It’s Friday and I’ve Got Several Things on My Mind and Football is All of Them

Hill
Hill
Kenny Hill torched 9th-ranked South Carolina last night with over 500 yards passing.

So apparently my English skills are about as good as my ability to predict things if read this title. Two days ago, I gave you five fearless predictions for college football and already one of them is looking incredibly wrong. I said that Steve Spurrier and his South Carolina Gamecocks would win the SEC and while that could still happen, that theory took a massive hit last night.

Texas A&M came to Columbia with a redshirt freshman quarterback not named Johnny Manziel and torched the Gamecocks for over 500 yards passing in a 52-28 upset. Kenny Hill, son of former MLB pitcher Ken Hill, threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns in the rout over ninth-ranked South Carolina. The win does two things; first it makes us question just how good South Carolina is and two, how much longer before Kevin Sumlin is coaching in the NFL.

The fact that Sumlin has been able to show in just one game that he has moved this team beyond the Manziel era is enough for NFL teams and other major college programs to take notice. As for the Gamecocks, might want to work on that pass defense.

Rice
Ray Rice got one heck of a hometown discount from Roger Goodell as it turns out.

Goodell Does Something Positive for Once

Roger Goodell and the NFL announced yesterday that they have implemented a disciplinary system for domestic violence abusers. The first time will result in a six-game suspension while the second offense will result in a lifetime ban from the sport. Why it took this long for some form action in this regard is beyond me but it’s finally here and we should be happy about it as we can’t tolerate this behavior.

In the announcement, Goodell did something I never dreamed I’d hear from him. He apologized for the weak response in Ray Rice’s situation. While I appreciate the apology, I find it interesting that he didn’t extend Rice’s penalty. Perhaps it has to do with the NFLPA or maybe that Baltimore is his hometown team.

Strange that Goodell never apologized to Ben Roethlisberger after suspending him even though he was never arrested or charged with a crime. I digress however… I’m glad that the NFL is acting on domestic violence. It’s just a shame it’s taken this long and after a massive cry from the general public. Goodell has once again proven himself as the ‘reactive’ commissioner.

Because they have made themselves the epicenter of the sports’ world, ESPN is hard to avoid no matter how much they irritate and bother the hell out of us. Outside of ’30 for 30′ and the featuring of the several major sports, the rest of ESPN is essentially tabloid fodder. This notion was proved once again this week as ESPN reporter Josina Anderson decided to report on St. Louis Rams’ defensive end Michael Sam’s showering habits.

As you know, Sam is an openly gay man trying to make the roster and so far, he has an excellent shot at it. Whoever thought a story about whether Michael Sam showers with his teammates was worthy of our viewing time at ESPN needs to be fired. My question in this manner is quite simple; “who cares?”

Sam has had a really good preseason for the Rams and his two sacks of Cleveland Browns’ QB Johnny Manziel nearly forced Twitter into a shutdown. Whether he makes the roster or not is uncertain but someone will grab him because he has proven he can play in the NFL. Let’s hope that is what ESPN chooses to report on from here on out.

Weekend Ramblings is Back With Thoughts on the NCAA, Tiger Missing the Cut and More

NCAA
NCAA
The NCAA will no longer exist as we currently know it.

It isn’t like it’s gone anywhere it’s just that I haven’t used the title in awhile. Either way, Weekend Ramblings returns and here are my thoughts on the latest in the sports’ world in a ‘Readers’ Digest’ form.

It was a very interesting and precedent-setting week for the NCAA as two different decisions were made that will have long-lasting impacts on college sports and most specifically, college football. The first seismic shift came from the NCAA itself when it’s Board of Governors voted to give autonomy to the ‘Power Five Conferences.’

What this means is that the Big 12, Big 10, Pac-12, ACC and SEC can essentially run things the way they would like to moving forward without the NCAA being able to say “boo” about it. Let’s face it; there is a significant difference between the Power Five and everyone else when it comes to money and power in most sports but clearly football is the issue here.

This ruling will allow the Power Five to work together to create legislation that benefits them. This could be in recruiting, in how the schools schedule future opponents and perhaps even how they create a football playoff in the future.

