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Activism in sports is fine … as long as you’re not talking about race

By DERON SNYDER

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh are among the athletes and coaches who said the following in a public service announcement for a nonprofit organization:

“I pledge to treat everyone with respect and dignity. I will not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind. I will speak up whenever I know discrimination is happening and I will stand up for victims.”

Speaking up and standing up – or in Colin Kaepernick’s case, taking a knee – are entry-level forms of activism, defined by dictionary.com as “the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.”

High-profile sports figures like Brady and Harbaugh often are reluctant to join activists in the area of race, the battleground for the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). Founded in 2015 by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, the organization’s goal is to improve race relations and drive social progress by harnessing the power of sports.

The mission is taboo to many fans, who believe race and sports are like oil and water – they don’t mix. Such fans want games to serve as an escape from real-life issues, not a reminder. They believe that athletes/coaches should refrain from unrelated comments and keep societal observations to themselves.

Or is that only when the topic is race?

I don’t recall any grumbling when nearly two dozen current and former NFL players took part in PSAs decrying domestic violence and sexual assault. Why is it OK for Eli Manning and John Lynch to take a stance against that issue, but not the issue of unarmed black men murdered by police?

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Hall yeah Bonds and Clemens belong in Cooperstown

bonds-clemensBy DERON SNYDER

Judging by ballots released by Hall of Fame voters, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens eventually will take their rightful place in Cooperstown.

How appropriate. Only Pete Rose’s exclusion makes less sense.

I don’t have a vote, but my ballot would’ve included Bonds and Clemens from their first year of eligibility until they no longer appeared. The argument against their enshrinement was always too simplistic and naïve for my liking, not to mention too arbitrary and illogical.

In other words, the stance was based too much on the Hall of Fame’s philosophy in deciding who belongs and who doesn’t.

The Hall’s unilateral decision in 2014 to curtail a player’s time on the ballot (to 10 years instead of 15) was an obvious attempt to avoid induction ceremonies for Bonds, Clemens and other stars from the Steroids Era. But the Class of 2016 included former catcher Mike Piazza (a rumored but never-proven user) and former commissioner Bud Selig (whose empire benefitted from steroid use in baseball).

Their inclusion apparently eased the conscience of otherwise reasonable voters who have opposed Bonds and Clemens. The electorate – members of the Baseball Writers Association of America – must be concluding that admitting Selig while barring two of the sport’s all-time greats is hypocritical.

The voters are only half-right, though.

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LIke powers-that-be, these halfbacks in it for business, not pleasure

mccaffreyfournetteBy DERON SNYDER

The righteous indignation erupting across segments of the college football landscape is laughable.

How dare Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette decide to skip the Sun Bowl and Citrus Bowl, respectively. What gall that these halfbacks put their preparation for professional careers ahead of their “amateur” pursuits. How can they be so selfish? Where is the commitment to their schools and teammates?

Perhaps the biggest laugher is potential damage to bowl games if stars begin opting out regularly. Cities count on those glorified exhibitions! According to a study commissioned by the College Football Association, the economic impact of bowl games was nearly $1.5 billion in 2015. Individual regions netted between $12 million and $93 million per game – not including revenue from local residents.

Everywhere you turn, there are coaches, administrators, bowl officials, TV executives and corporate sponsors lamenting the decision by McCaffrey and Fournette. Funny how that works, how choruses from the sidelines and luxury suites insist kids should take the field and accept the risks.

Folks with interests based solely on principal (financial gain), want players to base actions solely on principle (fundamental values).

Extolling the virtues of big-time college sports to the unpaid laborers grows harder and harder as the stacks grow taller and taller. One of my favorite examples this week was the Ohio sports columnist who said McCaffrey disrespected the “gift” of a scholarship to a university that costs $62,801 to attend.

I’m going out on a limb to suggest the gift has been paid back 100 times over.

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Washington nothing more, nothing less after Carolina loss

redskinsmnfBy DERON SNYDER

LANDOVER – The late Dennis Green went on a famous rant after a 2006 Monday Night Football game in which his Arizona team blew a lead against Chicago.

Ten years later, Washington fans can utter the same words with disgust and passion in analyzing the home team following a soul-crushing MNF loss against Charlotte: The Skins are you thought they were. If you want to crown them, crown them. But they are who you thought they were.

Despite the depressing, 26-15 result, everything that was true about Washington entering the game remained true afterward.

