Jun 182013
 

Nick CelliniAtlanta sports radio station 790 The Zone has fired hosts Stephen “Steak” Shapiro, Nick Cellini, and Chris Dimino for an unbelievably tasteless skit taking shots at former former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who is battling Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

During the skit, the hosts staged a fictitious guest appearance by Gleason (performed by Cellini), pretending that Gleason was using a voice synthesizer to sound like Stephen Hawking. “Gleason” then went on to say, “I wish I could play”, “I may not be here on Thursday”, “Smother me… do me a favor”, and “I’m going to Hell” in a short skit that wouldn’t be funny even if the material wasn’t outrageous. Pro Football Talk (PFT) and other sites have shared a link to the “bit”, and I have listened to it. I’m not going to bother to share the link; you can find it if you want to, but it’s really not worth listening to.

For it’s part, the station first suspended the trio, then followed up with this statement: “We deeply regret the offensive programming that aired this morning on ‘Mayhem In The AM’ on 790 The Zone, related to former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason and his battle with ALS. We suspended the three individuals involved immediately following their comments and have since terminated their employment. 790 The Zone, our owners, sponsors and partners in no way endorse or support this kind of content. We sincerely apologize to Mr. Gleason, his family and all those touched by ALS.”

790 The Zone absolutely did the right thing in terminating these morons. And for anyone wishing to allege that this is political correctness run amuck, or that the hosts have the right of free speech, a couple of thoughts. First, some things aren’t funny; especially when they involve physical or mental ailments that a person cannot control. Whether it is Gleason’s ALS, or Rush Limbaugh shaking like a rag doll when making fun of Michael J. Fox, it’s just not funny. And sure, this is America and people can say what they want for the most part, but freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from responsibility. The radio station is a business driven by advertising, and the station was well aware of the fact that sponsors would likely walk (and should have) if the station did not take strong action. This was on company time, not personal time, and I am glad the station did the right thing. What remains to be seen now is whether or not these idiots get rewarded with a show on ESPN.

I hope I’m kidding.

Dec 202012
 

ParkerThe worldwide leader in sports has once again shown that it is anything but.

Rob Parker, the embattled ESPN personality who was “indefinitely” suspended by the network following his atrocious comments with regard to Robert Griffin III, will be re-instated by the network after a 30 day suspension, following Parker’s Twitter apology yesterday.

Here is Parker’s apology:

I blew it and I’m sincerely sorry. I completely understand how the issue of race in sports is a sensitive one and needs to be handled with great care. This past Thursday I failed to do that. I believe the intended topic is a worthy one. Robert’s thoughts about being an African-American quarterback and the impact of his phenomenal success have been discussed in other media outlets, as well as among sports fans, particularly those in the African-American community. The failure was in how I chose to discuss it on First Take, and in doing so, turned a productive conversation into a negative one. I regrettably introduced some points that I never should have and I completely understand the strong response to them, including ESPN’s reaction. Perhaps most importantly, the attention my words have brought to one of the best and brightest stars in all of sports is an unintended and troubling result. Robert Griffin III is a talented athlete who not only can do great things on the field, but off the field handles himself in a way we are all taught – with dignity, respect and pride. I’ve contacted his agent with hopes of apologizing to Robert directly. As I reflect on this and move forward, I will take the time to consider how I can continue to tackle difficult, important topics in a much more thoughtful manner.

This apology is a ridiculous farce, particularly given Parker’s conduct following his on-air statements. While I would be very tempted to give Parker the benefit of a doubt had Parker issued the apology within 24-48 hours of making his idiotic remarks, the fact is that Parker instead fully committed to his remarks in the days that followed, calling his critics “uneducated” and “silly.” It was only after Parker was suspended by ESPN, and likely upon being told that his prospects for future employment were looking dim, did Parker sit down with his agent and publicist to have other people write a statement for him that he truly does not believe in, but knows he has to say.

And, by the way Rob… are your agent and publicist black? Or are you just a “cornball?” Since it’s a fair question for you to ask, let’s see how you feel when the tables are turned?

Let’s look at some of Parker’s word choices.

Parker: I believe the intended topic is a worthy one.
Ghost Rat: What topic is that… cornball brothers versus real brothers? Please elaborate. Your “intended topic” was whether or not RG III was authentically “black enough” for you and your friends to hang out with. I am calling bullshit.

Parker: I regrettably introduced some points that I never should have and I completely understand the strong response to them, including ESPN’s reaction.
Ghost Rat: You completely understand? Based on what exactly? Your tweets in the days following made it clear that you were firmly convinced that you were right, and that the rest of us were idiots. And why mention ESPN’s response? Perhaps because that is what forced your public change of opinion. Hollow.

