Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Passing The Baton   Leave a comment

January 1, 2019

The start of a new year is always a demarcation line. It’s the most obvious moment—aside from our birthdays—where each of us knows another year has passed. Carl Reiner was quoted as saying “Each morning when I wake up I check the obituaries. If I don’t see my name I already feel better.” Yes we’re all a little older, but that’s how things work.

I looked at the list of all the “notables” who’ve passed and wonder how each of these famous—or infamous—people have affected, touched, or otherwise changed my life. It’s always surprising to me that I can find a personal connection to many of them. So here are my thoughts on those we lost in 2018.

What did you think about when you heard the name—nothing else, just the name—Stephen Hiillenburg? It didn’t mean anything to me. It turns out he was important to me for the simple(?) fact that he created the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. My daughter Caitie and I—Caitie was about 10 years old at the time—were driving to Indiana (from Connecticut) to visit family. After a long day on the interstates we were entertaining ourselves by watching TV in our motel room, and that was the moment SpongeBob came into our lives. We laughed for a couple of hours and both became huge fans of the underwater hero. Thanks Stephen.

Robin Leach died last year. In some ways he too was a character worth remembering. In the end, almost all of the overstuffed, vacuous, self-important wealthy people he interviewed became laughable, at least to me.

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     On the musical side we lost some greats, both household names and lesser-knowns. Before getting into the music business I had heard South African musician Hugh Masekela’s hit single “Grazing in the Grass”. Little more than a year later I was promoting the Friends of Distinction, an RCA act who did a vocal cover of Masekela’s hit, creating a hit of their own. Years later I met Hugh when he recorded an album with my former boss Herb Alpert. Small world indeed.

Another music icon I had the pleasure of meeting was Charles Neville. I was in New Orleans and at Tipitina’s for a performance by the Neville Brothers. It was 1988 or ’89 and that band of brothers were amazing.

Lorraine Gordon died. She kept the flame of New York’s Village Vanguard alive after the death of her husband Max. I made many stops at the club to see some of the greatest live music acts in a somewhat intimate setting.

Joe Jackson, father of, yes, those Jacksons died in June. I recall meeting Joe in the late 1980s as A&M Records had increasingly amazing success with Janet Jackson. In business meetings or casual settings Joe had the ability to smile and scare the hell out of you simultaneously. Clearly a dysfunctional family at times, but they changed the music business.

Aretha Franklin died. I could only smile when I saw the photographs and video of the line of pink Cadillacs lining up to pay tribute at her funeral in Detroit.

Bluesman Otis Rush, founding member of Jefferson Airplane Marty Balin, jazz great Sonny Fortune all died. As did Morgana King, and Nancy Wilson. I first heard Wilson’s 1964 recording of “How Glad I Am” while in high school. It’s a great record a half-century later.

And ABC’s Keith Jackson died. His voice was one of the most comfortable ways of listening to a sporting event. I noticed the passing of disc jockey Dan Ingram. He was one of those Top-40 radio voices that transcended the music. Ingram was, like Casey Kasem, Larry Lujack, the Real Don Steele, and others who came to us as if from the ether. Cousin Brucie is still with us (on Sirius XM) thank goodness.

     Hollywood gave up some significant names in 2018. Penny Marshall became a successful film director but I will always remember her as Laverne DeFazio on television’s “Laverne & Shirley”. Lyricist Norman Gimbel died. He wrote the lyrics to the “Happy Days” TV show theme music. It’s more likely he’d like us to remember another set of lyrics he wrote: “The Girl from Ipanema”.

 

     Burt Reynolds died. His epitaph should read something like “He did it his way”. Clint Walker died. A classic ‘bigger than life’ actor in many westerns, I remember him a little more for two small things he did. First, he starred in a made-for-TV movie titled “Yuma”. A small screen film but he helped make it memorable. The other thing was his Christmas recording of “Silver Bells”.

Clint dollarkgrhqng0e1fwr7.jpg Yes, Clint Walker sang, and I had the single on my jukebox to prove it. Margot Kidder died. I attended a John Anderson for President fundraiser in Los Angeles in 1980, and ran into a friend who was dating Margot. In typical fashion I didn’t realize who she was.
Steven Bochco gave us “Hill Street Blues”, “LA Law” and more. Taylor 5bc24ef9708ec.image.jpg

Jim Taylor died. He was one of the most formidable running backs in the NFL during the Lombardi years with the Green Bay Packers.

Stan Lee. He single-handedly changed the comic book industry. Carl Kasell died. He spent years at NPR doing the news with absolute professionalism. Then, semi-retired, he became the perfect comedic companion to Peter Sagal on radio’s news quiz “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”. And Tom Wolfe died. He wrote “The Right Stuff”. That’s all I need to know.

