Saturday, November 30, 2013
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
I suppose these recent events simply reinforce that life – in any role or profession - is an experience filled with choices, many of which are accompanied by tremendous opportunity cost (known or unknown). I know that, I just wish it wasn’t sometimes. I wish there was always a clear path forward with few consequences. But that’s not reality; it’s the stuff of fairytales.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Fairytales always end well. They’re clichés no one minds. The guy gets the girl. The hero thwarts the villain. The princess wakes from an eternal sleep. The stepsister turned oppressed maid gets the prince. A humble boy finds the final golden ticket just in time to rescue us from the spoiled and gluttonous. A Philadelphia boxer with southern European heritage always authors a storybook ending. A young Jedi overcomes a complicated family history to save the eons from the Dark Side. A group of four buddies survive seemingly insurmountable odds during a Las Vegas bachelor party to make the wedding just in the nick of time.
The real world politely gets in on the act sometimes. A hometown quarterback struggles through an uneven season before channeling his inner Joe Montana and leading his team to a Super Bowl victory (Joe Flacco). Another local professional quarterback suffers a gruesome knee injury but returns in record and triumphant fashion to lead his team to the promise land (Robert Griffin III). Uhh, maybe that fairytale is still being written.
Reality’s cooperation with fantasy is more by accident than commitment. Reality is a freethinking dimension with no concern for human emotion – good or bad. We have to look no further for confirmation of this unfortunate fact than the approaching 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Camelot was a fairytale grotesquely skewed by the unconscionable nature of reality. In the midst of a glorious climax, with a nation awash in smiles and warm feelings, a few shots by a madman positioned in an over-looking building’s window turned the fairytale into an instant nightmare.
The worst of the sports world is generally more benign than the horrific events in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd, 1963; however, competitive athletics are the original reality show and offer no guarantee that the bad guys won’t prevail or that disheartening outcomes will be avoided. True to sports’ deep roots in reality (and complete disregard of fairytales), the NFL has had few happy endings recently. Denver head coach John Fox is recovering from heart valve replacement surgery and Houston head coach Gary Kubiak has taken a leave of absence after collapsing on the field while suffering a “mini-stroke” last week. The prognosis for both coaches is good; the same cannot be said for embattled Miami guard, and apparent connoisseur of boorish behavior, Ritchie Incognito. Incognito was suspended last week for his disturbing conduct toward teammate Jonathan Martin. It’s a hostile workplace/bullying case playing out on the largest of athletic stages.
It gets worse. Just below the blazing Incognito headlines came the news that former Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and Dolphins wide receiver Mark Duper were diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopahy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease resulting from recurring head trauma. It is afflicting former NFL players at an alarming rate. There is presently no happy ending for those with CTE. Dorsett and Duper’s diagnosis was sobering news, particularly for children of the ‘80s (like me) who remember the phenomenal players in their primes.
Collectively these stories are an indictment of the NFL’s inherently violent nature and long-term viability (Dorsett, Duper) and on the game’s culture – one that subjects head coaches to debilitating stress and obnoxious work hours and provides a playground for male egos to run amuck. Of course Fox and Kubiak are coaches by choice. Jonathan Martin made a decision too: to expose not just a bullying teammate but his employer’s (NFL) unrestrained enabling of players like Incognito. Duper and Dorsett are a little different. While today’s players are acutely aware of football’s effect on long-term health, Dorsett and Duper had no such information until it was too late. Still, neither man expressed regret for having played professional football.
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
The Cardinals still won 5-4 in dramatic fashion. Had Holliday run out his fly ball, would the Cardinals have won comfortably? Who knows, but as Marty McFly taught us, changing a single thing in the space-time continuum can have a dramatic effect when you go “Back To The Future.” Regardless it was an embarrassing moment for Holliday and an ugly tribute to sloth. So whatever your chosen venture, be better than Matt Holliday. Try hard consistently. Effort, after all, is the first and most basic tenet of success.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Inspiration often arrives unannounced.
