Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Shield is buckling

Suddenly the National Football League looks a lot more like the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers than the 1985 Bears.

Which is to say, the Shield is buckling. In ways no one could have envisioned even six months ago.

That's when Ray Rice ended a drunken argument with his then-fiancée with the most vicious -- not to say villainous -- left hook since Joe Frazier was slinging them, setting off a chain of events that, like a certain half-witted burglary about 40 years ago, may yet bring down an entire government.

No, not the United States government. The government of, by and for Peyton 'n' Drew 'n' Andrew 'n' Them, aka the Republic of Roger the Hammer, aka our great national obsession, the NFL.

The NFL's inept response to the domestic violence issue -- coming on the heels of its long-standing and flat-out callous denial that concussions were a growing problem in its game -- may not yet move Congress to strip the league of its tax-exempt status. But it's got certain members thinking along those lines.

 (And high time, too. The notion that the offices of one of the nation's most robust industries should be tax-exempt -- which means the taxes on TV revenues are passed on to the clubs, and thus are far lower than they should be -- is absurd on its face and has been for a long time. The working class in America supports enough moneyed freeloaders without bearing the burden for an engine of such conspicuous wealth as the NFL. Time for the Shield to carry its own weight.).

In the meantime, Ricegate is beginning to more and more resemble its aforementioned predecessor, in that the man at the top, with every fresh revelation, becomes exposed more and more as a dissembler if not an outright liar. Like Richard Nixon, Goodell is neck-deep in this mess, and the day suddenly seems likely that he'll be called to account for it.

And as if that's not enough, there is this: After 39 years, the FCC has finally deep-sixed the NFL's notorious, and notoriously unjust, blackout rule.

Like the reconsideration of the NFL's tax-exempt status, that may or may not have been influenced by the league's current inability to get out of its own way. But it is indeed a day long in coming, and no matter what the motivation, it's a day that should be celebrated by right-thinking people everywhere.

The NFL has always maintained with a straight face that the blackout rule somehow served the fans, a patently ridiculous claim. In point of fact, it's a great hob-nailed boot to the fans' nether regions, forcing fans to subsidize failure by denying them access to their team's televised games unless those games were sold out.

In essence, the league was saying this: "Sure, we know the Jags stink. And we know they aren't trying not to stink.  But unless enough of you fork over several hundred dollars you don't have for tickets (thereby boosting the bottom line of your shiftless owners), we won't let the rest of you watch your team on TV."

Which is, in every universe but the NFL, blackmail.

And now will no longer be allowed. Whatever the motivation.

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 4

And now this week's installment of the Blob's intermittently memorable feature, The NFL In So Many Words ...

1. Hey, look, it's Jimmy Garoppolo!

2. You know, the New England quarterback who did not have a 59.9 QBR. That was Tom Brady.  Garoppolo was the New England quarterback with the 147.9 QBR.

3. The Chiefs quarterback, meanwhile, went 20-of-26 for 248 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-14 rout of the Patriots. He wasn't Tom Brady, either. He was Alex Smith.

4. But even Alex Smith wasn't ... Andrew Luck!

5. (Against the Titans!)

6. And then there was ... Aaron Rodgers!

7. (Against the Bears defensive backfield, which couldn't cover a $2 bar tab!)

8. Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater happened. And the Cowboys won (again!). And the Bills are still tied for the division lead, despite benching quarterback EJ Manuel.

9. For, um, Kyle Orton.

10. (Who's, um, OK. But he's no Jimmy Garoppolo).   

Monday, September 29, 2014

Stewart: The great imperative

Of course Tony Stewart will get back in a race car. That was the great anti-bombshell today, the keep-the-presses-rolling non-revelation for anyone who knows anything about the race driver known as Smoke -- whose absolute need to be in some seat somewhere is no Smokescreen at all.

What happened that dark night in August has changed him, fundamentally so, and that was evident from the moment he took the first question today. The brash, wise-cracking Indiana boy with the zest for jousting with the media was gone. In his place was the side of Stewart he never showed us: humbler, more introspective, undoubtedly still haunted by Kevin Ward Jr.'s death.'s

But he'll race on, he says. Never gave a thought to retiring.

He'll get back in the car because the car is too much of who he is, even if it's unclear if he and the car will ever have the relationship they once did. Stewart hinted as much over the weekend, saying he doesn't when or if he'll ever climb in a sprint car again, or even go watch sprint cars race. That's a huge admission for a man who regards muscling a sprinter around some no-account dirt track in Flyspeck America as recreation, his way to decompress the way other grabbing a rod and reel and head for some teeming piece of water is for other men.

And as for his day job, aka NASCAR?

Hard to say if he'll ever be the same driver again. The pull is still there -- it's always going to be there -- but whatever lasting effect that night in upstate New York has on him will manifest itself mostly in his right foot. Maybe he lifts it now where he might not have before. Maybe there's just an eyeblink of uncertainty in a calling where absolute certainty is not only a skill but a mandate, the only thing that sometimes will keep you whole and breathing.

Or, maybe Tony Stewart gets it all back, eventually. But if not, it wouldn't be the first time and won't be the last that trauma on the racetrack has stolen something indefinable from some formerly bulletproof leadfoot.

