Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Be Careful How Loudly You Cheer on Mo'ne Davis' Olive Branch



"I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind. You coulda' done better, but I don't mind. "



           Lyric from: Don't Think Twice, It's Alright from the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
                                                               Written By: Bob Dylan 
                                                                                                          Performed By: Bob Dylan





Photo of Mo'ne Davis courtesy of NBC.com



Mo’ne Davis is awesome and we’ve known that for a little while now.

She pitches lights out. She puts sweet crossover moves on A-list celebrities on the hardwood. She’s getting a Disney movie made about her that will tell us the story of how her awesomeness came to be.

All that’s really left for her to do now is to beat the Dos Equis man in a contest to see who can slam the most revolving doors and stake her rightful claim to the title of “most interesting person in the world”. 

Not that we need anymore reasons to love her. We certainly didn’t need her to have to endure a nasty insult via a tweet from a foul mouthed man-child and subsequently advocate for his reinstatement to his team after he was banished for said insult to know how mature and grounded she is for a 13-year old.

Most adults wouldn’t be able to handle such a quick rise to the national spotlight as elegantly as she has so, yeah, that proof has long been in the pudding.

Still, most of you have upheld this most recent Mo’ne Davis headline as another good reason to sing her praises.

I just hope you all realize what you’re doing.

Not far removed from a year in which some dirty laundry moved us to demand more respect for women and women’s rights and more appropriate penalties for abuse against women from sports leagues and athletes, overplaying how great of a thing it was for Davis to turn the other cheek here might be sending the wrong message.

It’s not enough to applaud her for being the bigger person. We need to tell her and all of the girls who look up to her, all of the ones that believe they can because she did, that it’s a beautiful thing to forgive but forgiveness doesn’t have to come at the expense of your value as a person. We should tell them it’s okay for a person who committed an offense against you to be punished without you having to care more about how that punishment affects them than they cared about how the offense would harm you.

After all, we’ve spent the last several months reminding women of how much they matter. Let’s be careful not to train young girls that they matter most when showing the world how much abuse they can take and still hold their heads up high.

Besides the harsher penalties for cases of domestic violence, something else was born out of the attention we paid to the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice incident. Other women who had been battered and bruised by the men they loved who also played football for a living felt empowered to share their stories.

Through those narratives we learned how they often felt compelled to put their own hurt and pain and safety on the back burner for the good of their husbands’, fiancĂ©es’ and boyfriends’ opportunities to continue living out their dreams playing ball on the biggest stage. Sometimes their need to do so was implied by a coach or team executive. Other times it was implored by the voices in their heads and the somewhat misguided compassion in their hearts.

For most of us, that type of suffering in silence is both unfathomable and unreasonable.

In reality, though, that hazardous passivity has its roots in the same type of undeserved and unwarranted leniency we’ve been lauding our dear Mo’ne for exhibiting.

If you’re unwilling to consider just how closely the two things might be related then you might not be as ready you think to have a real conversation about the work that is required of all of us to tackle the issue of the domestic violence in this country.

So, the next time you hear a story about a woman who stayed longer than she should have. A women who, unfortunately, decided to keep smiling in public even as she endured shame and abuse in private. You might not have to look very far to figure out where she might have gotten the idea that it was honorable to do so.

In fact, you may only need to go stand in front of a mirror.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dwight Howard's fall from grace


 "That's me in the corner. That's me in the spotlight losing my religion, trying to keep up with you. And I don't know if I can do it. "




Lyric from: Losing My Religion from the album Out of Time 
Written By: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe
Performed By: R.E.M.



Photo of Dwight Howard courtesy of CBSSports.com



In the hours leading up to the spectacular drubbing that the Houston Rockets suffered at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies this week, news broke of an investigation into child abuse claims alleging that Dwight Howard had struck his 6-year old son with a belt buckle and a Florida doctor's subsequent finding for physical abuse.


During a quick search of the internet for more information on the story, I came across this 10-year old article at ESPN.com titled "On a mission from God". Published ahead of the 2004 NBA Draft, it details the religious mission Howard intended to undertake as an NBA player with evangelistic aspirations. Of his impending time in the Association young Howard said he hoped to “raise the name of God within the league and throughout the world”. 

