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 162012

Josh BrentAs the unfortunate story of Josh Brent and Jerry Brown begins to fade from public view, I happened to read an article from Brent’s hometown newspaper, The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois). On the day after Brown’s remains were put to rest in St. Louis following his death in a car driven by teammate and close friend Brent, who was highly intoxicated at the time of the crash, sports columnist Randy Kindred attempted to make the point that we should not be giving up on Brent as a person.

It’s a fair enough point. But the conclusions that Kindred reached, and the way he got there, smell of hometown apologist.

You can read the entire column here, but let me pick apart what I consider to be some poor points in Kindred’s reasoning.

Kindred begins the piece recapping the hard luck story of Brent, whose mother was struck by a disability. Brent was taken in by the family of Michael Hoomanawanui, a tight end for the New England Patriots who also has Central Illinois roots. Brent went to Champaign after high school to play for the University of Illinois. After three years with the Illini, Brent entered the supplemental draft and was chosen by the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he was in his third season and beginning to emerge prior to the car wreck that ended Brown’s life and forever changed his own.

Kindred writes, “…while it is easy to pile on the 6-2, 320-pound Brent, particularly in light of a 2009 drunken driving conviction while at Illinois, you should know that this is not a malicious or horrible guy.” As if that is relevant. I am sure that prisons are full of people that are not inherently “malicious or evil” but who rather made awful decisions that led to the injury or deaths of others. It is not “piling on” to demand accountability for poor behavior, particularly when that poor behavior is not a first time occurrence. We all make mistakes, and there should be tolerance for those mistakes, and patience for us to grow as human beings. But when those mistakes are repeated, and affect other people, then I believe it is fair for our tolerance to be reduced.

Kindred writes that we should not give up on Brent as a person. Perhaps instead of using the term “let’s”, Kindred should stick to speaking for himself. I have no connection to Brent, and no real stake in whether or not his years on this planet are productive or wasteful. What I am concerned with is raising children, children that I do not want to see injured or killed by people making decisions like the one Brent made. His coming time in prison, which is richly deserved, means that there is no chance that he will harm my children or any others by getting behind the wheel of a car while effectively incapacitated. Brent has previously served a 60 day jail sentence for drunk driving, and had plenty of resources available to him to both address any drinking issues he has, as well as alternatives to driving while under the influence. As Adam “Pacman” Jones, who is no stranger to reckless behavior, indicated last week, the NFL “does a great job offering resources. We just don’t use them. I know I didn’t use mine when I was younger… This happens to a lot of young guys who come into the league. The first four years happen so fast, you never really get to catch up and realize the resources you have.”

Jones is right that the NFL is trying to address substance issues, and offers resources for its players to be successful. It is also up to the players to take advantage of them. As someone who works very directly with people who make bad decisions, I can attest to the fact that we can provide all of the resources in the world, but they mean nothing if people fail to take advantage of them. There is a responsibility on all of our parts to be personally accountable for our issues before those issues negatively impact the lives of others, something Brent failed to do despite ample warning. That should be the real lesson of this tragic story.

Kindred then states, “(W)hen his grades forced him out of the NFL after three seasons (at Illinois)…” as though the grades are some independent and self-guided third party that made a conscious decision to kick Brent out of school. Let me re-write this one for you, Randy… “When Brent failed to meet academic standards at the University of Illinois, he was forced to leave school and chose to enter the Supplemental Draft.” Brent’s grades are not independent of him, but rather a direct reflection of his academic performance. Perhaps if Brent spent more time focusing on his academics, and less time drinking, both the 2009 conviction and his fateful 2012 crash could simply be a part of some alternate Universe, rather than the one we live in. Brent made his decisions, and has no one to thank but himself for that. I know that the University of Illinois offers academic resources, as well as resources to address life issues such as alcohol use; did Brent take advantage of those?

Finally, Kindred makes the same mistake that many others have made over the past week, in linking Brent to Brown’s family, and his mother’s decision to include him in Brown’s memorial. Brown’s mother has stated that she has forgiven Brent, but let’s be clear that this is not absolution for Brent. In fact, this has far more to do with Brown’s mother than it does with seeing the good in Brent. By forgiving Brent, she is absolving herself of guilt and regret in which she otherwise might be consumed. And this forgiveness says far more about her character than it does about Brent’s. It does not negate his decision to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car. It does not wipe away the accident that cost Jerry Brown his life. And it does not mean that Brent should not spend several years in prison as a punishment for his crimes. It simply means that she is a strong person who knows what she needs to do in order to get through daily life. Frankly, I will openly admit that she is a better person than I; I am not sure that losing one of my children due to someone else’s recklessness wouldn’t poison my soul. I hope I never have the opportunity to test that theory.