In any case, this leadfoot will continue to drop the hammer. It's what he knows. It's who he is. It's who he always will be.

"There was never a thought in my head about stopping," he said today. "That would take the life out of me."

One more anti-bombshell.

Ryders on a storm

Look, I love Phil Mickelson. He loves his wife and his kids and dogs, presumably, and he doesn't, as far as I know, turn stone deaf when a fan asks him for an autograph.

But this weekend the guy was a foof. A grade-A, premium-cut foof.

This after Mickelson chose the post-Ryder Cup news conference (Europe won again, surprise, surprise, and quite handily) to publicly rip American captain Tom Watson while Watson was sitting right there.  Said, essentially, that the U.S. hasn't had a captain who knew what he was doing since Paul Azinger in 2008, the last time the U.S. won. Said, essentially, that that's why the Europeans have sent the Americans home in sandwich bags 10 of the last 12 years.

Two words about that, Lefty: Shut up.

Which is to say, format and strategy are all well and good, but in the end, it's on the golfers themselves to go out and win their matches. Near as I can tell, Tom Watson didn't swing a club over the weekend. Lefty and his teammates did.

If they don't want to be sitting up there at the end of the weekend explaining themselves, go out and beat Rory or Graeme McDowell head-to-head. Because, when it was all said and done, the Americans didn't do that. Maybe that's just because the Europeans are grittier -- not as many of them came up as members of the country-club set -- or maybe it's because they're better. Or maybe it's because they don't whine and point fingers when things don't go their way.

So, yeah, Lefty, shut up.

You want to bring the Ryder Cup home again?

Two more words: Play better.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

IU: Signature loss

OK. So maybe they're not all that.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Saturday the attention might have been riveted in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines got Little Brown Jugged in the Big House by Minnesota and Brady Hoke, booed by the faithful, sounded more and more like a man tilting at his last windmill. But if all that merely demonstrated that it's hard to win in big-boy college football, even in a place as hallowed as Michigan, the most ringing corroboration of that came from five hours south in  Bloomington, Indiana.

Where the Hoosiers, a week after what everyone called a "signature win" over a ranked SEC school on the road, lost big at home to so-so Maryland.

The final was 37-15, and if it wasn't the easiest call of the day it was in the team photo.  That the Hoosiers would be unable to handle the moment was, after all, pretty much a given. They simply have no frame of reference for the level of expectation and scrutiny created by beating a Missouri on the road, and so they succumbed to the most ordinary of failings for ordinary football teams: The Big Letdown after the Big W.

It was a signature loss to follow the signature win, with the former perhaps writ larger. The win clearly showed that what Kevin Wilson is doing in Bloomington is working, if slowly; the loss just as clearly showed that the work is nowhere near finished.

And when will it be?

When beating a Missouri is no longer a signature win, but only what should be expected from time to time. Should Indiana ever get to that point .... well, the Hoosiers won't be getting ball-peened by Maryland the next week.

You can sign that.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Your historical perspective for today

So, last night the Kansas City Royals clinched a playoff berth.

This is not in and of itself remarkable; it is, after all, baseball's Season When Teams Clinch Playoff Berths. What is remarkable is the Royals haven't been in the playoffs for 29 years. Which means, for your history nerds out there, the last time the Royals did this ...

* Ronald Reagan was president.

* Michael Jordan had hair.

* People actually knew who Phillip Michael Thomas was.

* The Super Bowl Shuffle was a thing.

* The internet was not.

* Derek Jeter was 11.

* So was Dale Earnhardt Jr.

* Lebron James, meanwhile, was not yet 1.

* No one (or very few) had ever heard of  Oliver North, Dan Quayle, Osama bin Laden, Monica Lewinsky, Ken Starr, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Oh, yeah: And there was no such thing as a "blog."

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Class" begins with an "H"

So you say you want something uplifting to read in this space? Something that doesn't have a thing to do with self-serving people saying self-serving things, or with the growing notion that Roger Goodell's schnozz grows another inch with his every public pronouncement?

(The latest: Apparently the NFL's security chief knew about the Ray-Rice-punching-out-his-fiancée tape in April. Which makes it even more unlikely that Goodell is being Mr. Clean when he says, gosh, he didn't know nothin' about the NFL having any such tape in its possession. What, he never had a conversation with his security chief between, say, April and July?)

But enough of that.

The Blob is here this day to uplift. To make you cheer. To throw a little baseball sunbeam your way that doesn't have anything to do with Derek Jeter's too-perfect walk-off single in his last game in Yankee Stadium -- a theatrical release that hyperventilating Jeter-ites are already calling the Greatest Single Moment They've Ever Seen, even if it came in a meaningless game in the last meager days of the season.

Forget that. Let's talk about Phil Hughes instead.

The former Yankee is now a Twin, and his last scheduled start got rain-delayed Wednesday. It left him 1/3 of an inning short of the 210 innings he needs for a $500,000 incentive bonus to kick in.

But even though the Twins offered him another start Sunday (in which he'd likely collect his half-mill, since he only needs one out), Hughes turned them down. Said, in essence, it would feel too much like picking somebody's pocket.
"I owe too much to this organization for the next two years to risk getting hurt for an incentive," said Hughes, who already has collected two $250,000 incentive bonuses in a 16-10 season. "For whatever reason it wasn't meant to be. There's a lot bigger problems out there. I'm proud of my season."

