Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Football Wrap Week 12: The Return of a Urban Legend

So Urban Meyer returneth eh? The man who wanted to spend time with his family, leave college FB for health issues and enjoy his ESPN gig has come back to do it all again for his first love. That’s college for ya.

First things first, I always respected Meyer. He and Pete Carroll are the best coaches of the last decade and Meyer was great at 2 schools in the BCS era. But the lionization of him came with people overshadowing his faults and the fact that if any other coach had that many arrests at one program as he did at Florida, they’d be looked at sideways.

(Case in point, Jimmy Johnson is arguably one of the greatest and smartest football coaches of the last 25 years. Yet people think of The U as a program full of Black thugs and arrogance and remember the Cowboys running wild. Meyer has somehow escaped that. )

That said, he’s going to make Ohio State dominant again, which won’t be that hard. That’s still a top-5 job in college football and he’ll bring some athletes out there.  The Big 10 won’t be as hard as the SEC so he’ll be all good.

But here's the big if - when Ohio State gets NCAA sanctions courtesy of Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor and Co., will Meyer will be the perfect coach to boost morale and keep folks happy? And considering he left Florida after his worst season there, he can be considered a front-runner if there ever is one. And what if his health is another factor - if Florida stressed him out, what about being home? Ask Ken Griffey Jr. how returning home to Ohio worked out. 

I hope he stays healthy. The pressure of winning at OSU will be worse than Florida or maybe Florida prepared him well. Either way, it's going to be interesting to see what happens.

NCAA Tidbits

Shoelace vs. Braxton Miller – can’t wait for Round 2 next year. Glad the Big 10 got to see some modern quarterbacking at work. Shoelace is showing that he’s a better passer and I’m excited to see what he’ll do in a bowl game. Congrats to Michigan finally beating Ohio State. 

Only Georgia stands in the way of LSU v. Alabama Round 2. But after seeing Arkansas and Auburn push up daisies this past weekend, it’s clear the SEC is super overrated this year. Just as I predicted.

Your Heisman Finalists in Virgo's Opinion: Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Case Keenum. Hate to say it but Matt Barkley can finish above Andrew Luck too. It doesn’t matter because it’s no bearing on A. Luck’s NFL projections.

Speaking of which, shut up to the folks who saw Luck is overrated. I watched Stanford play several times this year and he still showed why he has great poise, size, IQ, decent speed and an incredible arm. Just because other QB’s have risen up doesn’t mean he’s overrated, it means he’s not head and shoulders above everyone by that much.

He did, however, prove, that coming back one more year means folks will dissect you more and karma will be a witch. See Sam Bradford, Matt Leinart, Jake Locker and the list goes on….

NFL Tidbits

San Diego has lost six in a row. Dallas is playing better in November. The roles have reversed since my teams faced off in 2009 when I said the Chargers are what the Cowboys should aspire to be.

Now it looks like Romo is finishing games better after he led a last minute drive to beat Miami while Phillip Rivers looks handcuffed to protect him from himself. My teams are going in reverse and while I still swear Rivers is hurt, that whole team is mentally stunted. Dallas, on the other hand, looks motivated and hungry and ready to seize the division.

It's strange. But hopefully this will lead to Norv Turner finally getting clipped. 

Houston Texans may be the best snakebit team in the league. Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and now Matt Schaub have missed several games due to injury. Now Matt Leinart is on the shelf. Go figure.

Don't be upset Jason Avant, I do this to everybody. It's what I do.

Eagles are unraveling worse than the Magic Carpet when Jafar turns it into a ball of yarn in Aladdin. Tom Brady did his surgery and picked them apart like it was bird hunting season.

Props to Stevie Johnson for maturely handling the aftermath of his celebration by owning it. It was a little low but after I saw it, it was pretty funny. However, he didn’t cause his team the game with it compared to him dropping a few passes in the 4th. But when will folks learn one play in the first half doesn’t affect a game?

Low twos also to Bob Costas and his reaction on Sunday Night Football. Reminds me of Joe Buck going crazy over Randy Moss and his fake mooning. When people defining what’s acceptable celebration, typically they overreact and 1) go off on guys who do it with style, 2) elevate certain players who keep it simple. There’s a place for both.  I’m all for hating guys who go way too overboard but at some point, we need reasonable folks to have enough influence to say lighten up.

You think they're scared of us yet? Nope? Guess we gotta keep winning and scoring with no mercy.
How is Green Bay 11-0 and still under the radar? I don’t think Denver in 1998 has this less pressure when started off 13-0 after winning the Super Bowl. They just keep winning and winning with no weaknesses and if that defense keeps playing well. Look out.

