Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bakersfield Reflections

A man is never afraid to admit he was wrong. And I was wrong about thinking Bakersfield wouldn't have much to offer - in fact, it gave me a lot to think about for the next months.

First off, I actually enjoyed the slow change of pace. I've noticed that when I leave Los Angeles, I find cities that are just quieter, more laid back and easier to navigate. I see it at the new pad in Redondo, I felt for years in San Diego and I saw it in Bakersfield. It's like I told my godsister - everything in L.A. revolves around being busy but everything there revolves relaxing and simple things.

It was funny driving through the main street to the arena. They even had a street sign next to it named in honor of their most famous product, the band KoRn. I guess that was downtown cause city hall was across the street but the lack of buildings made it feel like small town heaven.

I was surprised that it wasn't as rural as I thought it was - I even peeped the "new" Hooters in town for March Madness. Although it was funny that there's a Wal-Mart and a Target right next to each other.

But to the point, I had several good conversations were my godsis Monica just about my life and trying to figure out what's gonna happen in the next few months. I realized that watching her confidently respond or ask me simple questions that demanded I answer specifically made me think that I'm still in the process of understanding myself, let alone my future.

The hardest part for me lately is to come to grips with who am I only because I have trouble being 100% confident in every situation. You want to be comfortable but what happens when you feel unsatisfied or people can't tell if you think they're joking or serious.

That's the problem being so analytical at times. I come across as friendly and easygoing because I think my way through things instead of feel my way.

Talking with her helped me understand where I need to grow as a person. Age is really just a number unless you act like you lived that long and learned along the way.

I've been single for almost 2 years because I needed to figure out what I wanted for myself and what I like. Lately, I made the decision that I need to take trips outside of L.A. and see the country for a few reasons - but mainly to understand myself and regain the independence I had in college.

Bakersfield was a good start because it showed me a taste of what that can be. My godsis helped me realize that I don't have to worry about 5 years down the road when I have enough to think about and control just in the next 5 months. I'm gonna try to explore this more.

But yeah, I liked the city - especially getting exposed to sandwiches and cookies at Sequoia's - and I'll be back. Even the boring drive through the mountains was worth it just to see the Grapevine and get away from the rat race of L.A., something I don't have to do in San Diego all the time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

VSR: Donovan's Being Done Dirty

Donovan McNabb will most likely be traded from the Eagles between now and the NFL Draft on April 24. And one of the most underrated quarterbacks of my era will unfortunately be cast out to pasture if the rumors are true that the Raiders are the leading candidate.

It's a shame. McNabb did everything for Philadelphia except win a Super Bowl. He's arguably the greatest player to wear an Eagles uniform (Ron Jaworski, Reggie White, Chuck Bednarik also in the conversation) but he never got the respect of the fans because he was labeled as a choker.

As a Cowboys fan, my memories of McNabb aren't good. The 14-second scramble and long pass to Freddie Mitchell on Monday Night Football. Beating us 44-6 to end the 2008 season. Watching him go to 5 NFC title games. But my last memory will be a good one - beating the Eagles twice, including our 1st playoff win since 96.

But I also remember McNabb in 02 breaking his ankle and going 20-for-25 with 4 TD's in the game. Who'll forget 4th-and-26 against the Packers in the playoffs to save the season? And there's the 2004 NFC title game with Michael Vick - a historic first for two Black quarterbacks.

Not enough Philly fans embraced him. He was hated in 1998 because he was drafted instead of Ricky Williams. He was hated because he could never get to a Super Bowl and when he did, he was more famous for puking on the field and overshadowed by Terrell Owens' gutsy performance.

Worse he got crapped by media critic Rush Limbaugh who called him an average quarterback propped up because the media wanted to see a Black QB succeed. (cue looney music)

Nevermind that in the 2000's - he was arguably one of the league's top QB's when healthy. Nevermind that he morphed from a dual-threat QB into a pure passer who rarely turned to ball over (the 3rd best interception rate of ALL TIME) or had no help at WR besides Brian Westbrook or T.O. (in 04) until 2008 when DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin came in.

And by the way, he has a Top-5 active winning percentage and went to 6 Pro Bowls.

He never got the respect from anybody because he was easygoing and unconfrontational. People saw his smile and Campbell commercials and didn't think he was a competitor. They saw him get hurt from 2005-07 and figured they were right. But all he did was win and say the right things.

