Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the Washington Sports Fan

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

CB

Those of or around my generation remember Charlie Brown attempting to kick the football held by that female joker Lucy. What was fascinating is not that Lucy pulled the ball away to get Charlie Brown once. Anybody can be had once. However, ole Chuck kept falling for Lucy’s okie-doke over and over again. It was suckerism on steroids.

I hate to say it, well actually, I do not, but the Washington sports fan reminds me of Charlie Brown.

When you think about it, it is incredible. How can anyone run the same game on his/her victims repeatedly and have them fall for it repeatedly? It is not as if the game has been cleaned up or got a makeover. It is as if Bernie Madoff were released from prison tomorrow and a significant number of his victims would buy into yet another of his Ponzi schemes.

Every year across the four different major sports, the fans of this area are every bit as optimistic as Charlie Brown charging to kick that damn football. The fact that history does not dissuade them from accepting their inevitable fate is either delusional or optimistic on the level of spiritual faith……some will argue that their little difference between the two.

This isn’t just hyperbole. When the Cleveland Cavaliers won its first NBA title in 2016 and the first of any kind for the city since the 1964 Browns, that left Washington, DC and St. Paul/Minneapolis in the lead for title droughts among cities with at least three major sports teams. Not since 1991 has either city/metropolis won a title.

It is not just that they have not been able to win a title in nearly 30 years, but how they have lost. Each sports team has managed to tease its fans just enough to make them dare to believe, only to give up the ghost in the end. Personally, if my teams are not going to be good, put me out of my misery early. Giants let me know by May, Lakers let me know by December, etc., etc.

The biggest culprit among Washington sports teams is clearly the Capitals. They have blown five 3-1 post-season leads to lose game seven, twice to their nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins. I cannot think of any franchise in any of the four sports that has the number of another franchise the way the Pens own the Caps. Of their ten playoff encounters, Washington has only beaten Pittsburgh once.

The Penguins may as well be Lucy.

Then there is the Washington Nationals, who have yet to win a playoff series. They have been eliminated at home three times. I was at the 2012 collapse against the Cardinals and it was by far the most depressing sports atmosphere of which I had ever been a part. I was there in 2014 when my Giants rolled in for two games and rolled out with two wins. In 2016, it was the Dodgers, and last year it was the Cubs.

The Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, and Cubs may as well be Lucy.

Then there is the Wizards who are good for winning road games against superior teams only to come back home and lose when they have a chance to get a strangle hold on a series. The last time the Washington Wizards franchise won at least 50 games was 1979, when they were the Bullets and defending NBA champions.

Finally, there is the football team. I contend that just maybe its racist name might be the curse over all of the city’s sports teams. Until they change it, I have no sympathy for them.

It is a shame because Washington has one of the truly great fanbases in America.

However, as the late native Washingtonian great Marvin Gaye would sing, there are “four” things in life for sure: taxes, death, trouble, and Washington sports fans believing that this year Lucy will not pull the damn football away.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

How Baseball Became a Litmus Test for Blackness and Why I Don’t Give a Damn

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

BB

Baseball is back and along with it the same annual rituals: the Spring and warmer weather is approaching, my Giants spanking the Dodgers, and other Black folks giving me the side-eye of suspicion for so openly loving the game.

 

Yep! It is not an uncommon line of thinking among some Black folks that baseball is a white game. This thinking is not totally without merit but it was not always this way. As hard as this may be to believe for the younger generations, there was indeed a time when baseball was the unquestioned most popular sport among Black America. Its representation at the Major League level peaked in the mid-70s to early 80s at about 25%.

 

And then things began to change. I cite two primary reasons: 1) deindustrialization of the economy and the criminal industrial complex, both of which disproportionately adversely affected Black men, who would have been the primary teachers and passers of the game of baseball. Subsequent reasons are the rise of the Latin American player to fill the void and AAU basketball, which all but requires year-round participation. The cumulative result of all these factors is that today that 25% from the mid-70s-early 80s is now about 7% and declining.

 

With this change in the face of baseball came the stigma for Black youth who aspired to play the game in the form of the accusation of “acting white”. Peer acceptance among youth is important across cultural and demographic lines. That importance is even greater among oppressed and already isolated peoples. The value of community endorsement is not easily set aside.

