Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins: Are We Willing to Learn From This Tragedy?

“Can I, can I save you from you?”
Lyric from: Fall For Your Type from the album Best Night of My Life
Written By: 40, N. Cobey Noel Campbell and Aubrey Graham
Performed by: Jamie Foxx, Drake

Photo of Jovan Belcher, Kasandra Perkins and their daughter, Zoe Courtesy of NYDailyNews.com

The Kansas City Chiefs got a win on Sunday.
The team snapped an eight-game losing streak, beating the Carolina Panthers 27-21 while improving their record to 2-12 on the season.
During the post-game press conference, Chiefs’ head coach Romeo Crennel did not look the part of the winning coach, nor did his words sound as such.
The coach lamented, “I’m choosing not to answer any questions about what I saw yesterday. I think that you will understand that, and hopefully you will respect my wishes on that, because it wasn’t a pretty sight.”
What the coach had seen the preceding day was the 2nd half of a tragedy.
Fourth-year linebacker, Jovan Belcher, killed himself with a gunshot to the head in front of Crennel and GM Scott Pioli in the parking lot of the Chiefs practice facility shortly after murdering his long-time girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, shooting her in front of her mom and in the presence of his mom and the couple’s 3-month old daughter.
On Monday, this piece was published on KansasCity.com about Ms. Perkins, offering a little bit of background on the woman whose tragic death has nearly made her a household name.
Her friends had apparently inspired the column in that they did not want her to be “overshadowed” by the recognition of the famed athlete and boyfriend by whom she was killed.
The friends spoke about how they had not known Belcher to be violent, offering that sure, the couple’s relationship had endured some rough patches but nothing out of the ordinary.
“They’re like every couple, they argued,” said Kelsie Hoberg, a close friend of Perkins. “Nothing we thought was ever super-unhealthy...I don‘t know how it got to where it did-why he thought he needed a gun.”
This article posted today on ESPN.com confirms that the Chiefs were aware that the couple was having relationship problems.
In the days since this tragedy, guns and the broader issue of this country’s gun culture have been offered as areas in which rethinking and reformation may have an impact on domestic violence fatalities.
Belcher legally possessed the handgun that took Perkins’ and his life so it’s hard to know just how and what politically or lawfully might have prevented the act.
I would offer that, perhaps, the greatest opportunity we have to affect the high incidence of domestic violence lies in our willingness to take a long, hard look at our culture’s fascination with toxic relationships and the factors that contribute to our growing inability to know the difference between a rough patch and a red flag.
In Hoberg’s quote above, more than her questioning Belcher’s need for a gun, her words regarding the seeming  absence of anything unhealthy in Belcher and Perkins’ relationship gave me pause.
I wondered, in these times, how difficult it must be for a woman, especially a young woman of just 22 years, to make an informed decision about the state of her relationship.
While our society’s stance against domestic violence is a constant as we remain unified in our disdain and disgust for offenders, we have failed to provide reliable education as to the various toxicity markers that might help identify a love affair gone wrong.
Worse yet, so much of what we see on our televisions and hear on our radios glamorizes the exquisite pain of a hard won relationship, persuading would be significant others to be willing to endure more suffering in order to gain more superficial pleasure.
As far back as what would seem to be a lifetime ago, I was in an abusive relationship. It’s hard to describe how I got there. Once engrossed, however, I only remember the empty, powerless feeling of having adjusted every part of my personality in order to try to relieve someone’s insecurities only to realize that their insecurities had nothing to do with me.
And here’s the tricky part, I wasn’t struck physically until more than eight months into the relationship. Up to that point I had only been assaulted verbally.
I would like to believe that if I had been courageous enough to reveal my plight to someone at the time, I might have received a stern warning to get out before things got worse.
But in reality, I have little faith that anyone in my life at that time-excluding my mother who would have been the last person I told-would have been equipped to advise me of that.
The truth is, short of a black eye or a death threat, most people would have found little reason for alarm. People are more content to butt out, choosing to spare themselves the risk of being accused of having too much of an opinion on the matter.
In our current relationships climate, the Chris Brown/Rihanna narrative and the others like it, more than anything else, have distorted our view of what it means for love to conquer all.
It seems the more famous the partner the more easily their actions are excused.
That and the incessant show of support for Brown from his fanatic base demonstrate that, apparently, talent too pardons crimes in the court of public opinion.
Furthermore, our popular culture’s sad inclination to value what you have more than who you are may render someone helplessly illogical in their choice between starting over in a new, healthy and loving relationship or getting a new designer bag in your old one.
A quick trip around the radio dial reveals that this generation's music defines a healthy relationship, by today’s standards, as having begun with a little crazy and a lot of carnal pleasure, ending with a lot of crazy and a few new outfits plus a BMW in the garage.
And it’s not only women who are drawn into this delusional web of erroneous perspective.
Men are lyrically lured by their hip hop contemporaries into the belief that all a damaged female good needs is a strong man to-according to Grammy-winning recording artist, Neo-love her until she learns to love herself.
Though the intent is noble, any man who embarks on that journey is sure to find a cruel and distressing ride and faces a very low possibility of conversion. Such aspirations are usually nothing more than a figment of the male ego.
It is the responsibility of each of us individually to be moved to love ourselves and to believe we are worthy of love. It is senseless to think otherwise.
And domestic violence is the quintessential senseless act. Despite all we will learn in the coming days and weeks about Belcher and Perkins’ last days, the details will be meaningless in our quest for answers.
A mournful tragedy such as this one should inspire us to ask better questions of our loved ones and ourselves. We need a deeper, more significant discussion around how a healthy relationship looks and feels.
It’s the truest way to open our society up to the possibility of a preventive plan of attack on domestic violence and domestic violence fatalities in this country.
 We have all suffered in silence long enough.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Royce White and Our Ever-Damning Fixation with Being Right

