By DERON SNYDER
Freedom isn’t free, as evidenced by the many who fought to obtain it, defend it or reclaim it and paid the ultimate price. That’s the cost of living in a so-called free country and the benefits extend to all, those who put their lives on the line and those who remain on the sideline.
A fantastic high school basketball tournament takes place in Fort Myers, Fla., every December just before Christmas. I covered the City of Palms for several years, watching future NBA lottery picks like John Wall, Greg Monroe and Kevin Love as big-time coaches like Roy Williams, Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan flocked to the small gymnasium.
Among the tournament’s annual attendees were a few men who sat on the front row and chose to remain seated during the national anthem. This was their custom and no one seemed to mind until one year, when someone yelled from the other side of the court: “Stand up!”
Being that is a family publication, I must paraphrase here. But one of them responded: “Go serve a tour in Iraq like I did! I’ll sit if I want to!”
The loudmouth had no comeback. But I’m sure some of the folks ripping 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick would have a retort for the conscientious objector. Which shows the absurdity of using the national anthem as a litmus test for patriotism.
Kaepernick struck a nerve with his protest and vows to continue sitting no matter how much flak he catches. I’m already tired of the brouhaha but find some of the responses comical. Minnesota Vikings guard Alex Boone intimated that the situation might have turned violent if he and Kaepernick were still teammates.
“See, I’m a very emotional person,” Boone told reporters Sunday. “So, I think if I had known (about it), my emotions would’ve been rolling. I think we would’ve had a problem on the sideline. And I get that he can do whatever he wants. But there’s a time and a place. Show some respect and that’s just how I feel.”
Yes, getting into a fight during the anthem because someone expressed their freedom is the perfect way to show honor and respect for said freedom.
By DERON SNYDER
One day, perhaps, the U.S. men’s basketball team won’t have the world to kick around. Ben Simmons and Australia are coming, as are Andrew Wiggins and Canada. Croatia and France also could be threats, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics or further down the road.
This much is certain though: We won’t have Carmelo Anthony to kick around anymore.
No other U.S. player has won three gold medals. He’s Team USA’s all-time leader in games, points and rebounds. Along the way, he evolved into USA Basketball’s elder statesman, suiting up for Rio while contemporaries such as LeBron James, Chris Paul and others bowed out.
Yet Anthony has been something of a punch line on the international stage, where his tremendous success is a stark contrast to his NBA travails. It doesn’t help that he also played a role in Team USA’s darkest moments since NBA players joined the fold, the bronze medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2006 FIBA World Championships.
But representing his country is no joke for Anthony.
He became emotional Sunday after the U.S. defeated Serbia to win its third consecutive gold medal despite struggling earlier in the Olympics. Three opponents finished within 10 points during pool play, including a couple of losses by one possession (Serbia and France). When the Americans routed Serbia in the rematch, 95-66, the enormity of the moment got the best of Anthony. He stopped to gather himself for several seconds during a postgame interview.
“I know this is the end; this is it for me,” he said on NBC. “I committed to this in . I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen the best, and I stuck with it – we stuck with it. And I’m here today, three gold medals later.”
He hasn’t always been appreciated by hoops aficionados. They complain that his international game is superior to version he supplies for the New York Knicks. Critics pile on for what’s he’s not (an all-around great like draft classmates James and Dwyane Wade); what he is (a volume scorer who relies heavily on isolation); and what he hasn’t done (advance past the second round of the playoffs more than once).
By DERON SNYDER
The 2016 Rio Olympics provided many feel-good moments, from Simone Biles to Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps to Allyson Felix and a host of unfamiliar names contributing to the United States’ medal count.
But now the party is over and everyone goes home. Except the hosts. They’re left with the bill, an enormous clean-up job and probably some regret. While the rest of the world boards return flights to their day-to-day existence, many Brazilians face bad conditions made worse by the Olympic Games.
NBC’s cameras won’t capture the heartwarming tale of 80,000 displaced residents moving on with their disrupted lives. There will be no touching vignettes about public servants missing paychecks, state universities being on strike or police lacking the resources to keep their vehicles on the road.
