By DERON SNYDER
On Tuesday, Kobe Bryant visits his hometown for the final time as an NBA player. The Philadelphia Sixers will be on the opposite end of the court, fresh off tying one record for futility and extending another.
Bryant’s Lakers are 2-14 and are primed to let Philadelphia break into the win column after an 0-18 start. Only the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets began a season as poorly as these Sixers, who have lost a remarkable 28 consecutive games. That’s a feat unmatched by any U.S. professional sports franchise ever.
This season aside, Bryant can’t share much about chronic losing with the young Sixers. He has won five NBA titles, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA MVP and been selected to 17 All-Star Games. But he has a wealth of knowledge on being a rich and famous teenage superstar, experience he should discuss with 19-year-old Philly center Jahlil Okafor.
The No. 1 overall pick last summer, Okafor leads all rookies in scoring and minutes per game (17.5 and 33, respectively). He’s third among rookies in rebounds (8.2) and third in blocks (2.34), but he’s tops in disturbing off-court incidents that recently came to light. There was a reported after-hours altercation in Philly, that included a gun pointed at his head; a reported ticket for driving 108 mph on the Ben Franklin Bridge, which has a speed limit of 45 mph; and a reported after-hours street fight in Boston, where he pushed and punched a man (video courtesy of TMZ).
“I hold myself to a higher standard than anyone else ever could and I’m not proud of some of my decisions over the last few months,” Okafor tweeted Sunday. “I own my choices both personally and now publicly. At this point I am cooperating and respecting the process I have to go through.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER, Va. – NFL players and coaches have made a pact, reached a secret agreement on acceptable language when discussing games publicly. The terms of the accord are clear and rarely broken.
No single contest is worth more than any another. Whether it’s an early-season, mid-season or late-season match-up, doesn’t matter. Each Sunday, Monday, Thursday (and sometimes Saturday) carries equal weight, merely one-16th of the whole, period.
Naturally, we on the outside refuse to play along. When the New York Giants have won five straight against Washington and visit FedEx Field with first place on the line in late November, that’s a big game. Certainly bigger than, say, the Week 3 meeting at MetLife Stadium when the season was just getting underway.
And when Washington responds under those circumstances with one of its best all-around outings, taking a shutout into the fourth quarter and holding on for a 20-14 victory, that performance says something. It make a point and speaks loudly.
“You can say this was a statement game,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “It just felt good to play the way we know we’re capable of as a team. If you want to be blunt about it, we have another statement game next week, followed by another statement game.”
But a team has to start somewhere.
By DERON SNYDER
I truly believe that every day should be a day of thanksgiving, though there’s nothing wrong with a holiday where we all stop and count our blessings.
I try to give thanks daily for my universal assets – life, health and strength; food, clothing and shelter; family, friends and loved ones – as well as my specific, special gifts named Vanessa, Sierra and Sequoia.
There’s much to be grateful for in the world of sports. It usually serves as a welcome diversion from the day-to-day, real-life issues that can consume us if we’re not careful. Instead, we can add some fun and games for momentary escapes, enjoying a respite from the never-ending 24/7 grind.
As such, I’m thankful …
*For Steph Curry. He could be mistaken for a towel boy. But his slick ball-handling, incredible shooting and crafty passing make him the NBA’s best player at the moment, a pleasure to behold.
*For the Golden State Warriors. You can feel their joy as they whip the ball for open looks and lay-ups. They have taken San Antonio’s version of beautiful basketball and multiplied it exponentially, adding a fun factor.
*For the NFC East. This is where hope lives, even for 3-7 Dallas. The Cowboys are only two games behind New York, which is only one game ahead of Washington. The Giants visit FedEx Field Sunday for what’s essentially a playoff game. Weak division, good drama.
By DERON SNYDER
Dan LeBatard asked an interesting question on his ESPN radio show last week, wondering what possibly could cause a slide in NFL popularity. There were few convincing answers.
Noted journalist Charles Pierce suggested it would take not just an on-field fatality, but a series of high-profile deaths such as (God forbid), Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. An anonymous special-teamer or obscure offensive lineman would be insufficient. A solitary A-list player wouldn’t be enough.
I suppose a flurry of in-game tragedies among the most-prominent stars could shake the NFL from its position as TV’s undisputed ratings champ and pop-culture Goliath. Or perhaps a season where the number of deceased players is so startling – like seven football deaths in high school this year – their identities wouldn’t matter.
The majority of fans are undeterred by football’s violent nature. They won’t stop watching just because some players are carted off in immobilization devices. The mental and physical toll that players often experience after retirement doesn’t impact viewers’ enjoyment of in-the-moment action.
There is no evidence that the game is too violent for consumers’ taste.
But could it become too non-violent?
Complaints about the number of rules designed to protect players have never been louder. More than 35 years have elapsed since Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert stated “quarterbacks should wear dresses.” He might suggest they wear bikinis nowadays. Receivers, too.
