Thursday, November 27, 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
I don’t watch network television. I couldn’t name the most popular shows, much less their broadcast network. The last episode of “Survivor” that I watched was the finale…of season one. The next time I watch “Dancing With The Stars”, “The Voice” or “American Idol” will be the first time.
This unintended phenomenon started in the early 2000s, about the time “Taps” played for sitcoms and reality T.V. went viral. The reason for my network television divorce is, as of yet, undiagnosed. My wife gets a hoot out of it; her dismissive chuckles scream “weirdo.” It confounds and frustrates my daughter; I sense a growing concern that her decidedly un-cool father will inevitably cause horrific social embarrassment. Am I wrong to proudly anticipate that moment?
What I do enjoy watching (besides sports, of course) are shows such as “American Pickers”, “American Restoration” and “Down East Dickering” on The History Channel and “Deadliest Catch” and “Moonshiners” on Discovery Channel. Why? Well, I like antiques, resurrecting battered classics, bartering, fishing and homemade adult beverages. I guess one could interpret it as an ode to my Southern Maryland roots.
There’s something else about these programs, though, something more appealing than just an alignment with my interests. They have an element of unpredictable chaos that the cast always overcomes. The pickers sometimes stumble on dud leads and have to wing it. The dickerers live week-to-week and creatively manufacture value and cash out of little to nothing. The guys on American Restoration fix old, dilapidated stuff…enough said. The “Deadliest Catch’s” crabbers manage unpredictable weather and finicky crustaceans. And the moonshiners produce product in homemade stills deep in the Appalachian Mountains while evading the law. Nothing is neat or as it should be - but they all make it work. They expect the unexpected, adapt and press forward.
I love that about those shows – the human resolve. Which is to say I love the New England Patriots.
Wait. What? I hate the Patriots: smug Tom Brady with his rings and model wife and Bill Belichick with his awful hoodie and curt, mumbling press conferences. What’s to like? How about this: in my lifetime, no team has handled adversity, change and chaos as well as the Pats.
We are now 14 years into the Brady-Belichick era. From 2001-2013, the Patriots won at least 10 games 12 times, made the playoffs 11 times, appeared in five Super Bowls, advanced to eight AFC Championship Games and won three championships. Considering the sport, the era (salary cap) and the mercurial nature of modern athletes, that might be the greatest run by any professional sports team - ever.
The Patriots have maintained their excellence despite “Spygate”, Aaron Hernandez’s murder charges, the loss of coaches like Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, and Bill O’Brien and the various injuries (back, arm and knee) of all-world TE Rob Gronkowski. They jettisoned stars such as Lawyer Milloy, Brandon Meriweather, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Logan Mankins without identifiable impact and survived the failed acquisitions of Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth. They even plugged in Matt Cassell for an injured Brady in 2008 and won 11 games. The Patriots seem impervious to the NFL’s intense variability, an unstoppable winning machine.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger might be fans of vinyl records, or at least sworn adversaries of the compact disc (CD). With that introduction…
The CD dealt a serious blow to human civilization. An overstatement? Probably. Completely false? Absolutely not. Its sin? The CD, that sleek invention from the depths of the place where dark souls are said to reside, made real-time music surfing possible and, in the process, forever disfigured how we listen to music.
Prior to the disc, music resided on cassettes, 8-tracks and vinyl records, formats that forced more a deliberate, patient listen. If you wanted to jump around to hit songs, you could, but it involved toggling between four often disjointed programs (8-tracks), an inexact fast-forward or rewind (cassettes) or getting up off the couch and manipulating the needle (records).
The “consequence”, as I’ll sarcastically call it, was that the listener tended to experience the entire album. What a concept! Recognizing the inconvenience of pre-CD media, hit songs were often placed at the beginning of a side, prime territory for a quick find or replay; I appreciated artists that didn’t follow the marketer’s script, the ones that slotted their singles in awkward places, thereby ensuring total album consumption and creating an opportunity to discover hidden gems. I’m tipping my cap to Kix, the Maryland-based band, who placed the song The Itch at the end of side one of their debut album and the Rolling Stones for tucking Tumbling Dice at the end of the first Exile on Main Street record.
And then there were the artists who buried great songs in inauspicious places, little rewards of sorts for dedicated listeners. “Rocket Queen”, the last song on Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses is incredible. Prince put the fabulously raunchy “Darling Nikki” last on side one of Purple Rain. Bob Dylan’s ended his iconic Highway 61 Revisited album with the absolutely amazing “Desolation Row”.
If the CD didn’t completely kill such album experiences, the MP3 and digital media seem certain to choke out its last breaths of life. The single rules now: three minutes of overproduced, hyper-marketed sound from computers and bedazzled pop stars that can be downloaded for instant satisfaction and played until it promotes nausea. Who has the patience to spin a record?
The aforementioned Rodgers, age 30, isn’t old enough to remember cassettes, but he has cracked back on society’s impatience. In response to early-season criticism, Rodgers, one of the coolest and best quarterbacks in the NFL, spelled out a five-letter retort to irritated Packers fans: R-E-L-A-X. The Packers have done just fine since. The agitation isn’t confined to the land of cheese. A few weeks ago, New England and Pittsburgh were struggling. Brady and Roethlisberger, despite their five Super Bowl titles, allegedly couldn’t play anymore. Patriots coach Bill Belichick had lost his hoodie-fueled brilliance; Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was on the hot seat. Well, since the gripes reached a crescendo, no team has been hotter than the Patriots and Roethlisberger tossed six touchdown passes in consecutive games. Premature panic? You think?