 

One of the many struggles of oppressed and segregated groups is to resist oppressed and segregated thinking. This is outlined beautifully in the late Brazilian Educator Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The less we see our reflection in baseball or any other activity or venue, the more the thinking creeps in that this just isn’t for us. The natural companion of that thinking is that any Black person who aspires to or likes the activity is running from his community identification. For Black folks the need to dismantle a criminal justice system, rooted in Capitalism and White supremacy that literally kills us with little to no accountability for doing so, is an overwhelming challenge and discouraging for some. It is much easier to question the cultural identity of someone who likes baseball than to deal with the substantive sources of our oppression.

 

This is not to suggest that there aren’t Black folks who do both consciously and subconsciously seek out interest for the specific purpose of separating themselves from the lager group.

 

I’m just not the one.

 

There is hope and high profile Black baseball fans exempt from this litmus test. One who comes to mind is local cultural icon and poet Ethelbert Miller. Besides finding a way to never age, for some 40 years he worked at my alma mater, Howard University, as head of its Moorland Spingarn Research Center. It is one of the world’s greatest repositories of Black history, culture, and life. I met him upon my arrival at Howard in 1991. He also just released his second book on baseball called “If God Invented Baseball?”. Yes, I will be reading it soon.

 

But with or without high profile Black baseball fans, I always have and always will love baseball. For any cultural legitimacy gatekeepers who have a problem with that, I strongly suggest you find a more useful way to spend your time and hate. I don’t care what you think!

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Do Not Let the Madness March Over HBCU Basketball

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

Brackets

 

March Madness is here and we college basketball fans are excited.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) annual ritual is the single most entertaining sports event in the world for me.

It is also a cash cow. The NCAA will get $857 million from Turner this year. Within a few years, it will be generating over $1 Billion in TV revenue alone.

I am also a proud Historically Black College and University (HBCU) graduate of Howard University!

As March Madness grows to include more teams, it is crucial that we fight against efforts that would exclude HBCU’s. The most specific threat against HBCU’s is the call to eliminate the automatic bid system.

The current system allows any Division 1 team that wins its conference championship to secure an automatic bid to the tournament.

This is how you sometimes end up with teams with say a 15-15 record in the tournament. ESPN commentator Jay Bilas, whose opinion I generally respect, would do away with this. His contention is that the best 68 teams should be selected via record, who you played, and where you played them, as well as the infamous “eye test”. In a vacuum, it is a compelling case. Who among us that are sports fans don’t want the best teams in the playoffs?

The problem is that nothing in this world is ever in a vacuum. There is both a historical and current day context for all understanding and college basketball is no different.

The history is that up until 1957, HBCU’s were not permitted to participate at all due to the Jim Crow laws of that day. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) was actually the first to admit such schools. The NCAA was forced to admit schools in order to compete.  There was a time when only conference champions made the tournament. This is why arguably the greatest team in the history of Maryland basketball did not get to play in the tournament. The 1973-74 team that featured John Lucas, Tom McMillan, and Len Elmore finished 23-5. All of their losses were to North Carolina, 8-time defending champion UCLA, and eventual national champion North Carolina State, that beat Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Some say that game was the greatest college basketball game ever played.  There were calls to eliminate the automatic bid at that time but the alternative of awarding at-large bids won out and was implemented in 1980. This was a boon for the power conference schools, while keeping the automatic bid process.

The tournament has expanded over the years largely due to its incredible popularity. However, with every expansion comes the call to eliminate the automatic bid process.

Doing so would be a deathblow for HBCU basketball.

Contrary to what the current Secretary of Education thinks, HBCU’s were not born out of choice but out of a necessary response to racism. That same factor has always undermined these institutions’ financial struggles. Participation in this tournament not only gives them a rightful cut of the eventual $1 billion TV pie, but also helps with recruitment of both athletes and non-student athletes.

You may think if they want to participate, they should have to earn it like every other school. How did that work out for Central Florida in college football? They went undefeated, concluding by whipping Auburn from the mighty SEC, which beat both title game finalists. Yet they were systemically locked out of any chance to win the college football title. There was nothing that they could do differently because the power schools do not have to play them. The same would and already does happen to HBCU’s. The best they get is a “pay to play” trip across the country to play larger programs for a check. Only in the tournament do they get to compete in a neutral site.

It is not as if HBCU’s have no history of success.  Of the eight number 15 seeds to win a game, three were from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC, the home of my Howard University).

We are talking about a basketball legacy that has produced Willis Reed, Earl Monroe, and Sam Jones. Such talent now rarely considers HBCU’s in basketball, which is a byproduct of the raid that integration brought about. Simply put, the struggles of HBCU basketball are not from bad coaching or management, but they are a direct result of the expansion of opportunities for the players. The automatic bid process is the only safeguard that keeps HBCU’s at the table. The system is rigged to favor the power schools and without the automatic bid, HBCU’s will be shut out.