Long story short, before we would come to know what it meant to be the Tim Tebow of the NBA (Christianity-wise not talent-wise), Howard was planning to be the Tim Tebow of the NBA.

And then that didn’t happen. 


While Tebow, now out of the NFL, is still looking forward to his first real kiss someday, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year who once boasted proudly about being a virgin as a representation of his dedication to his faith is rumored to have fathered multiple children, all by different women. Which makes that plus the child abuse plus the excuse about the child abuse-that he didn’t know it was wrong because that was how he was raised-three things he now has in common with Adrian Peterson.


No matter how haughty you may or may not want to get in evaluating how Christianity gels with the whole children before marriage thing or on the concept of sparing the rod and spoiling the child, it is a matter of fact that since Howard has been in the league we have seen and heard very little of his Christian message from his hardwood pulpit. 


Here’s a guy that sports marketers once worried may get the David Robinson treatment with sponsors wary of connecting with a player with so much talent who was so outspoken about his religious affiliation. Ten years later it turns out they never had to worry about reconciling the two.


If we were looking for an early sign of Howard’s temperament and his potential as a waffler, that shift in intent was likely our first clue. 


And after eight mostly amazing seasons in Orlando which included a trip to the NBA Finals but ended with back surgery, we got our first, hard evidence of that wishy-washiness. Howard handled his trade from Orlando miserably complete with the infamous  press conference of the awkward and famous involving then Magic head coach, Stan Van Gundy.


Since then it’s been pretty much all downhill. 


Though we’re still waiting to see the version of Howard the basketball player whose play enraptured us in Orlando, Howard the oft-maligned man who plays basketball is at present a far more curious if not entertaining phenomenon to observe.


Before the egg of a meeting with the Grizzlies, the Rockets nearly went down to the wire in a win over the Durant and Westbrook-less Thunder. Durant may not have played in the game but, he got into the action and into Howard’s face. Without standing between the two I can’t say for sure what Durant might have said to him but from all video and lip reading indications, it looked like he used words that assessed Howard as a man of fragile disposition.


Earlier in the season a meeting with the Lakers set the stage for a dust up with Kobe Bryant in which Bryant echoed Durant’s sentiment, calling Howard soft, among other things.


Once esteemed by his peers as a force, if these two incidents are signs of the changing times, the widely held view of the All-Star center seems to be the opposite of that now.


It’s hard to know exactly how we got here, but even Gary Payton has weighed in on the matter saying plainly that Howard is “fake-tough”.


Quoted 10 years ago as having said that he thinks he “could make as much money as LeBron but, it will be up to God for that to happen,” he knows from LeBron’s example what a ring can do for a damaged reputation. 


If things are to turn around for the 6’ 11” star only genuine toughness will do. It’s what the Rockets will need to make good on Dwight’s plans to bring another NBA Championship to Houston.


Unlike his forgotten evangelism, however, this time his intentions will have to match actions.


Or else, well, you know what they say about the road to hell.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

C'mon Charles Barkley, don't be the pot calling the kettle black

 "My wallet's fat and so is my head. Hit and run and then I'll hit you again. I'm a smart ass but I'm playin' dumb. "



Lyric from: Walking Contradiction from the album Insomniac 
Written By: Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day
Performed By: Green Day



Photo of Charles Barkley courtesy of foxnews.com







I love Charles Barkley.


I really do.


I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a youth benefit several years back and, he offered one of the most profound warnings to today’s youth that I’ve ever heard in my life about them relying on sports as their singular opportunity for success and financial freedom. 


Sir Charles offered, “Just think about this from a numbers standpoint, you guys have a better opportunity of becoming a doctor or lawyer than you do of making an NBA or NFL roster.”


 He continued, “There are only 500 or so guys that are going to play in the NBA each year. No one’s putting a cap on the number of practicing attorneys in this country every year.”