Parker: Robert Griffin III is a talented athlete who not only can do great things on the field, but off the field handles himself in a way we are all taught – with dignity, respect and pride.
Ghost Rat: If that is truly the case, why does his choice of relationship partner matter? Or his political views? Or the way he wears his hair? If you really felt this way about Griffin, you might have added that to your asinine comments on the air. And this comment is in direct conflict to your heartfelt opinion on First Take, in which you said:

“He’s not real. OK, he’s black, he kind of does the thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black but he’s not really, like, the guy you want to hang out with because he’s off to something else.”

He’s not real, you said. How is that comment compatible with RG III as someone who handles himself with dignity, respect, and pride?

ESPN issued the following statement regarding Parker’s relationship with the network:

ESPN has decided to suspend Rob Parker for 30 days for his comments made on last Thursday’s episode of First Take. Our review of the preparation for the show and the re-air has established that mistakes both in judgment and communication were made. As a direct result, clearly inappropriate content was aired and then re-aired without editing. Both were errors on our part. To address this, we have enhanced the editorial oversight of the show and have taken appropriate disciplinary measures with the personnel responsible for these failures. We will continue to discuss important issues in sports on First Take, including race. Debate is an integral part of sports and we will continue to engage in it on First Take. However, we believe what we have learned here and the steps we have taken will help us do all that better.

Three things are clear to me based on this statement. First, the ESPN editors and ombuds are asleep at the wheel. Last month, the Poynter Review Project concluded 18 months of observing ESPN’s activities. Kelly McBride and Jason Fry authored a compelling and critical column drawing six important conclusions about the network and the way it operates. ESPN’s decision to keep Parker is tone deaf. The comment by Robert Griffin III that precipitated the conversation was Griffin’s comment that,

For me, you don’t ever want to be defined by the color of your skin. You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I strive [for]. I am an African American, in America, and that will never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that.

Parker used that statement to accuse RG III of trying to “(distance) himself away from black people”, when in fact RG III did nothing of the sort. He was simply making the point that his accomplishments are the result of his character and his work ethic rather than a product of his skin color, and he is absolutely right.

Second, ESPN is employing an inconsistent standard with respect to comments over ethnicity. Rush Limbaugh, a white “personality”, was rightly fired by ESPN for awful and stupid comments about Donovan McNabb. So why does a black “personality” get to make racist comments about a black quarterback and get to keep his job? Why is that acceptable? How are racist comments any better coming from a black man who is just as ignorant as Rush?

Finally, it is very clear to me that ESPN will continue to allow its on-air personalities to make mistakes like this over and over, and there will be no real accountability. Removing Parker for 30 days accomplishes nothing. But giving Parker a pink slip would make it clear that while race (or more accurately, ethnicity) is a part of any societal conversation, on air personalities have no right to pass personal judgments based on their own “uneducated” and “silly” points of view. It is an insult to the person being judged, to the viewers, and to society as a whole.

Dec 142012
 

Rob ParkerI’ve recently foregone the comfort of cable television in my quest to leap as far off the grid as humanly possible, so when a colleague shared with me a text snippet of Rob Parker’s comments, I was totally unaware. As I went online to view the actual clips I was floored. Parker, in his role on ESPNs First Take, was asked to comment on statements made by RG3 on December 12th. At a press conference RG3 said:

“You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I strive [for]. I am an African American, in America, and that will never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that.”

Parker, when asked his view on those comments, openly shared his thoughts:

Parker’s comments, as asinine as I believe them to be, reflect a perspective that is unfortunately common to many people and sadly many of the African-Americans who are most damaged by this belief. The idea of there being a “real” African-American experience, was born out of a culture of subjugation, popularized by media and perpetuated by those who view it as a badge of honor. In this view male Blackness is about a hyper-masculinity that dictates how one should dress, what music you like, who you should socialize and date, how you wear your hair (because braids are so urban!) how you speak and how you engage in the political process (or if you should engage at all). That fact that these ideas are out there didn’t surprise me and given Parker’s history of dumbassery, the messenger was also not a surprise.

To me the comments of Stephen A. Smith are the more telling. Normally bombastic, incendiary and often stupid, Stephen A. is not known for restraint, but he almost eloquently stated a very simple yet profound concept; how RG3 lives his life is none of our business. Now with that said, I found it interesting that Stephen A. did not take a more aggressive stance (in line with the nature of the show) in repudiating what Parker had just said. I believe that Stephen A. was: A) a stunned that Parker just screwed up so badly and B) unsure of how to respond because as unpopular as it is, he knew Parker was speaking to something that many folks think. Smith was clear to state:

” …he can live his life. I don’t judge someone’s blackness based on those kinds of things. I just don’t do that. I’m not that kind of guy.”

With the unsaid implication being that I know there are those folks out there but I’m not one of them. A smart move, because I have to believe Parker will be radioactive for a while.

