Posts Tagged ‘David Lamm’

The 21st Century hasn’t been kind to our sports superstars.

Heroes falling from grace is about as old as sports itself. You can go back to Shoeless Joe Jackson and forward ahead to such icons as Pete Rose, O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson and Denny McClain. But since the turn of this century the list of superstars – I’m talking about all-time greats – who have tumbled from the pinnacle to the outhouse has happened at an alarming rate.

I was reminded of this with the end of the Roger Clemens trial for perjury. Regardless of the jury’s verdict, Clemens, considered by some as the greatest righthander in baseball history, will be viewed with disgust and shame. The century began with perhaps baseball’s greatest ever all-around player, Barry Bonds, making the same fall. Both men are now labeled as cheaters.

Then came Tiger Woods, maybe the best golfer ever, being exposed as womanizing sex addict who lived a life of lies. And the biggest fall, Penn State’s Joe Paterno, the winningest major college football coach ever and the epitome of integrity, who turned a blind eye to years of alleged sexual child abuse by a trusted colleague.

Who’s next?

And there’s the boxing mess . . .

Anyone surprised by the latest boxing controversy has been living on another planet. When has boxing been an honest sport? That’s not to say all fights have been fixed in some way, but there have been crooked promoters and fighters taking dives around as long as the sport itself.

The real mystery is how the sport has survived and thrived to some degree this long. The only conceivable answer is man’s thirst to watch one man beat the hell out of another man and bet on who will win.

Certainly boxing isn’t has popular as it once was, but it still suckers millions of people into paying big money to watch. Latest example was last weekend’s fight in which someone named Timothy Bradley was given a split decision over one of the few name fighters remaining, Manny Pacquiao.

It’s impossible to totally clean up the sport, but one obvious step is to have judges publicly post round-by-round results. The best solution, o f course, is to ignore the sport altogether and let it die.

 

 

Mo-Jo has been outstanding.

Mo-Jo has been a team leader on and off the field.

Mo-Jo has given 100 percent whether he’s running, catching or blocking.

Mo-Jo has respected the fans and media.

Mo-Jo has been, by far, the most popular player and face of the franchise.

Mo-Jo has been a great role-mode for kids.

Mo-Jo has played with nagging injuries.

Mo-Jo has sacrificed his body.

Mo-Jo has been handsomely paid.

In other words, Maurice Jones-Drew has done what he was expected to do; what he agreed to do.

Surely he didn’t think he was being paid to fumble the ball; to be a diva in the locker room; to be a jerk around the fans and media; to give a half-hearted effort on some plays; to get injury pay for a hangnail.

So what’s the problem? Mo-Jo should get his butt to Jacksonville.

 

Bobby Jones once told Jack Nicklaus, “You play a game with which I’m not familiar.” That was from the greatest golfer of his era to the greatest golfer of that era. It has always been my contention that, regardless of the era, only a handful of non-touring pros can truly relate to the game touring pros play.

That brings me to the United States Open Championship, which is this week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Try as we might, how can we really analyze what the golfers will face.

Consider these facts: The opening hole is a 520-yard par-4; the 3rd hole is a 247-yard par-3; and there’s a 670-yard par-5. Forget the trees, rough, ribbon-thin fairways, slopes, lightning fast greens and hazards along the way. The distances themselves are mind-boggling for 99-plus percent of those of us who play the game.

Year in and year out, no playing challenge is greater than the one presented by the U.S. Open. The fact that a handful of the golfers in the Open will better par over 72 holes (maybe) should humble the golfing masses and make of rest of us realize how unfamiliar we are with the game they play.

No matter how difficult the course plays and no matter how unfair some of the holes may seem – and the USGA has been known to cross the line when it comes to fair-unfair – someone among the 156 players is going to win. Anyone who is talented enough to qualify for an Open is capable of winning, but it does seem to be a safe bet to eliminate some of the amateurs such as 14-year-old Andy Zhang of China. The USGA is researching to see if he is the youngest Open competitor ever.

The odds-makers have made three-time Open champion Tiger Woods the favorite now that he has recaptured some of his magic. Defending champion Rory McIlroy and five-time runner-up Phil Mickelson are high on everyone’s list.

None, however, make my top three. In fact, none of my top three picks has ever won a major championship, but don’t think I’m going out of a limb. All are ranked among the top 10 players in the world. All also are known for being incredibly accurate drivers of the ball, superb ball-strikers and cool under pressure.