I guess all of that doesn't matter nowadays. But while LaDainian Tomlinson had his pick of contenders to choose from, McNabb is only left with....the Raiders? The worst organization in pro football? He couldn't go to a contender or a team with a chance to win at least 8 games next year?

This isn't the way a borderline Hall of Fame quarterback is supposed to end his career. He deserves the chance to improve his candidacy these next 3-4 years and develop Jackson and Maclin into great WR's while praying for another tailback to take the load off him.

Yeah, it's not personal, its business. Then why does this stink of treachery for one of the NFL's high character guys and most successful players of the last decade?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bakersfield, Here I Come

Yes that's a Hanson pic. Yes I had to unfortunately listen to "MMMBop" in middle school and be a part of the start of the boy band craze. Don't focus on the pic, focus on the words cause that's where I'm going this weekend.

Bakersfield. Central California where it's boring and simple. All I know is that one of my good peeps from college is from there and so is KoRn. And what's important is why I'm going there - the high school state basketball champions (thank March Madness for taking up Arco Arena in Sacramento).

The furthest north I've ever been in California is Santa Maria - about 3 hours away up the coast from L.A. So I'm pretty anxious even if this city isn't as exciting as San Diego, Los Angeles or others in the state just because I want to travel more and let's face it - travelling in Cali isnt as easy/simple as other states.

Another reason is that it's the first time I've gone on assignment somewhere since 2007 when I went to the Jena 6 rally in Louisiana. It's long overdue but unfortunately I wasn't going to pay my way to any state meet where I had to fly.

But there's a lot of great stories up there.

- Serra High School is attempting to be the first school in state history with a state football/basketball title in the same school year while playing for the memory of a fallen parent.

- Long Beach Poly girls going for their 5th straight title, something no one has done.

I won't bore you non sports fans with more but I'm looking forward to seeing if Bakersfield is as boring as I expect or intriguing because of its slower pace.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Roll Call Part 2 (To The Right, To The Right)

Here's more of my peeps for y'all to check out

Roofer on Fire - A fascinating lady from Canada, I had heard of Mika's skill on Twitter for a while but sadly I dragged my feet on following her blog til this week. She's a thoughtful writer on a variety of topics and you'll enjoy her style. It's like reading from a cool professor who'll take you out for drinks later.

The Pitones Family - Oh man, what can I say about my schoolmate Sarita. Silly, unpredictable, passionate and just downright cool. She's trying to live up her goal of blogging more and coming up with recipes so sample her tasty treats every couple of weeks when she remembers to post :)

The Swamp - Another Canadian Import, Tyler Conium is one of the coolest dudes I've met on Twitter. Besides being a big sports fan, he's a no-nonsense guy when it comes to things he's passionate about and sometimes you need someone who's gonna tell it like it is (as opposed to as how you think it is). Common sense is at a premium right now and here's somewhere to find it.

In Wilbon's World - Washington Post columnist/Pardon The Interruption host Michael Wilbon is the one reporter I find myself agreeing with a lot. He usually offers views with common sense and the lack of hyperbole but he's also funny and writes very clearly yet forceful with his message. He detests sports blogs but he started his own to offer his takes or preview his column. You'll find some good tidbits there as well. If there's one sportswriter I want to meet, it'd be him.

Pop & Hiss - The LA Times music blog. Self-explanatory cause I'm biased to reading stuff from my city's critics, led by critic emeritus Ann Powers and hip-hop head Jeff Weiss (aka Passion of the Weiss - that's his blog for more hip hop*)

*Weiss and his team did a great list of the 50 Albums of the 2000's, worth checking out.

Varsity Times Insider - The LA Times high school blog. Best source of HS coverage in the city.

Current Copelands - Funny how Caitlin was my sister's friend via a friend back in the day and she's become mine since we reconnected on Facebook. She often posts pics from her travels around the world as well as promotes a few other things. Check her out.

Crumbs - My dude Crumbs balances the silly and serious better than anybody. Plus he's the only dude I know who admits to liking Tony Yayo. A New York cat who's worth following on Twitter, he often shares some wisdom on the rare times he posts. His latest blog is something I've thought for a while.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rollllllll Call (Allow Me To Reintroduce My Peeps)

I realized that one year in, I've made some good acquaintances or come across some great blogs. So I think it's only appropriate I tell you about my blog roll in the hopes you might check them out.

August and Jejune - a buddy from one of my sister churches named Nathan. He's a brilliant writer and we've discussed books and life from time to time. I love his writing style and he occasionally posts some of his poetry.