What I hope happens is that athletes, media personalities and other journalists line up and verbally eviscerate Parker. He needs to be an example of what happens when any one person sets him/herself up as the arbiter of any race/culture/ethnicity, especially when that person is coming from a place of pure, uninformed opinion. I am interested to watch the response from the worldwide leader. They have the power to make this issue go away partially by ignoring it. For better or worse ESPN makes sports news and if they don’t give it air then it might fall quickly out of prominence. If nothing else hopefully pieces like this will keep the discussion alive. And remind Parker that he does not speak for anyone but himself.

Nov 272012
 

It’s been a while since I have penned a Rat’s Lair piece. This has been more a function of lacking time than of lacking material.

As we enter Week 13 the stretch for the post-season is heating up, and we are down to a finite number of clubs battling it out over the last remaining spots. All of this, of course, is barring an absolute collapse by any of the leaders, and if this season has taught us anything it is that there are no givens in the NFL. Still, the AFC divisional races look close to decided, as do three of the four divisional races in the NFC. Chicago and Green Bay are battling it out in the North, but both are flawed squads right now fighting a battle of attrition. I don’t expect either to represent the conference in February.

Looking at Playoff Predictions

It’s fun to go back and look at what we said at the beginning of the season, both individually and as a site. Personally, I had the following seedings in each conference, which are followed by the actual current seeds in (parenthesis).

AFC
1. New England (Houston)
2. Denver (Baltimore)
3. Baltimore (New England)
4. Houston (Denver)
5. Buffalo (Indianapolis)
6. Tennessee (Pittsburgh)

NFC
1. San Francisco (Atlanta)
2. Green Bay (San Francisco)
3. New York Giants (Chicago)
4. New Orleans (New York Giants)
5. Chicago (Green Bay)
6. Philadelphia (Seattle)

In the AFC, I nailed the division winners (to date), but not the order, while crashing entirely on the wildcard teams. Both Buffalo and Tennessee showed me enough last season and in the off-season to lead me to think that they would both contend, but both have under-achieved, while Indy has surprised nearly everyone in making itself relevant so soon after the changing of the guard. Pittsburgh continues to hang on in the playoff race, but they are vulnerable. The Bengals might well overtake them if they keep playing the way that they are.

In the NFC, I again hit the division winners in New York and San Francisco (in all likelihood), and still expect the Packers to overcome the Bears, though I had both going to the playoffs. I knew Atlanta had the potential to take the South, but I got so used to Atlanta not performing to its potential that I just couldn’t bring myself to predict their rise; I have been burned before by the Falcons. The Eagles’ collapse is even worse than last season, and it is time to conclude that Andy Reid is never going to win it all in Philly. Seattle is barely hanging on, and I suspect that Tampa Bay could push them from their sixth spot.

So right now I look to be on track to have pegged eight of the twelve post-season teams, which seems no better and no worse with many of the “football experts” in the media. My pick for a Patriots-49ers Super Bowl is actually looking pretty good right now, though my championship games (New England v. Baltimore and San Francisco v Green Bay) are possible but not likely. I will endeavor to do better next season, of course, but feel pretty good about this for my first season putting this in the public eye.

Four our site picks this season, the seedings went as follows:

AFC
1. New England (Houston)
2. Houston (Baltimore)
3. Baltimore (New England)
4. Denver (Denver)
5. Pittsburgh (Indianapolis)
6. Buffalo (Pittsburgh

NFC
1. Green Bay (Atlanta)
2. San Francisco (San Francisco)
3. New York Giants (Chicago)
4. New Orleans (New York Giants)
5. Chicago (Green Bay)
6. Philadelphia (Seattle)

Once again, we got sucked in by Buffalo and Philadelphia, though our site pick of a 49ers-Patriots Super Bowl is still within reach. Our championship games of New England v. Denver and San Francisco v. Green Bay are not looking likely, but again are still possible. None of us picked Indianapolis to win more than six games this season.

Stoopid Human Tricks
And now on to the stoopid (yes, I know it is spelled s-t-u-p-i-d) human tricks that I lured you in with…

1. Ndamukong Suh and Merton Hanks
Suh’s intentional kick of Matt Ryan in their Thanksgiving Day game was simply atrocious and unconscionable. Yes, football is a violent game, but intentionally kicking someone in the groin shouldn’t net a suspension? That was the decision of Merton Hanks, who serves as the NFL’s Vice President fr Football Operations. My guess is that this has less to do with Suh’s actions than it does with the fact that the NFL’s one game suspension of Ed Reed was overturned on appeal. The shot that Reed got suspended for was not more vicious than what he had delivered previously, but the suspensions was in the spirit of progressive discipline, or in this case a “lifetime achievement award” for Reed’s head-hunting. As a result, the NFL seems gun-shy and is trying to create decisions that are appeal proof, rather than simply making the right decision.

