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Monday, February 16, 2015

Mergin and Jaren Sina deny racial claims

After writing the blog this morning, I received a phone call from Mergin Sina, the father of former Seton Hall guard Jaren Sina, who said for the record that Jaren's departure from the Seton Hall program had nothing to do with any racial discord.

The elder Sina, a highly respected coach at Gill St. Bernard's, said that he didn't want anything out there that said that Jaren left the Pirates' program because of racial tensions. Mergin Sina would not elaborate about the reasons for Jaren's sudden departure from the program last week.

Mergin Sina then handed the phone to Jaren, who also reiterated that racism was not the reason for him leaving the program. He also did not care to go into detail why he left, just that the report I used in the blog this morning was untrue.

Jaren said that he plans on finishing the semester academically at Seton Hall, but has not made up his mind about a possible transfer location.


Time for Willard to look at the man in the glass

The 2014-2015 college basketball season began with such hope and high expectations and aspirations for the Seton Hall men's program.


It was the best recruiting class the Pirates had in 15 years. The Pirates were welcoming a McDonald's All-American in Isaiah Whitehead. There were other promising freshmen like Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez, freshmen of impact.


It appeared as if coach Kevin Willard had turned the corner after four mediocre seasons. How mediocre? Well, the Pirates were exactly .500 (66-66) in the prior four years since Willard arrived from Iona.


But with a great recruiting class coming in, one of the best contingent of freshmen in the nation, the prospects finally looked great for the Pirates.


As the New Year turned, the Pirates were headed in the right direction. They were finally ranked among the nation's best, climbing all the way to No. 19 in the AP and USA Today rankings. They owned a 13-2 record and defeated two ranked teams (St. John's and Villanova) for the first time in almost 20 years.


But then, things unraveled rapidly. The Pirates inexplicably lost game after game. There was no rhyme or reason for the Pirates' demise. Some thought it was the injury to Whitehead, who suffered a broken foot after 11 games and missed a month.


After losing on the road to Providence Saturday, the Pirates own a mediocre 15-10 record and a pedestrian 5-8 mark in the Big East. It's been more of the same for Seton Hall. The season might have once had high hopes, but it's now become a gigantic disaster.


How can something so drastic actually take place? Sure, the Pirates might have been average in the past, but they had an average roster. Last year's team had at least four players who were simply not Division I products.


But this year was different. There was a standout shooting guard in Sterling Gibbs, a power forward with a great outside shooting touch in Brandon Mobley. There was a sure-fire 3-point threat in Jaren Sina.


Then, you add the incoming freshmen. Whitehead had all the hype of a McDonald's All-American. Delgado, a complete rebounding machine, was even better than expected. The same can be said for Carrington, who definitely was a better player than advertised. Rodriguez, who came with Whitehead from the same Brooklyn high school (Abraham Lincoln), was more than serviceable.


It was clearly a talented roster, the best Seton Hall had put on the floor in ages. I definitely bought the hype and told anyone and everyone that this was a team that was going to make the NCAA Tournament and could challenge for Big East honors. It was the best Pirate team that I could remember since....


Yes, 2001. It was almost eerily similar to this group. That team featured a nationally ranked recruiting class, led by a McDonald's All-American in Eddie Griffin. That freshman class also included a highly ranked point guard in Andre Barrett and a solid shooting local product in Marcus Toney-El from Seton Hall Prep. With returning players Darius Lane and Samuel Dalembert, the Pirates were set that year to make some noise.


But Tommy Amaker's group never really got along. There was chemistry problems from the outset and everything came to a boil when Griffin, who tragically lost his life a few years later after a non-descript brief NBA career, got into a celebrated fistfight with guard Ty Shine in the locker room after a loss to Georgetown. The Pirates finished that year with a highly disappointing 16-15 record. Amaker was soon gone off to Michigan and so were Griffin and Dalembert.


This year's team has endured very similar circumstances. There has been chemistry difficulties. Mobley questioned some of his teammates' motives after one loss. Sina packed his bags and left the team for good after he took the last two shots in a frustrating loss at home to Marquette. Sina felt like he was an outsider, getting called names because others felt he was getting favoritism from Willard, mentioning the color of Sina's skin as the reason.


There's the major problem caused by the superstar attitude of Whitehead, who had 20 points Saturday in the loss to Providence, but has been less than All-American all season, averaging just 12 points per game and shooting just 36 percent from the floor.


Whitehead came to South Orange complete with his own personal posse, both on the court and off. He arrives everywhere with teammates Carrington and Rodriguez, but also with five or so others who are not players nor family members. It's not known whether or not they are even Seton Hall students, yet they are constantly in Whitehead's company.


The Whitehead faction has caused a tremendous rift within the core of the Pirates, one that now cannot be repaired, certainly not this season, if not ever.


Whitehead came to South Orange with the thought he might be a "one-and-done," meaning spending one year at Seton Hall, living up to his hype as the preseason Big East Rookie of the Year, then declare his intentions for the NBA Draft.


Well, Whitehead has definitely not played like an NBA prospect this season. It's safe to say that he's been a gigantic bust.


Gibbs has basically saved the Pirates all season, but even now he's playing with mixed emotions, because his best friend is Sina, who remains in school, but has left the basketball program.