Let me give the kicker some. Shane Lechler of the Raiders had an 80-yard punt that was a thing of beauty. He just boomed it over Devin Hester’s head and Hester looked lost trying to handle it. Great stuff. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

50-0: A Downtown Beatdown for UCLA

Last month, I said UCLA hit rockbottom when they lost to Arizona after trailing 42-6 at halftime. Well now, it's officially reached lower than that after Saturday.

It all starts with the game I pretend didn’t happen because I was at a wedding. Instead of worrying about the score, I enjoyed meeting my girlfriend’s family and hearing a few jokes about when’s our wedding (Slow Down! © Brand Nubian or Chris Rock).

Of course, that didn’t happen. The last part did but of course, I had to watch the game because I had hope UCLA would at least make it respectable considering this was a difficult season. This is the only game that matters on the schedule because the city turns out in force for it.

Needless to say, the game got worse as it got longer. 1st shutout since 2001 – Pete Carroll’s first year. Worst blowout to USC in 71 years. A 50-point beat down where UCLA looked overmatched from the jump.

It was poetic justice that UCLA wore all-White uniforms. It waved a white flag on their season and Rick Neuheisel’s coaching tenure. They didn’t bother showing up and proceeded to get embarrassed like a little brother. Since 1998, UCLA has only won once (not counting USC vacating wins in 2004 and 2005). The eight-game winning streak I enjoyed in my youth is a distant memory.

Worst of all, UCLA has only scored more than once in a game since 2007, the first year I covered the game. It’s not even a rivalry anymore – USC is recruiting better players while UCLA has barely had a decent quarterback since 1998. Sure we had Maurice Jones Drew during my college years, but it's been up and down since then.

Since I’ve been in the media, the best player UCLA recruited was current NFL rookie Rahim Moore or 2nd year man Brian Price. They recruited some great players but outside of their 2007 class, it’s been disappointing. I don't believe the players have been used well and that's all on the coaching staff.

Oh yeah, Rick Neuheisel might as well get his walking papers. He’s done and that football monopoly he said was over 4 years ago? It’s over alright. It’s now a dynasty that isn’t showing any signs of letting up. And it’ll be fitting when UCLA gets their pants waxed by Oregon next week in the Pac-12 title game. That’ll be a nice way to send off this season and Slick Rick’s tenure at Westwood (which I’ll write off for good when his firing is official)

Meanwhile, USC is back to where they were in 2002. A two-loss team playing like the best team in the conference and on an incredible roll. They have the best 1-2 WR combo in maybe the nation high school teammates George Farmer and Marqise Lee and next year will possibly add their 3rd mate in George Farmer to go along with Curtis McNeal at tailback.

Two years on probation and they’ve been able to muster a squad that will be a national title contender or at least on par with the Pete Carroll teams post Bush-Leinart. Those penalties didn’t hurt anything. Matt Barkley is hailed as one of the best QBs in the country. Woods is one of the 5 best WRs in the country and that defense is as good as any in the Pac-12.

I’m not ready to say they’re about to go on another Pete Carroll type run but after beating Oregon, they have all the confidence in the world. I see a USC football program that’s worthy of swagger and for a UCLA fan, it’s disheartening.

This feels like 2002 all over. I remember watching the brief highlights out in San Diego and feeling sick. That team had Carson Palmer and that proved to be the team that paved the way for USC’s dominance. The only difference is that the 2011 squad won’t be going to a BCS bowl game but they are set up to return to excellence assuming Matt Barkley returns next year.

UCLA is in sad shape though. And it could possibly get sadder when Oregon in all likelihood takes us to the cleaners to get ready for their Rose Bowl tuneup. It still boggles my mind that they've backdoored their way into the title game but this is how screwy the whole conference has been.

The Battle for Los Angeles has been one-sided since I was 15. I'm 27 now. Just a reminder that my days of watching Cade McNown, Freddie Mitchell, Danny Farmer, DeShaun Foster and Robert Thomas are long in the rearview and not coming back for a long while.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Football Wrap Week 11 (Part 1): Tim Tebow vs. Vince Young [Bringing Some Reason Into Idolatry]

It’s about time I break down this Tim Tebow phenomenon a bit more. After reading Kordell Stewart’s take on him and considering what Bomani Jones was saying on Twitter, I think I’m ready to tackle this false idolatry in depth and why it’s insulting.

First, let me give props to Tebow for that 95-yard game winning drive. Trucking Darrelle Revis? Money. That 20-yard TD run? Grown man running. He’s 4-1 this year after I saw him nearly beat my Chargers last year and this year.

