One, We’re Done! Cowboys Choke (Again!)

The Cowgirls aren’t’ America’s team. America loves WINNERS!

Live by the lucky call.  Die by the unlucky call.

A week after benefiting from one of the worst blown calls in the history of the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys traveled to the not-quite-frozen, but pretty torn-up tundra of Lambeau Field to take on a noticeably hobbled Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers.   This time Tony Romo didn’t throw the big interception at the worst time.   In fact, he threw a high one for loudmouthed but undeniably talented receiver Dez Bryant to go up…up…UP for and seemingly pull down over a flailing Packer defender to put Dallas on the one-yard line to put them in position to score the go-ahead TD.

That’s how it was supposed to play out.  What happened was Green Bay’s coach threw the challenge flag and the referee overturned the call.  Bryant didn’t have possession of the ball all the way to the ground.  Bad call?  So sad, too bad.  Ask The Detroit Lions what it feels like to get screwed by the zebras without lube.

Shed no tears for the Dallas Cowboys.  Actually, if you’re a fan,  you can shed all the tears as you want.  Me, I’m laughing my ass off because nothing is more fun in pro football than seeing Jerry’s Kids sent to the showers.  As a 49ers fan in the unfamiliar position of having nobody to root for in the playoffs, I’ll take pleasure in rooting against America’s  Republican Team.

He's fallen and he can't get up.

He’s fallen and he can’t get up.

It’s a good thing for the NFL the Cowboys are finally worth hating again.   It was getting old kicking around Jerry’s Kids when they were stinking like piss-soaked winos lying in the gutter.   It’s fun to hate the Cowgirls now they have finally returned to respectability.   All the sometime-fans pull their Dallas gear out of the back of the closet, squeeze into in and start screaming, “How ’bout them Cowboys?”

So what about them Cowgirls?

Bashing Jones as a swaggering douche is easy because he provides so many reasons to boo and hiss him.   Head coach Jason Garrett always has the confused look of a guy who can’t remember if he flushed the toilet after a particularly foul dump.   But Romo is the easiest target to take down.  In a decade as quarterback Romo has amassed an unimpressive 3-5 record in the playoffs with no Super Bowl appearances.   Romo is paid like an  elite quarterback without ever producing elite results , but I’m cool with it because Jerry Jones blowing his dough on a second-rater like Romo sits well with me because my two favorite teams are always the 49ers and whoever beats Dallas’ ass.

I’m like to say I’m sorry but I’m really not sorry at all for Jerry’s Kids..  Jones can go get some more Botox because there’s a few muscles in his face which aren’t completely frozen yet.  Drop Bryant back off at the daycare.   Garrett is a free agent who can go anywhere anyone wants to offer him a job.  Nobody will, so he’ll be back and the sucking will continue.   The biggest loser is Chris “Kool-Aid Man” Christie who came out as a Cowgirls guy (figures!) who may have had lap band surgery, but that dramatic weight loss hasn’t dramatically kicked in quite yet.

Am I bitter my 49ers didn’t make the playoffs, but the Cowgirls did?  Sure.  I’m not above being petty.  I have no shame in finding pleasure in the miseries visited upon Jones, Romo, Bryant, Garrett, Christie and the entire Cowgirl Nation.

I know I suck. I’ve ALWAYS sucked!

The fall of America’s Republican Team augers well for the NFL.   The worst case scenario would have been a Patriots vs. Cowboys Super Bowl (otherwise known as Hitler vs. Satan).   Half of our national nightmare has been averted.   If the Cowgirls return to the Super Bowl the terrorists win and who wants that?

Buh-bye!

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Good Goes Bad, Bad Gets Worse.

"Oakland?  I gotta move to OAKLAND?"  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

“Oakland? I gotta move to OAKLAND?” (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Tomorrow is the last day of the 2014 NFL season. An elite few will be still be ballin’ hard as they try to make the playoffs. Everybody else is just getting this last meaningless game the hell out of the way, try not to get hurt (though some guys may try to hurt somebody else if only to take out their frustrations) and then clean out their lockers.

“What will happen, will happen,” Harbaugh told reporters when asked about his future coaching plans, “What will not happen, won’t happen.”