By last Saturday night, my sketchpad resembled a madman’s dribble – or at least a writer’s random mental wanderings. Rough outlines were scattered across several pages. The feverous scribble was accentuated with arrows, cross outs and various font sizes. The penmanship would have offended my grade school phonics teacher; the vacillation between print and cursive would delight a psychiatrist. In other words, my search for this week’s topic was following a familiar course. The well-worn pages of my notebook proved the ideas were flowing, but all seemed more hors d’oeuvres than main course. The various article seedlings were talking to me, but only in a speed-dating sort of way. None held my attention much past “hello” and all quickly grew stale during preliminary exploration. I wasn’t being moved to write. I could push through and turn out a decent piece, but I seek topics that send me sprinting to the computer. Despite the leads, I wasn’t running and my computer was idle.
With my deadline lurking, I plopped down on the couch with mediocre notes and set about producing a passable product. Fortunately I flipped on Game 3 of the World Series before my aching bones and frustrated mind landed on the Lazy Boy. After much consternation, it took a tried and true friend – a baseball game – just seconds to provide meaningful direction and to retire my humdrum notes to a proper destination: the recycle bin.
This year’s fall classic between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals features two of baseball’s most storied franchises. With the Series tied 1-1, the teams migrated from Fenway Park in Boston to Busch Stadium in St. Louis for Game 3. It didn’t take long for Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday to arrive unannounced and kick the door in on my disheveled literary house.
With the Cardinals leading 2-0 and one out in the bottom of the third inning, Holliday stepped to the plate. He hit a high, shallow fly ball into that dangerous centerfield triangle where retreating shortstops and second baseman and hard-charging centerfielders collide. Disaster was seemingly avoided when Boston centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury called for the ball. As he glided in to make the grab, the ball tipped off his glove and fell to the ground. The error should have landed Holliday safely at second base. I said should have.
As Ellsbury retrieved the ball, he fired back to first base to nail a retreating Holliday for the second out. Huh? Did Holliday fall? Roll an ankle? Why on earth wasn’t he on second base?
The replay told an unconscionable truth: Holliday dogged it out of the batters box. In the World Series…THE WORLD SERIES…Holliday didn’t see fit to run hard. He strolled down to first then awkwardly tried to turn on the jets when Ellsbury dropped the ball. Realizing he’d never make it to second, he scampered back to first – to no avail. I understand that baseball players sometimes pick their spots. If this had been the 140th game of the year and the fifth straight game in as many days, I wouldn’t be completely offended (as I am) by Holliday’s Sunday church league effort. But it wasn’t. Holliday’s loafing occurred at the pinnacle of the sport and on the stage everyone who has ever picked up a bat and ball dreams of taking. Holliday made it. He was under the brightest of lights…and didn’t bother to hustle? Somewhere Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig, baseball daredevils, shook their heads in disgust. Pete Rose must have thrown up a little in his mouth.
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
Why am I asking this question? Do I really need to know how much love I’m capable of allocating to the Nats at the ripe old age of 40? Or do I, a guy living an intense adult life, already know the answer? Maybe I’m not longing for an answer at all but for a life with fewer complications and less stress, one that possesses some mystery and can still create heroes of everyday men. Living a grown-up life is cool and all, but maybe I wouldn’t mind being a kid again – if just for long enough to fall in love with a baseball team. But then again, don’t we all long for those moments, those respites from the big bad world? Hmm…maybe I made a point after all.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
If you have read this column a few times, let me first offer a sincere thanks and then speculate that you’re accustomed to the format. For those unfamiliar, a sports story is featured and the piece concludes with a connection to every day life. I’m going to deviate this week. I’m not going to end with a point; I’m going ask a question…but first, the sports story.
The baseball playoffs have taken me for a stroll down memory lane. There has been nothing particularly nostalgic about the performances or the teams involved; it’s the announcers for the National League playoffs, specifically Cal Ripken and Ron Darling, who have me harkening back to yesteryear.
