Friday, November 13, 2015
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The brand of the Dallas Cowboys, among the greatest in sports, was forged during the 1970’s. Dallas won less than 10 games only once, missed the playoffs but a single time, played in five Super Bowls and won two championships during the decade of polyester, disco and Watergate.
But the story wasn’t just the winning. The Cowboys carried themselves with professional elegance. Tom Landry, Dallas’s stoic, classy and fedora-adorned head coach, roamed the sideline with palatable regality. In Roger Staubach, a squeaky-clean Naval Academy graduate and Heisman Trophy winner, Dallas essentially had Captain America playing quarterback. They had the sleekest uniforms, most famous cheerleaders and the coolest nicknames – “Doomsday Defense” and Ed “Too Tall” Jones. The iconic single blue star on side of their helmets came to symbolize the team’s fame as much as the state of Texas. The franchise even transcended sports: The television show Dallas included a flyover of Texas Stadium.
By the late 70’s, all of it – the threads, the logo, the characters, the panache and the winning – earned Dallas the moniker “America’s Team”, an outrageously grandiose handle that was impossible to dispute, even by Dallas’s staunchest detractors.
Everything had changed by the late 1980’s. After several losing campaigns, the Cowboys were sold to Jerry Jones, Landry was fired and a new business model was implemented, one that has proven to be less dignified. For the last 26 years, Dallas has been an extension of Jones’s prodigious, Trump-like ego. It worked early on, to the tune of three Super Bowl championships, but the last two decades have mostly fallen victim to Jones’s failure to arrest his confidence in himself as supreme football pooh-bah and his lust for victory, a primal urge that has birthed many dubious decisions.
The “Jones Way” led to the hiring of Jimmy Johnson and the acquisition of players like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen and Darren Woodson. That’s good Jerry. Bad Jerry, the one of more recent vintage, jettisoned Johnson after a fatal ego-struggle, foolishly traded for wide receivers Joey Galloway and Roy Williams, recklessly acquired malcontent Ryan Leaf and willfully gambled on Terrell Owens and Dez Bryant, two emotional volcanoes.
Win at all cost. Talent trumps character. Social responsibility is a minority aspect of decision making. That’s Jerry’s style. In the ultra-competitive, testosterone fueled world of professional football, it’s a widely accepted approach. However, in signing DE Greg Hardy, Jones crossed an admittedly gray line.
In July 2014, Hardy was convicted of assaulting Nicole Holder, a former girlfriend. Court testimony revealed the incident’s brutality. Hardy tossed Holder on a bed full of guns, threw her into a bathtub, dragged her around by her hair, slammed a toilet seat on her arm and threatened to kill her. The post-assault photos of Holder are extremely disturbing and consistent with an unconscionable beating. Hardy’s sentence was overturned on appeal after Holder failed to show in court. There is strong indication a civil settlement was reached.
Hardy spent all but one game last season on the commissioner’s non-exempt (suspended) list. After the court findings, Hardy was initially suspended for 10 games this year; the suspension was reduced to four games on appeal.
Dallas, with its typical disregard for anything but talent, inked Hardy to a one-year deal in March. His brief, but predictably eventful Cowboys career, has included a sideline shouting match with Bryant, insensitive comments about Tom Brady’s wife and no evidence of remorse for assaulting Holder. Jones has defended his employment of Hardy, stumping it as a deserved second chance. He even spun Hardy’s passion as evidence of his “leadership.”
To expect anything different from the myopic, self-serving Jones would be foolish. But what about the rest of us, those who pad his capitalistic pockets? What say you, sponsors of the Cowboys? And you, Cowboys fans? Are you comfortable supporting the star and, indirectly, Hardy? It’s a personal choice, I suppose. But let’s be clear: Dallas is no longer America’s Team. Not this Greg Hardy-version. Domestic violence is too important and the NFL carries too much social weight for this Dallas team to represent America in any way.
Friday, November 6, 2015
As published in The Calvert County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
When the undefeated Michigan Wolverines hosted the undefeated Michigan State Spartans a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t have an obvious dog in the fight. I’ve never even visited Michigan. Maybe I flew west via Detroit but I can’t say for sure. I’ve bought a lot of albums from Detroit natives Kid Rock and Eminem, though. I shamelessly sing Bob Seger songs in the car. The beers from Bells Brewery in Comstock, Michigan are delightful. Does that qualify me to choose sides in the state’s biggest rivalry? The Wolverine state’s collective response to my overture: “Meh”.
Fair enough. True to my inescapable mid-Atlantic form, I watched the game with passing interest. Michigan’s coach, Jim Harbaugh, was fascinating, as always. Michigan State’s quarterback looked good. Maybe he could help a certain pro football team in D.C.? Other than that, the hope was simply for good competition.
It delivered. Michigan led 10-7 at halftime, 20-14 at the end of the third quarter and 23-21 with 10 seconds left. Then it happened: The cruelty of high-level, competitive athletics bit the Wolverines. Michigan’s punter mishandled a low snap and compounded the error by fumbling the ball. Michigan State scooped it up and scored a game-winning touchdown as time expired.
