Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The NFL's Nutty Proposed N-Word Penalty

Picture this during some NFL game next season

A defensive end is trash-talking to an enemy lineman after a play. "I took your Momma and your sister home last night and had a threesome with those crazy bitches." Or after being tackled by a corner back, a wide receiver chides him, "You hit like a faggot." Or one black player celebrates with a black colleague after making a critical sack just outside their own goal line. "Great work, nigger, great work!"

A ref hears all these dialogues. As nasty and vicious as they are, he's indifferent to the first two, but tosses a penalty flag at the black player for using the n-word during that friendly celebration, negating the sack and putting their team in a deeper hole.

What the hell!

Sounds insane but it could happen. The NFL competition committee, under pressure by a black organization, the Fritz Pollard Alliance, is considering a rule that will be presented for confirmation at the owners' meeting next month. There would be a fifteen-yard penalty against a player using the n-word on the field for the first time in a game. For the second offense, the player would be ejected. Apparently there's an excellent chance this rule will be adopted.

The league, which is extremely public-relations conscious, is reacting to a report investigating last season's Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal, which made the NFL look bad. What happened is that a white player. Richie Incognito, harassed a black player, Jonathan Martin--often using the n-word--to a point where Martin quit the team. In that report was a sense that the use of the n-word was out of control in the league and officials were doing nothing about it. This proposed rule is basically a PR move, with the NFL showing it can at least police one aspect of the bullying situation.

There's only one word to describe this proposed rule--idiotic.

The league is overstepping its bounds. On the one hand, the n-word is ugly, tied to centuries of abuse and degradation of black people. But, to some blacks and some black-friendly whites, it's a brotherhood greeting, meaning buddy or pal. To them, it's not ugly but instead, it's cool and cozy, a sign of camaraderie. There are two camps on the use of the n-word. The reaction is generational. To many young people, blacks in particular, it doesn't carry the negative clout it has for older people more in tune with the black revolution of the last century. The use of the n-word isn't just black and white. There are shades. The league's competition committee is ignoring that.

The NFL is ignoring something else--that, during a game, violence, ridiculously jacked-up emotions and obscene trash-talking reign. At that time, the players descend to a dark place, where the rules are different. The n-word is part of that dark place.When players are in there, you've got to cut them some slack. Penalties can change a game. Something you say during a game, when emotions are rocketed to abnormal levels, shouldn't carry that kind of weight.

Also, what about other slurs aimed at other groups, like Latins, Jews, Asians and gays? Why is the n-word on the verge of being banned during games and not kike or faggot or any other slurs? Isn't that, in itself, a form of bias, showing favoritism toward blacks and against other groups?

What about the flagrant hypocrisy of outlawing the n-word while the league allows one of its elite franchises, the Washington Redskins, to get away with having its name include a racial slur against Native Americans?. While Washington is allowed to use Redskins, the NFL should not be able to enact a rule banning another racial slur.

Bottom line. The n-word, to many, is vile, but you can't legislate away its use in this specialized arena. If the NFL is dumb enough to adopt this rule, it won't make a bit of difference. Players will ignore it. The n-word will continue to be popular among young players, who grew up using it positively, and bigots, who thrive on it..

Give the NFL credit, though. Its heart is in the right place. But its head, in this case, is firmly up its you-know-what.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Openly Gay Michael Sam Will Go Undrafted

Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who recently came out of the closet, is projected to be pro football's first openly gay player. Supposedly he's going to be picked somewhere between the third and fifth rounds in the upcoming NFL draft.

It's politically correct to be supportive of gays and optimistic about this historic situation, but let's be real. Most likely Sam is not going to be drafted at all. The problem? He's just not good enough. He's simply not worth all the trouble he'll cause.

