Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rex Grossman, Jason Campbell have a lot in common including a seat on their respective benches

“Am I making something worthwhile out of this place? Am I making something worthwhile out of this chase? I am displaced.”

Lyric from: Displaced from the album Azure Ray
                                                                                                                Written by: Maria Taylor, Orenda Fink
                                                                                                                Performed by: Azure Ray

Bottom line: In this life, nothing is promised. I should also mention that nothing in life is easy or free. Oh and also, if nothing is ventured, nothing will be gained.
But again, nothing is promised. We set goals. We figure out what it will take to reach those goals and we get busy doing those things. We do those things without any direct knowledge that our efforts will, in fact, yield the results we want. So as a consolation to our non-omniscience, we cling to the belief that what our efforts will do for sure is prepare us for whatever awesome opportunity the universe sends our way even if that awesome thing is different from the goals we set early on.
Apparently at an early age, Rex Grossman and Jason Campbell set their sights on being starting quarterbacks in the National Football League. Sure, they probably played other sports and had other interests but my guess is that eventually NFL quarterback muscled its way to top of their wish lists. And their lofty, #1 goal was not void of their dedication and focus. Their efforts earned them great successes during their climbs to secure the golden nugget at the top of their lists.
Grossman was named as Indiana’s top recruit in 1998 by USA Today and was a top 15 recruit as noted by the National Recruiting Advisor. After a redshirt freshman year at Florida, Grossman was named the starter in 2000 and went on to lead the Gators to an SEC Championship and earned the Most Valuable Player designation in that championship game.  He finished his college career as the third most efficient passer in SEC History. After graduating from Taylorsville High School in, where else but, Taylorsville, Mississippi, Campbell went on to play for Auburn. He led the Tigers to an undefeated season in his senior year in 2004 and was named the SEC Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player of the SEC Championship game. He holds the record for the third longest touchdown pass in Auburn football history.
Rex Grossman was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the NFL draft in 2003. Jason Campbell was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the first round of the NFL Draft in 2005.
So many things in common here, two guys start out with the same goal. They both play college ball in what is arguably college football’s toughest conference, the SEC. They find identical successes in that conference, both earning MVP in SEC Championship games. Both were drafted in the first round and, neither is currently on the roster for the team that drafted them. Last week Grossman started at quarterback for the Redskins, Campbell’s old job in fact. Last week Campbell started at quarterback for the Raiders. But unfortunately, this week, neither quarterback will start for their respective team.
It’s sad really. They’ve met their goals. They’ve risen to top of the ranks of NFL royalty in the coveted role of starting QB but NFL life ain’t been no crystal stair…
It might be best described as a coal stair for these guys…
Since being drafted by Da Bears in 2003, Grossman has shown little evidence of the record-setting efficiency that he displayed in college. He has also shown little evidence of durability. Injuries plenty sidelined him in Chicago and football fans wondered aloud if Coach Lovie Smith was a fool to hitch his wagon to Rex’s star. Towards the end of his tenure in Chicago, whether or not Grossman would be replaced as the starting quarterback seemed to be the dominating theme during the Bears’ press conferences.  He ended his time there as a backup to Kyle Orton. He continued on in the not-at-all coveted role of backup in a stint with the Texans in 2009 and was brought into Washington in 2010 for that same purpose. But after the Redskins shipped McNabb out Grossman was the man again. Until he wasn’t. The Redskins were being touted as the pleasant surprise of this season, a team with a real chance to make some noise. Then Grossman threw 4 picks in last week’s loss, throwing away his job security in the process. Coach Shanahan named John Beck the starting QB for this week.
At Auburn, Jason Campbell played for a different offensive coordinator each year. Who knew that it would start a trend? He had four coordinators in Washington. New hope arrived with each new coordinator. We were all waiting to be reminded of the reason why the Redskins traded up in the draft to get him. But alas, that reminder never came. Campbell landed in Oakland in 2010 and was expected to help the team finally erase the memory of the mistake that was JaMarcus Russell.  After his first season with the Raiders best described as non-losing but playoff-less, Campbell came into this season with no real challenge to his assumption of starting quarterback. The Raiders have a new energy under new head coach Hue Jackson and new hope to spring eternal in Raider fans. But a week after losing their Hall of Fame owner Al Davis and winning a dramatic game against Houston in which the team seemed inspired to win in Davis’ honor, Campbell breaks his collarbone in Week 6 and will likely be out at least 6 weeks.
Sadder yet is the sense that this is it for these guys. Grossman always seems to be a bad throw away from being benched. And the Raiders went and got Carson Palmer from the Bengals this week and you don’t go get a guy like that so that he can be your backup QB. Tomorrow as these two quarterbacks watch their teams take the field without them under center, you hope that they remember that nothing is promised, nothing in life is free or easy and without anything ventured nothing is gained.
They’ll likely be reminded of another popular adage as well-it’s hard to get to the top but harder yet to stay there.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

NBA Players continue their fight for wages, hard for fans to pick a side

“Is that enough? Keep you happy. Is that enough? You know I do it and I know that you just love that expensive stuff.”

