Sunday, September 21, 2014


A few thoughts:

1.  The Eagles' offensive line is totally depleted.  Best tweet of the day came from 97.5 the Fanatic, which said something to the effect "Hey fat guys in the area, get your cleats and get to the Linc as soon as you can.  You just might suit up."

2.  Nick Foles was a battleship out there today.  When the dust cleared, he stood tall, firing on target.

3.  Kirk Cousins had an outstanding game, but he seemed to channel his inner Tony Romo near the end and mis-threw, leading to one pick and several failed third down conversations.

4.  Chris Baker's hit on Foles was a cheap shot.  Baker tried to explain it to the media, but it seemed clear that Washington's media advisors coached him on what to say.

5.  Maclin and Matthews were outstanding at wide receiver today.

6.  Did anyone else notice that you didn't hear OLB Connor Barwin's name called today.

7.  Where was the Eagles' defense in the first half?  They did adjust in the second half, but the first half was a disaster.  And, yet, the Birds were up at the half.

8.  Chris Polk's pick-up return gave the Eagles a huge lift after Cousins channeled his inner Peyton Manning on Washington's first couple of drives.

9.  For all of the doubters, Malcolm Jenkins has come up with a few big plays in back-to-back games.

10.  Does Casey Matthews scare anyone at middle linebacker?

Arsenal at Aston Villa

Just a few observations:

1.  Gunners played with pace.

2.  Ozil played his best game of the year.

3.  So did Welbeck.  His athleticism will help Arsenal.

4.  Sissoko's own goal was interesting in that if he had let the ball go, Oxlade-Chamberlain would have rammed it home.

5.  Arsenal is very thin on defense and needs someone to step up as a leader.

6. Szczesny stood tall at a few intervals (and I realize I probably misspelled his name).

7.  And they blasted Villa without Alexis Sanchez.

8.  Good to see Ozil playing central attacking midfielders.  That's where he belongs.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Where Does the NFL Draw the Line Now?

  • Performance Enhancing Drugs.
  • Abuse of Animals.
  • Domestic Abuse.
  • Locker room bullying.
  • Saying Racist Things.
  • DUIs.
  • Child Abuse.
  • Bounty Gate.
  • Illegal Hits.
  • (Alleged) gang alliances.
Baseball has had to deal with the following:

  • Gambling by a player/manager.
  • Steroids.
  • Amphetamines.
  • HGH.
  • Adderall.
  • Spouse abuse (remember Brett Myers).
  • DUIs.
  • Bean balls
What is the standard for whether someone plays, gets suspended or gets banned?

How do we balance forgiveness and forgetting?

Is the professional sports on-the-field workplace different from the off-the-field one?  If you can help the team win the Super Bowl, will they cover for you?  But if you're in the front office as a data clerk, will they fire you immediately?  Should there be a difference?

Perhaps rosters and practice squads will expand, not only to address injuries, but also matters of character.  

Right now, the NFL has quite a mess on its hands.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

On the Ray Rice Situation: Is Something Just Wrong with Our Culture?

Here are a few basic premises and/or facts:

1.  Ray Rice hit his then girlfriend now wife in February (they subsequently married amidst this scandal).. 
2.  Ray Rice hit his wife very hard.
3.  Ray Rice hit his wife very hard and initially we saw a video of Rice dragging his wife out of an elevator at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City.
4.  Ray Rice was arrested, pleaded guilty, and went into a first offenders' program.
5.  Upon its initial review, the NFL (i.e., Commissioner Roger Goodell) suspended Rice for two games.
6.  After a public hue and cry (which Goodell's remarks at the NFL Hall of Fame exacerbated), the NFL adopted a policy that would require a six-game suspension for first-time offenders of its domestic abuse policy (this at around the same time that the players' union and the league were negotiating testing for HGH).
7. Video footage comes out of Rice's punch of his now wife surfaces -- it's pretty graphic.  Questions abound whether the NFL saw the video during its investigation and before levying punishment of Rice.  Almost every pundit is wondering aloud whether Roger Goodell lied about seeing the video or whether he should resign because the video came out and apparently the NFL didn't get it from the Revel or the NFL got it but either it wasn't brought to Goodell's attention or someone described it to Goodell, who opted not to see it.  What is unclear is how Rice characterized what happened in the elevator during the time before he dragged his wife out of it. 

