Monday, December 31, 2012

Washington Redskins Win NFC East

It has been a long, difficult journey. The fans who couldn't stay seated on the wagon leaped off and tried to land on their feet cheering for a number of other teams. We don't welcome those fans back, and we know who you are. Instead we cherish our own, who can enjoy this moment for what it's worth; the relief of years of misery and torture. This 7-game run has been the absolute answer to all of our prayers.

I was barely four and a half years old on January 26, 1992 when the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. 21 years ago. I knew what the Redskins did, but I don't know that I appreciated it or what it meant for the area. Since that Super Bowl, we have lived through a lot as Redskins fans.

20 starting quarterbacks have donned the burgundy and gold, promised to be our next leader. Guys like Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, Trent Green, Brad Johnson, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Weurffel, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, and John Beck. Guys who couldn't get it done.

And they did it for a number of coaches. Guys like Richie Petitbon, Norv Turner (who, in 1999, coached us to our last division championship and was cut immediately after the season), Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs 2.0, and Jim Zorn. Schottenheimer had a good run to end his year but management didn't want him. Joe Gibbs' second stint made the playoffs 2 out of 4 years he was here but he didn't feel he could commit any more to coaching. We also had the Bingo Hall to cap off Jim Zorn's stint here.

The Redskins have dealt with overpaid free agents who didn't perform. The Jeff George's, the Deion Sanders', the Adam Archuleta's, and the Albert Haynesworth's. We had players leave and go on to find some success, albeit at the strength of others - the Brad Johnson's, Stephen Davis', and Jeremiah Trotter's. We had players who couldn't coexist with management and the system and decided to walk on to places they felt treated their players better - the Ryan Clark's, Carlos Rogers', LaRon Landry's.

The Washington Redskins have been a rollercoaster ride. A late push by the 2005 Redskins got them into the playoffs where a young Sean Taylor made his mark as the face of the Redskins' defense. Then we stumbled in 2006. And then in 2007, when Sean was playing some of the best football in the entire league, he was taken from us by a senseless murder.

These scars run deep. Fans were right to believe it would always be the same old, same old.

But Dan Snyder eventually canned Vinny Cerrato. He brought in Bruce Allen, and Mike Shanahan. Fans were skeptical. We couldn't believe Dan Snyder was going to sit back and let Mike do his thing. With the first year feeling everything like all the years prior, we waited for Snyder to go back to everything HE knew. But he held on tight with all of the fans, and we suffered through Haynesworth and Grossman. We watched as Trent Williams and Fred Davis rolled their careers up in whiteboys and smoked it away. But they came back to play well (Davis' before injury). We got our chance to draft Robert Griffin III, even though the league wanted to take all of those picks away. Even though the guy responsible for Capgate spoke publicly with every bit of high-school hatred in his voice suggesting the picks should have been taken away. We lost $36 million in salary cap money ($18M this year, and $18M next) and it felt like our great thing was going to be tarnished.

But Mike Shanahan was already building a roster of youth, talent, and character that didn't cost so much. Fans got tired of hearing, "he's a good kid with a lot of character and any time you've got a kid with that kind of talent who is good character, you have a player who can play at a Pro Bowl level and help you do the things you need to do in order to win a championship." But Mike didn't lie.

This isn't premature. We haven't won anything yet. The playoffs can be a 1 and done deal. We might still see us falter. But at 3-6 heading into a week 10 bye week, we didn't imagine this. We looked every bit a team that was $18M short of salary cap space. Shanahan "threw up the white flag" and was ready to turn to next year, or so the media said.

When Mike said those things, I turned immediately to Twitter and said he was telling guys they weren't going to be here if they couldn't play like they wanted to turn it around. Well, coming back from the bye, guys played like they wanted to turn it around. Pierre Garcon showed amazing heart, and guys believed new captain RGIII was everything he said he wanted to be after laying out for a first down late in the game vs. Carolina. Alfred Morris ran more violent. WR's blocked and caught tough passes and fought for extra yards. The O-Line took it upon themselves to make plays. The defense found themselves finally playing man coverage and getting it done when it mattered the most. Week 17 was for the division after a 6-game winning streak, against rival Dallas Cowboys... and Washington continued to show all the fight and heart that they swore they had. Good character guys with a lot of raw talent were putting it together.

Whatever London Fletcher and Robert Griffin III said to teammates during a meeting in the bye week, worked.

Every single week has been a playoff week for the Redskins coming out of the bye. They've played like a playoff team. Able to run. Able to stop the run. Able to score points. Able to keep points off the board. Able to make interceptions when the team needs them. It hasn't been pretty, but it has worked.

Our focus is on the Seahawks, an even bigger game than the Dallas game. We want to win more than the division and a playoff berth. But we're ahead of where we expected to be on the timeline. Maybe Shanahan knew it, but I think he also knew he could afford an average year with promise for the future. Instead, we're still fighting in January. We've won the division, but youngster Robert Griffin III knows what a youngster shouldn't know. MVP's and Pro Bowls are nice consolation prizes if you don't win a Super Bowl ring.

This team looks like it is hunting a Super Bowl. Whether we win it or not has yet to be written, but fans actually see a group of guys who look like they're headed towards it. They've got obstacles who want it too. For once in a long time, Redskins fans see a group of players who equate with the perennial teams and players, who want the ultimate prize. They tell you that is their goal, and whether you believe they can win it or not, you believe it is their goal.

So we sigh a little today knowing we've come this far, gone through all of the pain of 21 years, and we have something to show for it. Dan Snyder sitting back and letting the coach do it his way. The players buying in and showing the fan base they want it. Robert Griffin III came here knowing fans needed a QB who was more than a name, and his rookie season has lived up to his hype of hope. There is a reason to believe in the future, near and far.

But we've been in playoff mode. We know what it takes to win every game. You have to execute. You have to want.

As London Fletcher says, "Our will! Our way! Our win!"

Hail to the Redskins!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Redskins vs. Cowboys - Keys to Success

The Washington Redskins control their own destiny in week 17 of the NFL season; they can win the division and earn a home game in January, something that hasn't happened since 1999. And by the grace of [football] God(s), the game to determine the NFC East is against arch-rival Dallas Cowboys, and the Redskins play host. So what do the Skins need to do in order to secure victory, the division title, and a playoff appearance?