The second big shift came late yesterday when a judge ruled in favor of Ed O’Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs against the NCAA. This was the lawsuit brought against the NCAA where players’ likenesses were being used without their permission in such things as video games and jersey sales. The bigger issue was the fact that the schools were taking in all of the profits while the athletes were seeing zero dollars despite their obvious likeness being used.

Ultimately this paves the way for college athletes to be paid. While some believe this is a step in the right direction, it could also be the opening of another Pandora’s Box. How will athletes be paid? Will the starting quarterback make more than the back-up left guard? Can they be compensated for each and every jersey with their number that is sold?

Stay tuned because this in only the beginning.

Tiger
Tiger missed the cut in the PGA and that's good for him and us.

I admit that I’m guilty of kicking a dead horse far too often. I do it with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and I certainly do it with Tiger Woods as well. My reasoning is that these guys continue to do things that scream for discussion and debate and Woods is once again doing this. I can keep calling him out because I don’t have to worry about being ignored by him for an interview.

Woods of course missed the cut yesterday in the PGA Championship after limping around the golf course with his bad back. I don’t doubt Tiger was in some pain and I congratulate him for actually finishing the round, but I’m tired of the act. You know and I know if he were somehow in contention that he would be labeled ‘heroic’ and ‘tough’ for hanging in there.

But he wasn’t in contention and he never is when he withdraws from a tournament. See last week as the latest example. OK, I’m over it.

One final thought for today is on Michael Sam who played in his first NFL game last night in the preseason opener for his St. Louis Rams against the New Orleans Saints. Sam was credited with a tackle and a QB hit on the evening. This was ESPN’s highlight of the night by the way.

I mention this only because I hope the day comes when an openly gay football player makes a tackle that it isn’t a big deal. I hope it’s noting more than statistic in the box score. That’s the road Sam is paving for many that will follow.

Tony Dungy Needs to Just Shut Up

Sam
Sam
Tony Dungy wouldn't have drafted Michael Sam because of the 'distraction' he would bring.

Below is the definition of the word hypocrisy.

the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense. Therefore a hypocrite is one who practices hypocrisy. Ladies and gentlemen and I give you Tony Dungy.

This isn’t easy for me to write because I have great respect for Coach Dungy. Well, maybe had is the more operative word now after his comments regarding St. Louis Rams’ rookie Michael Sam being a ‘distraction.’ In case you didn’t know, Michael Sam happens to be gay. He’ll be the first openly gay player in the NFL should he make the Rams’ roster or any other team’s roster.

Dungy
Tony Dungy needs to just move away from the microphone for the time being.

Before I get to Dungy let me tell you how I feel about Sam. I do not care that Michael Sam is gay. I do not care that he is black. I do not care he attended Missouri. I don’t care if he likes The Beatles more than The Rolling Stones. The only thing I care about with regard to Michael Sam is this; can he make his football team better?

Dungy is of course entitled to his opinion as I am to mine and you are to yours, but his comments this week and then his attempt to re-define them reek of hypocrisy and religious intolerance. As MMQB’s Peter King said, “Dungy is a deeply religious man who follows the bible to the letter of the law. I don’t think he’d ever be in favor of gay marriage.”

We’ve known for some time that Dungy is exactly as King says he is. He is very religious and if you’ve read even a chapter of any of his books you’d know that. There’s nothing wrong with that with one exception and that’s the very exception that applies to Dungy’s comments.

As head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dungy drafted a player out of Miami of Florida named Warren Sapp. Like him or hate him, Sapp had a Hall of Fame career. When he was drafted however, he dropped significantly in the first round because of well-known marijuana use. Apparently this ‘distraction’ wasn’t too big for Dungy to deal with as coach.

As Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, his All-Pro wide receiver Marvin Harrison was allegedly involved in two shootings in Philadelphia. In fact he was involved in a third just last month. During the initial incidents, Dungy supported Harrison and that’s fine. Most coaches would do the same. When asked if the incident would affect his football Dungy said, “No, Marvin will be fine. I can’t speak for Marvin, but my sense is he’ll be fine.” This was after he was sued by the man he allegedly shot. Still, not a ‘distraction’ for Dungy’s team.

