Nike, Kaepernick send great message

In a week that’s seen the contentious questioning of a Supreme Court nominee and more tales of crazy times inside the White House come to the surface, it appears a sneaker company has stolen the spotlight.
And what a wonderful, positive message Nike has presented. One that, unfortunately, might get lost amid the controversial choice of the deliverer of the message, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
From the moment the folks in Beaverton, Ore., announced Kaepernick would be featured in a new “Just Do It” advertising campaign, reaction has been, well, usual for these confusing times.
Folks who equate his kneeling during the playing of the national anthem with disrespect for the flag and the military have perhaps been the most vocal, some to the point of burning their Nike gear.
Others have wondered why Nike couldn’t have made a less-controversial athlete, or a military hero like the late Pat Tillman, the focus of the campaign.
Invoking images of Tillman is particularly bothersome in several ways. Recall the Army originally had the NFL player turned Ranger dying in battle, only to announce after his services he was killed by friendly fire.
There’s also the fact that Tillman’s family had to – again – ask that his name not be used for political purposes. Recall about a year ago President Trump cited Tillman in one of his periodic Twitter rages regarding NFL players kneeling during the anthem.
Besides, as someone who has read and studied quite a bit about Tillman’s life, I am convinced that, like many who knew him, he would have taken the time to talk to Kaepernick and others who joined his protest of police brutality and social injustice, he probably would have taken a knee himself.
Remember, it’s about selling shoes, T-shirts, visors, and anything about sports. Would any of the names named have drawn as much attention as Kaepernick? I don’t think so.
As for the ad itself, wow! What a terrific message of encouragement to the upcoming generation. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mreQsQrDF-A
The ad is clearly not about Kaepernick, but about encouraging athletes to strive to be their best.
Yes, Nike’s going to sell a lot of stuff. But perhaps a young athlete will take some of the words of the script to heart and want to be better.
And who knows, he or she may be the key to working us out of this mess that we should be focusing on.

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Sorry, not ready for the NFL

Training camp and preseason games are just a blip in the back mirror now. Soon they’ll be teeing it up and kicking it off for another season of the National Football League.
As I look over what’s been going on in the league the last few years, though, I wonder what all the fuss is about.
The game is being overwhelmed by a myriad of problems on and off the field.
Despite the best efforts of the rule makers, it appears no one knows how to define a catch, which should be basic.
Rules designed to improve player safety, such as the concussion protocol and helmet hits, seem to be equally as hard to grasp, if not outright ignored.
Until this gets worked out, there’s no doubt we’ll continue to see an increase in concussion-related problems with former and current players.
Off the field, it’s equally as messy, if not worse.
The whole question of players being allowed to kneel during the national anthem has turned into such – and trust me, I want a better term – a political football that the reason for the protest, police brutality in the African-American community, has become lost.
This was an issue the NFL, given its place in the sports and media food chains, could have taken leadership and joined forces with its 68 percent African-American player personnel, but instead chose to follow the path of the current political winds, which seems more interested in stifling minority communities than encouraging growth.
Compare and contrast with the NBA, which has not only worked out a solution with its players, also has two of its most prominent players, LeBron James and Steph Curry, involved in projects to better their corners of the world, James with his school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and Curry, the father of two daughters, with his girls basketball camp, which he discussed in this recent essay in The Players Tribune. https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/stephen-curry-womens-equalityhttps://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/stephen-curry-womens-equalitys
All in all, not the rosy, star-spangled scene, flanked by bosomy cheerleaders, the league would like us to see as the season starts. And it’s one I wonder if I can continue to support.