2. Tank Carder and Ignorant NFL fans
Just like I bashed Brandon Spikes for an ignorant tweet, now the microscope moves to Tank Carder, the rookie linebacker for the Cleveland Browns. When someone posted a comment on his Twitter account that Carder didn’t like, he responded by tweeting that the person was a “faggot.” Smooth move, Tank. Tank then had the courage of his (misguided) convictions when he defended his remark by posting, “Haters gon hate cause that’s what they do, haters don’t give respect where it should be given so I’m done arguing with you fools.” Of course that only lasted until the Browns’ brass got to him. The tweet was removed and the next day Carder issued an apology, stating that he “did not in any way mean to offend anyone” and that the tweet doesn’t define him as a person. I take exception with the whole “didn’t mean to offend” nonsense, but I agree with Carder on this last point. I hope he will wake up to the fact that he is serving as a representative of a professional organization and league, and he should conduct himself accordingly. I will score a point to the Cleveland Browns franchise, who seemingly had the good sense to rein him in, which is more than the Patriots did with Spikes.

What gets me more riled up is the amount of ignorance in the NFL fan base in general (and society as a whole). In too many “comments” sections on too many sites, I kept reading that our society has become too “politically correct”, which in my view has become the popular way to defend indefensible comments and actions. As I have made clear previously, joking about an historically oppressed group only serves to reinforce the oppression and to normalize it. Moreover, many fans found that his need to issue an apology meant that the Browns had somehow violated Carder’s right to free speech. If you are one of the people who truly believes this, let me offer you a little lesson in civics. The First Amendment only applies to governmental suppression of speech. It does not apply to private companies, which the Cleveland Browns are. If the Browns did lean on Carder to apologize and to behave himself, then that is their right as a private entity, since Carder is a representative of that entity. And in this case there is none of the bogus claim that he was speaking as a private citizen. People are only following Carder as a function of his celebrity and his affiliation with a professional football franchise. Thus, his “right” to say what he wants on Twitter isn’t nearly as absolute as some people want to believe it. To those who say that isn’t fair, it’s life. Carder doesn’t have to play pro football, and doesn’t have to affiliate himself with the Cleveland Browns.

3. Brodrick Bunkley

On a similar note, the NFL will also not suspend Saints’ defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley for intentionally kicking 49ers’ offensive lineman Alex Boone in the head during their Week 12 showdown, won 31-21 by San Francisco.  This move was about as “punkish” as any we see in the NFL, and I suspect a very stiff fine is in order after Bunkley was penalized for unsportsmanline conduct and tossed from the game.  The play was described as being “uncharacteristic” of the seventh year pro, who has seen time with the Eagles, Broncos, and Saints.

4. Fireman Ed and New York Jets’ fans

On Thursday night, Fireman Ed, the famed Jets’ fan who has led Jets’ cheers and jeers for many years, left the game at halftime and deleted his Twitter account. But then Fireman Ed declared that he was calling it quits as an unofficial team mascot. Instead, Ed Anzalone will continue to attend games, but no longer dressed for the part, after too many run-ins with other New York Jets fans.

In a way, I can sympathize with Anzalone. It’s not pleasant to be a lightning rod for angry, drunken fans. If you don’t believe me, try wearing a Red Sox cap to Wrigley Field (what a bunch of crazy drunks… it’s not like we’re even rivals). But by going out after a beatdown by the hated Patriots, it only ends up making Anzalone look like a sore loser and a bad sport.

Still, let’s be honest that home field advantage is an interesting concept for the Jets. Yes, they can loudly spell the word J-E-T-S (but only if they are all working together on it), but let’s take a quick look at what the New York Jets faced as they went into the locker room at halftime last Thursday night:

That’s right… stay classy, Jets’ fans. My favorite two comments in that barrage were “Tebow, save us” and “Don’t even come out after halftime.” You know, Jets’ fans, if you want to be honest about how you feel, try chanting “Y-E-T-S! Yets! Yets! Yets!” for each kickoff. This fan base is about as fair weather as it gets, and demonstrates why the Giants will own New York/New Jersey for a long time to come.

That’s all for this edition.

Oct 112012
 

Why do I have a feeling that this is going to be a recurring subject line in the Rat’s Lair?

Regular readers will recall that a couple of months ago (August 15 to be exact), I went after Chad Johnson, Robert Griffin III, and Mohamed Massaquoi for stupid things that each had said/done. Johnson was coming off the head-butting incident with his wife, Griffin had uttered the word “retarded” in a post-game conference, and Massaquoi decided Pat Shurmer is too old to be cool. Had Massaquoi gone after Shumrmer’s coaching abilities, I might have agreed with him, but he was picking on Shurmer for being too old to get “Twiter.”

Which brings us to today’s column, and my assertion that maybe some players should not be allowed to use Twitter.

Let me start with a disclaimer, before Patriots’ fans start sounding off. I have been a Patriots’ fan far longer than most of you have been alive. I was born in 1963 and became a Patriots’ fan in 1975. That means I have been religiously following the Patriots for 37 of my 49 years. I suffered through all of the dark times with the team and the fans in the 1970s, watched our team reach the Super Bowl in the 1980s only to get blown out by the Bears, and then to return a decade later and lose what was a winnable Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers. I watched as Bill Parcells threw his fit and went the Jets, and then endured three years of Pete Carroll being a nice guy but an ineffective head coach before Bill Belichick took the reins and turned everything around. He was the person who helped Robert Kraft realize the dream he had when purchasing the team, and the Patriots’ have enjoyed nearly unparalleled success during the Belichick era.

