Ray Rice: Domestic Abuse, Weed, and the NFL “Standard”

Ray Rice: Domestic Abuse, Weed, and the NFL “Standard”

Fantasy football is in full swing, but one infelicitous hit will dominate the NFL’s opening weekend. The NFL suspended Ray Rice, a Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowler, after TMZ released a disturbing video of him punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in a New Jersey casino earlier this year. The video showed Rice, a 220-pound, rock-solid NFL running back, punching his fiancée in the face, knocking her unconscious.

Minutes after the video released, “Black Twitter” exploded. I was confused. Then I tried to remember if I saw “Black Twitter” explode when the first video was released in February. You know, the video of him dragging Palmer’s unconscious body out of an elevator in that New Jersey casino. After the incident, Rice was arrested, charged, and released on a simple assault charge back in February. We all knew what happened in that elevator. Did we really need to see it on TMZ to confirm the horrifying details?

Fantasy vs. Reality

Ray Rice is not on my fantasy team. I placed him on my “Do Not Draft” list after I saw the video of him dragging Palmer out of that elevator. I couldn’t justify having a guy on my team who would do something like that to a woman. But this is bigger than fantasy. It’s bigger than the number of points he can put up for a team. Or is it?

Fantasy value normally reflects a player’s real value. Ray Rice got paid because of his ability to put up numbers. He was a franchise player for the Baltimore Ravens, the tenth richest team in the NFL and a franchise worth about $1.5 billion dollars. He was set to make $4 million this season and $3 million in each of the next two seasons. He was suspended for two games for that February incident. His team stood behind the two-game suspension, citing that he had made a mistake. Coach John Harbaugh called him “a heck of a guy.”

Today the Baltimore Ravens cut him and the NFL suspended him indefinitely after the release of the TMZ video. I never thought I’d live in a world where TMZ would become a champion of social justice–although it is arguable as to whether that was on purpose or just by accident. The first video was worth a two-game suspension—laughable, I know. The second video finally forced the hands of both the Ravens organization and NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell.

Ray Rice was no longer a heck of a guy. He was no longer the franchise guy. He was a PR nightmare that they needed to “get ahead of” to save the franchise and the league. How’d the franchise and league go from supporting to ostracizing Rice after the release of a video that only confirmed what they already knew? They knew about the Ubiquitous Black Athlete.

The Ubiquitous Black Athlete

Ray Rice became an ubiquitous black athlete some time after a successful three-year career at Rutgers. The Baltimore Ravens drafted him in the second round of the NFL draft. A year later, he started 15 games and was elected to his first Pro Bowl. The Ravens had found their guy.

William C. Rhoden, author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, might argue that they’d found their “guy.” Here’s the crux of his argument in the book:

Integration in sports—as opposed to integration at the ballot box or in public conveyances—was a winning proposition for the whites who controlled the sports-industrial complex. They could move to exploit black muscle and talent, thus sucking the life out of black institutions, while at the same time giving themselves credit for being humanitarians.

It would appear, to some, that the credit for being humanitarians in Rice’s case wasn’t enough to overcome the public relationship’s tidal wave headed toward Baltimore and the NFL as organizations. So they both decided to act—a day late and a dollar short in my book.

It’s Not “Just Weed”

The NFL and the Ravens organization betrayed the trust of every victim of domestic violence back in July when they “handed down” Rice’s two-game suspension. It was horrible to anyone who has experienced abuse at the hand of a spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, or significant other. Josh Gordon was suspended an entire year for abusing his own body (he failed a marijuana test); Ray Rice was suspended two games for abusing another person’s body. In Gordon’s case, the NFL said, “It’s not just weed, bro. It’s deeper than that.” In Rice’s case, the NFL effectively said, “It was just an unconscious black female. It could have been worse.” I’m being a bit facetious, but if billion-dollar organizations gloss over domestic violence issues like this, then who is going to stand up to declare their wrongness?