What you expected more? Lest we forget that dude was making Mark Sanchez look like Tony Romo most of the game – even including that pick-6. I come not to praise Lord Tebow but to bury his fans in truth and perspective.

I know what they’ll say. Oh Tebow’s a winner? Oh Tebow just plays so hard. Tim Tebow’s a hard worker. And the most offensive to me? Divine intervention and God’s will. Remember folks, I’m a Christian man and that bothers me to no end (I’ll explain later).

Well let me re-introduce a little comparison with another quarterback who had similar mechanics issues and yet won and won big. He too was a first round pick and had to deal with plenty of critics but still put up a winning record.  Heck, Skip Bayless is even on his jock just like Tebow.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Vincent Young. You remember him right? Won a national title like Tim Tebow. Similar accolades. Had one of the greatest college performances in one of the greatest games ever.

VY’s rookie year: 8-5, six straight wins, 4 fourth quarter comebacks. 1st time in NFL history a rookie had two 14-point+ comebacks. A 43-yard OT run to win the game vs. Houston. All he did was win despite having the 2nd worst QB rating in the league.

Sounds a bit comparable to what Tebow is doing in Year 2 right? Game winning run? Fourth quarter heroics? Oh did I mention Vince beat the eventual Super Bowl champions who were 10-1 at the time? Remind me who Tebow beat that was worth a darn?

Vince Young had some bad mechanics and Tennessee did have to simplify the playbook a bit (Again sound familiar?) but all VY did was win. And just if you think VY’s rookie year was a fluke and teams figured him out, check what he did in 2009 after being relegated to backup status in 2008.

VY in 2009: 8-2 as a starter. 1st time in NFL history a team won 5 straight after losing their 1st six games. 99-yard drive to beat Arizona. Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year. His W-L record in Tennessee? 30-17 with 42 TD’s and 42 INT’s.

In case you forgot what he can do, just watch the highlights of what he did Sunday against the Giants in that comeback win.

To be fair, the only edge Tebow has on VY is work ethic. Early in his career, VY didn’t show much initiative to learn the playbook and evolve a bit. He just had incredible gifts and a knack for winning (Notice the trend here?). Tebow also has a coach who adapted his offense to fit him – something Tennessee never did for Vince Young or for that matter any team did for any dual-threat quarterback.

And that’s my problem. Why is Denver doing what Kordell Stewart, Andre Ward, Michael Vick, Charlie Ward, Doug Flutie early on and Eric Crouch (the fastest White QB I’ve seen this side of Steve Young) didn’t get? Tim Tebow can’t throw for jack crap yet Denver is willing to run the option while a lot of mobile college quarterbacks didn’t get that benefit. Tebow is out there scrambling to everyone’s praise, but folks were ready to criticize Mike Vick doing the same thing. Both were smart in doing it but guess who got glory.

It’s not a racial thing per se but it’s insulting that Tebow is being praised while Vince Young was run out of Tennessee and we always talk about seeing if a Black QB can be a pocket passer, not just a runner. VY contributed to that with his immaturity and attitude problems. But if we’re talking strictly on the field, Vince Young should be a starter based on his resume if Tim Tebow is one.

For the record, I believed Vince was better served being a backup this year just like Mike Vick was when he came back to the league. But I’m only saying that people didn’t make that many excuses for Vince Young and if they did, they were spoken to deaf ears.

Tebow is getting excuses made for him because of his college pedigree, his faith, his incredible fan base and hype. Him being White plays a big role in that because that’s just the nature of people loving White QB’s and it being seen as their position. Black QB’s have to work twice as hard and face just as much as criticism if they don’t play a certain way. Tebow is no different than Vince Young minus the attitude issues.

Tebow’s faith is endearing and sincere but it’s insulting that we always have to hear about White Christians being elevated in sports. Is Derek Fisher’s faith less admirable? Even Kurt Warner didn't get elevated this much despite WINNING. This is a question I want the media and fans to answer because I believe faith can be a divisive pawn used by the media to elevate a certain narrative. And don't get me started on those Jesus jerseys that I find sacrilegious and disrespectful.

Just seeing this disgusts me. My Savior isn't on the football field and joking about it isn't funny. 

So as I keep hearing folks making excuses for Tebow, just ask yourself why you won’t make them for Vince Young. At least, Skip Bayless is consistent is praising them both. But I will not stand for this heathen worship as groundbreaking when I watched Michael Vick and Vince Young do it much better with more success on the field and the stat sheet. I've seen several Black QB's be forced to play WR or another position in college or the NFL. Guys who were better than Tebow but didn't have the luxury of a team change their offense to suit them.