People are frustrated and angry and upset, and for a whole host of reasons.  But isn't this just the tip of the iceberg of an over-glorified culture where kids who have talent are catered to from a young age and, as a result, can have a skewed sense of right and wrong.  Major colleges prostitute themselves to get them to sign a letter of intent, and sometimes provide girls to help them make their decision.  Schools do all sorts of things to keep players' eligible and sometimes pass them along in majors that are guaranteed only to keep them eligible as opposed to give them life skills.  They encourage kids to play hurt or have created a culture whereby if a kid were to take himself out of a game, he might lose his spot and perhaps, ultimately, his scholarship.  Schools have had boosters pay high school coaches a bounty if a key player chooses one school over another.  Players have used PEDs.  Players have used marijuana, have substance abuse problems and possibly all sorts of problems.  75% of NFL players end up broke, divorced or depressed within a short number of years after they are done playing.  They (barely) pay scantily clad women to dance suggestively at midfield and on the sidelines.  There are very few women executives, scouts, coaches or broadcasters, and the broadcasters tend to be model-like, well spoken women who report from the sidelines.  Do I need to add any more?

So, if you're outraged at Ray Rice and don't think he should play again, then let's ask a few other questions about culture:

1.  Do you still watch baseball, even though a) so many players were juicing they looked like linebackers, b) the records were totally skewed and c) baseball turned a blind eye while it all was going on (retrospectively, the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa quest to break Roger Maris's home run record was a joke)?

2.  Do you think that Penn State a) should be playing football now and b) should have had their sanctions lifted?  Let's not forget what Jerry Sandusky did or how badly Penn State handled its football culture, including letting Joe Paterno becoming bigger than the school (and institutions of higher learning should have a higher calling than adopting idolatry as one of their central reasons for existing)?

3.  Does it trouble you that when polled, more players would have wanted Richie Incognito on their team than Jonathan Martin?  Did it bother you that when that problem was investigated, it seemed like NFL locker rooms had a "prison yard" mentality (according to a great column by ESPN's Jason Whitlock) where you really needed someone to "have your back."  Did it bother you that Martin was picked on because he came from a very well-educated, accomplished family? 

4.  Do you watch Floyd Mayweather fight (given his history of abusing women)?

5.  Many professional athletes have many children by different women (it is not a majority, but sadly the examples are egregious).  Do you root for their teams?

6.  If you were a Packers' fan, do you have any qualms now about having rooted for Darren Sharper given all of the allegations against him regarding sexual misconduct?

7.  How do you feel about how many former players -- at any level -- are suffering in later life from all sorts of awful brain, spine and orthopedic injuries, to the point that there have been class-action lawsuits and awful tales about suicides and early deaths?  Is this something that we can accept out of what's now our national pastime?  And, if so, why?  The President has said that if he had boys he wouldn't want them to play football, and Ed Reed was quoted as saying that he told his kids that he played so that they wouldn't have to, something that boxers were wont to say fifty years ago.  And, most recently, John Madden offered a similar view to that of the President.

8.  Would you want your daughter to date a scholarship athlete at a major college, given how entitled they are, how much they are catered to, and how many people are there to help get them through and, at times, avoid accountability anywhere but the football field?

9.  Do you think that there is something wrong with our culture if you hope that a brush with the law or major personal transgression will not interfere with an athlete on your favorite team's ability to play in the upcoming game? 

