Any Way The Wind Blows

By now, you and everyone else tuned into the sports world knows that the Raiders are leaving Oakland and setting sail for Las Vegas.

You don’t need to be a Raiders fan to surmise just how devastating this is for a local community that not only remained loyal to its team through the previous exodus out of Oakland when the team moved to LA in 1982 but also through the 13 season-long nightmare that began the day the Tampa Bay Buccaneers disassembled the Raiders in the “Pirate Bowl.”

You don’t need to know just how compellingly promising the immediate future is for this new, young Raiders team, a swashbuckling crew lead by the venerable Captain Jack Del Rio and his first mate Derek Carr, arguably the most exciting young quarterback in the league today, to know how precarious the timing of the team leaving Oakland really is.

Neither is the historically sloppy and inefficient local politics of the City of Oakland and its struggle with sustaining three professional sports teams all demanding new stadiums required reading for you to grasp the most singularly salient takeaway here:

These people of the City of Oakland, of the East Bay… nay, of Northern California itself… have been pillaged and left for dead. Again.

There is plenty of sorrow and rage to go around right now and you don’t have to look very hard to find blogs and tweets and Facebook tirades to observe the great divide growing within the ranks of the Raider Nation (the only true “Nation,” by the way lol had to, sorry) and all the finger-pointing as to exactly who is at fault here.

At the risk of sounding like the one thing everybody in today’s charged socio-political terrain rails on for supposedly having no backbone, I can only offer one nugget of centrist wisdom and it is entirely up to you to see its worth and decide whether or not you are willing to accept it: It Is What It Is. Nobody and everybody are to blame.


The Blame Game

Mark Davis did exactly what his father, the great patriarch of the Raider family, would have done and in fact tried to do when he moved to Los Angeles in the first place. The younger Davis was in no position to be able to afford a new stadium on his own and any new investor would have required a chunk of the team that would almost undoubtedly relinquish majority ownership from the Davis family. That’s not an option nor should it have ever been. Say what you will about Mark and his hair-do or his infamous white caravan or his proclivity towards being a common man in a rather uncommon position but his family poured their heart and soul into the franchise and asking them to give it up for a stadium is no different than someone asking you to give up ownership of the house your father built just in order for you to live in it.  Then Oakland tripled the rent to force action. That was too much to ask.

The City of Oakland, though strapped with stark demographic disparity, overrun by a surfeit of tech-millennial gentrification, mired in failing municipal infrastructure and plagued with a dysfunctional city council struggling to bring Oakland closer to par with its shiny, worldly neighbor, wasn’t going to be able to provide public funding for a stadium even if it wanted to. Hell, the city barely was bailed out a little over a year ago by Alameda County of $100 million of the monstrosity of bad deals known infamously as Mt. Davis… and it was being asked to fund another gargantuan Davisonian project? Quan couldn’t find a solution. Schaaf desperately patchworked a handful of proposals that were so hastily concocted it drew the embarrassing public criticism of a man in Commissioner Roger Goodell whose credibility is as shot as Julie Andrews’ voice. That was too much to ask.

Sure, Las Vegas was willing to plunk down $750 million (!!!) in public funding to help build a stadium. That is certainly not an offer you can scoff at. It isn’t one that Oakland could match; not in any of our wildest dreams could they muster up enough local support off the backs of people scraping to get by on the day to day nor could they saddle their coffers with another loan of that magnitude. And Mark Davis? He’d be a colossal fool to turn away from that sum with the principled dogmatic martyrdom of settling on sharing the “Mausoleum” with the equally frustrated and disgruntled Oakland Athletics for another decade while the socioeconomic trends of the East Bay continued to offer no reprieve. That was too much to ask.

In the end, nobody could do anything. The City of San Francisco was very easily able to absorb the Golden State Warriors (and they were very gladly willing to move down the street from the incomparable AT&T Park in their very own fancy jewel by the bay), Nevada had money to spare and an ardent desire to get in on the pro sports fun (welcoming not one but two professional sports teams seemingly overnight after being blacklisted for decades), and the City of Oakland is barely lucky to keep the A’s.

Shit, at least we keep the A’s. Although anybody even topically aware of the bay area sports scene knows that the A’s had long been rumored of leaving, themselves, and their stance essentially opposite the Raiders in this endless and fruitless tug-o-war has left an eerie fog around them that even the most ardently loyal A’s/Raider fans are going to feel uneasy about.

We lost one child in order to save another. Ugh.


A Pirate’s Life

Alas, Raider Nation, the crew is packing their things and readying the sloop for its voyage to the desert. It’ll unfortunately be a drawn-out affair, a long farewell. Like a true band of scallywag privateers, they’ll leave nothing behind, tethering their loot across the sea to their new home and with them a king’s bounty. Three super bowl trophies, 25 hall-of-famers (19 of which are inducted as Raiders), a shield unlike any other and a legacy of battered and bruised miscreants wreaking havoc upon the gridiron will go with them. And a song. A song that not only typified the boisterous swagger of these unmatched warriors of the pigskin but the very game itself and the autumn wind that pervades its very soul.

Oakland’s citizens, understandably, want them to leave now. They do not want to spend two years saying goodbye. Not now, not with the Raiders finally a force to be reckoned with again, their swagger returned, their song bellowing through the September breeze once again. The hurt just runs too deep for the people who know in their hearts that their next parking lot bash may be their last one.

But hear me out: the Raiders are sailing into uncharted waters to a new land where there is no precedent for how any of this will play out. They are as likely to succeed there as they are to fail. The biggest concern is two-fold: on one hand, Sheldon Adelson bailing on the Raiders forced them to haphazardly take an unfriendly Bank Of America loan that could capsize the whole dang ship into the murky depths of the unforgiving sea. On the other hand, the move to Vegas, while promising a new state-of-the-art stadium on the strip in a state not beleaguered by an income tax, is effectively a move from the seventh most vital market in the United States (YAY AREA WUT) to the 45th market. That is not a good look.