I sure will. It was wrong in February when we didn’t see the actual punch. It’s wrong today. It’s wrong forever. No man should ever hit a woman. We didn’t need a video to tell us this. We certainly didn’t need TMZ to do it either. But if God can use an ass to speak in Scripture, I’m sure he can use TMZ to speak when his people are silent. Let’s continue to pray for all victims of domestic violence—trending or not—because it’s a reality that many unheard voices face every day.

Jackie Robinson West: A Beacon of Light for Southside Chicago

Jackie Robinson West: A Beacon of Light for Southside Chicago

Mo’Ne Davis and her team, the Philadelphia Taney Dragons, were not the only force in this year’s Little League World Series. Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team has given Chicago the hope that it’s been waiting for.

JRW-resizeSouthside Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West has returned home from playing in the World Series. Although the games are over, the celebration still continues. JRW defied the odds as the first little league team from Chicago to make it to the World Series in 31 years. ABC has referred to them as “beacons of hope for one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.”

Cedric Watson, 43, a Chicago native says, “We get so much negative publicity with gangs and shootings that you have no idea how much fun it is to see the attention this has created all over,” and to Chicago citizens, Jackie Robinson West winning the World Series would be like the Bulls winning it all.

During a time of racial injustice, and unfair judgment toward African-American youth, amid an angry Ferguson, Missouri, this achievement shows the stereotypical inner-city black kids in a different light. A substitute teacher admits to there being a handful of bad that graces the streets of Chicago, but she also believes there’s a lot of good, too, and it’s just not broadcasted nor acknowledged. (Chicago Tribune)

This dynamic team has proven that youth can produce positivity from a city that, for many years, has been known for its negativity. Although JRW did not win the entire World Series, they still hold the U.S. champion title for this year. The chance to play internationally against South Korea probably surpassed what these young boys ever believed they could achieve. JRW now stands on the principle that regardless of where you come from, you are capable of exuding positivity and most of all, achieving your goals. Let’s hear it for the boys of Jackie Robinson West!

For those of you in the Chicago area, click here for information about Wednesday’s parade.

Mo’ne Davis Pitching Inspiration

Mo’ne Davis Pitching Inspiration

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Mo’ne Davis (Photo Credit: People Magazine)

Mo’ne Davis has reached national prominence on the baseball field this summer. While most boys pitch in the high 50s or low 60s, she throws at 70 mph. Her skills have helped her team, the Philadelphia Taney Dragons, go undefeated thus far in the World Series in Williamsport, PA. Although she is currently recognized as the best in the little league, Davis says she doesn’t really like when the media places all of its attention on her. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without my teammates,” she says. According to WSJ, when asked post-game by ESPN how she handles excessive media fascination, she said, “I can always say no.”

As one of two girls in the World Series this year, Davis dominates the score boards. On Friday night, she became the first female pitcher to throw a shutout (the act by which a single pitcher pitches a complete game and does not allow the opposing team to score a run) in the Little League post season, and struck out 8 batters on Sunday. Her stepfather says, “She was pitching one day and someone hit a home run off of her, so she felt she needed to work on it more. And from there, it got to this point.” (NPR)

ESPN interviewed parents about how they view girls in baseball and most parents found it empowering for girls to be seen as just as good as boys on the playing field. One skeptical father of a middle school girl said that girls can get hurt by playing with boys. Yolanda Washington, two seats down from him, disagreed and said if her daughter “had the skills,” she would support her in baseball. “I’m excited that as an African-American girl, (my daughter) sees another African-American girl doing something so unique and positive.

If Davis continues down this path, she could definitely wind up in the actual World Series, having been compared to Philadelphia Phillies Jonathan Papelbon and Atlanta’s Ervin Santana. However, Davis plays other sports and has dreams of playing point guard at the University of Connecticut and of making it to the WNBA.

Regardless of the opinions of parents, and whatever she decides to play in the future, it is evident that Mo’ne is a role model for her generation and other little girls that might want to pursue a career in a sport that is normally considered a “male” sport.