What will not happen is another season with James Harbaugh freaking out on the sidelines as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Four years ago, Harbaugh was The Man, the chosen One who would lead the 49ers out of the poverty of the Dennis Erickson/Mike Nolan/Mike Singletary years back to the Bill Walsh Super Bowl riches.  Didn’t turn out that way.   The history of how the good times turned bad have been detailed by reporter Tim Kawakami but suffice it to say, it’s not really a shock the 49ers and Harbaugh are about to break up badly.

To be a 49ers fan is to be shooting for the future while simultaneously shackled to the past. It’s not Jim Harbaugh’s fault he isn’t Bill Walsh (or even George Seifert). It’s not Colin Kapernick’s fault he isn’t Joe Montana or Steve Young (but he’s not Jeff Garcia or Alex Smith either).

When Harbaugh packs his bags to return to Michigan and a reported $8 million yearly check, he will be the highest paid coach in college football. This would be a nice pay raise from the $5 million the 49ers are paying him and would bump Harbaugh into the Sean Payton/Pete Carroll/Bill Belichick neighborhood without actually winning a Super Bowl like those guys. To put this in perspective the 32nd lowest paid NFL coach was the already whacked Dennis Allen of the Raiders.   Even a nobody like this was pulling down $3 million, so never feel sorry for a fired NFL coach. They’re all overpaid.

“Aw man! The singer forgot the lyrics of the National Anthem!”

 

 

In his wake the 49ers will either promote one of their defensive coaches, Jim Tomsula or Vic Fangio. If they decide to start fresh, look for the team to seek out an offensive coordinators such as Denver’s Adam Gase or New England’s Josh McDaniels in hopes someone can resurrect the 49ers DOA offense and if he isn’t traded, Kapernick’s career.

There are many reasons for Harbaugh and 49ers front office to part ways. A below .500 season after coming one completed pass from a second Super Bowl berth is an excellent one. Of all the disappointing underachievers in the NFL, nobody is as disappointing and underachieved more than the 2014 49ers.

Despite getting the Niners to the NFC Championship game three consecutive years, they only won it once and went on to lose a heartbreaker against brother John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens. Winners know how to close and Harbaugh never could. He repeatedly came up short in the biggest games. Coupled with an inability to win the arms race with arch-rival Seattle Seahawks, despite the impressive win-loss record, Harbaugh leaves San Francisco better than he found it, but still frustratingly distant from the Gold Standard days of Walsh and Montana.

If owner Jed York and general managerTrent Baalkie wanted to make the fans happen they would order Harbaugh to fire offensive coordinator Greg Roman, make him play out the last year of his contract and put down in writing a promise to make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in the NFL if he could (a) beat the Seahawks and (b) get to and win another NFC championship.

Hello, I must be going.

What Harbaugh wants as much as money is control. He wants to pick his own players, draft his own rookies, sign his own free agents. He wants to pick his own G.M. who will do all those things the way he’s instructed to do them and hammer out the messy and boring contract details. What Harbaugh wants most the 49ers won’t give him which leaves teams like the Raiders and Jets that might happily go along with Coach Khakis can do the kind of renovation job he did with the Niners with these two perennial bottom-feeders.

The failure of the Niners was a team effort.   All-time rushing leader Frank Gore is a free agent who wants to stay put, but at 32 year old and a $6 million salary, he’s not coming back at that price. Anquan Bolden is 34 and Kapernick’s most reliable receiver and that’s a worrisome combination. Ray McDonald has already been whacked for his off the field problem and Aldon Smith is probably right behind him. Justin Smith is thinking retirement, Vernon Davis has vanished from the gameplan and former first rounder Michael Crabtree is too slow to stretch defenses and too unreliable to be a go-to receiver.

An offensive line full of highly-paid first rounders has become a sieve as Kapernick is the most sacked QB in the league.   Stud linebacker Navorro Bowman was injured in the NFC Championship loss to the Seahawks and never made it back to the field.   The talented troublemaker, Aldon Smith served an eight gamesuspension which sapped the defense’s pass rush capabilities and he may not be back.   Last year the Niners ended the season with one player on injured reserve.   This season the number jumped to 16.    “Next Man Up” is the ruling philosophy in the NFL and the 49ers are about to apply it to a winning, but difficult head coach.

“He’s my best coach. I didn’t enjoy here until we started winning. Since he’s been here, I’ve been winning.” That what Gore said about Harbaugh.  Crabtree added, “He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever played for… He’s a player’s coach. He’s just a good dude. Everyone has their own opinion, but he’s been a good dude to me. And this team.”