*It’s a sign of progress that Cam Newton isn’t hearing too many critics since he’s proven he can throw and pass. A good sign for Robert Griffin III, who has a great arm, size, poise and speed and should probably win the Heisman*

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Virgo Speaketh!!! (Finally)

Time to finally put my face and voice out for you all to see. One of my goals this year was to do more video blogs and I explain in the intro why I resisted it for a while. I loved being an anonymous thinker but at some point, you need to let people see you and relate to you. I'm still going to write blogs as usual but I'm going to mix in videos as well.

Here I discuss the state of L.A. sports and why it looks as bleak as ever with no NBA, terrible NFL teams, disappointing college basketball and inconsistent college football. Looks like our hope is with Long Beach State to carry the torch after their huge upset at Pittsburgh!

Sidenote, it's disturbing that UCLA lacks great guard play and watching Casper Ware (LB State) and Cezar Guerrero (Oklahoma State) do work last night. They have let too many great LA players slip out of their backyard to shine somewhere else. On the same note, it's beautiful to see one of LA's best football players - De'Anthony Thomas - get the chance to not just shine at Oregon, but grow up as a man in a different environment from home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Matt Kemp: 160 Million Ways to Say Thank You

Three years ago, I wrote a story in the LA Sentinel saying why the Dodgers needed to keep Matt Kemp instead of trade him. At the time, Kemp was talented but raw. He struck out a lot and despite his power, some in the Dodgers organization felt he'd be worth more giving him up instead of banking of his promise.

I asked the team to wait and see because Kemp was far too valuable to part with and if he ever put it together, he'd reward the team for their loyalty. All I can say now is I'm glad they didn't because now we have Kemp on the hook for the next eight years for 160 million. 

I'm proud of Kemp for not just his on-field performance, one of the best I've ever witnessed as a Dodgers fan, but becoming a leader in the clubhouse. When I covered the Dodgers closely in 2008 and 2009, Kemp was young and uncomfortable in the spotlight. He clashed with Jeff Kent and he was a source of frustration. It didn't make matters worse that after his great 2009 season, he dated Rihanna and then turned into the old Kemp in 2010.

It would've been easy for him to sulk but instead he worked harder. According to a source who covers the team, he became a bigger leader this year and was front and center when the media came looking for quotes. When the team was floundering in off-field drama over Frank McCourt's divorce and the MLB takeover, Kemp led the team by example with his play.

I attended a game this year and during pregame workouts, I noticed how Kemp and a few others walked to the stands and signed autographs. In the midst of a tough season, I appreciated that effort because it'd be easy to ignore the fans. It showed me that Kemp was leading by example and his presence in the clubhouse was magnetic. 

My favorite Kemp moment in 2011? I could pick his walkoff home run vs. Atlanta on April 25 that I watched before work. I could say the entire second half where his push toward 40-40 along with Clayton Kershaw's dominance made every game watchable. But I'm picking his two home-run game vs. Cincinnati in June.

He hit a solo home run in the 7th inning. Then with the bases loaded in the 8th, he hit a grand slam to cap a 5-run comeback on the road. The Dodgers won in 11 innings but watching that game, it showed me Kemp was ready to put the team on his back and inspire everyone to play better.

That's the beauty of soul power- the nickname I give every power shot by him and the Black ballplayers. It's contagious because everyone loves soul. And Kemp is fast on his way to becoming a beloved Dodger on and off the field.

He's a rich man because he never quit. Not when the team was ready to give up on him twice. He kept fighting and his contagious presence inspired others. I loved watching the Dodgers get a walkoff hit because Kemp would be the first one off the bench to tackle someone, with pure joy on his face. The Dodgers are his team and he, Kershaw and hopefully Ethier will be leading this team into the next decade.

Seeing Dee Gordon gravitate towards Kemp reminds me how Kemp used to do that with Orlando Hudson.
He was a big reason why Dodgers fans kept loving this team because no matter what, he kept producing. And now he has the richest contract in Dodgers and National League history. If this is the last act of Frank McCourt, it'll be a bright sign of a stained legacy of his ownership.

Congrats to Soul Bro. #27, it's been great seeing you grow. Thank you for the memories past and future and here's hoping you get one more reward next week from the baseball writers. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Football Wrap Week 10: Return of the Wrap (and the Ducky Boys/Boise State Blues)

Took a week off from the Wrap due to the Penn State scandal and processing all the information. Everything else felt trivial and even though I had a wrap ready to go, I scrapped it. Starting fresh this week.

Raise your hands if you expected to see Oregon back in the BCS picture. Okay, maybe they weren’t totally dead but I wasn’t exactly ready to ride for them after LSU became the second SEC team to beat them in a calendar year.

