By DERON SNYDER
“If I can help somebody, as I travel along
“If I can help somebody, with a word or song
“If I can help somebody, from doing wrong
“No, my living shall not be in vain”
Those lyrics, sung by gospel legend Mahalia Jackson and later paraphrased by Martin Luther King Jr. in the “Drum Major Instinct” – the speech that ultimately served as his own eulogy – are the roots of activism. They can bear bountiful fruit among the rich and famous who easily could lead selfish, self-centered and self-serving lives, totally unconcerned about conditions outside their privileged circle.
Hollywood has produced its fair share of activists, from Charlton Heston and Elizabeth Taylor to Samuel L. Jackson and Ronald Reagan. The music industry also has delivered a list of issue-driven advocates, from Barbara Streisand to Bono and Willie Nelson to Harry Belafonte. TV stars have leaped off the small screen to fight for causes, too, from Oprah Winfrey and Jesse Williams to Michael J. Fox and Dennis Miller.
The fourth pillar of our celebrity culture – sports – doesn’t make room for the outspoken as easily.
There have been notable exceptions, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, but athletes traditionally have been encouraged to limit their public comments to sports, period. Refraining from social and political commentary supposedly is better for their team and their career, even more when their thoughts run contrary to prevailing views in owners’ suites.
No one was bigger or kept quiet longer than Michael Jordan. (OK, maybe Tiger Woods).
But that ended Monday when Jordan released a statement on “the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse as of late. “I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent,” he said. “We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.”
By DERON SNYDER
Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:
*HOW THE OLYMPIC VILLAGE IS ALREADY A DUMP.
According to the Australian delegation, the athletes’ housing in Rio is swell … aside from “blocked toilets, leaking pipes and exposed wiring.” The Aussies were scheduled to move in on Sunday but deemed their accommodations unfit for occupancy. Rio mayor Eduardo Paes wants to assist: “I almost feel like putting a kangaroo to jump up and down in front of their building,” he said.
Not even “Baghdad Bob” could help Brazil’s public relations.
*WHY CHRIS SALE DOESN’T OPEN UP A TAILORING SHOP.
If you’ve seen the Chicago White Sox’s 1976 throwback jerseys, you understand Sale’s urge to mutilate them. The ace was scratched from Saturday’s start and suspended, reportedly for cutting the spread-collared tops. GM Rick Hahn charged Sale with violating team rules, insubordination and destroying team equipment. “There is a correct and incorrect way to express concerns about team rules and organizational expectations,” Hahn said.
True. You can’t become Edward Scissorhands whenever you like.
*HOW HALL OF FAME VOTERS HANDLE SUSPECTED PED USERS.
Mike Piazza was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, one year after Craig Biggio. Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round with the 1,390th pick, ahead of only five other players. Biggio hit 14 homers between the ages of 24 and 26 but had seven 20-homer campaigns starting at age 27. Both have denied steroids accusations. There is no proof of guilt or innocence.
Sounds like the majority of players from the Steroids Era.
*WHY OTHER SPORTS WON’T FOLLOW THE NBA’S LEAD.
By DERON SNYDER
Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA team owners say they want to avoid the creation of “super teams.” They want franchises like Oklahoma City to keep their homegrown stars like Kevin Durant. They want great players distributed instead of clustered like in Golden State.
I want a new basement, a four-year full ride for my youngest child and a large lump-sum payment via direct deposit.
In my case, as with the league, the emphasis is on what we “want,” which has nothing to do with what we actually “need.”
I can survive with the basement as is, cobble together funds for Sequoia’s college education and make do with my current income. Likewise, the NBA will continue to thrive with star-studded teams, outposts that are less desirable than others and clear-cut heavy favorites such as the Warriors.
“Just be absolutely clear, I do not think that’s ideal from the league standpoint,” Silver told reporters last week about Durant joining Golden State.
Here’s what’s not ideal from many players’ standpoint: Spending their entire career in places like Oklahoma City, Sacramento or Milwaukee.
