Thursday, February 11, 2016

Kids Attending NFL Games: Worth The Trip?

(Published previously on Football.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

On September 2, 1984, the Miami Dolphins traveled north to the nation’s capital for an opening week showdown with the ‘Skins of Washington. It was a battle of NFL heavyweights, a must see show with an epic cast.

Miami was coached by Don Shula, had second-year QB Dan Marino behind center and the “Marks Brothers” – Mark Duper and Mark Clayton – snagging passes. It was an electric offensive attack that would see Mario throw for a then-record 48 touchdown passes and 5,084 yards in a single season and the Dolphins win the 1984 AFC Championship.

The ‘Skins, led by future Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs, were reigning NFC Champions and were one season removed from a Super Bowl title. ‘Skins quarterback Joe Theismann had won the league’s MVP award the year before. The Hogs, Washington’s famous offensive line, were two seasons into a decade of dominance. John Riggins was, with all due respect to then President Ronald Reagan, the most popular person in town. And the team’s nickname was still a source of unqualified pride. It was the best of times for D.C. football fans, an era that becomes grander with every passing year under Dan Snyder’s depressing ownership.

For the record, Miami won the game 35-17 behind Marino’s five touchdown passes. Seated in the RFK Stadium crowd that brilliant Sunday afternoon so many years ago was an eleven-year-old boy attending his first NFL game. The moment brought his heroes to life. In the days of analog T.V. and cable’s infancy, the players seemed larger and the team’s colors brighter than he could have imagined. RFK Stadium felt like home, a place where he belonged. Despite the loss, it was an experience that solidified a deep connection with the team and to NFL football, relationships that still thrive today.

The awestruck kid was me.

I am now 41-years-old and have attended many NFL games since that rookie adventure three decades ago. More importantly, I am now the father of two kids, ages 11 and eight. I want them to like NFL football and adopt my affinity for our home team. I want us to have the same wonderful Sunday afternoon experiences for the next 30 years that I’ve had with my dad for the last 30 years. I know that it is my responsibility to support that endeavor with gigantic moments that leave kids saucer-eyed and giddy. I also know that part of establishing that connection, forming that bond and sharing those unforgettable family experiences is attending games with my children – and that’s what troubles me. 

My kids have never attended an NFL game and I have no intention of taking them to one anytime soon. It’s a different environment now, not one, in my opinion, for impressionable young eyes and ears. RFK Stadium wasn’t church in early 1980’s – there was plenty of indulgent tailgating and colorful language – but there wasn’t any discernable edge. You didn’t feel like the crowd was on the verge of becoming a mob at any moment. Conversely, I can’t remember the last time I went to FedEx Field, Washington’s current home, and didn’t see a physical altercation or hear vile language far beyond an isolated f-bomb released in frustration.

But words are just words. Here’s an example.

Two years ago I was in line waiting to use a portable bathroom outside of FedEx Field. It was about an hour before game time, a moment that had most parking lot dwellers lathered and jovial. I said most parking lot dwellers. As a door opened to one of the johnnies, a dude quickly filled the vacancy, leaving his girlfriend in line (what a rude dope). While waiting, she started up a casual conversation with the two guys behind her in line. When “boyfriend” emerged to find his girl chatting up another dude, the tool, assuming (incorrectly) that the other guy was hitting on his temptress, blew a gasket. With beer muscles swelled, he immediately rips in to the poor guy who he had identified as an opportunistic creep. “Boyfriend” was in this cat’s face, dressing him down, challenging his manhood and using every word not sanctioned by the FCC in all possible forms. It was…uncomfortable. And here’s an interesting tidbit. The psycho boyfriend was maybe 5’5”, 150lbs. The innocent guy he was verbally attacking with savage energy was every bit of 6’2”, 210lbs – plenty big enough to drop his overzealous assailant in seconds. I heard the guy’s friend whispering in his ear, “it’s not worth it, bro” and, to his credit, he backed down. When crazy boyfriend finally walked away, I commended the guy for his discretion. And to think, they were both ‘Skins fans! Needless to say, I’m glad neither of my kids was in tow.