So, to answer Mr. Kindred, no… society as a whole should not be giving up on Mr. Brent. But he has now placed himself in a place where he must pay for his crimes and hopefully rehabilitate himself along the way. And maybe Brent will become the feel good story of 2018, having served his time, turned his life around, and be out spreading a positive message to youth and helping other people not to repeat his own mistakes. Certainly he has the potential to serve as a deterrent to other NFL players who find themselves with similar decisions to make. I genuinely hope Brent gets his life on track, as I believe that we are all greater than the sum of our mistakes. But it seems to be way too early to be having the conversation about Josh Brent and his salvation. It’s too early to move past the awful repercussions of his actions, and the consequences that they must bear.

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.

Dec 112012

Stacee McWilliams was a witness to the aftermath of the accident in which Cowboys’ practice squad player Jerry Brown was killed in a car driven by Cowboys’ defensive lineman Josh Brent.

Describing the scene following the crash, McWilliams said the car initially had a small fire and she believed that Brent was the only person involved. She was relieved to know that no one was hurt and that help was on the way. But as the car began to become engulfed in flames, McWilliams heard Brown calling out for help from within the car, and she confronted Brent.

“Josh looked at me and he said ‘(Brown) won’t get out of the car,’” McWilliams said. “And I said ‘well you can’t just leave him in there and let him die, you’ve got to help him. Go get him.’ I commanded him several times and Josh looked at me again and he said ‘he won’t get out of the car’ and I told him ‘you can’t stand here and watch him die. You’ve got to get him out.’ He still didn’t move so I thought he wasn’t going to help at all.”

While McWilliams went back to her car to get her cell phone, Brent finally pulled Brown out of the wreckage and laid him on the ground.

“I want people to understand that Josh Brent is not a hero,” McWilliams said. “I keep hearing reports of how he was there to pull his friend from the fire but he had to be coerced and pushed and begged and pleaded to get his friend out of the fire and when he pulled him out, he just left him in the street. He didn’t tell him ‘hang in there, help is on the way.’ Nothing. He just left him there and I want the magnitude of that to be understood.”

If McWilliams’ observations are accurate, this speaks to Brent’s state of mind. While he was no doubt in shock from the crash, his level of impairment contributed to his inability and/or unwillingness to attend to his friend.

This is a very sad situation for everyone involved, and this new information makes it that much sadder. In the end, McWilliams is right about one thing; for numerous reasons, Josh Brent is no hero.

UPDATE (12/11/12): On a more gentle note, PFT is reporting that Jerry Brown’s mother has asked that Josh Brent ride with her to Brown’s memorial service. That’s an amazing act of forgiveness in a horrible situation that Josh Brent will have to live with for the rest of his life.

Dec 082012

Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown died in a car crash early this morning in Irving, Texas. The car was driven by Dallas nose tackle Josh Brent, who has been charged with intoxication manslaughter in Brown’s death.

According to a report released by Irving police, Brent was behind the wheel of a car at 2:21 a.m. when it hit a curb, causing the vehicle to flip at least once before coming to rest in the middle of a service road. When officers arrived on the scene, Brent was responsive and able to speak. Brown, 25, was unresponsive and transferred to a local hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

It turns out that this is not Brent’s first run in with law with regard to driving under the influence. The University of Illinois product and native of Bloomington, Illinois was sentenced in June 2009 to two years probation and 60 days in jail as part of a plea deal from a DUI arrest in Champaign County, Illinois.

“We are deeply saddened by the news of this accident and the passing of Jerry Brown,” Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “At this time, our hearts and prayers and deepest sympathies are with the members of Jerry’s family and all of those who knew him and loved him.”

Brown, a St. Louis native, was signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad earlier this season. He was also Brent’s college teammate at Illinois.

As we have previously noted at GiR, the problem of DUI is one that has blown up in the NFL’s face this season. This is at least the fifteenth incident involving active NFL players, and is the first this season to result in a fatality. Whatever the NFL thinks it is doing about the problem of DUI and its players, it isn’t working.

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).