The crime, pollution, poverty and corrupt won’t be a poignant segment by Bob Costas, just an ongoing story on Brazilian newscasts.
All of us who watched and cheered during the Games should feel a twinge of guilt and a little dirty for supporting the International Olympic Committee’s fleecing of yet another host. Brazil estimated that it would spend about $3 billion in costs directly related to the event; the final bill is expected to be around $12 billion officially (though some experts put the true cost at closer to $20 billion).
You think that money would’ve been better spent on – I don’t know – improved education, affordable housing, upgraded healthcare, enhanced sanitation and urgent social services for the less well-off? Or any number of matters more relevant than shiny medals?
Yet we see the cycle repeated time and again as the IOC fishes for new Olympic hosts, as if previous sites outlive their usefulness the moment the flame is extinguished. In the IOC’s version of an arms race, the goal is to land increasingly higher bids from potential hosts willing to make horrendous business decisions for the sake of “Olympic glory.”
Sort of like the deals U.S. cities often make for “civic pride” when they build new stadiums for billionaires who own sports teams.
By DERON SNYDER
“Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman?”
— Former-slave-turned-abolitionist Sojourner Truth delivering her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851.
South African runner Caster Semenya is making a similar argument, for different reasons, 165 years later. Questions about her are uncomfortable, unfortunate and unnecessary.
A favorite to win gold Saturday at the Rio Olympics in the 800 meters, Semenya has been forced to state her case since catapulting onto the scene in Berlin as an unknown teenager at the 2009 World Championships. The international track community publically and privately debated her very essence. That surely was a confounding and exceedingly painful ordeal for an 18-year-old from a rural village. But it was only the beginning.
“Just look at her,” Russia’s Mariya Savinova said after finishing fifth in Berlin. A writer in The New Yorker magazine used the term “breathtakingly butch” to describe Semenya.
She wasn’t cast into the spotlight solely because her appearance is much more masculine than traditionally feminine-looking women. Semenya became a controversial figure because her leaked sex-verification tests reportedly revealed that she had three times the amount of testosterone typically found in an average woman.
Performance-enhancing drugs weren’t to blame. Her “crime” is the natural result of hyperandrogenism, which creates abnormally high levels of testosterone in women. Semenya has never confirmed that she has the condition, but it’s the widely held belief of medical experts and others who have followed her case.
By DERON SNYDER
As proponents of sports, we’re quick to list the valuable lessons imparted by athletics.
Competition provides instruction on teamwork, discipline, commitment, dedication and sportsmanship. Participants (and spectators, vicariously) experience sweet victories and bitter defeats, which serve as classwork on appreciation and perspective.
Unfortunately, some folks prefer to skip certain sections of sports education, like topics that can bring discomfort and cause uneasiness. Subjects that can stir negative emotions and painful memories. Courses that come with a mirror and require self-reflection, examination and evaluation.
But we do ourselves a disservice if we avoid the totality that sports offers. That’s like attending college and enrolling in nothing outside of physical education. What a wasted opportunity.
So when we consider the accomplishments of Simone Manuel, a 20-year-old Stanford University student from Sugar Land, Texas, we can’t stop at the fact that she’s an NCAA champion in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. We have to move beyond her gold medals at the Rio Olympics in the 100-meter freestyle and 4×100-meter medley relay. We have to go further than her silver medals in the 50 freestyle and 4×100 freestyle medley.
Yes, she’s the first U.S. woman to ever finish top-two in both freestyle sprints at the Olympics. Yes, she set a U.S. record and tied an Olympic record in the 100-meter freestyle. Yes, she was only two hundredths of a second behind Denmark’s Pernille Blume in the 50-meter freestyle.
But it’s impossible to extract the full value of those accomplishments without acknowledging Manuel’s African-American heritage. Her background should be highlighted because it adds important context to the story.
To disregard or downplay her race is to shun knowledge and enlightenment. That’s never a wise choice, unless ignorance is the goal.
By DERON SNYDER
Here’s something to do the next time you’re at work and find yourself … um … unfocused.
Create a Google search for “distractions” and pro sports. You’ll be amazed how often the terms are linked, like you can’t have one without the other.
