THE BEST THAT I CAN BE
I collaborated with Rafer Johnson on his moving autobiography. It was a great privilege to plunge deeply into an extraordinary life and to become friends with someone I came to admire greatly, as both a world-class athlete and a world-class human being.
FROM THE INTRODUCTION BY TOM BROKAW:
In this book you will read a great American story of a man, his family, the people who befriended them and their pride in what they have achieved...It is not an exaggeration for me to say at this stage of our lives that Rafer Johnson remains a model by which I judge many people I encounter. He is, for me, an icon of dignity and determination.
FROM THE COVER COPY:
Rafer Johnson's story is the classic American dream: hard work leading to success, honor, and glory. Here, he openly writes about his humble beginnings in an obscure African American Texas ghetto, his growing up in the all-white, sun-drenched California town of Kingsburg, and his time at UCLA as the president of the student body and an acclaimed athlete. His talents brought him to dramatic athletic duels in Moscow, Melbourne, and Rome, and to the glamour of acting, broadcasting, and politics in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and the rest of the nation. Structured around the ten events of the decathlon, Rafer's memoir vividly describes an exceptional life. It introduces remarkable people, both unknown and celebrated (the Kennedy family; Gloria Steinem; Bill Bright, founder of the Campus Crusade; Tom Brokaw; and others), who befriended Rafer and affected his life. It tells of obstacles and tragedies--crippling injuries, an alcoholic father, the assassination of his close friend Robert F. Kennedy--and what it takes to overcome them. With tact, integrity, and acute observation, Rafer Johnson shares the intimate moments that have shaped his life and the lives of others.
After Rafer Johnson abandoned the Texas slums for the idyllic but all-white California town of Kingsburg, he adopted the rallying cry of 'be the best that I can be.' This cry defines the young African American's character and drives Johnson through racism and poverty to stardom on the track field at UCLA and to a dramatic Olympic gold in 1960. It helps him work graveyard shifts and serve burgers, as he trains for the grueling 10-event decathlon. And it spurs Johnson to run faster, leap higher, and throw farther than any other decathlete in history, despite injury, fatigue, and political pressure from cold war governments. (At a 1958 meet in Moscow, his 'summit meeting' with Russian decathlete Vasily Kuznetsov is labeled as the clash of Communism versus the free world.)
But it's Rafer's wealth of accomplishments off the track that make this modestly recounted memoir one that must be told. His colorful life includes a stint as a Hollywood actor, a brief broadcasting career, friendships with Tom Brokaw, Muhammad Ali, and Marlon Brando, and a fling with feminist Gloria Steinem. Even more intriguing is his intimate relationship with the Kennedy family that sadly derails when Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated. Rafer--who helped wrestle the gun away from Sirhan Sirhan--is deeply affected by his friend's death, but plows forward to champion goodwill projects such as Eunice Kennedy's Special Olympics. It's standard fare for Rafer Johnson and yet another example of his commitment to be the best he can be.
"Everything about Rafer draws you to him--his dignity, his humility, his sense of humor. He is not much of a sailor, but if rough waters lie ahead, I'd want to be in his boat." -- Ethel Kennedy
"Rafer Johnson is one of our country's greatest! I have known and admired him for more than 40 years--first as a great athlete, world decathlon champion; second, as a great student leader, president of the student body at UCLA; third, as a Christian leader, student chairman of the Campus Crusade for Christ, UCLA. These same qualities of character, integrity and ability have continued to make him a national treasure and world citizen." -- Bill Bright, founder and president, Campus Crusade for Christ International
"Rafer's life has gone through the worlds of international sports and national politics, of childrens' causes and business, from the most populist to the most rarified parts of society. He's helped to bridge all of those worlds and to bring people together across boundaries." -- Gloria Steinem
"Rafer Johnson is a gold medal winner both in and out of the arena. His performance at the 1960 Rome Olympics ranks in my book amongst the most dramatic and greatest ever. His life story is an inspiration to this generation and generations not yet born." -- Bud Greenspan
"I urge everyone to read this autobiography of a person who overcame many obstacles to reach great heights, and become one of the finest persons I have ever known." -- John Wooden
"If you made a list of the ten top role models for young men in America, I don't know who the other nine would be, but Rafer would be one of them" -- Peter Ueberroth
"Rafer is a true American hero. His life is about friendship, dignity and honor. Everyone should read this book to find out what heroism really is." -- David Wolper
"The decathlon in 1960 was one of the greatest moments in sports history. Any young person would be inspired by what Rafer has accomplished as an athlete, and even more by what he's done since." -- Bob Mathias
HOW TO ORDER
The book is hard to find in hardcover, but paperbacks are readily available online. For a copy with my signature, send $28 for hardcover or $16 for paperback to Phil Goldberg, P.O. Box 9571, Marina Del Rey, CA 90295. For a copy with Rafer's signature as well, add $5 to the cost (to cover additional time and handling).