Sunday, November 26, 2017

The More Consequential Farewell

As published in The County Time (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The reaction to the last “View from the Bleachers” – an editorial on Colin Kaepernick, social injustice and anthem demonstrations – was the most significant in the column’s nearly 10-year history.  It was also the most divided: every supportive comment was counterbalanced by one expressing staunch disagreement.  All were welcomed and appreciated. 

Setting differences aside, this overarching theme was clear: our democracy, freedom of expression and what it means to be patriotic are all deeply meaningful and unsettled matters.  This is why I wrote “O Say Can You See”; this is why many readers were compelled to react. 

Considering the different political structures around the globe, this wonderful ability to fuss and argue and shape our ever-evolving democracy should never be lost in the discord, no matter the intensity.  The right to thoughtful expression and the responsibility to listen earnestly to and respect those opposed – and work toward a palatable, majority-based resolution - should never be overlooked.  Those freedoms and that collective responsibility define us as Americans far more than the side we’ve adopted on the issue du jour.  

With that, I will scratch a personal itch with this “View”.  Bear with me.   

This weekend will mark the presumed end of a consequential NASCAR driver’s career.  It would be understandable if that lede was interpreted as a prelude to a farewell to Dale Earnhardt Jr., retiring legend of the asphalt and left turns.  But it is not.  This is about another NASCAR driver whose time behind the wheel could be ending: Danica Patrick.

Within the sport, Patrick’s career doesn’t compare to Earnhardt’s.  The latter has been the most popular driver for the last decade-plus and is a constant link to his iconic father; meanwhile, the former hasn’t won a race in an eight-year career.

But outside the sport, it is Patrick’s career, not Earnhardt’s, that’s been more consequential.   
One of the hats I wear, and the one donned with the greatest responsibility, is that of a father.  More specifically, I have a daughter.  She’s old enough now to be keenly aware of gender and the limitations social stereotypes attempt to place on her…just because she’s a girl. 

I hate it.  I know this awareness was an inevitable and unfortunate part of growing up.  I also know I have the ability, thru open dialogue, to disarm foolish, sexist stereotypes, thereby ensuring she has the strength and confidence to transcend any artificial ceilings.  But I still hate it - to my core.  Because I know sexism exist.  Because I know she will encounter men who don’t see her as an equal and consider her incapable or an object for their manipulation (see the alarming #MeToo movement if you harbor doubts). 

Call it the curse of boobs.  Or is it the psychological corruption of testicles and testosterone?  PCT2, if you will.  Yes, I like that better. 

Despite my best efforts, I’m aware that my gray-bearded male pontifications against gender-based limitations likely do not provide her adequate reassurance.  But in Patrick, I have an undeniable example of a woman eviscerating such a stereotype.  Patrick stormed her way to the heights of both IndyCar and stock car racing – nearly entirely male sports.  She carried herself with confidence, never flinched, freely expressed her opinion and competed with an edge that is common in the still rough-around-the-edges sport of NASCAR.  Basically, Patrick acted like she belonged – and she did.  That she did all this in the troll-friendly social media age is a tremendous credit to her strength and professionalism.


Of course as time passes, it will still be Earnhardt, not Patrick, who will be the more frequent subject of reminiscent fans.  Which is too bad.  That’s not a knock on Dale Jr.  He’s been nothing but a class act throughout his career and a consistent supporter of Patrick.  But Patrick’s career, not Earnhardt’s, carries more social significance.  A man unjustly overshadowing a female contemporary: label me disappointed but unsurprised.  But then again, maybe Patrick will find another NASCAR team and continue adding to her remarkable accomplishments.  I’m one dad of one young lady who isn’t ready for her empowering story to end.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

O Say Can You See

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It first appeared in this column in June with the nefarious reasons behind Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment.  It reappeared, either specifically or by gentle reference, in the last two entries.  “It” isn’t a deranged, sewer-dwelling clown but rather the various forms of protest/unity expressed during the national anthem before NFL games. 

The evolving topic returns again, here, just a few days before Veterans Day and a couple weeks before the holiday season – a time for peace and togetherness – because it remains an intriguing and important confluence of sports, politics and society. 

It also reappears because it remains unresolved: over a year after Kaepernick’s first actions, we are still wrestling with the original intent of his protest – racial injustice – and new tangential issues – be they organic or intentional diversions – such as whether protests are disrespectful and if the NFL can force players to stand (as Dallas owner Jerry Jones threatened). 

The wound continues to ooze, of course, because the socially inept NFL chose first to ignore what it hoped would wither away.  It then colluded, consciously or unconsciously, to freeze Kaepernick, the primary instigator, out of the league (my opinion).  When that failed and protests escalated to team demonstrations, owners begrudgingly, and in some cases disingenuously, participated in pre-game expressions of unity.  And when that didn’t prompt everyone to stand and ignore the gap between our Declaration, our Constitution and what many American minorities experience on a daily basis, a select group of NFL owners and players met to discuss the issue.

That’s right…roughly 14 months after Kaepernick first sat during the anthem last season, the NFL decided it was time to unclench its fist and listen to its players’ concerns.  And they didn’t even do that well: the unconscionable comments by Texans owner Bob McNair (“inmates”) and Washington owner Dan Snyder (96% are opposed to protests) indicate a mindset and an insulated perspective that perpetuates the societal flaws that originally inspired Kaepernick’s protest.  

For those annoyed by what they perceive as un-patriotic or disrespectful protests, I wonder how many have argued against encroachments on the Second Amendment while indirectly supporting convenient limits on the First and Fourth.  I wonder how many have embarrassingly chanted “O!” at Orioles games or take no issue with Kansas City fans yelling “Chiefs” in place of “brave” as the anthem has played. 