Therein lies the excitement for many a Raider fan who, like the pirates and prospectors of old, are ever looking to the horizon for new lands to plunder and new unknown challenges to conquer. Nobody knows exactly how it’ll go down in Vegas but the NFL (as well as the NHL with the Golden Knights) may very well catalyze the market into a more competitive one fiscally by creating more jobs around the sports team and growing a new industry in the Sin City that it has sorely needed outside of the casino and hospitality industries. Perhaps that in and of itself, befittingly, is the gamble.

Then again, the NFL could be falling flat on its face (again) by allowing three team relocations within a year’s time one of which (the Rams) has already demonstrated to be less than ideal only to join it with another potential market failure (the Chargers) in the league’s long-standing jewel of their eye, LA. Could the NFL have just played its LA and LV cards disproportionately weak?

This will undoubtedly make for some interesting test cases in sports marketing and business management moving forward.


Of Loyalty and Despair

Fan loyalty is a peculiar thing.

We observe its many shades of intensity across every demographic in every nation and every sport. There are rabid fans who treat teams and their players as extensions of their family and there are casual fans who simply want to have something fun to do with their free time and disposable income. There are fans that love a sport itself but not any particular team and there are fans who love the team more than the actual sport. In as concise a nutshell as I can think up, there are as many different types of fans as there are sports.

Right now, there is a civil war brewing within the Raider Nation and it is bloodying up folks who were once as brothers and sisters. The conflict is between the Oakland-or-Bust crowd and the Raiders-4-Life crowd. There are fans who want to burn their Tim Brown jerseys, their Charles Woodson jerseys. There are others mostly living outside of the Bay Area who are gladly offering to pay shipping to take those jerseys off the formers’ hands. It all comes down to identity and how any given individual is able to tap into the shared consciousness between self and the pastime.

So who are the Raiders? What makes them the Raiders?

I wrote my thesis for my Public Relations degree on fan loyalty specifically contrasting the different market attitudes and attributes of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Greater Orange County (ok, ok, I’m sorry Angels fans but, don’t lie, you know your forceful branding is some janky nonsense). I’m not going to relate the entirety of my thesis or its enlightening market survey in the greater Los Angeles market here but there was one very intriguing case study found during my research that I think really helps put things into perspective.

When the NHL’s Hartford Whalers relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1997 to become the Carolina Hurricanes, the fallout was unmistakably messy for the fanbase when it came to how they perceived their identity as Whaler fans and ultimately as hockey fans. If you absolutely must see the numbers, let me know and I can dig up my thesis but most Whaler fans simply could not identify with the Canes. Demographically, there was very little similarity between Raleigh and Hartford. Hartford is a proper New England kind of town, one that embodies a certain brand of hockey. Raleigh is smack dab in the middle of North Carolina, over 600 miles away (which in East Coast terms is practically somewhere in the Andes mountains). When the Whalers moved, they (like the NFL’s Browns when they became the Baltimore Ravens) chose to rebrand completely and that posed a dilemma for Whaler fans. Some carried on with rooting for the franchise since it retained many of their favorite players. Very few (if any lol) decided to root for the Boston Bruins who were geographically no more than a hop and a skip away and made the most sense regionally… but alas, despite close quarters, there is no love lost between the many constituents of Northeast America and Whaler fans would rather stop watching hockey altogether than root for the Bruins.

Incidentally enough, most chose instead to follow local college hockey instead as there are a plethora of competitive hockey programs in the bevy of New England universities and colleges.

In short, they preferred to abandon the pro game entirely rather than follow a team that no longer represented them or a team that was regionally close but had previously never represented them. The Hartford Whalers didn’t just cease to exist; so did their fanbase.

Now granted the Raiders are a global brand and they are simply moving, not rebranding (as that would almost undoubtedly go down in history as nearly the stupidest sports marketing decision of ALL. TIME.) so their challenge isn’t exactly the same but part of the Raider mystique is uniquely Californian. From Oaktown to LA and back to Oaktown… their role as the embodiment of the recklessness, lawlessness and sharp-minded, sharp-tongued WOKENESS of the 70s transformed what it meant to be a bad boy then… before then becoming the face of the pop-cultural revolution in the late 80s and early 90s with the rise of hip hop and more specifically thug rap, again, redefining what it meant to be a bad boy. It was a Cali thing.

The Raiders in Vegas feels… off. Vegas, whether its contemporary moguls like it or not, will always be the Rat Pack et al crooning and partying their way up and down the strip while every day Joes show up for a weekend to live like billionaires. Vegas is probably the only other city in the nation capable of housing the Raiders… but it still doesn’t seem right.

It will take a great leap of faith for Raider Nation to adjust to this. And they might not adjust.

For Oakland fans and NorCal denizens in general, the Raiders also offered an alternative to the indelible “good guy” 49ers… with their unassuming legend Joe Montana and cheeky smiling Steve Young, the effortlessly lovable Jerry Rice, the quietly brilliant Bill Walsh. The Raiders offered the enigmatic and unpredictable Snake, the aptly named Assassin, the loud and abrasive John Madden.

Just as it is in the Star Wars universe, there needed to be a dark side for the light side to make any sense and so Northern California had that impeccable balance thanks to Darth Raider and Jedi Master Joe, something that most sports markets could only dream of having. It was marketing lightning caught in a Gatorade bottle. Going to Vegas punts that.

At the same time, the Raiders are in fact a global brand and have rabid fans just about everywhere. They were, as recently as last year, ranked as the 6th strongest/largest fanbase in the NFL. Their logo and colors have not changed for several decades and are immediately recognized. The Silver n Black is more than just a nickname. It’s a promise that they can play on the Moon and we can just go ahead and call them the Moon Raiders and it’d be ok.

Now, for fans who aren’t from NorCal and who didn’t grow up going to games regularly, they can revel in the glorious opportunity that the team has in a new stadium, with a young exciting team and a new found heading to sail towards. These fans are excited. They are positive. Optimistic. They are swaggering about boisterously, head high and chests puffed. And they’re waging war on the depressed, devastated Oakland fans who, in their pain and grief, are helplessly flailing about like a torn flag ripped from its mast and caught by a strong, merciless wind.