As an analyst for NBC, Dungy took it upon himself to help Michael Vick while he was in prison after his dog fighting ring was exposed. That’s very good of Dungy but why was he so willing to support to Vick? Obviously because he didn’t want him to be a ‘distraction.’

Dungy tried to clear up his comments that Sam would be a ‘distraction’ by saying he believes it isn’t his sexual orientation that’s a problem but rather the media ‘distraction’ his sexuality will create. To this point, Sam has not been a ‘distraction’ at all according to Jeff Fisher who spoke with ‘Mike and Mike’ this morning.

Maybe the real ‘distraction’ is Dungy himself. Long an advocate for African-American players and coaches in the NFL, it appears his own beliefs are getting in the way of him advocating for another player. My advice Tony is to just stop talking because every time you open your mouth you have to make room for your foot.

 

For Michael Sam, The Journey Continues

Sam
Sam
Michael Sam was drafted by the Rams and could break down barriers the way others have in pro sports.

It’s often difficult to gauge the realities of a controversial situation usually until much time has passed. If you like back at critical moments in the world of sports, this point is often proven. Take guys like Fritz Pollard and Jackie Robinson who faced incredibly difficult circumstances as the broke the color barriers in professional football and baseball respectively.

With each man facing any number of vicious attacks both verbal and physical, they managed to persevere.

Michael Sam now becomes the next Pollard and the next Robinson as he becomes the first openly gay man drafted into the National Football League. As the seventh round began on Saturday, the attention of both ESPN and the NFL Network started to shift towards Sam. It was not long ago that he announced his sexuality admitting that he had told his Missouri teammates back in August.

He and the Tigers won the SEC East Division and lost to Auburn in the SEC Title Game. Sam had an excellent ear and was eventually named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Despite being a bit undersized, or what scouts call a “tweener,” Sam was still viewed as a third or fourth round pick.

As Friday evening’s festivities wound down it became more and more obvious that Sam would not be taken on the draft’s second day.

A Conspiracy of Sorts?

Michael Sam eventually got the call he had been waiting for when late in the seventh and final round, the St. Louis Rams called to tell him he was drafted. The emotional response was understandable. It cannot be easy to have walked in his shoes in recent months especially after his announcement and then a poor combine effort in Indianapolis.

Henderson
Marshall Henderson claims his ignorant tweets about Michael Sam were due to a 'psychology' experiment.

Being drafted so late meant that social media was abuzz with the speculation that the Rams were simply doing the league a favor by drafting him. First of all, it’s good PR and second of all it would have looked bad had he gone undrafted. Why? Because maybe it would have sent the signal that the NFL wasn’t quite as ready for a gay player as we had assumed.

There is no proof to this conspiracy theory and there won’t be. What’s done is done and even though he was drafted, there is no guarantee that Sam will make the 53-man roster come early September.

Social Media Ups and Downs

Not surprisingly, the immediate response following the drafting and then reaction of Michael Sam was swift and full of both positive and negative thoughts. From Miami Dolphins’ safety Don Jones’ ignorant tweet to the Texas Longhorns’ quarterback Case McCoy’s likewise comment, it was this way all afternoon. The fact the Sam planted a kiss on his boyfriend in front of the nation immediately after his phone call left many speechless for better or for worse.

While the positive far outweighed the negative, it only got worse when Mississippi basketball star Marshall Henderson put out a series of homophobic tweets. No long after, he announced that he doing an experiment for a ‘gay’ friend as part of a psychology class at Ole Miss. Even if that is the truth, it was a poor choice and a poor way to conduct a field study.

Thankfully, the positive comments have continued to pour in and as yesterday, only Johnny Manziel’s Cleveland Browns’ jersey was sold more than Michael Sam’s was. That says something and it has to make Sam feel good.

I hope the barriers that Michael Sam is facing in the coming months are broken down by him and I hope that a man’s sexuality become nothing more than a footnote to his future as an NFL player.

 

 

Weekend Ramblings Include The Dolphins Don’t Get It, The Blazers On The Brink and More

Pouncey
Pouncey
Apparently Mike Pouncey didn't get the message from the Incognito mess as he tweeted more stupidity this past weekend.