A professional athlete intentionally leaving $500,000 on the table, even when his organization is OK with it?

Now that's news.

Not to mention class.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Stewart: Still not in the clear

The lawyers will always stay well fed. In a nation that salutes the legal brief as often, and with as much fervor, as it salutes the flag, that's as mortal a lock as a misbehaving politician saying "Mistakes were made."

Mistakes were made, the night Kevin Ward Jr. died on some back-country circle of dirt in upstate New York. But no grand jury in a just world could have seen in those mistakes criminal negligence on the part of Tony Stewart, the man who struck Ward with a sprint car. And so Stewart will not be charged with any crime in the matter.

It was a racing deal -- an inordinately tragic one, to be sure -- and the law will consider it as such. And that is as it should be.

But accidents do not just happen in the places where the lawyers feed, and so Stewart is likely not off anyone's hook just yet. The Ward family's statement that this wasn't the end of things virtually guarantees that at some point a civil lawsuit will be coming down the wind.

 And, listen, you can't blame the Wards. Their son is dead, and someone must be to blame. That their son was behaving recklessly -- a driver in a black firesuit on a dimly-lit dirt track getting out of his car and standing in the middle of the backstretch while race cars swept past -- is irrelevant. He's dead and Tony Stewart was the instrument of his death, and so Tony Stewart must be held to account.

Even if there's no real accounting to be done here.

Accidents may be a fiction in Litigation World, but they are, elsewhere, exceedingly real. I've watched the available video of the accident a dozen times, and I have to say, had I been on that grand jury, I wouldn't have returned an indictment either. I simply don't see anything that indicates intent or even recklessness (an interesting concept, given that this was, after all, a racetrack) on the part of Stewart. It was, yes, a tragic accident.

And so the only issue I have with what got handed down yesterday is the judgment that Ward had enough marijuana in his bloodstream to significantly impair his judgment. This smacked of a smear tactic to me, because I don't know how anyone can definitely say whether or not Ward's judgment was impaired enough to compel him to leave his race car. And in any case, I'm not aware that  marijuana has a reputation for enhancing that sort of aggression, anyway.

Maybe it does, I don't know. I'm just saying I'm not aware of it.

In any case, that revelation certainly didn't hurt Stewart's chances with the grand jury. Although I doubt he's taking much comfort in that today -- or, for that matter, in his exoneration by the system.

Because, as ever, lawyers gotta eat. They do indeed.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

And now a brief pause for shameless rooting

Excuse me here while I trade bipartisanship for partisanship (which makes me fun at parties inside the Beltway), and sober analysis for a little here's-some-bubbly-in-yer-eye.

My baseball team is in the playoffs. Again.

My baseball team, aka, the Pittsburgh Pirates is a proud organization of intermittent standing that gave the world Honus Wagner, to reach way back, and also Ralph Kiner and Pops Stargell and Manny Sanguillen. And let's not forget the greatest Pirate of all, Roberto Clemente -- the closest thing to Baryshnikov baseball will ever see, and also the finest rightfielder I ever saw.

  The Bucs went through 20 years of hell, and also distinct mortals such as Tim Laker, Abraham Nunez and Kevin Polcovich, before finding their mojo (and also their Andrew McCutchen) and reaching the playoffs last year. Now they've done it again, beating Atlanta last night to clinch at least a wild card.

I say "at least" because now they're just 1 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central, and coming like a freight train. This does not displease me, being no particular fan of the Cardinals' smug self-assurance. Of course, it would be more fun if their manager was still Mr. Smug Self-Assurance himself, Tony LaRussa, but we Pirates fans will take what pleasures we can after two decades in the Wilderness of The Missed Cutoff Man.

It was, to undercook it, a long dry run. And now that it's over, there is, yes, elation, but also a curious nostalgia for bad baseball past. It's a nostalgia which makes making the playoffs two years in a row seem a trifle mystic, an uncertain reality which I keep expecting to blow away at the slightest puff of wind.

But I checked the boxscore this morning, and Tim Laker wasn't in it. Neither were Abraham Nunez, Kevin Polcovich, Chance Sanford or Doug Strange. And, no, that wasn't Ricardo Rincon trotting in from the bullpen, gasoline can in hand.

So I guess this is real. Pass the bubbly.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 3

And now this week's installment of the intermittently awaited Blob feature, The NFL In So Many Words:

1. Jay Cutler!

2. ... is better than that guy the Bears used to have, also named Jay Cutler.

3. Peyton Manning!

4. ... still lost.

5. Andrew Luck!

6. ... against Jacksonville.

7. Today's exercise in comparative analysis: The Cardinals are 3-0 with Drew Stanton at quarterback. The Bengals are 3-0 without Drew Stanton at quarterback. What does this mean?

8. It means the Bengals got to play the Titans this week.

9. Meanwhile, every point in the Patriots-Raiders game was scored by a guy whose name ended in "-kowski." What does this mean? 

10. Come on. It doesn't mean anything.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Connecting the dots, Ann Arbor division

Sometimes the paper trail is a mile-wide and glows in the dark. And sometimes you piece it together with spit and bailing wire, and no lack of overheated imagination.