Stephen Hawking died. He outlived and outlasted many others not so severely afflicted as he. And as Penny said to Leonard on “Big Bang Theory”, “He’s that really smart guy, right?” Right!.

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     My Friend Russ Solomon died. He only created Tower Records. I wrote a column a few years ago decrying the fact that Russ was not in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He reinvented music retailing. And others followed.

There were, obviously, many more famous and near-famous deaths in 2018. To those I met, worked with, never met, and worshipped from afar, you touched my life and so many others. Let’s all raise a glass to them.

David Steffen

©2019 David Steffen

Photos from top to bottom: Nancy Wilson; Clint Walker; Jim Taylor; Russ Solomon.

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Hail, Farewell   Leave a comment

January 1, 2018

    I’ve been writing for the Lighthouse Peddler for years now, yet each month I wonder what idea, event, or emotion will surface as the stimulus for an essay. Without fail my mind’s journey almost always touches on the arts in general, or some specific musician or filmmaker or event. Most months I’m as surprised as anyone by the topic that becomes central to my column. And then, like a gift from the mysterious muse, the keys of my MacBook begin to make noise and a few hours later I read what I’ve written.

     In January we may be pleased that the old year is over (this year’s old year in particular) and we’re ready to focus on the year ahead. However, whatever we thought of the year just ended, we invariably find ourselves looking in the rear view mirror. Satchel Paige became almost as famous for one of his quotes as for his baseball career. He cautioned, “Don’t look back: Something may be gaining on you.”

     Ignoring Paige’s advice, we’re once again publishing a list of 60 notable people who died in 2017 and are worth remembering. Our list could easily have been 200, and paring the names was no easy task. (The ’60′ are on page 4 of this issue.) What follows are thoughts on some of those who made our short list.

     Writer Frank Deford is gone. I loved Deford. He hit my radar when he created the short-lived National Sports Daily. After the Daily folded a year and a half later, Deford continued as a commentator for NPR, and became a prolific writer, including 18 books. About 15 years ago, a dear friend in Connecticut (where we all then lived) arranged for a meeting where she graciously introduced me to her friend Frank; I was like a teenager meeting his favorite rock star backstage. Composure regained, we talked a bit about his writing style, his books, and the state of sports in America. It’s a wonderful memory. Others from the literary world we lost in 2017 include William Peter Blatty, who introduced us to the fictional MacNeil family in The Exorcist. Daughter Regan became possessed by Satan and Blatty later, along with director William Friedkin, scared the living daylights out of us with the film.

   And then there was Jimmy Breslin, the poster-child for writers in New York’s newspaper world. In his obit, the New York Times said “With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Mr. Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers.”

     Actor John Hurt left us, and I thought about his career and the wide range of characters he portrayed. He was supremely impactful in his central role as John Merrick, the Elephant Man; and he was also credible in the film Contact, in a semi-cameo role as the billionaire S. R. Hadden, the character who articulated the obvious (and painfully true) first rule in government spending: “Why build one when you can have two at twice the price?”.    Mary Tyler Moore got her TV start as wife Laura Petrie Mary 7659660192_56085e863f_zon the Dick Van Dyke Show. However, she became everyone’s best friend, or the friend everyone wished they had, as Mary Richards, her character on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Set in the Twin Cities, the show was so successful that today there’s a statue of Moore in downtown Minneapolis.    And we lost Sam Shepard, whose rugged good looks and believability on screen made him credible whether he was in front of the camera, behind the camera, or delivering a newly-authored play. Shepard’s brief on-screen appearance early in the film The Pelican Brief is a testimonial to his ability to imbue his character into the moment, and then stay with us through the balance of the film.

     Comedians we lost in 2017 include Bill Dana, whose alter-ego was the highly politically incorrect ‘astronaut’ Jose Jimenez. Pointing to his space helmet, Milton Berle once asked Dana (in character as Jimenez) “What is this called, a crash helmet?” Jimenez replied in his unusual accent, “Oh, I hope not”.

     We also lost the  World’s Foremost Authority, Professor Irwin Corey. To understand his authority, one really should look for a YouTube video clip. Shelley Berman died this year. He was often referred to as a bit of a tortured soul. He probably was but he was brilliant. We’ll not see his equal anytime soon. Don Rickles was the delightfully savage comedian whose mission was to regularly insult almost anyone and everyone. And yet unlike some who casually brandish insults today, almost no one was offended by Rickles.

      John Anderson was my congressman when we lived outside Chicago. Although a member of the GOP, Anderson was refreshing, interesting, and intelligent. He ran for president in 1980 first as a republican, and then as an independent. It was the latter candidacy that led me to support him. When we had a chance conversation at a campaign event in Los Angeles that year, it reaffirmed my belief that Anderson was a good choice. He received 6.6% of the popular vote, including mine.    And let’s say goodbye to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee who became an accidental mayor by virtue of the seat left open by the departing Gavin Newsome. No one really disliked Lee. And surprisingly (to me, anyway), in the City of San Francisco, he was the first Asian-American to hold that office.

