Wednesday, August 20, 2014
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in August 2014
I suppose the fan’s tendency is to segregate sports from the real world and broader causes. The problem for that unsuspecting Rice fan is that I’ve made a column out of highlighting the undeniable link between the two. Rice isn’t just a football player: he’s a symbol for a team, a city, the NFL and…society. And right now that symbol says that domestic violence isn’t such a big deal. Well, it is and offenders deserve more than a two-game suspension. No one - not athletes, not politicians, not executives, not clergy – should have their greatness cheered and their transgressions ignored. Ray Rice is a great football player with a fresh scar on his character. Wearing his jersey now, after little more than an obligatory apology, feels like misplaced blind faith in an athlete with amends to make as a man.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Unless you’ve been visiting methane sinkholes in Siberia, you know Ray Rice’s story.
In February, the Baltimore Ravens running back assaulted his wife in an Atlantic City casino’s elevator. The specific details are unknown, but the disturbing, viral video, one that depicted Rice dragging an unconscious woman from said elevator like a sack of dirty laundry, told the terrible story. Rice, the tough, manly and now cowardly football player, raised his fist or elbow or knee or whatever and beat his wife so violently that she lost consciousness for a protracted period of time. Rice’s act was disgusting and built a powder keg of raw public emotion; the NFL’s handling of it set the emotional bonfire ablaze.
Since taking over as NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell has issued heavy-handed justice for player misconduct. He’s been as strict as the nuns that taught me in grade school and his punishments have reminded me of dad’s when I couldn’t plead my case to mom first. As the NFL investigation progressed, the world watched and waited for Judge Goodell’s decision. His verdict wouldn’t just be about Ray Rice, it would provide hard evidence on the NFL’s position on domestic violence, particularly as compared to other player “crimes”, such as positive tests for banned substances (situations that routinely result in four game suspensions or more).
So this was a big deal – among Goodell’s most important decisions. His verdict was delivered with a foam gavel: Rice would be suspended for two games. The outcry was swift, loud and has been rightfully persistent. It feels inconsistent with Goodell’s commitment to protecting “the shield” (the NFL’s iconic logo) and, more troubling, dismissive of violence against women.
I’m not presenting anything here you likely didn’t already know. You are probably equally disappointed in the NFL; you may even share my outrage. But the league has spoken. Rice, the same guy that knocked out his wife, will represent the NFL and the Ravens starting in week three of the 2014 season. Nothing is going to change that. What remains in question and beyond the bounds of the NFL’s substantial influence is our – the general population’s – processing of Rice’s penalty and eventually on-field presence. Thus far, the returns have been disappointing - at least locally.
At a practice held on July 28 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Rice was cheered like a prodigal son returning from an unjust detainment. That bothered me, initially, but I’ve grown to accept this quick, within-the-family indication of support. If Rice is to pay his penance and restore his character (this was his first blemish), and if some good is to come of this terrible mess, he will need the city behind him.
Here’s what I can’t accept: wearing his jersey.
While dinning recently, Rice re-entered my thoughts when a young man clad in a Rice jersey-shirt settled in at an adjacent table. My curiosity raced. What compelled this guy to commit such an obvious fashion faux pas? Does he have a wife or a girlfriend? A sister? He at least has a mother. I have all of those (just a wife, no girlfriend…for the record) and when I critique Rice, I think of them. Did he consider his jersey’s message or was he just concerned with beating the Pittsburgh Steelers this fall?
