Thursday, September 29, 2011

Walter Payton and Malcolm X - Biography Dilemmas

There are two books that I have been excited to read this year. One was the biography of Malcolm X by Manning Marable which I bought this summer. The second will be Walter Payton's biography, due in October by Jeff Pearlman.

Both books were praised for their thorough reporting and attention to detail. Both books are vilified for revealing personal information that paints Malcolm and Payton in a negative light. Maybe it's me but I read stories not to find juicy gossip of heroes, but to find the full measure of a man/woman that made them who they are.

I got into an interesting email debate with a friend regarding the Malcolm X biography. I was eager to share with him about how the bio showed Malcolm may have exaggerated his criminal record and why he and the Nation of Islam's split was bound to happen almost immediately. I told him some of the juicier stuff not to slander Malcolm but to just share information and he got upset about it.

He responded by saying that since he held Malcolm in such high regard, what purpose does it serve to speculate focusing on his flaws. Then he said that this is why he preferred autobiographies because he'd rather hear the story from the source, not somebody else.

I'm seeing the same thing now as information and excerpts have leaked from Pearlman's book on Payton. Several friends of mine are outraged at the dirt that was published and I can't blame them. Walter Payton is perhaps one of the finest gentlemen I know from the NFL and his death saddened me in high school.

Yet at the same time, I have little knowledge of what made Payton the hero so many praised besides tidbits. At the time of his death, all I know was he was the all-time leading rusher and Barry Sanders would've passed him had he not retired. I knew Chicago loved him and that he had one of the best nicknames in sports. Now I feel like I have a chance to know the man behind the legend. A man who did so much more than smile and play football.

It's always a dilemma writing about a biography. There's a chance you're going to discover things you didn't want to know or things you know the public will focus on. Authors have to be truthful but not salacious. You need to cover as many angles and talk to as many people as you can while deciding whose voice gets heard.

Autobiographies are the work of one person, one voice. It's easier to see what gets said because the subject has total control and free reign to discuss their lives. But also, I can see why they can have flaws. Some stuff might not be discussed in depth. The subject may not fully be aware of outside influences that affected decisions in their life. Because they control what goes in, they also control what goes out.

The flipside is when autobiographies aren't afraid to discuss it all. Consider Darryl Strawberry's autobiography, one of the best books that I've read in the last few years. Consider Michael Irvin being an open book on his shortcomings. A good autobiography address the good and the bad but ultimately show redemption and insight we can't get anywhere else.

Both have their problems. But both have plenty of advantages. I'd love to hear a person tell their story but I'd also love to know more information that adds a lot of perspective to who they are. Not everything is for public consumption.

I'll never forget when I read this Sports Illustrated piece on Kirby Puckett. It broke my heart because Kirby was an inspiration to me playing ball as a kid and finding out his dirt from his wife saddened me. I'll never forget the picture of a crying Puckett on the first page of the article cause it set the tone for a sad, yet thorough article by Frank Deford. Eight years later, I still cringe reading it and shake my head the whole time. I still admire him even though he wasn't always the guy we were sold.

I know not everyone wants to read about their heroes negatively. It makes me reflect on how I grew up with that. I realized at a young age that using words like "idol" or "hero" were a problem and decided on my own not to use them because the Bible warned against idols and heroes could disappoint you. Instead, I used inspiration/role model. There were only 2 men that I truly saw above others - AC Green and David Robinson.

It proved prophetic as I watched as Ken Griffey Jr. went from superman to an injured guy who I found out may not have been the best teammate. Saw Kobe Bryant let me down then restore my faith in him. Maybe it's sad that I don't bat an eye at Shaquille O'Neal, my favorite NBA player, when I find out more about him I don't like.

This is all while journalism from my HS years to now routinely looked for stories to expose the truth about great players, leading us to this 24/7 media culture that almost eliminates the chance of someone to become like they would have 20/30 years ago. Just look how quick Josh Hamilton was elevated from his depths only to be bashed when he stumbled. I hate it but maybe I've become jaded by it to come up with my own reasons for admiring people.

Yet I still admire Ken Griffey, Shaq, Kobe, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve McNair and so many other athletes. They may not be perfect but who is? Does their good outweigh their bad? I hope for all of us it does because I believe it for them.

Ultimately, I don't read someone's life story for gossip. I read them for insight into who they are. Malcolm X was not a perfect man but his imperfections make him far more appealing to me than any other civil rights icon. His biography may not be perfect but the information on his split with the NOI and his several Middle East trips is fascinating.

Walter Payton's story may downgrade him from perfect sainthood but I believe God can still use flawed people to inspire others. I hope that whatever anger and sadness we feel from reading this book and these excerpts are also tempered by a better appreciation of what shaped this great man.

Sweetness is still a man I admire for his dignity, grace, how he became larger than life and how he played the game. No book can change that for me but it can certainly add to it by humanizing him to see him persevere.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Football Wrap Week 3: Mike Vick has a Point

“Clay Matthews….I’m quite sure I saw him put his helmet on Michael Vick and never paid a dime. But if I hit Peyton Manning or Tom Brady high, they’d have f***** around and kicked me out of the league.” And: “I slammed Vince Young on his head and paid five grand, but just touched Drew Brees and that was 20. You think black players don’t see this s*** and lose all respect for Goodell?”

That was James Harrison this past July taking the NFL Commissioner to task in Men’s Journal. This is Michael Vick three months later from last Sunday.

"Looking at the replays, I'm on the ground every time, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't frustrated," Vick said. "The refs have got to do their jobs. And I mentioned it to the refs in training camp when I talked to them. I'm on the ground constantly, all the time. Every time I throw the ball, I'm on the ground. And I don't know why I don't get the 15-yard flags like everybody else does." 

First off, I need to say that the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line is terrible. Michael Vick has been running for his life since the season started and I blame his linemen for being turnstiles. Vick’s been sitting in the pocket and taking blows left and right so it’s no surprise he’s getting hurt like everyone predicted.

NFL defenses have become Daft Punk (Harder, Better, Faster and Stronger) and the league has gone out of its way to protect their quarterbacks. It’s made the league softer but it’s the nature of the times.