For those angered by the players’ actions, I wonder how many have researched the thoughts of players like Kaepernick to gain an understanding of the experiences that caused them to take a knee.  I wonder how many are white, exist in world where they’re almost always part of the majority and if they’ve contemplated life as a minority – be it at work, when applying for a loan, during a traffic stop or just sitting down in a restaurant for a meal.  I wonder how many have considered their own shortcomings, even if they are limited to unintended biases.

Don’t we owe our fellow Americans at least that?  In short, shouldn’t we be searching for ways to solve the problems that caused NFL players to kneel rather than ordering them to rise or shaming them – through some mischaracterization of their protest – into standing?

Senator Margaret Chase Smith delivered her “Declaration of Conscience” speech on the Senate floor in 1950.  In it she speaks of poor leadership, rails against critical elected officials too thin-skinned to take criticism in-kind and govern, laments our country being psychologically divided by confusion and suspicion and reminds her colleagues of these “basic principles of Americanism”: the right to criticize, the right to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest and the right of independent thought.  

Smith’s speech is a brilliant summation of our American identity, rights and the responsibility we have to exercise those rights to ensure the equal extension – in practice, not just words - of Constitutional liberties.  Despite its age, it offers sage advice on how to navigate NFL anthem protests and these most divisive times.  And because of its age, it stands witness to Colonial Williamsburg’s iconic slogan: “That the future may learn from the past.” 


May we be receptive to the timeless wisdom…

Toasting Tomorrow

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It is 12:46am on Friday, October 13, 2017.  The last Green Line Metro train leaves from the Navy Yard in 14 minutes. 

It is also just moments after Nationals OF Bryce Harper struck out to end Game 5 of the NLDS and to leave D.C. sports fans to digest yet another unimaginable, if predictable, playoff defeat.

I am…despondent.  Jason, make me your next victim.  I won’t put up a fight.  I won’t even run through the woods and trip in classic corny horror flick style.  I simply can’t take this anymore.

As my exhausted mind unwinds and my broken D.C. sports fan’s heart starts to heal, again, I ponder the greater sports landscape for something to ease the suffering.  There isn’t much; in fact, the two NFL Hall of Famers who come to mind make me feel worse. 

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a man who has employed and defended some of the NFL’s most dubious characters, is threatening the employment of any Cowboys players who continues to demonstrate during the national anthem.  So that’s productive.  I hope his bluff is called. 

But there’s more. 

Rarely outdueled for ultimate villain status, Jones’s insulated billionaire owner muscle-flex was one-upped by another NFL legend: Mike Ditka.  During a recent radio interview with Jim Gray, Ditka, the one-time hard-nosed player and coach turned lovable NFL icon, said “There has been no racial oppression in the last 100 years that I know of.”  Wait.  What?

Ditka quickly apologized for the remark.  Fair enough…I guess.  Filed under “Forgiven, not forgotten.”

This was not the tonic I sought in the aftermath of another D.C. team being consumed by “The Darkness” – the evil sports curse enveloping the District.  No, that isn’t’ melodramatic.  Consider the resumes of the ‘Skins, Wizards, Capitals and Nats since the days of grunge: no championships since 1992; no playoff “final four” appearances since 1998; and a combined 4-14 record in the last 18 deciding playoff games. 

The Darkness is so powerful that the Chicago Cubs - the one-time poster franchise for curses and perpetual heartache – felt destined to be touched by game-winning good fortune.  What the billy goat and Bartman once were, The Darkness now is.

How did this happen?  The first twenty years of my life were a fan’s joyride: three Super Bowl wins by the ‘Skins, an Orioles’ World Series title in 1983, an always good if not great Capitals team and even a faint memory of the Bullets’ 1978 Championship. 

But since the ‘Skins’ 1992 championship, since becoming an adult, sports have brought me, in the immortal words of a growling Clubber Lang, “paaaaaaaaain”.  Like a spouse in a dysfunctional marriage, I watch knowing something bad will happen, but I can’t look away out of some unhealthy duty.   

I should have been prepared for this; the self-loathing is unjustified and a bit pathetic.  How many times did my parents tell me childhood and adolescence encompass the best years of your life?  That a rising personal odometer coincides with more aches and pains, responsibility and worry…and less resilience to deal with it all.  That with each year a layer of your youth-onion is peeled away, leaving you a little less carefree and little more cynical.  That time exposes you to the truth about our flawed (maybe fatally) species and the world’s very serious ills. 

In this way, we live in reverse.  Life starts and, for the fortunate, ends in diapers, but much of the goodness – at least the sustained, unbounded joy - is front-loaded.  I knew this already; it was unnecessary for my sports teams to so perfectly embody it.  But since I’m self-soothing with sports-life parallels, here’s another: both offer recurring opportunities to renew the pursuit of happiness.  In sports, it’s the rejuvenating and recurring hope of a new season; in life, it’s the promise accompanying each new day.   

I suppose I’ll find comfort in that and attempt to overlook the depressing site that’s now on my television screen: the Cubs enjoying a locker room champagne shower at my expense. 

A toast then, to getting older and to next season.  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  Cheers.

Idiot Writer, Wise Coach

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

A series of events can be an accurate predictor of future events or some larger societal shift; they can also be misleading samples that disguise an undercurrent of surfacing truth.  In this case, the latter is true.

Over the summer, a piece appeared in this column titled, “The Declining Consequence of Sports.”  In it, the confused writer/psychic – me – mulled the post-election environment and expressed displeasure in the sports world’s lack of organized resistance against a wave of top-down behavior that seemed committed to eviscerating all vestiges of human decency.

That was August.  It’s not August anymore.

This idiot got it wrong, thankfully - totally and undeniably wrong.  Since President Trump’s inflammatory “SOB” comment at a recent rally, sporting events are teeming with thought-provoking acts and athletes’ social media accounts are firing off political protests. 

Whatever you think of the recent response, the consequence of sports in our society has been dramatically reasserted.  Sports, as frequently has in the last century, is again serving as a catalyst for the discussion – no matter how uncomfortable - of liberties unconditionally extended to Americans but not equally enjoyed by all Americans.

