LISTEN: On the Monday, Nov. 27 edition of Georgia Today: Three days of services honoring the late Rosalynn Carter are underway in Georgia; opening statements begin in the racketeering trial against rapper Young Thug; and a new book unpacks the mystique of NBA great Michael Jordan.

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Monday, Nov. 27. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, three days of services honoring the late Rosalynn Carter are underway in Georgia. Opening statements begin and the racketeering trial against rapper Young Thug. And a new book unpacks the mystique of NBA great Michael Jordan. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.


Story 1:

Peter Biello: Former first lady Rosalynn Carter will lie in repose at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum tonight from 6 to 10 p.m. She died last week at the age of 96. Former President Jimmy Carter, at 99 years old, is planning to travel to Atlanta for a tribute service scheduled for tomorrow. The Carter Center released a guest list this afternoon and other details for the invitation-only event at Emory University. The public is invited to greet the motorcade as it passes on routes through Atlanta with temporary road closures expected. The motorcade made one of its first public stops today at Georgia Southwestern University in Americus, Carter's alma mater. Student Lauren Shepherd says she met Carter while volunteering at a food bank in Plains.

Lauren Shepherd: She was, you know, 93, 94 at this point and just like waving. And we took a picture there and she was so sweet and so approachable. And — and it's been such an honor to learn about her and meet her and just her legacy here — this building, this place would not be what it is without the Carters.

Peter Biello: GPB's Sofi Gratas has more on Rosalynn Carter's impact on campus.

Sofi Gratas: As part of her work in mental health advocacy, Carter launched the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers in 1987 to help connect people caring for the aging, disabled or sick with resources to make their lives more manageable. Jennifer Olson, CEO of the Institute, remembers Carter for her national and local commitment to who she calls an often invisible population.

Jennifer Olson: Every Thursday when we would talk, it would be often about policy or how to engage with this agency or that company. And then she would end the conversation asking about a caregiver in our very small town of Plains. So, like, did you check on this person? Did you bring them a casserole?

Sofi Gratas: The university added a degree in long-term care management In 2018, About 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. are caregivers. For GPB News, I'm Sofi Gratas in Americus.

Peter Biello: GPB continues its comprehensive coverage of events honoring Mrs. Carter with live coverage tomorrow of the memorial service at Glenn Memorial Church at Emory University. I'll be hosting anchored coverage on GPB Radio starting at 1:00 in the afternoon with Jeff Hollinger and it will be streamed on as well.


Story 2:

Peter Biello: The State Public Service Commission heard testimony today over whether a Georgia railroad legally can condemn property to build a short rail line in rural Hancock County. GPB's Grant Blankenship reports, at issue are matters of property, law and public interest.

Grant Blankenship: The Sandersville Railroad wants the line to connect East Georgia granite quarries and an asphalt plant to larger rail lines linking to the rest of the nation. Opposed residents say the Hanson Spur would carve up family land, some defended by black families, even through the Jim Crow era. Ben Tarbert in the third is president of the Sandersville Railroad. He points to new jobs in an economically depressed region as a justification.

Ben Tarbert: I think the American dream starts with a job.

Grant Blankenship: To which land owners attorney Bill Mauer replied:

Bill Mauer: And would you agree that part of the American dream is being able to own a piece of property without having it taken for others' use?

Grant Blankenship: Three days of testimony will inform the full Public Service Commission, who will later vote on whether to grant Sandersville Railroad eminent domain. For GPB news, I'm Grant Blankenship in Macon.

Young Thug attends the 3rd Annual Diamond Ball at Cipriani Wall Street on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in New York.

Young Thug attends the 3rd Annual Diamond Ball at Cipriani Wall Street on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in New York.

Credit: Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Story 3:

Peter Biello: Opening statements began today in the trial against Atlanta rapper Young Thug. The artist, also known as Jeffrey Lamar Williams, is accused of co-founding a violent criminal street gang. Emory University associate law professor Alexander Volokh says prosecutors are expected to use the rapper's own lyrics as evidence against him.

Alexander Volokh: Whenever you say something, whether it's in a lyric or a novel or anything, it's always open to you to say, "I wasn't really being serious. I didn't really mean it. I was just telling a tall tale." You can always claim that, but it's always open to the other side to say, "Well, that's what you say, but maybe you were telling the truth."

Peter Biello: Defense lawyers unsuccessfully argued the lyrics were constitutionally protected free speech. Over the course of the 10 months it took to seat a jury, the case already has become the state's longest criminal trial, and it's expected to last several months more.

A sign shows the entrance to the Department of Family and Children Services in Canton, Ga. on April 22, 2022.

