Going Roggin Appearance, KNBC-TV Los Angeles 9-16-14

In this episode of Going Roggin, A Martinez and I debate the hottest sports topics of the week, refereed by legendary L.A. sports anchor Fred Roggin.

In light of the scandals sweeping the NFL, we each proclaim our “sleaziest person in sports.”  We also discuss the expectations and playoff chances of the Dodgers and Angels, plus the prospect of professional sports leagues taking a cut of legalized sports betting.  

Last but not least, it’s everyone’s favorite segment, “Rapid Fire.”

Going Roggin airs on KNBC Ch.4 in the L.A. area every Saturday (3pm PST) and Monday morning (12am PST).  You can catch the live stream of the Sunday night/Monday morning edition of the show by clicking here.  As always, thanks for watching! 

                  Teammate Behind Epic Baseball Prank Tells All!

There is no place like a baseball clubhouse.  The amount of time players (and media, for that matter) spend inside of a clubhouse dwarfs that of the boys of summer’s counterparts in football, basketball and hockey.  The “locker room” culture of sports is something that could easily be studied within the social science disciplines of sociology and psychology.  Spending one afternoon inside of a baseball clubhouse, you’re likely to experience displays of hard work, friendship, indifference, energy, animosity, routine, boredom, exhaustion, and humor.  

Cody Decker, the first baseman for the El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres Triple-A affiliate), produced his fifth baseball-related short flick and this one is a doozy.  “On Jeff Ears” takes us inside the dugout, clubhouse and meeting room as the Chihuahuas play a hilarious prank on teammate Jeff Francouer.  

The veteran outfielder signed with San Diego in March and hey, why not prank a guy who has made around $25 million in his career and is back in the minors?  Here’s a summary.  Francouer’s teammates spent WEEKS pretending that Chihuahuas pitcher Jorge Reyes was deaf.  Coaches, players, and all kinds of folk in El Paso were in on the joke.  Decker’s film takes us inside the prank and the big reveal where Francouer learns that he’s been SO punked!

Decker shot all of the interviews in one day during a rain delay using his iPhone and edited using iMovie on his laptop over the course of a few days.  See kids, you too can make movies at home!  Decker told me that as a filmmaker, he had a clear vision for the film and knew exactly what he wanted from each player and coach when he interviewed them.

I spoke with Decker over the phone and here are a few highlights from our Q&A:

Jackie Pepper: How was Jeff Francouer chosen as the butt of this particular joke?

Cody Decker: Basically we thought he was the perfect candidate.  We put the hook in there early to see if he would fall for it and he did.  We picked Jeff because he’s such a high profile guy and he’s such a nice guy that  I don’t think he saw it coming.  He even admitted it was the best and most well executed prank that he’s every seen.  It was a whole team effort.

JP: Early in the film we see Francouer interviewed on camera.  What did you tell him the reason was for the interview? 

CD: I told jeff that I was shooting a short film for Jorge and his wife’s [wedding] anniversary.  That’s why I told him to annunciate his words [so that “deaf” Jorge would be able to read his lips in the video].

JP: At the end, we see the “big reveal” in which Francouer watches the interviews and learns that you’ve fooled him, hard core.  What happened at that moment that wasn’t seen on camera?

CD: We had a full-on 20 minute Q&A where he [Francouer] asked the entire team questions.  It was amazing.  He was laughing.  He said this is unbelievable.  He said i had no reason not to believe this.

JP: Your teammates verbally hammer the guy, calling him an “idiot” throughout the video.  Were you at all concerned, especially in an age where bullying is a key issue, that this joke was going too far?

CD: No.  Never.  Jeff is literally maybe the best teammate that any of us can ever hope for.  He’s an unbelievable leader, he’s fantastic.  He thought this was just as funny as we did and that just shows you what an amazing guy he is.  We weren’t picking on him, it was just a little thing that we just did and he was impressed.  He got a kick out of it and he bought us all dinner the next night.  