But here’s the problem. Vick, Vince Young, Donovan McNabb and other mobile quarterbacks have been allowed to take hits because folks think those hits are a product of their style. It’s one thing if quarterbacks protest the abuse they’re taking but completely another when defensive players point out the same thing.

There’s evidence that certain hits are being fined more and I’m sure there’s evidence to support what James Harrison is saying. That’s why I’m incensed when average quarterbacks like Trent Dilfer come out and tell Mike Vick to shut up and play. 

They’ll be the same types saying we have to protect the quarterback whenever Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers take a major hit. You can’t have it both ways. Either the league needs to lighten up or protect all quarterbacks under the same banner.

Also, Vick is now one of the highest paid players in the league. The league has an unwritten rule to protect its biggest draws so if hits toward Vick aren’t being overly penalized, that’s another element to consider. Vick has a credible point and it speaks to a quiet double standard. 

His two biggest hits (the concussion and the hand contusion) came with him being hit in the pocket. Philly was leading in both games before he left with injuries. So before you dismiss what he’s saying, find me some facts to disprove what he and Harrison are saying. And I can bet that if they say it, then other players are thinking it.

Other NFL hits.

Tony Romo’s toughness has never been debated by me. It’s his mental toughness. So last night was a good look for him and my Boys standing tall.  But man that game was ugly with 9 FG’s combined. Ugly like the infamous Chris Boniol game where Boniol kicked 7 FG’s for my Boys to beat the eventual SB champion Green Bay Packers on MNF.

Speaking of ugly wins, Chargers did the same thing. Bad playcalling by Norv Turner (stop me if you heard that before) and the 1st game I saw in a while where Philly Rivers didn’t have a TD pass. But Ryan Matthews – breaking on through with 2 TD’s. Eric Weddle – the GW INT showing he’s worth that money.

Remember when Darren McFadden was the man at Arkansas? It's great seeing him live up to that promise because he’s going to be an absolute beast from here on out. Speed, power and just as versatile as anyone.

I nearly led with the Bills and Lions. Bills keep winning brilliantly every week and I’m running out of words (or maybe hiding them for later). Same with the Lions, who are playing my Cowboys in a game that’s 15 years too late.

Did I jinx AJ Green? Oops! Doesn't change my opinion that he'll finish 2nd in Offensive ROY voting behind Killa Cam, who finally got his 1st win this week.

Give the Colts every single bit of credit against Pittsburgh. They gave up 10 pts in the 1st quarter. Kerry Collins got knocked out. Pastor Troy and James Harrison were busting heads and creating fumbles for scores. Yet they came within a field goal of beating the AFC champs instead of laying down and getting demolished.

And now, the NFC Waste..errr West. Only four touchdowns scored by four teams. And you call yourselves a fine football division? If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume it was being run by two ex-college coaches and two guys with long names who are wasting good talent and cursed by injuries.  Hmm…..what a waste.

College Hits

USC got exposed, my Bruins beat an overmatched Oregon State team behind Derrick Coleman (who I really like as much as I admire Jet Ski Franklin), Shoelace Robinson’s finally been unleashed , Oklahoma and Alabama are really good, Clemson could be nasty with Tajh Boyd.

South Carolina has the worst QB play of any great team despite playmakers around him. The SEC’s best defensive players could fill the whole All-American team right now. Oh yeah, Matt Barkley is overrated more than Mark Sanchez cause at least Sanchez put up great numbers in his game management phase.

Did I miss anything…… HOLY GOODNESS did you see what happened to Texas A&M?

I went to sleep with them up 20-0 at halftime and they ended up scoring seven points while giving up 30  to Oklahoma State (I’m counting Justin Blackmon’s safety against them). And they really want to go to the SEC????

Wait, I get it. They don’t want to face a pass-happy Big 12, they want to face a pounding against the SEC ground game. They want to face that Southern speed week in and week out. What better way to get used to the SEC beatdown than watch them play Arkansas this Saturday, who are probably bitter from Alabama undressing them.

I refuse to write about conference expansion in my wraps because they are separate articles. But I’m ready to say the Aggies gave a worthy doormat audition and showed why they haven’t been relevant since Dat Nguyen was running around.

It’s Texas >>>> Houston >>>>  Baylor right now with Robert Griffin the Great >>>>> The Texas state champs from the toughest HS division >>> A&M on the relevancy chain. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

More Lessons from Troy Davis - Why Don't We Correct Mistakes

As I keep reminiscing over Troy Davis, I realize something else is at play. Our collective willingness to not correct a mistake when confronted with evidence that we might have been wrong.

What happened in Georgia was arrogance disguised as justice. Despite being confronted with facts that put heavy doubt into their decision, the Georgia parole board decided to deny appeal after appeal because they supported the system instead of correct a terrible miscarriage.

Yet I'm reminded that this isn't restricted to people in power. Too often, we don't like being proven wrong and especially in public. I remember when I tried to correct a teacher publicly on a mistake during summer camp and I was promptly punished (I didn't think I said it arrogantly but folks said I did. Def. not my intent.).

The fact is almost nobody likes to be shamed or proving wrong. I had a hard time when somebody else looked at my papers in college or edited my stories at the newspaper and found a mistake. It's humbling and some folks have a hard time with it since it can suggest a lack of trust despite it's good intentions.

Think of all the blown calls in sports that could've been corrected with video evidence. Armando Galarragga's perfect game last year had the umpire openly admit he made a mistake on what should've been the last out. Yet MLB refused to adjust the official scoring. It's arrogance and fear of making folks look bad and looking like you don't trust human element instead of do the right thing.

Sometimes mistakes are good for art or music. But in situations where a lot more is at stake such as integrity, it's better to get it as right than live with a mistake. Too many people act like the Fonz and have trouble saying they were wrong. I'd rather be humbled and be wrong than arrogantly think I'm right and fight to protect that.

I leave you with this, we can correct mistakes on our bodies and tests but we won't correct something more important like a possible conviction or execution sentence with doubt. We won't admit we were wrong on an opinion when confronted with strong evidence to the contrary. Yet folks will correct the trivial matters.

