Another football season, another unnecessary heatstroke death

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MarqueseMeadowBy DERON SNYDER

We took Princess No. 1 to college a couple of Saturdays ago and looked forward to returning for some football games, as she successfully auditioned to be a dancer in the marching band.

Like most parents, we’re simultaneously excited and worried about our 18-year-old freshman being off on her own. Some of the folks she meets on campus will become like siblings to her and more offspring for us. Which means our emotions will be spread and invested in new vessels.

Well, there was a death in the family this week.

None of us knew the young man but it hurts just the same.

Morgan State defensive tackle Marquese Meadow was an 18-year-old freshman who graduated from Friendship Collegiate Academy in northeast D.C. He had cracked the Bears’ two-deep roster and was expected to make the travel team. But he became disoriented after an Aug. 10 practice and died Sunday.

“This is a very difficult time for our football family,” coach Lee Hull said Tuesday on the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s weekly teleconference. “We are very heartbroken by the death of Marquese Meadow. We offer our deepest condolences to Marquese’s family in the wake of this tragedy.

“Marquese was a great young man and a member of this family and was highly respected and loved by his teammates and the coaching staff. He was an unselfish kid and had an incredible gift and a bright future, and he will be deeply missed.”

I can’t shake the feeling that Meadow’s tragic death was totally unnecessary.

He didn’t die from brain trauma like Will McKamey, the 19-year-old Navy freshman who passed away after practice in March. He didn’t die from a genetic heart condition like Jake West, the 17-year-old LaPorte (Ind.) High junior who passed away after practice in September. He didn’t die from asthma, a broken neck, an abdominal injury or a sudden blow to the chest, all of which have claimed the lives of young football players in recent years.

According to the state medical examiner’s office, Meadow died from heatstroke.

That’s the easiest cause of death to defend against, yet it continues to be problematic.

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We now return you to your regularly scheduled program …

JRWAllStarsBy DERON SNYDER

The Jackie Robinson West All-Stars and the Taney Dragons’ Mo’ne Davis have returned home and are preparing for another school year.

Now it’s back to real life.

No more close-ups on national TV. No more cover shots for national magazines. No more interviews from hordes of journalists. The Little League World Series is over and the tournament’s most-talked about sensations can recede from the limelight and resume their lives as ordinary schoolchildren.

Meanwhile, the rest of us return to stark realities that are unchanged and likely to remain static, despite the thrilling exploits that enthralled much of the nation.

MoneDavisCoverGirls all over the country gained a new hero in Mo’ne, the flame-throwing 13-year-old who is the youngest athlete ever featured on Sports Illustrated’s cover. But she wouldn’t have become an overnight sensation and helped ESPN capture record ratings if she was mowing down females instead of males. The pecking order is still in place.

Chicago, home of the all-black JRW All-Stars, is still fraught with danger for those African-American boys, who likely know victims of the city’s rampant gun violence. Even if the players make it out, the threat of racial profiling and over-aggressive policing is a concern that poses another type of health risk.

Major League Baseball is still losing the fight to draw more Jackie Robinsons, Hank Aarons and Ken Griffeys to the sport. Only 8.3 percent of players on Opening Day rosters this season were African-American; according to research by Mark Armour of the Society of American Baseball Research, that number reached an all-time high of 19 percent in 1986.

Maybe you want to argue that JRW and Mo’ne at least are steps in the right direction.

In winning the U.S. championship before falling to international champ South Korea, JRW resembled a flashback to pre-integration days. The team showed what’s possible for youngsters who embrace the game at an early age.

Likewise, Mo’ne stretched the limits of our imagination regarding the fairer sex, as she became the first female to pitch a shutout in the LLWS. In her final outing, a loss against offensive juggernaut Nevada, she struck out six batters in 2-1/3 innings. Her poise and presence was remarkable for any young player, any gender.

So plaudits for JRW and Mo’ne are well-deserved.

But they’re also part of a larger problem – the overemphasis, glorification and commercialization of youth sports.