What's wrong is that he's not in a class with top ten picks like Jadeveon Clowney or Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel. If these guys suddenly came out of the closet, they are so talented that their draft status would be hurt very little--if at all.. The way South Carolina's Clowney rushes the passer, do you think some pro team would give a damn if he were gay? How about Texas A&M QB Manziel? He has the potential to turn a franchise around, to lead it to the promised land. Do you think teams would ignore him if he turned out to be gay?

Pro football is a business. Signing super-talented players, even if they come with baggage, is good business. But investing in modestly talented players loaded with back-breaking baggage is bad business. It simply makes no sense to sign Sam, who'll probably be just a backup player. However he has a huge downside--attracting distracting media hordes and creating locker room turmoil.

My sources checked Sam out closely, just like NFL teams will do, concluding he's far from a great talent. Two SEC position coaches, who had to prepare to play Missouri, offered valuable opinions but only talked to my sources off the record. Seems that nobody wants to be quoted talking negatively about Sam.

First of all, Sam's gaudy SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year title, based largely on his 11.5-sack total, is misleading. Look closely and you'll see he piled up sacks against bad teams, like Arkansas State and Florida, and didn't fare so well against good teams. He was strongest against the early, weaker part of the schedule and not so dominant against the tough conference teams later in the season. He doesn't have the dazzling speed (just a decent 4.7 forty) or the array of moves a premier pass-rusher needs. Nor, report the coaches, does he play the run particularly well. The consensus is that Sam, who's 6-1 1/2, 260 pounds, isn't quite skilled enough to play defensive end in the NFL or quick or savvy enough to be a dependable linebacker. Nor does he have the kind of athleticism coaches prefer in special teams players. Sam isn't even the best pro prospect on the Missouri defense. That honor belongs to the other starting end, Kony Ealy, who'll be picked early in the first round.

There's really no compelling reason to draft Sam. He lacks the speed and talent to become a great player. A hard worker, he might, with the right coaching, turn into an admirable second-stringer. According to the two SEC coaches, Sam isn't a potential NFL starter.
The league is full of players on Sam's level. But they won't disrupt the locker room and the media doesn't care about them. Given a choice of signing one of these guys or Sam, with all his baggage, teams will take the easy way out.

You can't really blame them. It's just business.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Compare Michael Sam To Jackie Robinson? Rubbish!

When I read it or hear it, it makes my blood boil--and I've read and heard it at least a twenty times. I'm talking about media people comparing Jackie Robinson to Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who's about to become the first openly gay player in America's favorite sport, pro football.

It's an inane comparison.

What Robinson did was monumental. What Sam is about to do is admirable and courageous, but in comparison to what Robinson did, not in the same ballpark. Mentioning Sam and Robinson in the same breath belittles Robinson's accomplishment. It also means whoever is making the comparison doesn't grasp the scope of what Robinson did.

In 1947, Robinson became the first black player in major-league baseball.  But he didn't just desegregate baseball, then America's favorite sport and the bastion of white manhood. Robinson helped pave the way for America's black revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. What he did ranks with the greatest social achievements in America in the 20th century. Any one who compares Sam to Robinson needs to re-examine what Robinson did.

Look at America in 1947. When Dodger general manager Branch Rickey elevated Robinson from the minors to the major league Brooklyn Dodgers, there was, the most of the US, two countries--white America and black America. In much of the US, particularly in the South, blacks were treated like second-class citizens. Depending on the section of the country,  schools, hotels, restaurants, bathrooms, even drinking fountains were for whites only. Interracial marriage was outlawed in nearly every state. In parts of the South, whites could still get away with lynching a black man.

So what Robinson did, in 1947 America, was much more than desegregate major-league baseball. He symbolized blacks banging on the door of white America demanding their rights. The weight of black America was on his shoulders. If he failed, it wasn't just a personal setback. The black revolution would have also taken a step backward.

Many whites sided with Robinson but many, rightly realizing their way of life was under attack, hated him. He was cursed, spat upon and was the target of death threats and every imaginable manner of racial hatred. He put his life on the line. Lesser men would have quit, but he didn't. He had some good times, but he also went through hell his first few years in the National League.