To these fans, I urge you:

Do not disparage your Oakland brothers and sisters. Be compassionate, ye who lives in London or in Mexico City or on the East Coast or even in LA where these Raiders made berth so near to you for a mere decade. Yes – even you, LA Raider fan. Sure, the Raider Nation is vast and perhaps loyal to a fault, maybe even more so than any fan of any other team in any other sport but this is not your calamity.

Those of us who have tailgated in the Coliseum parking lot over the years know that it is an atmosphere born specifically of the local community and is unique to the eclectic, eccentric East Bay crowd. Its people are a special breed of Bay Area folk, a hoard of hobbit-like purveyors of killer BBQ, good brews and some kind herb. Above all else, it is the family that we lament the most. You need only show up to the parking lot alone and you will make more friends than you can count on your fingers and toes combined. You end up hugging random Sons-of-Anarchy lookin’ behemoth teddy bears that would terrify even the boldest Bronco fan. You find yourself tossing the football around because some one, out of the blue, told you to go long but you were holding a steaming bratwurst in your hand and yet you still turn quickly, run a post past a family chillin in lawn chairs blaring some Steve Miller Band and one hand it better than any frosty haired Odell Beckham Jr. ever could. And that’s to say nothing of The Black Hole. Or Darth Raider. Or Dr. Death. Or the drums. Drums, drums, drums in the deep.

Raider Nation travels well, no doubt. It isn’t like a brand new, state of the art stadium in the city of supreme debauchery won’t tease out Raider fans from every city within a timezone but you’d be lying to yourself  if you think the atmosphere will be at all the same. Maybe with time. Maybe.

But be sure of this. Any way the wind blows, the Raiders will sail and they will land somewhere and they will pillage and plunder and there is nothing their adversaries will be able to do about it. This is a fanbase that has tasted every imaginable high and every imaginable low. They are battle-hardened and they lust for victory. For excellence. At any cost.

Any way the wind blows.

The Autumn Wind is a pirate
Blustering in from sea,
With a rollicking song, he sweeps along,
Swaggering boisterously.
His face is weather beaten.
He wears a hooded sash,
With a silver hat about his head,
And a bristling black mustache.

He growls as he storms the country,
A villain big and bold.
And the trees all shake and quiver and quake,
As he robs them of their gold.

The Autumn Wind is a raider,
Pillaging just for fun.
He’ll knock you ’round and upside down,
And laugh when he’s conquered and won.

Just Win, Baby!

Casting That Bitter Shade

Look, Mark Mulder is my boy.

As a lifelong, ardent A’s fan, I see Mulder only in Green and Gold, a hero galvanized by fond nostalgia; it is as though he exists in no other context, just a third of The Big Three, a participant in one of the most endearing eras of contemporary A’s history. So with almost any mention of him, I reserve a bit of bias in thinking ill.

Except when he had to go and cast a grown man’s shade on the freshly disgraced Jackie Robinson West.

Let’s be clear, what manager Darold Butler did is wrong; simply put, you’re not supposed to put together a team of imports and mercs. That’s only been obvious to every little league since the beginning of ball. He’s also not the first to do it and hell if countless other little league programs across the nation get away with it with nothing more than the clamor of a handful of frustrated, angry parents.

It’s not cool.

Now to hold a grudge against a little league team for that long (even after a pretty good professional career) is kinda juvenile and unbecoming of a dude his age. The shame that JRW is endearing publicly falls, unfortunately, on the kids but not the kids he played against, though and that is what makes the whole thing that much more troubling.

It just strikes me a bit peculiar that he would share that publicly, I guess. I respect the vindication he would feel because I understand the frustration in losing knowing the deck was stacked against you. However, that doesn’t preclude him from taking care not to add shade on a situation that is already very somber. These kids played their asses off and played some damned good ball. They may have been a Frankstein super team but that doesn’t take anything away from how they played.

Alas, we sadly have yet another dubious asterisk to log to memory.

This Might Not Be For Her

Chris Paul’s now buzzing quip with referee Lauren Holtkamp gone viral.

Last night, the Clippers were out-lob-citied by the Cavs, seemingly crushed from tape to tape and, in the third quarter of what had to be a painfully forgettable game, were hit with a rash of technical fouls (one that would ultimately land on CP3 and instigate his comments). The Clips were visibly frustrated by the officiating especially since they lead the league in technicals.

“That’s ridiculous – if that is the case, then this might not be for her”

Let’s even see this in context so that we aren’t doing what many hack clickbait media outlets will be doing by singling out his quote and filling a page full of ipsum around it, luring us to their ad-ridden mirage and piss us all off.

“I think we have to show better composure but at the same time some of [the technical fouls] were ridiculous,” Chris Paul said. “The tech that I [got] right there was ridiculous. I don’t care what nobody says, I don’t care what she says; that’s terrible. There’s no way that can be a tech. We try to get the ball out fast every time down the court and when we did that she said, ‘Uh-uh.’ I said, ‘Why, uh-uh?’ And she gave me a tech.” […]

“That’s ridiculous,” Paul said. “If that’s the case, this might not be for her.”

Let’s be fair: this is pretty mild as far as ref-bashing goes, #realtalk. He doesn’t even curse or call her any names. I’ve heard parents obliterate refs at peewee football and little league baseball games ten times worse than anything he said about her. And while the NBA has made their stance on Ref-shaming rather clear (you don’t do it. or $$), this barely even registers a blip on the radar.

So why is this a huge problem?

Because sports media outlets are going to take this, run with it and continue to proliferate a growing hate war between men and women that reaches far beyond sports and beyond this insignificant little exchange between Paul (who should know much, much better than to throw big boy tantrums but is, you know, human and in the heat of moments, put his all-star foot in his mouth) and Holtkamp (just doing her job, you know, a job that often comes under attack for fundamentally being a judgement call gig… #refereeproblems). The question ultimately becomes: How is this not for her and why? Because she’s a woman? Or because she’s a rookie?

