Category Archives: Sports

DUNGY, SAM AND BEN

Tony Dungy is homophobe of the week.

He’s spending time in the national media’s barrel because, when asked about Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player, he said he would not have drafted him if he were still an NFL head coach.

Dungy was a wildly successful and universally admired player and coach in the NFL for more than 30 years and is now an analyst on NBC’s Football Night in America, the number one rated TV show in the United States. He gave an honest answer and said that Sam would be a distraction and that, ” It’s not going to be totally smooth…things will happen.”

He teed himself up for the self-righteous national media and they knocked him out of the park.
But Dungy knows things that very few in the media know.

He knows what it’s like to be in an NFL locker room, not as an interloper, but as a member of the team. And here’s something else he knows that all but a microscopic sliver of the media critics don’t know: He knows what it’s like to be black. He knows that gay black men have it much tougher than gay white men. Everybody knows that two-thirds of the players in an NFL locker room are black.
The white media stars who got on their high horses and lectured Dungy on his hypocritical lack of tolerance could have done a 10 second Google search and found plenty of references to the unique hardships endured by gay black men.

They could have found this quote from openly gay CNN anchor Don Lemon: “It’s quite different for an African-American male. It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.”

They might have found the study done by Rutgers journalism professor Michael LaSala last year for the Journal of GLBT Studies that found that being a gay black man presents unique challenges.One challenge, according to LaSala is “The rigid expectations of exaggerated masculinity” held by many in the black community.

LaSala says, it was a common theme among relatives of gay black men that, “They carry a special stigma that some straight black males may find particularly disturbing. The world already sees you as less than others. By being gay, you’re further hurting the image of African-American men.”

Tony Dungy was in the NFL for over 30 years. He’s been black all his life. Could it be that he knows that, despite what black players say in front of the cameras, many, if not most of them, may not be as tolerant of gay black men as the mostly white media would like to think that they are?

If acceptance of gay men is already a problem among African-Americans, would it be surprising to find even less tolerance in the typical hyper-masculine NFL locker room?

Should it be shocking that Dungy believes, “Things will happen,” and that those things would make it less likely that he could do what he’s paid millions of dollars to do –win a championship?
Of course, Dungy could never say it out loud.

Do you know why?

The mostly white, holier than thou, national media wouldn’t tolerate it for a second.

- The Steelers go into training camp coming off a 6-2 finish last season and, based on their schedule in the first half, they should be at least that good in their next eight games.

They play the Browns, Buccaneers and Texans at home and the Ravens, Panthers, Jaguars and Browns on the road in the first seven weeks. They will be favored in five of those games. Game 8 is against the Colts at home, a tough one but very winnable. If they aren’t at least 5-3 at the halfway point, they’ll have a tough time winning 10 games because the second half schedule is much harder than the first half and much tougher than the last half of 2013.

They have the Saints, Chiefs, Falcons and the Bengals twice in the last five weeks.
It says here that they will go 10-6.

- Ben Roethlisberger has been told not to expect a contract extension this year. He has two years left on the eight-year, $108 million contract he signed before the 2008 season.

Roethlisberger should be forever grateful to the Steelers for not cutting him after his second sexual assault accusation in 2010. Prior to that he had stupidly injured himself while riding a motorcycle without a helmet, been seen riding the motorcycle without a helmet again after recovering from surgery to reconstruct his face and acquired a reputation around town as one of the biggest jerks in Pittsburgh sports history.

His teammates despised him.

The fact that he’s still a Steeler is proof of two things. He is a great player and there is no longer any such thing as “The Steeler Way.”

BYE BYE NCAA?

John Steigerwald column for 7.19/20.14

Isn’t college football wonderful?

Within the next week or two, student-athletes from all over the country will be gathering on college campuses to prepare for another football season.

At least one of them will have a big, fat insurance policy paid for out of the Student Assistance Fund. That’s the fund that schools use to help kids who may need money to fly home for a funeral or to visit a sick relative. You would think that an organization like the NCAA, which, until this year actually had rules against giving football players cream cheese for their bagels, would have a big problem with that.

Texas A&M’s problem was that its All-Everything offensive tackle, Cedric Ogbuehi, was thinking about declaring for the NFL draft after it was presumed that he would be a number one draft pick.

How do you prevent a kid from signing up for the multi-million dollar signing bonuses that number one picks get?

You insure him for a few million dollars against a career ending injury. The associate AD for football, Justin Moore, told Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports that it’s a loophole in the NCAA rules that, “I don’t think many schools know about it. It’s a game changer.”