While debating things like anthem protests, remember this fact: The actions by the sports world are rooted in the racism that still exists.  Every interlocked arm and player on a knee is a reaction to a series of disturbing events in this country and the growing post-election acrimony that has been aided and abetted by candidate and now President Trump’s proud divisiveness.  When you are consistently disrespected by an unrepentant leader and brazenly referred to as a SOB for expressing your thoughts on your professional platform (football field) by a man preaching from his professional platform (the presidency), it would be decidedly un-American to cower in passive silence. 

Politics, protest and tweets aside, most of us are quietly horrified by the trajectory of the rancor; this pace can’t be maintained until November 2020.  With the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War 40 to 50-plus years behind us, this is likely the most divided United States most Americans have experienced.  It is troubling, no matter one’s political persuasions. 

So now what?  Where do we go from here? 

In struggling with those questions and how to distill them into a coherent, actionable (at a modest, personal level) thought, I caught a pre-season interview with long-time San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.  It was an odd place to find answers to such complex questions, but these are strange times.  Popovich can be a fascinating interview when properly stoked, so when a reporter ignored the boring basketball script and asked for his perspective on this time where politics and sports are intertwined, it prompted a lengthy, on-the-spot monologue bursting with wisdom.

Popovich acknowledged these difficult times, the racism, the sexism, the fear-mongering and race-baiting.  He noted the source of the division and lamented how far the bar of decency has been lowered. 

And then Popovich offered this big-perspective, call to action: “We can continue to bounce our heads off the wall…or we can decide the institutions of our country are more important, that people are more important, that the decent America that we all thought we had and want is more important and get down to business at the grass roots level and do what we have to do.” 

It is worth a watch in its entirety.  Popovich, an Air Force veteran, five-time NBA champion and three-time NBA coach of the year, is now a life-whisperer.  He captured exactly where we are and the challenge we face as fellow Americans and human beings - that is to rise above the childish, defensive rhetoric and commit to constructive dialogue, understanding, listening and interacting with shocking decency.  This is how the teardown ends and the rebuild begins.  This is how we find our footing, how we rediscover our shared American values and how we begin to re-stitch this recklessly and intentionally frayed mess.  An unprecedented wedge is being driven between us from the top down.  It’s time to start pushing back, in unison, from the bottom up.


Thanks for the clarity, Coach Pop.  

Costly Publicity

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Last week, ESPN anchor Jemele Hill loaded her 140-character Twitter super soaker and hosed down 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with this political torrent: “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/other white supremacists.” 

Whoa now.  Using Twitter against Trump is like deploying the Batmobile against Batman or Thor’s hammer against the son of Odin himself.  No one insults, creates controversy or manufactures chaos with the Twitter toy like the Trumper.  No one!

Oh, but Hill did and, predictably, sent the impulsive and proudly un-presidential Trump into a tizzy.  
Channeling The Dude from The Big Lebowski (doubtful Trump’s seen the iconic flick), you could practically sense The Great Comb Over exclaiming, “This aggression will not stand, man…especially from an African American woman!!!”  In true “kiss the ring” fashion, Trump demanded something he’s never offered to any group he’s offended (like African Americans and women) – an apology. 

And goodie for him.  We needed our leader to pause and corral this brazen ESPN personality while Caribbean islands are uninhabitable, Houston is rising from its knees, people in Florida are homeless or living in darkness and North Korea is firing missiles every other day. 

I trust the sarcasm is palatable.  As Hunter S. Thompson said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  So I’m taking my big league hacks.  How else to navigate this demoralizing post-election world, eh?

At the root of this latest Trumpian Twitter-war is a legitimate and increasingly pertinent issue: understanding the intersection between First Amendment rights and the consequences of constitutionally bequeathed free speech liberties.  Freely expressed thoughts are a decidedly American right (one of the few things left with overwhelmingly bipartisan support), but in this amazing(?) social media age, they can have lasting impact on relationships, reputations and, in Hill’s case, employment. 

CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin attempted a discussion on the topic during a recent edition of her show.  To support the segment, Baldwin had two guests aboard: former ESPN writer Keith Reed and Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis.  Baldwin opened the dialogue by questioning why Trump, who has received similar criticism from numerous sources, chose to engage with Hill and ESPN and cued Travis for comment.  Less than a minute into his salvo, Travis dropped this gem: “I’m a First Amendment absolutist.  I believe in only two things completely: the First Amendment and boobs.”  When Baldwin asked for clarification, Travis confirmed the statement and added that the First Amendment and boobs are “…the two things that have never let me down in this country’s history.” 

This from a married father of three. 

The obvious: Travis’s statement was incredibly immature, demeaning and horribly misplaced.  To mock such a serious issue and reduce Hill’s struggles with this president, struggles she shares with many people from various walks of life, with a throw-away, frat-boy-around-a-keg comment is confounding.  Was Travis lost in self-promotion?  Did he feel emboldened by this administration to bring adolescent chatter onto a national stage?   

In a weird confluence of circumstances, I read a piece last week by Melissa Jacobs (TheFootballGirl.com) on former Rams QB Jim Everett.  A long time ago, a one-time provocative radio and television talking head by the name of Jim Rome had Everett on his show.  Rome, in what was then typical Rome fashion, sought to provoke Everett by calling him “Chris”, a childish reference to Chris Evert, the great female tennis player of similar surname. 

Everett took offense and warned Rome against furthering the charade.  Rome, with an irritated Everett in his midst (exactly what he wanted), pressed on with his “Chris” shtick.  Everett snapped, tipped over table and knocked Rome to the ground.  It was an embarrassment for all involved.  Testosterone run amuck. 

Rome has had a long career in sports media, but he hasn’t completely out-raced that moment.  It remains front and center on his resume, a self-inflicted antagonist typecast that’s pigeonholed his work into something forever short of serious journalism.