The 2013 MLB season was the steepest of roller coasters for the Los Angeles Dodgers as the team was down in the dumps with Matt Kemp injured and manager Don Mattingly on the verge of being kicked off the ride completely…until rookie phenom Yasiel Puig was called up from the minors in June.  Everything seemed to click for the boys in blue once Puig showed up as the then 22-year-old injected life into the clubhouse by way of hits, incredible plays in the outfield, home runs, wins and laughter.  With Puig on the roster, his teammates Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe each hit their stride.  The Dodgers were riding the highest of highs for nearly the remainder of the regular season.  It was truly magical. 

Before arriving in Los Angeles, the Cuban defector who had been signed by the Dodgers to a $42 million contract, ran into legal trouble while driving recklessly in Chattanooga, TN, the town where he played for the minor league affiliate Lookouts.

Puig took a pounding in the media after taking the old boys club (aka MLB) by storm, walking into the big league like he owned the place, which rubbed many folks the wrong way. 

During the height of Puigmania in August, I appeared on KNBC’s sports news and debate show “Going Roggin,” hosted by legendary L.A. sports anchor Fred Roggin.  Naturally, Fred posed several Puig-related questions to 710 ESPN Radio’s J. Woodfin and I, most of which concerned his behavior and the potential risk assumed by the Dodgers with Puig on the roster.

The video clip above while from August, has once again become relevant as Puig was recently arrested (yet again) for reckless driving, this time in Florida.

I hate to say “I told you so,” but my Mom totally called this.  As you’ll see in the video, my Mom was concerned for Puig in the way that mothers are.  It wasn’t about x’s and o’s for her, but instead, about protecting Puig from turning into a young, rich, ego-maniacal idiot.  Ugh. 

Having watched the entire Dodgers season from beginning to end, I can without hesitation say that Yasiel Puig was easily the best thing to happen to baseball last season.  Love him or hate him, Puig was incredibly entertaining, giving fans (and his teammates and manager) butterflies every time he stepped up to the plate, or saw a deep ball heading his way. 

It would be a shame for the sports world if the Dodgers can’t find a way to help Puig stay out of trouble and focus his energy in a positive way. 

P.S. Paging Mark McGuire… do you have a couch Puig can sleep on?  I think it’s time for a “host family” right about now.  If you’re confused, just watch the video. 

Dodgers Are Heading To The NLCS…But Did You See Puig Dance?

The Dodgers are heading to the NLCS for the first time since 2009, and the city of Los Angeles is going berserk.  Perhaps the craziest, most enthusiastic of us all is Yasiel Puig.

Before calling up the young phenom to the majors in June (BP), the Dodgers were 23-32 and on the brink of collapse.  After the 22-year-old Cuban arrived at Chavez Ravine (AP), the Dodgers went 69-38, finishing the season with a 92-70 record. 

That’s right folks…

B.P. 23-32

A.P. 69-38

Not too shabby.  But the Wild Horse -a nickname bestowed upon Puig by legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully- is good for so much more than just baseball.  

Not only is Puig stellar at spraying celebratory Champaign, but my gosh, does he have some incredible dance moves.  And by incredible, I mean, well…see for yourself.

This isn’t Puig’s first time out on the dance floor.  If you recall, Puig busted out "The Worm" and channeled his inner Soviet solider after the Dodgers clinched a playoff berth at Chase Field (resulting in pool-gate).

Even if you aren’t a fan of the Dodgers, how can you not root for more of this? 

Legendary Dodgers Broadcaster Vin Scully Pays Tribute To Todd Helton

What a season it has been for Major League Baseball.  An antiques roadshow of sorts, featuring some of the game’s most-respected veterans, has served as a reminder of just how great these men were for the game, before they ride off into the retirement sunset.  

Mariano Rivera.  Andy Pettitte.  Todd Helton.  

Like Rivera, Helton managed to play for just one team over the duration of his big league career, which in this day and age, is a nearly impossible feat.  In 17 seasons playing first base with the Colorado Rockies, Helton won the NL batting title once, earned five All-Star selections, four Silver Slugger awards and three Golden Glove awards.  Not too shabby.   