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
From age and parenthood I’ve learned that moments are unique and fleeting and that the greatest joys are often found in the journey, not the destination. Sports frequently remind us that the future is uncertain: see Robert Griffin III’s instantly franchise-altering collapsed knee and, more recently, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George’s broken leg. So while it’s good to dream, it is awful presumptive to assume Durant and D.C. will be a fit in two years. As John Mellencamp advised in his classic “Jack & Diane”, “hold on to sixteen, as long as you can, changes come around real soon make us women and men.” Adapted for “Durant 2016”, the message is this: don’t dismiss today for an un-promised tomorrow. Or, more simply, stay in the now. Although, I still wish I would’ve had an iPad at my sister’s dance recitals. Some moments are too painful to bear.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
When will this end? Let’s get this over with. I can’t wait until…
Raise your hand if you’ve used one of those expressions. Be honest. A few hands are still down. Come on. There you go. All hands are up now, as expected. To test whom I’m dealing with, put your hands down if you haven’t used them with an FCC-banned wrinkle word inserted for emphasis. Whoa…all hands are still up. It’s good to be among my kind of people.
My hands? They are raised in spirit. I can’t type with my guilty mitts raised to the heavens.
Guilty? Yes…of looking ahead. I, like you my fellow time-continuum sinners, have wished away all sorts of frustrating moments, time-sinks and undesirable situations. I have frequently longed for a Star Trek transporter, a time machine - like Doc Brown’s DeLorean or the Omni from that 80’s “classic” T.V. show Voyagers - or at least a fast forward button.
As a kid, road trips couldn’t end soon enough and I pestered my folks with the timelessly irritating question “are we there yet?” I wished away every age and school year. Age nine was cooler than eight; life at 10 was sweeter still. Fifth grade was big-time, but once sixth grade hit, fifth graders were barely worthy of my acquaintance. I loathed attending my sisters dance recitals. I think of them today when I see kids combating boredom with fancy electronics gadgets. I had a transistor radio and Southern Maryland’s one FM station within range of the primitive device. Bitter? Me? Absolutely.
I learned my “respect time” lesson slowly. I kept seeking the occasional tomorrows into adulthood: the next Friday night during a long work week, a diaper-free life while toiling through the early years of fatherhood or simply the promise of a good night’s sleep and an agenda-less morning. But as my opening test indicated, I’m merely a member of a present-disrespecting, future-obsessed mob. Even the sports world lacks immunity.
ESPN’s Darren Rovell recently interviewed Maryland native Kevin Durant, the reigning NBA MVP. The main topic wasn’t Team U.S.A or the FIBA World Cup (the present); it was a distant future. On the heels of LeBron James’ return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, speculation about Durant’s future has begun in earnest. The wet dream of Washington Wizards fans – this one included – is that Durant pulls a LeBron, clicks the heels of his Nike’s three times while declaring, “there’s no place like home.” Stoking the “Durant to D.C.” fire, the Wizards have compiled a nucleus of young talent, improved dramatically and have structured its player contracts to support a major financial offering to Durant. They even hired Durant’s high school basketball coach!!!
Here’s the problem: Durant’s under contract with his current team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, through the 2015-16 season. So what are we to do for the next two NBA seasons? Ignore the Wizards? Dismiss the continued development of John Wall and Bradley Beal, one of the best young backcourts in the game? Should Thunder fans temper their enthusiasm or succumb to “Summer of ’16” anxiety during the next two years with Durant, campaigns that likely will include deep playoff runs and perhaps a NBA championship?
Shouldn’t the answer be an emphatic “no”?
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
At the inaugural ESPY Awards in 1993, Coach Valvano, stricken with cancer and just two months before his death, announced the founding of The V Foundation for Cancer Research and encouraged us to do three things every day: laugh, think and cry. The 2014 ESPYS and the moving stories of Josh Sweeney, Michael Sam and Stuart Scott, checked all those blocks, several days henceforth, and left me, in a word, inspired.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Youth is positive and innocent. It sees mostly the good – in the world, people and sports. I was 13 when my athletic hero, Maryland’s Len Bias, died of cocaine intoxication. It hurt, but I attributed his death to a mistake made by a kid digesting a suddenly complex world. Drug use and Bias didn’t coalesce in my mind. His dunks, All-American honors and two ACC Player of the Year awards were what I’d remember; the drug use and his death were terrible and tragic footnotes.
