Saturday, September 24, 2016

Borrowing From Our Future Selves

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Washington’s 38-16 Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was a comprehensive destruction of a franchise desperately trying to sow some semblance of a winning culture.  Pittsburgh treated Washington like a Southern Maryland spring thunderstorm treats a freshly planted garden full of vulnerable vegetable plants.  When the hail and gale force winds subsided, it was a total loss. 

Washington was outplayed, outcoached and outclassed as an organization.  Whatever momentum Washington had from last season’s playoff berth and whatever mojo QB Kirk Cousins had after his record-setting 2015-16 campaign was completely eviscerated after three brutal hours of physical and strategic domination (and the fog carried over this week against Dallas). 

The Black and Gold are contenders; the Burgundy and Gold are pretenders.  It’s that simple.
Washington was universally bad, but its defense was horrific.  Pittsburgh ran at will, created explosive plays in the passing game, neutered Washington’s pass rush and routinely uprooted the line of scrimmage and shoved it downfield. 

Watching the destruction, I longed for perspective from Sam Huff, Washington’s tough-as-nails Hall of Fame middle linebacker and one half of the long-time “Sonny (Jurgensen) and Sam” must-hear game day color commentary.  Huff would have shredded this defensive abomination and, in doing so, validated the frustration of irate fans. 

But Dr. Huff, having retired in 2013, was unavailable.  Huff did make news in the week following the game, but it had nothing to do with a tongue lashing of the defense.  Sadly, it seems the icon is suffering from dementia and an ongoing legal dispute between his caregiver and daughter garnered the unfortunate attention. 

For former NFL players and their families, Huff’s story has become all too familiar.  While prior generations unknowingly put their long-term health in peril, the disturbing facts are now indisputable: Football increases the risk of degenerative brain disease.  Huff didn’t know that; current players do and with this knowledge comes confusion.  Do you stop playing a game you love?  Avoid it altogether?  And if you’re an NFL player, do you truncate a lucrative and rewarding career? 

In short, how do you balance today’s risks against tomorrow’s consequences?

With early retirements more common, it’s clearly on players’ minds.  After a particularly harsh beating during the season opener against the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton was asked about long-term health concerns.  Here is the reigning MVP's response: “I’m worried about winning.  That’s it.  Winning.  Winning football games.  That’s why I’m here.  I’m not here to worry about retirement plans.  I’m not here to worry about pensions.  I’m not here to worry about workers comp.  I’m here to win football games.  Simple and plain.  This is a contact sport.  This is a physical sport.”

Part of me loves that response - LOVES IT.  Passionate.  Competitive.  All-in.  Another part of me, a new conscience-laden version, worries about Newton and his peers and their post-NFL life.  A 2014 NFL report indicated that 30% of NFL players will suffer from degenerative brain disease, making them twice as likely as the general public to be diagnosed - and many will be diagnosed at disturbingly young ages.  Huff is part of the 30%.  Will Newton be?  It is a difficult outcome to consider.

But life is a thrilling, hazard-infused odyssey.  Living in a risk-free bubble – a place with no fried foods, red meat or alcohol, where sexual pursuits are closely legislated and where everyone drives the speed limit - sure would be a drag.  And even then, there are unavoidable stressors – relationships, careers, parenthood, etc. – that can be clear and present dangers to human health. 

Hunter S. Thompson captured our earthly journey well when he said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride.’”

That about sums it up, indeed.  Of course how that quote is interpreted and applied – how an experience today is balanced against a potential consequence tomorrow - is unique to every person, pro football quarterback or not.

E.T. Phone Earth…Please

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

On 26 August, San Francisco 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick did what backup quarterbacks do: He took a seat.  Then all aitch-e-el-el broke loose. 

Kaepernick didn’t sit quietly with a cap and a clipboard.  To raise awareness of persistent racism, the uneven extension of Constitutional rights and, more specifically, the recent killings of minorities by law enforcement, Kaepernick sat loudly in silence while the Star Spangled Banner played.

In a post-game interview with NFL Media, Kaepernick explained his anthem protest: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

The initial reaction to Kaepernick’s act - mostly unproductive, misplaced outraged – was predictable.  He was called un-America and told to leave the country.  His jersey was burned.  Former NFL QB Matt Hasselbeck lauded the end of his career as a starting quarterback.  Resident NASCAR hot-head Tony Stewart urged him to learn the facts before “running his dumb_ss mouth” and called him a “#idiot”. 

Former NFL safety Rodney Harrison produced this best-of-the-worst reactions: “I tell you this, I’m a black man.  And Colin Kaepernick, he’s not black.  He cannot understand what I face and what other young black people face, or people of color face on a every single day basis.” 

For the record, Kaepernick’s father is black and his mother is white.  To his credit, Harrison apologized profusely for his ignorance.

These impulsive reactions are indicative of an increasingly polarized society, one that is easily offended, quick to react and slow to listen and contemplate different perspectives.  Whether it’s a majority of people or just a loud, obnoxious minority that drowns out measured, objective thought, issues are increasingly classified in either black or white, yes or no, left or right terms.  Regardless of the political issue, scant shades of gray exist or can be developed through constructive debate.  No wonder Congress – representatives of the electorate – is so divided.    

Knowing this, maybe that’s why Kaepernick played the anthem card.  A few weeks ago, NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul and LeBron James collectively addressed this same issue during the ESPY Awards.  Despite the star power, the message lacked staying power.  But Kaepernick’s protest boiled blood.  While the words expressed by those NBA stars were important, the approach was too polite.  History indicates that social change is often only achieved through intense agitation.  Kaepernick agitated us and demanded an outcome all Americans should desire: equality and improved relations between communities and law enforcement.   

Whatever you think of Kaepernick’s protest, his vilification should raise concerns.  We are a nation founded on discord - it is as much a part of our fabric as the anthem itself.  The Second Amendment is vehemently defended.  The Thirteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments were secured, in part, by passionately using the same First Amendment rights Kaepernick exercised this past August.  Yet Kaepernick was personally attacked for his peaceful – albeit intentionally inflammatory - public protest.  And this while the state of Texas has been flirting with succession – the ultimate defiance of our American union - for a decade.    

This excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” is inscribed on the north wall of the MLK Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

Dr. King’s quote captures Kaepernick’s fundamental point: We have a problem that cannot be ignored.  We must address this American imperfection – this disconnect between reality and the promises of our Declaration and Constitution - and collectively work toward a common solution. 

That only happens if the message is received by open minds.  Maybe we need something other-worldly to remind us of our shared human cause.  Scientists did receive a strong extraterrestrial signal last week.  E.T., if that was you calling, your timing was impeccable.