Bastard Swordsman - he needs no introduction. Dart Adams is one of the best bloggers in the game (on hip-hop, sports, whatever) and he's inspired a lot of folks to step their game up. Can't lie if I didn't say he inspired me. He discontinued Poisonous Paragraphs after 3 years and contributes to Bloggerhouse but he's back at his personal blog. You'll learn something trust me.

California Cornbread - One of the funniest dude's I've met on Twitter is Shane Morris. We love good music and the Dallas Cowboys. But he's also one of the smartest dudes and his blogs go from the serious, the musical, the creative, to the WTH? His blog will offend you, make you laugh, enlighten you and please your ears. Tread lightly - you may not like it at first, but something will grab your attention.

Clarity Defined - My dear friend Bree from college posts inspirational messages, photos she's taken (an amazing photographer) and other insights relating to faith, life and causes. You'll see why she has a heart of gold and deep passion for the world

Dazed and Amused - My girl Daze from San Diego usually shows love to her favorite artists or upcoming artists on her blog. For the musically inclined.

Dodger Thoughts - Arguably the best Dodger blogger out there, Jon Weisman has seen his site go from independent to being with the LA Times to now ESPN Los Angeles. He brings sanity to his takes on the Dodgers along with great insight and I think it comes from being an entertainment writer too.

Life Through My Eyes - One of my dearest friends, I met Amber at a summer camp some years ago. Shy at first, we've warmed up to be great friends despite being in different states and we share a love of writing. She bares her soul but she always remains optimistic. Writing with feeling is so hard to find these days.

That's all for now. I'll explain some more later since it's well past midnight here. Sleeping is definitely not overrated on E-TV

March Madness Update (Where Virgo Laughs at Kansas)

By now, my anger at Kansas has subsided to laughter. The No. 1 overall seed has lost to Northern Iowa and a kid named Ali. Ali shocks the world again! This qualifies as the biggest tournament upset in years. Even in a crazy March Madness - this stands out.

Kansas has a history of choking in the postseason. This team lost in 2005 and 2006 in the first round (Bucknell?? Who?) The 1996-97 team were the favorites to win and lost in the Sweet 16. So add this to their list of choke jobs and chalk it up higher. So I'm laughing at the Jayhawks for fooling us all into thinking they could actually win the title.

But I'm still crumpling up my bracket, taking it out back and shooting it down like Old Yeller. And still hopeful because you know that movie didn't end on a sad note.

Day 3 was strange - a No. 1 (Kansas), No. 2 (Villanova) and No. 3 (Baylor) went down. And yet Day 4 (Sunday) was almost normal. Duke won. Michigan State survived Maryland in probably one of the best endings in recent memory. Except for that Purdue squad winning. Blah - I needed them not to show motivation and desire to prove they could win without their All-American Robbie Hummel.

As far as my bracket goes. Still got Kansas State, Duke and Kentucky looking solid in the Final Four. Still got Ohio State and Syracuse and Baylor looking good in the Elite Eight. No worries. All six of them got through easily.

But the Sweet 16 is where real bracketology comes through. Let's hope I'm good.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 2 of the Madness (Cool)

So here's my recap of Day 2 of the NCAA Tournament

- Terrible start picking Siena and Temple.
- Note to self: Remember why I hate Clemson. Why I call them overrated. NEVER pick them again
- Utah State let me down as well.
- Cal made the Pac-10 look good. Pac-10 had the worst year in ages yet it's 2-0 in March Madness, 2-0 against the Big East, who looks pretty crappy for having all those teams in.
- Tom Izzo is the new Coach K. When March comes around, ride Michigan State.
- And Georgetown still sucks, here's hoping Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, John Thompson II and Victor Page walk through that door and remind the Hoyas who they are.

All in all a good day surviving the Madness. I'm way behind in my pool but it's not about how you start a bracket but how you finish it. While people are happy to be doing well after the first round, I'd rather feel the same way next weekend during the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.

But I'm in a bit of awe right now. I finally saw the Shawshank Redemption and before I pass out, just have to say that movie blew me away. Great story, great acting by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, great message of hope. There's no way I will spoil it but Robbins showed me why he indeed can act (and why I must see his Oscar-winning role in Mystic River) and Freeman just did what he does best - dominate by being unselfish and steady as a rock.

Why it took me this long to see it I'll never know. It's like watching this hard person with a tough attitude eventually show a heart of gold. The power of change and great storytelling - the dream of every great writer is to write something like that.