Keep in mind that it’s the NCAA and its member institutions of higher learning that recoil at any mention of paying athletes anymore than tuition, room and board. How is giving a kid a $60,000 insurance policy any different from giving him $60, 000 in cash?

There were lots of coaches’ ears perking up when they heard that news. Expect lots of highly insured football players in the future and a lot more players sticking around for that extra year.

Not for anything related to academics, of course, but to enhance their draft status.

The NCAA is a corrupt, bloated, obsolete, useless bureaucracy that needs to go away. And, it just may be going before too long.

The Ed O’Bannon class action lawsuit just wrapped up last week and if O’Bannon wins, the NCAA will never be the same. He sued on behalf of players who, among other things, had their likenesses used to sell billions of dollars worth of video games without being compensated.

An attorney who has worked in the highest levels of professional sports (who spoke on condition of anonymity) said this about the lawsuit:

“I haven’t followed the testimony closely enough to predict the outcome, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. (NCAA President Mark) Emmert and his cohorts are like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the final scene where they think they fought off their pursuers, not realizing there are scores more awaiting them. The NCAA as we know it is dead. It’s just a matter of who and what, individually or collectively delivers the kill shot.”

“The five big conferences will have complete authority and the NCAA will be figuring out how to fund the millions of dollars of judgments against it that await.”

He had told me before the trial that I should expect “A crater in Indianapolis where the NCAA sits.”

The judge is expected to rule next month.

Can’t wait to see the crater and the chaos that will follow.

The chaos will ultimately make more sense than the NCAA has made in the last 40 years.

I CAN RELATE, LEBRON

I can relate to LeBron James.

I’m old and white. I’m not worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I stink at basketball and nobody cares where I choose to ply my trade. But, here’s what I do have in common with James: When I was in my early twenties, I left my home in the Rust Belt and headed for Miami.

He left Akron. I left Pittsburgh.

It was late January when my two buddies and I piled in a car and headed South. It was cold, gray, with periods of snow, slush, salt and cinders.

The feeling I had when I got out of the car a day and a half later and saw palm trees and felt the warm breeze made the trip worthwhile. Whatever followed would be gravy.

We spent the first two weeks going to the beach every day.

We had arrived in paradise and couldn’t believe we had wasted the first quarter of our lives living in Hell.

Then we got jobs. It took about two weeks to realize that not everybody in Miami was on vacation. We left for work in the morning and when we got home around six o’clock it was dark.

Just like Pittsburgh.

It took us three months of that to realize that living in the Sun Belt isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You still have to sit in rush hour traffic twice a day and work at a job you may not like.

We went home.

Maybe, after earning a quarter of a billion dollars and winning two NBA championships, James came to the same conclusion.

There really is no place like home

On Friday, when he made his announcement on SI.com, it was 75 degrees with 46% humidity in Cleveland. In Miami it was 90 with 68% humidity. In Miami, everybody except the tourists wanted to be inside the same way everybody in Cleveland wants to be inside in February.

Good for LeBron James and good for Cleveland.

James did something that athletes are rarely smart enough to do. He made his decision based on something other than money. When you are half way to your first half billion dollars, you have the luxury of never having to make a decision based on money again. Very few players take advantage of that luxury.

In his statement to SI.com, James wrote, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball.”  Nine out of 10 times in professional sports, the translation of that statement would be. “I went for the cash.”

I don’t get that feeling this time.

James seems to genuinely want to return to his roots. And this is no small thing for Cleveland. And not just because it’s been 50 years since one of its major pro franchises has won a championship.

Cleveland is like so many northern cities that have been destroyed by bad government and are desperately trying to encourage natives to stay and new businesses to relocate.

This is about so much more than basketball.

LeBron James just told the world that he could live anywhere and he chose Cleveland. (Okay, maybe he actually chose Akron.)

That’s even better.

Good for Akron.

Good for Cleveland.

- So, Sidney Crosby played the entire post season with a sore wrist. There were reports that Crosby’s inner circle was upset with the Penguins for leaking the news early in the week that Crosby could be having surgery on his right wrist that was injured some time in March because he didn’t want to appear to be making excuses for his un-Crosbylike performance in the playoffs.

A sore wrist explains a lot.

People who have watched him for the last nine years were stunned by the sudden loss of accuracy with his shots and his difficulty making and accepting passes.