The death of the album and quick criticism of the NFL’s best quarterbacks is bothersome, but its root cause – pervasive impatience and an intolerance of any frustration or discomfort – has significant reach. We have to have it all – hit songs or wins on Sunday – right now. The grass elsewhere is assumed to be greener the minute the blades under our feet discolor. The bird in the hand, despite its accomplishments, is obsessively critiqued while the unknown two in the bush are romanticized. Shortcomings and bad moments create labels that cannot be removed. No one – not even Super Bowl winning quarterbacks – are permitted the latitude to fail, to grow and to overcome. To heck with the process, the journey, evolution or the opportunity to reveal something – a character trait, a team quality or a great song – that’s not immediately apparent.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
I have officially become my parents. I laugh at my own futile arguments against the obvious. I don’t know when the transformation happened specifically, but it’s indisputable – fait accompli.
I was warned that this unsettling change would happen. Unconvinced, I fought it - passionately. But then my own kids started navigating their world, one quite different from the one of my childhood, became instant experts (apparently) on all things life presents and emboldened to argue against the often inconvenient and mostly unsolicited advice of their gray-bearded, clueless father.
Regardless of topic – homework, extracurricular activities, Ebola, ISIS, unplugging from the electronics or the social dynamics of middle school – our discussions don’t always go so well…for anyone involved (again, similar to “debates” with my parents). When I am challenged (or ignored completely), my temperature rises, my words become more direct and I usually blurt something completely unproductive like, “this is not a democracy.” I doubt my kids even understand what a democracy is at this point. But it makes me feel better, so...
I try not to preach. Honestly, I do. What I have is wisdom; I don’t portend to have perfect answers for their unique situations. I recognize that my antiquated childhood experiences and Gen-X worldview don’t always produce sound advice today. Of course how could I forget my limitations when two pint-sized critics and their whopping two decades of combined earthly experience are constantly questioning my theories? But here’s an odd twist. I’d be willing to bet a six-pack of fine Maryland craft beer (high stakes for me) that if you wrapped either of my kids in Wonder Woman’s truth lasso, they’d begrudgingly spill this fact: dad is usually right.
Why am I usually on-point? Is it because I’m some oracle of life experiences or all-seeing eye affixed atop the parental mountaintop? Hardly. I’m usually right, and my parents were usually right (ouch that hurt), and their parents were usually right for a very simple reason. And the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind; for those seeking less abstract, anti-Dylan proof, grab a chair in the sports world’s classroom.
I’m betting even the most casual sports fans noticed that the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals made improbable runs to the World Series and that (this is really going to hurt) the left-for-dead Dallas Cowboys, their leaky defense, embattled quarterback and kooky owner are firmly in the playoff conversation. How did they all do it? The Giants rode the golden left arm of pitching ace Madison Bumgarner and the Royals leaned on a nasty bullpen full of guys throwing 100 MPH and capable of making a baseball move like a wiffle ball. And the Cowboys? The Cowboys, behind a young, talented offensive line and RB DeMarco Murray, are running the football like it’s 1975.
Pitching and running the ball: as much as sports have changed, these fundamental tenets of success in baseball and football, respectively, have not. The same applies to the fundamentals of parenting and life. The basics are timeless: that’s why my parents were almost always right and that’s why I’m usually right. I am a father, validated by sports.
What are those enduring, trans-generational lessons, the pitching and running game of parenthood? Well, here are a few. Work hard. Be reliable and trustworthy. Respect authority but don’t be afraid to question it. Care – about yourself and others. Brush your teeth. Bring a positive, can-do attitude to every situation and challenge. Understand that a broken heart is often an unfortunate part of ultimately finding lasting love. Live below your means. Candy is not a food group (except on Halloween night). Chores and adversity build character. Video games are fine – in moderation. Learn when to speak your mind and when to bite your tongue. And yes, you have to eat your vegetables.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Warning: melodrama lies ahead. Your favorite bleacher-dweller is feeling sorry for himself. Empathy is expected, and darn near assumed, from understanding readers and fellow local sports fans.
As I rehash last week’s offerings from the sports gods on a fall-chilled evening in Southern Maryland, I’m left to conclude that this is a divine test of our devotion. Salvation must lie ahead. Let’s break this mess down by beltway, starting with the 495ers.
The Nationals, after running up the best record in the National League, promptly dropped three of four games and the series to the San Francisco Giants. There goes the season, D.C. baseball fans. At least the neighborhood's still intact. In some sick attempt to deliver a tonic, CNN.com actually featured a recently uncovered video of the 1924 World Series. Guess who won that one? That’s right – the Nats! Am I supposed to feel better? So much for 2014…but at least we have the memories (or grainy silent video) of ’24!
The pain would roll on. The ‘Skins lost to Seattle on Monday Night Football, the Capitals dropped their opener to Montreal and Wizards guard Bradley Beal broke his wrist in a preseason game. He’ll miss 6-8 weeks. Oh…and four Wizards players were suspended for the first regular season game after a pre-season skirmish with the Bulls. Somewhere LeBron is snickering.
Ready for the 695ers? Fresh off a dominating American League Division Series win, the Orioles promptly lost the first two games of the League Championship Series (LCS) to the Royals - at home. But there’s still hope, hon - or is there? As I was hammering out this piece, ESPN’s Buster Olney sent out the following tweet: “ELIAS: No team has ever won a best-of-seven LCS after dropping the first two games at home.” Alrighty then. Thanks, Buster. Apparently solace can only found at the bottom of several Natty Bohs.