An 11-year-old gymnast and Phillies fan who traveled from New Jersey to Philadelphia with her father to watch Davis play says she doesn’t seem stuck up, but just a girl with great confidence. “Mo’ne would be my role model if I was on a baseball team. She would be my role model even in general.” (ESPNW)

Stuart Scott’s Seven Words on Cancer at the ESPYs

Stuart Scott’s Seven Words on Cancer at the ESPYs

Last night Stuart Scott became the eighth recipient of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. Named after former North Carolina State University basketball coach, Jimmy Valvano who died of bone cancer in 1993, the award is given to members of the sports community who have “overcome great obstacles through physical perseverance and determination.” Valvano’s seven words during his 1993 ESPYs acceptance speech marked the creation of the V Foundation and, as Scott showed the sports community and the world last night, marked hearts. Scott invoked Valvano’s seven words, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,” and indicated that these words give him the strength to go on as he battles appendiceal cancer. “I know I have a responsibility to never give up,” said Scott. Moments later, before an already emotional audience–including cancer survivor Robin Roberts–Scott turned dozens of cancer cliches on their head with his own seven words, “You beat cancer by how you live.

More often than not when someone dies from cancer the outcry is that they lost the battle or even more colorful language is used to give cancer the proverbial finger. But last night Stuart Scott reminded the world that cancer shouldn’t have the last word in death nor can we allow it to steal our joy in life. Scott gave many a new outlook on life with his words and his presence on stage last night and for that we are thankful.

Keep not giving up Stuart Scott, keep beating cancer by how you live.

Six Lessons on Fatherhood from Tim Brown

Six Lessons on Fatherhood from Tim Brown

Former NFL wide receiver Tim Brown is no extra-terrestial plucked out of space primarily for the purpose of playing football. No, Brown is a husband and father who decided at the age of 20 to live by the principles of the Bible, God’s principles. The 47-year-old retired football player recently released “The Making of a Man: How Men and Boys Honor God and Live with Integrity,” a book on fatherhood and manhood written alongside award-winning collaborator James Lund. Asked who he hopes will read this book Brown said, “I think that the beauty of what we tried to do and what we accomplished is that it doesn’t matter if you are a young man from the hood or a business person from Wall Street, this book can speak to all of you.” And this book surely speaks. Brown took the time to chat with UrbanFaith about six lessons on fatherhood taken directly from the book.

#1: A Man Uses His Talents

I believe that everyone has a platform and depending on what your talent is, your platform is greater. If you’ve got great talent than your platform is going to be better. No matter what talents you have, whether you are attracting one or one million, if you’re not using those talents for the glory of God, you are wasting those talents. I really would like to see folks with much bigger platforms than I have to catch hold of that.

#2: A Man Overcomes Temptation

In the book we talk a lot about some of the things I went through. One particular situation happened right after I met my wife. I had flown down from Oakland to Los Angeles for her Christmas party. On the flight there was a young lady working for Southwest, a beautiful young lady. I was trying not to make eye contact with her and so I put a USA Today over my head, but soon I felt the paper coming off my head. She pulled the paper down and asked me, “What are you doing when you get off this plane because I can be at your house in 45 minutes?” I told her, “There is no doubt in my mind what would happen if we left this plane but I met someone six months ago.” She said, “So you have a girlfriend?” I said, “Yes, but I am not talking about her, I’m talking about Jesus Christ.”

There is power in mentioning Jesus Christ—or mentioning your girlfriend. The enemy is not always going to be the boogeyman; it’s (sometimes) going to be 5 foot 6, as pretty as she wants to be. If you mention to somebody that you are saved or married and they are still pushing at you, you have to realize that you are dealing with the enemy. We need the Holy Spirit to let us know when to get in and out of situations. You have to listen to Holy Spirt and if you don’t listen, you will fall.

#3: A Man Takes Responsibility

I had a son at 22 years old with my girlfriend from college. When she got pregnant it was the end of my senior year at Notre Dame. I had a decision to make about whether I was going to be in this kid’s life. His mom and I had a good relationship, but I didn’t see a future there. I decided to move them from Newark, NJ to Dallas, TX to be with me. At that time I felt like that was the responsible thing to do. Not only did I need to financially take care of him, but also I needed to be a father to him. He was about 6 months old.