Mets first baseman James Looney comes up in a story among the first few hits, followed by an article on Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson (proving that the NCAA’s amateurism can’t fool the algorithm).
Bill Belichick, Vijay Singh, Ricky Rubio and Premier League star Jamie Vardy all make appearances on the first page. The Los Angeles Clippers, LeBron James and the NHL expanding to Las Vegas show up on the second page (along with a story on Russia’s men’s gymnastics team, another example of truth in computer science).
You don’t have to be an athlete to experience a wandering mind, whether it strays to romances and finances, or random daydreams and real-life issues. Drifting is natural and not necessarily a bad thing. Research on human productivity suggests that sustained work bursts of about 45 minutes, followed by an intentional downshift for about 15 minutes, leads to maximum efficiency.
But we put athletes in a separate class, as if they’re incapable of simultaneously carrying out a game plan and contemplating dinner plans. Or performing their assignment in the heat of the action while mulling postgame analysis under the glare of TV lights.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall played for the Chicago Bears two years ago when he created a stir by joining Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” as a studio analyst. He flew to New York for the show on Tuesdays – his day off – and spent the rest of the week with his teammates.
Now with the Jets (which, technically, makes his commute easier), Marshall became the first active player with a regular side gig on national TV.
Critics questioned his dedication to football. They wondered about his allegiance to the team. They complained about him perpetuating the antiquated notion of “free time.”
I can only imagine what they’ll say about Josh Norman.
By DERON SNYDER
Executives at NFL headquarters in New York are not to be taken lightly, especially not the head honcho with the big head in the corner office.
Players are all too familiar with the pain and punishment that commissioner Roger Goodell can inflict; team officials get an unwelcome taste of his power on occasion, too. The best course of action for everyone involved is to avoid anything that brings unwanted attention to yourself or your organization.
You especially don’t want to do or say something that could be taken as a taunt at 345 Park Avenue. I’m looking at Washington general manager Scot McCloughan, who last week was asked about his team possibly appearing on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in the future.
“No,” he told NBC Washington’s Carol Maloney, according to The Washington Post. “Never.”
Really? Never is a long time.
“No, no, no, no, no,” he said. “It’s tough enough as we go through the process of training camp, trying to get down to 75 [players], trying to get down to 53. It’s really hard. People don’t need to know our business.”
Don’t be surprised if the NFL considers that stance a dare. The other 31 franchises are subject to be featured on the award-winning training-camp documentary and Dan Snyder’s squad shouldn’t warrant an exception. Washington’s team business isn’t more special or sacred than, say, the Los Angeles Rams’ or Houston Texans’ affairs.
The Texas were featured on the series last year while the Rams get the treatment this year, beginning Tuesday when the six-week series premieres. The usual storylines include a couple of firsts, as previous editions never documented a franchise relocation or a No. 1 overall pick (quarterback Jared Goff).
Judging by a teaser entitled “Hard Knocks: I Am Football,” someone at HBO has a wry sense of humor or is blithely ignorant of recent events.
The preview is shot from the football’s perspective. There’s video of various Rams players at practice while the camera focuses on the ball, which provides the narration: “I’m in every statistic that matters … I feel every hard-earned drop of sweat shared in each day’s victories. And defeats. I’m in every snap, every throw, every catch.”
At that point, the video fades to black before the frame is engrossed by a severely deflated football magically filling with air. “At my core, I’m part vulcanized rubber, part cowhide,” it says. Then we get an extreme close-up of an inflation needle.
I think it was blazoned with a New England Patriots logo.
Speaking of logos, McCloughan’s certainty that HBO’s cameras will never film his team might be rooted in Washington’s emblem. The league has no problem sending the team to London for a game against Cincinnati, but could be reluctant to feature Washington in a six-week cable series that might highlight the controversial nickname.
If the NFL chooses other teams for “Hard Knocks,” that’s one thing. But Washington shouldn’t be allowed to make the decision for itself. Pickings could be slim if the show was dependent solely on volunteers.
The league knows that some teams take matters way too seriously to self-nominate themselves for a turn. That’s why owners in 2013 created rules for mandatory appearances on “Hard Knocks’ if no one willingly steps forward.