1. Fans must be in full force! FedEx Field needs to finally feel like a place that opponents hate to play. This game needs to be all about the Redskins in the stands. Fans must be loud. They must stomp. They must fight for each other if security tells them they're too rowdy. Dan Snyder needs to cut back his rules, and prices, for one night only (won't happen, but it feels good saying it in case it spreads to him). The fans must be so loud when the Cowboys are on offense that even London Fletcher is considering calling timeouts before the snap. The fans must be so quiet when the Redskins are on offense that Jason Garrett can hear every word whispered into Kyle Shanahan's headset directed at Robert Griffin III. When the Redskins score, the roof known as Heaven needs to be blown off the top of the world and John Mara all the way up in New York needs to be able to hear a fan base chanting.

2. RGIII must continue to be decisive. I've got full confidence in his ability to make the right reads pre- and post-snap. The kid has been excellent all year long, and he hasn't shown us anything to make us think he can't be vs. Dallas. We've seen RGIII play some very good football within the division, especially during this stretch. Anything can happen. He can look like a rookie finally. He may not be 100% still. But if he makes good decisions, he can win this football game and further establish his legend.

3. Run the football. Dallas' defense is depleted. They've got no interior presence on their D-Line or at Linebacker, and their safeties are underwhelming. Alfred Morris needs to be fed, and this is a great buffet for Alf. Expect to see Darrell Young get a few handoffs as well, and if he's capable, Robert Griffin III taking off up the middle like he did vs. Minnesota is a very likely possibility.

4. Execute playaction. Washington has run more playaction than any other team in the league. Robert Griffin III has had great success from playaction. Dallas' defense will be looking to hit the QB every single play, so sell the run-fake and hit your man deep. If Bob is making wise decisions, he'll hit the open guy and they'll do the rest.

5.  Do not give up big plays. This stretch has been defined on defense by bend but don't break play. It has worked. I don't know how much further we can bend, but hopefully we don't break now. However, there has been reason to get confident in our play. Jarvis Jenkins has really come on in recent weeks, and it has helped push QB's out of their comfort zone in the pocket and into the line of fire of the blitz. Haslett has employed more man-coverage which has really helped keep receivers off of their game. The linebackers, especially London Fletcher, have been seeing passes fall into their hands because quarterbacks have been trying to throw while getting hit and not having a spot to throw to because of the man coverage by the corners. Rob Jackson's emergence as a threat has seen him cause offenses to not roll their protection to one side, and Kerrigan has benefited from it. It also helps that Haslett has been flipping Kerrigan, so offensive linemen have to study more than just one guy. As long as this defense isn't trying to make a play, and instead just makes them when they're available, they can take advantage of their opportunities.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Alfred Morris Snubbed

Alright, I'm a Redskins fan. Die-hard. I love the team more than I like any other sports team, period. If I were a player in any sport, I wouldn't love my team as much as I love the Redskins. But anyone who has ever had a single discussion with me about football, knows I can keep it real about the NFL as much as anyone.

All homerism aside. Alfred Morris was easily the biggest snub in this year's NFL Pro Bowl. Don't get me wrong, there are some other big snubs, even Dez Bryant, who easily could have been named in place of Victor Cruz. This, once again, proves that the Pro Bowl is just a popularity contest. But to my point...

Alfred "Alf" Morris ranks among running backs as follows:

(NFL; NFC; Rookies)
Attempts - 302: 3rd2nd; 1st
Yards - 1,413: 4th3rd; 1st
Yards Per Carry - 4.7: 4th3rd; 1st
Yards Per Game - 94.2: 4th3rd; 1st
Touchdowns - 10: T-5thT-3rd; T-2nd
First Downs - 71: 4th2nd; 1st
20+ Yard Runs - 7: T-8thT-4th; 2nd

I'm not crazy, right? Look at where he ranks, league-wide, in 7 of the most major categories. He ranks way ahead of Frank Gore (who was selected) in almost every single category. Gore takes an edge in receiving, but it's nowhere near what Gore has done in years past. Many fans will say Gore's contributions have helped solidify his team to more wins; but I'll point them in the direction of Alfred Morris' best games (within his own division, for wins) whereas the 49ers have been less than spectacular within the NFC West.

A little off topic (not really, but sort of), I went on a rant on Twitter yesterday after reading that the NFL and Roger Goodell feel as though the level of play in the Pro Bowl isn't up to par with NFL games. First of all, the Pro Bowls of late have been scoring machines, especially by the offenses. Everything the NFL and Roger Goodell and the competition committee have done over the last 8 or 9 seasons have been to get the game to be played exactly like the Pro Bowls are. Limited contact. High scoring. It's their dream. So what's the problem? But I have a theory as to why the Pro Bowl isn't everything it's cracked up to be on paper; the players put in aren't always the most deserving. It's all about namesake. If the NFL wants to make the Pro Bowl a little more respectable, they'll start sending the All-NFC and All-AFC teams out, and then whoever is left on the All-Pro 2nd & 3rd Teams, and then perhaps a few alternates based on who barely missed making those lists.

I know it's fun for fans, players, and coaches to vote on the Pro Bowl but in reality, it hasn't worked in sending the best rosters to Hawaii. It's time to make a change, so that the clearly more deserving guys like Alfred Morris, don't get snubbed on a well-deserved trip and recognition.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Winter Vacation in London!!!

I haven't blogged in a while, and didn't yesterday.