Every off season, the day I got home, he would be at my mom’s house and I would have him until it was time to go back to camp. Taylor will tell you that’s a big deal, not because his dad is Tim Brown but because he had a dad in his life. People think I was able to make that decision because I was set financially but I felt it was important to physically be there. As men, we have to make the tough decisions. Not decisions for me, but decisions for the whole. As real men, we have to think about the whole of the situation and try our best to make it better.

#4: A Man Forgives Others

My dad came home a little intoxicated one night. I was in the family room, he thought I was sleep because it was late and turned the tv off. Once he did that, I said “Hey Pop, I was still watching that.” I scared him! That caused him to think, in his inebriated mind, I was coming after him. He asked me if I was coming after him, and before I could answer, he said he was going to kill me and headed to his car where I knew he kept guns. So in my 13-year-old mind, I decided that night, “If alcohol would make you want to kill your son, I would not touch alcohol!”

Over the next 12 years, I was constantly trying to gain the attention/affection of my father. Doing well in school didn’t do it. Being VP of the senior class, getting a scholarship to ND, winning the Heisman, graduating college, 1st round pick in the NFL, Pro Bowl 1st year and another Pro Bowl a few years later, none of these things did the trick. That’s when I realized, my father was doing the best he could do, not the best he should be doing! That revelation led me to go to him and ask for forgiveness for what had happen 12 years prior!

#5: A Man Has His Priorities in Order

Where is God in your life at this particular point? We can look at all the things we want to but if you aren’t making God a priority, then chances are God will not be a priority. This is the chapter that gets people to start to think about, “If it’s not God as number one, then you will be in trouble.” This is also the preface to the last chapter, “A Man Builds A Godly Legacy.”

#6: A Man Builds a Godly Legacy

What do you want people to say when you are gone? I once had a conversation with a Dallas Cowboy receiver and I asked him, “What do you want your legacy to be?” He shook his head and said, “Can we stop for a second?” Then he said, “What do you mean?” “What do you want people to say about you when you are gone? What do you want the receivers who are coming after you to say about you when you are gone?” I said. He told me that he had not thought about it. Unfortunately that’s the way a lot of us are. Instead of us trying to build a legacy, we think about day-to-day problems with no plan in mind. When you talk about Godly legacies, it is the end all. It is what I am trying to accomplish more than the fame, more than anything else. It is what I want my kids to see because the money is going to fade and the fame is going to fade.

Check out “Making of a Man” for more of Tim’s lessons on manhood and fatherhood.makingofaman-resize

Mama, There Goes That Man: 3 Lessons from the Mark Jackson Firing

Mama, There Goes That Man: 3 Lessons from the Mark Jackson Firing

First, a huge disclaimer.

I don’t work in the NBA. I have no connections to anyone in the Golden State Warriors, True Love Worship Center International, or any of Mark Jackson’s previous employers. But I do know office politics when I see them. And I know pastors. And I love to follow the postmodern soap opera of NBA coaching. And I’m confident saying that in the final year of his contract, Mark Jackson made a living dancing along the combustible intersection of all three cultural fault lines – and it eventually blew up in his face.

Apr 29, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson during a press conference prior to the game between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers in game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. (Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

For anyone who’d been following the saga of Jackson and the Golden State Warriors, the firing did not come as a shock. It barely even qualified as news. People saw this coming for months, perhaps even the entire season. On the surface, there are plenty of reasons why his stint as coach didn’t last longer than the three seasons in his contract, and when the news broke, capable analysts like CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole did a great job of breaking down the sports-related reasons. And TrueHoop’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss provided a great overview of the duality of Jackson’s tenure, highlighting his strengths and weaknesses.