I am much older now and my perspective, on Bias and sports in general, has changed. My unchallenged youthful optimism has been partially compromised by cynicism – scars left by an imperfect world. Bias still holds a place in my heart, but I remember a basketball program run amuck and an athletic department brought to its knees as much as the on-court brilliance of my favorite player.
There were more insults. Pete Rose happened. I got his autograph shortly after his book My Story was released. It was a fraud’s tale. I lived through the steroid era: first in track and field, then in baseball. Remember Tim Donaghy? He was an NBA referee…until doing time for betting on NBA games. The head football coach at the University of Central Florida, George O’Leary, lost the same job at Notre Dame in 2001 after lying about his football accolades and listing a Master’s degree he never earned on his bio.
I could go on, but that’ll do. I am cynical, not jaded - there is too much good in the world of sports for that. And I got a dose of goodness last week from an unlikely source: an awards show.
The Emmys, Oscars, American Music Awards, etc. - I revile these things. They are contrived, style-dominant and substance lacking. Every now and then someone like Esperanza Spalding shocks the world and wins a Grammy for Best New Artist, but award shows are mostly self-indulgent ego strokes, beauty pageants for the most popular movies, television shows, actors, songs and musicians. And then the 2014 ESPY Awards (ESPN’s Oscar’s for the sports world) stilled my cynical heart.
There was plenty of pandering to the popular but these ESPYS offered three substantive moments not soon forgotten. The first ever Pat Tillman Award was given to Josh Sweeney, a Marine who stepped on an IED in Afghanistan in 2009 and lost his legs. No matter…he scored the gold-medal-winning goal in sledge hockey at the Olympics this winter. In a word: resilient.
The annual Arthur Ashe Award was given to Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player. His speech included this quote from Ashe: “Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.” Needless to say, Sam is doing what he can to tear down stereotypes and thwart prejudice. In a word: courage.
The third poignant moment was ESPN’s recognition of one of its own, long-time “Sportscenter” anchor Stuart Scott, with the Jimmy V Award. I knew Scott had cancer. I didn’t know he was diagnosed seven years ago or the depth of his medical challenges (which he very bluntly described). I also didn’t know he was the father of two beautiful daughters, a fact that put a knot in this father’s throat. His speech was proud and defiant, but also vulnerable and resigned. He spoke, as Coach Valvano once did, of never giving up and of living life on his terms. But he also admitted to needing others to help him fight on days when the disease temporarily broke his will. It was a brutally honest glimpse into the world of a cancer patient. It was, in a word, unforgettable.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in July 2014
The Nationals can be a little soft, okay. They don’t handle adversity particularly well and haven’t psychologically recovered from a playoff collapse against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. They need an edge, someone with nerve and daring. They need a bold voice that agitates, challenges and re-draws comfort zones – even if the voice isn’t obviously qualified to do so. They need Bryce Harper. Most teams – sports or otherwise – need a Bryce Harper. The Bryce Harper’s, if properly harnessed and balanced, create healthy discomfort; and in healthy discomfort there is growth and, often, greater success. At the highest levels of competition, good guys don’t always finish last, but they rarely finish first…and isn’t that the point?
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Boys will be boys. And so will young men, it seems.
Somewhat lost in the at-or-near first place Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals is the absence of both teams’ young phenoms – Manny Machado and Bryce Harper – from the lineup for large chunks of this season’s first half. Winning masks all warts. It’s like beer for not-so-pretty-faces.
Machado didn’t make his 2014 debut until May 1, the result of offseason knee surgery. On June 8, he threw a 21-year-old fit after a pitch from Oakland A’s reliever Fernando Abad buzzed by his surgically repaired knee. Machado purposefully let his bat helicopter onto the field after an empty swing at the next pitch. The benches cleared and a lot of bad breath and choice words were exchanged. It was, shall we say, an unattractive moment. The temper tantrum cost Machado five games, a suspension he served last week.