Any team that loses eight of 10 games in January and February is in serious trouble. That's what the Pirates are right now. The media guide's motto this year was boldly proclaimed "Blue Rising." It now can be best described as Blue Sinking, like the Pirate ship sinking rapidly in the high seas.


Why? Well, taking a page from the immortal Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells, it's time for Willard, the mastermind behind this mess, to read the words of Parcells' favorite poem and digest them, because the problems with the Pirates lay solely right now on Willard's shoulders.


The poem is called "The Man in the Glass," written in 1934 by Peter Dale Wimbrow, Sr. Here goes:


When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.



Yes, the Man in the Glass has to be Willard. He has to take a hard look and realize that he's the one who created the mess. He brought in Whitehead and allowed the posse to follow. He didn't address the chemistry problems and lost his team with the entire Sina incident.


No kid quits a team where he is starting and playing regularly. Only disgruntled kids who don't play quit in the middle of the year. If Sina transfers, he now has to sit out a full year and a half to play again. How ridiculous is that? But things had to be so bad for him to leave now.


Whitehead has not lived up to the hype and has been more of a nuisance and hindrance than a help. Clearly, this team should have been better than this disaster that has completely unraveled in the last six weeks.


Closing the locker room and keeping the media away is never an answer. Sure, when the team was winning and the bright lights of the television cameras were in attendance and the microphones were placed in the players' and coaches' faces, everything was just peachy. The attention was welcomed.


Now, things have gone sour and Willard closes the locker room and tells his players to stay away from social media outlets and don't talk to reporters.


You can't have the good and then not face the bad. It doesn't work both ways.


So there we have the unmitigated mess that is Seton Hall basketball. The Pirates have games at Villanova and St. John's this week, teams definitely looking for revenge and more than likely will get it. Losses will give the Pirates a 15-12 record and 5-10 mark in the league. Just like that 2001 team, a team that was a disappointing disaster, much like this one has become.
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Now that the Brooklyn Nets have a 21-31 record and appear headed for oblivion for a long time to come, is it safe to say that the franchise made a gigantic mistake in letting P.J. Carlesimo go?


After all, the Nets posted a 35-19 record with Carlesimo as a head coach two years ago, after Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson.


But for some reason, the Nets canned Carlesimo in favor for the unproven Jason Kidd, who then played the Nets like a fiddle in a bad power struggle, left for Milwaukee and left the Nets with the recycled Lionel Hollins.


Well, since the Nets let Carlesimo go, they have posted a 65-69 record and have no hope for the future. Deron Williams has become a shell of what he once was. Joe Johnson's skills have deteriorated. Kevin Garnett is at the end of the road.


The Nets are a bad basketball team right now and no one will ever know if the team would have been better off just keeping Carlesimo as head coach.
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I am also a believer that new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred should allow Pete Rose to be on the ballot for Hall of Fame consideration. Rose has paid his dues and deserves a chance to get in the Hall before it's too late.


But it has to be done under certain stipulations. Rose has to hold a press conference to admit that he gambled on baseball games while he was manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He can't just randomly go on TV and radio shows and hint that he gambled. He has to fess up to his indiscretions and answer questions about it, once and for all. Not in a book. Face to face with reporters and cameras and an apology to the sport for breaking the one rule that is posted in every MLB locker room.


Two, he can never hold another paid position in baseball. He can appear at card shows and sign autographs, like he does, but Rose can never be a coach or manager on any level.


No one can deny the fact that Pete Rose doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. At the very least, he should be placed on the ballot and see if the sportswriters do the right thing and elect him.


But then again, I believe that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are Hall of Famers and were Hall of Famers before they ever saw a syringe.
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You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com.













Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Deflate-gate" and the impact of it has nothing to do with air in balls

There has been so much attention given to the New England Patriots and the "deflate-gate" controversy, involving the underinflated footballs that the Patriots used in the AFC Championship win over the Indianapolis Colts.


There has been so many articles about the proper inflation and so much time spent on talk shows about PSI (pounds per square inch, for the under informed) that it has frankly become nauseating.


But the true newsworthy factors of this indiscretion has nothing to do with footballs.


The real reason why this is such a major story leading into the Super Bowl on Sunday is that once again, the New England Patriots have been caught being cheaters.


And yes, sorry you blinded-by-the-light of Giselle's golden hair Patriot fans, this is indeed cheating.


It marks the fourth time that the Patriots have been caught cheating over the past decade or so. They circumvented the salary cap years ago in order to keep players on their roster. They taped the St. Louis Rams' practice before the Super Bowl so they could know what plays the Rams would run in the game _ and used that tape to their advantage, getting an interception return from Ty Law on a pass by Kurt Warner, who was quoted as saying, "It was like he (Law) knew it was coming." Well, guess what? Law knew it was coming.


And then there was "Spygate," where the Patriots were found to be taping signals off the New York Jets' sidelines. That one cost the Patriots some money and a draft pick, but the cheating has not stopped.


That's because head coach Bill Belichick believes that he is like a Steven Seagall movie, you know, "Above the Law."


Belichick, who of course denied any knowledge of the underinflated football, giving a pseudo physics lesson during his press conference and showing his movie knowledge by saying, "I'm not Mona Lisa Vito," from "My Cousin Vinny," has been involved in all of these cheating incidents. As much as he would like to deny it, he had his hands all over them.