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

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:

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

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 122012

I knew it was bound to happen when I began writing about serious topics related to the NFL that may be of interest to Football Widows. I knew that I would unwittingly write about something that would be attached to controversy. I had no idea that I would find that topic my first time deviating from the lighthearted fluffiness that is my quest to make sense of my husband’s first love, football. I am speaking of the NFL’s breast cancer awareness efforts.

This evening, my husband was discussing this site with two different people, in two different contexts, who mentioned that there is controversy over the percentage of the money that actually finds its way into the hands of organizations like The American Cancer Society. After I applauded these guys for their efforts to save the boobies, I did some research of my own to see what was being said. The first article I found unfortunately contained so much profanity within the first paragraph, that the author lost credibility. She also harpooned the ACS for the amount of money they spend on overhead and made some factual errors about the actual work of the ACS, so that turned me off further. Anyway, I went in search of a non-potty mouth account of the facts, and read the article that she referenced in her rant. Yes, I am judging it as a rant given the use of a word that rhymes with “brothertrucking” in first few sentences of the article. Come on, people, this is a family site! Besides, back to the Everything I Need to Know about Football, I Learned in Kindergarten philosophy, I am electing to “use my words”.

The NFL issued a response to the criticism. They do not dispute the fact that only 5% of the proceeds from the sale of pink licensed merchandise go to charitable organizations. In fact, the majority of money donated comes from the other initiatives, including encouraging fan donations. And, yes, $3 million over 4 years is not much compared to the NFL’s $9+ billion in profits annually. I get mentally bogged down by the fact that the NFL records multi-billion dollar profits, and I am not invested enough in learning how much of a profit is made from NFL licensed merchandise sales. I don’t know what a good percentage of the profits would be to donate and I don’t think it is my place to decide that on the part of the owners, players, or my next door neighbor for that matter. Once I get stuck there, it seems that they profit in all sorts of ways that I am clueless about, but I don’t have a dog in that particular fight. I just know that I could buy a lot of pizza to feed our hungry brood with that kind of cash!!

I am an expert in the area of consumer behavior related to purchase of NFL merchandise. I am, of course, referring to the volume of Patriots items that we purchase, which, believe me when I say, is certainly plenty to qualify me as a market research specialist! For example, we have a wheel cover on the Honda, a recently-broken lawn chair, clocks, flags, banners, mini helmets, slightly larger mini helmets, hats, a new game day jersey purchased for him by moi for his recent birthday, and the list goes on and on. Patriots merchandise is low hanging fruit in the gift-giving department. Here is a short list of some of the fabulous items that we don’t own. Not yet anyway…

1. New England Patriots Silver Team Logo Pro Toaster, which toasts the team logo onto the bread ($39.95)
2. New England Patriots Gameday Salt and Pepper Shakers in the shape of jerseys in the home and away colors ($15.95)
3. New England Patriots Flying Rally Monkey (What the…?) ($9.95)
4. New England Patriots 12” x 12” Family Car Decal Sheet (we’d need 2 at $14.95 each)
5. New England Patriots High Heel Shoe Wine Bottle Holder (I kid you not!) ($35.95)
6. New England Patriots ProToast Elite Toaster, black, different manufacturer… ($39.95)
7. New England Patriots 4-Pack Light-Up Party Ice Cubes (speechless) ($14.95)
8. New England Patriots ARMagnet (seriously, a life size magnet of an arm of a Pats player holding the ball that you stick outside the driver’s side window) ($22.95)
9. New England Patriots 6-pack Edible Helmet Pizza Prints (I think I am losing consciousness…) ($34.95)
10. And for the ladies, at the low, low bargain basement price of $1.95, a 4-pack of Temporary Nail Tattoos!!

I’m not even going to start on gifts for the family dog…It seems that people buy the stuff whether it is pink or not, and I am in no position to assess how much consumer behavior is impacted by the NFL going pink. My point is that I don’t know if it matters, and I respect that, to others, it may.

As an aside, I went looking for the American Cancer Society’s position on the topic. I only found a blurb from 2011 that talked about the partnership between their organization and the NFL. They reference the advocacy efforts in congress that have taken place as a result “A Crucial Catch” with the goal of increasing research funding. Again, I am not an expert on conducting extensive research, so maybe there is more out there that isn’t as favorable.

