This has been a tough week for me, as I suspect it has been for many of you. For the last three days I have been trying to find small moments, hopeful moments, within what feels like a cacophony of hateful macro implications.

My brain tends to trend towards dissonance regardless of the circumstance, and so I made a conscientious effort this week to slow myself down, to open myself up to feeling, and to let my brain become jumbled and confused. To keep myself honest, I forced myself to write notes on the brief bits of personal clarity that I experienced, and then forced myself to revisit and amend them as the week progressed. Below are some of those notes presented in the largely unedited stream of consciousness fashion with which I wrote them.

  • Intellectualism is not to be blamed, or belittled. We should be thirsty to learn, and champion those who aspire to higher knowledge, never satisfied in their pursuit. That in no way excuses those of us lucky enough to have access to quality education who have too often ignored those who have none. However, willful ignorance should not be tolerated. I will give you the chance to learn, and help you along that path, but if you are resistant to change by your own volition, and are not willing to educate yourself because of your own fear and hate, then I will push back at every turn.
  • I am in a position to be a bigger person without personal consequence because I am insulated by my privilege. That takes little courage, and is nothing more than self-indulgence. Change is not made above the fray, it comes from the crucible, from the muck and the mire. Apathy is a luxury, and if you choose to exercise your privilege with apathy, then you are disrespecting and dehumanizing those who cannot afford to be apathetic. There is a fine line between being the bigger person and blind capitulation. If being that bigger person means I forget about the people who now feel smaller, feel less safe, I will resist. If being the bigger person means I am immune to the fears of those that are most affected by this week’s events, then I won’t accept that privileged position.
  • Opinions do not deserve automatic respect. When your opinion is on food, style, or a tv show I will respect it. If it is tied to misogyny, racism, homophobia, bigotry, or any other hateful ideology, I will shame it, fight it, and completely disrespect it in every possible way. If you claim you don’t agree with intolerance, but accept it, or vote for it, then you are part of the problem. If you do not actively resist, push back, and fight intolerance, then you are part of the problem.
  • Ultimately society is a pendulum that swings forward, the back swing becoming ever shorter, the forward swing ever longer. We must ensure that the next shift forward is as long a sustained arc as possible, especially when faced with the start of a backwards path.
  • The media has focused on unity and normalization for the past three days. That urge stems from a point of rationality, but we must remember that much of the coming platform comes from a place devoid of that same rational thought. Do not come together in unity for unity’s sake. Come together for a positive unity, a unity that promotes all and truly means it, not because some political process says you must. I would love to unite as much as anyone, but there is no room in unity for hate and discrimination. Be hopeful, but don’t give yourself over to hope.
  • The protests are necessary, and valid. This sad result is immense and overwhelming in its scope, its precedence, and its danger. Just because things may not devolve into tyranny does not mean that a stand shouldn’t be taken preemptively. If we are only reactive instead of proactive as a society, we will fall prey to more dangerous ideologues moving forward.
  • Small gestures and big action don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We can and we must do both.
  • The hateful won’t stop fighting, and neither can we. Progressives have long been asked to accept that which is not moral, nor righteous, and it is time we start fighting for our ideals as vehemently as those who oppose them. Love and tolerance can be used as a weapon. Violence does not need to be present for an idealogical brawl.
  • Emotive behavior often escapes me, my predisposition being one of self work rather than efforts in relationships. Now more than ever I will seek to reverse that personal trend and work with others for a better human experience, while simultaneously doubling down on the work I need to do on myself.
  • The assembly of thoughts during something so macro is a frustrating task if you don’t let the confusion in and accept the uncertainty.
  • It’s been difficult to ground myself in the trivial, but we must hold onto this pain and let it inform us, while still loving, laughing, and living.
  • I grew up in an environment that never questioned the equality of any living person. More than ever I realize that looking at all people as the same is not enough, and that I must try harder to put myself in their shoes.
  • Don’t wait for a champion to be chosen for you. Choose one you believe in from the word go, someone who will champion your beliefs.
  • With something as large, as monumental as this situation we find ourselves in now, voices need to be heard. Continue the discussion. Be open, but also resolute in the moral imperatives. Do not mock those who are expressing. Do not mock those who are venting. Instead open a dialogue, or ask a question. If you see hate, combat it fiercely with love and rational thought.
  • Thought, discussion, love, passion, compassion, and empathy are just a few of the tools that will help us strive to find ourselves positioned in a more positive experience.

Feel free to share this with anyone you think may be interested, or might want to contribute thoughts of their own. Respectful opposition is welcomed and encouraged. In the meantime I will continue to write down my jumbled thoughts, and plan to look into ways of volunteering my time for causes I care about, both politically and socially. I encourage you to do the same.

On Kaepernick

Let me first be clear on where I am coming from. I am a white male, from a middle class family, whose heritage is largely colonial English. My privilege and my place in society have never been anything other than comfortable and safe. There is little in life that I have wanted and not received. Not once have I been scared of the police, felt discriminated against by an employer, or been called a racial epithet. Currently I am without a paying job, and yet there is little risk of me not having a home, not being cared for, not being provided for. I am lucky beyond measure. These words below do not come from a place of racial experience, but rather empathy. Acknowledging that bias allows you, as the reader, to have no reservations about where my stance originates, or how it was informed. 

