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    Where Has The Outspoken Athlete Gone?

    July 24th, 2013

    On April 28, 1967, history was made thanks to Muhammad Ali. He didn’t win a boxing match and he didn’t insert another clever phrase in the world’s lexicon, he refused entry into the United States Army to fight in the Vietnam War. Many find this day and the days that followed to be very important in, not only sports history, but our country’s history. I do too but I find the whole saga important for a completely different reason.

    From 1940-1973, the military draft was in effect. Started by President Franklin Roosevelt, the draft was exactly as it sounds, drafting young men regardless of their ethnicity or career choice into the military to serve their country. No one seriously challenged this way of life until 1966 when Ali was drafted into the Army but refused to fight in the war due to his strong Islam beliefs. On April 28, 1967, after three appeals to fight his drafting were denied, he refused step forward at the induction ceremony in Houston, TX.

    On June 4th, 1967, a group of African-American athletes gathered at the offices of the Black Economic Union in Cleveland, Ohio in support of Ali. These weren’t any Black athletes, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar among others showed their support for the country’s, at the moment, villain. The top & most recognizable athletes in their sports, at the time came out and showed their support for a fellow brother in trouble. That was one of the most beautiful moments in sports history and history, in general. All three athletes were advocates for equality among African-American athletes and people. Imagine something like that happening today in the world of sports. Top athletes from different sports worlds uniting to take a stand against an issue like unequal pay towards women and men, police brutality, our country’s horrible education or even good ‘ole racism. Athletes like Kobe Bryant, Adrian Peterson, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and LeBron James coming together for a great cause. Who wouldn’t listen to them and take their words seriously? Kids certainly would. If they can change kids’ vernacular, dress and career paths, I’m sure these athletes could inspire and spark social and economical change within our youth. However, we’ll never see anything close to that. We won’t even see an athlete speak out on anything serious going on in the world. Not because they don’t have an opinion or because they don’t care but because today’s athlete is a brand.

    When Nike and Gatorade tapped Michael Jordan to market and promote their product for them, the game had officially changed. Not just because this method of marketing helped launch Michael Jordan from a great basketball player to a global icon but because now dollars were worth more than sense. Now, as an athlete with a huge corporation backing them, speaking out against something such FEMA’s late arrival during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath could mean them losing their deal with a Nike, Subway, Target or whomever which leads to a loss of millions of dollars and who wants to lose all that money? I sure wouldn’t and neither would they. But is the potential loss of money and a controversial firestorm worth not using your platform in a positive manner? Wait, I forgot who I’m talking to. Americans. Of course all that’s not worth it. Character & morals over money? Never in America.

    I can’t blame the athlete for wanting to keep their mouth shut to keep money in their pocket so they can….feed their family, I see you Latrell, but I blame the high powered companies who make it very difficult for an athlete to speak out on a serious, controversial issue should they choose to. Companies that tap an athlete to be their spokesperson aren’t too fond of them speaking out on something like the George Zimmerman trial or the senseless killings in Chicago. If a Kevin Durant says something about those issues then a company like T-Mobile has to release a press statement saying how Durant’s views are his own and his alone, it could possibly bring bad press to their company and depending on what he said and how he said it, he may get a slap on the wrist or he may be dropped from his contract. In a nice way, of course; or you could do like Nike did in 1993 with Charles Barkley and aid the athlete in their controversial feelings.

    For those not in the know, Nike ran a commercial in 1993 with Charles Barkley proclaiming that he “was not a role model” and “just because he dribbled a basketball doesn’t mean he should raise your kids”. That commercial, which I personally think is one of the best commercials of all time, sparked a huge debate about whether athletes should be seen as role models or not. I thought it was a conversation that needed to be had amongst the public and Nike did really well in supporting Barkley and serving as a platform for him to speak his mind, of which he did anyway and still does.

    It’s a shame that we’re in an era where money talks louder than a voice that could be used for good but that’s the world we live in. Fortunately, life is cyclical so maybe we can hold on to the fact and hope that an athlete will come along and use their platform for good and speak out on an issue that deserves more spotlight than the news gives it. Or is this just a sign of the times and unless the topic is mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money, the athletes turn a deaf ear to it?

    We, as sports fans, are always looking for the next transcendent athlete. The one that will change how the sport is played, how their position will be valued in terms of size, speed & athleticism and what the “new norm” is. That can be fun. Looking for the “next Jordan, Kobe or LeBron” or finding the next great freak-of-a-nature NFL athlete or even the “next Tiger” on the greens. I’m looking for the next athlete that will use his platform to speak out against social issues without fear of losing a deal with Powerade and have it be a snowball effect to where another athlete will have their back and so on and so forth. I’m looking for the next Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali. It wouldn’t be bad if that athlete played like them either.

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    One and Done

    June 26th, 2013

    When the NBA passed the rule that no more players could come straight from high school to the league, I’m sure they thought they were doing something good. For a while, I did too. Sure, you have great HS-to-pros success stories like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard, and of course, LeBron James. Unfortunately, the bad outweighed the good with players like Sebastian Telfair, Shaun Livingston, Leon Smith, Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry, Darius Miles, Jonathan Bender, Robert Swift…..I think you get my point. But the more I thought about it, my stance changed. If 18 year olds can go fight for our country, why can’t go they go the NBA and make a living? Maybe they aren’t mentally strong enough or physically ready. That’s the choice you make as an adult which, by societal law, they are.