Any franchise can be appointed with the following exceptions: teams with a first-year head coach; team that reached the playoffs at least once in the last two seasons; and teams that were featured on the show in the previous 10 seasons.
Washington would’ve been among several teams eligible for compulsory participation this year if not for winning the NFC East last season. McCloughan bought himself two years of grace and can add another two years with each successive postseason trip.
Maybe THAT’s why he’s so confident, an unwavering belief that he can fashion a playoff team at least every other year.
Forced to make a choice, Washington fans likely would favor that scenario over HBO’s unfettered access at Richmond. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.
McCloughan’s state secrets would remain safe with HBO. The producers aren’t interested in revealing information that gives opponents a competitive edge. They just want to make a good TV show, based on human drama and emotions more than X’s and O’s.
Rams players have received numerous talks about “Hard Knocks” from coach Jeff Fisher, who told them “it’s almost as if [the camera crews] disappear. It’s been an exciting process, it’s been fun,” Fisher told The Los Angeles Times. “The players are out here to help win games and to improve, not make a movie. They’re not actors, they’re players.”
And it’s great to see players in a different light, especially rookies fighting to grab hold and veterans fighting to hold on. We gain a better appreciation for their jobs and everything that goes into making an NFL roster.
Too bad McCloughan is so dead set against Washington fans enjoying that valuable perspective.
Here’s hoping team officials have a change of heart … or the NFL changes it for them.
By DERON SNYDER
The Summer Olympics are more glamorous than their counterpart every four winters. And of all the competitions being held in Rio de Janeiro over the next two weeks, none are more familiar than basketball, gymnastics, swimming, and track and field.
They are the Mount Rushmore of Summer Olympic sports.
But athletes will compete in roughly three dozen other sports that don’t enjoy the same popularity or appeal. These men and women have been working just as hard in their fields as Carmelo Anthony, Simone Biles, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.
Toiling in more obscure sports, they won’t receive as much attention, adulation or airtime. However, the medals they seek are just as shiny and meaningful, valued prizes for the dogged pursuit of athletic excellence.
When it comes to the following sports, black athletes typically are few in number. But here are some participants you might see if you tune in to these events during the games:
By DERON SNYDER
Ater all the discussions about crime, poverty, pollution, corruption and the Zika virus, it’s now time to shift our attention to the actual games at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
More than 11,000 athletes representing more than 200 countries will compete in 42 Olympic sports beginning Friday. In total, there will be 306 events over the course of 19 days between the opening and closing ceremonies.
The number of black athletes from around the globe in the Summer Olympics always dwarfs the number in the Winter Olympics (something about cold weather, snow and ice?), and this year is no exception. When national anthems are played and the winners step onto the medal stand, here are some folks you might see.
By DERON SNYDER
This is the USA’s real dream team, the one that’s been a nightmare for all comers in the last five Summer Olympics and is virtually guaranteed to do likewise this year in Rio.
They are our women’s basketball team, 58-3 all-time in Olympic competition, with sights on a record sixth consecutive gold medal. They haven’t lost a game since the former Soviet Union’s “Unified Team” won a 79-73 squeaker in the 1992 semifinals.
You might recall that was the Barcelona Olympics, when the men featured NBA players for the first time and arguably fielded the greatest sports team ever assembled. The “Dream Team” defeated opponents by an average of 44 points en route to recapturing the gold medal we lost with our college players in 1988.
The world’s men have become much more competitive since then. The gold medal game against Spain at the London Olympics featured 16 lead changes and six ties before LeBron James & Co. prevailed, 107-100. The margin was even slimmer – 99-94 – in an earlier pool-play victory against Lithuania.
But hoop-playing women haven’t closed the gap much. The average margin of victory has been 30 points during Team USA’s 42-game Olympic win streak.
The USWNT is the hunted. They accept it and embrace it, taking their cue from a head coach who’s quite comfortable in that position.
“When you know you’re good and you know you’ve done it and you know what you have to do to get it, I think you have to turn that pressure around on the other team,” head Geno Auriemma told reporters. He easily could’ve been speaking of his phenomenal success at UConn.