I have written many times that everyone is entitled to a defense and that we shouldn't jump to conclusions.  I'm very open to all sides of an argument and enjoy the discussion very much.  As for the Ray Rice situation, the young man needs help.  So does his now-wife, who needs more and probably should get away from him, far away.  So does his father-in-law, to whom Rice looked as a mentor.  He should look out more for his daughter's well being than Rice's, as the next punch his daughter takes could be her last.  Otherwise, it would same that Janay Palmer is destined for a similar fate to that of Nicole Brown.

The Ravens' culture needs some re-assessing, too.  They so mishandled this situation that they should hire outside human resources and employment law experts to put in a Code of Conduct that makes sense.  Had it been someone on the accounting team who had belted his wife, been arrested and gotten publicity, my guess is that they would have fired him or put him on administrative leave.  Why should the on-field talent be treated any different?  They also should think very hard about how they addressed this situation from a public relations standpoint, such as having Janay Palmer go out there and apologize for provoking the incident, not having the owner out there and sending John Harbaugh out there after the video of Rice's striking Palmer became public.  Theirs is a "how not to film" as to how to handle this type of situation.

The NFL's culture needs some re-assessing, too, from how they treat all sorts of problematic situations, to who investigates to how they handle the media to giving the commissioner some help in the form of a structured panel of owners/advisors to help deal with these issues.  Much of this already might exist, but given that football has become the national pastime (for better or for worse), they fumbled this situation fairly badly.  Both the Ravens and the NFL could have turned it into an opportunity -- about character, about conduct and about honor.

The radio pundits also should be more measured in how they approach problems like these.  First, the likes of Ron Jaworski should refrain from saying, in essence, that they would have taken matters into their own hands if someone hit one of his daughters.  That's a rash, emotional reaction but not one that one would expect from someone as measured and affable as Jaworski.  I hope that he had the same sense of outrage regarding other abuse scandals of recent memory (such as Penn State and the Roman Catholic Church, among others, as well as the Michael Vick situation, whether he served his time in Leavenworth or not). Second, Jaworski should refrain from speculating that money changed hands in this situation.  Unless he has any proof, that's probably not a good place to go.  By the way, I think that Jaworski is one of the best guys out there.

So what bothers us about the NFL's handling of the Ray Rice situation beyond that it was sloppy and not straightforward?  Is it just that -- or a realization that many people's favorite game has so many warts that the league airbrushes -- warts that are not benign and in all likelihood could be toxic?  And if that's the case, then are we bothered because many of us will keep on coming back and are addicted to it, warts and all, toxic or not?  Put differently, how much are we willing to isolate and overlook to keep coming back to our pastimes and hobbies?  If your favorite team has a racist, a few bigots, one or two who abuse animals, a few deadbeat dads, a tax cheat or two, guys who don't pay their bills, guys who attend strip clubs, bad tippers -- do you like them because they are bad boys and rascals or do you walk away?  Would you want your daughter to date those guys?  Would you want your son to become like them? 

Some former players have talked about Goodell's obligation to "protect the shield," the NFL logo.  But isn't that the obligation of everyone who works for the NFL or a team?  My experience has taught me that everyone has to own their own integrity and their own compliance -- and that if you wait for the commissioners of the world to come in, it's too late, and your culture is at best in disarray and at worst, rotten.

This is a bad situation.  If high-minded people are to turn it into an opportunity, then they have to look hard in the mirror and try to solve for quote from one of the league's all-time coaches, Bill Parcells, who once said, "You are what your record says you are."

And on many character issues, at many different levels -- from high school to college to the NFL -- that record of what we accept and what we tolerate is just not every good.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Support Your Local Bicycle Shop

Before it's too late.

We hear the same story constantly.  Your neighbor boasts of scoring a great bargain by either scouring the Internet for the best price or by using an iPhone app to scan a barcode at a local store and either find a better price at a rival store or on the internet (where mass retailers do not have the overhead costs that small chains or sole proprietorships do).  You might like browsing at the local store and you've known the proprietor for years (and think him to be knowledgeable and helpful), but somehow you end up using his store as a show room for other vendors and buy from them.  The result is that many stores are closing because they just aren't selling enough stuff.  People browse, but they do not buy.

