AACHM Oral History: Mike Bass
When: August 10, 2022
Michael Thomas Bass was born in 1945 to Thomas and Louise Bass. His parents–a doctor and a teacher–were influential members of Ypsilanti’s Black community. Bass excelled in football, basketball, and track. He was senior class president of Ypsilanti High School in 1963. He received a BA in Education from the University of Michigan. Bass is best known for playing in the National Football League for the Washington Commanders (formerly Redskins) from 1969 to 1975. After retiring from the NFL, Bass ran a resort in the Bahamas. He and his wife Rosita now reside in Florida and they have two daughters, Kimberly and Louise.
- [00:00:14] JOYCE HUNTER: [MUSIC] So we're ready to start. We can start with Part 1, demographics and family history. I'm going to ask you some simple demographic questions. These questions may jog your memory, but please keep your answers brief and to the point for now. We can go into more details later in the interview. Please say and spell your name.
- [00:00:39] MIKE BASS: My name is Michael Thomas Bass, M-I-C-H-A-E-L. Thomas, T-H-O-M-A-S. Bass, B-A-S-S.
- [00:00:54] JOYCE HUNTER: What is your date of birth, including the year?
- [00:00:57] MIKE BASS: March 31st, 1945.
- [00:01:03] JOYCE HUNTER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:06] MIKE BASS: I'm an African American.
- [00:01:13] JOYCE HUNTER: What is your religion, if any?
- [00:01:15] MIKE BASS: I'm a Methodist.
- [00:01:19] JOYCE HUNTER: Is that AME?
- [00:01:20] MIKE BASS: Yes, AME Methodist.
- [00:01:22] JOYCE HUNTER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:28] MIKE BASS: I have a BA in education from the University of Michigan with a major in psychology and I did take a few graduate courses after I graduated.
- [00:01:44] JOYCE HUNTER: What is your marital status?
- [00:01:46] MIKE BASS: I am currently married.
- [00:01:49] JOYCE HUNTER: How many children do you have?
- [00:01:52] MIKE BASS: I have two children.
- [00:01:55] JOYCE HUNTER: Their names?
- [00:01:57] MIKE BASS: Kimberly Celia Bass and Louise Leanna Bass.
- [00:02:08] JOYCE HUNTER: You had just the two girls?
- [00:02:10] MIKE BASS: Yes. The two girls, yes.
- [00:02:11] JOYCE HUNTER: How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:15] MIKE BASS: Got two sisters, Ann, who is two years younger than me, and Leah, who is nine years younger than me.
- [00:02:26] JOYCE HUNTER: So you were the oldest?
- [00:02:27] MIKE BASS: I'm the oldest, yes.
- [00:02:29] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. The big brother, right?
- [00:02:30] MIKE BASS: [LAUGHTER] Yeah.
- [00:02:34] JOYCE HUNTER: If you have, at what age did you retire?
- [00:02:38] MIKE BASS: Well, I played professional football quite awhile. I retired from that at age 31, 32. But I then retired at 65 overall.
- [00:02:55] JOYCE HUNTER: What I'm going to do now because I saw your website has some of the information you sent. I wanted to go into that in terms of your career right now.
- [00:03:05] MIKE BASS: Sure.
- [00:03:05] JOYCE HUNTER: Some other questions might come up later. Tell me about your career. You went to school and Ypsilanti?
- [00:03:12] MIKE BASS: Yes. I'm a graduate of Ypsilanti High School. I graduated in 1963 from the Ypsi High when it was on Cross Street in Ypsilanti.
- [00:03:25] JOYCE HUNTER: That school now, they turned that building into apartments for seniors?
- [00:03:29] MIKE BASS: Yes, that's correct.
- [00:03:31] JOYCE HUNTER: So after high school, continue on. What what happened with your career or where did you go after that?
- [00:03:38] MIKE BASS: After I graduated, I've earned a scholarship, actually, for the University of Michigan. I attended Michigan from '63-'67 and I graduated in 1967.
- [00:03:57] JOYCE HUNTER: After that, you moved or what happened after that?
- [00:04:04] MIKE BASS: After I graduated, as I referenced before, I was fortunate enough to be drafted by a team in the National Football League. As a matter of fact, I got a football scholarship to Michigan and because of my playing there, I actually was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. This was during a period of time that coach, Vince Lombardi was a coach, and so out of college, I went into the pro ranks and I spent 10 years in the National Football League as a player.
- [00:04:45] JOYCE HUNTER: Talk to me about that career as a national football player.