I could say more - a interesting Friday of waking up late, discussing relationships and pondering the last 2 years of being single - but I gotta crash. Got a 12-hour day of high school basketball to watch at USC.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 1 of the Madness (Dizzy)

Kansas, Kansas State, Duke, and Kentucky - My Final Four picks. Yeah, I hate picking against Syracuse but I think that a key injury to their center will be a factor. My full bracket is up on Facebook. 2010 Bracket Challenge - Brackets of Genius.

Now here's what we saw on Day 1

- 5 Double Digit Seeds Winning
- Georgetown had the biggest choke job in recent NCAA Tournament memory. Really? A No. 3 seed expected to sneak into the Final Four loses by double digits? Yeah Right.
- Murray State made Pres. Obama look like a prophet.
- BYU and Florida having the best game of the day in double OT.
- Villanova scaring the crap out of me and everyone else against...Robert Morris? Overrated.
- Texas being up 8 in overtime and still losing because of fundamental mistakes. Great season, boys.
- San Diego State losing and being reminded that my alma mater has more NCAA Tourney wins than the Aztecs. USD >>>> San Diego State once again.
- Almost every game went to the wire.

No words for Georgetown. Biggest choke since Iowa State in 2001. Down by double digits. A program known for its defense that embarrassed Duke on national TV. Unbelievable. Bad enough Villanova had to go to overtime against a 15 seed that outplayed it to the end but Georgetown actually failed.

And you wonder why the first four days of March Madness are the best in sports? Bad day at the Bracket but overall the war is still under control. The road to the Final Four is still straight even if one of my Elite 8 teams kicked the bucket.

Let's what Day 2 brings.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When The Madness Started (1995 and UCLA)

March Madness (15 Years Ago)
So with March Madness upon us, it’s been 15 years since the first NCAA Tournament that I watched and got involved in. The 1995 UCLA Bruins grabbed my attention and for the school that I started to get interested in attending, they gave me a heck of a tournament.
I still remember the team back when I could rattle off every player by heart. The O’Bannon Brothers, George Zidek in the middle, Tyus Edney running the point and freshman phenoms Toby Bailey and J.R. Henderson filling in that 5th and 6th man spot.
The buzzerbeater against Missouri is one of the greatest in NCAA history. Edney ran up the court in 4.8 seconds and hit the game winner to make everyone go nuts. And I missed it live. Yep.

I was scared UCLA was gonna lose so I ran into my bathroom like a punk. 10 year old me cowering and then I come out to see my Mom and sister in disbelief like “UCLA won!” I couldn’t believe I missed one of the greatest shots ever because I was scared. Lesson learned and I would never skip out on a game again.
But I followed that Bruins team closely the rest of the way. I remember watching the Final Four game against Oklahoma State and Bryant “Big Country” Reeves at Disneyland during a family trip. My cousin had a portable TV and I’d steal glances after every ride.
I was happy as heck when they beat Arkansas to win it all. Ed O’Bannon had a monster game and Cameron Dollar coming off the bench for an injured Edney sparked hope in his future as a Bruin – ironically, two years later he’d have an similar moment to Edney in the Sweet 16.
I remember for class we decorated Easter Eggs and I named them all in honor of the Starting Five – Egg O’Bannon, Tyus Eggney for example. Course it hurt like heck when I watched Princeton beat them the next year on a back-door layup.
But that sparked my love for UCLA and March Madness. And here we are. Loving every moment of the pre-tourney hype and get ready for Thursday. 15 years and counting.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What a Screwy Day

You ever have one of those days that you know will be weird based on how it starts? Well today was like that and it didnt take long to start. It made me stop my March Madness blog and get a little personal.

I woke up to a message on my Blackberry to text a friend right away. Now this friend and I had been at odds last week and before I went to bed we cleared everything up. So to my surprise when I text her back she tells me something I didn't expect to hear.

A friend of ours on Twitter was a fake. The creation of a woman who used someone else's pictures and completely fabricated her life story. Some of you might think this isn't a surprise given the Internet and its nature but this has never happened to me before. It's like the worst Internet fear come true - someone that you trust and get to know for over a year turns out to be a fraud.

Needless to say it had a few of us bugging out and laughing in disbelief. I know its further proof you never know who you talk to on the net but I was just like wow. This woman conned nearly 100 people for a year and went through the trouble of creating two Facebook pages for our "friend Jodi" and her "brother", a blog and an unbelievable back story. I'm just dumbfounded.

This set the tone for an interesting day. I was questioned at the office about a missing camera that I had no idea where it was but it felt like instead of trying to get info about how to find the camera, I felt like I was grilled about how irresponsible I was and how this was my fault since the camera was signed out in my name.