Maybe this will nip the “Peyton Manning of the NHL” narrative in the bud. That was a ridiculous narrative to begin with since, before this season, among players with 60 or more playoff games, only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux had averaged more post season points per game than Crosby.

- I will never ridicule or question another Pirates off season pitcher signing again.

- There are few things more ridiculous than people in the media blaming LeBron James for the circus surrounding his decision to return to Cleveland. That was a media circus. Not a LeBron circus.

- James’ decision may have helped the Browns by taking the spotlight off of Johnny Manziel. Johnny seems to like the spotlight.

- Dave Littlefield drafted Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Tony Watson.

- While channel surfing last weekend, I stumbled upon something called Pro Footvolley on Root Sports. It’s two person beach volleyball with a soccer ball. No hands allowed. It’s bad enough that the human race has descended to such depths that a sport like that would exist but, professional? On television?

SOCCERNISTAS AND AMERICA

J. Steigerwald column for 7.05/06.14

I’m still proud to be an American.

Our soccer team losing to a team from a country that is 1/22 the size of Texas is no reason for any American to hang his or her head. We fought the good fight. The Americans played four games and won one.

They tell me that, in soccer, that’s pretty good.
The Soccernistas in the media would have you believe that the awe-inspiring 1-2-1 performance by our guys has already established soccer as America’s next big sport.
They don’t like to point out that “our guys” aren’t really ours the way, say, the US hockey team at the Winter Olympics was our guys.
The coach is from Germany. Five key players were born and raised in Germany. The German coach cut Landon Donovan, who (they tell me) is the best American player ever. Several other players are American only for the purpose of playing in the World Cup.
And that was no accident, apparently. The German coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, started with a plan to make the American team as un-American as possible.

Here’s Sam Borden in the New York Times Magazine back in June:
“….Klinsmann believes that, if the United States is ever going to really succeed at a World Cup, a specific and significant change must occur within the team. That change does not necessarily have to do with how the Americans play; rather, it has to do with the American players being too American.”

How would that little piece of news had gone over with the huge crowds of American flag-waving people gathered in front of outdoor screens around the country?

We’ll know that soccer has really arrived as an American sport when there are enough kids who were born and raised in America to fill out a competitive national team’s roster.

Does it qualify as ironic that crowds, who were gathered more out of a sense of patriotism and the opportunity for a party than because of any real interest in the sport, were cheering for a team that didn’t want to be “too American?”

- Meanwhile, what could be more American than college football? Big changes could be coming to a college football program near you. The Ed O’Bannon class action anti-trust lawsuit wrapped up last week and it’s in the hands of U.S. District judge Claudia Wilkening. A decision, which will probably be appealed, will be coming down in a few weeks.

The suit would like to bar the NCAA from preventing college football players from profiting from the use of their names, images and likenesses.

The NCAA’s defense was the same tired, old, phony story about maintaining amateur purity.

When the suit began, a sports attorney and former owner of a major professional sports franchise told me that he expected “a crater where the NCAA is now.” He said it would be the end of the NCAA as we know it.

I asked him, on the condition of keeping him anonymous, how he felt now that the case has been heard. He said, “ I haven’t followed the testimony closely enough to predict the outcome, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. (NCAA President) Emmert and his cohorts are like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the final scene where they fought off their pursuers not realizing there were scores more awaiting them.”

“The NCAA as we know it is dead. It’s just a matter of who and what, individually or collectively, delivers the kill shot”

“The big conferences will have complete authority and the NCAA will be figuring out how to fund the hundreds of millions of dollars of judgments against it that await.”

As much as I would like to see the NCAA disappear, because of one of the plaintiff’s main arguments, this will only make it easier for the NFL and NBA monopolies to use colleges as a free minor league system and will increase the number of unqualified “student” athletes.

The plaintiffs claim that because the top level NCAA schools are the only places where these athletes can sell their services, they suffer economic harm.

They should be able to sell their services where baseball and hockey players sell theirs – to professional teams who can develop them in the minor leagues.

- The headline on the Washington Post read: “Bryce Harper is still just 21 years old, but he needs to stop acting like he is 12.”
Harper, who plays for the Nationals, is having some trouble dealing with what comes with being his sport’s next super-duper star at a young age. He has complained about his spot in the batting order and publicly second-guessed his manager.

Makes you appreciate Sidney Crosby.

- The Penguins are grittier and tougher than they were last week. Check back in May to see if it matters.