Sometimes it takes a while for things to set in with certain people. Just months after an ugly bullying incident rocked the National Football League the origin of that incident is once again ground zero for more stupidity.

Twice during the NFL’s Draft weekend, Dolphins’ players proved that they learned absolutely nothing from the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation by tweeting idiotic comments about two different issues. First was Mike Pouncey who was named as one of Incognito’s chief minions in the final report issued by the NFL.

Following the Dolphins’ drafting of an offensive lineman Pouncey tweeted, “I can’t wait for our gifts he’s getting us.”

Poor taste doesn’t even begin to cover how ridiculous this comment was. Part of Incognito’s hazing rituals in Miami included the forcing of rookies to purchase extravagant gifts and trips. The Wells Report indicated this type of behavior as beyond the norm and encouraged all NFL teams to limit and monitor such activities.

Clearly Mike Pouncey didn’t get the message. He was called in to meet with Dolphins’ officials and has since deleted his social media accounts.

The Dolphins PR nightmare didn’t end there because second-year player Don Jones then tweeted a couple of poorly timed thoughts on the drafting of openly gay player Michael Sam by the St. Louis Rams. Jones tweeted “OMG” and then “horrible” in the moments following the selection of Sam.

If Jones happens to be against gay and lesbian lifestyles then that is his choice and I for one can’t tell him what to believe. What Jones has to recognize however is that he isn’t just a common citizen though. He represents the National Football League and needs to understand that the team and the League is watching everything these guys say and do.

Portland has had no answer for the great play of Tony Parker.Blazers on the Brink

By and large most people had the San Antonio Spurs advancing to the Western Conference Finals but I don’t think anyone saw that happening in this current manner. The Spurs went into Portland last night and defeated the Blazers 118-103 in a game that saw San Antonio lead by as much as 23 points in the first half.

Tony Parker continued his great series with 29 points, 20 of which came in the first half. It wasn’t just Parker though that led to another big win over Portland. The team had just seven turnovers and went an incredible 25 for 25 at the free throw line.

Another big key in this one was the effort from the respective benches. San Antonio outscored the Blazers 40-6 in bench scoring as the overall balance of the Spurs continues to be a major factor in their dominance.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard each had 21 points on the evening but this came on a combined 16 for 44 shooting as the two stars struggle to make the Spurs alter what they are doing defensively. I expect a tough showing from the Blazers as they attempt to stave off elimination but I don’t think it will be enough.

We Have a Series in the East

Miami went into Brooklyn looking for a 3-0 lead and left the Barclays’ Arena with a tough loss instead as the Nets pulled the series to a 2-1 Heat lead. The Big Three of Miami combined to score 60 points but the rest of the team could only muster 30.

Meanwhile the Nets started to torch the ‘nets’ from three-point range which was by and large the difference in this one. Brooklyn dropped in 15 of their 25 three pointers which was just too much for the Heat to overcome. I expect the Heat to address that situation and look for them to win game four.

NFL Teams Will Pressured to Add Sam, Martin

Goodell
Goodell
You can book it that Roger Goodell will want to see Jonathan Martin picked up and Michael Sam drafted to avoid negative publicity.

The National Football League, despite enormous popularity, is facing crises on several fronts. First and foremost to the league is the issue of player safety and making the game safer overall. Just yesterday morning a new study was revealed that said helmets actually do very little to prevent concussions. The research showed they provided as little as 20% reductions in head injuries.

I have my own theories on that study but that’s for another time.

The NFL is also facing problems with consistency in its’ officiating ranks. This is no small issue either. NFL officials last year not only missed many calls but more importantly, they erred when trying to actually correct them! This has created a tremendous backlash from fans that are already tired of seeing their teams play in London and are horrified at the direction the game is going. ‘Flag football’ is most commonly used…

Now the NFL has its’ hands full with a two very hot button social topics and they cannot afford to fumble the fumble on either one of these.

Martin
Martin will be in a camp this summer whether that team thinks he can play or not.

First is the Richie Incognito – Jonathan Martin bullying saga which came to a head on Friday when the Wells’ Report was released to the NFL and to the general public. I have no problem going on record in saying that I believe Incognito is done playing football in the National Football League. Yes, he has many supporters, but teams will not want the drama and media attention that having him on the roster would bring.

