On the eve of President Obama’s departure from office, his administration closed a program that it started nearly three years earlier called the Clemency Initiative. It was aimed at commuting sentences mostly of nonviolent drug-law offenders who almost certainly would receive much lesser sentences if convicted of the same offenses nowadays.

They were largely small-time dealers, a lumpen proletariat doomed during the reactionary three-strikes-and-you’re-out, mandatory-sentencing days birthed in the crack-cocaine policing hysteria of the 1990s. They were disproportionately black, and their imprisonment exacerbated what we now know as mass incarceration, which plagues our prison system and families with loved ones in it.

The final count of the convicted relieved under Obama’s initiative that ended Jan. 17, 2017: 1,715.

Among them were the mother and grandmother of Denver Broncos star receiver Demaryius Thomas; Katina Smith and Minnie Pearl Thomas were convicted in February 2000 of distributing crack. Smith was sentenced to 20 years in prison; Thomas was handed two life sentences.

But there were almost 8,000 commutation petitions the Obama administration didn’t get to. They are of living, breathing people like Thomas’s family, with children, spouses, partners and futures that can be regained and realized with a second chance.

They aren’t long-buried figures such as Jack Johnson, the first black man allowed to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world — and who did so successfully in 1908 — and who has been dead over 70 years.

Johnson was convicted in 1912 of violating a federal law called the Mann Act. It was all but concocted to stop the profligate pugilist from flaunting anti-miscegenation mores by dating and marrying white women. President Trump boasted via tweet last weekend that he might pardon him.

Obama was urged more than once to forgive Johnson, most notably by Republican lawmakers Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Peter T. King of New York. They together introduced a congressional resolution in 2013 asking the first black president to do for Johnson what President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton didn’t. But Obama, without comment, held to a rarely broken tradition of not issuing a posthumous pardon.

Why Trump suggested he might do what Obama did not may have more to do with what appears to be the fuel that drives Trump, which is always to do the opposite of everything done by his Oval Office predecessor. It also, no doubt, was another attempt to confound black opponents, similar to his claims that the black unemployment rate is at a record-low level because of his policies, ignoring that it has been falling since Obama’s first few years in office and remains twice that of would-be white workers.

After all, pardoning Johnson would go against everything Trump has stood for when it comes to criminal justice and confinement. Trump isn’t for decriminalization and decreasing incarceration. To be sure, he embraced the national conference of the private prison concern GEO Group in October at the Trump National Doral golf resort outside Miami. His PAC and inaugural committee took in upward of a half-million dollars in donations from GEO Group and CoreCivic, the biggest private prison businesses in the country. The industry’s profits have boomed under Trump after suffering under Obama policies that sought to curb privatizing prisons.

Trump ran for office on a law-and-order, tough-on-crime, lock-’em-up platform that he has emphasized by calling for more confinement of undocumented foreigners at the U.S. border with Mexico, which includes a $110 million contract to GEO Group to build a new immigration detention center in Texas.

Trump suggested in his tweet regarding a pardon that he knew nothing of Johnson’s story until actor Sylvester Stallone brought it to his attention. It is a revealing admission by a 71-year-old, self-proclaimed “very stable genius” who once promoted boxing at his Atlantic City casino. He would have to be a philistine to have missed Johnson’s narrative, which was first revealed in Johnson’s autobiography in 1927 and has been written about since in maybe a dozen books. He’s a seminal figure in 20th-century U.S. history at the crossroads of race and sport who also was chronicled in a Ken Burns Emmy Award-winning 2004 documentary for PBS, “Unforgivable Blackness.”

A pardon of Johnson would not be like those issued by Obama but one rooted in symbolism. Johnson is a seminal figure in the lineage of transcendent black athletes. Along with jockey Jimmy Winkfield, who starred in Europe after winning a second Kentucky Derby in 1902, and cyclist Major Taylor, who set world records before retiring in 1910, Johnson was among the first superstar black athletes from this country to become internationally renowned.

More importantly, as USC professor Ben Carrington explained of Johnson when talking about his book, “Race, Sport and Politics”: “Johnson beat the white Canadian Tommy Burns . . . at a time when white supremacy was premised on the idea that whites were intellectually, aesthetically and physically superior to blacks. So Johnson’s victory — which took place in Sydney and made front-page newspaper headlines throughout the colonial world — was a potent and symbolically powerful anti-racist statement against a central tenet of white supremacy.”

Relieving the burden of over-sentencing upon current black offenders, however, would be recognition of systemic racial and economic bias in our prison system. That would mean pardoning or commuting sentences of the living, such as former Southern University football player Clarence Aaron, whose three life sentences as a first-time drug offender were commuted by Obama. And the Aarons, Thomases and Smiths aren’t hard to find, either. Those nearly 8,000 petitions that the administration did not get to before Obama left office? They were left behind in a file, as is customary historic practice, for the review of the next president.

Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and visiting professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, writes sports commentary for The Washington Post.