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

via Yahoo! Sports

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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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Dear Chris,

Hey man, how’s it going? I would like to sugar coat the meaty contents of this letter by first saying congratulations on making it to the Super Bowl, as you and your 49ers teammates have made the city of San Francisco beam with football pride for the first time in many years.  That is wonderful.

More importantly, I have a personal favor I’d like to ask of you.  Please don’t apologize for your homophobic comments, attempt to rephrase or claim your words were taken out of context. 

I’m not sure even the best and brightest of the PR world could find a way to spin this (courtesy of the Mercury News):

“I don’t do the gay guys man,” Culliver said. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.

“Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can’t be … in the locker room man. Nah.”

Culliver suggested that homosexual athletes keep their sexuality private until 10 years after they retire.

Oy Vey. 

Apparently, Artie Lange is the new Oprah, getting guys like you to open up about such controversial subjects.  Impressive!

Here’s the thing Chris.  Personally, I respect your right to freely discuss your opinions, any time, any place. I’m sure the majority of San Franciscans agree, given the Bay Area’s storied history of the peace movement, freedom of speech and gay rights activism. 

This is why I implore you not to attempt to color these comments as something other than what they are; the dark truth that homophobia and strong anti-gay views remain deeply rooted in the world of professional sports.

Sure, there are other guys sprinkled throughout pro sports, for instance, your fellow NFL pals Brendon Ayanbadejo, Chris Kluwe and Scott Fujita, who are openly supportive of civil rights in this country, including LGBT rights.  But clearly the movement is not yet powerful enough to have impacted you, despite your own team’s efforts to join the cause

While it was a poor business move to publicly reveal your feelings about gays as a member of a San Francisco-based organization, there is no going back so you may as well resign to moving forward.

Should you apologize for hurting people’s feelings or offending them?  That seems fair.  You can stick by something you say while feeling bad that others are hurt by it.  In a weird and twisted way, I actually respect Lance Armstrong for a non-apology he gave Oprah in their sit-down interview.

Instead of taking the apology bait when Oprah asked him if he felt remorse, Armstrong’s response was, “everybody that gets caught is bummed out they got caught.” Finally, he was honest about something.

Chris, you are strong enough to take the Lance route on this one. 
Don’t be like your Super Bowl opponent Terrell Suggs who, after verbally decimating the "arrogant prick" Patriots, received a talking-to from teammate Ray Lewis, and consequently changed his tune to, “people don’t like them because they win,” in hopes of avoiding backlash.  That’s weak sauce.  Super weak. 

Stick to your beliefs.  Only if you mean it, say you’re sorry for offending anyone and then keep your mouth shut regarding this issue for the rest of the week.

And don’t worry about being excluded or treated as a leper back home in San Francisco after the Super Bowl.  Most of the folks in the Bay are much more accepting than you, so you need not worry.  It’s all good.  In fact, I bet you’ll be even more popular upon your return, as the locals will surely stop you on the street for a quick chat from time to time, in hopes that maybe, just maybe their open-mindedness might rub off on you. 

Sincerely,
Jackie

UPDATE:  Well, looks like Chris didn’t read my letter.  Bummer.

49ers statement, on behalf of Chris Culliver:

"The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”


Are the Saints serious? Slapping the franchise tag on Drew Brees is more of a slap in the face than if they were to just cut him loose and let him make the big bucks elsewhere. 

Despite my displeasure with New Orleans franchising Brees, the quarterback who led the franchise to its first ever Super Bowl victory, I see what drove them to do it as both sides put each other in this situation. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Brees is asking for a contract that pays him an average of $23 million per year while the Saints aren’t willing to top the $18 million per year mark.  Colts QB Peyton Manning is averaging $23 million per year over the first three years of his new contract (I know, let’s not even go there with P.Manning) while Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback is earning about $18 million annually over the lifetime of his contract, should he fulfill it, as is. 

On one hand, $23 million is a LOT of money.  It’s not like Brees can’t get by on $18 million per year.  But if we look beyond what seems like common sense to us average-earning Joes, it makes sense that Brees should earn a paycheck equivalent to that of Peyton Manning, a fellow top-tier quarterback (again, we will ignore Peyton’s neck issues for the purposes of this blog, and my sanity).  Heck, Brees beat Manning en route to Super Bowl 44 proving just how special of a quarterback he is.  Plus, it’s not like the Saints can’t afford to pay Brees that kind of money.  They can. 

I understand that because the two sides could not come to an agreement, the Saints feel it necessary to franchise Brees so he can’t go elsewhere which buys them not only Brees’ services for around $16 million (which will cost the Saints $14.4 million against the salary cap ), but gives them another year to try to get a deal done. 