Yet Harbaugh came up short on discipline as time and again a Niners player would show up on a police blotter.  Instead of cutting the bad actors loose, Harbaugh and Baaike would make excuses and extend second, third and fourth chances.  There isn’t space to list all the Niners who posed for mug shots during Harbaugh’s tenure,  but the handling of defensive end Ray McDonald is a signature moment of this whole shitty season.  McDonald was investigated by the police for striking his pregnant girlfriend but not charged.  Instead of suspending him the 49ers allowed McDonald to keep playing.   After sliding by for beating up a pregnant woman, McDonald rewarded the team’s trust by his name popping up in a sexual assault.  That was a bridge too far even for the lenient and lax 49ers brain trust and they cut McDonald the same day.

The blame for the team’s flame-out will fall primarily on Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman and both will be gone next season and veterans Gore, Crabtree, Mike Iupati, Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Vernon Davis all possibly decamping as free agents, salary cuts or retirement.   This will be a drastically changed 49ers team in 2015 and no matter who takes over its hard to see similar success forthcoming.

“Who’s Got It Better Than Us?” was the war cry Harbaugh rallied his players with when the Niners were one of the league’s best teams.   Now they’re not.   The answer to the question has become,  “Lots of other teams not named the San Francisco 49ers.”

Don’t worry for Jim Harbaugh.   He’ll do just fine wherever he lands.   It’s less certain the 49ers will do likewise.

 

Those khakis will be worn somewhere else next season.

 

The Evidence of Things Now Seen.

There is no reason for this. No justification. No excuse. No forgiving.

Regarding the NFL’s suspending (or more precisely extending) Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice two-game suspension to an “indefinite” one I have two questions.

Is anyone so gullible to really believe the NFL never saw the video of Rice punching out his fiancée before TMZ released the video to the world?

If so, could I interest you in some oceanfront property in the desert?

This is a billion dollar business that suspends a player for the entire season for smoking marijuana while giving another TWO GAMES for knocking out and dragging an unconscious woman off of an elevator and dumping her on the floor like a sack of potatoes.

This is a league that misled, deceived and lied to the players of the damage concussions were doing to them and then tried to nickel-and-dime them in a lawsuit with a settlement so chintzy even a federal judge threw a penalty flag on it.

The NFL doesn’t give a damn about women. Why would they? There are active players in the league whom have killed people, who have been convicted of drunk driving, gang bangers, drug addicts and other law breakers and given them chance after chance to play in the league. If Aaron Hernandez wasn’t behind bars under suspicion of murdering at least two people, he’d probably still be catching passes from Tom Brady on Sunday afternoons.  Conduct a poll of the average fan and they’re probably less concerned about domestic abuse than what Rice’s suspension means to their fantasy football team.

Welp, I guess I got more time to work on being the new Mike Tyson…”

To be a fan of NFL football means you gotta take a lot of bad with the good and I should know. I’m a San Francisco 49ers fan.

What’s the lesson here? Beat a woman’s ass and you get a couple of weeks off. Fail a drug test and you’re done for the year. Some lesson.

Roger Goodell‘s much ballyhooed new policy cracking down on woman beating ballers only came to pass after the NFL caught hell from the public and press for the sloppy wet kiss Rice received. The league doesn’t care what the players do to their wives, girlfriends and significant others as long as it doesn’t blowback on their precious, carefully calculated image.

Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens are enablers of violence against women. Which is kind of funny when you consider how in Goodell’s NFL the big killshot hard hit has nearly been flagged, penalized, regulated and legislated out of existence.

The NFL hasn’t gotten around to Atlantic City elevators.  I knew this shoe was going to drop. If anyone can go to You Tube and watch video of Jay-Z and his sister-in-law duking it out on a lift, who’s gonna believe the most powerful and wealthiest professional sports league in America can’t get their hands on what happened to Janay Parker before Ray Rice dumped her on the floor of an Atlantic City hotel?

Commissioner Clueless.

Goodell, the Ravens and Rice all lied, all deceived,  until it all blew up in their faces.    Had this video not emerged, Rice would be two weeks away from practicing and playing against the Browns.    Now he’s got a lot of free time to kill and Janay  should be worried about what he’ll do with all that idle time on his hands.

