World cup winner: A conversation with Anthony Freeman
February 25, 2021 § 5 Comments
Anthony Freeman is a lifelong competitor. The minute you see him on the bike, you know he’s serious about what he’s doing. No big surprise there–he’s a national title holder and world title holder in BMX racing. Getting to the top of any sport is hard, but maintaining the passion and intensity your entire life takes something else entirely. Anthony spoke with me about his history as a bike racer and openly discussed race and racial issues as they affect cycling and the world at large. His heartfelt and thoughtful approach deserves careful consideration. Here he is, in his own words.
Seth Davidson: Tell me about your background in BMX.
Anthony Freeman: I started racing in the early 80s. When I got to high school I walked away from the bike, got a car and got involved in other activities. That didn’t go so well so I picked up the bike in 11th Grade and focused on racing BMX and getting out of my community. It allowed me to travel the world. Four years later I won the national title and my life changed. I was having a great life, I retired from pro BMX in 1998 and have done a few amateur races since then.
Seth Davidson: What role did your race play as a BMX racer?
Anthony Freeman: There were a lot of popular BMX racers who were black. Steve Veltman was on the Wheaties box, and he was black. He was highly inspirational for young black BMX riders, and seeing him inspired many of us to race. Along with Steve there was Anthony Sewell, the first indoor BMX world champion in 1979, that was when BMX titles were held in major arenas. Rennie Roker was an actor and would sponsor major BMX races in the late 70s and early 80s, He ran JAG BMX, and there were guys like Tommy Brackens and Turnell Henry. These guys were from Compton like Rahsaan and Charon, they inspired us. They’re 60 now, I’m 48, they were very inspiring not just because they were black but because they were dominant. Black/white didn’t matter to me, I was just racing bikes. In the late 80s to 90s as I became more competitive I encountered a few racial issues in the Midwest and down South but not on the West Coast. We stayed at hotels, and BMX tracks were in cities with few blacks so when I would do warm-ups early morning and nights there were huge concerns with racism. Seeing a teenager riding a high end bicycle led to interesting experiences.
Seth Davidson: For example?
Anthony Freeman: Police pulling you over, flipping your bike over to see the serial number, asking how can you afford this bike, how can you have an earring and a pager, they only considered drug dealing as a way blacks could make money. I had money at a young age as an actor to fund myself so that I could have cars, jewelry, so I had problems with police and people questioning how I was able to afford such things. In 1993 I won the national title and 1994 I won the World Cup title.
Seth Davidson: How and when did you segue into road riding?
Anthony Freeman: In 1988-1989 my local shop, City of Bicycles, in Inglewood on the opposite corner of where George Turner’s Penuel Bicycles is now, I was working there from the age of 8. James Stallworth was from Chicago and George Turner and I were friends with him; he was owner of the shop. I began learning about all disciplines but MTB wasn’t on the scene yet. James was the team manager of JAG BMX so James was the one who told me it would be optimum to get a road bike and work on my spinning. I got a Nishiki, multicolored with aero bars, I’d do the Donut and get my butt kicked. I was really muscular and had no endurance. Road riding didn’t last long because I allowed my peers to influence me not to do it because of Spandex, which didn’t work in my community, so I walked away from it.
Seth Davidson: And you picked it back up?
Anthony Freeman: In 1995 I was at the highest level of BMX, and MTB became the big thing and BMX riders were transitioning to MTB; I got a Bianchi Campy Record bike. I’ve been riding on the road ever since.
Seth Davidson: What are your favorite rides?
Anthony Freeman: I like the Donut Ride because it’s most challenging and I always get dropped! And I like the challenge and it makes me feel like a road racer. Next is NPR because it’s in my home city, I’m from Inglewood.
Seth Davidson: What’s the vibe like on the NPR?
Anthony Freeman: When I was doing it heavy, like 2004, it was called the Pier Ride and I got serious about going hard on the training rides. Then it was all positive, no negativity, but I wasn’t really a contender. It took ten years before I became a contender where I could be one of the dominant riders and that’s when I started to hear chatter, people trying to discipline actions I was doing even though I was only mimicking what they were doing and I saw the difference between what some are allowed to do, where you could see the complaints from white riders against black riders. That became a real problem. It wasn’t until two years ago there were so many black riders who were dominant that the racism kind of became less outspoken. There have been moments here and there, emotional conflict, but it’s a sport, people are intense, it’s dangerous, I have to let things go. Whites are concerned about blacks, well, blacks are concerned about whites, and we need better communication. We love bikes just as much as white people do.