THE ULTIMATE GRAND SLAM

Think of all the Major League Baseball Games that have been played in the last 110 years or so.

And consider consider that Rajai Davis of the Tigers did something last night that has only happened 27 times. He hit a grand slam home run to wipe out a three run deficit and end the game.

It’s called an ultimate grand slam.

Two Pirates have done it. And they did it within two months of each other.

Danny Kravitz in May of 1956 and Roberto Clemente in July of 1956.

Both happened in Forbes Field and I was there to see them. I was 7 years old.

Clemente’s was even more rare. It was inside the park. He’s the only player to do it. And it’s not possible for a game to have a more exciting ending.

Those are two of my earliest sports memories and the Clemente home run is the subject of the first chapter of my book.

REAL FOOTBALL BEING PLAYED UP NORTH

Football season started this weekend.
I’m not talking about futbol. I’m talking about the North American game. The one where humans are allowed to take advantage of their opposable thumbs. The Canadian Football League played a full schedule after opening the season Wednesday night.

ESPN signed a multiyear deal with the CFL, and there will be 17 regular-season games and the Grey Cup tournament available to American viewers. Most NFL fans look down their noses at the CFL. It’s played at the wrong time of year, and it’s played by guys who could never play in the NFL.

Doug Flutie disagrees with that.

He told MMQB.com that the NFL is only now catching up to what he was doing in Canada in 1990.
“The game in Canada was more exciting, more explosive, more wide open. It was what the NFL is now becoming. We were going no-huddle, over the ball, from the time I got up there. No-back sets. Six wide receivers, throwing the ball all over the field. There is a 20-second clock between plays rather than 40. It just creates a pace that the NFL is now realizing to be more exciting — and actually more effective.

“The NFL is turning into a no-huddle, up-tempo, fast-paced, throw-the- football type of game now. The CFL has been that for the last 30 years.”
What Flutie doesn’t mention is that because the NFL has four downs to get 10 yards as opposed to the CFL’s three, there is a lot more dinking and dunking in the NFL.

I haven’t been sold on three downs instead of four yet, but I do know that three downs makes it a lot harder for teams to sit on a lead. Especially when the clock stops after every play in the last three minutes of each half and there are only 20 seconds between plays.
I’ll be watching the CFL this summer. I know it’s not the NFL, but I also know that they’ll be using their hands.

• The Penguins might have succeeded in creating a better locker room when they traded James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patrick Hornqvst and Nick Spaling on Friday night, but they also traded one of the best pure goal scorers on the planet. New general manager Jim Rutherford immediately pointed out that he thought that Hornqvist, who has a reputation for playing in the dirty areas, would make them a better playoff team.

He’s probably right, because Neal’s game, for whatever reason, didn’t translate very well to the playoffs. That might be more of an indictment of the league than of Neal, but the Penguins can’t wait for the idiots in the league office to be like every other major sport and allow its skilled, exciting star players to shine in the most important, most-watched games.

Most fans, despite the fact that they don’t get a share of the winnings or a day with the Stanley Cup, would rather have a boring Cup winner than a really entertaining contender.
The Neal trade might end up being exactly what the Penguins need to become a better playoff team, but they got a little less exciting to watch.
That might not be a problem for the people who get in free, but that long sellout streak at the Consol Energy Center hasn’t been a result of mucking and grinding.

• If NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had a sense of humor he would have worn a Santa Claus suit in Philadelphia this weekend.

• I’ve seen enough of Gregory Polanco to believe that the Pirates would have at least four or five more wins if he had been on the roster to start the season. Of course, that might have jeopardized 2018, and we can’t have that.

• Josh Harrison is the Pirates’ MVP right now. It took him a while to be given as many chances to fail as a lot of other less-talented players. The fact that he is 5-foot-8 might have something to do with that. Joe Morgan is 5-7. He’s in the Hall of Fame.

• The Wall Street Journal was nice enough to publish a Writhing Scorecard for the World Cup. Geoff Foster counted 302 players who were seen rolling around in pain in the first 32 games. I doubt you could count 32 NFL or NHL players writhing around in an entire season.

Most of the writhing was done by teams that were ahead because they have more interest in wasting time. Teams that were behind accounted for 40 “injuries” and 12:30 of writhing time. Teams with the lead faked 103 injuries and spent about 50 minutes writhing.

• The best analysis of the Penguins that I heard last week came from NHL Network analyst and former NHL general manager Craig Button on my talk show: “The Penguins have depended on too few for too much for too long.”