For a forty year old who has spent just over 30 years of his life in Southern Maryland and the balance in Baltimore, I can’t understate my regard for Cal Ripken and the very special place he occupies in the large portion of my heart reserved for sports icons. During my childhood his at bats were a family event. His poster hung on my bedroom wall and, to this day, I own a ton of his baseball cards. He launched a game-winning homerun during my eighth grade class trip to old Memorial Stadium and my attendance at the game where he tied Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record of 2,130 is the greatest sporting event I’ve ever seen in-person – and it’s not close. So needless to say, any time I see Cal, hear his voice or have reason to contemplate his once-in-a-lifetime career, it’s a good day.
Oddly enough Darling too made a significant contribution to my nostalgic journey and this column. Darling was a pretty good pitcher for the Mets in the 80s and hung round until the mid-90s. I remember his ’86 Mets squad like it was yesterday. He was part of a stellar pitching staff that included Dwight Gooden, Bob Ojeda, Sid Fernandez and Rick Aguilera (relationship to Christina unknown). In all, Darling won 136 games and had a nice career; but it wasn’t memorable. I understand my on-going affinity for Ripken, but why are my memories of Ron Darling so rich and vivid? Youth. That’s the answer. More specifically it’s the unencumbered mind of youth that permits the existence of mystery and allows us to create deep relationships, etch forever-vivid memories and make giants of ordinary men.
Fast-forward to 2005. I was 32 years old when the Washington Nationals entered my life. Their arrival in D.C. ended a lifetime of waiting for a baseball team to call my own and love like I love the ‘Skins, Caps, Terps and Wizards. Eight years later I’m still struggling to sow a deep, arguably unhealthy emotional connection. There’s a lot to love about the Nats and my attraction is real, but I haven’t developed the do-or-die, obsessive connection that borders on a religious experience.
That said, here’s my question to die-hard Baltimore football fans over the age of 40: absent a deep childhood connection, will I ever be a degenerate Nats fan in the way that I’m a degenerate ‘Skins fan? You (the Baltimore football fans over 40) remember losing a beloved team and then, 12 years later, were offered a stranger – the Ravens – as a NFL apology. Do you feel the same way about the Ravens as you did the Colts?
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
See, I told you this wasn’t a sports article…at least not primarily.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The sun has set on The Sandman.
After 19 seasons with the Yankees, five World Series championships and a major league record 652 saves, Mariano Rivera, the greatest relief pitcher in MLB history, has called it a career. For nearly two decades, the man that entered games to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” - an ominous prophecy for overmatched batters – has, at the age of 43, heeded Father Time’s inevitable call.
To say that Rivera was loved in New York and universally respected among baseball fans nationwide (even in Boston) would be an understatement. Rivera, the ultimate professional, was the epitome of class and navigated the fishbowl of New York without a blemish to his character. He did “it” the right way in an era when so many didn’t. His poignant finale at Yankee Stadium last Thursday was the quintessential moment of an unforgettable farewell tour. With two outs in the ninth inning, the Yankees sent Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, Rivera’s long-time Yankee teammates, to make a pitching change and afford the legend a final exit and well-earned ovation in the midst of baseball’s capital city.
The result was an amazing baseball moment. Rivera, overcome with emotion, extended the embraces from Pettitte and Jeter (so he could compose himself) and then greeted a misty-eyed Joe Girardi, the Yankees manager, as he approached the dugout steps. Beyond the obvious end to Rivera’s New York career, there was considerably more captured in this historic moment. Rivera represents the best of baseball and possesses traits often lacking in professional sports. One need not look any further than Alex Rodriguez, Rivera’s grotesque and misplaced teammate, for The Sandman’s antonym. Rivera is also the last player wearing Jackie Robinson’s number 42. MLB retired the number in 1997 but permitted the thirteen players wearing 42 at the time to continue to do so. With Rivera’s retirement, no MLB player will wear the most important number in American sports again. Few have worn it better than Mariano Rivera.
