Sunday, December 12, 2010

Michael Vick is a Player (MVP)

From the November 27th issue of "The Real Views"

Most professional athletes who fall from grace for personal or legal reasons never return to their former glory while atoning for their transgressions. Sure, Jason Giambi had several good years after publicly admitting using steroids in 2004, but he didn’t embark on a nationwide tour preaching against the dangers of steroid use. Gilbert Arenas, after being sentenced to two years probation for illegally bringing in and storing weapons in his locker at the Verizon Center (and serving a suspension for half the 2009-10 NBA season), wrote a thoughtful apology in the Washington Post and promised to be a better role model, but his ppg and assists are down significantly and his Wizards are 5-10. And Tiger Woods has been featured more on Taiwanese television than in America since his all-too-public fall from grace, earning less money in 2010 than in any year as a professional golfer.

It seems that though many professional athletes run into trouble, personal and legal, that it is all too rare that they come back and successfully repair their public images while performing exceptionally on the field of play. After returning to the NFL with a 23 month sentence for his involvement in running a dogfighting ring behind him, Michael Vick has done more this season to rehabilitate his image on and off the field than any professional athlete in recent memory. Vick, somehow has bucked that trend mightily, and in such a manner that Andy Reid has stuck with his hot hand in spite of the fact that Kevin Kolb, named starter at QB to begin the season, has played well, led his team to a couple of wins, and has a respectable 85.3 passer rating in 7 games this year.

Vick’s on-going apology has been remarkably earnest, if imperfect, and robust even if not well-received (Philly Mayor Michael Nutter is an exception, endorsing Vick on Meet the Press on November 28). He has reached out to PETA ( and the ASPCA ( and the Humane Society ( in attempts to discourage youth from engaging in the behavior that led him to lose millions of dollars in endorsements and the respect of many fans and gain as ardent enemies animal lovers across the world. And though it was an ill-fated television show, he even contracted with Black Entertainment Television to air “The Michael Vick Project” in order to tell his personal story to television viewers and have cameras follow him around as he introduced the world to the context of his upbringing.

Though he has many detractors (read:haters) who remain, keep Vick’s efforts at earnestly apologizing and carrying through on his promises to make things right in perspective. Roger Clemens never apologized for cheating, and neither did Brett Favre (the former allegedly with steroids, the latter allegedly via cell phone), but one could imagine that if they did, they would be admonished and then soon forgiven. Tony Hayward (of BP infamy) apologized his bum off, but I don’t think for a second that anyone bought his mawkish sincerity or that of any of the actors he trotted out over the coming months claiming to want to “make (things) right.” And have you heard a single apology from the CEOs of Countrywide, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and the many other companies whose malfeasance is the cause for the decline in American economic prosperity we are facing today? What is their penance? Being fired and retiring with multi-million dollar golden parachutes and no jail time? Vick made horrible mistakes in his life, did jail time and paid restitution and loss millions in earnings as a result. He has asked fans, those whom he offended, and even Jesus for forgiveness ( In the America that we often tout as a land of second chances, where a man has the right to earn a living and pursue his dreams legally, the hate towards Vick is disproportionate, and frankly, poorly targeted. If only Angelo Mozillo were an NFL quarterback …

However, if Vick’s life off of the field has been scandalized, his performance on the field, as Dave Chappelle would say, has been “scandal-proof.” With a 108.5 passer rating, he’s led the Philadelphia Eagles to first place in the NFC East, a 7-3 record (5-1 as a starter), and has not thrown a single interception all season. His November 15th MNF performance may have been the most amazing statistical performance ever by an NFL quarterback, accounting for six touchdowns, 413 total yards, and becoming the first NFL QB to ever accumulate 300+ passing yards, 50+ rushing yards, 4+ passing TDs, and 2+ rushing TDs in a single game. All of this has come in the wake of an 11-5 season in 2009, after which the Eagles traded their star quarterback Donovan McNabb and left huge shoes to fill (the Eagles had gone to five NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl under McNabb). Vick is on pace to throw for 2,500 yards and 17-20 passing touchdowns (while running for 8 more). Sure, it’s not the 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns that 2009 NFL MVP Peyton Manning accounted for, but he is also on a pace rushing the ball that would make him the leading rusher on Indy’s 2010 team. And he’s led and won in every way that a quarterback can, rushing for over 100 yards vs. Green Bay, throwing for three touchdowns and 291 yards vs. Jacksonville, and in his worst statistical game of the year, threw for 258 yards and ran for a touchdown in a win against NFC East rival New York Giants.

A Michael Vick who remains injury-free, throws for 20 or more touchdowns and 2,500+ yards and leads Philly to an NFC East championship and a healthy playoff run (NFC Championship or better) is my lock for 2010 NFC MVP (otherwise, it’s obviously Drew Brees, and maybe a resurgent Cowboys team makes Jason Garrett third!). No one player has been any more important to his team’s success after 10 weeks of the NFL season, and if he continues on this pace, his story will continue to serve as hyper-controversial to many (if not most), but redemptive all the same to one Michael Vick.

Besides, Manning is running out of mantle space by now, and what the hell is Tom Brady gonna do with another trophy, besides marry it?

nb: as of 12/10, the 1st place Eagles are 8-4, and Vick has thrown for 2,243 yards, 15 TDs, and accounted for 21 TDs.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The NCAA: Never Cares About Academics

"Touchdown/Point After" from The Real Views

By William Broussard

Cast aside your aspersions, if you have them about college athletics, for just a second. Clear your mind of the sad case of Reggie Bush, found to have accepted various and sundry contributions while a student-athlete at USC, leading to him forfeiting his 2005 Heisman Trophy. Forget, for just a tick, about the University of Florida’s Chris Rainey, the university’s 27th player arrested in six years under head coach Urban “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Meyer, who allegedly stalked a woman and sent her a text message reading “Time to die, B#$%h.” Forget the University of Tennessee’s Derek Dooley granting premium press access to particularly kind sportswriters while denying access to, you know, journalists, or his predecessor in journalistic integrity, Mike “I’m 40!” Gundy of Oklahoma State, who just verbally assaults journalists when he disagrees with them. And please, forget everything you know about Lane “Monte’s my Dad, ICanHazBCSJob?” Kiffin at Tennessee/USC/Next highest bidder in 2011.

Done forgetting those things? Me either. I’ll probably need a Neuralizer ™.

But put in context, college athletics is not about corruption, greed, law-breaking, abuse and scandal. In fact, the vast majority of student-athletes competing at the NCAA’s highest level, Division I, represent the 350 institutions where they study and compete, as well as those host institutions’ communities, with grace, aplomb, and high honor. The vast majority of college student-athletes are not committing crimes. They’re not accepting bribes. Heck, I was a two-time football all-American and I was never even offered one! And they are, for the most part, graduating at rates that exceed that of their non-student-athlete counterparts. They’re studying their tails off, matriculating successfully, bringing significant honor to their families and communities, and the vast majority of them are going into professions that have nothing to do with sport after graduation.

So why do stories about college athletics focus much more on what’s wrong than what’s right?

Consider the case of Jeremiah Masoli, formerly of the University of Oregon, and currently of the Southeastern Conference’s University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). Masoli, after leading the Ducks to a Rose Bowl berth in 2009, was finally, and embarrassingly, dismissed from the team for being charged with a second misdemeanor in as many years. Keep in mind that LeGarrette Blount, who became infamous in 2009 for socking a Boise State player in the jaw after an embarrassing loss on ESPN only got suspended for 6 games at Oregon, so to be suspended from the team, Masoli’s character issues and lack of potential for reform must have been considerable. So when we learned that Masoli planned to transfer to Ole Miss to play football, for so many reasons, many assumed that the NCAA would not approve his application to be immediately allowed to play. For one, transfers from FBS programs to FBS programs are required by NCAA rules to sit out one year. Secondly, transfers are required to be in good standing with their previous institution to be eligible—being suspended isn’t exactly ‘good standing.’