Nevermind that two people have the key to the cabinet I thought it was locked in. All I did was tell my story and trusted the other person to let me know when he used the camera. Now I felt like I was on the hot seat because I was irresponsible instead of us trying to find out what happened to it. It's no using debating protocol when we need to replace it.

Oh and the 2nd person wasn't even her concern. Made me feel like this was my fault because I signed out for it and I'm feeling like yes legally you're right but what's more important. Scolding me or figuring out a solution?

The woman who handled my situation has made me upset several times since she's been there and I already went into it heated. I hate being disturbed on a Monday when I'm on deadline and to boot dealing with her with nuts.

Once I left the paper, I remembered why it's hard to stay angry - it was 80 degrees today and 5 p.m. looked like 1 p.m. I ended up at the beach and let all my worries wash away in the sunset and waves. Not to mention some BOMB red velvet yogurt from Yogurtland.

But the lesson that I learned - TRUST NOBODY that you can't personally vouch for having your back. Lies and mistrust and honor codes are mere words and when you're all said and done, I'm left wondering how all of this happened from start to finish.

Then I looked at the calendar a few minutes ago. March 15. The Ides of March. That explains it all. This day has already been predestined to be wacky since Caesar got stabbed in the back - literally. It all makes sense now.

*shakes my head as I get ready for CSI Miami/Monday Night RAW and resume bracketology*

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Grinds My Gears: Judging Folks By Their Sign

Something that bugs me when I tell people what month I was born, they immediately figure out what sign I am. Well actually that's not it, it's when they try to assume things about my character/personality based on it.

Growing up, I never really cared much about signs. Most of it was faith based and I didn't believe in somebody telling you how to live your life like a slave to fate. The only reason that I even found out I was a Virgo was because of a Nas song that sounded dope. Enter my nickname - initially Virgo Diamond and then the name I go by here. Virgo Kent.

I only do it because its the sign I was born under. I couldn't tell you anything about what being a Virgo means and I don't care.

What I do care about is people trying to say I act a certain way because of my sign. Or if people try to date because of sign compatibility (and figure out that you broke up b/c of it). It's all fate and frankly I'd like to give life more credit for shaping me and people around me than something I had no control over.

If you say I'm acting a certain way because of my sign, you ignore the fact that I worked hard to become the person I am now and the same with other people. I'm not this way by chance or accident, it's because of my circumstances. If you don't want to date somebody based on their sign or fear being incompatible because of it - GET OVER IT. You date people and their personality, not a sign.

And people don't act a certain way because of what month they were born. It almost shortchanges their circumstances and makes them feel like they can't help who they are - one of the biggest cardinal sins ever uttered.

I guess that what it boils down to. People making another excuse that they can't help who they are. And I'm tired of it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

RIP To the King of NYC

"The greatest of all time died on March 9" (c) Canibus

I don't think Christopher Wallace was the greatest but he is by far one of the greatest to ever touch the Mic. 13 years ago, Notorious BIG was taken too soon from the world at 24 - on the verge of being an even bigger star with Life After Death.

One of the greatest lyricists, storytellers and battle rappers ever - Biggie set the template for most of these rappers today. A street dude with a charm and an ear for the pop charts thanks to P. Diddy's guidance.

I tried to do a post with my favorite 10 Biggie songs or appearances and it was gonna run too long. My favorite verse was the opener on Diddy's "Victory". "Sky's the Limit" helped get me through some rough times in 2005 at school when I felt like I was losing my friends. "Unbelievable" helped me zone out and appreciate DJ Premier for his simplicity.

I listened to the remastered "Ready to Die" in 2004 and was in awe over the original "One More Chance." I couldn't believe how perfect that album was - Gimme The Loot inspired me to write a poem like Big with 2 voices/flows, Everyday Struggles was real talk. Suicidal Thoughts is just chilling to hear.

I remember where I was when I heard Pac was killed. When Biggie was killed, it was an even bigger blow for me as I was just starting to listen to hip-hop. But I remember back then falling in love with "Notorious Thugs" and hearing Biggie spit that double time flow. And I remember hearing "Nasty Boy" and just loving that beat (still looking for that sample).

It was a dark time and say what you want, but we needed that shiny suit era to make people feel good again before DMX came in and took it back to the streets.

