Monday, July 29, 2013

Too: To a Higher Degree than is Desirable, Permissible, or Possible

He was too young. It happened too soon. It’s all too sad. This is just too close for comfort. He meant too much to too many. Too many are hurting.  

Over the weekend, a friend very suddenly and completely unexpectedly, passed away. He was only 46. We weren’t close friends, but I had known him for a little more than 10 years. He was, however, very close friends to a good friend of ours. And that relationship, amplified the magnitude of this earthquake by a 100 times. Maybe even a thousand. I really can’t do math right now.

I’m not sure why I’m even writing about it, or what I’m trying to say. It’s not as if I can make sense out of this. It makes no sense. He was in great shape. I heard some of the details, rather, I was told some of the details. But, similar to a scene from the movie Spanglish, there was a crack in the world. I vividly remember being told what happened, but none of the details stuck. My brain couldn’t manage hearing while trying to comprehend what had happened.

Now, my heart breaks for his wife. My heart breaks for his son and daughter. My heart breaks for his twin brother. There was so much to admire and respect. He had a close knit group of friends, dating back to high school and college. I saw the kind of relationship every brother hopes to have. They lived within five miles of each other, and spent summer vacations together in Destin, Florida.

Toughest of all, was seeing the relationship he had with his children. When I was in my teens to early 20’s, I couldn’t imagine being so close with my father. Now that I am a parent, I can only hope to immolate what he had. How many 20 year old daughters would post so many photos with their father on Facebook? It sounds like such an insignificant fact, but I was always really impressed. He wasn’t someone I’d text, I’d just see him around from time to time. And while his poker playing style could drive me nuts, I always hoped to learn more about his parenting style.

Life is too short, and too precious. A late night movie with friends is too easily taken for granted. Too many words go unsaid. It’s all just too sad. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cheating II: The Wait for III

I was hoping that I would never write about Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) again. I really was. But every time it hits the headlines, and the media subsequently pushes the buttons of the fans until they’re foaming at the collective mouth, I can’t help but get fired up. I think I’ve figured out how to best explain why taking PEDs isn’t actually cheating. Now, I understand that it’s technically cheating, because it’s against the rules.

You know what else is cheating in baseball? Anytime a batter kicks away the chalk outline of the batter’s box, so he can stand further back. Watch a game, and you’ll notice that chalk outline is gone by the end of the first inning. Yet no one is accused of cheating, and there’s no talk of lifetime bans or suspensions. It is still cheating.

This is how I see it is: Cheating happens on the field. While PEDs are part of preparation. There haven’t been any links made between taking HGH, or any other substance, to better hand-eye coordination, athletic ability or any specific skill. Using sandpaper to doctor a baseball directly affects how that ball rotates. HGH increases bone density; muscle mass, decreases body fat and increases exercise capacity. But the player still has to work out, HGH just maximizes those workouts. There are numerous supplements that baseball hasn’t banned, that have many of the same benefits, but perhaps aren’t as effective.

Taking PEDs is like a high school kid, who hasn’t been diagnosed with ADD, who takes Adderall, so they can stay up late and study more. Yes, I’m totally thinking of Jessie in “Saved by the Bell” taking caffeine pills. The result may be better grades. It’s illegal, since they don’t have a prescription, but no one would call it cheating.  Now a student who gets a copy of the test beforehand, we’d all call that cheating. But we wouldn’t say it’s cheating, if a student decided to read ahead in their textbook. Wait, do they still have textbooks? But really, who called Jessie a cheater in 1990?

Now I need to understand why these stories set me off like this. A follower on twitter recently told me, “if you don’t care, then don’t care.” But I do care. I care about truth and honesty. So I despise Ryan Braun, not so much for lying, but for throwing others under the bus. But I’m also super angry that the media and fans only seem to care about PEDs in baseball. They want to take Braun’s MVP award away. But when Brian Cushing was caught using steroids in the NFL, they did strip his award. Then the writers voted again, and he won again. Two seasons later, he put up identical stats, and no one batted an eye. When Kobe Bryant went to Germany for a treatment program that isn’t legal in the United States, it drew some attention, but no one has called him a cheater. In fact, a number of players from different sports, saw that Kobe came back with more bounce in his step, so they also went to Germany to have the same treatment. These inconsistencies from those who are so adamant about keeping sports clean drive me as crazy as a politician who bends the laws they were elected to enforce.

