March 10, 2009
Philadelphia is one heck of a tough place. Few people ever get cut a break there. Even Santa Claus in an infamous incident at an Eagles game years ago was once pelted with snowballs. Not a lot of love sometimes in the City of Brotherly Love. So how would you expect a Philadelphia Eagles employee to be treated for speaking out against an unpopular decision made by the team? If you said fired you would be right. It is Philadelphia.
The termination of 32 year old Dan Leone is now national news. An Internet sensation. Why? Because the story is related to another Internet sensation – Facebook, the social networking site that millions of people have come to depend on to share their lives and express their joys and frustrations. Leone who works one of the gates at the stadium during Eagles home games expressed on his Facebook page what most Eagles fans felt with the release of longtime popular player Brian Dawkins. Leone posted on Facebook that he was “[expletive] .. devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver….. Dam Eagles R retarted…” Those words were apparently too much for the Eagles officials who thought that Leone had stepped over the line by talking. It is being reported that Leone said he was told that he couldn’t be trusted and he made the team look bad.
Facebook was made for personal comments. It is an ideal place to express oneself. But when does personal expression lapse into bad taste or in Leone’s case bad judgement? Did the Eagles go too far by firing an employee for simply saying what he thought? What’s private and what’s public? Those are questions made for a new generation. A time when so much of what we do sits primed for long-term examination and review.
I could see discipline or termination if the statement had been made by one of the team’s executives. But terminating a guy who works at the stadium I feel is going too far. But that is where we are today. Years ago Dan Leone could have made that comment to friends, family or even a few co-workers without any risk of losing his job or offending the powers that be. He could have done it then because his words would not have carried the same weight or lived so long. But not so with the Internet. Say something on the Internet today and it can live there forever – offending or amusing anyone who reads it now or ten years from now. What it also says is that for all of the convenience and technology advances that we now have, many aspects of our lives can be a virtual open book. Anything we say or do in cyberspace is potentially subject to eternal examination and scrutiny.
I’m pretty sure Dan Leone gave little thought to what his words might mean to those who are easily offended in the Eagles front office. If he didn’t, he certainly knows now. And you can be sure he will think twice about being publicly critical of a future employer. He’ll also likely think twice about saying anything of consequence again because the formerly anonymous stadium employee is now famous. Thanks to the Internet – he is forever linked to his public frustration with the Eagles and the loss of one of his favorite players. He’ll be quiet unless of course – thanks to the very same Internet – he can turn his newfound fame into money. Because from now on Dan Leone is just a Google click away.
February 23, 2009
Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison – touchdown. Those words were said more times than any pitch and catch combination in NFL history. The tandem of Manning and Harrison was largely responsible for the complete turnaround of the Indianapolis Colts franchise. They moved the Colts from longtime losers to TV ratings darlings, helping the Colts become a team that would eventually win the Super Bowl. But the end is near for the Harrison half of that combo. There are reports that Harrison seeks release from the Colts after talks to restructure the $13 million remaining on his non-guaranteed contract broke down. The NFL can be brutal to fading superstars. Damaging to not only their bodies but to their egos.
Right now Marvin Harrison feels like he can still play all-pro quality football. And he feels he should be paid a superstar’s salary. But his sagging productivity, his recent injuries, and his age just don’t support that, even though he now stands near the top of just about every career NFL pass receiving category.
Further, the nearly reclusive Harrison was embroiled in a shooting incident last year in his hometown of Philadelphia. And while authorities did not have the evidence to charge Harrison, the case is still unresolved. Harrison has always denied that he fired the gun that injured another man. But one piece of evidence is certain, Harrison is the owner of the gun. That incident further tarnished an image that had been largely built by relentless production on the football field.
If Harrison was younger, perhaps something could have been worked out. There might be a new signing bonus for the team’s all-time leading receiver, and maybe a reduced salary cap number for the Colts. Then perhaps everyone is happy: the Colts get their man at a relatively bargain rate and Marvin’s pride stays intact. But Harrison turns 37 in August, which is very old for a wide receiver. He’s also been hurt recently and the Colt’s know he’s not the same guy who has scored 128 touchdowns.