When the shitstorm of criticism blew up in his face,  Goodell weakly admitted he “didn’t get it right” with Rice’s wrist slap.  Goodell is nothing but consistent:  He’s still not getting it right.

The NFL doesn’t advocate domestic abuse.   But it doesn’t take it seriously either.

 

LeBron Proves You CAN Go Home Again.

I’m back. Get it?

It’s a good thing for both LeBron James personally and for the city of Cleveland specifically that after a bitter four-year estrangement, he’s coming back to the Cavaliers to try to finish what he started. It’s an even better thing for those of whom live in Ohio where this whole “is he or isn’t he” scenario has played out in real-time.

The way James handled The Return beat the hell out of the public relations fiasco that was The Decision. Everything about The Decision was overstated, overblown and a barely concealed flipping the middle finger to Northeast Ohio where James toiled seven years carrying a Cavaliers team mostly devoid of talent. Bitter feelings and bad karma abounded on both sides though Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert carried it too far with a poison pen letter soaked in Haterade that could be found on the team’s website as recently as a week ago.

“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE

You can take it to the bank.

Not one of Gilbert’s non-James teams finished above .500. The bank stayed closed.

That letter has since been scrubbed from the Cavaliers website, but the Internet never forgets no matter how much Gilbert wishes it would.

LeBron’s words to Sports Illustrated (and quite noticeably not ESPN) were far more gracious in showing the grace, class and maturity he had developed in four years that were missing in Gilbert’s published temper tantrum.    If you haven’t read it you definitely should.   It’s pretty damned impressive reading.

I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.

To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?

Michael Wilbon, who is from Chicago, said it well when he noted James has “Midwestern values” and he honestly LIKES living in Northern Ohio. James could live anywhere  on the planet. What’s so terrible about going back home?

When LeBron left four years ago and more importantly, HOW he left was awkward, clumsy and a hot mess of hype, bad juju and ugliness. He went out like a punk. I called him “LeGone” and meant every word of the contemptuous vitriol I spat his way.

But a funny thing happened over the last four years. My harsh feelings toward James disappeared. How he played on the court with the Heat and how he lived his life off the court with his family won me over. We never hear about James getting in trouble, being busted for drugs, shooting up strip clubs at 2:00 am, banging women coast to coast and dropping’ Little LeBrons all over the U.S.A. From all appearances, James is a solid, stable Family Guy who stays out of the headlines with all the usual non-sports related shenanigans.

Will the second time around be just dust in the wind for James?

As regards Dan Gilbert goes he was a total a-hole the way he handled LeBron taking his talents to South Beach. He spewed contempt for his lone superstar. But for all his bluster, Gilbert had to know how screwed he really was once James left town. He said they would win a championship before James did but it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Check the Cavs record since the ’09-10 season.

09-10: 61-21 (James’ last year in Cleveland)
10-11: 19-63
11-12: 21-45 (lockout shortened season)
12-13: 33-49

If you were Dan Gilbert wouldn’t you pretty much kiss LeBron’s ass to get him back?

Dwayne Wade weighed in with his own thoughts on his former teammate’s return to the Buckeye State:

As a friend and a teammate, I am sad to see my brother LeBron leave to begin a new journey. In 2010, we decided to come together all for one goal — to win championships and we succeeded. We were friends when we first joined the league and created an unbreakable bond the past four years. Our collaboration will always be very special to me both personally and professionally. We shared something unique and he will always be part of my family. LeBron made the right decision for him and his family because home is where your heart is. I know this was not an easy decision to make and I support him in returning to his roots. As an organization, a community, and as individuals, we achieved the goals we set when we first signed on together. We are champions.

Washington Wizards v/s Miami Heat December 18,...

King James and D-Wade say goodbye to all that.

Classy, but then the Miami Heat is a class organization as other well wishes to Lebron from team owner Micky Arison and general manager Pat Riley have echoed Wade’s sentiments. When James returns to Miami in the future he knows he will hear the boos of the disappointed fans, but they will likely be drowned out by the applause of the grateful ones remembering the four consecutive championship appearances and two wins King James led the Heat to.

If Wade is ready to move on, why should I hate on LeBron for coming home to take care of unfinished business? Sure he may never win a championship with the Cavaliers, but it won’t be because he didn’t come back to try.