Speaking of Bohs, my wife tempered my anguish by reminding me that October is beer month. Yes it is…yes it is indeed. So there’s that my fellow D.C and Baltimore sports fans, and “that” – beer – is a significant elixir. Perhaps Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff was on to something when he titled his book, “It’s Not Who Won Or Lost The Game – It’s How You Sold The Beer.”
But wait, before getting well with your favorite combination of water, malt, hops and yeast, there’s more gloom. After that aforementioned Monday night loss to Seattle, the Sons of Washington were apparently clowning around in the locker room, almost as if they had won the game. The ‘Skins apparently were thrilled with the moral victory – losing by only 10 - achieved against the Super Bowl champions. The behavior inspired a scathing piece by Jason Reid of The Washington Post and considerable debate nationwide regarding appropriate behavior for losing teams.
Like many, I initially fumed at the thought of a jovial professional locker room after a loss. But time has offered a different perspective, if not an explanation or justification. I think that most people, regardless of profession, have an inclination toward complacency. Fatigue, routine and resignation can be its fuel. We expect athletes to be as emotionally invested as we are as fans, but the grind and mounting losses can sometimes get the best of even the most competitive. In September, every player is fired up. By mid-October, and with a season slipping away, a casual shrug replaces anger after losses and a passionate game is reduced to a routine occupation.
Monday, October 13, 2014
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in Sept 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
I was indirectly introduced to New York’s latest alleged baseball phenomena during an autograph and memorabilia show in Baltimore. I was wearing a Joe DiMaggio jersey, a symbol not of Yankee fandom but of a love for baseball history and the iconic players of yesteryear. The misleading attire left a fellow attendee and promoter convinced he had a prospect. Catching a rare glimpse of pinstripes through the sea of humanity – how many Yankees jerseys could have been in the Baltimore-based crowd? – the guy approached me with great energy, pamphlet in hand and, while searching for his breath, explained that the next great Yankee would be signing autographs the following weekend a little farther up I-95.
I was polite. I acted interested, thanked him and said I might see him next weekend. I lied. The fellow was beaming with excitement. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the soul-crushing truth: that I wasn’t a Yankee fan and that I had never heard of this kid he was billing as the next Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Munson, Ford, Berra, etc, etc, etc. Besides, only a Yankee fan would have known him. It was early 1995, after all, and Derek Jeter hadn’t yet played his first major league game.
But he would. He would play over 2,700 games for the Bronx Bombers during a 20-year career that saw him collect over 3,400 hits, record a career batting average over .300, win five World Series Championships, secure a ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame and, yes, earn his place among those Yankee immortals. Mr. Promoter, wherever you are, please accept my apology. You were right.
As Jeter’s final season wound to a close this summer, the accolades showered upon the Yankee great admittedly grew excessive. With gifts being presented at every major league city, it was a victory tour of such proportions that it inspired a few chiding critiques of Jeter’s “forgotten-in-the-revelry” shortcomings. Was he a great player? Absolutely. But, as the Jeter-realists pointed out, he never won a batting title, hit 30 homeruns in a season or was voted league MVP. In short, he wasn’t Ruth, Gehrig or DiMaggio.
Okay, that’s fair - not many players are – but if Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio set the qualifying bar for celebratory farewells…we’ll never have one. Further, nitpicking over Jeter’s shortcomings, lamenting what he wasn’t or didn’t do, threatens to complicate all that he was: the best shortstop of his era, humble, incredibly clutch and genuine in a time when many were not.
I love quotes. I enjoy the thoughts posted on Guy Distributing’s sign just off the main drag in Leonardtown. I dig bumper stickers, even if I disagree with the propaganda. The dry erase board outside my professional abode often contains a few scribbled words of wisdom. I’m in constant search of inspiration, a miner of life-fuel, I suppose. But then again, aren’t we all?
Near my desk I have a collection of personal thoughts I’ve compiled over the years. They are quips that keep me grounded, motivated and connected to my personal foundation. One reads, “Son of a bricklayer.” It is an ode to my dad, to hard work and to the trade that helped provide me footing in this world. When I see those words I am reminded of the importance of grinding day after day, of doing things the right way and of not cutting corners.
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in Oct 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
It’s been a rough few weeks. I approach my television with trepidation. The Internet, a one-time fountain of fun, has been reduced to a crisis reporter. I avert my eyes from ESPN’s scroll and avoid emails from a TMZ-obsessed friend. I don’t want to know what’s next, but I can’t escape reality. I’ve been shocked, confused and angered. And now? Well, now I am just terribly disappointed.
Best I can tell, this emotional spiral started with Ray Rice; but it’s fuzzy. Pinpointing the moment a long-term relationship began to sour would be easier. This I know for certain: I started feeling rotten after Rice received a token two-game suspension for beating his wife. The public outcry was swift and visceral – and right. In an effort to appease the swelling mob with an ounce of executive flesh, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted fault and increased the penalty for domestic violence. A temporary calm was achieved.
Then, the other half of the Rice video – the half containing the disturbing crime – was released, and with it the willful negligence or indisputable incompetence (it’s a toss up) of the league’s prosecution was on public display. Then, determined to intensify the situation, the Baltimore Ravens fumbled their announcement of Rice’s release. Then the NFL hired a former FBI director to launch an independent investigation. Then Indiana Pacers forward Paul George tweeted (always a dangerous move) a defense of Rice that “argued” a man hitting a woman in retaliation of said woman hitting said man is not domestic violence. Really? Then San Francisco 49ers announcer Ted Robinson was suspended two games for criticizing Rice’s wife, Janay Rice. Then boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., a dude that’s done time for domestic violence, minimized Rice’s actions by essentially saying far worse occurs in homes. How comforting.