My pick is Luke Donald, who is the game’s most consistent player. My No. 2 pick is Lee Westwood, who has been a fixture on the leader boards of majors for the last several years. No. 3 of my list is Matt Kuchar, who has been quiet since winning The Players but has a solid record in the Open.

But I won’t be surprised if, say, Kevin Streelman is victorious. Opens have often been full of surprises. Remember Michael Campbell? Lucas Glover? Ed Furgol? You get my point.

 

If you haven’t watched pro basketball lately, I recommend you give the NBA Championship Series a try. The Heat vs. Thunder promises to be 21st Century basketball at its finest.

I’m talking about high-flying, above-the-rim, one-on-one, race-horse basketball that doesn’t include those old-fashion violations such as travelling and palming the ball. 21st Century basketball is a series of ESPN highlights.

Few disagree the Heat and Thunder are the best teams in their conferences. Each team offers three of the best players on the planet. Miami’s LeBron James and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant are arguably the two best players on earth.

As a bonus, the series offers the good and young (the Thunder) against the bad and older (the Heat).

James has to be the most despised superstar in all of sports. Durant is the up-and-coming superstar who waves to his mama after every basketball.

There are subplots galore. LeBron has done everything in his career but win a ring. That shouldn’t be such an albatross for him except for the fact his career has been a PR nightmare. It’s bad enough that he has such nicknames as “King James” and “The Chosen One” but he turned up the heat on himself with the over-the-top way he announced his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami and then telling the world that in Miami he’d win “not one, not, not three . . . not seven” world championships.

Meanwhile, teammate Dwayne Wade has gone from being Mr. Nice Guy to being considered something of a jerk. Chris Bosh epitomizes “playing in the shadows”.

The Thunder has quickly risen from the outhouse to knocking on the penthouse door. While Durant has won three straight scoring titles, Russell Westbrook has gone from an out of control point guard to being considered among the best at his position. James Harden is a scoring machine off the bench who also excels on defense.

Ironically, the championship could come down to whether or not one of the Heat’s other shooters gets hot or if OKC’s Serge Ibaka‘s long arms keep the Heat slashers from driving to the hoop.

The Thunder is favored, but I like the Heat in seven games. Regardless of which team wins the title, if you don’t like the basketball in this series, then you truly don’t like pro basketball.

From my perspective, Justin Blackmon wasn’t very convincing with his apology when he met with the media on Wednesday. He says he doesn’t have a problem with alcohol. He says he’ll accept whatever counseling he’s ordered to get. He’s sorry for the “bad press” the Jaguars received.

At no point did he talk about needing or wanting help. At no point did he talk about how his actions might hurt the franchise on the field.

I don’t know if he has a problem. Even if he does, I do know thousands of professional athletes have drunk alcohol to excess and abused drugs and still performed well on the field. More heavy drinkers and drug abusers, however, have fallen well short of expectations and grossly shortened their careers.

Which category will Blackmon fall into? Don’t know. But based on what’s happened and Blackmon’s response, I won’t be surprised either way.

Let’s be brutally honest about this situation with Blackmon. While I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t hoping he conquers his personal problems, all that really matters for the Jaguars organization and its fans is Blackmon getting his act together so he can become a star wide receiver.

Even before he signs a contract, the Jaguars have much invested in Blackmon. The value of the 5th overall pick in the draft is enormous.

The success or failure of Blackmon on the field likely will play a key role in how many victories the Jaguars earn in the foreseeable future. Victories translate into making the playoffs, and being a playoff team means millions of dollars through ticket, concession, parking, corporate sponsorship and merchandise sales.

Of course the Jaguars are standing behind Blackmon following his second DUI and speeding arrest. Of course Blackmon means it when he says there won’t be other off-the-field problems.

All we know for sure is he has two strikes against him and, as it’s been proven in baseball, playing with two strikes puts an athlete at a major disadvantage.

No one could have been more shaken by Justin Blackmon’s aggravated DUI arrest, a felony, than Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith. Well, except for Blackmon himself.

Smith’s job – indeed, perhaps even his career as an NFL GM – is riding on Blackmon. Smith’s track record in the draft is mediocre, at best. While his first 1st-round selection, left tackle Eugene Monroe, has developed into a solid player he hasn’t lived up to being the No. 8 overall pick. Smith’s second 1st-round pick, quarterback Blaine Gabbert, had an awful rookie season. While everyone agrees Gabbert needs more time before we can make an accurate judgment, many critics (including yours truly) are convinced he’ll be a bust.

And now Blackmon has stumbled before he even signs his rookie contract. Last weekend’s DUI arrest was his second in two years. Red flags are popping up everywhere concerning his character and maturity.