I have plenty more evidence. After a ‘Skins-Ravens game, I watched a bus full of Ravens fans and a pack of ‘Skins fans in the parking lot exchange projectiles and, ah-hem, pleasantries. I witnessed a fight at a ‘Skins-Eagles game a few years ago just a section over from my seat. I’ve seen beer thrown and jerseys torn. Heated exchanges are commonplace. Bathroom heckling is routine. Those are just my data entries; every NFL fan that attends games with any regularity has their own disturbing story to share. And we all got a glimpse of how bad it can get when the horrific assault in the bathroom at Levi Stadium in San Francisco earlier this year was proliferated online.

Of course I recognize the bad apple spoils the bunch. The social deviants behind these sub-human acts are a very small percentage of an otherwise mass of humanity interested only in a good time and a brief respite from the stress of life in the real world. Regardless, I’ve arrived at this conclusion: NFL stadiums are not a place for this father to take his children…not yet anyway.

Skeptical of my instincts, I pulsed a few friends and fellow fathers of similarly aged kids to see if they too would avoid family outings to an NFL game. Their responses ranged from an emphatic “no” to a qualified “yes.” The qualifications included a series of wise strategies. Day games only. No divisional/rivalry games. Securing seats in the lower bowl. Avoiding the tailgating scene. Leaving early…particular if the game/atmosphere gets tense. Some even challenged my assumption that attending games live is a necessary childhood moment by suggesting that today’s living room experience – with HD T.V., massive screens and surround sound – is more than sufficient to sow your sprouting offspring/NFL fan.

My informal poll offered two surprises: first, that my buddies were capable of such deep thoughts and wisdom and second, that not one of them said they would take their son or daughter to an NFL game without a game plan.  

I wonder if this – avoiding NFL games - is a widely held opinion among parents. I can tell you that I would have no reservations about taking my kids to a Wizards, Capitals or Nationals game. In fact, my wife and I did the latter this summer with thousands of other parents in the D.C. area (Nats Park is regularly filled with families). Perhaps that’s because I can’t remember a single fight or vulgar exchange at any of the dozens of MLB games I’ve attended in my lifetime. Think about that comparison from your average Joe parent and sports fan: I can’t remember the last time I attended an NFL game and didn’t observe some sort of altercation and, conversely, I have no recollection of ever seeing such an event at a MLB game.


Here’s something else I can confirm: there were no parental qualifiers or reservations when I attended that ‘Skins-Dolphins game in 1984. It was just a Sunday afternoon at the park. Camaraderie was prevalent. Human decency dominated. A good time was the overwhelming goal. As for today’s NFL games, my personal data and parental spider senses label them “for mature audiences only.” Perhaps I’m just more protective than my parents were. Maybe I’m even overly protective. I’ll take that criticism, because I know I need to be. The fact is life’s different now; and so, for the time being, the television experience will have to suffice…fingers crossed that my buddy who claims that it’s good enough to catch the NFL bug is right.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Kirk Cousins Accident

Published in The County Times (https://countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

During the 2015-16 season, Washington QB Kirk Cousins started every game, threw for a team-record 4,166 yards, led the NFL with a 69.8% completion percentage and totaled 34 touchdowns (29 passing, five rushing), best in franchise history.  There were ups and downs, but Cousins was spectacular down the stretch and in several critical games where Washington’s uneven season hung in the balance.  Cousins, 27, displayed the expected growth from a fourth-year pro; he wasn’t expected to break records and entrench himself as the team’s starting quarterback.  But, in cranking out those aforementioned statistics and leading the team to nine wins and a division title, that’s 
exactly what he did.

Cousins’s season was an accident; merely suggesting such a thing three years ago, when Cousins was a curious fourth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, would have been predicting a disaster.  Prior to that draft, Washington had shipped a treasure trove of picks to St. Louis so it could select Robert Griffin III - the sexy, charismatic and gifted Heisman Trophy winner - second overall.  By 2015, Griffin was supposed to be the franchise quarterback.  He should have owned the town, stuffed his resume with multiple Pro Bowl selections and, like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, been considered one of the next generation of great signal callers.

That was the plan.  Of course, if you’re of adequate age, you know that life knows no plan it can’t upset.  Griffin, shall we say, didn’t work out.  His career in Washington was undone by ego, pride, injury, mismanagement, selfishness and unnecessary distractions – by player and organization. It’s ironic that his departure from Washington will coincide with the directionless Rams leaving St. Louis for Los Angeles.  Maybe Griffin’s a match for the Rams in the City of Angels.  That would be fitting.
Meanwhile, Washington’s moving forward with Cousins (a lucrative new contract seems a formality).  On the surface, it’s an unbelievable story – equally sad (because of the Griffin element) and joyous.  But when franchise history is considered, Cousins’s accidental ascension makes total sense.