     Musicians who’ve left us include the great singer Al Jarreau, jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, southern icon Gregg Allman, jazz drummer Grady Tate, diva Roberta Peters, Jon Hendricks of the famed Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, and Americana legend Rosalie Sorrels. Tate, for the record, was one of those unusual drummers who put his instrument aside, to become a vocalist. His baritone was a genuine gift to the genre. He even delivered on the theme song from M*A*S*H, “Suicide Is Painless”.  In addition Glen Campbell died after a long career that found him starting as a studio side-musician (guitarist for hire), before rising to stardom (including television) with the songs of John Hartford (“Gentle On My Mind”) and Jimmy Webb (“By The Time I Get To Phoenix”). chuck-berry-duck-walking-7 CR (1)And the icon of Rock ’n’ Roll, Chuck Berry finally proved he was mortal in 2017, although his music will continue for decades and generations to come. My older brother bought a copy of “School Day” in 1957 and I’m sure it’s somewhere in my collection to this day. I saw Berry twice. First in 1972, when he was in Chicago for a concert date built on the success of a quirky #1 hit titled “My Ding-A-Ling”. The second time was a Connecticut casino show in the late 1990s. He was already showing his age but he could still take a moment to play his guitar while doing his patented ‘duckwalk. Don’t know what that is? YouTube it.

     I trust I’m not alone in suggesting that we’ll miss these people. We may not hold them all in the same regard, but I’ll guarantee that someone on this list was a favorite of yours too. To all of them I can only quote from Chuck Berry: “Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll”.

2015: Welcome to Bizarro World   1 comment

January 15, 2015   January 31, 2015   February 20, 2015

Endeavor to Persevere

What a start to 2015. My intention was to comment on a few of the early strange (and occasionally stupid) comments being made by people as the new year began. But as the weeks went on more and more people checked in, and my self-imposed deadline to post continued to move (as the above dates confirm.) It became increasingly clear to me that planetary alignment, king tides, solar flares, or some unknown toxin was affecting brain activity, particularly among the politicians around the country. Who knew that in the short space of a few weeks, saying and doing stupid things would appear to be endemic? I concluded that the only reasonable explanation was that we have entered a strange parallel universe, an alternate reality with a not-so-subtle familiarity to Bizarro World.  As I recall from my childhood embrace of DC Comics, Bizarro World is simple: it’s a cube-shaped world of Bizarro where everything is the opposite of life on Earth. Beauty is hated, ugliness is revered, and it is a crime to make anything perfect.* And as the month continued, it just got weirder and weirder. We are clearly living in an alternate reality.

Item 1: The Detroit Lions got to the NFL playoffs this year, but as it turned out, Bizarro’s influence was on the playing field. How else can anyone explain the reversed call by an NFL “zebra” that single-handedly changed the game’s outcome: “With 8:18 left in the fourth quarter of Detroit’s heartbreaking 24-20 playoff loss to the Cowboys, official Pete Morelli announced that Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens had pass interfered with Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew on a third-and-1 attempt by quarterback Matthew Stafford. Morelli then proceeded to say that no foul occurred on the play. . . .” There hasn’t been this kind of abject disregard for the city since the GOP fought any use of federal money to keep the auto industry alive in 2009.

Item 2: The GOP wannabes for the 2016 presidential nomination have already filled the proverbial Republican clown car. Consider the field: Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick “Oops” Perry, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, John Bolton, Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and of course, Sarah Palin. Whew. The list of issues with this group of family values-oriented clowns is astounding: Ethics failures, marital infidelity, divorce, evolution science denial, opposition to contraception, vaccine denial, threats on gays and lesbians, bullying and obnoxious behavior, family vacations subsidized by wealthy donors, climate change deniers, homophobia, Islamophobia, warmongers, birthers, anti-union, anti-education, anti-healthcare, pro pre-natal rights followed by post-natal abandonment, and so much more.

Item 3: Red-state (solidly Republican) governors have been meeting with the White House to discuss expanding Medicaid in their states: Repeat: Republicans expanding Medicaid. As The Hill reported, “Govs. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) and Gary Herbert (R-Utah) told reporters they believe the president would sign off on their states’ alternative expansion plans for the low-income insurance program.” What a coup for these states. In return for Obama agreeing to sign off on their plans, they’ll expand Medicaid. Ooh. Aah. Can’t you just feel the macho coming from these “victorious” governors? Medicaid expansion was designed as a critical component in reducing the uninsured rate under ObamaCare . . .  [but] a Supreme Court decision made the expansion optional for states. Since the court’s decision, just over half of states [emphasis added] have opted to open up eligibility for the program in exchange for millions in new federal funding.” Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, Alaska, Indiana, Montana, and Wyoming are looking to embrace the expansion, and take the federal money.