I'm safe and sound here in London (or, Wimbledon to be exact). The flight (British Airways) was a long, agonizing journey. Walking through the terminal to board the plane, some lady decided she was just going to sneeze germs all over the place and pocketed her hands to do so like it was some sort of compulsive disorder. I immediately felt my immune system going to work to fight her damn germs. She sneezed multiple times on the plane as well. I was beside a lady on the plane who sang the entire way. Oddly enough, she had a very beautiful voice, but there's only so many songs in a row I can listen to by a single person before I go nuts... not to mention we took off at 10:30pm EST and landed at 10:30am local time at Heathrow... so it wasn't that joyful hearing singing all night when I intended to get some sleep. Speaking of sleep, there's absolutely no way imaginable to get comfortable in British Airways Economy to do so. As comfy as the actual flight was (hardly any turbulence), the seats are extremely uncomfortable. No leg room for someone under 6'0, and I'm 6'5 on my best days. No way you can rest upright and sleep without slumping over into the disaster position and scaring the fuck out of the entire population of the plane. Turning to the side doesn't work unless you intend to snuggle with your neighbor, who (not the singing lady, another lady) ironically looked a little like me. Before landing, one of the passengers "took ill" and needed medical attention upon landing, so we weren't allowed to exit the plane until paramedics got on and even then, it was difficult to get out.

I also, for the life of me, cannot figure out why when deboarding a plane, the flight crew doesn't make you do it row by row rather than everyone jump up at once and create a jam.

Anyways, I'm here in my studio relaxed after hitting the pub last night and finally getting some sleep after only 5 hours tops Saturday and Sunday night, and had an amazing Christmas with my lady today.

Hopefully I'll be keeping you all posted over the next 5 weeks.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mike Shanahan Deserves Your Respect

Mike Shanahan, head coach of the Washington Redskins, deserves respect and all the credit in the world.

I was looking over the Redskins’ roster last night, when I noticed the vast majority of this team is less than 28 years old. That really put quite a few things in perspective for me, one of the most important, that there are a lot of guys on this team who won’t see their prime begin for a few more seasons.

When Mike Shanahan took over this team, the Redskins were, on average, one of the five oldest teams in the entire NFL. Shanahan even made the team older, going with running backs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, WR Joey Galloway, and QB Donovan McNabb over Jason Campbell.

Redskins fans look back on year one in disgust. I’m quick to remind them we were transitioning to a 3-4 defense, a move that is never easy and instantly successful. I’m also quick to remind people of the following: Mike Shanahan had no other answer at Quarterback.

Redskins fans wanted Jake Locker and Mark Sanchez. They needed a rookie to come in with the new head coach and offensive coordinator. What Redskins fans fail to realize, is that Mike Shanahan didn’t feel comfortable with any of those options, and quietly felt he had to buy some time. McNabb’s dedication to the game of football was the problem, and something Mike hoped wouldn’t be, because Donovan ultimately was talented and good enough to win some games. And then the Haynesworth situation. But fans have to realize that Mike adopted a lot of Vinny Cerrato’s problems, and when cleaning up a mess, you’re going to want to throw some things out.

Then comes year two, and Redskins fans just knew we were going to get Blaine Gabbert, or Ryan Mallet. Instead, Shanahan drafts defense, and the offense is stuck with Rex Grossman and… John Beck? The truth is, Mike Shanahan didn’t like any of the quarterbacks he was going to have available. After seeing Gabbert for two seasons, it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have been the answer. What Shanahan saw was that he had one more year, and he could have a shot at a guy he loved. Admittedly, Robert Griffin III wasn’t on the RADAR at the beginning of last year, but a lot of these young QB’s were, and Shanahan knew he had a broader class to select from.

So he let fans think he was okay for another year, which he was. He settled for guys he was comfortable with opposed to guys he didn’t really like, and the end result of it all? He got himself one of the two QB’s that he really loved. He also did all of this with a young stable of running backs, and late in the year, focused on their game so they could improve the offensive line’s confidence despite injuries and suspensions.

And in the process of it all, the age turnover got even more impressive. The Redskins still aren’t one of the youngest teams in the league, but they’re considerably younger than they were, especially at skill positions like halfback and wide receiver.

In year three, a year I said would be a key year in the Shanaplan, Mike has his quarterback. He found a running back he and the fans love. He has a young stable of WR’s who have speed and play hard. He has an offensive line that is greatly improved (albeit, not quite good enough to take over every game). He has a young defense that started the year off rough but is settling down and starting to work together.

One of the biggest reasons I bring up the youth of this football team, is that they’re still learning how to play, how to play together, and how to win. We’ve lost so far under Mike Shanahan, but the entire turnover and all of the personnel decisions have a young team who don’t know anything about the losing culture. There are young, fiery guys alongside a few old, motivated, fiery veterans. There’s a blend of age that is suitable to success.

Not lost in all of this, is the NFL’s penalty of the Redskins which stole $36M in cap space from the Redskins over this year and next. Instead of complain and throw in the towel, Shanahan went about his business. At 3-6 in week 9, the Redskins looked every bit of $18M short of a good football team. But what none of us accounted for, was the hunger, the motivation, and the passion this team would find during their week 10 bye. Shanahan knew he had it. He told us with every guy he liked, a smile on his face, “he’s hungry, he loves the game, and he’s going to fight to make a play.”

We all got angry because we never saw it in all of these guys. We didn’t account for the team factor; the motivation of others. Perhaps Robert Griffin III diving to get a first down late in the game vs. the Panthers really sparked this fire, because since that play, wide receivers have been going after it, and running back Alfred Morris has been running violently. It surged the youth on this team, and guys started going all out. One young guy, who knows nothing about losing on this level, got sick of it, and went out of his way to show the team he still believed.

Having a Pierre Garcon back helps. Young WR’s can play the roles they were supposed to. Familiarity is back in the lineup. But Garcon playing through injury may be motivating this team even more. There’s no quit in this team. There’s just fight.

But the biggest credit goes to Mike Shanahan. He showed patience, and he found the guys he loves instead of the guys he really liked. Yes, there are positions that need vast improvement. Even some of Shanahan’s guys have been far less than stellar, yet he has a majority of his team. And his team, right now, is in control of their destiny trying to make a postseason run for the first time since 2007.

Oh, and remember when Donovan McNabb said Mike & Kyle Shanahan were stubborn and couldn't adapt to the strengths of their QB. Something tells me this year is a great big, "Screw you!" to Donovan McNabb from Mike & Kyle.

Also, say thanks to Daniel Snyder, who told people he was going to finally step back and let a coach do his thing.

Friday, December 14, 2012

We're All Hurt and Shocked... So What Now?