    David Stern probably thought he was going to get kids to stay in school longer by instituting this rule. Little did he know, he’d be starting a trend that actually ended up hurting the college basketball game more than he thought; if he even thought about it. The rule said that players that wished to become draft eligible had to be a year removed from their graduating class. Well, for all top high school players post 2005, that’s exactly what they did. Yeah, they’d go to college because they had to but after that one year, they were gone.

    The term “one and dones” were used to describe Kevin Durant, OJ Mayo, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Greg Oden, Kyrie Irving and many more. The coaches in college basketball said they had accepted this new era but there’s not a basketball coach in America that is really comfortable with knowing they have a program-changing player for one season only. For a while, “one and dones” dominated college basketball. Winning every award you could think of, taking their schools to Sweet 16s, Elite Eights, Final Fours, winning National Championships, bringing schools not known for basketball into the spotlight, one and dones were doing it all in a season. Unfortunately, good things don’t last forever. After that one great season, the players were off to the NBA. It may not be that hard to keep reloading after a year or two but to continually lose your best player and then whatever seniors you may have on the team can take a toll on any program.

    What made teams in college basketball great, pre-one & done era, was that the talented freshman rarely left after one year. They’d stay in school and get better as players which, in turn, helped their school. So if you, as a college basketball coach, were a good recruiter and had a damn good program, you would have a great incoming freshman class blending in with upperclassmen that had been there. That’s why you saw great teams like ’99 Duke, ’82 North Carolina, ’08 Memphis, ’95 UCLA & ’96 Kentucky do so well and are considered some of the greatest teams in college basketball history.

    So what programs & coaches were left with after that one magical season that either got them a national championship, national prominence or just one of the best seasons that they ever had was a depleted roster. No more incredible freshmen, the seniors graduate, you may have a sophomore or junior leave and now you have to rebuild your team. From scratch. In less than a year. And that’s just putting the players on the roster. Then you have to factor in chemistry and how quickly can the team gel to be the team it has the potential to be. This one and done era is killing college basketball.

    Not that the NBA cares because their product isn’t hurt from this era. They got the high schoolers out of their league. The “immaturity” is gone for one year at least and they probably feel that they’re helping the kids. Well, that’s BS. Grade A, pure, unadulterated BS. If they cared about the kids true well-being, maybe the NBA would have college enter the league after 2 or 3 years or work in conjecture with the NCAA to institute that the NBA hopefuls on the team MUST finish their last semester of school even though they aren’t coming back the following term just so they can have some credits to start from if they choose to go back. THAT would help the kids. But since the NBA doesn’t want to do that then let these kids make the choice to enter the NBA straight out of high school. If an 18-year-old can enter the military, be charged as an adult with a crime or buy a pack of death, I mean, cigarettes legally then they should be able to enter a sports league to make an honest and legal living.

    I think that would help the One and Done era because when you tell a kid with NBA dreams that all they have to do is “XYZ” and they’re in the league, they’ll abide by that with no issue because all they want to do is be in the NBA. But when you leave it up to them and let them make their own decision, I think you’ll have what you had pre 2005 and that’s kids being left to make their own choice about whether to bypass college or not. Sure, what high school kid with chances of going to the league doesn’t look at Kobe, LeBron, Garnett, T-Mac and Dwight and say, “That can be me.” Maybe that CAN be them, maybe not but that’s part of being an adult. Finding your way in life and succeeding or failing. The NBA needs to stop making life decisions for the youth of America.

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    Dre’s look at the upcoming NBA Season.

    October 23rd, 2012

    Well, it’s been a 4 month break but the National Basketball Association is back for another season, only 8 days anyway. I know you’ve read so many previews for the NBA that you’re tired of reading them and I’ll admit, I almost didn’t write this because I said to myself, “Self, what new perspective would you bring to the previewing of the 2011-12 NBA season?” I didn’t come up with an answer to that wonderful question. My preview may be what you’ve read before, it may not. Not everyone thinks the same, even if they agree on certain things. So let’s see how this goes.

    Where to start, how to divide the stories, should we go by conference or division or just talk about the teams that matter? Sorry, Bobcats. That I don’t know either; sensing a theme here? Well, to be fair, let’s start with the world champion Miami Heat. LeBron finally got his ring, Wade got his second, Pat Riley has proven to be just as good a team president as he was a coach and they re-tooled by getting Ray Allen (still weird to me) and Rashard Lewis. Now, the obvious question, can they repeat? Only God knows but here’s a better question, can they rebound? Literally. They got more shooting, yes, but still haven’t answered their size deficiency. You might see a lineup, at times, of Wade, Ray Ray, Bron, Rashard and Bosh. Bosh being at the 5. Offensively, that’s great, defensively? Ummm….everyone better crash the glass. If they can work that out AND stay healthy which is always a key to repeating (right, 2007 Miami Heat?), it’s not a stretch to assume they’ll be back in the Finals.

    Now, for the runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder, again, no reason to believe that they can’t make a return trip to the Finals. Durant returns, possibly better after going through true playoff wars and the Olympic experience which is bad news for the league and my Lakers. Hell, the entire team returns sans Derek Fisher but….really? The only team that could honestly beat them is themselves. Oh, and the James Harden contract situation. Hmm… but will the defeat in the Finals make them hungrier or will it stick with them throughout the season? I think we know that answer.