Item 4: In a January 6th opinion, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman attempted to steer the world in the right direction with “A Time for a Pause“: “there’s never been a time when we need more people living by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Because, in today’s world, more people can see into you and do unto you than ever before.” Among the examples cited of our “gotcha society”, he chose these: The November 2013 hacker-attack on Target • The August 2014, release of nude photos (not including any of Mr. Friedman) believed to have been stored by celebrities on Apple’s iCloud • The now infamous fall 2014 attack of Sony, by Anonymous, or Kim Jung Un, or a disgruntled Sony employee • The arrogance and/or malevolent behavior of the obnoxious start-up business Uber • Donald Sterling’s meltdown • Twitter attacks • Canada’s desire to see the completion of the international straw , that oil pipeline designed (?) to move Canada’s very dirty oil over-or-through the Ogallala Aquifer, that relatively shallow body of fresh water beneath the Great Plains • Personal attacks and insults by a few members of the New York City police against their boss, the Mayor. I have nothing against the Golden Rule. But Tom, if that’s your solution to what’s ailing America or the world, it’s time to walk off into the sunset. After all, you were a cheerleader for the 2003 invasion of Iraq (not really a Golden Rule moment) and we all know how that turned out.

Item 5: Rep. John Boehner was returned as Speaker for the new congress, but with the largest number of dissenting votes in memory. “When a clerk called the roll, 24 Republicans [10% of the GOP members] voted for a candidate other than the incumbent speaker, . . . In fact, it was the largest rebellion by a party against its incumbent speaker since the Civil War.” So much for the post-November election GOP love-fest. We know Mr. Boehner has been unimaginative and sycophantic to anything “tea-party”.  Yet even Republican House member Louis—as crazy as they come—Gohmert wanted to upend Boehner. You know Gohmert: “Arguing against gun control, he drew a link between gay marriage and bestiality. He has alleged that there are “so many Muslim Brotherhood members” in the Obama administration and that radical Islamist terrorists are being trained to “act like Hispanic” and cross the southern border. He has warned of terrorists sending pregnant women into America to give birth to “terror babies” who would have U.S. citizenship.” And that rhetoric from a solid representative of the Tea Party’s GOP, that base that Boehner caters to. Mr. Speaker, when your friends start telling you it’s time to go, why not just go?

Item 6: Having barely held on to his speakership, Rep. John Boehner set out to chart a new course, and get things done in Washington. This Congress would be different from the last. Mountains would move. Rivers would change course. The weather would be controlled. So how did the Speaker’s desire for change manifest itself? He opted to prioritize his vision on how to improve the economy by scheduling the 67th House vote to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act. When that vote takes place in early February it will have the same effect as the first 66 votes. Na Da. Greg Sargent reminded us in “Morning Plum” in the Washington Post that “As GOP continues denouncing Obamacare as failure, uninsured rate falls yet again.” (And note Item #3: Medicaid.)

Item 7: After more than a decade of operating the prison at Guantánamo—that exquisite, Cuban island resort, founded by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a Home for Wayward Terrorists—some in congress have drunk some more kool-aid and are convinced we must keep operating Guantánamo. Damn the world and the historians. You can almost hear Washington’s new power-couple—John McCain and Lindsey Graham— channeling Ronald Reagan as they declare that we paid for Guantánamo and no bunch of pussies is going to make us shut it down. The reality is that this eyesore, this blight, this ongoing neon light attracts as much negative attention to this country as anything. Getting rid of the “Guantánamo card” would go miles to, at least, give the world (and our enemies) one less thing to rally their followers and highlight as one of America’s great shames of this century’s first decade. Nevertheless another fearless Senator, Kelly Ayotte, will lead the charge to keep it open. Ayotte (with the usual suspects,  GOP Senators McCain, Graham, and Burr) have proposed legislation that would ban transfers from Guantánamo . . . .” Talk about dead-enders.

Item 8: Gay rights continued to move forward but a group probably made up of members of the Flat Earth Society continued to fight to stop the Gay and Lesbian onslaught. Sorry for the redundancy, but dead-enders are clearly on display in the Gay Rights fights these days. For example, in Florida “. . . late-night ceremonies were held in Key West and Palm Beach County as scores of jubilant couples exchanged marriage vows and rings.” Yet some appointed and elected officials continue to believe that their political view or their religious views trump the law: “In Geneva County, Judge Fred Hamic said Wednesday he would issue licenses to gay couples but that they would have to go somewhere else to wed. ‘I believe I would be partaking in a sin, and I sin every day, don’t get me wrong,’ he said. ‘This is one sin I do not have to participate in, not that you have to participate in any sin.’ These clerks, these conservative judges and legislators so obsessed with denying rights to LGBT couples are clearly ignorant of American public opinion, a sense of fairness, and a desire for equality for all under the law. And they’re on the wrong side of history. But alas, Bizarro is still with us.