I've spent the greater part of this day witnessing anger, shock and teary-eyed grief. The loss of lives that had barely begun is a loss too tragic for words. But I sit here and I wonder... What will come of the outrage? What will come of our collective pain? Tweets? Facebook updates? Blog posts? Will that be the end of it?

I do not intend to disparage the internet. I recognize that it is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. The internet raises the accessibility of information and makes communication easier with its instantaneity. I understand that some don't see the need for high accessibility or instantaneous communication on a truly global scale. Misuse of information and fraud are what open both of those benefits of the internet to criticism. But for those of us who have designs on public positions in society, this tool is beyond invaluable. To take it a step farther, the internet may just be the only tool average men and women have left to reestablish the freedoms humankind has lost and is continuing to lose.

But with that said, I must admit that not too long ago, I was on the cusp of making the jump off the grid. More than simply deactivating my social networking profiles though, I intended to become a ghost. No home, no address, no belongings, nothing. I had been giving this fringe-of-society lifestyle serious thought. It seemed to be sensible at the time. If death is promised us, if we cannot save our loved ones, let alone the world, what purpose does it serve to live in this system that hampers our ingenuity, insults our intelligence and imprisons our souls? Are our lives meant solely for mere existence? I said and say no. Under that impression, I considered running away from it all, as there seemed to be greater freedom in the world beyond mainstream society's borders. But in the wake of tragedies both personal and external, I surmised that such a life was a disservice to my Self, other human beings and Earth in general.

Pain educated me and I finally understood. There is no freedom for a single man while the rest of his family is in chains... and any perception of freedom in that circumstance is a delusion.

Understand me: the life off the grid is merely an escape from the meaninglessness, not a solution to it. Those who not only see but also understand the meaninglessness in and the senselessness behind most of society's customs are the ones who have the greatest intuitive insight on how to build toward a better future. And it is they who are the most culpable in the failure of humankind to advance beyond its current stage. But it is important to note that some of those visionaries are so encumbered by internalized attitudes that they view their powerful insight as an insurmountable lostness. They misunderstand their divine eyesight as a relegation to a life as a purposeless outcast, rather than as an elevation to the pedestal of true greatness. Worse still, there are those of them who have become so utterly jaded and expectant of doom that they reject society altogether and just run, largely keeping to themselves while the rest of humanity swirls around the drain.

Upon reflection, I found that to be an utterly disgusting state of being. To run and hide while others suffer, to be at ease and free of worry while the world is in turmoil… that is truly an unconscionable cowardice. Enlightened to the true nature of freedom and how life should be as opposed to how it is, I immersed myself in my studies because the act of professing my beliefs articulately should be as natural as breathing to me. But I see now that there is no time left for mere study. Now is the time to begin our work, the grand task of establishing humanity and harmony with life as the supreme end of our existence. I believe very firmly in human beings and their potential. Not just the potential of our callow youth, but also the potential of my fellow young adults and even our elders.

Today's tragedies in America and in China are a reminder that life is not a thing we as individuals can possess forever. Life is, however, a thing that we as a people can share with the next generation, on and on for as long as man exists. Today should also serve as a reminder that we cannot allow tragedies to cause us to forget our social, political and economic woes. Instead, it must make us more aware of those issues, it must make us more dedicated to surmounting them.

Live your life so that those around you and those coming after you may have life more abundantly. Stand up and begin to make noise in your communities. Speak as your cautious and fearful minds have longed to speak. Act as your aching and tired hearts and longed to act. Be as your soul has always begged you to be. Become that which lies dormant within but is destined to surface: great. You who call yourself outcast, embrace your vision and lead us, help us shape the world we have all dreamed of. Let us all begin to live as we should have always lived, let us begin to love as we should always have loved...

May love ever possess you, may peace come into your life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Should Professional Athletes Be Mentally Evaluated?

When I first heard news of the Jovan Belcher incident (before the reports that he had taken the life of his child's mother), one of my initial reactions was, "maybe he wasn't mentally functional." Since learning the details, I believe it's safe to assume that perhaps that wasn't the case, but I brought up something that I wanted people to consider. Professional athletes should have regular, mandatory mental evaluations.

This could be applied to any profession. People need to be properly diagnosed for any number of issues, stress and familial included. But athletes, I believe, could be at a higher risk for doing things the average citizen may not do.

That's not to say that I believe every professional athlete is a murderer. Far from it. But perhaps evaluations could have prevented deceased Bengals' WR Chris Henry from making a decision to put himself into a situation that ultimately cost him his life. Maybe Plaxico Burress doesn't carry a handgun to a club and end up in prison, embarrassingly. Or we don't even have a Michael Vick, dog-fighting, drug-funding, suspension & prison stint.

I believe that all professional athletes should be evaluated by both a psychologist, and a psychiatrist. During the season, it should be a weekly process (at least in the NFL with concussions and constant, violent contact), and during the offseason, perhaps monthly near home. These are guys who rely on raw emotion and often block out their typical mental functions to focus on a physical act. We still don't know what kind of damage adrenaline can do to the body or the organs (the brain in particular), and what the kind of physical stress athletes put themselves through ultimately do to their mindstate. I also don't want to just color this image of violence, rage, and aggression. Depression could also be a major risk (as we've learned from the countless suffering from brain trauma due to concussions).

If players want an example of what seeing specialists can do for their lives, look no further than current Chicago Bears WR Brandon Marshall, who suffers from borderline personality disorder (BDP). Marshall confessed to having no idea why all of the perfect things he had in his life meant so little to him, and all of the sad, unfortunate instances of domestic abuse and personal demons were really burying the talented young man. But he finally saw a psychologist, and Marshall believes it saved his life.

Perhaps some athletes could learn to become better teammates and more self-controlling. Perhaps they find ways to cope with the effects of being released or traded by a team. Maybe they find out they can be better family-oriented people. Or maybe they learn to be wiser with their time and money.

Every year at the NFL Rookie Symposium, a speech is given trying to tell these young men that they need to be careful who they hang out with, where they hang out with, who they buy a home from, who they let manage their money, how they personally manage their money. But being a member of a large group of guys and hearing that talk can cause you to brush it off. You may feel invincible (especially as an athlete) or as though they're talking to someone else in the room because you've never had those problems and some of these other rookies were notorious for it in college. Then you make a mistake, and another.