Not to be “out-controversied”, Harper, continuing his reckless play, ripped up a thumb sliding into third on April 25, had surgery and missed two months. But he’s back now – with an attitude. The day after playing his first game since April, Harper, as reported by The Washington Post, popped off about his position in the batting order and the team’s defensive alignment. He didn’t like batting sixth and wanted to play center field, not left, despite being on ice for two months. Harper also offered to anyone and everyone that Ryan Zimmerman should have continued in left field and defensive stalwart Danny Espinosa should have remained at second base. The intended or unintended message behind Harper’s loose-lipped commentary was this: I’m better than the guys hitting in front of me and Denard Span (one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball) should be on the bench.
Youth often lacks proper physical and verbal temperance. Harper is good, but his hype still leads his production. He has never hit 30 homeruns, had 100 RBI or flirted with a .300 batting average in a season. Harper’s never been a serious MVP candidate and currently has had as many surgeries as All-Star Game appearances (2). After being called up in 2012 at age 19, Harper stayed healthy and played 139 games. Last year, that number fell to 119 as he battled knee issues, a consequence of a collision with an outfield wall. Through last Sunday, Harper’s posted for just 28 of 87 games in 2014. The song apparently, as Led Zeppelin might say, remains the same.
And this guy has an opinion on how a major league team should be managed? This reckless and bumptious youth has the audacity to challenge, and maybe undermine, first year manager and long-time major leaguer Matt Williams? Clearly Harper needs to be humbled, put in his place, served a slice of humble pie and prescribed an aggressive course of ego-arrest. He needs a timeout chair, to stand in the corner and have all his electronics taken away.
Or does he?
I love this cast of Nationals. They are classy, easy to like and the best professional sports team in Washington, D.C. But sometimes they are too nice. The camaraderie is too great. Their gentlemen factor is too high. They represent themselves, their families, MLB and the nation’s capital too well. You’d introduce your daughters to these Nationals and loan them expensive yard equipment. Those are commendable qualities, but in the world of ultra-competitive athletics, they can lead to “the S-word”: soft.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in June 2014
When navigating the precarious and powerful margin, I suppose the trick is to keep your marginal utility in the black and your externalities positive. Or, for this article, be like the rock star, not the billionaire owner.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
In economics, the margin is magic. It’s Disney World, the Super Bowl, a Rolling Stones concert, Mardi Gras, a golf major with Tiger Woods in contention (remember those?) and, closer to home, the Tiki Bar opening. The margin is where the action is and where the cool people hang. Be there or be square. If you’re not there, you’re not anywhere. The margin – it’s all that. Who knew?
Without getting too technical (hopefully) and gouge-your-eyes-out boring, the margin is about real-time decision-making by producers and consumers and the value – measurable or estimated – of those decisions. Marginal cost, a good’s variance in total cost for changes in quantity, determines if, for example, a producer should allocate an additional shift to a manufacturing line. For consumers, marginal utility measures the benefit – joy, fun, practical usage, etc - derived from a good. When Mick Jaggar wails through the Stones’ classic “Satisfaction”, he’s a man desperate marginal utility via sex, less commercialism, etc.
Complicating producer and consumer margin-thinking is the law of diminishing returns/utility. It says that if Ford blindly adds labor to manufacturing, the labor will gradually lose efficiency and eventually be completely counter-productive. Speaking more plainly, a beer on a warm summer’s day is a no-brainer - tremendous marginal utility/satisfaction; the eighth, though, may be less “refreshing.” Alas, more is not always better.
And then there are the externalities realized from margin decisions. The Nats’ move to D.C. was an economic boon for MLB and the town, but the team’s presence has created an enormous social benefit – a positive externality – for the community. Conversely, our beer drinker’s decision to consume to excess will likely have an adverse impact – a negative externality – on anyone in his sloppy, drunken presence.