Clay Travis committed a similar error.  He’ll forever be “First Amendment Boob Guy”, a label he earned while goofing off during a conversation about the consequences of free speech.  The irony is omnipresent.    


My fellow Americans, speak freely…but wisely.   

The Gap Between Actions And Ideals

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Ed Cunningham was an offensive lineman on the 1991 Washington Huskies football team that won the National Championship.  He went on to play five seasons in the NFL and, in recent years, covered college football for ESPN.  Football was in his blood.  It was his livelihood. 

It isn’t anymore.

Despite his notable career, I didn’t know who Cunningham was until last week.  I didn’t even know that he covered college football for the worldwide leader in sports.  After he resigned from ESPN last week and announced that he would no longer be associated with the game of football, I can’t get Cunningham, this long-time stranger, out of my head.   

On the surface, it’s a peculiar move: Cunningham, just 48, immediately and voluntarily severed a lifelong connection with football.  But his explanation added a fascinating level of depth and complexity that has me racked with consternation.

Cunningham divorced football because of debilitating head injuries. 

In his parting remarks, Cunningham noted that, “…the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain.  To me, it’s unacceptable.”  Cunningham took “full ownership” of his involvement in the sport but reached a point, after considering the overwhelming connection between football and long-term brain injury, that he could “no longer be in that cheerleader spot.” 
A few years ago, Cunningham’s decision may have been met by snickers, raised eyebrows and, by the particularly boorish and emboldened, social media trolling. 

We’re past that now. 

There’s no denying what’s happening when 22 players, 11 on a side, line up year after year, week after week, day after day, play after play and try to knock the snot out of one another.  The data can’t be ignored.  The movie “Concussion” and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) being diagnosed in the brains of 121 of 122 former NFL players can’t be ignored.  The struggles of former players like Tony Dorsett and Jim McMahon can’t be ignored.  The suicides of Junior Seau, Andre Waters and Dave Duerson, Cunningham’s former teammate, can’t be ignored.  As long as tackle football is played, the participants are at risk of severe consequences, ones largely realized long after the cheers have silenced.   

This new reality is having an impact.  Early retirements from the NFL are growing more common, a trend that touched both local teams this year.  Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel, 26, officially retired in July and Washington safety Su’a Cravens, 22, is currently on the exempt/left team list while he contemplates hanging up the cleats.  Players at all levels are likely pondering the same decision.  And how many parents are now conflicted about their children playing football?

Cunningham, though, is unique in that he might be the first contributor to the game to disassociate himself with football.  His decision wasn’t based on his health or his family, it was rooted in his heavy conscience. 

Cunningham’s brutal honesty and bold action bother me.  I have trouble watching football.  Every game results in injuries – players limping or being carted off, others being knocked woozy or out completely.  Every game, without fail.  No other major sport is like that.  I watched Maryland beat Texas last Saturday – a huge win for the Terps.  But all I could think about post-game was Maryland cornerback Antwaine Richardson who was carted off after sustaining a head injury.

But you know what?  I’ll keep watching, despite my guilt.  My love of the game blinds me.  I want to believe in new safety measures, equipment advances and improved concussion protocol.  So I filter reality and weave a twisted justification to pacify my conscience while continuing to consume the great football machine and sow the enormous pro football carrot.  And that’s what separates Cunningham from me and those similarly conflicted – there’s no distance between Cunningham’s actions and his ideals.  A lack of conviction maintains a gap between mine. 

Whether you agree with these thoughts on football, or don’t give a hoot about the game, there’s something universally inspiring about a person who boldly and authentically follows their beliefs - even the inconvenient ones.  


Especially the inconvenient ones.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Washington's Wahoo

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This isn’t about Charlottesville, Virginia, but rather a man who spent a lot of time there – Ryan Zimmerman. 

Several years ago, too many for comfort, Zimmerman starred for the University of Virginia baseball team.  He was a slick-fielding third baseman with impressive offensive chops - a rare combination that earned him the eye of MLB scouts. 

About the same time Zimmerman was done playing ball for the Wahoo’s, a really bad MLB team was jettisoning Montreal and settling in to a new home in the lower 48, one that had been without a professional baseball team for over 30 years.  The team, of course, became the Washington Nationals and it used the fourth overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft, its first since moving south, to select Zimmerman. 

It was an unlikely marriage given that the team didn’t exist when Zimmerman enrolled at Virginia, but it had a storybook quality too obvious to ignore: The semi-local kid – Zimmerman grew up in Virginia Beach before moving to Charlottesville - gets picked by the new home team in need of a young star to enrapture a newborn fan base. 

Zimmerman was all the Nationals could have hoped for.  With his extensive college experience, Zimmerman fast-tracked through the minor leagues and was called up late in the 2005 season.  From 2006-2012, a period when Washington transitioned from a bottom-feeder to playoff mainstay, Zimmerman was the franchise rock.  Before Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and a whole lot of wins arrived, Zimmerman consistently batted around .280, hit 20-25 homeruns a year, played a gold glove-level third base and was, in short, one of the few reasons to care about the Nationals.  He also had what fans love – a flair for the dramatic.  In his first major league at-bat, Zimmerman stroked a double.  And in the first game at Nationals Park in 2008, Zimmerman hit a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the ninth.

But reality sometimes intervenes to spoil fairy tales. 

As the Nationals finally became a contender in 2012, Zimmerman began having chronic shoulder problems.  Errant throws and stints on the disabled list became the norm.  To compensate, Zimmerman was moved to first base on a full-time basis in 2015.  It didn’t work.  Zimmerman, who had batted under .275 only once from 2005-2014, saw his average drop to .249 in 2015 and crater to .218 in 2016.  It was painful to watch.  Wholly indecent and unfair.  The one-time face of the franchise looked done. 

