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Jack’s Blog » dealing with adversity

Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

Was There a Reason for the Success the Cards Had Against Kershaw in the Seventh?

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

As a child, I was as big a Dodger fan (for a good deal of my childhood, they played in Brooklyn) as existed. Once I got on teams of my own - around high school, then college, then coaching in college - I rooted for that team. In layman’s terms, I was a bandwagon Dodgers fan, i.e. if they were playing in the post season, I was interested but I no longer lived and died with every pitch - or game.

Therefore, yesterday was one of those times I was pulling for my favorite ball club. Growing up as a Jewish teenager in New Jersey in the ’60s, no one could tell me there was (or ever will be) any pitcher better than Sandy Koufax. Read his story. It wasn’t just not pitching in Game 1 of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews. It was pitching when, following the game, his arm would be swollen twice the size and would turn black. Back then, no one knew sports medicine injuries. The trainers at that time would tell a player who sprained his ankle to put it in a hot whirlpool - probably the worst way to treat it - because science hadn’t caught up yet with athletics (will it ever)? It was also not retaliating and hitting the opponent’s best player because their pitcher had hit Tommy or Willie Davis or Maury Wills.

“How about I just embarrass him in front of everybody?” was a response his teammates might get. Then, the next time the opposing stud came up, he went down on strikes, often screwing himself into the ground trying to hit the famous Koufax curve ball that looked like it dropped off a table.

Now, the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, another left-handed pitcher opponents can’t hit. Naturally, with all of the television and radio stations, print media, social media, it’s similar to yesteryear in one regard: everyone has an opinion. But now, everyone can be “heard.” And what we’re hearing is that Kershaw is being favorably compared to Koufax. The guy who would know, long time play-by-play man, Vin Scully, put the kibosh on any comparison when he exclaimed, “Sandy used to pitch 27 complete games a season.” Yet, just being mentioned in the same sentence as Koufax is quite an accolade.

Last night, Kershaw was moving along as his Koufax-like Kershaw-like pace - a couple mistakes for jacks, but still cruising with a 6-2 lead, heading into the bottom of the seventh. Color analyst Harold Reynolds commented that it was the first time all game that Kershaw had to pitch from his stretch position. A single put Cards on first and second. St. Louis proceeded to hammer Kershaw - like no one has done since, maybe, they did last year.

Morgan, as nearly everyone at Dodger Stadium, grew bewildered at how easily the Cardinals were handling baseball’s best pitcher. His location was off but he was still throwing 93-94 mph fastballs. I can’t remember exactly when, but Reynolds made the comment that it was almost like they knew what Kershaw was throwing.

Was he tipping his pitches? By the time he’d been knocked out, Reynolds seemed certain the Cardinals had stolen the signs which explained a mystery for which no one else had a clue. He finally said, nearly screamed, that he couldn’t believe that, not one time, did A.J. Ellis meet with Kershaw and say something to the effect, “The hell with the signs, what do you want to throw this pitch?”

Rinse and repeat, if necessary. By the end of the inning, I was incensed that no one in the entire Dodgers’ organization thought of something so obvious. Was that really happening? Was it the X factor in the game? Unfortunately, we’ll never know. And you can bet the Cards ain’t saying.

Is it illegal for somebody in the dugout to listen to the broadcast? And not to listen to, as sensational as he is, Scully. Come to think of it, have somebody listen to the St. Louis feed, too. If it’s not kosher, have somebody in the stands listen and relay information. Something! All this newfangled help didn’t exist in Sandy’s day but, shouldn’t the question be asked:

“With the incessant use of sabermetrics and analytics in baseball, does no one pay attention to common sense anymore?”

Full disclosure: I didn’t tune into the game until the 4th inning and, to these old ears, Harold Reynolds sounded just like Joe Morgan (whom I always admired as a commentator). Once I read the game story and realized my mistake, I corrected it. For those of you who read it prior to the correction, I apologize.

Is Michael Phelps Really Sorry?

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Michael Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence in Baltimore, Maryland. TMZ, today’s celebrities’ BFF, reported he was doing 84 in a 45 mile zone around 1:40 am. Phelps failed his field sobriety test and his blood-alcohol limit was almost twice the legal limit.

My old boss, Jerry Tarkanian, used to tell his players that nothing good happens after midnight. I’m not sure how he figured that out but the guys seemed to do whatever they could to prove him right. In Phelps’ case it’s understandable that the time was after midnight.