It’s certainly problematic that Chris Paul, a pest on the court no doubt, is actually a rather stand-up character off it and is the league’s darling boy with all his sweater and tie looks in his State Farm commercials. Yet he is now in the center of a continuing theme of sexism in sports as demonstrated by the #likeagirl campaign and the backlash at the underwhelming lack of Tile IX compliance in school-organized sports. The problem isn’t with the literal interpretation of what he said. After all, were he referring to Crawford, Salvatore, Brothers or some other whistle-happy zebra  blowhard, the statement would have read as “This might not be for him” and it would still be just about the most vanilla attack on a referee in the history of ANY sport. Do you even want to know what MLB managers and Umps say to each other when they get all eskimo kissy and are spitting in each others’ faces a million miles per hour? Do you think it was:

“Hey bro. I don’t think this shit is for you.” 

“Get out, man. Just GO.”

And to top it off, it’s just as reasonable and logical to assume Chris Paul’s commentary had more to do with her inexperience as a ref and not her gender at all. #norookieshame

And yet despite all that, that still isn’t the problem here.

The problem is that there is a growing divide being played out before our eyes across social media platforms and forums everywhere between dudes and chicks and it is being fed constantly with stories like this one. Whether it is #gamergate (the stupidest concoction of sweaty nerds fighting each other over rights to manipulate pixels) or #likeagirl (now boys everywhere are terrified to even look at a girl let alone act like one), the fact is, if there was ever a divide between the genders in terms of social equity, there is now a gaping canyon between them that seems to be growing ever faster in a day and age we would normally assume it to be narrowing (internet, social media, all that fun stuff).

Who to blame?

Like with nearly everything else these days, it would seem, the unchecked, money-drunk media is a guilty player. The culprit is hatemongering ad campaigns aimed to continuously proliferate sexist and racist overtones and breed the sort of conflict that provides a platform for more of their idiotic ad campaigns (and therefore buckets and buckets of dirty, sexist money). These stories are the very reason real activists for social justice against sexism can’t seem to incite any progress in breaking down some of the oldest running social constructs that exist in our world. Such as what a girl can or can’t do.

This right on the heels of a recycled #likeagirl ad campaign that ran away with the honors of being the most useful commercial of this past Super Bowl’s shittastic lineup of fails. Real change is exacted on a grass roots level and through education, ensuring that our future generations are brought up with ideals of equity so that when they become government officials and social influencers, they can then go and bring us true equality.

This bullshit they’re selling us on TV and on the internet? Clickbait. I clicked on the article for CP3’s indiscretion because it implied that he had called her something offensive…  you know, like BITCH or CUNT or DUMB BROAD or something that we already recognize to be a part of our hateful colloquial vernacular. Instead, we get this deflated ball of non-story.

Just to be clear, I’m stating that the issue of a bias (or glass ceiling) against women in professional sports as well as in other professions and/or industries is very real… ugly and horrid. I was raised by a mother who was a steadfast, hardworking professional who was incomparably badass at her job; even then she was often overlooked, demeaned and disparaged despite being in a supervisory role and, like I said, a total badass. So I’m definitely not trying to pull any veil over anyone’s eyes and pretend that big ass pink elephant in the room is a figment of anyone’s imagination. Chris Paul didn’t actually disparage her for being a woman, though. Not at all; he disparaged her for being a shitty ref and making a weaksauce call. Treating her differently because she’s a woman is the sort of problem real feminists are trying to address and is precisely the reason why Holtkamp should be just as available for criticism for her job as any dude ref would be. No more so, no less so.

And that still isn’t what this is about.

My problem with many social activists twittering about the internet like a swarm of zombie hummingbirds is that they are trying to fight stigmas and outdated social constructs in spite of and ignoring the media’s role in it (which is akin to driving your car into a wall). I’m suggesting we do it by seeking and destroying the media’s credibility by calling them out. Media is a deceptive word, of course; music, film, print, internet, etc. and it is so fragmented and dynamic, it is impossible to cleanse the poison unless, somehow (and I admit it’s a pipedream), all media curators, content creators and broadcasters exhibit more social responsibility.

I get it. Supply and demand. Chicken and the egg. Remember my Josh Gordon piece? Same deal.

In order to change how ALL people view the world, you’ve got to change the message being broadcasted to them. True, the media is feeding the people what they want…. but how did the people come to want what they want????? AH HA! (strokes beard, sips aged Scotch nefariously). That vicious cycle is what needs to be broken because whatever we accomplish through education in formative years (as far as being tolerant, accepting, etc) is being undone by the media which educates in far sexier doses of consumption.

We want our girls to be safe and to be secure in themselves so that they can achieve all their dreams. We can’t do that by segregating them every chance we get by drawing attention to their tribulations more closely than we would a man’s and proliferating the idea that we need to tip toe around our differences with a heavy misogynist hand out of fear they are delicate and incapable. Men everywhere, even red-blooded American sports freaks, want fairness for the women in our lives.

And if we have to fight the scary kraken in order to help get that done, some of us will most definitely do exactly that.

Tarnished Shield

[ported from medium.com]

The shield continues to crumble.

The slow, progressive fall of the NFL is upon us. Like the fall of most empires, it would be too easy to place the blame for the slow progressive fall of the NFL on its figurehead (the commissioner) as it would be unfair to heap all the blame on any single entity or person.

In fact, the culprit here is all of us. Every football fan, every media content outlet, every analyst or expert. We are all guilty. After all, the league and major mainstream media outlets have simply provided us with the exciting, high scoring game we kept clamoring for and the sort of stories that we continuously thirst for. They have given us exactly what we wanted: WWE on a gridiron.

We want stories about players battling addiction, on the verge of utter collapse, an ESPN 30–30 documentary being written before our eyes. Something not boring like our own lives, that is, since it’s often the same people that are suddenly able to judge Gordon like they’ve never had a job where they technically weren’t supposed to smoke any marijuana and did so anyway, drug testing or not. Nevermind that he is 23.