That quote stuck with me. Years later I still remember looking around the room at the “aha” moment registered on the faces of those kids, a few who might have even had their hoop dreams completely shattered that very instant. Brutal honestly has a way about doing that and more than anything, we know that we can always count on Barkley for brutal honesty.


The absolute truth-as he sees it.


And, in the wake of this “Russell Wilson isn’t black enough” foolishness, the truth of the matter as Charles Barkley sees it is that “unintelligent blacks rely too much on street credibility.”


Man-o-man, I love Charles Barkley. I just don’t love him offering grand, sweeping declarations about “unintelligent blacks” as fodder for media heads to trot out in their ongoing analysis of the complexity of black folks. 


It’s hypocritical, really, for him to say.


Charles Barkley is a member of an Emmy-Winning NBA studio show that touts such groundbreaking segments as “Who He Play For” and “Shaqtin’ A Fool”, the former of which I believe was named for the grammatically incorrect question that Barkley himself frequently asked on the show when confronted with the name of a player with which he had little familiarity.


My point here is not that Barkley isn’t one to talk because he must be unintelligent as is evidenced by the fact that he says “who he play for” on TV for all the world to see instead of the properly phrased “whom does he play for”. I think Barkley is very intelligent. It is worth noting, however, that a former player with a lesser resume would not likely be given the opportunity to make that mistake on national TV. But, I digress.


My point is that Barkley isn’t one to talk because those segments on his show represent a dumbing down of sorts, one that would not likely be allowed or tolerated by network executives were it not for the NBA’s loyal and demographically skewed black audience.


I hope that Barkley knows this. After all, there is exactly zero horsing around happening on MLB studio shows and even the more lenient NFL studio shows keep their happenings fairly buttoned up. 


For more perspective on the matter, consider the role that Barkley plays in the show’s format. Ernie Johnson is the straight man who keeps it all together. We count on Kenny Smith and the often visiting Chris Webber for pure game analysis. Shaquille O’Neal is part analysis, part jester. While Charles Barkley’s ramblings run in extremes-insightful and ridiculous, well-formed and clumsy, indecipherable and lucid-but always with a strong implication of inanity. 


In short, as Inside the NBA’s formula for success goes, Barkley is to exist on the end of the spectrum opposite Ernie’s journalistic integrity.


And so the man who is most responsible for absurdity on a show that is compromising its intelligence for what they believe is the approval of its mostly black audience is the last person I want to hear from on the issue of the psyche of unintelligent black folks.


My guess is that for someone who purportedly feels as strongly about black Americans’ ability to thrive in this society as Barkley does, the only way that he can possibly defend his function within his show’s larger agenda is to convince all who are willing to be convinced-including himself-that Inside the NBA’s award-winning charm is less about dumbing itself down but more about its proliferation of cool.


The funny thing is that the forsaking of the formal and conventional in the name of cool is exactly the type of reckless logic that has earned Barkley’s criticism here.


For black people the street life, the struggle to make something out of nothing while never forgetting where you came from is the new cool-at least that’s what the media is selling. It’s a central theme in today’s black music and there are certainly more shows on television that feature blacks in roles flaunting criminalized rises to power as opposed to traditional ones. As that path gains popularity so does the accompanying mentality. Soonafter, what’s popular becomes cool.


From all indications Russell Wilson is the product of a solid upbringing. The son of a lawyer and a legal nurse consultant, his grandfather, Harrison B. Wilson Jr. is a former president of Norfolk State University and his father played both football and baseball for Dartmouth. His story seems to present little evidence of struggle. 


If the recent story on comments made by some of Wilson’s unnamed teammates is true-Richard Sherman says it isn’t-the irritation with him is probably less about him being black enough and more about the fact that he isn’t cool enough. 


It’s important to note that black people aren’t the only ones buying this irresponsibly packaged version of black cool. White people are fascinated with the wildly advertised “thug” culture, admiring from afar even as they are relieved that its testimony is not theirs to give. It’s why white people are most responsible for Hip Hop albums’ platinum selling ways through the late 1990s and early 2000s and why a network will allow for a little broken English and some clowning around as long as their black audience continues to tune in night after night.


