Wisconsin Basketball And The Hunger For More

New York Times –  The Wisconsin basketball players Nigel Hayes and Jordan Hill took a step behind their teammates during the national anthem before the ninth-ranked Badgers’ season opener on Friday. It was another in a long series of visible protests from one of college basketball’s most socially aware locker rooms.

Hayes, a senior who was named the preseason Big Ten player of the year, has lobbied for players to be paid, serving as a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking a freer market for top athletes and once showing up to an ESPN “College GameDay” set sardonically identifying himself as a “broke athlete.” Hayes has also posted about the Black Lives Matter movement to his more than 80,000 Twitter followers and recently joined other Wisconsin athletes in demanding university action after a fan appeared in a mask of President Obama and a noose at a Badgers home football game.

Hill, a redshirt junior, also writes provocatively on Twitter. And in September, Wisconsin’s starting point guard, the senior Bronson Koenig, traveled to support protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline, many of whom are, like him, Native American.


In a sit-down interview with three players from what the New York Times has labeled “College Basketball’s Most Political Locker Room”, the curtain gets peeled back a little bit on what life is like for these three guys who continue to put more responsibilities on their plate. Nigel Hayes has taken the role as the vocal leader of not only Wisconsin’s  basketball team, but for all Division 1 athletes who struggle to find their place amongst their fellow students.

Whether it is the fight for the right to be paid, taking a stand against police brutality, or protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, these guys are there and ready to use their platform to extend their influence.  But what will it really do?

I am skeptical of what immediate benefits these guys will be able to enjoy, but what is obvious is that they don’t care about all of that. The causes they are fighting for will never go away, but as they reach the tail end of their  college careers it is important to note that they are not simply falling in line. They are carrying the torch, and the spotlight has never been brighter.

 

Unreported Concussions: An Ominous Cloud Over the NFL

The RingerKuechly was sent sprawling before rolling over onto his stomach, writhing around with his appendages flapping. Players huddled around him. Voices hushed. Commercials happened. Kuechly eventually landed on the injury cart, looking decidedly less than superhuman. Was he really crying? Was something else going on?

I hopped on my iPad, Googled “Kuechly concussions” and learned that he had suffered one last season that sidelined him for weeks. This was his second. God knows how many undiagnosed ones he’s had.


 Whatever happened, Luke Kuechly went from “heat-seeking missile” to “hyperventilating, blubbering mess” in one play. The following morning, he appeared in this photo on Instagram:

 

… and that was supposed to make us feel better. Or something.


The NFL has upped the focus on concussions over the past decade or so and over at the swanky new offices at 345 Park Avenue in Midtown, maybe they think they are doing enough. In a recent conversation between The Ringer founder Bill Simmons and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, the future of the NFL is examined with Kuechly’s on-field breakdown fresh in their minds.

Simmons explains that had it been another time, he would have made a joke about Kuechly’s on-field display like he used to make jokes at Troy Aikman’s brains expense, but this is a new NFL and the rules have changed.

What really sticks out to me is that Simmons acknowledged that this was only Kuechly’s second reported concussion, but he places emphasis on the unknown variable of how many undiagnosed concussions he has had in his young football career.  While it is the big blows, the loss of consciousness on national TV that stands out to the outside world the repeated blows to the head on every play are a problem as well. The differentiation between a “major” and “minor” concussion is pointless. The NFL is driving an unstoppable train with thousands of lives on the line. If it doesn’t get control soon, it will derail.

Silence Should Not Be Rewarded

The Boston Globe – Sports and politics are both cutthroat competitive. They both revere history. They both inspire wall-to-wall coverage and hyperbolizing pundits. They both require energizing bases — fan and voter. In both, logic and viewpoint are often dictated by loyalty to a particular team.


Athletes have a right to express their political opinions and participate in the process. However, we shouldn’t assume their stances are more noble or informed.

Just because (LeBron) James is a franchise player that doesn’t mean he is qualified to tell people what to do with their franchise.

But the athlete who is willing to put himself or herself out there with a view that could alienate some of their fans and upset their brands has my respect. That includes athletes whose beliefs and opinions may not be ones I share.