Look at embattled veteran and future Hall of Famer, Terrell Owens. His financial troubles were a major storyline this NFL offseason. Look at Allen Iverson, who spends more money weekly than he makes. Look at Michael Jordan and the gambling issues that contributed to many downfalls in his personal life. Look at Dallas Cowboys' OT Tyron Smith, who has had to get a protective order against his parents and siblings because they harassed him over their own desire for financial gain.

These are guys who could have been tremendous role models for any child, until it came to money. Not all financial problems are self-imposed, but a lot are. A lot of athletes come from broken homes with very little family income. When they get that first paycheck, many of them don't know what to do with it. Some of them want all the things they never had when growing up. Many of them trust the first investor they come across. Maybe an evaluation can help them control their financial urges and do the wise thing.

Mental evaluations aren't concrete, nor would they be the end-all of problems that athletes face. Many problems exist outside of an athlete's control, as they do in any walk of life, and are often magnified for an athlete because of their celebrity status; but evaluating these men (and women) could lead to huge improvements in their life, their mind, their pockets, their marriage/relationship, and their career. All commissioners and club owners in professional sports need to take it upon themselves to get their athletes the best evaluations possible to enhance the quality of their life. They owe it to the athletes.

Friday, December 7, 2012

My American Dream

In order for there to be freedom, human curiosity cannot be limited. To be human is to seek understanding. In understanding there is love, there is camaraderie, there is friendship, there is community, there is togetherness and there is wholeness. Yet throughout human history, humankind has worked diligently to inhibit our most natural inclination. The inevitable consequence of limiting curiosity is the emergence of the harbinger of our intellectual, moral and physical deaths: Apathy. With each passing decade, Apathy grows ever stronger, enveloping our minds, deadening our hearts and destroying our souls. The apathetic are empty, they are devoid of the emotions that characterize humanity, they seek nothing, pursue nothing and do nothing, they are perpetually depressed and incapable of discovering why. Apathy thrives in America and it is the greatest cause for the physical, intellectual and moral deterioration of our nation. To stave off the inevitable cataclysm that such a decline will invite, curiosity must be unfettered, it must be allowed to search and explore and it must be given the room to grow and mature. In centuries past, human curiosity was curtailed by the institution of religion which decided on our behalf what we ought to believe. It follows that the next great impediment to human liberation is the institution of school, which decides on our behalf how we ought to think and what we ought to know. School has indeed replaced religion, inhibiting our curiosity with an all too similar hierarchical ordering of society. Where America once paved the way for religious freedom, it must again strive for the growth of humanity and build toward educational freedom.

A clear distinction must be made between schooling and education. Schooling is the process by which human beings are conditioned to compartmentalize themselves and their dreams. The school is a paragon of rigidity, an inflexible machine that demands mindless grade based competition. Rather than encourage understanding, schools demand the memorization and regurgitation of information to which no real attachment is ever built. Rather than allow children to naturally gravitate toward one another, school enforces separatism, dividing human beings according to age and the ability to memorize and regurgitate. Rather than allow the developing minds of children to explore and discover the world and its wonders, school imposes disconnected and meaningless curricula upon them. None of this is to say undeveloped minds are not in need of guidance. It is to say that children are naturally inquisitive and thus do not need the forceful hand of school in order to become exploratory in their behavior. An education is not an indistinguishable commodity manufactured by teachers in a school building. An education is the development of unique and invaluable physical skills, intellectual powers and moral understandings acquired first through simply living, then through having our curiosity nurtured and our thought processes challenged. Thus, it is meaningless to have curriculums that divide highly interconnected fields of study into separate subjects. The only end such curriculums serve is to teach the human mind to compartmentalize the multifaceted nature of life and rationalize it as being a jumbled mess of disparate and unrelated parts, when it is instead a whole composed of inexorably interwoven wholes. It is also meaningless to have curriculums that are structured to confine boundless fields of study into thirty minute periods. All such a structure does is teach our minds to open and stifle curiosity at a moment’s notice, which is one of the two direct causes for the unreasonably short attention spans of children. The other cause is television, both of which serve our minds unrelated, time constrained segments that train us to forget the immediate past and to disregard the future unless it holds immediate gratification. Disarmed by this manufactured need for immediacy, children remain children as their bodies mature into physical adulthood, almost irreversibly and nearly incurably disabled by the Apathy that pervades our entire society.

Education, the antithesis of schooling, is open and fluid, governed solely by curiosity. It is the act of arming an individual with the tools necessary to develop oneself intellectually, emotionally and morally for mature life. True education features a malleable structure, allowing for educators, and most importantly learners themselves, to adapt said structure to individual needs and wants. Children first develop their natures through internalizing the attitudes, behaviors and actions of the major influences in their lives. As they mature, they discover their true selves by sifting through these internalized influences for the most deeply resonant ones, then augmenting these understandings with their own personal perceptions. School, limited by meaningless curricula, divisive policies and empty standards, can do nothing to aid individuals on that journey. If a school ever offers anything of educational worth, it is wholly because the school building has become the only place where children are allowed to be. Hiring well-intentioned teachers is not a solution because they too are limited by the meaningless curricula and empty standards. Students inevitably admire these well-intentioned teachers solely for their extraordinary patience and commendable dedication. Students rarely, if ever, come to appreciate the actual material being forced upon them. Universal education through schooling is infeasible and unrealizable because schooling implies education is entirely the result of being taught. Human beings will, and have, internalize a crippling dependency on institutions following such a blind assumption. The answer, then, is to reject the ideology that education can only result from being taught and replace it with the understanding that while education can benefit from direct instruction, it results more wholly and more usefully from self-discovery.

Self-discovery was once a defining principle of American society. It was summed up in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights… among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Education is all at once a matter of life, liberty and happiness. In the absence of an education, human beings are robbed of the opportunity to live, left to merely exist in a state of unlimited suffering, painful aimlessness, incorrigible shiftlessness, crushing ineptitude, soul shattering lostness and hateful ignorance, all of which compound an already fatally confounding incapacity: the inability to understand Self. The impact education has on living should not and must never be undermined, as it is from its absence that our fellow human beings have been driven to suicide, an insoluble madness stemming directly from the inability to comprehend. All current impediments to living life freely can be directly attributed to a lack of education, to the absence of nurturing guidance and direct challenges to our innermost thought processes.

