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! 

                        Ray Rice and the Park Ave Piranhas

What a mess.  What an utter disaster.  What if the governing body and its headmaster are so deeply entrenched in filth that they can no longer be trusted to thoroughly clean it up?  

This is the curious case of the NFL and its handling (or lack thereof) of the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal.  Yes, this reached “scandal” or “-gate” proportions.  

ESPN host Keith Olbermann delivered a stirring monologue (click the above video to watch) just hours after TMZ Sports released surveillance video footage showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice engaged in a physical altercation with this then-fiancé Janay Palmer in which he punches Palmer in the face, knocking her out cold. 

The hot water NFL commissioner Roger Goodell found himself in after only suspending Rice for two games upon his arrest (and TMZ Sports’ first release of video footage, a clip that did not include the punch) can now be considered lukewarm.  That water has quickly turned to s*** and it just hit the fan, boiling over into the league office on Park Avenue.  

Facing a tsunami wave of backlash with the release of the new video, the Ravens cut Rice and the NFL suspended him “indefinitely.” 

In his monologue, Olbermann suggests Goodell (amongst several other executives) resign in light of failing to appropriately punish Rice, all the while knowing what was on that video tape (after all, Rice admitted to punching Palmer, rendering her unconscious).  

Both the Ravens and the NFL said Monday was the first time they had seen the video of the punch itself.  Now the questions become, “what did they know” and “when did they know it.”  

According to a small handful of reporters, sources had seen the piece of video containing the knockout punch long before Monday.  

Despite being “anonymous,” it’s hard not to give the sources the benefit of the doubt here, especially given the NFL’s horrendous track record of poor decisions, lies and cover-ups.  

The NFL has been delivering knockout blows to its own players for decades by way of systematically denying a link between concussions (suffered while playing football) and long-term brain injuries.  The book and documentary film “League of Denial” details a massive cover-up, exposing the NFL’s mafia-like practices which included strong-arming, negligence and fraudulent behavior. 

The NFL allegedly allows some of its owners to get away with violating federal and state labor laws

Goodell himself continues to support a team name that many people find to be racist and extremely offensive.  

It’s a culture of lawlessness.  The Wild Wild West.  A realm in which the NFL does what it wants, when it wants.  

What happens when the police chief needs policing?  Who is in place to discipline Roger Goodell and his administration for their egregious behavior?  The court of public opinion might be the only body strong enough to force accountability and change.  

At best, league officials did not want to watch the damning casino surveillance video that was accessible to the police, prosecutor’s office, Rice’s attorneys (presumably) and TMZ.  At worst, Goodell and friends watched the video, suspended Rice for only two games, and allowed the Ravens to put on one of the most manipulative charades we’ll ever see from a professional sports team.

Both scenarios call for accountability at the top of the food chain.  At minimum, Goodell should provide a truthful explanation (and evidence to support it) of the investigation and subsequent suspension.  Goodell should also suspend himself from his post as commissioner in order to take some time to recognize his mistakes and figure out how to improve his job performance moving forward.  Another option is for Goodell to resign.

Olbermann suggests that “we” (the public, media, etc.) boycott all-things Ravens until team executives and the commissioner (Goodell) have been dismissed.  

With some current and former players staging a mutiny via social media in addition to the public outrage, Monday might be the day that forces a regime change in the all-mighty and powerful NFL. 

Let’s also hope that Janay Palmer is safe and sound after yet another traumatic day.  

Related Links:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline website 

Ray Rice Will Never Play in NFL Again, but Accountability Shouldn’t Stop There (Mike Freeman, Bleacher Report) 

The Real Reason Why Ray Rice Should Have Been Suspended Indefinitely (Jane McManus, ESPN) 

Treat Off-Camera Abusers Same as Ray Rice (Christine Brennan, USA Today Sports) 

10 Worst Scandals in NFL History (Tyson Langland, Bleacher Report)

 There’s an App for that: Drew Brees, Steve Gleason and technology

via Yahoo! Sports

                The Sherman Effect: The Proof Is In The Pudding 

Richard Sherman.

If you’ve had enough, or aren’t interested in yet another Sherm discussion, feel free to take a pass on this blog post.  Countless media outlets have covered some angle relating to the Seattle Seahawks cornerback’s on-field interview with Erin Andrews following the NFC Championship game over the last several days, so I fully intended on staying out of the cluster.  Why bother, right?

Well, I now feel compelled to jump in on the action for two reasons. 