    Now on to my Los Angeles Lakers. Well, we got Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, some bench help (others might tell you otherwise) and Eddie Jordan on the bench to implement the Princeton offense. Putting a superstar team together doesn’t always and rarely ever translates into a championship that same year. Unless you’re the 2008 Boston Celtics. I hate that team. Anyway, our success depends on two things. Well, more than two but two things mainly. How quickly can they gel as a team, be a team and use this Princeton offense to take advantage of all their strengths and is Kobe REALLY willing to play off the ball. Time will tell. My fingers are crossed.

    Let’s head over to Chicago. This is going to be very short. Derrick Rose won’t come back ‘til 2013. He’ll be a different player. For better or worse, who knows. The Bulls lost Asik, a serviceable backup center, Brewer, an athletic wing defender and Korver, their main sharpshooter. With those players gone and without Rose, they couldn’t beat the Sixers in the playoffs. The Bulls won’t make the playoffs.

    Let’s see….who else matters….oh, the Clippers. They improved but then they didn’t. CP3 and Blake weren’t going anywhere but they picked up Crawford, a former Sixth Man of the Year and current gunner. The Odom acquisition hurt me a bit until I saw the shape he’s in. I’m okay now. The real key is how Chauncey Billups recovers from his Achilles injury. His age should be factored in that. Their roster’s good enough to be in the West’s top 8 but their coach isn’t good enough to have them be the Hawks of the west. Continual second round trips.

    The Boston Celtics haven’t been talked about much but I will say that Miami should be scared. Boston pushed the Heat to seven games with an 80% Pierce, a 70% Garnett and Garnett playing center. Now, Jeff Green returns, as will Avery Bradley, who is a TENACIOUS defender. They acquired Jason Terry who can still give some scoring off the bench and they drafted size & defense in Jared Sullinger & Fab Melo. Oh and it looks like Rajon Rondo can finally shoot. Uh oh.

    Since this will be the sexy, new rivalry between Manhattan and Brooklyn, let’s talk Knicks and Nets. The Nets. Well, new city, new era, new shooting guard, new arena, it all sounds great. But is Joe Johnson really 20-30+ win improvement good? For all that money, he better be. Billy King did great by getting Deron Williams to stay, not that good by overpaying Brook Lopez but, he really had no option and getting Johnson. So we’ll see when the honeymoon phase is over in Brooklyn how good this team really is. Or isn’t.

    The Knicks….I really don’t know what to say about them. Finally Melo and Amare have a true training camp and preseason to work with each other but they brought in Jason Kidd, who’s 39, Marcus Camby, who’s…well, he was drafted in 1996, Rasheed Wallace, who’s 38 and two years removed from basketball, Kurt Thomas, who’s 40 but still a good low post defender and Pablo Prigioni. A rookie. Who’s 35. Yeah, I don’t know. Playoffs, sure. What seed, who knows. Will Melo and Amare truly be able to play with each other? Unless Melo learned to move without the ball and Amare has learned how to impact the game without just scoring, maybe. They might get out of the first round. Maybe.

    Can’t think of any other teams to write about so I’ll get into a fun segment and then I’ll be done.

    Which teams are Next? I think there are four of them. The Washington Wizards are one of them. I really think they can make a true push for the 8th seed in the East. John Wall is out for 6-8 weeks & Nene is out for a while which really hurts them but they have a lot of factors working in their favor. 1. Randy Wittman may not be a household name but his players like playing for him and that’s huge because they’ll buy into his philosophies fully and play hard for him. 2. The knuckleheads are gone. Yes, you Javale. You too, Nick. Oh, and Gilbert. 3. There are a good mix of veterans (Ariza & Okafor) and young players (Singleton, Martin, Beal).

    The Detroit Pistons. You read that right. They’ve put some good young pieces together through the draft and they could shock a lot of teams if they aren’t ready to play. Greg Monroe really surprised late last year and if, this is a huge if, Drummond continues improving and developing, the Pistons could have the steal of the 2012 Lottery. Those two together would form a formidable frontcourt. If Brandon Knight can get going, they can threaten for a playoff spot. This year.

    The Bay Area is back! Okay, not really but I mean “back” in terms of Sacramento and Oakland, soon to be San Francisco, being able to be proud of their teams again. The Kings have talent on top talent and they’re led by DeMarcus Cousins, the second best big man in the West. He has all the physical tools to be a top 10 player in the league. Emotionally and mentally? Well, that’s a different question but the Kings can score with any team in the league. Thornton, Evans and Jimmer can fill it up, Thompson, Greene and Cousins can rebound and defend, Garcia’s a good glue player and Isaiah Thomas has been a huge surprise in Sacramento from the point guard position. I think Keith Smart is the right man for the job as well.

    Mark Jackson has done a good job with the Warriors already. Not in terms of wins but with changing the culture and cleaning house so that he could have a team in his own image. No more small ball for the Warriors, a traditional lineup and a team that came ready to play hard every night. Now, Klay Thompson is a STUD already but Stephen Curry’s ankles have proven to be more fragile than Kim Kardashian’s relationships. For them to make that next push, he’s going to have to stay healthy or they’re going to have to have another answer at point guard. But, like I said about the Wizards, the Warriors like playing for Jackson and they’re 10 deep. The Lakers and Clippers have competition up north.