By DERON SNYDER
The legendary disco band Chic had a 1978 hit that peaked at No. 12 on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart and No. 38 on the Hot 100 chart. Part of the lyrics went as follows:
“Everybody dance, do-do-do,
Clap your hands, clap your hands
Music never lets you down
Puts a smile on your face
Dancing helps relieve the pain
Soothes your mind, makes you happy again”
Rosemary Plorin should play that song, grab her 9-year-old daughter and twirl around their living room for a spell. The little girl would enjoy it and the mother might gain a better appreciation of joyful expression.
In case you missed it, Plorin is the Nashville mom whose note to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was published Monday by The Charlotte Observer. She was upset by Newton’s touchdown dance in the Panthers’ 27-10 victory against the host Titans, claiming that the 10-second routine was off-putting and raised questions in her fourth-grader.
“Because of where we sat, we had a close up view of your conduct in the fourth quarter,” Plorin wrote. “The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts and the “in your face” taunting of both Titans’ players and fans. We saw it all.”
Among the schoolgirl’s questions: “Won’t he get in trouble for doing that? Is he trying to make people mad” Do you think he knows he looks like a spoiled brat?
“I didn’t have great answers for her,” Plorin continued, “and honestly, in an effort to minimize your negative impact and what was otherwise a really fun day, I redirected her attention to the cheerleaders.”
Right. No danger of chest puffs or pelvic thrusts there.
By DERON SNYDER
Putting 47 points on the board and sitting a half-game out of first place in the NFC East puts all sorts of scenarios in one’s head.
Even though we know the future is uncertain, even though we’re aware of week-to-week reality checks, even though our visions typically morph into eyesores, we can’t resist playing “what-if” in the afterglow of euphoria. And nothing makes the heart race like a 47-14 rout against a franchise that recently was near-elite.
Two painful seasons have passed since Washington harbored such bright hopes and much has changed since then – notably the coach, the quarterback, the architect and 60 percent of the roster. Questions still remain but new general manager Scot McCloughan has found answers before with teams that made playoff runs.
Reaching the postseason this year would be an incredible feat, no matter what might happen there. Though a ludicrous thought prior to this season, with Washington a combined 7-25 the previous two years, the playoffs are not out of the picture.
Saying that with a straight face, and not being asked what you’re smoking, is a victory in itself.
Granted, the prospect is due to the division’s putridness as much as the team’s progress. A 4-5 record normally isn’t grounds to beat your chest. While Gruden’s squad has shown resiliency in losing consecutive games only once this year, it has yet to win back-to-back games, something good teams do frequently. Washington also has yet to win on the road in four tries.
Both of those boxes can checked off Sunday when they visit the undefeated Panthers. A victory at Carolina would be a mark of legitimacy in this crazy season where few teams stand out. Two-thirds of the league is at or below .500, including the entire NFC East and AFC South.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER, Md. – Fans witnessed an amazing display Sunday afternoon when the Saints came to FedEx Field. The home team welcomed the visitors with excitement and the anticipation paid off with multiple scoring drives and prodigious yardage.
By the time the clock hit 0:00, the scoreboard read Washington 47, New Orleans 14. As the energized crowd exited with giddiness for the second consecutive home game, one conclusion made sense more than any other:
The Saints have an awful defense.
There’s a tendency to overreact in these parts when the team struggles or the quarterback throws two picks or the coach channels Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men.” One week, Kirk Cousins is the worst QB to step under center. This week he’ll rank among the greatest of all time; he literally was perfect (in terms of passer rating).
At the risk of being labeled a party-pooper, let me remind you again that New Orleans was the opponent. The Saints are like a magic elixir, good for whatever ails an offense. Washington was so-so entering Sunday but got well in a hurry, scoring on eight of its first nine possessions before punting with 3:38 left in the game.
The final statistics were mind-boggling.
Cousins led the offense to 40 points, throwing for 324 yards. He had four touchdowns, five incompletions and zero interceptions. Halfback Alfred Morris rushed for 92 yards, averaging 6.1 per pop. Halfback Matt Jones caught three passes for 131 yards, including a 78-yard screen for a touchdown. Halfback Chris Thompson rushed for 54 yards … more than the entire team rushed for in any of the last four games.
Thank God for New Orleans.
“We knew we were going to get a heavy dose of the running game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said, “and obviously we didn’t handle it well.” (By comparison, New England coach Bill Belichick knew Washington would try to force a ground attack down the Patriots’ throat, but they yielded a mere 37 yards rushing last week).
Before anyone goes overboard about the fireworks, consider the source. New Orleans lets teams can catch fire easier than match-light charcoal.
By DERON SNYDER
– “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” – Frederick Douglass
At the risk of inciting the crazy separatists who harbor visions of “taking back our country,” I offer the above quote as a reminder. There is no progress without struggle. Only agitation can break stagnation, whether the goal is civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights … or athletes’ rights.