Seth Davidson: Why do you think people go from supportive to hostile?
Anthony Freeman: If society teaches that there is a dominant race, and you’ve been taught that, once something counters that teaching no matter what it is there can be some pushback. Endurance sports for African-Americans, we are pushed into a box of only being capable of fast twitch efforts as if we can’t develop slow twitch ability. If that’s the standard applied to the so-called African-American athlete, if that’s what you believe, then to see something different takes time for you to change your philosophies about human performance. We are human and we can develop fast and slow twitch, but you were never taught that we were human.
Seth Davidson: What do white people need to know about racism?
Anthony Freeman: They should understand that it exists and has always existed. When something is different it is going to drive at the idea of, “Is it equal to me, greater than, or less than me?” Those are your three choices as a human. It’s what this country has been built on, there is a so-called inferior race, black, if white people could understand that this is something that has been taught and this is based on the idea of white superiority, if you understood the value of so-called black people and what they have done and do today, if you could only understand how we play a huge part of this country being what it is. This means us being taken advantage of, excluded from education for hundreds of years, so whites can take advantage of that ignorance, build wealth for their families, and then not realize that your great-great-great grandparents stole from mine and that’s why we’re different. The reason why wealth is so great for Caucasians is because so much has been stolen for hundreds of years from blacks. Let’s deal with that reality, please.
Seth Davidson: Is that theft going on today?
Anthony Freeman: Absolutely, yes. Nothing has changed. It looks different but the idea of taking advantage of the so-called minority group is happening every day you see it primarily with sports and entertainment. So sports and entertainment where so-called black people generated a lot of wealth for the country, feeding millions of people, creating wealth for people outside their communities, so when you have athletes making 200M, well, the owner is making billions. We feel like we’re getting money because that one athlete is making a lot but he doesn’t understand the concept of feeding his village, his community that made him what he is. You don’t see the money coming back to the communities that built these athletes. When I won the World Cup title I went to Canada and there was only one mixed kid and 30 Caucasians in this class I was teaching. So I said, “I’m going back to black communities in Inglewood and give back to my community.” You give Anthony Freeman $200M, he will build facilities in areas where blacks are a big part of the population. Things are still sort of the same. It looks like they are getting worse. Facilities are going up but blacks are getting pushed out. I’m seeing more white people in Inglewood.
Seth Davidson: After George Floyd there was a lot of engagement by whites, was it sincere?
Anthony Freeman: Yes, but what drove them to be sincere? There was a pandemic; black men have been slaughtered on tv for years. It couldn’t have been a “wow” situation. Middle class whites were already having problems. The inner city blacks couldn’t pay their rent to the white landowners. Then George Floyd happened and blacks were pissed and this prolonged the idea that whites wouldn’t have their rent paid, that blacks couldn’t buy their junk, the economy was going to shit. Was it really sincerity? Whites already know racism exists. They are educated and learn about racism. They go to college and take courses in political science. It’s no surprise to most whites that racism exists. Because the pandemic was going on there was concern about where this country is headed.
Seth Davidson: What needs to happen for there to be meaningful change?
Anthony Freeman: It’s pretty much, it starts with politics. You have to get people in politics who are dedicated and who have proven to be in support of black people. I’m not talking about businesses you have in the black community. What about the guy in the parks and rec department, the guy who was at the YMCA for the last fifty years who has seen all the changes in the community? When we can see those people brought in you will see change. My parents and I have coached and have always been about our community and I’ve been inspired by others. As long as we’re not involved in the political process it’s going to be difficult for the people who don’t have a voice. If you’re doing the work in the community, you’re not on Wall Street. So there needs to be more support for finding people who are dedicated to the work to bettering our community, not those who are taking money from the community. If you’re making money off blacks and not giving back you are part of the system causing serious oppression and discrimination. I’d like to see whites together with blacks who have been active and supporting their community, not making money from it.