We feel compelled to force Marshawn Lynch to talk to the media even though he clearly doesn’t want to and then attack him across the blogosphere and in social media for being a “selfish idiot with no class” because he has contractual obligations no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable he may be in front of a bunch of aggressive reporters. And yet, we know nothing about him or the great work he does in the community of Oakland and how incredibly loved he is as a teammate (despite maddeningly innaccurate stories about rifts with teammates and coaches and ownership). Not to mention, he has always done all the talking that has ever been needed on the field where our interest as football fans ought to be.

We call Richard Sherman a “classless thug” even though he is sharper than most of the hack journalists asking him unoriginal, regurgitated presser fodder. We just don’t like that he is real, outspoken and unabashedly unafraid to tell us all how fake we have become, how ruthlessly judgmental and out of touch our perception of these professional athletes has become. They are fantasy team fillers, a stack of stats in a human body, faceless names, jerseys to hang in our closet. Forget that they have families, friends and lives so much like our own, they don’t want us peering in any more than we do. But alas, they clearly exist only to entertain us.

We gravitate towards idiotic distractions like #deflategate because we are bored at work and don’t know or care enough about the X’s and O’s of the game and would rather spend all day bashing each other on social media. We want New England’s legacy to be tarnished because we are all jealous, full of hate and have been drinking the NFL’s koolaid about parity and “sportsmanship.” We claim it’s for the integrity of the game and that “cheaters never prosper” and yet turn our eyes away when we realize our favorite teams likely do the same thing but haven’t been caught. But, naturally, we need a villain. And so we are given one.

And even then, Brady is our hero. We love good ol underdogs and all-American guys like him and Peyton. They always give us the script we want to hear before and after games and we describe them as unflappable and strong and high character. They never disparage anyone at the podium, never point the finger at anyone else but themselves, they are model citizens all the while hiding behind smiles and endorsements and commercials. And yet, we see that nobody is above the stink. Brady screams at players and coaches and refs. He talks trash to opponents. He may have deflated balls to gain an advantage and lied about. Who knows what else this man has done as he’s human just like the rest of us, flawed and “classless.” The double standard has become nauseating.

We thrive on observing Ray Rice’s personal life troubles as though he punched his wife in the middle of a football field, like we have some unalienable entitlement to judge their relationship or his morality when we are nothing more than mere fans in an endless, faceless crowd. What ought to have been none of our business was all over the news. Hell, TMZ has now become a credible news outlet. And worse even is that while we all bickered and argued over the league’s role in this case, the underlying horror of domestic violence was bankrolling countless media outlets broadcasting the story. Would you appreciate it if someone made a quick buck out of your unfortunate family tragedy?

We all jumped in abject horror at Adrian Peterson beating his kids because undoubtedly none of us have ever been beaten or have beaten our children. We have never been in that place where the pain we have inflicted, emotional or physical, on a loved one did not actually mean we didn’t love them or be loved enough by them to be forgiven by them for this mistake. Where the court of law exonerated him, the league was compelled to then go and play judge and jury. We want Peterson out of the league, tarred and feathered and dragged through the streets like a leprous criminal. Better him than us, right?

We destroy young prospects before they ever get a chance to grow, develop and learn how to contribute to the legacy of the game with their unmistakable gifts. Johnny Football, Tim Tebow, Jamarcus Russell and many, many more. We hype them up, place unnaturally high unattainable expectations, we put them in positions where they cannot succeed with pressure that they cannot match with at a young, confusing age and then destroy them utterly when they fall short of it, nipping their confidence in the bud, stunting whatever momentum they may have had (if any) and turning them into outcasts in short order.

And we indicted this young man here, Josh Gordon, for, what, smoking marijuana? Having a couple of beers on a plane with his teammates/friends on the way to Vegas after the season had ended? Because some knucklehead in the NFL front office thought it was a brilliant idea to have an alcohol test waiting for him on the ground… in Vegas?? In the real world, outside of the circus that has become the NFL, that is called entrapment whether it is an officially administered one or not. So now even more knuckleheads like Barkley (whom I normally love and respect), Stephen A Smith (smh @ you, man, what happened? You used to be a great journalist with a penchant for being “real” and now you’re as fake as the rest of them) and the ilk have creative license to make stuff up to feed ever-so-precious ratings, to feed the frenzied mob of spoiled, entitled millennials thirsty for something more interesting than their boring personal lives. FAIL.

I stand by Josh Gordon. I stand by what he stands for… like Ricky Williams, like Lynch, like Kluwe before he was run out the league for having an opinion, like any other player who dared to be real and not give the same tired responses to the same tired questions. I’ll voice what they are being muted from voicing by rules and stipulations more befitting of high school kids than grown men, that the NFL is hypocritical and their micromanagement intrusive. We turned a passion for a game into a means to make money off of talented young men before discarding their broken bodies onto a growing heap of skeletons we’d rather stayed hidden in an outdated closet. Except the double-edged sword that is social media and technology allows no such reprieve.

The NFL has created a product and they want you, Josh Gordon, to be an action figure on a shelf with a price tag. And I am proud of you for speaking your mind in a respectful, intelligent manner that indicates, at least to me, that you are without a doubt not what they say you are.

There’s No Easy Way to Say This but…

MY BAD

I mean, I realize how odd it is that I went from consistently sharing my weekly NFL picks and offering up a power rankings of sorts to the Houdini around Week 7! Yup, there he went (again), fading into the shadows. There’s no easy way of apologizing for it; you need your content and I, self-professed, am one of the million mouthpieces out there in the blogoverse (it’s no longer just a sphere, people, this thing is a fully matured universe now) who believes that I can offer you some of that content to feed that most earnest of fixes. Funny thing is, I was commenting in longwinded forum comment threads and on facebook fan groups in such volume, I could have written a George RR Martin book let alone maintain this here blog… smh @ misdirected wordsmithing

But, see, if you’re gonna read my blog, you’re going to have to come with some goggles and your big boy undies because I don’t sugarcoat my words and I only speak the truth; something increasingly rare these days in the sports world. I can’t sit here and promise you that I’m the realest, baddest blogger dude out there but I can promise you that I’ll be honest even if I’m not going to remember to blog nearly as often as I should (see, there’s this other Waleed Hawatky who makes music under the pen name zyko and he has to blog and tweet about that noise[literally] and entertain people and yadda yadda #boring-non-awesome-things).