Just as the Jaguars were in desperate need of a quarterback heading into the 2011 draft, they were desperate for big-time help at wide receiver heading into this year’s draft. Trading up to get Blackmon, the consensus top WR, was considered a crafty move by Smith. The only risk factor was Blackmon’s prior alcohol-related problem.

If Gabbert doesn’t make remarkable improvement this season and if Blackmon doesn’t make an immediate positive impact, the Jaguars will fall deeper into a hole that has kept them out of the playoffs for four straight seasons.

How will Blackmon’s latest arrest affect his career? Obviously no one knows the answer, but it can’t help. Does Blackmon have a problem with alcohol? Is he simply immature? Can he be that stupid? Is he just a bad guy?

He clearly enjoys the nightlife offered at our beaches if you believe the stories floating around during his first month in Jacksonville. Most healthy and single young people enjoy the bar scene. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as they know when to say when.

There’s no doubt Smith and his scouts spent countless hours evaluating Blackmon as a player and a person. Smith has made it clear how high he rates character when signing players.

Still, he has to understand it’s a gamble with every player. Young men with money to burn and fans clamoring to be near them often develop a sense of entitlement and think they’re immune to the rules the rest of us have to follow. To use an old cliché, they think of themselves as bulletproof.

I have been told that new owner Shad Kahn has serious reservations about Smith as the team’s GM. If Blackmon, for whatever reason, doesn’t pan out, Smith likely will be shown the door.

 

Dog Days of Summer

Posted: June 5, 2012 in sports
Tags: ,

Summer begins June 1 for me. Maybe it is because in my youth the school year ended in late May and the new year started in September. Whatever, the dog days of summer have arrived. Among the things I hope to see happen this summer are:

• Justin Blackmon add a designated driver to his posse. I don’t know if he has a drinking problem, but if the Jaguars’ 1st-round draft pick can’t behave himself this close to signing a contract that could set himself up for life financially, then he’s either immature or stupid or both.

• The Spurs beat the Heat for the NBA title. This isn’t about hating LeBron James, but about my admiration for Greg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the way the Spurs play the game.

• The city administration and the Jaguars just get along and stop the nit picking. If would help if the Jaguars didn’t always expect to receive and never give.

• Florida State win the NCAA baseball championship because Coach Mike Martin deserves a ring.

• Tiger Woods win a major championship. Love him or hate him, pro golf is more fun when Tiger is winning. Golf has gotten more main stream media hype in the last 20 hours or so since Tiger won the Memorial than it has in weeks.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. See Tiger item.

• Evan Longoria get healthy and the pitching staff live up to expectation so the Tampa Bay Rays can win the American League East.

• Tim Tebow win the Jets’ starting quarterback job so I can hearing the Tebow naysayers whine and cry some more.

• The Jaguars sell out the season.

• Florida football coach Will Muschamp allow himself to exhale and connect with the Gator fan base. All work and no play will make him old before his time – and get him fired sooner than later

• I break 90 on the golf course one more time.

 

I’m a big Mike Martin fan. I think the FSU baseball coach is as good it gets in his profession. On top of that, he’s on my top 5 list of the best people I have met in covering sports for more than 50 years.

Okay, he’s never led the Seminoles to an NCAA baseball championship. Nobody’s perfect.

Unfortunately, that’s what is brought up most often when the subject turns to the FSU coach. And because we live in a world where one ring can wipe away a lot of failures and in a world where no ring can overshadow years of outstanding success, Martin seldom gets his due.

I’m in the minority on this. I understand that. But in my world, a true sign of greatness is consistently performing well at the highest level – through the different eras and with a constantly changing cast of teammates and foes.

Martin has taken the Seminoles to 33 consecutive NCAA tournaments. He has guided FSU to 14 College World Series. Those are staggering numbers that reveal Martin’s excellence in recruiting, coaching and leadership.

Maybe this year will be the year Martin gets that coveted ring. The Seminoles enter the tournament seeded No. 3 overall.

If FSU doesn’t win the title, Martin will hear the same ol’ criticism, mostly from his own fans: He can’t win the Big One. Some will suggest – again – that it’s time for Martin to step aside, enjoy retirement and let someone younger take a crack at coaching FSU.

It has been argued that anyone who has a clue to what he’s doing can have a reasonable amount of success coaching FSU’s baseball program. I agree. FSU makes baseball a priority. It has some of the finest facilities in America. It is located in a baseball-rich state where the sport can be played year-round. Those are huge advantages over, say, the Michigans of the world. Still, it isn’t as easy as it seems.