Heralded, blue chip quarterbacks and the ‘Skins just don’t work.  I call it “The Curse of Sammy Baugh.”  Here’s a list of quarterbacks selected by Washington in the first round: Sammy Baugh (1937), Jim Hardy (1945), Harry Gilmer (1948), Jack Scarbath (1953), Ralph Guglielmi (1955), Don Allard (1959), Norm Snead (1961), Heath Shuler (1994), Patrick Ramsey (2002), Jason Campbell (2005) and Griffin (2012).  Baugh is one of the greatest players in NFL history; the others barely managed middling NFL careers…hence “The Curse”. 

Conversely, Washington plucked Sonny Jurgensen, a fourth round pick, from Philadelphia in a 1964 trade.  Billy Kilmer was acquired via trade after stints in New Orleans and San Francisco.  Joe Theismann, a fourth round pick by Miami, played three years in Canada before Washington traded for him in 1974.  Doug Williams, the one-time Tampa Bay quarterback, was signed after the USFL went belly-up in 1986.  And Mark Rypien was drafted in the sixth round.  These cast-offs, reclamation projects and late-round fliers did okay: Jurgensen’s in the Hall of Fame, Kilmer led Washington to its first Super Bowl, Theismann’s an NFL MVP and Williams and Rypien are Super Bowl MVPs.  With that historical context, it makes perfect sense that Cousins, the 102nd selection of the 2012 NFL Draft, would ultimately beat out Griffin, the can’t-miss prospect selected 100 picks earlier.


My wife and I attended a Rolling Stones concert last summer.  After Mick, Keith and the boys finished the song, You Can’t Always Get What You Want - a classic that includes the line, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need” - my wife quipped, “This song reminds me of how I ended up with you.”  I choose to attribute the remark to her fountain of sarcasm.  Regardless, the tune still resonates because it speaks to a common experience: Life has a way of bypassing our frivolous wants and delivering our needs.  Maybe Washington’s search for a quarterback followed a similar path.  Griffin was the quarterback they wanted; Cousins is the guy they needed.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Resolution: No Empty Stadiums

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It’s resolution time, an exercise to complete with care.  As most people are their own worst critics, an honest personal critique immediately threatens the New Year’s inherent optimism.  In his classic Happy Xmas (War is Over), John Lennon captured the dilemma when he sang, “So this is Christmas; And what have you done; Another year older; And a new one just begun.” Precisely.  What have we done, beyond age another year?  A personal evaluation includes many tough questions.  Was I kind?  Selfless?  Patient?  Was I a good citizen and steward of the planet?  Did I dedicate enough time to family and personal relationships?  Are my finances and career in order?  Am I healthy spiritually (however you define that term)?  Physically?  Am I happy?  Satisfied?  Content? 

Considering that brutal self-examination, the likely answer to Lennon’s question “What have you done?” is “not enough”, a conclusion that anoints New Year’s the battle ground between an inadequate past and a hopeful future.  Before that dark cloud envelops your tender 2016 sky, consider an alternative: Instead of an introspective search for a 2015 failure to correct, look to the external world for inspiration and resolutions.  It’s less personal.  Less…depressing…and maybe more productive.  Where in the external world?  How about a few lessons from our local teams?  They offered plenty to ponder.   

Washington Nationals

Last spring, the Nats were a chic pick to win the World Series.  Bryce Harper even infamously asked, “Where’s my ring?” before the season.  Reality: The Nats finished 83-79 and missed the playoffs.  Perhaps a bit more humility, an acknowledgement of the uncertainty of tomorrow, would be wise.

Baltimore Ravens

Injuries, gut-wrenching losses…it was an awful year for Poe’s blackbirds.  The Ravens had every right to quit.  By all accounts they should have quit.  Waved the white flag.  Tapped out.  They never did, competing to the end.  Bravo.  Adversity reveals character.  You’ll encounter the former in 2016, let it reveal your mettle too.