The chain-moving offense never got in gear, but still flashed its weapons on occasion. The squishy defense was gouged for more than 400 yards, but continued to stiffen its back at key moments. Washington would’ve controlled its own destiny with a victory, but it’s still alive for the playoffs, albeit barely.

With a record of 7-6-1, the Skins are a half-game better than .500. They have a thin margin for error and unfortunately exceeded the boundaries on national TV. It was their first loss at FedEx Field since starting the season 0-2 with defeats against Pittsburgh and Dallas.

They had a bad night. It happens to the best of teams and Washington isn’t one of them. They’re too inconsistent with too little depth and not enough discipline to qualify as an upper echelon squad. But they’re the same resilient bunch that earlier won six of eight games – with the blasted tie included in that stretch – before losing three of their last four.

The Skins were ready for their close-up last month when the Green Bay Packers came to town for Sunday Night Football. Washington had lost 20 of its last 25 night games but came through with arguably their best performance this season. They reverted to primetime form Monday and produced one of their worst efforts from the start.

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Week from hell gives college football latest black eye

minnesota_boycott_By DERON SNYDER

We’re well familiar with “Bowl Week” – closer to a month – when college football concludes its season with more than three dozen nondescript matchups like the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, plus old favorites like the Orange, Sugar and Rose.

This year the sport added a putrid precursor, Bowel Week, as schools in three Power 5 conferences smeared us with excrement.

Marvin Gaye had a song entitled “Makes Me Wanna Holler.” A remix version based on news about Oklahoma, Minnesota and Wake Forest would be called “Makes Me Wanna Shower.”

The worst case has to be Oklahoma, which features a star tailback who broke a woman’s jaw. The incident is two-years old and Joe Mixon paid his penalty (a one-year suspension, deferred sentence and 100 hours of community service).

But video of the vicious punch is new, released Friday for the world to see and reflexively gag.

“It was made clear to Mr. Mixon at the time of his suspension that violence against women will not go unpunished at the university,” Oklahoma said in a statement following the release. “Coach (Bob) Stoops has been proactive in presenting training for his team aimed at preventing such behavior in the future. Sensitivity training in the area of violence has been intensified and best practices will continue to be implemented.”

Well, Mixon’s punishment from the school was the equivalent of being redshirted as a freshman. He returned to help the Sooners reach the College Football Playoff last season and the Orange Bowl this season. After that, he’s off to the NFL.

Granted, there was a level of outrage when the incident came to light in 2014. But there’s something about seeing the brutal assault. It leaves nothing to the imagination … except imagining what Stoops and OU administrators were thinking when they welcoming the incoming player.

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Florida Atlantic both odd & natural landing spot for Lane Kiffin

lanekiffinBy DERON SNYDER

There’s no comparison between the Alabama offensive coordinator job and the Florida Atlantic head coach job in many respects.

The former has more of everything – salary, exposure, resources, glamour, probable success – except responsibility. The latter is a stepping stone to bigger and better opportunities – like running a Power 5 program.

Lane Kiffin has run two Power 5 programs, head coach stints at USC and Tennessee. He also has run an NFL team (though the Oakland Raiders didn’t always act the part), becoming the youngest head coach in the modern era when Al Davis signed the 31-year-old in 2007.

Coaches with those stops on their resume don’t land at FAU at this stage of their career. Maybe when they’re 61 and returning to the game after an absence, or looking for a cozy spot to downshift toward retirement. Likewise, even without the prior experience, coaches who spend three years as the Crimson Tide’s OC and help Nick Saban win a national title typically stay within the Power 5 upon snaring a top job.

But there’s nothing typical about Kiffin. Which makes his hiring at FAU seem odd and natural at the same time.

This is case of taking a step backward to move ahead after reaching the pinnacle the wrong way.

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Dak Prescott earned the right to start and must earn it to finish

prescottromoBy DERON SNYDER

When you play sports’ most-dissected position for America’s most-discussed team and the NFL’s most-diagnosed owner, maintaining the proper perspective is essential to your mental health. The need is greater when you’re a rookie and your backup is an elite, 13-year veteran who’s healthy and ready to play.

Dak Prescott should’ve seen this coming. It doesn’t matter that the Dallas Cowboys were on an 11-game winning streak entering Sunday’s 10-7 loss against the New York Giants. It doesn’t matter that he had thrown only two interceptions against 19 touchdowns in 358 pass attempts. It doesn’t matter that he’s a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year and also will garner votes for Most Valuable Player.

As soon as Prescott struggled through a rough outing and actually resembled a first-year, fourth-round draft pick, there would be a question about giving Tony Romo some playing time.