What Harrison is though is an indelible part of the re-written history of the Indianapolis Colts. And the Colts are trying to keep him around a few more years even at a reduced salary because of what he’s meant to the team for so many years. But players who’ve accomplished as much as Marvin Harrison, usually don’t want the end to come on token terms, and often want all of the money they are owed or nothing at all. For now it appears Marvin Harrison will likely leave the Colts with nothing. That’s the way it is in the NFL. Goodbye Marvin.
January 31, 2009
A day before the big game, the nation’s biggest annual event, and this year there are very few words about the prospect of an African-American coach winning. This time it seems Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin is just another coach on the verge of leading his team to victory on the world’s largest sports stage. I suppose that’s progress. Perhaps.
We are only two years removed from Tony Dungy’s historic victory as coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Dungy won the only Super Bowl where there was a certainty the winning coach would be black. Dungy and Bears coach Lovie Smith were the lead story that Super Bowl. It seemed just about every interview and commentary leading up to that game contained some reference to the history that was about to be made. The first always gets the attention. It should. Dungy one of sport’s all-time gentlemen, and dignified leaders proved you don’t have to curse and glower to motivate and lead. He deserved every accolade that he got. And by god he is black!
But what about the next guy – Mike Tomlin – in fact an apple off of the Dungy coaching tree? How should we recognize him? And what should we say if he leads the Steelers to another championship? Is it better to ignore Tomlin’s color, when in fact African-American coaches still struggle to get respect, let alone jobs at all levels of football? Right now it seems those are questions many people don’t want to talk about. But I say let’s talk and keep talking, lest we forget how long it took men like Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy to get to the big game. The fact is it took way too long. And in just two years some of us are acting like it doesn’t mean anything that another African-American is so quickly knocking on the door of football history – again. On-going and provable accomplishment and progress is a story we shouldn’t be quiet about.
As evidenced by the swearing in of Barack Obama as the country’s 44th president, we are indeed living in an historic time. But it doesn’t mean that full racial parity has been achieved and racial injustice has been adjudicated. And it doesn’t mean we should silently watch just because one hurdle, even a huge one, has finally been cleared. That next hurdle is important too.
August 23, 2008
The sports world lost a true giant this week with the death of Gene Upshaw. The 63 year old Upshaw died suddenly from pancreatic cancer. He only learned he had one of the most devastating forms of cancer this past Sunday. Gene Upshaw helped shape the current NFL both as a Hall of Fame offensive guard for the Oakland Raiders and later as the long time executive director of the NFL Players Association.
Under Upshaw’s leadership NFL players salaries skyrocketed and the league became more successful and profitable than ever. His dignified manner and tough negotiating posture made him formidable at the bargaining table but also allowed him the perspective to understand that the players and the owners were indeed partners in the success of the NFL.
Upshaw will be hard to replace, he helmed the NFLPA for 25 years. He was hailed during his life as a trailblazer for players and the league in general. Was he universally popular? Not always. But he was respected across the board.
Gene Upshaw, the Hall of Fame player, was every bit a Hall of Fame executive. He made a difference. He will be missed.
August 8, 2008
Well Brett Favre found a home. And it didn’t take long. He will conclude his career with the New York Jets. How that works out only time will tell. History says that there is probably less than a 50 percent chance that he will be successful. Still no matter how it goes it doesn’t change the fact that if Brett Favre has nothing else – he has “it”. And that’s all that matters.
Despite the fact that Green Bay wanted to move on without him after he “retired” – Brett Favre gets another chance with another team. That’s because he is a superstar. Quarterback is the “star” position in football. It always has been and it always will be. The NFL has virtually been defined by the heroics of the superstar quarterback. Johnny Unitas quarterbacked the Colts to a victory over the Giants in what is generally considered the most important game in NFL history 50 years ago. Joe Namath led the AFL Jets to a defining victory over the Colts in Super Bowl III. And supercool Joe Montana smoothly led the 49ers to multiple Super Bowl championships.
Each of those quarterbacks had the “it” factor that is so highly prized and rewarded. That “it” factor is a commodity that can be traded on again and again. You can be the biggest ass in the world but if you have “it” your excesses are usually tolerated and almost always excessively compensated.
Brett Favre who in recent years has proved to be a spoiled and petulant superstar has the elusive “it” factor found a new home. The New York Jets believe that Favre’s “it” factor is indeed worth millions.
