A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Idiocy

inanimatecarbonrodThe staggering development of soon-to-be former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s apparent corruption, charges so blazen and blatant they would make “Lincoln roll over in his grave,” to paraphrase U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (yes, that very same one in the Valerie Plame investigation; he is an equal opportunity angel of justice), is not staggering because a Chicago pol has some skeletons in his closet.

It is staggering because by all accounts, the Inanimate Carbon Rod, a Democrat, is quite possibly one of the dumbest men ever to hold elective office if all of the accusations hold up in court. He is accused of pay-for-play tactics that, per the FBI’s Robert Grant, shocked even the most hardened and cynical of agents.

Here is a basic laundry list of the most audacious alleged crimes contained in the indictment (PDF file):

  • Schemed to sell the appointment of President-Elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder in exchange for either a high paying position with a non-profit or a labor union, a placement for his wife Patricia on corporate boards, campaign funds, or an ambassadorship or cabinet post (he wanted to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, apparently)
  • Threatened to put a halt to any public help to the Tribune Co. in selling Wrigley Field if they did not fire members of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board who wrote unflattering portraits of him
  • Wanting to hold up $8 million dollars for Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital because its administrator didn’t cough up $50K for his re-election campaign

The last one is what really makes it art. Earlier in the day, I thought it boring, quid-pro-quo crap; there was no particular skullduggery that made it stand out, but as soon as you get the health and care of kids involved, there’s a new level of arrogance there that would make Karl Rove smile from ear to ear, no matter what the political party.

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

burressphone

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.

So-Called “Accidental” Racism

How would you translate this graphic below, which apparently is good enough to be made into flyers by Republicans in the Inland Empire?

I would have gone with “Obama is a nigger,” but that’s just me.

From the Press-Enterprise:

The October newsletter by the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated says if Obama is elected his image will appear on food stamps — instead of dollar bills like other presidents. The statement is followed by an illustration of “Obama Bucks” — a phony $10 bill featuring Obama’s face on a donkey’s body, labeled “United States Food Stamps.”

The GOP newsletter, which was sent to about 200 members and associates of the group by e-mail and regular mail last week, is drawing harsh criticism from members of the political group, elected leaders, party officials and others as racist.

Good, that’s a start. But this is the mentality of way too many people overall (I don’t mean Republicans or Democrats), and it still exists in this country, sadly.  And the group’s president, Diane Fedele, is not exactly helping herself with her defense. She says she’s going to issue an apology, which is still insufficient, considering her obvious inability to identify stereotypes (that’s probably being too kind.)

She said she simply wanted to deride a comment Obama made over the summer about how as an African-American he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

“It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of his statement. I really don’t want to go into it any further,” Fedele said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I absolutely apologize to anyone who was offended. That clearly wasn’t my attempt.”

Fedele said she got the illustration in a number of chain e-mails and decided to reprint it for her members in the Trumpeter newsletter because she was offended that Obama would draw attention to his own race. She declined to say who sent her the e-mails with the illustration.

She said she doesn’t think in racist terms, pointing out she once supported Republican Alan Keyes, an African-American who previously ran for president.

Dear Lord.  “I voted for a black person before, so I don’t think in racist terms.”  That excuses you from re-printing the worst stereotypes in a graphic image? Please.

A-Rod Schadenfreude, Writ Large

When my local TV news station ran an item on Alex Rodriguez’s marital discord, I knew the story had struck enough chords and brain receptors in the minds of editors and executive producers across the country for the perfect story. Combine the highest-paid baseball player (and the game’s most talented) with a washed up pop star like Madonna (quibble all you want, but she is riding on her 80s output like a greatest hits show), toss in possible Kabbalah crap and rumors of Lenny Kravitz joining the jilted Cynthia Rodriguez in Paris, and these are the things that crack local newscasts and papers across the country, not just in New York, where the Post and the Daily News are the closest thing we have to semi-legit tabloids.

These are the stories that give license to Deadspin’s A.J. Daulerio to create tags of genius such as “Justify My Glove” to encompass the entire scandal (part baseball reference, part Madonna reference, and part Kravitz, as he penned “Justify My Love” for the Material Girl years ago.)

But the question that always pops up with me is: why do we care so much? Michael Jordan’s divorce from wife Juanita did not receive this much play outside of Chicago and he’s worth more than A-Rod could ever hope to be at this point. Obviously, there is the inevitable celebrity factor involved with Madonna, which will get shows like Entertainment Tonight, Extra, and their ilk all over it, but as far as sports fans go, well, what’s the explanation?

I sense that, more than any athlete around right now, we want to see Rodriguez fail at things.

