Shepard: Rest In Power, Chadwick Boseman; Legends Never Die

Chadwick Boseman wasn't just an actor, David Shepard says; he was a trailblazer – and he will always be with us

CBS Sports Radio Weekend
August 31, 2020 - 5:26 pm
Chadwick Boseman

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Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League Baseball in 1947. This not only changed sports forever, but also the course of American history. The ultra-talented Chadwick Boseman took on the task of playing him in 42 and EXCEEDED expectations. Boseman did the same thing when he played Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, who was America’s first African American Supreme Court Justice. Marshall played such a critical role in advancing racial equality in both law and politics. Boseman, for so many young people, brought that to life. There is an individual named James Brown who was so influential in American music that he was nicknamed the “Godfather of Soul.” Guess who played him in the movies? Chadwick Boseman! For good measure, Floyd Little, who is both in the NFL and College Halls of Fame was portrayed by Boseman in the film, The Express. All these films launched Boseman into a leading man and American superstar.

It was in Black Panther where he achieved global superstardom. It was the first major superhero movie in which there was an African American protagonist (Boseman) and a majority Black cast. To say this movie was an incredible success would be an understatement. The only movie to have a higher four-day gross after it opened was Star Wars. The first Sunday Black Panther was released in movie theaters, it grossed over $60 Million. Black Panther resonated with EVERYBODY. Thirty-seven percent of ticket-buyers were African American, 35 percent were White and 18 percent were Hispanic.

Here’s what is truly remarkable when he look back at Boseman’s career. While he was making these films and doing such high volumes of interviews to promote his movies, he was doing this while having countless surgeries as well as chemotherapy because of colon cancer. He didn’t complain or disclose that to anybody in the public. Boseman showed incredible persistence, professionalism, and dedication. Boseman never wanted anybody to feel sorry for him or treat him any differently because of how serious his cancer was getting. Not only was his courage on display throughout all this, but so was his kindness and generosity.

Kenny Smith, an NBA TNT analyst, talked about Boseman’s legacy this weekend. Boseman sent Smith a 26-page letter through e-mail that Boseman said he was sending to all his families members. It is called a grocery list. It’s based on how you should live, how you should eat, and how you should take care of your bodies. Boseman was going to pay for every single member of his family if they were up to the task. In that 26-page letter, when talking about health and overall well being, Boseman never once revealed anything about his cancer.

When he did a SiriusXM interview promoting Black Panther, he talked about two little kids named Ian and Taylor. They passed away from cancer before the movie made its debut in theaters, but it was the film Black Panther that keep them going for as long as they did. Boseman, despite health issues and the demanding schedule of making Black Panther in which he was the star, made sure to maintain a relationship and frequently visit with Taylor and Ian throughout filming. These two young individuals anticipated something great; they knew how incredible this movie would be. While describing this, Boseman visibly broke down during the interview. To see his cast mates show him such support showed how much they genuinely cared about him. To see Boseman break down the way he did showed how much he cared about people.

I taught in South Memphis for a few years in a predominantly Black community. When Black Panther came out, our school changed our entire curriculum just so students could be witness to the movie. Our school realized the invaluable education of seeing cinema and American history with Black Panther. The first African American superhero role was given to the right person. Students walked out of that movie in pure joy and awe. They had never seen an individual that looked like them play that type of empowering role on screen. Scholars left the theater that day with so much hope and so much optimism about what they could do with their lives. I knew that day Boseman was no longer a global superstar; he was a legend and trailblazer. His talent got him to Hollywood, but his character got him to South Memphis forever. 

No individual in the public eye had more of a positive impact on the students that I taught than Chadwick Boseman. He gave them hope beyond measure for so many reasons. He was also truly a superhero off camera, which truly puts things into perspective when you talk about this incredible life that was taken from us far too soon. He did it with class, grace, kindness, and bravery. Superstars live large; legends live forever – and that is why Chadwick Boseman will never leave us.  

CBS Sports Radio producer David Shepard is a former ESPN researcher, a former Division I college basketball practice player, and the host of The Good Shepard YouTube channel. Follow him on Twitter @TheGoodShepard_.