The ‘Skins

Washington was supposed be a six-win team at best, a cauldron of chaos.  Instead, the ‘Skins morphed into the NFC East’s most stable team and became what no one thought they could be: division champions.  The lesson?  You will be doubted too.  In 2016, believe in yourself because it will occur to few others to do so.

Baltimore Orioles

The seminal moment in local sports last year occurred on April 29 at Camden Yards.  That afternoon, the Orioles played against the White Sox…in an empty stadium.  No fans were permitted entrance because Baltimore, a city I love and called home for six years, was on lockdown in the wake of the violent response to the unconscionable beating and handling of Freddie Gray by city police.  Gray died from his injuries and while Baltimore’s buildings burned and public outrage boiled over in the aftermath, Camden Yards, a cathedral of civic pride, good times and unity, fell sadly, but perhaps appropriately, silent.

There’s a lot going in the world.  North Korea.  Paris.  ISIS.  The Middle East.  There’s a lot going on in the United States, too.  Ferguson, Missouri.  Charleston, South Carolina.  San Bernardino, California.  Baltimore, Maryland.  Lists of despair.  If there’s one resolution I hope that every single one of us is making for 2016, it’s to commit ourselves to our common humanity and to halt our compulsive tendency to stereotype and to focus only on our differentiating characteristics - race, religion, sexual orientation and politics.  In 2016, love must dominate hate.
 
I’ll leave you with three thoughts from far greater minds.  First, this quote from Yoda: “Fear leads to anger; Anger leads to hate; Hate leads to suffering.”  Second is this thought from James Baldwin’s essay Everybody’s Protest Novel: “…panic motivates cruelty, this fear of the dark makes it impossible that our lives shall be other than superficial.”  And lastly, back to Lennon’s song for a few more poignant lyrics: “And so happy Christmas; For black and for white; For yellow and red ones; Let’s stop all the fight”…“A very merry Christmas; And a happy New Year; Let’s hope it’s a good one; Without any fear.”


To a peaceful 2016…and no more empty stadiums.

Afforded An Opportunity, Luke Awakens

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Remember when NBA bluebloods dominated the league?  From 1980 through 2014, just six teams – the Lakers (10), Bulls (6), Spurs (5), Celtics (4), Pistons (3) and Heat (3) – claimed 31 of 35 championships.  The NBA was consistent.  Predictable.  Familiar.  Stars gravitated to a few elite franchises in glamorous basketball destinations.  The result was an insult to open competition: an inequitable concentration of power and riches created an NBA aristocracy and a just-happy-to-be-here proletariat.  The era gave us Magic, Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers.  Larry’s Celtics.  The Bad Boy Pistons.  Tim Duncan’s Spurs.  Jordan’s Bulls.  And Wade and LeBron’s Heat.   

Now, a coup might be upon us.  To quote Buffalo Springfield, “There’s something happening here, and what it is ain’t exactly clear.”  The best team in the Eastern Conference is the Cleveland Cavaliers, a pre-LeBron James also-ran. The champs are the Golden State Warriors, a long-time basketball wasteland.  And the best rivalry going isn’t Lakers-Celtics or Bulls-Pistons…it’s Golden State and the inconsequential Milwaukee Bucks, a sub-.500 that somehow managed to deal the Warriors their only loss and darn near pulled the trick again in the rematch last week.  Maybe there’s hope for the Wizards?  If my visions (hallucinations?) of free-agent-to-be Kevin Durant in a ‘Zards jersey become reality, it will affirm that a basketball revolution is underway.

Regarding those champion Warriors, they opened the season with 24 consecutive wins and are, as of last Sunday, 26-1.  So much for success spoiling the team’s hunger.  With a title on the resume, the Warriors seem intent on trying to become one of the best teams in league history.  Considering the casual nature of the NBA’s regular season (let’s face it, maximum effort isn’t prevalent), Golden State’s approach is refreshing.

Continuity is on their side: The Warriors carried over largely the same squad from last season.  Reigning MVP Stephen Curry is even better.  Fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson rounds out the NBA’s best backcourt.  Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes all remain in the rotation.  But there was one alteration, one that’s been oddly ignored.  Head coach Steve Kerr has been out all season recovering from multiple back surgeries.  His assistant, Luke Walton, has quietly - an understatement because no one is talking about him – been a masterful substitute teacher. 