First robbed of life, the uneducated man is simultaneously relieved of liberty. Liberty is the ability of an individual to exercise control over their Self. Animals, unencumbered by the blessed curse of Reason, are motivated largely by Instinct and are thus unable to exercise full control over their actions. But we humans, gifted with Reason, have the innate potential for mastery of Self and understanding of divine Nature and the Universe. If these things are accepted as liberty in its fullest and most complete form, then any laws prohibiting men from reaching those thresholds should be considered sinister and heinous. Compulsory schooling is such a law, as it promotes merely adequacy while demanding, at minimum, ten years of our lives.

Robbed of life and relieved of liberty, the uneducated man is also deprived of the ability to pursue happiness. Happiness is not a thing that can be universally defined, but it can be understood as a state of mental well-being. But for a moment, let us ignore what happiness is or is not, as it becomes irrelevant when it is understood that the uneducated man has not the tools to pursue anything. The uneducated man resolves himself to aimlessness for the sake of tranquility and he commits himself to drudgery in the name of productivity. He does not pursue anything, he holds still and waits. Mental well-being itself becomes a remote fantasy, something to be dreamed about but never sought for. To be uneducated is to be all at once denied life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Though he is clearly the antithesis of all it means to be a citizen of the United States, the uneducated man is ubiquitous in American society. I am him. Your school aged sons, daughters, nephews and nieces, they are him. Our college aged brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, they are him. Our middle aged parents, they have become him. Even our grandparents, who carry what are now vestigial remnants of previous generations, have been subsumed. And you, you who may long for something greater than what exists now, you too are him. The Americans who are not him are long dead, and those who seek to free their Selves from his grasp have been killed, imprisoned or otherwise ostracized. His existence is a genetically engineered cancer that pervades and poisons every facet of American society. And this cancer exists as a direct result of the educationally worthless American school system. Given that that is the case, it must then be understood that the American school system is inherently anti-American.

But before we are Americans, we are first human beings. Laws propagated by government representatives in order to control how human beings are educated are as sinister and as ill-intentioned as those laws which once controlled how human beings practiced religion. It is both abhorrent and unconscionable to impose laws which serve to first impede human growth then unabashedly mitigate the full liberty of human beings. It is this understanding that necessitates the following statement: The American school system is inherently anti-human.

Increased funding is not a solution because the American school system is not a thing that can be repaired. It is not damaged, it is not broken. It is in fine working order, it does exactly as it was intended to do. It produces a pacified and predictable public that can easily be monitored and controlled. It does this by taking the curious human mind and stripping it of all its natural affinities, until all that is left is a receptive, passive and apathetic husk. Human beings are schooled enough to be deemed adequate by the society in which they live, never for the purpose of self-mastery or for the purpose of fully understanding the world around them. The average American adult will have spent at least 10 years of their life being schooled in mathematics and English, but is incapable of articulating anything more than the most basic processes of arithmetic, is inhibited by poor vocabularies and is largely unable to maintain oral or written coherence. Americans are expected to begin the journey of self-mastery in their late teen years and early twenties, even though life clearly begins at birth. And as a result, the purpose behind our beings becomes buried beneath societal goals we have been forced to internalize. Though initially victims of circumstance, we ultimately grow to become our own hostages, imprisoned behind the bars of false incapacities that we ourselves prescribe and straightjacketed by crippling notions of our own design.

If we are to advance as human beings, there is no other recourse than to utterly abolish this mockery of reality and liberate ourselves and our children from this systematic genocide against the human mind. It is time we forever end this destructive and all together useless system of compulsory schooling. In its place, we must devise a system wherein education is regarded as an invaluable treasure, not as a costly commodity. Instead of demanding money and encouraging debt, this system would demand compensation only in the form of spreading knowledge. In lieu of school buildings and classrooms, this system would allow for all places, or in particular, specialty learning centers, workplaces, homes, parks and community gathering places, to serve as educational bases. Teachers would no longer exist as instructor, pedagogue, psychiatrist, judge, baby sitter, police officer and priest all rolled in one, nor would they have to lead classes of unreasonable amounts of children. Educators would instead serve us on a more individual basis as moderators to our intellectual inquiries. Curricular schooling, from which very few retain anything of substance, would cease to be the norm. Instead, informational and educational resources would be afforded to those of all ages with the utmost accessibility, allowing curiosity to be the principal guide for a learner’s mind. Government officials, who are merely the representatives of our will, must not be allowed to decide when, where or how we learn. That is a decision that must be left to us, our parents and our communities. Neither the homeschool nor the charter school extend far enough to free us of our educational shackles, as they too are governed by state regulations. Furthermore, it must be made illegal for employers to question an educational background in the same way that it is both taboo and illegal for employers to question religious affiliation. By giving credence to an Ivy League embossed paper rather than the human being the paper is meant to represent, we strip our society of humanity by denying ourselves the opportunity to truly discover the breadth of our abilities. The idea that college schooled individuals are more suitable for the task of leading our world is an illusion that must immediately be dispersed. Competency and ability must be the only questionable aspects of human being in regard to employability. Education must be made as free as religion in this nation. To this end, a new amendment to our Constitution must read:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of education, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Though such action will not immediately solve our dilemma, it will be a step in the right direction. In order for the next generation to be free, it is upon us who are of age and of sound mind to deschool society. Such a call to action is far deeper than merely opening education to the free market, which would inevitably invite failure and doom. This is a call for Americans to rediscover what it means to be educated, what it means to be an American and most importantly, what it means to be a human being. We must decide together what the supreme ends of humanity are; we must search together for our purpose here. Should any government, established or burgeoning, ever form against us in that regard, it shall not prosper, as it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such government and provide new Guards for our future security, for this is our heritage, the heritage of humankind, child and caretaker of the Earth.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kobe Bean Bryant: The Greatest Laker of All Time?

