By DERON SNYDER
We use sports as a respite, a means of escape from real-life issues that can keep us awake at night.
However, although there are plenty of other forums to tackle potential third-rail topics such as politics, religion, socioeconomics, race and pop culture, our fun-and-games become a platform time and again. With good reason.
Athletes, coaches, team owners and league officials don’t live in a vacuum. Regardless of their occupations, they’re no different than cabbies and construction workers or accountants and architects. Everyone has a position when controversies swirl.
Being affiliated with sports doesn’t mean you disconnect from everything else around you.
Which brings us to Indianapolis, site of the men’s Final Four this year (and in 2021), not to mention the women’s Final Four in 2016, the annual Big Ten championship football game, the annual NFL scouting combine and a number of big-ticket affairs.
It’s a given that Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin and Michigan State will play at Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend. But other high-profile events might consider relocating from Indiana due to the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which apparently gives businesses the right to deny service if someone’s sexual orientation is contrary to the business owners’ religious belief.
If you think sports and politics and sports and religion shouldn’t mix, get over it. We have witnessed such correlations at least since Olympian Jesse Owens taught Adolf Hitler a lesson on false ideology 1936.
Eighty years later, the world is 80,000 times more connected. Church and state are about the only things that remain separated and even that’s a stretch.
So forget about detaching the world of sports from its social and political environs. Especially for colleges, which are charged with educating young minds and keeping them open.
“The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committee to providing an inclusive environment for all our events,” president Mark Emmert said in a statement last week. “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.
“We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending (the Final Four) are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”
By DERON SNYDER
Nearly 20 years ago, a young athlete was predicted to have quite the impact on mankind.
“Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” Earl Woods told Sports Illustrated in 1996, after the magazine named his son Sportsman of the Year. The proud papa declared that Tiger Woods would out-do Buddha, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela because “he has a larger forum than any of them.”
Tiger hasn’t come close to reaching that far-out forecast.
Right now, you could argue that he trails a 13-year-old girl.
Mo’ne Davis is no more likely than Woods to found a major religion, lead a political revolution or win a Nobel Peace Prize. But the Little League star just taught a powerful lesson on compassion and forgiveness, done so well that grown-ups are struggling to comprehend it.
An ignoramus named Joey Casselberry, who played for Bloomsburg University’s baseball team, defamed Davis last week with a vile reference in a since-deleted tweet – “Disney is making a movie about Mo’ne Davis? WHAT A JOKE. That slut got rocked by Nevada.” That sparked a flurry of shocked and angry responses on social media, roasting him for degrading someone who has done nothing wrong since pitching a shutout in the Little League World Series and becoming a celebrity last summer.
The outrage led Casselberry to quickly apologize, tweeting “I couldn’t be more sorry about my actions … I please ask you to [f]orgive me and truly understand that I am in no way shape or form a sexist and I am a huge fan of Mo’ne. She was quite an inspiration.”
Bloomsburg University wasn’t impressed and dismissed Casselberry from the team.
Remarkably, Davis asked for forgiveness on the dolt’s behalf, emailing the school to petition for his reinstatement.
“Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves a second chance,” she told ESPN. “I know he didn’t mean it in that type of way, and I know a lot of people get tired of seeing me on TV, but sometimes you’ve just gotta think about what you’re doing before you actually do it.
“It hurt on my part, but he hurt even more. If it was me, I would want to take that back. I know how hard he’s worked. Why not give him a second chance?”
By DERON SNYDER
Amateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA. Maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority. In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second.
I left off the quotation marks in an attempt to keep a straight face while telling a whopper. Consider it deadpan in print. But the above comes word-for-word from the NCAA website.
That must be the idyllic concept that President Barack Obama referenced during a weekend interview with The Huffington Post. Like many opponents, he argues that players can’t receive anything in addition to scholarships because they’re amateurs.