It should remain and we should fight any argument otherwise.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Do Not Drink the Rocket Kool-Aid, Just Yet

Monday, March 5th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

The Houston Rockets are very very good! Their winning streak is at 15 and counting. They have the best record in basketball, which if maintained would give them home court throughout the playoffs. They have won two of three from the defending champion Warriors. James Harden would get my vote for MVP up to this point.

Yet, if you tell me that Houston Rocket Kool-Aid taste like a team that will win the NBA title, I am just not ready to drink.

In no particular order, I am going to outline the four reasons why I refuse to drink:

When has a Mike D’Antoni coached team played enough defense to be a threat to win an NBA title? The answer is NEVER! It is a highly entertaining brand of basketball, without a doubt. His teams remind me of Big 12 college football teams; high scoring, very little defense, and as much as you may want to believe that they can win it all, you know in your heart of hearts, they will not beat defensive-minded SEC teams.

Another concern is that no eventual champion team has ever blown a 26-point lead to lose a game as the Rockets did earlier in the year to Boston. Some will cite the Cavaliers blowing the same lead last year against the Hawks. The difference is that they blew that after having won a title. It is indefensible in either case but Cleveland already achieved the essential goal. Houston has not reached that level.

Yet another reason is James Harden’s Game 6-elimination performance against San Antonio last year. After a disappointing overtime loss in game 5, in which Harden was great with 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. After averaging 20 shots in the first 5 games, at home in game 6 he only took 11 shots, making 2 to score 10 points. It is one thing to go 9 of 30 with the season on the line. At least we could say he left everything on the floor. However, this effort, in my mind, can only be classified as quitting. We have seen great regular season performers across sports that simply did not duplicate the performance in the post season. The best example is Dodgers Ace Clayton Kershaw. Even as a die-hard Giants fan, I freely acknowledge Kershaw as being the best….regular season pitcher in baseball. In the playoffs, he has simply been subpar.

The last reason, which if I were ordering would be the first: The Golden State Warriors. We should not over think this folks. If not for Draymond Green’s suspension in The Finals two years ago, the Warriors likely would be pursuing their fourth straight NBA title.  That ain’t luck. The simple reality is that they are that much better than everyone else. It is the only team that need not play its best to win it all this year. Health is a far greater threat than the Rockets or any other team, to the Warriors.

We have seen with LeBron James, especially in 2015, that even a Herculean effort by a team’s best player can at best stretch the series to six games….and that was before Durant came to Golden State. Even if you believe Harden is ready to play at that level, why would you believe it would be enough?

So in spite of these reasons to doubt, why are so many ready to crown the Rockets? I suspect it is Golden State Warrior fatigue. As sports fans, we prefer some degree of suspense about who will eventually wear the crown. With that in mind, people want to believe that there is a worthy challenger. In wanting that, many do what the human mind often does, which is to embellish evidence to validate its hopes.

What is the evidence that the Rockets are ready? The addition of Chris Paul? He is a great player and I believe is unfairly blamed for the failure of his teams to advance in the playoffs……but the fact is that they have not. Would it be the 15 game winning streak? Excluding this year’s Celtics, 11 other teams in NBA history have won 15 straight that did not win the title. James Harden? How can you trust him after San Antonio last year?

Therefore, as much as I want a worthy challenger for the title, I am holding off on anointing the Rockets as the answer. Maybe I should have been born in Missouri because you have to SHOW ME and the Rockets have not done so yet.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

The Baffling Hall of Fame Denial of Joe Jacoby

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

JJ

It is not uncommon for an honor or denial of an honor to happen in sports with which I do not agree. However, in most such cases, I at least understand the why. For example, Terrell Owens should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. He was not simply because a number of voters just did not like him. As sorry of an explanation as that is, it was an explanation.

No such explanation is at all clear why after 20 years of eligibility, the great Washington offensive tackle Joe Jacoby is still not a Hall of Famer.

The resume is easy to note. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All Pro, and three-time Super Bowl champion.