I get it.  He’s “just” Luke Walton.  He’s not Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader’s kid, but he is the son of basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton.  Luke was, in his own right, a 10-year NBA player, but he was nothing more than a rotation guy on loaded Lakers teams that featured the likes of Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.  After Kerr took a leave of absence, Walton was also handed an obnoxiously talented roster.  Iconic father, famous teammates, decorated head coach and star-studded roster: It’s understandable that Walton, a man perpetually in the shadow of others, remains an afterthought despite coaching the Warriors to a 26-1 record. 

But it isn’t justified.

Walton’s not just a warm body who mindlessly fills out a lineup.  He’s placating egos, manipulating rotations, strategically responding to in-game situations and managing the team’s mental and physical burden of being the champs and getting every opponent’s best.  Yes, he comes from good stock, was a teammate of Bryant, one of the league’s best ever, and was given the coaching opportunity of a lifetime by Kerr’s balky lower lumbar – the shadow-man can’t deny any of it.  But Walton’s in the light now, front and center every night…and he’s crushing it. 


It bothers me when cynics dismiss individual accomplishment as the product of name value, surrounding talent, accidental circumstance or some other cheapening ingredient.  Whom among us has accomplished anything of significance organically?  Whatever summit a person ascends, at the foundation of the journey are advocates - teachers, parents, coaches, colleagues and a community/economy – personal Yoda’s or Obi Wan’s, if you will.  Walton stands on many supporting shoulders, but Luke’s success isn’t merely luck or the product of The Force.  The young Jedi/coach has seized the moment and is coaching at a high level.  He deserves some credit.  Acknowledging his existence on the Golden State bench would be a start. 

Ronda Rousey: Broken And Beaten…Now What?

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Roaming my well-worn paths of SoMD, I spotted a yard ablaze with Christmas lights a mere week after Halloween. Is it already time for flying reindeer, a financial hemorrhage and the rotund distributor of dreams come true? A bucket of bite-sized sugar bombs still resides on my kitchen table. What happened to…November? It’s a nice month. Veteran’s Day. Endless football. College basketball’s kickoff. National Epilepsy and Native American Heritage Month. It’s even National Novel Writing Month. Whoa…I’m feeling the pressure

And there’s November’s crown jewel: Thanksgiving, my top seed of underrated holidays (that aforementioned way-too-early Christmas display is proof). Turkey Day is steeped in American history. It offers a brief respite (hopefully) from the daily grind, time with family and the opportunity to reflect and be thankful. And if you’re upright, healthy and not desperately fleeing a terrorist-infected homeland or picking up the pieces after a tragic attack, there’s much to appreciate.
Sports seem so small considering the disturbing nature of recent world events. Nevertheless sports are what I do and sports are why you’re reading this column. I suppose as fans we’re all grateful that games continue to be played. As for the athletes themselves, there are many who should feel particularly indebted at the moment. Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors are blazing hot. Alex Ovechkin recently broke the Russian record for NHL goals. Bryce Harper was awarded the National League MVP award. And Ronda Rousey, after being knocked out by Holly Holm, is the former UCF bantamweight champion. Wait. What?

On the surface, that makes no sense. While contemplating her battered body and wounded pride, it would undoubtedly make little sense to Rousey too. Thankful for losing her belt, an undefeated record and title of the most overwhelming MMA fighter – male or female – the sport has ever seen?

Yes.

Rousey was a perfect 12-0 entering the fight with Holm. Nine of her matches had ended in submissions, via her trademark arm bar; the three other victories were by KO/TKO. Only one fight had gone past the first round; eight had ended in less than a minute. She was devastating, charismatic and attractive. She was the sport’s biggest attraction, its first cross-over star. The ceiling on her future was raised with every convincing win.

So now what? Holm left Rousey bloodied and in a heap on the canvas. After rising to congratulate her victorious opponent, the one-time Queen of Destruction resembled the Cowardly Lion after Dorothy popped him in the nose. The rage was gone. She looked…broken.

And therein lies the opportunity and Rousey’s reason to be thankful.