That’s a bunch of dribble for saying that decisions to do stuff - buy, sell, produce, consume, play, work, etc – or to not do stuff – remain idle, pass, forfeit, etc – have tremendous influence (marginal utility) on our lives and the lives of those around us (externalities). At this point I assume the power of the margin has you researching economic theory – provided you’re still awake. Anyway…
Margin-based activity does not normally consume my thoughts (and so what if it does?). However, recent considerations of a margin-frequenting musician and a billionaire owner had me dusting off old economic lessons (for good or ill).
The guitar-harmonica-bass wielding rock star is Sheryl Crow, an artist who didn’t achieve mainstream fame until her early thirties (a late bloomer in her field), overcame breast cancer in 2006 and a scary bout with a benign brain tumor in 2011. Crow certainly faced moments on the margin where she questioned her professional future and the value (or wisdom) of continuing her career. But Crow never let her guitar rest, a decision that indicates music retained a marginal utility too great to abandon. For local fans, the positive externalities from her determination reached an apex during a recent concert at the St. Leonard Fire Department. Had Crow chose differently at the margin, there would have been no benefit for a worthy local cause, no dancing, no smiles and no memories. There would have only been silence.
On the other hand, Daniel Snyder, billionaire owner of D.C.’s professional football team, isn’t navigating the margin with Crow’s skill. The name of Snyder’s beloved team is under assault - the result of rightful social progression, evolution of language and careful consideration of our nation’s sometimes troubling history. To date, Snyder has consistently chosen defiant opposition and refused meaningful discord. It is an unfortunate position steeped in misguided nostalgia and emotion, a flawed formula for the margin, a place committed to unemotional, unbiased analysis and identifying a moment’s optimal alternative. The team’s name will change - eventually. In the meantime, Snyder’s clenched fist of skewed pride will create increasingly greater negative externalities for his organization, its players and fans of professional football.
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in June 2014
Zimmerman’s perspective is as rare as his baseball talent. I suspect Cal Ripken Jr. is tipping his cap to Nat’s new outfielder; for what it’s worth, so am I.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
In 2005, MLB’s hollow promises ran dry and the fiendish opposition by Peter Angelos, curmudgeon owner of the Orioles, was overcome - finally. The Montreal Expos moved south, donned script “W” caps and were reborn as the Washington Nationals.
The honeymoon was brief. For years there wasn’t much to celebrate beyond the team’s presence. Stephen Strasburg didn’t arrive until 2010. Jayson Werth was signed a year later. In 2012, Bryce Harper was called up and the Nationals managed their first winning season – eight years since fleeing the great white north. Before “that” - the dark period between 2005 and 2010 - there was Ryan Zimmerman…and little else.
Zimmerman attended high school in Virginia Beach and played baseball at the University of Virginia. In 2005, the rebooted Nationals, an organization pillaged of talent while languishing in Montreal and in desperate need of a franchise player, selected the local prospect with the fourth overall pick in the MLB Draft. Since debuting later that year, Zimmerman has been everything for the Nationals: a silver slugger, gold glove awardee, an All-Star, kindling for a budding fan base and a pillar in the community. Until all the aforementioned “help” arrived, Zimmerman was the only player on the roster likely to be a Nat beyond a single presidential election. He wasn’t just the team’s third baseman and best player; he was the Nationals’ identity.
It would be sacrilegious around these parts to compare Zimmerman’s connection to the area, arrival in Washington and meaning the Nationals franchise with the real-life fairytale of Aberdeen’s Cal Ripken Jr., Baltimore and the Orioles; but there are similarities. Baseball acumen aside, there aren’t two better people in the game. Ripken’s reputation speaks for itself. Zimmerman is the consummate professional, a gentleman’s gentleman and in 2006 put his name on the ziMS Foundation, a charity dedicated to combating Multiple Sclerosis, a disease afflicting his mother. I personally witnessed Zimmerman’s community work when he spent an unpublicized afternoon with a group of very sick kids at Children’s National Medical Center in 2010. I’ll never forget it.