    Hopefully, that wasn’t too long but if it was, at least it was a good read. So enjoy the NBA season and my 2013 Finals prediction is….being an unbiased fan, I really see it being a 2012 Finals rematch with the Heat repeating

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    NFL First Quarter Report Card

    October 3rd, 2012

    For this NFL season, I’m going to do quarterly progress reports discussing what’s going on in the league. With Week 4 just coming to an end, the first quarter of the ’12 season has come to a close. It has really seemed like it’s flown by but within four weeks, there have been some great surprises & juicy storylines.

    You should already know what I’m going to start with. The replacement referees fiasco. As the NFL season approached, I was pretty shocked the fact that the regular refs were locked out and replacements were going to be on the field wasn’t a bigger story. But as soon as the season kicked off, it was all anyone talked about. We, as fans, anticipated some bad calls here and there but nothing like we got during the first three weeks. Games were made longer because of the constant flag throwing, coaches were incredibly heated toward the refs during games, in-game brawls were the norm and it all came to a controversial head on a Monday night in Seattle. I won’t get into that but if you’re unfamiliar with the situation, Google “Packers-Seahawks Monday Night Football” and you’ll be caught up. After that PR nightmare for the NFL, they finally reached an agreement with the owners and the regular refs were back on the field and all was right with the world. Well, kind of.

    If I told you that, after the first four weeks, the Texans would be an undefeated team, you’d probably believe me. They were a playoff team last year, had a top ranked defense and dominant rushing attack plus they play in the Peyton-less AFC South. But if I told you the Cardinals would be undefeated at this point, we’d both be laughing. You’d be laughing because you thought I told a joke and I’d be laughing because I wouldn’t have said it with a straight face. Truth be told, the Cards were one of the hottest teams in the NFL down the stretch in the 2011 season, winning 5 of their last 6 games, going 8-8 after starting out 1-6. Still though, undefeated? Cardinals? The ones from Arizona? No one saw it coming. It’s a great early start, but how long can they keep it up remains to be seen. The winning, not being undefeated.

    On the flip side, we all knew the Saints would miss Sean Payton on the sideline. We figured the Bounty Scandal would be a bit of a distraction. But, oh and four? No one saw this. I mean, even if Payton was on the sideline, would the defense be any better? Isn’t that Steve Spagnuolo’s job? The same Steve Spagnuolo that won a Super Bowl with the Giants as a defensive coordinator? No one knows what’s really wrong with the Saints or worse yet, what can fix it. It’s essentially the same team from last year that went 13-3. I’d hate to think the team is playing the “woe is us” card because they don’t have their head coach. Not after what they went through during Hurricane Katrina. They’ll get it together but, will it be too little, too late?

    Here are some other noteworthy points that have happened in the first quarter of the 2012 NFL season:

    • The Vikings are 3-1, highlighted by a victory over the 49ers at home. Very impressive.
    • Robert Griffin III has been very impressive in his first four starts as a pro. Looks like the Redskins finally have a QB they can build around.
    • After a record-setting rookie campaign, Cam Newton is having a tough sophomore season, on and off the field.
    • Oh, there’s one more undefeated team in the NFL and they are the Falcons. The growth of Matt Ryan, the emergence of Julio Jones and a reborn defense are to credit.
    • The Eagles are the biggest enigma in the league. Yeah, they’re 3-1 but in the first three games they had 9 turnovers. However, in their win against the Giants, Vick had zero turnovers. Will the real Eagles team please stand up?

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    Where’s Baseball Gone in the Hood

    August 30th, 2012

    If you took a trip to the….well, you’re probably more comfortable saying inner city, bad neighborhood, or even ghetto but I’m going to leave the politically correctness at the door. So, if you took a trip to the hoods in America, what sport do you think you’d see the kids playing? Basketball, more than likely, maybe a game of football in the street, possibly an unofficial and inaccurate 100m track match but definitely not any baseball. To spin a notorious Kanye West quote, “Most Black people don’t care about baseball.” Just like the real, infamous phrase spoken by Mr. West on national TV, some may think that quote is quite the hyperbole. It isn’t, but I wish it were and if you think I’m lying take a look through some MLB rosters and tell me what you see. Or don’t see.

    The dream of being an NBA or NFL athlete goes much deeper than that for a lot of kids that grow up in the ‘hood. Actually, “deeper” may be too nice of a word. That childhood dream isn’t the only thing they have in mind if they make it to either league. They want to get out the hood and take their family with them. They want to live the glamorized life they see in hip hop videos. They want to make the top 10 plays list on SportsCenter. They want the extravagant chains, the fancy cars, the fame and fortune that come with being an athlete in the NFL and NBA.

    You can get that from being an MLB player. Actually, more so because there’s no salary cap, so you can get as much money as an owner is willing to give you. But there’s one problem with playing baseball, there’s no instant gratification. Although, I think hitting a home run is greater than dunking on someone or catching a pass between two defenders for a touchdown and turning a 6-4-3 double play takes more skill than a no-look pass or a one-handed catch.