After all, how early in the morning would he have had to start drinking to have his blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit by 1:40 pm? In addition to the speeding ticket and DUI, Phelps was cited for crossing double lane lines.

This is a repeat offense for Phelps. In 2004 when he was 19 years old Phelps had a DUI arrest, also in Maryland. In that case he struck a plea deal with prosecutors and pled guilty in exchange for 18 months probation.

Following this latest discretion, the Phelps’ camp released the standard celebrity response: “Earlier this morning, I was arrested and charged with DUI, excessive speeding and crossing double lane lines. I understand the severity of my actions and take full responsibility. I know these words may not mean much right now but I am deeply sorry to everyone I have let down.

 

There must be a school that agents and PR people attend for just these situations because all the releases sound the same. The person who broke the law always “understands the severity, takes full responsibility and is deeply sorry for letting fans down.”

 

Harvey MacKay is one of the world’s best speakers and authors, as well as an extremely successful businessman. He’s also a syndicated columnist and in yesterday’s column he included several of his favorite quotes. The one that sums up Michael Phelps’ most recent transgression, as well as many of the other negative issues that have occurred all too often lately, is:

 

“Saying you’re sorry and showing you’re sorry are not the same thing.”

Who Ever Thought We’d Be Pulling an All-Nighter at Our Age?

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

After spending last weekend in Monterey visiting our younger son, Alex, Jane and I are making the trek south to visit our firstborn. Andy also has chosen to reside in a resort location, Newport Beach, working as an account executive for Booker, a company that sells software to health clubs, spas and beauty salons (I’m sure I misrepresented something there, so suffice to say he’s gainfully employed in Orange County, CA).

While we’ve grown to love our life in Fresno, it’s hard to beat either of those two magnificent locations, so we usually overextend our stay a day or two. This blog will return Thursday, Oct. 2.  

Yesterday was “return to yester-year” for my wife, Jane and me. Earlier in the day, she mentioned to me that the Ryder Cup was going to be broadcast at 11:30 pm. At first I thought she was just making conversation. It wasn’t until late last night that realized she intended to (try to) watch the competition.

What shocked me about her revelation was she normally goes to bed early while I’m somewhat of a night owl, especially since I’ve retired. When we were first married, I used to tell people Jane and I went to bed after SportsCenter. She’d go to bed after the one at 7:00 and I’d go to bed after the one at 11:00.

Because I’m more of a night owl than a morning person, I blog at night. Another reason for doing so is that if I post after 11:00 pm (Pacific Time), the blog posts to the following day. So, last night, while I began to blog, there sat Jane, eyes (somewhat) open, ready for the Ryder Cup to begin. I looked at her and said, “Pulling an all-nighter is something we’d do in our 20s, although the reason was more for partying or studying than watching golf” (OK, probably more the former). In any case, there we were, glued to the TV, ready to check out the U.S. vs. Europe, not going to bed until 4:30 am.

Ryder Cup is such an interesting phenomenon, unlike any other sport, except for tennis’ Davis Cup. The following paragraph was written (by me) way back in a blog on 9/23/08 and it’s just as true today.

“Golf has become such a lucrative occupation, that when we see one of its competitors miss a shot which would have extended his lead or pulled him to within a stroke or two of it, we can almost see his thought process: ‘Damn, I really needed that one … but I’m still assured a pretty good paycheck.’  The last part of that thought is a rather presumptuous conclusion on my part, but the fact remains the only person who is affected by the tour golfer’s performance is the golfer himself (and those close to him, e.g. his family, caddy or anyone whose livelihood is dependent on his performance).”

Some former athletes I know can’t stand watching golf. Most of them played team sports. Golf doesn’t captivate them, mainly because it’s every man for himself (forget about bringing up watching the LPGA) and these guys were taught “teamwork makes the dream work.”

What makes the Ryder Cup (and Presidents Cup) so riveting is that you have individual athletes, taught (and sometimes pampered) that the only thing that matters is how YOU play. It’s all about you. Now, here they are in a team setting. So yes, you need to win but you’re now on a team, i.e. it’s not all about you. You’re part of something bigger.

It’s an interesting study, observing individuals who, for the most part, have only thought of themselves throughout their professional lives, deal with the pressure of playing for others - and how they react when they let people down. As one of the announcers said (in the wee hours, names of those other than players, escape me):

“There’s no place to hide at the Ryder Cup.”