But here we are, a month later and guess who’s back? The Ducky Boys after steamrolling Stanford on the road just like they did last year. Back up to No. 4 in the BCS and suddenly the Rose Bowl isn’t the only thing in their picture. I crowned them that nickname last year after they mauled Stanford so I'm bringing it back.

I’m surprised but I shouldn’t be. I should’ve remembered 2 years ago when Oregon lost to Boise State in their season opener and still wound up in the Rose Bowl. Their strength is getting better as the season goes on and wearing down teams with their speed as their offense clicks into gear. The Pac-10 hasn’t been able to stop them and it’s to their credit that they aren’t afraid to play anybody.

Oregon hosts USC, ranked No. 18 but somehow not in the BCS Top 25 and their Civil War game with Oregon State. Then there’s the Pac-12 title game vs. Arizona State or UCLA. Arizona State just lost to Washington State so there’s a good chance they could lose to Arizona or Cal. Meanwhile, my Bruins only have to win one to get into the Pac-12 game, which I still can’t fathom.

Anyways, Oregon could face SC, Oregon State or UCLA. Not a strong schedule. Let’s compare to Alabama and Oklahoma State.

OK State’s schedule = Iowa State, home vs. Oklahoma minus Ryan Broyles and a couple others. Blast you, Big 12 for no title game. Cowboys could win out without a problem.
Alabama’s schedule = Georgia Southern and the Iron Bowl with Auburn.  Alabama’s hungry to avenge last year’s Iron Bowl so I like their chances to win out a bit more than OK State.

Of course, the trap could be if Oklahoma wins and leapfrogs everybody. Not to mention if LSU somehow finds a way to lose to Arkansas, which I doubt. But I’m playing it safe and just assuming LSU is straight while 2-4 could be shaken up.

I’m not opposed to rematch games because if a team loses early, they should be able to get another crack at the title. And if the 2 best teams already faced each other, let’s do it again like Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. Yet my problem is if a team loses in the final month yet somehow leapfrogs teams who win out, even if the game was pretty even.

So Oregon has a tough road back still but it’s not entirely impossible. Now all they need to do is actually win a BCS Bowl Game since Ohio State and Auburn got em....

Quick NCAA Tidbits

1. Boise State – Barely an hour or so after Georgia helped their cause with a win, the Broncos saw déjà vu. Dan Goodale, meet Kyle Brotzman, he’ll be escorting you to your new home in Witness Protection. (To be fair, Boise State’s been shaky all year and I could see where Kellen Moore missed having some help at WR)

Speaking of Deja Vu, I had dang near the same pic of K. Moore on the blog last year after the loss.

2. Kansas State sure loves drama – last week vs. OSU and this week, 4 OT vs. A&M. At least they won this time.

3. Robert Griffin The Great strikes again – a 4th quarter, 21-point comeback. Not bad for the Baylor legend.

Virgo’s Top 10: 1) LSU, 2) Oklahoma State, 3) Oregon 4) Alabama, 5) Arkansas, 6) Oklahoma, 7) Clemson 8) Stanford, 9) Virginia Tech, 10) Houston

NFL Top 5

1. It can be the Super Bowl, it can be regular season but to paraphrase Chris Berman, nobody….circles the Buffalo Bills like the Dallas Cowboys. How’d that Beat Em Down taste!!!! Only thing Buffalo did right was Nelson giving his touchdown ball to his girlfriend, a Cowboys cheerleader. Dallas stayed winning on and off the field.

Don Juan DeMarco almost looks a lil like Emmitt Smith right here. 

2. San Francisco had their national test and passed it. They stopped Eli Manning on a 4th quarter drive. One more reason why I have faith in them and Jim Harbaugh is your Coach of the Year. (Speaking of surprises, anybody notice Buffalo and Detroit are coming back to Earth hard?)

3. So what’s more shocking: Kansas City couldn’t beat a Denver team that threw only 8 passes? Or Baltimore airing it out and only letting Ray Rice rush 5 times. Embarrassing and stupid and before you cue the Tim Tebow praise, read Kordell Stewart airing out some truth. 

4. Tom Brady can’t beat Mark Sanchez in the postseason but he can definitely embarrass him in the regular season. But is Rob Gronkowski about to be the NFL’s best tight end now? He’s definitely Top 3 at this point.

5. As somebody pointed out, we haven’t had too many great nationally televised games since that New Orleans-Green Bay opener. Mainly I think because there aren’t more than 6 great teams. Green Bay, San Francisco, New England, Houston, Chicago and New Orleans and maybe Pittsburgh at 7.