- [00:04:49] MIKE BASS: Well, actually I ended up not making the team in Green Bay. I was technically sold to the Detroit Lions. I spent two years on the Detroit Lions taxi or a reserve squad and I was dissatisfied with the opportunities that I felt I was not going to get there in Detroit. Ironically, my former coach, Vince Lombardi, he himself came out of retirement and became the head coach with the Washington Redskins at the time. He actually contacted me and asked me if I would consider coming to Washington to play for him and with the team and I jumped at that opportunity. During the training camp of that first year, and this was in 1969, he inserted me as a starter and I played 104 consecutive games as a starter for the Washington Redskins that are now known as the Washington Commanders. During that period I feel like I had a successful career. I was a defensive back. It's a position in which you try to stop people from catching passes and I gained a somewhat of a positive reputation. Ended up being, in 1974 earning first, I guess first team position with UPI, AP and Sporting News and I was second team All Pro. In 1972, we went to the Super Bowl and although we lost to the Miami Dolphins, that's the year that they went undefeated. I was fortunate enough to score a touchdown in that particular game and that's the game that everybody remembers. That is the non Ypsi people remember all of my teammates and friends from when I was growing up. They all still remain my friends today and I'm still Mike. That's just the way I like it.
- [00:07:29] JOYCE HUNTER: So you are a star?
- [00:07:33] MIKE BASS: Well, that is relative. It depends on who you're talking with. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:07:38] MIKE BASS: I do have to admit I'm not one to dwell on myself. I just recently was advised that I'm going to be inducted into the Washington, now Commanders--old Redskins--Ring of Fame, which will put my name up around the stadium forever and I'm a part of the 70 greatest Redskins of all time. I've been fortunate in being in the right place at the right time with the right people and having the support from my coaches, from my teammates, and from all the people who helped me along the way, including my high school teammates in football, as well as all my friends from Michigan. Blessed.
- [00:08:38] JOYCE HUNTER: Congratulations. So while people helped you, you certainly had skills. Is that a yes?
- [00:08:48] MIKE BASS: Yeah, but in football, you can never do it alone.
- [00:08:51] JOYCE HUNTER: Right.
- [00:08:52] MIKE BASS: You never know when that help is going to come and who that help is going to come from. Much of it is mental and so much of it means an awful lot. Quite frankly, if you know that your community is behind you.
- [00:09:07] JOYCE HUNTER: Right.
- [00:09:08] MIKE BASS: I certainly felt that Ypsi a small town, but we're a small big town. I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised in Ypsi.
- [00:09:22] JOYCE HUNTER: That leads right into the next section. I'm going to come back through some other things that you out read that you've done. But you said you were born and raised in Ypsi. What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:09:36] MIKE BASS: My mom and dad were absolutely great. I couldn't have asked for better parents. My mom was a teacher and she taught forever. My dad practiced medicine for 50 years, and so many of the people in Ypsi were delivered by my dad. If anything, when I get correspondence, there always seems to be someone who said, "Oh, your dad delivered me or your dad delivered my daughter or my son." I'm very proud of that. My folks were special in that. Their emphasis was always on education. One would think. It might have been on sports because of the moderate success that I had. But sports was always Plan B. Education was Plan A. My dad as a doctor, and my mom as a teacher, we could not have better mentors who seemed to always say and do the right things. As a young person, you sometimes wonder about whether or not your mom and dad are right. No matter how I look at it, my mom and dad were always right.
- [00:11:15] JOYCE HUNTER: I heard for years about the Bass family. Well-known Bass family in the Ypsilanti area, it's so good to have a chance to interview you and Leah. What is some of your earliest memories as a child?
- [00:11:28] MIKE BASS: Well, quite frankly, my mom and dad always felt that we should take advantage of every opportunity that was out there. They did not hesitate in putting us in programs in which we were always the only one. As a result, we were really quite comfortable and even confident in our interaction with others who were not Black. I think that that was a benefit. How can you know someone if you don't spend some time with them? Otherwise, you're forming opinions based on what you read in the newspaper or what you hear on television, which can be deceiving. But that communication back and forth, a breach, what I call an air of confidence and familiarity that is always beneficial. In that regard, I really thank my mom and dad for doing those things. Yet, at the same time, we knew that there was a difference, there was racism. We were put in situations at times when we had to face those situations and they weren't always easy, but we knew how to handle I and my younger sister. We never went into a situation uneasy, but we always went into a situation with confidence that whatever it was, we can handle.
- [00:13:25] JOYCE HUNTER: Which holidays did your family celebrate?
- [00:13:29] MIKE BASS: Well, we always celebrated birthdays. Family was very important. We always celebrated Thanksgiving with my grandmother in Dayton, Ohio, and we celebrated Christmas when my grandmother and grandfather came to Ypsi. Those were the primary holidays that we celebrated. We always celebrated not as a holiday, but an event when school was out for the summer.
- [00:14:05] JOYCE HUNTER: So you've already mentioned sports. In terms of high school, do you want to talk a little bit more about playing sports in high school?
- [00:14:17] MIKE BASS: I was lucky to have been able to participate in all of the different sports that were available to us growing up. From Little League Baseball to flag football. I ran track, I played football course, I played basketball as well. Sports was always a part of our lives. I am very fortunate that my mom actually made every game that I ever played in high school, no matter where it was.
- [00:15:02] JOYCE HUNTER: Awesome.