Colin Kaepernick has gone through a number of football swings in his still brief career with the San Francisco 49ers. He was a second round draft pick. He was a promising backup that took the starting job from a former number one overall pick. He was close to being a Super Bowl winning quarterback. He endured great success early in his career, and was rewarded with a huge contract. Since then he has been the underachiever, often times rarely playing, but still getting paid nonetheless. Coming into this season there was little fanfare around Kaepernick. The 49ers had a new coach in Chip Kelly that was hogging much of the spotlight. The conversation around the team was about largely about whether they would finish third or fourth in their division, and the questions surrounding Kaepernick himself were whether he could become even a shadow of his former self. Then he sat.

The NFL dominates the sports news cycle in this country. Coverage of the behemoth is broken down into two increasingly equal parts: football the sport, and football the brand. Football the sport is your normal coverage that encapsulates games, game analysis, highlights, trades, trade rumors, injury news, the combine, the draft, mini camps, training camps, OTAs, etc. Football the brand encapsulates all the rest: the promotion of the NFL’s “Play 60” initiative, the Hall of Fame, the owners meetings, the marketing, the advertisements, and increasingly the off the field player behavior that the PR team is always ready to address or ignore. That behavior has come to dominate the brand half of the cycle: DUIs, domestic violence, gun charges, drug arrests, manslaughter, reckless driving, the list goes on and on. It has become such a frequent part of the brand, that it often becomes just another talking point to milk for ratings. The NFL brass may not like it, but boy does it help pay for ad time at ESPN. The “Worldwide Leader” would never say publicly that they enjoy Johnny Manziel getting caught wasted in Vegas, but you can bet behind closed doors they are loving every minute of it. Controversy drives ratings, and suddenly we have a controversy that is peaceful, non-violent, and non-criminal. This is the perfect opportunity to have both ratings and rational thought. There’s no way this player could get criticized more than child abusers, right? Wrong.

Not standing for the flag, or the national anthem, has nothing to do with the military. It certainly can, but to think that they have to be mutually inclusive, is to be blindly jingoistic. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II. I could not be more proud of the sacrifice they made. I applaud and respect those who choose and chose to enter the armed forces. My best friend from high school joined the army, and I am proud of him. The fact is, my saying that is as much creating a straw man to reinforce my argument, as the other side is doing to tear down Kaepernick’s. Whether you have family or friends in the military, or if you fought yourself, our armed forces can claim no more ownership of our anthem and our flag than a janitor at a highschool, or a manager at a bank. That’s the point of this country. We are supposed to all be equal. Because of that, you can protest the symbols of our country for any cause you wish. That’s pretty damn awesome.

With that being said, let’s pretend for a second that Kaepernick is protesting the military (he isn’t, just to be extra, overly clear). Recently it came to light that much of the pomp and circumstance that fans and players experience before games, like the giant flag over the field, or the military flyovers, were largely paid marketing schemes between pro teams and the armed forces. Combine that with the fact that you can rarely sit through a televised football game without seeing multiple ads for the marines, army, and navy, and it makes you think that maybe this isn’t really as much about respecting our troops as it is about furthering our military industrial complex. Too often have I both experienced and seen army recruiters manipulate, and try to manipulate, young men and women into joining up: promises of a better life, of a future education, of a moral high ground. Combine all that with the fact that we as a country don’t treat veterans very well, and I would argue that protesting the actions of the military as an institution is actually supporting our troops more than any nationalistic pregame football ritual. And yet, again, Kaepernick isn’t sitting to dishonor the military. It has nothing to do with the military. Period.

The real issue Kaepernick is protesting is the treatment of black people in this country, with an emphasis on police brutality. Throughout the country police unions and organizations have come out and criticized him. The usual talking points are a lack of respect, or of education, or of being ungrateful. He is privileged (with fame and money), so he must be a hypocrite.

The logical hoops that one must jump through to get to that conclusion are astounding. Sure, part of this is about money, but the fact is he is still a black man in an industry that is dominated by rich, old white men. If you don’t believe me, go look at the demographics of the NFL ownership. This is an institution that had to instate a rule, The Rooney Rule, to make sure black candidates were interviewed for head coaching positions. Guess what, despite that rule, there are still only four black head coaches in the league, even while the players are predominantly black. Furthermore, money does not buy racial equality. Nor does it buy equal respect. Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, and she is American. Maria Sharapova has been completely and utterly dominated by Williams in her career and yet Sharapova makes more money from endorsements in this country, and she isn’t even American! I won’t even start on Williams compared to her male counterparts.

But wait, you are still talking about money and the problems of famous, privileged black athletes, they don’t have to deal with everyday bias. Wrong. Take Doug Glanville, a great baseball player, and currently an analyst for ESPN, he couldn’t get a taxi because he is black. James Blake, retired tennis player, was wrongly tackled by police and concerned for his safety because of his skin color. That’s the thing, money doesn’t nullify racism or earn societal privilege. Who knows how many Glanville’s deal with that everyday and don’t have the platform to speak, and we know how many Blake’s all too often end in tragedy: Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and more. No one is saying that all cops are racist, or all cop shootings are racially motivated. No one is saying all cabbies avoid black people on the street, but where there is smoke there is fire, and right now the smoke is suffocating.