Best case scenario for Brees is that this is a purely strategic move by the Saints and both sides can see it as a means to a happy end.  The franchise tag keeps him tethered to New Orleans during the off-season, thus buying time for Brees and Saints management to come to a long-term agreement before July 16.  At that point, franchised players can only sign 1-year contracts.

The worst case scenario paints an ugly picture of Saints management.  Putting Brees - a future Hall of Fame player who restored glory and respect to your franchise even before winning the Super Bowl - in a position to potentially suffer a career-ending injury with zero financial stability is shameful.  It’s an irresponsible decision that lacks even a hint of loyalty or morality. 

If the Saints somehow think that the last six seasons of success have been a fluke, or that the 33-year-old is on the decline (despite throwing 46 touchdown passes and a record-breaking 5476 yards passing in this last season), then they need to do some serious soul searching, quit any substances they may be abusing, and get a reality check.

I can appreciate the hesitation in doling out a multi-year deal worth this kind of money for ANYBODY.  I get it.  So if that is the issue, why not sign Brees to a two-year deal (with a third-year option) worth somewhere between $21-$23 million a year?  I would think both sides would agree to that.  In fact, it’s still a much better deal for the Saints than for Brees, but perhaps, with his sense of loyalty and love for that community, he might just take it?

Maybe not.  Either way, I feel like this has to be the worst possible outcome for Brees.  Sure, it’s great for the Saints but I’m shocked that they would pull this with a man that has truly meant so much to the city and its people. 

After turning down the Chargers’ contract offer heading into the 2006 season,  Brees only drew interest from a few teams on the open market as he was coming off of a gruesome shoulder injury that required surgery.  Brees went with the Saints and grateful for the opportunity, he took control of the team and the city the moment he set foot in the Big Easy, bringing happiness and spirit back to the region ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.  Brees and his teammates never looked back, chugging away until they won the Super Bowl in the 2009 season. 

Brees was a fixture of the players union during the lockout and it’s ironic that he could very well get screwed by this policy. 

You’d better believe we’re going to see a chippier Drew Brees in 2012.  I would play angry if my team did me like that, and while Brees certainly has nothing to prove, he does have millions of potential dollars on the line.

It’s Time For The Giants To Pipe Down About The Patriots

Instead of talking about what an incredible game Super Bowl 46 was, we find ourselves tied up in pointless post-game controversy. I wish we could be focused on the positive things the game provided but a combination of exaggerated media coverage and comments made by a few of the Giants players have made that hard to do.  Here’s my take on the incessant criticism of Gisele Bundchen and Rob Gronkowski.  

The Patriots/Ravens game was a grinder.  The matchup lacked the usual offensive fineness of the Patriots and the signature recklessly-smooth Ravens defense.

The back-to-back fourth quarter interceptions were evidence of what a hard fought game this was by both teams as defense was crucial at every turn.  To quote Tom Brady after the game, “I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us.”   He ain’t lying!

Both teams were evenly matched in many respects (we’ll get to that in a moment), so what was it that gave the Patriots the slight edge? Three words:  BIG. VINCE. WILFORK.

The patriots 325-pound nose tackle set the tone from the get-go.  During Baltimore’s third possession of the game (a third consecutive three-and-out), Wilfork tackled Ricky Williams for a five yard loss on first down and repeated the performance two plays later viciously sacking Joe Flacco for a five yard loss, forcing another Ravens punt. 

One might think the big guy had worn himself out early, but au contraire!  Wilfork’s presence in the middle was huge, and felt consistently throughout the game, which he capped off with a massive performance late in the fourth quarter. 

Wilfork was credited with tackles on three of the Ravens seven plays in their second to last possession of the game, including a stop that left Ray Rice hobbling and sidelined for two plays before welcoming him back with a tackle on a five yard run immediately followed by dropping Rice for a loss of three yards.   At the end of the day, Wilfork was directly responsible for the loss of 13 yards for the Ravens between his six tackles, one sack, and a quarterback hit. That said, most of Wilfork’s contributions never make it to the stat sheet and as a result, are primarily felt by opponents on the field in real time and seen in slow motion during film sessions. 

The 21st over all draft pick in 2004, Wilfork is one of the few players on the current Patriots roster left over from the Super Bowl-winning teams of the early 2000’s.  The former Hurricane won Super Bowl XXXIX with New England as a rookie and was a member of the 2007 team that lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.  Wilfork has long since been a leader of not only the Patriots defense, but the team as a whole.  He leads by example on and off the field and is seemingly a friend to all in the Patriots locker room.  He has remained the constant in a unit full of variables. 