And so here's one that leads, sort of, from San Francisco through Bloomington, Indiana, and on up to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Follow along, children:

* In San Francisco, Jim Harbaugh's magic dust is nearly gone. The 49ers lost again yesterday dropping to 1-2, and the rumblings are now appropriately seismic that Harbaugh has lost the team. Frank Gore is carping about touches. Anquan Boldin is disgruntled. Discipline issues have cost the defense in particular -- though not as much as the lack of discipline 's exhibited by Harbaugh's refusal to bench accused domestic abuser Ray McDonald and the increasing number of rockheaded penalties the Niners are piling up.

Conclusion: Harbaugh's fast wearing out his welcome.

He's also, ahem, a Michigan Man.

 * Which brings up what happened in Columbia, Mo., Saturday. Indiana -- lowly, lost-to-a-MAC-school-at-home Indiana -- jumped up and beat Missouri, an SEC school. A ranked SEC school. On the road.

And that brings up, in stark contrast, what happened in Ann Arbor ...

* ... where Michigan didn't just lose to but got cross-stitched by, um, Utah, 26-10, thereby suffering in comparison to Indiana for one of the few times in the Wolverines' glorious football history. That puts even more heat on head coach Brady Hoke, who's now as embattled in Ann Arbor as Harbaugh (remember: Michigan Man) is in San Francisco.

So Michigan now looks worse than Indiana, at least for one week. And that seems to hasten what now appears to be Hoke's imminent exit. And that, in turn, will open the door to bring in Harbaugh and rescue him from his own uncomfortable situation.

Or so the paper trail says. Sort of.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Still not getting it

Roger Goodell said everything Friday you expect a man practiced in the art of spin to say, only more of it.

He said he blew the Ray Rice thing.

He said the league has to "get its house in order," and that they can't afford to repeat the same mistakes.

He promised yet another new conduct policy ... and said, oh, yeah, he was going to appoint a commission with, you know, some experts in domestic violence on it ... and slapped on various and sundry other public relations Band-Aids in what was a pretty standard exercise in damage control.

Not much damage got controlled, however. Because vague promises are one thing, and actions are another.

And so what still speaks far more loudly than anything Goodell said Friday is the fact that Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy are still being paid while they go through the legal process, via a special commissioner's exemption list. Out in San Francisco, defensive end Ray McDonald continues to play.  And on the same day Goodell was applying Band-Aids, a report broke that Ravens' executives pushed for leniency for Ray Rice and kept the in-elevator video from going public -- and that Goodell, even if he didn't know all those details, was compliant with their aim.

And then he topped it off with defiance when pressed for details during his news conference Friday.

Actions, again, speaking louder than words.

Corporate arrogance is something we should be all used to now in a nation ruled by corporate interests (How dare these little people question the COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE!), but there comes a time when even corporate oligarchies overstep their bounds. And that time has come for Roger Goodell's NFL.

The mandate of his and his predecessors' regimes has always been to protect the Sheild at all costs. And it's time Roger Goodell did that.

Resign. Now.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The brutes among them

Drew Brees is as right as ham on rye. No, not everyone in the NFL is wife-beater, a child-abuser or some other form of violent felon simply waiting to burst forth.

"What I hope doesn't happen as a result of this is that the perception of NFL players is that we're a bunch of brutes and that we're beating our wives and abusing our children. And that's not [the case]," Brees said Wednesday. "You're talking about maybe, what, four or five cases across the league right now that are known, amongst over 2,000 players."

And that is true. As far as it goes.

Except, of course, that the key phrase in all of that is "four or five cases right now that are known."

And so while Brees was speaking an undeniable truth Wednesday, Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested for assault for an incident in July involving a young woman and an 18-month-old child.  And Dwyer was summarily deactivated. And the beat, unfortunate as that phrase might be, went on.

Yes, Brees is right. Not everyone in the NFL is Oog the Caveman. Not even a significant minority likely is. But perception is always driven by extremes, and right now the extremes are hitting the airwaves and intertoobz virtually every day -- because, frankly, the extremes play better than the norm, especially in the age of 24/7/365 media.

The norm is just the norm, and therefore by definition not news. The extremes are, well, extreme, and therefore the very essence of news.

 And so the NFL's perception, fair or not, is that of an entity overrun with felons and Neanderthals, headed up by a leadership that clearly has no clue how to change that perception. Hey, let's reinstate Adrian Peterson after one game! No, let's ban him from the facilities! And,  while we're it, let's appoint an all-woman panel to do our internal investigation of this stuff!

Because, you know, they're wimmin. That won't look like pandering at all, right?

Um ... right?


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

NFL: Money walks?

And now, softly, the hammer comes down on  the Hammer.

If Roger Goodell's reign as NFL commissioner is indeed weaving, trying to find legs that are suddenly gone, there won't be a bang to herald the final toppling. There will only be the whisper of gentle reproof in a carefully vetted press release, and then the quiet rustle of money slipping out the door.

Nothing walks like money when you run an empire built on the dollar, and the National Football League is assuredly that. And if you listened carefully at the top of this week, you could hear money's footsteps, fleeing the scene of the crime(s) with far more thunder than any editorial or public opinion poll could generate.