SI Disappoints

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

For decades I’ve been a subscriber and avid reader of Sports Illustrated and many readers have mentioned to me that if it wasn’t for SI, I’d have to make this a weekly blog instead of a daily one. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, one of my aunts got me a year’s subscription to Sport magazine. I was so thrilled and told one of my friends at school the next day. He said that Sports Illustrated was the best sports magazine.

Naturally, he and I got into a heated argument, the kind only pre-teens can get into. You know, the kind that will never have a winner because, not only will neither admit defeat but because neither will even give the other credit for even one shred of truth. Eventually, I gave up denying the obvious - and my admission came well before the demise of Sport.

It’s not that I’ve always felt SI was right in every story they published but I did believe they always did a bundle of research and tried to report it fairly. Which is why I was so disappointed in Alan Shipnuck’s article on Anthony Kim in this week’s (9/22/14) edition. Until 4-5 years ago when my back issues became so bad I had to give up golf, I absolutely loved playing. I was so bad I’d never play for money and, for that matter, never even had a handicap. Had I been given one, undoubtedly, a record high would have been set. Yet, probably due to my coaching background, I thoroughly enjoy watching the guys on tour because I realized long ago how hard a game golf is and am fascinated with the strategy they use as well as the mental toughness they display.

When I saw the title of Shipnuck’s article (Where Have You Gone, Anthony Kim?), I was surprised. While not an avid fan, I often watch golf on TV. It wasn’t until after seeing the headline did I realize Kim had gone. I’m not so into golf that I knew what a party animal Kim is/was. I put present/past tense because the article doesn’t make clear if Kim still has the lifestyle he did when he was on tour.

That’s because, in that entire article - six pages (including pictures) - Shipnuck finds that almost no one wants to talk about Kim, e.g. Casey Wittenberg who said, “I’m not going to comment. He’s a great friend of mine. Sorry, I know you’re just doing your job.” Others (IMG & Nike) refused to comment. There are a few comments from a guy SI said was probably Kim’s best friend on tour, Colt Knost, but he admits he hasn’t seen much of Kim lately and no longer has his BFF’s phone number. The one guy in the entire article who will allow himself to be quoted is today’s favorite media source - “the anonymous friend.” Could there be more of a coward than somebody who wants to be a real somebody but doesn’t have the cojones to say, “It’s me.”

The author ties in “anonymous” and an insurance policy with quotes from past stories in a veiled attempt at making the story look current. Shipnuck dredges up Kim’s past unstable relationship with his father, along with the young golfer’s spendthrift social life and dislike among certain tour players (all of which happened more than two years ago) and adds a good deal of conjecture to make it into a juicy gossip narrative.

The insurance policy supposedly pays Kim somewhere between $10-20 million (more conjecture there) for a career ending injury (he hasn’t played in 28 months). Basically, he was a young American golfer who had a boatload of potential and played some phenomenal golf for a short period of time but, due to injuries, hasn’t been heard from since. He was 6th in the world - six years ago. For his career he has four wins (three PGA wins) and his best result in a major was third in the 2010 Masters.

Shipnuck went to find what happened to him, couldn’t and instead of leaving it alone, decided to make it a thriller about a guy who partied big, won a little and is now in hiding, trying to figure out if he can collect on an unimaginable insurance policy. It should be noted that Shipnuck did get someone famous to go on record and make nasty comments about Kim - Sergio Garcia. The same Garcia who lost to the 23-year old Kim 5 & 4 in the first match of the Ryder Cup Sunday single matches in 2008. Not like Sergio would be the type of guy who would have an ax to grind.

With all the seamy side of professional sports that’s been reported in the past few months, was it really necessary to chronicle a “maybe it’s a story, maybe it’s not” piece? It’s not like he’s Bison Dele who disappeared. Paraphrasing what Mark Jackson used to say as an NBA commentator:

“C’mon, SI, you’re better than that.”

Only I’m not sure if they are anymore.

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back for Me and Social Media

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Since It’s still really, really hot in Fresno and our boys live in Newport Beach and Monterey AND we’re retired, Jane and I have decided to make a few more visits to see our sons. While we’ll be making trips every weekend during basketball season, we felt it was time to check out Monterey and Carmel - for fun. In a week or so, it’ll be down to O.C.