The sad thing is we never know where BIG could've gone with his music. Pac was evolving all the time but with BIG we just have 2 albums. What if his 3rd album would have explored his growing spirituality a bit? Was he plotting to leave Bad Boy like Pac was with Death Row? Could he have collaborated with the impressive 98 NY class of rookies (NORE, DMX, Big Pun, Canibus)? We'll never know.

Nas shed some light on he and BIG's relationship on "Last Real N Alive" - had no idea they had a rivalry or about how Raekwon and Ghostface called him out. New York was mad live back then with the three biggest acts all going for supremacy.

But what we do have is 5 years of great music to enjoy for ages. Pay respects to a legend and enjoy his music from "Party and BS" to "Mo Money, Mo Problems"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

March Madness, Lakers and Oscars

I'm gonna just keep it random this week. My mind is still a mush from the exciting HS championships this week and getting ready for the state regional tournament starting Tuesday.

Selection Sunday is next week and my Top 4 No. 1 seeds are pretty set in stone. Syracuse (my favorite to win it), Kansas and Kentucky are no brainers. And I'm glad my Duke squad is in line for that 4th seed even though I think they benefitted from a weak conference. I still think about cringing as Georgetown smashed them.

Syracuse, Kansas and Kentucky are the dominant teams this year but I think outside of them, anybody else is suspect for an upset or poised for a surprising run. I just know it sucks being a West Coast guy and basketball is way down over here from AZ to Washington.

Just know that on Facebook, I'll be gearing up for another yearly study in bracketology. And Gonzaga still sucks.

3 straight losses for the Lakers. We're reeling a bit and frankly I think the road is wearing us down. Two close games with Miami and Orlando, along with Charlotte playing tough as usual. If anything, I think it's all the more reason why the team needs home court advantage in June.

Orlando almost blew that game after a late double digit lead so I don't think they can hang with a team for 7 games but Vince Carter has perhaps been the best off-season pickup for any team. He's added another weapon to this team and found a new life for his career. But I still think Cleveland is the team to beat in the East.

But the Lakers for some reason just arent the same confident bunch I saw when Kobe went out. Our offense is stagnant and I don't know if I can blame Kobe for being a gunner or guys just not stepping up.

And with Dallas on a roll, I think it's only a concern that the West is going to be a lot tougher than it has been.

I was pretty happy with the Oscars as far as the awards go. All 4 acting awards went as I expected and The Hurt Locker deserved Best Picture/Director. Congrats to history made with Kathryn Bigelow winning for Best Director and Geoffrey Fletcher for adapted screenplay for "Precious" (first female and African-American in respective categories)

It was nice of Mo'Nique to wear her outfit as a tribute to Hattie McDaniel, the first Black person to win an Oscar. She dedicated her win to McDaniel in a beautifully moving speech. And like I said on Twitter, I hope she stays the same and doesn't let her ego get in the the way of her career like it did for Jaime Foxx.

And of course, the usual army of critics came in from the Black community, wondering why Mo'Nique had to win for a negative Black role. Our history with the Academy Awards is spotty and yes, Black actors have won awards and nominations for shady characters roles (Halle Berry for being raped by Billy Bob Thornton, Denzel for being a crooked cop, Terrence Howard for being a pimp..list goes on)

BUT, the problem with that our folks overlook the actors who win for positive characters (Denzel for Glory*, Lou Gossett Jr for Officer and a Gentleman, Jamie Foxx for Ray, Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby, Sidney Poitier and Whoopi Goldberg). Besides, anti-heroes or troubled characters have ALWAYS made for better acting jobs than perfect, dignified characters - much more layered in my opinion.

*by the way, people forget Denzel has two of them. Glory is one of my favorite movies ever and it's a shame people overlook the fine cast and the fact Denzel won at the peak of the Black film Renaissance making noise (late 80's of Spike Lee, Keenan Ivory Wayans and Robert Townsend).

So I guess I'll make plans to see Up In The Air, Hurt Locker, Precious and a few of those documentaries. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Tribute to Curt Flood (One of my Heroes)

(This article appears in the LA Sentinel, 2/25/10 Issue)

Curt Flood’s Supreme Court case paved way for free agency in all sports

By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Sports Editor

After Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, there might be no more influential athlete in the 2nd half of the 20th century than Curt Flood.

Michael Jordan? Arguably the greatest basketball player ever and opened doors for Black athletes as corporate pitchmen. But tell me what he did off the court that was as risky as Flood suing Major League Baseball 40 years ago?

For better or worse, Flood was the father of creating free agency in baseball and all sports. It was a giant step forward from Robinson fighting to get in the door to Flood demanding he and all players have a say inside.