Here were Campbell and Visa and the Radisson and McDonald's, either backing way from the suddenly radioactive NFL or expressing its displeasure with the way the league has so clearly not addressed the issue of domestic violence in its workforce. Here was Anheuser-Busch issuing a statement that said, in part,  "We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league."

This is the brewer of the Official Beer Of The National Football League saying this. This a company that pours $200 million a year into the league coffers saying this.

Look. Roger Goodell can survive the storm if it's just the media or the public banging on him and  his league, because that's just a PR deal and he can do enough -- even if he hasn't yet -- to spin the narrative back his way. With this rare exception, the league's become positively adept at that over the years. Just ask all the neurologists whose reputations got trashed because they were foolish enough to suggest the league had a concussion issue.

But when it's the money that starts getting queasy, that's a problem. It is, frankly, the only way to effectively hit back at any of our capitalist monoliths anymore. They've all got iron jaws, but their wallets are pure glass.

Hit 'em there and it hurts. Hit 'em anywhere else, and they'll never feel it.

And so now Roger Goodell, for all the public outcry at the way he's mishandled the Ray Rice thing, has a problem that actually threatens him for the first time.

The fans will keep watching because the fans long ago became hooked on the product, and addicts are easy to keep in line. But Big Money doesn't get hooked. You get hooked on it.

And now it's restless. And the NFL's late for its next fix.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 2

And now, only a week late, the barely tolerated return of that tired Blob standby, the NFL In So Many Words :

1. The Bills are going to the Super Bowl!

2. Yes, that's right, ma'am. It's Brian Football. B-R-I-A-N, as in B-R-I-A-N Hoyer.

3. Upset of the week: Jay Cutler smiled.

4. Fantasy heartbreak of the week: You didn't play Philip Rivers (28-of-37, 284 yards, 3 touchdowns) against that fearsome Seahawks defense.

5. Fantasy heartbreak of the week, bonus round: You didn't play Andy Dalton (15-of-23, 252, one touchdown) or Eli Manning (26-of-39, 277, two scores) either. Oh, and you drafted RG III.

6. I said, "The Bills are going to the Super Bowl!"

7.  Meanwhile, the Saints are 0-2. The Colts are 0-2. The world is a cruel and capricious place, not to be understood by the likes of mortal men ...


9. Or the Bengals.

10. Or maybe Kirk Cousins. Because, you know, he's Kirk Cousins.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A bloody mess

The image, 44 years along now, is burned into our national psyche. Every montage from the '60s contains it, ignoring the calendar as the '60s themselves did, lasting as they did well beyond the 10 years allotted.

And so: May 4, 1970. Kent State University.

On the ground, facedown, clearly lifeless, lies a mop-haired college kid, blood coursing in a gory stream from beneath his head toward the edge of the pavement.

Kneeling next to him, wailing, another young person, a 14-year-old runaway from Florida who would later be identified as May Ann Vecchio.

Mary Ann Vecchio is still alive. She's my age. Wonder what she thinks of Urban Outfitters' brilliant new  idea.

Which is this, a Kent State sweatshirt spattered with fake blood. Ha-ha. Chortle, chortle. That there's a knee-slapper, yessiree.

Unless you're Mary Ann Vecchio that is. Unless you're the relatives of the four students killed that day in a 67-shot fusillade by the National Guard -- three of whom were doing nothing more lawless than walking to class, and one of whom, irony of ironies, was in the ROTC.

The ROTC -- the burning of its building on campus -- was what sparked the student unrest that got the National Guard called in to begin with. Most of them were just kids themselves. And so when they were confronted by angry students, they panicked and opened fire. In surviving photos, you can see their commanding officer beating them over the head to get them to stop.

But four people died before they did. And in the national mind, that will always be the thing for which Kent State is remembered, fair or not.

So you can understand why university officials aren't too happy with Urban Outfitters right now. And you can understand why a storm of criticism has descended upon their clueless heads. And you can only hope, if you're old enough to remember May 4, 1970, that whatever genius came up with the Bloody Kent State idea is pounding the pavement today, looking for a job as a Wal-Mart greeter or some such thing.

Or, maybe not. Our capacity for glorifying violence and tragedy, or at least trying to make a buck  off it, seems to have increased tenfold in the last decade or so. Tasteless, spun as "cutting edge," sells these days. And if there's outrage at a man cold-cocking his fiancé or beating a 4-year-old with a tree branch or getting shot by some peawit with a gun while taking his kids to school, there's also plenty of those who'll stand up for the perpetrators.

Witness all the fans in Baltimore the other night wearing Ray Rice jerseys -- including, most pathetically, women. Witness the woman in the parking lot outside the Vikings stadium Sunday wearing an Adrian Peterson jersey and carrying a switch. And those are just couple examples.

All I know is this: When some of us at Ball State back in the day used to call the Kent State Golden Flashes the Kent State Muzzle Flashes, thinking we were being "funny,"we had an excuse. We were just dumb college kids with all the human empathy and self-awareness of an airborne virus.

What's Urban Outfitters' excuse?


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Your look back at Saturday

So another college football Saturday is in the books, and what have learned?