If you can tell me the 3rd best team in the AFC with a straight face, go ahead. Houston’s a sleeper cause they have the best 1-2 RB combo in the league. But everyone else is potentially shaky. The NFC’s definitely top heavy but shaky as well.

I’m wondering if this has anything to do with the lockout and of course it does. There’s enough evidence to see that certain teams aren’t sharp and the best teams just happen to be able to mask it better than most. Let’s call it lockout parity – parity created by lack of practice and conditioning. We’ll see what happens after a month from now.

Finally some closing words on Penn State, after which I will say no more on here until recapping it in my Year in Review. I was burned out on the coverage because I’ve been discussing this for over a week while some have been on it since Tuesday. But as the details unfolded and things happened, I realized something.

The ultimate danger in this story is that when a brand or entity becomes important, protecting it at all costs trumps common sense. This applies to celebrities as well as sports and we had a failure here of administrative levels only comparable to the SMU pay-for-play scandal and still worse.

For once, a major sports scandal has nothing to do with players and I hope they and the student body persevere yet realize they can be great by rallying around each other and the victims. They can be great by stepping up where older adults did not and I in turn will not judge the whole body by a few idiots who I know litter every college campus.

Joe Paterno’s legacy takes a huge hit yet I won’t demonize him nor have I. He has to live with what he didn’t do enough of for 9 years. Same with Mike McQueary, who will probably be resigning at some point under pressure. Living with guilt sometimes is just as bad as anything criminal, ask Arthur Dimmesdale from my favorite novel.

I’ve been extra sensitive being around my kids lately at Sylvan and church. I look out for them even more now because should something happen to them, I’d risk my career to save them or never forgive myself.

One can hope that the victims of this tragedy will find some closure in Jerry Sandusky’s eventual conviction. One can hope that like Barack Obama said, we all do some soul searching, As more information comes out, I also hope we continue to see good, thorough reporting to make sure something well fleshed out for the record.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Electric Relaxation: Maxwell "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)"

Haven't done a Relaxation post in a while so let me reintroduce what this is about. Every so often, I'll post one of my favorite songs and break down why I love it. It can be an old or new song but it's just my chance to get my music critic on and show a little more than sports.

Maxwell has always been one of my favorite R&B singers. When I think of neo-soul, he's one of the first faces that comes to mind and so does this song. I remember hearing it on the smooth jazz station Mom would always play to put us to sleep after school and liking it but when I got older, it stuck to me like glue.

The song title alone is perfect cause hearing it makes you feel lifted up as soon as that subtle bass comes in. If you can't smile during that intro, frankly, you don't have a soul. It sets the mood perfect than Maxwell comes right in crooning the way he can.

"So shouldn't I realize 
You're the highest of the high 
If you don't know, then I'll say it 
So don't ever wonder"

If you've ever been with someone who makes you smile, that chorus hits you perfectly. I love how Maxwell lets each line breathe and you can feel his emotion with every word. That's how good singing is supposed to be. It's what's missing from a lot of R&B, that soul in knowing that every word means something you have to sing it like you mean it.

Maxwell's one of the smoothest singers around and this might be him at his most smooth/jazzy. I listened to it this week to help me relax after being overwhelmed by the Penn State news. It always puts me in a good mood and makes me feel I'm being elevated out of whatever state I'm in.

To me, this is the smoothed out, jazz version of Sly and the Family Stone "Higher" - instead of taking you higher with energy, it's taking you higher with love. Someday I have to see him live because his showmanship is heavily underrated.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Disgusting and Sad: Penn State Scandal Hits Too Close to Home for Me.

As a high school sports reporter and tutor, I’m very sensitive to the well-being of kids I cover and hear about. There are plenty of forces at work to exploit and turn them into commodities and their families into a company instead of a nurturing system. The last thing I want to believe is if someone is abusing them. I have zero tolerance for that and to hear this report from Penn State makes me ill to my stomach.

This is the worst scandal in college football and right up there with Baylor boys basketball covering up a murder and slandering a dead kid’s name 10 years ago. This isn’t about money. This is about protecting a criminal who preyed on young boys and the higher ups in the school not doing more to look out for the victims than a longtime assignment.

Jerry Sandusky, if true, should be looking over his shoulder because he not violated the boys he looked after, he violated the school’s trust as an employee and after he retired, he continued to do his behavior on Penn State grounds. This Yahoo story, be warned, is graphic and disturbing yet informative. (The Grand Jury statement is far more disturbing in showing Sandusky's pattern of behavior.)

It hits me hard because it reminds of a similar case here in California, where a legendary basketball hoops coach was brought down by a similar case and had a similar aura of protection around him.