Had enough yet? No? Okay…
Then a tape leaked of Atlanta Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry, son of former Washington Bullets GM Bob Ferry, making disgusting, racist remarks about the African heritage of NBA player Luol Deng. Then Charm City, as if to say “don’t forget about us in this extraordinary professional-sports-dumpster-fire-competition”, veered back into the pathetic pattern when Orioles slugger Chris Davis was suspended 25 games for amphetamine use. Then Adrian Peterson, all-world running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted for child abuse. He was deactivated from last Sunday’s game and faces an uncertain personal and professional future.
Stop. Please. I’m under the covers with my eyes closed, hands over my ears and I’m humming loudly. Don’t make me burn all electronic devices, lock all doors and call in sick to work indefinitely. I will. That’s where I am. I’ve had enough. This has gotten so bad that a sexual assault allegation against Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder’s stubborn mishandling of his team’s embattled (slowly dying) moniker barely registered. Great?
My kids have reached ages necessitating the sad exchange of some of nature’s embedded innocence for the harsh realities of our flawed species. The age-appropriate discussion has included stranger danger, sex offenders, criminals and mean people with bad intentions. They are all out there; we all have to pay attention and remain vigilant. But not to worry, I say. Such people are the exception. The world is mostly comprised of good people who consistently do the right thing. Mostly.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
As published in The County Times (www.countytimes.somd.com), September 4, 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Before jumping into this week’s piece, here’s a revelation: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reads The County Times.
When this column last appeared, it condemned Goodell’s paltry two-game suspension of Ray Rice for beating his wife. Well, last week, Goodell acknowledged the error and announced that domestic violence would net a six-game suspension for first time offenders and a lifetime ban for a subsequent offense. Better late than never, Mr. Goodell. And thanks for reading (and heeding) The County Times.
The athleticism, cannon arm and charisma aside, he had me after his 4.4 second, 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. Apparently former Washington head coach Mike Shanahan fell in love too – head over heels in love.
Owing the sixth pick in 2012 NFL Draft, a consequence of a 5-11 season and the uninspiring quarterback duo of John Beck and Rex Grossman, the ‘Skins didn’t just need a quarterback, they needed a reason not to dread the upcoming fall. Instead of waiting in line and selecting a blasé player like Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill, the ‘Skins cut a huge trade with the St. Louis Rams for the second overall selection. The price was steep: three first round picks (2012-2014) and a second round pick (2012). The prize was a shot of organizational adrenaline: Robert Griffin III.
My goodness it worked initially. Griffin was sensational in 2012. His run-pass threat had defenses reeling and the pistol formation and the read-option offense became part of the NFL’s staid lexicon. In Griffin’s debut, the ‘Skins scored 40 points in an upset win over the New Orleans Saints. By November, “RGIII, RGIII, RGIII” chants were routine at FedEx Field. And in week 17, a hobbled but heroic Griffin led the ‘Skins to a division-clinching win over the Dallas Cowboys.
It was fool’s gold. A week later in the playoffs, Griffin’s abused right knee, a joint he had injured weeks earlier, collapsed in grotesque fashion. It was a franchise pivot point. Shanahan’s incompetent handling of the injury and of the team’s greatest asset essentially cost the coach his job a year later. As for Griffin, his career derailed; the magic of 2012 vanished. He limped through a moribund 2013 season and has looked, depending on your perspective, either tentative or lost thus far in 2014.
The Rams’ story, despite the Griffin bounty, is even worse. They are better, but the team representing the gateway city has posted two inconsequential seven-win seasons since the trade. Further, QB Sam Bradford, the guy who justified them passing on Griffin, tore his left ACL last season and again this preseason. He won’t play again until 2015; his future in St. Louis – and the NFL - is in serious doubt.
I’m not suggesting that Griffin and Bradford would have been better off in St. Louis and anywhere but St. Louis, respectively. What I am saying is that the ‘Skins-Rams trade hasn’t worked. It still could, but the prospects are dim. At this point it looks like a forced action between an anxious, quarterback-desperate team and another with such a talent void that quantity was more alluring than quality. Instead of letting the draft come to them, the ‘Skins decided to tamper with nature and make the Rams an offer they couldn’t refuse. Both teams secured the prize they wanted – a quarterback for Washington and a slew of players-to-be-named-later for St. Louis – but are still seeking a foundation for consistent success.
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.
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in May 2014
Here’s to channeling our inner Billy Bean - and to choosing wisely.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
I am way behind on movies. The origin of my cinematic delinquency is my daughter’s birth a decade ago. The arrival of a second demon a few years later didn’t help. Kids, fatherhood and movie watching don’t mix – unless they are the Disney variety. Otherwise there are simply too many diapers to change, fights to referee and extracurricular activities to support. But a recent cross-country flight provided an opportunity to throw on an adult flick (no, not that kind) and Moneyball was crossed off my short list of films to watch when my most precious resource – time - allows.
Moneyball is a documentary of sorts on the Oakland A’s, General Manager Billy Bean (Brad Pitt) and the usage of Sabermetrics (advanced statistical analysis) to evaluate player performance and determine best-value acquisitions. Stubborn adherence to the theory has enabled the A’s – a small market team with a fraction of the payroll of financial behemoths like the Yankees or Dodgers – to absorb the loss of several high-priced free agents and remain perennial contenders. In fact, as of this writing, the A’s have the most wins in the American League (AL) and are in first place in AL West.