But I think if you look past the obvious stuff, there are some hidden lessons here. My sense, armchair quarterbacking though it may be, is that Mark Jackson is an excellent motivator, but his tenure was shipwrecked in three areas, and anyone who wants to be successful should heed them. These lessons are important for anyone who wants to be an effective basketball coach.

But for pastors, these lessons are absolutely critical.

First up…

Lesson #1: You can’t ignore the business side of things.

When I was considering launching a business-related venture with a friend of mine who owns his own business, one of the first things that he said to me was that if I was going to be successful, I would have two separate learning curves – learning to do the thing I wanted to be the best at, and also learning how to do it as a business. No matter what the business is, there are a whole set of skills related to how to bring it to market, find and retain customers, execute deliverables, and build a client or customer base, that are separate from the skills of being a good baker, attorney, musician, architect, or whatever.

From what I can see, Mark Jackson viewed his role as a basketball coach as completely separate and irrelevant from the business side of the Warriors organization. And while I think it’s healthy to have a certain amount of specialization so that people can concentrate on what they’re good at, in order for an organization to be successful, everyone needs a clear understanding of how their role fits into the larger whole, and I’m not sure if Mark Jackson and the upper management side were ever on the same page.

For months, sources reported on friction between Jackson and upper management, which led to a conflict that divided loyalties throughout the organization and even in his own staff. In a radio interview with Dan Patrick, Jackson talked about how important it is for people to “stay in their lane”:

“At the end of the day, I’m a guy that believes that you stay in your lane…you know how I am, you’ve watched how I handle people, it doesn’t match some of the things that are being said…I have a boss, and I talk to my boss and deal with my boss…I don’t know how to dance with the business folks, the other lane…I was on the mindset that basketball was basketball and anybody who had a mindset to talk about that, I could have a relationship with.”

Later Patrick asked Jackson if he failed to “play the game” for upper management:

“Did I play the game? Who’s game? My front office, yes. I did not play the other side, the business side… I didn’t go into the other side of people’s offices, and try to get out my lane and be running reckless all around the building, which I thought would be disrespectful… if the worst thing that can be said about me is that I didn’t [understand] the business side… well, that’s not why I was hired.”

These, in my opinion, are the words of a man who believes that his decision-making should never be questioned by those who are not in the trenches, day in and day out, doing the most meaningful work, which for Mark Jackson, meant the basketball side. In his view, anyone from the business side questioning his decisions or trying to provide input is being disrespectful.

And it’s no surprise that Mark Jackson is also a pastor, because many pastors have the same mindset. Particularly in the African-American church, where the pastor is often viewed as an unassailable authority on all matters of importance, many pastors tend to dismiss the feedback they receive from committee members, board members, deacons, or other subordinate leaders, because they feel that the important ministry work they perform justifies the validity of every decision they make.

But sometimes the business side becomes unavoidable. After all, it was the potential business impact to the NBA’s bottom line that made Donald Sterling expendable. And for pastors, sometimes it’s prudent to pay attention to the business side of things. It’s one thing to trust God and reach forward in faith despite not seeing evidence, but sometimes the evidence is part of the way God speaks.

After all, you can’t expect people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ inside your church building if you lose your church building because you can’t pay the mortgage.

Lesson #2: Leadership must be multicultural to succeed.

It’s a generally accepted premise that Mark Jackson was loved by his players, especially his star players, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who had both beenvocal supporters of Jackson. It’s not surprising that Jackson, not only a former veteran NBA player, but also a respected high-profile pastor, would be a mentor figure for many of his players.

But for Mark Jackson, a successful coaching stint would’ve required not only reaching his mostly black roster of players, but his mostly white supervisors in the Warriors front office. Jackson is certainly not the first my-way-or-the-highway type of coach to find a measure of success in the NBA, but coaching longevity requires an ability to relate to different kinds of people. It doesn’t seem to be a complete coincidence that the one player on the Warriors roster that might’ve had cause for beef with Jackson was Australian center Andrew Bogut.