Just one more thing we can learn from Troy Davis. Don't be afraid of being proven wrong or prove somebody wrong in love. The alternative is worse.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Eulogy for Troy Davis (A Lament for a Broken System)

The Scottsboro Nine. Rodney King. Jena 6. Gennarlow Wilson. Oscar Grant. Sacco and Vanzetti. Troy Davis joined them as a victim of a broken justice system. Unlike the Jena 6 and Wilson, Davis didn't see his fate overturned by the courts and despite very credible doubt, he was executed at 8:08 PM PST tonight by the state of Georgia.

I was disappointed in the Georgia parole board failing to grant an appeal. I was disappointed that the Supreme Court delayed the education but refused to grant a stay of execution (especially Clarence Thomas - who continues to embarrasses the seat that Thurgood Marshall once held). I'm disappointed not that the system failed again but that it failed despite growing evidence to the contrary.

As a Black man, I cannot sit here and say I am disappointed that Southern justice reminded me that life (regardless of color) is not worth valuing to make sure it is worth taking. Southern Justice has killed many a Black man and as Texas Gov. Rick Perry's record shows, he has overseen the execution of over 200 criminals. Let me break down what this is.

Southern Justice believes you are guilty and should stay guilty. Southern Justice says throw the book at Black folks who dare get accused of a crime. Southern Justice is worse than regular justice because it was rooted in revenge and psychological fear to keep folks in their place.

Almost four years ago to the day, I was in Jena, Louisiana covering the Jena 6 Rally to free one of the six still in jail. The Louisiana parish DA wielded justice with an iron fist that went unfairly against those young men, charging them with attempted murder before the charges were lessened. What I learned that day was there's causes everywhere worth fighting for.

What happened in Jackson, Georgia, was one of them. 7 of 9 witnesses recanted their testimony. No forensic evidence linked Davis to the murder of Officer Mark MacPhail. All that convicted him was eyewitness testimony and despite several appeals and countless support in his favor, his conviction was not overturned.

We have a justice system that too often sides with those in the system instead of correcting their mistakes. The cop who killed Oscar Grant was convicted but of involuntary manslaughter and got 7 months in jail. Right now, in Fullerton (45 mins south from me), one cop was charged with murder while the other of manslaughter in the brutal death of a homeless man. The manslaughter charge comes despite the fact the that cop continued to assault the man repeatedly.

As I stated on Twitter, we don't know if Troy Davis pulled that trigger or not. But we know that there was too much doubt to make him accountable by death. When I served on a jury, I was told the difference between doubt and reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt means you can prove factually that you aren't sure someone is guilty. Doubt can come up despite evidence to the contrary but you have to side with the evidence unless proven otherwise.

 look up how many blk ppl have been executed for killing whites. then check the converse. have fun with that.
Sep 22 via TweetDeckFavoriteRetweetReply

I've supported the death penalty for years. I've covered stories where I met people whose death sentence was overturned and who didn't seek it for folks guilty of murdering their loved ones. After this case, I have to seriously ask do I still believe in it for those extreme cases of murder? Can I support something that I believe is justice that can be used wrongly?

Either way, the ghost of Troy Davis will hover over us for a while. I'm angry that the broken justice system has failed us again but just like I learned in Jena, the best way to react is to fight and stay informed. Work in your own neighborhoods and continue to raise awareness. Don't let his death be in vain and continue to fight against injustice anywhere. We may lose some battles, but the victories we win will be worth it.

Plenty of eyes have been awakened tonight. I hope you stay awake and not plug back into the Matrix. Many of us don't have the luxury of forgetting what we see repeatedly. Think about this night and may it provoke to a change in how you view this broken legal system and how different folks are affected disproportionately by it.

(I want to send my condolences also to the family of Officer Mark MacPhail. You were failed tonight because despite your convictions that Troy was guilty, you deserved to have a justice system proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You were led to believe by a broken system you had justice. You should've been led better.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Football Wrap Week 2: AJ Green's Great Start

I could go ahead and praise Cam Newton once again (400+ yards on the champs, yet 3 INTs and confusion why the Panthers are abandoning DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart). But I’m going to praise another SEC rookie who’s having a great start this year.

AJ Green had a big day for Cincinnati (124 yards, 10 catches and a TD) and he’s scored in both games to start his career. Like Killa Cam, he had to overcome a BS scandal in his college career that showed why the NCAA are crooked pimps. And like Cam, he’s a physical marvel that’s going to shine in his opportunity.

Rookie QB Andy Dalton is going to target Green cause he has limited options besides Jermaine Gresham. And that’s why Green is going to have a better year than his SEC counterpart Julio Jones. Jones has to share throws with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez so it’ll take a while for him to get established.

So even though Cam is rightly getting all the rookie ink, keep an eye on Green possibly getting close to 800-1,000 yards. Now for the rest of the tidbits…

Glad to see the return of Miles “Lazarus” Austin with a 3 TD day but the hero should be Jesse Holley. Two years from earning a roster spot from Michael Irvin’s TV show, he comes up huge with that near TD in OT. Good for him! (Now if Lazarus and Felix are hurt for Washington Sunday…..)

I stand by what I said last week on Tony Romo. And I stand by what I’m going to say now. Tony Romo showed incredible stones coming back from cracked ribs (Edit: And a punctured lung) and bad INTs to lead that 4th quarter comeback.

Romo isn’t a bad quarterback. He makes too many mental mistakes but when he’s sharp and focused, he can do stuff like that. It’s not a fluke. It’s Good Tony vs. Bad Romo every week.

Yahoo captioned this as WR Tim Tebow. Hahahahahaha!!!!!!

Tim Tebow was lined up at WR yesterday. Who does Denver think he is? Eric Crouch? Antwaan Randle-El. Tebow isn't fast enough to be a slot receiver. Oh the hilarity of the Broncos trying to use him like he's some incredible athlete.

Josh Freeman! As much as I wish he’d mess up so my fellow USD Torero Josh Johnson could get some shine, Freeman is playing extremely well. Add another comeback to his resume – down 17 points to DMCNabb and Co. and pulled off the win.