As a result, this blog will return on Wednesday, Sept. 24.

As you readers have been told close to 4 or 5 (hundred [thousand]) times, I am the opposite of what’s known as “tech savvy.” This could be because of my age, although there are people much older than I am (believe it or not, there really are people much older than I am) who absolutely thrive in this new, techno world. It’s just that when the “tech” generation began, it left without me - and I was content to live in the (lack of) information age I’d been inhabiting for a good, long while. And quite enjoyably, I might add.

There actually was a day I felt I’d try to learn the new forms of communication. You know, join the 21st century. As a high school teacher, I needed to be able to comfortably use email - even though I saw many people, among them, administrators who needed to be able to speak to someone - hiding behind it. It also had served as a means for parents to vent to teachers regarding their children’s grades, behavior and other issues that could have been much more effectively handled using person-to-person voice interaction.

During “Back-to-School-Night” I used to tell the parents, “I know some of you are really good at banging out some nasty emails.” At that time I was still a member of the National Speakers Association and my main topics were team building, trust and effective means of communicating, two out of three of which were being handled in ways I never mentioned to any of the audiences I faced.

“My feeling is face-to-face communication is, by far, the most effective form of solving a problem,” I continued. “The telephone is next. Anything that comes after those two pale in comparison when it comes to effectively solving a problem. However, if email is your favorite means of communicating, go ahead and bang away.

“Just remember - I bang back pretty hard.”

My foray into the world of “advanced” technology began with learning how to text. I’d text one, or the other, of my sons, he’d text back, I’d text, his turn . . . Then I felt, “It takes me a heckuva lot longer to text than to talk.” So, I’d call him.

Wouldn’t you know it, voice mail! Then, if I sent a text, here comes back his response. Later, when I would ask what the deal was, I’d hear, “I was in the library.” That made sense - but not as many times as that situation occurred.

After 30 years of college coaching - and nearly as many Final Fours (the National Association of Basketball Coaches - NABC - convention coincides with the Final Four) - I came through on a promise I made (to myself) that I would take my sons to a Final Four. I always thought it would be when I got a head coaching job but that never happened and with my moving back into high school coaching (I taught math and coached my first two years out of college), I realized it never would.

Sometime in 2006, I checked my mailbox one day and I was informed that because I had been a member of the NABC for so long, I had the opportunity to buy two tickets to the Final Four. I did and taking my boys to the 2007 Final Four turned out to be the trip to hell. When we returned, I told a guy about it and he said, “You tell great stories. You ought to blog.” Naturally, my first question was, “What’s blog?”

He explained it and, wouldn’t you know it, the first three blogs I ever did were about that trip (yeah, it took three blogs to tell the whole SNAFU). Due to some technological screw up (this one can’t be blamed on me), those three blogs, along with a couple others that followed, were lost somewhere in blogosphere. That this happened made me dislike technology even more than I originally did.

But . . . I did learn how to blog. And, to help out our baby gift business (CuteBabyNameGifts.com), I have a Facebook page. Well, one day, along comes Twitter. Hey, baby, let me at it.

A friend of mine told me that was the way to go (yeah, imagine me being limited to 140 characters) and he set up a Twitter account for me. I figured, if high school kids, not to mention NBA players, could do it, how hard could it be? The answer never really was known because, although a friend had set up a Twitter account for me, one day, our younger son, Alex, mentioned to me something he’d seen. I asked him where he saw it, Twitter?

“No, Instagram.”

They’re inventing them (Pinterest, LinkedIn, Etsy, Snapchat), faster than I can - or want to - learn them. Back to phone calls and emails.

 

Coaching Ought to Be Easier Than This

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Coaching is all about communication. It’s not what the coach knows; it’s what he (or she) can get across to the player. If players can’t absorb it, thoroughly understand it and put it to use, it doesn’t matter how much of a genius the coach is.

Coaches display various personality types. Some guys are rah-rah guys, some are screamers, some try to be buddies with their players and some are simply professorial, i.e. a simple teacher-student relationship. All are motivators; they just employ different styles.

Which is the best method? That answer is simple - whichever one works. Make no mistake about it, all coaches believe in what they’re doing. The key is to get the players to believe in it, as strongly as the coach believes in it. If that’s the case, unless completely outclassed from a talent standpoint, you have a sure winner.