The magic of Sabermetrics is that it places value on stuff – skills, attributes and contributions – not immediately apparent or interesting to the naked eye. It has made statistics like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) part of baseball lexicon and forced junkies of the game of consider if a player’s On-Base Percentage (yawn) is actually more important to team success than homeruns. Sabermetrics is about raw data. There’s no emotional component. Sabermetrics doesn’t over-value Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter based on name recognition or marketability. It doesn’t know the reputations or salaries of “Player A” or “Player B.” It doesn’t care. Advanced statistical analysis is all about identifying assets that will make a comparative contributions to victories – period.
But, as Hunter S. Thompson might say, “enough about that” (baseball, that is). Moneyball is a movie about Sabermetrics and baseball; it’s just not only about Sabermetrics and baseball. Simply put, and “As the Spreadsheet Turns”, sometimes spending the most money on the sexiest players is a wise move; sometimes it’s fool’s gold. Sometimes the best players are the fastest, throw the hardest and hit the farthest. Occasionally, though, such visual superlatives are non-substantive window dressing. They are illusions. Tricks.
Does that sound familiar? Useful? Does it feel like a test? Sabermetrics – a theory that judges on substance and not what immediately romanticizes the flawed human eye – begs to be applied in our everyday assessment of people, whether they’ve ever swung a bat or not. There’s no specific statistic or formula for people-evaluation, per se, but the concept of Sabermetrics – avoid the distraction of eye-popping traits - translates. Is the best spouse the most attractive or wealthy? Is the flashiest dresser and smoothest talker the best choice for a critical professional project? Will the pursuit of the coolest people, those with beneficial connections, the most Facebook “friends” and Twitter followers really produce the best friendships? The answer is maybe – if luck smiles upon thee. But the best value, the optimal person for “the job” – spouse, friend, business associate, etc. – is more likely the quiet, unassuming gem lurking below the radar.
In a poignant scene from Moneyball, Bean was in the Cleveland Indians’ GM’s office negotiating a trade. Surrounded and outnumbered by graybeard executives, Bean nonetheless noticed that with each offer the GM communicated non-verbally with an out-of-place young man in the room that looked like an accountant six months removed from graduation. After finalizing the deal, the group dispersed, but Bean hunted down the non-descript stats weenie in cubicle-ville. He knew “the kid” – not the GM or flashy scouts – was the true star. After a brief discussion on player analysis, Bean hired the young lad, brought him to Oakland and Sabermetrics was born. Bean, in a way, used Sabermetrics in its more powerful form - to judge people - before using it in its more traditional way - to judge baseball players.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in May 2014
Here’s a final thought from Durant that will stick with me: “Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people.” Mission accomplished, Mr. Durant.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
He stood behind a podium, all 6’9” of him, adorned with in-vogue spectacles and a dapper suit, and bared his soul. His unguarded honesty was befitting of a living room chat with only family and close friends, not the nationwide audience in attendance. To his credit, he ignored the millions of eyes and ears, focused on the important few and reduced a massive moment to a quaint, deeply personal and inspiring conversation. He shed many tears. So did his teammates. So did this writer. So what?
It lasted just over 26 minutes – epic by acceptance speech standards. Kevin Durant was the mouthpiece behind this masterpiece. A local Prince George’s County prodigy, Durant was a one-and-done college star at Texas, the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and is now, inarguably, one of the two best basketball players residing on Earth (LeBron James being the other). Durant has done amazing things on a basketball court - scoring titles, Olympic gold medals, putting relatively tiny Oklahoma City on the professional sports map – but this, his NBA MVP acceptance speech, may be his finest basketball moment. If you only caught the CliffsNotes version broadcast by our hyper-speed, attention-deficit media, I recommend a comprehensive, encore viewing courtesy of other Internet outlets. Durant delivered a moment to be appreciated for its full content and substance, not truncated for brevity.
His speech checked all the common and obligatory blocks. Durant thanked the organization for drafting him, his coaches for pushing him and the fans for their support. He acknowledged the writers’ votes and the motivation gleaned from his doubters. But he went deeper - much deeper. Durant, a relatively quiet, soft-spoken superstar, exposed a thoughtfulness and tenderness rarely seen in sports. It was a side of Durant that, frankly, I didn’t know existed. At the beginning of the speech, in half-hearted anticipation of the humdrum, I was barely paying attention. At the 26-minute mark, having been introduced to the real Kevin Durant, his journey and his awareness of its complexities, I was wiping tears off my cheeks.
Durant broke from the script by thanking his teammates – individually. He literally went “around the table” and identified each man’s specific contribution to his ascension to NBA MVP. The specificity and uniqueness of Durant’s “thank yous” left no doubt that the MVP felt genuinely indebted to his teammates for their boosts of energy, positive thinking and encouragement. He noted the smiles of younger teammates, the push from veterans, supportive text messages from Kendrick Perkins and a simply “KD MVP” note left in his locker by Caron Butler after a tough losing streak – a story that left both men in tears.
Durant then turned to his mother, who he called the real MVP, and delivered his most powerful moment. He credited his mother with overcoming the financial challenges of being a single mother of two boys, keeping those boys off the street, managing many moves and shortages of food and beating overwhelming odds. Durant summed up his tribute best when he said, with his voice quivering, “Mom, I don’t think you know what you did.” She probably didn’t. The best moms don’t. Few need to. It – sacrificing for their children and finding a way – is just what they do.
In 26 minutes, Kevin Durant reintroduced himself and provided everyone within earshot a lot to contemplate. I did the exercise. I’m still doing it. Here are my Durant-notes…so far. Success and emotional investment are indelibly linked; if you don’t feel it, it will be hard to be it. Humility is one of the most important traits a leader can possess. Adversity should re-fuel determination, not diminish it. Relationships are forged by listening, paying attention to detail and accentuating the best in people. Anything…is still quite possible. Everyone you encounter has something positive to offer. Achievement by the one, no matter how great, is an outcome supported by the many – especially a selfless, tough, determined and loving parent.