I like my nearby small town and its bike store.  The guys who run it are nice, accommodating, and they know their stuff.  They carry different lines, offer you ideas about what you should buy and what might not be right for you, and are there for you to fix problems, small and large.  They have a nice sign, a neat store layout, and they put about a dozen bikes on the sidewalk every day during the good weather for potential buyers to see.  More than that, they add flavor and color to a town and helps the town say "this is a neat, warm, welcoming place."  (Okay, so the major landowner might not feel that way and a local tax policy might not be so friendly, but these guys stand tall, offer good products and add considerably to the town).

On weekends, when I drive by, I just smile, as I do on summer nights when I come home from work and they're still open, the bikes outside, the sunset framing them and at times casting a glow on them.  That glow exclaims, "this is why we live here," or "come inside the store, it gets even better."

I've purchased three bikes from them within the past five years, a tire or two, some bicycling wear and had another bike refurbished.  A friend offered that he shopped around a bit more and negotiated with a store owner a few miles away; another offered that they were just too expensive and went on the internet to buy bicycles for his family.  Both would admit that the store adds color and flavor to the town and its landscape and that it would be a shame if anything would happen to the business.  Yet, they don't support it.

I have little doubt that I could have gotten a better price from another vendor on the internet.  None.  But there are times where you need to support your community, appreciate what these men's good cheer does for the neighborhood, and, at the core, how cool it is to have a bicycle shop in your town.  When you want to have a community, there are times where you need to leave a little money on the table to do so.  Sure, you can drive twenty miles to get the bargain or spend hours on the internet looking, and for certain things that's fine.  But if we want communities and think about what makes them special, we need to support our local businesses.

I know that you cannot get this store's bikes from Target and Wal-Mart, but my guess is that there is a mega-store fifty miles away that offers a better price or someone on the internet who can sell it to you for cheaper.  But if too many of us do that, Main Street will have yet another vacancy.  And others will follow.  Our reasons for walking the town will diminish, as will our reasons for having a town in the first place.  Our houses will become technological marvels that will enable us to get everything through a screen, while our loneliness will increase and potentially our civility.

So, when you think about your next bike purchase or anything else for that matter, think about the type of town you want to have and the type of society.  Look, there is a time and a place for bargains, and, also, for good shopping.   And there's a time and a place for warmth, walking, good conversation and community.   Remember that too.

Before it's too late.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Phillies Combined No-Hitter - Why Weren't the Pitchers Excited After the Game?

You would think that this was something to celebrate.  You have a team that has had another bad year, continuing a decline that began after the World Series victory in 2008.  They are playing sub-.500 baseball and are struggling for an identity.  They have a few good starting pitchers and a bullpen that could be starting to scare people.  They lack sufficient hitting muscle to scare anyone with their lineup. 

Yesterday, in Atlanta, ace Cole Hamels went six plus before yielding his bullpen.  The trio of Kenny Giles, Jake Diekman and Jonathan Papelbon helped him seal up a no-hitter.  All were excellent.

That said, in the post-game interviews, you would have thought that the foursome was relieved to have survived a collective hemorrhoidectomy.  Hamels smiled slightly but reverted to standard, trite post-game speech.  Giles had the bill of his cap so far down that you couldn't see his eyes, and he said he was happy even if his body language told you the last place he wanted to be was on camera.  Diekman was more relaxed and even mustered a smile, but his reaction was muted.  And then there was Papelbon, who was arrogant with the good-natured post-game reporter and simply said it was all in a day's work.  There was no joy in the man.

Attendance is down.  People still remember that spark that existed through the 2011 season, which now seems like a distant memory.  They realize that Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard aren't the players they were five years ago.  They like Hamels and adore Cliff Lee.  But they need something to keep them coming back and something to cheer about.

