Friday, February 02, 2007

Should They be Nervous?

Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson was questioned by Miami police in regards to the shooting death of a Miami man. According to a statement released by the Bengals to the Associated Press, "Chad has confirmed to the club that he cooperated with Miami Police earlier this week as part of an investigation. Police have characterized this as a routine procedure and have stressed that Chad is not a suspect or even a person of interest in this case."

The AP report states that the man, Curtis Tavares Dopson, "was shot near the doorway of a duplex he moved into about four months ago." The report was unclear as to whether it was a duplex that Dopson had moved into or that it was one that Johnson had moved into.

Johnson was questioned as to what his relationship might have been with the deceased and what connection he had in relation to the shooting.

While I'm sure that the Bengals are happy that the police are saying that Johnson isn't a suspect, or person of interest, recent player behavior might dictate concern for the team's front office. If this shooting happened in Johnson's doorway and he knew the deceased, management has to be concerned that new evidence could quickly change the status of their star receiver.

Given the last year's worth of off-the-field issues, I can't imagine that the Bengals brain trust is happy about this report.

I can almost hear the hands wringing in Cincy from here.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Black History Month and the Super Bowl

During the course of the 2006 NFL campaign five AFC teams were piloted by black head coaches - Cincinnati (Marvin Lewis), Cleveland (Romeo Crennel), Indianapolis (Tony Dungy), Kansas City (Herm Edwards), and Oakland (Art Shell). In the NFC, there were two - Arizona (Denny Green), and Chicago (Lovie Smith). Shell and Green have since been fired and Mike Tomlin hired in Pittsburgh to replace Bill Cowher.

This is the first post-season in NFL history that will feature a black head coach, and as the dominoes fell this post season, it will feature one on each sideline. What does this mean in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely nothing. Is it progress? Yes.

However, as long as we pay attention to black versus white in the coaching carousel - we in the press, in the executive suite, and as fans - do an injustice to those coaching on the sideline.

Is it historically important? Probably not. From a color barrier standpoint, there are a number of others that came before in the athletic arena that led the way. It's unlikely that during the two week press whirlwind that is the time between the division championships and the end of the Super Bowl that we'll hear a reporter repeat a paraphrase of the ignorance that Redskins quarterback Doug Williams was subject to over 20 years ago with the question of, "How long have you been a black quarterback?"

Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy are unlikely to receive the hate mail and threats received by Hank Aaron almost 35 years ago when he was on the verge of breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record.

The NFL will not have to switch hotels in Miami, or pull the game from the city like the American Football League pulled its 1965 All-Star Game from New Orleans and moved it to Houston due to the way that 23 black players were being treated in the city.

The coaches will not be forced to seek out separate accommodations for themselves or their black players from those of their white teammates like the coach for Jackie Robinson did.

Players today seldom, if ever, have political agendas such as Muhammed Ali, Jim Brown, and Olympians Tommie Smith, and John Carlos.

Do problems still exist with the system? Sure. This season past season saw seven teams with black coaches, and if the Cowboys hire a white coach then next season will have only six black men in charge of teams in a league where more than half the players are black. Are there more than six qualified candidates? We won't know until the candidates get the opportunity.

However, Green gave us three losing seasons in Arizona, and Shell presided over the NFL equivalent of A Comedy of Errors, then again, Mike Singletary's name has been looming large as a soon to be hot commodity.

While the interviewing rule changes proposed by the Rooney family, owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has helped, the genesis of these changes and the really important changes go back years.

It goes back to coaches like Hank Stram, and Joe Gibbs who gave blacks chances at positions that most believed they were incapable of playing. It goes back to owners in the old AFL, like Al Davis, who listened to the complaints of the players who were confronted by racism. It goes back to Brown, Ali, Smith, Robinson, and Carlos, who weathered the early social and legal violence that went with being popular symbols in a fight for racial equality during a time when teams couldn't even stay in the same hotel and fans often were not allowed to utilize the same facilities at a stadium just because of the color of their skin.

It goes back earlier to Jesse Owens putting the punctuation mark on the joke of the Aryan Master Race and to a son of a slave that laid the ground work for the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. - Paul Robeson .

According to the online archive at Rutgers, "Robeson was awarded a four year academic scholarship to Rutgers University in 1915, the third black student in the history of the institution. Despite the openly racist and violent opposition he faced, Robeson became a twelve letter athlete excelling in baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was named to the All American Football team on two occasions. In addition to his athletic talents, Robeson was named a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, belonged to the Cap & Skull Honor Society, and graduated valedictorian of his class in 1919."

Robeson was an outspoken proponent of equal rights in the 1940's, but faced censorship from the House Committee on Un-American activities. For more information on Robeson and his importance to sparking the Civil Rights Movement, click here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Taste of My New Gig

I recently was invited to write for Here's a little taste of what I'm doing over there...Hopefully the amount of content here won't suffer for it.