In East Lansing, the reaction was joyous chaos. In Ann Arbor, and among Michigan nation at large, a celebration was replaced with complete devastation in ten seconds flat. Some handled the disappointment better than others.
The punter’s name is Blake O’Neill. He’s a 22-year-old graduate transfer from Weber State. He hails originally from Melbourne, Australia and has played a lot more Australian rules football than American Football. But none of that matters. O’Neill is now synonymous with the fumbled punt, the gut-wrenching loss and dashed national title hopes. He’s in the goat fraternity with Bill Buckner and Scott Norwood, poor souls whose gaffs lead their Wiki pages.
Despite O’Neill’s botching of a basic football play at the worst of all moments, the majority of disappointed Wolverine faithful kept perspective. Was it a gut punch? Did it hurt? Might it be a bother for years? Will the sight of anything green or reruns of the movie 300 cause irritation? Indeed. But what was lost? Ultimately “just” a football game. The sun will rise. Taxes will come due. Donald Trump will insult…everyone. O’Neill will punt again. Michigan football will survive. Life will go on.
The rational thought was far from universal, though. O’Neill received hate mail, including death threats and even suicidal suggestions such as jumping off of a cliff and guzzling bleach.
That’s the world now. Everyone has a microphone and when someone loses a game – a game – degenerates rush to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to wish death on their sudden enemies. Humanity is lost. Primal tendencies feast. There’s an alarming disrespect for the human being on the other end and how the denigration will impact the target’s life. Oh no, such moments inspire social media trolls, equipped with direct lines to the perpetrator, to exact revenge against those who wronged them: wedgie-administering high school jocks, employers who laid them off, girls who broke their hearts, the mom who didn’t hug them enough, the fraternity that rejected their pledge, the dad for passing down his balding gene and their god for not giving them elite athletic prowess. Because in O’Neill’s situation, the trolls (in their twisted minds) would have done better. They would have executed the punt. Sure. Truth is, their continence is challenged imagining such things; nerves compromise their performance while playing video games at noon on a random Tuesday.
The good news is O’Neill is doing fine. The stable majority of the Michigan community and the school’s Athletic Director have come to his defense. Crisis averted…this time. But there’s a Blake O’Neill in every in every town and a lot of them are much younger, much more emotionally vulnerable and lack the support afforded a player at a major college program. Collectively, our stable majority needs to protect those kids. They are inevitably in our schools. They might be playing in our cul-de-sacs. They could even be our own.
As published in the St. Mary's/Calvert County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
A fan has his or her teams; teams have their followers. They are like spouses, a team and its flock, but the marriage is inequitable. The fan’s adoration runs deep. Game day worship resembles religion. Losses ruin weeks. Epic losses scar for life. Wins improve moods. Championships prompt irrational procurements of team gear, the conversion of basements into fan caves and the acquisition of regrettable tattoos.
Teams return no such adulation. They try to be good hosts by providing pleasant game day experiences. Fan appreciation days and autograph opportunities are routine. Savvy players always pay homage to fans around an open microphone. But that’s about where the relationship ends.
To the obligated team, fans are mostly a faceless entity; conversely, the fan is the ultimate, love-of-my-life, for-better-or-for-worst, for-rich-or-for-poorer loyalist.
I’m a fan. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one too. We love our teams…and only our teams. We wouldn’t think of wearing another’s colors. Every now and then though, a player in another town or a vibe from another team catches our fancy. We don’t overtly root for our team-crush, especially if they are playing our team-spouse, so it’s not cheating, per se. But there’s something there; an attraction exists.
I’m having a fling with the Cincinnati Bengals this year, okay? There it is. I’m not wearing orange on Sundays, I don’t sleep with a tiger stuffed animal and I haven’t gotten any Bengal-striped car seat covers. I am, however, quietly rooting for Cincinnati.
The Bengals, as they are currently constituted, shouldn’t exist. Head coach Marvin Lewis was hired in January of 2003. He is the second longest tenured head coach in the NFL, behind some guy name Bill Belichick. Unlike Belichick, Lewis hasn’t won any championships. In fact, Lewis has yet to win a single playoff game. His 0-6 playoff record is worst in NFL history. How is he still employed?
And then there’s Andy Dalton, the habitually embattled Cincinnati quarterback. Dalton is in his fifth NFL season and, having started every game since his rookie year, is a grizzled veteran. He has had his moments in the regular season, but is plagued by inconsistency. In the playoffs, when a quarterback is supposed to show his mettle, Dalton has thrown up all over himself. His post-season record is 0-4, and in those four games Dalton has thrown six interceptions and but one lonely touchdown pass. How is he still Cincinnati’s quarterback?
I ask those questions about Lewis and Dalton because a head coach and quarterback with their shaky resumes typically don’t last. They don’t get 13 years on the sidelines or five years behind center - not in professional sports today where everything is accelerated, warts are over-exposed and impatience is pervasive. Coaches and quarterbacks get a few years, tops, to produce – except in Cincinnati.
