Sunday, September 21, 2014

NFL Bad Boy in the Making

The New York Times' Marc Tracy reported on the actions of the youngest Heisman Trophy winner, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, which triggered a recent one-game suspension. Allegedly Winston stood atop a table in the student union and shouted an obscene, vulgar phrase several times. It is a phrase that is especially offensive to women. Originally the school was going to sit Winston for only half the game because, well, it was an IMPORTANT game. Later somebody with a bit of a conscience decided the suspension be changed to a full game.

As Tracy writes,"Myron Rolle, a former Florida State safety who is now a member of the Knight Commission, which works to ensure that athletics programs operate within the educational mission of their universities, said he understood that Winston was held to a higher standard than the average student but added that there should be wider awareness that life can in some ways be more difficult for prominent student-athletes.

“This pressure and movement toward proper conduct and properly comporting himself has been thrust on him immediately, quickly, vigorously and with some serious voracity,” Rolle said of Winston, a friend."

Well, of course it would be more difficult for good, even great, student athletes (using the term student loosely in many cases) to lead perfect lives, as they are constantly under scrutiny. But those factors are part and parcel of the deal they make with the school. The athlete promises to play his best and to follow the rules, ALL the rules, of the school, the team, the NCAA and society in general. In return the athlete gets an (often free) education, the opportunity to play for a successful program and a path to a potentially VERY lucrative position in pro sports. Asking the athlete to be a good person shouldn't even be required, it should just be expected. Perhaps that's a big part of the problem. As we're seeing in the NFL, not for the first time but more at the forefront than before, athletes are not always good citizens. Some aren't even good people. Apparently they were not expected to be well behaved when they were younger, as Rolle points out that, at least in Winston's case, the expectation of "proper conduct and properly comporting himself has been thrust on him immediately..." When I was in elementary school we actually got grades in both conduct and comportment. Poor, fair, satisfactory or good, your parents were made aware of how you behaved at school. Very few scored a grade of poor or fair. And even then it likely only happened during one grading period because parents would take corrective action. Parents would take RESPONSIBILITY and teach their children to do so as well. Inferring that a twenty-year old college sophomore is not capable of proper behavior is an insult to young adults everywhere. Set aside the argument that there are 18-. 19-, and 20-year old young men and women with the maturity to go to war, or even to manage shifts at the local Starbucks. Consider the fact that, as a quarterback, Winston is expected to be a team leader. He's consistently shown he is not cut out for that role. He has a history of charges including vandalism, theft, and sexual assault. This is not a good kid. He's not a choirboy. And he's not learning any lessons from these experiences. After being lambasted on social media he issued an apology. Not to those he offended in person. Not to women he offended everywhere. To his teammates. Because he had the arrogance to think winning a football game was more important than his bad behavior. He then, after his suspension was extended from the first half to the entire game, had the audacity to dress for the game and participate in pre-game warm-ups. Like he couldn't believe the school would actually keep him out of the game. Especially if they were losing. He would be at the ready to jump in and save the game, suspension be damned. Because nobody puts Jameis in the corner.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The NFL: Are these guys for real?

So the NFL has announced it has hired four -count 'em. FOUR!- women to help it try and salvage what little it can of its highly self-proclaimed, self-polished, and self-promoted reputation for being in the forefront of welcoming women into the previously (mostly) male bastion of professional sports spectatorship. I know, I was snickering, too, as I wrote this. 

That reputation has recently been sullied by very public stories of domestic violence involving players' interaction with women and children. Well, two players, one woman and one child. Wait, make that two children. You can't even finish writing about one incident before another pops up. Now the NFL is trying to make us believe that it is going to start getting serious -no, seriously, we MEAN IT this time. Seriously serious.- about developing conduct codes and programs, and schedules of punishments and fines, to help its players and staff members be law abiding citizens when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Never mind they already have all those resources in place. This time they're going to have WOMEN make the rules. Cuz nothing makes a wife abuser more remorseful than being told how to behave by a woman. Yeah, they'll be open to that now. Because it will be oh so different with women making the decisions. (I'm not questioning these women's abilities or qualifications AT ALL. This is more about the NFL's poorly disguised attempt to make us believe they have women's and children's best interests in mind because, you know, women are women AND they are children's moms. And it's about how players will react to having women in charge.)

Is this supposed to placate women fans? Cuz, it ain't gonna work. We can see right through it. What they're really saying is that men can't figure this shit out so we had to go get a binder full of women to get us out of this cluster fuck. It's not that these women aren't qualified, it's that the NFL is using reverse discrimination, which is as bad as regular discrimination, to right a wrong involving the abuse of women. I hope they at least CONSIDERED some male candidates. There are plenty of men out there who know how to treat women and children with respect, who are civilized in dealing with issues in relationships without resorting to violence that knocks a woman's lights out with one punch or sends a four year old boy to the doctor with "lacerations" all over his thighs, and welts and bruises to his legs and hand because "that's how I was raised and look how well I turned out!" There is none so blind as s/he who will not see. 

