By DERON SNYDER
The swinging door on the Wizards’ head coach’s office has swung yet again, with Scott Brooks entering the space and meeting new co-workers Wednesday.
That completes the recent cycle of introductions among Washington’s major pro franchises and developments look promising for the hockey, football and baseball teams thus far. Brooks would do well to replicate their success with his new hoops squad.
Of course it’s too early to say much definitively about the Nationals in their first season under manager Dusty Baker, unless the subject is their smooth start on a six-month journey. The grizzled skipper was dealt a strong hand and resembles a man with nothing to lose, exhibiting a relaxed, carefree nature that trickles down and makes baseball fun.
On the rink, the Capitals have reached the playoffs’ second round for the second time in their two seasons with Barry Trotz behind the bench. Another longtime leader who came to town with 15 years of experience (compared to Baker’s 20 years), Trotz was a landslide winner for coach of the year this month in TSN’s anonymous poll of bench bosses.
On the gridiron, Jay Gruden rebounded nicely after an initial campaign that made us wonder if he’d see a third season in Washington. He didn’t have the benefit of a long resume filled with playoff appearances like Baker and Trotz; all Gruden had was 4-12 as a rookie coach and disarray under center. But he found his groove and his QB last season as Washington shockingly won the NFC East.
In a sports market where his counterparts have barely begun their D.C. legacies, Brooks has a great opportunity to carve out space. As with Baker and Trotz, his past achievements provide a sense of assurance that didn’t exist with their predecessors.
Randy Wittman had the distinction of being the NBA’s all-time losingest coach when he took the Wizards’ job. Matt Williams had never managed in the majors before the Nats gave him a shot. Likewise, Adam Oates was a newbie coach when the Caps hired him on the same day he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Brooks brings a .620 career regular-season winning percentage and a ledger that includes trips to the NBA Finals (one) and Western Conference finals (three). His deeds at Oklahoma City arguably would be more impressive if not for untimely injuries to standouts Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.
He’s the coach who took those youngsters – plus former OKC guard James Harden – and molded them into the stars they’ve become today. The Wizards are counting on him to do the same with their backcourt of John Wall and Brad Beal, plus young wings Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre.
By DERON SNYDER
Sports and the business of sports are as far apart as movies are from Hollywood and music is from the recording industry.
Consumers enjoy the final product. But executives maneuver through laws and regulations surrounding their enterprises.
So the suggestions that sports and politics don’t mix is wishful thinking, an earnest yet unrealistic yearning to keep the fun & games separate from real-life matters. That’s possible within the confines of playing surfaces where competition occurs, but not in the headquarters and boardrooms behind the sporting activity.
NASCAR fully understood the concept last year when it joined a slew of organizations condemning Indiana’s “religious freedom” law. The racing body said it was “disappointed by the recent legislation” and “will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance.”
But NASCAR took its foot off the gas regarding North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom law” that has drawn concern from the NBA, NCAA and scores of other businesses. Despite the controversial measure being in the news for a month, and Charlotte serving as the NASCAR’s nerve center, we didn’t hear a peep from the organization until last week.
“We take the position that any discrimination, unintended or not, we’re on the other side, we don’t like that,” chairman Brian France told the Associated Press. “We are working, including myself, behind the scenes.
“We’re not a political institution; we don’t obviously set political agendas and write laws. But to the extent we can express our views to policy makers – in this case, North Carolina – we will and we do.”
The best way to express a stance is by speaking with your money, not your mouth.
By DERON SNYDER
“I owe private apologies to a lot of people that I disappointed but a very public one to the Browns organization and the fans that I let down. I take full responsibility for my actions and it’s my intention to work very hard to regain everyone’s trust and respect. I understand that will take time and will only happen through what I do and not what I say.” – Johnny Manziel
Those are perfect comments by the former Cleveland quarterback, addressing a series of troubling incidents more numerous than his highlights. But here’s a problem:
That statement was released a year ago when Manziel ended a 10-week stint in rehab. His behavior has only deteriorated, especially since January and after the Browns released him last month.
Apparently, the unnamed substance-abuse treatment didn’t take.
If Manziel needed more evidence that his life resembles a crash-and-burn spiral, it came Tuesday when he was dropped by his second agent in two months. You know you’re headed in the wrong direction when Drew Rosenhaus refuses to represent you. Rosenhaus lasted just five days, the time he gave Manziel to seek treatment or be dumped.
When pictures surfaced showing Manziel partying with his posse last weekend at Coachella, a popular music and arts festival in California, Rosenhaus followed through on his pledge.
