The Jump To Conclusions Mat Has Way Too Many Footprints On It

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Look, I’m not going to state that the facts out there surrounding Plaxico Burress’ shooting himself in the thigh aren’t there. It’s monumentally stupid of him to be carrying a gun illegally, only having a permit that had expired in Florida and at the very least, not applying for one in either New York or New Jersey. The fact that it went off in his pants suggests he has no clue about how to operate the safety on a gun, which is even more disturbing.

But I can’t help but sit back and want to smack the usual suspects like Bob Costas, Mike Ditka, and the rest of the NFL studio show crews make the usual suggestions about how players shouldn’t be allowed to own guns, and that they shouldn’t be out late after certain hours. Witness Ditka on the guns bit:

“This is all about priorities. When you get stature in life, you get the kind of contract, you have an obligation and responsibility to your teammates, to the organization, to the National Football League and to the fans. He just flaunted this money in their face. He has no respect for anybody but himself. I feel sorry for him, in the sense that, I don’t understand the league, why can anybody have a gun? I will have a policy, no guns, any NFL players we find out, period, you’re suspended.”

Lucky for us he never ran as the GOP candidate for Senate from Illinois. Jesus, who thought this guy would make a good senatorial candidate?  As long as he has the permits (which he apparently didn’t), it shouldn’t have mattered, period. The NFL is not big enough to where it should decide to take away people’s individual rights.

When I witnessesd Costas’ outrage on Football Night in America, I thought, “Spoken like a man who has never understood what it’s like to have to fear for your life.” It took Tiki Barber to correct Costas, by saying that many black athletes grow up in tough situations with gangs where they are protected because of their athletic abilities, and are used to a world where you have to protect yourself — you do not trust security people or the police. I don’t know if this is reflective of Burress’ background, but if you are a black man with millionaire money, you’re going to be wary inside and outside your home.

The situations are not comparable, as Burress was out on the town with teammates Antonio Pierce and either Derrick Ward or Ahmad Bradshaw (depending on who you read or hear)( but it’s silly not to think of how Sean Taylor was killed in his home and Antoine Walker was robbed near his home in Chicago.  Again — those are at home, but don’t you think you would protect yourself even more when you were out of you think you are a target? Yet this impulse seems to elude everyone commenting on the stubject before everything is known.

It is merely another string in Burress being a bad actor; it is part of a narrative to take missed meetings and fines and conflate them into something larger and more insidious. But the cycle hasn’t played itself out yet. Burress still has to be charged, and we have to find out his side of the story, too.  It’s asking too much to back off for a little bit though — there is blood in the water.

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A Question Of Love

Because WordPress is a bee-yotch*, it will not allow me to embed the video, but I urge you to go and watch Keith Olbermann’s comment on Proposition 8.

I have had a love-hate relationship with K.O.’s show as of late, as the Special Comments became sometimes more than I could bear in terms of stridency, but this one should be watched and distributed as much as possible. The least I can do is quote the full text, without a jump:

Finally tonight as promised, a Special Comment on the passage, last week, of Proposition Eight in California, which rescinded the right of same-sex couples to marry, and tilted the balance on this issue, from coast to coast.

Some parameters, as preface. This isn’t about yelling, and this isn’t about politics, and this isn’t really just about Prop-8.  And I don’t have a personal investment in this: I’m not gay, I had to strain to think of one member of even my very extended family who is, I have no personal stories of close friends or colleagues fighting the prejudice that still pervades their lives.

And yet to me this vote is horrible. Horrible. Because this isn’t about yelling, and this isn’t about politics. This is about the human heart, and if that sounds corny, so be it.

If you voted for this Proposition or support those who did or the sentiment they expressed, I have some questions, because, truly, I do not understand. Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don’t want to deny you yours. They don’t want to take anything away from you. They want what you want—a chance to be a little less alone in the world.

Only now you are saying to them—no. You can’t have it on these terms. Maybe something similar. If they behave. If they don’t cause too much trouble.  You’ll even give them all the same legal rights—even as you’re taking away the legal right, which they already had. A world around them, still anchored in love and marriage, and you are saying, no, you can’t marry. What if somebody passed a law that said you couldn’t marry?

I keep hearing this term “re-defining” marriage. If this country hadn’t re-defined marriage, black people still couldn’t marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal in 1967. 1967.

The parents of the President-Elect of the United States couldn’t have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. But it’s worse than that. If this country had not “re-defined” marriage, some black people still couldn’t marry black people. It is one of the most overlooked and cruelest parts of our sad story of slavery. Marriages were not legally recognized, if the people were slaves. Since slaves were property, they could not legally be husband and wife, or mother and child. Their marriage vows were different: not “Until Death, Do You Part,” but “Until Death or Distance, Do You Part.” Marriages among slaves were not legally recognized.

