Washington Wizards came together while no one was looking

By DERON SNYDER

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

*HOW THE WIZARDS SNUCK UP ON EVERYBODY.

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Hard as it is to believe, Washington is a bonafide contender in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. The metamorphosis happened right before our eyes and we never saw it coming during a wretched 2-8 start under new coach Scott Brooks. But the Wizards are 32-13 since, among the league’s hottest teams and a popular pick to make a deep run.

Regardless, GM Ernie Grunfeld still deserved a pink slip before now.

*WHY MAGIC JOHNSON SEEMS PERFECT FOR HIS NEW JOB.

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Running the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office must have been Johnson’s birthright. He was the face of “Showtime” and helped the NBA to new heights in the ‘80s. Then he became a successful businessman while dabbling in sports. He has a daunting task with the dreadful Lakers, who haven’t more than 27 games since the 2012-13 season.

At least he can’t do worse than when he coached the team (5-11) in 1994.

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Predators in child sex abuse are worst, but concealers a close second

Dr. Larry Nassar

By DERON SNYDER

How do agencies charged with caring for children and youth become so callous?

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In England last year, an “Operation Hydrant” hotline was flooded with calls about coaches’ sex abuse not just in soccer, but in rugby, gymnastics, tennis, swimming and golf as well. In Pennsylvania last week, the arrest of Jeffrey Sandusky re-opened scars caused by his father, Jerry, the convicted pedophile and former Nittany Lions football coach.

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In Connecticut two years ago, the Boys Scouts were slapped with an $11.8 million verdict for sexual abuse and cover-up, with a reference to the organization’s “ineligible volunteer files” (aka, “Perversion Files”), which tracked and concealed allegations of sexual misconduct. In Massachusetts, The Boston Globe won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for revealing a widespread pattern of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that the city’s Archdiocese hid.

The United States Olympic Committee appears to be the latest culprit in a troubling pattern of betrayal: another organization that should protect kids but instead has allowed them to be prey. Various examples exist among the national governing bodies, i.e., USA Swimming, USA Taekwondo, etc. One of the latest — USA Gymnastics — was featured Sunday on “60 Minutes.”

The broadcast follows last summer’s damning report by The Indianapolis Star, which found that USA Gymnastics (USAG) failed to report multiple allegations of sexual abuse by coaches. Such lapses included a Georgia case in which a coach abused young female athletes for seven years after USAG dismissed the first of four warning about him.

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Tradition of White House visits by sports champions enters new era

By DERON SNYDER

Traditions can be tricky as time passes and norms change. Customs that once occurred without a second thought can become questionable and antiquated. Beliefs that once were widely held can be broadly rejected a few generations later.

These shifts take place within families and society in general, most notably in attitudes toward race and gender.

Few individuals, at least publicly, argue in favor of old practices such as segregated restrooms and male-only workplaces. Likewise, the idea of reserving certain positions for white players, or limiting athletic opportunities for women, is no longer standard operating procedure.

Breaking traditions in politics has been all the rage lately and has seeped into sports. Some athletes are more willing to express their views, either by speaking out or kneeling down. Others have made their thoughts known by being elsewhere during team trips to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Not every player who declines an invitation to the White House after a championship does so for political reasons. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison skipped visits under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. “I don’t feel the need to go, actually,” Harrison said in 2009. “I don’t feel like it’s that big a deal to me.”

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that’s how he feels about several players who announced they won’t accompany the team whenever it visits President Donald Trump. It’s not scheduled yet, but the trip will be New England’s fifth in the last 16 years.

“Every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen players don’t go,” Kraft said Monday on the Today Show. “This is the first time it’s gotten any media attention.”

That’s not exactly true.

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KD deserved better from OKC fans and kids deserved a better example

By DERON SNYDER

Pictures that include kids are the most interesting when hate and invective fill an arena, when so-called adults froth at the mouth and hurl vile insults at a fellow human being.

That scene played out Saturday at Oklahoma City when former favorite son Kevin Durant made his first appearance since bolting for Golden State. Cupcake props, “KowarD” T-shirts and all manner of derogatory homemade signs complemented the verbal abuse that Thunder fans dished throughout the game.

“The most vicious things you could say, they said about my son tonight,” Wanda Durant told ESPN after the Warriors’ 130-114 victory. “We poured our heart into this place. Not just him. Our family. This is basketball. This is not whether or not you’re going to make it into heaven.”

Some children seemed genuinely confused, understandably so.

Yes, Durant’s decision to leave was painful, but this is grown-ups’ way of processing pain? This is what mature behavior looks like, compared to antics of spoiled fifth-graders? He’s now a worthless piece of trash, eight seasons as OKC’s pride and joy instantly obliterated by his career choice last summer?

“Daddy, why is everybody being so mean to KD?”

“Well, kids, he doesn’t play for our team anymore; he’s the enemy.”

“But isn’t he the same person we used to love?”

“Go do your homework.”

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Even with restrictions for youth, NFL football not going away soon

By DERON SNYDER

Super Bowl 51 was unlike any other, featuring a historic collapse and unprecedented comeback. The game capped a topsy-turvy NFL season of lackluster TV ratings, uneven play, inconsistent officiating and the usual assortment of issues involving drugs and domestic violence.

However, professional football is part of our national DNA. Even with dips in viewership, NFL games attract as many eyeballs as anything else. Nielsen reports that 172 million people watched at least some portion of Supe 51, making it the most-watched program in television history.

As a multi-billion dollar industry, the NFL is doing fine with a forecast that remains bright for the immediate future. There’s too much money at stake for a precipitous drop in commercial interest and fans have invested too much emotionally and reflexively for steep declines in viewing interest.

But pro football is only a sliver of the game. Like an iceberg, the tip can remain intact while pieces break off beneath the surface.