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A Double Fault On Defending The Indefensible

On Friday at Sports by Brooks, I wrote on Justin Gimelstob, who turned a career as an unremarkable tennis player into an equally unremarkable career writing columns for Sports Illustrated‘s web site and occasionally working as a TV analyst, and his much too frank comments on his feelings about Anna Kournikova and opinions on the pulchritude of several up-and-coming female players (of course, all said on D.C. sports talk radio, unfortunately, WJFK’s archive has purged this segment of the Junkies due to age since it aired on June 18th.)

I didn’t expect anyone at SI to address the matter; the usual modus operandi is to sweep these things under the rug and/or handle it internally, while sneaking out a small note about the matter. But, the mag’s lead tennis writer, L. Jon Wertheim, brought it up in his “Wimbledon Midterm Grades” column, yet I think he’s only managed to make it worse by admitting it was indefensible — if only to then excuse it.

Justin Gimelstob: Dozens of you referenced his unfortunate remarks. The full disclosure, of course, is that Justin has been writing for si.com, which makes this all the more awkward. The remarks themselves are thoroughly indefensible. But let me say this in his defense: he’s always been a beacon of candor, one of those athletes who speaks honestly, regardless of whom he might offend or what collateral damage might arise. This doesn’t, of course, give him license to say anything, but — and I feel similarly about Charles Barkley — it tempers at least some of the outrage when he crosses the line.

I don’t ever recall Charles Barkley on TNT ever saying he wanted to hit someone — never mind a woman — with a ball, and saying that if he didn’t do that, he hadn’t done his job. That’s really awful moral equivalence, and it serves to distract from the offenses. Barkley has talked shit about entire cities, about backwards-ass people in his home state, various other things, but I don’t recall him talking openly about how much he hated someone; so much so he expressed a desire to hurt the person physically.

Never mind Gimelstob’s comments about maybe letting his “stud” brother take a run at Kournikova if she offered to screw him.  I got a bit of a slimy feeling just listening to it as I waded through the audio on Friday, and I’m fairly crass myself. Gimelstob has had to apologize, of course, but it’s probably not that sincere, and I’d say if he’s still keeping those views of the women’s tour, maybe he shouldn’t be paid to write or analyze it, because he may not be entirely capable of doing so fairly and with respect.

Gimelstob comes off as a self-involved frat boy, bragging about nailing Martina Hingis, and talking about Kournikova, Tatiana Golovin, and Alize Cornet in such pleasant “sexpot” terms. It’s one thing to do it when you’re an average Joe viewer (I’d be lying if I said I never gawked at Kournikova, Maria Sharapova, or Ana Ivanovic, to note a few) but it’s quite another when you are a former player and current analyst of the game, never mind a member of the ATP board of directors.

Wertheim’s “not really a condemnation” is also insufficient because it doesn’t detail the remarks; it presumes everyone has heard them, which I’m not sure is actually the case. So, once you frame it as something regrettable and indefensible, you can make the excuse that it’s a candor-based mistake without quoting or linking to any parts of what he said.

Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Reuters

New Rule: Get Arrested And You’re Guilty

OK. So let me get this straight: aloof running back gets arrested while on a boat in Austin with his mother, his friends, and several female friends (all white, let’s note) and contests the police account, saying he was mistreated and abused. Last Saturday, he gets pulled over and arrested for DUI charges, but maintains that he passed a sobriety test and is innocent of the charges.

Without either of the charges being borne out, he is released by his employer. In what fucking world does this make any sort of sense whatsoever?

This is the world of the NFL, where you can lose your job even if you are completely innocent of any charges against you. Welcome to the real world of the NFL, Cedric Benson — the running back was released from the Bears after last weekend’s arrest, with GM Jerry Angelo expressing the franchise’s supposed frustration with the first-round pick.

Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate. As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions. When individual priorities overshadow team goals, we suffer the consequences as a team. Those who fail to understand the importance of ‘team’ will not play for the Chicago Bears.

Bears management needed an excuse to cut Benson. He has underperformed, but has not had the benefit of a well-put together O-line the past year or a quarterback that is any consistent threat in the passing game — as such, it meant he would probably get one more shot this year to show the form that made him a first round pick.

But voila, two arrests and no convictions are enough to throw him out the window. Just how an arrest without any form of conviction or basis was enough to get rid of Tank Johnson (I don’t mean the weapons charges, I mean the DUI afterwards that really wasn’t.) This is the world Roger Goodell has created and the standard he has set — and every other player in the league ought to be incensed (unless you are Jared Allen. now of the Vikings, which means you’re glad you got off easy last year in KC.)