So for those of you who may disagree with what I am about to write, you should probably resist the urge to call me a “bandwagon fan” or otherwise impugn my loyalty to the organization. I am as loyal to the laundry as anyone is, but when I see players acting stupidly, I will call it out. And when those players are Patriots, I will take personal offense, because that is not what the Patriots’ organization is known for, nor what it expects from its players and coaches.

With that said, let’s move on to our not-so-illustrious winner of the newly named Just Shut ‘Yer Mouth Award.

Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots

To offer some back story, last year Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski was engaged in a conversation with his brother Chris via Twitter. At one point in the conversation, Gronk referred to something his brother had said as “that’s so gay”, a not uncommon insult in our society. I (and presumably others) tweeted back to Gronk that the use of the term wasn’t cool, and I noted it did not represent the Patriots well. Gronk did not respond to me personally, but did immediately remove the tweet and end the discussion. I must admit I was a little ticked at Gronk, but was also willing to chalk it up to Gronk being young and not completely understanding how his words mattered. Yes, it was a conversation with his brother, but he was choosing to have it in a forum he knew was being viewed by many thousands of people. Bad choice, but Gronk learned, and I have never seen another tweet like that from him again; he got it.

Enter Brandon Spikes. Yesterday he thought he was being funny when he posted the following tweet:

I’m homophobic just like I’m arachnophobic.I have nothing against homosexuals or spiders but I’d still scream if I found one in my bathtub !

On the whole, this comment is not necessarily an anti-gay slur, but it certainly suggests a particular perspective on the part of Mr. Spikes. I should note that while Spikes is known to be a fiercely-hitting linebacker for the Pats, he is widely regarded off the field as a nice guy and gentleman. He is also a frequent jokester on Twitter, and many of his jokes are considered funny but offensive. But judging from some of his other tweets, I also know him to be socially aware, whether he is posting on it being national Stop Bullying Month, or noting inappropriate comments of a legislator in Arkansas on the issue of slavery. My point is that Spikes isn’t stupid. I can appreciate that he thinks (as he later wrote) that this was just a joke, but perhaps Spikes can begin to appreciate that the subject matter of the joke was wholly unnecessary.

Some of the responses to his tweet were very direct.
From Tyler Taake:

Gay jokes, how clever…remember you are a rode model for kids around the world. October is also anti-bullying month.

From Alden Morris:

Your homophobic jokes make me as a New England Patriots fan for most of my life ashamed. I hope the Patriots suspend you.

and…

Its a game that represents a product of integrity making homophobic jokes as a professional is a disgrace to that product.

My own tweet to Spikes was direct but not insulting:

Really dude? Love you as a player, but kill the joke-telling. (Note: Here is a screen shot of the Tweet, captured after Spikes protected his account)

My point in making that comment was to get Spikes to consider whether or not the joke that he thought was funny really needed to be told in the Twitter environment.

Spikes’ reaction to my tweet suggested otherwise:

Bite me!!

Bite me? Really?

My response…

Gronk at least had the good sense to learn from tweeting about gays. Check in with him about that.

Predictably, many of the tweets were highly supportive of Spikes’ ability to make that comment and to not conform to the “pc” agenda, and those of us who were critical must be “haters”. But let’s look at the quality of that crowd, shall we?

One direct reply to me came from Brad (BradGeez23):

shu up you gay rat

Wow… how can you argue with logic like that?

Here’s news for you, Mr. Spikes; if that is the quality of the person you are being defended by in this instance, you might want to reconsider the company you keep, or at least the content of the messages that you post in a public forum.

This incident just confirms my belief that the NFL is not ready for gay players to “come out” in a public way, despite the hopeful and well-intentioned wishes of Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe. There is not only open hostility and judgment in NFL locker rooms and among the fan base, but also the equally destructive under current of joking that either reinforces intolerance or that reinforces the idea that it’s ok to joke publicly about a subordinated group of people in our society.

For those who see this as an issue of free speech, yes Mr. Spikes has the right to say what he thinks and believes. But what most people fail to point out after making a free speech claim is that Mr. Spikes also has to now face the consequences of his communication. And telling that joke, as a public representative of the New England Patriots, invites an entirely different level of scrutiny and accountability than if the same joke was tweeted by a private citizen speaking on his or her own behalf and without a visible affiliation to his or her employer. Freedom to speak does not equal freedom to speak without consequences.