But it cost the St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder his career, reputation, baseball life, Hall of Fame chances and precious years off his life.

It all stemmed from him being traded in 1969 to the Philadelphia Phillies and refusing to report, citing the Phillies’ poor stadium and fans who had a history of being racist toward Black players.

Flood’s resume at that point was without peer. Seven consecutive Gold Gloves in the same era as Willie Mays. A key factor in two World Series rings (1964, 1967) and a third trip in 1968. Hailed as the best centerfielder in baseball by Sports Illustrated and two seasons removed from a 4th place finish for the National League MVP.

Now at 31 years old, he was gone from the city that he had known all his life. He felt disrespected as the team’s co-captain to find out about the trade not from the team owner or general manager, but a sportswriter and what he called a “middle echelon coffee drinker from the front office.”

It was a reminder of the times. Thanks to the Reserve Clause, Flood and every baseball player had no say in where they wanted to play. No matter how well they were paid, they were bound to a team for life unless they were traded at the owner’s whim.

Flood, who made $90,000 in the 1969 season, likened it to being a “well-paid slave” in a 1970 interview with ABC’s Howard Cossell. It was a charged statement coming on the heels of the civil rights movement but for a man of principle who idolized Jackie Robinson, it was not impulsive.

In his now-famous letter to then Commissioner Bowie Kuhn dated on Christmas Eve 1969, Flood stated his opposition to being traded like a pawn in the owner’s chess match without any input:

After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.”

He stated that he would retire instead of being traded. After consulting with MLB Player’s Union Representative Marvin Miller, he changed his mind and decided to sue Major League Baseball for violating antitrust laws.

Showing his deep conviction, Flood convinced the union that he was fighting not just for himself, but for all players. He wanted to take power away from the owners and abolish the reserve clause which he saw as inhumane.

He immediately shot down any chance of money changing his motive – he was in negotiations with the Cardinals to make $100,000 in 1970, the sign of his worth as one of the best players in baseball.

“I can’t be bought off,” he told union representatives from every team. “Someone has to do it…I feel I’m qualified and capable of doing it.”

Part of it was Flood influenced by the civil rights movement. But as he told the players’ association, it only made him more sensitive to injustice that affected not just Black people but all people. This was not an issue about race but dignity in giving players more power than the men who determined their moves.

In that moment, he showed himself as not just a frustrated ballplayer, but a man well aware of his surroundings. It led to unanimous support from the association.

He fought against a system that was barely 25 years removed from barring Black players on its field. He found few friends in the press, who overwhelmingly supported Major League Baseball. But among his supporters were the Black press, ABC commentator Howard Cossell and respected sports columnists Red Smith and Jim Murray (LA Times).

Flood filed his lawsuit in January 1970 and in May, he got his trial against Major League Baseball and the reserve clause. The next three weeks, however, saw no active players appear in court to support him or testify on his behalf. Worse, he was ill-prepared as a witness, one of several blunders made by his legal team – led by former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg.

But a high point came when his hero, Jackie Robinson, testified on his behalf. It was a moment of pride as one pioneer in the sport helped another because Robinson recognized the continuation of his goal for equality and recognizing one’s dignity.

He fought for the chance to play with everyone else. Flood, who reaped that benefit, now wanted the chance to negotiate his terms as a player. It brought tears to Flood’s eyes – the man who he played and lived to honor was now in his corner.

But that joy was short-lived. His case in the Second District court of New York went in favor of Major League Baseball. An appeal to the Second Circuit of Appeals affirmed the decision but in 1971, the Supreme Court ruled to hear the case.

By that time, Flood had sat out the 1970 season. He played briefly with the Washington Senators in 1971 but the stress of the proceedings plus missing a season in his 30’s made his tenure short and his career was finished.

He lived in between the United States, Spain and Copenhagen, Denmark. He was running low on money, lost his relationships, and falling into alcoholism. All he had was the hope his case would be heard and his sacrifice would be worth it.

In 1972, Flood v. Kuhn was argued before the Court, one that included Thurgood Marshall. Flood’s argument was defeated 5-3 but the debate over free agency and the clause would intensify. Three years later, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally – both White players – officially became the game’s first free agents.

It is because of Flood’s efforts that baseball players and all athletes are able to receive huge free agent contracts. The NBA free-agent bonanza this upcoming summer would not have been possible without Flood taking his challenge to baseball public.

