Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tressel and OSU Display the Ultimate Disgrace

As a proud native of the great state of Michigan, I can't help but smile a little bit at what is going down in Columbus, Ohio.

For years, Ohio State's football team has tormented my Michigan State Spartans.  They've handed us blow-out losses and cost us a trip to the Rose Bowl this past season.  They dropped 73 on Eastern Michigan and have beaten up so bad on the Wolverines, lately, even I, a die-hard Spartan, am starting to feel a tad bit of compassion for those people in Ann Arbor (only a very little, though).

Now that the Buckeyes are facing the hammer from the NCAA that could ruin the football program for years, even decades, to come, I struggle to feel even the slightest bit bad for the school.  But, I do feel bad for what the Buckeyes turmoil represents in our society.

Cars, money, tattoos, and weed.

That's what the players got for selling their memorabilia and tickets.

Let me re-emphasized that, Cars, money, tattoos, and weed.

These were their priorities of top-tier Division One athletes.  It's disgustingly selfish.  They not only compromised their own reputations, but the reputation of the school, conference, and sport.

And for what...cars, money, tattoos, and weed?!

Using their notoriety and campus-celebrity to do what they want, when they want, and how they want, is what's wrong with this generation of athletes.  There is no long-term thought process on consequences because for their entire lives they've been given immediate access to whatever they want because their talents can open up doors for the leaches around them.  These leaches want a piece of the pie and the best way to ensure that piece is to keep the athlete happy.

Apparently happy means cars, money, tattoos, and weed.

 The biggest leach in the Ohio State case was Jim Tressel.  He is the epitome of why college sports is such a scummy business.

For ten years he preached to his athletes and campus community about living life and acting one way, while at the same time doing the exact opposite.

Tressel turned a blind eye to the unethical behavior of his players because his players did enough on Saturdays to win games.  He didn't care that a bunch of men in their early 20's were going to some of the shadiest parts of Columbus regularly to get tatted, smoke a joint, and play PS3. 

College football players in the Big Ten and other major conferences are often among the most recognizable faces at the university.  Tressel let his team's faces, most notably Terrelle Pryor, represent THE Ohio State University with cars, money, tattoos, and weed.

He put winning and catering to wants in front of teaching.  For a place of "higher learning" to have its top paid employee spit in the face of education like that is a disgrace.

Football is the ultimate team sport and yet Tressel and his player's actions were all about self promotion and indulgence.  Maybe that's why they fit so well at OSU, because as those in Columbus say, no one dots the "I" better than the Buckeyes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

NBA Sending a Lasting Message with Focus and Fines

There isn't a sports fan in the world who didn't grow up trying to emulate their favorite players.  Heck, there isn't a person on earth that hasn't tried to mimic their favorite celebrity.

Stacey Augmon
As an avid sports nut, I've done some weird things to try to be like my athlete heroes.  When I was ten, I remember drawing a goatee on my face to look like Stacey Augmon.  I got a haircut with three lines in the side of my head like Patrick Ewing.  I wore an arm sleeve a la Allen Iverson.  When Kobe had that sweet Red, White, and Blue wristband after 9-11....you better believe I was rockin' one the next day.

But I didn't keep my idolizing strictly to athletes.  Oh no.  Hollywood was in play, too.

I used to wear this fresh jean jacket and shades in an attempt to become the sixth member of New Kids on the Block.  I died my hair blond in 8th grade and then cornrowed it three years later following the questionable hair styles of Justin Timberlake.  And in college, I popped my collar Kanye West-style.  Sometimes, I even dared to go double-popped. (You've got to have some 'you know what's' to pull off the double-popped.)

It's human nature to copy the trends and styles of the times and that's why I am encouraged by the recent efforts of the NBA which is stepping up to crack down on discriminatory actions and tirades.

Over the past month, the league has handed out $150,000 in fines to two players, Kobe Bryant ($100,000) and Joakim Noah ($50,000), for using homophobic slurs on the court.

Any one that has ever played a sport has said something in the heat of battle that they surely regretted once cooler heads prevailed.  So, I don't think Kobe and Noah are bad people, they are just two men who used a poor choice of words and did so in front of an international audience.

Mistakes happen, the key is to learn from them and become a better person as a result of the lessons learned.

The NBA should be commended for its swift action.  In both cases, without hesitation or a long-drawn out debate, the league punished the players where it hurts most, their pockets.

I know what you're thinking.  The fines are one-percent of Noah's annual salary and less than .5-percent of Kobe's.  That's not the point.

The point is the league is taking initiative and a leadership role in the sports world by sending a message that discrimination of any form is not acceptable.