Personally, I can remember specific days, weeks and even years in which my instructions worked to perfection and the individual or team achieved incredible success. I, and every other coach, would be lying if I said there were times what I told guys either didn’t work at all or, worse, backfired.

Here’s an example of a coach’s instruction gone awry: The coin toss at the Texas-UCLA game. While this part of the game isn’t as vital as, say, everything that follows, it still gives the coaching staff ammunition for motivation, e.g. if the team wins the toss, it’s “Yeah, we won it - and don’t think that’s the only thing we’re winning today!” If the team loses the toss, the reaction will be (in nearly every instance), “Yeah, we got the ball - let’s score and set the tone for this game!”

In terms of coaching a player for this part of the game, it’s relatively simple. “If we win the toss,” say, ‘We will defer.’ If they win - and defer - say, ‘We want the ball.’ If they win - and take the ball - say, ‘We will defend this goal’ ” (pointing to which end the coach desires). If the coach doesn’t have confidence in his co-captain (then why is he allowing him to speak?), he could replace the third command with, “check with me.”

Prior to the UCLA game, Texas DE Desmond Jackson was the co-captain who was in charge of deciding what to call for the coin toss, meaning “Defer,” “Ball” or “Check with me.” The Bruins won the toss and deferred. The referee asked Jackson, “They’re deferring, what do you want?” Jackson said:

“Kick”

Jackson’s decision didn’t lose the game for the Longhorns (UCLA won, 20-17) but it had to be a bad omen. But give him credit, Desmond Jackson took to twitter to apologize and say that he will never make that mistake again. Bet on it - for a couple reasons.

Why Isn’t Still’s Story as Captivating as Peterson’s?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Many people know of the story of Cincinnati Bengals’ DT Devon Still. To refresh the memories for those who do, and inform the others, Still is a 2012 second round pick from Penn State who’s currently going through a much more difficult experience than trying to be a successful NFL defensive tackle.

In June, his four-year-old daughter, Leah, complaining of leg pain, went to the children’s hospital, where they found a tumor in her abdomen. It turned out she had stage IV neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer. When she was diagnosed, the chances for survival were 50-50. No parent would be able to concentrate under the circumstances. Try doing it as a defensive tackle in an NFL camp where a lot of guys are battling for not a lot of spots. Still couldn’t, and wound up getting cut.

The Bengals learned of Still’s plight and what they did should make everyone proud. The club checked into what would happen if they placed Still, who had cleared waivers (meaning no other team signed him), on their practice squad. This meant Still got to keep his insurance, which in turn meant that Leah’s hospital bills (which could reach $1M) would be covered.

On September 10 the Bengals did something else. Something they and Devon Still thought would have happened from the beginning of OTAs. They placed Still on their 53-man roster, which means an NFL salary (known to be a relatively substantial amount of money) as well as benefits. And, the team will allow him to go home as often as necessary to be with Leah. You see, there is hope for the NFL after all.

The Cincinnati Bengals have been roasted in the media for years - and for good reason. Bad play, bad guys. But now they’re doing something right. They put Devon Still’s black, #75 jersey for sale - for the same reason every team sells their players’ jerseys - to make money. But this time, all the proceeds go to pediatric cancer research.

In a 24-hour period, more of Still’s jersey had been sold in that time span than any jersey featuring any other Bengals player - ever, the fastest selling jersey in team history. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton purchased 100 of them. More than 5,000 of the jerseys were sold in four days and the team’s raised in excess of $400,000. Nice gestures all around.

Sure, this story was reported but which one got more air time and print space - and to what degree? Leah Still or the one about Adrian Peterson’s son? Is his more horrific than hers? Is it because outraged Americans - and American journalists - don’t care as much about Still’s daughter as they do about Peterson’s little boy? Is it because we feel Peterson’s son needs our help more than Still’s daughter? Actually, the public can do a heckuva lot more for little Leah Still - in the form of support toward pediatric cancer.

What can they do about Adrian Peterson’s son? Rail on about child abuse? Make up hateful signs? Boycott Vikings’ games? If so, that same anger can be directed toward pediatric cancer. Be as upset about Leah’s plight. Positive signs are allowed in this nation and, if not a monetary gift, a #75 Bengals jersey can be purchased, knowing that all the proceeds from the sale are going to pediatric cancer research.