August 6, 2008
For most professional athletes the end never comes easy. This is most certainly the case for Brett Favre who will likely leave Green Bay bitter and angry. This is in stark contrast to the scene just a few months ago when Favre “retired” with tears in his eyes after 16 mostly spectacular years with the Packers.
But as big of a star as Brett Favre was and is – he is the NFL’s only three-time MVP and the league’s all-time passing yardage and touchdown passes leader – he is no different than other superstar players at the end of their careers. Let’s look back at a couple of former star quarterbacks who were as big if not bigger in their times as Favre is today.
Thirty-five years ago it didn’t end gracefully for Johnny Unitas, the Baltimore Colts icon, who at the time was considered football’s greatest ever quarterback. In the end, Unitas played, if that’s the word for it, his last games in a San Diego Chargers uniform. Unitas a Charger? How unseemly. But the Baltimore Colts judged rightly that Unitas was no longer a star and at nearly 40 was not close to the player he once was. The time had come for the team to move in a different direction. But Unitas wanted to play on. So he was forced to go to San Diego where sadly he played just like Baltimore thought he would – poorly. The end came for the great Johnny Unitas and it was not pretty.
The end was not nearly as undignified for Joe Montana, but still Montana was forced out of San Francisco in order to make way for Steve Young. Rather than sit the bench behind Young, Montana went on to play several pretty good years in Kansas City. But damn, Joe Montana, the epitome of cool and money, was nonetheless forced to live out his NFL years with the Chiefs. It didn’t seem right that one of the best players of all-time had to play somewhere other than with the team that made his career. But the point is it happens to every great player.
Now the end has come for Brett Favre. It could be said that he brought this on himself. And that would be true – he did in fact announce his retirement – which caused Green Bay to start looking at life without him. And yes he truly was great, and truly was loved in Green Bay. But what Brett Favre, the fans and everyone else need to realize is: eventually someone else gets the love. Like death – getting shuffled out – is inevitable. Sad but we do move on – all of us.
January 22, 2007
Following the AFC and NFC championship games yesterday there is one certainty: an African American head coach will win the upcoming Super Bowl. Let that sink in for a minute. For the first time in NFL history two black men will lead their teams in football’s biggest game. This is an extremely significant development for America’s biggest sports league and its fans and for sports in general. It also validates the importance of the Rooney Rule, which mandates that NFL teams seeking a new head coach must conduct serious interviews with minority candidates as part of the process.
Super Bowl XLI will see Tony Dungy, the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, taking on his close friend and former coaching colleague Lovie Smith, head coach of the Chicago Bears. I couldn’t be more pleased about this matchup. For some of us this is the best possible Super Bowl. A Super Bowl where even if you lose you still win. I grew up a huge Bears fan when Indianapolis did not have an NFL team and later became a fan of my hometown Colts after they “relocated” from Baltimore. I also feel good about the fact that the winning coach will be a black man – another no-lose proposition.
While the Rooney Rule was not in place when Tony Dungy was first hired head coach by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twelve years ago, it was the reason that Dungy protege Lovie Smith got a chance to interview for the Bears job three years ago. It is also the reason that former Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, just announced as the new head coach of the Steelers, was given a fair hearing by the Rooney family in Pittsburgh. Mike Tomlin also used to work for Tony Dungy.
One day I suppose there will be no need for the Rooney Rule. But history tells us that for awhile at least NFL team owners must be “motivated” (forced) to do the right thing. For years black coaches in the NFL labored under the ludicrous misperception that they didn’t have what it takes to lead teams as head coaches. In 1989 when the Raiders hired Art Shell as the NFL’s first modern day head coach the perception of black coaches started to change. The Minnesota Vikings later hired Dennis Green as head coach and the perception changed further. Today six black men are head coaches in the NFL and two of them will face off for the title. This is indeed progress.
But in a league where well over two thirds of the players are black and less than ten black men have EVER been head coaches in the NFL the Rooney Rule is still needed.
But when the first black head coach wins the Super Bowl two weeks from now I hope there will be a greater understanding of the intelligence and leadership skills that African Americans have always brought to the game. When there is a general acceptance of that fact it is then that the Rooney Rule can be retired.