The response to Kaepernick has been concerning, not because you have to support his decision, or because you have to agree with my stance, but because much of the discussion has been about his specific action rather than the very real reasons he chose to take that action. I won’t sit here and tell you you have to agree with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, though I personally do. And I won’t tell you that you have to agree with Kaepernick and sit for the national anthem, I probably won’t. However, I would ask you to please empathize and think about the protest he is making. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. Ignore the anthem, ignore him sitting, and please try to recognize the problem.


Baseball’s Second Season: Previewing October…Again

There is something to be said for fandom. It kind of creeps into your mind and heart, virus like in its ability to effect mood, behavior, and even health. That can be both positive and negative, but as someone who experienced playoff fandom this afternoon, all I can say is that there are going to be some butterflies, chewed nails, plus a whole lot of cursing and celebrating during these baseball playoffs.

Last year I did a prediction post. It was blast to write and happened to generate some luckily accurate results to boot. This year, with teams I care about in the playoffs, I knew I wouldn’t have any sort of objectivity when evaluating the postseason participants, so I opted against it. However, despite the playoffs having already started, I will give some opinions about what I like about a few of theses teams: more musings and generics, rather than in-depth analysis.

Nationals: This team is about as complete a unit as you can put together in baseball. They don’t appear to have any real weakness, and the big question that many did have about them was their closer, Rafael Soriano, who Matt Williams removed from the role in favor of Drew Storen. As big of a postseason as this is for the Nationals, it’s as big, if not bigger for Storen who had the meltdown in game 5 of the division series against the Cardinals in 2012. If I had to pick a team to win the World Series, this would be the squad.

Dodgers: This team is as Hollywood as its location. They have the big names, big money, and big time performers that it takes to win a World Series, though there are some questions about the bullpen. With a lineup that has a good combination of power (Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig) and speed (Dee Gordon, Puig again), plus a 1-2 pitching punch like Clayton Kershaw, and Zach Grienke, most other years this team would have more than enough talent to make it out of the NL.

Cardinals and Giants: These two teams have far more postseason experience that either of their two opponents, with the Cardinals having represented the National League in the World Series in 2011 and 13 (Winning in ’11) and the Giants having won it all in 2010 and 2012. Both these teams have veteran talent, and certainly know that it takes to win on the big stage, but they simply have to bridge too large of a talent gap. The Giants used their ace in the wild card matchup, and the rest of their rotation isn’t all that scary. That is ignoring a lineup that will be hard pressed to generate runs (yes, I know they erupted last night). The Cards have the names of Wainwright, and Molina, and Holliday, but just don’t have the lineup top to bottom. With all that said, the Nats and Dodgers certainly won’t be underestimating either of these two.

Angels: This team begins and ends with Mike Trout. It is vastly oversimplifying things, but he has the talent to take them all the way. If any of their vets, namely some dudes named Albert and Josh, can get going, they could bash their way through the playoffs. With their best starter (Garrett Richards) done, they might need to, because their rotation is nothing to lose sleep over. The addition of Huston Street to their backend was huge. They are the clubhouse favorites in the AL due to their play throughout the season, but I think they have a lot of susceptibility.

Royals: Meet the Kansas City Track Stars, who go by the Royals sometimes too. Last year it was the Pirates ending their postseason drought, and the year before it was the Orioles. This team already got a huge monkey off its back just by making the dance, and they are gonna run with it, literally, until someone stops them. Just ask the the A’s, who got Forrest Gump-ed out of Kansas City on Tuesday due to seven stolen bases. The Royals will need more of the same if they want to get out of an AL bracket that features three other slugging teams. This team rarely hits home runs, but if they can get on base consistently, watch out. Their defense and bullpen might both be the best in the tourney as well.

Tigers: It seems like every year they are the best team on paper, and yet every year they don’t perform until they squeak into the postseason. This year followed that model to a T. Detroit was bad all season, considering their talent. Yes, a lot of that can be blamed on their woeful bullpen (who looked even worse tonight), but the reality is the starting pitching, big names and all, failed to produce quality results. This team will always have the potential to blow everyone out of the water, but until they put it together its hard to see them making a deep run. They won their division on the last day, a feat that could have proved some momentum, but they then got shelled by the Orioles today in the opener, and have to deal with more questions. They are easily the toughest to team to read, because their talent screams “wow,” while their performances often produce a big “meh”

Orioles: If the Tigers are the under achievers, the Orioles are their antithesis. They have overcome key injuries (Matt Wieters, Manny Machado) and a suspension (Chris Davis), and seemingly gotten better as the season’s progressed. They are led by a redemption story (Nelson Cruz), a guy who forgot that walks exist in baseball (Adam Jones), and players no one else seemed to want (Steve Pearce, Miguel Gonzalez). Not many had them getting this far, and some still aren’t giving them their due. Baltimore’s best weapon might be Buck Showalter’s brain, and its ability to puppeteer an outstanding bullpen. This team feels like a team of destiny of this year with all that they’ve overcome, but hey, I’m insanely biased.


Speaking of biases, I also wrote a piece about the parity between the Nationals and Orioles record wise last season. This season that trend continued in a big way. It seemed liked every day these two teams were separated by a parkway and not more than one or two games. That culminated with them both clinching their respective divisions within roughly an hour of each other, and ending up with identical records on he last day of baseball (heck, they both even won their final games 1-0). It’s amazing how far baseball in the DC-Baltimore area has come. The Nationals were expected to be here this season with their talent, but the Orioles kept pace all season long. Four years ago these two teams were baseball’s bottom feeders . This year there is a legitimate chance of them meeting in the World Series. Crazy.