You know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognized, if the people are gay.

And uncountable in our history are the number of men and women, forced by society into marrying the opposite sex, in sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, or just marriages of not knowing, centuries of men and women who have lived their lives in shame and unhappiness, and who have, through a lie to themselves or others, broken countless other lives, of spouses and children, all because we said a man couldn’t marry another man, or a woman couldn’t marry another woman. The sanctity of marriage.

How many marriages like that have there been and how on earth do they increase the “sanctity” of marriage rather than render the term, meaningless?

What is this, to you? Nobody is asking you to embrace their expression of love. But don’t you, as human beings, have to embrace… that love? The world is barren enough.

It is stacked against love, and against hope, and against those very few and precious emotions that enable us to go forward. Your marriage only stands a 50-50 chance of lasting, no matter how much you feel and how hard you work.

And here are people overjoyed at the prospect of just that chance, and that work, just for the hope of having that feeling.  With so much hate in the world, with so much meaningless division, and people pitted against people for no good reason, this is what your religion tells you to do? With your experience of life and this world and all its sadnesses, this is what your conscience tells you to do?

With your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field on which we all live, in favor of unhappiness and hate… this is what your heart tells you to do? You want to sanctify marriage? You want to honor your God and the universal love you believe he represents? Then Spread happiness—this tiny, symbolic, semantical grain of happiness—share it with all those who seek it. Quote me anything from your religious leader or book of choice telling you to stand against this. And then tell me how you can believe both that statement and another statement, another one which reads only “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You are asked now, by your country, and perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another. You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight. You are asked now to stand, on a question of love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate.

You don’t have to help it, you don’t have it applaud it, you don’t have to fight for it. Just don’t put it out. Just don’t extinguish it. Because while it may at first look like that love is between two people you don’t know and you don’t understand and maybe you don’t even want to know. It is, in fact, the ember of your love, for your fellow person just because this is the only world we have. And the other guy counts, too.

This is the second time in ten days I find myself concluding by turning to, of all things, the closing plea for mercy by Clarence Darrow in a murder trial.

But what he said, fits what is really at the heart of this:

“I was reading last night of the aspiration of the old Persian poet, Omar-Khayyam,” he told the judge. It appealed to me as the highest that I can vision. I wish it was in my heart, and I wish it was in the hearts of all: So I be written in the Book of Love; I do not care about that Book above. Erase my name, or write it as you will, So I be written in the Book of Love.”

(*And seriously: I am considering moving back to Blogger because of this alone, and I loathe Blogger. Maybe Movable Type is in order or something.)

Leaving The Sinking Ship In Style

There are few things as satisfying as watching a fucktard like David Frum get his ass handed to him by Rachel Maddow when he accuses her show of fomenting hate similar to the crap being spewed by the audience members at recent rallies for John McCain and Sarah Palin. After you’ve watched the clip, consider the hackery necessary to make such accusations:

Frum, you’ll recall, is the one who penned the phrase “axis of evil”  for President George W. Bush a few years backfor his State of the Union address. After departing the cozy confines of 1600 Pennsylvania, he then funded smear campaigns against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi when she visited Syria and decided to play amateur psychiatrist with former VP Al Gore when he criticized Bush’s foreign policy.

So you’ll have to pardon me if I find it laughable that this member of the GOP intelligentsia is joining the very slim ranks of those who aren’t pleased with the choice of Palin and saying it doesn’t look good for McCain because of it. This group includes columnist Kathleen Parker, NYT op-ed writer David Brooks, and author Christopher Buckley, who appears to have been booted/resigned from the column at the magazine his father founded for his trouble in saying he would vote for Barack Obama.

I’ve noticed something after reading for the past week or so, these admissions of concern — a lot of it revolves around Palin’s lack of intelligence or intellectual curiosity, perfectly valid points and worth questioning.  However, I have a question for Frum, Parker, Brooks and their ilk*: where the fuck were you the past eight years with the current occupant of the White House, if this was such a problem?

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Pushing The Narratives

The benefit of my current work schedule is the ability to watch Pardon the Interruption, which remains the only ESPN piece of programming worth investing too much time in.  SportsCenter is not as essential as it used to be; much of the analyst shows focused on individual sports are background fodder. Outside The Lines can be very hit or miss, and is subject to the typical ESPN/mainstream blinders on much of its subject matter. Anyway, back to it.