This is not what Sam's life is going to be like when he's signed by some NFL team. Most fans and players will be in his corner. That's because much of the work, breaking down anti-gay barriers in this country, has already been done. In the last two decades much of America has become gay-friendly. However, homophobia and a juvenile frat-boy mentality still reign in the NFL world. Some players won't be comfortable around Sam in the locker room, in the shower and on the playing field. He'll be the target of slurs, venomous trash-talk and assorted negativity and unpleasantness.

But will Sam have to contend with the hatred and dangers that Robinson faced his first few years in the majors? No way. Is the weight of gay America on Sam's shoulders? Not really. Compared to what Robinson went through in the late 1940s, Sam's life in the NFL will be a stroll in the park.

So when you hear people compare Sam's journey to Robinson's--and you'll hear that a lot in the next few months--just chalk it up to ignorance.

Sadly, such a comparison does a disservice to Robinson's legacy and devalues his great achievement.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cal Fans Sing "Signing Day Blues"

Man, are Cal football fans screwed.

We already knew it, but check out the crappy results of Wednesday's Signing Day, when high school players pick their college teams. That just rubs it in. The two websites that rate recruiting classes, Scout.com and Rivals.com, rank Cal in the mid 40s. For a team coming off an abysmal 1-11 season, that's not where you want to be.

There are no real jewels on Cal's list of 21 recruits. There's not likely another Aaron Rodgers or Brandon Mebane or DeSean Jackson. There may be some potential but don't expect it to be developed by this coaching staff.

The problem, of course, is the head coach, Sonny Dykes. The best recruits don't want to be anywhere near him or his staff. Dykes did replace two defensive position coaches and did demote defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who presided over the worst defense in school history, surrendering 45.9 points and 529 yards of total offense per game. Unfortunately, though, Buh is still on the staff, as a position coach. Why is he still a Cal coach? What other quality school would tolerate him?. Maybe he could find work at Southeast Dakota State Methodist Teacher's College. But he shouldn't be at Cal.

But then, neither should Dykes.

With him in charge, top players avoid Cal like the plague. Sources report that the word is out in recruiting circles--stay away from Dykes if you want an illustrious college career. So how does the team get better without attracting high-caliber players? With this recruiting class, Cal will stay in the lower depths of the Pac12, down there with Colorado, Utah and Washington State.

In the last decade, when former coach Jeff Tedford was at his peak, Signing Day used to be a glorious day for Cal. The Bears' class was always in the top 25, sometimes in or around the top 10. Cal was rarely in the running for the five-star studs, from high schools east of the west coast. Those guys were mostly gobbled up by the SEC. But the Bears at least had a chance at some of the west-coast gems. Not any more. If a high-school hot-shot has a chance to go to UCLA or USC or Oregon or Stanford, and Cal comes knocking at his door, what do you think he's going to do? Likely slam the door in the Cal recruiter's face.

So, these days, Cal fans are singing "Signing Day Blues," a sorrowful tune about a day that merely emphasizes what a mess the program has become. Defense is the real problem. Dykes clearly doesn't care about it. He says all the right things about the importance of defense in his system but that's pure bull. He's strictly an offense junkie who's captivated by that idiotic notion that you can win by outscoring your opponent in those messy 48-47 shootouts, where defense is non-existent.

So, for Cal fans, Signing Day just rubs our noses in the fact that we don't have the material to climb out of the hole we're in. The Bears may win a few games, but improving over a one-win season isn't that tough. It'll look like progress and that will keep Dykes around longer, for years of two or three or four-win seasons. Not much to look forward to.

The only hope, Cal fans, is that somehow school officials will get rid of the real culprit, AD Sandy Barbour. Then a savvy AD might come in and sack Dykes and restore hope. Otherwise, year after year, Cal fans will be singing mournful chorus after mournful chorus of the dreaded "Signing Day Blues."