- [00:15:04] MIKE BASS: That's the support that a lot of times these young athletes need just to be able to look up in the stands and see someone that's familiar. That's very important to younger athletes who are trying to find out or discover just who they are. That degree of familiarity, confidence that they know they've got someone rooting for them that's on their side is very important to a young athlete. But I again, I actually hit the lotto because when I went to college, my mom and dad went to every game that I ever played in college, whether it was on the East Coast, West Coast or in the middle of the country. They were there. That meant an awful lot to me. To be honest with you, they ended up drafting and bringing my wife along to every high school and every college game that I ever played as well. It wasn't a fair and at the same time they spent the same amount of time with my sisters who were involved in the arts and acting and dancing and so forth. My sisters and I, we recognized that we were very, very fortunate to have the parents that we had.
- [00:16:43] JOYCE HUNTER: What a beautiful family. I was going to ask when you said they came to every game but you can explain they just wherever you were at they drove or flew and got there, right?
- [00:16:53] MIKE BASS: Yeah. That's right. Those were events. It's so ironic because my youngest daughter has two boys, 13 and 16 soon to be 17. She is going through the very same thing. She now is carting these boys wherever they have to be, when they have to be there. She's there for every game, whether it's football or whether it's basketball. That means a great deal. People don't realize that. You are never too old to support your kids. If you're a grandparent, that means even more. I get the biggest kick out of watching those boys when I show up to their practices or to their games. They make a point of coming up and giving me that hug that I know means something to them. It does make a difference. I want to go back a bit to high school. Again, like I said, it's hard for me to talk about myself, but I ended up being voted class president in my high school graduating class. First Black person to ever hold that office. I still remain in close touch with all of the people that I graduated with Black or white or other.
- [00:18:35] JOYCE HUNTER: How many people are in your graduating class?
- [00:18:39] MIKE BASS: Oh, boy, I think that there maybe 300. I'm not totally sure. Quite frankly.
- [00:18:50] JOYCE HUNTER: You played multiple sports. Is that what they refer to as a triple threat?
- [00:19:00] MIKE BASS: Well, generally a triple threat refers to doing three things in one sport, which could apply to track. Essentially that's it. But I played the three primary sports of football, basketball. Again, I ran track. There wasn't much time to do anything else, although I did try swimming. But boy that was a tough one. I ended up just concentrating on those three sports. Although I did play a little league baseball and baseball growing up. Again, all of those experiences taught me the importance of teamwork. Working together for a common goal. As I said before, nobody does it alone. I can tell you that I've certainly experienced that and I certainly believe that it takes a village. It does take a village.
- [00:20:19] JOYCE HUNTER: Tell me about where you lived in Ypsi when you were growing up. You were born there and you lived there. Talk a little bit about that.
- [00:20:25] MIKE BASS: I lived on the south side on Harriet Street. Only a stone's throw from my elementary school which at the time was called Harriet Elementary and it was changed to Perry. I can't remember the exact year, but I do have very, very fond memories of all of my teachers starting with Mrs. Stevens in kindergarten and ending actually with Mrs. Kersey in the sixth grade. But all along the way, Mrs. Owens and Mrs. Houston, Mrs. Harris, Mr. Patton and even the custodian, Mr. Roberson. All of them were major influences in my own life and in particular Mr. Beatty. Eugene Beatty who had gone to Eastern and was the principal at Harriet or Perry. Since I was not very far from the school, I always had an opportunity to move. When I got out of school, there were fields there that we were able to play in and it just was a very, very positive experience. It was a time to, when people left their doors open everybody knew everybody else. If I did something wrong, my mom knew about it before I got home. It was that relationship where the adults always look out for all of the kids from everybody. Again, the whole area, that whole south side was a village. It was just a very, very positive experience and my dad had his office there as well. First in the Parkridge where the center was or is still and then down on Hamilton when he built his own office.
- [00:22:56] JOYCE HUNTER: Mike, your teachers were predominately Black, all Black?
- [00:23:01] MIKE BASS: All Black.
- [00:23:02] JOYCE HUNTER: All Black.
- [00:23:02] MIKE BASS: Fact, we did have two traveling teachers that came in, Mrs. Huddle, if I'm not mistaken and another teacher who dealt with music. Can't remember his name, but that was in the 1950s. It was long time ago.
- [00:23:30] JOYCE HUNTER: You're doing a pretty good job remembering names, happening. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:23:32] MIKE BASS: A lot of people had a positive effect on me.
- [00:23:39] JOYCE HUNTER: Now Harriet, Perry school now, that went up to what grade?
- [00:23:44] MIKE BASS: Up to the sixth grade and then we moved on to the high school at the time. But at the time when we would go from the sixth grade to the high school, which really was a seventh, eighth, ninth grade. During that period, in the ninth grade I think they finished East and West junior high schools. My ninth grade was spent there at East Junior High School. Leah, later on went to West Junior High School.
- [00:24:29] JOYCE HUNTER: What was the makeup in terms of your teachers, in terms of ethnic?
