It’s Lockout Season!

It’s Lockout Season!

If you’ve recently visited the website of your favorite NBA team, you probably noticed that something isn’t quite right. For example, during my recent check of the Washington Wizard’s site, the top news story was about their mascot G-Man going to China. The New York Knicks’ website was full of pictures of retired players and celebrities who have visited Madison Square Garden. Every NBA site has a feature about their “dancers,” but pictures of current NBA players seem to be conspicuously absent.

This twilight zone we have entered is all due to the NBA lockout, which started on July 1st at 12 a.m. when the last CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) expired. The owners locked out the players, as meetings to get some type of headway on what is going to be a long and arduous path to finding middle ground between the owners and the players. The biggest issues that need to be sorted out are the idea of a hard (or flex) salary cap and revenue sharing amongst teams.

Let the owners tell it, and they’ll say 22 of the 30 teams in the NBA are operating in the red, losing money in a system that keeps small market teams (such as Memphis or Sacramento) from being profitable. While there are always ways for teams to “show” that they are losing money, the current CBA mixed with today’s economical climate does make it difficult for those markets to be profitable. The players currently have a 57% share of revenues gained from the operations of the NBA. The owners are looking for a share closer to 60% for them. Such a shift in paradigm from the last CBA is mostly why the process of coming to an agreement that both sides can ascribe to will be so difficult.

The NBA players had a great run, though. There is no organization in pro sports that pays its players better than the NBA, where the average salary is $4.8 million. There is no mistaking the fact that players deserve the right to have gripes with management and have their say heard. But they had to know it was coming. When it becomes more cost effective to not even have a season for some teams, you have to look at the current system. A few of the NBA owners also own franchises in other sports leagues (such as the NHL), and they bought their respective teams at a premium. Their own business ventures may not have been as lucrative as in the past in this economic climate, so they will find it imperative to save money or find a way to make their teams profitable for them.

While no NBA team is as bad off as, say, the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers (whose employees checks bounced last week), the league cannot continue to operate under a CBA that sees 73% of its teams operating in the red. It will take a long time to fix this, and most people are saying a significant amount of games will be missed. While both sides will undoubtedly try to find a resolution as quickly as possible to not lose the momentum the stellar 2011 NBA season gained, it will seem that the owners will have the upper hand in bargaining. With the players benefiting so much as before stated, and teams not doing so well business-wise, the NBA Players Association will have to step back a bit if they desire a resolution that will result in some, if any, games to be played in the 2012 NBA season. With word coming down the pike that the NFL may soon be resolving its labor lockout, one can only hope that the NBA owners and players are taking notes.

Something that tends to get lost in the labor disputes and financial showdowns of professional sports is the fact that it’s not only the owners and players who are being affected by the strife; the fans are punished too. When beloved sports teams can hold a city hostage to get its new stadium, or bolt to another town when the answer is no, it’s clear that concern for the fans ranks at the very bottom in the minds of many team owners. To paraphrase the scripture, the love of money is the root of all sorts of sports evil. 

And now with lockouts threatening the 2011-12 season for both the NBA and the NFL, there’s no telling when we’ll see our favorite teams play again. 

We as sports fans, however, should take this opportunity not to sulk and cry and rant because two of the most popular sports in America are in limbo. We can take this time to get into other sports that we’ve never given a serious thought to before (women’s soccer, anyone?). Or, better yet, maybe we turn the TV off and get active ourselves. Summertime is here, and in lieu of waiting for football to return, we can go outside and toss a Frisbee, play badminton with our neighbors, or simply take a brisk walk around the block. Maybe this is a time to reconnect with our inner athlete.

While the millionaires squabble about who deserves what, we can take our fandom into our own hands and try something new.

Saving the Game

Saving the Game

In my view, nothing could be further from the truth. But there are those out there who maintain this train of thought.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s definitely a disconnect between the African American community and the national pastime. Gone are the days when Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Reggie Jackson stood as the most popular ballplayers of their eras. These days, in a sports culture tainted by the specter of steroid scandals, you’d be hard pressed to name a top African American baseball player whom everyone knows.

It would be easy to blame the loss of infatuation with baseball on the fact baseball facilities are slowly disappearing from America’s urban metropolises. It would also be easy to blame basketball and football’s dominating popularity and appeal to the young black male/female. But I’m not totally buying it.

The reasons are plentiful and can vary in validity and practicality. I think you have to look deeper than economic excuses to find the root of the issue.

The Dominican Model
Yes, basketball and football seem to be the better choice of the three when baseball is entered into the equation, but it hasn’t always been that way. It also doesn’t have to be that way now. You can still get paid very well in baseball, as there are no salary caps. The Yankees pay Alex Rodriguez almost as much as the Kansas City Royals pay their entire roster.

Blaming the disconnect on our urban communities’ inability to draw in African American kids is not entirely accurate as well. Sure, there aren’t as many ball fields in urban areas as there used to be, but that kind of thinking undermines the creativity and resolve of our country’s children. The counterpoint to that argument lies in the Dominican Republic city of Santo Domingo.

