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Youth sports have everything – except people who want to officiate


Once upon a time, many little boys wanted to be police officers or fire fighters when they grew up. Perhaps that’s the still the case today. But it seems like more young tykes dream of being point guards, sluggers and quarterbacks.

Baseball’s trade deadline Monday put contenders and pretenders under the microscope. NFL interest is heating up with training camps underway from coast to coast. The NBA is cooling down – minus the bubbling Kyrie Irving rumors – after a torrid summer of intrigue.

And still they come. Wave after wave of high schoolers and preschoolers, eyes set on the college and pro ranks like the parents who drive them (figuratively and literally). With seemingly every game on TV, separated only by talk shows about the games and business, it’s no surprise that hands shoot up when kids are asked: “Who wants to be athlete?”

Our exposure to major sports and their media coverage make it clear we’re talking about a multibillion-dollar industry. And with that much money at the top, you know there’s plenty along the supply line. Especially in the travel.

The Associated Press reports that communities across the country are reinventing themselves to serve as youth sports meccas. A 2009 study by the National Association of Sports Commissions and Ohio University found that participation in youth sports travel increased from 2008 to 2009 during the Great Recession. According to AP, spending has increased by 10 percent in each of the past two years, and $10.4 billion in spending was generated last year.

From the article: “More teams are going each and every year, because the one thing we found is families will always invest in their kids no matter what,” said Jim Arnold, director of business development for The Sports Force & Fields, a planning and management company.

Westfield, Indiana (population: 30,000) opened a 400-acre, $49 million complex built with public funds in 2014. Local officials in Florida’s Seminole County signed off on a $27 million facility completed in 2016. The Blue Grass Sports Commission in Lexington, Kentucky, has plans for a $30 million complex with multiple multiuse fields. This year, the city of Sandusky, Ohio, opened a $23.5 million facility on 57 acres.

Developers and elected officials argue that youth sports travel, with its associated regional and national tournaments, is recession-proof. Check back the next time one rolls around.

Either way, there’s a crisis back home.

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Cowboys show no class in handling false charges against Whitehead


I’ve heard elders talk about a time when teachers could spank a child at school. That often would lead to another spanking at home, punishment for receiving the first one.

It didn’t matter if the original sentence was unjust, if the student mistakenly was blamed for another’s misbehavior. Cases of “he said, she said” never ended well for kids pitted against the adults. Teachers were the judge, jury and spanker – all in one. Their decisions were final and always respected upon appeal when children returned home.

Being falsely accused is infuriating, especially when others buy into the allegations. You’re fortunate if the “only” consequence is a dinged reputation.

But sometimes you’re not that lucky, regardless of your name.

Lucky Whitehead was participating in a session Monday at the Dallas Cowboys training camp when he found out Virginia authorities had a warrant for his arrest. They claimed he missed a court hearing for a shoplifting incident on June 22.

He asked the Cowboys for an opportunity to clear his name, to prove he wasn’t arrested for taking about $40 in food and drink from a Wawa convenience store in Prince William County. He wasn’t even in the state when the incident occurred. The team would hear none of it, dumping him within two hours.

“Let’s not sugarcoat anything,” Whitehead told the Dallas Morning News. “I was pretty much being called a liar.”

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Trade demand is puzzling but Irving might deserve benefit of doubt


The sports world has pilloried Kyrie Irving since Friday, when reports surfaced that the four-time All-Star requested a trade at a meeting with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Irving expressed that he no longer wants to play alongside LeBron James.

At first glance (second and third, too), Irving’s desire to quit riding shotgun is baffling. Cleveland has reached three consecutive NBA Finals with James behind the wheel. The Cavs’ offseason has been underwhelming but they are favorites to make another trip next season. Sharing the court with the world’s best player makes Irving’s seat more comfortable.

There isn’t much to debate regarding those sentiments. Irving’s best chance to win another title is as James’ sidekick. We’ve seen “Uncle Drew” in the lead role before and it was exceedingly ugly. Cleveland went a combined 78-152 with Irving running the show in the three seasons preceding James’ triumphant return.

According to Windhorst, Irving wants to play in a situation where he can be more of a focal point. That seems unlikely at San Antonio and Minnesota, two of his reported preferred destinations, where Kawhi Leonard and Karl-Anthony Towns are the entrenched young stars. Irving could headline Madison Square Garden for the Knicks (assuming Carmelo Anthony is gone) or be the man on South Beach with Miami, but he’d take a hit for lack of championship ambition.

Which brings us to the ol’ sliding scale on athletes’ motives. Irving clearly is on the wrong side of public opinion, though many critics make the right side a moving target they’d never hit if given a shot.

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Wall extension gives Wizards long-term curb appeal


Don’t look now, but Washington suddenly is more attractive than the homely NBA outpost it resembled for 35 years.

Now, instead of being a punchline, the Wizards can punish opponents. Instead of being dismissed and forgotten, they can command respect and attention. Instead of lacking sizzle and star appeal, Washington can trot out one of the league’s best backcourts.

And in an Eastern Conference landscape that might lose Mount LeBron next summer, the Wizards are poised to be serious threats over the next several seasons.

Thank you, Ted Leonsis. By digging into your pocket and signing John Wall to a four-year, $170 million extension, you bought a level of relevance and competence that’s been rare for your franchise.

With the speedy point guard in uniform for at least the next five seasons, playing alongside sweet-stroke shooter Bradley Beal for at least four, Washington has positioned itself as a destination. Imagine that.

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Money never the only thing unless it’s in interest of owners, fans


Unlike pro athletes, fans’ relationship to their sports team is personal, not business.

Players come and go. Names on the back of jerseys are forever changing. But followers’ allegiance to the logo and color scheme remains intact. The franchise’s interests take precedence over labor’s wants and desires.