The situational case for Jacoby is even more compelling. He was undrafted out of Louisville and thus perhaps the greatest undrafted linemen (argument from Miami’s Jim Langer) in NFL history. Along with guard Russ Grimm, who is deservedly in the Hall of Fame, he was one of the two best linemen on one of the 2-3 best offensive lines of the Super Bowl era, along with the Cowboys of the 90s and the Raiders of the 70s. This line was affectionately known as, “the Hogs”. My primary reasoning for liking his team was that they could beat the Cowboys. Jacoby’s arrival initiated a changing of the guard in the NFC East from Dallas to Washington as the “Bully on the Block”. But in addition to that, what was fun and unique about the Washington O-line of the 80s is that their effectiveness was not so much based on scheme or chop blocking, but on raw smash-mouth football.  It is said that they only used four different running plays. They were known to walk up to the line of scrimmage and literally tell the opposing defensive linemen what they intended to do and never bluffed. As Grimm said in his Hall of Fame induction speech, “there is nothing more satisfying than to move a grown man in the direction you want to move him and there is absolutely nothing he can do about it”. That is about as good of a drop the mic statement I have ever heard in football.

That is what this offensive line routinely did for the better part of 12 years. It was the mainstay over the Joe Gibbs era, the greatest in franchise history. For the three Super Bowl titles, there were three different starting QBs, 3 different primary running backs.  The constant was Art Monk at receiver and the offensive line with Grimm and Jacoby. That point cannot be overemphasized. If you look at Super Bowl winners, you will find a 68 Jets team that was subpar on defense. The 81-49ers team did not have much of a running game. What you will not find is any Super Bowl winning team that is subpar on the offensive line.

Another factor that speaks to Jacoby’s greatness and Hall of Fame merit was the caliber of pass rushers he faced. The Bears had Richard Dent, the Vikings had Chris Doleman, the 49ers had Fred Dean and then Charles Haley, the Saints had Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling, and the Rams had Kevin Greene. Those were merely pass rushers outside of the division. Within the NFC East, twice a year from the all-important left tackle positon, the QBs blind side, Jacoby saw Clyde Simmons and Reggie White from the Eagles, “Too Tall” Jones, Harvey Martin, and then Jim Jeffcoat from the Cowboys, Curtis Greer and then Freddie Joe Nunn from the Cardinals, and finally Leonard Marshall and the great Lawrence Taylor from the Giants.  Every pass rusher listed here is either in the Hall of Fame or at the very least recorded multiple double-digit sack seasons over his career. There is no way Washington gets out of the NFC 4 times, much less win three Super Bowls unless Jacoby could hold his own blocking these game wreckers.

Therefore, for me the case is clear. I do not know why it is not for Hall of Fame voters, but I have two theories. One is that Jacoby is not the best at lobbying for himself. He is clearly intelligent and a man of diverse talents, which is evident from his starting multiple successful businesses in his post football days. However, he is not the most articulate and it just does not seem to be in his personality to promote himself. Of course, in the world of professional sports where one’s work is as transparent as any other endeavor, being well spoken should not have anything to do with one’s Hall of Fame candidacy.

My only other theory is the fact that the Jacoby teams during that era are generally underappreciated. When most think of that era, they think of the stylish offensive trendsetting 49ers, deservedly so given they won five Super Bowls, to include a repeat in 88-89. Others will think of the Bears with their Super Bowl Shuffle and historic 85 defense, or the Giants playing out of New York more than Washington does. Yes, New York had Washington’s number but Washington won three Super Bowls, which is the the same as the Giants and Bears combined, in that era. In 1983, Washington also set what was then the single season scoring record. Would the Washington teams from Jacoby’s era be more appreciated had they finished the mission of repeating as Super Bowl champs by beating the Raiders? Likely. That is no excuse.

Joseph Erwin Jacoby belongs in the Hall of Fame and the longer he is denied the more the voters indict their own credibility.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

TEN REASONS TO HATE THE PATRIOTS THAT DON’T HAVE A DAMN THING TO DO WITH FOOTBALL

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

NEP

The football related reasons have been covered: they are cheaters; they own my Steelers and they just win too damn much.

But there are even more non-football related reasons to hate the New England Patriots. Coming up with 10 was not hard. Deciding which reasons to leave off the list was near impossible.

So, feel free to reorder as you see fit. Here they are:

Reason 10: “New” England??? The name New England shows that the area suffers from Stockholm syndrome, which is characterized by an oppressed or kidnapped victim identifying with and even defending their oppressor or captor. Why on Earth would you name yourself after the tyrannical country you fled, if those circumstances were the primary reason you left? The only explanation for this is that their intention all along was to do to others the very thing they called unjust in England. In other words, they were not against oppression. They just wanted to be the oppressors rather than the oppressed.