“This is a life-or-death situation,” the agent said on SiriusXM. “I’m not talking about football anymore. I’m talking about a young man who is in trouble. And at the end of the day, I have a responsibility. I’m not going to see him go down in flames with me as his agent.”
So he’ll watch from afar like everyone else, as TMZ, the New York Post’s Page Six and other celebrity-gossip sites chronicle every stop on the Manziel party-hop tour … assuming the “fun” isn’t interrupted by jail time.
By DERON SNYDER
Major League Baseball’s history prior to integration is skewed, deserving of an asterisk as much as the Steroid and Deadball eras. Some of the greatest ballplayers who ever lived either never reached the majors (Negro League star catcher Josh Gibson), or arrived well into the twilight of their career (pitcher Satchel Paige, who debuted at age 41).
Fans didn’t know what they were missing before Jackie Robinson broke the color line. He was followed by a bevy of stars who flourished as African-Americans comprised nearly 19 percent of major leaguers by the early 1980s.
Six decades after Robinson made history, the number of black players has fallen to 8 percent, as the best athletes flock to football and basketball. Unlike in 1957, everyone is fully aware that baseball is missing out. No longer barred from entry, African-Americans are choosing not to play, another regrettable situation.
But thanks to efforts by MLB, some youths in the District have the opportunity to fall in love with the game. Few if any will advance to the major leagues, but that’s beside the point. Some might play in the minors; some might play in college; and some might become lifelong fans, passing their affection to their children and grandchildren.
MLB and the D.C. Grays have partnered to bring Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities to Washington. And that’s a great development for children and baseball fans in the city.
Entering its 27th year, RBI is an MLB program that operates in more than 200 cities worldwide and annually provides more than 260,000 boys and girls the chance to play baseball and softball. The D.C. Grays are a member of the Cal Ripken collegiate baseball league, with a mission to help college players and inner-city youth.
The Grays will operate seven RBI teams this season, five for baseball and two for softball. There will be no cost to children or their families.
By DERON SNYDER
The NCAA has taken a few steps toward basic decency regarding athletes in recent years, adding cost-of-attendance dollars to scholarships and approving four-year guaranteed scholarships.
Schools can still restrict players’ transfer options while coaches enjoy unfettered freedom of movement, an unconscionable policy. But the NCAA deserves a little credit for incremental adjustments to benefit the labor.
However, its true nature always lurks close to the surface. We saw just how ugly, petty, short-sighted and self-centered the organization can be last week when it banned satellite football camps, effective immediately.
A proposal approved by the Division I Council – at the behest of the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference – requires FBS schools to “conduct camps and clinics at their school’s facilities or at facilities regularly used for practice or competition,” the NCAA said. “Additionally, FBS coaches and non-coaching staff members with responsibilities specific to football may be employed only at their school’s camps or clinics.”
Call it the “Jim Harbaugh Rule,” a measure in response to the Michigan coach’s unprecedented swing in June, when he and his staff attended nine different football camps in seven states. Stops included California, Texas, Alabama, Florida and Pennsylvania.
That didn’t sit well with coaches in the SEC and ACC, who didn’t appreciate an outsider invading “their turf.”
Never mind that camps allow lesser-recruited prep players to be seen my multiple schools and land scholarships. Never mind that camps employ coaches from the “Group of 5” conferences, coaches who earn a fraction of the salaries paid in “Power 5” conferences. Never mind that smaller schools benefitted most by signing players who can’t make big-school rosters. Never mind that any concerns about camps could’ve been addressed by regulating them opposed to killing them altogether.
“The sad part is the NCAA pretty much used a shotgun instead of a flyswatter,” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego told The Morning Sun.
Harbaugh put it more bluntly: “The incompetence of the NCAA has reared its ugly head yet again,” he told Sports Illustrated.
By DERON SNYDER
April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day across Major League Baseball, which honors the legendary pioneer in an impactful way. Every player, manager, coach and umpire wears “42” – Robinson’s jersey number with the Brooklyn Dodgers – creating a powerful sense of unity and reverence.
Compelling photographs that feature players wearing the number appear at the end of “Jackie Robinson,” the new two-part documentary that concludes Tuesday night on PBS. On Friday, when all 30 MLB teams are in action, there will be a scattering of African-Americans among taking the field. Roughly 8 percent of players are black.
But noted filmmaker Ken Burns, director of “Jackie Robinson” and the Emmy Award-winning miniseries “Baseball,” says Robinson’s legacy of breaking the color line in 1947 isn’t diminished by the lack of diversity today.
“I don’t look at it as a negative, Burns said in a recent phone interview. “Major League Baseball has recognized the low numbers and is looking to have more. There are more African-American players than a few years ago and baseball wants more in the stands. Let’s remember when Jackie came up, that was the only sport there was – college football and baseball.