Despite all the baseball pomp and circumstance, I can’t get Rivera’s hands out of my head. Yes…his hands. I watched a recent ESPN piece on Rivera and there was a scene picturing his hands over riveting narrative about the volume of devastating cutters – his signature pitch – that had been released from his right hand. Rivera’s right hand was the transition point between the man, his pitches, so many helpless batters and baseball history. But then again, that’s what hands do. They are a person’s – Rivera’s, mine, yours, everyone’s - interface with the external world.
After the ESPN feature on Rivera was over, I gazed at my own hands. They look older now. A few fingers are contorted from years of basketball. Blisters from yard work are healing. Nevertheless, my middle-aged paws never seemed so amazing. I’ve used them to say hello and goodbye to countless friends and complete strangers. They’ve settled arguments with “rock, paper, scissors” battles or arm-wrestling contests. They held my first girlfriend’s hand, gripped the wheel of my first car, clung to roller coaster restraints and lifted my first beer to my eagerly awaiting lips. They’ve built fences and decks, changed oil and fixed, hung and assembled stuff around the house. My hands have pulled the trigger on BB guns, baited hooks and tossed blue crabs into bushel baskets. They’ve thrown a football, dribbled a basketball and swung a baseball bat thousands of times. These hands grasped my wife when it was time to “kiss the bride” and nervously held my children for the first time. They’ve helped my kids with math homework, pushed them on swings and wiped away their tears. And these words exist only because those same hands are pounding against computer keys.
So my hands have never caught a baseball or hurled a cutter in a major league game - but they’ve done me well. They have facilitated a bounty of life experiences…and I am - hopefully - only halfway home. Glance at your hands. No doubt they tell an equally rich story.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
On a busy sidewalk in the heart of Washington, D.C. late Thursday night, an apparently intoxicated man had vomited all over himself. Wearing a now well-soiled white Robert Griffin III jersey, it was hard to discern burgundy and gold from stains and foodstuff. Most people observing the grotesque scene were offended. They condemned the man who returned semi-digested fluids and solids to the external world. He made them feel better about personal flaws and vices. Dinner was all over his shirt. A “forty” of once-consumed malt liquor had pooled around his slumped being. “Is that a chunk of a Texas-style French fry or a bile-soaked bite of a dinner roll on his lap?”, they wondered. Don’t answer.
The narrow-minded critics missed the point. He is not a degenerate drunk ending this particularly night as he had so many before it. He’s an artist. His body is an abused canvas covered with brilliant expression. He ate and drank until his body returned the evening’s deposits in inglorious fashion with a profound purpose in mind. With the night’s oral intake saturating his being and the fouled scent detectable within 20 feet of his body, his work was complete. His intentions had been accomplished. He had become the physical representation of the ‘Skins’ meltdown in the second half of Thursday’s game against the Vikings.
Team A was a football statisticians dream. They won the turnover battle (1 to 0) and dominated time of possession 36 to 24 minutes. The quarterback threw for 3 touchdowns and nearly 300 yards. The star running back gained 139 yards on the ground; the star receiver added 119 yards through the air. They out-gained their opponents 433 to 307, tallying five more first downs in the process. They knocked their opponent’s starting quarterback out of game and held their future Hall of Fame running back to a ho-hum 75 yards on the ground and less than four yards per carry.
Still, somehow…someway…Team A – the ‘Skins – lost.
The answer is in the “vomit”. The left-for-dead, 1-7 Vikings were begging for their misery to continue. In a lifeless stadium they received the opening kickoff. After only a few plays the Viks returned the ball to the ‘Skins – via a horrible interception – at midfield. The ‘Skins promptly drove the ball down the field and got a fortuitous pass interference call in the end zone that yielded a first and goal from the 1-yard line. Three unimaginative and unsuccessful plays later, the kicker was on the field, the scoreboard read 3-0 and the Vikings remained compelled to compete.
The errors and missed opportunities got much, much worse.