And yet, there he was, on September 4th, just weeks after he announced he would transfer from Oregon, leading the Rebels in overtime against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, going 7-10 for 109 yards and an interception. Sure, it was an embarrassing home loss, 49-48, and an inauspicious (and in the eyes of many, all too apt) debut for Masoli, but I can’t get over the fact that the NCAA sanctioned his appearance at all. Ole Miss didn’t deserve the loss, and it didn’t exorcise any of my disdain.

Masoli didn’t break any rules to get eligible (though he broke several at Oregon in the first place to become ineligible to play there) and he exploited a loophole to gain a fifth year of eligibility at Ole Miss by enrolling in a graduate program there that was not available at Oregon (Parks and Recreation). Let’s assume for a second that Masoli fully intends to work in the Parks Service upon graduation and give both Oregon and Mississippi the benefit of the doubt for helping Masoli resolve the best way forward for himself after some mistakes in his past (after all, I adore magical realism, which requires one to suspend reality for the sake of the greater power of the narrative). The fact is that in order for moves like this to happen and the NCAA not appear completely crass and uniquely interested in big profits and preserving the profitability of only its biggest brands, it has to land hard on others. And anyone who follows NCAA Football closely knows that the stiffest sanctions are typically leveled on the meekest among the programs.

When APR (Academic Progress Rate) penalties were first issued, punishing programs that did not graduate 50% or more of their players by a series of calculations that include retention and eligibility, the bulk of the scholarship penalties went to non-BCS conference FBS and FCS schools. And while individuals like Masoli get second chances and earn the disgust of fans across the nation, the NCAA can rely on stats which show the significant number of scholarships that the NCAA mandates be cut from academically underperforming programs – this of course rarely happens to Oregon and Mississippi, but much more likely to Portland State and Mississippi Valley.

Masoli broke no rules in getting eligible to play at Ole Miss. Oregon broke no rules in releasing him. But the NCAA continues to make commonsenseless decisions that allow (student)athletes affiliated with their biggest brands to exploit loopholes while others at their lesser brands follow a much stricter set of rules, enforced in a manner more draconian, with much stiffer consequences for non-compliance. Masoli benefits, but we must realize that this was about the BCS, the Pac-10 and the SEC. The NCAA’s commitment to the potential redemption of one young man looking for a second chance appears purely coincidental.

William Broussard is an assistant professor of language and communication and associate director of athletics at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. He blogs at Manifold Superlativity. Follow him on twitter @LouisianaNormal.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A great week for diversity in intercollegiate athletics

Last week, I spent a week working with and learning from individuals deeply committed to promoting diversity in intercollegiate athletics – The National Association for Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and the Center for Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Washington. Both organizations’ commitment exceed the superficial, perfunctory, and obligatory commitments made by organizations and reflect a deep commitment to identifying future leaders in college athletics from all walks of life.

Monday morning, I visited with Dr. Jen Hoffman, a researcher with the Center for Intercollegiate Leadership at the University of Washington in Seattle. The center, whose mission is to provide instruction to future leaders across the spectrum of collegiate athletics, including coaches, policymakers, and administrators, and support research on all areas of college athletics, is thriving, increasing its graduate cohort manifold in its brief existence. The executive masters program emphasizes leadership training among its diverse student leaders, who from the cohort I visited with represent many disciplines, geographical regions, ethnicities, and age groups.

The rest of the week, I spent visiting with hundreds of college athletics administrators from across the country at the NACDA national conference in Anaheim, CA. NACDA highlights the efforts and achievements of athletic administrators across the country. It was clear that regardless of region, race, gender, age or any other cultural affinity that if you run a good department, or show promise in your field, your efforts will not go unnoticed. This was apparent not only at the recognition of future leaders in college athletics through the John McClendon Scholarships, which provide scholarship support to future athletic administrators, but also at the Minority Opportunity Athletic Association and National Association of Athletic Development Directors (NAADD) Diversity Initiative programs. As a past recipient of the NAADD Diversity Initiative award, which funded my participation in the conference’s fundamentals of athletic development workshop, I can tell you that the organization puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to promoting diverse participation.

I also had the privilege of watching my boss, Northwestern State Athletic Director Greg Burke, receive the Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year award as one of 20 recipients from across the nation at the FBS, FCS, Divisions I, II, and III levels and NAIA. It was very interesting to look upon the dais, and out at the attendees of the honoree luncheon, and take note of how truly representative the group was of many different ethnic and gender groups.

It was an encouraging week, to say the very least, and one which provided instruction for the near term and hope for the future of college athletics.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Father, the Sports Legend

From The Real Views Online

It’s a cliché to suggest that someone’s sports hero is his father. The person who taught you how to shoot baskets, swing a baseball bat, field a ground ball, or catch a pass ends up getting a significant jump start on all other contenders. I spent my early years as a sports fan cheering on Tony Dorsett, Michael Jordan, and Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas, my dad got a big jump start on all of them, collecting points for getting in there first. Sure, my father couldn’t hit a baseball 450 feet, windmill dunk a basketball, or juke a defender out of his cleats, but his endorsement of my failed attempts to do so, and patience as I repeatedly failed (until my body caught up with my desire and I failed less frequently) trumped all that.

However, my father was a considerable athlete in his own right. He was a legend, in fact. I should have suspected as much from watching my father shoot hoops in the backyard. I certainly remember him missing shots as we took thousands of them in the backyard, but can’t say that I remember him missing more than a dozen. Ever.

People used to ask me if I knew how good a basketball player my father was. In the barbershop. After church. People who had no reason to say so would tell us he was the best to have ever come from Crowley, Louisiana. That he could outmaneuver smaller guards who should be quicker than he was and run circles around forwards his size (he was 6’3, 220 lbs). He’d take shots that drove his coaches crazy (until they rimmed in) and played in a way that made every coach, except for the one at segregated Ross High School, even crazier. He earned a scholarship to Grambling State and was Willis Reed’s teammate for a year or two in the early 60's, and later became a pretty good high school coach (winning a state championship as an assistant under John Brady, who’d later coach LSU to a Final Four).

Of course, that demanding and uncompromising coach never showed up at 807 N. Ave C.

One of my memories of my father as a basketball coach involved him constructing a rudimentary basketball goal in the backyard. A plywood backboard with a makeshift rim attached, nailed to the roof of the house (thank God there was no homeowner’s association). After dispensing with the fundamentals, holding the ball, dribbling, etc., he then showed us how to shoot. He reared the ball back slightly behind his head, jumped slightly while rolling the ball off the tips of his fingers, and the ball went straight through, not even touching the rim. My brother followed suit, awkwardly, but at least looked the part in doing so. My first shot, however, was a disaster of the most epic sort for someone as good a ball player as my father.

I recall hitting the backboard, but I may be remembering myself better than I was. I did not hit the rim. I did hit the roof, but only the very bottom of it, and the ball had such tremendous and unnecessary backspin that when it hit the ground, it nearly bounced back and shattered my parents’ bedroom window.

My father looked down at me, said something encouraging, and went inside, I suspect, either to cry silently, or more likely, laugh until he wet himself.

Over the years I dribbled a path in my backyard, along with my brother and his friends playing pickup games that literally destroyed the grass underneath. And my father never bothered, never over-instructed me, and seemed content with the fact that we’d rather beat half court traps in the backyard than trap out in the streets.

When my brother and I took to baseball, he not only enrolled us in Little League, and bought bats and gloves so we could practice, but alternately drove my brother and I to Arlington and Houston every summer so we could watch the big leaguers do it. My brother and I became football players (not so much a choice as a dictation by our body types), and there was neither a hem or a haw that we take up basketball. Of course, neither hem or haw would have corrected my shot, but that doesn’t stop many many parents from insisting their children participate in sports. Only once do I remember my father insisting that I participate in a basketball-related activity – and that was when he, my brother, and I saw Julius “Dr. J” Erving play an exhibition game in his final season against the Chicago Bulls at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette. Good call.