A) new “evidence” has emerged as to what exactly went on between Sherman and 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree on the last play of the NFC Championship game, prompting Sherm’s jacked-up mini-rant, and

B) the vocabulary used to describe Sherman says a lot about our country in general and specifically, certain individuals who used such words.  

The above video comes to us care of NFL Films and NFL Network.  As you know, NFL Films places microphones on coaches and players during games throughout the season, creating a “Sound FX” segment that gives viewers a great insight as to what really went down between the hash marks.  

If you start 40 seconds into the video above, you’ll see that Sherman approaches Crabtree after the game-ending play, pats him on the butt and says, “hell of a game.”  Crabtree’s response was to shove his hand in Sherman’s face.  

Someone in Crabtree’s corner knows a hell of a lot about excitedly greeting an opponent after you’ve beat them.  Remember when 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh gave then-Lions head coach Jim Schwartz a bit of an aggressive good-game-smack on the chest back in 2011?  If your memory of the ensuing brawl is a bit fuzzy click this link to watch the video.

Many, many things were said about Harbaugh and Schwartz after that debacle, but one word I don’t recall hearing about either coach was “thug.”  

Sherman, on the other hand, has been absolutely hammered for his excited utterance into the lens of a Fox camera within seconds of earning his first trip to the Super Bowl (to be played against the Denver Broncos on Feb. 2).  

Thug, as defined by Merriam-Webster is “a violent criminal,” and “a brutal ruffian or assassin.”  

Deadspin posted a story showing usage of the word “thug” on television went through the roof on Monday, following the NFC title game Sunday evening.  The article even broke down usage of the word by television market.  In the least surprising part of the story, Boston led the nation in “thug” chatter, with WEEI radio’s good’ol boys Dennis & Callahan dropping a thug-bomb assault on their listeners during a discussion about Sherman.   Those dudes…SMH.  

So…. Harbaugh and Schwartz are jerks, loud mouths, out of control, etc.  Sherman is a thug (which by definition, is a murderer).  Why the distinction?

Common sense tells us that two of these things are not like the other.  The aforementioned coaches are white, and Sherman is black.  It’s a fairly simple (and upsetting) truth. 

Richard Sherman agrees with that assessment and pointed out the hypocrisy in a recent press conference. 

Sherman said that some folks are now using “thug” as a substitute for the N-word, and by golly, he’s right!  When Sherman retires from football, he should immediately jump into the sports media business because he’s entertaining, intelligent, and comes up with great talking points.  

"There was a hockey game [Flames vs. Canucks] where they didn’t even play hockey,” Sherman said on the subject of his new “thug” label during the press conference.

"They just threw the puck aside and started fighting.  I saw that, and said, ‘Oh man, I’m the thug? What’s going on here?’"

Sadly, I think we all know the answer.  

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Sporting events might just be the only authentic reality television.  The personalties, athletic ability, competition, story lines and lack of a predetermined outcome captivate fans and audiences worldwide.  

Historic rivalries provide some of the best drama sports has to offer.  At a certain point, attempting to find new ways to spin old stories can become a bit tedious for writers, reporters and producers of sports content.   

NFL Network recently found a brand new way of examining one of the NFL’s most popular modern rivalries, Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning.   

One could easily argue that this isn’t quite a rivalry at all considering opposing quarterbacks never set foot on the field at the same time, but the games between Brady’s New England Patriots and Manning’s Indianapolis Colts (and now Denver Broncos) have given us suspenseful pleasures for more than a decade. 

Before proceeding, you should know that I worked for NFL Network as a production assistant for nearly two years, and Anthony Smith, an NFL Network features producer who created the network’s latest series about Brady v. Manning, is a good friend of mine.  That said, it never hurts to give credit when and where it’s due. 

"The Rivals" is a multi-part video series that chronicles not only the history of Brady v. Manning, but also, examines the heart and soul of great rivalries, as told by several of the modern era’s biggest sports rivals. 

"The concept came about this summer during a brainstorm for the current season," Smith, in his eighth year at the network, tells PepperOnSports.com.

"I was looking at a way of telling the Brady-Manning story in a way that I hadn’t seen yet."

"The Rivals" roster is long and accomplished as the following athletes participated in the series: 

Jack Nicklaus & Arnold Palmer

Bill Walton & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Goose Gossage & Carlton Fisk

Jimmie Johnson & Jeff Gordon

Martina Navratilova & Chris Evert

Pete Sampras & Andre Agassi.