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
Were the Bad Boy Pistons cool? In their day, yes, but sports have evolved. Look around. Football is less violent. MLB banned home plate collisions. NBA rules have outlawed old-school Pistons basketball. Sportsmanship is up; violence is down. Boorish behavior is now mostly jeered, not cheered. Has society followed suit? We are more tolerant, but remain a work in social progress (Donald Sterling anyone?). Are we less violent and more respectful? When faced with an antagonist, are we as capable of turning the other cheek – a sign of real strength - like LeBron James? I’m skeptical. Our games are better for the changes. Wouldn’t we be wise to tag along? If you disagree, keep watching antiquated Pistons re-runs. But please don’t ask me to re-enact those Nerf basketball games to satisfy your blood-thirst. I likely wouldn’t…even if I could.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Before electronic devices overwhelmed good old-fashioned horsing around, my cousins and I used Nerf basketball rims to play a hybrid basketball/football game. It was brutal. Being the oldest and biggest, I played the role of rim defender. My younger kin were, essentially, willing and persistent crash test dummies. In ridiculously confined spaces and with breakables all around, they would fake dribble (Nerf balls never bounced well), burst down “the lane”, leap and meet the full force of their older cousin. There were no referees, only our honor and pride. In other words, there was no griping or complaining and absolutely no tears. The rules were simple: if they scored, I’d increase the brutality; if they failed and took more than three seconds to get up, I’d lighten up…theoretically.
The game/wrestling match was inspired by the late-80’s, early 90’s NBA basketball we grew up watching. As the last line of defense, I thought of myself not as the rail thin, physically unimposing kid I was, but as Bill Laimbeer or Alonzo Mourning. Score on me at the cup? Without pain? I think not. My cousins were Michael Jordan or Dominique Wilkins, ferociously attacking the rim with no regard for life or limb. The absence of broken bones I can only attribute to the rubber skeletal systems of our youth. Needless to say, those epic battles are only talked about these days; they aren’t reproduced.
A recent ESPN 30 for 30 piece on the similar-vintage Bad Boy Detroit Pistons reminded me of our epic family clashes. Those Pistons, featuring the likes of Rick Mahorn and the aforementioned Laimbeer, thugs among NBA thugs, and Isiah Thomas, a phenomenal player whose basketball skill is often overshadowed by his adeptness as an antagonist, were perhaps the first NBA team to embrace being the league’s big, bad bully. They weren’t as interested in beating elegant high-flyers like Jordan or Clyde Drexler as they were in breaking their will through constant physical abuse. Compromise an opponent’s nerve, make him shy about going to the hole, and the scoreboard will take care of itself. It worked, to the tune of back-to-back NBA Championships and it spawned several copycats – Pat Riley’s New York Knicks and Miami Heat, most notably – around the league.
I hated those Pistons teams, but I respected their style of play. The game now is, well, much softer. Elegance and rhythmic flow sell better than a street fight - allegedly. My cousins and I often scoff at what is considered a flagrant foul in today’s game and what today’s stars - LeBron James in particular - complain is excessive contact. Our reply to James’ whoa-is-me facial contortions is usually something like, “LeBron is a pansy…he wouldn’t have survived back in the day.” The truth: James could’ve dominated in any era. Confession: I’ve warmed to James’ approach.
Shaquille O’Neal possessed many fine qualities – size, athleticism and a sense of humor – but his ability to absorb hit after malicious hit and resist the temptation to respond with violent force is what I admired most. Shaq would have been justified inflicting harm on opponents in nearly every game…but refrained. LeBron James is a giant with a similar disposition – and I have tremendous respect for his temperance. Yesterday’s “soft” is today’s “wise and mature.”
Sunday, April 27, 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr....For Dads
My son, eyes beaming with excitement, began dancing and wailing on his air guitar. His mom barked at him to turn the music down a bit. His dad couldn’t have been more proud.
Music is in my blood. It prompts all sorts of involuntary actions: toe tapping, dancing, awful singing and mind expansion. Music has pulled me through rough patches and accentuated many good times. It is my antidepressant, my happy pill. When a good tune tickles my ear, my mood improves, damn near regardless of circumstance. I can’t imagine life without music. It is this domestic warrior’s soul food, man.
I’ll listen to damn near anything – classic rock, soul, blues, old-school country and hip hop, 80’s hair metal, folk and pop. My music collection – housed on cassettes, CDs and records – has morphed into one of my life’s works. It includes Dylan, James Brown, John Fahey, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, Robert Johnson, Eminem, Woody Guthrie Outkast, Chuck Berry, Kid Rock, Sam Cooke, Pearl Jam, Ani DiFranco and Public Enemy. I think that’s enough. You get the idea…I have a (good) problem.
When I was a kid, my mother used to fuss at me all the time for playing music too loud. My stereo shook the china in a wall adjacent to my bedroom and, in my teenage years, my car stereo disturbed the peace (according to her). Now in my forties, not much has changed. I still like it loud…and I’ve apparently passed on the gene (hold that thought).
The stereo my parents bought me in high school still lives and currently resides in my man-loft. It’s priceless. The original CD player has been replaced and, not surprisingly, a blown woofer was swapped out years ago. But other than that, it continues to pump out tunes at the ripe old age of 27. My dusty old girl has provided so many memories: it was with me in college, through marriage, divorce and marriage again, and soldiers on a decade into fatherhood. It has moved with me countless times and has been the heartbeat of parties for over two decades. Apparently, it isn’t done creating memories (still holding that thought?).