Russell Otis was the head coach of Compton Dominguez High School from the late 80’s until 2008. He won six state titles and 10 sectional titles. He’s produced several pro and college standouts. But his reign ended in 2008.

That year, Dominguez was riding high having reached the state championship. They had current NBA rookie Jordan Hamilton leading the way and all was set for them to make one more run. I covered that 2008 squad** and thought it was the finest coaching job of Otis’ career, naming him coach of the year in my paper after defeating four Top-10 teams in the state. 

Then that summer, word came out that Otis was being charged with another case of sexual assault. He was convicted in 2009 (that is my story despite the wrong author's name on it) and given a 60 day sentence for meeting a minor for lewd purposes. But this wasn’t his first brush with the law.

In 2001, he was acquitted of similar charges after months of investigation and a trial over him allegedly sexually molesting a player. It was a national story because 1) Otis was the reigning USA Today Coach of the Year, 2) His Dominguez program was riding high with future NBA pro Tyson Chandler leading them to a second state title. The Sports Illustrated story describing the allegations chilled me to my core in high school.

Same issue as the death of Dale Earnhardt - upper right corner 

After initially being fired, Otis was allowed to have his job back in the Compton Unified School District in 2002 by a 4-3 vote. It’s a decision that CUSD now regrets (due to not knowing the trial transcript) but they yielded to their support of him considering how much positive news Otis and Dominguez gave Compton.

Otis won 3 more section titles and a state title before he was arrested again in 2008. It's clear what folks sacrificed to let him keep winning. Otis struggled at first when he got his job back but eventually he was back to winning.

That’s why I’m disturbed that this story happened and that Jerry Sandusky did his evil on Penn State grounds and through a house set up to help troubled boys. It strikes me too close to home and reminds me that evil against children is still hushed up far too often.

Jerry Sandusky being carried off the field after his last game in 1999
Athletic director Tim Curley and VP of business Gary Schultz both resigned under pressure Sunday after being arrested in light of perjury in their grand jury testimony. It’s not as good as being fired but it’s a good start. Neither man should be able to keep their job for allowing this to happen and more heads might be rolling as a result.

When it comes to sexual abuse cases, too often adults act irresponsibly in enabling the scandal to protect something. Compton Unified and a community protected a beloved coach and watched twice as he violated their trust and his players’ trust. Penn State did the same and as a result, this will tarnish a legendary program far worse than any money scandal will. 

Jerry Sandusky is a despicable man and he deserves what he gets. Yet those who didn't tell police deserve just as much as well as any fan who tries to defend this. I know coaches are sacred cows but violating the basic trust a parent has with them is beyond defending and anyone who didn't do enough to stop it deserves to lose their job.

It just reminds me of what I witnessed with my own eyes as a coach's misdeeds eventually caught up with him and how the lives they scarred deserved far more from the adults.

**Full Disclosure: I had no problems covering Otis as a coach. I respected his disciplined approach to basketball and whipping guys into shape. He's the reason Hamilton is a much better player/person than he was early in his HS career. Otis was also kind/friendly to me on several occasions so this is not personal. This is strictly business and a condemnation of what he did that no big basketball win or state title can cover up.**

Friday, November 4, 2011

Breaking Down Herman Cain and Why He Bothers Me

I’ve waited a while to write this because I’ve tried to study Herman Cain’s moves closely. I didn’t want to seem like I was hating on a Black conservative just on principle. But I now I think I can safely say that Cain’s campaign is one big joke.

Honestly my beef with Cain isn’t his race. It’s another one of these business folks who think they can buy their way into the White House and run it like the corporation they’ve built up. Throughout history, business-minded Presidents scared me because they tend to be pro-business, pro-super rich and less-worker/middle class. Considering there’s more of us than CEOs and business owners, it’s a lose-lose for most of us.

Also businessmen who think they can be politicians usually have zero clue how the game is played. William Randolph Hearst bought his way into the House of Reps but unsuccessfully tried to do so in the Senate and the NY Governor’s seat. The best way to the Presidency is through political experience and when you don’t have it, you have the embarrassing spectacle of Arnold Schwarzenegger as your governor.

Anyways, Cain sounded reasonable when I saw a GOP debate. I usually ignore most Black conservatives because unlike Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell or JC Watts, they don’t sound reasonable and just sound like another conservative. Like Chuck D said, every brother ain’t a brother.

Yet the more Cain spoke, the more I was troubled. He sounded snappy and witty. He had a Southern flair to him yet he didn’t have any plan for being president. He was opposed to Occupy Wall Street and gave a typical wealthy response to folks who are struggling and opposed to big banks.

