Yesterday, on the national holiday named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, our nation’s first black president, was inaugurated into his second term in office, taking the presidential oath on King’s own bible, no less. But before you could say post-racial America, ABC newscaster and inauguration coverage co-host George Stephanopoulos confused Bill Russell for Morgan Freeman, despite the fact that Russell, the winningest athlete in American history, and the greatest player to ever suit up for the Boston Celtics, was wearing a Boston Celtics hat.
“That’s Morgan Freeman, I think, right there on the Capitol steps,” Stephanopoulos offerred, before quickly correcting himself (and subconsciously apologizing directly to Russell?). “No, Bill Russell, I’m sorry.”
Stephanopolous, who was born in 1961, is a native of Fall River, Massachusetts. That year, Russell led the Celtics to their third straight NBA Championship. They would go on to win every year from 1959-1969 (except 1967), dominating the Boston sports scene throughout Stephanopoulos’ entire childhood.
Stephanopolous may not be a big hoops fan, granted, but Russell’s many societal contributions have been as plentiful in the area of political activism and social justice as in the basketball arena.
A couple of years ago, President Obama awarded Bill Russell the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, our country’s highest civilian honor. The White House’s press release noted Russell’s efforts not only on the court, but off the court as well. “The first African American to coach in the NBA—indeed he was the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the United States,” their statement reads, “Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality.”
Admirable efforts, that continue to this day. Even in our post-racial Obama Era.