 

While the above article was written in a world where Donald Trump was simply the Republican candidate for the Presidency, Chris Gasper of The Boston Globe perfectly explains why it is important for athletes to not shy away from their beliefs, and throughout the article Gasper draws parallels between sports and politics.

In a way, this is a continuation of my post regarding Tom Brady and his line stepping when it came to his inability to be public about how he supported his “good friend” Donald Trump.

It is understandable why an athlete that is on the edge of super-stardom might be less willing to be vocal about their opinions regarding real issues., especially on politics. While it might not be fair to discredit an athlete for remaining quiet, it is important to revere those who do not allow themselves to be simply another cog in the machine.

Gasper gives the example of Curt Schilling, who’s opinions are less than relatable for me. However, I agree with Gasper in the sense that while you can question his stance on certain issues, you can’t question his passion and willingness to risk his career in order for his voice to be heard. Silly, stupid, absurd. These are all words you can use to describe an athlete that you feel doesn’t see through the same lens as you.  But the discussion they provide in the public sphere is more important than the actual hot takes.

The People’s Right To Record

One topic that Paul Bass touched upon in his Skype discussion with the class was the right for people to record Police officers on their cell phones. This is a relatively new phenomenon which is due to the increase of quality in cell phone cameras as well as the accessibility that people have to them. Today in class, Bass said that the change is not complete, and the New Haven Police Department embraces the rights of its citizen’s but Bass does acknowledge that these rights are not always carried out. This has been a story for far too long.

In a piece covering  two settlements from 2014 where lawsuits were brought by citizens who were arrested for taking cellphone videos of police in public, written in April of 2015 for the New Haven Independent Bass writes,

Meanwhile, Police Chief Dean Esserman declared in 2012 that he couldn’t punish a cop for blatantly violating that order because the order’s wording is too “vague.” He vowed to rewrite the order.

Almost two years later, the city has not yet rewritten the order, according to Assistant Chief Al Vazquez (pictured), who oversees internal affairs and department values and ethics.

The attorney that lead the case for these citizens, Diane Polan, says that this is simply the Police Department dragging their feet. The right for citizens to record police officers is simply a way for the people to keep police in check, much like the police are there to keep society in check. With more eyes on the police, the work they do is expected to improve. It is peculiar why there is such push back.

A trip to the Sugar Bowl

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Located at 857 Dorchester Avenue on the southern edge of the Polish Triangle neighborhood in Dorchester, Massachusetts the Sugar Bowl Cafe simply gets it right.
With weekday hours of 6 a.m.-8 p.m. their regulars get a chance to grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich to start the day and end the day with a delectable dessert, while the weekend hours of  9 a.m.- 5 p.m. are a little more laid back. the address; the website; the days and hours; whether it is handicapped-accessible; and the closest T stop.

img_20161107_115157Steve Bernath, a recent graduate of UMass Boston who has lived in the neighborhood for three years, appreciates what the Sugar Bowl offers. He said, “This place is a staple of my weekends. You can always find me and my roommates lounging in the backroom on Sunday mornings.  I’ve gotten here before the door is unlocked on more than one occasion.”

img_20161107_171901A short stroll away from the JFK/Umass Red Line station (about 8 minutes), bring your laptop and enjoy the free WiFi while treating yourself to anything from their pastrami sandwich to the hot fudge brownie sundae (which maintains a superb brownie to ice cream ratio.)

“This is a hidden gem of mine,” Bernath said as he sipped his coffee and patiently waited for his breakfast sandwich , “I always make sure to bring friends from out of town here. You can’t sit in an armchair and enjoy yourself at Dunkin Donuts the way you can here.”

One noteworthy quirk is that the Sugar Bowl is a cash only establishment. But don’t worry, they have an ATM inside.

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Utter Fulfillment

Late one night while ignoring my need for sleep and mindlessly scrolling through Twitter one particular tweet from Chad Finn about the hunt for utter fulfillment caught my eye.