Item 9. House speaker, John A. Boehner says that he is certainly prepared to allow funding for the Department of Homeland Security to disappear on February 27. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). You know, that agency that does things like airport security, border patrol, fight human trafficking. And DHS oversees immigration. You get the picture. Congress will essentially defund this department, and is comfortable with the concept of employees being forced to work without pay. But Boehner’s not worried. His ace in the hole is that many DHS employees are required to work during a shutdown—without pay. Even “journalists”, like Betsy Woodruff at Slate, see this as a win for Boehner: “Short answer: The homeland is going to be OK. Specifically, a missed funding deadline means a small fraction [15%] of the department’s employees would be furloughed. As Alexandra Jaffe notes at CNN, a Congressional Research Service report says that federal employees ‘whose work is necessary for the preservation of the safety of human life or the protection of property’ are required to keep working during shutdowns, though in many cases without pay.*” Ms. Woodruff must assume that all of these essential employees are independently wealthy. What would she do without pay for a week, or two, or more? The Chicago Tribune assessed the damage: “Roughly 200,000 of Homeland Security’s 230,000 employees are considered essential, so they’d continue to work — without paychecks — if funding lapsed at the end of this month.” More than 85% must get to work (paying for gasoline or mass-transit fares), paying for parking, pay their rent or mortgage, electricity, phone, heat. You know, the things we all (presumably including Ms. Woodruff) must pay. But Woodruff and Boehner are OK with that.

In the film The Outlaw Josie Wales, actor Chief Dan George read his line perfectly as the character Lone Watie. “They took our pictures, and the newspapers said, ‘Indians Vow to Endeavor to Persevere.’ We thought about it for a long time. ‘Endeavor to persevere’. And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.” Maybe there is guidance here for the Speaker. Declare your intention to endeavor to persevere, and then declare war on your House membership.

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2015

*”Since his hilarious debut in the 1950s, Bizarro has been a character of equal parts humor and confusion. The imperfect duplicate of Superman, the chalk faced hero lives on the cube-shaped world of Bizarro where everything is the opposite of life on Earth. Beauty is hated, ugliness is revered, and it is a crime to make anything perfect.”

Whining, Complaining, Crying, from the Millionaires Club   Leave a comment

Charlotte Lucas and Arian Foster Should Woman-up, Man-up, Shut-up

October 12, 2014

I’ve been considering the recent stories of the oppressed, the put upon, the disadvantaged. Consider these sad cases.

First there’s the (un)sympathetic character, Charlotte Atkins Lucas, owner/founder of Lucas Oil. Ms. Lucas has a net worth of $300 million, and last week she could finally control her emotions no longer. Perhaps trapped within the confines of her 25,000 square-foot home, she let loose. Standing up straight and tall—or sitting down, or laying in bed . . . we’re really not quite certain—she offered a thoughtful commentary on the difficulties of life in America these days. According to the New York Daily News, she posted the following on her Facebook account: “I’m sick and tired of minorities running our country! As far as I’m concerned I don’t think that atheists (minority), muslims (minority) nor any other minority group has the right to tell the majority of the people in the United States what they can and cannot do here. Is everyone so scared that they can’t fight back for what is right or wrong with this country?” From her vantage point in Indiana—a bastion of rational and egalitarian thought—I can imagine the pressure that accumulated on poor Charlotte. There she was, sitting in one of the 30 simple-yet-tastefully-decorated rooms within her part-time mansion, surrounded by French antique furniture, all situated on 33 acres of Indiana countryside. 33 acres? That’s barely 1.4 million square feet. How can anyone, including Ms. Lucas, be expected to contemplate anything with all the ambient noise? Where’s a woman to go when she needs a quiet moment to calm herself after she hears or reads about another atheist spouting some random thought that there is no god or God? Or when a muslim [sic] offends her, perhaps by calling God Allah. The nerve of some people.* Charlotte may have been in too much of a hurry attempting to transfer her important thoughts from her brain, to her lips, to her fingers, and onto Facebook to worry about something as mundane as the English language. For the record, Charlotte later apologized. But the rant was so very telling. I’d guess it’s best summed up by paraphrasing a quote from Charles Erwin Wilson: “. . . for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa”. In Lucas-speak, “what’s good for Charlotte is good for America”. Right.