Late in my father’s life, in what he said was one of his proudest moments, I was named an All-American football player. In his frailty, he pumped his fist and said “finally.” His dreams left unfulfilled in college as his career was ended too soon from a knee injury, he got to see his son reach a pinnacle of sport; a pedestal he’d deserved but was too humble to proclaim and too unlucky to ever reach.

Or maybe, finally, the basketball star remembered the son’s humble athletic beginnings, and now relished coming back out “in the yard” and watching him play.

Or maybe, he was vindicated in his approach to being a star athlete who becomes a parent. He wanted as much as anything for me to succeed in athletics, but refused to be a helicopter parent, harass coaches who didn’t start me or whom he felt played me in the wrong position, or esteem me solely on the quality of my athletic performance. Rather, he encouraged me to see sport as something to do, not the only thing to do, not the only thing I could ever do. And we still came out on top.

To every father, like mine, who lets his son become who he is to become, Happy Father’s Day.

But I still think my dad could’ve beaten your dad in basketball.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jim Joyce and the Jinx

"Si se puede!" -- UFW rallying cry (that Obama jacked later)
"No Pudimos!" -- Jim Joyce, June 2, 2010

On my way home from work yesterday evening, I noticed an interesting message on my TweetDeck. A Twitter pal of mine posted the following message:

@NameRedactedToProtectTheQuasi-Innocent: Before this season, there were 18 perfect games in 135 years. 1 every 7 1/2 seasons. Galarraga is 6 outs away from the 3rd PG this season.

This is what us die-hard sports fans know as a "jinx." And before you bombard me with requests (Tiger Fans) to know who, in fact, issued this hex on Armando Galarraga (before the blown call and after) I will never give up my sources. I have too much integrity to do that. Plus I dont want to lose precious Twitter followers. But I digress ...

I've seen too many jinxes to relegate the phenomenon to sheer superstition and coincidence. Athletes at the very apex of athletic performance are under the constant threat of jinxes undoing their historical achievements. They can engage in jinx-blocking, such as the antics of caricaturish chicken-sacrificing Pedro Cerrano all they want. The fact of the matter is, with history, gravity, circumstance, and all else against you, the jinx is the little extra boost that keeps the asterisk from appearing next to your name when all is said and done.

How many times has the announcer chimed in with an esoteric and marginally important statistic only to watch the streak in question end before she/he can finish the sentence?

How many times have you exhorted in wonder as you witness a historic athletic performance happening, as if you are the first genius to notice it (when actually, all of your other friends are following jinx etiquette and keeping their mouths hushed!) and then just like that, it's over. And then all of your friends look at you the way Big Perm looked at Smokey countin' out $200 in Friday.

And if you're an athlete, how many times has your teammate or coach looked over to you, whispered how close to greatness you are, and on the ensuing possession dribbled the ball off his shoe/dropped a lazy pop fly/or fumbled to fulfill Cleveland's history as Heartbreak City?

I watched the final inning once I got home. I didn't know what would happen to prevent Galarraga's perfect game, but I knew beyond the shadow of all doubt something would.

It's Detroit, anything could have happened.

The sound of the doors shutting down at Mercury could have distracted Galarraga, forcing him to hang a curve.

Galarraga could've been Artested by a beer cup.

Shots coulda rang out because Benzino gave The Detroit Tigers 2/5 mics this year, leading to a fan-athlete n#@$a moment.

In the end, Jim Joyce made what is being called one of the worst missed calls in umping history. No matter. He couldn't have helped but. Because tens of thousands of people across the country probably started jinxing Galarraga after 5 1/3.

And ... it's Detroit. The whole damn city seems jinxed right now, why should Galarraga have have it any different?

nota blacke: have not yet seen the transcript, but I heard that immediately after the game, Arizona governor Jan Brewer issued a statement thanking Jim Joyce for his efforts. With Joyce's missed call, Brewer now drops to second place in the category of "White Folks Associated with Denying Opportunities for Hispanics in America."

My latest post on Athletics Development Frontier

Athletics Development Frontier

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A little love from the St. Pete Times

I was given a citation in "Black Coaches and Administrators' efforts boost ranks of minority college football coaches" by Antonya English of the St. Petersburg Times last week. I'd previously written an open letter to the Black Coaches Association where I was generally critical of their evaluation process of institutions hiring head football coaches, and specifically critical of their evaluation of our efforts at Northwestern State.

I'm glad Ms. English took notice. I only wish the BCA had done so, as well.

The full article is here.

Bryant D's up Phil Jackson ... Vanessa Bryant, that is

also featured @

The Los Angeles Lakers struggled at the close of the regular season and had to battle off a scrappy Oklahoma City squad (Kevin Durant, fresh off a regular season scoring championship, totally dropped the mic at Kobe’s feet after rocking it in game 3) to get to the Western Conference semis against the Utah Jazz. And then, as if fresh from the cool waters of Lake Minnetonka, the Lakers arrived at the 2010 NBA Playoffs.

Eight games later, including a sweep of the aforementioned Jazz, an average margin of victory of nearly 11 points, the Lakers seem invincible. Kobe has scored 30+ in eight straight games. Pau Gasol dropped 29 in Game 2. A game after Amare Stoudamire called Odom’s Game 1 performance “lucky” (he had 19 pts./19 rebs) Ol’ Smashin-a-Kardashian poured in 17 and 11, respectively. Other than Shannon Brown’s missed dunk (which wasnt challenged by Richardson as much as it was observed) ...
Richardson: no this m#@$%f@#$% aint. oh s@#$ this m#@$%f@#$% is. Hope he miss ... PHEW!

... really, who has challenged the Lakers thus far in this series?

Other than Vanessa Bryant, that is.

Ms. Bryant showed up wearing a T-shirt which read "Do I look illegal?" for Game 1 (for once, the $4 mil rock on her finger was overshadowed by another accoutrement). Ms. Bryant, who is Chicana, as are her two daughters with Bryant, issued a clear challenge to the anti-immigration legislation adopted by Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona. Brewer, who collaborated with Rep. Russell Pearce (a white supremacy sympathizer) was looking for a poll bounce, considering her ~20% approval approval rating just months ago. Though she has received that bounce, she, and her state by extension, have been vilified in the national media, hearkening back to the state's tardiness at adopting a MLK holiday in the late 80's (I've written about this here).

Her choice of attire ironically challenges the beliefs of Lakers head coach Phil Jackson more than it does anyone on the Suns' team. The Phoenix Suns actually side with Ms. Bryant on the issue, famously and controversially donning "Los Suns" jerseys for Game 2 of their series vs. the San Antonio Spurs in support of Latinos in the Phoenix community. Jackson, who has a) come out in support of SB 1070 and, b) made other controversial and culturally insensitive comments about people of color in the recent past (and got that ass ethered by Scoop Jackson for doing so) has incensed Laker fans of every ethnic and cultural background by doing so. And his comments regarding the Suns' and Ms. Bryant's expressions of dissent has done more to engender negative feelings associated with his ball club, including protests of their home athletic events.

In the end, Ms. Bryant has exposed Phil Jackson's true colors. And none of them are darker than paper bags.

So during those long stretches of the Lakers v. Suns games, when the Lakers go on 15-0 runs, Kobe is hitting turnaround fadeaways for 2 sets of 10 while Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire stand idly by, waiting to get back to AZ so someone can ask Pau Gasol for his documentos, take a minute to think about Phil Jackson's effed up politics. Imagine how someone who has spent this much time coaching and working with people from all over the world could so cavalierly criticize their culture, dismiss their humanity, belittle their existence. Reconsider cheering for a man who sees no value in your affinities or expressions of heritage and tradition.

I'm not saying don't rock the purple and gold. I'm not saying boycott the Lakers. I am saying that if Phil Jackson doesn't value the lives of black and brown and Latino people, then he'd be coaching Luke Walton to dish the ball to Adam Morrison, and you wouldn't even have a damn team to cheer for right now. Thanks for pointing that out, Ms. Bryant.

nota blacke: Word has it that in retaliation of the Los Angeles City Council's decision to boycott Arizona's passage of SB 1070, the anti-immigration/show me your papers/si se puede (vamanos) bill, the Arizona Corporation Commission is threatening to turn out the lights in Los Angeles, as it provides nearly 1/3 of the City of Los Angeles' electricity. Damn. Arizona wanna make erryone look illegal (if erryone is dark, do erryone go to jail?).