This is an especially salient issue because as a pastor of a black church, Jackson was probably used to people deferring to his leadership. But a more culturally competent leader might’ve recognized the additional layers of communication that exist beyond just what is said, and done more subtle work to placate his superiors. A more culturally competent leader might’ve picked up on the ways that such consistently public, consistently confident statements of faith might rub management the wrong way, especially after Jackson refused to move to a closer locale in order to continue pastoring his LA-area church. Where someone who grew up in church might hear a typical Mark Jackson press conference and think, “wow, here’s a guy grounded in faith who knows what’s important in life,” someone without that upbringing might think, “wow, here’s a guy who always thinks he’s right, no matter what.”

The irony here is that not only is this multicultural awareness important in corporate America, it’s just as important in the church, if not more so.

Much has been written and said about the ways in which white evangelicals have unwittingly contributed to racism in America, but for African-American pastors who minister to diverse congregations, the ecumenical landscape can be just as treacherous. Many of the committed, passionate churchgoers that these pastors end up shepherding come out of mainline traditions where the pastor is seen as less of an authority and more of a fungible employee, where the real power lies with the elder board or similar disciplinary body.

This dynamic can sometimes set up power struggles over church resources where the competing factions are divided across racial lines. And because in America we’ve been taught that racism is bad without knowing exactly what it is, the white people will vehemently deny that race has anything to do with it, despite operating from a set of norms and expectations that have racialized origins. (In their defense, these white people may not be used to having frank discussions about race, even if they attend a multicultural church. These norms appear to be invisible at first.)

Culturally competent leaders can spot this dynamic coming, and use their multifaceted powers of persuasion to get everyone to the table and, if not hold hands, at least be able to listen to one another. This ability clearly eluded Mark Jackson, and it led to his downfall.

Which brings me to my final lesson:

Lesson #3: You must have enough humility to admit and learn from mistakes.

I agree with many of Jackson’s fans who say that he is a great motivator and a solid professional, but I have yet to see in any of his post-firing media appearances any hint of willingness to own up to his faults. If anything, I’ve seen a lot of the same defensive posturing. During the same Dan Patrick interview, he maintained that he isn’t someone who still has to prove he can coach, implying that plenty of other teams will be calling.

In this, he is partially right. Plenty of teams will be calling. I’ll be surprised if Mark Jackson isn’t coaching another NBA franchise next season. But it’s not exactly true that he has nothing to prove. Mark Jackson has proven that he can turn a decent squad into an overachiever, but he hasn’t proven he can turn a good squad into a contender. It’s possible that all owner Joe Lacob and the other faction of Warriors management were looking for was a willingness from Jackson to look in the mirror and make some adjustments.

The irony in all of this is that coaches are usually the ones who have to preach humility, flexibility, and accountability to the players. Yet the best example of humility in the NBA comes from its leading player. Newly-minted league Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant recently spent his entire MVP speech delivering a heartfelt, tear-soaked tribute to the people in his life that helped him become who he is. Not only does he call his mom “the real MVP” for sacrificing so he and his brother could eat, but he literally called out each teammate by name, even Caron Butler, who only arrived weeks prior.

In that one speech, Kevin Durant provided a timeless example of maturity that has the potential to outlast and overshadow any of his achievements on the court. I know KD isn’t perfect, and he draws technical just like the best of them, but there’s a reason why the other guys on his team, including embattled-lightning-rod-for-criticism Russell Westbrook, play so hard in supporting Durant’s quest to be the best.

When it comes to humility in leadership, Durant outcoached Jackson by a mile, and Kevin Durant isn’t even a head coach.

If all this sounds overly critical toward Jackson, it’s not from a place of malice. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mark Jackson, and I hope he can, pardon the ridiculous pun, rebound from this.

But if he doesn’t, if he continues to stay mired in the problems that dragged him down, then I and plenty of other onlookers will continue to use his catchphrase against him, initially coined in reference to an offensive player who’s making the defense look silly, but now thrown at a successful figure who can’t seem to get out of his own way:

“Mama, there goes that man.”

Whole fan bases shake their heads in disbelief.