A sign shows the entrance to the Department of Family and Children Services in Canton, Ga. on April 22, 2022.

Credit: Sarah Swetlik/Fresh Take Georgia

Story 4:

Peter Biello: A panel of state lawmakers says Georgia needs new legislation and more money to improve its foster care system. The Georgia Senate Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption approved the recommendations today. Proposals include shortening the time it takes children entering foster care to be reunited with parents or adopted. Georgia's foster care system has been criticized for a variety of safety concerns. Senate leaders have made the issue a top priority for the legislative session that begins in January.


Story 5:

Peter Biello: A federal appeals court has ruled that elections for Georgia's utility regulating Public Service Commission can remain statewide. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned a lower court ruling that found a statewide elections for the commission illegally diluted Black votes. The lower court ruling delayed elections for two commissioners last year. If Friday's ruling stands, three of the commission's five seats could be on the ballot in 2024.


Story 6:

Peter Biello: A historic movie theater in Southeast Georgia's Wayne County has agreed to buy equipment to help customers with limited hearing and vision as part of a settlement reached under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Justice Department said today the Strand Cinema in Jesup has agreed to buy closed captioning and audio description devices after the agency investigated a customer complaint.


Story 7:

Peter Biello: The man who for nearly 20 years served as the Atlanta Braves mascot chief Noc-a-Homa, Levi Walker, has died. A post this afternoon on the Chief Noc-a-Homa Facebook page says, quote. "The man, the legend, and great warrior of my life has crossed over to Paradise." Walker portrayed the mascot beginning in 1969, emerging during games in full Indian dress from a teepee inside Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. The Braves retired the mascot in 1986. Levi Walker, Chief Noc-a-Homa, was 81 years old.

Michael Jordan

Story 8:

Peter Biello: You don't need to know much about basketball to know the name Michael Jordan. His name has become shorthand for the best in any endeavor, sports or otherwise. In the 1980s and 90s, Michael Jordan helped transform the game of basketball and Wolf himself to American culture in a way no NBA player had done before. A new book by Atlanta author Johnny Smith chronicles Jordan's rise to prominence and examines the cultural forces that often complicated that rise. Smith is an associate professor of history at Georgia Tech and the author of Jump Man: The Making and Meaning of Michael Jordan. Johnny, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Johnny Smith: Thanks for having me.


Peter Biello: Michael Jordan helped the Chicago Bulls dominate the NBA in the 1990s. You're writing here about an incredibly talented player, but also about a man who's very conscious about how American audiences perceived him. Can you tell us a little bit about the difference between the Michael Jordan that we were all allowed to see and the Michael Jordan that he envisioned himself as privately?

Johnny Smith: Yeah, that's a great question. Jordan looked back on his career and he said that he had this mystique. And I think what he meant by that is that he was consciously aware of how he cultivated a public image. He played the role of the hero, someone that kids could look up to, someone that parents could admire. This is very intentional for a young Black man who comes to the NBA and gains these incredible endorsement deals. And he talked about this in an interview that stood out to me in 1989 with a reporter from GQ where he basically says to him that he has to be very careful about what he says and does because if he makes some misstep, if he got caught up in some scandal or some controversy, that it would destroy everything he had built as the great American endorser. And he would be reminded from these white parents who thought, "Well, see? He's another Black basketball player, another Black athlete who's gotten into trouble again." And that was the dominant narrative that existed in the NBA before Jordan came to the Bulls in 1984.

Peter Biello: You write here — I'll quote you — "His universal popularity depended on America's comfort and with a world where spectacle supplants truth and people consume deceptions like water out of a willingness to believe comfortable lies about themselves and their country." Can you unpack that a little bit for us? Where was the country at the time?

Johnny Smith: That's a great question. One of the things that stands out to me about the Jordan story is that most of the writers who covered the NBA at the time, they were white. The way that readers who were reading The Chicago Tribune or Sports Illustrated are seeing Jordan — it's filtered through the writing of white reporters who extoll Jordan as transcending race. Then this narrative becomes that Jordan is not a great Black American story. It's a great American story. In other words, his race becomes erased from the story. And that supposedly was the appeal, why he succeeded, that he didn't remind Americans that he had battles with racism growing up in North Carolina and that he endured racial barriers. Instead, the narrative was that Jordan embodied this racial progress in America.

Peter Biello: One of the issues with Michael Jordan as a role model is that he was uncomfortable with it, but he also very consciously cultivated it. I mean, think of the "Be Like Mike" campaign, which was very much geared towards children and painting him as a role model. Can you talk about the tension there between his discomfort, but also really benefiting financially from cultivating that image?