On the plus side for the Suns, maybe the Vegas odds dip below 10 points if the lights are out in Staples.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shocking Behavior–The Philly fanatics and the decline of fan civility in American sport

The aptly named Philly Fanatic, beloved mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies

From the forthcoming 5/21 edition of The Real Views Magazine

A fan, by nature, possesses an intense and often irrational enthusiasm for something (“fan,” after all, is short for “fanatic”). And as go irrational beliefs, so often goes irrational behaviors.
In the November 21, 2008 and March 6, 2009 editions of The Real Views Magazine, I wrote about unruly fan behavior and the emergence of the “fan-athlete altercation.” These altercations involve incidents in which fans at professional, organized sporting events engage in actions which promote or prompt sometimes unsavory (but after close analysis, often justified) reactions from professional athletes. In the incidents I cited, fan resentment, sometimes the result of racial animus and other times, the product of perceived class division, created a backdrop for what would often be characterized as unlawful behavior on the part of fans. However, in a world where such fan behavior is sanctioned to the point that it sometimes becomes a point of pride for an organization, such actions are often forgiven, and, moreover, subtly encouraged.

Most upsetting in these situations is the double standard to which athletes are subjected – that it is somehow permissible for fans to act in such a fanatical manner, but athletes, because of their exorbitant pay and perceived privilege are to just shut up, play, and cater to the desires of the season ticket purchasing fan. In the end, the media often actively participates in cementing this dichotomy, blaming the athlete by characterizing their actions as part of a narrative where all fan misbehavior is good clean fun while the ensuing responses from athletes are almost always overreactions, temper tantrums, or the expressions of individuals whose wealth and privilege create a warped sense of the world and of limitless entitlement.

Sometimes, however, the fans themselves display behaviors that make us question their worldviews, and their sense of entitlement to be entertained and sated by the teams that they root for – to the point that they feel entitled to let hell break loose should the home team so much as lose a game or two.

Philadelphia is a sports town that self-consciously prides itself in its fandom. They believe their fans to be among the most passionate in the country, and they have gone more than the extra mile to show it. From the Dec. 15, 1968 Philadelphia Eagles game when fans booed Santa Claus simply because they were in the middle of a 2-12 season. They also pelted him with snowballs, a minor offense given that Santa is from a place that gets snow 300 days out of the year, but still. In William Kashatus’ “Dick Allen, the Phillies, and Racism,” he details the Philly slugger, who hit 200+ home runs in his 6+ years with the team, who would be cheered for hitting a home run and then roundly booed if he were to strike out. He later demanded to be traded because of the virulent racism he faced from fans. No different than Philly’s treatment of Donovan McNabb, a college standout who was booed on NFL Draft day, went on to lead the team to NFC Championships and a Super Bowl appearance, and was still regularly chided as the team’s leader.
For the “City of Brotherly Love,” these two brothers received very little.

In 1989, Eagles fans hurled snowballs at the visiting Cowboys, and one future governor Ed Rendell was even among the hooligans that day. A decade later they would cheer after Michael Irvin, of the archrival Cowboys, suffered a career-ending injury and lay motionless on the field before being removed by stretcher. And perhaps it went unnoticed because fighting at hockey games is like free throw shooting at basketball games, but in 2001, a Philadelphia Flyers fan actually assaulted a Toronto Maple Leafs player after he drunkenly stumbled into the penalty box.

Philly fanatics, indeed.

Two recent incidents at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, prove that fan incivility is on the rise and is at a feverous pitch, and the target of the incivility is not always a professional athlete.

In a mid-April incident, a 21 year old man from South Jersey was arrested for vomiting on a man and his child. On purpose. He has been charged with assault, reckless endangerment, and disorderly conduct. He has also managed to take the bar for fan behavior, in a town that seems to wear it like a lapel pin, and lower it beneath the earth.

Then, in an incident that gained much more air time because of its extreme idiocy, a 17 year old fan, who allegedly asked his father for permission first, ran onto the field at Citizens Bank Park for nearly a minute before being subdued by a Taser. In an age of heightened security measures and palpable fear of terrorist attack (just three days before, a Nissan Pathfinder full of rudimentary explosives was found on Times Square), police moved quickly to seize the fan. For all those police officers knew, he could have assaulted one of the players, or harmed himself or them in the process. If one is drunk or brazen enough to run on the field during a professional sporting event, who knows what behaviors might follow.

Both of these fans were arrested, and will be fined and are punishable by law. And the security measures taken were swift, appropriate, and evidence of effective event security measures in place at the venue. But the culture that produces their behavior should be the focus of the analysis. Their behavior, part of a decades’ long trend in Philadelphia, is more than a question of event management and security, and certainly merits a more stern response than “Well, you know Philly fans …”

At the very least, there should be a serious reconsideration of the city’s nickname, or an acknowledgement of its fundamental irony.

A special thanks to DJ Gallo of ESPN’s Page 2 for his May 4 compilation of Philly fan misbehavior, “Philadelphians can read the phine print”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

By the time SB 1070 gets to Arizona

From the 5/1 edition of The Real Views Magazine:

“Looki lookin’ for the governor/Huh he ain’t lovin’ ya/But here to trouble ya’”
– Public Enemy, “By the Time I Get to Arizona”

Across the nation, individuals who support causes of social justice for all peoples are infuriated by what is the most recent round of legislature passed by the extras from ‘Raising Arizona’ who compose the Arizona State Legislature. Before one expresses surprise or fresh disgust at the passing of “anti-illegal immigrant legislation” that will promote police harassment and racial profiling of anyone darker than a paper bag but lighter than a coconut shell (read:Latinos) in Arizona, consider the source.

Remember that this is a state known for government officials like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who while abusing his power (and, as a federal investigation alleges, the Constitution) to arrest and convict illegal immigrants for petty crimes, neglected his duty to investigate and seek the incarceration of much more dangerous individuals. Phoenix Suns fans largely recoiled at his burgeoning relationship with Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudamire, who are both “Special Deputies” in Maricopa County. One wonders if Arpaio’s intent was to sick them on Leandro Barbosa, Robin Lopez, and if he felt especially brave, Boris Diaw (a black Frenchman) or even Steve Nash, a Canadian of South African descent, who is as white as the day is long, but probably made his share of enemies in Phoenix after declaring anti-war statements.

It’s also a state legislature known for passing laws banning bilingual education among schoolchildren at the behest (and with the financial support of) Ron Unz, a financial services software executive from California, who made a name for himself traveling across the country promoting initiatives banning bilingual education. This legislation was pushed through in spite of the many obvious benefits of bilingual education and the obvious irony that of the many languages spoken in the State of Arizona, English is the one that has been spoken for the shortest amount of time historically. One wonders if this bias against multilingualism extends to the clubhouse of the Arizona Diamondbacks, formerly owned by ultra-conservative Jerry Colangelo. If so, according to their 2010 roster, nearly 25% of their players should be very careful to speak como el gabacho when el jefe comes around the corner, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to tuck their visas/green cards/drivers licenses into their socks.

I’m not sure how one says deja vu in Spanish, and perhaps there is no exact translation, but if people of Mexican descent need a primer on the concept of institutionally and culturally racist legislation being passed in the State of Arizona, they need only ask any African-American with a memory of longer than twenty years how it feels. And perhaps the State of Arizona would be well-suited to remember the fallout for its legislative actions, and how sport played a central role in reversing misguided legislation there.