The playoffs started with a wild Wild Card game that saw two teams give it everything they had. Hopefully that was just the beginning, because as a fan, all you can ask for at the end of the day is your team leaving it all on the diamond. Should be a fun October.


Brazil 2014: A Football Musing

There were some nerves heading into the 2014 World Cup. Concerns about safety, political unrest, climate, and pitch conditions all were raised in the lead up to the tournament, but once Brazil and Croatia kicked things off on June 13th, all eyes were fixed firmly on the pitch.

That first game, with all the pageantry and pride of Brazil on full display, provided some inkling, or perhaps warning, of things to come. Brazil won 3-1, but Croatia was the better team in all but the scoreline. Brazil survived thanks to some highly questionable refereeing, and some missed chances by the Croatians. Brazil’s tournament might have started successfully, but a month later the country was singing a much more bitter sporting song.

The second day the first real shock of the tournament came in the form of the Oranje army masquerading in their blue jerseys for the day. In a rematch of the 2010 final in Johannesburg, Spain and the Netherlands put on a much more exciting performance (except maybe from a Spanish perspective), that saw the Dutch thrash their way to a 5-1 revenge scoreline. It didn’t get much better from there for the defending champs, as they lost to Chile 2-0 in their next match and were the sent home in the first round.Other europeans powers didn’t fare much better than La Furia Roja. England, Italy, and Portugal all left South America with disappointingly short campaigns as well.

CONCACAF (the North American federation) made a big display despite having only four teams in the tournament, and were often antagonists of the European cause. Mexico knocked out Croatia, while tournament darlings Costa Rica were most responsible for the English and Italian exits. The USMNT for their part helped send the World’s best player home early, though he (Christiano Ronaldo) did manage to inflict some serious psychological damage on the Americans with his last second assist to tie their game.

Asia and Africa had two different experiences. While the Africans saw two teams advance to the knockout stage for the first time, the Asians were easily the most disappointing federation with no teams making it through.

South American performed well on home soil, with all but Ecuador progressing. However, with four teams set to face one another in one of the semifinal brackets, it meant that only two could actually make it through to the final. Their was the usual array of upstart teams headlined by the Costa Ricans. The Ticos made a stirring run to the quarters before just being edged out by a better Dutch unit. Colombia, and dark horses Belgium also made quarter finals runs, the latter coming at the expense of the Americans and a truly heroic Tim Howard.

After all the dust settled, the last four was composed of some usual suspects, thought the matches that followed were anything but. Most thought that the Dutch-Spanish contest on day two would be the shock of the tournament, but twenty-nine minutes of the German National Machine saw to that. Brazil, a team that had hope, prayed, and paid for success in this tournament, were left in tatters. The 7-1 obliteration set numerous records of futility for the Brazilian side, and their subsequent loss to the Dutch in the third place match all but ruined the reputation of Brazil’s storied footballing culture. Argentina squeaked by the Dutch on penalties, and in the final they looked to do the same to the Germans until a young man named Mario saw to it that Germany would win its first world title as a unified country.

Germany was the embodiment of a team, as they so often are, but plenty of individual talents were on display during the last month as well. Young stars like James Rodriguez and Xherdan Shaqiri arrived with a flurry of goals. While veteran goalkeepers like Howard and Guillermo Ochoa gained admiration by preventing chance after chance. The Dutch duo of Robin Van Persia and Arjen Robben created headaches for every defense they face. Neymar scored often for the Brazilians before a fractured vertebrae spelled the end of his tournament and Brazil’s hopes. Messi’s brilliance couldn’t save Argentina, though it nearly did. He won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, but falling so painfully short of the ultimate prize made the honor little more than a hollow consolation.

With 171 goals scored, tied with France 98 for most ever, the tournament was an offensive joy. It’s always bittersweet when a World Cup tournament comes to an end, and today is no exception. Only 1426 days until Putin’s tourney kicks off. It will be a long four years, but there will be plenty of soccer, both domestically and internationally, to keep the interest until then. In the meantime, bravo Brazil! It’s been a fun ride.

World Cup Fever

Part of the beauty of writing, is that achieving truth and reality is subjective, and depending on who you talk to, impossible. Predicting the outcome, or excitement in sports, is a frequent, fascinating, and futile endeavor. That’s part of what makes it so fun. The Superbowl is always hyped, but rarely does the pre-game buildup reflect the nature of the game, as we saw with the systematic decimation of the Broncos at the hands of the Seahawks. The NCAA Tournament provides the most exciting bang-for-your-buck four days in all of sports, and yet it cannot be fully described, and certainly not predicted. A World Series like the one that happened between the Rangers and Cardinals in 2011 is something that a Hollywood scriptwriter would look at as unbelievable fiction, because sometimes words feel cheap in the face of real world events.

No sporting event encapsulates those truths more than the World Cup.  It is a once every four years, nation unifying, world stopping, political force, that happens to involve a ball, and a laundry list of the world’s greatest soccer players (though unfortunately a number of them will be missing from this year’s tournament for various reasons).

The World Cup is such a globally unifying experience, and yet it holds a different significance for everyone that watches it. Of course there are the teams you’re rooting for, and the teams you’re rooting against, but it is also an event defined by setting. Not just the setting of the tournament, but setting of the spectators and fans. Whether it is a pub in London, a piazza in Rome, a sold-out stadium in Rio, a cafe in Lagos, or a conference room in Presque Isle, Maine, each holds its own power. That will be what comes to mind when you think of great saves, powerful goals, brutal tackles, and nimble footwork. It will bring back the taste of the beer, the brow full of sweat, and the butterflies in your stomach.