"Pitching the project to the rivals was pretty easy.  All of them immediately understood what the project was looking to accomplish," says Smith.

"All of these athletes are sports fans.  And all of them followed the NFL, with the exception of Andre Agassi who was up front and honest about that."  

Watching and listening to sports titans talk about their career rivals within the context of Brady and Manning is a treat for any sports fan, regardless of one’s familiarity of the historic rivals.  “If you don’t know, now you know.” 

One of my favorite lines in the series comes in the Bill Walton vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar episode when Walton says of Abdul-Jabbar, “that guy’s left leg belongs in the Smithsonian.” 

It is rare that athletes are given the opportunity to discuss peers in other sports.  The group chosen to participate in “The Rivals” legitimately loves the sport of football, and Brady v. Manning.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the vast football knowledge of all of them," says Smith.

The episodes debuted on the web and were shown during various televised programming on NFL Network in the week leading up to Broncos v. Patriots in week 12 of the NFL season.  

I’d bet most of the “The Rivals” participants watched Sunday night’s instant classic that will undoubtedly find a place in rivals lore and further the legend that is Brady v. Manning.  

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The NFL hasn’t exactly provided a wealth of positive stories over the past several days.  From the alleged bullying saga in Miami, to health scares for both the Broncos and Dolphins head coaches, professional football has left us little to smile about as of late.  

Leave it to original Houston Texans offensive lineman Chester Pitts to neutralize some of the negativity, as he and other current and former Texans players will drive senior citizens to the voting booth on Tuesday, Nov. 5.  Literally.  

Pitts, who retired from the NFL in 2011 and now works for local television station KPRC in Houston, is joining forces with the Harvest Community Center  for the second consecutive year in helping the elderly members of his community to vote.  

Last year’s event went so well that Pitts decided to do it again, and not just in light of the Houston mayoral race, the fact that the elderly are often an infringed voting group, or because it’s a mitzvah.  But also, because old people are awesome.  

"Seniors, you can learn so much from them and just being around them for the length of time we were, was an amazing experience," Pitts told PepperOnSports.com. 

"Their gracious attitude told me this was something I had to keep doing."

Joining Pitts behind the wheel of several large passenger vans that will shuttle seniors from various community centers to the polls will be current Texans offensive linemen Duane Brown and Brandon Brooks, as well as former Texans defensive lineman Travis Johnson and former Houston Oilers receiver, Haywood Jeffries.  Johnson also participated on election day last year.  

Tuesday will be the Texans first day off since a demoralizing Sunday Night Football performance in which the team gave up a 21-3 first half lead over the Indianapolis Colts, ultimately losing at home, 27-24 and dropping their season record to 2-6.  Texans head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on the field during halftime with a still unknown medical condition.  It’s pretty cool that despite a trying season thus far, some of the Texans are willing to give up what little free time they have to help out strangers within the community. 

"There is no responsibility for professional athletes to do this," Pitts told PepperOnSports.com.   

"But as a professional athlete you are a role model and I believe you should always do what is right.  Helping others, especially our seniors is always important and as long as I am able, I want to do just that." 

Pitts says that as a media member, he has approached different players about helping out with the event in the locker room following Texans games.  He hopes player involvement will increase each year.  

(photos courtesy of Chester Pitts)

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(Top photo, Pitts and Brown. Bottom photo, Brooks and Pitts)

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." 

                     NFL Concussion Diary: Jermichael Finley  

Scary.  Great Idea.  Important.  

Scary:  The helmet-to-helmet hit that left Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley with a concussion, and symptoms for everyone in the stadium and watching on TV, to see for themselves.  After receiving the blow to his head (delivered by Bengals safety George Iloka in the Week 3 match-up in Cincinnati), Finley unsuccessfully attempted to jog to the sideline, only to hobble and wobble around the field before eventually falling back to the ground.  Finley’s inability to maintain his balance after the hit was reminiscent of the career-ending concussion suffered by former San Diego Chargers offensive lineman Kris Dielman in the 2011 NFL season.  The difference then was that despite Dielman’s obvious concussion symptoms, he continued to play the rest of the game against the New York Jets, before having a seizure on the team flight back to San Diego.  

Luckily for Finley, the league’s stance on head injuries has changed in the last two seasons, thus he was pulled from the game immediately following the play in which he was injured.  