TB

Reason 9: Brady gets the model wife. No jealousy here from me. I have never thought Giselle Bundchen was all that attractive. Throw a nickel out the window and you’ll hit 25 women by accident that look as good or better. It’s just that the storyline of QB marrying the super model is clearly hate worthy.

Reason 8: Ted Williams. The late Red Sox Hall of Famer said that Joe DiMaggio was the best player he ever saw. DiMaggio was truly great. But he was not Willie Mays, period.

Reason 7: Boston Tea Party hypocrisy. Taxation without representation is what we have always been taught was the rallying cry. And yet to this day, if you are a resident of Washington DC, you have no full congressional representation, despite being among the most highly taxed regions in the country. You would think the area of the Tea Party revolt of all places would be allies against this injustice, but noooooooo. Not a peep out of New England in DC’s defense.

Reason 6: The Red Sox. They were the last team in baseball to get a Black player. Jackie Robinson came up in 1947. It would be 12 more years, in 1959, before the Red Sox would yield.

Reason 5: The Celtics. Beyond beating my Lakers year after year, how the city treated the Great Bill Russell when he played for them was shameful. For years he would not return to the city of his greatest athletic accomplishments.

Reason 4: The annoying accent. All New Englanders should be mandated by law to learn sign language so that we wouldn’t have to hear them talk.

Reason 3: They gave us Dr. Seuss. a straight up bigot who reinforced racist notions through his cartoons.

Reason 2: School desegregation. It was every bit as vicious in the this northern “Liberal” city as it was anywhere in the South.

Reason 1: They gave us the Bush family. I do not subscribe to the notion that either daddy or baby Bush weren’t so bad just because of how bad the current president is.

There you have them. I could have written 20 or 30 but no time or space. Of course, whenever one is this vested in hating a sports team, rest assured that team is very good. In this case, for the better part of the past 20 years, the Patriots have been even better than very good. They have been great, which is why this amount of hate is actually the highest compliment you can pay them. Hate is too valuable of a sports commodity to be wasted on losers. You will never hear anyone express frustration over how much they hate the Browns.

Rings

Any reasonable person must give the Patriots their due. But reason and hate cannot occupy the same space. You must choose one or the other and when it comes to the Patriots, I choose hate. They will always occupy a special place in my HOF (Hate of Fame), alongside Notre Dame Football, Duke Basketball, and of course those damn LA Dodgers.

So, for all the reasons alluded to here, this Super Bowl Sunday, I’ll kick back, raise a Bud Light to salute and root for PHILLY, PHILLY!

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Washington was Right About Cousins All Along

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

KC

With the agreement to acquire Kansas City QB Alex Smith, the marriage between Washington and its QB, Kirk Cousins, is all but over. Though Smith’s contract extension details have yet to come out, my guess is that it is front loaded for him and back end friendly, which would allow Washington to get out should he start to decline quickly. Cousins will become a free agent and command in the range of $27-29 million per year, making him the highest paid player in the league.

The issue was not if Washington would have saved money signing QB Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal two years ago. They obviously would have. If I had purchased a nice car in 2016, it would have cost me less than in 2018. But could I have afforded the maintenance and up-keep necessary for that vehicle to function at its maximum best? If the answer is no, why buy the car?

The issue was if they had signed him, would they have been any better off than the Baltimore Ravens have been since they re-signed Joe Flacco? Is Kirk Cousins a top 5-10 caliber QB that will keep you in the hunt for a Super Bowl every year? If the answers to these two questions are no, then Washington was right all along about Cousins.

Kirk Cousins is a more than adequate starting NFL QB. He was never as bad as ESPN talk show host Bomani Jones suggested, comparing him to Ryan Fitzpatrick. He also is not a top 5-10 guy, which is the only QBs teams should lock up with the big money.  The two glaring concerns I have about Cousins as a QB are: 1) that he is not a confident down field passer; and 2) he is not a good improviser. These happen to be the two QB aspects that defenses fear the most. They do not fear a guy whom they know will stay in the pocket and throw short passes most of the day. That is what Kirk Cousins has been.