Lyric from: Is That Enough from the album Here, My Dear
                                                                                Written by: Marvin Gaye
                                                                                Performed by: Marvin Gaye

Once upon a time in a nightmare…
You were sitting in your office at work. You were playing around on Facebook to help pass the time until it was your turn to un-mute the conference call you were half listening to and give your weekly status update. Suddenly your CEO walked in with a matter that demanded your immediate attention.
You logged out and hung up.
Your CEO proceeds to tell you that you would have to take a 30% pay cut in order to insure that the company doesn’t close the year out in the red again.
Outrage ensued.
The End.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said this week that if a deal is not done by Tuesday when owners and players meet with a federal mediator there will be no basketball on Christmas. Public outrage on top of outrage continues to ensue. And in other sad news, Kobe Bryant recently told this story  about Kwame Brown to help himself pass the time during the lockout.
While waiting in line at a sandwich shop a couple of days ago I overheard a guy say “greedy bastards” to his buddy during an obscenity filled rant. I couldn’t make out the rest, but since he was looking in the direction of a television that was on ESPN and flashing a picture of Derek Fisher at the time, I felt comfortable assuming that they were discussing the lockout. Or wait, maybe they were discussing recent pay cuts in their office that came with the expectation that they would do the same work with less pay.
And with that, I wish to welcome you to the dichotomy of the increasingly inflammatory cause for debate that is the NBA lockout.
In this economy, no one is safe. Not even millionaire ball players are spared the possibility of a pay cut. And dare I say that even they have the right to find it unsettling. These guys are staring a 30% reduction in pay in the face. But us mere mortals are unwilling to sympathize.
During this current recession we have been bombarded with news of layoffs and staff reductions, bonuses eliminated and salaries being cut. In most cases we side with the everyman, the guy who has to figure out how to manage through this with mouths to feed and bills to pay. In our minds that person is not the CEO. The CEO can’t be an everyman. He is a millionaire and probably made more money last year than we will make in a lifetime.  The CEO is a bully who should be willing to cut his millions in salary in order to keep the company afloat instead of causing distress to his employees who are actually doing the work. The millionaire is the bad guy, especially during a recession. Just ask President Obama.
But here’s the thing with this lockout, the CEOs are billionaires and the workers are millionaires. Instead of the blame game being hopelessly deadlocked in a tossup due to near incalculable wealth on both sides, we know exactly who’s at fault-the players. Interesting reversal of the trend here. The players do the work that drives the revenue. They are the NBA’s frontline employees. More often than not, the general public usually feels that frontline employees aren’t paid enough. Yet, we call the NBA's frontline greedy bastards and spare the owners the rod.
I wonder if the real issue is that we don’t think the players deserve their money. After all, all they really do is dribble a ball and make it go in the basket with an occasional exciting dunk. Many of them didn’t finish college. Some of them came from backgrounds where it would have been a miracle to make $20,000 in a year much less a million. They party ‘til 3 AM on random weeknights when the rest of us are sleeping to prepare for work at our real jobs the next day. They’re just people with freakish athleticism. They got lucky.
In your nightmare the CEO should have managed expenses more closely, shouldn’t have invested so heavily in products that showed great potential but in the end were complete busts, shouldn’t have moved the headquarters to that fancy new office building and shouldn’t have spent so much money trying to lure top talent away from competing agencies. And he has the audacity to make you pay for his mistakes with a 30% pay cut. You wish that all of your co-workers would band together and speak out against this injustice…
But I guess these NBA players should just be thankful to have a job. Greedy, lucky bastards…

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Antonio Cromartie expects to play despite his rib injury and it's a good thing since fans expect the same

“If I am all that you desire, then why are you never, ever satisfied. I could give you the world and you’d still cry your refrain again and again.”