Giving baseball a makeover

Can baseball be saved?
That seems to be the theme from those who opine on such things this past week, citing declining attendance and TV ratings, with stagnant divisional races as a chaser.
But does the game need wholesale changes?
Dear God, I hope there won’t be. The sport, with some minor tinkering, is being played the same way it has for the last century-plus and remains the best way to spend not only a sunny summer day, but a moony summer night.
But, with the following tweaks, I think the game can be improved.
Scheduling
Yep, it’s a grind. Or, as Marty Lurie says, a marathon, not a sprint. But there are some of the old school that remain fixated on a return to a 154-game schedule, which was the norm until the first round of expansion in the early 1960s, which begat the Angels, Senators (now the Rangers), Colt 45s (now the Astros) and Mets.
To which I say: One week off the season? Really?
What would work better? The return of the scheduled doubleheader. You could even do the split doubleheaders that have become the norm because of rain delays to preserve income. But not only would this shorten the schedule, you’d make fans happy.
And while we’re meddling in this area: Interleague play, seeya!
For all the Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox and Giants-A’s games that create interest in major metropolitan areas, there’s all the other games that are so meh.
Instead, let’s try beefing up the schedules in each league to bring back a little balance, especially in September, when the most significant regular season games should be played.
Before the last round of expansion, teams would take two trips to each city in the opposite division and three to teams in their division. One trip early in the season, one trip later, and September was strictly divisional play. The way the schedule is drawn now, with constant interleague play, not only do we have at least two teams playing interleague games the last weekend of the season, there’s situations like the Giants face this weekend when they host the Mets, a week after playing their only series in New York. Why not mix things up a bit?
Rules
Bring back throwing four wide ones to intentionally walk a batter. The time it saves, as we have shown elsewhere on this blog, is a wash. Have the pitcher work a little bit throwing around a hitter.
The designated hitter? Time for the American League to dump it in favor of the way the game should be played.
Replay? It stays, only because not only has the horse been let out of that barn, it’s down at the next farm training for the Kentucky Derby.
Putting a runner on second to start the 12th inning of extra inning games? If you think I like that, you haven’t been paying attention.
Gameplay
Remember the All-Star Game? Yeah, there were 10 home runs, but also 26 strikeouts.
Just like on the old “Home Run Derby” series, it was a home run or nothing. Unfortunately, that describes too many games nowadays.
This fine art of pitching has been replaced by the demand for more strikeouts. And while chicks may dig the long ball, all long ball, all the time makes for a dull product.
Blame statistical analysis, which also begat shifts, if you like, but if managers and coaches can teach their teams where to play defensively, can they not also teach hitters ways to beat the shift?
Get a man on first. Bunt him over or have him steal. Let the next two men drive him in. It’s not THAT difficult.
Television
Thanks to the explosion in regional sports networks, virtually every major league game is on TV in some way, shape or form, on networks such as Root, Fox Sports Net or NBC Sports City Goes here.
According to Broadcastingcable.com, 79 percent of U.S. homes receive TV via cable or satellite. A figure that’s down from the 84 percent in 2014, but still significant, due to cord cutting and the growth of services like Netflix as well as online options.
But that leaves about a fourth of the population with no access to games, save a trip to the neighbors or the local tavern. So, why not mandate teams show one game a week in their local market over-the-air? It’s called exposure.
As for the networks, both cable and over-the-air, why not expand horizons beyond the East Coast?
Given how often games from the region are shown, you would think ESPN is an acronym meaning Easter Seaboard Programming Network.
Yet, a World Series rematch between the Astros and Dodgers at the start of this month, or a delicious series last weekend between the Astros and Athletics in Oakland for the AL West lead? Nowhere to be found nationally, save SportsCenter, if it wasn’t wiped out by an update on LeBron.
But somehow, there’s always room for the Yankees and Red Sox, or even that mediocrity that is the Baltimore Orioles.
There’s great baseball and great stars being played west of the Appalachians. It’s too bad most folks can’t see it.