The accolades are not lost on Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who, having worked in the Dodgers booth since 1950, has seen his fair share of baseball.  Yep, that’s 63 years.  Point being, when Scully takes the time to create a video tribute such as the one which aired during Saturday’s game between the Rockies and Dodgers (the final game of Helton’s career), that should tell you something about Helton’s place in baseball history.  

Making the gesture even sweeter?  The fact that nobody can tell a story like Vin Scully.  In his tribute to Helton, Scully reminisces about Helton’s short-lived college football career, playing backup quarterback at the University of Tennessee.  In Helton’s junior year, the Vols starting QB went down, thus Helton’s name was called.  Helton only lasted three weeks before injuring his knee and being replaced by a then-true freshman named Peyton Manning.  

Yes, by way of injury, Todd Helton gave us Peyton Manning.  Thanks Todd!  And perhaps had it not been for that knee injury and Manning’s dominance, professional baseball would never have known Helton.  Thanks Peyton! 

Anecdotes aside, Scully appeared truly touched and emotional in his tribute video to Helton, saving perhaps his best compliment for last, weaving words in only the way only Scully can.

"On behalf of all those Dodgers pitchers you mistreated for so many years, have a wonderful life after baseball." 

             Mariano Rivera Says Goodbye To Yankee Stadium

Moments like the one experienced by pitcher Mariano Rivera, his Yankees teammates, and all of those present in Yankee Stadium this evening are why we love sports so much.  Between injuries, cheating scandals, athletes behaving badly away from work, etc., the excitement, drama, heartbreak and joy of the game can get lost at times.

The greatest closer in Major League Baseball history was bid an emotional adieu at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, a moment which showcased the best that sports has to offer.  

The Yankees were recently eliminated from the playoffs and although they have a few games left on the regular season schedule, Thursday’s contest against the Tamp Bay Rays was the Bronx Bombers’ final home game.  It would be the last time Rivera, who is retiring after this, his 19th season in the majors, would pitch for the only home crowd he’s ever known as a big leaguer.

The Sandman entered the game in the ninth inning.  He retired all four Rays hitters he faced.  Then it was time to say goodbye.  

Any recap or play-by-play I could type describing Rivera’s exit from the mound would not do this moment justice, so I won’t even try.  Get a few tissues ready and enjoy the scene.  

                           Bonehead Baseball Play of the Day

Remember that theory from your college Psyc or Soc 101 class stating that people are less likely to take responsibility or action when other people are around?  If you need a quick refresher course on diffusion of responsibility, you’ve come to the right place.  

Our “Bonehead Baseball Play of the Day” comes to us from San Diego, care of the Padres.  

See, what had happened was… with the L.A. Dodgers leading 4-0 in the top of the seventh inning, big boy Adrian Gonzalez hit a grounder directly between Padres short stop Ronny Cedeño and second baseman Jedd Gyorko.  What ensued (or, what didn’t ensue) was pretty funny in a “Dumb and Dumber” kind of way.  

But the best part of this debacle is that the bonehead play isn’t even the best part!  No, the best part is legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully’s call.  Gonzalez’ reaction ain’t to shabby either.  

*pay no mind to the laughing in the background of the video*

           Minor Leaguer’s Movie: Not Your Typical Baseball Flick…

The dog days of a baseball summer can be especially rough on minor league players.  The monotony of a baseball season in general… plus long bus rides for away games, little money and living in smaller towns creates a recipe for rambunctiousness among the young men who play a child’s game for a living.  

Luckily for the San Diego Padres organization, 26-year-old Cody Decker is making great (and  trouble-free) use of his down time in Tucson, AZ with the AAA Tucson Padres.

Decker, a Los Angeles-area native, brings a bit of Hollywood to the desert with his short comedic film entitled, “Brad.,” referring to long-time big league catcher Brad Ausmus. 

I grew up making movies with my friends. They were awful,” Decker tells PepperOnSports.com.  

"It wasn’t until high school that I started taking acting and filmmaking more seriously."