But baseball’s a funny game, one where magical seasons can appear from nowhere to make or rejuvenate careers.  Zimmerman is in the midst of such a season.  With roughly 40 games remaining, Zimmerman is hitting .307 with 29 homeruns and 86 RBI and is on-pace to set career highs in all categories.  More importantly, he’s avoided the disabled list (knock on wood).  It is a heart-warming renaissance that is reminiscent of one experienced by another franchise legend in Baltimore a generation ago.

Entering the 1991 season, Cal Ripken Jr. hadn’t hit above .264 since 1986.  The Streak was alive and well, but his career was at a crossroads.  Then he found something…something spectacular.  Ripken solidified his status an immortal by hitting .323, belting 34 homeruns, recording 114 RBI – all career highs – and winning the 1991 American League MVP award.  Zimmerman’s not quite having a year like that (nor is he the player Ripken was), but the rejuvenating and validating effect is the same, and it couldn’t have happened to two better or more humble and classy men.

In late 2016 and in late 1990, Zimmerman and Ripken, respectively, faced a chasm between the players their stats said they were and the players they still hoped to be.  Battered but not broken, inspired more than deterred, both men persevered through the ugly, the unrecognizable and the completely unacceptable and rediscovered the best of themselves.  President Barrack Obama once said, “The best way not to feel hopeless is to get up and do something.”  Zimmerman and Ripken clearly did.   


That’s good soul food – for individuals and society at large.  Hmm…maybe this was more about Charlottesville than I originally thought.

Blackbirds and the Big Baller

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The NBA and NHL are on hiatus.  The NFL just resumed playing practice games.  MLB is nearing its stretch run, but the playoffs and the World Series still seem far away.  These are the summer doldrums of sports, a time when not much of anything significant happening.

But there’s still a lot going on.

With QB Joe Flacco having back issues, the Baltimore Ravens are, as of this writing, considering signing quarterback, and NFL enemy-of-the-state, Colin Kaepernick.  Head coach John Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome – gentlemen whose job security hinges on winning games - are reportedly on-board; owner Steve Bisciotti – a guy who’s tenured for life - is having reservations. 
Kaepernick, of course, is being black-balled by the NFL for his anthem protests last season (this despite assurances that he wouldn’t continue the protests this year).  Meanwhile, Bisciotti, the owner who has the Ray Rice debacle on his resume, whose team is among the league leaders in arrests in recent years and who saw fit to put a statue of Ray Lewis, a player who took a plea deal to avoid murder charges, outside of M&T Bank Stadium, has had a sudden blast of moral conscience.  Despite that dubious track record, Bisciotti is concerned that Kaepernick, a player who peacefully protested during the national anthem to raise awareness of law enforcement’s treatment of minorities, will stain the Ravens’ brand. 

Not to worry though.  At a recent fan forum, Bisciotti invoked the Almighty and asked that folks “pray for us” while he mulled Decision Kaepernick.  Super.  I hope God takes a break from helping others through very real and complex issues – like law enforcement and minority relations - to help Bisciotti through his overwhelming football conundrum.  In the meantime, maybe Kaepernick will observe this circus and conclude that Baltimore, with all its documented missteps, isn’t worth his services.  In life, and in sports, sometimes the character of the judgers falls short of those being judged.  

Enough of that.  On to LaVar Ball, master of the crazy.

I loved this this guy – past tense.  He was so refreshing, outrageous and, most importantly, fun.  His sanity was debatable, but he gave you enough winks and smiles to indicate that his behavior was mostly tongue-in-cheek, an act by a father hopped up on caffeine and serotonin.  I questioned his parenting skills, given his unabashed marketing of his children, but by all accounts his boys don’t seem to mind (to their credit) and he’s certainly present and involved in their lives.  And how could you not respect a guy who boldly challenged the sneaker company establishment and created his own Big Baller Brand (and $495 shoes)?  He was an American hero! 

Was.

Ball’s first hiccup occurred after his son Lonzo’s UCLA team lost to Kentucky in the March Madness tournament.  When asked about the defeat, Ball remarked, “Realistically, you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow.”  Still, Ball’s quip felt less malicious and more a tired stereotype expressed in poor taste.  Benefit of the doubt hereby extended…

But Ball wasn’t done throwing shade.  While coaching his son LaMelo’s AAU team last week, Ball received a technical foul…from a female official.  Ball’s post-game reaction, a rant in which he accused the official of being out of shape, unqualified and trying to over-compensate for her gender by being hard on big bad LaVar Ball, was disturbing – far beyond Ball’s typical shtick.  It wasn’t funny and there could be no misinterpretation.  It was sexist, plain and simple. 


It’s fair now to question the entirety of Ball’s flamboyant act.  Is it actually something sinister masked by humor?  Is he a solid father or exploitative of talented sons?  Is there more to his one-off comment about white players?  Is the outrageous jokester a bully in disguise?  A misogynist?  An egomaniac at heart?  It’s still too early to say, but until Ball proves to be none of those things, I’m departing his bizarre thrill ride.  Ah, but maybe Ball’s sly like a fox; these times seem strangely tilted toward egomaniacal, insensitive, polarizing bullies and worlds of make believe.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Their #2 vs. Our #2

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The careers of Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving and Washington guard John Wall will be forever linked.  Fair or unfair, that’s just how it is.  The points of intersection are too great; the comparison is too juicy to ignore. 

Both players attended blueblood institutions – Wall chose Kentucky, Irving went to Duke – and left for the NBA after just one season.  Both were number one overall picks in the NBA Draft - Wall (2010) and Irving (2011) - and have inked lucrative contract extensions.  Both players have been four-time All-Stars.  Both players are among the best point guards in the world.  Oh…and both wear number 2.

Similar?  Yes.  Identical?  No.  The differences…    

While Wall and Irving are both point guards, their styles are unique.  Wall is a traditional point guard (a regrettably negative description in this great jump shot era).  He orchestrates offense through masterful ball distribution.  Wall can score as required, but he thinks pass first.  His court vision is arguably the best; he inarguably makes his teammates better (and a whole lot richer: see Bradley Beal and Otto Porter). 