High school football: A whole new ballgame

As someone whose working life has revolved around the high school sports schedule until recently, it came as a bit of a shock this week to find the prep football season is beginning in some places this week.
The early start is thanks to the California Interscholastic Federation, with the goal of holding championship games the weekend of Dec. 7-8.
That’s nice for basketball, wrestling and soccer coaches of schools that don’t have long playoff runs, since they’ll get their athletes sooner, as well as families celebrating the holidays, but also gives some schools as many as three games before Labor Day weekend and a regular season that ends before Halloween.
That’s three games in some places where temperatures are still in triple digits. In some areas, such as the San Joaquin Valley, air quality will also be an issue. Not helping are several fires burning in Northern and Central California.
While I have my misgivings about where the NFL is headed, which we’ll get to as the season gets closer, still, there’s something special about the start of the high school football season.
New schools and the diminishing number of players going out for teams has changed some things, but this is still the time when communities come together to cheer on the team, support the band and cheerleaders and all the other folks involved in making Friday nights special from Barrow, Alaska, where the field is just 100 yards from the Arctic Ocean, to Miami.
It’s not only the start of the school year, but there’s also a sense of renewal, something that’s likely being felt most at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where, on Saturday, the Eagles take to the field for the first time since the February shooting that left 17 dead, including an assistant football coach.
The biggest problem I’ve had among the schools I’ve covered and followed over the years is where they’re playing now, as the painful, but necessary, process of realignment has reshuffled the deck.
• Atwater continues its rivalries with Buhach Colony, Merced and Golden Valley in the new-look Central California Conference, along with El Capitan, Central Valley and Patterson.
• Livingston again calls the Trans-Valley League home, along with Escalon, Hilmar, Hughson, Modesto Christian, Ripon and Riverbank.
• Turlock and Pitman renew acquaintances with Modesto rivals Downey, Enochs, Modesto and Gregori in the Central California Athletic League.
• Modesto’s Davis, Beyer and Johansen, along with Ceres, Lathrop, Los Banos, Pacheco and Mountain Home, find themselves in the Western Athletic Conference.
• Hanford West drops from the West Yosemite League to the Central Sequoia League, joining Dinuba, Exeter, Central Valley Christian, Kingsburg and Selma. The Huskies will continue to play Hanford in the Dog Bowl, now a nonconference game, and meet county rivals Sierra Pacific and Corcoran.
• Also new to the Central Section are 13 schools from the San Luis Obispo-Santa Maria area, although their impact likely won’t be felt until the playoffs.
• Last but not least, there’s the wholesale changes along the shores of Monterey Bay.
With the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League disbanding for football two years ago and the merger of the Mission Trail and Monterey Bay leagues, welcome to the Pacific Coast Athletic League, which for football stretches from Felton to King City.
Schools are divided into four equity leagues, featuring the powerhouse Gabilan Division, featuring Aptos, Christopher, Alvarez, Gilroy, San Benito, Palma, Seaside and Salinas.
Got all that? Guess the only question left is, are you ready for high school football?

Trump missed a moment with James. Sad!

Of all the things our humble experiment in democracy called the United State of America is, one of the building blocks is opportunity.

Here, you can succeed at anything, from learning how to hit a curve ball to achieving financial stability.

You’ve just got to work at it. And it ain’t easy.

Another building block is the concept of giving back to build a better nation. This can take several forms, from volunteer work in the community to giving to a favorite charity.

As a nation, we should be encouraging these efforts.

Too bad the current occupant of the White House doesn’t.

In a disgusting Tweet Friday night, President Trump not only turned up his attacks on the media but went after one of the world’s great sports stars in LeBron James.

If you don’t know what the president wrote, you missed a beaut.

Let’s face it, there’s no love lost between the president and James, who not only supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, but has been very vocal in his criticism of Trump, to the point of stating neither participant in this past season’s NBA Finals would likely visit the White House.

And while I imagine there’s still some gnashing of teeth and a jersey or two aflame after James left the Cavaliers – again – at the end of the season, how could anyone not like what he’s doing for the children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio?

Last week, James announced the launch of the I Promise School, in collaboration with the Akron Public Schools, which features not only comprehensive educational opportunities, but help for their families in obtaining a GED and job placement.

Students who complete the I Promise curriculum will also receive scholarships to the University of Akron.

What a wonderful way to boost the fortunes of the children of Akron. A sentiment shared by nearly everyone except the president.

Was it because of James’ support of Clinton? Was it his disagreements with the president? Or was it, as many have speculated, another racial attack (He also took a swipe at CNN’s Don Lemon, also a frequent Trump critic)?

Regardless, it was another unpresidential moment in an unpresidential administration.

Here was a moment to promote an investment in the public education system that has served so many Americans well.

But what else should we have expected from an administration that wants to arm teachers and keep campuses safe from grizzly bear attacks?

How’d that whole Trump University thing work out anyway?

 

Sports are no fantasy

One of the things I’ve worked on in this reporter’s life is maintaining a balance between my professional self and my fan self.

I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my life keeping up with the teams I’ve followed, such as the Giants, 49ers and Warriors, since my youth. But once you get behind that computer terminal to paint a picture of that day in sports, you leave that behind.

This also applies when you’re in the field on the beat. Yes, you’d like to see the you cover do well, but, if they lose, there’s still a story to tell, and you can’t let feelings get in the way.

(Recall: Sitting courtside one night during a particularly intense basketball game, with fans yelling and screaming all the way. At halftime, I got up to get a drink of water when a fan looked at me and say, “Richard, how can you be so calm?” Answer: “Because I don’t care who wins”)

Now that I’m no longer involved in day-to-day sports journalism, I can enjoy the achievements of the Giants and Warriors of late more thoroughly, but at time, that old reporter mode kicks in when I see or read something that totally defies what I know about sports.

A couple from baseball, since it’s fresher in my mind and a bit simpler.