MLK Holiday fallout
In 1986, then Governor of Arizona Bruce Babbit declared a holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., following suit with the rest of the nation although against the wishes of Senator John McCain (who later changed his position) and President Ronald Reagan (who later slept through the AIDS and crack-cocaine epidemics). When Governor Evan Meacham took office in 1987, he rescinded the holiday, sparking national outrage and leading to boycotts of, most notably, the NFL and the Super Bowl. When Super Bowl XXVII was awarded to the Rose Bowl instead of to the City of Tempe because the state failed to recognize the holiday, Tempe lost tens of millions in potential revenue, and the state was branded as intolerant and backwards as a result. The holiday was later approved in 1992 and the NFL lifted its ban, awarding Super Bowl XXX (1996) to Tempe. Meacham later became the first governor in the United States to become impeached, indicted for a felony, and replaced by recall election, and even still, he is remembered most for his crass insensitivity to minorities.

From SB XXX to SB 1070
SB 1070, recently approved by the state’s legislature and set to be signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, follows in Meacham’s errant footsteps. Faced with serious cultural, financial, and judicial problems related to illegal immigration in the state, and with inadequate support from the federal government, SB 1070 treats a hatchet wound with salt and lemon juice by arming police officers with the ability – no, charge – to confront individuals who appear to be immigrants “if reasonable suspicion exists.” In other words, not only will routine traffic stops potentially become unnecessary interrogations of legal U.S. residents, and police will spend increased time and resources racially profiling Arizonans (legal and “illegal” citizens), but as is the case in Maricopa County, it creates a context in which the prosecution of such crimes becomes paramount. Furthermore, the federal investigation of Sheriff Arpaio’s practices, which are allegedly unconstitutional, is brought into conflict with state law, as it is now legal for police to profile and harass citizens, so long as they are believed to be illegal at the onset.

The nation’s eyes again are on Arizona, and once again, for all of the wrong reasons. It is not unreasonable to believe that boycotts similar to those which occurred during the MLK Holiday fiasco will once again return. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-AZ has initiated the call for boycotts by “civic, religious, labor, Latino, (and) organizations of color to refrain from using Arizona as a convention site, to refrain from spending their dollars in the state of Arizona until Arizona turns the clock forward instead of backwards and joins the rest of the union.” Though a Rasmussen poll shows that 70% of Arizonans support stricter anti-immigration laws, legislators are not elected to follow the public’s demands, but rather to legislate in a manner that is for the greater good. Mass protests in Tucson and Phoenix indicate that this is not the case.

In the end, I am confident that SB 1070 will be repealed. Its sponsor, avowed white supremacist sympathizer and Holocaust denier Rep. Russell Pearce has zero credibility among fair-minded people, and many who support stricter anti-immigration policies do not, in theory or practice, support the initiation of a police state toward that end. Gov. Brewer’s approval ratings are abysmal (hovering around 20%) and though the aforementioned Arpaio and Fife Symington, former impeached governor and convicted felon (pardoned by then President Clinton) are also considering running in the next election, I have faith that the citizens of the State of Arizona will find themselves maligned until this law is erased from the books, and elect accordingly. And just like before, major boycotts of tourism and professional athletics organizations will lead to an economic sanctioning that ultimately cannot be absorbed in an already cash-poor state.

Until then, bring your papers to the park, athletes, if you’re visiting the Suns in the playoffs or the Diamondbacks during the regular season. And you might want to come up with a name other than “Copper State,” as the metal is far too dark so as to not draw Arizona State police officers attention.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Is more less in the case of March Madness?

By all means, let's not expand the tournament and allow people with names like Ali Farokhmanesh to become household names, ever and anon.

from the 4/2 edition of The Real Views

RealView Sports by William Broussard

Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports calls it “the worst idea the NCAA has ever had, and it’s had a bunch of them” while Tracee Hamilton of the Washington Post called it the “worst idea in the history of ideas.”

Pete Thamel and Richard Sandomir of the New York Times claim that the NCAA is only considering the move only because of the money, citing’s Jerry Palm, who claimed that this year’s field is “horribly unaccomplished” compared to previous years’ fields (in hindsight, this claim was moot, considering that 2010’s Sweet 16 boasted the most diverse class – from 11 different conferences, 3 double digit seeds, and Northern Iowa, Cornell, and St. Mary’s from mid-major conferences).

Gene Wojciechowski of hyperbolically equated the expansion to rewriting the intro to “Layla” by Eric Clapton, noting that it makes as much sense as the players not getting paid part for the $6 billion CBS payout to participate in the tournament (assuming he believes that the dollars which go into athletic department coffers to help underwrite the costs of athletic scholarships are non-existent, unimportant forms of payment).

As usual, the dominant sports media has jumped to the conclusion that best fits its desire to be entertained or to scandalize instead of conducting thorough investigation, or perhaps even considering the merits of watershed moves in popular sport.

The NCAA as bad guy, profiteering off of unpaid labor and athletic programs desperate for exposure and branding? Check. See also: Expansion of number of college football bowl games

The NCAA as bad guy, exploiting revenue sport potential for gross profits while sacrificing the quality of competition? Check. See also: Proliferation of college athletic programs accepted for Division I status in the last decade.

However, as an athletic administrator at an NCAA Division I institution (Northwestern State is a member of the Southland Conference) and a former Division I athlete, I support the NCAA’s decision to consider expanding to a 96 team-tournament in men’s basketball.

First of all, from a competition standpoint, critics are claiming that the 65-team tournament already features too many teams with insufficient accomplishments. These individuals fail to take into consideration that a 6th or 7th place team in a major conference may have been a couple of breaks away from being a 2nd or 3rd place team, and, under the right conditions, could make a run in the tournament. They also claim that the guarantee extended to winners of midmajor conference tournament championships already, on occasion, flood the tournament with underperforming teams. And yet these same critics are likely the same ones calling for a playoff system to be implemented in college football so the winner can be decided on the field. If the best team is decided “on the court,” by the same logic, then what does it matter if midmajors are going to get clobbered by the big conference schools and the underperforming big conference schools will be exposed as soon as they encounter real competition (like Ohio and Washington, respectively, this year. Wait, what?).

Secondly, from a revenue standpoint, many institutions benefit vastly from their participation in the NCAA tournament. That’s right, the NCAA doesn’t keep all of the $6 billion profits from the television contract with CBS, much of those profits are paid out to athletic departments. And even though the vast majority of those payouts have been made to big conference schools, those schools are slowly and surely weaning themselves off of state support, meaning that privately generated revenues and donations are increasingly fueling college athletics rather than taxpayer dollars. And for programs like Northern Iowa, which has been to the NCAA tournament the past two years representing the Missouri Valley Conference, revenues generated from their participation this year (advancing to the Sweet 16) will go a long way toward balancing their budget. Especially considering that the state of Iowa is forcing the University of Northern Iowa to find a way to continue operating without the $4.3 million subsidy it currently provides the institution for intercollegiate athletics. While the Panthers and UNI alumni should be celebrating their unprecedented success, athletic department officials are now trying to figure out how they will continue to provide athletic scholarships next year. Participating in and winning games in the NCAA tournament, which UNI will be given an increased chance to do if the field is expanded, could be crucial to them and so many other institutions in their predicament.

Finally, for all of the critics who criticize the NCAA for not focusing enough on amateurism, finishing your amateur career either competing in an NCAA postseason, or, by participating on a team who either brought your university to the NCAAs for the first time or helped it advance further than any other previous team is a treasure that an amateur athlete will possess for a lifetime. The NCAA’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) has wised up to this notion, increasing the percentage of teams who have the chance to participate in postseason play from 13% to 16%. Currently, over half of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams have the opportunity to end their seasons as bowl champions, and with the proposed increase, Division I basketball teams will increase their chances from 18% to 28%.

If the tournament is expanded to 96 teams, more schools will have the opportunity to participate, earn much-needed revenue, and give more student-athletes the experience of a lifetime, and it will still only involve a quartile of the nation’s basketball programs. And the institution of first-round byes will eliminate the need to add extra weeks of competition for the vast majority of schools, eliminating concerns about student-athletes missing too much class. More revenue, more opportunity, no significant loss of competition equals more March Madness.