Johnny Smith: Jordan was really the first professional athlete, the first professional Black athlete where these companies used children and they marketed directly towards children using Jordan. So even before the Be Like Mike campaign was launched by Gatorade in 1991, I found ads on television in the late '80s with McDonald's and Coca-Cola and Chevrolet, where kids appear in the commercials with Jordan. And I think this was intentional, to soften the image of this dark-skinned Black man, to make him seem friendly and personable and approachable, like he could be your friend. That was the theme that you get from these commercials where he's surrounded by kids. When he shows up to a Chicagoland McDonald's, he sits down with these kids and that makes him fun. But the Gatorade commercial, I think, is the real turning point. If you rewatch the clips of that Gatorade commercial, I think it's significant for a few reasons. No. 1 is: As you watched Jordan on the blacktop court, he's surrounded by kids. And it's boys and girls. It's kids of all races and ethnicities. And it comes at a time when America is becoming increasingly diverse, and the NBA and Gatorade are global companies and they're using Jordan to speak to an increasingly diverse country and also to markets abroad. So Jordan is positioned in the Gatorade commercial, the "Be Like Mike" ad, as the unifying figure. He is this force of racial unity. And of course, part of what made that possible for Jordan and for the corporate sponsors that he partnered with was the fact that he did not speak out about racism.

Peter Biello: So how does that make you think about athletes like Colin Kaepernick now or LeBron James? They spoke out about race and they didn't need to be prodded to do it. They were anxious to make their voices heard and they took a risk. How did they fit into this context where Michael Jordan didn't want to talk about it until, oh, I don't know, what was it, 2016, when he started to really speak out?

Johnny Smith: Right. And at that time, Jordan was then majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets franchise. He's no longer a player. And so I think if we back up, I try to think in terms of generations. Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, those are athletes who ... came of age during the 1960s. And they were also shaped by the Black power movement and the civil rights movement. Protest was clearly linked to their identities in ways that Jordan rejects. Now, I think part of that is that when Jordan comes of age in the late '70s and into the '80s, there is no social movement, unified social movement in Black America that speaks to him. What's interesting, I think, about Jordan, is that he really arrives on the national scene in a much more conservative time in this country. Ronald Reagan is president in 1984 when Jordan comes to the Bulls and increasingly over Jordan's career we see how Americans are retreating from community affairs. They're less engaged civically. Voting turnout is down. I think by 1996, when Jordan wins his fourth title with the Bulls, less than half the country participated in the presidential election. And so Jordan is, I think, a reflection of his times as much as Ali and Kareem were a reflection of their times. Now, fast forward to the last five years or so and the Black Lives Matter movement, which is really the impetus for Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James and Serena Williams, Black players in the NBA, in the WNBA, and also white athletes as allies — I think of Megan Rapinoe, the great soccer player — who came to see that they had a role in this larger struggle against racism and police brutality. And so I think that we have to really think about how the times shaped these individuals, shaped these athletes in very different ways. And so I try to remind readers and my students how much context matters to understand these figures. And that was one of the reasons I wrote this book, as I wanted to write about Jordan, as a historian, in ways that journalists had not really confronted.

Peter Biello: Well, Johnny Smith, thank you so much for speaking with us about Jumpman. Really appreciate it.

Johnny Smith: Thank you very much. Good to be here.

Peter Biello: Johnny Smith, is the author of Jumpman: The Making and Meaning of Michael Jordan. And we'll be speaking about his book tonight at the Atlanta History Center at 7:00. You can find a link to more information at


Story 9:

Peter Biello: In sports: In the NBA, Jayson Tatum scored 34 points, Jaylen Brown had 21 and the injury depleted NBA best Boston Celtics beat the Atlanta Hawks 113 to 103. Last night, Trae Young paced the Hawks with 33 points and seven assists. The Hawks also announced yesterday that forward Jaylen Johnson, who left Saturday night's victory in Washington, had an MRI yesterday morning in Boston that showed he had a fractured left wrist. He'll be reevaluated in 3 to 4 weeks. And over the holiday weekend, Georgia completed their third straight, perfect regular football season with a 31 to 23 win over Georgia Tech in the rivalry game dubbed "clean, old fashioned hate." The Bulldogs have been atop the rankings for an SEC record 24 consecutive weeks.

And that is it for this edition of Georgia Today. If you want to learn more about these stories, visit And if you haven't yet subscribe to this podcast, take a moment and do it now. We'll be back in your podcast feed tomorrow afternoon. And as always, we want your feedback and your story ideas. If you've got them, send us an email. The address is Georgia I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.


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