- [00:24:33] MIKE BASS: It was predominantly white. I'd never did have a Black teacher when I was there at the junior high school. But my mom was a teacher there as well. She taught math and I still have correspondence from people who have said, oh, your mom was a great teacher. She taught this, she taught me this. She had a knack for getting behind what made a student tick. She was more than just a teacher. Now, I had two Black teachers in high school, Leo Clark and Clyde Briggs. Mr. Briggs taught geography and Mr. Clark taught science. I didn't have any other Black teachers that I can recall. Although one of my track coaches was a Levi Simpson. For some reason or another, they always remember my mom because she was a little older than me and she seemed to be the one who was the sounding board. She at times would give you advice before you asked for it.
- [00:26:16] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:26:17] MIKE BASS: It was a situation again when she stopped teaching and had retired. People for some reason or another, would give her information about something that one of her disciples was doing wrong and of course she would intercede and she had a way of talking with you. Let you know that every goodbye isn't gone. [LAUGHTER] She used this phrases all the time.
- [00:27:02] MIKE BASS: There's somebody that knows something about what you're doing and for some reason or another, they always seem to call my mom to tell her and then she in turn would take it up with a particular person. This went on long into the adult lives of some of these same kids that she knew just as kids. As matter of fact, she was instrumental in establishing a Girl Scout troop there in Ypsi. Many of the girls were special to her and she was special to them.
- [00:27:47] JOYCE HUNTER: When you mentioned phrases, one that came to my mind in terms of people knowing what's going on is "Every shut eye ain't sleep."
- [00:27:55] MIKE BASS: That's is it, you hit it right on the head. [LAUGHTER] "Every shut eye ain't sleep and every goodbye ain't gone."
- [00:28:02] JOYCE HUNTER: Right.
- [00:28:02] MIKE BASS: Correct.
- [00:28:09] JOYCE HUNTER: What about your school experience is different from school as you know it today?
- [00:28:18] MIKE BASS: I think that we accepted authority a lot more readily than they do now. I think the kids have a tendency to want to challenge that authority and maybe challenge it in a different way than we did. There was great respect for teachers. There was great respect for police officers. There were great respect for professional people. Not to say that they were always right, but it was their positions that we respected. I think today maybe, and again, we sacrificed a lot so that the kids today can have the opportunities that they have today. We just hope that they will take advantage of them. But at the same time, the day time to change too. Power in the wrong hands is corruptible. You find this every day, particularly as it relates to race relations. Those who have power seem to overstep their boundaries and not understand the importance of the power that they have. In so doing, they abuse that power because they've not walk in the same shoes that those that they are exerting this power on walked in. In particular, our police departments. Accountability course is very, very important. It seems as though those who are in power now, in particular, our politicians, along with some of our police forces they don't want to give that power up. But we are a melting pot. The people of color, they're not going to accept the abuse of power. This is coming out more and more. Those who have power are putting their fingernails in the cement to keep from relinquishing that power. We wouldn't have a race problem if it wasn't for a certain set of people. I firmly believe that my mom always said racism is a sign of ignorance. Growing up, she would say that and then she would say, now you don't want to be ignorant, do you Michael? That solidified my own thinking that I want to treat people just same way I want people to treat me. I'm certainly not ignorant. Sooner or later, some people will understand that a clenched fist is stronger than a hand in which all of the fingers are spread out as far as they can. We are always stronger when we're pulling together than we are when we are apart.
- [00:32:52] JOYCE HUNTER: It's true. Were there any changes in your family's life during your school years?
- [00:33:02] MIKE BASS: Well, the only the only change really was with my mom as she got older, she had a lot of health problems and she passed away at age 72. I am now 77. My dad, he was 10 years older than her, and he passed away at 87. Both of those were real losses to my sisters and I. My mom always had the answers. She had a way of saying things that was not telling us what to do, but challenging us with evaluating certain aspects before making decisions. It's always stop and think first. If you're too emotional, you have a tendency to make incorrect decisions if you make those things in haste. "Haste does make waste." She had a saying too that "Sometimes youth is wasted on the young." [LAUGHTER]
- [00:34:23] JOYCE HUNTER: I've heard that.
- [00:34:26] MIKE BASS: We as young people, we can always learn something from someone who has been through the trials and tribulations. I have to laugh with my youngest daughter who had said years ago when she was going through some difficult times, that "Daddy, I have to make my own mistakes." When I listened and I listened and now 20 years later she says, "I wish to hell I'd listened to you. [LAUGHTER] I could have avoided a lot of these things." [LAUGHTER]
- [00:35:05] JOYCE HUNTER: When thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time? How did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:35:18] MIKE BASS: Well, I grew up in the '60s. At the outset, integration was very, very high on the list. The fact that coming out of Perry and going into the seventh grade where we were going to school with white kids. It was not as much a big thing as one might have thought in Ypsilanti. That was because of the activities that we had that provided the relationships, the sports, the playing together, the attending things from the time we were very, very young. Going to a school, going from an all-Black school, to a school that included everyone was not a catastrophic event. I have to say that in elementary school, we were well prepared. A lot of this had to do too with a lot of the social activities that took place in Ypsilanti. I do remember the Parkridge Center, which was a place run by a gentleman by the name of Jesse Rutherford. I at times here from his son, Mr. Rutherford. Everyone knew and he made sure that the kids from the south side interacted with the kids from every other side of town. This occurred with the Little League Baseball. I even remember we had marble tournaments in which the white kids would come to Perry and play. As matter of fact, my high school quarterback came to Perry for one of the first marble tournaments that we had. He beat me [LAUGHTER] and he and I were competitors in virtually every sport. Up until we got to high school, we were on the same team. That's a benefit of having a small town in which there is constant interaction and not being afraid to venture to the other side, not being afraid to venture out of your comfort zone. You cannot form an opinion, a positive, you can't form any opinion if you don't have any interaction. That was the case growing up in Ypsilanti. I don t know about Ann Arbor, but that was the case growing up in Ypsilanti.