There are plenty of unlikable owners who own great teams. I am not going to boo the Cavs because their boss is a jerkwad. Plenty of us have worked for bosses who were bastards, but we did the job and cashed the check anyway. Why should we hold James to a higher standard then we do ourselves?

Let’s be honest here. James did what he thought was best for him and his family.  I know there are “fans” who honestly believe LeBron should have put their needs ahead of his own.   They need to set the alarm clock and wake the hell up.

Welcome Home King James.   Now can I get back to focusing on NFL football camps opening Friday?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s the “Return of the King.” You got a problem with that?

 

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over (It’s Over!)

Someone wants this more and someone's going to get it.

Someone wants this more and someone’s going to get it.

Officially, Game Five of the NBA Playoffs will be played Sunday in San Antonio.   Unofficially, this is merely a formality.  This series is over.   The Miami Heat are going to Texas as the champions of the league seeking their third consecutive title.  They are coming back to Florida as the latest sports franchise to fail to pull off the trick of “the three-peat.”

The legend of LeBron James will not suffer from his inferior team losing to a clearly superior one.    Even stuck on two rings, James is still the best player on the planet until someone comes along and makes him second-best and while Kawai Leonard has matched at times surpassed James during the series, his best day would just be an average on for James.

The best player doesn’t win championships.  The best team does and this year that team is the Spurs and it’s not even close.   James is doing what he can but without some help from Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and whatever they can scrape off of their sorry bench, even King James can’t avoid being dethroned by the clearly superior Spurs.

“I don’t really get caught up in what pressure is all about…” James said after the Heat was crushed in their Game 4 loss. “For me, I do whatever it takes to help our team win. If it’s me going one-on?-one to try to help us win, if it’s me getting guys involved and taking threes in rhythm, then I’ll do it. But I don’t really get caught up in the pressure.”

He doesn’t have to.  It’s those other eleven guys whom are feeling the squeeze and coming up small.

I knew the game was over in the second quarter on one play.  One on the Spurs misses a shot, the ball is bouncing back off the rim,  James and a few other Heat are looking up and in position for the rebound and zooming down from the free throw line comes Kawai Leonard to snatch the ball up and JAM IT BACK DOWN with a nasty-ass slam.

Kawai Leonard rocks the rim--and the Heat (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Kawai Leonard rocks the rim–and the Heat (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It was ugly.  It was brutal.  It was beautiful.   It was over.  The body language of the Heat said it all:  they didn’t want it as much as the Spurs did.

There was still another half to play but that was simply a perfunctory necessity.  The game was over and the Spurs won the championship on that play.   The story isn’t how the Heat lost their title, but how the Spurs took it from them.

There’s no flash or sparkle to the Spurs.  They’re a team built around aging, but effective studs (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker), rising stars (Leonard, Danny Green) and a Foreign Legion of role players (Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Mario Bellinelli, Patty “Not Pat” Mills) and a craggy-faced, curmudgeon Gregg Popovich who is only the best coach in the NBA.

Duncan is a lock for the Hall of Fame and Popovich will walk into it as well when he retires and turns overs the reigns.   Rarely have a player and coach been as great as long as this duo has and their fifth championship since 1999 would be an exclamation point on both their outstanding careers which probably will end in a year or two.

Win or lose, the chatter has already begun if these are the last games James ever wears a Heat uniform again.   He can declare himself a free agent and take his still impressive talents to any team that wants to back up a fleet of Brink’s trucks in his driveway.    When push comes to shove, I’m betting LeBron gives Heat GM manager Pat Riley a chance of clearing away some of the flotsam and jetsam on the roster and finds some more athletic, energetic playmates.

However, that’s all for the postmortem plans.   After all, when you’ve got the best player in the game, there’s always an excellent chance an elimination game won’t turn out as expected.  What leads me to believe things are going to turn out exactly as expected is while The Heat need and hope to win, the Spurs expect to win.   The math is elementary.  The Heat have to win every game.  The Spurs only have to win one.

Tonight they will and LeBron can start making his summer plans.

The elder statesmen of The Spurs waiting for the trophy celebration.

The elder statesmen of The Spurs waiting for the trophy celebration.

Is Michael Sam a Hero or a Hustler?

Michael Sam is in a spotlight he put on himself.

