Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fashion Faux Pas

As published in The County Times ( in August 2014

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? 

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.  

In The Now

As published in The County Times (

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”? 

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.

Cynicism’s Tonic, Inspiration’s Source

As published in The County Times (

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. 

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.