By DERON SNYDER
Aside from the flock of lawyers clocking copious billable hours, perhaps no one was more disappointed than I when quarterback Tom Brady ended his epic battle against Roger Goodell. Although the NFL commissioner always holds the upper hand in these slugfests with players, he often exits with marks and bruises.
Watching him absorb punishment adds to the NFL’s entertainment value. Yucks are about the only thing Goodell is good for. Brady’s decision to forgo a Supreme Court appeal in Deflategate deprives us of more at the commish’s expense.
The NFL’s “case” isn’t any less laughable just because the future Hall-of-Famer decided enough is enough. Brady’s reluctance acceptance of a four-game suspension is still based on junk science, nebulous findings and a power-crazed NFL lifer whose toolkit contains a hammer and nothing else.
By DERON SNYDER
There’s a universe of difference between Isiah Crowell’s recent action and the action four Minnesota Lynx players, as stark as the contrast between death and life.
The Cleveland Browns halfback posted a despicable graphic that depicts the brutal killing of a police officer. The WNBA ballers wore T-shirts that read “Change starts with us. Justice & accountability” on the front, and “Black Lives Matter” on the back, along with the names of two African-American men killed by police last week and the Dallas Police Department emblem.
Despite the wide gulf between Crowell’s since-deleted Instagram post and the players’ attire, four off-duty police officers working the Lynx game at Target Center were outraged by the latter. They found the message to be so offensive, they walked off the job Saturday night.
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the union that represents Minneapolis’ rank-and-file officers, praised the officers for quitting. “I commend them for it,” he told the Star Tribune. “Rushing to judgement before the facts are in is unwarranted and reckless.”
I might counter that abandoning your post over philosophical disagreements is unwarranted and reckless, especially in light of T-shirts but even in egregious examples such as a drawing of a police officer’s throat being cut.
Crowell’s graphic is indefensible and reprehensible, repugnant and irresponsible. The image is terribly disturbing, with blood gushing from the wound, and it can’t be condemned enough, OK?
That said, we enter a dangerous, slippery slope if police officers refuse to do their job based on one individual’s behavior. The president of Cleveland’s police union put that threat on the table unless Crowell goes to Dallas, donates to the slain officers’ families and issues a heartfelt apology.
By DERON SNYDER
To sign or not to sign? That’s the question.
The answer at this point: What’s the rush?
Washington and quarterback Kirk Cousins had an entire offseason to agree on a long-term contract. If they don’t come to terms by July 15, Cousins will play the upcoming season under the NFL’s franchise tag, forced to make due with a $19.95 million salary.
That sounds like a great deal for Cousins, a raise of about $19.25 million from last season.
No wonder he’s so nonchalant about the impasse in negotiations.
Pro Football Talk reports that the sides have given up on beating the deadline, content to ride out 2016 with a one-year deal. “Captain Kirk” fans might view that as a disappointment. They’re eager for Washington to end the quarterback search that dates to RFK Stadium’s glory days. In their minds, Cousins stated his case by leading a four-game win streak down the stretch as Washington unexpectedly reached the playoffs.
General manager Scot McCloughan has said all the right things about keeping Cousins in burgundy-and-gold for the foreseeable future. He assures everyone that the record-breaking QB wants to remain with the team and the feeling is mutual. It’s been a veritable lovefest.
Except at the negotiating table, where the clock hits 0:00 on Friday and re-sets after the 2016 season.
If that scenario is perfectly fine with McCloughan, that should suffice for Washington fans.
You can’t subscribe to “In Scot We Trust” while questioning his wait-and-see approach with Cousins. McCloughan wants to see an encore as much as anyone and he’s willing to pay for it after the fact – even if the price goes up.
“I’m OK with that,” McCloughan told Bleacher Report in April. “Let me overpay him if he’s good. If you have a productive guy (at quarterback), it helps everything and it proves out.”
By DERON SNYDER
We can debate the merits of fan balloting for the MLB All-Star Game, whether popularity or merit should determine which players get the nod.
We can argue about the appropriateness of mandating a representative from every team, which requires the snubbing of several worthwhile candidates.
