In February for Black History Month, USA TODAY Sports is publishing the series 28 Black Stories in 28 Days. We examine the issues, challenges and opportunities Black athletes and sports officials face after the nation’s reckoning on race in 2020.

The stories cover all aspects of Black life in sports: from players who starred in the American Basketball Association, the precursor to today’s NBA, and are struggling financially; to Black college creative directors leading the way during a racial reckoning; to Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl, reflecting on his impact, this series takes an unflinching look at race and sports in America during this important month.

These are those stories: 

Former ABA players struggling and running out of time 

Maurice McHartley (right) playing for Dallas Chaps of the ABA. He now lives in subsidized housing in Atlanta and hopes the NBA will step up and give pensions to former ABA players. (Photo: Remember the ABA)

Maurice McHartley is in the rehab waiting room, talking quietly, hushed, about how it all happened. He was driving back to his apartment, subsidized housing in Atlanta, when his chest started tightening, the sweat started soaking his clothes. 

He survived because of "his lady," he said. When he got home, McHartley told her he just needed to rest on the couch. She insisted he get to the hospital where doctors told him he'd had a heart attack. Stents were put in. But his heart needed more.

So McHartley was in the waiting room on Feb. 4, five months later, for cardiac rehab that costs him $50 a week out of pocket. It doesn't sound like much to most, he knows, especially to a former pro basketball player.

“As far as this pension thing, the NBA is waiting for us to die off.”

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'Colin Kaepernick VS The World' Snapchat series addresses his fight against police brutality

During the first installment of the Snapchat series Colin Kaepernick VS The World, a flashy and, basically, rudimentary telling of Kaepernick's story, there's one point where the show hits its high mark. It's when the series flashed back to the Rodney King beating in 1991.

The co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, reflects on a core truth rippling decades after that awful moment. In the years to come, versions of the King assault would repeat in many different instances of police brutality across the country. Over and over and over again. And it would get worse.

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Tony Dungy roundtable on lack of Black NFL head coaches a must-watch

There's a moment in a remarkable coaching roundtable hosted by Hall of Famer Tony Dungy that caused me to stop dead in my tracks while watching.

The entire video can be seen here. It's a smart piece of work and worth your time.

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WNBA shows rest of sports how to run a diverse league

The WNBA again received high grades from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). In fact, the highest possible grade, an A-plus.

But the WNBA's impressive marks are only part of the story.

This is the 16th consecutive year the WNBA has received high marks from the study, authored by Richard Lapchick. The league remains the standard for how to diversify and practice inclusivity. Not talk about it. Actually do it.

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SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon connected with WNBA superstar Candace Parker to discuss the current state of the league and their involvement in social justice issues. She also shared her thoughts on the conflict between the players and Kelly Loeffler.



Black creative directors leading the way in college sports during time of racial reckoning

Chanelle Smith-Walker (left) and Alex Grant (right) (Photo: Courtesy of Chanelle Smith-Walker (left) and Hannah Lewandoski, Maryland Athletics (right))

You may not know the name Chanelle Smith-Walker but she is one of the most unique people in all of college sports.

She's the director of creative media for North Carolina State's football team, and in the post-George Floyd world, and during a pandemic, she's had to balance creating enticing content during an unconventional season and advocating for Black athletes during, and after, a summer of racial reckoning in the nation. 

Smith-Walker is a member of a powerful group of people in college sports called creative directors. They use graphic design, photography, video, social media and other means to shape the image of an athletic program. If the athletes are the heart of a program, creative directors are the painters who illustrate how that heart pumps blood.

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Opinion: Super Bowl champion Martellus Bennett reveals dark but important thoughts about NFL life

For decades now, thousands of Black men have dedicated their hearts, bodies and souls to playing in the NFL, and in return, they were paid.

Football created generational wealth for more than a few Black players. It should've been more players, and more money, but players from Jim Brown to Patrick Mahomes made enough money to take care of families several generations down the line. 

However, playing football can wreck that same heart, body and soul. Creating that generational wealth can come at a huge price. This was the point of a vital, historical and eye-opening series of Twitter posts from former tight end Martellus Bennett.

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Opinion: Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf using social media the right way with Emmett Till tweets

With all the trash on social media, with all of the ugliness, with all the fighting and divide, something Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf tweeted on Jan. 31 was a bright spot in a universe of social media dystopia.

"In honor of Black History Month," he tweeted, "I’m going to share a tweet each day to educate my followers on Emmett Till and his story."

And that's exactly what Metcalf has done. Each day so far in February, he's tweeted a fact about Till, and it's one of the best things in the athlete social media universe I've ever seen.

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Opinion: It will take an Oprah to correct the NFL's head-coaching wrongs

It's September of 2023 and Oprah Winfrey takes her seat in the stadium box for her inaugural season as co-partner of the Washington Red Tails.

The game is about to begin and Winfrey reflects on the moment and the past few months. There was the purchase of the team from Dan Snyder with co-partners Barack Obama, billionaire Robert F. Smith and former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. There was the first press conference where she promised "a new day of inclusion for the NFL." 

Is this science fiction? Yes.

Is it, or some variation of it, needed? Absolutely, yes.

Someone like Oprah purchasing a franchise may be the only way the NFL fixes its hiring problem when it comes to Black head coaches.

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Opinion: Doug Williams on lack of Black NFL head coaches and Patrick Mahomes: 'Race always matters in America'

Doug Williams winning the Super Bowl with the Redskins was a big moment for USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones. (Photo: Elise Amendola, AP)

Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to ever play in a Super Bowl, and one of just a handful of Black team executives, is asked why the NFL still has a difficult time hiring Black head coaches. His answer is blunt, truthful and important to hear.

The Texans' David Culley was the lone Black coach hired this cycle while one of the most qualified of the coaching candidates, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is in his second straight Super Bowl, wasn't. 

"The answer is, you can almost directly draw a line through what happened on Jan. 6 (when extremists attacked the Capitol), through the Black Lives Matter movement, to the lack of Black coaches," Williams told USA TODAY Sports. "Who made the decision to let people riot at the Capitol when they could have been stopped? Why was Black Lives Matter declared violent when it clearly wasn't? Who made the decisions not to hire (more than one) Black head coach? There's a central theme to all of that."

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