When’s the last time you saw Antonio Gates as a non-factor? I had trouble figuring out when and I’m wondering if despite his solid game last week, it’s a sign of a decline with Gates still recovering from his toe injury.

Had to use a pic from last week since he didn't have a catch against the Pats.
Hard to admit that as a Chargers fan. Forget Tom Brady being surgical again (nearly 1,000 yards in 2 games!!) or Norv Turner’s latest brain fart going for it on 4th and 1 down 3 or the Chargers lacking speed at the skill positions. I’m worried about Gates longterm this year.

Mike Vick’s gonna make a lot of folks look prophetic getting knocked out too often. But it’s not his fault they lost. Blame that front seven not being able to stop Michael Turner on that 61-yard run. Blame that O-line letting him jacked up the last 2 weeks. Almost makes you think Philly should’ve chased some linemen this summer like they chased DB’s and backups.

Oh yeah, that boy Dunta Robinson stays hitting like he’s being paid for a bounty. Somebody teach him how to lead with his body before he maims somebody or tears up his brain.

Somebody stop the Bills. On second thought, can we stop them and the Lions? Shout out to Trent Dilfer 2.0 (Rex Grossman) starting off 2-0 for Washington – hope we rough that wack sucker up Sunday.

Poor Jamaal Charles, out for the year with an ACL. Kansas City is setting up for a terrible season but they don’t need Andrew Luck, they need some help on defense.  And yes, add Charles to the stockpile of longterm knee/leg injuries we’ve seen rise this year.

College Football (I didn’t see too much due to the birthday bash but some quick hits)

Texas is much different than they were a year ago with great speed and McCoy 2 behind center showed great promise in his first start. UCLA is counting down til Brett Hundley can get healthy because Kevin Prince should no longer be starting. Boggles my mind why we didn’t run the ball more.

Notre Dame ruined my birthday by winning. I’m putting out a call to my bro @MrESPN and ask him why his Spartans had to go lay a goose egg to the Irish. But just like UCLA, safe to say Dayne Crist will be riding the bench. QB's from the San Fernando Valley didn't have a great week - including Louisiana Tech QB Nick Isham who lost a 34-7 lead to Houston, who scored 28 points in 17 minutes. 

Oklahoma is pretty good after all. And folks have the nerve to praise Matt Barkley so much. Landry Jones is the 3rd best QB in the nation. Big time throw for that go-ahead TD.

South Carolina escaping from Navy and Auburn coming back to earth are showing me that I’m right in saying the Big 12 (team for team) is better than the SEC team for team. After Oklahoma and Alabama, what SEC team is hanging with Oklahoma State or Texas?

Hideo Nomo's No-No (15 Years Ago)

I'm still on a high from my birthday celebrations this past weekend so I'd figure I'd reflect on my favorite Dodgers memory that happened around that time.

15 years ago on my birthday (9/17), one of the best moments of my baseball life happened. My favorite pitcher at the time, Hideo Nomo, stepped into Coors Field and pitched a no-hitter, one of the greatest performances in recent baseball history.

You might think I'm crazy but consider this. Coors Field was nicknamed Coors Canaveral because balls were flying out of there like they were rockets at Cape Canaveral. It wasn't surprising to see both teams combine for 14-16 runs on average.

Also those mid-90's Rockies teams had a great lineup. Eric Young leading off. Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, Vinny Castilla and Andres Galarraga all hit 30+ home runs and 110+ RBI's. And of course, the great Larry Walker who had a monster bat but was injured often in 1996.

Not only did Nomo no-hit probably one of baseball's toughest lineups, he did it in the most hitter-friendly park in baseball. I stand by my statement that it may not be the most dominating performance of recent years (Kerry Wood's 20 K's; Pedro's 1-hit, 17K gem; Doc Halladay's playoff no hitter are high on that list)  but it's one of the most incredible performances given the situation and the lineup.

I regret missing it because I was probably busy doing HW or enjoying my presents. But I remember reading the paper that day and being amazed that Nomo, of all people, had threw it. It was the best birthday present I could've gotten from sports. Even better is that Nomo later threw a no-hitter for Boston in 2001.

Folks might forget but Nomo's debut season in 1995 was a big deal. He had his own shoe, his jersey became a hot seller (later immortalized in Lil Kim's Crush on You) and he was a big a phenomenon in L.A. almost as Fernandomania with his Tornado delivery and crossover style. It was amazing and I'll never forget every outing being highly anticipated - something I'm only seeing now with Young Prince Clayton Kershaw.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Electric Relaxation: Nas "2nd Childhood"

I've been thinking about Nas' Stillmatic album all week. Not just because this week 10 years ago began the rebirth of his career when Jay-Z dropped "The Blueprint" (which I'll be blogging about sometime this month). Nas was 27 when dropped Stillmatic and on Saturday I'll be 27.

When I was 19, I bought Illmatic for the first time. Right away, I appreciated it as a classic record and even though I was already a Nas fan, it meant more to me because I was the same age he was when he wrote most of it. A few months later when I turned 20, I listened closer to "Life's a B---h", the classic duet with AZ. AZ's verse  rightfully gets all of its praise but Nas' hit me closer. Peep the opener.

I woke up early on my born day, I'm twenty years of blessing
The essence of adolescent leaves my body now I'm fresh in
My physical frame is celebrated cause I made it
One quarter through life some God-ly like thing created

That was exactly how I felt turning 20. Since Illmatic hit me so close at that age, I'm curious if Stillmatic will hit me closer at 27 now that I've experienced enough to appreciate it even more.

"2nd Childhood" inspired me the first time I heard it. A classic DJ Premier beat and Nas putting on his street's reporter hat going through Queens. His first verse speaks on himself reliving his childhood then finding peace and happiness in being mature. It's a theme that comes up on the album a lot - Nas finally in a content state after chasing pop success and getting back to who he was as a person and an artist.