A brief synopsis:

* Everything is about perspective.

That's the takeaway from Indiana State's 27-20 win over Ball State, one week after Ball State came within a minute of knocking off Iowa in Iowa City. The FCS Sycamores immediately trumpeted the win as one of the biggest for the program in decades.

Which, come to think of it, Ball State would have done had the Cardinals hung on against the Hawkeyes. A measure, odd as it may seem, of just how far the program has come under the skilled guidance of Pete Lembo.

* Vegas must hate Purdue.

Or at least, Vegas must hate the Boilermakers during Notre Dame week.

The wise guys had Notre Dame favored by a gazillion points against the Purdues, who were coming off a hopelessly inept three-touchdown loss at home to a middle-shelf MAC school, Central Michigan. But something about the Irish always gets Purdue's back up, and so of course it was a 14-10 game in favor of the Boilers until Everett Golson directed the go-ahead drive in the dying seconds of the first half.

Final score: 30-14, Notre Dame. Hardly the decimation Vegas was counting on, and yet another reason why abandoning the long-standing series for the next six years is sheer folly, and removes a bit of historical context from Notre Dame's schedule.

 Instead of a fellow Indiana school they've battled tooth-and-nail since 1896, and continuously since 1946, the Irish will begin a spate of who-cares series with nodding acquaintances such as Wake Forest and Duke. Zzzzzzz.

* Hey, at least Ohio State won.

Which is to say: It was another so-so day for the Big Ten, aka, Not All That Great Football For The Mathematically Challenged.

Yes, the Buckeyes laminated Kent State 66-0, and Michigan handled Miami (O.), and Maryland almost beat West Virginia -- which may not actually count, because Maryland's not really a Big Ten school yet except in name. Elsewhere, though ...

Well, there was Indiana, which became another pelt for the Mid-American Conference (aka, Pretty Much Like The Big Ten, But Without The Money). Final was Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42, as Luers grad James Knapke plumped up his numbers against the traditionally porous Hoosiers defense, throwing for 395 yards and three scores.

Iowa, meanwhile, shrugged off its near-miss against Ball State with a come-from-ahead loss to Iowa State, the Cyclones' third win over the Hawkeyes in the last four meetings. TCU (30-7) and Washington (44-17) thanked Minnesota and Illinois for stepping out of conference and providing the sort of tuneups that only Directional Hyphen State used to provide. And in an actual sort-of conference game, Penn State beat Rutgers 13-10, proving Rutgers will fit right in with the Big Ten.

I mean, dreary losses are what it's all about, right?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mouths that roar

Once upon in America you could say any vile/obnoxious/out-and-out racist thing you wanted and nobody made a big deal out of it. This is what some people called freedom of speech.

Now you say vile/obnoxious/out-and-out racist stuff, and you get push back.

And that is also freedom of speech.

And so this week Paul George violated the cardinal rule of tweeting -- Thou Shalt Not Press Send Until Thy Brain Is Fully Engaged -- and got caught in a game of public relations catch-up after seeming to suggest Janay Rice, you know, kinda had that left hook coming in that elevator. And the Atlanta Hawks' owner and general manager got themselves in hot water for, in the first case, an email rife with dunderheaded racial stereotypes, and, in the second case, a recording in which the GM, Danny Ferry, said Luol Deng "had a little African in him." 

The owner offered to sell the team. The GM tried to say his words weren't his own -- he was just repeating what others had said about Deng -- but whether true or not, the words now stick to him like friction tape.

In any case, the day when you could just say any old thing and not get called on it are done. And if there are some who will mourn the passing of that day, it says more about them, and perhaps their own attitudes, than about any diminishment of freedom in the good old US of A.

Look: Clearly you can still say whatever  you want these days. In fact, it seems more people are doing it than ever.

The difference now is you aren't doing it in a vacuum, or in a society that is compelled to tolerate it. You can blame that old hobby horse, the media, for making a Great Big Deal out of it, and you might have a point given the media seems to make a Great Big Deal out of everything these days. But that says more about the nature of media than anything; we're a full-service 24/7/365 business these days, and that business includes a lot of people who aren't trained in what the old-schoolers among us still stubbornly insist is a profession. Woe is us, apparently.

But be that as it may, media still does what media has always done, which is reflect the values of those it serves. And so, no, you can't get away with saying any old thing these days. And that's because those who didn't have either the voice or the vehicle to push back in any meaningful sense now have both.

Everyone has his or her own megaphone now. And that, whether you want to see it or not, is real freedom of speech.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some thoughts for That Date

There's a gleaming new building filling the sky there now, reaching up and up with a singular brassy defiance. There's a museum and a reflecting pool and a memorial because that's what you do with days that have become history, days so momentous and awful you remember them in spite of how much you'd rather forget.

September 11 was all about emptiness: Blue sky empty of clouds, a skyline empty of two iconic towers, a city suddenly empty of two thousand-plus souls. And so the way we memorialize it is by trying to fill that emptiness, obsessively and endlessly.

That process started almost before the towers collapsed in a jackstraw heap, and went on all that numbed week. I remember, that aching day, sitting in a hardware store in Auburn listening to a man try to fill the emptiness by telling me about another catastrophe, a fire that had destroyed the store 90 or more years before. And I remember going to a football game on Friday night and again the next day, while debate raged as to whether or not it was appropriate..