And we can fuss over the format and participants in the Home Run Derby, boosted by new rules but still struggling to draw some of baseball’s biggest names.
Or we can sit back and enjoy the Mid-Summer Classic for what it is, still the best pickup game among the four major team sports.
The contest will always hold a special place in my heart because my first child was born during an All-Star Game. I remember watching on a hospital TV – of course, with the sound all the way down – as my wife’s contractions came closer and closer together. That was 20 years ago, but I remember like it was yesterday.
The same goes for the first All-Star Game I ever attended, on assignment for USA Today Baseball Weekly. Then-Boston Red Sox rookie Nomar Garciaparra had agreed to do a first-person diary for us, as-told-to yours truly. It was hard to tell which first-timer’s eyes were wider, his or mine.
Unfortunately, I won’t be in attendance next Tuesday when the All-Star Game is held in San Diego, where the weather and fish tacos make it one of America’s best cities. But seven Cubs – nearly one-third of the roster – will be there, including the entire infield.
In a year when the city of Cleveland ended its long championship drought, the Cubs are baseball’s feel-good story, threatening to end their 107-year streak of futility. They own MLB’s best record, the NL’s top vote-getter (first baseman Anthony Rizzo) and baseball’s coolest manager this side of Dusty Baker (Joe Maddon).
That’s no excuse for Cubs fans voting in shortstop Addison Russell, making Chicago only the second team to have all four starting infielders. But that can happen when your team hasn’t won since 1908 but is the current odds-on favorite in Las Vegas.
The 1963 St. Louis Cardinals – featuring first baseman Bill White, second baseman Julian Javier, third baseman Ken Boyer and shortstop Dick Groat – are the only other team to have all four starters around the horn. “It’s pretty impressive because as a kid, I was blown away by that,” Maddon told reporters. “Any 9-year-old seeing this Cubs infield go, I’d like to believe they felt exactly as I felt in 1963.”
Young Nats fans probably feel some kind of way about Bryce Harper, making his third career All-Star game and fourth appearance overall in his five seasons as a major-leaguer. He leads a quartet of Nationals players, including MVP candidate Daniel Murphy, Cy Young candidate Stephen Strasburg and slugging catcher Wilson Ramos, tying Washington with Miami for second-most NL representatives.
Murphy fell 88 votes short of starting at second base. He was beaten out by Chicago’s Ben Zobrist, the Nats’ first choice during the offseason before they “settled” for Murphy. Through Tuesday, the former Mets player merely led the NL in batting average and hits while ranking among the top three in total bases, slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging.
“The guys that are headed there, I think they deserve to be headed there,” Baker told reporters. “I would have liked to have seen Max Scherzer make it and I would have liked to have seen Danny Espinosa. But Danny came on kind of late for the voting. I’m sure he’s on the radar in people’s minds for next year.”
Espinosa is coming off a week like none other (for an All-Star or even a Hall of Famer), batting .423 with 17 RBI and five home runs – including homers from both sides of the plate in separate games. He led the Nats in four-baggers through Tuesday, edging out Harper, 18-17.
Harper is one of the faces of baseball, among the game’s most marketable stars. He’s tied for 13th in home runs but has no desire to hit some big flies during the Home Run Derby in San Diego. That’s a huge disappointment to baseball officials and many fans, but the contest simply isn’t his thing at this point.
“I just don’t want to, plain and simple,” he told reporters. I just want to enjoy my time, sit on the side and watch it a little bit. I enjoyed watching [Todd] Frazier win it last year, and I just don’t feel like doing it.”
I don’t blame him, especially if he fears the contest might mess up his swing afterward. Better for him to relax and take it easy outside of the contest itself. That’s enough.
Unlike versions in the NBA (no defense), NFL (no tackling) and NHL (3-on-3), baseball’s All-Star Game bears the closest resemblance to the regular product. We can haggle over who’s in it, how they’re selected and which ancillary events surround the main event.
It’s still crazy that home field in the World Series rides on the outcome. But we can just sit back, enjoy and prepare for the second half of the season.
The All-Star break remains a breath of fresh air.
