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‘Coach was the only person bold and brave enough to think of boycotting games over Proposition 42’

On the 32nd anniversary of Georgetown coach John Thompson's dramatic protest, The Undefeated's Jesse Washington explores the moment and the man Thursday on SportsCenter

Saturday, Jan. 14, 1989: Boston College-Georgetown University NCAA men’s basketball game at the Capital Center in Landover, Md.

The date marks three days after Proposition 42 – an NCAA academic eligibility rule to deny scholarships to student-athletes with lower than 2.0 grade point average or 700 SAT score – passed.

Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson Jr. had had enough, and he was going to do something about it. He did. The first African American coach to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship walked off the court – a singular protest that helped topple Proposition 42, a year or so later.

On the 32nd anniversary of his walkout, Thompson’s protest and its impact will be the subject of an Outside the Lines report on SportsCenter (Thursday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN).

ESPN’s Jesse Washington co-authored Thompson’s book. (Courtesy Henry Holt)

The story features reporter Jesse Washington, The Undefeated senior writer who co-authored the critically acclaimed autobiography of the legendary coach – I Came As A Shadow – published in December by Henry Holt. ESPN feature producers Temitayo Anjou and Jeff Ausiello helmed the project.

With voices such as Thompson’s former player and Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing, son Ronny Thompson and others, the Outside the Lines report recaps a seminal moment that defined the coaching career of one of best African American leaders. Thompson died last August. He was 78.

Below Washington, who spent two years working with Thompson on the autobiography, shares some insight on the Hall of Fame coach:

On why Thompson chose to be a one-man protest of Proposition 42 …
Coach was the only person bold and brave enough to think of boycotting games over Proposition 42. Then, when other coaches wanted to join him, he knew they should hold back, because, he believed, “the fear of the riot is more powerful than the riot itself.”

On biggest misconception of Thompson …
The worst and most tragic misconception about Coach was that he was a racist who didn’t want white players on his team. But Coach always refused to defend himself against false accusations, so he just went on about his life and enjoyed meaningful and loving relationships with many white friends, colleagues, and players.

On Washington’s biggest takeaway in writing the book …
My biggest takeaway writing the book was the profound influence of Black women on Coach Thompson’s life. From his mother, who inspired the towel over his shoulder, to his elementary school teacher Sametta Wallace Jackson and his master’s degree instructor, Dr. Anita Hughes — Coach says these women had as much influence on his coaching as some of the greatest minds in basketball.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Undefeated, ESPN’s premier platform exploring the intersections of sports, race and culture, signed Washington to a multi-year extension.

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