Friday, September 1, 2017
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!
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.