If Benson pleaded guilty or no contest to either charge, it would be a different story. But as of right now, he believes both arrests are unjustified and is willing to challenge the matter in court. Would that the Bears be only that willing to allow due process to play out, but this is Lord Rog’s World, and frankly, it’s time Gene Upshaw and the NFLPA did something to exert some sort of check and balance on teams

The owners have handed the NFLPA a golden opportunity by deciding to drop out of the CBA for 2011.  Now Upshaw needs to prove his worth by giving the men he represents at least a chance at due process for off-the-field incidents.

Photo: Jim Prishing/Chicago Tribune

Jason Whitlock Wants To Put Allen Iverson In A Burqa

I’ve read some dumb, lazy excuses for columns before, but I’m pretty damn sure this might take the cake. Jason Whitlock essentially says a factor in the increased ratings for the NBA playoffs is the lack of tattoos on the Lakers, Spurs, Pistons, and Celtics, at least compared to Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, et al. Never mind the fact that you really can’t prove this, it’s just ridiculously moronic.

The only accurate way to describe Garnett, Pierce, Duncan, Allen, Manu, Parker and even Kobe is “clean cut.” Yeah, there are a couple of tattoos in that group — Duncan has something on his back, Kobe still has his post-rape-allegation tat — but the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics have far less ink on average than your typical NBA franchise.

Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony have more tats on their hands than the entire Spurs roster.

I know many of you probably think the number of tattoos doesn’t influence viewing habits. You’re wrong. Like everything else televised, appearances matter. There’s a reason you don’t see nude scenes in movies with fat people. Trust me, fat people have sex. It’s just no one wants to see it. Not even fat people.

Wait. So tattoos on athletes are as ugly and repulsive as fat people having sex on TV? Someone tell Sports Illustrated — their cover story is on a guy who’s got 26 tattoos all over his body. His name just happens to be Josh Hamilton, and he’s the dynamite CF for the Texas Rangers. Guess that’ll hurt magazine sales.

No one wants to watch Delonte West or Larry Hughes play basketball. It’s uncomfortable and disconcerting. You don’t want your kids to see it. You don’t want your kids to think they should decorate their neck, arms, hands, chest and legs in paint. You don’t want to waste time explaining to your kids that some millionaire athletes have so little genuine self-confidence that they find it necessary to cover themselves in tattoos as a way to mask their insecurities.

No one wants to watch Delonte West or Larry Hughes play basketball because they are often very bad at it. They are pro hoops players, which means they are much better than the rest of us, but compared to some of their peers, they have flashes of total suck often when they play.  No one wants to watch West or Hughes jack up ill-advised shots everyone knows they’re not going to make.

It’s not because of the tattoos on their arms. It’s because of the bad plays they make more frequently than their peers.

It’s a television show. Pleasant smiles, non-threatening people sell products better than menacing, tattooed brutes.

If I was David Stern, I’d commission Nike and/or Under Armor to create a basketball jersey with long sleeves, all the way down to the wrists. I’d make Iverson wear a turtleneck jersey with sleeves. I’d cover the tats.

Jason Whitlock, our own one-man American Sporting Taliban.  Cover his legs too. Give Iverson, Anthony, West, and Hughes a burqa when they report next season. Make Chris Douglas-Roberts know he’s got to put one on when he signs his rookie deal. It’s the only way to not offend a constituency that we’re not sure exists!  Ayatollah Whitlock has decreed this fatwa, effective this 29th of May, in the year 2008.

Do you think Sports Illustrated would let its swimsuit models cover themselves in tattoos? Models are paid to look good. Athletes are no different from models. Everyone accepts that female basketball players — when possible — are pushed to showcase their feminine beauty.

Athletes are no different than models. Nice. Just because we accept it doesn’t mean it’s right, Jason. Also, SI has no problem with tattoos on athletes now — please see Josh Hamilton again.

It’s unfortunate that too many young athletes are too unenlightened to approach the game like a business. They resist almost all ideas that would put more money in their pockets. They have to be forced to do the little things that would help them make more money.

Growing NBA ratings is what’s best for the players in the long term. Adopting a non-prison-ready appearance would help everyone in the league earn more money. But no one will talk about it.

Yeah, because no one wants to come off looking like an unenlightened, 19th century-living moron who doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. And let’s not mistake the construction of this: They have to be forced to do the little things that would help them make more money. It’s more than a little fascist sounding, isn’t it?  At the very least, it’s horrifically condescending to treat grown men like this. I know what’s best for you and will make you more money.

Whitlock is happy to judge a book by its cover and say that because someone else does it, the book has to be completely re-written.