Ultimately, Barkley owes a lot of his popularity to his own street credibility-his ability to connect with a “certain” audience and to the mystique of keeping it real as whites look on, endorsing his outlandishness.


And so the unintelligence of those who stand in awe of street cred is not the deficiency of blacks alone. 


It’s a matter on which Sir Charles should have more compassion and consider offering the more appropriate counsel to those within an earshot to do as he says but not as he does.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

To Josh Shaw: Sorry Bro, We've Got Enough Wool to Pull Over Our Eyes...



 "You tell me lies that should be obvious to me. I've been so much in love with you baby 'til I don't wanna see. "



Lyric from: Ain't That Peculiar from the album Moods of Marvin Gaye 
Written By: Pete Moore, William "Smokey" Robinson, Marv Tarplin and Ronald White
Performed By: Marvin Gaye



 
Photo of Josh Shaw courtesy of uscfootball.com

By now we all know that USC cornerback Josh Shaw made up a story about jumping off of a balcony to save his nephew who was drowning in a pool, a heroic forgery of a tale that was supposed to explain away his two injured ankles.


We know because he came clean and apologized for the fabrication via a statement through his attorney. But gee whiz, some things should be too terrifying to lie about.

My husband describes a near drowning incident he experienced at the age of seven as a helplessness he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy-a body that suddenly felt as if it weighed exactly one million pounds and the unfortunate realization of how much he had taken breathing for granted at the very moment he could no longer afford to do so.


I'm so relieved that Shaw's nephew didn't endure such trauma. The would-be severity of that accident and the life and death of the matter are all the more reasons why I am so disgusted by his lie.


USC head football coach Steve Sarkisian used a somewhat more tempered d-word to describe his feelings about the senior’s storytelling.


"We are extremely disappointed in Josh," he said. "He let us all down."

He went on to say that this behavior, though out of character for Shaw, is unacceptable because apparently "honesty and integrity" must be at the center of the USC program.


The latter quote there was probably thrown into Sarkisian's talking points by a very smart communications person. It's a subtle bit of reassurance required in a present moment whose necessity was urged by sins of the past.


Yes, honesty and integrity must be at the center of the USC program now because the school is just now trying to recover from and rebuild after four years of sanctions that were among the most severe in NCAA history, with its probation period having ended earlier this summer.

Always considered one of the nation’s best, the trip back to the mountaintop won’t be an easy one for Trojan football after an investigation determined that Reggie Bush and his family had received cash and other perks while he was a star running back with the team in 2004 and 2005. 


The climb won’t be any easier for their basketball brethren hoping to rescue themselves from the murky waters of irrelevance after reeling from self-imposed sanctions following the discovery of unauthorized benefits received by O.J. Mayo from an agent’s representative while he was being recruited by and playing for the Trojans basketball team from 2007 to 2008.


But Sarkisian’s “honesty and integrity” comment got me thinking about something else. It got me thinking about the lies we have to tell ourselves in order to be sports fans.


As I read his words, I thought “who’s he kidding?” Surely he doesn’t expect us to believe that when the rubber meets the road USC, or any other program for that matter, won’t look the other way while boosters, agents, sports marketers and all manner of folk are allowed to do whatever they like in the name of putting the team in the best position to win. 


Then I thought to myself, who am I kidding?” Of course he expects us to believe that and, I desperately want to believe that. 


I want to believe that each year when the best high school athletes choose a college program that their choice has nothing to do with how much money their family was offered, the car they were promised or the academic counselors waiting to ensure that they pass classes whether they attend them or not. They want us to believe that Reggie and O.J. are rogue and, that those were isolated incidents. We will believe that because not doing so might distract us from the sports we love so dearly.


We also want to believe that the new concussion protocol in the NFL will stop players from developing CTE and that, the only guys using steroids in baseball are the ones who fail the drug tests. Oh and also that Tim Donaghy was the only NBA referee to have ever fixed games and that no one has done it since or will do it again. 


Truth be told, being a sports fan requires a suspension of disbelief far more unsettling than we are willing to admit and far more profound than simply claiming your team will win the Super Bowl each year when they’ve only won one playoff game in 18 years.