To be clear, though not that it matters, I don’t have a personal stake in this fight. I am not gay and have no idea what it means to be gay. But being committed to a world that is socially just means fighting for what is what is right for all in society, not just for those who benefit from privilege. I don’t have to have a personal stake in this to speak out publicly when I perceive that a public figure (which Mr. Spikes is) is using his public profile as a representative of a professional organization to communicate a poor joke about gays. Mr. Spikes, I ask you to substitute the words “black guys” for “homosexuals”, put the words in a tweet from a white guy, and ask yourself how you would feel.

It is my intent to communicate this article both to Mr. Spikes and to the Patriots’ organization. It is my hope that Mr. Spikes will reconsider whether or not this comment was consistent with his representation of the New England Patriots’ organization, and that he will correct his course on this unfortunate event. I would hope that Mr. Spikes would do this on his own rather than at the behest of the organization, but in any event I believe Mr. Spikes owes an apology not only for the comment, but for his reaction to the fans who took him to task. I am also extending a direct and personal offer to Mr. Spikes to respond on this site, without editing of any kind, so that he can broadcast any message that he would like to convey. I will update this post if he chooses to do so.

Mr. Spikes is young and still has lessons to learn about being a public figure, and for that I am willing to extend my forgiveness as a fan if he can accept responsibility for his actions. If not, Mr. Spikes will simply serve as an unfortunate confirmation of stereotypes that exist about professional athletes. I hope that Mr. Spikes recognizes this choice and acts accordingly.

UPDATE (10/12/12) – Michael David Smith at Pro Football Talk has weighed in on this matter as well. Good article.

Sep 072012
 

Editor’s Note: With the exception of PFT, most football sites will not be inclined to carry this story, but since we are primarily educators who happen to run an NFL fan blog, this is exactly the kind of story we are interested in. And while this site will not take positions in elections, or identify as a right or left leaning site, party affiliation is a natural part of this particular story. Never the less, Gridiron Rats does not endorse any political party or candidate.

Brendon Ayanbadejo is a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and is a three-time Pro Bowler. He has maintained an active political presence, advocating for passage of the FIT Kids Act and for the legalizing of same sex marriage. This latter point in itself is not newsworthy, as gay marriage is a hotly-debated topic in our society. Many conservatives have even begun to recognize gay marriage as a civil rights issue, and a generational divide seems to have been created among conservatives over the acceptance of gay marriage, with the younger generation being far more tolerant of different lifestyles.

Yet Ayanbadejo’s views have drawn the wrath of one Maryland legislator, who has gone as far as to ask the Ravens to shut him up. Maryland house of delegates member Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore County, wrote the following letter to Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens on August 29:

Dear Mr. Bisciotti:

As a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens Football fan, I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendan Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically, as a Raven Football player. many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other. Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.

I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.

Please give me your immediate response.

Sincerely,

Emmett C. Burns

I have several reactions to this letter.

First, Mr. Burns has CAPITALIZATION issues. Sir, if you are a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly, please learn how to write a business letter.

Second, and far more seriously, I am utterly appalled (to use Mr. Burns’ term) that a government official would seek to deprive a citizen of their right to free speech. It is universally understood that Mr. Ayanbadejo was speaking as an individual and not as a representative of the organization. The fact that he has a higher profile than most citizens does not mean that he sacrifices his right to free speech. If Mr. Burns in unable to comprehend that simply reality, then I must question his fitness for public service.

Third, Mr. Burns’ letter is transparent in its bigotry, given Mr. Burns’ vote against the Civil Marriage Protection Act, a law allowing same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license in Maryland. And if Mr. Burns’ was truly concerned for representing his constituency, as a Democrat, then he might want to consider his party’s own platform stance on gay marriage. Simply put, this was a narcissistic attempt to shut someone down that he doesn’t agree with.

Ayanbadejo’s response to the controversy has been incredibly professional. “Just what our country was founded on, for someone to try to take that away from me, I was pretty surprised that something like that would come up, especially from a politician,” Ayanbadejo said. Regarding his political view, Ayanbadejo is unapologetic. “I just thought it was important because it’s an equality issue. I see the big picture,” Ayanbadejo said. “You know, there was a time when women didn’t have rights, black people didn’t have rights, and right now, gay rights is a big issue and it has been for a long time. And so we’re slowly chopping down the barriers to equality. We have some minority rights we have to get straight and some gay rights, then we’ll be on our way — because ultimately, the goal is to be the best country that we can be and we’re always evolving. You just look back to where we came from, and we’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.”

The response of the Baltimore Ravens has been commendable. Team President Dick Cass issued a statement stating, “We support Brendon’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.” It’s both heartening and sad that a football team president gets that concept better than a state legislator.

Ayanbadejo said that Cass has been equally supportive of Ayanbadejo in private. According to Ayanbadejo, “He [said], ‘We’re in support of you, and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel… But Dick personally told me that we’re not an organization that discriminates…”

At the end of the day, this Patriots’ fan is proud of the way that the Baltimore Ravens have handled this situation and even more proud of Brendon Ayanbadejo for speaking his mind about an important issue in our society. He has been nothing but professional and respectful, and there is a certain state legislator in Maryland who could learn an awful lot from Ayanbadejo’s character.