Yet, he pays no penalty for his indiscretions. Belichick will get to coach the Super Bowl game and if he wins, he will get his fourth Super Bowl ring. How great is that? It will cement his place in Canton as a Hall of Famer.


But he's a cheater. As are the Patriots. They cheat. That's the real story of the underinflated balls. It's cheating. Yeah, sure, I believe Tom Brady didn't know how the balls got underinflated. Like he had nothing to do with it as well. It was all the equipment manager's idea or some ball boy's maniacal plan.


That's the real story here. The Patriots and their hoodie genius of a coach cheat, lie, steal, do anything to win. This is the fourth time, yet the NFL has done nothing in terms of a penalty.


Well, the league is not going to do anything now before Sunday. But after the game, the NFL has to throw the book at the hoodie genius and the owner who said he wants a public apology if the league finds the investigation into "Deflate-gate" is all rubbish.


The NFL has to hit Robert Kraft with a hefty fine, like as much as $10 million. They have to make the Patriots surrender their first round draft pick to the Colts, maybe even their second rounder as well. They then have to suspend the hoodie genius for at least half of the 2015 season.


Hey, the NFL suspended Sean Payton of the Saints for an entire year because of the Bounty-Gate investigation, when it was learned that the Saints' coaching staff was putting out price tags for hits on opposing players. Payton lost an entire year. So did the Saints' GM and the defensive coordinator.


And all they did was go out and tell their players to hit the opponent hard and they'll get a monetary bonus.


But the league is going to do nothing to a four-time cheater? Sounds to be just a tad hypocritical to me. It's so totally wrong that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Kraft are buddy-buddy and there are pictures of Goodell attending a barbecue last summer at Kraft's residence.


Is Goodell now afraid to bring the hammer down on the cheating owner and his cheating franchise because the cheating owner helped him to get his cushy $44 million a year job? Who knows?


One thing is for sure: This cheating crap has to stop. The Patriots get away with too much and they're playing once again for the top prize in the sport.


So the football garbage isn't the story here. It's the cheating. It doesn't matter what PSI the balls had against Indianapolis, because the Patriots would have beaten the Colts using a brick as a ball. That's right, they didn't have to cheat to win the game. But they did and deserve to pay a severe penalty for doing so.


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As for the game itself, there hasn't been a Super Bowl in my lifetime that I have had the least amount of interest in like this one.


I hate the Patriots and everything they stand for. I hate the hoodie and the cleft-chinned quarterback and the logo that looks like Elvis. I hate their fans with an absolute passion, because they all think the Patriots invented the sport and they fail to remember the days when they were so putrid.


I also hate the Seahawks and their coach Pete Carroll who broke every law under the sun while coaching at USC, then when the penalty was just about to be delivered, he scampered off to Seattle, took millions and is now considered a hero and possible Hall of Fame coach. Say what?


I hate the Seahawks' running back who boldly treats the media like their idiots with his "I'm only here so I don't get fined." Yet, there are some media who believe Marshawn Lynch is a Hall of Famer now. However, do we just simply forget that Lynch once ran over a woman while driving drunk in Buffalo and killed her? I guess that's something that gets forgotten when you treat the rest of the world like they are idiots.


So I'm rooting for chicken wings and commercials Sunday. I don't care about the game or the outcome or anything about it. I truly wish they both could lose, if that was possible.
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You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.dailyrecord.com and www.theobserver.com







Friday, January 16, 2015

Return to blogging

After a significant delay caused by a computer glitch, having too many Google accounts and far too many passwords to remember, the faithful blogger has returned in the new year, albeit midway through the first month already.

A lot of people simply say, "Time flies," but in reality, it actually does. It's Jan. 16 already. Wasn't it Christmas yesterday?

In any case, there are some issues that I feel I need to address today:

One, which has bothered me since the Baseball Hall of Fame voting was announced last week, is the fact that once again Mike Piazza didn't get elected into the Hall.

Now, I know what people are going to say, that I'm so totally biased because I'm a Mets fan. There's no denying that fact. Even after 32 years in this business, I know I should be totally unbiased about everything related to sports, but I can't drain the blue and orange that has run through my veins since I was four years old.

Believe me, there are times that I've tried and thought about that fateful transfusion, especially after the way the Coupon boys have turned the franchise into a laughingstock, but there's no price tag on loyalty and tradition. I'm a Metsie, Metsie, Metsie until the Lord calls me home.

Now, putting that aside, how does any sports writing member of the Professional Baseball Writers of America organization not vote Piazza into the Hall of Fame?

I know he got closer this year, finishing about 80 votes shy, and I know that he will probably get in next year, considering the only new candidate with true Hall of Fame credentials is Ken Griffey, Jr.

But still, the idea that Craig Biggio, a very nice player and a credit to the game as well as Seton Hall University, is now a Hall of Famer over Mike Piazza is downright ludicrous in my eyes.

I know Biggio got 3,000 hits, which used to be the sure-fire stamp of earning a place in Cooperstown. I know he had 50 doubles and 50 stolen bases one year and led the league in runs scored twice. All nice facts.