Having just eclipsed the 30,000 point mark and being only the 5th player in the NBA's 66 year existence to do so, Bean has been anointed by analysts as the greatest to ever don the purple and gold.

Even Magic Johnson, arguably the greatest point guard to have ever played the game, has given Bean the nod. But I believe Earvin is simply crediting a younger man, and by association, the present generation, over a past athlete. That's something I understand and respect, very admirable of him to step aside and hand the title over to Kobe. But since we are spectators, we don't have to honor such things. So to begin this argument, let's take a look at the franchise leaders for the Lakers.

Los Angeles Laker Franchise Records
All-Time Leader in Seasons Played: Kobe Bryant (17)
All-Time Leader in Games Played: Kobe Bryant (1,107)
All-Time Leader in Minutes Played: Kobe Bryant (42,888)
All-Time Leader in Points Scored: Kobe Bryant (30,016)
All-Time Leader in Rebounds: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10,279)
All-Time Leader in Assists: Magic Johnson (10,141)
All-Time Leader in Steals: Kobe Bryant (1,753)
All-Time Leader in Blocks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2,694)
All-Time Leader in Field Goal Percentage: Wilt Chamberlain (.604)
All-Time Leader in 3-Point Field Goal Percentage: Larry Drew (.404)
All-Time Leader in Free Throw Percentage: Cazzie Russell (.877)

All-Time Leader in Playoff Games Played: Kobe Bryant (220)
All-Time Leader In Playoff Minutes Played: Kobe Bryant (8,641)
All-Time Leader in Playoff Points Scored: Kobe Bryant (5,640)
All-Time Leader in Playoff Rebounds: Wilt Chamberlain (1,783)
All-Time Leader in Playoff Assists: Magic Johnson (2,436)
All-Time Leader in Playoff Steals: Magic Johnson (358)
All-Time Leader in Playoff Blocks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (437)

Kobe owns several Laker records and that's a strong argument for being the greatest Laker ever. But three other names make repeated appearances: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson. Wilt's contributions as a Laker were negligible, so I'm going to disregard him. Also, an honorable mention must be made for George Mikan, as he led the early Lakers to five titles. But the league was weak even in the wake of Mikan's stardom. So let's compare the work the other three did as Lakers:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kobe Bryant
Magic Johnson
8x NBA Finalist
7x NBA Finalist
9x NBA Finalist
5x NBA Champion
5x NBA Champion
5x NBA Champion
1x Finals MVP
2x Finals MVP
3x Finals MVP
14x All-Star
14x All-Star
12x All-Star
0x All-Star MVP
4x All-Star MVP
2x All-Star MVP
6x All-NBA 1st Team
10x All-NBA 1st Team
9x All-NBA 1st Team
4x All NBA 2nd Team
2x All-NBA 2nd Team
1x All-NBA 2nd Team
2x All NBA 3rd Team
0x All NBA 3rd Team
0x All NBA 3rd Team
4x All-Defensive First Team
9x All-Defensive 1st Team
0x All-Defensive 1st Team
4x All-Defensive 2nd Team
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team
0x All-Defensive 2nd Team
0x Scoring Champion
2x Scoring Champion
0x Scoring Champion
0x Assist Leader
0x Assist Leader
4x Assist Leader
1x Rebounding Champ
0x Rebounding Champ
0x Rebounding Champ
4x Block Leader
0x Block Leader
0x Block Leader

Some of you may have read the Kareem column and found it to be off, but remember, we're only talking the Lakers franchise. Frankly, if Kareem had played the entirety of his careers with the Lakers, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. The fact of the matter is this: Kareem's 6 year tenure as a Milwaukee Buck is what opens the door for Bryant(and even Magic, for that matter). But since we're talking the undisputed King of all Lakerdom, I think we should try to break these stats down some more. So let's discuss their work in the regular season, the postseason and as ambassadors for the game of basketball.

Regular Season Dominance:
Kareem: 3 MVP awards, 1 rebounding title, 4 block titles, 10 All-NBA selections, 8 All-Defense selections
Magic: 2 MVP awards, 4 assist titles, 10 All-NBA selections
Kobe: 1 MVP award, 2 scoring titles, 14 All-NBA selections, 12 All Defense selections

Magic was an offensive player of the highest caliber, having been recognized as the best in the league twice. His 10 All-NBA selections and his 4 assist titles cement his status as an elite offensive talent. But where he falls out of contention in this discussion is on the defensive end. Magic has never been thought of as a top tier defender(zero All-Defensive selections). Kareem however, had an explosive dominance on both ends of the court in his first decade as an NBA player, but into his second, his prowess as a defender and scorer waned(his effectiveness remained intact though).

Kobe however, is putting up some of the best numbers of his career in this, his 17th season. It's safe to say that Kobe is easily best two-way player of the three, making his presence felt on both offense and defense in two different decades. Kobe's durability has allowed him to not only stand the test of time, but also to improve as he got older, winning the scoring title in his later seasons. But for all his celebrity as an elite offensive player, he has only been recognized as the best in the league once.

Of the three, Kareem is easily the most decorated regular season basketball player. His elite stature as an offensive player is obvious via his rebounding title(defensive rebounds begin the offensive play) and his 10 All-NBA selections(less than Kobe but equaling Magic). But where I give Kareem separation is here: He was thrice acknowledged as the best offensive talent in the league, once more than Magic and twice more than Kobe. Bryant has more defensive team selections than Abdul-Jabbar. Why? Kobe has been effective at shutting down the person he's been assigned to guard and Kareem was never a great 1-on-1 defender. But if we inspect a little closer, a lot of that is because Kobe has spent most of his career only defending the other team's weakest perimeter player.

Traditionally, players like Fisher, Rick Fox, Radmonovic, Ariza and World Peace were assigned to guard the best perimeter player on the other team, helping to preserve Kobe's energy for the offensive end. In the Boston series in '08, Bryant defended Rondo most of the time, the weakest perimeter player the Celtics had to offer. But Kareem was always assigned to guard the best post player the other team had to offer. Kareem was outmatched by players like Sampson and Olajuwon in his later years and had to rely on help from Rambis, but he remained an effective defender and was able to rack up four block titles because of his prowess as a help defender. Kobe's All-Defensive selections are a bit inflated, but I won't and can't take anything away from the man. I just have a healthy respect for Kareem's contributions to the Lakers as a defender.