UPDATE: Vikings’ punter Chris Kluwe, always known to be a colorful character has written a brilliant response to Mr. Burns. It is hysterical.  The letter is jam-packed with sarcasm, of which this is my favorite little gem:

Kluwe: “I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”

Well said, Chris. Well said.

 

Aug 012012
 

For the record, I love Robert Kraft. He is an icon in the national Football League. As a business magnate, he moved from a frustrated fan of the eternally under-achieving New England Patriots to become the team’s owner and lead the team to a dramatic rebirth that has led to three Super Bowl titles and six appearances during his tenure. Beyond the New England franchise, Kraft has been acknowledged as an owner with the best interests of the game in mind. During last season’s lockout, it was Kraft who helped break the impasse, even being credited by Packers (then Colts) center Jeff Saturday as the man who saved football.

Kraft’s blueprint for the Patriots has also included a blueprint for appropriate behavior, along with harsh sanctions for stepping out of bounds of what has become known as The Patriot Way. He hired Bill Belichick to be a tough disciplinarian, and the streets around Gillette Stadium have a well-worn path indicating the departures of players who could not get with the program. Terry Glenn, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Asante Samuel, Adalius Thomas, Brandon Meriweather, and most recently Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth and Chad Johnson, all provide examples of players who did not display the work ethic or self-control that has come to be expected of Patriots’ players, or who decided to air their grievances with New England’s business model in public. Even current receiver Deion Branch found himself on the outside with his demand for more money, but Branch eventually determined that it was his chemistry with Brady in New England that was the cause of his success, and Branch was able to navigate a return back to Foxboro. Wes Welker is now running the same risk of being cast out of New England after an offseason of public grumbling on his contract status.

This offseason was also known as the “Summer of Gronk”, after star tight end Rob Gronkowski became one of the most followed celebrities from the NFL. Gronk began the offseason with his infamous dancing act following the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, and his other claims to fame have included being photographed with a porn star who was wearing his jersey, being photographed with an allegedly underage girl who claimed to have had sex with Gronk, co-hosting “Access Hollywood Live”, appearing nude in an ESPN publication, and partying it up both for the ESPN photo spread and for the ESPYs. Even your very own Ghost Rat had an encounter with Gronk in the offseason, catching Gronk using a gay slur in Twitter and calling him out before the tweet was taken down moments later. This culmination of activities has allegedly led the Patriots brass (presumably through Belichick) to bring Gronk back down to earth, reminding him that the team is more important than the individual, and that he should be curbing his extracurricular activities now that the new season is at hand. And Gronk will undoubtedly get the message and resume being a beast only on the field, at least until the season is over.

While I am not one to find wisdom in the adage that “boys will be boys”, it is nonetheless tempting to excuse most of Gronk’s behavior as good-natured child’s play being carried out by a guy who at least resembles the stereotype of a dumb jock. Gronk is 23 years old, is a top athlete in prime physical condition, and has women throwing themselves at him on (likely) a daily basis. What young football player would want more, especially on the heels of being awarded an 8 year, $55 million contract? Gronk is excited, he is popular, and he is damn good at what he does on the football field, so it stands to reason that some of this just might go to his head.

But what of Robert Kraft?

The 71 year old owner of the Patriots has been repeatedly in the public presence of 32 year old actress Ricki Noel Lander. Kraft, of course, last year lost his wife of 48 years Myra Kraft, who was a champion of service and charity, and the key driving force behind the Patriots being one of the most charitable NFL teams. While everyone deserves to find happiness and Kraft owes no explanations for dating a woman less than half his age, the appearance of a raucous video tape featuring cursing and really bad acting between the two then surfaced on the internet, causing many to think, “What the hell has happened to this guy?” (see clips here) When the video first surfaced, I was one of many fans who was tempted to simply brush it off as silly and bizarre. But it did not sit well with me in the days that followed, simply because of the glaring inconsistency with what Kraft has demanded of his own franchise.

Kraft later issued a statement responding to the video. It read, ““I tried to help Ricki prepare an audition tape for an upcoming Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson comedy by reading Wilson’s lines. I never intended that it would be made public and I regret that it has. I think we can all agree that Owen Wilson has nothing to worry about. I am going to stick to my day job.”

And that is where this has essentially ended, except in the hearts of Patriots’ fans who are uncomfortable with the video, possibly on several levels. While it is just fine for Kraft to move on with his life after the passing of Myra Kraft, doing so with Lander comes across as a desperate late life grab for youth, and is inconsistent with the image that Kraft has worked so hard to create for both himself and his organization. And yes, it was a private tape, not intended for public consumption. But Kraft has been in the public eye long enough to know that nothing is ever really private. Just ask Brett Favre.