I was spinning some records the other night and my son, at the ripe old age of 7, came upstairs and requested that I play Kiss’ Destroyer album. A tear of pride swelled in my eye as I responded in the affirmative, jumped to my feet, riffled through my vinyl stack and pulled the young lads desired piece of rock ‘n roll history. As Detroit Rock City began to pump through the speakers, my son walked up to the stereo and asked how to turn it up. I gestured toward the large round knob with the illuminated green dash. Looking back at me, he pointed to it with a wry smile. I nodded in confirmation. He carefully turned it up a little…then a little more…then a little more until the room was shaking with the thump of the base drum, Ace Frehley’s shredding axe and the growl of Gene Simmons’ voice.
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in April 2014
Tell me I’m wrong. The fundamental premise of this now six-year-old column is that sports provide brutally honest commentary on society as a whole. Our games are a conscience of sorts. So if we have arrived at a place where sports are just cheap entertainment – like all other reality T.V. - and the conduct of athletes has no broader application, then we deserve “heroes” like Ryan Braun. He’s worthy of our adoration. Should I stand and cheer him too…for exposing this disturbing truth? If you don’t mind, I’ll remain seated…and hopeful that I’m wrong.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
First, an admission: I’m a D.C. sports fan. That is relevant for the following list. It includes players I couldn’t or won’t “boo”…regardless of on-field performance. No amount of botched plays, dropped balls or strikeouts would warrant me hurling negativity in their directions or impolite pleasantries at my television. Their accomplishments are too great, they have brought me too much joy and they have consistently conducted themselves with admirable amounts of class, dignity and integrity (remember those nouns). They are bigger than the game; they are pillars of the community and role models - to a man. Who are they? Here’s my short-list: Cal Ripken Jr., Ryan Zimmerman, Art Monk and Darrell Green. I’ll stop there. More names would increase risk (of being proven wrong). Unquestioned character is in short supply these days.
Despite my prudence and the spotless personnel records of the fabulous four, risk remains. Humans are quite capable of spectacular mistakes. Would it shock me to wake up tomorrow morning to news that one of the faces on my Mount Character committed a disturbing transgression? I’ve been a sports fan too long for poor behavior or bad choices by athletes to shock me. And if one of these fine gentlemen proved not to be the man I think they are – regardless of their otherwise impeccable track record – I’d let them hear about it. If one, say, pulled a Ryan Braun, I’d have no problem offering a hearty boo (among other thoughts) in reply.
Braun, star outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, has been busy soiling his reputation. The Brewers drafted Braun in 2005 and by 2011 the homegrown product had become Milwaukee’s favorite son, a perennial All-Star and the 2011 National League MVP. Chances are he occupied some star-struck Milwaukee-based sportswriter’s “all-time good dude” list. Then MLB and their pesky doping tests upset the love affair. Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in the fall of 2011. He defiantly denied the allegations, tenaciously fought the results and, in a controversial decision, had his record cleared in early 2012.
During a passionate monologue in February 2012, Braun filleted MLB’s testing protocol and showered himself with superlatives. Braun proclaimed he was a man that owned his mistakes and would “bet my life” the questionable substances never entered his body. He praised his conduct during the appeal process, describing himself as a man of class, honor, dignity and integrity (remember those?). It was all rather moving. It was also a lie. Eighteen months later, after having had Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a close friend, and the Brewers, a team who had signed him to a 9-figure contract extension, take him at his word and contribute to his defense, Braun admitted to PED usage. A cheap, disingenuous and obligatory apology followed.
MLB suspended Braun for the remainder of the 2013 season (65 games). Having betrayed the trust of his team, friends and the love of Brewers fans, Braun’s return to the field this spring promised to be as warm as cheating spouse’s return home. However, as Braun strode to the plate at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, he received…a standing ovation.
The scene was analogous to an embattled hero returning after an unjust exile. I understand forgiving Braun, but how could any self-respecting Brewers fan embrace this unethical dunce? I interpreted the cheers lavished on Braun as evidence of the death of the athletic role model. Perhaps that’s a wise, sign-of-the-times angle. Maybe fans are perfectly fine with winning at all cost and judge players as loosely as professional wrestlers.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in April 2014
Bill Cosby once said, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” To see that quote in action, watch the NCAA tournament every spring. For it to show up throughout the year, it is up to us to apply the fearlessness of these young men to everything we do.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The dance began with 68 participants. Four are left.
My bracket is perfect. Warren Buffet, courtesy his billion-dollar challenge, is sweating. I’m starting to count my 10-figure payoff. Early retirement. New car. New home. Vacation home. Or two. Maybe three. I will shamelessly indulge my hobbies. My mom will never work again. My dad…well…he’s a professional retiree. He hasn’t worked in years. But I’ll float him a new set of golf clubs and personalized balls branded with my adorable likeness. My palate will only know the world’s finest beer; my music collection will be epic. I’ll move my cousin into a guesthouse. He has no fixed address anyway, and I’ll need a wingman for my life of leisure – and he masters in leisure. And of course there would be much philanthropy (food for the soul).
That paragraph contains more madness than the tournament itself. My bracket is trashed. The billion dollars remain in Mr. Buffet’s massive account. I remain employed and the holder of a single mortgage. My mother still works; my dad is playing generic, off-the-shelf balls. My cousin continues to wander and my philanthropy remains meager. My bracket dream is over. I’m the same guy today that I was before the tournament – not that there’s anything wrong with that. My wife would agree…I think.