Let’s step in the wayback machine to the end of last season, when fans were suggesting the Giants lose their last few games to ensure getting the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft.

First, I’d suggest reading up on the 1919 Black Sox and the esteemed Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. One will find baseball tends to frown on throwing games. There’s also the human factor. These highly skilled athletes, even in the worst of seasons, take tremendous pride in wanting to do their best. And third, while drafts in pro sports are always a guessing game, baseball may be the game, there are no guarantees.

Second, there seems to be the notion that one can run Major League Baseball team just like one runs his or her fantasy team.

Nothing against fantasy sports here, even though I don’t get involved. Those that play them seem to enjoy them, which is all that matters.

But some I think take it a bit too far, like the knee-jerk reaction to “DFA” (designate for assignment, or release) a player, or send him down to the minors or trade him after a rough stretch.

I don’t think some fans understand you can’t release players on a whim, like sending a child to bed without dessert. It’s a little costlier than a transaction fee. And, of course, a week or two later, when Joe Slugger wins a big game for another team, there’s the inevitable “why did we let him go” outcry.

That outcry is inevitable when one reads “Let’s trade (Madison Bumgarner/Buster Posey) for prospects” tweet. Two of the finest, history will prove out, to play the game, for a collection of minor leaguers that may not work out?

Just like Independence Day fireworks, some things are best left in the hands of trained professionals.

I imagine some of the same fans are up in arms over the lack of action at the trade deadline as well. I’m not suggesting this is a great Giants team at all – their performance on the field presents a more convincing argument than I ever could – but one big deal is not going to turn fortunes around this season.

Not living in a fantasy world teaches you that.

 

 

 

Monday buffet: Cutting the ties

In the immortal words of Willy Wonka “So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.”

So many thoughts going through this muddled mind, yet no one producing enough venom for a full-length solo rant in this occasional exercise in grammar and punctuation.

Thus, something I called in my Hanford days the luau buffet column beckons. And the traditional rules apply: Use a clean plate each trip through the line and consume all alcoholic beverages on the premises. Otherwise, dig in!

  • A friend asked if I would be writing about President Trump’s use of would vs. wouldn’t. The problem is, on my writing schedule, mainly, whenever I have a day off from my real job, he’s likely to do something even more outrageous than try and walk back what he said in the Helsinki news conference. Like do a complete 360 and go back to his original position. No, he wouldn’t dare, would he?
  • Further evidence the Raiders are looking to make a clean break from their Oakland heritage: Greg Papa out (along with the pride of Sanger, Tom Flores), Brent Musburger in as the team’s radio voice.

What difference does radio make in football nowadays, with virtually every NFL and NCAA Div. I game televised? As someone who has done a lot of weekend driving during the football season, a lot. And Papa’s been there for parts of three decades.

Compare with the last time the Raiders left Oakland high and dry (and let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of teams that can say that). Of course, Bill King went along, and was joined by LA-based boxing broadcaster Rich Marotta in what was a fine pairing.

  • Part of me, however, would have loved to hear Musburger describe this scene in the Raiders’ Mexico City game last season, when Tommie Smith lit the Al Davis torch. Yes, the same Musburger who called Smith and John Carlos “black-skinned storm troopers” for their raised-fist protest during the 1968 Olympics.
  • Papa’s future? I’d love to see him partnered with Jim Barnett again on Warriors’ telecasts. Of all the questionable moves Chris Cohan made during his ownership of the Warriors, firing Papa after he took the A’s TV job is easily in the to 10. And his talent is being wasted yukking it up with Garry St. Jean and Kelanna Azubukie on the studio shows.
  • It’s like we said in an earlier post on this fine forum. Raiders fans, time to cancel those season tickets and get rid of all the Raiders swag in your closet and dresser drawers. This organization is no longer about Oakland, so time to cut ties as well.
  • While we’re in the East Bay: Are some A’s fans really celebrating their team’s winning the Bay Bridge Trophy, or whatever they’re calling it? You think they would have done something really cool recently, like win three World Series titles in six seasons.
  • Looking forward to hearing the tales of what each members of the Athletics will do on their day with the trophy. Oh … you say it’s not the Stanley Cup?
  • Over the past few decades, it’d been my pleasure to tell the story of Atwater and Merced high schools play for The Spike. And Lake Havasu and Bullhead City Mohave play for the Golden Shovel. Also, not only Hanford and Lemoore play for the Milk Can, but Laton and Riverdale as well. My point? Trophy games should be left for the kids, not professional athletes.