Martin and I have joked about how basketball coaches moan about losing players to the pro game after only one season. We laughed about how football coaches were livid when star players were allowed to leave after three seasons.

College baseball coaches have fought those battles for decades. Martin can’t count the number of blue-chip recruits he worked – and signed – who never spent one day as an FSU student. High school baseball stars have gone straight to pro ball since the days of Cobb and Ruth. Top programs have to recruit the top players, but they also must work tirelessly to find the players who are ignored by the pro scouts but have the potential to develop into all-Americans. It is a task that loaded with frustration.

And it is worth noting that baseball is a game where winning 70 percent of your games is outstanding. Imagine fans of elite football programs being happy with a 7-3 record? Inferior baseball teams can beat the best with one hot pitcher, one crucial error or one line drive hit right at a defender.

The odds are Martin would have won a national title by now. Maybe this will be the year. Mike Martin deserves one, not to prove he can coach, but to please those people who don’t understand the game and what he’s already accomplished.

 

It’s time for more spring cleaning of the overcrowded sports mind.

• Normally the initial reaction to someone getting fired is to feel regret, but I’m happy for Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy. Both were fired by the Orlando Magic this week, Smith after six years as general manager and Van Gundy five years as head coach. Both must feel relieved to get out from under the rule of an overgrown brat, Dwight Howard. Both Smith and Van Gundy have made enough money so they don’t have to worry about paying the rent. Both will land on their feet professionally, particularly Van Gundy who’s regarded as one of the top five or six coaches in the NBA. The question now is who will be the Howard’s next puppet? One shouldn’t be difficult to find with Disney World so close to Orlando. Wonder what Goofy is doing these days?

• The next time your buddy tells you about hitting a 300-yard drive, take him to the nearest tee box and give him a bucket of balls and tell him to show you. Men lie more about how far they hit golf balls than how long they last in the sack.

• I’ve always said the role of MLB managers is overrated, but if I bought a team I’d do my best to hire Tampa Bay’s Joe Madden. I like his only two rules: Be on time and run hard to first base every time.

• Don’t blame today’s pitchers for appearing to be so wimpy. Today’s pitchers are coddled and put on pitch counts not because they want to but because executives are trying to protect their outrageous investments.

• The NFL Players Association membership looks silly and foolish by balking because the league will insist players wear full pads starting with the 2013 season. In recent years most wide receiver and defensive backs quit wearing thigh and knee pads because it makes them appear tougher and look cooler. They claim the pads slow them down. That, of course, is ridiculous. And their argument is lame that the “pads rule” is the first step in altering their collective bargaining agreement. Grow up.

• The PGA Tour’s newest star, Jason Dufner, is so bland that it makes him colorful.

• The Jaguars hope quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s decision to cut his long, blonde hair has the reverse-Sampson affect and makes him tougher.

• An unreliable source in Gainesville recently told me Will Muschamp was seen smiling at a Hogtown mall. I’ll believe it when I see it for myself.

• Speaking of unreliable sources, take your pick among FSU President Eric Barron, Athletic Director Randy Spetman and football coach Jimbo Fisher.

 

Tip of the Concussion Iceberg

Posted: May 23, 2012 in sports
Tags: ,

Certainly we should all take seriously the increase of concussions and their long-term effect on athletes. While the sport of football is at the forefront of this discussion, it also is a major concern for such sports as soccer, motor sports, hockey, boxing, skiing and X Games events.

The debate is being brought to a head by a growing number of lawsuits filed on behalf of former NFL players. Can lawsuits on behalf of former college players be far behind? I won’t be surprised if one day lawsuits are filed for players from even lower levels of football.

These lawsuits could eventually prove to be the death of football and other sports. Changing the rules and developing better equipment are obvious answers to lessening the problem, but it will never completely go away as long as athletes’ heads are at risk.

That’s certainly the case for football. As former Michigan State Coach Duffy Daughtery once said, “Football is not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.”

If football or any of the other sports I mentioned become true contact sports based on Daughtery’s interpretation, then all will be in grave danger of surviving. Certainly there is nothing wrong with trying “clean up” the sports, but how can possible head trauma being totally eliminated?

The survival of the sports rests with participants taking personal responsibility and the courts ruling in favor of free will. If you play football, for example, you accept the risk of injury as long as you are provided proper equipment, supervision and education.

There was a time when Congress actually contemplated outlawing both football and boxing. There are intelligent people in positions of authority who have advocated putting an end to motor sports.

All have survived and football and motor sports have become incredibly popular. They survived because common sense prevailed.

I hope that’s the case now.