Any Hall, The Problems Faced by Voters in the big Four

The recent Hall of Fame vote for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame had me pondering the problems inherent in the rules and the processes put in place for voting. Every year there is some sort of controversy associated with the voting process - whether it's an argument over who didn't make the cut to this year's hot-button topic; steroids...but more on that later.

Each of the various Halls have their own arcane rules, typically lost in the translation when the voters try to explain, because they're usually making an attempt to put their own take on how voting should be done.

There exists a minority of voters, for example, voting on the future Hall-of-Famers for Cooperstown who will not vote anyone in on the first vote, because no one has ever been a unanimous choice. This reasoning is difficult to fathom. The argument placed before the public here essentially amounts to the following, "just because previous voters failed in their assessment of the likes of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, we should continue to do things wrong."

With few exceptions, it is difficult to understand why a player is hall-of-fame caliber one year, but not the previous year. The statistics haven't changed.

The Baseball Hall of Fame allows the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to vote for up to ten players on a ballot in a given year. Amongst the exceptions that must be considered are players under scrutiny for other reasons. Rule number five that voters for Cooperstown are expected to adhere to - "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

Granted, Ty Cobb by all accounts was a racist bastard known to sharpen his spikes before a game, and Gaylord Perry has admitted to the occassional KY ball, but recent events have openned a whole new can of worms.

Mark McGwire, implicated as much by Jose Canseco's book Juiced as he was by his refusal to answer questions before congress, sits in limbo.

McGwire's proponents say that without any hard evidence, Big Mac deserves the benefit of the doubt, often throwing in the idea that, "we all knew players were doing it then and we didn't do anything about it."

On the other side, the others point at the fact that McGwire has 14 years of remaining elegibility left and if they put him in now, and it comes out down the road that he was definitively using the substance, then they can't take him back out of the Hall. The consesus, however, is that McGwire would have been in on the first ballot had there been no doubt about how his numbers were achieved.

This begs a separate question; if McGwire didn't do anything, then are his numbers really Hall worthy?

Through 16 seasons Big Mac put up the following numbers - .263 BA, 1626 hits, 583 HR, 1414 RBI's, 1167 runs, 1596 strike outs in 6187 career at bats.Former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, who has perennially fallen short also played 16 seasons and put up the following numbers - .298 BA (edge), 2452 hits (edge), 382 HR, 1451 RBI's, 1249 runs, 1423 strike outs all in 8225 career at bats.

So, in more career at bats (all during the "Dead Ball Era"), Rice, considered by enough writers to be unworthy of enshrinement that he still is on the ballot with little time left, had a considerably higher average, over 800 more hits, 40 more RBI's, 82 more runs scored, and struck out 123 fewer times.

McGwire won the Rookie of the Year, one Gold Glove and three Silver Slugger awards, Rice won the 1978 MVP award, and two Silver Sluggers. Six times Rice finished in the top ten in batting average, a feat McGwire never accomplished.

Peter's Friends...

For all the moaning about the "mistake" the Patriots made in letting Deion Branch go in the trade, it is interesting that Peter King at Sports Illustrated had this to say in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback column -

"10. Seattle (10-8). Just a guess, but my feeling is the Seahawks would rather have the 22nd pick in the draft, plus the $7 million-a-year cap dollars it paid Deion Branch, back right now. Instead, New England sits there with two first-rounders, the rich getting richer, and Seattle is out of the draft business until late in the second round come April."

That's kind of a backhanded way of saying, "maybe we (the press) were wrong about Branch's impact."

Down to 181.5. aiming for 179 by next monday and 170 by the end of February.

Considering the results of last year's trades (Hanley Ramirez, Cla Merideth, etc.), I think it's wise of Theo Epstein to nix a trade with any team looking to plunder the Sox top prospects in order to unload an aging superstar with a bloated contract. I mean, the Sox don't really want to become the Yankees, do they?

I don't even really follow basketball, haven't in years. I look at the standings now and then, but there isn't really a team out there I root for. That being said, this year the Atlantic Conference in the East is bad - I mean really bad, like on a biblical level sort of bad. Currently the two best teams in the AC, New Jersey and Toronto are each a game under .500 with only 22 wins with less than half a season left to play. To put that in perspective, in the East alone Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Indiana, Washington, and Orlando all have better records.

In the West - Utah, Denver, Minnesota, Phoenix, The Lakers, The Clippers, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston all have better records. In a 30-team league, there are 15 teams with better winning percentages.

If division winners were not automatic locks to get into the playoffs, if playoff contenders were based on record alone it could be feasible that both teams could miss the playoffs as Golden State is only a half game behind the Nets and Raptors and Miami, Portland, and New Orleans are all within five games.