We certainly shouldn’t put our heads in the sand when the domestic violence - toward a spouse, girl or boyfriend, or child - occurs. Yet, in actuality, negative stories have always been more popular than positive ones. Is it because we are a sadistic society? The Leah Still story warms our hearts but how much warming do our hearts need? We want to hear about Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, stories that make our blood boil and raise our blood pressure - things that are bad for our hearts. Strange, isn’t it?

This week Leah’s tests results will come back and, hopefully, the tumor in her stomach will have shrunk enough for doctors to perform surgery to remove it. Devon Still seems positive that things will work out and, eventually, his daughter will be cancer-free. Naturally, he’ll be following that story closely. Would following that story mean as much as following as the Peterson story? As the final line in the “starfish” story goes:

“It would to him.”

And her.

But, to us?

stage IV neuroblastoma cancer

stage IV neuroblastoma cancer

stage IV neuroblastoma cancer.

stage IV neuroblastoma cancer.

stage IV neuroblastoma cancer.

Instant Replay Making Game Better, But Far from Perfect

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Other than referees, it seemed like everyone - coaches, fans, commentators, players (well, maybe not offensive linemen) - were clamoring for instant replay to be used “to get the call right.” That’s the price of progress. When the games were only broadcast on radio, no one ever knew if a call was blown. Not until television instituted replays on its telecasts, and incorrect calls were obvious, was there a swelling of support to “take another look at it.”

So it was that instant replay to confirm or correct calls finally became law and, to the delight of the officials, they were shown the number of times they made the correct call was overwhelming. Even the missed calls made them look  more “human” than inept because, except for the blindly loyal fans (every call against their team is wrong - even when supported by video evidence) and the losing gambler, the rational person understands how difficult a job officiating is. In addition the “indisputable video evidence” has worked, for the most part, and has shown how minute a difference there is between a right and wrong call. I mean, when a number of cameras zoom in, from all angles, in slow motion, and it’s still uncertain whether the ruling on the field was right or should be overturned, . . . wow!

If a poll was taken as to whether people believe instant replay has been good or bad for the game, my guess is “good” wins hands down. The greatest objection would be that instant replay slows the game too much, a complaint the NFL is trying to fix by having one central replay station (in New York) to make proper determinations in games throughout the country.

Last night’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles, however, illustrated that instant replay needs to be expanded. First, as the Colts were driving for a score, QB Andrew Luck threw a pass to T.Y. Hilton. Luck threw the ball where he knew Hilton would be. But Hilton wasn’t there and the pass got intercepted. Why wasn’t he there? Because he was illegally being held. Unfortunately for the referee, the replay showed the offense clear as day, i.e. “indisputable video evidence”.

The reason the play wasn’t reviewed is, that play isn’t one that is reviewable. So the game continued with the Eagles taking over. On an ensuing running play, the Colts were flagged for a horse collar tackle that, when replayed, was a perfectly legal tackle for a loss. The purpose of instant replay is to make certain the proper call is made, i.e. if there is an infraction, enforce it; if no infraction, play on. What exists now is better than what was but not as good as it could be - and how the league, players, coaches, officials and fans want it.

It’s not perfection but as the legendary Vince Lombardi said to his Packer teams:

“Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

What Makes the Danny Ferry-Luol Deng Controversy So Confusing Is What Was Left Unsaid

Monday, September 15th, 2014

By now all the people who want to know what Danny Ferry’s offensive remarks regarding Luol Deng were, have either heard or read them. What makes Ferry’s remarks so shocking is that he 1) has a degree from Duke, 2) has played professional basketball for 13 years and 3) has been a member, in varying capacities, in NBA front offices since 2003. His playing experience alone means that Ferry has spent more than half of his life in a league whose players are 76.3% black (according to the 2013 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport).

That he said Luol Deng had “a little African in him” wasn’t racist – until he explained the meaning of the comment. Had he said, “you know, he possesses great quickness, can really jump and has incredible endurance,” no one would have been offended. Instead he gave insulting examples: 1) that Deng is the type of guy who is an anonymous source for a negative story and, when confronted a couple days later, denies it and 2) that Deng is a “locker room lawyer,” which means the type of player who will cause problems in the locker room, e.g. approaching guys who aren’t getting the amount of playing time or shots they want and siding with them against the coaches, but being a rah-rah guy when the coaches are around. Basically, Ferry accused Deng of being two-faced.