And now there’s another parallel in Ripken and Zimmerman’s stories: a position move. Ripken, a long-time shortstop, was moved to third base in 1997. Zimmerman, a third baseman with hot-corner skills that were once compared to Brooks Robinson, is now playing left field. Unlike Ripken, whose shift to third occurred late in his career, Zimmerman’s reassignment to left field is happening in his prime and as a result of an uncooperative right shoulder ravaged by injury. Father time - Ripken’s culprit - defeats us all; Zimmerman’s circumstance – bad luck – is much more difficult to accept.
But here are a few thoughts, as reported by Adam Kilgore in The Washington Post, from Zimmerman on the matter. Regarding his viability at third base, Zimmerman said, “I don’t know if I’m the best option over there anymore.” Zimmerman touched on the impact to the team with this gem: “My goal is to win games…get to the playoffs…this gives us the best chance.” And then, the reincarnated outfielder offered this reflective thought: “I have a hard time taking anything negative from baseball…I’ve had a pretty good life…I look at it as more of, maybe just a new chapter, something like that.”
That’s about as good as it gets – textbook stuff. A potentially toxic issue was completely diffused by objectivity, humility, optimism, selflessness and class. I initially characterized Zimmerman’s reactions as obligatory for an established professional athlete. Alas, I’m showing my age. There are few people today – athlete or otherwise – that would have handled an analogous situation with such dignity. And if any D.C. athlete qualified to play the entitlement card, gripe and placate an inflated sense of self-importance, it would’ve been Ryan Zimmerman. But Zimmerman is the anti-diva. He’s a throwback to a period when people routinely thought beyond the boundaries of their personal world and considered others - team and teammates in this case - ahead of themselves.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Parenthood is packed with milestones and phases. Things come, things go and, before you know it, a decade has slipped by in a dizzying flash of shit, vomit, sleepless nights and enough moments of sheer joy to justify perpetuating our species.
A baby is born, requires a first diaper change and cracks a smile. A “coo” shows up one day, a “dada” or “mamma” the next and several-years-but-a-moment-later a rage-filled “you suck, dad” crops up as pre-pubescent hormones are set ablaze. Play groups, pre-school classes, soccer, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, band, basketball, swimming, art lessons and Taeqwondo (oh yeah, I could go on and on) rapidly enter and exit a young family’s daily operations as offsprings rifle through childhood and parents grip the wheels of life.
I left out one tried and true family event: T-ball. It is a rite of passage for parents and children. I played and can still see the trophies on my dresser. I was terrified when I started and loved it when I finished. Fielding was okay; hitting was coolest thing in life (to that point).
For the last five years my kids have participated in the introductory phase to the American Pastime. It ended for me last Wednesday night when my son played his final T-ball game. I’ve watched my last game with kids running in the wrong direction, spectacularly errant throws, the occasional amazing play and every player playing for the ultimate prize: the post-game snack!!!
I have had a picture of my son’s first T-ball at-bat on my phone for three years. I took it from behind the backstop. Poor kid was only slightly bigger than the bat and his over-sized helmet robbed him of half his vision. So as he strode to the plate for his final T-ball at bat last week, I couldn’t help myself - I snapped a photo from the same location. He was bigger, of course, and I was proud, but sadness was the dominant emotion. I was closing a chapter on a special phase…and I wasn’t ready to let go. There will be other things, I’m sure, but for me the melancholy associated with closing a familiar, well-worn book isn’t overcome by the joy from cracking open a new one.
Years ago I was driving home from a summer vacation and I noticed a roadside sign that read something like, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” I remember it because it was sage advice. As a for a former T-ball parent…I’m trying to embrace it. I’ll get there, eventually.