Great Idea:  Finley posted a video on his personal website detailing not only the play in which he suffered the concussion, but also how he felt at that moment physically and emotionally.  Seemingly with great honesty, Finley takes us through his concussion journey from before it even began, to present day.  Most professional sports teams are so “hush-hush” when it comes to injuries that solely naming body parts have come to pass as actual information.  Left arm, right leg, abdomen, etc.  Finley gives us the play-by-play, straight from the horse’s mouth, which is brilliant.

The video not only gives fans an up-close look at what a player experiences when the brain is injured, but Finley’s account of the team trainer’s immediate insistence that he be pulled from the game tows the company line, proving the NFL’s dedication to the players’ best interests.  

Important:  Concussions and brain injuries have come to the forefront of NFL media coverage in the past year, specifically due to the recently-settled lawsuit brought by former players suffering brain injuries against the NFL, and the many stories emerging of former players with clinical depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, ALS, and those who have taken their own lives.   

That said, many current athletes in contact sports at best, admit to pushing such concerns to the back of their minds, and at worst, wear the delusional cloak of invincibility, believing that the worst occupational hazards only happen to other people.  

In Finley’s case, he tells his concussion story so matter-of-factly, almost as though it was indeed something that happened to someone else, until he recalls one anecdote in particular.  It was when Finley’s 5-year-old son told him, “Daddy, I don’t want you to play football anymore,” that the blur of just another workplace injury focused into a sharp reality.    

Oh…my…lord.  Peyton and Eli Manning go “Lonely Island Boys” on us and take to the streets of New Orleans in this EPIC music video.   

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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? 

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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.  

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Tenaciously supporting a minority that so many in the majority have yet to understand takes considerable strength and courage, perhaps in its own way, requiring even more bravery than donning pads and a helmet on Sundays.

Speaking out in favor of marriage equality has put NFL players Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita (all heterosexual, in case you were wondering) on a new kind of athletic map, one that spans far beyond the football field.  The three veterans of the sport, all California natives, will have their eyes on Washington D.C. Tuesday and Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in two cases that could change the course of history for gay people in this country.    

With the help of attorney John Dragseth and university law professor Tim Holbrook, the three NFL players filed an Amicus Brief with the court - a document stating one’s position as it relates to a case before the court - in support of marriage equality. 

"Basically it’s a way to bring attention to an aspect of the case we think is important to the Court that they might not have otherwise considered," said Kluwe who used the athlete perspective as the primary focus of the brief.

"Many different entities file amicus briefs in high profile cases, and if they’re cogent and well reasoned, the Court generally takes them into consideration."


Several athletes (current and former) have signed the brief, hoping to use their names to help push what they see as positive legislation forward.

"The brief shows that historically, many athletes have been powerful agents for social change," said Fujita, who recently wrote an essay about his views on marriage equality for the New York Times.

"People look to us, whether we like it or not. And that’s why our actions, and how we treat others, and the words we use, carry a lot of weight. We need to set the right example, especially for kids."

In an age where world famous sports stars (i.e. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, etc.) keep quiet about their personal and political beliefs, many find the recent surge of athletes coming out in support of the LGBT community and marriage equality to be something new, and surprising.

"Renaissance" would be a more accurate description of the gay rights movement building within the community of current and former professional athletes as the sports world has often been at the forefront of civil rights issues. 

Jackie Robinson integrated baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, several years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education integrated the country in 1954.

Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman stood for racial equality on the medal stand in Mexico City during the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Women gained equal access to play sports in school with the Title IX portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 and here we are, four decades later, where women earn only 74 cents for every dollar earned by men in the workplace.

The NFL’s renaissance men embrace the challenges faced by their predecessors as they become the next generation of athletes to take a stand on social issues.

"Until everyone is accepted and treated equally we will continue to push the envelope toward equality," said Ayanbadejo, who plans to speak at a marriage equality rally in Washington on Tuesday.  

"People know and accept that racism isn’t right. When every one feels the same way about discrimination and the law backs our stance, only then will we be satisfied."

While Ayanbadejo, Fujita and Kluwe have long been supporters of the LBGT community and marriage equality, their stock soared sky high in 2012, and even ruffled some feathers along the way, thanks to an election year with marriage equality on the ballot in several states. 

The broad discussion of constitutional gay rights narrowly trickled down to the sports world Monday as news broke regarding an NFL player who is strongly considering coming out to the public.  He would become the first openly gay, active athlete in the history of North American team sports.

It’s clear that a host of fellow athletes would support him, as there are plenty of notable names on the athlete’s brief submitted to the court.  But the list is noticeably devoid of the most recognizable sports figures.  No LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, or Sidney Crosby.  No Venus or Serena Williams, Rory McIlroy or Derek Jeter. 