Then there is the plight of poor, poor Arian Foster, running back for the Houston Texans. He appears to be anti-Thursday. Or anti-work. Or maybe he’s simply pro-whining. First, Foster has difficulty sorting fact from fiction. He offered Pro Football Talk “. . . his negative opinion of Thursday night games. Foster . . .  said he doesn’t know a player or fan that likes the games, which he correctly pointed out are a way for the league to generate more revenue.” Duh. Good of Foster to go public with the scoop as no one else could have figured out just why the NFL would make the deal. It’s about the money. Then CBS Houston added this nugget from Foster: ” “Nobody is ready to play physically after a Sunday game. But you’ve got to go out there and do it.” Athletes can’t be expected to work one day on, four days off, one day on, then 10 days off. Oh the humanity. His self-pity is compounded by his fuzzy math when evaluating audience support. Foster is wrong of course as evidenced by the ratings for the most recent Thursday night game. Houston’s 33-28 loss to Indianapolis was a success (for ratings, not for Houston) as CBS attracted almost 16 million viewers. By comparison, the other four broadcast networks combined drew 19 million viewers. In short, CBS took 45% of the broadcast audience. (Thursday Night Football drew another million viewers on cable via the NFL Network.) Like his fellow-players in the NFL, Foster has to play in only one Thursday night NFL game this season. One game out of twenty.  (5% of the season if you’re keeping score.) Finally, there is the matter of Foster’s pay for all of this Thursday-night agonizing. He’s in the middle of a 5-year, $45 million dollar contract. Poor baby. Considered in weekly increments, Foster earns a lousy $173,000 per week. No wonder he’s upset. Having to work with just 4-days’ rest, on a paltry $173,000 per week. What’s a human being to do?

So what ties Ms. Lucas and Mr. Foster together? These are two examples of America’s spoiled, “it’s all about me” class. Ms. Lucas doesn’t like atheists, Muslims, and any other minority that pisses her off. She forgets that this country was formed, in part, to avoid a connection between religion and citizenry. The generally revered Thomas Jefferson wrote (in 1799): “I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.” Religious preference is to have no bearing on any citizen’s rights. And as for Foster, he belongs to a union (NFLPA), has an agent, negotiated a contract with Houston’s NFL franchise, signed the contract, and took the money. May I suggest to Ms. Lucas: Woman up. And to Mr. Foster: Man up. And to you both: Shut up. Oh, and have a nice day. 😊

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2014

*(Note to Charlotte: Arab Christians often use Allah in lieu of God. And for future reference dear Charlotte, like Christian for followers of the Christian faith, Muslim—for followers of Islam—should be capitalized.)

The Naive, The Stupid, and the Dangerous.   Leave a comment

January 20, 2013

All That Gun-Loving Gone Wrong: 5 Dead and 5 Wounded This Week (so far…).

I’m on vacation this week. While my usual routine is to read the online editions of 2-3 newspapers, I took the time to purchase two local print editions and leisurely go through the news of the day. I started reading with the idea that staying informed was my primary focus, but reading local news from this vacation spot 2400 miles away from home would also provide some flavor and context to my time away.

There seems to be a diminishing enthusiasm for the saga of the Notre Dame player who carried on a long-distance love affair with a text-messaging avatar from “Stanford University”. If you’ve been avoiding the sports pages or living in a religious retreat for the last ten days consider yourself lucky. For the rest of us we’ve been subjected to the odd(!) story of the Hawaii-born linebacker Manti Te’o. He fell in love. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In this case his love was a Stanford University girl who didn’t exist. Oh dear, that lying internet, or his lying friend, or a lying stranger. At least the virtual relationship with the nonexistent Stanford woman—”Lennay Kekua”—didn’t progress to a virtual marriage. With her reported “virtual death” from leukemia, Mr. Te’o can forget the pretend girlfriend, regain his focus, and try to stop the current free-fall of his NFL draft ranking. If all of this is confusing, try reading today’s Honolulu Star Advertiser for a recap. But with all of his problems Mr. Te’o (the “naive” referenced above) is not the person with the most significant problems today. The award for stupidity goes to at least three people who’ll share the distinction.

The Sunday edition of the Maui News contained an Associated Press story titled “5 hurt in shootings at gun shows in Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina“. Here are a few of the details:

Accidental shootings at gun shows in North Carolina, Indiana and Ohio left five people injured Saturday, the same day that thousands of gun advocates gathered peacefully at state capitals around the U.S. to rally against stricter firearm limits.

At the Dixie Gun and Knife Show in Raleigh, a 12-gauge shotgun discharged as its owner unzipped its case for a law enforcement officer to check at a security entrance, injuring three people, state Agriculture Department spokesman Brian Long said. Two bystanders were hit by shotgun pellets and taken to a hospital. A retired deputy sheriff suffered a slight hand injury. . . . 