“In terms of compensation, I think the challenge would just then start being, do we really want to just create a situation where there are bidding wars? Obama asked. “How much does a Anthony Davis get paid as opposed to somebody else? And that I do think would ruin the sense of college sports.”
I’m not sure if his bracket is busted but his reasoning is cracked. Such illogic is the most annoying aspect of March Madness.
The quaint notions of amateur athletes who are students first MIGHT apply at the 450 schools in Division III or the 300 schools in Division II. But those schools have no role in the NCAA’s $11 billion contract with CBS and Turner Sports.
“This is an important day for intercollegiate athletics and the 400,000 student athletes who compete in NCAA sports,” then-interim NCAA president Jim Isch said in April 2010 when the deal was announced. “This agreement will provide on average more than $740 million annually to our conference and member schools to help student-athletes in 23 sports learn and compete.”
Put another way, about 399,200 student-athletes are benefiting from the 800 men’s basketball players who participate in the NCAA tournament each year. Based on Isch’s statement, those players generate on average about $925,000 to the cause each year.
Yet, the NCAA would have us believe that – aside from talent level – these players are no different than their intramural counterparts on campus.
By DERON SNYDER
I really hope Jameis Winston goes through with reported plans to not attend the NFL draft April 30.
Not that there’s anything wrong with players wanting to celebrate that once-in-a-lifetime occasion, a moment they worked toward for the better part of their lives. I understand why young men in that position are anxious to make the trip and see the sights, eager for a taste of red-carpet festivities that dwarf their college experience.
There’s nothing wrong if Winston wants to be there. He has every right – regardless of the rape accusations that never led to criminal charges – and he should enjoy his walk across the stage if desired.
But the drumbeat of critics who suggest he’s obligated to show up is getting on my nerves. I’ve heard that he’s making a huge mistake, it’s important for him to be there and he owes it to the league. One commentator said skipping the draft wouldn’t reflect well on Winston’s image.
Plenty of things would hurt Winston in the public eye. His absence from the NFL’s contrived TV show isn’t one of them.
In fact, it would be refreshing if a player of such status – he’s projected to be the No. 1 pick – decided he’d rather skip the hoopla and celebrate in comfortable surroundings with family and friends instead.
The spotlight would be just as bright. TV cameras can capture the player’s immediate reaction and he can conduct interviews while reclining on the couch. The next day, he can fly to his new city for official introductions, a news conference and sessions with local media. Rookie mini-camp would begin the following week and draft night would fade into a distant memory.
The potential decision can’t be separated from the player in question. But if imagine if No. 1 pick Andrew Luck opted to sit out the faux drama in 2012.
We wouldn’t have a picture of him and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell holding a No. 12 Colts jersey. Nor would we have a shot of Luck holding the jersey while surrounded by his mother, father, sisters and brother.
Luck and the league might not have survived without those moments.
When the Browns selected Wisconsin’s Joe Thomas with the third pick of the 2007 draft, the offensive lineman was fishing with his father on Lake Michigan. How’d that work out?
By DERON SNYDER
Ladies and gentlemen, start your pool party.
Nothing brings co-workers together like a good ol’ NCAA tournament bracket. In fact, aside from the Super Bowl’s magnetic pull on non-fans and folks with casual NFL interest, March Madness is the most-unifying force in American sports (sorry, World Cup).
The four-month regular season is like an exceedingly long drive to a resort banquet, where conference tournaments serve as the appetizer. Most of us haven’t watched one second of America East hoops, but we savored Albany punching its third consecutive ticket while denying Stony Brook its first ever trip to the NCAA tournament. An offensive rebound was tipped to the top of the key, where a 3-point heave secured the 51-50 win with 1.6 seconds remaining.
Those do-or-die games from one-bid conferences can be scrumptous. Though it doesn’t hold a tournament, the Ivy League got a taste this year via Harvard’s 53-51 victory in a one-game playoff against Yale.
But now our attention turns to the main course, a delectable buffet that annually ranges from chef’s surprise (upsets preceding the Sweet 16) to prime rib (high seeds reaching the Final Four).