The reason I didn’t find my wonderland, get bequeathed a chocolate factory, or end up with a enough of Mr. Buffet’s money to buy a private island isn’t the result of lack of knowledge or overall ability. Oh no, I have skills. The problem, one that thwarts so many brackets that coulda been contenders, was this: the occurrence of the unforeseen, the illogical and maybe even the impossible. Stephen F. Austin beat VCU – stone cold. Harvard whipped Cincinnati - not in a math-a-thon – on the basketball court. Dayton defeated perennial powers Ohio State and Syracuse. Stanford sent Kansas home early – no ruby slippers required. And of course, Mercer, the pride of Macon, Georgia, bounced Duke in the first round.
Upsets are part of single-elimination tournament basketball. Always have been. But David’s beating Goliath so often now, it’s fair to question if they’ve been cast correctly. Upstarts – small schools from non-descript conferences - are winning regularly and are even making runs to the Final Four (see George Mason in 2006, Butler in 2010 and 2011, VCU in 2011 and Wichita State last year).
So what has changed? Well, a lot. Early entrants to the NBA are robbing major programs of elite talent while smaller schools with less decorated recruits build teams – real teams – over several seasons. But it’s more than that. The kids from Butler, Dayton and Mercer, and nearly every school like them, act like they belong now. A national T.V. audience, cavernous arenas and blue blood opponents engender not a trace of intimidation, cowardice or inferiority. The tournament’s grand stage, the opportunity to win and to chase the sports’ greatest prize is as much theirs as it is their more ballyhooed opponent. Mercer isn’t less than Duke; Mercer equals Duke.
I watched a re-run of Rocky III recently. In Rocky’s first fight with Clubber Lang (Mr. T), defeat was in his eyes. He wanted no part of the hungry challenger. Of course, as Rocky so often did, he came back with vengeance and defeated Lang in the rematch. In the climatic fight Rocky defiantly implored Lang to hit him while proclaiming, “you ain’t so bad…you ain’t nothing.” Rocky had absorbed the champ’s best punch and found him to be no greater, no stronger than he was. The kids from Mercer, Dayton and insert-any-instant-Cinderella-here, routinely compete with the same fearlessness as Philadelphia’s beloved boxing hero. Goliath is mighty and strong, but David is a highly skilled with his slingshot.
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in March 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The Atlantic Coast Conference started with a seven-school gang - Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Wake Forest and Maryland – in 1953. There have been a few membership tweaks in the 60-plus years since, but with the exception of South Carolina (who departed in 1971), all original members remain today. They feel as familiar as old sneakers and, with rivalries six decades long, possess the hostility of ultra-competitive brothers.
The old, tightly woven family is about to change. With Friday’s loss to Florida State in the conference’s basketball tournament, Maryland’s run in the ACC is essentially over. Starting with the 2014-15 athletic year, Maryland will take up residence in the Big 10 Conference.
This is not new news, of course, but the reality is now undeniably real. The end of the football season stung a little. But with basketball being the ACC’s primary identity, the curtains falling on Maryland’s ACC basketball association is a lot more uncomfortable. Maryland’s Big 10 move is a money-grab, an irresistible chance to patch the athletic department’s financial hemorrhage and reside in a more lucrative neighborhood. Such is life in college sports today.
So it is what it is. I don’t like it, but I understand it. Will I come to hate Michigan or Ohio State – Big 10 crown jewels – like I hate Duke and North Carolina? I doubt it - but maybe that’s good for my overall health and mood. My wife is nodding her head.
Still, despite the known reality, this hurts. I suppose you harbor disdain for your brother…until life parts your paths. The freshly sounded final buzzer on Maryland’s ACC basketball membership left me awash in nostalgia. Racing through the significant memories (some good, some bad), I realized this spring marks the 40th anniversary of Maryland’s 103-100 overtime loss to N.C. State in the 1974 ACC title game, perhaps the conference’s greatest game.
That ’73-’74 Maryland squad, with players like Len Elmore, Tom McMillen and John Lucas, was Maryland’s most talented if not its all-time best. The loss was particularly painful because, in 1974, at-large NCAA tournament bids didn’t exist (unreal…and unjust). N.C. State, by the narrowest of margins, went on to the big dance and, eventually, the national championship; the Terrapins swallowed hard and went to…College Park (home).
The memory of that team reminded me of Comcast’s fabulous “My Life” piece on John Lucas. Lucas, an All-American and the first overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft, is a fascinating subject. Racked with drug and alcohol addictions, his vagabond NBA career is a tale of unfulfilled promise, the standard-bearer for a drug culture that infected sports in the 1980s.
In the “My Life” feature, Lucas identified several causal factors for his disease. Having always dreamed of being an NBA player, he struggled with the “now what?” after being drafted by the Houston Rockets. Lucas also feared failure, life without sports and getting older. Sounds familiar, huh? For Lucas, cocaine made all those worries and all that internal conflict subside – temporarily.
Lucas summarized his one-time mental state with this profound statement: “An addiction wasn’t my problem, life was my problem…I couldn’t live life on life’s terms.” Individuals exert tremendous influence on their personal odysseys, but a vast component of contentment and happiness is dealing effectively with inevitable unknowns or the random cards that life deals. To a person, we all struggle with this challenge to some extent; John Lucas succumbed to it – but only temporarily.
This spring wasn’t just the 40th anniversary of that epic Maryland-N.C. State game; March 14th marked the 28th anniversary of John Lucas’ sobriety and a second, “clean” act that has included tremendous work with athletes afflicted with addiction. When asked what saved him, Lucas noted the love of others and that, “I’m very honest with myself; I’m always under self-examination as to what my motives are.”