The only downside is that we’ll have to hear David Barrett’s “One Shining Moment” for an additional week (though Jennifer Hudson’s version may bring me around).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Torii Hunter becomes the hunted: Were his comments racist or righteous?

Torii Hunter swings and misses. Credit him for taking a good, hard hack.

RealView Sports by William Broussard (3/19 issue)

“They’re not us, they’re imposters (emphasis added).”

In an extended comment about the place of African-Americans in Major League Baseball (MLB), Torii Hunter, left fielder for the inelegantly named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, used the word “imposters” to label Latin American players of African descent who might otherwise be equated with African-Americans by the MLB. It was a controversial and otherwise thought-provoking comment, in which he pointed out that MLB was somehow complicit in the decline over the past twenty years of the percentage of African-American players in the league[1]. The outrage over this steep decline is attributable to, among other things, the emergence and popularity of Latin American players of African descent, such as David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero, who have black appearances, but are not African-American.

More than anything, Hunter’s words were unfortunate. Not because they were erroneous (although, they were) but because they detracted from what was otherwise a compelling andd seemingly accurate statement. Hunter misspoke, but the overall content of his statement was apt. Unfortunately, his poor choice of words allowed the dominant media to deflect the criticism away from MLB and onto Hunter, already deemed a controversial figure for previous comments like these.

Torii Hunter pointed out in his comments that MLB targets Latin American players because they can be recruited ‘on the cheap.’ His exact words were:

"As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball (MLB) can go get an imitator and pass them off as us," Hunter says. "It's like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela because you can get them cheaper. It's like, 'Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?”

Immediately upon issuing this statement, reactionary sport media editorialists at the dominant sport outlets (Yahoo! Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the like) rushed to defend MLB, defining Hunter as the real problem. Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo! Sports noted that black players represent some of the best black talent in the league, and are among the highest paid, and that Hunter’s argument was “illogical.” Patrick Hruby of ESPN’s Page 2, rather than address the substance of Hunter’s comments, chose to use Hunter’s choice of the words “bag of chips” and then equate the salaries of MLB’s highest paid Latino players to amounts of popular potato chip brands that could be purchased (e.g. Johan Santana, of the New York Mets, whose salary of $18.8 million could purchase 9.4 million canisters of Pringles Super Stack Potato Crisps). Other outlets such as Sports Illustrated, and blogs such as the user-generated forum The Bleacher Report, focused on Hunter’s “Imposter” comment in the headlines, drawing attention away from the content of his comment, which was made at a USA Today roundtable and Craig Calcaterra of NBCSports notes, was “seriously misquoted[2].”

And yet, in the margins of the American sports media, the content, not the unfortunate rhetorical choice, of Hunter’s statement, is being considered, and only here is a serious discussion about this intersection of race and professional sports being debated. buried two writers’ opinions that essentially defended Hunter. Noted sports columnist and Pulitzer Prize nominee Johnette Howard wrote in a special to that Hunter was wrong about who he blames, but right about the problem of declining numbers of African-Americans in MLB. Pedro Zayas of ESPNDeportes echoes this sentiment, that Dominicans and Venezuelans are not to blame, but also that in his home country of Puerto Rico, the numbers of professional players being recruited are declining, and that there may be an opportunity for intersecting interests between Puerto Ricans and African-Americans on this issue. And author Dave Zirin wrote presciently about this issue on his book Welcome to the Terrordome, which detailed the process by which young boys from Central American and Caribbean countries are enrolled in baseball camps at a young age, and as a result do not receive proper education, and come to the United States on the long shot that they can make it in the ‘bigs.’ When these young men are not successful in acquiring a big league contract, they are left to return tot heir home country without proper education, or, remain in America illegally and work odd jobs to make the ends meet. For every Pedro Martinez and Carlos Zambrano, there are thousands of young men who risk everything to find success in the MLB, including their personal health[3], because of the rampant poverty in which they grow up and live.

His words were portrayed as insulting. Latin American players of African descent are not masquerading as American blacks or acting like they share the cultural affinities of American blacks for political and social/cultural gain. They no doubt face many of the same struggles and obstacles that many young black men face every single day in this country. His words were portrayed as demeaning, incorrect, ignorant, perhaps. The fact that Latinos are good at the sport of baseball and from places like Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba is not their fault, nor should they be ashamed of it. Torii Hunter, by unfortunately choosing that one word, became the villain while attempting to point out the villainous practice of targeting the poorest countries of the world to find professional athletes in the most inexpensive ways possible.

African-Americans are disappearing from the sport of professional baseball in America. And a way that MLB deflects this criticism is by pointing out that players who are black, but not American, are among the most popular figures in the league. This does nothing to address the fact that the numbers of African-American players are dwindling, and that the MLB, as well as municipal and local governments bear the blame, as much of the private and public dollars that have been cut from funding sport programs and facilities in urban areas have resulted in the lowered number of blacks who are playing in MLB.

Instead of asking if Hunter’s statement accurate or unfortunate (it was both), one should hope that the media, should it further consider this matter (Torii Hunter has not apologized for his comment, rather, chose to apologize for using the word “imposter”) would focus on the subject matter rather than his rhetoric.

Torii Hunter said the right thing the wrong way. Let’s take the focus off of the one word that was off the mark and focus on the other words that actually raised an important issue.

[1] Down from 24% in the 1980’s to 8% in 2009, according to Terrence Moore, national columnist for
[3] Chris Jenkins of USAToday notes that Latin-American players are increasingly the subject of steroid investigations, one can assume, because they are exceedingly willing to risk using drugs in order to acquire a professional contract.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Friendly Criticism of Dave Zirin

In response to Dave Zirin, author of several books including What's My Name Fool?, regarding his article on athletics and public ed entitled "How Sports Attacks Public Education" found here:

Hey Dave,

Love your work, but felt compelled to comment, given my unique position as a Director of Development who raises money for a Division I athletic department and a faculty member at a university experiencng severe budget cuts. I think it is very important to realize that cuts to higher education in the context of college athletics proliferation, though often problematic, are not as correlative as your article suggests. I offer an example from close to home.

Last year we installed brand new turf at our football stadium, Turpin Stadium, at a cost of $1.065 million. Representatives from our university, city, and region, as well as political representatives from our region lobbied effectively to receive that earmark for a number of years, and much of that work pre-dated the economic tailspin we currently find ourselves in. Could the state have decided that it is more important to use that money to balance a $5 billion deficit, or even to allocate it to the university for a different, more “academic” purpose? Perhaps. Would it have? Probably not … $1 million isn’t going to balance such a large budget deficit and the work needed to be done (old turf needed to be replaced, this wasn’t done for vain purposes). At the same time, our campus, with only a budget of $41 million from the State of Louisiana, braced for a second consecutive year of multimillion dollar cuts in the middle of a three year, 40% cut proposed by Governor Bobby Jindal and a commission he assigned to study the future of higher ed here. As we braced, even in our own department, for personnel and operations cuts, that new field stood as a beacon of eked out progress on our campus. And this year (a winless, 0-11 season, btw, under a brand new coach) we had tens of thousands of people visit the stadium and enjoy the field, and alumni who took immense pride in it. And the field wasn’t visited only for football games, but band competitions, high school football games, intramural games, and much more. The expenditure didn’t go to “academics” but it did go to the mission of the university, which is to provide a well rounded experience and education for all our students. At many universities, the athletics department’s mission is wedded to the university’s, as it is here at NSU.

Meanwhile, other areas on our campus received multimillion dollar earmarks, ones that had nothing to do with athletics. While an athletic department’s success can be measured (and is, that’s the whole point of what we do) what I don’t hear is critics raising a stink over an underperforming academic program getting a new building, or a historical building on a campus being gutted to move an already functional area, when the original area works fine, or renovations of already very nice homes and offices, etc. Many many more millions are wasted in this fashion, for vanity's sake, but athletics remains an all too visible, and arguably facile scapegoat, which is especially problematic because athletic departments give educational opportunities to so many minorities who are perceived to be interested in college only as a means to becoming professional athletes.