That is the endearing element of these Bengals: that Lewis and Dalton, two dead-men-thriving (Cincinnati is 5-0 this season), remain at their posts. The cutthroat nature of professional sports and the intolerance for losing is understandable. The NFL is not a training ground; it is home to the sport’s most accomplished players. Fine. But even at this highest level of football competition, isn’t there room for failure and the application of lessons learned? Isn’t there room for growth? Or is everyone expected to be a plug-in-play All-Pro? Isn’t success nothing if not a process? A process that can takes years? Say, maybe 13 calendars for a coach and a handful for a quarterback?
Somewhere in there I stopped talking about the NFL and started considering life in general (such things happen in this column). Cincinnati is an oasis of an endangered concept of success, one that vindicates the hastily labeled (after a bad moment or week, game or season) and indicts the impulsively judgmental. So yeah, I want Cincinnati to win. I want Lewis and Dalton to roar through the playoffs, slaying their postseason demons. I wouldn’t mind if they hoisted an improbable Lombardi Trophy, provided my ‘Skins are eliminated. Of course that shouldn’t be an issue, my “spouse” is terribly flawed…so be still my loyal heart.
As published in The St. Mary's/Calvert Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
He was, initially, just the long-locked first baseman on the Philadelphia Phillies team that lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the 1983 World Series. Quite a fuss was made of this active icon but his mediocre play didn’t seem to match the verbal accolades. I suppose when you’re a kid, it’s all about the moment. There’s no concept of careers or the passage the time. And in 1983, there was no Google machine to confirm or deny the legend. So…history, schmistory.
I didn’t set eyes on Pete Rose until that ’83 Series. I was 10. He was 42. In the years to come I’d learn about his “Charlie Hustle” moniker (a hard-nosed style reminiscent of the old Rocking Chair softball league), his bulldozing of Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game and The Big Red Machine. I witnessed his astonishing MLB record 4,192nd hit in 1985 and came to understand - even appreciate - the obvious chip on his shoulder and the wealth of Donald Trump-like arrogance that made it all possible.
In 1989, Rose was infamously banned from baseball by Commissioner Bart Giamatti for betting on the game. Despite his fervent denial and appeals to two subsequent Commissioners (Fay Vincent and Bud Selig), the ban remains. I believed Rose for a long time. I read his book My Story and shook the man’s hand after he autographed it in the early 1990s. The 10-year-old child in us doesn’t die easily.
He was, as is now known, a spectacular liar, one fueled by the same pride that made him MLB’s “Hit King”. In 2004, Rose admitted to betting on the Reds to win while he was manager; earlier this year, evidence indicated that he bet on baseball as an active player. Yet Rose, robbed of his baseball identity and no doubt driven by the need for Hall of Fame immortality, continues his quest for reinstatement. Rose met with new Commissioner Rob Manfred last week; a decision is anticipated by year’s end.
Let him in. Why not? Yeah, he’s unethical. A liar. A violator of baseball’s golden rule. But isn’t a 25-year penance enough? And frankly, MLB applying a Puritan code on Rose wreaks of hypocrisy. Its “sacred” Hall of Fame is already filled with miscreants. Cap Anson helped establish the color barrier by refusing to play with African Americans. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis perpetuated baseball’s segregation for decades (Jackie Robinson finally integrated the sport three years after Landis’s death). Orlando Cepeda was incarcerated for drug smuggling. Gaylord Perry made a career out of doctoring the baseball. Babe Ruth was a drunk and a womanizer. And Willie McCovey pleaded guilty to tax evasion. All are enshrined in Cooperstown.
Where was baseball’s high moral standard, its reverence for the sanctity of the game, during the steroid era? Comparing crimes is difficult, but isn’t gambling – Rose’s sin – abhorred because it compromises competition? Doesn’t the presence of hulked up players capable of artificially-enhanced performance do the same thing? Why not let them all in? Excluded, Rose and the juicers are pariahs. With Hall of Fame passes, their baseball accomplishments and sins can be properly documented. Tattoo their baseball immortality with well-earned scarlet letters: “S” for steroid users, “G” for Rose the gambler.
How will Manfred rule at Rose’s parole hearing? The bet (pardon the pun) is he remains banned. Regardless, Rose’s predicament is his own doing, the byproduct of pervasive, ego-fueled deceit. For decades Rose clung to his act, admitting the truth only after hard evidence exposed his charade. The purposeful concealment compounded the transgression and didn’t allow America to indulge its compulsive need to forgive (particularly the sins of its favorite sons). Had Rose just owned his error in 1989 and overturned every uncomfortable stone in his checkered past, he’d be back in the public’s good graces and would likely be a member of the Hall of Fame.
Despite all his on-field accomplishments, that – the brutal consequences from his lack of personal ownership and genuine remorse - is what the “Hit King” has taught that 10-year-old boy in the 32 years since their introduction. A melancholy “thanks” to you, Mr. Rose.