Grant Hill encourages "Think B4 U Speak"
Besides the fines, some NBA players also have made commercials condemning the use of the word "gay" in a derogatory way and others have spoken publicly on the need for more acceptance in the locker room.

This is a big step.

I've been in my fair share of professional and collegiate locker rooms over the past few years and some of  what players say and do is beyond misogynistic.  That uber-macho mentality is seen as the norm and ultimately leaks into high school and grade-school locker rooms.

And that's where the problem is.

If kids see their sports stars throwing out homophobic, racist, or sexist language and actions, it's no surprise that they will think its acceptable. 

That kind of mentality leads to all sorts of problems, just check the news.  It seems as though there is a story about a teen suicide or bully beating as the lead story every week.  It's tragic and unnecessary.. 

If any league should take a step in preaching the message of acceptance, it's the NBA.  It's the most global of the four major team sports.  It has the most recognizable figures and the message the league delivers will likely resonate, if not in the short term, at least over time.  And for goodness sakes, it has players that look like Birdman Andersen (below), so there is no room not to be accepting of all people.
"Don't H8, Congratulate"

By the NBA taking a stand and offering an in-your-face, no tolerance approach to discrimination, it's telling kids and fans  that it's o.k to be different, and right to accept people of all genders, beliefs, sexual orientations, and races.

...Hopefully this level of acceptance is the next trend to catch on and is one followed by all players and fans.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Harwell Epitomizes the Good In Sports and Life

My apartment is decorated with cheap WalMart furniture, sports memorabilia, a stylish love seat that my parents picked out because of my lack of interior design skills, and a collection of framed posters of some of my heroes.

The Rat Pack join Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi in the living room.  Einstein, Jackie Robinson, and John Lennon line the bedroom walls, and Mateen Cleaves and various movie posters highlight my office.  But, the one image that stands out above them all is a picture of Ernie Harwell giving his farewell speech at Comerica Park on September 16th, 2009.

I look at it every morning before I leave for work as a reminder of what greatness is all about.

The former Detroit Tigers broadcaster was not only the voice and icon of my hometown for more than four decades, but he is the prime example of what can be right in sports.
There isn't a Tigers baseball fan who grew up between 1960 and 2002 that doesn't remember a summer night where nothing but Harwell's voice filled the air.  His delivery was engaging, unique, and insightful.  It could command attention at any moment with one, "That one is long gone!"

He wasn't just a broadcaster, he was family.  He is probably the only man that all Metro-Detroiters would welcome into their home without a few background questions.

And we did, for 42 years.

You'd figure a guy with this type of reputation would have an ego as big as Cecil Fielder's midsection, but that wasn't Ernie.

For a man who always knew exactly what to say, he was humble and soft-spoken.  He never made the game about him, never detracted from the talents of the players he was covering, and always made baseball about the fans.

(I loved hearing him say, "A fan from (Royal Oak, or Birmingham, or Rochester) will be taking that ball home today." )

I wasn't fortunate enough to meet Mr. Harwell, but I know plenty of people who did.  There is not one person who speaks ill of him, except for maybe Bo Schembechler, but what does he know?!

Ernie made time for fans, colleagues, and life.

He took pride in his work and joy in living.  He had the same enthusiasm during the first broadcast of his I heard as a kid, as he did when he retired in 2002.

I wish more sports figures would emulate his passion.

Today, athletes and even some journalist are more focused on becoming icons and having the biggest contract.  They want to be worshiped for what they do on the field.

Ernie didn't covet being worshiped.  He just wanted to give people three hours-or-so a night to sit back, relax, and enjoy America's game.

Throughout his career, he never changed.  He always placed respect and professional first.

Harwell once said, "I'd like to be remembered as someone who showed up for the job.  I consider myself a worker.  I love what I do.  If I had my time over again, I'd probably do it for nothing."

Is there a better motto from a man who represented a blue-collar, hard-hit city like Detroit?  Harwell embodied toughness and hard-work.  He defines greatness and did so with class and humility.

He said in his farewell speech that he loves the people of Michigan because of their grit and the way they face life.  There were many times when he helped make the often challenging lives of Michiganders worth living.

Today is the one year anniversary of Harwell's death.  He hasn't and never will be replaced.  But I hope, everyone will remember what Ernie represented; passion, dedication, humility, and humanity, and try to implement a little of each in their daily lives.

As Detroiters and Detroit-natives, we owe it to the man who gave so much to us.

"Baseball is a lot like life.  It's a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs.  You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life." - Ernie Harwell