It’s fair to ask, just like it was fair to ponder if Prescott should keep the job when Romo was cleared to play in Week 11. The answer then, rightfully so, was “yes.” Romo said so himself in a classy statement, conceding that Prescott “earned the right to be our quarterback.”

However, that doesn’t mean Prescott should keep the job, regardless of results.

Even though he wasn’t great in every game, the Cowboys hadn’t lost since the season opener against the Giants. He was awful in the rematch, completing just 17 of 37 passes for 165 yards and two interceptions. Whether it was New York’s defense or simply an off-night, Prescott was completely ineffective. A relief appearance by Romo seemed reasonable.

“No,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett told reporters Sunday when asked if he considered the move. “We feel good about Dak Prescott playing quarterback for us right now.”

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Washington’s ‘weak link’ withstands without wilting in latest nail-biter

redskins_eaglesBy DERON SNYDER

PHILADELPHIA – Confidence was shaky, at best, Sunday as Philadelphia began a would-be game-winning touchdown drive. Washington’s defense had been less-than-inspiring most of the afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, and now the Eagles were poised to deliver a crushing blow to the Skins’ playoff hopes.

Faith was hard to come by. But by now we should know better than to trust our gut and lying eyes. Because while it felt like the Eagles were having their way on offense – dominating the clock, converting third downs and racking up the yardage – the scoreboard told a different story. It said one crucial stop was the only thing standing between victory and defeat.

Most fans would rather see Kirk Cousins and his multiple weapons take the field for a final, decisive drive. But when linebacker Ryan Kerrigan roared in for a strip-sack that was recovered by linebacker Trent Murphy with 12 seconds remaining, Washington’s defense held up its end of the bargain in 27-22 victory.

There’s no denying that the Skins’ strength reside on the other side of the ball, where Cousins ranks among the league’s leading passers while orchestrating a Top-10 unit. Conversely, Washington’s D ranked as a middling unit in points allowed, among the NFL’s lower-third in yards allowed and dead-last in third-down conversion percentage.

The Skins hurt their cause in two of the three categories against the Eagles, but came out ahead when it mattered most.

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Westbrook, Harden have history, the ‘Big O’ and ‘Tiny’ within sight

westbrookhardenBy DERON SNYDER

NBA history is under assault. The assailants play the same position but go about their business in distinctly different ways, each highly effective.

Yahoo NBA writer Michael Lee summed it up perfectly in a recent tweet: “Russell Westbrook triple doubles are like death metal. James Harden triple doubles are like smooth jazz.”

Westbrook and Harden, former teammates on the Oklahoma City Thunder, have produced amazing hardwood feats through one-quarter of the NBA season, posting numbers we haven’t seen in several decades. Westbrook has been unleashed, thanks to Kevin Durant signing with Golden State. Harden has been energized after a shift to point guard under first-year Houston Rockets coach Mike Antonio.

Both have been prolific scores in the past, with Westbrook winning the title in 2014-15 and Harden finishing second to Stephen Curry last season. But they are so much more in their new circumstances, maybe enough to join exclusive lists.

Oscar Robertston is the only NBA player to average double-figures in points, rebounds and assists in a single season (1961-62). Entering Friday’s contest against Houston, Westbrook is right there with the “Big O,” averaging 31.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 11.3 assists. He has posted triple-doubles in six consecutive games.

All other NBA players combined accounted for 11 triple-doubles through Tuesday; Westbrook has 11 by himself. In 22 games.

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For Jeff Fisher, winning isn’t the only thing, it’s nothing at all

jefffisherBy DERON SNYDER

On an early episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” last summer, Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher summoned wideout Deon Long to the office. Turns out that Long had brought a woman to his dorm room during training camp, a violation of the Rams’ strict no-visitors policy.

He was cut on the spot and Fisher later explained the decision in a team meeting. “I’m not f—ing going 7-9 or 8-8 or 9-7 … we have too much talent here for that,” he said. “We had some 7-9 bulls— this morning and we can’t have that. Deon is gone. That is 7-9 bulls— and we don’t need that.

Fisher was right. He doesn’t need a rule-breaker to go 7-9.

He’s a master all by himself.

News broke early Sunday morning that Fisher is getting a two-year contract extension. Although the agreement reportedly was reached during the preseason, the timing was odd because he recently emerged from a public spat with Rams legend Eric Dickerson, who isn’t a fan of the coach.

In fairness, Dickerson isn’t alone. Fisher is unlikely to find many supporters outside of family and team management.

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