"It would really help bolster the environment of support and equality we’re trying to promote in the NFL and other pro sports," Kluwe said of the importance of the biggest names in the business publicly supporting LGBT rights and marriage equality. 

"Top athletes are definitely role models for a lot of people, and having their help is invaluable."

In fairness to the aforementioned, they weren’t necessarily asked to participate.  Ayanbadejo did the majority of the recruiting himself on a busy, Super Bowl-winning schedule.

"The first filtering of candidates was done in my head. I targeted my athletes and went for it," said Ayanbadejo when asked how many "A-list" athletes were asked to join the cause.

Fujita made a few calls as well, witnessing first hand how money and corporate sponsorship can so easily create a serious conflict of interest for celebrities.

"There were a handful that I approached. And it wasn’t that they weren’t with us on issue. Sometimes ‘corporate interests’ weigh in, I think. That’s why I occasionally (half-jokingly) challenge these guys to be the ‘anti-Jordan.’"

Despite those who declined to participate (publicly or privately), Ayanbadejo was encouraged by the progress made by those who were willing to lend their support.

"There really wasn’t any flat out no’s but there was plenty of hesitation. And just as many guys that were hesitant stepped up and affirmative said yes. For me to be fair I would have had to have asked more guys but the overwhelming majority said yes. I would say I was batting around .650."

That average lines up nicely against the country as a whole, as nearly 60 percent of Americans said they support gay marriage.

The NFL’s renaissance men are hoping that one more majority sides with them as well come June, when the Supreme Court makes its decision on marriage equality. 

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Have you ever had that feeling when you show up somewhere, and something is off?  You know something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it?  That eerie, sour sense of mystery likely flooded the air circulating through the Dallas Cowboys facility soon after the players arrived early Saturday morning, just hours after the death of one of their teammates.

It was an early wake-up for the Dallas Cowboys as meetings began at the training facility at 7:30am Saturday, with the team plane scheduled to take off for Cincinnati a few hours later, a source close to the team told PepperOnSports.   Once the players separated into groups, it became clear that two guys were missing from their respective meetings, third-year nose tackle Josh Brent, and rookie linebacker, Jerry Brown.  The players began talking amongst themselves, but were told only that there had been an “unfortunate accident,”  and no details were provided by team personnel, according to the source. 

It wasn’t until the team had boarded the charter plane in the afternoon that the players received the bad news from head coach Jason Garrett.  Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident, and Josh Brent - who was driving when his car flipped at 2:21am after hitting a curb at high speeds - had been arrested for DUI and manslaughter. 

Brent and Brown were on their way home from Privae nightclub in Dallas, where a dozen Cowboys players had spent the evening partying with comedian Shawn Wayans, according to a source close to the team.  The Privae website advertises free entry with an RSVP every Friday and promotes an evening with celebrity guest host Shawn Wayans for December 7.  Most bars and clubs in Dallas close at 2am.  

Not that there is ever a good time to learn that one coworker is dead and another is being blamed for it, but right before a two-and-a-half hour flight, without the comfort of friends or family outside of the office seems like a tough way to receive the news.   When asked about the mood of the players during the flight, the source replied, “silence on the plane.”  That was perhaps the longest flight of those mens’ lives.

(Update: “The team couldn’t immediately reveal the details because Brown’s next-of-kin had not been notified,” according to USA Today)

This takes us back eight days ago, in the wake of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, who murdered his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins, before killing himself at Arrowhead Stadium in front of KC’s general manager and head coach.  As of last Friday, there was no precedent in dealing with the murder/suicide carried out by n active NFL player, much less with the suicide happening in front of team personnel at the stadium.

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the first time an active NFL player has died in a car accident during the season.  Atlanta Falcons players Ralph Norwood and Brad Beckman were killed in separate car accidents less than a month apart during the 1989 season.

The Chiefs operated under a microscope last week, every decision and movement dissected by the media.  One can only imagine the level of interest and examination facing the Cowboys, a team whose 6-6 record - now seemingly inconsequential in comparison - is the subject of daily debate on both the local and national level.   It should be interesting to watch the ensuing behavior of frequently scrutinized Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the wake of this tragedy. 

Hopefully the appropriate mental health support will be offered to players and team personnel for the remainder of the season.  One can only imagine the emotional weight the Cowboys will carry with them on to the field Sunday against the Bengals.  