As for Josh Shaw, his attorney, Donald Etra, has assured the team and the public that his fall that Saturday night had nothing to do with a criminal act and that no alcohol was involved. Etra has previously represented Snoop Dogg and Rihanna.


Shaw has been suspended from all team activities but, Sarkisian says the Trojan family will “accept his apology and support him”.


I’m sure USC officials intend to learn what truth their team captain was attempting to cover up with such an elaborate and tactless lie.


For now, though, they seem content to move on in truth’s absence. 


And so do we.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

In the Case of Ray Rice, There is Something More Upsetting Than His2-Game Suspension


"You know I only say it 'cause I'm truly genuine. Don't be a hard rock when you're really a gem. Babygirl, respect is just a minimum. "




Lyric from: Doo Wop (That Thing) from the album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Written By: Lauryn Hill
Performed By: Lauryn Hill






 
Photo of Ray Rice courtesy of GQ.com



A few months ago TMZ treated us to a video of someone that appeared to be Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice dragging his then fiancĂ© out of an elevator after an altercation between the two resulted in him knocking her unconscious. 

Allegedly. 


After a review of all of the evidence, the verdict is in for Rice. The NFL handed him a 2-game suspension to start the season. Case closed. 


Outrage ensues.


Fans are upset, appropriately so, by what appears to be a lack of reasonableness in the way that the NFL punishes deplorable conduct by it players. Many have pointed out on social media that guys have gotten suspended longer for marijuana offenses. But, as in the case of Rice, render your wife lifeless in a fit of rage and you might slide by with a figurative slap on the wrist.


Yep, that’s right, she’s his wife now. 


Apparently in the time since this incident played out for all the world to see, Rice has become more lovable. 


We talk all the time about how sports folks-coaches, league officials and media alike-are selectively willing to look the other way in the face of some awful behavior by their most likable, charismatic and profitable employees.


It’s unacceptable for sure. In a domestic violence case like this one, maybe it’s just one more example in a line of examples that demonstrates how little this society values its women. Or maybe, they’re just taking their “look the other way” cues from the women in these relationships.


It’s hard to know exactly what would make a woman stay with a man that beats her. I have been candid in this blog about having been in an abusive relationship before. I stayed in it just long enough to realize that it really wasn’t my fault that my boyfriend’s anger turned violent from time to time and, then I was out of it. It wasn’t easy but, the break was made easier by the fact that I had loving parents at home, supportive friends who told me that I deserved better and a  keen awareness of the fact that my peace and sanity were worth way more than any of the “stuff” that being with him afforded me.


Subtract any of those factors from the equation, however, and for some women, it will be a story with an altogether different ending. 


And in these times where it seems that everyone everywhere is all about “stuff”-how hard we’re grinding to get it, how much we spent on it, how ours is better than yours and how much happier (allegedly) you’ll be the more of it you have-stuff carries more weight and is way more difficult to walk away from than it should be.


In this recent Deadspin piece titled The Trouble with Floyd Mayweather which chides boxing media and officials for the same type of soft handling of Floyd and his reprehensible treatment of women as the NFL is being criticized for today, the hypnotic effect and appeal of Floyd’s wealth is hard not to miss as a major point of emphasis and is quite obviously a determining factor in how much he is able to get away with, not only from the boxing community and the court system but from the women in his life as well. 


And that’s as sad as it is regrettable.


Then again, maybe the NFL is taking its cues from the rest of us. Those of us that hypocritically laugh and meme and retweet the misogynistic humor that would be decidedly less funny if the words were addressed to us, to our faces. And those of us that bounce and nod our heads to songs with lyrics that claim “it ain’t nothin’ to cut that b*tch off”.

It’s all fun and games ‘til the "b*tch" in question is you or your mother, sister or dear friend.

If you don’t think a guy that refers to women as b*tches and h*s all of time is that much closer to hitting one, you’re wrong. And if a woman doesn’t think that all of the retweeting and laughing and head bobbing is a subtle endorsement of her diminishing value, she is wrong as well.
 
This domestic violence thing is an “us” issue. Maybe when we start doing our part, the NFL will too.