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Usher reflecting on history of segregation in Las Vegas was best Super Bowl pregame story

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In February for Black History Month, USA TODAY Sports is publishing the series “29 Black Stories in 29 Days.” We examine the issues, challenges and opportunities Black athletes and sports officials continue to face after the nation’s reckoning on race following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. This is the fourth installment of the series.

Most Super Bowl pregame shows are terrible. They are boring. They are recycled. They lack depth. It’s rare to have one with substance, but that’s what we got on CBS about two hours before Super Bowl 58 when host Nate Burleson went on a history tour with Usher in Las Vegas.

It was in fact one of the most emotional moments of the pregame universe. It was a smart story and, frankly, the kind of story most networks hosting the Super Bowl wouldn’t have the guts to do. But CBS did it.

Usher and Burleson hopped into a car and toured the historic Westside of the city where the Black population was once forced to live because of segregation.

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Las Vegas during the 1950s and early 1960s was one of the most segregated cities in the nation. Black performers were allowed to perform in the casinos but had to depart immediately after their shows, in many cases literally going out the back door.

“In Vegas, for 20 minutes our skin had no color,” the legendary Sammy Davis Jr. once said. “Then the second we stepped off the stage, we were colored again…the other acts could gamble or sit in the lounge and have a drink, but we had to leave through the kitchen with the garbage.”

Usher and Burleson drove to the site of where the Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino once stood. It was billed as the first racially integrated hotel-casino in the country. There, Black performers were treated respectfully and worked in other parts of the hotel where the pay was better, such as dealing and in management.

The Nevada State Museum website says the night stage show opened “to standing room only mixed crowds” and included an all African-American dance team, with the Honeytones and comedy team Stump and Stumpy (James Cross and Harold Cromer) as the opening act. The casino host was heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis.

Burleson, while standing near where the hotel once was, asked Usher what he would say to the performers who paved the way so he could perform in Vegas on the biggest stage in the world.

“First and foremost,” Usher said. “I would say thank you.”

He added: “I carry them with me while I’m on that stage.”

Both men, two Black men aware of that history, got emotional in the moment. Usher seemed to genuinely take in what that history was and meant. It was spectacular television.

So different from the boring stuff we’re used to seeing.

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