Simply put, Mike Piazza is the best hitting catcher to ever play the game. He hit .308 for his career and hit 427 homers, 380 of which came as a catcher, which is the most ever for anyone to ever play the position. His offensive numbers are clearly better than other Hall of Fame catchers like Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter.

And yes, I'm a Met fan who believes that Gary Carter, the Kid, the last piece to our 1986 World Series puzzle, was a great player and a great Met, but he's not a Hall of Famer. His numbers over the last seven years of his career are scary bad. There's a lot of sentiment for the Kid now that he's left us, but please, you can't even put Carter and Piazza in the same breath.

Mike Piazza is a Hall of Famer and was well on his way to becoming one before he became a Met. After he became a Met, he literally saved that franchise from ruin and led that rag-tag team with limited talent (and an outfield of Timo Perez, Derek Bell, Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton) to the World Series. Piazza literally carried that team _ with the help of Edgardo Alfonzo and Robin Ventura. But Piazza was the main man in 2000 in winning the National League pennant.

Not to mention the countless clutch homers and hits he had over the years. Who could ever forget that monstrous blast on the first day baseball returned after the 9-11 tragedy? That homer uplifted an entire nation and especially gave the Big Apple a shot of much-needed adrenalin.


In my eyes, Piazza should be a sure-fire, no-brainer Hall of Famer. If I had a vote, he would have been among my first choices.

But for some reason, the voters chose to exclude Piazza because there are rumors floating about that he took anabolic steroids. True, at one time, Piazza used the strength and conditioning enhancement powder that a lot of ballplayers used before it was banned by MLB. But there is no substantial proof, like the Mitchell Report or any drug testing result, that shows Piazza using steroids. None.

Nope, it's all based on rumors. Bill Madden of the New York Daily News wrote that he learned from a former Piazza teammate that he was using steroids. But when Madden was asked if he knew for sure, he didn't know. He's just going on the hearsay of the former Piazza teammate.

Others have followed suit, citing that there are rumors of Piazza using steroids. RUMORS. We're going to base a man's place in immortality on rumors and not his actual performance? Are you kidding me?

In 32 years of being a sportswriter, do you know how many rumors I've heard, ranging to one's sexual preference to who they're sleeping with to what drugs they're on and where they hang out? Christ, I could write two books of juicy tidbits, based solely on rumors. But you can't base anything on a rumor.

But these sportswriters are keeping Piazza out of his rightful place because of rumors. One sports writer said on ESPN that the reason why he didn't vote for Piazza was because he didn't want to put him in now, then five years from now, the truth about his steroid rumors come out. Can you believe such crap? Let's not vote for a worthy candidate now just because a rumor MIGHT come out. It's beyond ludicrous.

The players who got voted in this year, namely Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, were no-brainers in my mind. They all belonged in and deserved of the red carpet treatment to Cooperstown, even if Johnson is one of the most surly, most unapproachable human beings in sports.

Again, performance. They were all three dominant pitchers.

Biggio? He was never the best player on his own team. How can someone be a Hall of Famer if they're not even the best player on the Astros? That distinction belonged to Jeff Bagwell, and he's not getting in because of _ yes, steroid rumors.

I don't envy the voting members of the PBBWAA, because they have a difficult job voting. It's painstaking to think who deserves it and who doesn't, especially now in the steroid era.

However, I'm a firm believer that both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were Hall of Famers before either was introduced to a syringe. Just look at their stats prior to 1998 and you'll see what I mean. They just extended their great careers longer than what anyone else could have done because of drugs. But in my mind, Bonds and Clemens deserve to be in the Hall of Fame above people like Craig Biggio. And I despise both Bonds and Clemens, perhaps my two least favorite baseball players ever, right next to Vince Coleman.

I also believe that the time has come to put Pete Rose on the ballot and see if he gets enough votes to get in. Rose is a Hall of Famer and should be put in the Hall for what he did as a player, not what he did hideously as a manager.

Look, O.J. Simpson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and they haven't exactly taken his bust down after all the juice that has fallen on the juice.

I would vote for Bonds, Clemens and Rose. And most definitely, I'd vote for Piazza, who deserves his place there.

I'd also vote for Tim Raines, but I do have a little bias there, considering I worked with Raines for two years when he was the manager of the Newark Bears. So he's someone I consider a friend, so there's bias there.

But I don't know Mike Piazza. I've covered him enough and interviewed him enough and watched him even more than enough to realize that the man is a Hall of Famer, much like the greats I grew up with like Mays, Aaron, McCovey, Brock, Gibson, Seaver, Killebrew and Frank and Brooks Robinson.

Back then, when you walked into a ball park, you knew who the Hall of Famers were. There was no debate. Now, you have to consider whether they did steroids or even worse, whether there are rumors that they did steroids.

It really makes it a tough job selecting who gets to go to Cooperstown. Someday soon, it will be Mike Piazza. It just should have happened already.

And while we're at it, the stupid-ass Mets should put his No. 31 on the wall in left field already. To think that number is not retired is beyond comprehension. But then again, it's the Mets. What can one expect?

Remember, this is an organization that held it's Farewell to Shea ceremonies AFTER the team was eliminated from the playoffs that day against the Marlins. Real smart, holding that after a heartbreaking loss, the last October baseball game that truly mattered for this organization.
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Here's my movie tip of the day. Stay far away from "Boyhood." WOW, is it lousy!