It’s about now when some reading this will respond with stats. They do in fact look good for Cousins over the past 3 seasons. They are also terribly misleading. At no time in football history have QB stats been as artificially embellished as they are today. There are several factors that have created this environment: 1) the generational influence of the West Coast offense which emphasizes the short passing game (of which Washington Head coach Jay Gruden is a disciple) and; 2) increased defensive sophistication in scheming, especially in taking away big plays.  As a result, what was at one time the 3rd or 4th option, the check down pass to a back has now become the second and sometimes primary target. This leads to higher pass completion percentages and appeals to the defensive-minded coaches as well, as it is more risk averse. These same coaches are from the school of thought that says, “just don’t lose us the game”. This philosophy leads to a game manager mindset in the QB and less down field passes.

Don’t feel bad for Cousins. He is going to benefit greatly from a perfect storm of factors, most of all being the fact that the demand for quality QBs so far outweighs the supply. That is how the likes of Brock Osweiller and Mike Glennon could cash in and neither are near as good as Cousins. Some team will make Cousins the highest paid QB/player in league history. That’s just the way this thing works.

It’s not that you can’t win a Super Bowl with Kirk Cousins as your QB. You can. The 2000 Ravens won with Trent Dilfer, the 2002 Bucs won with a Brad Johnson past his prime, and of course the 2015 Broncos won with a washed-up Peyton Manning. What did all 3 of those teams have in common: all-time great defenses and the inability to sustain the success on an annual basis. Bill Cowher kept my Steelers in contention with a QB list of Neil O’Donnell, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox. But they could not get over the hump until Big Ben came. The Steelers were also an aberration in that they draft and develop players on an exceptionally high level, which makes them less desperate to over pay to sign free agents or re-sign their own proven players.

Don’t let this year’s NFL conference champion QBs fool you. Yes, you can win with a less than top 5-10 QB, but good luck at sustaining a team in the Super Bowl hunt without one. There are only two viable tactics for getting an NFL QB: you either lock up the top 5-10 guy to a long-term deal or you get a guy at a discount and invest the rest in your defense and other areas of your team. What hamstrings a team is when it locks up a guy in the 12-15 range, which is where Cousins is, to a long term deal that won’t allow it to add the talent around him.

Washington concluded this about Cousins and they were right. As one analyst put it, they wanted a prenuptial agreement with him and he found it insulting and refused to sign it, knowing what he could get on the free market. I don’t blame either side.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Why the Rooney Rule is Not Enough

Monday, January 29th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

RR

In the Spring of 1994, I was completing my first year as a teaching intern at the Lowell School in Washington, DC. It was one of several prestigious private schools in the area, predominantly white, that had formed a minority teaching intern program. The idea was that this would create a pool of teaching candidates from which the schools could choose from to increase the diversity among their teaching cadre. As a result, that Spring I had multiple interviews with schools in the area, from Sidwell Friends (where the children of presidents have attended) to Landon. The interviews had two things in common: 1) all the schools were run by and served the upper class of DC; and 2) there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that I was going to get hired.

But I served their purpose of being able to say, “We reached out”.

Whenever this time of year in the NFL comes around, it reminds me of that experience.  Black coaching candidates are on display like show ponies, often with little to no chance of actually getting hired. It’s all a byproduct of the Rooney Rule, which mandates that teams interview a minority candidate for NFL head coaching and general manager vacancies. It also validates my contention that the Rooney Rule, though effective to some extent, is not enough to get a management demographic that is reflective of the player demographics in the NFL.

To really understand the core issues here, it’s important to realize that the hiring process anywhere consists of two fundamental aspects: 1) Systemic; and 2) Cultural.

Systemic change can be largely accomplished through changes in policies, especially those with foreseeable outcomes. In this respect, the rule has been generally effective. Since its inception in 2003, more minority head coaches and GMs have been hired than in all the 70 years prior in the NFL. Its major limitation is that it does not extend to the most common source of head coaching candidates, which is offensive and defensive coordinators. The conventional thinking is that a head coach needs to be able to hire his own staff to give him the best chance to succeed. I have no football-based rejection of that notion, so I will not pretend otherwise.

The other aspect of hiring is culture. While systemic change is largely fostered by changes in policies and rules, the only way to change a culture is to either change the minds of people or get rid of those whose mindsets are at odds with the culture one wants to build.

And that is essentially where the Rooney Rule is limited in its capacity to change the hiring practices in the NFL. As the old saying goes, “you cannot legislate morality”. What happened when laws were introduced to curb money laundering, mandating banks to report deposits of $10K or more? The launderers simply kept their deposit under that number, because while the law could modify observable behavior, it could do nothing to change the mindset of the launderers. They put on the dog and pony show of compliance while continuing to think in a way that undermined the spirt of the law. Likewise, NFL teams do the same when they invite Black men to interview for jobs that they have no intention of seriously considering to hire.

