Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I Don't Want to Be Like Mike

In many ways, Michael Jordan is the face of athletic greatness.  Not just in basketball, but the iconic status that he created is duplicated by no one in modern sports.  The only other athlete that I can think of who is equally legendary is Babe Ruth.

Jordan not only transformed the way basketball is played, but he influenced pop culture like he was the fifth Beatle.

But, I don't want to be like Mike.

For everything he accomplished on the 94 feet of hardwood, including six titles, five MVPs, six finals MVPs, and Olympic gold medals, MJ's shortcomings off the court should be what ultimately define 'His Airness.'

Today, Sports Illustrated published an article outlining how Jordan has failed to reach out to his former high school coach who has fallen on hard times.  After suffering from a disease, Pop Herring took to abusing alcohol and ultimately ended up behind bars.  He is now on the complete opposite end of the fiscal and social spectrum from the man whose career he helped mold.  Yet, Jordan has refused to lend a hand.

Is it Jordan's responsibility to help everyone who is struggling in life? No.  But as author Thomas Lake points out, Herring could use even the most basic assistance from a man who has things only imaginable in your wildest dreams, dreams Herring had a part in helping come true.

It's well documented that Michael Jordan wasn't an ideal teammate.  He was ruthless, demanding, and self absorbed.  To be fair, these qualities are probably what made him arguably the greatest competitor of all-time.

But, Jordan has not been able to leave his on-court persona where it should stay, on the court.

His Airness is not a leader.  Jordan is a coward and a bully.

More than a decade after capturing his sixth NBA Title on one of the most iconic shots in history, Jordan still has been slow to turn his success into something of substance.

He gives millions of dollars to charities.  Financially, he has tremendous influence.  But, monetary impact perils in comparison to leading from the front and Jordan leads from nowhere.

Jordan has taken a Charmin soft stance on social issues throughout his life.  I understand that he also is businessman and taking social stances can often hurt sales, but whether he wants the status or not, MJ is a role model and has a responsibility to be an example.

Bill Gates and Magic Johnson are both on the front lines of addressing very serious, world-changing causes.  It hasn't lessened their success or made them less business-minded.

Showering money at causes isn't taking a stand.  His face is all over commercials for Nike, Gatorade, and Hanes (the collar really is awesome), yet won't put his face on issues that truly mean something.

In 2009, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune quoted a response from Jordan after it was found that Nike, the company that makes his highly popular shoes, was manufacturing their products in sweatshops.

Jordan, the company's most famous spokesperson, responded to the issue with this... "I think that's Nike's decision to do what they can to make sure everything is correctly done.  I don't know the complete situation.  Why should I?  I'm trying to do my job."

Why should you? Because you are one of the biggest beneficiaries of the allegedly inhumane treatment of people.

You know who else failed to take a stand like man? Joe Paterno....

Plus, those shoes that were being made by underpaid and overworked people in Indonesia, are selling in America for $100, $200, and sometimes more on Ebay.  They are a hot commodity.  So hot, that kids, mostly in inner cities are killing, literally, to wear a pair.  Why? Because they want to be like Mike, but Mike has proven he doesn't care about anyone but Mike.

He has been absent from the front lines in speaking out against violence for his shoes and in general.  In the city that erected a statue to honor Jordan's playing career, he sits back and watches it turn into a war zone. Actually, worse.

In no way am I suggesting that Jordan is responsible for the killings, but he has a platform to inspire change.  Change that is more meaningful than any check His Airness can write.

MJ has the ability to influence multiple generations.  He is still idolized and his moves on the basketball court are mimicked by those in the NBA all the way down to pickup games on blacktops across the world.

If MJ were a real man, he would strongly voice his concern over violence for his shoes.  Commercials, billboards, public speaking engagements.  He does all that to push his products, so why can't he do it to make society better?

He is the most popular athlete on the planet despite not playing in about a decade.  He is that iconic.  People would listen to his message.  Changes could be made.  But still, MJ offers practically nothing.

Jordan has made become a brand.  Yet, to me, the brand represents being arrogant, selfish, and a bully.  MJ has proven his success is all about him and we are all supposed to marvel and praise his rise to the top.

There is no better example of this than his completely off-putting Hall-of-Fame induction speech.  Usually a time reserved to thank those who help you find success, Jordan cut down just about everyone along his journey and made it clear that his achievements were to be shared with no one.

Michael Jordan has proven time and time again that he is not concerned with a world outside his own.  No matter how much of a positive impact he could have, if it's not on MJ's time, there is no time for it.

Instead, he'd rather smoke cigars, play 36 holes of golf daily, and gamble like his next professional conquest is on the World Series of Poker Tour.

So while Jordan enjoys a life that may not have even been possible without the influence of a man like Pop Herring,  Herring and the communities where kids are getting killed over his shoes are trying desperately just to keep his together.

Money isn't the answer.  Being present is.

Jordan may be the greatest basketball player of all time.  At this point, that's hard to debate.  But, it's also hard to debate that when it comes to aspects in life that truly matter he is nothing more than a bench player, because that's where he always sits...away from the action.

I don't want to be like Mike.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Preseason Rankings: An Unnecessary Advantage

Getting ahead is hard.  It's even harder when you try to do it with one hand tied behind your back.

In America, 40-percent of those born in the lower fifth income bracket never rise above that level.  While at the same time, according to a report by NPR, between 1979 and 2007 the incomes of the top one percent of Americans rose 275-percent.

This article is a-political, but it's worth noting that those who start ahead often stay ahead.

The same is true in college football.

Today, the USA Today's preseason rankings were released.  My question is why?

What is the point of putting out a list of rankings now that are used to shape a season that extends from late summer to early winter?

Teams at the top have a clear advantage.  They have more room for error because they are given a boost from the beginning.  If a team in the top five loses a game early, they have a better chance to climb their way back into title contention than a team ranked in the 20s or not at all.

But, how do we know that team in the top five are more deserving to be there than others?  We don't.  We haven't even seen them take the field outside their time spent bucking heads against their teammates.

Instead, why not wait until week three, when all teams have played somewhat meaningful games, to make a judgement of who should be ranked where.

That way, when the bowl outlook starts to take shape, it's done so with everyone on a more equal playing field.

I am excited for the college playoff system in two years, but admit the BCS usually succeeds in placing the best two teams in the title game.  But, there are many instances when preseason rankings have costs teams a trip to a better and, more importantly, more lucrative bowl game.  That means the loss of hundreds-of-thousands, if not millions, of dollar for programs who earned the right to play on that stage.  And make no mistake about it, college football is a business with money at the forefront.

Yet, because they are looked at as lesser programs off the bat, are left on the outside looking in.

College football represents one of the best seasons in all of sports.  The atmosphere is often electric, the rivalries are historic (until realignment screwed that up), and the individual traditions are unlike any others.

But, one tradition that needs to be done away with is giving an advantage to teams based on previous year's results.

Let's focus on the present and give all teams a fair shake and let what is done on the field be the deciding factor.