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Saturday, December 29, 2012

One Quick Thought

Family –

As I sit here today waiting on a series of marginal bowl games to be played, I thought I would take a moment to quickly pen some thoughts on an issue that we have seen resurface over and over again in sport.

What happens to the professional athlete after their playing days are over? How do they adjust to “normal” society? No big deal you say? I beg to differ… lemme 'splain.

I was fortunate enough to catch yet another ESPN 30 for 30 series episode called: “Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story.” For those us who may be late thirty somethings or forty somethings we remember Campbell for his hard-hitting, punishing, super-human running style… so much so that some of us (me specifically) wanted to “be Earl Campbell” in the football game at recess during the late 70’s and 80’s.

In the 90’s Campbell’s health took a turn for the worst and it was widely believed that football was the cause. After watching the ESPN story all speculation of that misnomer were laid to rest by Campbell’s doctor and the football legend himself. Campbell suffers from a degenerative nerve disorder called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy or for us tongue-twisted mortals --> CIDP.  It wouldn’t have mattered whether he played football or not, he most likely would have suffered from this condition… did football accelerate the process? Perhaps...perhaps not.

Earl Campbell
Photo: AP
This condition caused Campbell to slowly lose strength and function in his arms and legs… what’s worse he had three previous back surgeries which were terribly executed riddling the former superstar with crippling pain and discomfort.  In his chronic state of pain, use of pain killers and alcohol to survive and due to the fact that his super-human body was now failing him, Campbell could have taken a road most recently traveled by some of our more beloved NFL retirees. Instead he did what he had done throughout his life and career… FIGHT.

Here’s where the adjustment to life after the game comes in –

After the crowd stops cheering and the game continues to live on in the mind and in the body how does one turn it off? Is it simply that there were too many blows to the head or is there something deeper perhaps psychological that manifests itself in places the naked eye can’t see.

I’ve often said there are many similarities between professional athletes (specifically football players), soldiers and prisoners… yes prisoners. Before you condemn me for putting the three in the same sentence consider the following similarities:

    All three wear uniforms
    All three are usually aggressive in nature
    All three use numbers for identification
      All three have a hierarchy of command
    Their agendas are usually set by someone else.  
     There are stiff penalties for breaking the rules (in some cases death)
    There is no easy transition into “normal” society once “your time is up”

I’m sure the list could continue, but why belabor the point. Life is a fight… each day presents new challenges and as Campbell so profoundly said at the end of his episode: “Please America don’t feel sorry for me… because you’ve never seen a human being have more fun on a day to day basis than I do.”


As someone you inspired as a young boy by the power and strength you showed as a player, Mr. Campbell you continue to mentor and motivate from afar as you crash through the defensive walls of life's challenges.  I’m truly proud that you are… still standing. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Shut Up!

Family –

After a bit of a hiatus and some personal encouragement from a few close friends I’ve returned to submit a pre-holiday offering. With all the excitement about Notre Dame’s long-awaited return to glory and Manti’s historical run at sweeping every possible award in the nation, it’s been great to sit back and take it all in… finally.

Nevertheless, controversy is what drives media so here goes…

Why do sports commentators, especially NFL commentators, take such an edgy stance? What the hell is that all about?  Lemme ‘splain…here are a couple of examples.

Example One: Has anyone ever paid attention to Cris Collinsworth's verbal assault on the wallets of the defensive players during the NFL Sunday Night Game of the Week? Seems that if there’s a questionable play or even a play that might draw attention from league administrators Collinsworth spews out, “that’ll draw some attention from the league office,” or better yet, one of my favorites;  “his check is definitely gonna be a little light come Monday morning.” Why would he DO that? Maybe I’m just being sensitive, but even as a former offensive player I realize that game is about putting points on the board (unless you’re the Jets) and putting the defense at a disadvantage. I understand player safety is a concern…but really are we just realizing the barbaric nature of football? I think we’re a few thousand collective head trauma, dementia and suicide cases in arrears (RIP #55).

Example Two: What the hell was Rob Parker read more thinking about? He has the balls to question Robert Griffin III’s blackness? This young man has been in my humble opinion phenomenal this season both on and off the field. When anyone speaks of RGIII they speak not only of his athletic superiority, but also his character & integrity. Sooo let me get this straight-- since his fiancĂ©e happens to be white and he distances himself from drawing ethnic comparisons because he wants to be known as a "great quarterback" not just a "great black quarterback" he’s not “down with the cause?” Ok – I know this might come as a shock to some of you, but I’m black… I didn’t get the memo about “the cause.” Why in the world would someone want to create a problem for RGIII? Hmmm… he’s articulate, athletic, successful and educated; sounds like he’s holding “the cause” down just fine. Now if you wanna go rob a liquor store, although he's really fast and might get away, I doubt he’ll be signing up for that. I guess we all know who the “cornball brotha” is now. Sit down!

Example Three: There’s no doubt that last night’s NFL game had to be the biggest waste of television airtime since the launch of Jersey Shore… that aside I noticed a bit of a tickle in the voice of the commentators after the game…literally laughing at the performance by the Jets. Mike Tirico whom I think is a consummate professional was almost uncontrollably laughing when he opened the post-game segment with Gruden. The biggest surprise to me was how aggressively Steve Young and Trent Dilfer great quarterback that he was (NOT)… hehehe launched a verbal attack on the entire Jets organization. Not just opinionated statements but an adamant ranting that almost cost Young to lose his voice. They were literally calling out the owners to make “wholesale changes” in the organization. Why would you challenge a professional sports team’s owner? Wow! My thought was that if anyone could relate to the Jets’ philosophy of playing great defense and winning with a marginal quarterback it would be Dilfer… anyone remember the 2000 Ravens? I played under Buddy Ryan – Rex and Rob Ryan were assistant coaches on that team… no one works harder to prepare than they do – at some point it has to be about the guys getting paid millions of dollars to do a job that they don’t execute. Now don’t get me wrong coaching has its fair share of responsibility, but at last I checked Rex didn’t throw four picks and drop a snap late in the game when the Jets had an opportunity to win.

At the end of the day whether you like them or not sports commentators have a job to do… and given the complexion of this blog post I guess they do a pretty damn good job.

Oh… and P.S.  Manti Te’o IS the rightful 2012 Heisman Trophy winner!

Jus’ sayin…