I’m not pulling any punches on calling out massive, tentacled operations like the NFL and their mockery of the beautiful game of football. You can check out the letter I wrote in response to Josh Gordon’s letter to Charles Barkley on medium.com (I’ll be posting it here as soon as I hit publish on this puppy), for example. That’s the kind of literary brutality you can brace yourself for. Like Braveheart headsmashing, crotch punching, limb-removal brutality.

Summing it up: I’ve been gone for far too long, I’m sorry, I’m back and I’m going to make it count.
Kinda like a 2nd and goal in the waning seconds of a Super Bowl down by less than a score with an X-Men for a running back …

Owww… too soon?

NO.

 

Dig it.

NFL Week 7 Picks: The Weakening of the Weekening…

Woopz.
#reallifeisreal

Late to the game, should be benched but I’m too valuable. Plug me in, Coach! We’re in redux:

Jets at Pats
I know; how do you know I actually took the Pats? Because I did and just like most everyone else didn’t think it would be close because of how outrageously bad New York had been. Except that didn’t turn out to be true and the Pats held on for dear life as the Jets showed some spirit. But you know, I really thought the Pats were gonna roll…
Pats

Vikings at Bills
The Vikes are struggling on offense even in spite of a bevy of nice options and their defense is getting left out on the field too long because of it. Unfortunately for them, Buffalo and its badass D is playing at home and will likely win the game by controlling the clock, tempo and scoreboard.
Bills

Dolphins at Bears
The Dolphins looked pretty solid last week and it took last moment heroics from A-Rod to doom them. This week they play a similarly built team in that the Bears can light up the scoreboard… while not being able to put anyone away on the other side of the ball. At home, their defense to play better than the very average level they usually do and secure a win.
Bears

Saints at Lions
This has the makings of a burner but I think the Lions shut the Saints down altogether. Brees hasn’t looked himself through six weeks and now he has to try and get it done without Jimmy Graham. Granted Stafford has looked befuddled without Megatron to toss jump balls to and not having Reggie at 100% doesn’t help, but they have the overall #1 defense in the NFL and I think that wins, especially since they are home.
Lions

Panthers at Packers
Superman is in the building. Just when you thought he was too banged up off the kryptonite, Cam turns in a crazy comeback performance to drop near 40 points on what was supposed to be one of the league’s best defenses. With no running game, a rookie X receiver and a late-blooming TE lol The Pack are tough to beat in Lambeau and right now Eddie Lacy is desperate for a big game making Carolina’s bewilderingly porous run defense all the more of a match up issue. The Pack with balance is near the very top of the NFL in terms of offensive power.
Packers

Bengals at Colts
The Bengals are stumbling into this game whether they want to admit it or not. They are missing their top receiver, haven’t won in three weeks (granted there was a bye in there as well) and, most troubling of all, their defense is utterly broken. A bad recipe to take with you into Lucas Oil where Andrew Luck is having a Tecmo Bowl season much like his predecessor was last year (and to a lesser degree, again, this year). The Colts defense has been playin’ better as of late, too. Yuck.
Colts

Seahawks at Rams
The Seahawks in must-win territory? NAW MAN, you’re out of your mind! Or am I. They are 3-2 in a division with two other really good teams, have the second lowest production league-wide from their wideouts and just traded arguably their most talented receiver for being a bad presence. Sure, the champs are still probably going to be a winner more weeks than not but this team is staring at potentially doing the traditional next-season-stink. Not to worry much about it this week, they’ll come out with fire to shut the naysayers up and trounce the Rams. (though it may actually be much closer than that…….)
Seawhawks

Titans at Redskins
Hard to tell what goes down here. The Titans have been awful and barely (and miraculously) avoided handing Jacksonville their first win of the year. The Redskins have not won a game with Kirk Cousins at the helm and they’ve looked awful during that stretch. The Titans have been awful against the run this year and even though they stumped the Jags last week, Alfred Morris has been pretty good. Jake Locker isn’t likely to go.  Tough to roll with a team as in bad condition as the Skins but
Redskins

Browns at Jags
The Jags came awfully close to their first win of the season last week. By all estimations, it’s arguable they should have had it. Oh well, things don’t get easier this week as the surprising 3-2 Browns come into town looking to add to their strong start to the season. The Browns have been suspect through the air at times this year and Blake Bortles has shown a disposition to chuck it so there could be some upset value here. But really, Hoyer y’all
Browns

Falcons at Ravens
There’s been a break in Atlanta’s trend of looking bad on the road and good at home. Maybe that means something? Probably not. They don’t look at all competitive on the road defensively, no pressure on the QB and even their offense looks sluggish. Ravens coming off a big win and going against a terrible defense. What Will Joe Do?
Ravens

Chiefs at Chargers
Chargers are due. They eked by Oakland last week after their defense was shredded in the air by Carr and Holmes and will again have to hope for another big day for Philip Rivers and the receivers. He has been on a ridiculous roll and it could very well come to an end this week as a letdown from ageless Antonio Gates as the swiss army be-all safety valve for Rivers doesn’t get it done. Or naw.
Chargers

Giants at Cowboys
More divisional awesomeness. The Cowboys have been pretty good, almost the best team in the league. They return home to take on a fierce divisional rival in the Giants though coming off a thorough dismantling by Philadelphia. Big Blue can respond in one of two ways, either emphatically on point or pathetically regressive. Or maybe there’s a third way, somewhere in between. That somewhere in between isn’t good enough to beat these Cowboys in Big D.
Cowboys