We love to imagine the feeling of earning, say, $24 million a season (Kirk Cousins) or $228 million for the next six years (James Harden). We fantasize over the thrill of signing a $400 million contract (Bryce Harper). The notion of that much money boggles our minds and numbs our senses.

Yet, fans typically align with management when player salaries threaten team success.

When the Texas Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year pact for $252 million, the All-Star shortstop held up his end of the deal. In three years with the Rangers, he won an AL MVP and two Gold Gloves while leading the league in homers each year, with Top 3-finishes in RBIs and total bases.

Good for A-Rod; bad for the franchise. Texas finished last each season before trading him to the New York Yankees in 2004.

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For folks taking sides on Cousins, arguments are far from over


Washington’s latest quarterback drama has entered the final act. Barring an unforeseen plot twist, the upcoming season will represent Kirk Cousins’ last in D.C.

He’ll be gone, but the debate will continue.

Just as decision-makers within the organization reportedly are split on Cousins’ value, so too are fans around town and voices around the league. He’s either a near-elite QB and deserves to be paid as such, or he’s an above-average starter in a superior system with talented targets.

As expected, the Skins and Cousins didn’t reach a long-term deal by Monday’s deadline. Critics, including yours truly, say letting Cousins leave for San Francisco or some other locale in 2018 would be a colossal mistake, the last in a series of miscues regarding the fourth-round pick. Supporters of the decision might not agree with the way it was handled, but they applaud the determination to not pay him like a franchise quarterback.

“He is what he is,” an anonymous NFC pro scouting director told’s Bucky Brooks. “He is a solid starter capable of winning games when surrounded by talent in that system, but I don’t think he’s a difference maker. … I would have a tough time paying $25 million for a guy that I don’t believe can carry us to the Super Bowl.”

A couple of things about that view don’t make sense. 

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Don’t confuse Porter’s contract with his value to Wizards


This is a great time to be an NBA star but even better for NBA scrubs. Thanks to the massive influx of TV money the last two seasons, players deep on the bench can command salaries that make Jon Koncak’s infamous deal look like a steal.

You might recall that Koncak signed a six-year, $13 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks in 1989, giving him a higher salary than Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The center had averaged 4.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in 1988-89; he never matched those numbers again and retired in 1996.

But it’s not who you know. It’s when you’re due.

Koncak hit the jackpot thanks to good timing, while the opposite caused Steph Curry to be drastically underpaid until now. The same unlucky break makes John Wall the Wizards’ third-highest paid player entering next season. That  sounds crazier than another NBA fact:

Mike Conley had the league’s highest salary at a point last summer ($26.5 million) until LeBron James surpassed him ($30.9 million).

The numbers make sense though. Teams are required to spend 90 percent of the salary cap and the cap soared last season. That’s why a player like Otto Porter – good but far from great – got $106 million over four years in re-signing with Washington. The pact became official Thursday.

All things considered, he’s worth every cent.

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MLB All-Star Game needs to be less serious, more fun


If issues with the All-Star Game were a league’s only problem, that league wouldn’t have much to worry about.

The annual gathering of top players might lack in most aspects compared to regular contests, but that’s largely unavoidable. There’s no escaping the fact that exhibitions fare poorly against real games.

Major League Baseball was wise to remove the “This Time It Counts” stakes from the All-Star Game, no longer giving the winner home-field advantage in the World Series. Granted, there are better marketing slogans than “This Time It Doesn’t Matter Again.”

But tying real consequences to an otherwise meaningless pickup game wasn’t the answer. It didn’t adequately address the real question:

What should be done to make the ASG better?

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Fired Fox Sports exec created big disgrace with ‘Embrace Debate’


Public discourse is taking a beating, descending to a level that allows little room for compromise and no leeway for opposing views.

Forget politics. I’m talking about our fun and games, discussed with a passion and gravity better-suited for world famine.

“Kevin Durant is weak for going to the Warriors!”

“Tim Tebow is an elite NFL quarterback!”

“John Wall is a moron for doing the Dougie!”

“LeBron James is too rich to experience racism!”

Hot takes has had a cooling effect on moderation and reason. The more outrageous a stance, the better for attention-fueled provocateurs. All matters merit at least an 11 on scales of 1-to-10.

One person deserves most of the credit, or blame, for the epidemic of sports’ shoutfests: Jamie Horowitz. If you have an affinity for his brand of programming – “Embrace Debate” – you might be disappointed that Fox Sports abruptly fired him last week.

But if you think “Embrace Disgrace” is a more-appropriate slogan, Horowitz’s dismissal might be reason to cheer.

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Former Washington QB Campbell recalls “a whole bunch of crazy”


For the most part, observers have been shaking their heads about Washington’s NFL team since the turn of the century. Owner Dan Snyder’s tenure has been marked by blunder after travesty after embarrassment, giving the franchise a well-earned reputation for incompetence and dysfunction.

The latest example involves the handling of Kirk Cousins, set to be paid franchise-quarterback money for a second consecutive season with iffy chances of playing a third with Washington. Former Skins QB Jason Campbell can’t relate to dollars but recognizes the nonsense.

“The hard thing is the Redskins have a really big fan base and you fall in love with people in the D.C. area,” Campbell said during a phone conversation. “That’s the part that makes you want to be there. Then there’s the football side of it. “You have a good relationship with the guys who played before you.

“But the flip side is when you realize there’s a whole bunch of crazy going on.”

Campbell, who’ll be in the area Saturday as special guest at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden annual Car & Bike Show, know of what he speaks. No other quarterback history had his helmet wired to a guy who in two weeks went from calling Bingo to calling plays.

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