In the entire history of the NFL, there has never been a seventh round draft pick quite like Michael Sam.  His story is unique.  He inspires and he polarizes.   On his chiseled physique rests the hopes, dreams and aspirations of an untold number of LGBT Americans who may care nothing about pro football, but are pulling for the first openly gay player to make a team’s roster.

But the feel-good aspect of Sam’s story was sidetracked by the revelation that a reality TV program for the Oprah Winfrey Network was in the works.   NFL officials were aware of this before Sam was drafted in the last round by the St. Louis Rams, but none of the teams were told.   Would it have lessened Sam’s chances of being selected?   Without a doubt.

As a rookie, Sam stands to make a minimum salary of $420,000.  Excluded is a signing bonus and other contract bonuses negotiated between the player and club.   Sam’s contract can’t be renegotiated until after three years and he would not receive any salary until the regular season starts.  If Sam doesn’t make the Rams roster, he gets nothing but the bonus money.

If Sam were to play for the three years of the contract, his minimum salary would to $495,000 in the second year and $570,000 in the third.

Michael Sam (and friend) get the good news.

“Michael is focused on football and making the St. Louis Rams team,” said Howard Bragman, Sam’s publicist and one of the show’s producers. “We’re going to work with the Rams organization to make sure the show doesn’t interfere with his primary goal.”

Bragman didn’t say how much Sam stands to make from the show, but you can bet it’s more than his rookie salary.

The pay range from the No. 1 pick to the last at No. 256 is more than $22 million.   Compared to Sam,  Jadeveon Clowney, the top overall selection of the Houston Texans will sign a $22 million contract, including a guaranteed $14 million signing bonus.   That last part is crucial because unlike the NBA or MLB, contracts are not guaranteed in the NFL.  If Sam bombs out at the first practice, that’s it.

Certainly Oprah Winfrey, the NFL and to a lesser extent, the Rams, are hopeful that isn’t the case and the Michael Sam shows ends before it barely gets started.   But there are no guarantees Sam will be on the team’s opening day roster.   As a borderline player who was not highly coveted despite his SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, Sam is unlikely to find many other teams to latch on if the Rams cut him loose.

It is understandable why Sam would agree to the making of a reality show on his journey to the NFL.   Unless he make it in the league, his star will never shine brighter and burn hotter than it does now.   The time to maximize the Michael Sam Brand is now when the interest is there as well as the cameras and commercial endorsements.

What this does is shoot a hole in Sam’s assertions he wants to be known as just a football player and not any sort of celebrity.   Let’s be honest here.  If Sam wasn’t a gay man, there would be no story here.  He’d be just another guy taken in the last round of the NFL Draft trying to impress his coaches by winning a roster spot.

Making money while you’re trying to make a football team isn’t a bad thing, but there’s no way Sam can honestly claim he only wants to be regarded as just another guy.  He’s not.  He’s a celebrity and whether he makes the team there will be books, talk shows, and a ton more deals coming his way.

Sam’s representatives are making all the typical sounds of how this won’t become a distraction, but it already is.   Nothing about Sam leads me to believe he is stupid or naive and he’d have to be both not to know how this would look to the casual football fan who doesn’t care if Sam is gay, doesn’t mind if he kisses his boyfriend on camera, and only expects him to make plays and be about the team, not himself.

There is a strong conservative streak in the NFL.   When a straight player like Chris Kluwe made too much noise about gay rights, it was suggested by the front office that he should pipe down and when he didn’t, Kluwe was out of a job and out of the league.   If Sam becomes the go-to guy for what the gay athletes position is, it’s not going to be well-received in the locker room in St. Louis or NFL headquarters in New York.

While Sam deserved a shot and thought he should have been drafted higher, he pretty much went where he was supposed to go. Sam is a classic “tweener.” Not big enough to play on the line and not fast or intuitive enough to play linebacker. Even if he hadn’t been drafted there are reports he would have received invitations as an undrafted free agent from no less than four teams.

What Sam has said he wanted most was exactly what he got. He wanted to be treated like just another football player and nothing special.   It seems that wasn’t true now and while he’s still worth pulling for, his status as an underdog has given way to that of a savvy hustler, and that’s a little disappointing.   The burden is on him to prove he’s not just hype, but a change agent on the football field, not reality TV.

Michael Sam could be another Jackie Robinson, but if he doesn’t watch it he could end up as the next Tim Tebow.