By DERON SNYDER
Timing isn’t everything in life. But it certainly helps. Getting in at the start of, say, Google or Amazon, is much different from getting in now.
Part of timing is dumb luck; another part is strategic thinking. Choosing to enter one field versus another, for instance, education versus engineering, is also a choice between divergent levels of expected income.
Put it all together – being in the right place/industry at the right time – and you have NBA free agency 2016.
The spending spree that rocked sports since Friday is a simple case of economics and market forces. The reaction from many observers is also a simple matter: They’re angry, envious and bitter because NBA players struck it rich instead of them.
I wish it was me, too, but I don’t begrudge the players for enjoying their windfall. They put themselves in position and they’re reaping the benefits. I couldn’t be happier for them.
Do they deserve it? Absolutely.
Are they overpaid? Perhaps, but not to the same degree as CEOs and team owners.
Players are the labor, the talent, the attraction. Always remember that no matter how big a player’s paycheck, the person who signs the check has a bigger bank account. That’s why the outrage against NBA free-agent spending makes no sense … unless you believe management should keep most of the money that players bring in.
ESPN/TNT didn’t agree to a nine-year, $24 billion TV deal to watch Mark Cuban, James Dolan and other owners sit in courtside seats. The networks are dishing out that loot for the rights to broadcast nightly exploits by LeBron James, Steph Curry, et al.
By DERON SNYDER
Some Nationals fans who are Generation X and millennials might not understand the cultural reference of calling the team’s latest pitching phenom “Cool Hand Luke.”
Nearly 50 years have elapsed since Paul Newman starred in the classic prison drama about a convict who refuses to conform. But Lucas “Luke” Jackson remains one of the most assured and composed characters that Hollywood ever produced.
It’s far too early to make long-term predictions about Lucas Giolito, the Nats’ rookie pitcher who made his major-league debut Tuesday. However, based on everything we’ve seen and heard to this point – including four rain-shortened innings in which he allowed one hit and zero runs against the New York Mets – Giolito is ready-made for the nickname.
“The thing that impressed me most was that I saw him so relaxed,” catcher Wilson Ramos told reporters. “At no moment did I sense that he was feeling pressure in any way. He was locating his pitches very well and attacking the zone. And then I was very surprised to see how relaxed his composure was out on the mound.”
He had plenty of time to relax during a 55-minute rain delay prior to his first pitch. But the wait could’ve worked against him, too, allowing nerves to build and anxiousness to mount. Giolito is widely considered the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball and he was replacing injured Stephen Strasburg, who captivated MLB and D.C. in his debut six years ago.
By DERON SNYDER
Brandon Jennings rolled the dice and won in 2009 when Milwaukee chose him with the 10th pick of the NBA Draft. Emmanuel Mudiay made a similar gamble and came out on top last year when Denver picked him at No. 7.
Neither player spent a second in college before landing in the lottery, working around the NBA rule designed to prevent prep-to-pro scenarios. Instead of toiling for one season at the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world, Jennings and Mudiay bounced overseas, where they played in Italy and China, respectively.
Last week brought us the curious case of Thon Maker. He took his chances and watched them pay off – though only figuratively in this instance – when Toronto selected him out of Orangeville Prep with the 10th pick.
We haven’t seen a draft pick enter the NBA directly out of high school, with no professional experience in-between, since the class of 2005. But the league doesn’t list Maker’s last stop as “Orangeville Prep;” that would be too jarring.
No, NBA.com lists “Athlete Institute (Canada)” as Maker’s prior “Club/Team.” That makes his experience sound a lot more international, like 18-year-old Dragan Bender, drafted fourth overall out of “Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv (Israel).”
Maker qualified for the draft by exposing a newly dubbed “prep school loophole” that has caused consternation among college hoops aficionados. The 7-1 power forward met the age requirement to be drafted (19) and successfully argued that he’s two years removed from high school but stuck around for an extra season at Orangeville Prep, aka Athlete Institute.
Fifth-year high school seniors aren’t uncommon when players need more time to improve their grades before entering college. But Maker is the first to use a year of prep school in lieu of a year on campus before entering the draft.