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Cheer the Turtle: Maryland helps lead way into new era

Maryland AD Kevin Anderson

Maryland AD Kevin Anderson

By DERON SNYDER

The football program has failed to blast off under fourth-year coach Randy Edsall and the men’s basketball program has a shaky trajectory under fourth-year coach Mark Turgeon.

The women’s basketball team has excelled in 12 seasons under coach Brenda Frese, with a national title, two Final Fours, four Elite Eights and seven Sweet 16s in the books.

It’s too bad that owning dominant women’s hoops program doesn’t earn much cred at the Power 5 table in college sports.

But the University of  Maryland elevated its stature to become a big-time player Tuesday, in an area that’s more important than won-loss records and unrelated to championships. In one bold move, the Terrapins jumped to the forefront of intercollegiate athletics.

Suddenly, the Terps are helping to lead the discussion in the midst of an evolving landscape.

The national conversation rarely includes any sports outside of football and basketball. But Maryland has gone all-in on all of them. Not just the revenue producers, but also the other 16 sports (six for men, 10 for women) that athletic director Kevin Anderson shepherds.

“When we got together and developed the strategic plan for our department, it was very clear from the beginning that we’re committed to all of our student-athletes,” Anderson said in a phone interview after Maryland announced it will offer guaranteed athletic scholarships for life beginning next year.

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Notre Dame ‘scandal’ minor unless school personnel involved

NotreDameScandalBy DERON SNYDER

One form of cheating in school has been around forever.

“Hey, I don’t have last night’s homework. Can I copy yours?”

Another old favorite entails whispering across the aisle during a test: “Psst, what’s the answer to No. 5?”

The student who neglects to complete his work or properly prepare for an exam might have a good excuse for being in that situation. But those remedies are all wrong. Meanwhile, the other pupil faces a moral crossroad, with the option to bail him out or let him sink.

When classmates are caught in the act of accepting or offering lifelines, the consequence should be identical.

“If two students want to share the same work, then they can share the same grade,” says my lovely wife, Vanessa, a 15-year veteran teacher who gives both participants an ‘F’ under those circumstances. Her approach, not uncommon among educators, is included in some schools’ official code of conduct.

We have no idea how often such peer-to-peer assistance goes undetected in education. But it’s a good bet that athletes are involved when cases come to light on college campuses. Academic cheating can have devastating effects on athletic departments, leading to postseason bans, loss of scholarships and vacated wins.

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RG3 vs. Cousins no QB controversy … at least for now

RG3CousinsBy DERON SNYDER

Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:

*How we know which quarterback will be better long-term.

There’s no controversy because Washington yielded several firstborns for Robert Griffin III and he won Rookie of the Year. Kirk Cousins is a fourth-rounder with a 1-3 record as a starter. It won’t be here, but eventually Cousins will be a No. 1 and show how he compares. If Griffin can’t progress as a pocket passer or stay healthy, who knows?

Put your money on RG3, but don’t bet the house.

*Why more coaches aren’t truthful about dishonesty.

Asked about recruiting, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen told reporters Monday, “… I know you lie in recruiting a bunch, and that’s just part of it. You become a salesman. … Our job is to get guys on campus.” Later, a spokesman said the coach was joking. It didn’t sound like one, but thanks for clearing that up!

Next time a coach says he’ll never leave, we’ll still believe him.

*How the Wizards won’t have a merry Christmas.

Playing the Knicks on Dec. 25 instead of enjoying the holiday like most of us won’t be all bad, because it cements the Wizards’ arrival as a near- marquee team. John Wall/Brad Beal on the U.S. men’s team would’ve raised the Wizards’ national profile even higher, but winning in the playoffs and adding Paul Pierce have done the job just fine.

Besides, playing my beloved, hometown Knicks is almost a guaranteed win.

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Road rage and race cars a deadly combination

Tony Stewart confronts Matt Kenseth in 2012.

Tony Stewart confronts Matt Kenseth in 2012.

By DERON SNYDER

The first TV story that caught my eye Sunday morning, before I absorbed the scroll about a racing accident in upstate New York, was about a guy named Lonnie Bissonnette.

He recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of his BASE jump off the Perrine Bridge, in Twin Falls, Idaho, by returning to the scene for another leap. Except this time he was in the wheelchair he’s been in ever since the first visit left him paralyzed when his parachute malfunctioned.

Crazy, right? Whatever it is that causes someone to voluntarily fling himself off a structure 500 feet high, I’m glad it’s not contagious.

After watching Bissonnette’s successful jump – wheelchair and all – I focused on the news from Canandaigua, N.Y., where 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed during a sprint car race. That sounded normal enough until realizing that Ward was a pedestrian when three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart struck him.

Auto racing is another extreme-type sport in which the thrill (and danger) of participation seems to be reward enough for competitors. We’ve come to accept the fact that death is a realistic outcome in such activities, whether it’s crashing to earth or crashing into a wall.

Though both sports require a person to be, you know, a little nuts by normal standards, BASE jumping lives primarily on YouTube. Auto racing is on cable and free TV constantly.

The loss of life on a racetrack is tragic under any circumstances, but this instance is particularly sad because it has nothing to do with racing, per se. Instead, it has everything to do with the macho, tough-guy posturing that exists in the sport’s undercurrent.

That’s what led Ward to leave his vehicle after a wreck and walk onto the track to express his displeasure with Stewart.

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Becky Hammon hire another step in Spurs’ unique path

Becky HammonBy DERON SNYDER

Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs continue to make the rest of the NBA look bad.

That’s not the intention, though. It’s simply a result of doing their job to the best of their ability.

Overseas, the Spurs were at the forefront of international scouting, among the first organizations to capitalize on the vast, untapped potential in foreign talent. San Antonio broke its own record last season by employing 10 players born outside the U.S. They even made waves on the coaching staff last month, adding European legend Ettore Messina.

On the court, Popovich has built a well-oiled system that works beautifully with interchangeable parts. He was fined by former commissioner David Stern two years ago for sending four of the Spurs’ top five scorers home before a national TV game in Miami; the Heat needed a late three-pointer to eke out a narrow victory.

At the negotiating table, San Antonio has found a way to keep its Big Three happy and intact for more than 13 years. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli have signed multiple contracts to their liking, while the team reserved enough money for a solid supporting cast at a reasonable price, creating a culture of “we’re-all-in-this-together.”

There wasn’t much more the Spurs could do to separate themselves from fellow NBA teams … unless you’re talking about winning more championships.

But like it or not, the franchise moved further from the pack Tuesday when it added Becky Hammon to the staff, making her the first female full-time assistant coach in NBA history.

It would be fantastic if we could look at Hammon’s credentials as a six-time WNBA All-Star and consider nothing else. Clearly she’s got game, named one of the league’s all-time Top 15 players in 2011, ranking fourth in assists, sixth in games and seventh in points on the career lists.

Surely that’s all Pop took into account. You sense that he would hire the first Martian assistant coach if it helped the cause. He didn’t mention Hammon’s gender in a press release because it’s irrelevant to him.

“Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs,” he said in a statement.

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Service academies should lead fight against athletes’ sexual violence

air-force-football_lanc_s877x572By DERON SNYDER

Perception and reality are not always aligned, a fact that can lead to sweeping generalizations and stereotypes based on class, race and gender.

You know, like jocks are less-gifted in the classroom and fraternity members are hardcore drinkers. Both groups also have been known to display penchants for sexual harassment and/or assault.

They share that last trait with the military, which apparently creates a trifecta at the U.S. academies, where athletes form a fraternity-of-sorts amid their fellow future service members.

The latest case in point comes from an extensive investigation by the Colorado Springs Gazette, revealing that Air Force Academy cadets, “including a large a core of top football players, smoked synthetic marijuana, drank themselves sick and may have used date-rape drugs to incapacitate women for sexual assault” at parties dating to 2010.

Students at the Air Force Academy, West Point and the Naval Academy are supposed to be different. They’re supposed to adhere to honor codes and higher behavior standards befitting of officers in our armed forces.

It might not be the case on other college campuses, but “character” is supposed to be more than a cliché when you’ll don your country’s uniform upon graduation.