When told of the remarks Ferry made about him, Deng was quick to say that he is proud of his African heritage, that he has “a lot of African in me, not just ‘a little.’ ” According to the USA Today article by Jeff Zillgitt, Deng claimed that “among my family and friends, in my country of South Sudan and across the broader continent of Africa, I can think of no greater privilege than to do what I love for a living while also representing my heritage on the highest stage. Unfortunately, the comment about my heritage was not made with the same respect and appreciation.”

Everyone was sympathetic to Deng after Ferry’s comments were made public, yet what Deng said following his show of African (Sudanese) pride was extremely strange. Nothing. He said nothing. True, he did mention that, “Concerning my free agency, the focus should purely have been on my professionalism and my ability as an athlete,” but then went on to reiterate his annoyance about stereotyping and generalizations being unfair. Yet never once did he address the negative comments about him being a leak or a negative presence in the locker room (which does focus on his professionalism). You would think those charges would sting his reputation as a pro equally as much as the “a little African in him” comment did to his heritage.

Could it be those damning words are actually true? Bulls’ VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson had nothing but extremely positive things to say after they traded him but there is a story about Deng being upset with the organization that his bobblehead night was last, making him sound spoiled and petty. Something to wonder is why a scout would put such incendiary remarks in a scouting report - that he knew people would see - if he didn’t have first hand, or at least reliable, knowledge. Possibly Deng just overlooked those comments because the initial slam hit closer to home. On the other hand, it’s difficult to flat out deny something because he would run the risk of a reporter or teammate “outing” him. Anonymously, of course.

Maybe it comes down to the line:

“Some questions simply don’t have answers.”

What the NFL Needs to Do to End the Violence

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Older son, Andy, in town for the weekend. The following was written after he got home and wasn’t completed until after 4 am, so please excuse errors. Blog suspended for family time; will return Monday, 9/15.

The NFL has finally managed to do something no politician could. Unite our nation. In this day and age, of course, it’s united against something as opposed to for something but at least it shows we all can agree. Everyone believes there should be no domestic violence nor should there be child abuse. Hey, it’s a start.

Although we all agree on those two “thou shall not’s,” there is some disagreement over what constitutes those acts. These two crimes have been nearly non-stop talking points on radio and television since the high profile cases of Ray Rice and, as of yesterday, Adrian Peterson. Listen more than ten straight minutes and you’ll hear the names Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald, too.

Most of the focus has been negative, with so much finger pointing going on, this might be the first time in history people wish they were polydactyl. If you don’t know what it means, as my mother used to say, look it up. My mother never went to college and my father actually quit high school a month before his high school graduation - to enlist in the army. His instinctive move got no resistance because World War II was a war this country thought was not only important for us to fight in, but mandatory. Both of my parents have since passed away but the lessons they taught me live on. For the record, my family, consisting of the three of us and my younger brother, would have been considered part of the lower middle class.

My parents stayed married until my dad’s fatal heart attack in 1976. While not the couple who showed PDAs often, my father never hit my mother, nor did she ever strike him. When my brother and/or I screwed up, my father would (bare butt) spank us - with a belt and my mother’s knowledge - but that was saved for major transgressions, e.g. I can’t remember too many of them.

My wife and I have never felt the desire to hit each other and I, on occasion, would spank our two boys, however, with my hand but also with my wife’s knowledge. The point I’m trying to get the reader to understand is that, in the majority of cases (no research numbers, just a gut - and common sense - feel), people repeat behaviors they observe, most definitely if the action positively shaped who they are.

After listening to so many, I’m guessing, upper middle class (if not higher) sports reporters and talk show hosts cast the condescending statement, “Everyone knows you don’t put your hands on a woman. Everyone knows you don’t hit child.” Of course, you know that - if you were taught. I am in no way condoning the actions of the players mentioned above but if people are going to be so outraged that callers and talking heads are calling what’s going on in the NFL as an epidemic, why not try to stop the epidemic rather than just look to place blame? From what we’ve been hearing lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if we run out of physical therapists, treating people falling off their high horse.