Lyric from: This Lullabye from the album We R In Need of a Musical Revolution
Written By: Esthero, Sean Lennon
Performed by: Esthero

A few days ago I was watching ESPN and noticed an NFL injury update scrolling across the bottom of the screen in the ticker. Apparently, Antonio Cromartie was suffering from a rib injury and a punctured lung and, I wondered to myself if he was going to play this week.
Today, during my Sunday morning ritual of reviewing my fantasy team lineup, adjusting my roster and checking it twice, news updates revealed that in spite of ankle and groin injuries respectively, two of my top performers, Calvin Johnson and Steve Johnson, would be playing today. Curiosity moved me to get an update on Cromartie as well. According to this article  from the New York Times a couple of days ago, aside from wearing some additional “stuff” to protect his torso and a few adjustments in his coverage style to keep penalties down, all was well. Cromartie would be on the field for the Jets' Sunday night matchup against the Ravens. I was relieved to have my suspicions confirmed about the type of player Cromartie is, he’s tough, just like I like NFL players to be.
And then a strange thing happened. I had a crazy thought. That thought being that if my mother called me and said that she had just come home from her doctor’s appointment where she learned that she had a broken rib and a punctured lung there is NO WAY I would let her go to work tomorrow. It wouldn’t even be an option. In fact, I would be upset that she had driven herself home from the appointment instead of calling me to pick her up. I would berate her for trying to be “tough” in the face of such a serious health matter. And for those of you that are saying but come on, that’s your mom, a double standard check in revealed that I would in fact have a similar reaction to this situation if that phone call came from my brother.
You know, the lungs are not a non-essential part of our anatomy. In fact, bless my heart for quoting Wikipedia here but according to the site, “The lung is the essential respiration organ in many air-breathing animals.” Could it be that I think less of Cromartie’s body’s need to “transport oxygen from the atmosphere into the bloodstream, and to release carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere” (more from Wikipedia) than I think of my mother and brother’s needs to do the same. No, that can’t be true. But here I am expecting this man to perform a function today far more violent than driving a car.
Now I am considering something else. Much is made of athletes’ screw ups-the bar fights, the drunk driving and so forth-and the fact that these happen likely as a result of their sense of entitlement. We shower them with so much praise that they think they can get away with anything. Overpaid, spoiled brats we often call them. I would like to offer an alternate theory. Maybe, just maybe their outsized, egoistic perception of themselves is more of a reflection of our outsized super human expectations of them and not of our praise.
The last time I had to talk myself into doing something challenging, I drew on the courage I had exhibited in a past challenging experience to help me make the decision to pull through. At times we have all used this technique to train ourselves to explore past our presumed limitations. We get to do this amid people’s normal expectations of our abilities. In making his decision to play this week my guess is that Cromartie implored a similar thought process but under the guise of our highly inflated expectations of him. Now consider this, Cromartie goes out after the game tonight with a few of his buddies and has a few beers. He feels a bit buzzed as he prepares to drive home. Then he remembers that just a few hours earlier he played aggressive, shut down coverage against the Ravens with a punctured lung. He says to himself if I did that then surely I can stay focused enough to get myself home without incident.
DISCLAIMER: As a victim of a car accident in which I sustained a broken collarbone and facial lacerations requiring 32 stitches because an idiot decided to drive drunk, I am not making excuses for someone foolishly deciding to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink. And I was lucky. Many of us have lost loved ones because of drunk driving. Also, I am using Cromartie as an example in this hypothetical scenario. This is not a true story.
But it could be the story of how these guys arrive at some of their poorest decision making. We give our “praise” too much credit. Our praise is very fleeting. Brett Farve played in a Monday Night Football game the day after his father died. My father died on December 26, 2005 and I didn’t go to work the day after or the day after that and no one expected me to. But we all expected Farve to play. I admired him for living up to that expectation. But that admiration has been a distant memory during my incessant criticism of the saga of his retired/not retired drama. In last year’s NFL playoffs, Bears fans praised Cutler for his part as a responsible game manager in getting the Bears to the NFC Division Championship. That was before the game. After the game, Bears fans called Cutler weak and soft for leaving the game with a knee injury. They expected him to return to the action. I gave him a hard time as well. Me, the same person who has been babying a “tweaked” knee for the past month, being careful not to push it too hard in yoga. Yoga, where there is absolutely zero possibility of being flattened by a blitz or a sack.
In sports we expect super human feats and despise ordinary human response. By the time an NFL player makes it to the league he has endured a lifetime of those expectations. Guys start to expect the super human stuff of themselves as well. And so maybe, just maybe in this complex world we live in it is our great expectations that beget their dumb decision making and not our praise. Our praise doesn’t hold a candle to our expectations…