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The Power Belongs to the Players in the NBA.

Brothers gonna work it out.

Look at this picture.

April 28, 2014 marked the 47th anniversary of Muhammad Ali‘s refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army.

At Ali’s side during the press conference to announce his disinterest in being drafted to go off to fight the Vietnamese were several prominent athletes who were to show support of the G.O.A.T. Maybe you recognize a few of them?

Imagine if you can what it would be like if there were a Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar willing to step away from protecting their wallets at all costs and dare to stand up as brave, strong and proud Black men against a racist slave owner like Donald Sterling.

Then realize you are imagining and wake up and shake your head in sorrow because what happened then seems nothing more than a dream that could never happen again. The day of the socially conscious athlete seems to have passed and what we have in their stead are better compensated and safely neutered eunuchs.

Sterling: A master with no more slaves.

But then again, there are still men who are willing to say “Enough!”   In less than a week after the news broke of Sterling’s comments to his girlfriend he was gone.  Banished from the league and his team up for sale and all because the NBA owners and commissioner faced a stark choice:  smack Sterling on the wrist with a fine and suspension and wait for the storm to pass or throw his ugly ass overboard with cement shoes because all hell was going to break loose if they didn’t.  These are not stupid people and the dumped The Donald.

It’s always easy to tell others what they should do in situations you’re not in yourself (and most of us will never cash an NBA-sized paycheck), so I grant what I think doesn’t factor into the decision NBA players faced whether they would boycott playoff games to protest Sterling’s slave master mindset as the owner of the L.A. Clippers.

Sterling’s stupidity is not new to the owners or the players. The difference is now there is a will among the players to do something about Sterling.   If three or four teams–not players–all decided not to play their games, the shock to the system of professional sports would be seismic.

As long as NBA ballers are dunking on Sportscenter and saying silent about anything happening in the real world, the league, the owners and the corporate sponsors of both are happy to sit back and counting the money. But let the Bulls, Wizards, Thunder, Grizzlies and Warriors all refuse to take the court in solidarity with the Clippers and the players will see they make the game and can break it.  The players ARE the NBA. Nobody pays hundreds of dollars to watch Sterling sitting on the sidelines with his hands resting on his enormous guts as his gold-diggers and booty calls smile prettily and wait for Mr. Sugar Daddy to buy them a Ferrari, a Range Rover, two Bentleys and a million dollar apartment.

The fans fill the seats, rock the gear and cheer for King James, Durant, and Kobe to give them a thrill. Nobody ever paid money to watch an owner own.

The Thunder without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Bulls without Joakim Noah, the Wizards without John Wall, the Thunder without Zach Randolph, the Warriors without Stephen Curry and the Clippers without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are not subject to being swapped out with a strike-breaking scab. You can’t replace them with subs from the D-league or scrubs off the street.

The players in pro sports have more power than they know and once having tasted it, I doubt they will willingly give it up.

It’s not where we stand in times of comfort that matter, it’s where we stand in times of turmoil. If my boss is doing everything but calling me a nigger to my face, I always have the option to clean off my desk, drop off my pass card and step. I might be choking down peanut butter and crackers and chasing it with a cup of water, but some things are worth it.

Anyone who would place financial compensation over simple human dignity has skewed priorities. Some things are worth giving up a fat check for. Some things are worth walking away from.

David Stern left the Sterling mess for Adam Sliver to clean up (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

David Stern left the Sterling mess for Adam Sliver to clean up (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Some things are worth being a free man instead of a scared slave for.  What price do you place on your humanity?

The hardest part of the hammer Silver dropped on Sterling isn’t the fine and not even the suspension. It’s forcing a rich man to sell his toy.

Donald Sterling is not going to go quietly. He’s refused for years to sell his team. He feeds off of the fame and the notoriety of being one of 30 rich guys who own a NBA team. He’s 80 years old and sitting on a billion bucks. He may decide suing the shit out of the NBA isn’t the worst way to spend his sunset years.

That’s for the lawyers to worry about.  The league has changed and perhaps irrevocably.   Perhaps only for a moment.   The mantra of the 21st Black athlete has been I just play ball. Don’t say anything about anything that might piss someone off. I’m just a jock. What happens in the real world isn’t important, doesn’t matter. Keep your head down. Cash the check. Keep it moving.