I am not suggesting that there is no value in going through the interview process. I actually believe that there is. I am suggesting emphatically that the interview skills of Black head coaching candidates are not remotely the central issue. The mindset of those in power is the issue.

I serve as a Know Your Rights facilitator through The American Civil Liberties Union. The trainings are geared to educate the public about what to do and what not to do when pulled over by the police. I believe that they can literally save lives and thus cannot be trivialized. I am, nevertheless, somewhat conflicted when I do them because it can leave the impression that those being killed are the problem. They are not. The problem is the mindset of the people with the power to kill them with impunity.

The problem is not the coaching candidates. The problem is the mindset of those with the power to hire the candidates, which specifically are the 32 NFL owners, most of whom are white and all of whom are very, very rich. If you believe anyone that gets to that place in life is going to change his mind because of a rule, good luck.

Ultimately, the Rooney Rule needs to stay in place for the clear improvement it has shown and because doing nothing is not an option. It is an important step in the right direction on the systemic side of the issue. But we should be sober about its limitations.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Coaching, Parenting, and Lessons from the Saints’ Collapse

Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

MW

Nothing in sports is second-guessed and dissected more than coaching. Few other things in the lager society are second-guessed and dissected more than parenting. Without question, coaching is hugely influential on the development of a player. Likewise, parents are even more so in the development of their children. Another common thing between coaching and parenting is the degree to which both are prematurely judged by people who are not privy to all the factors that go into coaching or parenting. The last play of the Saints vs. Vikings playoff game made me think of this.

As you all likely know by now, the Vikings were down 24-23 with less than a minute remaining and in desperation mode. Vikings’ QB Case Keenum lofted a pass up for receiver Stephon Diggs, who leaped to catch the pass and then ran another 40 yards or so for a game winning TD. He was able to do this due to one of the worst defensive non-plays I have seen in my life, on any level of football. Saints DB Marcus Williams lowered his head and blindly missed him, completely allowing Diggs to run for history.

 

I was, as I imagine most of you were, speechless.

 

Then I noticed a few comments on social media questioning how he was coached? Still others theorized that he was afraid to get a penalty. I thought to myself, “What the hell are these people talking about?”. Youth football players are taught at 6 years old to see what they hit.

 

Sometimes a rock is just a rock.

 

This had absolutely nothing to do with inept coaching. The young man simply messed up. He has had a very solid rookie season with 4 interceptions and if he survives this mentally, he seems to have a bright NFL future. But there is no need to overanalyze this. It’s not throwing the ball into traffic on the goal line in the Super Bowl when you have Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Now that was boneheaded coaching and we didn’t need to know any other factors to conclude that when the Patriots beat Seattle in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago.

 

These two examples are extremes. Sunday with the Saints, coaching was clearly not the issue. With Seattle, coaching clearly was the issue. But most coaching decisions, like most parenting decisions, have a great deal more nuance and gray factors to consider, and only those involved or very close to the situation are privy to these factors.

 

One of the best examples was how the late former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan handled the substance abuse problem of a young talented receiver named Chris Carter. When the team cut Carter, everyone familiar with his talent wondered why take such a young dynamic weapon away from QB Randall Cunningham? To that Ryan would only say, “All he does is catch touchdown passes”. For years, Ryan took ridicule for that comment and the decision to let Carter go. The receiver would go on to resurrect his life and career in Minnesota, which eventually led to his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Carter would set the record straight years later, acknowledging that his release was all about how unreliable he had become, due to his substance abuse problem, and had nothing to do with his on-field performance. Had that come out, Ryan was afraid that Carter would be blackballed from the league. So, Ryan took the hits for years, never revealing the real reason until Carter was ready. He was actually trying to protect his player.

 

Go to any town hall meeting, hair salon, or barber shop, and listen closely for that inevitable moment when the discussion turns to today’s youth. That will start the clock toward the “it all starts in the home” declaration. The issue is not if the statement is largely true. It is! The issue is that it is often a simplistic cookie-cutter, broad-brush explanation for the behavior of youth by people who have little interaction with the very youth they castigate. Regardless of parenting, there will always be youth who decide to drink and drive with disastrous results. It does not mean parent modeling or condoning of such behavior was the root cause. Likewise, players will sometimes fail well below their professional standard. It doesn’t mean bad coaching is the root cause.