The Patriots and Ravens both played a balanced, mirror-image game, each passing the ball 36 times and running it 31 times.  It can’t get much more even than that.  The Ravens beat out the Patriots in total yards,  time of possession and interceptions (2) while the New England defense got to the quarterback more often (three sacks and seven hits on Flacco and five tackles for a loss versus one sack and three hits on Brady, and two tackles for loss) than the Ravens.  Neither offense broke 300 yards passing (both Brady and Flacco went 22-36) and the Ravens rushed for 116 yards while the Pats couldn’t crack triple digits, gaining 96 yards on the ground. 

The Patriots defense suffered all kinds of injuries and personnel changes throughout the regular season contributing to their ranking of 31st in the league.  Yikes.  But this defensive unit sure has looked good in the post season, even with Kyle Arrington missing significant time in today’s game with an eye injury.  The Patriots have had the most explosive offense in the league all season long and finally the defense is coming around and holding its own.  As Bart Scott would say, I  CANTWAIT to see what Belichick & Co. will show us in the Super Bowl. 

If for the sake of the Discount Double Check commercials, I hope the Packers beat the Giants on Sunday.  It’s too awkward watching the New York Jets Pepsi commercials since they aren’t even in the playoffs so I feel like it would be such a shame to be subjected to awesome commercials staring Aaron Rodgers, BJ Raji and Clay Matthews while being simultaneously reminded that they aren’t even playing anymore.  Man those commercials are good!  The look on BJ Raji’s face while he does that dance, wow! Priceless.

If the Giants beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, I’d shake my head, wipe my eyes, and do a full-on double take.  On the other hand, I think this game is perhaps the most likely upset of the divisional round. 

The Packers are a well-oiled machine led by Aaron Rodgers, who with 45 touchdown passes and only six interceptions, as been superb this season.  The Packers lost only one game as the Chiefs got ‘em in week 15 with a 19-14 win in Kansas City.  I think the Pack needed that loss to get the “undefeated” monkey off their backs, especially after seeing the Patriots suffer a Super Bowl loss to the Giants following a remarkable undefeated regular season.

Coincidently, this matchup with the Packers reminds me a bit of New York’s run to Super Bowl XLII in 2007.  In week 17, head coach Tom Coughlin played his starters as the Giants hosted the undefeated Patriots at the Meadowlands.  New York had already clinched the 5th seed as the wild card, but the Giants gave it their best shot and fell just short in one hell of a game, losing to the Pats 38-35.  Whatever happened that night got the G-Men hot and bothered as they ripped through the playoffs, beating the Bucs in the wild card game and downing the cowboys in Dallas before landing at Lambeau Field to take on Brett Favre and the Packers in the NFC Championship game.  If you recall, Coughlin’s face was a blistery red and it looked like the guy had hypothermia, but alas, he survived, as did  the Giants in overtime.  Brett Favre’s interception in the extra period would be the last pass he ever threw in a Packers uniform.  The Giants went on to beat the Pats in one of the greatest Super Bowl finishes of all time.

I gave you the history lesson because I was reminded of 2007 after glancing at the Giants 2011 schedule.  This season, the Packers beat the Giants in Jersey in Week 13.  The final score?  Cue the eerie music….  Packers 38 Giants 35. Recognize that???  Yep, same score as the Week 17 loss to New England in the 2007 Super Bowl season.  Now the Giants are facing the Packers in the payoffs, just like they did the Patriots.  Could you imagine if the Giants knock off the Packers and end up facing the Patriots in the Super Bowl this season, just like in ‘07?  How insane would that be?

We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, well, if we get there, but first, the Giants have their work cut out for them Sunday.  Rodgers, who hasn’t played in three weeks is well-rested (but could be rusty, we’ll see) and the entire team presumably has a leg up on the Giants because of the bye week.  The Packers offense, much like the Saints, is fully loaded with guys like Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings (back on the field Sunday after missing three games with a sprained knee), James Jones and Jermichael Finley.  Rodgers is so mobile and finds ways to hang on to the ball just long enough to pick his spots.

Here’s the thing though.  The Giants not only have a piping hot offense with Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, but their defense has played well as of late, carrying them through the back end of the regular season. 

Jason Pierre-Paul has blown up as an elite player while Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are playing at a high level, as they should since they have led that defense for several years now.   The Giants secondary is on the weak side, so the big boys in the middle will be charged with picking up the pass rush and finding a way to get to the often-elusive Rodgers (see week 16 vs. the Bears when he split Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher causing the teammates to collide with each other, injuring Urlacher). 

Despite leading the league in interceptions (and lets be honest, Eli knows how to throw a pick, which could really help the Packers), the Green Bay defense was ranked last in the NFL this year, setting a trend among teams with the top offenses simultaneously having horrid defenses (the Saints and Patriots were also among the NFL’s worst defensive teams). 

I feel like the Packers have this game won on paper, and no, I wouldn’t bet against them, but my spidey sense tells me the Giants might have some left over magic from ‘07 headed their way.  I’m taking the boys from Green Bay, but wouldn’t be flabbergasted if the Giants pulled the upset. 