Another issue that is being taken up is related to the value of “awareness”. I have shared that I am 40-something-years-old, and I have had regular mammography since my 40th birthday. I know women who are my age who don’t. I haven’t taken a poll, but I am wondering if they know that breast cancer will impact 1 in 8 women. If they don’t, maybe more awareness isn’t such a bad thing. The proceeds from game day auction items go toward grants to fund awareness campaigns and access to screenings for women in underserved areas. In that case, awareness leads to screening, leads to earliest possible detection. It’s not medical research, but still a very valuable cause in my mind.

I own socks with pink ribbons, a lime green ball cap with a pink ribbon that I wore when I walked in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure a few years ago, a pink wrist band, a lunch bag from Lean Cuisine, and most likely some other things that I can’t recall. I purchased them without regard for the amount of money that would go directly to research. In point of fact, many makers of pink merchandise do so just for profit without any donation to any organization. I don’t think that it makes me a bad person, nor does it mean I was manipulated into making a purchase that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. I wouldn’t even be a bit surprised if Santa Clause placed a pink Pats jersey under the tree for me this year.

As I get older, I personally know more and more women who are diagnosed with the disease. My maternal grandmother is a breast cancer survivor. Because of early detection, she is alive and still kicking at nearly 92. I seldom wear pink, but when I do, it is also a show of solidarity. It is a visual symbol and a very minute gesture of support for the women in my life and the women in the lives of people that I care about who are impacted by this disease. It is a cause no more worthy than, say, colon cancer awareness (I have a dear friend who has been battling that disease for 4 years) or Autism Awareness (one of my dearest friends has a son with Autism) or St. Jude (I lost a cousin to leukemia). It is also no LESS worthy and I actually found quite a bit of evidence of additional support specific to NFL teams and players who have been personally impacted by breast cancer.

I invite Widows and Fans alike to comment on this topic. I don’t have the thick skin of, say, a lifelong Bears fan who has endured ridicule, or Ghost Rat who is much more passionate and able to defend his position easily, so be gentle on me, although not the issue. I don’t have a right or wrong answer about the topic. I was just enjoying believing that the NFL was acknowledging a good cause. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t leading (all 3 of) my readers astray. I merely hope to provide more food for thought.

Widow’s Update: Pro Football Talk posted this morning that the NFL made a statement to them stating that they does NOT profit at all from the sale of pink merchandise. Rather, they donate 100% of the “net profit”. Mike Florio goes on to question the accounting smoke and mirrors that go into determining “net profit”. I’ve been slaving away in the non profit work world 20 times longer than I have been a football widow and I guarantee that most people who don’t work in that sector are unaware of the associated costs of doing business and of launching an awareness campaign of any magnitude. Sure, we can make the NFL out to be the Big Bad Wolf in this case. After all, they are always the $9.5 billion dollar gorilla in the room. I just pose the question: “are we sure that this is a bad thing that they are doing?”.

Also, I don’t want to tip my hand, because I know that all 3 of the people who read my posts love the anticipation of knowing where my picks will come from, but stay tuned for more information about the charitable work of specific teams and players. NFL teams and many players have their own charitable foundations. Teams give back in their home communities in a variety of ways, including countless hours of community service in addition to the donation of money. So, while we are looking at this percentage of funds donated for Breast Cancer Awareness, perhaps we are short sighted if we don’t look at all that they give.


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.


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.

Oct 102012

Widows, even though I haven’t found the exact science for making picks, I stand by all of them from last week. The teams that I chose to win were already winners in my book based on their efforts in support of “A Crucial Catch”, the NFL’s program to support breast cancer awareness and education. I learned a lot in the research process and had fun writing my article last week.

In addition to being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Around the time when I was choosing the “scientific” formula to be used each week to make my sophisticated Widow’s Picks, The Artist Formerly Known as Chad Ochocinco was arrested for domestic battery against his wife. Chad Johnson’s arrest, and the ensuing media circus surrounding an NFL player so publically being inappropriate, inspired my decision to take a week in October to choose winners based on the team with the fewest players arrested for violent crime. I chose this week because the third week of October has been designated by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) as “The Week Without Violence”. I hereby decree, by the power vested in me by football widows everywhere, that the nice guys will finish first this week!