Irving has a little Allen Iverson in him.  He’s a better pure shooter than Iverson, but his offensive mentality is identical: score.  Pass?  Well, sure…but only as necessary.

Wall’s and Irving’s impressive individual career statistics illustrate this contrast.  Wall’s averaged 18.8 points and 9.2 assists per game; Irving’s countered with 21.6 points and 5.5 assists per game. 

Pick your style.  Toe-may-toe; Toe-mah-toe.  A finely crafted IPA or a porter.  The Beatles or the Rolling Stones.  Splendid either way.

But there’s a non-basketball difference between these two and it surfaced on the same day last week: Irving has a little drama in him…Wall not so much.    

In his first three seasons, Irving’s Cavs won 21, 24 and 33 games.  In the last three, Cleveland’s recorded 53, 57 and 51 wins, appeared in three NBA Finals and won a NBA championship. 

The change coincided with LeBron James’s return to Cleveland.  Yet despite the success realized from the James partnership, Irving requested that the Cavs trade him last week.  Why?  Irving is fatigued by being Robin to James’s Batman and desires a new team where he can play alpha-dog and receive the credit he feels he’s deserved.  Never mind that James, at age 32, is likely in decline and may leave Cleveland after this season – all things that would offer Irving the leading role he covets…in Cleveland.  And the timing – after the draft, after free agency – was just awful.  It drips of impulsiveness and is saturated with self-interest.

In other words, Irving threw the latest NBA version of a two-year-old fit. 

Conversely, just hours after Irving’s trade request made headlines, Wall signed a four-year extension with the Wizards.  Wall is staying put and trying to build something that Washington hasn’t had since 1978: a NBA champion.  He’s pursuing his career-defining ring and writing his legacy organically: no team hopping, no trade demands, no drama.  Instead of shunning Washington because of all it isn’t, Wall is committed to elevating D.C. - a post-disco era third-world NBA town - to basketball’s pinnacle.  And Wall’s making that commitment in his typical all-business, no bull---- style: It’s as if Wall’s never seen a daytime soap, is unfamiliar with Susan Lucci and is disgusted by hysterical, tearless faux-cries. 

Considering recent team history, Wall, not Irving, should be seeking professional asylum from his current employer.  But that’s not Wall’s style.  Putting the money aside (it’s so inevitably crazy for NBA stars that it’s irrelevant), Wall’s decision to remain with Washington – a team that needs him more than he needs it - indicates that our #2 values being synonymous with one team and one city and endearing himself to one fan base.  In other words, Wall doesn’t just value fame, advancing his “brand” and chasing titles, he values something that’s all but lost in major sports today: loyalty.    


So while Cleveland deals with chaos in the wake of Irving’s drama-bomb, consider, and appreciate, the calm surrounding the Wizards.  Consider and appreciate John Wall, a man who has determined that the greenest grass grows beneath his feet.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Declining Consequence Of Sports

Previously published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

In his book “Queer”, William S. Burroughs wrote, “What happens when there is no limit?  What is the fate of The Land Where Anything Goes?”  Considering national and world events since last fall, a running scroll of unfortunate chaos, it feels like Burroughs’s questions are about to be answered. 

By any apolitical, objective assessment, the last six months have been “unsettling”.  Anything can be said about anyone.  The quality of the nation’s health care appears secondary to a political score.  With inconvenient scientists and scientific fact systematically removed from the record, environmental stewardship has been disregarded.  International relations are both strained and unrecognizable – long-time friends are on the fritz; long-time foes are flirting.  The nation’s intelligence community is under a confounding internal attack.  All news is fake; all media not stroking The Administration’s massive and fragile ego are lying swine.  The draw of Twitter at 3 a.m. is contributing to nationwide insomnia.  Every day brings a new crisis - some real, much contrived.  Recent history is being obliterated; the future is a coin flip.  The truth…it’s whatever it needs to be at any given moment.    

Ah, but what does it matter?  Anything goes.  Right then.  So it does.   

In these equally bizarre and historic times, the role of sports and their social utility is difficult to place.  The games we watch have traditionally been a definitive respite, a place where people of different backgrounds and political persuasions unite to celebrate victories, mourn defeats and generally escape the grind of life’s responsibilities.  For doubters of sports’ magical ability to bridge deep personal chasms, consider this: During the 1968 Presidential campaign, Hunter S. Thompson, sworn Richard Nixon antagonist, scored a private meeting with the future president…why?...because Thompson, like Nixon, was a great connoisseur of pro football and Nixon, knowing this, apparently needed a moment to relax and converse with someone of equal pigskin intellect.   

But now it is all so confusing.  Would it occur to Donald Trump to chat with Rachel Maddow if he knew she loved football and shared Trump’s failed vision for the defunct USFL?  I think not.  Where oh where has the charm of this one-time ultimate and all-welcoming Garden of Eden gone?  Is it still there, unspoiled by an acrimonious world that in any other forum demands we take sides, dismiss numerous similarities and obsess over our differences?  And are sports capable of promoting social change, as it did when Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 or as they do more subtlety today by achieving workforce diversity that should be the envy of corporate America?  I’m willing to consider it.  I’d rather conclude that sports hasn’t changed and that everything else around them has.    

Whatever the truth, sports’ ability to bind society and demand its best feels diminished.  In every moment of crisis over the last 100 years, through wars, presidential assassinations, the Civil Rights movement and terrorist attacks, sports weren’t just games being played; they mattered – psychologically, socially and historically.  Now, in the world where anything goes, they are just there, seemingly along for the ride and hesitant to influence the vector of this pivot point in history.
Do I expect athletes to become swarming political activists?  No, but I expect more than what has been delivered.  I expect more from Kevin Durant than immature and meaningless Twitter wars with trollers.  I expect more from the NBA than giving LaVar Ball and his “Big Baller Brand” endless screen-time.  I expect more from Tom Brady than channeling Terrell Owens’s “I love me some me” sideline rant, and writing a book on how to be like…Tom Brady. 