“Speak your heart, don't bite your tongue. Don't get it twisted, don't misuse it. What's your problem? Let's resolve it.”

Lyric from: We Need A Resolution from the album Aaliyah
Written By: Stephen "Static" Garrett and Tim "Timbaland" Mosley
Performed by: Aaliyah and Timbaland
Photo of Royce White, Courtesy of Pat Sullivan/AP Photo

The Houston Rockets return to action tonight in a home game against the Toronto Raptors.
It’s been a difficult four days off for the team.
The daughter of Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, Alexandra “Sasha” McHale, passed away on Saturday.
Team owner Leslie Alexander said in a statement that he extends his “deepest condolences” over the loss and that the “entire organization is mourning.”
The team has been without McHale since November 10 when it was announced that he was taking leave to deal with a personal family matter.
In his absence, Kelvin Sampson has been the interim head coach. There is reportedly no timetable for Kevin McHale’s return.
For very different reasons, the team is also without rookie Royce White.
The Houston Chronicle reported Saturday that there is still no timetable for his return to the Houston Rockets even as the power forward and team GM, Daryl Morey, are continuing to talk.
White is continuing to talk on Twitter as well, engaging supporters and critics alike in exactly the type of impassioned exchanges one would expect from someone so fervently committed to their cause.
Admittedly, I am not following White on Twitter so I have not had a front row seat to how things have played out for him day to day on the social network. I have only tuned in to his timeline for some of his more well-publicized rants.
This angry outburst aimed at Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo! Sports a few days ago is the latest to grab my attention.
In it, White is intent on discrediting this recent article from Wojnarowski about the details surrounding his absence from the team.
White calls the article “baseless” and “not factual”.
He goes on to say that “if hearing the truth annoys you…UNFOLLOW ME! I’m going to keep telling the truth, have to confront lies or they become truth!”
Since being drafted 16th overall by the Rockets, it seems White has spent more time confronting lies than he has playing basketball. He has been relentless in his crusade.
He has called out the Rockets for not providing a safe workplace, one where his mental illness is in consideration. He feels that he is justified in asking for consistent acknowledgement and for protocol to be put in place to address these issues.
Simply put, White feels that the Rockets are wrong and, that he is right.
I am making no grand declarations about mental illness, more specifically anxiety disorder, with this column. I do not pretend to understand the challenges or difficult circumstances that those with this disease experience in their daily lives.
White has been open, confrontationally so, about his struggles with the illness in a way that we are not used to seeing, especially from a young black man. In the black community the stigma attached to mental illness cuts deep and many families suffer in silence as mental disorders and defects go undiagnosed.
For White to dare to prove that we have been foolish in our association of mental illness with weakness using sports and athletics, where only the strong survive, as his platform is beyond noble.
But I wonder if he has gotten caught up in the debate for debate’s sake.
We’ve all been there. We are discussing an issue with a friend, colleague or loved one. We want to find a solution. But as the voices get louder and more forceful and, as the opinions get stronger; we experience a near imperceptible shift.
Mid fight we lose our way. We decide we want to win, to be right, maybe even at the expense of a favorably shared resolution.
Early in my career, a young co-worker of mine chatted with me over lunch about counseling sessions that she and her husband had begun attending to help resolve some issues in their marriage. She talked about how for the first few sessions the therapist let them bicker incessantly, not interrupting as they went on and on blaming each other for this wrong thing and that wrong thing.
Finally, at the close of the third session, the doctor asked them both a game-changing question. She asked, “Do you want to be right or do you want to save your marriage?”
Of course I have not been privy to the private conversations between White and Morey, or to those that he’s had with family and friends.
But there’s no time like the present for someone to ask him if he wants to be right or if he wants to play basketball.
The Rockets certainly want him to play basketball. And who can blame them for that. I don’t imagine that the decision to draft White came lightly for them as they were well aware that his being on the team would require some special accommodations. As immediately as they selected him they pledged to put support in place to help White thrive in the NBA.
White has found that support to be negligible and maybe he’s right but he shouldn’t let right and wrong distract him. Being right is, more often than not, overrated.
There’s no reason to think it impossible that Royce White can be an advocate for more awareness of the fair and appropriate mental health considerations in the workplace, have the Houston Rockets be his partner in that campaign and play basketball-all at the same time. He and the team can take that journey together but it is certain to be a learning process for both sides.
He has spent so much time setting the record straight, however, that it has likely been detrimental to his relationship with the Rockets.
White has, possibly unknowingly, defined the team as his enemy along with the journalists and pundits who have formed their own opinions about why he has failed to do what he is being paid to do. He is mistaking this battle for the actual war, and, his NBA career is liable to be the first and only casualty.
He said some time ago that he would be willing to walk away from his career but has since softened that stance. In all actuality, he probably doesn’t really believe it will come to that.
But chastising your current employer publicly sends a troubling message. One could be inclined to interpret White’s message as, perhaps, an implication that the Rockets have been malicious in their unwillingness to show respect for his condition. Bad Rockets. Bad, bad Rockets.
And “bad Rockets” is probably a moniker the organization is unwilling to bear.
They may find it easier to cut ties with White, conceding that he was in fact right to expect more and admit that they fell short while vowing to review the team’s policies so that this never happens again and ensure that moving forward the team will be better prepared to handle these issues.
All wrapped up in a nice little PR bow that lets them off the hook with minimal damage and ultimately sends White home and out of the NBA.
The world will know he was right and all it will have cost him was his career and a valuable platform for his cause.
He should decide now if it’s worth it and let that answer inform his actions going forward.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Michael Vick on the Verge of History as the First QB to Fumble Away Two, $100 Million Contracts for Two Very Different Reasons

“Hang onto the world as it spins around. Just don't let the spin get you down. Things are moving fast. Hold on tight and you will last.”

Lyric from: Someday We'll All Be Free from the album Extension of a Man
Written By: Edward Howard and Donny Hathaway
Performed by: Donny Hathaway

Photo of Michael Vick, Courtesy of Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Last night the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints 28-13 and gosh, was it ever painful to watch.

The Eagles squandered four trips to the red zone, only managing to come away with a couple of field goals instead of touchdowns.
Michael Vick was sacked 7 times, on pace to take that punishment a total of 46 times this season.
Last week Andy Reid said that he was “going to evaluate all of his starters” after his team lost to Vick’s old team, the Atlanta Falcons 30-17, leading to days of speculation that Vick would lose his starting job in favor of rookie, Nick Foles. If Reid’s remarks were meant to serve as a threat they turned up empty as he eventually declared that benching Vick was not an option he was considering.
He reiterated that declaration after last night’s whipping at the hands of the Saints.
Michael Vick will be the quarterback,” Reid told reporters.
Who can blame him for not blaming Vick?
The offensive line is an embarrassment and, the team is suddenly without guys who can make plays on offense although DeSean Jackson did score on a dazzling 77-yard TD reception last night. And their defense is a far cry from the menacing ball hawks that the late Jim Johnson once directed, this despite two high profile free agency additions to their secondary a couple of years ago in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha.
But, it’s hard not to expect more from Vick. More anger, more irritation, more yelling, more calling out of teammates for not executing, being accountable or living up to his expectations.
As I watched number 7 calmly head to the Eagles sideline last night, however, as one inexplicable miscue after another cost his team sustained drives, momentum and points, I had a thought.
I wondered if Vick might no longer be capable of those kinds of self-important outbursts.
We all know the story. The Falcons rewarded Vick with a $130 million dollar contract after he rewarded them with a thrilling resurgence while rewarding detractors and fans alike with a newfound confidence in the advantages of a run first, athletic QB.
What we remember next is a rapid fall from grace though it may have been more of a cascading tumble. Vick was suspected of dog fighting, got caught with some weed in a secret compartment of a water bottle at the airport and then got indicted for operating a dog fighting ring.
He lost everything-his freedom and his millions.
After two years in prison, and then an unbelievable job replacing Donovan McNabb, the Eagles rewarded Vick with a $100 million contract after he rewarded them with a thrilling resurgence while rewarding detractors and fans alike with a newfound confidence in his ability as a pocket passer.
No doubt that Vick is now a man with an insightful understanding of reinvention and a profound appreciation of redemption.
And the path to that type of enlightenment is often paved with humility.
My guess is that a prison stint has a way about teaching life’s hard lessons in the most painful of ways. A loss of status, respect and prestige can be a debilitating beginning to a regretful, bitter end.
Those who survive that plight are usually driven to do so by a strong desire to restore their good names but often experience an intense, grounding adjustment in their opinion of themselves.
That said, these days Vick’s annoyance and fury are most certainly tempered with a heavy indebtedness and a keen awareness of his being smack dab in the middle of a second chance.
This is about more than a criminal playing the part of a rehabilitated, model citizen. This is likely about a man with a brand spanking new perspective.
“I love each and every guy in that locker room, and if I could make every play right I would,” Vick said last night.
He offered that quote apologetically after learning that his brother, Marcus Vick, had criticized the Eagles O-line and demanded that the elder Vick be traded in a rant on Twitter during the game.
Vick's words there reek of the gratefulness and indulgent patience of a wounded soul now resurrected.
But alas, something must be done about the Eagles and whether sooner or later, a change at QB may be the easiest to implement.
Vick has intimated that he will support whatever decision has to be made.
And with that, he will have killed two birds with one stone.
Having made history as the first QB to not live up to two, $100 million dollar contracts, he will cement Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie’s place in history as the league's first to have awarded a $100 million contract to two different quarterbacks without a Super Bowl win to show for it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kobe Bryant: The Best to Never Revolutionize the Game

“So, presently I'm standing here right now. You're so demanding. Tell me what you want from me.”

Lyric from: Window Seat from the album New Amerykah Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh 
Written By: Erykah Badu and James Poyser 
Performed by: Erykah Badu

Photo of Kobe Bryant courtesy of Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Yesterday Tracy McGrady announced that he was headed to China to play for the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association . In a statement that was as much about his relocation as it was about bidding farewell to the NBA, McGrady used the declaration to offer poignant, heartfelt thanks to some of his NBA brethren including a quick nod to Kobe Bryant.
“Kobe, you made me work harder and, it was an honor to play against you,” he wrote.
And so again, it has come to this, one of this generation’s most promising talents reflecting on his career in a decidely past tense.
After being selected ninth overall in the 1997 NBA draft, a pairing with Vince Carter and the Toronto Raptors helped Tracy McGrady find his place among the league’s breakout stars. But in a career that just seemed to have left him floundering in the desert, the former seven-time all-star and two-time scoring champion never led a team to the promised land, not even to the second round of the playoffs.
It seems that Bryant has been in a reflective mood of late as well. Preparing to embark on the third chapter in his 16-year (and counting) career, his is not the story of unrealized potential.
The additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers roster during this offseason and the impending end of his current contract two years from now have him talking about enjoying a championship swansong and an inevitable passing of the baton.
And fans have been more than happy to stir the pensive pot.
The thought of an NBA with no Kobe Bryant has renewed our obsession with the Kobe vs. MJ debate and its 1.a and 1.b. counterparts-Is Kobe still better than LeBron? And Can LeBron ever eclipse Jordan?
My own contemplation regarding the Black Mamba has led me down a different path with an altogether different consideration.
When Bryant is done playing, will we ever see an up and comer and proclaim him the next Kobe Bryant?
I will concede this point to you now; I am a fan of Kobe’s work. Therefore, I hope you will fight your urge to dismiss this column as libel.
No one with half a brain can deny his magnitude. The proof is in his championships, his career stats, his highlights, his intensity, his confidence, his arrogance, the respect he commands on the floor and the many more McGrady-like tributes to come.
Regardless of whether he ties Michael Jordan with a sixth championship, we will always remember him as the closest thing we have ever seen to Jordan.
And therein lies the problem.
He is a distinguished copy instead of a groundbreaking original.
Bryant’s pump fake is masterful and, his footwork is flawless. Watching him get to his spots on the floor is like observing art in motion.
But I more often than not get the sense that I’m watching someone who chose to make his way in this league by becoming Jordan, having long ago forsaken the opportunity to be the first Kobe Bryant.
And while that choice will not keep him from being featured near the top of the NBA’s list of all time greats, it will never earn him a spot on the mantle with the game’s revolutionaries.
When it’s all said and done, whatever that means and whenever that is, Bryant may rank top-5 all time. He’ll be there with Magic Johnson who introduced us to the idea of a big, multitalented point guard with dazzling handles and awe-inspiring court vision. Larry Bird will be there too, a legend whose versatility and superb outside shot gave us a new appreciation of the forward position.
Jordan of course will reign supreme with a list of accolades that reveal his brilliance on the court and his significance to the business of basketball. And KB24 will be there as one of the best to have done it so consistently, for so long earning all of the game’s top honors.
All while being this generation’s Michael Jordan incarnate.
Who knows, the fifth spot might ultimately go to LeBron James. He’ll likely have fewer championships but what he may lack in hardware, he’ll make up for with innovation. His athleticism and his ability to perform at a high level at positions one through four on the court just might earn him the distinct privilege of pioneering a type of player.
Like Johnson, Bird and Jordan before him, his name might someday exist on the good side of proper noun and adjective duality.
For what it's worth, however, Bryant is not alone in this unoriginal fate.
In fact, his modern day, NFL equivalent may very well be Tom Brady.
Brady, for all his comparisons to Joe Montana, will probably finish his career with more Super Bowl wins than both Peyton Manning and Michael Vick combined only to have his feats somewhat upstaged by the success they achieved while also transforming the quarterback position.
And so If we are very lucky, we may one day witness the next elder Manning and Vick to come, if not the evolution of those players.
For Bryant and Brady alike this lot is the unforgiving downside of having your greatness best characterized by its resemblance to the greatness of another.
Kobe Bryant might retire in two years and, he has treated us to unmistakable majesty on this journey.
Even if it has felt a little familiar.

Friday, September 14, 2012

For Bills' Marcell Dareus, Football May Be a Powerful Elixir. But a Loved One's Death Requires a Lifetime of Healing

“I find it hard to say that everything is alright. Don’t look at me that way, like everything is alright. ”

Lyric from: I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel) from the album MTV Unplugged No. 2.0: Lauryn Hill
Written By: Lauryn Hill
Performed by: Lauryn Hill

Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, photo courtesy of CBSSports.com

On Sunday, December 25, 2005, I sat and talked with my dad about the Dallas Cowboys, the Tennessee Titans and about life in general. Less than 24 hours later, he was gone.
My father had a heart attack in his sleep and, it ended his life along with the possibility of us sitting down for a long chat ever again.
In the days that followed I went about the business of making the arrangements. I had somehow become my family’s unofficial spokesperson, grief counselor and finance manager. As my father’s biggest fan, I felt like it was my duty to be strong.
He would have wanted me to be strong.
On a Sunday night in December a couple of years earlier, Brett Farve's dad, Irvin Farve, died of a heart attack while driving near his home in Kiln, MS. The next day, Farve made his 205th consecutive start as his Green Bay Packers took on the Oakland Raiders in Oakland for Monday Night Football.
He torched the Raiders for 399 yards and four touchdowns that night.
Leading up to and during the broadcast that evening, analysts and commentators everywhere talked about how therapeutic it must have been for Farve to play in that game. They talked about how football was probably a welcome distraction for him.
After the game, Farve said that he knew his father would have wanted him to be on the field that night.
As I look back on that remarkable Monday night performance now with my own perspective on that type of bereavement, I am less apt to oversell the therapeutic benefits of that moment. And I know all too well that the distraction, though welcome, was no doubt temporary.
I am also very well aware of how quickly folks can put your loss behind them.
Yesterday the Buffalo Bills announced that 2nd year defensive tackle Marcell Dareus intends to play in their home opener this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Dareus’ brother, Simeon Gilmore, was one of three men shot and killed this week in a triple homicide in a suburb outside of Birmingham, Alabama.
On Sunday he will be heralded for his perseverance and his courage during this unfortunate time but, in a few months many of us will possibly have forgotten that he endured this tragedy at all.
As the weeks pass this NFL season, we will think less and less about this misfortune and become more and more singularly focused on Dareus’ performance on the field. No longer protected by the hedges of our compassion, he will once again be subjected to our harshest criticisms or worse yet, off of our radars altogether.
Just last month we grieved with Andy Reid over the loss of his son during Philadelphia Eagles training camp but that ordeal is a distant memory now as all talk has turned to whether or not that team is a dynasty, whether Michael Vick will finish the season and whether or not Reid is still the man for the job.
As it turns out, despite what I’m sure are our best intentions to the contrary, our sympathies often ring temporary as well.
The fact is that long after the headlines have changed, the painful void left behind by a loved one’s death will remain.
It is an experience after which one’s life is never the same.
I will be rooting for Marcell Dareus on Sunday but, mostly, I will be praying that in the days and years that follow that he will be patient with himself as he adjusts to his sorrowfully altered life.
His time on the field Sunday will hopefully be the distraction he needs. The strength he demonstrates in the difficult times ahead will be exactly what his family needs as they start the healing process.
All likely just what his brother would have wanted.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jason Witten Decided to Play But, Was Fear the Deciding Factor

“I do not understand what it is I’ve done wrong. Full of holes, check the pulse. Blink your eyes one for yes two for no. I’ve no idea what I’m talking about. I’m trapped in this body and can’t get out.”

Lyric from: Bodysnatchers from the In Rainbows
Written By: Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway and Thom Yorke
Performed by: Radiohead

Photo courtesy of jasonwitten82.com

A little while ago during a chat with one of my absolute favorite people in the world, I learned that he almost never takes any time off from work-rarely a vacation day and absolutely no sick days at all.
I knew instantly that his perfect attendance could only be driven by one of two very opposite motivating forces, love for the job or fear of losing it.
Apparently, he had been trained to deny himself these little breaks from the workplace in a retail position he held a few years back where a day off often necessitated a new job search.
And there was my answer.
I thought of my friend and his fear inspired decision making last night when Jason Witten took the field for the Dallas Cowboys in their season opener against the New York Giants.
Witten, who suffered a lacerated spleen in a preseason game was initially listed as a game time decision and depending on who you ask, in his haste to make that decision a little easier for team officials, was willing to sign a waiver relieving the Cowboys of any liability if he re-aggravated the injury or maybe worse yet, died, as a result of his play. ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported the story yesterday morning but the Cowboys have since said that they were unaware of any waiver.
All that said, at game time Witten took the field.
Thankfully he finished the game unharmed with two receptions for 10 yards as the Cowboys defeated the Giants 24-17.
It’s hard to imagine an NFL player being afraid of anything. In fact, most of us would describe what they do week to week as the exact opposite of fear.
Listen, any 200-300 plus-pound specimen that runs full speed into another 200-300 plus-pound specimen to finance their livelihood is definitely a tough guy in my book. But in matters of injury, there’s often a thin line between tough and foolish.
Our favorite quotes about fear advise us that we should always do what we are afraid to do and that fear is an impetus to stand up and strike. But the lesser referenced passages regarding the condition warn us that our fear of loss is nothing more than our attachment to the present and our foolish aversion to change.
After an offseason filled with talk of Bountygate and concussion lawsuits, one is left to conclude that the National Football League is a workplace that flourishes best with a culture of fear.
A coach gives what is now considered an insensitive and dangerous pregame speech in which he inspires his players to make a name for themselves by sending their opponent off the field on a cart. Guys get their bells rung and lie to go back into the game even though each concussion brings them closer to a serious brain injury and a lifetime of foggy memories and the haze of depression.
But the risk/reward calculations of those examples can more easily be waved off as consequences to be faced down the line.
 Jason Whitten was willing to endure a very immediate risk last night.
Whatever the consequence, our dearly loved NFL players usually highlight their camaraderie and blue-collar approach to teamwork as the driving force behind their willingness to take the field at all cost.
There are other incentives at play here, however. The details of which can be found in any NFL contract or in the biological clock that seems to wind down so expeditiously on every respective NFL career.
In spite of everything there seems to be no greater motivation for these NFL players than the fear of losing it all right now-their starting spot, their money, their fame and maybe even their relevance.
Otherwise guys might think a little less about holding on for dear life to the present and more about their quality of life down the line.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sports, Politics, Religion and the myth of the rivalry; what the heck are we fighting for?

“We fight and love so much sometimes I get confused with who we are. Maybe if we just stop and chat a bit we’ll find out who we are.”

Lyric from: We Fight/We Love from the album The Renaissance
Written By: Kamaal Ibn John Fareed
Performed by: Q-Tip and Raphael Saadiq
Photo from lockersmash.com

My father once told me that religion and politics are two of the most divisive elements of the human experience. Even if you disagree with his use of the superlative here, I think you would agree that, at the very least, the two subjects are to be avoided at all costs in workplace conversations.
The fact is that neither matter leaves much room to be lukewarm. People are very passionate about their chosen deities and their legislative deal breakers. As such, it is hard to disagree without being offensive and difficult to keep an open mind when the very desire to do so seems to challenge your deep rooted, personal belief set or worse, wreaks with the guilt of blasphemy.
A few years ago, however, I began to contemplate the illusion of opposition and rivalry. In 2005 I attended a Public Relations Society of America luncheon featuring a talk by Skip Rutherford, Chairman of the Board for the William J. Clinton Foundation in which he shared the story of the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR.
During his presentation he noted that  former President Bill Clinton had spoken with former President George H.W. Bush on a few occasions leading up to the event. Sensing the shock in the room, Rutherford explained that these men were a part of the exclusive fraternity of former Presidents of the United States of America and that a respectful bond between them was not only plausible but warranted.
Later that year, the entire nation became privy to that bond as the two joined together in a campaign to rebuild homes and lives following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, raising $100 million for relief efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi.
That’s quite a turnaround from 1992 when Bush called Clinton a “bozo” on the campaign trail.
Earlier this week, Ryan Clark treated NFL fans to a shocker.
Clark, 11-year pro and defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, revealed that despite public opinion to the contrary, the Steelers don’t hate the Ravens. He alluded to the fact that the Steelers-Ravens rivalry has ultimately been defined by the fans and not members of the respective teams.
Clark even talked about having worked out with Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker, Terrell Suggs, over the summer and said that Suggs was “a cool dude”. That doesn’t seem too far-fetched when you consider that NFL players belong to an exclusive fraternity as well.
With that revelation I revisited my thoughts on rivalry’s illusion and have wondered if the guys who get paid to do this stuff only hate each the two or three weeks out of the year that they play each other, why then have fans been so invested in these rivalries over the years?
Perhaps our hatred is more mobilizing. Maybe the only way that we can truly love is when we are motivated by hate.
Clark’s admission comes to us this week as we also heard reports about a 5-year old who was forced to turn his University of Michigan T-shirt inside out in his Oklahoma City school district classroom and this Packer fan who went online in search of some support for evicting his tenants who had lied to him about being Chicago Bears fans.
Just as much as we are passionate about our religious beliefs and our political affiliations, we are no doubt steadfast and unmovable in our sports loyalties as well.
All the better for the media to tease us with.
If fans started the fire, networks have stoked many a rivalry’s flames. These guys hype up the tension in the name of viewership. They profess the excitement of the “can’t miss game of the week” featuring two of the game’s biggest rivals (insert any rivalry of any sport, college or professional, here). And of course there’s a reason why viewership matters-ad revenue.
And there’s a reason why leading up to this year’s presidential election President Obama’s campaign ads will tell you more about why you shouldn’t vote for Governor Mitt Romney instead of why he should be re-elected.
The awful truth is that we often fare better when we can define our love by our hate. Without the latter we might not ever go to the polls or root for a team.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Ode to August 16th: A little birthday love, a little sports, some Elvis and me.

“Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready. Now go, cat, go.”

Lyric from: Blue Suede Shoes from the album Elvis
Written By: Carl Perkins
Performed by: Elvis Presley

Titans WR Kevin Dyson tackled at the 1 yard line by Rams Linebacker Mike Jones, Photo AP

I have always shared a somewhat morbid kinship with Elvis Presley. Our connection indeed reinforces the relationship between life and death.
Exactly one year to the day of my birth, Elvis-one of the biggest stars in music ever and the King of Rock and Roll-was pronounced dead at Baptist Hospital in Memphis, TN, the same hospital in which I was born.
Add that to the fact that my mother has been singing and playing piano in church since she was 10 years old along with the fact that my father was awarded a music scholarship to college and, it would seem that I was destined to become a music lover. It is almost as if I had no choice in the matter.
The beginning of my love affair with sports, however, is far less choreographed and slightly more scattered.
It’s hard to know when I first became interested in basketball but, my mother loves to tell the story of the time that she took me to a basketball game at the school where she taught in West Memphis, AR. As a four year old I apparently spent the entire game yelling “get the rebound boys”, a phrase I had picked up from listening to my brother as he watched the sport on TV.
However humble its roots, my interest was no doubt cemented by the rich tradition of Memphis Tigers' basketball in my hometown via the likes of Keith Lee, Elliot Perry, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and more recently, Derrick Rose.
My father had lived in Chicago for a few years as a child and so my earliest awareness of baseball was fostered by his, sometimes unrequited, love for the Chicago Cubs. Growing up, Ernie Banks had been his favorite player and, he was beyond thrilled when I got to meet “Mr. Cub” when he played in a golf tournament I coordinated for work.
After graduating from college I found a new reason to pay attention the sport and a new team for which to root. Albeit a bit shallow, I had decided to love the New York Yankees because I loved Derek Jeter because I had learned that his father, Dr. Charles Jeter, and I shared the same alma mater. The elder Jeter had played shortstop for my beloved Fisk University.
There is nothing shallow, though, about the circumstances by which I fell in love with football. We were first introduced in 1999 and, we’ve been inseparable ever since.
Before ’99 I had never watched a football game-professional or amateur, not on TV nor in person. So I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy when a friend of mine told me that he had scored tickets to the Tennessee Titans season opener as a birthday gift to me.
Right from the opening kickoff, I was hooked. It was love at first sight.
I was a novice then so most of what happened that day during that game to start the season was a blur to me. Nevertheless, I remember the way that season ended with poignant clarity.
A magical playoff run that began with the “Music City Miracle” against the Buffalo Bills ended one yard shy of a chance to defeat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.
From that point on I was singularly focused on learning everything I could about this game I loved so dearly. I had to understand everything that happened on the field, all the rules of the game, the purpose of each position and the details around every opportunity to score points.
Pretty soon my dedication to closing my knowledge gap in football drove my desire to close that gap in the other sports as well. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or at the very least, it’s the history of the making of this blog.
Elvis once famously said, “I’m so lucky to be in the position to give. It’s really a gift to give.”
And so on this day, my 36th birthday, I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity to give through my words by way of this blog.
It’s truly the best birthday gift ever.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

To Be Young, Black and an Olympian: What that's got to do with Three 6 Mafia and Jason Whitlock

“You know it’s hard out here for a pimp. When he tryin’ to get this money for the rent.”

Lyric from: It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp from the album Hustle & Flow Soundtrack
Written By: Jordan Houston, Paul Beauregard and Cedric Coleman
Performed by: Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson

Three 6 Mafia, Getty Images

In 2006 Memphis’ Three 6 Mafia made history with the first hip hop performance ever at the Oscars. They immediately topped that historic feat with another. The group’s song, “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp”, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that evening, the first ever win for a rap group in the category.
As a native Memphian, this was a big deal for me.
At 15, I was allowed to go on my first date and, my boyfriend’s car was outfitted with all of the southern-favored, bass-heavy stereo equipment that made the trunk rattle and the passersby stop and stare. How better to showcase one’s sonic investment than with Three 6’s bass-laden tracks. Their music was a fixture in his ride. Therefore, as our relationship grew so did my appreciation for the group.
On that night in 2006 that win meant a lot to me as a woman for whom her roots as a little black girl who had grown up in North Memphis were a source of pride, who had “bumped out” to Three 6 Mafia in the car with her boyfriend on her very first date.
As group members Jordan “Juicy J” Houston and Paul “DJ Paul” Beauregard made their acceptance speeches that night I tried not to notice the faces in the crowd. But I couldn’t help but notice. The mostly white faces in the audience that evening were wearing expressions that were mixed in countenance from horrified to angry to annoyed to smiles filled with trepidation.
Terrence Howard probably anticipated those haunting faces and maybe that’s why he chose not to perform the song that evening or at the very least, why he may have been advised not to perform.
Those faces became the cause of my discontent and in a mere moment I went from “YAY!!! Three 6 won an Oscar” to “Oh Gosh, Three 6 won an Oscar”. 

Ah yes, the dichotomy of being black.
It is the great divide we experience as descendants of an oppressed people. We must balance at once our pride in our differences and our desire to be accepted as the same.
This is not an easy cross to bear.
The pride is nearly automatic at this point, again, a mostly knee-jerk reaction to a unifying but horrifying history of oppression. The acceptance, most blacks would say however, is still a work in progress.
The burdens of this work have often played out in two ridiculous, costly presumptions of Black Americans. The first being that every black person represents the collective state of the entire race at all times and secondarily, that the actions of every black person, more often than not, directly correlate to the fact that they are black as if a cultural mainstay.
And both blacks and non-blacks alike have bought in to this conjecture.

This is why the media insisted on Gabrielle Douglas speaking for an entire race of little girls hoping to become gymnasts. And why her broader historic achievement as the first American gymnast ever to win gold both in the team competitions and the individual all-around at the same Olympics has nearly been overshadowed by the fact that she is the first African-American gymnast to win gold in the individual all-around competition.
It is also why some black women were likely the loudest critics of Gabby’s hair throughout the events. We hold our race’s star-turned delegates to the highest standards because we can’t shake the notion that with our still limited, even in 2012, opportunities to shine in the national spotlight we must look, speak and act in a manner that would not confuse, offend or turn off whites.