- [00:38:44] JOYCE HUNTER: In terms of teachers, you went from all Black because just a couple of Black teachers. How did that impact your experience in terms of interacting with those teachers or their expectations of you?
- [00:39:00] MIKE BASS: Well, it really made no difference to me. It was up to me to do the work and get the grades. I ended up salutatorian in my high school during my senior year. This was a result of the pushing by my parents. White people didn't have a corner on intelligence, nor did they have a corner on hard work. I never looked at it in terms of race. Although after graduating from high school, I did learn that some of the lower grades that I might have gotten, in particular my science grade. I got a B and later found out that one of the teachers, one of my other classmates, had heard the teacher say that there are no Black person was ever going to get an A in his class. Indeed, I didn't get an A I got a B plus, I didn't get an A. That in a way bothered me because those types of things we never really faced head-on. There was one other incident that I recall, and this was my dad helped to start one of the first boy scout troops there and Ypsilanti for the Black kids. He felt that we should have that experience. Just like before, I was the first Black kid to go to the Boy Scout Jamboree in Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. I was the only Black person there among a thousand boys. The troop leader in the camp that I was in made reference to me around the campfire that they only thing that they could see were the whites of my eyes. Those things stand out and you can handle it and it can be the impetus to prove someone wrong. Or you can slink away and feel sorry for me. I chose to not let any of those things consume me to the point where I was not doing the very best that I could do in anything which I was involved. Again, this goes back to my mom and dad. You can't grow unless you can communicate. You can't grow unless you have experiences. The same thing applies to white kids as it applies to Black kids. Those people that are different, you have to take that step of trying to learn why there are some thoughts about the other side. That means stepping out of your comfort zone sometimes. But stepping out of your comfort zone, it can be very, very beneficial. Again, you can use those things to go on to do greater things. I learned that, and it helped me even in my professional football career. People don't realize this, but when I went into the league, the National Football League, there were always an even number of Black players on the team. This is on the teams. This is so that Black and white players would not have the room together. I was lucky that was not the case with coach Vince Lombardi, nor was it the case with George Allen, my other coach i the pros. Another thing, football players, more so will understand this that there were never any Black players up the middle, mid-linebacker, center, and quarterback. Those were, at that time, considered the positions that required a great deal of intelligence. Well, that was such a fallacy. Eventually, coaches began to understand that winning trumped everything. Oh God I mentioned that name, Trump. I didn't really mean to.
- [00:44:31] JOYCE HUNTER: [LAUGHTER] That's okay.
- [00:44:34] MIKE BASS: [LAUGHTER] All right. Good.
- [00:44:39] MIKE BASS: These are little things that people don't realize about sports, particularly in the '60s, and in the early '70s. Winning is what counts. We as a group our hope are beginning to understand that making money is what counts, and this racism that exists can only defeat all of us, not just the right people but the late people as well. We are a melting pot made up of people from everywhere. Until those in power or who have the power now, accept it they run the risk of having that power taken away from them. [NOISE] With all the things that are going on today, in my opinion, [NOISE] the matches and so forth are great. But our power lies in voting.
- [00:46:01] JOYCE HUNTER: At the ballot box.
- [00:46:03] MIKE BASS: At the ballot box. We don't recognize and accept the fact that, Oh, well, my vote doesn't count, or we don't understand that voting changes everything. We don't understand what's going on now with those in power who are trying to change all of those things that relate to voting, voter suppression, and having a group of people be able to discount votes. We're going to lose a lot. I'm so glad that the younger people appear to be getting even more and more involved in recognizing that their vote is going to count, even if they are more so upset with gun control and the lack of gun control and so forth, that is an issue. But these young people and there are thousands of them becoming 18 every year they seem to understand that, just in sports, it's fairness that count, and the only way you're going to get fairness is to take it by voting and not staying home and taking an active part. If your only active part is to vote, make sure you're registered so that no one can take that vote away from you. No one. My wife and I, we often talk about, what would happen if all of the minorities in the country decided that they were not going to work on Monday. It would have an effect, and in my opinion, and we all have opinions on race but I don't want that to overshadow what is best for all of us. What's best for all of us starts with putting in places of importance those people who support our own ideas, and those people who don't, those people who want to obstruct, those people who want to make sure that only those people who support their positions are able to vote, that's wrong. There's no one who can justify that. As a result, we can change things by simply, as you said, taking advantage of the ballot box. We can make those changes and understanding that every vote counts. Let's put those people in those positions who support our ideas. Those people who are standing in the way and there is a party that never has a plan except to obstruct and ask, well, what is your plan? Invariably, from the other side, I don't see a plan except to obstruct.