That debate goes on to this day. I suppose it always will.

What I've come to believe, however, is that that week was all about making the empty go away, and if going to a football game did that for some people, then I'm not going to quibble about whether or not it dishonored the dead. All I can say is it didn't feel like dishonor.

All I can say, going to a football game down in Monroe Friday night and then to another the next day at Saint Francis, is that it felt more like catharsis, and commonality, and the stitching together of  a social fabric torn asunder. That it was a football game that provided the vehicle for this was immaterial; in the end, it was about family, our American family, reaching for each other at a time when we desperately needed to do so. We all could have been at a quilting bee for all that the scoreboard at one end of the field mattered.

Could there have been a better remembrance, I think now, than to stand as one as the taped voice of Lee Ann Rimes floated out across the farm fields around Adams Central, "Amazing Grace" spinning out and out into the September twilight?

  Could there have been any dishonor in what happened the next day, when Saint Francis and some team from Wisconsin played a football game that was of no consequence, except for the simple fact that by playing it we had an excuse to come together?

I saw no dishonor in that. I saw none at the tables that greeted you as you came in the gate that day, where donations for the victims were being taken. I saw none in the silver American flag stickers on the back of every Saint Francis helmet. I saw none, at the far end of the afternoon, in the sight of two young boys throwing a football around down in the south end of the field.

One kid scooted for the end zone, football tucked beneath his arm like a loaf of pumpernickel. The other kid gave chase, catching up with him in the end zone and wrestling him to the ground. And then they rolled around for awhile down there, two American boys doing what American boys do on a sunlit American afternoon.

And, for a moment, anyway, filling up the empty.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A matter of blinders

So Janay Rice is standing by her man, blaming mainly the perennial leader in the clubhouse, the media, for stirring up the pot again just when it seemed that whole domestic violence thing between her and her hubby was going to, you know, just go away.

And now comes boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., saying the NFL's being too hard on Rice in the wake of the videotape of him cold-cocking Janay in that elevator, saying the pale two-game suspension originally handed down was probably enough.

And now comes a myriad of others, saying the NFL shouldn't be changing its rules in mid-stream just because of a video it probably knew was out there, but swears it didn't.

And you wonder why domestic violence is such a pervasive problem in this country?

We can debate how much Janay Rice's lashing out was about the loss of a chunky livelihood, but it also had a familiar feel for those who deal with domestic abuse every day and know its patterns. One can only hope, for her sake and the Rices' marriage, that there won't be a repeat of what happened in that elevator. But the numbers paint a less hopeful scenario.

And so the prevailing sentiment over her public statement was a profound pity, because it smacked so strongly of denial to those who've heard it all before. And in Mayweather's case ... well, they've heard that, too, the reflexive defense of a man too loose with his fists, all the more predictable because it came from a man who, ahem, pled guilty to domestic abuse charges himself after going after a former girlfriend while their children looked on.

And who, surprise, surprise, maintains his innocence to this day.

Denial upon denial: It's the preferred working medium for domestic violence, because it's denial that sustains and nurtures it. You could even see it in the response of the NFL, now playing a cynical game of catchup because it didn't really want to confront the issue, or at least take it seriously, until that latest video clip forced its hand.

The league's credibility lies in tatters now. Which is how Janay Rice could sound half-credible to some when she blamed the media. And how some in the intertoobz-sphere could say it was double jeopardy for the NFL to ban Rice. And how Mayweather could join that chorus despite his own obvious bias on this subject.

Denial gave it all cover. And there's no denying that. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Doing the expedient thing

And now stands the Shield, with a hole in it you could drive several careers through.

Ray Rice's, certainly, for a left hook that should have made him a guest in the Graybar Hilton, and at the very least should have left him outside the protection of the Shield, aka the NFL.

But Roger Goodell, you should drive his career through the Shield's smoking ruin, too. Also everyone in the front office of the Ravens', who could have slammed Rice with a team penalty on top of Goodell's weak-kneed response but chose not to do so. Also all the best legal minds in Atlantic County, New Jersey, such as they are.

And who may or may not have seen the video of Rice turning loose his inner Joe Frazier on the woman he allegedly loves, but certainly saw him dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator. And did nothing.

Nope, no sir, nothin' to see here, folks. Just a couple lovebirds havin' a little squabble. Heck, we don't know how she wound up knocked colder than Hitler's heart. Maybe she slipped or something.

Certainly the Ravens and the NFL did so, and yesterday just made it worse. Caught red-handed at last, the Ravens, after muddying the waters by throwing out words like "provocation," suddenly had an attack of conscience and cut Rice loose. And the NFL, after apologizing for the two-game suspension and trying to make nice with the public with some new, stiffer penalties for domestic violence, suddenly was banning Rice indefinitely after swearing on a stack of Bibles there was nothing further it could do to him.

Not that they were fooling anyone. From beginning to end, since Goodell slapped Rice on the wrist and said "Now, Ray, don't do that again, you naughty boy" it's all been an astonishingly clumsy makeup call by an entity that supposedly has the PR thing covered.