Regular Season Edge: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Championship Pedigree:
Magic Johnson: 9 Western Conference titles, 5 NBA titles, 3 Finals MVP awards.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 8 Western Conference titles, 5 NBA titles, 1 Finals MVP award.
Kobe Bryant: 7 Western Conference titles, 5 NBA titles, 2 Finals MVP awards.

In the Finals, Kobe is 5-2, Kareem is 5-3 and Magic is 5-4. Kobe's record may appear to be the best, but both Kobe's Finals losses came as a result of a near sweep and embarrassing blowouts. Magic and Kareem were embarrassed in two of their Finals losses together(Dr. J swept them in '83, Dumars swept them in '89). Magic's 4th Finals loss came against Jordan in embarrassing fashion, as Jordan's Bulls sent him home after 5 games in '91. But Kareem and Magic managed one respectable loss, coming in a very competitive 7 game series against Bird's Celtics in '84.

The Kareem-led Lakers('75-'79) never made the Finals. It wasn't until Magic Johnson debuted that Kareem was able to see the Finals as a Laker. And in that series, rookie Magic Johnson was named the MVP. In fact, including that first title, Magic would win the Finals MVP award three times with Abdul-Jabbar on his team. Kareem won the Finals MVP award once in '85, but it was clear: While Kareem was captain of the team, he was only the anchor to Showtime, Magic was the engine. Magic was able to win Western Conference championship in '91 even without Kareem, something Kareem was incapable of without Magic. So I will give Magic's championship pedigree the nod over Abdul-Jabbar's.

As for Kobe... Well, first and foremost, we have to acknowledge that Magic always had a more talented team behind him. Worthy, Wilkes and Abdul-Jabbar helped composed a more effective starting five than any starting five Kobe has played with to this point(the floundering 2012-13 squad included). But with that said, let's not give Kobe too much leeway simply because Magic's Lakers were better. The level of competition that Magic played against in the Finals was also much higher. Dr. J's 6ers, Bird's Celtics and Zeke's Pistons were all of a higher caliber than any team Bryant played against in his 7 Finals appearances, save the 2008 Celtics.

So while Magic's Laker rosters were better than Bryant's, the teams Magic conquered were also better than any Bryant faced. Kareem couldn't even lead his rosters to the Finals, so I can't even put him in the conversation. Magic led his Lakers to more Finals appearances and won the most Finals MVPs of the three, so I give him the nod.

Edge: Magic Johnson


Let's be honest. Fans don't watch the game to see big men. And this was worsened by the fact that the Kareem that most fans saw wasn't the Kareem that deserved the attention. 80s-era Kareem was not the explosive scorer nor the dominant player that the 70s Kareem was. But even for all his dominance in the 70s, Kareem brought no real fanfare to a struggling league. Kobe, however, has been one of the greatest forces in the sports entertainment industry. With his high flying acrobatics, sensational dunks and a Slam Dunk Championship to boot, Kobe electrified fans in the late 90s and throughout the 2000s. His masterful footwork has confounded defenses and enthralled newer fans in the early years of this new decade. Bean has been touted as the best player of his generation and rightfully so, he has entertained the masses expertly.

But only one Laker legend can be said to have rebuilt the league. He and his Celtic counterpart saved a league that was circling the drain. An impact that changed the nature of professional basketball altogether, there is no denying who is the most important and most dynamic Laker of all time.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

With his stellar no look passes driving an up-tempo, exciting style of basketball, Magic Johnson reinvigorated the passion of a disinterested fan base. People didn't tune into games to see Kareem work in the low post. They tuned in to see Magic Johnson whip a pass past a defender's head and into a teammate's seemingly unsuspecting hands. The only rival for Magic's creativity as a passer was the Pistol, but Maravich came a decade too early for proper exposure. Magic's rivalry with Bird drove viewership to unprecedented levels, a feat no player but Jordan can lay claim to. As much as one may want to say that there would have been no Magic without Bird(double entendre? lol), the fact is that Magic was the celebrity that revived the league. Playing in what was arguably the league's biggest market, Magic's infectious smile and his room warming laughter coupled with his reliable scoring and unbelievably flashy passing abilities sold him to the masses. Bird on the other hand, though equally as confident(arrogant? lol) in his abilities, was indifferent. Bird was cold, he was cerebral, he played with grit and not flash. But all that said, Bird was indeed vital to the resurgence of the NBA. Bird's basketball acumen was off the charts, his shooting abilities among the best the league had ever and has ever seen. Bird's nonathletic play and icy demeanor were the perfect foil to the flamboyance of Johnson, which made their rivalry all the more palpable. The NBA of today is the house that Magic Johnson built(and the home that Michael Jordan renovated into a mansion lol).

Edge: Magic Johnson

Summary: Kobe owns most of the Laker franchise records, but Magic changed the course of not only Laker history, but also NBA history with his play. Kareem is statistically the best player of the three, but his stint as a Buck rob him of an undisputed title as the greatest Laker ever. If Kobe wins one more title as a Finals MVP(something that is not unfeasible), I will be able to both acknowledge and respect the opinion of Kobe being the greatest Laker ever. But since he is tied with Kareem and Magic, I cannot respect that claim as I have to hold him to their standard. Both Magic and Bean played their entire careers as Lakers, but Kobe's story pales in comparison to Magic's legend. Magic is a top 5 player of all time, the greatest point guard the league has ever seen. Kobe is, at best, a top 10 player of all time and the second greatest shooting guard in league history. Magic was  the engine that drove the Lakers to 9 Western Conference championships and 5 NBA championships between 1979-80 and 1990-91. Seven of Earvin's nine WC titles were chiefly driven by his play at point guard, whereas four of Kobe's seven WC titles were driven chiefly by Shaquille O'Neal(though by 2003-04, the scales were tipping toward Kobe). And since championships are our biggest measuring stick for all-time greatness, I tip my hat to the Magic man.

The Greatest Laker of all Time: 
Earvin "Magic" Johnson*
*for now. lol