To solve a problem, first we should investigate the perpetrators. Let’s start with Ray Rice. How did he become the monster who cold cocked his fiance in an elevator? Google a story that was written about him on May, 20, 2010 (Ray Rice’s Amazing Story by Zachary Beard, written for SB Nation) and you’ll realize that behavior came from elsewhere. When Ray was one, his father was shot dead in the street and when the killers were caught, it turned out Ray’s dad wasn’t even the target. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ten years later, his surrogate father, his cousin, was killed in a car accident when the driver of one car swerved to avoid hitting another. Exactly where he got the idea that hitting women was permissible is unknown but it had to have come from somewhere.

Adrian Peterson was so open and honest with the police about taking a switch to his son, he certainly couldn’t have thought it was going to become the story - and potential jail time - it has and probably will be. His father used to “put a whoopin’ ” on him when he did wrong, so when he saw his four-year old son push his brother off his bike, he felt the need to punish. From his emails to the youngster’s mother, even he realized he’d gone too far.

Read his biography on JockBio.com and you’ll see the early relationship he had with his father (who went to prison for money laundering when AD, a nickname his dad had given him when he was a toddler, was 13) - and what a strict disciplinarian he was. Who knows whether he feels his father (and mother who was also an outstanding athlete in her own right) provided him with the discipline it takes to be as good a player as he’s been in the NFL?

OK, enough with ifs and buts. Although the overwhelming majority of the professional football players have not shown up on police blotters, don’t think for a second the NFL doesn’t have a behavior problem when it comes to violence. Could it be the violence problem in the NFL derives from the fact that the game is inherently violent? The fiercest, most vicious (legal) hits elicit remarks such as, “Now, that is the way to play football” and in practice, players are applauded when, after taking a severe hit from a teammate, they deliver one right back on the next snap. So, the simple nature of the game definitely has to be looked at as a factor.

When I was at the University of Tennessee as an assistant basketball coach, all the coaches and players - of all sports - would eat together at the training table. It was a great, albeit expensive (for the university) way for us to get to know each other. That’s how I made the acquaintance of Reggie White, one of the gentlest, yet dominating players football had ever known. Reggie was born to unwed parents, yet his family would faithfully attend church. From all indications (reading his bio), his eight years with his parents were uneventful from a violence standpoint. It was at that age he moved in with his grandmother who raised him to be the star athlete and kind person he grew up to be. While his life was not without controversy (his speech to the Wisconsin State Legislature regarding stereotyping minorities and denouncing gays drew a great deal of criticism), there is no evidence of domestic violence or child abuse when he was young, nor after he got married and had children.

If you haven’t figured out after all of the above what my solution to these problems is, it’s education. Not a two-week seminar to rookies but, beginning in college (funded by the NFL - after all, I’ve been hearing about how the league has so much money they could have found that second Ray Rice videotape if they wanted to). Maybe, just maybe, some of these players, as hard as it is to believe, really don’t understand. Possibly they’ve seen their mother get hit by and stay with, even apologize for, her abuser. Because, for most of them, as with most of us, their mother is their hero. Maybe, from a young age, standing by her man is more than just a song title. Maybe, it’s just something a strong woman does. Children get punished by their dad for the same reason . . . they deserve it. No one really knows what things become facts in a young boy’s head. Of course, “everyone knows” there’s a difference between teaching a youngster a lesson and injuring him or her. Yet in some societies, as unfortunate as it is, the theory is that a man’s self worth is tied to his net worth, so bringing home a boatload of cash justifies any type of behavior.

We’ve heard the tales of the young guys who promise to make millions so their mom and siblings can get out of an abusive household, but that is usually a storyline for a feelgood movie (that people shell out $15 for - the same people who pay $99.95 for an official NFL jersey). Early education might not be the only salvation but it also might just be the best one. Show videos of what can happen to people who are abused, bring in speakers of those who were abused as well as those who were rehabilitated (or maybe some who weren’t and are still incarcerated - maybe showing someone who acts like a fool will discourage that behavior), make the players take verbal and tests or put them in “mock” situations and see how they (re)act. Naturally, punishment must be severe but education is needed more. Believe it or not, many of these guys do not know.

For those who think “the animals should be thrown in jail,” keep in mind these are not life sentences. These guys are eventually going to get out at some time and what, exactly, do we think they’ll be then? Plus, by throwing them out, what exactly do we think they’re going to do then? Take sensitivity classes or be bitter toward society? Educate them before there’s a need to incarcerate them or else how do we know which guys we should be cheering for?

To quote former Harvard president Derek Bok:

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”