Written and directed by Decker, the film was shot primarily in the Tucson Padres facility and stars Decker, along with several other team staffers, including manager Pat Murphy (you may remember him as one of the more successful college managers during his time at Arizona State University), whose cameo steals the show in my opinion.  

"Everyone in the film works at the stadium. I just asked and everyone seemed pretty on board. TJ (clubhouse manager) was a big help. And he really was perfect."

In his fifth season with the organization that drafted him in 2009, Decker is yo-yoing between first base and catching after moving from the outfield to start the 2013 season.   

Did Decker ask for the Padres’ permission to shoot the film? 

Uh…. I didn’t,”  Decker says.  That probably explains why the film is actually funny. 

Despite limited action on the field this season (playing in 98 of the team’s 124 games thus far), Decker leads the entire Padres organization in home runs with 16 (two of which came during a brief stint with the AA affiliate San Antonio Missions) and recently hit his 100th career homer .  Home runs aside, Decker is best known for his alter ego (“AntiHero”) and his sense of humor which he proudly displays via Twitter, earning him the title of the #1 Minor League Player to Follow on the social media site. 

As far as making Brad Ausmus the subject of the film, Decker and Ausmus met last year when Ausmus served as Team Israel’s manager in the World Baseball Classic. Decker was a member of the team.  

In transitioning to the catcher position, Decker can learn a lot from Ausmus, a 3-time Gold Glove winner.  Ausmus, who works in the San Diego Padres front office, told Decker that he laughed while watching the film. 

But ohhh no, this is not the last you’ll see of Decker and Ausmus’ on-film relationship.  Enough scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor to make another short film, which Decker plans on doing soon.  For now though, it’s back to baseball, as usual.  

Derek Jeter is known not only for his skills on the baseball diamond, but also for his smooth, even-keeled demeanor.  The New York Yankees captain stayed cool as a cucumber during his recent appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.  

Jeter, who is back on the disabled list, spent two segments on the show discussing his battle with the injury bug, funny stories about he and Fallon (it looks like the two are buddies in “real life”) and he even addressed teammate Alex Rodriguez’s steroids scandal.  The interview segment is must-see TV for any sports fan.

One bit in particular had Jeter cracking up and the studio audience going wild.  Yes, Jimmy (a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan) and The Roots gave Jeter a few suggestions for a new at-bat song.  The schtick had Derek Jeter Number Two being introduced with the classic Bob Sheppard recording before he promptly walked up to home plate in the middle of the Late Night stage as The Roots and Jimmy played each ditty.   

The fact that Jeter agreed to appear on the show when A) the Yankees are having a bad season B) he’s injured and C) A-Rod and a few of his other teammates are swimming in scandal, is really impressive.  Most celebrities pull out of public appearances when faced with far less controversy than that.  

Jeter’s alleged parting gifts for lady friends gave him first-ballot entry into the Cool Athletes Hall of Fame, so this Late Night appearance is just bonus points.  

This blog post from the LA Dodgers team photographer is a great reminder of the dichotomy that exists within professional sports. While baseball is knee deep in a doping scandal -an issue that has reached the realm of the federal government- and big money, stadiums and politics so often play a role in the megabusiness that is pro sports, it’s so interesting to watch those same men immersed in that intense adult world immediately regress to boyhood when they win a child’s game. The often-times difficult road traveled by baseball players, in contrast with smiles, hugs and genuine happiness expressed by those same guys is fascinating.

Please click on the headline to link to Jon SooHoo’s entire photo blog from the Dodgers’ comeback win over the Rays on Friday, August 10, 2013.    

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If there’s one thing minor league baseball is good for, it’s hilarious ballpark promotions.  

The San Francisco Giants AA affiliate Flying Squirrels (located in Richmond, VA) is getting in on the fun with “Salute to Scandal” night during the Squirrels home game against the Portland Sea Dogs, a Boston Red Sox affiliate.  

What exactly does this “salute” entail? $1 hot dogs at the ballpark’s concession stands.

Why hot dogs, you ask?  Allow this press release from the team website to explain…

“‘Scandal night is meant to be a fun, tongue in cheek night and what hotter of a scandal right now than Anthony Weiner,’ said Flying Squirrels Vice President and COO Todd “Parney” Parnell. ‘His scandal just couldn’t have come at a better time in regards to the Flying Squirrels promotional calendar.’”