- [00:49:42] JOYCE HUNTER: This is certainly good advice for young people, and you will have a chance to repeat that or add onto that, in one of the questions a little bit later in the interview. But thank you for that. I want to move into adulthood, marriage, and family life. After you finished high school, I know you went to the University of Michigan. After there, basically, did you move around because you went into the NFL? Tell me about that.
- [00:50:10] MIKE BASS: Well, I got married my senior year to Rosita Hargrave. She and I had dated in high school, and I have photos. We were kids together in grade school from kindergarten on. She's six months older than I am, so she was a grade ahead of me. We have photos when we were just in the 4th and 5th grades. She and I were married in 1966. As is the case with many people who get married at 21 or 22, we didn't know what the hell we were doing. [LAUGHTER] We were married for, I think, four or five years, and then we split up. I went to Washington. We tried to make a go of it. That didn't really work. In every situation, there are two sides to every story. At any rate, we split up. She went her way and I went my way. [NOISE] After my retiring from football, I moved to the Bahamas and I was there in the Bahamas for 18 years.
- [00:51:41] JOYCE HUNTER: I'm going to stop you right there because when I read that, I said that is definitely something I want to hear about, but continue. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:51:53] MIKE BASS: She went her way and I went my way and in the interim, I got married again, maybe 10 years later. I hadn't learned anything in 10 years, that was a mistake too. I chuckle about it. Fortunately, there were no children involved. Ironically, 34 years later, Rosita and I got back together again, and this was in 2007, and we had both grown quite a bit, not only physically but mentally as well. Better able to handle the situation. She and I actually ended up getting married in 2010. We've been married the last 12 years. We just had an anniversary. The thing about that I noticed is that we both matured, and all of those things that we thought were important were really not important. We learned to be friends, and we are the best of friends, as a result, I enjoy being around her. She enjoys being around me. We enjoy sharing the same things that were just non-existent during our younger years. I have to be honest with you, being a pro-athlete is not the greatest for maintaining a healthy family relationship. The iteration that is put on athletes is somewhat misguided, and a tendency to think that you're better than what you really are. At the same time, those things so cause some insecurities and the other person in the relationship if they're not well known. It has its drawbacks. But in these last 12 years, they've been the best years of my life. I think that at 77 I'm appreciating more and more. It's a great thing to be loved. It's even greater to love someone, too, especially when you're on the same wavelength.
- [00:54:41] JOYCE HUNTER: I love hearing stories where people have found each other again later on in life. I'm glad to hear that.
- [00:54:50] MIKE BASS: You get past the passion part of it, and it becomes more of living and working together. Although she and I never had any children, I have two daughters, and they are just as much hers as they are mine.
- [00:55:09] JOYCE HUNTER: That's wonderful. Talk to me a little bit about the Bahamas. When you send your information and I read that, I need to find out exactly what he was doing in the Bahamas. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:55:24] MIKE BASS: I guess when I started playing football professionally, and I moved to Washington, I used to take vacations in the Bahamas to get ready to play football for that season and working out in the hot weather and with the sand, a lot of running and so forth. It became a ritual that a month before the season started, I'd go to the Bahamas and I just liked it so. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I wasn't in an environment in which the majority of the people were just like me. They look just like me. First of all I was taken aback by that. But at the same time, I welcome that not always being a minority. At home, so to speak, when you walk in the room, there's no mistaking that I'm a minority, and there's no mistaking when people take double looks or when people make evaluations based on how you look. It was beneficial to me going to the Bahamas. I vowed that when I stopped playing, I'd like to settle down there for a while and enjoy that atmosphere full-time. During my playing days, I ended up buying a hotel there in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. When I retired from football, I moved there permanently. I was by myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I ended up operating the hotel for again nearly 18 years. On top of that, again, report itself was a small town in which everybody knew everybody else. I enjoyed that. I wasn't much of a New York, Miami, Washington DC fan. I like the smallness of the town where you can build relationships [NOISE]. While I was there, I ended up coaching football and our teams won a succession of championships. Even now, I still get calls from the guys that were my players. I brought to self-report and those football teams, a degree of discipline and a degree of not every man for himself, where we're only as strong as our weakest link. I built a reputation of that and the kids who are in their 50s now, they continue to remark about that, and they call me grew Baker because I was so hard on them. [LAUGHTER] [LAUGHTER] What I liked about it was the simpleness of the life, the relaxed atmosphere. My biggest worry really was what color of shorts I was going to put on in the morning. The beach was right across the street, and I was great with a beer in my hand. I loved to fish and I loved to dive, snorkel, and I had an appreciation for all of those things, simple. I was glad to be out of that race that was symbolic of crabs in a barrel. Every crab was trying to get to the top by pulling the one up above them down. I always use that metaphor because no one ever gets to the top if they're always pulling someone down. We want to get to the top, put someone on your shoulder and push them up. Those 18 years were eye-opening to me, and they created in me a feeling of yes, be concerned, but don't be overwhelmed.