As usual, the spread contains odd and exotic dishes such as Lafayette Leopards, North Florida Ospreys, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers and UC-Irvine Anteaters. Picking one of those to last past the first round might be fun, but it’s likely to leave you empty-handed.
(And don’t me started on the NCAA’s insistence that the “first round” begins Tuesday and the “second round” begins Thursday. You mean 64 teams have first-round byes? Please. It’s a bad joke. The only thing these unconvincing labels do is change historical references: Instead of saying Georgetown has suffered first-round losses in three of its four tourneys, we have to say the Hoyas lost in the Round of 64 – as if that obscures the reality.)
The most popular choices on the menu are written in chalk, never a bad choice. Of the last 30 champions, 22 were seeded No. 1 or No.2. Of the last eight champions, six were No.1 seeds.
This year’s tournament comes down to Kentucky vs. The Field. If you’re a Vegas wise guy, take the other 67 teams. But if you’re a regular Joe or Jane, you should be wild about the Wildcats.
By DERON SNYDER
Being shocked about big-time college sports has become virtually impossible.
If we learn that academic advisors plant hidden cameras and wireless earpieces on players, in order to provide correct answers during exams, we’d wonder what took so long.
If a report reveals that the athletic department operates a campus brothel to entertain athletes and recruits, we’d figure it’s a Power 5 perk.
If we hear about prominent boosters who bankroll a slush fund that players use as a private ATM and personal line of credit, we’d focus on the amount more than the deed.
Perhaps the only surprise left anymore is when someone on the inside, an employee who risks being chewed up and spit out by the machine, has the courage to step forward and say: “Enough.”
One or more members of Syracuse University’s College of Arts & Sciences played the hero (or the goat depending on perspective) in the NCAA investigation that cost men’s basketball coach Jim Boehim 108 victories last week. According to the NCAA, the college expressed concern over a grade change during the 2011-12 season.
“Specifically, the college questioned the timing and impact on student-athlete 7’s (former defensive standout Fab Melo’s) eligibility,” the NCAA reported. “The college also expressed concern that over a year had passed since student-athlete 7 completed the course.”
After a probe that covered 12 years and took eight years to complete, the NCAA cited Syracuse for “a lack of institutional control,” also finding it guilty of improper benefits and failure to enforce its drug policy.
Avoiding suspension despite flunking tests for recreational drugs and being paid for “volunteer work” at the local YMCA are legitimate violations.
But they’re essentially misdemeanors compared to grade-fixing, which unlike other no-nos makes a farce of higher education’s mission.
By DERON SNYDER
Three seasons in, the Mark Turgeon era bore resemblance to a Mark Turgeon error.
The Maryland men’s basketball program was headed backward, with a pair of 17-win seasons sandwiching the NIT appearance in his second year, 2012-13. Players were transferring at a dizzying rate, a starting lineup’s worth prior to this season.
Those results weren’t close to athletic director Kevin Anderson’s expectations when he plucked the coach from Texas A&M, where in four seasons Turgeon never missed the NCAA tournament or won fewer than 24 games.
Questions were sufficient enough to prompt a vote of confidence: “I totally support Mark,” Anderson told reporters in May as the Big 10 announced that the Terrapins will host the 2017 conference tournament. “We have a great team coming back and great recruits coming in, and we’ll continue to be Maryland basketball.”
One year later, Maryland basketball has never been better in a sense.
The Terps set a school record for regular-season wins with a 64-61 victory Sunday night at Nebraska, improving to 26-5. No other team in Turgeon’s 17 years as a head coach has ever won more than 26 games, a feat equaled by his 2005-06 Wichita State squad, which advanced to the Sweet 16.
“We found out (Saturday) that we had a chance to set a record, most wins in a regular season, and we really dialed in,” Turgeon told reporters Sunday after Maryland’s seventh consecutive victory, a day before he was named Big 10 coach of the year by the league’s media.