The fun doesn’t end with dollar wieners though does it?  Oh no, absolutely not.  

"Fans in attendance will be invited that night to tweet pictures enjoying their $1 hot dogs to @GoSquirrels for the chance to win prizes. Other select fans will be invited to participate in contests between innings that pay tribute to certain celebrities who have been in the spotlight for their scandals. Some examples include the “Brett Favre Football Throw” and the “Tiger Woods Closest to the Pin Challenge”. To end the night with a bang, the Flying Squirrels will have a postgame fireworks extravaganza courtesy of Coventry Health Care and Your Local Ford Dealers.”

To end the night with a bang… of course.  

I salute you, Flying Squirrels, primarily because the flying squirrel has to be one of the top five coolest animals on earth, but also, for your creativity in bringing inappropriate debauchery into the family-friendly, wholesome happening that is minor league baseball.  Bravo.  

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This afternoon I sat down at my computer to write a blog.  I had it titled “Being Johnny Football: #ItsComplicated,” and the content outlined in my head.  In the hopes of finding a few articles to cite in my blog, I pulled up twitter only to find a Richard Roeper retweet of a Chicago Sun-Times article about Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose.

The tweet read, “Derrick Rose on Chicago violence: ‘it all starts with poverty.’”  

I thought, wait a minute… a superstar athlete is publicly discussing a pertinent social issue and offering meaningful insight?  This, I have to see.  

Blocked from reading the article because I’m not a Sun-Times subscriber, I did a quick Google search and was surprised to see a CNN interview in which Rose made these comments was five days old, yet this was the first I had heard of it.  

Check out the first few sentences of the CNN article: 

"NBA star Derrick Rose has spoken out about gun crime in his hometown of Chicago and identified poverty as its root cause.

"The Chicago police department recorded 506 murders in 2012 — with estimates that about 80 percent were gang related, while there have been 185 murders on record up until July 3rd this year.

“‘It all starts out from poverty,’ Rose, who grew up in the city’s impoverished South Side district of Englewood, told CNN.”

Perhaps the article and video clips from the interview got lost in the ocean of George Zimmerman coverage.  But the “not guilty” verdict quickly popped race, gun laws and violence back up to the surface, so much so that crime in Chicago was often included in the Zimmerman conversation.

Instead of seeing or hearing anything whatsoever about Rose’s comments in the last five days, we’ve been saturated with Dwight Howard’s press conference in Houston, whisperings of Major League Baseball potentially punishing Alex Rodriguez for alleged PED use, a magazine cover photo and most egregiously, the life and times of 20-year-old Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel. 

Chicago, we’ll raise your 506 murdered folk with this 558-word article dissecting and grading Manziel’s Wednesday press conference at SEC Media Day.  The two topics certainly seem congruent in terms of real life impact and importance right? 

It would be simplistic and naive not to consider the fact that the college football machine is just a tad more profitable than murder victims in urban Chicago, which likely contributes to the disparity in media coverage.  But one would think that attaching the famous face of Rose to this issue might buy it more appeal.  

After all, Google search “Derrick Rose crying” and you’ll get countless hits from major news outlets to personal blogs commenting on the video of Rose becoming emotional during a press conference at which he launched his new Adidas shoe. 

Google search “Derrick Rose chicago gun violence” and this is all that comes up:

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Really, Internet?  

In the paparazzi/Internet age of celebrities lacking any inkling of privacy and straying from the “role model” tag, it’s surprising that we are ignoring one of the few megastars who embraces it.  

Rose told CNN, “I’m young, but for some reason, people tend to listen to me, especially the younger kids.

"Just knowing where I grew up and what I had to go through to get where I’m at today. Being a role model, of course, that’s what I try to do.

"I try to stay positive, just really trying to bring hope to my city, where of course, we’re going through so much stuff with crime." 

Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan (among other globally recognized athletes) have often been criticized for refusing to publicly take a stand on social/political issues, yet when a high profile athlete finally steps up to the plate, we turn a blind eye.  Heck, Jordan’s father was shot to death, and I couldn’t find any trace of the international icon discussing gun violence in South Carolina, Chicago or elsewhere. 

Fans, reporters and pundits alike were quick to speculate about Rose’s return from a knee injury (understandably so in many cases), blanketing social media and traditional news platforms with coverage over the past year. 

Rose’s mental state was picked apart on national television time after time last season, yet I haven’t seen his recent interview mentioned on cable sports networks, nor any discussion a few months ago of Rose’s offer to cover funeral costs for a 6-month-old girl shot and killed in Chicago.

When asked what he can do as an individual to help combat gun violence in his native Chicago, Rose told CNN, “I’m just trying to bring that positive energy back, bring that excitement back, so that we can get it back on the right track.”

The media so often judges the priorities of others, questioning why those who seem to have it all can’t stay on the right track.  Isn’t it only fair that we ask the same of ourselves? 

This is a fascinating perspective from a die-hard baseball fan who also happens to be a minister.  He brings up points that I’d bet none of us have ever considered.  Click the heading which serves as a link to the article. 

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Times, they are a-changin’ when it comes to sexuality in the United States.  With every new generation comes increased acceptance of gays and lesbians as evidenced by nine states (and Washington DC) legalizing gay marriage. 

Roy Hibbert became the latest high profile athlete to learn a hard lesson from this culture shift after the Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday.  During the the televised post game press conference Hibbert used the homophobic slur “no homo.”

Hibbert also dropped a “motherf****r” in that press conference, which was aired (and bleeped) on TNT.  The “MF” hardly raised an eyebrow (although the NBA will surely fine Hibbert for using the more traditional curse word…UPDATE: The NBA fined Hibbert $75,000 for his post-game remarks), but the gay slur had the social media world buzzing with comments and criticism of Hibbert’s word choice. 

Shortly after the press conference, the Pacers big man tweeted Jason Collins, requesting a conversation with the recently-out NBA player.  The tweet has since been deleted and Sunday, Hibbert released a statement through the clean-up crew… errr…Pacers, apologizing for his comment.

While speaking with Collins is a fine idea, Hibbert should strongly consider giving Kobe Bryant a call. 

Remember when Bryant landed in hot water after yelling a gay slur (the other “F” word) at a referee back in 2011?  Well, Bryant’s bank account remembers as he was fined $100,000 by the league.  Bryant issued the obligatory apology and professed that his words didn’t reflect his personal views (just as Hibbert has done), but the L.A. Lakers superstar put his money where his mouth is in continuing to advocate for acceptance by making public service announcements, publicly supporting Jason Collins and even calling out a fan’s anti-gay language on twitter.

Heck, maybe Hibbert, Bryant and Tim Hardaway should hold an NBA “acceptance summit.”  

In Hibbert’s statement, he apologized for using the “slang” term.  Yes, certain words and phrases are ingrained in our heads from a young age (or even during adulthood) and removing them from our vocabulary can take time and practice.  I don’t know about you guys, but after making a conscious decision at the age of 14 (and with my Mom’s insistence), I kicked “gay” and “retarded” out of my lexicon for good.  Were there occasional slip-ups early on?  Absolutely, but unlearning hurtful words ain’t that tough a task. 

Not long ago, a tweet popped up on my timeline written by an athlete from one of the many teams I covered for work.  In his tweet, said athlete used the word “gay” in the context of “bad” or “stupid.”  I immediately texted him a mini-lecture, detailing why he should remove the tweet (for his own sake) and that he should strongly consider attempting to remove the word, in such context, from his vocabulary both publicly and privately.

He quickly texted me back saying “you know I didn’t mean it like that,” so I text-lectured a bit further.  Within five minutes of posting, the tweet had disappeared. A few hours later, the athlete told me he had received instant blowback from several of his twitter followers, prompting him to delete the tweet.  He told me that he agreed with my stance and that he would make an effort to stop using “gay” in a negative connotation.  I haven’t seen or heard him use the word since. 