Is some of that entertaining?  Is it safe?  Personally beneficial?  Yes, but it is also diminishing and inconsequential in a time of great consequence.  Edward Murrow once said, “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty…when the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.”  Professional sports used to be part of that loyal opposition.  Maybe the money and the lifestyle are so good now that athletes are content just being athletes…even if it kills a little of America’s soul.  

Unemployed Activist

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

A month before NFL training camps begin, former 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick remains mysteriously unemployed. 

Considering only football-related factors, there’s no plausible explanation for his want of work.  Kaepernick boasts a career quarterback rating of 88.9, an impressive 72-30 touchdown passes to interceptions ratio and in February 2013 came within one goal line play of winning the Super Bowl.  What has he done lately?  Last season, with a talent-challenged 49ers team, Kaepernick threw 16 touchdown passes, just four interceptions and posted an impressive 90.7 quarterback rating. 

And yet, not one of the 32 NFL teams has signed Kaepernick this offseason.  To offer some context to this curious situation, here are a few employed backup quarterbacks: Sean Mannion (Rams), Geno Smith (Giants), Kellen Clemens (Chargers), Trevone Boykin (Seahawks) and, just for you Ravens fans, Ryan Mallett. 

Smith’s career quarterback rating is 72.4.  Clemens’s is 69.4 and he’s won just 8 of 21 starts.  Mallett slept through practice, missed a team flight and lost 3 of 4 starts with the Texans in 2015.  I’m unacquainted with the rest.  When we meet, introduce yourself as Sean Mannion; I won’t know the difference. 

So with no rational football argument for Kaepernick’s unemployment, what’s the dirty little secret?  As The Dude said, “This is a very complicated case…you know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s.”   

Call it public relations, brand protection or sensitivity to consumer concerns - package it however you want.  Just be sure to acknowledge what cannot be denied: Kaepernick remains unemployed because he decided to be socially and politically active last season and kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness of on-going oppression of minorities.  Now his on-field contributions don’t justify the perceived trouble accompany his employment. 

And with that, a statement: this isn’t about the issue fueling Kaepernick’s protest.  That’s been debated, picked over, marinated and cooked to a crisp.  Opinions are set.  Hopefully it advanced our country in a positive way. 

What is worthy of further consideration is why Kaepernick remains unemployed and what it says about tolerance of players choosing to be athletes and activists – a combination that has produced change agents like Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, Muhammad Ali, Kathrine Switzer and Arthur Ashe.  The NFL, with its stated intent to “protect the shield”, didn’t want to be bothered and it might be/probably is using Kaepernick to send this message: no unnecessary controversy on our stage…we are the lords of pro football. 

Don’t miss the hypocrisy.  And really, how could you in time when certain people can say denigrating things about, well, just about anyone and suffer no consequences?  The NFL waved off Ray Rice and is apparently doing the same with Kaepernick while it continues to employ the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Adam Jones, Michael Floyd and Sheldon Richardson, players with rap sheets that should be universally offensive and actually do erode the NFL’s brand.  Just last year, Goodell, with a wink and a giggle, suspended Richardson for one game after he went on a 143 mph joy ride in his Bentley.  After being pulled over, police detected the odor of marijuana, found a semi-automatic handgun and discovered a 12-year-old passenger.  What a role model!  And while we’re pondering the transgressions of NFL players, do not forget the league’s very dubious (mis)handling of concussion data – likened to the tobacco’s industry’s statistical manipulations – and the $765M settlement it paid out to former players in 2013.


Amidst this ethical and moral ooze, Kaepernick, a man who has been genuine and thought-provoking about his anthem protest and who is an all-star philanthropist, is the great villain the NFL would prefer to see eradicated from its payroll?  Whatever brand protection the league sought post-protest has been undone by the wall Big Brother NFL and Party leader Goodell built between Kaepernick and the football field.  Kaepernick shouldn’t be ostracized, he should be appreciated for his social awareness and lauded for courage to act (more athletes should).  At the very least, he should be employed.  That he’s not is an indictment of the NFL and the skewed value system it perceives exists in its patrons.  Does it?  

The Pleasure Of Defeat

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

If LeBron “The King” James, the man and the basketball player, was tried by a jury of unbiased peers, in Judge Objective’s courtroom, the unanimous verdict would be not guilty – not guilty of falling short of any reasonable or meaningful measure of a man and hardcourt legend. 

In 2003, James was the most heralded high school basketball player since Dr. Naismith hung his peach basket.  James’s combination of size, strength and comprehensive basketball skill was inconceivable.  He passed like a point guard, scored like a two-guard and had the body of a power forward.  The potential for basketball feats never witnessed had NBA fans salivating. 

Fourteen NBA seasons later, James has surpassed any realistic expectations.  Yes, I said surpassed.  James’s resume reads like superhero’s, had basketball been prioritized over crime fighting.  Rookie of the Year.  13-time All-Star.  Three-time Finals MVP.  All-NBA first team 11 times.  Two-time Olympic gold medalist.  Three-time NBA Champion. 

Basketball superlatives aside, James has been first team all-human off the court.  Imagine being the NBA’s newly anointed “next best thing”, immediate hero to Cleveland and your home state of Ohio, apple of Nike’s eye and with a personal gross national product that outranked many countries – all at age 18.  Would nefarious temptations have compromised your scruples?  Might there have been a late night brawl or traffic stop gone awry?  An embarrassing TMZ story concerning a love interest?  With James there’s been none of those famous athlete-run-amuck clich├ęs.  Yes, there was The Decision – James’s mishandled free agency announcement.  And he can be fussy with the media at times (what ultra-competitive athlete isn’t?).  But these are victimless blemishes and petty complaints considering the remarkable grace with which James has handled fame and the blinding light shining on him 24/7. 