I know what you’re thinking, Widows. How can I expect men who get paid obscene amounts of money to beat up on each other on the field be expected to hold it together off of it? It’s really quite simple, and it harkens back to my thought that everything they need to know about football, they learned in Kindergarten. For example, in Kindergarten, we learn the difference between our “inside voice” and our “outside voice”. If you scream on the playground, it’s all good. If you scream in the classroom, you stand in the corner. The distinction is clear. In the NFL, there are rules and penalties. My husband pointed out a great litmus test when making decisions about behavior. If it gets you a 15 yard penalty during the game, best not try it at home. Speaking directly to Chad Johnson in this case, no head butting allowed! Not even if the other guy is wearing a helmet!

Further inspection revealed something that footballs fans already know, although Widows like me didn’t even have this on the radar. Apparently, again sort of like Kindergarteners, some NFL players do better when they are being monitored. For example, I found several articles that referred to Tennessee Titan Kenny Britt’s “crime spree” that occurred during the lockout prior to the 2011 season. This is one example of apparently several instances in which players engaged in behavior that would have been addressed as violations of the player conduct policy, yet couldn’t be addressed during the lockout. Lockouts are temporary, and that one came and went. Damage to one’s character lasts forever. Maybe this is a stretch, but if we started hearing about a crime surge among Chicago teachers during their recent work stoppage, would we dismiss it since they are off the clock? If a person behaves badly and no one was around to pay them, is it still wrong? Since this chapter of NFL history is in the record books, and I don’t have a great answer, I will climb carefully off of my soap box. (Note that I haven’t said word one about these guys as role models for the young men my husband and I are raising.)

I understand that it may not be reasonable to expect that the crime rate among millionaires between the ages of 22 and 40 playing pro football would be any different than the rate for other men in the same age group. I am not going to get into the debate about whether or not these gentlemen should or should not be regarded as role models to our nation’s young people. However, I am very interested in how teams and the League as a whole, respond to criminal activity and other misconduct on the part of players.

Chad Johnson was fairly swiftly cut from the Dolphins. Detroit cut corner back Aaron Berry following an assault arrest. In April 2012, the Vikings cut running back Caleb King after he fractured a man’s skull in a fight that ensued because the guy said that King looked like comedian Eddie Murphy. Seattle cut Jarriel King following an arrest for suspicion of sexual assault of an intoxicated woman. In many cases, however, players continue to play. I guess not everyone should lose their job just because they get into trouble with the law. However, the NFL has acknowledged the issues surrounding risky personal behaviors and has responded.

The NFL has a mandatory program for all rookies called The Rookie Success Program. This program includes education on topics such as stress management, anger management, domestic violence, substance abuse and impulse control. Player Assistance and Counseling Services are also available. Modeled like a typical employee assistance program, these services are designed to assist players with issues that they face upon transition into the NFL, throughout their career, and during transition out of the league. There is recognition on the part of the league that life in the NFL is not without pressure and players may need resources, not only to help them be better players, but to be better people.

Widow’s Warning: People are innocent until proven guilty. Some of the cases I found have not yet been decided in a court of law. I am basing my picks this week on arrests, with no presumption of guilt. No NFL players were harmed in the making of my picks. So, may the team with the fewest thugs win!! Here’s hoping for no domestic violence in their homes, no brandishing of weapons, no bar fights, and, for heaven’s sake, calling a cab when drunk!!

Week 6

Steelers over Titans (Ben Rothlisberger, you are lucky you are playing the Titans!)
Falcons over Raiders
Chiefs over Buccaneers (Jermaine Philips, still a Buc, arrested for domestic violence, specifically strangulation, of his partner)
Jets over Colts
Browns over Bengals (The Browns have some VERY naughty boys to thank for being picked to win. See Cedric Benson below. He is impacting 2 teams this week.)
Eagles over Lions (Michael Vick may have paid his debt to society, but if they weren’t playing the Lions, I’d have gone the other way on this game)
Rams over Dolphins (Gimme and “Ocho”! Gimme a “Cinco”, what’s it spell…? I know they cut him, but I stand by this pick)
Ravens over Cowboys (Cowboys, thank Dez Bryant and his recent “Family Violence” incident)
Cardinals over Bills
Patriots over Seahawks (Jarriel King was charged with 3rd Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct earlier this year, Leroy Hill remained a Seahawk after a domestic violence arrest and marijuana possession charges)
Giants over 49ers
Redskins over Vikings (Chris Cook, still a Viking, arrested last year for brandishing a gun)
Texans over Packers (Before his time with the Packers, Running Back Cedric Benson was arrested for an assault that caused injury to a family member.)
Chargers over Broncos (Defensive End Elvis Dumervil was arrested this summer for aggravated assault)