Not this time. This time, it's obvious even to the ninniest of ninnies that this has all been the NFL cynically protecting its brand as a League That Cares About Wimmin, all while keeping a greedy eye on the female demo of its gravy train.

Because, listen, the NFL is a business, surprise, surprise, and so every decision it makes is ultimately about business. Nowhere was that more nakedly obvious than Monday, because Monday wasn't about what the NFL or the Ravens saw on that TMZ video or when they saw it. It was about the fact America saw it, and that's the only reason Rice was cast into outer darkness.

And so the league and the Ravens get no points for any of it. What still speaks louder is the thundering silence with which the Ravens greeted Rice's initial suspension. What speaks louder is Goodell conducting his interview with Janay Palmer with Ray Rice in the room, and then deciding, well, gosh, she said she was at fault, too.

Goodell should have lost his job right then and there. He certainly should now.

No amount of Breast Cancer Awareness Pink can obscure that.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Just call him De(nial)lany

So, apparently Denial is not just a river that runs through Egypt.

Apparently it's also a river that runs through the Midwest and into Pennsylvania and on out to New Jersey and Maryland.

That would be the footprint of the new Big Ten, which is actually the Big Fourteen these days if you're a stickler for math, and which added Maryland and Rutgers this year in hopes it could breach  the lucrative eastern TV markets if not the threshold of Big Time Football.

Which would be football as they play it in the SEC and the Pac 12 and the Big 12, and apparently the ACC and the MAC, too, given what happened Saturday.

What happened Saturday was a whole lot of history, and not the good kind, either. Ohio State got racked by Virginia Tech, losing its home opener for the first time since Woody was tearing up sideline markers. Michigan got shut out for the first time since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Michigan State, the Big Ten's defending champeen, went out to Oregon and found out how they play the game in elite conferences, which is to say faster and better and maybe stifling a yawn or two at the presumption of these Big Ten hacks, the way you'd stifle a yawn while playing, say, McNeese State.

Which, oh, yeah, almost beat Nebraska. And then there was the usual uprising of the Mid-American Conference, in which Northern Illinois whipped Northwestern and Central Michigan embarrassed Purdue by three scores and Ball State came within a minute of beating Iowa, one of the Big Ten's presumptive darlings this fall.

Not the best of days for the Big Ten, and if commish Jim Delany ever gets around to upgrading his conference's football instead of just its bank account, he might want to think about extending invites to the entire MAC. But at this point, why would the MAC want to take a step down?

Instead, Delany was De-nial-any, chattering bravely that, heck, no, the Big Ten wasn't out of the picture for the first-ever national playoff. The conference just had a bad day. Lots of good days are coming, especially when conference play starts and the schedules get easier.

And if it doesn't happen ... well, shoot. Who wouldn't want Michigan, Ohio State or Michigan State in the All Them Others Dot Com Bowl?

Coming to you live from Irrelevance, Arkansas, somewhere between Dec. 18 and Dec 24.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Now boarding, the Golson-for-Heisman bus

And now the sell, in the hot glare of the prime-time lights.

And now Everett Golson running and passing and bumfuzzling poor Michigan into a full coma, as Brady Hoke stood over there on the Wolverine sideline wearing the look of a man contemplating his last meal. And now a 31-0 ball-peening  -- first shutout against Michigan in 30 years and the worst thumping Notre Dame has ever doled out in the series, which goes back to the time of Custer's Last Stand but has always been an odd courtship, taking whole decades off in the interim.

And so, it's Golson For The Heisman now (“Yeah, let’s put him up for it,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said, after Golson's 23-of-34, 226-yard, three-touchdown showing). It's the selling of Gold-son -- See? The kid's a natural -- in a place that knows how to myth-make.

Or maybe you missed the statue of Knute Rockne, resting in the shade of a tree beneath the patient gaze of Touchdown Jesus, right outside the north gate of Notre Dame Stadium where the boys enter every Saturday after their morning walk across campus.

Around the corner is Frank Leahy, kneeling eternally across from the Joyce Center. Farther on around is Lou Holtz, facing southwest in a place where he greets the worshippers making their way in from their tailgates, and where he can be a constant warning to the dire threat posed by the likes of Navy and Rice.

Who, by the way, was profoundly undercooked a week ago as Golson strapped five touchdowns on the Owls and began the first Heisman murmurs. Last night he was even better, making stars out of the previously undistinguished Will Fuller and Amir Carlisle, outshining by far his Michigan counterpart, Devin Gardner, who had another lackluster road performance wearing No. 98 in honor of Michigan legend Tom Harmon, the original Old 98.

It went unverified, after last night, whether Old 98 called (collect, one assumes) from the Great Beyond, saying that he'd had honor enough. But it sounds about right.

The unvarnished truth is Michigan stinks and Notre Dame doesn't, but just how much Notre Dame doesn't stink remains to be seen in a schedule designed to make even the non-fragrant fail. What's established, however, is that as Golson goes, Notre Dame will go. And right now, he goes and goes and goes -- and immediately ahead lies Purdue, which got rolled Saturday at home by Central Michigan, an off-the-rack MAC school that's no powerhouse even in its own middling neighborhood.

Which is to say: The legend figures to grow some more next week. And in South Bend, they know how to keep their legends well-watered.