Regarding a couple of your claims:

1) “Friedgen also gets perks like a $50,000 bonus if none of his players are arrested during the course of the season.” I hope you’re jesting here J If you’re referring to the practice of offering non-performance incentives to coaches’ salaries, then I would offer this: NCAA student-athletes graduate at a higher percentage than non-student-athletes. NCAA coaches recruit students to universities that are more likely to graduate than their peers, even with their considerable challenges in scheduling and time management. And it appears that they are better at recruiting students who will graduate than people whose full time job is to help said students graduate. Furthermore, your statement feeds the negative stereotype that young black men, enrolled in college or otherwise, are apt to be arrested, and when they are not, this is exceptional. While it is more likely that a man age 18-25 will be incarcerated than go to college statistically, if this were an attempt to poke fun, that’s risky, considering that it is rooted in an immense social justice problem in this country.

2) “Over at Berkeley, students are facing 32% tuition hikes, while the school pays football coach Jeff Tedford 2.8 million dollars a year and is finishing more than 400 million in renovations on the football stadium.” Yes, Coach Tedford’s salary is by many standards exorbitant. But the $400 million is going to be recouped from seat licensing according to the plans detailed here: So while the regents agree to finance it, the development folks at Cal are going to have to hunt this money down privately, and they have already begun to Can we question the priorities of alumni who want to donate $225 million to rebuilding Memorial Stadium rather than donating the money to athletics? Sure. Can university officials? No way!!! If alumni want to back this initiative with private dollars, then it is their right. The university is raising private dollars for academics too, trust me (Cal has a $3 BILLION campaign going on right now and they have raised $1.44 billion of that already). It’s unfair to call out athletics for wasteful spending when they are raising the money privately AND the university is raising money for their endowment, too, and committing considerable resources to that venture as well. It’s also unfair to call this an “attack.”

3) “In truth, they are the result of a comprehensive attack on public education that has seen the system starved. One way this has been implemented is through stadium construction, the grand substitute for anything resembling an urban policy in this country. Over the last generation, we’ve seen 30 billion in public funds spent on stadiums.” Not sure of your logic here. First of all, Coates and Humphreys’ analysis was on professional stadiums. Are you implying that projects like the one at Cal are like the ones Coates and Humphreys analyzed, because if so – and I strongly suspect your readers by and large have not read this study – this is a false implication based on the study you are citing. If you are implying that projects like the one at Cal are like the ones mentioned in this study, then again, this is a false syllogism, given Cal’s efforts to raise private money (professional sports owners expect municipalities to just fork this tax money over). By comparison, local economic development studies have shown that our university has an $8 return for every dollar invested in it by the state, and that our athletic department has in between a $60-$65 million regional economic impact, on only a $9 mil budget. That’s definitely a real impact on this region that would crumble an already rural and economically impoverished area were it removed.

4) The title: I think it’s a bit much to suggest that “Sports” are attacking “Public Education” if not very dangerous. Far too much of what goes on on college campuses with reference to athletics is very very positive to suggest that athletics are attacking public education. It isn’t all Beer and Circus here in higher ed, much less so outside of the BCS conferences. Think of all the opportunities that young men and women have earned to acquire college degrees. All of the amazing narratives that have emerged as a result of us having college athletics proliferate as much as it has. Sure, there are problems with the arms race, and wanton proliferation of college sport that have resulted in many unintended consequences. But public education’s biggest enemy is not sport, I won’t supply my list, but suffice it to say that college athletics proliferation wouldn’t make my top 25.

Again, I am a huge fan and appreciate your work immensely. I just think that there is so much else to focus on in this society for the decline of public education other than sport. I hope this is read as food for thought rather than as an attack.

~William Broussard

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2010 Winter Olympics: “D’Oh, Canada” and “Go, Canada”

When your pictogram looks like someone who has set down the iron to mop, you might not be a sport.

Reflections of a barely casual observer ...

In the past 17 days, I have not watched 17 minutes of Winter Olympics coverage on NBC. NBC’s appeals to pathos, mawkishly dripping with sentimentality, have never piqued my interest, nor, for that matter, is the celebration of sports that are inaccessible (and uninteresting) to 99% of all Americans. Moreover, the nationalist pride I am supposed to feel over watching American ‘athletes’ compete for Olympic gold in ‘sports’ such as curling (frozen shuffleboard), biathlon (“bi” is a misnomer, cross country skiing requires athleticism, rifle shooting does not), and other contrivances (snowboardcross is essentially snowboard NASCAR, only inviting the viewership of those interested in the crashes). This isn’t to say that many athletes competing in these events are among the world’s elite, and it isn’t to say that bobsledders, speed skaters, and ice dancers don’t meet the highest standards of athleticism, no matter whose aesthetic is considered. Its cultural – I grew up in south Louisiana where the only running we do in the cold is for courir de mardi gras, the only shooting we do in the cold is at deer and fowl, and if we are dancing in the ice, it is only because hell (and Louisiana) has frozen over because the Saints won the Super Bowl.

But I have taken a keen interest, at times, in this most recent iteration of the Olympics. For one, much of the news emerging from Vancouver has not been good. From the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on a course known for its “50-50” turn[1], repeated bobsled crashes on the same course, weather delays in Whistler that relegated planners to having to use fake snow for downhill skiing (you could actually see grass and clumps of dirt flying all over the course when skiers came down the course), and an ominous start, when the Olympic torch wouldn’t light properly. Additionally, the underperformance of the host Canadians across the board (losing the total medal count 37 to 26 to the United States, in third place behind Germany’s 30), and potential $875 million debt that will be left to Vancouver to pay for the Games (according to Kelly Sinoski of the Vancouver Sun) had to be difficult for Canadians to deal with. Certainly Beijing, in need of positive public relations due to its country’s reputation as a Communist, anti-democratic regime with a sketchy human rights record, perhaps could justify the billions it spent on the last Olympics, but can Vancouver really justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars to threaten an already sterling reputation as a clean, beautiful Canadian city? Especially considering that the games haven’t necessarily had as much good news to report from the city as bad, and frankly, did not paint this beautiful city in the most positive light. After all, the dancing Mounties, fighting hockey players, and flying beavers at the closing ceremony, and the repeated, insane mentions of NBC’s folks labeling all Canadians as “very very nice people” as if Canada owns the patent on geniality smacked of a Monty Python sketch.

Canada’s loss to the United States in a preliminary matchup of men’s hockey was the icing, on an, at times, iceless Olympic games. Coming up with a loss in their de facto national sport, on their home frozen turf, versus Americans competing in our 11th favorite sport (according to Gallup, just below track and field, just above professional bowling) was simply too much for most Canadians to bear.

Secretly, out of pity and rationality, and also because I feel no threat to my national pride in rooting for another country to beat us at a sport that is utterly insignificant to most of the country, I rooted for Canada to win in the gold medal matchup. The way that they won the match, in overtime on shots on goal, was about as fitting an ending as I could have imagined (Do you believe in completely reasonable conclusions to hockey matches?!? YES!!!). For one, the United States won silver, which was a major accomplishment in and of itself (many would have probably expected Russia to appear in that gold medal game instead of the United States). Secondly, from what I hear, the competition was exciting and evenly matched (courtesy of the NHL, there were an equal number of professionals on each team). And finally, morning in America was completely uninterrupted by the loss while Canadians are probably beaming with national pride and glory right now, perhaps making the nearly billion dollar investment worthwhile.

I felt badly for Canada as the game approached. I remembered how disgusted I was in the United States Basketball teams’ performances in the 2002 World Championships (sixth) and the Summer Olympics of 2004 (third) and how it truly felt as if a paradigm had shifted. Surely, I didn’t lose sleep over it, but it felt odd, and threatening somehow in 2004 to watch the “Dream Team” lose as many games in a single Olympiad as they had in all other previous ones combined! Canadians may have felt the same pains late in 2009 when Team USA defeated Team Canada in the IIHA Junior Nationals. On their home turf. As ominous a prelude as three out of your four flames lighting up at the opening ceremonies.