Well isn’t this clever? 

On his way out of Denver on Monday, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review sports columnist Dejan Kovacevic surely expected a typical, run-of-the-mill travel day, the kind a sports reporter experiences countless times per year.

But after a dramatic 27-23 Broncos win over the Steelers in overtime in Sunday’s AFC wildcard game, Tebowmania has swept through the Denver metro area, the airport being no exception.

Instead of flying the friendly skies as usual, Kovacevic and other passengers on United flight UA648 heading to Pittsburgh from Denver International Airport were taunted by a not-so-subtle message flashing on the screen at Gate B23.

"How ‘bout that Tebow?"

Kovacevic’s tweet accompanying the photo was just as classic, reading,

@Dejan_Kovacevic: Further proof that airlines are corporate demons, right now at Denver airport.

I laughed out loud at the tweet and the photo.  On one hand, I love that some airport employee is going to get a kick of out watching the faces of the perturbed Pittsburgh faithful all day long as they read the screen.  After all, the Broncos hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2005 season, so perhaps some let their excitement get the best of them. 

Plus, the folks at the United kiosk made a valid point.  Tebow played fantastic, going 10-21 for 316 yards passing and two touchdowns through the air, not to mention 50  yards rushing on 10 carriers, including a touchdown run.  I’m sure most people watching at home were also thinking, “how ‘bout that Tebow?”  I sure was!

On the other hand, I suppose this kind of jab could really anger a die-hard fan.  I’d like to think that as upset as I might be over my team’s loss, I could just shake my head and mutter “well played” at something like this, but I can’t be sure.

Steelers fans stuck in the waiting area staring at that sign will get over it eventually.  “This too shall pass,” as they say.  With a roster decimated by injury, losing a first-round playoff game on the road wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, especially with angels in the endzone helping the Broncos offense all game.  Hey, it’s not like losing a Super Bowl or anything.  Oops! Nevermind. 

Tim Tebow Calls Tom Brady A “Prophet” After Broncos Beat Steelers

The Broncos could only go so many minutes after their shocking win over the Pittsburgh Steelers before someone in the media mentioned Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

With their 29-23 overtime win in the Wildcard round, the Broncos earned themselves a trip to Foxboro to take on the top team in the AFC in the divisional round next weekend. 

After Sunday’s win over an injury-depleted Steelers team, the wonder that is Denver quarterback Tim Tebow took to the podium to answer questions from the media.    A reporter asked him what it was that Patriots QB Tom Brady had said to Tebow during their week 15 matchup.

As you can see in the video, Tebow avoided recounting the specifics of what Brady said on the field that day, but another reporter followed up asking, didn’t he say something like ‘we’ll see you again?’

That’s when Tebow laughed awkwardly, and replied, “Uh, he might have said something like that, and um, so I guess he’s a prophet, I don’t know.” 

Gotta love Tebow bringing it back to religion, no matter WHAT the question or topic.  The reporters in the room got a kick out of his reply, as did I.

As for that week 15 game, we all remember what happened last time the Broncos met the Patriots: 

The home team Broncos started strong, leading the visiting Pats 13-7 at the end of the first quarter before being absolutely pummeled both offensively and defensively, resulting in a 41-23 New England win. 

I doubt Brady is a prophet, but he is intuitive and the Patriots are the best of the best when it comes to recognizing talent.  If you recall, shortly before the 2010 NFL Draft, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took Tebow out to dinner at a restaurant in Boston’s North End.  Whether the Patriots were truly interested in Tebow, served as a scout for old friend Josh McDaniels or just used him as a decoy (the Pats drafted three Florida Gators not named Tebow that year), surely Belichick liked something he saw in Tebow. 

Not only do we get to see a Tebow-riffic offense and smoking hot Broncos defense attempt to avenge that embarrassing week 15 loss against perhaps the finest offense in the NFL, but they’ll do so opposite their former head coach Josh McDaniels.  The former Patriots offensive coordinator took his old job back (he will officially take over for Bill O’Brien once he leaves to coach Penn State after the Patriots’ season ends) and starts working with the team on Monday, as he’ll help the Pats do whatever they can to stop a team he once coached, led by the controversial quarterback he drafted.

The hype going into next weekend’s game will be palpable and overbearing by game day.  Hopefully the play on the field will at least come close to doing it justice.  I can’t picture the Broncos beating the Patriots after the loss they suffered a few weeks ago, but then again, the Patriots beat the Giants in week 17 only to be beaten by New York in the Super Bowl a few weeks later.  Plus, with what feels like angels in the end zone at times, perhaps the Broncos are destined to keep this insanely exciting storyline alive.