Not unlike society, the sports world loves champions. Winners are showered with adulations. Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” But it isn’t that simple. What appeals to people isn’t just winning, it’s triumph after adversity. Few can relate to perfection and total dominance – the pre-Holm Rousey. We are flawed. We fail. We dominate…nothing. So victory after apparent catastrophic failure is inspiring. Michael Jordan, on his way to six championships, was beaten back for years by Boston and Detroit in the playoffs and, after his baseball fling, lost to Orlando in the conference semifinals. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson took turns getting the better of each other throughout their careers. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, the greatest rivalry I’ve witnessed, split their 80 matches 37 (Evert) to 43 (Navratilova). Each player failed as much as she succeeded. Even Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the best quarterback and head coach of their era, have been uneven. Yes, they’ve won four Super Bowls. But they’ve also lost two and grinded for 10 years between their third and fourth titles. Mike Tyson never did recover from the Buster Douglass loss. Personal and professional adversity seems to have gotten the best of Tiger Woods, too. 


What does the future hold for Rousey? Currently bloodied and beaten, she has a chance to author her own Rocky Balboa-like return to glory. I hope she does. An epic Rousey comeback would offer us evidence to believe in the never-ending series of our own. We could all use the encouragement.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Dallas Cowboys: America’s Former Team

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The brand of the Dallas Cowboys, among the greatest in sports, was forged during the 1970’s. Dallas won less than 10 games only once, missed the playoffs but a single time, played in five Super Bowls and won two championships during the decade of polyester, disco and Watergate.

But the story wasn’t just the winning. The Cowboys carried themselves with professional elegance. Tom Landry, Dallas’s stoic, classy and fedora-adorned head coach, roamed the sideline with palatable regality. In Roger Staubach, a squeaky-clean Naval Academy graduate and Heisman Trophy winner, Dallas essentially had Captain America playing quarterback. They had the sleekest uniforms, most famous cheerleaders and the coolest nicknames – “Doomsday Defense” and Ed “Too Tall” Jones. The iconic single blue star on side of their helmets came to symbolize the team’s fame as much as the state of Texas. The franchise even transcended sports: The television show Dallas included a flyover of Texas Stadium.

By the late 70’s, all of it – the threads, the logo, the characters, the panache and the winning – earned Dallas the moniker “America’s Team”, an outrageously grandiose handle that was impossible to dispute, even by Dallas’s staunchest detractors.

Everything had changed by the late 1980’s. After several losing campaigns, the Cowboys were sold to Jerry Jones, Landry was fired and a new business model was implemented, one that has proven to be less dignified. For the last 26 years, Dallas has been an extension of Jones’s prodigious, Trump-like ego. It worked early on, to the tune of three Super Bowl championships, but the last two decades have mostly fallen victim to Jones’s failure to arrest his confidence in himself as supreme football pooh-bah and his lust for victory, a primal urge that has birthed many dubious decisions.

The “Jones Way” led to the hiring of Jimmy Johnson and the acquisition of players like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen and Darren Woodson. That’s good Jerry. Bad Jerry, the one of more recent vintage, jettisoned Johnson after a fatal ego-struggle, foolishly traded for wide receivers Joey Galloway and Roy Williams, recklessly acquired malcontent Ryan Leaf and willfully gambled on Terrell Owens and Dez Bryant, two emotional volcanoes.

Win at all cost. Talent trumps character. Social responsibility is a minority aspect of decision making. That’s Jerry’s style. In the ultra-competitive, testosterone fueled world of professional football, it’s a widely accepted approach. However, in signing DE Greg Hardy, Jones crossed an admittedly gray line.

In July 2014, Hardy was convicted of assaulting Nicole Holder, a former girlfriend. Court testimony revealed the incident’s brutality. Hardy tossed Holder on a bed full of guns, threw her into a bathtub, dragged her around by her hair, slammed a toilet seat on her arm and threatened to kill her. The post-assault photos of Holder are extremely disturbing and consistent with an unconscionable beating. Hardy’s sentence was overturned on appeal after Holder failed to show in court. There is strong indication a civil settlement was reached.

Hardy spent all but one game last season on the commissioner’s non-exempt (suspended) list. After the court findings, Hardy was initially suspended for 10 games this year; the suspension was reduced to four games on appeal.

Dallas, with its typical disregard for anything but talent, inked Hardy to a one-year deal in March. His brief, but predictably eventful Cowboys career, has included a sideline shouting match with Bryant, insensitive comments about Tom Brady’s wife and no evidence of remorse for assaulting Holder. Jones has defended his employment of Hardy, stumping it as a deserved second chance. He even spun Hardy’s passion as evidence of his “leadership.”