In a couple of weeks the NFL will break out their pink accessories to show support for women with breast cancer. How about they drop that charade, which probably makes more money for the NFL through licensing and sales of pink jerseys and thongs (yes, America's professional football league sells thong underwear, and they name them! Bliss, Insider, Sublime! For the more prudish you can get panties with the same names and designs) than it generates for cancer research. What they SHOULD do is declare "Stop Violence Against Women and Children" month with players wearing purple accents and shoes, and instead of selling thong underwear they should hand out educational literature from the Coaching Boys Into Men program ( to every adult attending games that month. Do PSAs. Sell alternate jerseys and other gear in purple instead of pink and donate the proceeds to domestic violence programs and shelters. Breast cancer awareness gets enough attention without the "help" of the National Football League. The NFL needs to start getting real about a different kind of cancer that seems to have metastasized throughout the league, and that is the cancer of violent behavior exhibited by athletes. The current focus is on domestic violence but it's not the only violence some NFL players have been accused of. But that discussion is for another time. And this cancer starts in the lower leagues where it goes untreated because athletes are heroes and we can't punish them because if they have to sit out a game or we kick them off the team we might lose. And they're just boys. They'll grow out of it. Only they don't grow "out of it," the just grow. They grow bigger. They grow stronger. They grow bolder. They grow more entitled. They grow more violent.

By partnering with the Coaching Boys Into Men program the NFL can show it is serious about educating players. They can start earlier in players' lives. Just like the PP&K programs, the Play 60 and Take A (hopefully non-violent) Player To School programs, the NFL can start educating child players about domestic violence. They can reach kids who are possibly being abused, who statistically will grow to be adult abusers. They can help children who may be witnesses of abuse at home or on the streets. They can show them where and how to get the help they need, especially if they are victims. And they can teach them not to victimize others.

As they get older, players need to learn to leave the physical confrontations on the field where they're part of the game, and don't bring that shit into their home lives. The NFL needs to get serious about ADEQUATELY punishing players who are convicted of violence against others. These players taint the reputation of the league, they cause distractions (and people thought a gay player would be a distraction?) and they foment anger and dissension among fans of a team dealing with a player suspected, accused, or convicted of violence against women or children, or in any other situation. Oh, BTW, does anybody else find it ironic that purple is the color used by anti-violence organizations in their ribbon and other promotional/educational campaigns, and the two players currently embroiled in this NFL/domestic violence debacle both play for teams whose main uniform color is PURPLE? What the WHAT?

The NFL holds seminars and teach-ins to help rookies adjust to life as a professional athlete. They learn about league and team codes of conduct, financing and wealth management issues, adapting to sudden fame and avoidance of hangers-on and money grabbers. According to one report, "The players won't be allowed to leave the premises without permission. They cannot have guests or drink alcohol. In addition, cellphones and pagers, as well as do-rags, bandannas and sunglasses are banned from the proceedings. The League is working hard to breed the thug life out of any rookie so inclined. From 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., the players must sit through lectures about the pitfalls that await the unwary: paternity suits and domestic-abuse charges, bar fights and drug stings, crooked financial advisers and greedy hangers-on." ( ) The wording of this suggests the players be aware of and prepared for FALSE "domestic abuse charges" when, in fact, they should be learning about how to deal with all these new situations without COMMITTING domestic violence.

The NFL should focus more on things like anger management, mental health, dealing with the pressures of living an abnormal life schedule while trying to be a family man. These should be ongoing seminars and attendance should be required of all players, not just rookies. 

In fact, all professional sports leagues would benefit from instituting these kinds of programs. Too many professional athletes have difficulties trying to live their lives well while dealing with the pressures and distractions that come the job and with new found riches and fame. The leagues use these players as tools of the trade, to be bought and sold to other teams or simply discarded when their production falters. They encourage them to be monsters in the arena. But the leagues need to become more socially responsible. They need to realize their obligations to their players don't end at the out of bounds markers or at the sound of the game-ending horn. They need to be aware of how players are coping with being part of the league and how that affects their behavior. They need to teach players to be good people off the field. Most players already know and live these truths. But enough don't that it's a problem. It's not necessarily a growing problem because there have always been bad boys in every league. Some players are even hired because they ARE bad boys, they have mean streaks and the attitude and size to punish people on the field. The problem is when that extends off the field. These incidents are now being brought into the open and society is demanding these off-field incidents be dealt with more harshly than in the past, that they be dealt with in a more serious we-will-not-tolerate-this manner rather than the old boys-will-be-boys attitude with its brief time outs where a player misses a start but jumps in on the next play, or maybe misses a full period of play and gets hit with a token fine that is not much more than his per-diem check.