While many correctly believe that Kraft’s ignoring of the tape will make the problem go away, buried under millions of other YouTube clips that grab our daily attention, it’s not the hearts of America that Kraft needs to be concerned with; rather, it is the hearts of the Patriot faithful who want the owner to display the same consistency that he expects from his coaches and from his players. Kraft has gone from speaking about Myra with tears in his eyes to, as one Boston columnist put it, looking like a “sad, silly, all sexed-up old fool.”

Kraft has the right to conduct himself that way if he so chooses. But perhaps if the Patriots want Gronk to keep himself in check during the season, the team’s owner will see fit to set the bar a bit higher this season. After all, Kraft isn’t 23 years old anymore, and he hasn’t been for a very long time.

Jun 122012
 

I have never been a fan of Terrell Owens. I say this with no spite, anger, or personal animosity toward the man. Instead, I’ve reached my conclusion based on nothing more than observation and fact. My first exposure to Owens was during his now infamous midfield touchdown celebration at Cowboys Stadium. At the time (i.e. prior to YouTube), it was the most selfish act of immaturity and poor sportsmanship I had seen. In his subsequent moves to the Eagles, the Cowboys, his cup of coffee with the Bills, the Bengals, and lest we not forget the Allen Wranglers, neither Owens on the field performance nor off the field shenanigans gave me reason to respect him as an athlete or a man.

On May 8, 2012, Owens took his carnival act to the set of the Dr. Phil Show where he was confronted by three women, each alleging he fathered their child and was delinquent in paying child support. As the show progressed, a tearful Owens confessed had fathered four children with four different women, owed $20,000, $13,400, $11,200, and $5,000 respectively in monthly child support payments, and was nearly broke after having poorly invested or squandered almost all of the $80 million he earned during his professional career.

For those of us who follow professional sports with any degree of regularity, Owens story isn’t new. In fact, for us cynics, Owens situation does nothing more than make him an honorable mention for the NFL Frequent Impregnator Team. Should you have forgotten the starting line up allow me to refresh your memory. Team captain, Travis Henry, once a stand out running back for the Buffalo Bills, has sired eleven children with ten different women. Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie is believed to have fathered nine children by eight women in six different states. Cromartie’s child support obligations became such a financial burden the Jets gave him a $500,000 advance on his new contract. Ray Lewis is rumored to have six children with four different women but you didn’t hear that from me. I want to live. Former Lions wide out, Charles Rogers allegedly has five children by four women, none of which were conceived on a Sunday or Monday. I know this because I watched a lot of NFC North football during Roger’s playing days and not once did I see him produce on Sunday afternoon or Monday night. (Hey, hey!)

NFL athletes are not alone when it comes to finding themselves in these circumstances. Similar examples can be easily found throughout the world of sports. Professional boxer Evander Holyfield, for instance, has 42 wins, 10 losses, 2 draws, 1 and ½ ears, and 11 children (9 illegitimate). Former NBA player and current Milwaukee Bucks coach, Scott Skiles, is thought to have six illegitimate children. MLB journeyman Vlad Guerrero has four kids by four women.

Moral judgments aside, having a child is expensive. Having multiple children with multiple partners is crazy expensive. In State of Illinois, the minimum child support payment for one child is 20% of the supporting parent’s net income. Two children is 28%. Three children is 32%. Four kids equals 40%, 5 kids is 45%, and 6 or more children is 50%. Again, these percentages are the minimum and rarely the court ordered norm, especially for a professional athlete. Regardless if you’re making $10.5 million a season or $10.50 an hour, child support obligations can create a substantial financial burden no matter the lifestyle.

Couple these financial demands with bad investments, frivolous spending, predatory friends/family members, and ill-qualified “financial advisors” and it is no wonder Sports Illustrated found that 78% of NFL players are bankrupt or insolvent two years after they are out of the league.

There is no better illustration of this point than former Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister. In 2004, McAlister signed a seven-year, $55 million dollar contract extension. Unemployed since 2009, today McAlister lives in his parent’s home unable to financially support himself, let alone pay the $11,000 monthly child support obligation to his ex-wife.

While the repeated acts of bad judgment by Owens, Henry, Cromartie, and others grab the headlines, let us not allow the circumstances of a few taint our perception of the whole. For a vast majority of professional football players, the typical talk around an NFL locker room is in many ways no different than the typical talk around the office coffee machine. Fortunately for us desk jockeys, Bob from Accounting shows up to work in a pair of khakis and tie, not an ill-fitting bath towel and flip-flops.

As long as there is someone to listen, fathers in both work environments will boast to one another about their son’s little league team, their daughter’s ballet recital, or their baby’s most recent developmental milestone. They will conspire with each other how to scare 15 year old boys away from their 13 year old daughters, brain storm on ways to still be “cool” in the eyes of their teenaged sons, and, most importantly, show up to work each day in an effort to provide for their children out of sense of personal responsibility and love, not because a television psychologist says so.

Flip Stricland will be a monthly contributor to GiR, and is a professional football meteorologist.