Seth Davidson: How can we increase the number of black kids on bicycles?
Anthony Freeman: Economics is big. Money is big and the driver of people in this nation. If there is something, whether a bike or a book, if there is hope that it can feed your family, people will want to do it. If you only show basketball to kids, their focus will be there. If black kids see Lance and the $20M he was making, black kids will be inspired. Same with tennis and Serena Williams. Something that will take care of people and their family, people who are thirsty for making a basic living. That’s how you inspire them to get involved with the bike.
Seth Davidson: You belong to a predominantly white bike racing club. How has that experience been?
Anthony Freeman: Originally I wanted to ride for Bahati and was just getting back into the sport and didn’t have the budget to spend on the kit and equipment. So I started working with George at Penuel, had some issues, and David Holland suggested I write a letter and I joined Big Orange. At the pinnacle of my BMX career, in that season I had two options: Go with GT Bicycles, or James Stallworth, and he said he would match their offer and let me pick up sponsors so I rode with James. So I’d never really got that chance to ride with a white BMX team, I stayed black the whole time. Riding with Big Orange was just a thing where I thought it would be good for me to convey the ideas of a knowledgeable athlete from the black community who knows how to train, eat, and prepare for cycling—it was me giving information about how we compete and get close to those outside my community who have a plethora of information for me. I chose the white college because I couldn’t get into the black college! I feel like in the black community we are limited to our access to information despite the Internet. So riding with Big Orange, in my opinion the top cycling club in SoCal, I felt it was important to integrate myself into the more elite community so I could bring that back to my community and help us build here.
Seth Davidson: Has your relationship with the club been a good one?
Anthony Freeman: Yes. Because I have dealt with some extreme situations with the black-and-white circumstances. I haven’t had problems. I feel respected.
Seth Davidson: Where does your passion come from?
Anthony Freeman: It may have something to do with sports having always been the way out of the hood, so to speak, so being black and athletic is not strange, it is an attainable thing to be extremely athletic and black, based on what we see on TV. Trying a sport that has a fewer number of blacks in it feels like you have a better chance. So going to a dominant white sport you feel superior until you get your ass dropped and you realize there’s something different. I’m buffer, I got more muscle, my background is BMX they can’t beat me, and then you get beat and you learn different things about the human body, slow twitch muscles, and that began my journey. I’m always looking for something to learn and improve, I love to read and study and grow, which comes from getting beat so many times on the road.
Seth Davidson: To what do you attribute your steadiness in the group? You aren’t easily intimidated in the pack.
Anthony Freeman: BMX, football, basketball, and martial arts are all full-on contact. BMX especially. I’m not afraid of contact whatsoever. And traditionally cyclists are 5-8, 150lb. white guys so I’m not that concerned about a 150lb. white guy compared to a 6’8 210lb. black guy, going through him for a bucket. I work hard to become an optimal athlete and do my homework so believe me I have been preparing the entire week, so that by race time I am super calm. There is no pressure. It’s the second race of the day, maybe, that’s difficult, but I’ve been rewinding all sorts of scenarios, rehearsing situations so that if they occur it’s not a shock to me. I try to ride with an open spirt. When you get rigid and focus on one thing you miss a lot and you’re not as calm. If you relax, don’t force things, that helps me maintain a lower blood pressure, lower heart rate. On top of that I’m very efficient with my breathing which is key also to sustaining calmness in the heat of the moment. There’s no doubt when you are a world title holder your confidence goes way up because you have at one point in your life been the best in the world. Doesn’t matter the sport. You have been the best in the world so you carry that confidence the rest of your life. I know that I don’t know everything and that drives me to constantly read and study and be interested in different people and areas, and the more I grow the more I realize I don’t know much at all.
Seth Davidson: What would you like to see happen in the next ten years in race relations in the United States?
Anthony Freeman: I’d like to see a solid focus on the health of every so-called race of people in the country and how to make it better for them as individual groups, we are all genetically different and we need to do the research for each racial group to understand what each group needs for an optimal life. And focus on each group and apply economics to that and understand that certain people have been deprived of the knowledge to be optimal in economics and teach them how to be optimal.
Seth Davidson: Thank you.
Anthony Freeman: You’re welcome.
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