On the surface, at least, the NFL does seem to now be getting it that they need to make some changes. Hiring all women to oversee these changes may turn out to be more than a publicity ploy or a bread-and-circus approach meant to appease detractors pointing out the NFL's willingness to take money from female fans while not taking seriously the safety of its own players' wives and girlfriends and children. They could help us believe in their recognition and acceptance of the gravity of the situation if they also hired a new commissioner and cleaned house of the men who still insist they had no idea how Janay Palmer was able to walk into an elevator unassisted but seconds later was dragged unceremoniously out of that same elevator car because she somehow became unconscious while in the company of her fiancĂ©. They had no idea, until after seeing a security video showing how it only took one punch, in one second, to put her lights out, that any violent act had been perpetrated by Ray Rice. No idea. Not a clue. Pics or it didn't happen, as the kids say. Those guys are either incredibly stupid and delusional or they're arrogant and deceitful. They're either ignorant or they're outright liars. Whatever the case may be, they need to be gone. Every last one of them who had any part in reviewing this incident and deciding how it would be handled. Right up to the commissioner, who needs to do the right and honorable thing. Step aside and let a REAL man have that job. Even if that "man" is a woman, if that's what it takes, and she's qualified. 

The NFL is not the only sports league dealing with these issues. It just happens to be football season, and they "just happen" to have a couple of players currently under investigation in highly publicized cases as alleged perpetrators of domestic violence against women and children. Every year NFL players are arrested on charges involving violent behavior, or drunk driving, possession and use of illegal drugs. As a group, players are their own microcosm of society, so it's understandable that there will be a segment of their society that behaves thusly. Just as there is a segment in our greater society guilty of the same behaviors. It's just that the society these players belong to has the wherewithal to control those behaviors, to cleanse their society of illegal activity, to employ citizens who represent the wholesome image the heads of that society want to project. And most players DO. The MAJORITY of the players and coaches and owners of the NFL, and of all the other leagues, DO represent that image, both on and off the playing fields, in public and in private. The very reason these incidents make the headlines is BECAUSE they are NOT the norm. People don't need to read that Peyton Manning drove home safely from practice and later that evening played tickle monster with his little kids before dressing their unscathed, innocent toddler bodies in Disney Princess and Pixar Cars pajamas, reading them bedtime stories and planting wet kisses on their foreheads as he tucked them into bed. We EXPECT him to do that. It's what most of us do. That is normal behavior. TMZ is not going to show teasers about that. There will be no film at 11 of Peyton Manning's private life. 

Let's hope we can get to a point where the only highlights shown of professional athletes are of spectacular plays they've made on the field. Maybe four new NFL hires, all women, can get us here. Maybe the NFL is truly taking these problems seriously and hired capable women who have the ability to develop and oversee programs that help not only the NFL's image but help the players who need it the most. Maybe it's not a ploy, a publicity stunt, lipstick on a pig. I have a feeling these women are not the type to be complicit in that kind of self-serving activity. I think they mean to really turn things around. I think they know it's going to take more than some Campbell's Chunky Soup to get this train wreck fixed and back on track.

Disclaimer: I am a life long, die hard fan of the New England Patriots, back before the dynasty days of the 2000s, back to the colonial Pat the Patriot days of the Boston Patriots, before the young-Elvis New England Patriot was adopted. 

I know people may think me a hypocrite for now criticizing the NFL for allowing players suspected or guilty of violence off the field to continue to play ON the field. I now know the Patriots had a player who has a reputation for violence. I know that player now sits in a solitary cell awaiting separate trials for three murders. I know I unwittingly cheered that player enthusiastically because he excelled on the field. He was exciting. He played hard, he hit hard. But too I know I was clueless about his past run-ins with the law, the fights in bars and locker rooms, the threats of violence. Most of us were. Because that stuff is usually kept private and dealt with quietly. Especially with a team like the Patriots that controls access to players, controls what players are allowed to talk about publicly. It's a team in a league that likes to take care of matters in house. Except when it can't. And lately the league can't. So as a former Aaron Hernandez fan I am as guilty as anyone for supporting a player capable of unimaginable violent acts towards others. The key word in that sentence is FORMER. I learned of Hernandez's alleged acts and immediately decided he was no longer one of my favorite players. I hoped the Patriots would release him so I wouldn't be put in a position to want him to be a successful player who would help my team while knowing what a jerk he is. I am on the side of "let's get these guys off the field and get them help." I argue with people who say it's not our business. That what a player does off the field should not affect his right to play. I say playing pro sports is not a right and that a team or league can decide not to employ someone who creates bad publicity and tarnishes the team/league's public image. But I also think players should be given the opportunity to redeem themselves and earn their way back onto a team, into a league DEPENDING on what their bad behavior was. A player who grew up in an abusive home and is continuing that cycle of abuse can be helped. He can learn to break that cycle. A player with a substance abuse problem can be helped. A player with anger management issues can be helped. These are the kinds of players who can earn second chances and work to regain the trust of their owners, coaches, teammates, and fans. They can earn back their spot on a team. But there are players who should only ever again be allowed in a stadium if they have a game ticket. Whether convicted of a crime in criminal court or just in the court of public opinion, some players just do not belong. The only uniform an Aaron Hernandez-like player should wear is a prison uniform, the numbers printed in small type identifying him as a prisoner, the name on the uniform identifying the prison that now owns him. His newest contract would be a judicial decree that specifies how many years the corrections department gets him. There is no signing bonus. There is not a number followed by six zeroes guaranteeing fat pay checks. He might be released after doing his time while still young and healthy enough to play again, but he should not be allowed to do so. Some acts are unforgivable. Some men do not deserve the chance to bask in the glory of a sports victory; some men have given up that right. They cannot be allowed to enjoy "The Thrill of Victory" after causing someone else "The Agony of Defeat."