Don’t blame Wall Street. Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

There’s some truth in there but Cain forgot two things. 1) People don’t like to hear the harsh truth about themselves. 2) A leader has to be sympathetic to what his people are saying. That sounded unbelievably detached and what’d you expect from a man with a self-made fortune.

Point No. 1 isn’t his fault, it’s true for most situations. Yet Point No. 2 is important. It 1) forgets that a lot of people inherit wealth or are in great circumstances to attain it instead of build it solely on their own (something Tim Wise points out here in detail) 2) forgets that most people don’t want to be rich, just live comfortably and meet basic needs, 3) shows that he’s willing to point fingers instead of come up with compromise. Consider how Barack Obama addressed it by saying people are frustrated.

(Cain also forgot that we are in the midst of a recession where plenty of hardworking people aren’t finding jobs easily, not just people who want handouts.)

I tried to read up on his 9-9-9 economic plan and my lack of knowledge on these matters kept me from understanding it. I know an accountant came up with it, not an economist. It seems like a decent plan but I yield my views to this CNN non-partisan study on it

I also don’t appreciate how Cain has treated the Black vote. He wants to be seen as a Black candidate and claims he can get the Black vote but he has yet to target the Black vote. He has been offered opportunities to speak to Black America but he has refused. At least Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Convention reached out several times to spark dialogue. It shows me Cain wants to be close but not all the way.

What’s made it worse now is that Cain seems like he’s more interested in the spotlight than being a legit candidate. He has flipflopped on several positions due to pressure and now he’s poorly handling these sexual harassment cases that have come back to haunt him. His jokes n

Not to mention that his foreign policy knowledge is as sharp as a dull pencil. You cannot expect to be President in this globalized era and not know the world around you. You see that President Obama has had to spend most of his first term achieving foreign policy victories as opposed to domestic ones. To be isolated from the world to only focus on jobs here is a nice idea but an impossible reality. A President must do both.  

But what makes this worse? Cain has started singing on the microphone. And more worse? Negro Spirituals!!! Every Black leader who strived to be accepted as a man of dignity who avoided those stereotypes. Yet imagine my shock to see Cain do this at all of places, the National Press Club, in reference to his situations.

This is the last straw. I am offended as a person of color that a presidential candidate would dare singon his own. Where is the dignity in calmly handling it with poise and moving on. No, you have to sing??!!!!! And not a song that everyone sings together, you’re singing on your own. Like something Uncle Ruckus warned about in a Boondocks episode.

(I'm also a man of faith mind you. And yet, I find this disturbing on that level. If you sing, sing with dignity. He comes off as if he's using his faith to hide his faults instead of share them. Similar to Eddie Long's 1st sermon after his scandal broke)

Imagine if Obama did that in 2007/2008 or if Michael Steele did that when he won the RNC nomination. Eyes would have rolled and I would’ve said Lord have mercy, can we not sing for everything! Bad enough, McDonald’s has been showing us singing for our supper in their commercials.

Herman Cain is the dangerous type of Black person. He says and does things that White people want to hear and won’t say because it would sound different. He’s safe because he’s wealthy and fits the conservative narrative. People will point to him and say ridiculous things like Ann Coulter did and think they are cool.

He’s the type of Black candidate people want to prop up because he’s the anti-Obama. He’s in the category of Ward Connerly and Black conservatives who say the stuff about the race but say it to the mainstream instead of to us. It might be truth but you have to consider your audience and the danger in spreading that philosophy.

You have to worry about someone who has the support of Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and that ilk. Somebody who calls their sexual harassment claims a liberal smear job instead of handling it with dignity and rising above it is a scapegoat instead of a problem solver.

20 years after Clarence Thomas, we have Herman Cain. A flavor of the month who’s a witty gentleman, appears sincere in parts, fits a narrative, but unfit to be President unless he proves he’s more than charm and buzz words.

He’s still doing speaking engagements and appears to be in love with the spotlight than trying to prove his credentials as a leader qualified for one of the most important jobs in the world. He’s nothing more than a token figure who isn’t showing much reason to see him as anything but another candidate.

(Cain is also close to the rich Koch Brothers, the same folks who have been linked to funding the Tea Party and made me question who's running that show. For the record, the Koch Bros. have also donated to Mitt Romney's campaign.)

This is not a critique of Cain’s success, his background and selfmade endeavors. It is a critique of his campaign and how he embodies everything wrong with reactionary politics, an idea that you can just copy a success with a clone who lacks the soul of the original. I criticized the Obama campaign initially because I felt he was too inexperienced as a junior senator to be President.

Herman Cain not only doesn’t have my vote, I hope he goes back to his life before politics because here, he’s a fish out of water that everyone will enjoy for a spell before they throw him back with the others.