There is another side of the World Cup: the off the field politics. FIFA is by most accounts a pretty terrible entity. It’s a corrupt governing body, that often serves the interests of its aging oligarchs, rather than the sport it is supposed to govern. New details have emerged in the perceived corruption of Qatar’s 2022 bid, that saw a tiny nation with summer heat temperatures in the 120s, and very little sporting infrastructure, get awarded the World Cup. FIFA tried to maintain that there was no shady business going on, but now the floodgates seemed to have broken, with major sponsors stepping in to voice their concerns that too many back room deals, and briefcases full of money won Qatar the bid.

Brazil has its own set of concerns, a set that doesn’t appear to be dying in the days leading up to the tournament. Human rights protest, and even riots, have spread across the South American country, as the spending for the World Cup’s infrastructure has overshadowed the lack of spending on Brazil’s healthcare, education, and numerous other basic government duties. During last summer’s Confederations Cup — what many view as the dry run for the World Cup — there were numerous violent clashes between police and protestors, even during the final that saw Brazil dominate Spain 3-0. In the year since, other protests have sprung up, and there have even been fears about working conditions after eight laborers died at various times during the stadium construction process. The show will go on, but expect much more extra-curricular political protesting during the next month.

As if the greatest sporting event in the world didn’t need extra hype, the off the field politics, FIFA greed, and personal importance will be accompanied by the usual on the pitch excitement. Brazil will be riding a wave of pressure and support, as the host nation vies for its sixth World Cup title. Anything but a win on home soil will be a failure. Spain will be looking to win an unprecedented fourth straight major title, but appear slightly more vulnerable than the last go round. Germany brings its normal well oiled machine, minus a few key cogs due to injury. Argentina seems to be rounding into its usual ethereal form that could see it spoil its rivals host tournament, or flame out too early, yet again. The other contenders are there. England has a monumentally tough group with Uruguay, and the Italians. Italy and Uruguay each have injury concerns of their own, but still should knock the English out, and let the press have a field day with the fallout. The Americans look to have their hand’s full with the Germans and the Portuguese, not to mention their now archival Ghanaians — who have knocked them out of the last two World Cups. Portugal is hoping Cristiano Ronaldo will be fully fit, and the entire Iberian nation will be holding its breath if he’s not. Dark-horses abound in the likes of the Ivory Coast, Belgium, and Colombia, but don’t be surprised if it’s the usual suspects making deep runs in the tournament.

I won’t be making any predictions on the tourney, it’s too sacred to me personally to try to prophesy, but I will be pulling for my usual trio of nations: the Italians, the Americans, and the Dutch. I’ll be glued to my TV for the next month, enjoying the greatest sport even in the world. Hopefully you will too. Thursday can’t come soon enough.


Standup Throwback

My first standup for WDSU last summer during my internship. Safe to say I’ll stick to the back end.

Preserving the Pelicans

Here is a piece I wrote for  class a little while back. 


Memphis Grizzlies general manager and vice-president of basketball operations, Chris Wallace, has just finished lecturing to a group of students about his own career path, and the success of the Grizzlies as a small market NBA franchise. For many years, the Grizzlies were a team struggling for success and attendance. Wallace was one of the major reasons for the team’s turnaround both on and off the court.

The New Orleans Pelicans are currently in a very similar position to the struggling Grizzlies’ teams of the early 2000s, and just as Wallace saw optimism for the Grizzlies then, he sees some for the Pelicans now. “I think the NBA as a whole, and the Pelicans in particular, will just continue to grow and grow in this city, because that’s the path for the NBA,” Wallace says, taking a sip of Coke as if to acknowledge the big endorsement deal the soft drink giant has with the league. “The league is in a very healthy place right now.”

“In our sport you can win the championship without being in New York or L.A,” Wallace continues, ignoring the fact that big market teams like the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Chicago Bulls have collectively won more than half of the league’s championships. Even with that historical imbalance, Wallace does well to point out the recent achievement of some of the smaller market teams. “You take Oklahoma City, Memphis, Indiana. You know Utah had a big run for over a decade with (John) Stockton and (Karl) Malone, and San Antonio’s the best example,” Wallace says, smiling as he names his own squad.

The one factor all of those franchises have in common is that they are the sole entity in their respective market. They have no outside competition from the other big sports leagues. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, the smallest market to have multiple major sports franchises is New Orleans. Much of the reason that New Orleans has two teams, despite its size, is due to the city’s large athletic significance. The Sugar Bowl is held annually in the Crescent City, along with numerous Super Bowls, Finals Fours, and NCAA Football National Championships.

In spite of all the sports history and fervor in the area, the Pelicans/Hornets have really struggled to keep up the attendance. Per ESPN stats, just last year they had the second lowest average home attendance in the league. This is all while the Saints, the Pelicans’ next-door neighbors, continue to have sellouts. Still, Wallace doesn’t think having an NFL competitor affects the Pelicans going forward. “I don’t know why you can’t have a great NBA team where you have a great NFL team,” he says, citing the on-the-court product as being the ultimate reason that a team will be financially successful. In essence, winning breeds attendance, as it has for the Saints.