While the no-hitter most certainly is a season highlight, the pitchers' reaction seemed to indicate that it was not the biggest deal in the world and that there wasn't a lot of joy in it.  Okay, so they're competitors and wish the team were doing better, fine.  But at least have some fun in the moment and be happy, long season or not, hot day or not.  Jimmy Rollins looked excited, and the game to a degree is about entertainment. 

Teams win when they have a bounce in their step.  Fans latch onto teams that they can relate to, that give off positive energy and that play to the last out.  The Phillies were that team through 2011, playing at times with three bench players because of injuries, and then they got key contributions from the likes of Cody Ransom, Chris Coste, Juan Castro, Wilson Valdez and Dane Sardinha.  They had that special, extra something.  True, they were younger and better, but they also made it seem that there was nothing else they would rather be doing and that they loved performing in front of their fans.  When you energize the fans, they energize you right back.  And while yesterday's game was on TV, there wasn't a whole lot of energizing going on. 

I recall about eight years ago when the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu, their star, to the Yankees for four players who didn't pan out.  Then-GM Pat Gillick remarked that he had nothing against Abreu, but that it was time to let other leaders emerge on the team and that he didn't believe they could do so until Abreu left.  It wasn't anything that Abreu did per se, but it was that the energetic trio of Rollins, Utley and Howard was deferring to Abreu, who was more laid back.  That addition by subtraction, as it were, helped set a great team in motion.  Chemistry is key, even in a sport where players don't have to interact with each other all that much for a team to win the way they do in basketball or football.  Put differently, it's hard to believe that Jonathan Papelbon adds a whole lot to the mix in the locker room.

The Phillies, of course, have other problems.  Historically, their farm system hasn't been that good, and history even compels a conclusion that it wasn't all that good when it had the ability to trade prospect after prospect for the likes of Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence.  That's because none of those prospects became a star and almost none became a regular.  Fast forward to today, and the cupboard down on the farm is rather bare.  A big payroll and few prospects doesn't augur well for a while.

Neither does a culture that has lost its mojo.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Arsenal: Were Robbie Earl and Robbie Mustoe Right?

Sadly, I think that they are.

Yesterday, on NBC's coverage, they both offered that what distinguished Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger was decisiveness in addressing and filling needs.  Last season, after having spent buckets of money, Chelsea struggled both at midfield and upfront, owing their third-place finish in large part to a stingy defense.  So what did Mourinho do?  He went out and got a creative midfielder in Cesc Fabregas and striker Diego Costa.  The result?  Chelsea have been scoring goals the way Liverpool and Manchester City were last season.

In contrast, coming into the season Arsenal knew that it abounded in wingers, defenders and offensive-minded midfielders, but not defensive midfielders or strikers.  So what did Wenger do?  He went out and paid more for a winger (Alexis Sanchez) than Mourinho did for Costa, but with several hours to go on transfer deadline day -- and with key injuries at defensive midfield and striker -- he still has not acquired one of either.  Atop that, Arsenal also needs an additional defender after the departure of Thomas Vermaelen to Bacelona.  And despite prolific rumors on the internet, Wenger hasn't acquired Marco Reus, Edinson Cavani or Radamel Falcao, nor William Carvalho nor Sokraitis.  Which means hi team remain small in size, desperately thin at striker and without anything new at defensive midfield.  What looked like a season where the Gunners could finish in the top three now looks like they'll battle United for fourth, coming in behind Chelsea, City and perhaps Liverpool.

Last season, Wenger tortured the faithful until inking center mid Mesult Ozil on transfer deadline day, so there remains hope that he can improve his striker situation significantly.  For, if he does not, it is hard to see the Gunners advancing meaningfully in the Champions League or winning key match ups in the Premiership.  The Gunners have talent, that is true, but will they have enough offensive versatility to make opponents fear them and enable them to pour on the goal scoring.  After seeing Yaya Sanogo struggle at Leicester on Sunday, it seems clear that the Gunners need help up front.