Jonathan Martin is in a whole different situation. Roger Goodell and his minions in the league office know they have a potential time bomb on their hands with Martin’s future in their league. Although this bomb doesn’t start ticking until free agency kicks in on March 11th, the real test will be in the summer when teams are looking to fill rosters in anticipation of training camp.

Can the NFL afford to have Jonathan Martin sitting out? Absolutely not! Imagine how it would look if a young man who was bullied and harassed were no longer in the league. It would look bad to the general public regardless if whether Martin can actually play or not.

Take this conversation and spin it forward to this May’s NFL Draft. One of the young men that will be on each and every board in each and every war room will be an openly gay man. Prior to his announcement, Michael Sam was projected to be selected anywhere from the third to seventh round. In the hours after his coming out, his stock dropped by as many as 60 positions on some draft boards.

Now imagine the draft as it enters its second day and here is this celebrated, brave young man who is a pretty darn good football still on the board. Do you really think Goodell wants this PR nightmare?

It could get worse though… What if Sam enters day three, which is the final day of the draft and he still hasn’t been taken by any of the league’s 32 teams. That PR nightmare I mentioned will look like a storm of epic proportions for Goodell. Why you may ask? Because if no one drafts a young man who was believed to be a very draftable player prior to his announcement then it will look very much like the NFL has learned nothing from the Martin case and will continue to look homophobic in the 21st century.

Scoff all you want, but I guarantee you this; Jonathan Martin will at least be in camp with a team and I also believe Michael Sam will be drafted. That’s the power of Roger Goodell and the NFL folks.

The NFL Prepares for Its’ First Openly Gay Player

Sam
Sam
Michael Sam will challenge the status quo in the NFL by being the first openly gay player.

If any of you think that Michael Sam will be the first gay professional football player then I have some ocean front property in Nebraska for you. There have been many gay players in the National Football League in the past but only a couple have come forward and did so only after their playing days were through.

The chances are also strong that there are a handful of gay players on active NFL rosters as I type. Sadly, they are unwilling to come forward and I say “sadly” because they shouldn’t have to hide.

Michael Sam will ultimately be remembered as a ground-breaker. Will he go down in history in the same discussion as a Jackie Robinson? I really can’t say just yet because we must let history run its’ course. What we do know is that one of the 32 NFL franchises will draft Sam and if they don’t because of this then shame on them.

Te'o
I suspect Michael Sam will receive attention similar to that of Manti Te'o when arrives at the NFL Combine.

Prior to his announcement on Sunday that he was in fact a gay man playing football, Sam was projected to be drafted anywhere from the third through the sixth round of the NFL Draft in May. He is not just ‘another player’ either. This is a guy who won the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year Award and helped lead his team to a fantastic season.

At 6’2″ and about 255 lbs., Sam is what we would call a “tweener.” He might be too small to play defensive end in the NFL and he might be too big to play on the outside as a linebacker as teams continue to look for more and more speed. Because we don’t have a crystal ball, there’s no way of telling where Sam would have been drafted prior to his announcement so all we have our projections.

Should he go undrafted, which isn’t likely, he then be able to sign a free agent contract with whatever team he chooses among those that want to sign him. He will be attending the NFL Combine later this month and much like Manti Te’o last year, there is no question the media attention will be on him greater than any other player.

Sam was incredibly honest during his interview on ESPN as he talked about the hardships growing up that included a brother lost to gun violence and two others in jail. He viewed his coming out as easier than what he’s had to deal with in the past. Perhaps this will serve him well because there will be rocky roads ahead.

An NFL locker room has very little if any, filter. It’s commonplace for guys to rip on each other for just about anything and I find it hard to believe that Sam won’t face this at some point in his career. Still, I think he’ll find the team and organization he plays for more welcoming than some of the fans he will come across. Hatred does not discriminate. It will come from young and old, black and white, and male and female but I believe Sam is prepared for it.

It is my hope that someday we will no longer worry about the color of a player’s skin or his sexual orientation. Like Michael Sam, I hope the focus is not on anything other than what a player can do on the field of play rather than off of it. This is young man who just wants to play football and be part of a team that has success. His orientation should have nothing to do with it.