The Dominican Republic is one of the biggest suppliers of prospects in Major League Baseball. The country is poor, but full-blooded Dominicans account for about 10 percent of all the players in the MLB. Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, and Ubaldo Jimenez all hail from the DR. It would be odd to pass through the streets and fields of the country’s capital and not find a group of kids playing baseball, with nothing more than a stick and a whatever round object they can gather for a ball. It’s more than evident that a great number of urban kids have it hard here in the U.S., but it’s much harder there in the DR.

There are glaring similarities in each case. The stigma is either you play ball or sell drugs to make it out the ‘hood. Although it’s a different kind of ball, the same reasoning rings true for thousands of young Dominicans looking to get out of poverty. The one thing that differs about the two situations is the extent of Major League Baseball’s involvement in the lower levels.

Nearly every Major League team has an “academy” in the Dominican to help groom young players into big-league prospects. What would it do for our urban children if such an initiative were emphasized here in the United States? If only the Washington Nationals would launch an initiative to help revitalize and refurbish all of D.C.’s dilapidated and forgotten urban ball fields, instead of just investing in the new condos and high rises around Nationals Park for people of a higher tax bracket. I think if there were a serious, deliberate effort to attract young African American children to baseball it would go a long way toward helping close the chasm of disinterest in the sport that has developed.

Reversing a Losing Trend
If current MLB commissioner Bud Selig really wants to bring back the romance to the relationship between blacks and baseball, he would spearhead a movement to reacquaint African American youth with his game. This isn’t to say that the MLB doesn’t do anything to address these issues, but in order to ensure that baseball does not die from neglect in the hearts of urban kids in America, it will take help from the MLB, as well as schools and parents that are willing to expose their young people to a wider variety of sports.

The church can also do its part in helping to bring baseball back. Perhaps Sunday-school classes or youth groups could plan outings to the local minor league ballgames, which are typically very affordable. Perhaps youth ministries could make sure baseball is one of the offerings for their kids during weekly recreational times or summer picnics. There are things all of us who love the sport can do to help reintroduce baseball to urban kids who are starry-eyed with pipe dreams of NBA and NFL success. If we can get them to see the beauty of the game, we can start restoring the relationship and fervor that has been lost between the bases.

If you have any additional ideas about how to get baseball back in our children’s lives, leave them in the comments section below. We can do it together.

BYU’s March Madness

BYU’s March Madness

Many criticized Brigham Young University for suspending its star basketball player for having premarital sex. But the school’s courage in standing by its principles proves that winning is about more than advancing to the Final Four.

On Thursday night Florida knocked BYU out of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Every year, March Madness is packed with fascinating subplots to supplement the main action on the court, but never has there been a story quite like Brigham Young University’s off-the-court drama from earlier this month when star center Brandon Davies was suspended from the team for having sex with his girlfriend.

We have all had to deal with our share of unfair rules. Whether we are children abiding by our parents’ wishes or professionals who must work according to the gumption of a higher-up, we all are under some type of authority. But what we fail to realize — or better yet remember — is that in most cases, we sign on for those rules.

Davies was dismissed for breaking the rules. Of course, at most any other university involved in the heat of March competition, this wouldn’t be an issue at all. While I don’t have hard statistics, I’m willing to bet a large number of college athletes engage in premarital sex without fear of violating their school’s code of conduct. But at BYU, a school known for its roots in Mormonism, the expectations are different.

Would a major college basketball program, poised to go deep in the NCAA tournament, really be so strict about a rule like that, especially if it meant losing one of its key players? Surprisingly, yes. And that’s why BYU’s decision made headlines, and sports fans across the nation took to Twitter and talk radio to debate the school’s radical decision.

Many have argued that the school has no business punishing a student so severely for such a private matter.

I would beg to differ.

The Brigham Young Honor Code states that students should:

Be honest

Live a chaste and virtuous life

Obey the law and all campus policies

Use clean language

Respect others

Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse

Participate regularly in church services

Observe the Dress and Grooming Standards

Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code

Farther down on the list, the contract forbids “sexual misconduct” and finally states:

[The] Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity.

Brandon Davies at some point looked at that honor code. He at some point signed an agreement or took the money for that scholarship to play for Brigham Young. Everything about the school — good, bad, or neutral — came with that decision.

This is why it is irresponsible and foolish to argue about whether it was right or wrong for the university to remove him from the team. There is no argument. It doesn’t matter how you feel about premarital sex, or how taboo sex is to you, because in the end he broke a rule. In society, when you break a rule you pay the consequences.

Brandon Davies was in the game. He made it known that he was a part of the game. He basically signed away his life to the game. He reaped the spoils of a presumably fully paid education at one of the top schools in the country. He reaped the benefits of playing for one of the top basketball teams in America. But when he decided to break the rules of the game, he had to accept the repercussions of his actions. He lost the chance to participate in March Madness. He broke the code, and he had to pay the price.

Going to a religious university has its pros and cons. I attend Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, which is an unapologetically right-wing conservative, evangelical institution. There are many great things about the university, including a Christ-centered education and rules designed to keep students out of trouble. But the very rules set to “protect” students sometimes end up harming them as well. Having a curfew in college is unfathomable to some, but that’s par for the course at Liberty. And while it can prevent students from getting into things that could be detrimental to them, I frankly would much rather give students their freedom.

They are adults, after all, whether the higher-ups realize it or not. The important thing is learning how to use their newfound freedom responsibly.

But just like the students at BYU, I signed an honor code (“The Liberty Way”) to be able to go here. And if you sign it, you are agreeing to abide by the rules with no exceptions. While I may not deem all the rules to be fair, no one forced me to write my signature on the agreement.

With rules, in general, there is a strange, alluring propensity to break them. Let’s be real. There are plenty of violators of the code at BYU, just not all of them are caught or reported. To err is human. We all deserve second chances, and it appears Davies will be given one at BYU next season.

In the meantime, respect should be given to BYU’s leaders, not derision. Not only students take the school’s Honor Code; faculty and staff do as well. Despite the sacrifice, BYU stood by its word and its values and refused to bend them, even if it meant going into the March tournament without one of its key basketball players.

Now, in the wake of its Sweet 16 ouster, many are no doubt speculating that BYU might’ve extended its season had it not taken such extreme measures against Davies. But BYU’s leaders did the right thing. In the end, it isn’t their job to rationalize what is fair or unfair when a clear rule is violated. It’s their job to adhere to their institution’s standards; no matter how high the bar is set.

Go on, BYU. Go on.

BYU’s March Madness

Many criticized Brigham Young University for suspending its star basketball player for having premarital sex. But the school’s courage in standing by its principles proves that winning is about more than advancing to the Final Four.


Unnecessary Roughness

Unnecessary Roughness

LeBron James. Shaquille O’Neal. Paul Pierce. Chad Ochocinco. What do all of these professional athletes have in common besides their millionaire status? They each have a Twitter account. Not only that, but each player has had more than one tweet analyzed, scrutinized, and criticized by media and millions of fans. Some of the criticism is a little unfair and typical of the kind of bashing that high-profile personalities are subject to in our armchair-quarterback world.

But sometimes the flack is warranted. It seems as though some athletes have a lot to say about certain things, but when the funk hits the proverbial fan, the tweets magically disappear or the player backtracks from the statements he or she initially posted.

Case in point #1: LeBron James’ tweet after the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-57 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron tweeted shortly after the game: “Crazy. Karma is a B****. Gets you every time. It’s not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!”

After Twitter saw the tweet and ran with it, LeBron later backed away from the statement, ultimately saying someone else posted that on his account.


Case #2, and probably the funniest example, happened between Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie had some choice commentary about the looming lockout in the NFL, as the league and the NFL Players Association try to write a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), tweeting that the union leadership are “acting like a a–hole.” Hasselbeck responded saying, “Somebody ask Cromartie if he knows what CBA stands for.” Almost immediately, Hasselbeck deleted the post. Cromartie, clearly offended by the disrespect, shot back: “Hey Matt if u have something to [say] then say it be a man about it. Don’t erase it. I will smash ur face in.” That clearly didn’t go as Mr. Hasselbeck had planned, and he later responded, “Sorry for the joke man. No hard feelings. DB’s & QB’s have a hard time getting along I guess sometimes. Lol.”

So what have we learned? That apparently it’s okay to talk trash over social media, as long as you recant your statements shortly thereafter. Or even act like you never said what your account read at all.

There are so many things that are beautiful about a social media tool such as Twitter. It is probably the fastest, most effective way to network. You can forge strong friendships with your followers. But there are also very negative aspects about it as well. There is a lot of ignorance, nudity, malicious talk, gossip, profanity, and countless other problems scrolling up and down the text. Yes, the same can be said about any form of social media. But Twitter is special because of its conciseness and the people that are a part of it. What other website allows you to watch the stream-of-consciousness musings of your favorite celebrity/athlete/politician in real time?

It is a shame that pro athletes have everything they say looked at every which way. But that makes it all the more important for them to watch what they say. Yes, it’s unfortunate that virtually anything you say can be misconstrued by anyone at any given time. But these high-profile personalities have to realize that it is just the way things are. Those 140 characters will be seen by someone, guaranteed. And, frankly, it’s the same for individuals who are not in the spotlight.

The Bible says we are accountable for the things that come out of our mouths. But unlike Twitter, we can’t just delete what we say. God holds us to the highest standards for our speech and conduct.

So, yeah, those celebrities should think twice about what they’re saying on Twitter. But so should we.

It’s easy to attack someone or make big-and-bad pronouncements behind the artificial face of social media. Just know that more people are watching than you think, and it’s better to delete the nasty thoughts from our hearts as soon as they pop up than to scramble to take them down from our Twitter pages later on.