Now, in addition to better beer, better health care, and better treatment of indigenous peoples, Canadians can now add “and that time we beat you guys in hockey for the gold medal” to their national list of adages that prove that Canada is a better place to live than America.

I’m happy for Team Canada and the country for their win. And Team USA should feel no shame at all for its performance (unlike the athletes I derided earlier, Sidney Crosby is no punk …).

More than anything, I’m mostly happy to have a regular schedule on NBC and MSNBC again.

[1] Because only 50% of the lugers and bobsledders actually survived the turn.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Hafferkamp, Russ. (2009). Careerball: The sport athletes play when they’re through playing sports. Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publishing.

The quandary that many athletes face when their athletic careers end is that much of what has led to their success all of their lives, and the activity(-ies) that has consumed their lives can threaten to stall or compromise a successful transition into a career. The author of Careerball advises former athletes to keep their heads up, work as hard as they can, and success will be theirs in the end.

A true statement, almost without exception. However, one doesn’t need to be a former athlete to appreciate this advice, or profit from it. Much of the advice that the career coach offers in his self-published tome is so widely applicable that it is a book-long challenge to identify what Careerball actually is. It doesn’t keep the book from being an enjoyable and at most times instructive read, but I was left wanting when it came to the book’s promise to identify a particular or unique way that former athletes could successfully approach career development based on character traits they develop as athletes (that somehow, non-athletes cannot develop or share).

Hafferkamp offers sage advice, interesting considerations, and useful perspectives for student-athletes who are at a crossroads in their lives. He is the CEO of a consulting firm that specializes in career counseling for former athletes. Sections on the unique perspective that an athlete develops , and how that shapes perspectives in ways that can be as beneficial as they are deleterious were engagingly written. Chapters 11 and 12 focus on identity formation and transitions unique to high school and college athletics, and serve as an excellent precursor to an advice section that cites survey data from 300 former professional and collegiate athletes about athletic experiences and career development. Sharp transitions and excellent antitheses appear sporadically (e.g. his suggestion that athletes’ focus on their craft makes them determined and mentally strong, but can also keep them from exploring other aspects of their development). Chapter 4 focuses, at one point, on stereotype threat research, which is very interesting.

However, platitudes dot the landscape of the book. Statements such as “athletes are good at setting goals,” and “(they) don’t lose hope,” and claims that student-athletes are competitive, work well with others, and are loyal are so widely applicable that one does not have to be an athlete to identify with them. Additionally, entire chapters that one suspects will be aimed specifically at a niche, selected audience instead reaches out to a very wide one, instead (chapters on “Personal Interests,” “Time Management,” and networking and mentorship) are not without merit, but also not germane specifically to student-athletes.

An interesting read, it is framed unfortunately as a book for former athletes on the subject of career development instead of as a book on career development that highlights ways that athletes may or may not benefit from their athletic identities. The book’s shining moments are when his tone is reflective, even autoethnographic (as an athlete and father of an elite athlete) and less like self-help.

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Orleans Saints: Super Bowl Champions and Soundtrack for a Revolution

gotta be startin' somethin' ...

I am not a New Orleans Saints fan. At least not a die-hard one. The last time I counted myself as one, Bobby Hebert was handing the ball off to Rueben Mayes and Pat Swilling and Sam Mills (may he rest in peace) were dominating on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, I was thrilled when Aaron Brooks led them to their first playoff win in 2000, and as I was in Arizona at the time, I felt a small sense of pride in being from Louisiana and watching “our team” collect its first win in the NFL playoffs. No bandwagoner, I, I didn’t run out and buy an Aaron Brooks jersey, talk noise to Cardinals fans, or anything of the like. I smiled, called my brother, and that about wrapped it up.

The Super Bowl run the Saints accomplished this year elicited the same reaction in me. Sure, as they started 13-0, it drew my interest, but so did the Colts, and so does every team that starts the year off rattling off 10 or more wins. Frankly, I’ll pull for any team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl just so Mercury Morris will give it a rest. I’d seen the Saints play several times this year, once brilliantly against the New England Patriots (I’ve never seen Belichick dismantled) and several times uninspiringly, particularly in the early season against Miami, and late in the season against Carolina and Tampa Bay (the Panthers, a .500 team, and the Bucs, whose win against the Saints may have saved Raheem Morris’ job). I watched them play in the NFC Championship, and thought Minnesota the better team, though, I gained tremendous respect for how the Saints attacked Adrian Peterson’s weakness (hard to imagine that an elite runningback would have that much trouble holding on to the dang ball) and secretly delighted in how badly they beat up Brett Favre (bet he still doesn’t retire). I thought the Super Bowl would be a close match, and that if Dwight Freeney had been healthy, it would have been a much different game (because I think Jermon Bushrod might be the worst left tackle in the NFL). But it was a great game, New Orleans made the most plays, and deserved the championship.

But here’s why the win was bittersweet, die-hard fan, or not. In 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson attempted to convert a crisis into a financial opportunity. Forced to play his home games away from New Orleans in Baton Rouge and eventually San Antonio, rumors abounded that Benson was seriously considering moving the team. In fact after a loss to the Miami Dolphins, amid rumors that he was relocating the team (the San Antonio Saints? Really?) he confronted and was confronted by angry, betrayed fans. Benson said he would never go back. Comparably, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, relegated, much like Benson to a somewhat dilapidated venue (the Metrodome), threatened to shop the team to Los Angeles after the 2010 season, and only their loss in the NFC Championship game prevented him from following through. Surely, Benson will not dare shop a World Champion franchise. But commanding more concessions to keep the team in New Orleans certainly does not seem beneath him, and these concessions are likely to come on the backs of Louisiana’s taxpayers (I mean, he’s done it before) at a time when Governor Jindal is cutting education, health care, unemployment benefits and social services left, right, and down the middle (and for a time, even postured about not accepting federal stimulus funding). More concessions to keep the Saints in Louisiana are not good for the state, no matter how good this may make us feel in the immediate future (as of February 15th, the post-Super Bowl party continues through Mardi Gras). And while I am only a casual fan of the New Orleans Saints, I am a die-hard fan of the State of Louisiana.

I’ll admit that I shortsightedly quipped, a few weeks ago, that it didn’t matter to me who won the Super Bowl. That there were more important things to consider, more important heroes to root for. I was ridiculed roundly in my close circle of friends and co-workers, labeled as much as a traitor for not somnambulistically endorsing the Saints’ Super Bowl run. While I contend that I do not owe the Saints my loyalty and fanaticism because of my place of birth (I’m just not a huge fan of sports – I enjoy them, but refuse to let my day or week be ruined by a team’s performance) I failed to recognize the true power and importance of this game, and more importantly, of this win. I think levees need to be repaired in New Orleans. I think developers need to stop gentrifying historic and culturally important neighborhoods. I think displaced citizens who want to return to their homes need to be given the chance to do so, and I think schools and neighborhoods need to be rebuilt. I think if those things were to happen in the next decade that the Saints’ Super Bowl championship would literally be the least important item in this list to be achieved.

But these items aren’t unrelated. New Orleans is a beautiful, strong, amazing town. The birthplace of jazz and a mecca of French, Creole, and African-American culture. Add to that: Home of the NFL Super Bowl Champions. And if this is the latest means by which New Orleans, and New Orleanians in the diaspora, draw inspiration, so be it. And if this made the world fall in love with New Orleans all over again, rather than simply feel sorry for it, then all the better. And whether the hero that New Orleans’ youth choose to follow into its greater future be Mitch Landrieu or Louisiana native and Super Bowl hero Tracy Porter; Wynton Marsalis or Reggie Bush, so long as they have a hero to follow, it beats the hell out of abject despair. Hell, if the fierce winds of Katrina have been momentarily forgotten because of 20 weeks of a really cool Brees, then maybe this championship was the perfect tonic.

A reminder of what was. An indication of what could be. A soundtrack of a revolution to come.

Who Dat, indeed.