To expect anything different from the myopic, self-serving Jones would be foolish. But what about the rest of us, those who pad his capitalistic pockets? What say you, sponsors of the Cowboys? And you, Cowboys fans? Are you comfortable supporting the star and, indirectly, Hardy? It’s a personal choice, I suppose. But let’s be clear: Dallas is no longer America’s Team.  Not this Greg Hardy-version. Domestic violence is too important and the NFL carries too much social weight for this Dallas team to represent America in any way.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Stable Majority v. Trolls

As published in The Calvert County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

When the undefeated Michigan Wolverines hosted the undefeated Michigan State Spartans a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t have an obvious dog in the fight. I’ve never even visited Michigan. Maybe I flew west via Detroit but I can’t say for sure. I’ve bought a lot of albums from Detroit natives Kid Rock and Eminem, though. I shamelessly sing Bob Seger songs in the car. The beers from Bells Brewery in Comstock, Michigan are delightful. Does that qualify me to choose sides in the state’s biggest rivalry? The Wolverine state’s collective response to my overture: “Meh”.   

Fair enough. True to my inescapable mid-Atlantic form, I watched the game with passing interest. Michigan’s coach, Jim Harbaugh, was fascinating, as always. Michigan State’s quarterback looked good. Maybe he could help a certain pro football team in D.C.? Other than that, the hope was simply for good competition.

It delivered. Michigan led 10-7 at halftime, 20-14 at the end of the third quarter and 23-21 with 10 seconds left. Then it happened: The cruelty of high-level, competitive athletics bit the Wolverines. Michigan’s punter mishandled a low snap and compounded the error by fumbling the ball. Michigan State scooped it up and scored a game-winning touchdown as time expired.

In East Lansing, the reaction was joyous chaos. In Ann Arbor, and among Michigan nation at large, a celebration was replaced with complete devastation in ten seconds flat. Some handled the disappointment better than others.

The punter’s name is Blake O’Neill. He’s a 22-year-old graduate transfer from Weber State. He hails originally from Melbourne, Australia and has played a lot more Australian rules football than American Football. But none of that matters. O’Neill is now synonymous with the fumbled punt, the gut-wrenching loss and dashed national title hopes. He’s in the goat fraternity with Bill Buckner and Scott Norwood, poor souls whose gaffs lead their Wiki pages. 

Despite O’Neill’s botching of a basic football play at the worst of all moments, the majority of disappointed Wolverine faithful kept perspective. Was it a gut punch? Did it hurt? Might it be a bother for years? Will the sight of anything green or reruns of the movie 300 cause irritation? Indeed. But what was lost? Ultimately “just” a football game. The sun will rise. Taxes will come due. Donald Trump will insult…everyone. O’Neill will punt again. Michigan football will survive. Life will go on.  

The rational thought was far from universal, though. O’Neill received hate mail, including death threats and even suicidal suggestions such as jumping off of a cliff and guzzling bleach.
That’s the world now. Everyone has a microphone and when someone loses a game – a game – degenerates rush to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to wish death on their sudden enemies. Humanity is lost. Primal tendencies feast. There’s an alarming disrespect for the human being on the other end and how the denigration will impact the target’s life. Oh no, such moments inspire social media trolls, equipped with direct lines to the perpetrator, to exact revenge against those who wronged them: wedgie-administering high school jocks, employers who laid them off, girls who broke their hearts, the mom who didn’t hug them enough, the fraternity that rejected their pledge, the dad for passing down his balding gene and their god for not giving them elite athletic prowess. Because in O’Neill’s situation, the trolls (in their twisted minds) would have done better. They would have executed the punt. Sure. Truth is, their continence is challenged imagining such things; nerves compromise their performance while playing video games at noon on a random Tuesday.   


The good news is O’Neill is doing fine. The stable majority of the Michigan community and the school’s Athletic Director have come to his defense. Crisis averted…this time. But there’s a Blake O’Neill in every in every town and a lot of them are much younger, much more emotionally vulnerable and lack the support afforded a player at a major college program. Collectively, our stable majority needs to protect those kids. They are inevitably in our schools. They might be playing in our cul-de-sacs. They could even be our own.