This player is a guy with a wonderful personality and a big heart.  He was quite young at the time and it was apparent that all he needed was someone to point out something that he hadn’t considered previously.  I cut him some slack and tried to help him out a bit because I didn’t think he was anti-gay, and I believed he fell into the “even good people make mistakes” category. 

The aforementioned athlete, Bryant, and Hibbert all claimed that their hurtful words did not align with their personal beliefs and that their intent didn’t come from a discriminatory place. 

Unfortunately, that is of little consequence to the closeted gay teenager who reads a tweet from his favorite pro-athlete and feels his heart sink.  As much as some public figures stray from the “role model” position, it doesn’t make their words any less far-reaching or diminish the power of their actions.

Intentions are practically meaningless in situations like these because emotional and physical responses are attached to certain words (like the “N” word) that historically, have been used in the vein of hate, violence and persecution.

Kobe Bryant turned a huge negative into an even greater positive with the steps he has taken since his on-court outburst in 2011.  I’m guessing the driving force behind such a drastic turnaround is sincerity.  Do I know for a fact that Bryant isn’t anti-gay?  No I don’t, but I’d be shocked if he was faking it.  If Hibbert truly has no issue with homosexuality, he should follow in Bryant’s footsteps. 

At what point will influential public figures like Hibbert (and plenty of others) step out of their personal bubbles and learn from the mistakes made by their peers and predecessors?   At what point do we stop making excuses for ourselves and learn to do the right thing without having to first, do something wrong?

The movement for LGBT equality has been on the forefront of American politics and society over the last several years with professional athletics finally joining the party as sports stars spanning the globe have trickled out of the closet.  

John Amaechi, Gareth Thomas, Robbie Rogers and Brittney Griner have all publicly disclosed their sexuality in recent years, proving that yes, some of the best athletes on earth are indeed gay.  

Last week NBA player Jason Collins disclosed he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete in one of the four major North American team sports to come out.

Supporting Collins and the right for players to be open and honest about their sexuality were fellow athletes Baron Davis, Kobe Bryant, Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Scott Fujita, Steve Nash, CC Sabathia and Jerry Stackhouse. 

All of these men have one thing in common.  They are all over 30 years old.  Why is this important?

Traditionally, the Gay Rights movement leadership may be comprised of an over 30 crowd, but surveys indicate that the greatest support for equal marriage rights lies among younger Americans.   With every new generation entering adulthood, the country becomes more accepting of gay rights.

I, for one, would think that today’s college players and younger professional athletes would be the folks leading the way for openly gay players in sports.  It seems that I’m only half right, especially in men’s sports.  

Academia frequently serves as a catalyst for social change and we’re seeing an increased number of college athletic programs publicly encourage players to come out.  However there’s a significant drop off in that sentiment among the pro ranks. 

It’s no coincidence that many veteran players, such as those previously mentioned, are freely expressing opinions on a controversial issue.  Many of these guys are at the end of their professional careers or are so dominant in their sport that they won’t face any career-threatening or financial consequences.  

But what about young players who aren’t yet established in their sport?  Just a few months ago, an NFL prospect was asked about his sexuality at the Combine.  What kind of message does that send to young players? 

There is one player who has managed to break the mold.  He’s not a veteran but he has faced years of taunting as a result of sticking up for his beliefs. 

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Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets is just the kind of young, talented, high-profile athlete needed to encourage other heterosexual athletes of his generation to help open the doors even wider for lesbian and gay teammates.  

Raised by two moms,  Waudda and Manasin, the 23-year-old Faried has been active in supporting the LGBT community for several years.  An impressive rookie season earned Faried respect and a solid reputation heading into this season, his second in the NBA.  

Veteran, heterosexual players (and obviously, the gay athletes who have come out over the years, such as Martina Navratilova) have paved the way for Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, and now, Jason Collins.  But those guys are on the way out, leaving a huge void in the movement.  Kenneth Faried is the man to fill that void for his generation.  Hopefully by the time his career ends, Faried won’t need a successor because the movement itself will no longer be necessary.