“I think because that number was sitting out there, we stayed focused and kept trying to get it done.”
They’re far from matching the 2001-02 national championship team. But they’re nowhere near the fate (10th place in their new conference) predicted by preseason prognosticators. Instead, Maryland is the No. 2 seed in the Big 10 tournament and projected as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Like most of this season, Sunday was about the players most responsible for reversing the program’s course and cooling off Turgeon’s seat, senior wing Dez Wells and freshman point guard Melo Trimble.
By DERON SNYDER
Another allegation of sexual assault by a high-profile college athlete has raised questions:
“What did Coach K know and when did he know it?”
Determining if Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski sat on disturbing claims for nine months before dismissing Rasheed Sulaimon is important.
But it’s not as critical as finding remedies for a culture where would-be accusers are reluctant to face the wrath of fans and the clout of athletic administrators. Those two groups often wish victims would suck it up and keep quiet to avoid causing trouble.
It’s no wonder that many women do just that, especially when they know what usually happens (they are blamed) and doesn’t happen (assailants are punished) in other cases.
According to The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, Krzyzewski was made aware in March 2014 that two female students allegedly were sexually assaulted by Sulaimon in separate incidents during the 2013-14 academic year. On Jan. 29, 2015, the junior guard became the first player kicked off the team in Krzykewski’s 35 years as head coach.
“Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program,” Krzyzewski said in a release at the time. “… After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program.”
A week earlier, according to The Chronicle, a Duke senior who worked in the basketball office for more than three years quit after learning of the allegations and notifying his supervisor. The student reportedly had an exit meeting with deputy director of athletics Mike Cragg and was told that Coach K and athletic director Kevin White knew of the “rumors” surrounding Sulaimon.
Krzyzewski has declined comment on the matter. White didn’t mention Sulaimon by name but said Tuesday that the department always follows proper procedures in matters of student conduct. “Coach Krzyzewski and his staff understand have fulfilled their responsibilities to the university, its students and the community,” White said in a statement.
Coach K’s silence looks bad but federal law forbids college administrators from discussing students’ educational records, which include just about everything. He can’t say the accusations are bogus, or they prompted the dismissal, or what transpired in-between.
By VANESSA W. SNYDER
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” — I Corinthians 9:24
Ever notice how hard it is to stop children from running? They take every opportunity to run. As adults we don’t run – at least not physically. And when we run, it’s in hope of getting something.
We run toward careers, marriage, education, ministry — anything that we think will finally fulfill us.
I work in education and I’m part of a leadership training program that’s preparing me to be an administrator. For the past several months, I’ve been reading all sorts of leadership material so I can be the best leader possible.
I have a mentor and I listen to anything and everything that pertains to leadership. I’m checking out books, attending seminars and always up for a discussion about the topic. The passion in me is growing everyday.
I’m running toward this leadership goal because I believe it’s a place God has pointed me to for my entire life.
By DERON SNYDER
At first glance, there isn’t much in common between “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey and “Iron” Mike Tyson.
The second and third glimpse doesn’t help much, either.
But Rousey, a 5-foot-7, 135-pound dirty blond, is dominating mixed martial arts just like the former boxing champ tyrannized his sport 30 years ago.
Tyson was a 5-10 heavyweight with a close-cropped haircut when he made his pro debut in March 1985. One year later, he was 19-0 with 19 knockouts. The carnage included a dozen KOs in the opening round, half of those within the first minute.
His menacing sneers, explosive punches and unreserved fury made him a must-watch attraction, simultaneously leaving many foes shaken and stirred, intimidated and defeated before entering the ring.
Yet, despite throwing his “punches with bad intentions” and a burning desire to drive opponents’ “nose bone into the brain,” Tyson never dispatched a challenger in less 30 seconds. That’s how long it took against poor Marvis Frazier, whom Tyson dropped like a bad habit.
But Rousey, 28, makes Tyson look like a slacker. Her last two fights COMBINED have lasted a half-minute.