 

With Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians trading blows in the World Series this year the unbiased baseball fan, especially those who don’t buy into the whole “going to sleep at a reasonable hour” fad is being treated to a great series. Sure, there are things that the MLB could work on to make the games end at a reasonable hour, but you won’t see me complaining about run-times in the World Series. It’s the freakin’ World Series. Every pitch matters.

Now, back to utter fulfillment.  When I said that this series is a treat to the unbiased baseball fan I can guarantee you it hasn’t been so enjoyable for Indians fans or the Cubs fans. Make no mistake, for these clubs there will be no solace in heading into the Winter Meetings without a ring. And for the diehard fans, a good nights sleep will be few and far between after the final out of their season is made if they are on the losing end.

Think about it. You don’t know a Cubs fan who has seen a World Series win, that’s a fact. The same can be said about Indians fans, with only a little less certainty. The “careful-what-you-wish-for b.s.” that Finn refers too is purely a safety net, it’s the first step to reminding yourself that there is always next year. But when the final out is made and one of these championship-starved clubs is holding up The Commissioner’s Trophy, next year won’t matter. Next year will never feel as good as this year. That is the utter fulfillment that Finn was talking about.

 

p.s. What a lame name for the MLB’s championship trophy. Why isn’t it the David Ortiz Trophy yet?

 

 

Class Presentation: The Ringer

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For my source, I have chosen to focus on Bill Simmons’sThe Ringer. First I will talk about the now defunct Grantland, Bill Simmons’s old ESPN offshoot. Then I will go a little bit into his breakup with ESPN which lead to the creation of The Ringer.

Grantland was Simmons’s brainchild. While he was at ESPN he had developed into their biggest star, and the network gave him complete creative control over his own ESPN affiliated site. As “The Sports Guy”, Simmons created a persona for himself that ushered in a new era of web journalism.

With Grantland he created a pop culture site that dabbled in all aspects including sports, politics, music, movies, and television. It was created in the mold of Simmons and the stable of contributors that he was able to collect provided readers like me a consistent source of entertainment. They had Wesley Morris, Katie Baker, Zach Lowe, Bill Barnwell, Bryan Curtis, Chuck Klosterman and Charles P. Pierce just to name a few. Basically, Simmons had no shortage of talented writers waiting to work with him. That’s when everything went sour.

Simmons had a messy breakup with ESPN and when it became official it appeared that Grantland would live on without him. However, months after the breakup ESPN CEO John Skipper announced that Grantland would be discontinued.  When Simmons’s contract officially expired, along with his gag order, he came out and announced that he was starting a new venture. Thus, The Ringer was born. It quickly became Grantland 2.0.

The Ringer does a lot of things right. Simmons might be the best there is at identifying talent. Just like Grantland there is a deep cast of characters, a mix of old and new faces. When Skipper stopped Grantland he made a point to mention that it was operating at a loss, explaining that the quality of content wasn’t converting to profits. It is interesting to note that all of The Ringer’s content is sponsored, with Miller Lite being tagged right at the header. The images that accompany each article are created in-house. Each visit to the site is a new experience and there is a constant rotation of stories. Overall, the site is very lighthearted and easy to consume. Each article is accompanied by a projected reading time along with notes in the margins on the “highlights” of the article. The one downfall of the site to me is it seems that they have taken a focus on shorter “blog” style posts that are easy to consume.

The Silencing of Sevyn Streeter

USA TODAY –  Singer-songwriter Sevyn Streeter was scheduled to sing the national anthem ahead of the 76ers’ season opener against the Thunder, but that performance didn’t happen. Streeter tweeted a video where she said her anthem performance was stopped because of her “We Matter” jersey. She added that the order came from the 76ers organization.

 What is the NBA thinking here? This is just a terrible look. One day after the NBA rolled out their “Together” campaign the league goes and pulls this.  It seems as if it was a serious knee-jerk reaction by the 76ers management, one that they will undoubtedly regret.

One week ago, before a preseason game between the Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers, Denasia Lawrence took a knee in the middle of the court during her rendition of the National Anthem. The hosting Heat claimed to be unaware of the gesture, and that type of unapproved protest is something that the NBA is looking to avoid.