In Indianapolis, police said a 54-year-old man was injured when he inadvertently shot himself while leaving a gun show. . . .

And in Ohio, a gun dealer in Medina was checking out a semi-automatic handgun he had bought Saturday when he accidentally pulled the trigger, injuring his friend, police said. The gun’s magazine had been removed from the firearm, but one round remained in the chamber, police said.  Police Chief Pat Berarducci said it appears the bullet ricocheted off the floor and struck the friend in the arm and leg. The man was taken by helicopter to a hospital 30 miles north in Cleveland, Berarducci said. His condition wasn’t immediately known.

All of this on a day when a few thousand self-proclaimed 2nd Amendment Defenders were protesting President Obama, or advocating for the 2nd Amendment, or something in between. Maybe it was divine intervention by way of gun lovers accidentally shooting themselves, their friends, local law enforcement people. The good news is these reports were all non-lethal. That makes them, by the way, no less moronic.

Perhaps the most frightening image of the day was a photograph—also from Phil Skinner/Associated Press—of protesters standing on the steps of the Georgia State capitol in Atlanta. Maybe it was the angle of the shot. Maybe it was the red shirt (plus tie) on one protester and the brown shirt (plus tie) on another. Red Shirt had a handgun tucked into his belt; Brown Shirt carried a (now infamous) AR-15 rifle and held the megaphone for Red Shirt. It may have just been the historian in me,  but something about the shirt colors, the ties, the megaphone, the weapons, the sunglasses, and the children holding signs that seemed eerily reminiscent of other showings of solidarity, from brown-shirted thugs in 1930s Europe, to brown-shirted thugs in various late 20th century white-power rallies in America. Whatever the politics of those wearing red shirts and brown shirts, I believe that I have a right to not be standing next to someone carrying a (presumably) loaded AR-15, Glock, or Colt six-shooter. I trust the police. I don’t trust strangers with guns.

Finally, on this day when some people believe that guns are not the problem, there was also a story in the Washington Post titled “NM officials: Teenage gunman fatally shoots 5 at Albuquerque home; suspect in custody”.  Among the dead in Albuquerque were two adults and three children.  Go figure: more children are dead and guns were the instrument of choice.

Whether from stupidity, psychosis, or self-induced power-trips, people continue to be killed by guns in this country at an astonishing rate. Thousands may be protesting this weekend on behalf of unlimited gun ownership, and as many for the right to parade through the local performing arts center or baseball stadium with an AR-15 slung over their backs. Consider this: If you need an AR-15 or other splendid killing machine in your house, knock yourself out. If you believe you need it outside your house I’d question your ability to make friends, and your understanding of living in a civilized society. Don’t force your gun upon me. I have rights to. In the upcoming debate on gun laws there may be thousands looking to strut like a fully armed peacock.  However, millions of others are praying that Congress does the right thing and begins to bring sanity, and not guns, to the debate.

David Steffen

© 2013 David Steffen

Gambling, Thuggery, Spousal Abuse, Fan/Player Brawls, and Maybe Murder: Welcome to Pro Sports   Leave a comment

 January 6, 2013

On The Ray Lewis Retirement

There have been instances when sports figures were called to account for their misdeeds, if not by the courts then by the sport’s governing organizations. In many cases gambling appeared to be the only offense worth citing: Alex Karras, Paul Hornung, Pete Rose. But beyond gambling (although it continues today), there have been other examples including thuggery (see: NHL), spousal abuse (see: NFL and others), and fan/player brawls (see: NBA).

Ray Lewis announced that he is retiring from the Ravens. Before we spend one minute listening to the deification surrounding the impending retirement of Lewis, someone should remember a murder from thirteen years ago. Ray Lewis plea-bargained his way out of the potential prosecution for murder (as reported by CBC Sports):

NFL star Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count today under an agreement that drops murder charges in the stabbing deaths of two man [sic] outside a Super Bowl party. Lewis entered the plea before Judge Alice Bonner, who agreed to the deal struck Sunday by prosecutors and Lewis’s lawyers. The obstruction of justice charge carries a maximum sentence of 12 months probation with first offender status.

In spite of (or because of) the plea-bargain, one way or another it remains entirely plausible that Lewis was knowledgeable of or in the middle of the deaths of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker. Writer Mike Bianchi’s column, published in yesterday’s Orlando Sentinel, is a reminder to football fans (and those seeking an answer to the murders) to take another look. Bianchi’s column is also a renewed call action to the FBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Atlanta Police, Georgia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Georgia Department of Public Safety, and Georgia’s Attorney General to pick up the cold case and get justice for Lollar and Baker. Lollar’s grandmother has yet to receive closure on the death of her grandson:

Joyce [Lollar] raised Richard Lollar, who was left dead in the street in the early morning hours on Jan. 31, 2000, — a few hours after the Rams defeated the Titans in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls in history. And then came one of the most chilling post-Super Bowl scenes in history. A brawl outside the Cobalt Lounge, an upscale Atlanta nightclub, turned into gory spectacle of steely knives, mangled flesh and a river of blood. The 24-year-old Lollar and his 21-year-old boyhood buddy from Akron, Jacinth Baker, were both stabbed multiple times in the heart, the knives savagely twisted into their vital organs. The killers knew exactly what they were doing.