The Four-Letter’s $3 million a year poaching, Rick Reilly, subbed for Tony Kornheiser on PTI yesterday, via satellite from Denver with Michael Wilbon in-studio in D.C., and parroted what I’m fairly sure may be a common impulse among a certain segment of sportswriters regarding the current state of the baseball playoffs: he stated his preference for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series, proclaiming the Tampa Bay Rays “bad for baseball.”

We probably need to separate that “bad for baseball” comment into two categories: bad for the sport and bad for the business of the sport. There is a vast difference: any die-hard baseball fan or one who merely follows the sport regularly would say a worst-to-first story is not only good for the sport, but also compelling and justifying smart moves by a front office.  Tampa’s entry into the playoffs already yielded more attention to manager Joe Maddon in SI, a likely Rookie of the Year award for third baseman Evan Longoria, and a front office that assembled a solid starting line-up and a roster of budding stars. That’s good for the sport; it gives some leverage behind the idea that baseball’s uncapped salary structure can still yield good things for teams who use their money wisely.

However, if you look at Reilly’s comment in the business sense, it fits. Tampa was 12th out of 14 AL teams in attendance this year, not helped by the reported shittiness of Tropicana Field, and locals are right to ignore a lousy team in a bad park for a while. That doesn’t change overnight, and it’s also part of the trend of questioning whether Florida is really interested in regular-season baseball. (We really won’t have an idea until both the Rays and Marlins’ new facilities open.)  The Dodgers and Red Sox are two of several “glamour teams”; ones that matter to people outside their home markets (the others, in my eyes, are the Cubs, Yankees, Cardinals, and Braves*.) Those are teams that have bandwagons, intense home fans, and ones who don’t drop loyalties when they move in the age of the Internet and MLB.tv.

Dodgers-Red Sox is an easier World Series to sell, and I’m sure it’s the one Fox is clamoring or as we speak.  The Rays aren’t, although everyone loves an underdog story — because there’s not enough to sell. The lore bheind L.A.-Boston is too much, two big cities, Manny Ramirez back in Betantown, the Sox seeking back-to-back titles, etc.  That’s a narrative that writes columns; that’s how Reilly kind of thinks., and it’s what Bud Selig would love to see. (Philadelphia doesn’t have the same pull as Dodgers-Sox, but it’s better to MLB than the other AL choice.)

The Tampa Bay Rays going from worst to first and capping it with a world championship is just another Marlins team beating Cleveland or the Yankees, or a Diamondbacks bloop single. It’s a blip, and won’t register outside of those of us who pay attention. Of course, you know what happens when the narrative gets openly expressed: the underdog shocks us all, and considering my loathing of both the Dodgers nad Phils, along with a need for Boston teams to cool off, I’m riding the Rays right now.

Fuck the cheap narratives, though. Let ’em do some work. Tampa is full of new stories, and that’s good for the sport.

(*I include the Braves because of their near stranglehold on the South until recently thanks to TBS and the lack of pro baseball anywhere else in that region.)

Chad Johnson Is Just Sticking Up For Himself

Something akin to this picture at right likely won’t happen next season, as Chad Johnson has finally said he will not show up at any functions of the Cincinnati Bengals, which means he’ll likely sit out if they don’t trade him. As this made its way through ESPN’s opinion cycle (and many others), it finally got Johnson the complete “T.O.” treatment as another selfish, prima-donna wide receiver who ought to just shut up and play; he’s hurting the team’s chemistry and chances by being so public.

Ocho Cinco has every right to bitch, gripe, piss and moan about a front office that has done absolutely nothing to improve an offensively loaded team on the defensive end. Johnson took heat for his end zone celebrations, which were completely harmless, because it was perceived as a distraction when his team was losing.  Essentially, he was catching flack that ought to be directed at his coach, Marvin Lewis. Lewis is entering his sixth season with the team after his rep as a “defensive genius” was solidified after the Ravens’ Super Bowl win in 2000, and via Pro Football Reference, we learn that the Bengals’ defense has never been in the top half of the NFL in either points or rush yards allowed. The reason the team could skate and make the playoffs a couple years ago was because they were quite skilled in creating turnovers until last season.

In short, Marvin Lewis, at this point, has clearly taken his genius lessons from Brian Billick. You can project the level of genius as a coach when you have guys like Ray Lewis in his prime, Sam Adams, and Rod Woodson (on the downside, but still good), but when you have to create one from scratch, well….that’s a bit tougher.