Two heinous, after-the-whistle personal foul penalties – one by LB Perry Riley Jr., the other by last week’s hero Darrel Young – greatly aided two Vikings scoring drives. I’ve seen more self-discipline in 1st graders. The offensive line made the Vikings’ creaky defensive lineman Kevin Williams resemble Jim Marshall in his prime. Robert Griffin III resorted to playing in a reckless, unsustainable manner (disaster awaits if it continues: see Baltimore and Seattle games last year) and still shows no ability to slide. The pass protection was so bad and Griffin was physically beaten up to such an extent that his endorsement of various over-the-counter pain medications is inevitable. The defense made Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel look adequate. And all the while Mike Shanahan, the ‘Skins’ befuddled $7M per year “leader” and head coach, sported his permanent saucer-eyed, dazed and confused look. Perhaps he is mentally disassociating from the product. Can’t blame him. We all need to cope.
The owner added to the mockery – something he’s always done so, so well - by being caught on camera with a ‘Skins logo Crock-Pot in his suite. Snyder’s Ricky Schroeder-Silver Spoons-like persona continues to amaze. Jerry Jones is a meddling disaster but at least he acts his age. Snyder, from his obnoxious belt buckle, tone deafness to the broader issues facing the franchise and now a traveling Crock-Pot, reminds me a teenager someone made king. At least there’s this: the next time I’m wallowing in self-misery while grinding at my 9 to 5, I’ll think of the poor soul whose job description is to pack and transport the “official kitchenware of the Washington Redskins” for road trips. Zygi Wilf, your luxury sweet appliances are beneath me…so said The Dan.
Stoked to a comfy 27-14 lead after the opening drive of the second half, the ‘Skins seemed poised to cruise to victory. The win would have fanned hope’s flames for a consecutive NFC East title. Weren’t you feeling good? Perhaps even looking ahead on the schedule? Maybe you even mashed down a Subway sub and guzzled a Gatorade in homage to the quarterback that seemed likely to deliver another thrilling ride through November and December.
If you did, I hope the Gatorade was spiked heavily with Vodka. Mine wasn’t and it proved to be a terrible strategic failure. Apparently cruising to victory, the ‘Skins began throwing up all over themselves and didn’t finish dry heaving until the final gun sounded. The Ponder- and Cassel-led Vikings inexplicably outscored the ‘Skins 20-0 to the close the game and for all practical purposes end the ‘Skins’ season. With everything on the line, the ‘Skins allowed Griffin to be turned into a human pinball by the “vaunted” Vikings defense and the defense reverted to something I call “first half Philly form” to describe the worst of defensive football.
Down seven with just over three minutes to play, the ‘Skins’ final desperation drive was a microcosm of the 2013 season. The team skillfully moved the ball down the field and had a first and goal with adequate time for four shots to the end zone. Alas, after a couple of botched passes, a dubious running play and a prayer of a back-corner throw on fourth down, it was over. Close, but not good enough.
Like all those fancy statistics I presented before, the ‘Skins are a team healthy on style but shallow on substance. They do a lot of the basic stuff well but their ability to consistently execute the minute details that so often decide games in the NFL is woeful. The stat sheet seems to indicate a good team; the eye test reveals the floundering 3-6 squad that the ‘Skins are.
The same issues – pass defense, lack of a consistent pass rush, pass-protection and special teams – surface every week. There is no improvement. Tear down the “growth charts” at ‘Skins Park, they are worthless. Josh Morgan continues to return punts. Why? No one in the defensive front seven appears capable of winning a one-on-one battle. Griffin is getting abused weekly regardless of whether he’s running read-option or sitting in the pocket. Which leads me to this question: when you invest three first round picks in a rumored franchise quarterback, wouldn’t it make sense to offer said franchise player some ability to alter the play at the line of scrimmage? How many times have you seen Peyton Manning or Tom Brady stand at the line of scrimmage, wait for the defense to expose its cards, pinpoint the location of the blitz, set the protection and call an optimal play? Those four elite quarterbacks often know exactly what the defense is doing and where they are going with the ball before the snap. Griffin is forced to run what is called and read and react during the play. Griffin does no pre-snap manipulation. Can he? And would it help protect him and get the ball out a precious half-second earlier? Almost certainly. Would Big (Mike) and Little (Kyle) Ego Shanahan ever dare to relinquish such control of their precious offense? Apparently not. Griffin is tasked to use his substantial but fragile athletic abilities to rescue the team from bad plays; but he’s given no authority to prevent doomsday scenarios in the first place. I don’t know if that’s part of his rub with the Shanahan’s, but it certainly should be. If you want Bruce Wayne/Robert Griffin III to be your Superhero, at least give him (Batman/RGIII) full access to all the toys in the Batcave. Right now Alfred (Mike Shanahan) decides when and if to deploy the offensive tools.