There is still no denying that an NFL team in a small market is huge competition regardless of an NBA team’s success. Only two other cities in the country have both an NBA and NFL franchise without having at least one other franchise as well. One is Charlotte, and the other is Indianapolis, both larger cities than New Orleans.

This struggle for a foothold in a football city came to a head for the Hornets/Pelicans during the middle of the 2010-2011 season, and many began to seriously question whether the team could stay in New Orleans long-term. The NBA bought the franchise from George Shinn and Gary Choues, and without a perspective owner immediately coming forward, the rumors of a New Orleans exodus began to swell around the media. The Saints were coming off a recent Super Bowl victory, and that, combined with star point guard Chris Paul wanting out, meant there wasn’t a lot of positivity around the Hornets/Pelicans.

Enter Tom Benson, the long time owner of the Saints. “Had Tom Benson not purchased the team, I don’t think the NBA would be here now, let alone in the future, because there’s not enough entertainment dollars to make it work,” says local WDSU sports anchor Fletcher Mackel. “There’s not enough resources to support two teams, there’s not enough corporate money, there’s not enough sponsor money, and there’s not enough people to buy tickets. But now that Tom Benson has to make them both work, I do think that it can be successful and will be successful here.”

Despite Benson’s presence, the attendance issue isn’t going away. As Mackel pointed out, there is just not enough money to go around. New Orleans is a city stricken with poverty. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, more than one out of every four New Orleans residents sits below the poverty line. Despite unemployment actually being down to twenty eight percent as of January, it is still one of the worst rates in the country. As a result, the Smoothie King Center is barely half full most nights, with only visiting teams like the Heat or Thunder drawing big crowds. In reality, many people in New Orleans shouldn’t be spending their money on game tickets when they have other priorities. Mackel thinks that Benson has made peace with the fact that the Pelicans won’t be a moneymaker for him. “I think he truly did this to help the city. As long as he doesn’t lose money, I think he’s ok.”

So what are the benefits to the city? “I think that it helps revenue wise for the city to have the Pelicans, cause it brings in the All-Star game which brings in some extra money and excitement,” weighs in WDSU sports reporter Sharief Ishaq. Wallace thinks the promise of an All-Star game is big too. “It’s a huge event, not just in terms of the amount of out of town visitors it brings in, but just for the recognition it gives a city.” The city hosted its second All-Star game in six years, partly because no other city knows how to handle that national recognition with an ease and unique flavor like New Orleans.

For all the talk of demographics, NFL competition, and market size, there may be one simple basketball factor that determines the future viability and success of this franchise: Anthony Davis. More than any other sport, basketball is a star driven game. One player can alter the landscape of an entire franchise. Over the years the likes of Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and now players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant have all done that for their respective teams. In the case of LeBron, it was a lesson of what can happen to a town when a superstar leaves. Per ESPN, Cleveland went from 2nd in attendance to 19th when he left. That’s a gigantic drop, and doesn’t even take into consideration the loss of revenue for business in and around the arena, as well as marketing revenue and national TV appearances. The small market teams that have had success, like San Antonio and Oklahoma City, have been able to put butts in seats because they have held onto their players. Wallace thinks that ability is one of the league’s real strengths. “The set up with the draft and the way the rookie contracts work, the home team is a significant favorite to retain their talent.” That is true to an extent, and though it sounds great in theory, at the end of the day, no matter the regulations and rules in place, big market teams will always have a cash advantage and allure that can be hard to match. Just ask the fans in Cleveland.

Many NBA executives believe that Anthony Davis could be the best player in the league sooner rather than later. That’s a lot of hype, but even in his first two years in the league he has shown flashes of the dominant player he might one day become. In just his second season, Davis was an all-star and led the league in blocks per game. That is great news for New Orleans basketball fans, but only if they can get Davis to sign on after his rookie deal.

As Mackel says, “Their [the Pelicans] success on the court, and even off court is tied to the success of Anthony Davis.” Mackel, like many others, felt Paul was the same way during his time in New Orleans. “Chris Paul was a guy who in essence saved basketball here.” Since he left, the team hasn’t been back to the playoffs. That’s the type of impact one player can have. And even though the then Hornets were that perennial playoff team with Paul leading the charge, he eventually became frustrated with the lack of true success and forced the team to trade him to a bigger market. Davis to this point seems pretty relaxed and focused on basketball, as he continually says all the right things. But the longer this team underperforms, the more the speculation and rumors will start to appear about the big man’s future. It’s clear that he is all-important to the Pelicans, which will give him the leverage to squeeze every possible penny out of a deal. The Pelicans need to give him that money. If you can’t keep a player like him around long term, it affects just about every other aspect of your team structure, as highlighted by LeBron’s departure from Cleveland

The Pelicans are underachieving for now, but Benson has committed the team to the city for the foreseeable future. For now Anthony Davis is a commodity to enjoy, but if the Pelicans can’t keep him for the long haul, All-Star weekends are destined to be the best contribution this team gives the city. For some that may be enough. After all, New Orleans always loves an excuse to party. Yet, if Chris Wallace is to be believed, there is much more than just the occasional weekend bash in store for this franchise. If that is to come to fruition, a tall 21-year-old with one big eyebrow will have to be at the center of it.

