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Monday, June 30, 2014

You're Kidding Me Right?

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As we move into the Fourth of July holiday I thought I would quickly give you some perspective on an article I read recently… I hope you enjoy my spout.

When I read sports magazines, articles or postings I usually try to keep an open mind… ya’ know… take a look at things from different perspectives and try to grow from what’s being shared in some way. I would guess that you, the ones who are actually taking the time to read this blog post, do the same thing or in part feel the same as I do.

My usual standard of delectation was completely thrown when I read an article in ESPN the Magazine’s July issue about the Washington Redskins’ recently signed DeSean Jackson.
Now let me be abundantly clear, I am not a Jackson fan… but did come to respect and understand him a bit more after reading the article. What I didn’t appreciate at all, was the incredibly insensitive, skewed, and racially charged quotes from Dr. Harry Edwards that obviously ESPN couldn’t wait to print as said quotes pertained to the future of the NFL and its players relating most specifically to Jackson and his alleged “affiliations.” 

Just in case you didn’t read the article, allow me to share the small but very poignant section that sent me through the roof… please… allow me to set the stage.

ESPN the Magazine writer, Cord Jefferson, had done a pretty good job of framing why DeSean Jackson’s path had been such a challenging one… from childhood, through college and now as a successful, productive professional with the latest trending topic being attached to him, Jackson had fared well in performing on the gridiron and staying out of the proverbial stereotypical pigeon holes of current or former NFL players. In my mind a great job by Jefferson… helping people get to know who Jackson is and why he is the way he is… bravo!

Here’s the section of the article that made me lose all respect for Dr. Edwards (who my very well be one of the most renowned sociologist and sports historians in the world) or anything he has to say moving forward:

An HBO Real Sports/Marist poll from October of last year showed that 66 percent of Americans with a household income of $50,000 or more had heard  a great deal or a good amount about football head injuries, compared with just 47 percent of nonwhites had heard nothing about football-related concussions, compared with 12 percent of whites. ‘In a decade, the only people who are still playing football will be African-Americans and working-class people,’ says Edwards. Edwards predicts that as the talent pool skews even more black and working class, the “baggage” that comes with these players will only become more prevalent. So, he says, the NFL needs to find ways to better understand players’ struggles to balance career over background. ‘What the Eagles were dealing with in terms of trying to come to grips with DeSean is what the whole league should be preparing for,’ he says. ‘Because that’s who’s going to be playing football. To think you’re not going to find anybody in football with baggage is preposterous’ [1]

What I don’t completely understand nor appreciate is where Edwards’ perspective is coming from and how he, of all people, could put such a slant on what will happen in the future of the league. First of all, who uses a “poll” that was taken on HBO’s Real Sports as a credible source for scholarly research? It’s all opinion… just like this blog post. Look people… I could always attach a poll to one of my blog posts, cite its results and throw some jargon behind it; does that make it (the results) worth anything more than the keystrokes it took to put it there?

Who cares that over 60% of the NFL is African-American versus only 12% in 1959? What does that even mean? Have we truly returned to the age-old stereotype of “there goes the neighborhood” since the African-Americans (code for “Niggers”) and working class (code for “White Trash,” “Beaners” and anyone else who isn’t of means) have arrived? Why is it important to underscore what’s already being over publicized? I mean… did you really need to use Aaron Hernandez as an example?[2]

Just so I’m clear… Is the implication here simply that African-Americans and Working Class People have more “baggage” than people of means? You’re kidding me right? That may be the single-most unrealistic, uneducated thing I’ve ever heard a supposed scholar say. 

EVERYONE has baggage… even those with means… the difference from my opinion is that African-Americans and Working Class People don’t have the strength, time, energy, power, clout, standing, nerve or patience to ignore the issues they have. They simply deal with them the best they have the capacity to and move forward. Just because a class of people has the wherewithal to live in a comfortably uncomfortable state of plausible deniability doesn’t mean they have less baggage! C’mon Harry… dammit; you’re from East St. Louis for cryin out loud!

Why in the world would anyone believe that all of the sudden gang-related activity is becoming a threat to the NFL? Really? Pssshhh… How can anyone dignify that thought with a response other than; "Get a grip?" As long as there have been gangs, are gangs and will be gangs they had, currently have and will have some influence on the student-athletes who participate in sport; whether it be in high school, collegiate athletics or professional sport. It is what it is… and at the end of the day the decision lies with the individual.

What’s even more disturbing is the supposition that the NFL would actually take the time to “better understand the players’ struggles.” Anyone who’s ever played a down in the NFL knows it’s a business…just that… nothing more. Some may even go so far as to say it’s modern day slave trade wrapped up in a pretty little bow consisting of great ad campaigns, social media and billions of dollars… but hey… what do I know? I’m high school football coach. 

The article even further suggest that African-Americans and Working Class people aren't educated about football-related head injuries... which is why their children will be the only one's playing the game. This statement is even more bone-headed. So little Billy, whose parents have shelled out thousands of dollars since Pop Warner on private coaching and camps (since they have the means to do so) will all of the sudden pull him from football because of the possibility that he may get a concussion? Conversely little Leroy will be thrown to the wolves as it were because his parents are uneducated and earn less than $50K/year?