Cardinals at Raiders
There is no doubting it; Carr is the best young QB the Raiders have had since… well, Ken The Snake Stabler. I mean let’s face it, we aren’t used to having good young QBs in Oakland so this is fun. The coaching change clearly shifted this team’s energy level and focus. They looked far more comfortable last week and were playing much better against a very good Charger team. The ruthless schedule, however, continues and now come the equally good Cardinals. And again, with all the storylines involved (Palmer, Veldheer, looking for their first win, etc), the Raiders likely come out on the shot end yet again. Though this is as good a week to get your first win as any, it’ll be interesting to see how they defend against Arizona’s pass happy offense with two of the statistically worst corners in the NFL.
Cardinals (heart tells me RRRRRRAAAAAAAAIIIIDERSSSSS)

Niners at Broncos
The de facto Game of the Week in full Sunday evening prime time. It will be a very interesting test for both teams. The Niners want to see where their defense really is and test their offense in must-score-to-keep-up competitions. The Broncos want to see if they are defensively sound to deal with dynamic QBs like Kaepernick and strong running teams. Peyton likely breaks Favre’s record and pull out another close win at home against a worthy opponent.
Broncos

Texans at Steelers
So the Texans are actually more legitimate than we were giving them credit for. They’ll need that and more panache from Fitzmagic to beat a frustrated Steeler team in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s offense has been reasonably stymied these past few weeks and will be looking to break out in a big way, especially on the ground. The Texans showed much more bend against Indy but then again, typically the Colts Offense breaks teams so that’s forgivable. Still, the real question mark continues to be the Texans’ passing game as it is increasingly clear that a better option at QB would take this team to the next level and on the road, it is hard to bet on that.
Steelers

Dig it.

NFL Week 6 Picks: This Whacky Game

Last week’s roll call was an easy one straight up; all you really had to do was pick mostly the Vegas favorites and you could have run a dozen correct picks easy. I came in at 13-2 with my only miscalls being Detroit’s unlikely meltdown and New England’s epic exorcism.

In a season that has otherwise been a temporal storm of uncertainty, that was one easy lineup of games to wrap your head around.

Now let’s get back to the TUFF STUFF.

Colts at Texans
The most impressive thing about Indy’s win against Baltimore this past weekend was how energetic and active they were on defense giving Joe Flacco fits all day. Elite talent or not, playing active defense is a recipe for success; just ask Peyton or Tony Dungy about Super Bowl XLI. This defense reminds me of that unit. The Texans, overall, have a top flight defense for sure but they are not that good against the run and not good enough against the pass to matter with Luck chuckin’ it around the way he has all season. I don’t like Fitzpatrick to keep up with Luck tossing five TDs or something ridiculous like that as the game wears on. Unless the Texans jump out to a very quick and big early lead, this one is a lock.
Colts

Bears at Falcons
The Bears are such a statistical nightmare to evaluate. They are practically league average in every efficiency cat across the board whether it be offensively or defensively, in the box or in the secondary. Strangely, they just keep losing games and won two questionable ones and could very easily have a much worse record. Now they go on the road to play a Falcons team that is completely different at home in a must-win situation. Not that they’re any good but the Falcons will do what the Packers did and outscore them faster on the way to a victory.
Falcons

Patriots at Bills
One of the contenders for Game of the Week. As much as I would like to call for a letdown by the Pats after their statement game on Sunday night and pick the Bills and their elite defense at home, I don’t trust Kyle Orton. He got away posting a nice stat line while playing a mediocre game because of the volume. Still, to be fair, he gave Buffalo a slightly better chance than EJ had been and for that, you gotta give him credit. I think the Patriots are going to harass him to no end. And if rediscovering the dual TE scheme is working for Brady, that might be enough to outscore the Bills readily on the road in a key AFC East battle between two 3-2 rivals.
Patriots

Panthers at Bengals
Whatever you want to say about these two teams, here is something that must be said: these are two defenses that are in need of showing up big this week. I believe they both do meaning this will be a sludgy, grungy low scoring affair. With AJ Green hobbled or out entirely, the Bengals are going to pound the rock with Gio and Hill against a Panthers team that has looked susceptible to the ground game. The Bengals’ D will have much to prove after getting smacked by the Patriots. Fortunately for them, they don’t have to worry about Carolina’s rushing (fortunate because that is Cincy’s biggest weakness defensively) since they have about one and a half healthy bodies back there. If Cam is forced to catch up through the air on the road, it may be a long afternoon. Or Superman, I dunno.
Bengals

Steelers at Browns
The AFC North is really tight and at the bottom of the division are the 2-2 Cleveland Browns, a team that maybe ought to be 3-1 or maybe even 4-0 right now were it not for a last second meltdown/FG against division rival Baltimore and a really sluggish start to the season against these same Steelers a month ago. In fact, the Browns have won or lost all four of their games by less than 3 points! Which means they’re just as likely to be 1-3 or even 0-4! Hahaha this whacky game that we love. Anyway. I love what the Browns are doing this year and can’t wait until they get their full roster but they are going to get shredded in the air by Big Ben who, along with Antonio Brown’s epic season, has been a monster. The Browns are fortunate to have an offense that can clearly move the chains when it needs to (and that did storm back on the Steelers in Pittsburgh before falling just short). But I just don’t know if they can hold them under 30 with an already tore up secondary now also missing CB Joe Haden.
Steelers

Jags at Titans
While the Titans have a win on their season and the Jags are winless, these are two teams with significantly different outlooks. The Jags are clearly going through growing pains but have an exciting young QB throwing the ball to a couple of exciting young athletic receivers. Their run game leaves a lot to be desired and their defense has been getting wrecked but they showed a little life last week. This week they visit a Titans team that is in such disarray, it is hard to figure out how they got there. More and more it is starting to seem like their week 1 triumph over the Chiefs who have since then improved in all areas was fluky at best and that this team is more or less the team that hasn’t been able to win since (and looked like shit while at it). They have an irregular commitment to the run game which isn’t doing well anyway and can’t keep their starting QB on the field. That is a recipe for disaster. And what is more disastrous than the Jags getting their first win against you in your own house?
Jags

Packers at Dolphins
The Dolphins certainly had plenty of time to prepare for the Packers with the bye and all. They’re also at home this week. And it still won’t matter a whole lot. The Packers are coming in scoring points unhindered, have rediscovered their run game and despite giving up a lot of yards defensively, also force an impressive amount of turnovers (tied for tops in the league). Tannehill does make mistakes from time to time and I think the Packers dictate the tempo of the game, force aforementioned mistakes and ultimately outscore the Phins. By a lot.
Packers