Hats Off to Michael Sam

The first Sunday after the Super Bowl. A day of sorrow for many NFL fans, as basketball begins to take the national stage, and baseball is right around the corner. But on this quiet Sunday it wasn’t basketball, or even the Olympics that stole the spotlight, rather the courage of one young man.

Michael Sam is a first team All-American. He is the reigning SEC defensive player of the year. Next year he will be playing football with an NFL team. His family life has been hard. He has had siblings die. He has had siblings go to prison. He was the first member of his family to go to college. He is also gay. And on this football-less Sunday, that is the news that blew the top off of the sporting world. To this point, there has never been an active player in the four major sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB) to come out as gay. Jason Collins, an NBA forward, came out last year, but has been a free agent since.

All too often there are negative stories coming from the NFL. I wrote a short piece in the fall highlighting some of that negativity. Whether it’s drugs, DUIs, fights, or even murder, off the field stories for the NFL don’t exactly shed a lot of positive light on the league or its players. Enter Michael Sam. When he takes the field at the end of next summer, he will be the first openly gay NFL player in league history (I want to emphasize openly, as some ex NFL players are gay, and almost assuredly some current players are as well). For a league known for its macho stigma, this is momentous.

The first wave of reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. There have been detractors sure, but the fact that the public support has been almost exclusively positive to this point, shows just how far we as a society have come in just the past few years. There will be many uncomfortable moments, and even hateful ones for Michael Sam, but this young man seems well prepared for whatever may come. This is story that brings a smile to the face, and from a personal standpoint, I have not been more pleased with a narrative surrounding the NFL in my entire life. One day stories like this won’t even be stories, but at a time when the Olympics, an event that is supposed to embrace, celebrate and champion the human spirit, is being held in a country that has made a political decision to be bigoted and close minded, this announcement becomes all the more important. There may not be a more consequential, or historic sports story all year. Hats off to Michael Sam. This is a great day for sport.

P(review)ing 2013 and 2014

As the curtain closes on another year, there is plenty of reason to look back on the highs and lows of 2013. In the world of sports there were plenty as always. Bayern Munich dominated European soccer in a historic manner. The U.S. Men’s National Team had their best year in history, which was doubly nice considering U.S. Soccer is celebrating 100 years of existence. The Baltimore Ravens weathered a Superdome blackout to win the Super Bowl in a rocking New Orleans. Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide won its second straight national title. They looked to be well on their way to a third, until an Iron Bowl for the ages that saw Auburn escape with a flabbergasting upset (oddly that word is appropriate there). Baseball saw the Pirates return to the postseason for the first time in two decades, a Cuban sensation light up the sport with immature antics and absurd skill, and the Red Sox go from yuck to yay on the backs of an undersized Japanese man and oversized Dominican one. Lebron James somehow became a better basketball player, and led his Miami Heat to their second consecutive championship, much to the chagrin of much of the country. Tiger Woods won five tournaments, but didn’t win a Major so was considered by many to be a disappointment. Roger Federer had his worst season in what seems like a lifetime, while his greatest rival Rafael Nadal had a comeback for the ages, taking home two major titles. The Blackhawks beat the Bruins in a matchup of Original Six members. A year after Kentucky won the NCAA tournament, Louisville took the 2013 title, proving that North Carolina has serious competition for best college basketball state. Phew. That was just the big stuff.

Enough of the nostalgia. As a sports fan, 2014 poses some big excitement and apprehension. All the usual suspects will be in play, including the NFL circus, the Heat’s quest for the elusive three-peat, a new season of baseball, and the madness of the NHL Playoffs. Tiger will look to get back in the major win column, and Fed will try to pull a thirties comeback. Despite all that sports appeal, 2014 provides some sizable add-ons from the typical calendar. The first big one comes February 6th with the Sochi Olympics. So far most of the press has been on the Russian government’s crackdown on gay rights. Much speculation has arisen about what will happen, and the ante was upped even further when the U.S. announced that Billie Jean King, tennis great, and openly gay woman, would lead their delegation to the games. Recent bombings in Volgograd have shifted focus from the gay discussion to the much more cheery possibility of terrorist attacks at the games. Nothing like hate and violence to get you in the mood for speed skating and ski jumping.

The other major event of the year appears to be more festive, but isn’t without concerns of its own. Brazil is a soccer country. However, it is also a country of political turmoil, and great wealth inequality. Those two identities came to a head last summer at the Confederation’s Cup. The Cup, which is essentially a mini dry run for the World Cup, featured mass protests and riots over the billions being poured into World Cup arrangements and construction, while many of the nation’s issues like education and overall infrastructure were being ignored. All signs indicate that more protests are likely to occur when the tournament kicks off in June. Concerns have also arisen over working conditions at the sites of the many new stadiums being built, most recently after two workers were killed in a crane accident this past November. The beautiful game sounds less beautiful in that light.

Despite the unease surrounding both Sochi and Brazil, both events are sure to have their thrill of sporting exciting and disappointment to go along with the political spectacles. The Russians will be looking for a good showing on home soil…or should I say snow. The Brazilians, coming off a convincing win in the Confederation’s Cup, will be desperate to replicate that success in front of their adoring, if often unruly fans. The most popular sporting event in the world will see the defending champions Spain vying for their fourth straight major international title, an unprecedented feat.

Maybe the other largest change coming in 2014, is the end of the BCS. Next season college football will be implementing a four team playoff to decide the national champion, after years of grumbling from fans, players, media, and often times coaches. By no means will the controversy be gone from the sport, but the new format should at least provide some appeasement.