“Now African-Americans dominate football and more than dominate the NBA. That’s good news because it’s more opportunities for expression. But Jackie wasn’t just about African-Americans; Latino players have Jackie to thank, too.”
All of us owe a debt of gratitude to Robinson, who helped move our nation – kicking and screaming for the most part – toward a more-inclusive society. He was a one-man civil rights movement, years before sit-ins, freedom rides, boycotts and protests became fixtures in the news cycle.
The fact that Robinson broke ground in baseball, opposed to, say, education or public accommodations, doesn’t make his achievement less significant.
By DERON SNYDER
It’s never too late to make amends, even 69 years after the fact. The Philadelphia City Council proved as much on March 31, when it unanimously passed a resolution honoring Jackie Robinson and officially apologizing for the treatment he endured while visiting in 1947, the year he broke Major League Baseball’s color line.
“Unfortunately in Philadelphia, Jackie Robinson experienced some of the most virulent racism and hate of his career,” Councilwoman Helen Gym said in introducing the action. “Our colleagues decided to introduce this resolution to celebrate Jackie Robinson.”
He has been celebrated many times before, most recently in “42,” a 2013 movie starring Chadwick Boseman. Robinson also is honored each April 15 – the anniversary of his debut – when every player and coach on every team wears his jersey number. And he certainly will be remembered fondly for generations to come, in recognition of his pioneering legacy that transcends sports.
But thanks to a new documentary from noted filmmaker Ken Burns, we’re able to see and appreciate Robinson in an entirely different light. This is no fictionalized script such as in “42” or “The Jackie Robinson Story,” a 1950 movie starring the player as himself and Ruby Dee as his wife. In “Jackie Robinson,” a two-part film that premieres April 11-12 on PBS, Burns delivers the pure, unvarnished truth that Hollywood treatments often whitewash.
By DERON SNYDER
Greg Hardy wants a job, but not just any job. He wants to work in the National Football League as a defensive lineman on one of its 32 teams. There are roughly 200 such positions.
After his disastrous interview on ESPN this week, he might have a chance if there were roughly 2,000.
Better yet for him, the ESPN appearance would’ve been unnecessary and he’d already be signed if he had 20 sacks last season.
Hardy did himself no favors in agreeing to a sitdown with Adam Schefter, who might be the only person who came away with a favorable impression of the woman beater.
“I went in with the idea that this guy is a monster,” Schefter said Tuesday on the Dan Patrick Show. “I came out of there with a very different feeling. I came out of there feeling like this is a guy who managed to say the wrong things at the wrong time.
“I found him to be a changed kind of guy,” Schefter said. “A guy that realized he did make some mistakes, could have handled things differently. In regard to that incident, it’s such a tough thing … I’ll say this, he wasn’t wavering. He was adamant.”
Hardy isn’t an unemployed outcast because of misguided and ill-timed comments. He’s a pariah because we believe Nicole Holder’s harrowing tale of abuse and terror. We’ve seen dozens of police photographs showing bruises all over her body. We’ve read police reports, interviews and more.
Adamant denials and unwavering repudiations don’t change those facts. I don’t know what Schefter saw other than a compulsive liar or delusional idiot.
By DERON SNYDER
I hate it when doom-and-gloomers are correct, naysayers have the last word and told-you-so’s do their thing.
They just couldn’t help themselves last spring when – true to their nature – they pooh-poohed the Wizards’ playoff run. Washington swept Toronto in the opening round and won two of three against Atlanta before John Wall’s injury proved insurmountable.
The Wizards clearly were on the rise, ready to pace and space their way to upper crust in the Eastern Conference. Newfound success with small ball, the emergence of Otto Porter Jr. and the backcourt’s continued development held great promise, making Washington a popular sleeper to reach the East finals.
But a depressing thing happened en route to a third consecutive playoff appearance: The Wizards regressed. After winning 44 and 46 games in 2013-14 and 2014-15, respectively, Randy Wittman’s squad must push to finish at .500 this season. They need to win four of their last five games, starting Wednesday when Brooklyn visits Verizon Center.
Playoffs? That remains a possibility, mathematically, a whopping 2.5 percent chance according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.
Let’s turn our attention to the Nationals while the Wizards talk about not giving up.
“Not until the fat lady sings,” guard Bradley Beal told reporters Sunday after Washington concluded a 2-3 west coast trip with a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. “Some crazy things have happened in past before. We’ve went from seventh to fifth before, so anything can happen. It’s just a matter of time.”
Wake me when it’s over.