I have to wonder what the Academy Award voters are thinking, considering this boring drivel for Best Picture and other awards. But then again, "The Artist" and "Unforgiven" were once Best Picture winners. I think "The English Patient" also won. In my eyes, those movies were drivel.

"Boyhood" was a nice idea, filming the boy from the ages of seven through 18. But the story was boring and the movie was almost three hours long. After a while, I couldn't wait for it to be over. I lost interest in the boy and his development. In fact, I was bored to tears.

So it's up to you whether to plunk down the money to see it On Demand like I did. After all the Oscar nominations, I figured it was a must-watch. Now I think it's a must avoid.
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I have three friends in the local sports circle who are currently waging war against cancer, all doing as best as they possibly can.

One is Hanover Park baseball coach Dave Minsavage, who has pancreatic cancer. Minsavage, one of the most professional and nicest coaches in the business, has taken some time off to take on cancer and hopes that he can recover enough to make a comeback in the future, but he will not coach this year.

Another is North Bergen girls' basketball coach Dan Reardon, who has cancer of the lymph nodes and is taking on cancer head on, coaching his team as he undergoes treatment.
 
The third is my wonderful, caring and loving physical therapist Carl Gargiulo, who has lymphoma and has successfully gone through three various chemotherapy treatments before heading on to grueling stem-cell surgery next month. I owe my existence to Gargiulo and his loving hands, helping me walk again, guiding me from walker to cane to no apparatus whatsoever.

I'm not 100 percent. I still visit Strulowitz & Gargiulo Physical Therapy in Jersey City three times a week, more religiously than I used to go to bars. I plan on walking freely and easily again someday. There's no guarantee. But I'm not stuck in the house and bound to a walker anymore, thanks to Carl and his incredible staff.

Cancer is a hideous, relentless, unforgiving and horrible disease that doesn't choose sides and has a lottery draft. It attacks everyone, even those who don't actually have it, but care about those who do, like the three great men that I wrote about.

Here's to hoping all three are able to beat cancer, kick cancer's ass like it has never been destroyed before. In sports terms, cancer has won far too many times. It needs to be knocked on its keister from time to time.

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I plan on being more active here in the future. I apologize for my lack of contributions, especially to the faithful readers of the blog and I know there are many. Happy New Year. Let's all have a better 2015 than the one we had to endure in 2014. I know for sure I'm going to give it my best damn shot.

You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com. This week, check out the tribute to Kearny girls' basketball coach Jody Hill's father in www.theobserver.com.
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Monday, December 1, 2014

Rams receivers out of line with stupid display

Ever since the grand jury in Missouri decided two weeks ago that there was not enough evidence to indict now former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in his role of the unfortunate shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown,  I have tried very hard not to voice my opinion on the situation for fear that it might get construed as being racist.


After all, at last check, I am a white man, like Officer Wilson. I am not an African-American, like the deceased. So any stand I might take in the situation may be portrayed as being a white/black opinion, because I cannot relate with the trials and tribulations that black people feel, especially when it comes to the way black people are treated by law enforcement officers.


So I said nothing. I just didn't understand why the residents of Ferguson, Missouri would want to trash where they lived, that they wanted to loot and steal from business owners, burn the businesses to the ground simply because they believed justice wasn't properly served. That those people took to the streets to hunt and maim innocent business owners, their own neighbors, because an innocent teenager was killed at the hands of the law.


I didn't understand that after the grand jury failed to indict a police officer doing his job, that a pack of hoodlums dragged an elderly man out of his vehicle _ a man who had an oxygen tank simply to live and breathe _ and drove over the man, still attached to the tank, while the whole incident was captured by a news gathering organization. Yes, I guess that's a form of protest.


I also didn't understand how so many people rallied around the family of this Michael Brown, a hulking 300-pound young man who was caught on videotape just 20 minutes prior to his shooting punching a convenience store owner in the face after Brown refused to pay for two packs of Tiparillos. Hey, I guess he needed a smoke that bad.


I didn't understand how an 18-year-old teenager could have a long arrest record, with an assortment of seven prior arrests. I didn't understand how Brown had no regard for Officer Wilson, failing to adhere to what Wilson had to tell him about walking in the middle of the street, so much so that he went after the cop, tried to close the cop's car door on him, then reached into the car to strike the officer in an attempt to steal his gun.


I didn't understand any of that. But the outcry was so widespread that one would think that Michael Brown was a bastion of society, that he was unjustly treated like perhaps Mahatma Gandhi or Anwar Sadat. Or in more of a layman's terms of recent years, like the way Abner Louima or Mamadou Diallo were brutalized by the New York City police department. Then, I could see the outcry, the outrage, the anger.


But this was a career criminal at age 18, a big bully punk who had no regard for the law. He was told to stop by the police officer, refused, got into a physical altercation with the cop and was subsequently shot and killed. Now, did he need to be shot six times? No, that's where I think Officer Wilson was wrong. But in terms of it being a justified shooting, I don't think there's any debate.


I don't understand how this has become a racial debate, a source for more of a racial rift than already exists in our great nation. Like we needed more of a reason to create more of a chasm. But this wasn't a black/white issue by any means, except for the undeniable fact that Michael Brown was indeed black and Officer Wilson is indeed white.