And to think this season’s detonation happened in the same building – The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome - where the ‘Skins won Super Bowl XXVI. My, my what a hideous fall it has been since the franchise occupied the league’s pinnacle so, so long ago. Where have you gone Hogs, Mark Rypien, The Posse and the National Defense? The only remaining relevancy of the final seven games is how high of a first round draft pick will be forfeited to the Rams. Oh stop…there will be no seven-game winning. Nine games into the 2013 season and 10 months after winning a division title, the ‘Skins are plagued with yet another lost season and face an uncertain future, one perhaps including the latest Dan Snyder-led franchise re-set. Ugh. What a mess. I could use that Vodka now…
The artist coated in vomit makes sense now, eh? I bet he even has some copycats. I know I’m inspired. Bottoms up.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in September 2013
Brady said all the right things post-game, but the damage – to his reputation - had been done. This wasn’t the first time Brady’s behaved in such a shallow, maniacal way; it’s just the latest example of his ineffective, tyrannical style. Dobson certainly struggled against the Jets but it was his quarterback that turned in the most unimpressive and regrettable performance. Thursday night Brady failed as a team leader and a teammate. If history’s any indication, he won’t bother to change. Good luck Aaron Dobson, et al.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
I have a bone to pick with a famous athlete that is widely acknowledged as one of his craft’s elite. To be fair, though, I have to start with a personal admission. Back when I was a scrappy young ball player I had a tendency to be a little intense. I will not confirm or deny that bats may have been tossed, trashcans toppled and gloves thrown. Hey, I grew up watching County softball in the 1970s and 80s - it’s just what you did when things went awry.
Through a retrospective lens, my behavior was unattractive, juvenile and slightly embarrassing. In the moment it made perfect sense. It all occurred within the context of competitive athletics and teammates were relying on me. My failures were…upsetting. Fine, I just admitted guilt. The disclosure was necessary to placate my conscience and to draw a distinction between my checkered past and the checkered present of a media-darling quarterback. My misplaced passion was always based solely in disappointment with my own performance; it was never the result of frustration with struggling teammates. The same can’t be said for a guy that knows better but apparently doesn’t care.
Did you watch last Thursday night’s NFL game between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots? It is no matter if you didn’t. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a thing of beauty. The final score - 13-10 Patriots – is indicative of the 1930’s throwback game that it was. If the offenses were software programs, they would have spent most of the night “buffering” or crashing altogether. The Jets, “led” by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, committed four turnovers. The Patriots, despite having Tom Brady under center, were derailed by an atrocious performance by an unknown and woefully inexperienced receiving corps.
And there’s the story. The Patriots’ receivers, outside of veteran incumbent Julian Edelman, were terrible. Absent long-time safety valve Wes Welker (who’s now in Denver), injured tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola and, of course, accused murderer Aaron Hernandez, Brady’s options were limited. The telepathic relationship between quarterback and wide receiver was non-existent – and Brady’s frustration showed. After every dropped pass or poorly run route, Brady became more demonstrative. He finally lost it completely when he and rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson failed to connect on a pass at the Jets’ goal line. When the camera panned back to Brady, he was in the midst of a terrible-two nuclear meltdown on national T.V. and Dobson was the victim of his hurled emotional spears.