Unconvinced?  Read his Wiki page and notice what it lacks: domestic violence, DUI, late-night carousing and general “jerk spoiled athlete” behavior.  What you will find: a stud basketball player, political activist, philanthropist and a man who married his high school sweetheart.  That’s Central Casting stuff for The Great American Hero.

And yet, except for Tom Brady, there’s no other athlete of his stature who galvanizes the cantankerous, jealous and ill-intended haters like LeBron James.  Aside from fans of James’s team, people mostly want him to fail.  They relish in his Finals defeats and mock him for not matching Michael Jordan’s accomplishments.  There’s public pleasure in James’s pain.  When The King loses, the people win. 

James’s obsessive critics are often the same people who deify former greats like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.  Really?  Johnson, lest we forget in the rightful celebration of his contributions to HIV awareness, acquired the virus as a consequence of promiscuity.  Bird’s estrangement from his biological daughter has largely been dismissed.  Chamberlain, the most dominant basketball force of all time, notoriously bragged about his sexual exploits with thousands of women.  And then there’s the precious Michael Jordan.  On the basketball court, he was the Greatest of all Time.  Off it, he was a terrible teammate capable of visceral, demeaning criticism (similar to corporate icon Steve Jobs), a notorious gambler and an adulterer. 

These are our declared basketball heroes.  And James is our pariah? 

Ani DiFranco’s song “32 flavors” includes this line: “Everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room.”  Ditto for the most gifted basketball player in world…based on pure, unadulterated hypocrisy.  On the one hand, Jordan is worshipped and the extramarital antics of Tiger Woods and violent acts of Ray Rice incite appropriate outrage.  On the other, there’s a confounding lust for James’s failures, a genuine pleasure in it, despite him being, by all accounts, a good father and husband and a survivor of a fishbowl capable of exposing the smallest of character flaws.  


But it is what it is; James’s public cast is set.  That aforementioned objective trial will never happen.  No matter, for this much is clear: the conviction of James as non-Jordan and the condemnation of him as the NBA’s villain is more of an indictment of the would-be jury’s values and character than it is of The King’s.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dodging The Darkness

As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

I owe the men’s lacrosse team at Towson University, my alma mater, an apology.  After securing the CAA conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the Tigers went on an epic heater. 

In round one, we (alumni status qualifies for “we” usage, right?) laid waste to Penn State.  The second-ranked Syracuse Orange were next.  No problem: Towson 10, Cuse 7.  The win over Syracuse earned Towson its third trip to lacrosse’s Final Four and a date with the Ohio State Buckeyes last Saturday. 

It was 7-3 Tigers at halftime and all was just freak-out-splendid.  Then I unknowingly transmitted The Darkness through the television, to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts and into every innocent soul in the Towson locker room.  When the clock expired, the scoreboard chronicled the carnage: Buckeyes 11, Tigers 10.  The dream was over.  Dead.  The only thing left was the primal wailing and the wretched prose of a madman and 1995 Towson graduate somewhere in Leonardtown.

The Darkness is that very real, very evil force enveloping D.C. professional sports.  It is to the hopes of D.C. sports fans what Round-Up is to a misplaced weed or a famished seagull is to a Thrasher’s French fry on the Ocean City boardwalk.  I thought it was quarantined to the D.C. area.  Now I’m worried that I’m Patient Zero, that I’m the curse and that I, through my fandom, infected my beloved Tigers.   

And if that’s possible, even probable, what’s next?  With Baltimore compromised, are the Ravens and O’s doomed?  And what of youth sports?  Could I ruin high school or rec-league seasons?  Oh the kids…the kids…

Avoid me like the next great plague.  Shutter the doors to your school gym.  Establish a perimeter around local soccer fields.  Or…feel free to buy me a drink and reintroduce me to something I’ve lost hold of - reality.  As Janis Joplin said, I’m “feeling near as faded as my jeans.”

Okay then.  Enough of all that.  Lacrosse, Towson, curses: these were unintended topics.  But here we are again, off on another uncontrollable tangent.  Grab the stick, man!  Get control of this beast!  Course correct!      

There we are.  Kevin Durant is what this is about: The man who strolled into free agency last summer, ignored his hometown Wizards, broke hearts in Oklahoma City and signed with the Golden State Warriors.  With a single pen-stroke he so concentrated the talent in the NBA to two cities – Cleveland and Oakland – that the regular season was rendered a tedious formality.  This year would end with Dubs v. Cavs and, by God, here we are.

Durant received much grief for his decision and the competition-neutering ripple it sent through the league.  How could he sell out like this?  Why destroy all he had built in Oklahoma City?  Did he not care that his legacy would be reduced in Golden State even if he won multiple titles because, well, he now should win multiple titles?  Wouldn’t championships with that Warriors roster equate to glorified participation trophies?

I initially hated Durant’s decision for all these reasons.  He’s a beloved local and this just felt so LeBron-to-Miami-ish, minus an awkward primetime announcement and arrogance-infused pep rally. 
But I’m coming around.  The Finals start the day this hits newsstands: Cavs v. Warriors, LeBron v. Durant, Steph Curry v. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love v. Draymond Green.  Who couldn’t dig that?  And really, is it any different than Celtics v. Lakers, Magic v. Bird, Kareem v. Parish and Worthy v. McHale?  Frankly, it isn’t. 

Right.  So here’s where I am: I respect Durant for wanting to surround himself with elite talent.  Don’t we all seek such situations during our professional careers?  Ultimate success is the point, isn’t it?  Does the formula really matter?  And should a player be criticized for sacrificing statistics and MVP awards for championships?  Lawd, I hope not.


In reflection, I suppose I owe Durant an apology too.  Will I root for him versus the Cavs?  It’s doubtful.  But if recent history serves, my alignment with the Cavs will virtually guarantee Durant gets what he went to Golden State for: a championship.  One team’s Darkness is another’s light.