Lions at Vikings
There is a real temptation here to roll with the home team. Minnesota is getting Teddy Bridgewater back in action and that instantly boosts this offense’s value to around where it was when it shredded Atlanta en route to that beatdown. The Lions defense surely is not the Falcons defense … but there’s something seriously wrong with the Lions offense and that may very well be the determining factor of this game. They weren’t able to put up all that much in the way of points against Buffalo although Buffalo sports a pretty snazzy defense themselves. Still there has to be concern about a team without Megatron, without a healthy Reggie Bush and with a struggling Matt Stafford. Expect the Vikings to finally get Patterson and Wright going at the same time and more semblance of a running game than they showed last week. If they can score points against Detroit’s defense at home in Minny, look for the Vikes to win.
Vikings

Broncos at Jets
What can we say here? Yeah, yeah, Any Given Sunday, That’s Why They Play the Games, These Are All Pros… should I dig up anymore antiquated NFL clichés to describe the 2% chance the Jets pull off this upset at home? They’d have to break Peyton’s neck in half for that to ever happen. The Jets can stop anybody’s run game… but what if they are playing a team that doesn’t even run the ball because they have Peyton and his fifty good-to-great receivers? Why am I still typing?
Broncos

Ravens at Bucs
I was thinking about this one for some time. The Ravens are heavy favorites in terms of being picked to win no matter the line. They are one of the most solid teams in the league, no doubt. And yet I am still rolling with the Bucs at home. They have looked entirely different the past two weeks and barely lost in OT against an absolutely desperate Saints team. Fact of the matter is the Bucs are headed back to Tampa for the first time in nearly a month, are likely to play much stauncher defense at home and will square off with a Ravens team playing their second road game in a row. That is a recipe for a monumental upset. And don’t forget; these same Bucs pulled an equally impressive upset of the Steelers just a couple weeks ago. Roll em.
Bucs

Chargers at Raiders
Should I be the only not-completely-insane person to pick the Raiders here? After all, you’ve got a home game coming off a bye against a divisional rival that you have played tough in other purported lopsided matchups in the past. A game against a team that has been on such a profoundly good roll, it is almost inevitable that they are overdue for the sort of clunker that a team like the Raiders can take advantage of. There’s also this whole new coach thing and the ball he buried. You know, this is the perfect game for the Raiders to stomp the Chargers. You know… that game that I will be rolling Saturday Night on Madden when I play pretend that I am the new head coach/GM of the Oakland Raiders. Utterly STOMP.
Chargers 

Redskins at Cardinals
Kirk Cousins and the Redskins looked much better last week against the top defense in the league than they did against the rival Giants the week before. It just didn’t matter because they were utterly outmatched. That said, they have a far more manageable match up this week against a team that is just riddled with injuries and missing players. The funny thing is that even with all those injuries, the Cards are good enough defensively, especially against the pass, that it could make all the difference in the world at home. Especially with the Redskins coming to town on a short week. There’s also the matter of Arizona possibly getting Carson Palmer back and that would be a huge boon to an offense that was already finding ways to win with Drew Stanton under center.
Cardinals 

Cowboys at Seahawks
A contender for Game of The Week. It has been a nice little roll that the Cowboys have been on. They’ve won games that got out of control for their opponents and they won games that were close and tenuous. Impressive thus far, the Cowboys travel to the toughest place to play in the league to play against the best team in the NFC and possibly still the best team in the entire NFL. Unfortunately, this is where their run temporarily ends. I just don’t see them going into Seattle and beating this defense (especially when Dallas’ bread and butter these days is running the rock with Demarco Murray and the Hawks are now one of the better run D’s around) let alone being able to stop Russell Wilson who right now looks to be about as dominant a QB as you can be without spending a majority of your time in the pocket. Wilson makes throws that don’t make any sense given where he is and where the play is. The Redskins found out the hard way that the guy has about 50 eyes and they are all over the STADIUM let alone anywhere on his head. And Marshawn Lynch is probably the best overall running back of the past half a decade. Nice run but no dice this week, Dallas.
Seahawks

Giants at Eagles
This will be fun. Another contender for Game of The Week (I should have just titled this blog entry GAME OF THE WEEK, amirite?). Most of the nation is split 50-50 on the outcome of this one; that goes to show you just how unpredictable this game will be. That said, common wisdom suggests that in such a push, the home team is the one that has the ever so slight edge and while I am normally inclined to give that notion tread, these are two teams giving me entirely different impressions right now. The Giants look confident, dialed in and able to beat you with a suddenly reliable and balanced offense. Even without Jennings running the rock, rookie Andre Williams has looked strong and bruising bludgeoning in between the tackles in his stead. The return of Odell Beckham Jr. and the emergence of Larry Donnell gives Eli Manning four legitimate weapons in the passing game with which to rip apart a porous Eagles defense. On the flip side, the Eagles are an interesting dichotomy. While it is impressive that they have been scoring in a bunch of different ways, the fact they aren’t scoring consistently on offense is alarming. Even though they finally got LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles a lot of meaningful touches and they moved the chains a bit, neither scored… leaving the Eagles to build a large lead on blocked kicks and turnovers. While that works against crappy teams, these are not reliable ways to beat good teams. Home team or not, I expect the Giants to go all BIG BLUE on the Eagles and their cute little all black unis they plan on rollin’ out on Sunday.
Giants

Niners at Rams
This is one game the Rams won’t be able to climb back into if they fall behind big early on. Unlike the Eagles, the Niners will collect turnovers like Disneyland Pins. Good running football teams are great road teams because they can quiet the crowd and control the tempo by pounding the rock. The Niners, now that they’ve returned to their rushing strengths, are that kind of team and I expect them to control the game, harass Austin Davis and put up a healthy amount of points on the road on the way to a 4-2 record. Lock it up.
Niners

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