delivered the most compelling and heartwarming story of the evening, chronicling his descent into drug addiction and prison and his eventual recovery, with the help of his coach, the late Bill Walsh. Ramson is co-founder of the Center of Academic Re-entry and Empowerment (CARE), currently working with truant youth to turn their lives around.

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Eason Ramson, Class of 2019 Football inductee. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

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(Left to right) Arif Khatib, founder and president emeritus; Mickey Hall, MESHOF president. Photo by Jesse Brooks.
There was one inductee who, sadly, was not present to accept his honor and that was the late baseball player Glenn Burke, who passed away in 1995. With his sisters and niece present, Glenn was inducted by his friend, East Bay filmmaker Doug Harris, who produced and directed the brilliant documentary, OUT: The Glenn Burke Story.

" Glenn was the greatest athlete the city of Berkeley has ever produced," Harris reminded the crowd. 

Burke was genuine, funny, vibrant, soulful and brave. After two years with the Los Angeles Dodgers he was basically run out of town by homophobic management and when he arrived to the Bay Area shortly after as an Oakland Athletic, his childhood dream, he encountered Billy Martin. Martin, like Glenn, had played as a youth at Bushrod Park in North Oakland and for Berkeley High. But Martin was woefully intolerant and made Glenn's life so miserable he quit baseball at only 27 years old. Burke's life spiraled downward after that and he passed away from AIDS at 42, Jackie Robinson's number.

Lutha Burke, Glenn's older sister who cared for him in his last months, spoke movingly about her younger brother from the podium. "He was a great athlete, and a better person."

Burke, of all the inductees, may have given the most. He was the first athlete of any major sport to come out as a gay person and paid the price. But his spirit and legacy will live forever, thanks to folks like Doug Harris, Arif Khatib, Mickey Hall and MESHOF.

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From 2000-2005 I wrote a column for the late great Oakland Athletics Fan Coalition (OAFC) entitled  Elman Swings,
a play on the fact that I'm a musician. Some of you may remember the OAFC, an East Bay organization that at its peak had several thousand members devoted to keeping the A's in Oakland and guess what? They've succeeded. Perhaps one or two of you might remember my articles (more like rants) about baseball and society. So when the Ultimate Sports Guide asked me to compose regular screeds for this weekly blast called Outlaw's Outtakes, how could I say "No?" ('Outlaw' is their nickname for me.) -- Pete Elman

3-6-17 - Pops

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