This wasn't black/white. This was right/wrong.


And that is coming from someone who doesn't have a racist bone in my body. I grew up in Jersey City, in a racially diverse neighborhood, in fact, a complete melting pot of society, more so than a lot of other locations in our great nation.


My favorite athletes growing up were almost all black, people like Willie Mays and Walt Frazier and Joe Frazier and Bubba Smith and Deacon Jones. I once made a joke to my father when I was five years old that after watching the Flip Wilson Show on TV that I wanted to be "a Temptation." I envisioned myself hanging out with the Jackson Five and dancing on stage with Michael.


I never have once treated anyone differently because of the color of their skin. I coached kids of all colors, creeds, religions, backgrounds. I've written about them all. I've had several friends from grade school through high school into college and beyond.


I didn't have to write that to justify myself, but I didn't form my opinion on this matter because of my race. I believe that Michael Brown was way wrong in doing what he did. Did he deserve to die? Probably not. But if he would have obeyed the law in the first place for the first seven times he was arrested, then the incident with the store owner 20 minutes before he was shot and then when Officer Wilson first addressed him, he would still be alive today.


With that now all out of the way, I was absolutely disgusted and dismayed and frankly embarrassed by the way five members of my favorite football team, the St. Louis Rams, entered the field Sunday before they faced the Oakland Raiders.


It was the Rams' receiving corps, namely receivers Travon Austin, Steadman Bailey, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt, took the field Sunday and posed in the now famous "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" formation as they were introduced.


It wasn't the time or the place for the Rams to make a political statement. In fact, it was idiotic timing and in bad taste, especially with the tensions of the community still tepid in the area.


And it really took away from what was a great win for the Rams. I had one friend call me to tell me that the Rams had waited years for such a great one-sided win (they won 52-0) and all people wanted to talk about was the protest of the players.


There's no way no how that these five Rams players asked the coaches, the general manager or the administration to see if it was okay if they could make a statement like this. After all, this wasn't for domestic violence awareness or child abuse awareness or one of the countless cancer and health-related issues that the NFL proudly supports.


No, these were five African-American football players snubbing their noses at the local police and law enforcement officials by acting out what they thought was support to the black community or even the Brown family.


What makes the incident involving the Rams even more sickening is that one of the players who took part in this protest was none other than Bayonne's resident bastion of goodness and wonderment Britt, who has been arrested a total of seven times in recent years for an assortment of charges.


Britt has found himself behind bars for speeding, driving without a legitimate license or insurance, as well as three different drug related arrests. He was involved in an altercation at a party in Jersey City that resulted in a stabbing and yes, he's even posted bail for someone who was arrested and charged with murder.

And what did Britt's "cousin" allegedly do? He merely ran down a guy with his car, then got out of the car, dragged him to the edges of the Hudson River in Hoboken and threw him into the icy waters of the Hudson.


But Britt, because he makes more than a million a year to play football, posted the bail for that kind, considerate soul.


And Britt now wants to make a protest stand that slaps every single person who has been involved in law enforcement right in the face? The nerve. Britt should be thankful he's able to make millions playing football and keep his mouth shut and his protestations to himself.


The Rams had a big win, but their behavior sickened me. It's tough enough being a Rams fan and having to deal with all the ridicule and scorn I had to hear because they have been so God-awful on the gridiron. Now, they have a good win and this is what people will remember.


And again, this was a display that these five chuckleheads did on their own without permission of the team that SIGNS THEIR PAY CHECKS. With that in mind, they should be fined just as much as someone who gets flagged for a personal foul penalty or taunting or even being late for a team meeting. This was insubordination in its finest sense and they should all pay the price for their hideous indiscretion.


And as for Kenny Britt, shame on you, but then again at this point, we've all come to expect such infantile and idiotic behavior. It's all become part of the norm for him. He gives everyone in Hudson County reason to be so very proud, right? Instead of standing on a stepstool waving a flag that he's one of our own, we all kind of hide our eyes and ears and hope the last story involving Britt isn't true _ when it most certainly is.


Shame on the Rams' futile five for throwing a wet rag over a good win. And for forcing me to make a stand on this situation I really didn't want to make.
Now, watch the floodgates get opened with this one.


Incredibly, there were four juveniles who beat an unarmed man with a hammer in Ferguson over the weekend, but there was no outcry about that. Or there was a cop in South Carolina who shot an unarmed 30-year-old man. Yes, the four juveniles were black, the victim white in Ferguson. But there were no protests. The cop in South Carolina black, the victim white. Al Sharpton wasn't seen going there to voice his displeasure.
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You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com, as well as others at www.pro32.ap.org



Sunday, October 12, 2014

My take on the Sayreville nightmare


First things first about this entire Sayreville football horror story. There is no way in the world that veteran head coach George Najjar knew anything about the ongoing in the Sayreville locker room. Impossible.

I’ve known George for almost 20 years now and he’s about as professional and steadfast as they come in the coaching ranks. He’s been nothing but a strict disciplinarian since he arrived at Sayreville and it’s no coincidence that the program has been one of the most successful in the entire state for the last decade.