The spirit of unity and solidarity which brought Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Brown and others to stand with Ali at the most critical point of his career was a singular and inspirational moment.   The story of how the NBA players rallied to remove from the league the cancer that was Donald Sterling doesn’t have as dramatic a moment as one photograph yet it is no less inspirational.

A simple gesture, a quiet protest, a chilling effect.

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Hank Aaron: Still Hammerin’

40 years later, Hank is still hammering home the truth.

 

“We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated. We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country. The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

~ Hank Aaron

There must be a whistle going off somewhere only conservatives and Republicans can hear that reveals Aaron really was saying, “President Obama is left with his foot in the stuck in the mud from all of the [racist] Republicans [everywhere, but especially in Congress] with the [racist] way he’s treated.”

That has to be the only answer, because there was NOTHING in Aaron’s remarks that put all the Republicans in America in general or in Congress on blast as being racists which is a term Aaron never used.

It would seem crying wolf about racism is not a malady confined only to The Left.  I guess all those right-wingers losing their shit missed the part where Aaron said, “We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements,” huh?

Another baseball legend, Frank Robinsonspoke to USA Today in defense of Aaron.

It is 2014, we have twice elected a black president, and Jackie Robinson is an American icon, celebrated annually on April 15. And yet: Hank Aaron is receiving hate mail, which reminds us that black people are still held to a different standard, when it comes to expressing strong opinions on race.

American Hero. Then and now.

“Hank Aaron is a black man,” Frank Robinson told me on Tuesday, after helping to light the Empire State Building in Dodger blue to honor the 67th anniversary of another Robinson’s debut. “He only spoke his mind. I have seen and heard other people in this country say worse things, and they don’t get hate mail. It shows you we still have a ways to go.”

Robinson — a Hall of Fame player, the first African-American manager and MLB’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Development — did not list those “worse things,” but here are a few: Tea Party rallies where people hoist signs showing a Hitler mustache on President Obama, activists sending around emails portraying the president as a monkey, Braves fans calling Aaron the N-word, repeating what the home run king endured 40 years ago.

On Tuesday, USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale, who wrote the original piece, clarified that Aaron did not directly compare Republicans to the Ku Klux Klan. “Never in our 50-minute conversation did Aaron suggest anyone critical of President Obama is racist,” Nightengale wrote. “Never did he compare the Republican Party to the Ku Klux Klan. . . . Simply, Aaron stated that we are fooling ourselves if we don’t believe racism exists in our country.”

Whether or not Aaron meant to invoke the KKK, the ensuing hate mail is a larger story. The Braves received hundreds of calls, emails and letters eviscerating Aaron, according to USA Today. “Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur),” read one of the notes.

I asked Robinson the obvious follow-up to his initial comment: Are we still in a place in our society where a black person makes controversial comments, and is more vulnerable to vicious criticism than a white person?

“I think so,” he said. “We have made great progress, but we still have a different standard. And it’s too bad. But we keep fighting, and we keep going forward, and taking the cause forward.”

I’m not even a fan of baseball. Don’t like the game and don’t watch it, but I know what men like Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson have done for both their sport and to make this country a less blind, less backward and less racist place than it has been.   The fact that Aaron’s wisdom prompts such knee-jerk reactions and bigoted invective is proof of how blind, backward and racist America remains.

There is nothing anyone can say that in way diminishes Aaron’s standing as the man who broke Babe Ruth‘s home run record and was reviled, vilified and had life threatened by bigots every step of the way who could not their tiny little minds around the idea that a “nigger” could surpass the legendary Bambino.

It is laughable that someone tapping on their tablet or laptop can even slightly tarnish the luster of Aaron’s accomplishments. This is a man who took the worst the most hostile racists could throw at him and emerged triumphant and his pride intact.   This is a country that still bitterly resents whenever a Black man speaks the truth about race instead of what they think is the truth.

Aaron was asked why for 40 years he has kept all the hate mail he receives.

“To remind myself that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record. If you think that, you are fooling yourself. A lot of things have happened in this country, but we have so far to go. There’s not a whole lot that has changed.”

Can a brother get a “boom shakalaka” from the choir?

The mouth-foaming frenzy of Aaron’s conservative critics proves him to be a prophet. He’s still hammering home the truth.

Speak softly and beat some sense into a bigot’s skull with some wood.