President Obama, in his State of the Union address last week, called this time of uncertainty in America our generation's "Sputnik moment."

Well, I've already had my Sputnik moment and it was a memorable and important one -- the day I learned about Sputnik Monroe.

Sputnik Monroe was, in his own words, "235 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal with a body that women loved and men feared."

He also was the most improbable civil rights hero the South has ever seen.

Roscoe Brumbaugh, otherwise known as Sputnik Monroe in the wild world of professional wrestling, is honored at the Rock 'n' Soul Museum in Memphis with a plaque that reads, "Sputnik Monroe played a major part in destroying the color lines in Memphis entertainment venues."

When Monroe, born and raised in Kansas, came to Memphis in the late 1950s, he fell in love with the city and the Beale Street lifestyle. But city leaders did not like a popular white man like Monroe spending his time socializing in black clubs on Beale Street.

"I got arrested once for vagrancy for hanging out on Beale Street," Monroe told me in an interview. "I got a colored lawyer and went to court. I told them this was the United States of America, and I could go wherever I damned well pleased. They fined me $25, but after about a half-dozen arrests they gave up."

He soon became a favorite of black wrestling fans at the Monday night wrestling shows at Ellis Auditorium.

However, black fans were limited to about 75 seats in the highest balcony of the auditorium. One night, Monroe convinced a friend who worked at the blacks-only ticket window to allow several hundred black fans to buy tickets. When they filled up the balcony and began spilling over into the whites-only section, the promoter tried to kick them out. Monroe wouldn't stand for it.

"I told him if you can't make room for my friends, I'm leaving," Monroe said.

The promoter relented and soon there were more than 1,000 black fans coming to see Monroe wrestle in Memphis.

How did he get the name Sputnik? Before he arrived in Memphis, he was driving through Mississippi on his way to a show in Greenwood.

"I was running late and couldn't stop driving," Monroe told me. "I picked up a black hitchhiker and told him to drive while I slept. We got to the television station in Greenwood for the match, and I brought him in with me. I had my arm around him when we went into the place and there was nearly a riot in the place.

"This one old lady was cursing at me like a sailor in the arena. There was a curtain we were behind, and I heard this woman screaming. So I opened up the curtain and kissed this guy on the cheek. She went nuts but had already been warned by security to stop cursing. So she said, 'You're nothing but a damned Sputnik,'?" referring to the Soviet satellite that had just been launched into space. "I was Sputnik Monroe after that."

Sputnik Monroe passed away in 2006, but at a time when the nation seems so divided, a Sputnik Monroe moment might be just what we all need.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and Contact him at