Okay, okay... where's the camera? I know I'm gettin punked... 

You know what? I may be overreacting a bit…I get that… I just have a hard time reading an African-American man's sententious remarks about the very culture he came from as if it’s some form of inoperable cancer.

People make choices every day… some good and others bad. At the end of the day as young people we didn’t have a choice in regards to where we were raised or where we came from… but we do have a choice now… we can ascertain with absolute certainty how far we allow our past to penetrate who we are and who we want to become.

DeSean Jackson obviously gets that… I would think a learned man more than four decades his senior would get it too… especially being a professor emeritus in sociology of sport at the very university Jackson attended…. Oh yeah… and played football with all the other Working Class People and African-Americans.


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#Sport is Life

[1] ESPN (ISSN #1097-1998) (USPS #016-356).
   Volume 17, No. 13, July 7, 2014, P.50.
[2] Ibid. p.50.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why Do You Coach?

After being away from my laptop for a while and being intimately involved in several fundraising events and projects I thought I would take a quick minute to jot down some random thoughts about what I think it means to be a coach. Again, these are my opinions and they don't necessarily represent anyone's perspective but my own... so if you disagree you disagree. You can always start your own blog... 

Admittedly I originally started coaching with the intent of being a head football coach on the collegiate level and one day running my own program. I immediately began coaching in arguably one of the best high school leagues in the country; one that boasts the reigning high school football national champion and several other national powerhouses. I went back to school, got my masters in coaching, athletic administration and exercise science in an attempt to make myself even more attractive to potential suitors and set out to land my first high school head coaching job.

Suddenly everything changed….

I took a trip to Uganda in the summer of 2011 with my good friend Kevin Dugan. What I saw in that beautiful country made me realize there was much more to coaching than just “being the head guy” and “looking for an opportunity to advance.” Coaching was a gift... an honor... a calling that required tremendous respect for the game and an even bigger love for your fellow man. 

I would like to believe (in my own little simple mind) that I was given the opportunity to coach and teach young student-athletes in Uganda how to play American flag football... but in reality (what really went down during those 12 days) I was being taught what it truly meant to be a coach modeled by the character components of humility, respect and faith led by pre-teen kids from Uganda, East Africa.

True coaches are a special breed and are becoming more and more difficult to find. Don’t get me wrong there are tons of trainers out there… but a trainer in my opinion isn’t a coach. Anyone can lay cones on the ground and tell an athlete to run around in circles… but what, beyond that, is being offered?

When I think of a coach I think of my former head coach Lou Holtz; someone who instructs and teaches beyond the specificity of a particular sport and seeks to make significant impact in the lives of those he touches.

I’ve always said that if someone were to get 20 former players who played under Coach Holtz in a room and ask the same series of questions to that selected 20, they would get eerily similar answers to those questions. Not to say we were brainwashed or would give canned answers to said questions, but rather we would answer the questions in a manner that is consistent with our beliefs systems and probably, without fail, quote something from coach to underscore our stance.
Tony Dungy: one of the greatest Character Coaches
 in NFL History  Photo: AP-NFL

THAT has NOTHING to do with coaching football and EVERYTHING to do with making a significant impact on the lives of young men. Don’t get me wrong it was awesome winning most every game we played, but I’m sure my teammates would agree that our camaraderie and family culture also contributed to our success both on and off the field.

In recent times I’ve come to realize that the “mission” of a coach has been blurred by the current sport culture. Winning has become paramount. Even beyond anything else. So much so that coaches would rather cut corners and undermine the very sports they represent in order to secure said victories. Good grief… is that what we’ve become? Is there truly no “safe place” for us to go? Is this all there is… winner and loser?

Or nah…

Wait, wait… I don’t wanna get myself all riled up – I know winning is a major part of competing and if you don’t want to win perhaps you should look for something else to do. However, winning, in my humble opinion is nothing more than a by-product of so many other things that should be taught beyond the game… emphasis on the word “should.” What about character, focus, teamwork, patience, respect, honor and love? 

Hey, look, I’m not going to tell you that we hold hands and sing gospel hymnals at our practices, but there is a fundamental respect between coach and player.  As coaches we may dislike the action on a given play, but that has nothing to do with the athlete as a person… as a human being. No matter how sideways we may get at a given time we have to understand our place in the lives of the young men we mentor.  Some athletes have nothing else… no family life to speak of… no father figure… no discipline or focus… and God forbid having any meaningful expectations with what to do with their young lives… Tony Dungy laments is his New York Times Best Selling book Uncommon: "True respect starts with the way you treat others, and it is earned over a lifetime of acting with kindness, honor, and dignity." 

… enter Coach_______. 

Coach______ has been coaching for 12 years, played at Big State College and in the NFL.  He has a five year plan for what the program needs to raise money, assert itself in the community and get better on the field. He has a plan of how the program will grow and develop and there’s even a plan for how to win the coveted championship. Wow! This coach sounds impressive, right?

Resume and five year plan aside I would ask one question of this new coach who’s expected to take the program to the championship promised land: “Does Coach ______ have any idea how to make a positive impact on the lives of young people?”

In other words aside from winning… why do you coach?

Just askin….

Sport is Life