    To want to be a baseball player, you have to love the sport. It’s a very inconsistent game, action wise. One minute you’re standing there, waiting to make a play on the ball, provided the player hits it. If he does, the action comes fast and furious. An infielder dives for the ball, gets up with cat-like quickness, throws across his body to an outstretched first baseman to get the runner out and this all happens in less than 10 seconds. But then, it’s back to just standing there and waiting for the same thing to happen.

    With basketball and football, instant gratification is chronic. There’s always something happening. A great defensive play, an incredible shot, a phenomenal run, an electrifying punt return, those two sports definitely don’t lack for action. When kids watch television and see that, you think they want to play a sport that has them standing for minutes on end or one that has them running up and down, potentially doing spectacular plays? The days of the “Chicks Dig the Long Ball” era are far gone.

    It’s very difficult to, quickly, put together a game of baseball no matter where you are. Now, you may be saying that kids in Central America certainly have no problems playing a “something from nothing” game of baseball with their tree sticks masquerading as bats and their makeshift gloves made from cardboard. Well, one, they’re in a poor country and two, so many of their native countrymen have made it to the big league that they’re a bit more motivated.

    In a first world country like the United States where seeing African-Americans in Major League Baseball is like seeing athletes of Asian descent in the NFL, you have to look really close. When you don’t see your own doing something, you don’t think you can do it. So you think African-American kids in the hood will bring together a game from love and scraps? To play a game, you have to have a bat, a fielding glove, bases, a batting helmet and oh yeah, you should find a baseball diamond to play on. That’s a bit expensive and very time consuming and good luck trying to get 15 other kids to fill in every position on a moment’s notice.

    When something is being thrown at you, it’s human nature to duck, cover up or do a feminine doggy paddle block thingamajig. When a baseball is hurled anywhere from 70-100mph at a baseball player, they’re expected to hit it back into play. Not just hit it into play but drive it as far as they can, even 450 ft back. Sports science has shown that the most difficult thing to do in sports is hit a baseball. Not a home run or a single/double/triple but simply making contact with it. I’m not saying that it’s easy to get into the NFL or the NBA but you can get into both leagues without being a great shooter or passer (Hi, Tim.). Unless you’re a pitcher in the American League (Pitchers don’t bat in that league), you have to know how to hit the ball just to make the team.

    Having to make a decision in 0.4 seconds (Hi, Derek) about whether to swing or not at a pitch that could be a sinker, slider, curveball splitter or fastball that is flying toward you at speeds in the 90mph range is incredibly difficult to do and not for everybody. Now, don’t go to the negative end of the spectrum and think that I’m saying that African-American kids don’t have the mental capacity to learn how to hit a baseball. But taking the time to dissect pitches and how to swing on different pitches doesn’t appeal to kids who may be casual fans looking to get into the sport.

    You might be asking yourself many things right now. Aren’t these issues that any race of kids would have? These seem like odds that can be overcome, so why point them out? Why are you singling out African-American kids and in the ‘hood, especially? Alright, let me answer those questions that I just KNOW you were asking. Yes, these would be issues that any child of any ethnicity would have with picking up the game of baseball. I brought them up because like I said earlier, these are issues that a casual fan would have. Not a true fan of the game because it is something that they love to do. If you decided to pick up the game of baseball on a whim, would you really want to go through all that? Buying all the supplies, gear, finding all those people to play when you can easily buy a basketball and go to a nearby court or buy a football and go to a field and throw it around?

    This will be a very simple answer. Yes, these are odds that can be overcome. ANY odds can be overcome. I didn’t bring them up to say that they’re insurmountable; I’m just giving you reasons why African-American kids may not find the sport appealing as a career.

    Now, to the last question. Why am I singling out African-American kids and their living background? Yes, I know that not all African-American people live in the ‘hood and I’m an example. I bring up the living background because when you look at a lot of African-American athletes in the NFL and NBA, most of them came from those neighborhoods and they chose basketball and/or football, so I’m exploring why baseball was not an option. I focused on African-American kids from America because the population of African-Americans in MLB is 8%. We’re missing in action from baseball in our own country and I’d like to see us get back. I love all the athletes in baseball today but I’d love to see another Jackie Robinson, Bob Gibson or Ken Griffey, Jr. We don’t have to dominate baseball’s population but to have a good showing would mean wonders for baseball’s popularity in the future.

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    Playing God

    August 22nd, 2012

    Acceptance and appreciation from peers and elders is something that every athlete, subconsciously, would love to have even though they may not admit it. It may not be the main, motivating factor driving them to perform at their best but it’s one of them. There are only three factions that truly matter in grand scheme of athletes being judged, scrutinized, praised and accepted. Those three factions are the fans, the coaches and the players, past and present. But when it comes to how athletes are perceived and who gets awards and accolades, there’s only one faction in control, the media and that’s not right.

    It’s absolutely absurd that men and women who have, more than likely, never played in any professional sports leagues of any sort get to determine these athletes’ legacies and their place in history. How did the media even get such power? Now, I’m not talking about them doing their duties as reporting sports news to the rest of the world but playing “sports god”.

    One huge issue I have with the media’s power in sports is voting for postseason awards and Hall Of Fame honors. Yes, fans vote for All-Star games but those are fantasy exhibition games with no true value (except for the MLB All-Star Game starting in 2003, thanks Bud). Having the media vote for who wins an award or enters the Hall Of Fame is like having non-Americans vote during our presidential elections.

    Players and coaches should be the ones voting for who gets MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and who gets to take the prestigious trip to Canton, Springfield, Cooperstown and Toronto (the four locations of the NFL, NBA, MLB & NHL Halls of Fame.) They’re the ones that actually see and compete against these players day in and day out, so whom better to vote? At least the Heisman committee has it partly right by having all past winners of the trophy to vote for the winner.

    It’s not officially known, exactly, when the Steroid Era started in Major League Baseball, but it seems to be have been from 1992-2006. In that era, you had players like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, most of whom had multiple record-shattering seasons during this time frame. All of the aforementioned athletes were either accused of, admitted to or were found guilty of doing steroids.

    The athletes from this era are already up for or will be up for Hall Of Fame consideration but more than likely won’t get inducted because they’re seen as cheaters. Now, whether they’re cheaters or not is a whole ‘nother issue but anyway, I digress. So, maybe they don’t make it into the HOF, but should people who have personal bias against some of these players because of their transgressions really determine their legacy or should the players who competed against them have a say?

    Most people would argue that professional athletes really don’t have that much power. What I mean by that is they don’t get too much of a say so in what goes on with the league they play in, the changes that are made, certain things that are limited, etc. Instead of just having them deal with the social responsibility that comes with being a high-profile athlete, have them be the one to judge their peers. The four professional leagues should make this move and get the media back to what they do best and that’s reporting the sporting news to the world. I’m pretty sure a degree in communications, broadcasting or English doesn’t mean you have qualifications in voting for an athlete into the Hall Of Fame or for postseason awards.

    I understand that a lot of athletes might not want to vote for their peers. They feel it’d be too much work and pressure and that’s why they delegate that responsibility to the media. I’d just have an issue if people that never played a day in my shoes judged who was great annually and who’s seen as a legend. Maybe it’s the players that need to step it up, maybe the leagues but a change should be made to see a separation of media and sports.

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    In Case you Missed it – 2012 Olympics in 30 seconds or less!

    August 13th, 2012
    • Kirani James wins the first gold medal for Grenada, the spice country, and shows great sportsmanship to Oscar Pistorius in 400m heat.
    • Kerri Walsh Jennings & Misty May-Treanor win their third gold medal in Olympic play and their last match together, 21-0 in Olympic matches, 42-1 in Olympic sets.
    • Usain Bolt beating his 2008 Olympic record in the 100m with a time of 9.63, showing that his decline was silly talk and repeating gold in the 200m and 4x100m relay.
    • Mo Farah giving Great Britain its first gold medal in the 10,000m with his training teammate, Galen Rupp, taking the silver medal, giving the U.S. the first medal in that event since 1964.
    • The record setting 2012 Men’s U.S. Basketball team. A record 156 points against Nigeria, Carmelo Anthony set the in-game scoring record with 37 points, LeBron James recorded the first triple-double in Olympic basketball history and Kevin Durant being the player who scored the most total points in a single Olympic games. Oh and they defeated Spain to win back-to-back gold medals.
    • Michael Phelps becomes arguably the greatest Olympian ever, ending his great career with 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold medals.
    • Destinee Hooker becoming the silent breakout star of the Olympics. Showing her awesome natural talent as a member of the women’s indoor volleyball team.
    • Andy Murray making up for his loss in Wimbledon in May by getting a gold medal in men’s individual tennis.
    • Gabby Douglas and the Fab Five. Douglas was the true breakout star of the Olympics, earning a gold medal in the all-around gymnastics competition and the whole U.S. gymnastics team claimed gold.
    • Allyson Felix finally broke through and claimed gold. Three times over.
    • The women’s U.S. basketball team earned their FIFTH straight gold medal and currently owns a 41 game winning streak in Olympic play.

    Done with this year’s games.. Why not look ahead to 2016! Preview of the XXXI Summer Games in Rio.

    • Usain Bolt cemented his legacy as one of the best track runners ever in Olympic history in London. What will he do for an encore? A 100m, 200m & 4×100 relay three-peat or maybe he’ll conquer other track and field events.
    • Michael Phelps says he’s done with swimming but don’t feel bad for American swimming. Ryan Lochte said he’ll be back and without the large Phelps shadow looming, all eyes will be on him. Also, breakout performances from Allison Schmitt and Missy Franklin in London ensure that women’s American swimming stays on top.
    • The Brazil men’s soccer team is 0-3 in their last three gold medal games. Provided they get there again in 2016, could home field advantage buoy them to their FIRST gold medal?
    • You thought this year’s men’s basketball team was good? Well, minus Kobe, the whole team can return. Not to mention Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin who are certainly going to want to play after missing the Olympics with injuries. Durant & Westbrook will be 4 years older, LeBron will be in his prime and Anthony Davis will be entering his 4th year in the NBA. As if that’s not enough, we’ll have young players like John Wall, Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins who will have come into their own by 2016. We’ll be pretty loaded.
    • I doubt many people watched fencing during the Olympics but if you did, you know the name Race Imboden. The youngster from Brooklyn who didn’t get gold but was very impressive against Italy could get America its first individual gold medal in fencing.
    • Football. American football. Could it make its debut in Rio? The NFL has made a case to the IOC. If so, who would be on the U.S. team? The recognizable names or would they have a 23 and under team, which I think they should do.
    • Speaking of football or futbol, the U.S. men’s soccer team didn’t qualify for the Olympics this year after underperforming again. Hopefully they qualify in 4 years and at least medal. Baby steps.
    • AND speaking of coming back, will baseball or softball make its return to the Summer Games? I sure hope so.

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    Underappreciated Good Deeds

    August 2nd, 2012

    Think back to when you graduated high school. How you felt on top of the world, briefly, and a weight had been lifted off your shoulders. A summer as a graduate is the best; you’re on such a high. Now, remember that feeling, that fun summer and imagine that someone offered you 5 million dollars. I’m sure your eyebrows just rose up to your hairline. How would a teenager react to getting that amount of money?

    Probably do the smart thing and pay for their entire college tuition, put some in savings, help their parents out with their finances, invest in a 401K and give to a nice charity. Yeah right. You’re going to want to live the fast life, fancy cars, nice clothes and some other unnecessary accessories that you saw in the Big Pimpin’ video. By the time you go bankrupt and watch all your “friends” leave you, you’ll probably think back and wish that you had someone to advise you on how to spend your money, the trappings that come with being an instant millionaire and how to handle fame.

    The NFL and NBA have come under heavy scrutiny lately for a litany of things. With the NBA, it’s been the referee fixing games issue, is the Draft Lottery fixed, how flopping is ruining the game and how the game has gotten “soft” over the past 10 years. The NFL’s been under fire for slowly making the gladiator sport of football into two-hand touch, overprotecting the quarterback and how Commissioner Goodell plays the judge, jury & executioner. But they both have great programs in place that rarely, if ever, get talked about.

    In 1997, Dr. Lem Burnham, who was a Vice President of Player and Employee Development with the NFL, developed the idea of a rookie symposium to the NFL owners. They accepted and that summer, the NFL Rookie Symposium was born. Designed as a program to help steer these young millionaires in the right direction, for 15 years, it’s been a great program that incoming rookies HAVE to attend; if you miss a session, that’s a $10,000 fine and if you miss the whole symposium, that’s a $75,000 fine. They can’t wear sunglasses, du-rags or bandannas inside. Just recently, a Hall Of Fame trip was added to the symposium, allowing the rookies to see the great history of the game and also serve as motivation. The symposium has former and current players and coaches talk to the rookies about the trappings of fame, how to handle the media, staying away from shady agents, how to say no to family (when it’s necessary), and the mistakes that they’ve seen or been through, personally.

    In 1986, the NBA started the Rookie Transitional Program, a six-day program that is mandatory to go to. Just like the NFL Rookie Symposium, it’s a program to show the incoming players how to avoid the toxic pitfalls that can occur when you become an instant celebrity. Topics covered include how to deal with veterans, how to overcome the language barrier (for international players), character, images, & ethics panel, education, the rules of the game and sexual harassment. NBA legends like Bill Russell and Bob Love speak to the young players as well.

    The NFL and NBA don’t have to do this. It’s not mandated by the United States to give these young cats a heads-up about the evils of the world once you acquire an inordinate amount of money. But they do it. No one really knows why. It could be that they truly want to see these young men succeed but it’s rare that we want to believe that someone truly looks out for people they don’t even know. A public relations boost might be the most popular choice as a reason. The fact is, it gets done and you may not see all the careers that get “saved” because you’ve seen Michael Vick, Adam “Pacman” Jones and Maurice Clarett in the news so often for negative reasons but these symposiums really aid young men in the crazy life of being a rich, young athlete.

    I don’t know why good deeds go unnoticed or are rarely talked about in today’s world. I guess being “the good Samaritan” isn’t sexy and doesn’t attract viewers or boost ratings. Why that happens is a whole ‘nother article but it should be praised and admired. Most people don’t fully comprehend the pressures on these young men; especially depending on their race, ethnicity, family background and upbringing. Kudos to the NFL and NBA for being that Good Samaritan to a bunch of kids who have never seen that much money and fame in their life so fast and steering them in the right direction. This is something ALL professions should have.

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    All Falls Down

    July 16th, 2012

    When someone is a witness to a living legend or an immensely polarizing figure that shows no signs of slowing down, the first thing that comes to…MY mind, anyway, is how will it end? I’ve had these kinds of thoughts about people like Allen Iverson, Terrell Owens, Geno Auriemma and Barry Bonds. When it’s all said and done, how will their legacy be remembered?

    I long thought that about Joe Paterno. He’s been the face of Penn State University since 1966. Growing up as a sports fan, if I ever heard about Penn State, Paterno’s name wasn’t far from it. He was to Penn State what Mike Krzyzewski is to Duke, what Pat Summitt is to Tennessee and what John Wooden was and still is to UCLA.

    There’s a library named after him and his wife on campus, there’s a bronze statue in his likeness outside of Beaver Stadium, he’s donated countless amounts of money to the university and all the accolades and honors that Paterno has accumulated over his career have come as a Nittany Lion. But as time went on, I’d constantly ask, how will it end? Will the evolution of college football be his demise, will his age and the toll of the around the year responsibility of being a college coach drive him away, will his body just quit on him one day or will he go out on top and have the rare reality storybook ending?

    I don’t think anyone saw what was coming though. A 45-year, Hall Of Fame career came to an abrupt halt in November 2011 when allegations surfaced that Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach who’d been working with Paterno for 30 years, had sexually abused young boys during his time at Penn State. As shock was shown from the public that were hearing about this, the next question was immediate. Who knew about this? Why wasn’t this stopped? Who allowed this predator to repeatedly have the opportunities to do this to these young boys? Blame deserved to go all over the place. The school president & vice-president, the athletic director, they all get blame. But when it comes to a university, an institution, where you have a larger than life figure that has so much clout and authority and whose word would certainly be listened to yet nothing was said from him, that unfortunate blame has to fall on his shoulders.

    I’m not writing this article to point fingers nor to remove any responsibility from Sandusky or anyone else, but I will say that what Paterno DIDN’T do was wrong. For all of the good he did for the young men that passed through the Penn State football program and the school itself, all that was undone in less than 2 months. This is how it was supposed to end for the great, iconic JoePa? It can’t be. It’s too surreal. How sickly ironic that someone that was known for turning boys into men was having his reputation torn down because he didn’t speak up for young boys being sexually abused.

    Nike has taken down his name from its Child Development Center (another piece of weird irony), there’s debate whether his statue should be taken down on campus, and there have also been rumblings of the NCAA giving Penn State the death penalty. Listen everyone, this shouldn’t have happened. Paterno’s career and legacy shouldn’t be linked to this ugly episode until the end of time. He deserved a better ending to his life.

    What’s really sad about all this is that while this tarnish is all us and future generations will know and remember about him, it’s so disheartening is that he brought this all on himself. You don’t get to write the perfect ending to your story quite often if ever but one way that one can do that is to at least try to do the right thing as often as you can in life; especially if that “thing” would help save someone else, and Paterno didn’t do that. Had he put his fear for his reputation aside, maybe he would’ve got what he deserved. However, no matter whether your actions are negative or positive, you’ll always get what you deserve. Because of what Paterno didn’t do, this is how his legacy deserves to end.

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    “I’m Amphibious” — Where’s the Articulate Athlete?

    June 27th, 2012

    I love sports, always have and always will–the emotion that goes into it, displayed by the teams and emitted from the fans about their teams, the great athleticism, the heartbreak, the positivity and hope, and the overall joy when your team wins, be it a championship or not.

    For me, in addition to all that, I’m always anxious to hear what the athlete has to say after the game. What was going through their mind when they hit that big shot or home run, made that impossible looking catch, kicked that incredible goal, and how they made it look so effortless and easy. It’s great to get inside the mind of an athlete during crunch time. Except that nowadays we don’t get that anymore. We get a “company line” response or one that shows zero intell….I’m sorry, zero articulation. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
    Reporter: “Take us through that last play!”
    Athlete: “I mean, uh….coach drew up the play, told us where to be, and we went out and executed.”

    Alright, pause. What kind of response is that?! Obviously, the coach drew up the play. I’m pretty sure that you weren’t going to use some play that you drew up back in 5th grade when you imagined winning the championship in your backyard! You aren’t that bold. We want INSIGHT into the play. What you were thinking when you made the play, what did you see out there, did the play break down and you used your instincts? Don’t give us this:
    Reporter: “So what’d you see out there that made you feel you could be successful in this win?”
    Athlete: “I mean, coach said we’re a family and…to believe in each other and if we set our mind to anything, we can do it.”

    This is a professional athlete saying things like this. Who’s to blame for the lack of words and articulation? Sure, we could take the easy route and say the parents, perhaps, maybe the lack of emphasis or universities across America, put on education for the star athletes at their institution or the fact that below 50% of players in the NBA and NFL graduate from or even go back to college, but how about we put the onus on the actual athlete for once.

    I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to go or even graduate from college to be educated. But all that you put into your mind is what will be regurgitated to the public. If you’re a young athlete and all you put into your head are the “hip hop dreams” that you see on TV, then you’ll damn sure sound like some of those artists. By “hip hop dreams,” I mean the athlete that’s just balling and living the fast life, wanting the cars, fancy clothes, women, adulation, etc.

    What does that all that have to do with a person’s vernacular, you ask? Well, a lot, actually, because music is one of the biggest influences on how we speak. Not just hip hop, any genre–and with a lot of these athletes listening to hip hop, that’s definitely stunting their vocabulary growth. Now, the next argument may be not all hip hop is like that. You have your “conscious” and “lyrical” sub-genre within hip hop, where great vocabulary is actually praised. But you do think the average athlete is listening to songs about living a life being an everyday person or songs talking about making it rain in the club?

    The next question asked from you may be–am I simply blaming hip hop music for the dull answers that certain (not all) athletes give in post-game interviews? No, I’m not. I’m blaming the athlete. I’m blaming them for not wanting to educate themselves beyond the latest reality show, song, or rumor. I’m blaming them for thinking that they’ll be blessed with their God-given athleticism for the rest of their life. I’m blaming them for not wanting to be well-spoken, or at least giving off that indication, for not wanting to not be a stereotype. Take some pride in yourself as a person of power that kids look up to, possibly being a mouthpiece of your franchise, and just being an articulate individual. Want better for yourself, please. Nice clothes and smooth dance moves are cool and the money doesn’t hurt. Sounding like a third grader will never be in style.

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