There’s often talk about protecting the integrity of the game, and the legitimacy of the records. But there’s no talk about the legitimacy of those records. Amphetamines (greenies) weren’t tested for until 2006. The likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle all used amphetamines when they played. This is a drug that’s now banned by Major League Baseball, and wasn’t tested for until they started testing for steroids. Yet any records set by someone who was alleged to have taken steroids should be overlooked, in favor of records which were set by players on amphetamines? It’s all a joke, only it’s the opposite of funny.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Dire: Jason Whitlock

In the spirit of full-disclosure, I feel the need to tell you the following: When I was a member of my high school newspaper, the two most influential sports writers for me, were Mike Lupica and Jason Whitlock. Both were smart, witty and highly entertaining to read. Between them, they represented so much of what I identified with; the little Jewish guy from New York and the angry, hip-hop loving outsider in Kansas City. Both have gone to disappoint me, in their opinions and attitudes towards the athletes they've spent careers covering.

I’ve also been a big fan of Jay-Z since his first album came out in 1996. Now you’re probably asking, where could this all be leading to? Well, Whitlock has really pissed me off. Two days ago, Whitlock published a column taking Jay-Z to task for entering the world of sports, as he has recently been certified as a sports agent and started signing some very prominent stars.

I have no idea if Jay will be a decent agent, a great agent or a horrible agent, all of that remains to be seen. What’s obvious right now, and painfully so, is how wrong Whitlock is. Whitlock isn't saying that Jay will fail, but that he has no business attempting a new business venture. And, ironically, Whitlock’s reasoning has a race as the foundation.

I’m not going to go through Whitlock’s column, point by point and argue each of his ridiculous claims. No, that’s too easy. When I read it, using that approach was my inclination. Then it dawned on me, and I saw what Whitlock was really doing. Once a year or so, Whitlock’s name would find its way into the larger sports conversation. There was an idiotic joke about Jeremy Lin followed up, 10 months later, by a thoughtful column about guns after Jovan Belcher’s murder/suicide.

Mostly, however, Whitlock was an after-thought. Going after Jay-Z was a calculated move. Jay-Z is a lightning rod for publicity. And right now, he’s selling a new album and promoting a summer tour with the biggest pop-star in the world, Justin Timberlake.  So Whitlock is calling him out, and comparing him to the house slave from “Django Unchained” is all about getting himself some publicity.

Whitlock calls Jay a “n*gga rapper” for the frequent use of the word in Jay’s songs. His opinion might be eye opening, if Whitlock wasn't always tweeting about his love of the show “The Wire.” “The Wire” is basically, a television version of many Jay-Z songs.  Whitlock’s Twitter-bio says, “The Wire explains my life perspective.” But this week, Jay-Z is a sellout for “willing to entertain the masses with n*gga tales.”

I tried, but I can’t just leave so many of Whitlock’s points un-checked. First of all, Jay-Z entrance in to the sports world isn’t new. He purchased a stake of the Nets (previously of New Jersey) and helped move them to Brooklyn.  His reported investment, netted him a 135% gain. Whitlock points out that, Jay didn't ask LeBron James to rap on his album. Right, well, this venture doesn't end with Jay playing shortstop for the Yankees. It’s the business side of sports. And Jay isn't doing this by himself. He didn't open up some office on 5th Ave, hire a secretary and start calling on his pals. He has a partner with more than a little experience in this world, Creative Artists Agency. They represent the likes of Timberlake, Hanks, Aniston, Springsteen, Kanye, Beckham, Manning, Jeter and Cruise.

This also isn’t Jay’s first foray into the business world.  There was his clothing line, Roc-A-Wear, which he sold for $204 million. He opened a few successful night clubs, 40/40. He has a partnership with Budweiser Select and was credited as the executive producer of NBA2K13.  As President of Def Jam Recordings, he helped launch the careers of Rihanna and Ne-Yo.  He has a partnership with a former music executive, Steve Stoute, in Translation Advertising, which had resulted in award winning advertising.

I’m not sure how Whitlock is able to talk out of both sides of his mouth, or type out both sides of his keyboard, and continue to be so well compensated.  In early July, Whitlock blamed our countries love of violence for Aaron Hernandez. He stated that modern athletes mimic rappers, carry guns and do drugs.  But just yesterday he tweeted about how great “The Wire” was. Calling some of the characters CEOs, debating who the smartest drug dealer was and justifying (fictional) murders.

Long ago, Jason Whitlock stopped being a journalist and started thinking of himself as a brand, a brand only concerned with selling itself. Much like the Kardashian’s he (rightfully) pokes fun at.  20 years ago, he defended hip-hop, now he rails against it. A week ago he called out a country for its love affair with gangsters, and yesterday he celebrated them.

Jason, go back to blocking for Jeff George. Because you know what I see?

I see a man without a country. Not hard enough for this right here and maybe, just maybe, not smart enough for them out there.