After the case, he repaired his life and family in Los Angeles in the mid-1980’s –marrying actress Judy Pace after dating previously. His fiery passion never died and despite never getting a job in baseball, he remained tied to the sport – supporting the players in the 1981 and 1994 strikes.

He died on January 20, 1997 at 59 years old of throat cancer. No coincidence that he passed on Martin Luther King Day, a man whose fight for equality for all men embodied what Flood did 27 years earlier.

In 1999, he was named one of Time Magazine’s 10 most influential athletes of the 20th century alongside Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan. It’s noted that of the 10, he is the only one named for what he mainly did outside of the playing field.

His spirit lives on in an ongoing lawsuit by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, who is suing the NCAA over their use of the images of former student athletes for commercial purposes without compensation.

As we conclude Black History Month, Curt Flood remains a forgotten figure by most. Yet his contributions are seen in every big payday for an athlete and in every free-agent signing that leads to a world championship.

It is a reminder of the cost of being a revolutionary and the price he paid for standing for his principles and attacking the hand that feeds you. Shunned while alive, appreciated just before and after your passing but forgotten by the masses today.

And few sports figures embody that word revolutionary more than Flood – a man who fought for the right to play on his terms and paved the way for others to have that chance.

(I received a phone call from Judy Pace today regarding the story. Needless to say I was pretty touched that Flood's wife would call to be pleased with this story and happy her husband got more recognition that he deserves. I'll let you all know how that goes)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Failing History: UCSD and the Sprite Step-Off

I promise y'all, I dont write about race all the time. But I write from my heart and for that I offer no apologies. To me, discussing issues of race show just we fail to learn from history.

The situation at UCSD is getting dicier and more confrontational. Since the Compton Cookout incident, a noose was hung in the campus library (the guilty student admitted it, was suspended and could face criminal charges) and a satire group on campus mocked the incident. Students have staged demonstrations and are showing they will not tolerate inaction and mere words from the administration.

I just found out that students at my alma mater USD will be staging a Blackout on campus in support of this along with a discussion. UCLA students staged a sit-in at the Chancellor's Office in solidarity last week. And yet I see people who don't understand why this is a big deal?

The fact that someone would hang a noose in the 21st century is disturbing and yet a friend on Facebook told me that a HS acquaintance trying to justify it not being a big deal by saying we tolerate flag burning. Burning a flag is not a tool of psychological intimidation or a weapon used to kill Black men and women for no reason other than skin color or being accused of a crime.

All I can say is that college students over the past 7-8 years are showing me that ignorance is at an all-time high with my generation. Throw in a dash of pushing the button of being offensive for the sake of it and you have a Molotov Cocktail waiting to explode.

Contrast that with the situation involving the Sprite Step Off Competition. An all-white sorority (Zeta Tau Alpha) from Arkansas won the competition much to the shock of outsiders like me. I thought it was a novelty but when you watch the video, they deserved it - the crowd went nuts, they had precision and their presentation was just as good as what you'd expect from a great show.

But of course, their victory provoked an outcry from Black folks who felt that it was indeed a novelty. They cried it was a sham and the girls had no business winning at a Black art form. The comments on Youtube are inflammatory and jealousy.

Needless to say, Coca-Cola (who owns Sprite) found some mysterious scoring discrepancy that they won't specify and said that the 2nd-place finisher, the Alpha Kappa Alphas from Indiana, would be named co-winners and receive the same amount of prize money.

Just as outraged as I was about the incident at UCSD, I was outraged about this. Those girls from Arkansas were trained by Black sororities and for several years they participated in competitions to get better and learn about the art of stepping as well as Black Greek life. (Sound familiar? Reminds me of the White Valedictorian at Morehouse and the backlash there, something I addressed on Myspace)

All of a sudden, Coke gets scared - realizing their competition had an unintended result and backlash, they create some error to create co-champions. Of course, failing to realize it'll cause more controversy.

What these situations tell me is that people don't know their history anymore. If they did, they would think twice before making moves that would be offensive. The students at UCSD who set this off would know that playing off Black stereotypes has no place at a university of higher learning that it supposed to be inclusive. Those who made racially charged comments at or second-guessed the skills of the white sorority would know that their actions are the same way Whites reacted to Black progress and success from the 1860's to most of the 20th century.

And Coke would know that caving into pressure is exactly what would have happened back then too. Way to show some backbone and support your judges.

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And we are slowly repeating the mistakes of the past because of our deliberate ignorance to understand/accept each other. The lesson from these two situations is to be less judgmental and more understanding.