- [01:00:31] MIKE BASS: Relax, you'll live longer. Take things in stride, and make the best of every day because tomorrow is not promised. That is indeed the case as we grow into our later years, 77, 78, 79, and so forth. If you're not reaching back to pull somebody along that day is a wasted day for you. Those types of things I learned by living in the islands. My grandfather, on my dad's side was from Antigua, another island country. We've ventured there on several occasions. I guess the islands mean a lot to me because of my own heritage.
- [01:01:40] JOYCE HUNTER: How did you do with your running a hotel? Did you have gas to jump in, how did that work out?
- [01:01:48] MIKE BASS: It was actually a small timeshare resort. It was up and down and I actually went there not so much to be some hotel magnet, is to just relax and do the things that I wanted to do.
- [01:02:11] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [01:02:13] MIKE BASS: I kept the hotel as really something to do and it was really a small apartment building, more so than one of these far-fetched hotels. It gave me enough things to do that I wasn't bored, quite frankly, and I just enjoyed being in the islands and in particular Antigua.
- [01:02:41] JOYCE HUNTER: I tell you that the first time I can relate to your feeling about when you got there and you feel not be in the minority, because that's what I felt first time I went to the Bahamas.
- [01:02:54] MIKE BASS: My two daughters are Bahamian citizens. One daughter was born in Freeport, the other daughter was born in Miami. They've done very well. I'm very pleased with their success. Both of them have their masters degrees. Again, not only am I proud of them, I'm also proud of my nephew, who is my youngest sister's son. Maybe she mentioned him in her interview. His name is Milton, but he is Dr. Milton Little. He's a surgeon at Cedar Sinai Hospital in LA. He was the one who followed in my dad's footsteps. He's making quite a name for himself as a surgeon. That's who I brag about along with my two daughters who when they talk to me, they always laugh and say that I'm the dummy in the family, yet they come to me when they are seeking advice. They know the right things to say and do. Their cards. They tease me all the time. I wouldn't trade them for anything.
- [01:04:27] JOYCE HUNTER: Leah did mention Milton. She did mention that in her interview.
- [01:04:31] MIKE BASS: Yeah.
- [01:04:31] JOYCE HUNTER: Yeah.
- [01:04:32] MIKE BASS: Quite a man.
- [01:04:35] JOYCE HUNTER: I'm going to move us into work and retirement, but we've really covered those items, which is okay. But I do want to ask you, what did you value most about what you did for a living and why?
- [01:04:53] MIKE BASS: Aside from having an inner peace and my daughters until they were eight or nine years old, lived in the Bahamas, made the decision that it was time to come home. I came back from the Bahamas and I settled here in Gainesville, Florida. My sister, Leah had recommended Gainesville because she in her younger days was an actress and a dancer, Broadway and she was in a number of plays and so forth. One of their stents was here in Gainesville, Florida. Gainesville is where the University of Florida is located. The University of Florida is much like Ann Arbor. And when I left the Bahamas, I still had business interests in the Bahamas and I wanted to be in a place where I could get back and forth for a while. I came to Gainesville and I liked it because it was a lot like Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. It's a big small town. We don't have the camaraderie that I grew up with in in Ypsilanti, but it's not so big that it only takes 15 minutes to get from one end of the town to the other. But what's so helpful is that the integration of Florida's here. I still remained very close in relation to events, education. They have a teaching hospital here, along with a couple of other hospitals. They rival the University of Michigan. They are the University of Michigan of Florida. That's the way I look at it. I moved here in 1997. I've been here ever since. Again, I have peace of mind. I'm relaxed. I play golf twice a week and I play with a group of guys who are of the same age. There are a number of former professional athletes who are here as well. We have a good time two or three times a week, often seeing who can tell the biggest lie about their game. But it's that thing. Really it is again, a camaraderie amongst those that I'm seeing on a weekly basis and there does not seem to be that tension that a lot of places are experiencing today particularly when it comes to your politics. We don't try to convert people because some of these people are intelligent enough to understand that the way things are going, it's not good for the country. We don't get into heated conversations about politics, but we do have our conversations. Again, my clubhouse goes silent when I make the statement, we wouldn't have a race problem if it weren't for certain people which is true. Some people are against everybody and it shows whether you're Muslim, they are against you, whether you're Black, whether you're a Native American. There is a subset of people who are just against everybody. That cannot be healthy. It takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile. That tension only serves to shorten your life when you're always blaming somebody else, or you're always trying to maintain that you belong on top and no one else has any rights.
- [01:09:47] JOYCE HUNTER: It's true.
- [01:09:52] MIKE BASS: Personally, I don't feel like I have any prejudices. I can compete with anybody. I enjoy the competition. I know that even with the kids that I graduated with and high-school, understand me. Because my high school was integrated and yet they voted me president of the class. I have been president of my class at every reunion we've had. Since 1963 to the point where my high school class has annual reunions, twice a year, one in Florida and then one in Michigan and I'll be coming to Michigan for the second reunion at the end of August. We still get along very well.