 

Whether it’s coaching or parenting, I don’t know why so many are so hell bent on making such conclusive public critiques while being so poorly informed about the individual situation. I do believe it often says more about the critic than it does about those being critiqued.

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

And the Platform Pimp of the Year is…………………..Jon Gruden!

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Donald Trump won it last year, with Daddy Ball taking a distant 2nd.

When the Oakland Raiders rehired Jon Gruden to a 10-year/$100 million contract, he without question did the best job of pimping his Monday Night Football analyst platform for the greatest return. Yes, the deal is back loaded with the first 5 years actually paying him in the range of “only” $5 million per year and the last 5 paying in the range of about $15 million per year. One would think even that amount is heavily incentivized with bonuses for making playoffs, winning super bowl, etc…but this is the Raiders. Common sense isn’t so common.

Let me be clear what I mean by “Platform Pimp”. A platform pimp is anyone that exploits a high-profile situation, under the guise of problem solving, for their own benefit.  The really good pimps raise expectations to unrealistic levels, even without much of a track record of meeting such expectations. These people are very good at giving the impression of expertise in a certain area that is either in high need of a solution and or very popular.

I am not actually even mad at Gruden. I am just dumbfounded at how often and easily these 3 Card Monty players can actually get someone to play his game. In this case, that someone is the Oakland Raiders…who have gone for this okie-doke before…see Lane Kiffin.

In fairness to the Raiders, Gruden is far more accomplished than Kiffin was when they hired him. Gruden has had some success as a head coach, including winning the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay. But we all know that Tony Dungy built that team. His best work was actually prior to that with the Raiders, the team his Bucs beat in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. He did make the Raiders matter again, going 38-26 over 4 years. His two playoff losses could only be classified as bad luck. His 12-4 – 2000 Raiders lost to the Ravens, in no small part due to Baltimore tackle Tony Siragusa falling on QB Rick Gannon, knocking him out of the game. I have never been convinced that the Trent Dilfer-led offense of the Ravens come out of Oakland with that AFC title win if Gannon does not get hurt. I am convinced that the Raiders would have beaten the Giants to win that super bowl after the 2000 season. Then after the 2001 season, the infamous “Tuck Rule” game loss to the Patriots. One can’t blame Gruden for either one of those.

However, in Tampa, even with one of the greatest defenses of the past 25 years, his record was 57-55. The man who has promoted himself as quarterback and offensive guru couldn’t get much from his QB nor offense in his last coaching stop in Tampa.

The bottom line is that we are not talking about Bill Parcells in the 1990’s. Jon Gruden is basically Mike Shanahan, minus 1 Super Bowl ring.

So the central concerns are two: 1) if this happens, in the closest thing in American society to a transparent meritocracy, imagine what is happening where there is no transparency; and 2) It isn’t just the Raiders’ or even Davis family money. Though not directly, it’s taxpayer money as well. Connect the dots: part of the Raiders profit margin comes from generous tax breaks the city of Oakland granted them to move back and since to remain. These are tax breaks that have been pocketed and will certainly not be returning to the struggling working-class city, even though the team is slated to move. This Gruden contract is like the Raiders giving a final middle finger to one of the most loyal and greatest fan bases in all of sports.

What’s most important is to figure out why platform pimping works and how to recognize and avoid falling for the act. The simple reason it works is that there will always be a critical mass of people who love a messiah. This is true beyond sports. The notion that one person will come along and solve all of your problems, and in the process let the collective you off the hook is appealing. Though irrational, it is a lot easier to conceptualize one hero than it is to imagine the collective engaging in the tedious and often unsexy ground level work necessary for success. It’s the same as those whose primary economic freedom plan is to win the lottery.

Only the self-delusional have difficulty recognizing platform pimps. The three things necessary to avoid their game are as follows: 1) always remember that a platform in of itself does not equate to credibility…especially in the social media age; 2) Can you reasonably foresee the collective benefiting from this person’s work more than the person; and 3) does the person have a track record of success? Parcells always said, “You are what your record says you are.”

I hope that Terrell Owens is paying attention. His on-field performance is without question Hall of Fame worthy and yet he has been denied twice. I suggest he interview to become Gruden’s replacement on Monday Night Football. It would give him a platform to clean up the perception many of the HOF voters have of him….a perception that he surely had a role in creating.

If you are fortunate enough to secure a platform and stay in the public’s consciousness long enough to build a positive image, the fallacy of recently will impact its impression of you more than your actually merit based record. This is a good thing for Jon Gruden. Not so good for Terrell Owens.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports