Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII: New Orleans hosts its 10th Super Bowl and Reminds Us That Change is the Only Constant

“It's been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come. Oh yes it will."

Lyric from: A Change is Gonna Come from the album Ain't That Good News  
               Written By: Sam Cooke
                                                                                                    Performed by: Sam Cooke 


If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, I wonder if you feel the same way I do about it.
I always feel that this place has something to tell me.
Who knows why that is. Maybe it’s the diverse culture and heritage, the storied architecture or the rich cuisine.
But it never fails.
I arrived on Sunday night, just in time to kickoff the seven-day countdown to Super Bowl XLVII and as someone who hadn’t been to town since before hurricane Katrina, this time, I received one message loud and clear.
Everything will and must change.
The few remaining abandoned houses help write the narrative. Before Katrina the city’s population was about 484,000. The population now stands at around 360,000. And while downtown shows few visible signs of the storm's wrath, the flight is palpable and, the amount of new construction is a persistent nod to a rebuilding effort that’s been in the making almost seven and a half years and counting.
New Orleans hosted its first Super Bowl in 1970, three years after the New Orleans Saints were established. Super Bowl IV was played at Tulane Stadium, the site of the Saints home games at that time and, there were overcast skies that day as the Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League (AFL) enjoyed a 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League (NFL).
The game was broadcasted on CBS with Jack Buck, Pat Summerall and Frank Gifford manning the booth. An estimated 44.3 million viewers watched and, in a Super Bowl first, a celebrity-Carol Channing-provided the halftime entertainment.
That same year the AFL and the NFL merged, laying the foundation for the NFL as we know it today.
This year the halftime show won’t just feature “a” celebrity but “the” celebrity. Beyonce’ will take the stage fresh on the heels of her $50 million dollar endorsement deal with Pepsi.
And that’s not the only difference 43 years has made.
Thirty seconds of airtime costs advertisers north of $4 million, a monumental increase from the $78,000 it cost in 1970 and, whatever the weather conditions outside, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will render them a non-factor to the play on the field.
Speaking of non-factors, despite some sparing success over the years, neither the Chiefs nor the Vikings have made a Super Bowl appearance in the years since Super Bowl IV.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, however, have fared better over the years. The 49ers have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy a total of five times and, the Ravens have rarely been out of the championship discussion since they won their first in 2000.
And like the city in which they will meet for all the marbles this coming Sunday, the teams’ willingness to embrace change this season has been a driving force on their paths to claim the fateful glory of years past.
Jim Harbaugh has been a fan favorite ever since he arrived in San Francisco in 2011 after a successful run as head coach at Stanford but, a swap at QB cost him some warm and fuzzies with the 49er fan base as they were disgusted at the idea of exchanging their wade in steady, if uneventful waters with Alex Smith for a potentially rocky one in unchartered waters with Colin Kaepernick.
“He hasn’t done anything to lose that job,” Jim said of Alex Smith after he named Kaepernick the starter for Week 14.
For his part, Kaepernick has wowed, smiled and “kaepernicked” his way into the circle of trust with 49ers fans and, his ability to make plays with both his arms and his legs have helped earn his team their first trip to the Super Bowl since 1994.
This from the kid whose only bowl win to date is the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Jim’s brother, John, took over the reins in Baltimore in 2008 and the team has gone to the playoffs each year under his leadership. But in route to this year’s run, he had to fire his friend and the team’s offensive coordinator-Cam Cameron-in order to save the team’s sputtering offense that was ranked 18th when he made the move with only three weeks left in the regular season.
“Personally, this is the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a coach,” the elder Harbaugh said of the firing in a statement at the time.
The Ravens promoted Jim Caldwell to OC. It was a big risk that has paid big dividends as anything short of a Super Bowl berth this season would have been a disappointment for the Ravens. Even Cam Cameron has said that the move was necessary.
“It was a brilliant move,” Cameron recently told the New York Times. “Everyone on the team took a look in the mirror after that.”
And with that, the 49ers and the Ravens will play for history this Sunday in a city with a powerful story to tell about the winds of change and the power of resiliency.
Who knows how many more Super Bowls New Orleans will host over the next 43 years. What we do know is that the NFL will endure a super sized makeover in that time span.
The league is experiencing its own exigent transition now in the face of increased scrutiny regarding the long term effects that the game’s violence has on its players and at least one player competing for the Lombardi this weekend doesn’t believe the league will survive.
“Thirty years from now, I don’t think the NFL will be in existence,” said Ravens Safety Bernard Pollard. “I could be wrong. It’s just my opinion, but I think with the directions things are going-where NFL rules makers want to lighten up and they’re throwing flags and everything else-there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.”
And the winds of change continue to blow.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Andray Blatche's Police Interview and Our Unsettling Indifference Towards the Reprehensible

“Baby we don't need no script for this, ima throw a couple thousand baby strip for this. Let me pull my camera out and make a movie yeah. Starring you and me yeah."

Lyric from: Make a Movie from the album The Perfect Storm
               Written By: Carl Terrell Mitchell, Chris Brown, Samuel Lindley and Aaron Levius Brunson
                                                                                                    Performed by: Twista and Chris Brown


Photo of Andray Blatche Courtesy of Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

Back in 2002 the internet was abuzz about a video of Grammy-winning R&B sensation Robert “R.” Kelly urinating on a teenage girl who may have been as young as 13 at the time, during an alleged sexual encounter.

I never watched the thing but, I figured out that the folks who did had, pretty much, classified it as a porno with celebrity styled appeal. Or at the very least, per Kelly’s denial, a porno with celebrity look-a-like styled appeal.
But it wasn’t a porno, it was a home movie of a grown man committing, by definition, statutory rape.
For his part, formal child pornography charges were brought against Kelly. His trial began in May of 2008 and the “I Believe I Can Fly” star was eventually acquitted. And unlike the late Michael Jackson, Kelly’s acquittal seemed to officially close the book on that chapter of his life. He has rarely been subjected to any media scrutiny regarding the matter in the years since.
But the popularity of the videotape left an indelible impression on me.
I had previously considered the appetite for that type of thing to be limited to the cravings of textbook sexual deviants except that a few people I know had watched it. Of course they may have just been curious.
But I wondered how normal, balanced people had been so numbingly entertained by something so morally and criminally detestable.
Yesterday a news story that started out as one about a Brooklyn Nets player being questioned in an alleged sexual assault at a Philly area Four Seasons ended with sources telling ABC that the police found evidence of a date rate drug in a suite and had confiscated Andray Blatche’s cell phone which contained compromising photos of the alleged victim. 
He was with a group of three men-two of which are alleged to have carried out the assault-and three women at the hotel after having met the 21-year old accuser at a gentleman's club. The police have said that the woman told them that she had consensual sex with one man and non-consensual sex with another.
Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey has said that he's not sure if charges will be brought because he doesn't believe the woman will make a very good witness because "she was so intoxicated".
He added that Blatche was among the witnesses interviewed by police and so far is guilty of nothing more than poor judgement.
Blatche chimed in on the narrative with this self-professed development offered via his Twitter timeline and then later deleted:
“Im ok and I didn’t do anything jus was n the area when it happened”.
This investigation is far from over. The Philadelphia Police have now said that they don't intend to release any additional information about the case right now but, if what sources and the victim claim to be true holds up, Blatche will be right about one thing.
He didn't do anything to stop the act, content to merely stand by taking pictures. 
The celebrity involved sexual assault case has long been a source of hotly contested debate in our culture. Most of us just can’t fathom the notion that a rich and famous person would have to violate anyone in order to meet their sexual needs.
We have all heard the stories of the persistent women that gather in hotel lobbies, stadium tunnels and celebrity hosted after parties clamoring for the chance to spend one night with the famous object of their desire.
Additionally, our fondness of the individual involved can sometimes cloud our judgment. And our awareness of the aggressive tendencies of supposed gold diggers almost always shapes our incapacity to trust the word of the victim.
About an hour before I started writing this column, in fact, I mentioned the still developing Blatche case to someone and their first reaction was to say that they didn’t believe it. Only when I mentioned the police statements and the evidence collected at the scene were they open to the idea that this whole thing might have actually happened.
That said, however, as the possible perpetrators of this crime I doubt that Blatche’s friends will get the celebrity adjacent benefit of the doubt. Our contempt for the regular people who do these awful things is pretty cut and dry.
But what of Blatche and his acknowledgement regarding his just being “n the area when it happened”?
His words are rife with detachment from the gravity of the situation.
Back in December of last year news broke of a celebratory night in Steubenville, Ohio that turned criminal as well.
The crime was chronicled by some party goers who began passing around photos and videos via Twitter posts that indicated that they too had just been in the area when two members of the famed Steubenville High football team-Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays- had been involved in the sexual assault of an unconscious, teenage girl.
The girl had come from the nearby town of Weirton, W.Va to celebrate the impending start to another, presumed, successful season for the Big Red football team and attended a series of parties where she consumed too much of the alcohol that shouldn’t have been present.  
The accused boys have maintained their innocence with regards to their charges of rape and kidnapping.
This story on provides the chilling details of that evening as well as a delineation of how this case has divided the small town.
In short, Side A thinks the players are the victims and that this is simply a case of a young girl using these accusations to avoid taking responsibility for her poor decision making that evening. Side B thinks the Side A folks are again exalting the Big Red players to “protected status” and they’re sick of it. They want to see justice done here.
But it is the despicable words of a former Steubenville baseball player offered on Twitter, who was also featured in a YouTube video talking about the alleged rape that seemed to, months in advance, most succinctly summarize the answers to the questions and concerns I raise in this column.
“Some people deserve to be peed on,” he said.
His quote apparently inspired by the reports that the 16-year old victim in this case had been urinated on as well.
And it captures the nitty gritty of our partiality to so easily detach, to be unmoved by this type assault.
In the absence of a rooting interest in the well being of a loved one in a case like this, we have little compassion for a person who’s misfortune we can categorize as a consequence of a decision they made that we believe we’re too good to make, a behavior which we wouldn’t be caught dead exhibiting or a hard luck lot in life that requires them to take whatever cruelty the world decides to dole out.
So the Weirton teen in the Steubenville case deserved what she got because she couldn’t handle her liquor.
Groupies deserved to be used and abused because well, they’re groupies.
And Blatche and his friends likely thought very little of their alleged crime that night. After all, the victim was a stripper who agreed to accompany them back to their hotel in the early morning hours. She must have been down for whatever, right?
And like the teens in Steubenville, Blatche was apparently more than willing to capture the epic night in pictures for posterity’s sake.
He may ultimately receive a pass in both the court of law and the court of public opinion. His photos may amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist and by the time this matter is settled, sports fan will probably be many big stories removed from this one.
In the Steubenville rape case, the city’s Police Chief William McCafferty said of the people who were around but chose not to intervene, “If you could charge people for not being decent human beings, a lot of people could have been charged that night.”
If the facts proposed so far turn out to be true, his strong words may prove fitting for Andray Blatche as well.