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Year of sports comebacks represents reality TV at its finest

By DERON SNYDER

One of sports’ greatest debates revolves around the best way to lose. Kind of like the semi-serious, jokingly morbid discussions on preferred methods of death.

Would you rather fall behind quickly and slide onto the wrong side of a blowout, your mind drifting off as the clock winds down, like you swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills?

Or is the choice a taut, competitive contest with lead changes and mood swings throughout, until at the very end you lose in a flash, like a bullet to the temple?

Such deliberations are unnecessary for the victors. The best way to win is “all of the above:” running away early; pulling away late; and seesawing in a nail-biter that’s decided on the last play.

Overcoming or blowing a huge lead seems to occupy a separate category of joy and pain. It contains all the drama of a back-and-forth affair, but it doesn’t start dispensing the tension until we’re convinced none is coming.

Then it’s like an IV drip that was clogged but suddenly opened at full bore.

Sports has delivered an overdose recently.

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Pimping ain’t easy: The seamy side of National Signing Day

By DERON SNYDER

The college football season kicked off Wednesday, at least the portion that delivers a fresh set of rankings to devour. Thousands of high school seniors played their role in feeding the machine, sometimes on live TV, by putting pen to paper for the spectacle that is National Signing Day.

ESPN scheduled live coverage of a dozen players announcing their commitments over the course of the day, from four-star offensive tackle Stephan Zabie (UCLA) in the morning, to five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson (Florida State) in the evening. The network also placed reporters at 16 schools for live reports, in which no coach was displeased with his haul of incoming workers.

Every school’s class is No. 1! Each coach should receive a participation trophy.

The process is disturbing on a number of fronts: the glorification of high school students who play football; the commercialization of college sports; the overemphasis on athletic interests versus academic pursuits; the reinforcement of a grossly unfair, multi-billion dollar system.

I can’t blame the 18-year-olds for being excited as most of them make the biggest decision of their lives to date. Graduating from high school and selecting an institution of higher education can be exceedingly stressful. The ability to finally make your choice official has to be a relief.

Adults are the problem, preying on the emotions of immature teens, providing them with an inflated sense of self-worth and dubious definition of commitment.

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Midseason magic on tap at Verizon Center; hurry while supplies last!

By DERON SNYDER

In the eyes of many, we’re living in an alternate universe filled with alternative facts. But not even that phenomenon fully explains what’s happening in downtown D.C.

The Washington Wizards are the NBA’s hottest team, 11-2 in their last 13 games. They have suffered back-to-back losses just once since Dec. 2. With New York in town Tuesday, Washington is a half-game out of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, which means the Wizards are a threat to host a playoff-series opener for the first time since 1979.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Washington Capitals have taught us better than that.

With the midseason break complete and the second half set to resume, the Caps have the NHL’s best record. All-Stars Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby delivered big plays for the Metropolitan Division on Sunday, just as they’ve been instrumental in Washington’s 13-2 record in the last 15 games. The Caps haven’t lost two straight since Dec. 29.

D.C. sports fans are forgiven for not knowing what to think. Pessimism is our default mindset and it’s totally understandable. Goings-on at Verizon Center never work out quite right for the Wizards or Capitals, who occupy different ends of the spectrum but disappoint nonetheless.

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Laughs for NBA All-Star votes but NFL Pro Bowl is real knee-slapper

By DERON SNYDER

The NBA will announce its All-Star Game reserves on Thursday. I’m going to assume the league’s coaches were serious in voting, a stark contrast to the players, who acted like standup comedians in balloting for the starters.

Having fought for, and won, the right to vote on starting lineups for the first time, players used the opportunity to crack jokes.

Ben Simmons – along with several others who have played as many games as yours truly this season – appeared on ballots. So did luminaries such as Adreian Payne, Pierre Jackson and Bryn Forbes, who have logged fewer than 100 total minutes. Other ballers receiving All-Star nods from peers included Jarell Martin, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and the Wizards’ own Tomas Satorsanky.

There were 154 players who didn’t have a check next to Kevin Durant and 128 players who didn’t circle LeBron James. Only 63 deemed Stephen Curry worthy to be a starting guard for the Western Conference (though to be fair, that omission makes sense considering the mind-boggling exploits of Russell Westbrook and James Harden).

All told, 283 different players received at least one vote on the 324 ballots. Former Washington fan favorite Garrett Temple was among the 98 players who received a single, solitary vote.

“I’m very disappointed in the players,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr told reporters Monday. “They’ve asked for a vote and a lot of them just made a mockery of it. I don’t know what the point is.”

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NFL wants a great Super Bowl, Goodell just wants Falcons to win

By DERON SNYDER

The hope every year is for an entertaining, competitive Super Bowl. But we’re really desperate for one after this postseason stew of stinkers.

Only two of the 10 playoff games were close – Green Bay’s 34-31 thriller over Dallas and Pittsburgh’s 18-16 nail-biter against Kansas City. Every other contest was settled by at least 13 points.

Six of the matchups were decided by 18 points or more, including Sunday’s conference championships when Atlanta and New England advanced by 23 and 19, respectively, against the Packers and Steelers.

For whatever reason, the NFL’s veneer dulled and its invincibility cracked this season. Theories for the decline in TV ratings are plentiful and diverse, encompassing everything from politics and culture to supply and demand. Don’t forget the question of quantity versus quality. Game officials didn’t help, either, calling too many iffy penalties while blowing obvious ones.

Pro football appears to be wounded but it remains the king. According to Nielsen, the Packers-Cowboys tilt Jan. 15 was the most-watched NFL divisional playoff game ever and the most-watched telecast of any kind since last year’s Super Bowl. It drew more viewers – 48.5 million – than Game 7 of the Cubs-Indians World Series (40 million).

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