The next two verses see him describing two different people (31 year old man, 27 year old girl) who are still doing things they should've grown out of. It's sad hearing them because they aren't doing anything with their lives except running wild and watching life pass them by. If you're smart, you can catch the subtle digs at public education and the groupie lifestyle (the latter being something Nas spoke on with "Black Girl Lost").

I find myself going back to this song when I look at Twitter sometimes and I see folks in their 30's acting like I saw folks do in college. I assumed you grew out of that stuff but nah, they still continue in it. It confused me because I always look to older folks subconsciously for tips on what to do/what not to do as I get there. Yet, I still see some of them clinging on to acting like boys/girls instead of men/women. Real life episodes of "Baby Boy"

I love how vivid the descriptions are and it shows why Nas is the one of the best to ever pick up a pen. Primo's beat puts me in a daze and since it's a sequel to Illmatic, it gives you that same rush you feel when you hear  "Memory Lane". It's almost like Nas was an old man at 20 reflecting then and now at 27, he can reflect after experiencing life.

For me, I'm realizing now that I thought I was an old man at 23. At that age, I had been to the Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, seen Kevin Love at a HS Tournament. Dodger Stadium to see Barry Bonds, USC-UCLA and in a Hollywood club watching the first Obama-Clinton debate. I was in deep as a reporter and with my then-girlfriend yet I thought I was missing life because I was working.

Now at 27, I realize I have a lot of perspective on those younger days and realize that I wasn't old at all. I can reflect and be happy. I'm not in my 2nd childhood but I can enjoy the fact that I'm gearing up for new experiences. I may not be in a totally ideal place but I'm inspired by a new chance to see life.

This is the last Nas-DJ Premier collaboration on wax (not counting "Classic"). If this is the last song the two of them make on an album, what a gem to leave us with - but please. Nas, from one Virgo to another,  find a way to put Primo on "Life is Good", especially if you're in a good place again. I know y'all are fresh off tearing it down at Rock the Bells. One more song can't hurt right?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Football Wrap Week 1 (Killa Cam! Tony Romo!!! Shoelace!!!! oh, and Tom Brady too.)

I think I speak for all football fans by saying thank you to the NFL owners and NFLPA. After a lockout summer, football isn’t just back. It’s come out with a bang. Bang with a opening game shootout, bang with impressive performances and bang with a Monday Night Finale of record setting crazy.

Green Bay and New Orleans. WOW!  Aaron Rodgers still has the swagger of a champion and the hunger of something to prove. Drew Brees left his arm on the field but his O-Line forgot their poker face as Mark Ingram was stuffed on the goal line for the tie.

Not a bad call but they didn’t sell it well. I wouldn’t trust Ingram only because he’s a rookie and this isn’t Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but if you got a big man rumbling – you gotta sell it better. That Packers D is tough and remember, they won minus several key folks.

Oh yeah Randall Cobb, welcome to the NFL with a great return for TD and a long TD catch.  Speaking of which…

Killa Cam!!!  422 passing yards in his debut, 77-yard bomb on his 2nd throw, contributed to all 3 Panthers TD, and nearly led them on a game-tying drive. Raise your hands if you saw this – and I mean his poise, accuracy and pocket presence. Great way to show you can play QB.

No Peyton Manning, No Arian Foster, no problem for Houston. Ben Tate did his best Foster impression from a season ago and it was déjà vu for the Colts. The march to 4-5 wins starts now.

When the Steelers lose, it’s all good. Thank you Baltimore Ravens for getting some revenge for last year’s playoff loss. 7 Turnovers! Matching Big Ben’s jersey is even better. Ed Reed – we’re appreciating greatness at work.

Quiet as kept, though. That Ravens offense could be sneaky good. Keep an eye on Pretty Flacco, Sugar Ray Rice and those wideouts.

Tom Brady:  “This is still my league. Remember that.” The irony of me missing the game yet I remember when Brett Favre had a 99-yd TD pass on MNF. Even if he’s selling Ugg Boots, he’s still a G. Heck, he could sell man purses and perfume and he’d still show you why you respect his G.

All these hamstring/ACL injuries – underrated storyline. Nate Kaeding/Eric Berry/Jon Beason are done for the year and Stephen Jackson hurt his quad. The NFL lockout shortened the preseason and offseason workouts so keep an eye on leg injuries early on.

Now on to my teams. San Diego scared me giving up that long return to Percy Harvin, who literally shook Kaeding into next season. But in the 2nd half, all credit to our defense keeping McNabb, Peterson and Co. in check. It was an ugly win but it was gritty and resilient.

I may hate Mike Tolbert at times because he’s a big lug getting too many carries but he got that win and the game ball. Big ups to Rivers too fooling Minny on those hard counts down the stretch.

(Oh yeah, McNabb is sadly done. I’m getting that feeling I got when I saw Torii Hunter miss a routine pop fly and Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan look old this summer. You hate seeing great players of your youth go out like suckers but it’s not lookin good. 37 yards…….

As for Dallas…..ummm. As for Dallas. How can I put this lightly? It was a great 3 quarters? Ummm Dez Bryant looked good in the 1st Q…..aww screw it. TONY ROMO ISNT FIT TO WEAR THE COWBOYS UNIFORM.

I’ve defended Romo for years. I defended him in 2009 when I said he quietly had a great 2nd half of the season and proved it winning a playoff game. I defended losing to Brett Favre in the playoffs because his O-line was shoddy. I defended him saying that I wouldn’t take Eli Manning and his SB ring over him.

But I also said this year was make or break for him. He had to show some growth and he had to win a big game when it counts. I’m standing by him but I also know he’s on the hot seat. Sure enough, the chair got too hot and he went brain dead.

Yeah Tony, watch that replay again. You know you done messed up again, right?
Fumbling near the goal line. STUPID! But throwing to a hurt Dez Bryant covered by Revis Island? BRAIN DEAD!! This dummy right here threw in the direction of Darrelle Revis. OF ALL PEOPLE!!!!

Throw salt in the wound that former Cowboys kicker Nick Folk won the game (and former Trojans RB Joe McKnight blocked the punt that led to a score) and that No. 9 on Romo’s jersey might as well stand for 9 millmeter.