It’s far beyond time to acknowledge the obvious in the larger conversation when a player loudly and publicly slams his organization and demands a trade: just because someone is loud and potentially obnoxious does not make him wrong.  Johnson’s frustration appears to be borne out of taking the brunt of the blame for a faltering Cincy team where he is the least of the problems.  I’ve not seen Chad Johnson NOT play hard on the field and he is one of the few Bengals not to get into trouble with extracurricular activities that wind up on the police blotter.

If Chad were a quarterback and griping about his lack of help, it would at least merit a consideration rather than an outright slam. If he were Peyton Manning, the analysts would be questioning Bill Polian’s work.  If he were Brett Favre two seasons ago, the cognoscenti would have questioned whether the Packers and Ted Thompson were doing enough to support their franchise.

In the NFL, where Not For Long and No Fun League are less inside jokes than sharp insight now, Johnson has as much right to gripe about the direction his team is going due to front office mismanagement as the teams have to dump any player who isn’t a big salary cap hit. For those of you who would say, “Oh, but he’s paid millions to play a game; he should shut up and be grateful” — well, let me put it this way. To earn those millions, he has to be the best at what he does and train to keep that status year-round. The Bengals’ coach and GM are not keeping their end of the bargain.

Tell Him To F–k Right Off

Generally, there are way too many opinion shows on sports TV when they’re discussing Tiger Woods dropping some expletives in a golf tournament with the boom mic on him on 1st and 10 (and obviously, First Take earlier).  Skip Bayless mouthed off about Woods being one “of the most vulgar golfers on the Tour,” and said he should keep his language in check, to be an example to the children who watch and idolize him.

As politely as I can: fuck off, sir.

Quite possibly, one of the most enjoyable parts of watching athletic competitions on TV is hearing these slip-ups, these bouts of profane invective in the heat of competition — it reinforces that these are people doing a job, that they are real, not some abstraction viewed on the screen or from a high spot in the arena. The best example I have is in the NBA Finals back in 2002, when Rasheed Wallace got called for a really ticky-tack foul while Kobe Bryant was driving, and he let out the most audible “BULLSHIT, REF!” I’d heard in some time.

It also provides more reality from the crowd. How many times have you heard a packed arena chant “BULLSHIT!” after a foul call, or chant? It’s not incumbent upon the athletes; if the networks want to avoid this, they can put a delay on it or just deal with the consequences.

The Arms Race.

Darren at Sports Agent Blog reminds me to write about the New York Times piece on sportswriters getting gobbled up by ESPN, Yahoo, and SI, mostly to write for their online arms in the new frontier for the consumption of sports information — The Big Lead is the best at chronicling these hires, but examples include Michael Silver, Howard Bryant, J.A. Adande, T.J. Quinn, Mark Fainaru-Wada, etc. Darren, of course, goes at it from the aspects of representation, but I think it’s useful to look at this as a following of the trend of political journalism — there are some serious similarities to consider, particularly because poaching writers from print is not new for ESPN, as Slate’s Jack Shafer pointed out last week in confronting the approach of the Wall Street Journal’s tackling of the same topic:

More than other journalists, sportswriters regard themselves as eternal free agents—pens for hire to the highest bidder. When Walsh and ESPN first started poaching print journalists, the operation was just a cable channel. Now it’s several cable channels, a magazine, a Web site, and a national radio network, making it sports journalism’s equivalent of the Yankees, a destination for those with talent, ambition, and a love of dollars.

This is essentially the premise brought by the NYT, which is more than willing to cite declining circulation in print and the sums of money being thrown by bigger orgs; even SI, which is still firmly rooted more in print than its Web brand among readers, is no longer a final destination that it used to be. Thus, the big names in print; the big regional papers that prided themselves as home to the best sportswriters, are losing them. This should not have been unexpected at all — look at what happened when cable news went completely 24/7 and needed voices to fill hours — it began with various political operatives becoming pundits and analysts (“contributors” and “consultants”), and when broadcast become viable much earlier than that, much of the best in print crossed over.

Where this is different from politics and straight news coverage is that the recruiting this time is straight to mostly Web-based work; blogs and analysis immediately available (along with some slight copycatting — Michael Silver’s columns for Yahoo read like a slightly more erudite Bill Simmons whose wheelhouse is football rather than hoops.)  That’s some new territory, and reflects the medium where sports news is headed towards — which is what makes it a bit more web-friendly than politics: the basics can be gleaned quickly, and the returned to.

However, if it’s as Darren predicts down the line, and sports bloggers at the higher levels start looking to be represented in the wave for bigger and better work, there’s already a template: the original Wonkette is now an online editor for Time.