It’s almost certain that Najjar is going to get thrown under the bus for this entire mess, get blamed for not knowing what was going on. Some are even going as far as to saying that Najjar was a lot like Joe Paterno and turned a blind eye to it all _ which is definitely not the case. Others are saying that Najjar was involved in some sort of hazing when he was the coach of Lincoln High School in New York _ but there’s no way that could be tied to this disgusting mess.

Najjar did not condone such behavior and I’m willing to stake my entire reputation as a sportswriter that he knew nothing of the rituals at all. If he did, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have put a stop to it right away and punished those involved, regardless of their stature on the team.

I’ve spoken to two parents who requested anonymity, as well as two Sayreville officials and a law enforcement representative, all of whom have to remain anonymous for legal reasons, who have told me that the students charged with the sexual assaults already in the case are not the only ones involved.

In fact, there are as many as 15 upperclassmen who took part in the rituals that involved as many as eight freshmen. And that the younger players weren’t only brutalized with fingers, that pieces of fruit and vegetables, as well as other tools may have been used in the assaults.

So this is a story that is not going to go away anytime soon.

So were the powers-that-be in the Sayreville school district correct in dismantling the season? Absolutely. The parents that went to the Board of Education meeting last week to voice their displeasure about the decision had to be totally naïve to not agree with the decision or were just flat out stupid. How could anyone think about playing high school football when boys have been brutalized in such horrific manner?

There have been some who have come out to say that it was unfair to penalize the entire program for the ridiculous actions of just a few. Well, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office already had wind of the widespread abuse and knew that criminal charges were pending. Once the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office got involved, you knew that it was going to be extremely serious.

So the Board of Education and Superintendent Richard Labbe did the right thing by cancelling the rest of the season _ and maybe beyond. It would not be a stretch if the program takes a hit moving forward. Who’s to say that the penalties won’t extend into the winter sports, because a lot of these football players compete in other sports like basketball and wrestling in the winter months?

And anyone who thinks that they didn’t do the right thing, just wait until the indictments are handed down against the criminals who are of adult age. It seems as if as many as three of those involved are 18 years old, so they will be tried as adults.

Now, for the coverage of this story. New Jersey Advance Media and NJ.com, the newly formed media conglomerate that has replaced the old school organizations the Newark Star-Ledger and Dorf Feature Services, has done a good job in gaining the information it has attained.

However, they actually had a reporter camped outside the home of Myles Hartsfield, the premier Sayreville player who has already given a commitment to Penn State. The reporter was there to see if Hartsfield would be led off in handcuffs, so he was parked outside the home, camera in hand, snapping pictures of the family vehicle and reporting every single tidbit of information that went on.

Now, this goes beyond the realm of simple reporting. What has sports writing become? TMZ East? Is that what sports journalists are going to be asked to do from now on, thanks to the pressures of social media, of Twitter, of Facebook and the rest? This wasn’t reporting. This was stalking.

The young man has not been charged, as this blog has been written. But because of this stalking incident, he’s already been implicated. Hell, he’s been tried and convicted before officially charged. If anything, his reputation has been severely tarnished by all of this. Who knows? He only has a verbal commitment to Penn State. Do you think that school, with everything that happened with Jerry Sandusky and that horror show, wants to welcome someone implicated with a similar type of horrific incident?

What editor in his right mind actually assigned this reporter, who is new to New Jersey high school sports, to do this kind of stalking work? Is this why this new reporter left Oregon, to come to New Jersey, and park himself outside of a player’s house. “At 10:15 p.m., Mr. Hartsfield was spotted walking the family dog.” C’mon now.

It’s bad enough that the lead reporter in this case has had a reputation of misleading interview subjects, saying that he’s writing about one thing, then writes another one altogether.

He did it to gain entrance into North Bergen High School two years ago when the Star-Ledger was investigating the recruiting allegations against legendary coach Vince Ascolese, saying that he was writing a positive story about Ascolese’s career, when in fact, he was set to take down the legend’s career.

And he did it recently when he wrote about St. Peter’s Prep standout Minkah Fitzpatrick’s almost departure to Paramus Catholic in 2013, telling Prep head coach Rich Hansen he was writing about recruiting in general and not Fitzpatrick and instead stirred up a kettle of fish that really didn’t serve a purpose because it was now a moot point.

But all of that gets away from the real crux of this story: What in the world possessed these punks to even think of doing something to their own teammates? Is that fun? Is it a sense of power? A sense of superiority? It’s just sickening to think that kids would have such thoughts in their minds. To stick something like a finger or a broom handle and shove it up a kid’s rectum as he is being held down in fear, then take that finger or handle and put it in his mouth? Who in the world is that sick and tormented?

I was part of locker room hi-jinks in my day. It usually meant slapping wet towels on someone’s bare bottom or putting shaving cream or baby powder in one’s locker. I was personally subjected to scorn and ridicule as a freshman, because I had not yet matured physically and the older seniors laughed and pointed that out to everyone, calling me a eunuch because I had yet to grow pubic hair. Because of it, I made sure I showered when no one else was remotely around me.

That was embarrassing in itself.

Well, can you begin to imagine what is going on in the minds of the freshmen at Sayreville, both those who were physically abused and the others who were in fear of going in the locker room, waiting for the lights to get turned off? How about the ones now who are being investigated? They’re being asked to point fingers on their teammates, classmates. How about the ones who didn’t do anything themselves, but knew about it? They’re also being asked to be basically stool pigeons. How do they go back to that school just to study, never mind being an athlete?