But according to the Gazette’s investigation – based on hundreds of pages of Air Force documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as dozens of interviews – the academy’s culture was so wild, “leaders cancelled a planned 2012 sting out of concern that undercover agents and confidential informants at a party wouldn’t be enough to protect women from rape.”

Academy officials opened an investigation that looked into 32 cadets, including 16 football players and several other athletes. According to academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, nine of the football players and 17 of the cadets overall never made it to graduation, either dismissed or resigning on their own.

Sad but true – we’d be less surprised at such a report if it came from a traditional football powerhouse in the Southeastern or Big 12 conferences.

We’re so accustomed to inappropriate and illegal activities at bastions of big-time college sports, we grow numb with each new tale. We have lumped and labeled the best athletes as walking time bombs, capable of going off at any moment and landing on the police blotter.

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The countdown for Kevin Durant’s homecoming has begun

KevinDurantBy DERON SNYDER

Did you hear the news?

Kevin Durant is coming home!

Two years from now!

Maybe.

Unless the rampant speculation and search for clues kills us first.

Durant, a four-time NBA scoring champ and D.C. native, made waves Tuesday at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas. All it took was speaking openly and honestly about perhaps joining the Wizards as a free agent in 2016.

“Kevin Durant feels tug to return home to Washington after LeBron James’ decision,” read a headline on Yahoo Sports.

USA Today wondered, “Could Kevin Durant be the next NBA star to head home?”

ESPN noted what Wizards fans hope is a telltale sentiment: “Kevin Durant: LeBron move ‘classy.’”

Bleacher Report put it all together: “Stay or go? Two years out, Kevin Durant is already weighing his options.”

Can we survive 24 months of this? Just another dozen would be excruciating. And we have the easy part here in D.C.; imagine Oklahoma City’s rising angst.

Such conjecture is unavoidable in today’s micro-instant environment. The continuous news cycle demands to be fed and it’s hardly a picky eater.

Junk food is just fine.

It’s not Durant’s fault that folks in D.C. and OKC are getting worked up about something that might or might not happen two summers from now. It’s not his fault that he’s asked to predict his feelings and thoughts in 2016, with no knowledge of events that will transpire before then.

And you can’t blame him for speaking on the unknown. Keeping his mouth shut wouldn’t quell the fire because everyone else is fanning the flames.

“It’s being talked about,” Durant told reporters Tuesday after Team USA’s practice. “Everybody is asking me about it every time I go on Instagram or Twitter. All my friends ask me about it. I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m naïve to the fact that people think about that stuff.”

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Steroid Era feats still warrant Hall of Fame consideration

BarryBondsBy DERON SNYDER

There is no magic eraser.

Though we’d love to blot out certain actions and periods from our past, history is written in indelible ink. Pretending that something never happened, or ignoring its existence, doesn’t lead to progress.

Changed behavior and better decisions lead to progress.

Baseball today isn’t the same sport I covered fulltime from 1991-2000. Neither slugging statistics nor sluggers’ bodies are as big. It took an act of Congress and a rare concession from the players union, but the industry has moved beyond the Steroid Era.

However, our recollections remain. Not to mention the records.

Barry Bonds’ 73 homers. Roger Clemens’ last four Cy Young awards. The 136 round-trippers between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the Great Home Run Race of 1998.

Some fans sneer at the mention of those names – Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa – the era’s Four Horsemen. They’re the players who ruined baseball while simultaneously making it more popular, the cheaters who disgraced the game while making everyone involved richer.

But their feats will never go away and we’ll never forget, no matter how hard baseball wishes. We can’t look back on the sport and don a blindfold from the late ‘80s to the late 2000s. That period is as much a part of baseball as the Deadball Era and Segregation Era.

If Bonds and Clemens don’t belong in the Hall of Fame (maybe McGwire, too), we’re fooling ourselves in attempting to punish them.

“Treat them all the same,” former manager Tony La Russa told ESPN last week, prior to his induction Sunday. “If you were a Hall of Famer during that period as far as your pitching and playing, I would create some kind of asterisk, where everybody understands that, ‘Look, we have some questions, but you were still the dominant pitchers and players of your time.’

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