He’s done. No heart in the 4th Quarter, all slushie and fear. Suddenly, 2nd place in the NFC East isn’t a guarantee. And I’m looking at Tony like you’re playing for your career right now. You may still have the gifts to be great but your mind is still stuck on the Div. 1-AA level.

SHOELACE!!! I won’t laugh at Notre Dame as much because that was a phenomenal ending. But Shoelace!!! I was mad they tamed him in the pocket because it was foolish yet it paid off. A great throw for the win and just like that, we remember how great he is. 28 4th-quarter points and brought Michigan back from the dead.

UCLA barely beat San Jose State. Are we that desperate that we can’t beat a team by more when we are 21-point favorites. Big ups to Derrick Coleman in the 2nd half with over 100 rushing yards. I’m worried slightly about Texas but if I know anything, the Bruins are good for birthday presents. My birthday’s on Saturday and I expect them to do what USC couldn’t do 5 years ago. Beat Texas in the Rose Bowl, especially with their mini QB controversy.

As for USC, they still have trouble executing.  They have the offensive weapons and playmakers on defense to make a stand but they still aren’t great. Maybe we’ve been spoiled seeing high level of execution and precision on both sides but something says this team is winning the Pac-12 South not because they’re great, but because their comp is average.

Except for Arizona State that is. What a big win for them!! Pac-12 needed that badly.

Paul Richardson – 286 yards, 2 TD’s for Colorado. They may have lost to Cal in OT but the former No. 3 WR at Gardena Serra HS is about make his name felt in the Pac-12 after being kicked out of UCLA.

*sidenote – I’m gonna start feeling lucky that I covered that 09 Serra team that won state. Robert Woods (USC), Paul Richardson, George Farmer will soon get his chance to shine at USC. Heck, Marqise Lee was just a great defensive back and now he’s getting plays as a true frosh WR at SC.*

News flash. Auburn still is lucky and magical. Toomer’s Corner must have some miracle dust in those oak trees a la Ferngully cause they keep finding ways to win.

Big ups to Alabama. They have a scary D and great running led by future NFL’er Trent Richardson. It could be 09 all over because that QB McCarron looks green and they’re going to win power style.

One more SEC note. Isaiah Crowell for Georgia. Marcus Lattimore for South Carolina. The future of the conference was on display in that classic game and those backs are amazing runners. Even the Freshman FREAK, Jadeveon Clowdey, got him some love with a grown man sack and forced fumble that iced the game for South Carolina.

Still scratching my head that Spurrier had a D-lineman run a fake punt and he actually scored. Ah, the OBC and his trickery.

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11th,10 Years Later - A Day I'll Never Forget

The 10th anniversary of something is a big deal to me. A decade is a time for a lot of growth. Next fall will be my 10th anniversary of graduating high school. When I graduated college, I realized it was the 10th anniversary of graduating 6th grade and that I had known folks outside of church for that long. I've written on 9/11 before from different points of view so for the 10th anniversary of the day that changed my generation, I'll be recapping what happened that day from my eyes.

I woke up at 6 AM like any other normal day. Barely into my first week of senior year, I didn't have any thoughts except maybe thinking about my bday the next week. I did my daily devotion and prayer time and after I hopped out of the shower, I turned on Power 106 to hear Big Boy and his crew. First thing I heard? Two planes just hit the World Trade Center.

I thought he was bugging. So I switched off the radio, walked downstairs and turned on ABC. If this was a big deal, surely it had to be on the news. Sure enough, I saw the footage of the WTC smoking and in disbelief, I screamed to my Mom and sister to come down and see this. We sat there stunned and in those pre-social network, pre cell-phone days, we couldn't call anybody. We listened to Peter Jennings narrate what happened and try to understand what was happening.

Next thing I know, the Pentagon's on fire and I'm confused. I'm thinking are we under attack or this coincidence? Then it happened. Right before we left, the first tower fell.

In my mind, I'm thinking how many people were in there? What in the world was I seeing? I'm a student of history and I had never known something like this to hit home. We had to go to school but suddenly I was in a state of worry. We kept the radio on news the whole time and I'm sitting there thinking how widespread is this? If the Pentagon was hit and apparently somewhere in Pennsylvania just got hit, what's next? L.A? Chicago? Texas?

We got to school just when the 2nd tower hit. I had my CD player set to the radio and I started talking to everyone to see if they heard what was happening. Then my mind worried about Mom. They said the Sears Tower and other city landmarks were in danger and since she worked at a federal building, I worried her building was a target. As more friends got to campus, we shared in our disbelief and I didn't care if teachers saw me with headphones on. This was historic and rules be darned to stay informed.

I remember going to my buddy Jacob's car and it was one of the first times I probably cursed in front of folks.  The East Coast under attack and possibly my Mom's office a target, I was ready to panic. Then Mom drove back up and told me they closed her building. I felt relieved then my thoughts turned to all the folks who were probably scared and bewildered in New York.

We didn't have much class that day. My government class had it on ABC the whole hour and we just almost shared thoughts and disbelief. Homeroom saw the TV on all day. I think lunch went on as normal but we kept the news on the radio to hear updates. By that time, we realized that no other cities were in danger. It seems selfish now but when you hear about a tragedy, how often do we wonder about how it affects our immediate world first?

I got home and immediately wanted to hit up my peeps who were with me in March. Six months ago to the date, I had left DC on a flight similar to two flights going from D.C. to L.A. I shot a quick email to everyone asking "What the heck is going on?" or something like that. It was probably the first time I had spoken to some of them in months and instantly I got feedback of similar disbelief.

One friend told me that her father had just been on one of the flights that crashed and perhaps knew somebody on one of the planes. I stayed in touch with her closely just to see how they were coping with it all.

Peter Jennings became the voice that I heard throughout the day. I remember Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather but it was Jennings I watched. Little did I know that he had experience in this from the 1972 Munich Olympics and watching the great Jim McKay anchor that coverage with almost no breaks. His easy voice and calming presence (along with his emotion) helped me absorb all the news. It's a shame that he's no longer with us.