Bianchi’s Orlando Sentinel column should be required reading by all of the program hosts,  their “experts”, and ex-NFL players on today’s hype-filled playoff programs on NBC, CBS, Fox, NFL Net and ESPN. While it’s appropriate to talk about the on-field history of Lewis, the story of the murders is—with few exceptions—unheard on this playoff morning. Lewis is not under scrutiny as one of those who knifed the victims, so we shouldn’t assume his participation in the murders. Nevertheless, without the arrest and conviction of those responsible, it is highly inappropriate to place Lewis on a pedestal.

NOTE: There’s more press since I posted this blog. Here’s a link to the latest story I’ve found on the murder of Richard Lollar, from today’s Washington Post: “Ray Lewis’s ties to Atlanta murders now a footnote — except among victim’s family”.

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2013

November 20, 2011: Almost Perfect Sports   Leave a comment

November 22, 2011

Symbolism of Perfection (and almost Perfection.)

Part 2: Sports

Contrary to the rhetoric, the 1972 Miami Dolphins are not the only team to go through an NFL season undefeated. The 1929 Green Bay Packers were undefeated. They were, however, tied in one game leaving them with a 12-0-1 record. [full disclosure: I’m a lifelong Packers fan.] This season of Green Bay’s perfection—at this writing they are 10-0-0—moves on to Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, and will be a true test of their potential for perfection.

I like the Packers, I like their story, and I like their history. I don’t bleed Green and Gold, I don’t have an Aaron Rodgers (or Brett Favre) bobblehead doll in my house or in my car, I don’t wear a Packers jersey on gameday, and I don’t crave to have a cheese hat to wear at any time.  But I appreciate the talent that has built the historic team in a variety of ways: as owners, coaches, managers, and players. The NFL Hall Of Fame includes 21 Packers: Earl L. (Curly) Lambeau, Robert (Cal) Hubbard, Don Hutson, Johnny (Blood) McNally, Clarke Hinkle, Mike Michalske, Arnie Herber, Vince Lombardi, Tony Canadeo, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Paul Hornung, Willie Wood, Henry Jordan, James Lofton, and Reggie White; plus another 5 players who spent a limited amount of time with the team: Len Ford, Ted Hendricks, Walt Kiesling, Jan Stenerud and Emlen Tunnell. And soon to be added is Favre, and at some point names like Woodson, Driver, and others.

I was fortunate to be a teenager during the Lombardi era, so I witnessed—on TV or in person—Lombardi, Taylor, Gregg, Starr, Nitschke, Adderley, Davis, Hornung, Wood, Jordan, and in the post-Lombardi years, Lofton, and White, and so many more who did not make the Hall of Fame.

I bring all of this up because last Sunday afternoon, November 20, the Packers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game that should not have been quite as close as it was. But the win continued Green Bay’s status as the only unbeaten team in the NFL, with a record of 10-0. And tomorrow they’ll be in Detroit to play the Lions in the annual Thanksgiving Day game. This contest will be the best test of Green Bay’s ability to go untied and undefeated in 2011. The Lions always seem to surprise the Packers on their home turf. And this year, they’ve proven that they have the talent to challenge Green Bay on the field, head-to-head, mano a mano, a fact not in evidence during the Matt Millen “era” of Detroit incompetence. So I’ll be rooting for the Packers, but have no illusion that they’ll end the day undefeated in a rollover.

And I can’t close this out without mentioning the San Francisco Forty-Niners. They started the season with a win, lost to Dallas in week two, and have won eight straight games since then. To paraphrase the late great Phil Ochs, There but for Dallas, goes perfection. The odds are that Green Bay and San Francisco will both make the playoffs, and maybe even meet each other during the post season. Whether Green Bay is still perfect going into that game or not, it’s been fun to watch two franchises who’ve overcome transitions in players and coaching, and are sitting atop their respective divisions with perfect and almost perfect records. A high spot in a week with plenty of less than high spots.

Addendum: The Packers beat the Lions in Detroit 27-15. Their record is now 11-0-0. San Francisco lost to Baltimore 16-6, and are now 9-2-0.

David Steffen

Introduction

Last: Religion

Next: Racial Profiling is Back

© David Steffen 2011

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