Friday, September 05, 2014

Good-bye, Derek Jeter. Red Sox Nation will miss you

Every once in awhile the sports world is blessed by the presence of a true sportsman. A true role model. Sometimes these players are champions. Sometimes they are journeyman who toil away at their sport, day in and day out, game after game after game. Derek Jeter, SS, number 2 in your New York Yankees' scorecard, is such a player. He's heading into the last couple of weeks of the season. He's heading into the last weeks of his career. Watching him over the years has been quite a treat, even for those of us who are not exactly Yankees fans.  No, he hasn't been great. But yes, he's been that special.

He isn't the best player to ever play the game. He's not even the best player to ever play as a Yankee. But what he is, WHO he is, is one of the best MEN to play the game. With a guy like Jeter it's not just what he does on the field or in the batter's box that makes him a joy to watch. That's athletic ability: raw talent and hard work. Jeter's career relied on both. Many do. What put him over the top, though, what makes him the Yankee whom Yankees haters everywhere love, is "The Complete Package." It's that special ingredient a guy like Jeter brings to the mix; that secret ingredient that makes the biscuits rise a little fluffier, keeps the steak juicy, the fruit salad sweet. It's whatever it is that makes a game time hot dog taste like actual food!

Derek Jeter is the anti-A-Rod. He is what we fans, true fans, of sport like to call a Class Player. He's the kind of player who quietly gives everything he has to the game, and when the game is over he digs down deep and finds something more to give to the community. There can't be a baseball fan in America who doesn't know who Derek Jeter is. There may be a couple who don't particularly like him. MAY be. Those are usually pseudo-fans who take it personally when a player like Jeter quietly destroys their favorite team's playoff hopes. They are the pseudo-fans who don't care about the game, whose only concern is that night's box score. They don't care about career numbers. They don't care that the guy who loses a bit of speed, a couple of inches of field coverage, makes up for it with courage and grit and experience. They don't care about a player with heart. A player who maybe contributes more to his team in the locker room, on the practice field, in the dugout day in and day out. No, they care only about stats. True fans care about stats, too. But we also care about heart. We respect the player who quietly shows up at the park and BOOM! Let's his play do the talking. We go to watch those players, we cheer for them, we feel for them, whether they play for our team or our rivals. *Disclaimer: I am a lifelong, die-hard, Red Sox Nation card carrying member of the other side in one of the most heated rivalries in sport. Yes, I like Derek Jeter as a player. I love what he has brought to the game. I respect him as a man. BUT I AM A RED SOX FAN. I HATE THE YANKEES! But I am also a true fan of sports, and I appreciate players more than teams. I won't change team affiliations when a player is traded. But I'll still follow that player and cheer for him, even if he plays against "my" team. I think that's why I like and respect Derek Jeter so much. If the opposing team makes a great play, I will stand and cheer because their play is just as important to the outcome of the game, and I am there to see a good game. I don't live or die by wins and losses. And that's what I see in No. 2. He comes to play his best, to give the fans his best performance. And he appreciates it when opposing players do the same. On any given day they may play better but still,a Derek Jeter does his best.

Yes, Derek Jeter is this era's face of the Yankees, and ladies, he ain't been hard to look at! He's greatly respected by coaches, teammates, opponents, and fans sitting behind both dugouts. He's greatly respected by sports writers and play-by-play announcers. He's greatly respected by The Game. Because he's shown, through the years, how a real player respects The Game.

Thank you, Derek Jeter. Thank you for sharing your talent, your drive, your heart with us. May you enjoy the rest of your life in peace.