I lived near the airport so to have a week of complete silence in the air was eerie (I wouldn't ride on a plane for almost 2 years after 9/11). But emotionally I didn't know what to expect. My heart broke for the people of New York and Washington and I embraced the heroes of Flight 93. We cancelled Youth Group that night and I figure I went to bed having no clue how the world was about to change. I remembered reading comic strips the next few days that had amazing tributes.

I remember that Friday going to a Youth outing with my church and the room growing deathly silent when they replayed the footage from 9/11. Some of my kids were being loud and I told them "Shut Up" with the loudest anger I probably had showed. I remember being shocked at all of the condolences from world leaders, including Saddam Hussein.

Thinking about it now, that day and week felt like a weird dream. Nothing else mattered and even as I tried to live my life and plan my birthday, it just felt surreal that there was no sports, no distractions, no nothing. Just an endless stream of news and taking it all in. Who knew the world would be drastically different. I don't even remember September 10 because it was just another day of senior year. That's how much 9/11 stuck a lot of us.

It also was different for me on the West Coast. Your heart went to the East Coast but at the same time, there was a detachment. I was waking up on 9/11 while the East Coast was well into their day. I was absorbing the news 3,000 miles away yet I was almost relieved my city wasn't in danger. It's sad and I almost think it's when I realized different parts of the country are radically different (even though I had traveled there extensively).

That's why this year, I almost want to just listen to folks. Listen to their memories of that day and think about how far we've come. How 10 years feels like a century and the world felt so simpler before. How some folks were shaken and how for my peers, we became adults in an unfamiliar era of terror alerts, exposure to Islam and struggling to make sense of the America we had been sold since birth.

For me, I'll remember a 16 year old kid who heard the news on the radio, got worried for his mother's office and tried to figure it out with my classmates/teachers. It was the loss of innocence and it felt like I was being awakened to adulthood.

This blog is dedicated to not only those we lost that day, but those who played a role in that day who are lost. Susan Nix, my government teacher, kept us watching TV and in her class, I learned more about the rules of government and checks/balances that prepared me for what the gov't later trampled on in the coming decade. God bless her memory. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm

CNN ran this opinion piece this week. On the surface, we should celebrate its premise. Black kids aren't living up to the messages the media is sending them and are also looking down on the shows/music that isn't representing them well.

But I have a problem with it. The author didn't write with cruel intentions, yet I have to ask why this article is worth writing on a major news site with nothing to prompt it besides a study. To be honest, I wouldn't have even written this as a news story because I figure people wouldn't even care outside of the Black community or sociologists who would use this data appropriately. I question the author 1st for even thinking this was writing about,

I'm also disturbed because from reading this, it's almost supposed to be shocking that Black kids - wait for it - don't want to be like the rappers they see, don't act like the Basketball "Wives" and have baby mama drama. The first paragraph says it all.

"If you got your ideas about young black people just from the entertainment industry, you'd think they were all players and baby mamas -- and you'd be sorely mistaken."

My reaction via Jason Terry (shouts to @jose3030 for the GIF)
That, of course, assumes that's audience has preconceived ideas about what Black people are like based on the media and is stupid enough to assume that all of us are like that. It reminds of me of someone I learned about in my Communications classes.

George Gerbner said that the more people watch TV, the more it shapes how they see the outside world. The fact that this article is being run as an opinion is disturbing because it implies that it needs to be on a major news site instead of dissected on alternative one. It assumes that it needs to be run because the audience can't tell the difference.

It's really just another byproduct of the era where there's little diversity of how minorities look on TV and through the media and CNN has to allow this article as if it's a surprise that some of us are different than how we appear.

(Really? We aren't all thugs with baby mammas? Some of us are actually educated with goals? We aren't fooled by what music videos tell us to do? Oh, glory be. Somebody alert America to the truth so we can be free! *plays Praise Break music and dances a jig*)

I don't mind folks praising kids for defying stereotypes. I was a kid who did it all the time, as did several of my peers. But it's the undertones of it becoming a national story that bothers me. Then again, this is the same country that has made "The Help" gross over $125 million and remain the No. 1 movie for 3 straight weeks.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Football Wrap Week 0 (Pac-12 Blues, Robert Griffin's the Truth and Laughing at Notre Dame)

Football is back!!! Rejoice and get ready for a month of easy walkover games with a few good ones mixed in there. NFL comes back next Sunday so let's dive head first into the return of college football.

Baylor's Robert Griffin’s the truth (350+ passing yards, 5 TD's) but boy, is he going to suffer from Shoelace Robinson syndrome. Great individual help but his numbers will come due to poor defense holding him back. It's a shame because he showed why he'll be everyone's under-the-radar Heisman candidate.

Speaking of which, Russell Wilson looked sharp for Wisconsin. The Big 10 is going to be pretty tough if Wisconsin builds off last year's hype and Wilson played pretty good.

Oregon looks like they’re not sharp. Turnovers crippled them and I felt bad for DeAnthony Thomas. He hasn't struggled like that since his sophomore year in HS in 2008 and he's going to learn from those two fumbles. But him aside, Darron Thomas didn't look crisp and if they're going to rely heavily on LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, they're going to struggle. I praised their defense last year but minus Cliff Harris, they looked average now.

LSU, however, got great offensive line play. They won SEC style with power running, speed and defense. Jared Lee played the same role that Mark Sanchez plays with the Jets. Game management, no mistakes, hand the ball off. They’re better than I thought and if Jefferson comes back, Les Miles and Co. will be good position in the conference (although I still Alabama and South Carolina are the leads)/

USC’s Robert Woods: 17 receptions (school record), 177 yards and 3 TD’s. Wearing his old HS number 2.  One step closer to proving he’s the best wide receiver in the country. And USC’s defense is still far from great so he might be putting up even bigger numbers.

Utah and Spergon Wynn will have a field day against them next week. Expect a shootout for the Utes in their Pac-12 opener but Matt Barkley (school record 34 completions) looked like he is indeed going out with a bang, if he’s gone.

My UCLA Bruins nearly came back from a shootout with Case Keenum (310 yards and 2 TD’s) and Houston. They actually outgained the Cougars by 85 yards and it looks like they’re going to use tight end Joseph Fauria (110 yards, 6 receptions and a TD) a bit more. But they're still the same old Bruins for now.