- [01:10:54] JOYCE HUNTER: That's great that you stayed in contact because sometimes you lose contact.
- [01:10:59] MIKE BASS: Yeah.
- [01:10:59] JOYCE HUNTER: People you've gone to high-school, you move on to college and that's where you have your connections too, but that's really wonderful.
- [01:11:07] MIKE BASS: Well, I feel everybody voted me president of the class. I feel like I have a responsibility to attend all of the functions, sometimes more often than not, I'm the only one there. I'm sending all the people from this outsider. [LAUGHTER] I don't care.
- [01:11:37] JOYCE HUNTER: I'm sure you represent them well.
- [01:11:41] MIKE BASS: I try to and I really feel like I don't have to earn that respect. I did that years and years ago.
- [01:11:50] JOYCE HUNTER: Right.
- [01:11:54] MIKE BASS: As a result, I hope that everyone cares for me as much as I care for all of them and it's always great to see them.
- [01:12:05] JOYCE HUNTER: Yeah, I'm sure they do. I'm going to move into the final part of the interview, which is historical social events. This has been such a great conversation. A lot of things have really been covered. But I'm going to ask you a couple of questions from this section. When thinking back on your entire life, what important social or historical events had the greatest impact?
- [01:12:31] MIKE BASS: I think in terms of historical events, I remember sitting in the Holiday Inn [NOISE] when I got the news that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. That was a big blow because just like the president, his photo and his name essentially was everywhere. The second thing was the assassination of John F Kennedy. I was playing bridge in my college dorm. Those two things had dramatic effects on me and then, of course, the march with Dr. King in Washington. I didn't go to that, but my dad did and my sister Ann went to that march. There are events that change you and during that period, normally beforehand you're going through life you're not really thinking about anything. Those three events caused me to think hard about almost everything in terms of relationships, particularly race relationships. There's got to be a way forward. If you don't stand for something, you will invariably fall for anything, and that has caused me to take stands that maybe in my early years, that is high-school years, I might not have taken in an effort to get along. Now I don't get it. What's right is right and everybody Black or white knows the difference between right and wrong. In other words, you can't be just a little bit pregnant, you either are or you're not. The same thing applies to being right or wrong and everybody knows the difference between what's right and what's wrong. Well, I'm sure there is some racism in everybody. But to the point that it hurts the other person, that's unacceptable, and not only am I for the causes that are dear to me regarding things that affect Black people, I feel just as concerned for what is happening to Native Americans, who are the real natives of the United States. I feel the same when I hear that an Asian person has gotten beat up in New York or quite frankly, that Muslims had been killed just because they're Muslims. This is brought on by people of power making the decision that those who do not have power, or those who are not like them are inferior or should be subordinate and that does incense me quite a bit.
- [01:16:47] JOYCE HUNTER: Yeah. That's understandable.
- [01:16:47] MIKE BASS: Yeah, if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything and if you keep falling for the things that are going on now, you're going to lose this democracy. Even though the Constitution wasn't written with us in mind, wasn't written with Native Americans or Asians, or Muslims in mind. The attempts to remove us from the meanings of those things is a travesty. It gets back to the fact that a clenched fist is always better than fingers held apart. That clenched fist means that we are all pulling together and that's what gives us our strength.
- [01:17:45] JOYCE HUNTER: That's true. I got two more questions for you.
- [01:17:49] MIKE BASS: Sure.
- [01:17:50] JOYCE HUNTER: When thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [01:17:57] MIKE BASS: I am most proud of the fact that I am living with a woman that I love dearly, who knows what it's like to be married to an athlete or a former athlete who understands the physical and mental aspects of that life, and she is my best friend.
- [01:18:28] JOYCE HUNTER: That's wonderful.
- [01:18:29] MIKE BASS: Yeah, she's my best friend and if I've ever done anything right, it was marrying her again.
- [01:18:37] JOYCE HUNTER: [LAUGHTER] Very good.
- [01:18:42] MIKE BASS: Yeah, marrying her again.
- [01:18:45] JOYCE HUNTER: The final question and you basically answered it, but I'm going to ask it anyway. What advice would you give to the younger generation?
- [01:18:56] MIKE BASS: At this time and place be aware of your surroundings and what's going on that can affect you and those who come after you. If we lose this democracy, we will never get it back. It doesn't cost you anything to vote. You do not have to go out there and march. But if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything. Get off your ass and go and vote every opportunity that you get a chance to vote. Let your thoughts and your feelings be heard and that is the most powerful weapon you have for protecting yourself and yours. Aside from that, don't blame anyone else for your own problems. You're responsible for you and it's only a crutch when you try to blame somebody else. Those are the two things that in this day and age I believe wholeheartedly in. Not everybody is born with a spoon in their mouths. I was pure luck, and sometimes you have to make your own luck.
- [01:20:50] JOYCE HUNTER: That's good advice to end on to young people. That was our final question.
August 10, 2022
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