Just like us fans, Roger Goodell is likely praying for the start of the NFL season to hurry up and get here.  Not because the NFL commissioner loves the game, which surely, he does.  Instead, the football season serves as a major distraction to keep the NFL’s players from getting into trouble, aka, getting pinched by the cops.

28 active NFL players have been arrested (as of July 20) since Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 5) according to ArrestNation.com, along with four guys receiving citations and one being formally charged.  In full disclosure, Lions DT Nick Fairley accounts for two of the 28 arrests in that time period.  Nice job big man.  Way to be consistent. 

Before we get into what this means (if anything) for football, and whether or not this is an athlete-arrest epidemic, let us take a look at a few of my favorite crimes some of these guys allegedly committed:

Arrests
- Assault
- Disorderly Conduct
- Driving under the influence
- Suspicion of third-degree assault with substantial bodily harm
- Fugitive warrant (so hard core…perhaps my favorite of the bunch)
- Possession of marijuana
- Third-degree criminal sexual conduct
- Failure to carry insurance (yes… car insurance.  Seriously)

Citations
- Speeding
- Possession of marijuana
- Misdemeanor assault

Despite my wisecracks, there is some pretty serious stuff listed above.  Many of the arrests were for DUI or similar infractions.  This is not good, no matter which way you slice it. 

But is this out of the norm?  Not as of late.  30 NFL players were arrested during the same time frame in 2011, according to the San Diego Union Tribune’s database of NFL arrests (https://www.utsandiego.com/nfl/arrests-database/).

In contrast, there were 17 arrests From Aug. 1 2011 to Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 6, 2012), according to the Union Tribune arrest database.

After five to six month of a completely regimented lifestyle provided by an NFL season, some guys seem to travel too far to the other side of the freedom spectrum.   

Too much spare time coupled with pro sports money can prove to be one bad combination for some folks.   

Folks like young Dez Bryant, one of the six player-arrests to be made public within the last six days from 7/15-7/20.   

Bryant might indeed be the next coming of Michael Irvin in Dallas, but for all the wrong reasons.  The troubled Cowboys receiver was pinched after his mother called the police accusing Bryant of slapping her face, pulling her hair and ripping her clothing during the alleged assault. 

Bryant’s arrest comes after a string of negative incidences, none of which involved an arrest.  Going into his third NFL season, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy has been inconsistent on the field while also showing flashes of brilliance.  Various accounts of Bryant’s troubled upbringing have been published over the past few years, and Jerry Jones and the Cowboys are certainly aware. 

Just like teams force players to take physical exams before each season starts, why not bring in a psychotherapist to sit down with each guy for an hour or two for a mental health evaluation?  Chris Henry could have used one.  So could PacMan Jones.  How about Michael Vick?

Some arrests may be considered equal by the law, but that is not the case in the court of public opinion.  When your typical fans hear about Adrian Peterson’s arrest at a Houston nightclub, he is likely to get some slack considering his clean record and good-guy image.  Bryant, on the other hand, hasn’t been afforded the same treatment for obvious reasons.

As annoying and cliche as it is, “perception is reality,” and the NFL does indeed have some problems in the perception department.

Lockout.  Head injuries.  Bankruptcy.  Suicide.  Dementia.  Shootings.  DUIs.  Foot fetishes.

Okay, well, a foot fetish is no biggie, but the rest of the NFL’s issues are substantial.  The league tries a traditional method of prevention with the Rookie Symposium where current and former players, along with other speakers, warn the NFL’s newest members of the myriad of distractions and deal breakers they could potentially face during their careers.  While the symposium is a start, it’s not enough.

Commissioner Goodell has yet to publicly address the string of player arrests this offseason, and I’m not sure that he needs to.  Will people stop watching football because guys are getting popped for DUIs and assault?  Probably not, at least not to any measurable degree. 

In looking at the big business picture, perhaps the league doesn’t view these discretions as a detriment.  Why not?  Take a gander at this info nugget from an article on The PostGame from Oct. 2011:

"The numbers don’t lie. One in every 45 National Football League players (2.2 percent) is arrested. The national arrest rate is 1 in 23 (4.2 percent), according to the FBI in 2010.  What does this mean?  Technically, NFL players get in 47.6 percent less trouble than your average Joe."

But that doesn’t make it right.  Goodell has been criticized for his authoritative rule and heavy hand.  I have, for the most part, agreed with Goodell’s disciplinary actions but the league needs to find a better way of preventing its core of rich and talented young men from making one mistake too many.