How does this reflect upon the franchise? After being a witness to the unscheduled protest in Miami the 76ers, how could the team be so unprepared to deal with a situation that was in their control?  ESPN’s Bomani Jones was brief  but stern in his reaction to the blunder.

With a team that is compromised of 85% black players, the trickle down effect behind closed doors could be volatile but it is very likely this will remain behind closed doors. Simply put, this is bad look for the Philadelphia 76ers and more importantly it looks really bad for the NBA. At the same time that the league acknowledges their role in advancing conversation as they roll out a campaign promoting unity, they have silenced the voice of a civilian.

It All Started With A Red Hat

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WCVB (September 2015)

CSNNE (Tom E. Curran)- I don’t know whether Brady will ever go on-the-record and “correct” Trump on his version of locker-room talk. Maybe deep down he’s thinking if he hadn’t willingly allowed Trump to glom onto him 15 years ago, he wouldn’t be dealing with this crap now.

But at the same time, Brady obviously enjoys the friendship. Fun guy, good golf, nice courses, great cigars and all that.

Saying nothing means remaining loyal to Donald Trump as a friend, protecting the brand and staying above the fray.

But saying something — even something as simple as “I didn’t like the comments…” — will be remembered longer than any cigar or round of golf.

For a man who’s been very much surrounded and formed by powerful, confident, capable women — his mother Galynn, sisters Julie, Maureen and Nancy, his wife Gisele — it’s unfathomable that Brady thinks for a nanosecond Trump’s comments aren’t a big deal.

He really ought to say so. 


Confession. I’m a big fan of Tom Brady. The reality of my life as a New England Patriots fan having already peaked is a sad one, but I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything. I have Tom Brady to thank for that.

Now, let’s just say my feelings for Donald Trump land somewhere on the complete opposite side of that spectrum. So the friendship that has blossomed between the two is a bit of a sore subject for me. Ever since Brady showcased one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats in his locker during media availability the link between the two has been the elephant in the room yet following his silent endorsement Brady has been tight-lipped on the subject.

It always made sense to me. Brady has created a brand, something that very few NFL players are able to do. The league is designed to take from the players much more than it gives. It has the least effective players association and the shortest average career length of the big four American professional sports. But Brady catapulted himself to that tier of athletes who transcend their sport into the public eye. He stayed quiet, deflected questions about Trump just like he would a question about last week’s game. Very clearly his camp identified the questions as toxic and he stayed far, far away. But now Trump has stepped directly into his life. A week following the release of Trump’s tour bus discussion with Billy Bush where they glorified sexual assault which  Trump simply wrote off as ‘locker room talk’, Trump sang Brady’s praises at a rally in New Hampshire.

Brady has been vigilant in his efforts to profess his friendship with Trump while also asking to remain out of any political discussion. This is where Brady draws the line. As Tom E. Curran wrote for Comcast Sports Net New England, this is also where Brady must acknowledge that Trump crossed that line and he would do a lot of good by coming out with a statement and peeling back the curtain a little bit.

This is where I draw the line. This is where Brady needs to step up and say something. In a way, this will always be the difference between Brady and David Ortiz, the two most important athletes of my life. Ortiz was an extravagant force in a sport that is more accessible than any other. A summer with the Red Sox dominating the sports media cycle always meant a healthy dose of Ortiz sound bites and highlights. With Brady and the Patriots, you are permanently on the outside looking in. Brady never gives you a real look behind the curtain. Now more than ever it feels like  I don’t want to know what is really going on between Brady’s ears and that’s just the way he wants it. His brand off the field is the same as the one on it.  Unflappable, charismatic, excellent. But his personal life is a lot like when he is on the field, Brady wants you to enjoy it from a distance.

Maybe I should have listened to Mike Felger after Brady’s incident with the Trump hat when he took to the radio waves to poke fun at the reluctance of Patriots fans to acknowledge that Tom Brady might be a little stranger than we would like. The truth is, Patriot’s fans don’t want to know. But Brady’s actions makes it hard to not wonder how it got to this point.