Growing up as black girl in the South I am painfully aware of the nonsensical opinion that lighter skin is prettier. This theory was no doubt rooted in the slavery-old estimation that the closer one’s skin is to white, the better the experience on the plantation and the better the lot in life. Unfortunately, that theory was not thrown out with slavery’s bath water. Its remnants persist in black communities all over America today.
As such I am painfully loath to admit the possibility that more than anyone else, blacks are likely in favor of and more comfortable with   Lolo Jones' designation as media and marketing darling instead of her darker skinned teammates.

I must strongly disagree, however, with Jason Whitlock’s allusion in this piece that Ms. Jones’ lighter skin is the primary driver of the reason her USA Track and Field teammates, Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells who took home silver and bronze medals respectively in the 100 meter hurdles final,  have chosen to despise the fourth-place finisher. Despise is such a strong word and, this declaration fits right in to the foolish notion that because Ms. Harper and Ms. Wells are black that their possible frustration with Ms. Jones is best defined as a “black thing”.
Could it simply be that as medalists they are irritated that a non-medalist is getting so much, if not more, attention than they are? As childish as you may think that is, I would implore you to consider it a more reasonable explanation than the one offered by Mr. Whitlock.

After all, no one myopically claimed that female tennis players despised Anna Kournikova simply because she was a blonde bombshell.

And white Americans probably weren’t squirming in their seats when Eminem won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Lose Yourself”, the first ever win for a rap artist in the category, three years before Three 6 Mafia’s win.  

They likely weren’t relieved when he was a no-show for the event because they had been concerned about how his actions or words might have influenced the overall perception of the white race.
They had no great divide with which to contend.
As far as this dichotomy goes, blacks are on our own and it will never be an easy cross for us to bear.

Monday, July 9, 2012

2012 NBA Free Agency: The Long, Winding Road and My Obsessive Struggleto Keep Up

“You got me going in circles. Oh round and round I go.”

Lyric from: Going in Circles from the album Grazin'
Written By: Jerry Peters and Anita Poree
Performed by: The Friends of Distinction
Deron Williams, Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

I have always preferred boutique shopping to the arduous task of finding the perfect outfit in the seemingly endless aisles of a large, chain department store.  Call me crazy, but I find comfort in fewer choices of quality pieces as opposed to a myriad of choices from which I am forced to discern the good, the bad and the ugly.
The above described quirk is directly tied to a personality trait that has made this year’s NBA free agency period nearly unbearable for me.
For all of the drama of last year’s NBA collective bargaining agreement negotiations, the final outcome did nothing to thwart the hysteria of free agency. According to Chris Palmer of ESPN, teams have spent nearly $400 million thus far and from all indications, they’re not done.
In reality, my struggle is not a unique one. In these dog days of the 24-hour news cycle and enough blogs, internet shows and sports networks to analyze every single potential move, we are all inundated with information about what player might be going where, what impact he’ll have when he gets there and what his move means for his new division, new conference and for the 2013 NBA Finals.
I am way too obsessive for this. From my perspective this free agency period feels like I’m standing outside of the 10-story Macy’s on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.  Somewhere inside is my new favorite shirt and, my plan is to search every rack in the store until I find it.
And so I have read every article, watched every sports news report and agonized over every free agency related tweet. Here’s what I’ve learned, unlearned and learned again so far:
A Deron Williams and Dwight Howard pairing in Dallas would have made the Mavs the instant favorite to come out of the West and to possibly win it all. Williams is from Dallas and probably would have loved a chance to get back home. He likely wouldn’t want to stay in Brooklyn unless the Howard deal is in place first. But there’s an update: Deron is staying in Brooklyn. Stay tuned for more Howard updates.
Toronto was prepared to make a big push for Steve Nash. Nash is from Canada and could help bolster team loyalty while becoming an instant fan favorite. The Knicks could have also used Nash. He still has enough in the tank to start for the team and would have mentored to Jeremy Lin. But there’s an update: Nash is going to LA where he Bryant, Gasol and Howard might make LA the favorites to come out of the west and win the title except there’s still no word on Howard though, stay tuned.  

Dwight Howard only really wants to go to Brooklyn. He wants to team up with Jay Z and get on the fast track to becoming “Dwight Howard: the Brand”. Houston made room for him and the Lakers would be willing to trade Bynum for him. But there’s an update: Well, no update really except a trade might happen later today.

In a way, all of these team GMs and owners are searching for the perfect shirt as well. Looking for that unique player whose style, size, work ethic and athleticism can turn their NBA outfit into a winner at the highest level. Sifting through reels and reels of film and line after line of player stats to find “the guy” sounds like an experience not much unlike an all day shopping trip for a needle in a haystack. I am not amused.
The above described analogy is directly related to one big reason why I will likely never be an NBA GM.
But I am a fan and, I do love being a sportswriter and as chaotic as this time has been, I can’t remember a more exciting NBA offseason in recent years.
Dwight Howard Update: Blockbuster trade likely to involve 4 teams.

And around we go…