The University of Missouri football team’s protest had nothing to do with NCAA policies, procedures or prohibitions. The players weren’t seeking a more equitable share of the copious loot they generate. They didn’t take a stand for better healthcare after injuries render them useless to schools.
Controlling their likenesses wasn’t on the list of demands. Neither was redefining impermissible benefits nor receiving academic support past their athletic eligibility. No, the team’s threatened boycott wasn’t about them, or athletics, at all.
And that’s why the NCAA should be very, very afraid.
If the Mizzou protest leads to athletes using their leverage in NCAA reform – a battle primarily fought by administrators, lawyers and journalists – there’s no telling how much damage will be inflicted on the billion-dollar college-sports complex.
“If the players don’t play, the pyramids fall,” former Nike and Adidas executive Sonny Vaccaro told Yahoo Sports.
As we saw Monday, when Missouri president Tom Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced their resignations, athletes have incredible power. Protests amidst racial tensions had engulfed the campus for several weeks, including a hunger strike by one student. But the nation was oblivious until the football team weighed in and drew attention like a Sumo wrestler directing traffic.
It’s a good bet that Wolfe and Loftin would still have their jobs if 32 players hadn’t tweeted their support for the protests. It’s also a good bet that coach Gary Pinkel would have a difficult time recruiting future stars if he had come out against those 32 players. By galvanizing the team and coaching staff – blacks and whites together – Pinkel helped push the movement over the edge with a tweeted photo of unity.
The change they enacted was largely symbolic. The removal of two officials just might lead to substantial measures that address the problems, but that work remains undone. However, any good that follows is undeniably a result of the team’s action, whether you applauded or were appalled.
The cause is easy enough to support, unless you favor racial slurs and swastikas on campus. Finding allies will be more difficult if student-athletes turn their attention inward. Few issues in college sports are as divisive as “pay-for-play” or other forms of compensation beyond a scholarship.
By DERON SNYDER
Brave or foolish. Ungrateful or principled. Trailblazers or lemmings.
Athletes or activists.
Your view of the Missouri football team right now has nothing to do with its won-loss record or standing in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers left the gridiron – breaking away from the chalk lines that determine progress and boundaries – to enter society’s high-speed (and highly charged) rails.
Many fans want sports to serve as an escape, a respite from life’s difficult and challenging day-to-day realities. Just suit up, play ball and shut up; problems can wait until the game is over.
But a number of Missouri’s football players said no, there are troubles that need to be addressed immediately, superseding the need to practice or play sports.
“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe “Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,” read a statement Saturday night on Twitter, featuring a photo of 32 players. “We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”
Under pressure from the team, plus a student’s hunger strike, campus organizations, Republican state lawmakers and the Kansas City Star editorial board, Wolfe stepped down Monday during an emergency meeting of the university’s Board of Curators.
“My motivation in making this decision comes from love,” Wolfe announced. “I love M.U. Columbia, where I grew up, and state of Missouri. I have thought and prayed about this decision. It’s the right thing to do.”
As for whether the team did the right thing, man your battle stations.
By DERON SNYDER
Let’s give it up for the amazing Washington Nationals, who might be making history in front of our eyes. Perhaps no other franchise in baseball – or any other sport – has pulled off the feat we’ve seen over the last few years.
Think about it. The Nationals have gone from laughingstocks who suffered back-to-back 100-loss seasons, to laughingstocks who captured two division titles in a four-year span. Don’t underestimate the difficulty in remaining a joke after attaining success.
Looks like we had it wrong all along: Winning doesn’t cure everything. And every turnaround isn’t a reversal.
The Nationals don’t deserve Dusty Baker, one of baseball’s classiest and most-respected figures. Bud Black didn’t deserve his treatment by the Nationals, one of baseball’s crassest and most-ridiculed franchises. Baker landed the managerial job but you have to wonder if Black isn’t the true victor.
He doesn’t have to work for an organization that keeps finding new ways to embarrass itself.
Fortunately for the Nats, their on-field product is attractive enough to counterbalance the dysfunctional ownership. At age 66, with 20 years as a skipper and three Manager of the Year awards to his credit, Baker is interested in winning a World Series more than winning at the negotiating table. He’ll be introduced Thursday morning, willing to overlook Washington’s clear disrespect for managers because this team can put a ring on his finger.
He won’t bad-mouth the Nats in public. He’ll say all the right things, how he’s happy to be back in baseball after a three-year absence. How the Nationals are still loaded and should contend for the World Series, despite the expected departure of several key players. How no matter what happened during the hiring process, whether he was the No.1 candidate or runner-up, it’s his job now and he plans to maximize the opportunity.
But surely he’s incredulous – like everyone else – that the club offered Black a one-year contract with a straight face. One year? For a veteran major-league manager?
Novice Matt Williams got a two-year deal. Don Mattingly just signed for four years with the Miami Marlins. Three is normal. Offering a lone year doesn’t express interest, it displays contempt.