I’m hoping that the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office and the Sayreville police conduct a thorough investigation and prosecute these deranged criminals to the fullest extent of the law. And I hope that the adults involved, those who are 18, get prison sentences with no leniency.

It’s a shame that George Najjar will be made the scapegoat for all of this. He’s more than likely going to lose his job over it and it’s just not fair, because there’s no way he knew about it and definitely would never condone such behavior in the locker room.

One thing is sure about this. The NJSIAA will enforce laws that will require at least one coach to remain in the locker rooms until the last athlete has showered and left, that the last one in the room will be a responsible adult. The coach will be the one to turn out the lights.

In the past, coaches left that responsibility with a team captain. Unfortunately, that responsibility will no longer be left in any student’s hands in New Jersey. That’s the one change that will come from all of this horror show in Sayreville.

But be rest assured: The story is far from over in Sayreville. In some cases, the story has just begun to be properly told _ and it’s one that has to be told in its entirety with no rush to judgment in the process.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Did Tony Stewart mean to hit the kid he killed?

The videos that came from the dirt track in upstate New York Saturday night were certainly frightening and alarming.


If you watched the video, you saw a young man climb out of his damaged car, pointing a finger at the driver who appeared to push him into a wall, then horrifically watched this poor young man get caught in the back wheels and get hurtled to his death.


The young man, Kevin Ward, Jr., was just 20 years old. The driver of the other car was legendary NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, one of the most successful and wealthiest people in auto racing. Stewart hit Ward in the middle of a dirt track race and took the young man's life.


The auto racing purists are quickly pointing out that Ward was at fault for getting out of his car in the middle of the race and walking onto the track. And that's a good point. Despite Ward's anger at Stewart for the crash, he should have stayed in the car and waited for help to arrive.


But I've watched the horrific video about 50 times now and to me, it looks as if Stewart intentionally fishtailed the back of his car to sideswipe Ward. There's no way that Stewart could have known that the move would catch Ward with the back wheels and send Ward flying some 50 feet in the air.


However, it certainly looks like Stewart did make an intentional move toward Ward. Sure, it was dark out. Sure, Ward was wearing a black suit and black helmet. The course was very dimly lit.


I just can't get past the way an experienced legend like Stewart couldn't have avoided Ward, because he didn't hit Ward head on. He caught him with the back wheels.


Stewart has had a history of bad behavior, of having a bad temper, of doing stupid things, including getting into fistfights and altercations with other drivers himself. He's thrown helmets, he's had to go to anger management classes. He has even threatened to run over fellow drivers in the past. Those are incidents that play against Stewart.


Who knows for sure? Who knows if Stewart really tried to clip the kid? The only person who knows is Tony Stewart. And he's the one who now has to live with the idea that he killed a 20-year-old fellow driver, regardless of the level, Talladega, Daytona or a dirt track in upstate New York. Kevin Ward was a fellow race car driver. His life is now over.


The way it looks now, Stewart will not face any criminal charges. It more than likely will be deemed an accident. There isn't enough compelling evidence to prove otherwise.


In my eyes, it looks bad. The driver was way wrong for getting out of the car. But in my eyes, it appears as if Stewart could have avoided Ward.


And you can be rest assured that the Ward family will file some sort of civil suit against Stewart. Then it will be up to a jury. Maybe then Stewart will have to answer for what happened, unless he agrees to some sort of a financial settlement.


One thing is for sure: Tony Stewart's days as a commercial spokesman for anything are done. No one will touch him at all from now on.
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I personally don't care how poorly Tiger Woods has played since his return to golf from back surgery. He deserves a spot on the Ryder Cup team in next month's competition as an alternate selection by captain Tom Watson.


Because, after all, he's still Tiger Woods. He's still a compelling story every time he steps on the course. Everyone either loves him or hates him. But if there's a spot for Tiger on that United States team and he feels like he's healthy enough to play, he should be on the team.


Woods deserves the spot on reputation and resume. It shouldn't even be a debate. Plus, he will add some drama to the event, especially if he goes head-to-head with Rory McIlroy, who is definitely the new king of golf.
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Incredibly, the high school football, college football and NFL regular season are less than a month away. The baseball season is within the last 50 games. The summer is rapidly slipping away. Through the wicked winter months, all we could do is say, "I can't wait for summer." Well, now it's here and it's almost gone. How does time go by so fast now?
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ESPN has been policing itself by suspending personalities Stephen A. Smith, Dan LeBetard and Max Kellerman for their actions on and off air.


Smith was suspended for saying that women should not provoke physical violence in the Ray Rice case.


LeBetard was suspended for paying for a billboard in Akron, Ohio thanking LeBron James for the two championships James won with the Miami Heat.


Kellerman was penalized for saying on the radio that he once beat up his girlfriend (now his wife), also talking about Ray Rice.


It's a network and media gargantuan trying to make sure that its employees remain on the straight and narrow. After all, ESPN is part of the parent company that also owns Disney.


Do you think the Disney company wants to be associated with people who make such insidious comments about women? Think about that one.
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You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com, www.pro32.ap.org and www.dailyrecord.com