Richard Brehaut made his best case why he should be the starter while Kevin “The Golden” Prince got knocked out with a concussion. I don’t need any more proof. Brehaut should be starting after going 17-for-26, 264 yards, 2 TD’s.

As for that Bruin defense, they played better in the 2nd half. Still shaky in my opinion but they’ll get a nice confidence boost against San Jose State next week.

That said, it wasn't a great day for the Pac-12 overall. Oregon State losing to Sacramento State just makes it worse and with this talk of expanding the conference to a Pac-16, it's even more disheartening (that's another story for another day).

Auburn made miracles happen in the final 2 minutes. Great on-side kick, great plays, and Michael Dyer/Onterrio Caleb are great tailbacks. But big ups to Utah State putting the fear of God in them at home behind a true freshman QB in Chuckie Keeton. Them boys are gonna miss Cam Newton/Nick Fairley bad.

Boise State to everyone in Division I-A: You don’t wanna come to our house? We’ll come to yours and put a beat em down on you! Georgia – you’re the next victim on that Broncos list. As overrated as they are, Georgia was no match for Boise State who made a statement for BCS respect.

That boy Kellen Moore’s pretty good huh?

Notre Dame lost in South Bend to USF? Hahahahahahahaha. Nothing is sweeter than seeing the Irish and their hype get stomped for all to see. Who ranked them so high with a new QB and nothing to back it up? 

To all the Top 25 teams that won easy against easy competition, I have one word. Yawwwwwwn. Landry Jones, Andrew Luck and Taylor Martinez looked good but let’s not fire up the Heisman talk til October okay?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I love High School Sports

I know I haven't written much the past month. It's a combination of writing so much for Bleacher Report and Cal-Hi Sports. Those have taken up most of my time and there's so much I've wanted to write, especially the revelations I found on my road trip. That will come later this month as I finish up the pieces for Cal-Hi Sports. Til then, I figured I'd tell you why I love covering high school sports.

Back in 2006, I was fresh out of college and looking for a newspaper gig. I was optimistic and inspired from ending my college life writing for the school paper. Yet I knew the jobs were scarce. One day, I drove to 5 papers around Los Angeles and tried to leave my resume. All I got was the "we're not hiring but we'll call you". Thanks to a friend of mine, I got a connection with the LA Sentinel but I still had to pass an interview with the editor.

Long story short (and a story for another day), I was hired in December but my first test assignment involved Narbonne High School and their girls' basketball program. My actual first assignment after I was hired was a basketball tournament at Westchester HS (one of the biggest bball powers in the state - alumni include NBA players Trevor Ariza, Bobby Brown, Amir Johnson and others).

During the tournament, I was assigned to cover a championship game. Verbum Dei vs. La Salle. I remember it well because it was raining and I had to take notes under my umbrella. It was Verbum Dei's first title in almost 25 years and I remember the excitement of being on the field, super nervous and trying to interview as many as I could.

It started me on the road toward covering high school sports. My editor told me from the start that everyone's going to cover the NBA and most folks will see USC/UCLA. Covering high school sports should be your bread and butter and I followed that mantra, covering high school basketball and track and field (where I saw future NCAA champion Jeshua Anderson dominate in 4 events). Those are where the unique stories are.

1st time I saw them: Brandon Jennings (3) had 5 dimes in the 1st Quarter, Jrue Holiday had a near triple double and DeMar DeRozan was possibly one of the best dunkers I ever saw in person. 
The following fall, I covered my 1st prep football season. I had a blast and I got to see how people were galvanized watching kids play football. I didn't have a football team in HS so I didn't see what Friday Night Lights was about until I started working.

Covering basketball not help me become a better fan and better player, it made me realize how much California has such a rich sports history. I've gotten to see a ton of great players as preps (Kevin Love, Larry Drew, Jordan Hamilton and Derrick Williams) and I've met great coaches and colleagues through it. I love watching future stars but I also love hearing how kids grew up together and love playing with each other at a school they dreamed of.

De'Anthony Thomas was a football/track standout at Crenshaw HS and one of the most special/humble stars I've been blessed to cover. He's now a freshman at Oregon. 
One of my favorite HS stories was covering Crenshaw High School's 2009 run to the state bowl game. They were the first school from the LA Unified School District to reach there. Overseeing their undefeated record was a coach who was part teddy bear, part disciplinarian and part comedian who genuinely loved his players and fostered a family atmosphere. They not only had their community on their back, they carried an entire school district that needed the positive feedback.

That's why I love this. I love seeing folks come out to support their teams. Every Friday for the last 5 falls, I've seen kids enjoy the game and I've seen some amazing performances, but I relish in seeing fans come out every week and embrace the newness of what they're seeing. I've seen incredible basketball games and seen how crazy HS track meets can be.

I only saw Matt Barkley (7) once but I got to know Robert Woods (13) as a superstar 2-sport athlete who believed  in being a good person and leader while at Serra HS
I'm proud to say that I got to see several USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins (Johnathan Franklin - one of my favorite stories - and Datone Jones) when they were HS kids. Yet I'm also proud to get to know kids who may not have played college sports, but were exceptional students and leaders. I'm glad I met parents and relatives who support their children and had interesting stories of their own.

I've covered USC/UCLA games and I love the atmosphere since my college games weren't as energetic. Yet I don't find it as satisfying as HS sports. I'm not naive to think prep sports isn't corrupted but it's more fun to see kids shine and enjoy their last moments of childhood. College sports feels like a business and while it's fun, I find more hypocrisy there than in high school sports.

I told people for years that I don't watch Friday Night Lights because I've lived it. I've lived it watching teams in South Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Orange County and the South Bay. I'm blessed because I get to say I knew future stars when they were just kids. I didn't know my dream would take me here but I'm glad it did.

I wouldn't trade my job for anything and I'm thankful that the Torrance Daily Breeze has kept me as a freelancer for this second season. Starting tomorrow, another HS sports year begins and I'll be on the sidelines looking for a good story.