2013 was a great year in the world of sport (even if my teams largely stunk). Here’s hoping that 2014 will provide more excitement, and less controversy. In the meantime have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve and Day!

(Pardon the worse than usual grammar. I blame the piña coladas, my noisy family, and the poolside setting. Vacation life!)

The NFL Circus: A League of Criminality and Buffoonery

Baseball might be America’s pastime, but football has long been America’s sport. The game is more valuable and popular than ever. However, when you start to look at the sport in a larger context, there is a disturbing trend.

Over the past week a troubling story broke out of Miami. Second year OT Jonathan Martin took an indefinite leave from the Dolphins after he had a breakdown over a lunch room hazing prank. As the news filtered out, it was discovered that Martin has been hazed and bullied repeatedly over the past year and a half, even being forced to pay for thousands of dollars worth of vacations for some teammates. The head instigator of this mistreatment seems to be Richie Incognito, a man who has a reputation around the league of being one of the dirtiest and most violent players. As of Sunday night, Incognito has been placed on indefinite suspension pending further review. The story is disturbing in and of itself, but what compounds the issue is it is just one in a series of troubling off the field issues for the NFL this year.

In perhaps the most high-profile criminal case involving an athlete since OJ, former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez dominated headlines after being charged with murder. Riley Cooper, WR for the Eagles, was caught on videotape using racial slurs while threatening black people. Two high-ranking members of the Broncos front office were charged with DUIs in July. Bronco’s LB Von Miller broke the league’s already lenient substance abuse policy and was then caught trying to cover it up. There was a bad outbreak of MRSA at the Buccaneers training facility, with at least three players being infected. This year has set a record pace for ACL injuries. There has been an alleged coverup of concussion symptoms. There are rumors that the Buccaneers leaked former QB Josh Freeman’s medical files, which is a federal offense. As of September 20th, 43 NFL players have been arrested this calendar year. Those charges include everything from murder, to marijuana possession, to DUIs, to gun charges, to manslaughter even involvement in a prostitution ring.

Yep that is all this year, and it is only week nine of the season. That exhaustive list doesn’t even take into account the numerous off the field issues that have occurred in the past couple of years, like former Cowboy Josh Brent facing manslaughter charges for killing teammate Jimmy Brown while driving drunk.

Justin Blackmon, the Jaguars’ hugely talented young WR, was just suspended indefinitely for breaking the league’s substance abuse policy for the second time. He was suspended the first four games of this season for his first offense. The unnerving part is, almost no one batted an eye. This is a young man who has the talent to be amongst the best at his position in the league, and yet he seems to have a substance abuse problem. Where is the safety net for this young man? A suspension is fine, and warranted, but this is a human being that clearly needs help. He has checked into a rehab facility, but only after being just one of numerous players to be caught, and I emphasize caught, this year. What about the guys that don’t get caught?

The bigger question is, does the NFL care?

The answer is no. The National Football League is about as ruthless a business as exists in this country. A great example of that was the squabbling over money during the lockout with the refs last year, and the league wide lockout the year before. A more recent, and more disgusting, example was the revelation that the league was profiting heavily off of their pink promotion that they run in conjunction with the shady Susan G. Komen foundation each October for breast cancer awareness. The pink merchandise that is plastered all over teams and commercials during the month, is sold through the control of the league. Well it turns out only about 8%  of the money goes to actual breast cancer research funding. Almost all of it goes to the League, the merchandising companies, or the Komen Foundation (look up their practices, just an awful “non-profit”). The League cares about money, and money has never been better. As long as they can get their superficial charity stunts to work, the grass is green and the sky is blue.

The other professional sports leagues in North America look saintly compared to the NFL, when closely inspected. Baseball gets a ton of flack, as it should, for the ongoing steroid debacle. However, much of the issue with that largely has to do with the perceived sanctity of the game, not dangerous crimes and TMZ like shenanigans (Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun aside). To MLB’s credit, they have made a concerted effort to crack down on steroids. There doesn’t seem to be the same sense of urgency from the NFL. For other leagues it has become the exception to behave like this. In the NFL it seems to becoming more and more the rule.

The fans and media deserve a share of the blame. Sure there is the automated wringing of hands that goes on for a designated period of time after each of these stories breaks, but the NFL sweeps it under their very large proverbial rug, and it is on to the next. Maybe our reality TV saturated, drama craving, ADD diagnosed society has just come to enjoy this added side of football. If that’s the case then there is no hope of this trend ever reversing. As someone who loves sports, I hope that’s not the case. There is already a lot of talking in football (by my estimation, too much). Each week, the games, match ups, and story lines are beaten over the heads of fans, who seem all too eager to keep being hit. Much of this media coverage glosses over these negative stories, never seeming to delve into why this has become a trend in the NFL. Some of that can be chalked up to the NFL’s power. No one wants to get on the League’s bad side, but as media there is an obligation to investigate, even if you cover sports.

This cycle is bad for the game, and bad for the fans. It may not seem like it yet, what with the record media deals, and revenues. But after a certain point lives need to come first. Players have seemingly no support system, and it has become tiresome watching twenty something, rich, bored men ruining their lives, and lives around them. The NFL has become a bad circus, and that needs to change. It doesn’t look likely, but as fans of the sport we must do everything in our power to see that it does.