Brady’s response – hands on helmet and an obvious verbal lashing that started on the field and continued on the sidelines - was simply outrageous. I can’t think of another NFL quarterback that would humiliate a teammate so completely. Brady is a 14-year NFL veteran, a three-time Super Bowl champion and the unquestioned face of the New England Patriots. No current player in the NFL can match his credentials and few possess his influence on the organization and in the locker room. Yet he behaved like a spoiled kid at Christmas who found a new pair of Sunday shoes, not the desired bike waiting under the tree. Instead of showing poise and an understanding of the well-intended youth around him, Brady made sure everyone in American knew that it was Dobson and fellow rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins causing the team’s offensive struggles. Rather than having a constructive conversation with Dobson, Brady embarrassed him. In doing so Brady reduced himself to a new low and broke a tenet of leadership: credit flows down and blame flows up (the chain of command)…no matter what.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in Sept 2013
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
It’s hard to fathom, but this time last year Johnny Manziel was a virtually anonymous starting quarterback for the Texas A&M Aggies. By the end of the season he had thrown for 26 touchdowns, run for 21 more, led A&M to 11 wins (including victories over Alabama and Oklahoma) and had become the first freshman to capture the Heisman Trophy. In racking up all those wins, stats and personal accolades, Manziel blazed an unmistakable trail across college football’s horizon and claimed a place in the collective conscience of sports fans nationwide. He played with energy and a bravado befitting “everybody’s All-American.” In one season, he transformed from Johnny Manziel into the sensation known as “Johnny Football.”
Incredible as Manziel was, the sports world has seen his likes before. Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela stirred up a little something called “Fernandomania” during his amazing rookie season in 1981. One-time New York Knicks and current Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise from fringe NBA player to All-Star caliber point guard had “Linsanity” sweeping through the Big Apple in 2012. And in 2000, Kurt Warner captured the nation’s fancy by navigating the unprecedented career path from grocery store stock boy to Super Bowl MVP.
The question that unexpected wonders like Manziel and his predecessors leave you asking is this: what’s next? Valenzuela went on to have a solid career. Linsanity has fizzled in Houston. Warner fell out of favor in St. Louis but was reborn with the Arizona Cardinals and very well may be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And Manziel? Well, in his first offseason swimming in the fishbowl of fame, Johnny Football’s missteps have included an unceremonious exit from the Manning Passing Academy, crashing a frat party at the University of Texas and allegedly accepting money for autographs.
Getting paid for autographs is, of course, against NCAA rules and the allegation threatened Mansiel’s eligibility for the upcoming season. Is that the worst thing a college kid can do? Of course not and I personally believe there should be some mechanism for college athletes to reasonably benefit (financially) from their talents. But there isn’t currently and, as we all learn (often the hard way) at an early age, rules are rules.
After extensive maneuverings by “Team Manziel”, Texas A&M and the NCAA, and a whole bunch of stink being dredged up about the autograph session, the often heavy-handed NCAA levied a token, almost ridiculous penalty: Manziel was suspended for the first half of the team’s first game. It is simply the latest irritating chapter in the world of NCAA discipline, a place where consistency and transparency go to die. As for Mansiel, only he knows the truth. Former head coach and NFL player Bill Curry might have summed it best, though, when he said on ESPN’s radio show Mike and Mike last week, "If you're willing to deal in cash and lie with a straight face, you can beat the NCAA system."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose famous “I have a dream” speech turned 50 last week (we still have a long way to go), once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” You certainly don’t need me to attempt some elegant application of this quote to the Manziel’s fiasco. Suffice to say, all parties involved shrink under Dr. King’s inescapable, inconvenient truth. As for us, the offended many on the outside of this latest intercollegiate snafu, I’ll offer this quote from Malcolm X: “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” Johnny Manziel and the NCAA are betting we don’t possess a lick of personal conviction or common sense and have no ability to discern right from wrong. I usually try to keep this column upbeat, but if the case of Johnny Football has left you angered and disenchanted, you’ve correctly smelled a rat. That speaks to your honorable character traits and something lacking in a certain quarterback, institution and governing body.