LaVar Ball’s Mouth Writing Checks His Sons’ Bodies Can’t Cash

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The National Basketball Association Playoffs are currently ongoing and, to be honest, to say that they have been a bit dull would be the understatement of the year. The two best teams in each conference – the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers with “next evolution in human existence” LeBron James and the 2015 champion Golden State Warriors with smooth-as-silk shooter Steph Curry (among others) – have literally steamrolled past their opposition, with both sides only losing one game so far (did anyone see that decimation the Cavaliers laid on the Boston Celtics in Game 2? On their home floor? That the Celts came back for a squeaker win on Sunday in Cleveland was shocking). Sometime next week, these two teams will meet for the third year in a row (never done previously) to determine the NBA Finals championship.

But the collision course these teams are on hasn’t been the big story in the Association…not by a long shot.

The NBA Draft, like its cousin with the National Football League, has become almost as big a deal as its pro football brethren. Players from around the world and the best “one-and-doners (players who went to college to meet the NBA requirement that they be one year removed from high school)” vie for one of the 60 slots (the draft is two rounds, with the first-round picks guaranteed to be on an NBA roster) in the draft. With these stakes, players are trying to make their best impressions…except for one.

Lonzo Ball is, giving the player his due, one of the better prospects in this year’s NBA draft. If it weren’t for the idiotic “one year” rule that the NBA has implemented to prevent kids from going straight from high school, it is thought that Ball would have been one of the success stories to come straight from the high school ranks. After winning several high school Player of the Year awards across the country, Ball enrolled at UCLA, looking to improve his resume with the one year he plainly told everyone he would be there for.

In his one season with the Bruins, Ball’s statistics were nice but not mind blowing. He averaged 14.6 points per game, shot 55% from the field (and 41% from three-point territory), averaged six rebounds a game and almost eight assists as a guard/forward with UCLA. The 6’ 6” Ball was duly awarded many post-season honors, including the Wayman Tisdale Award for best college freshman and was first-team All-American (the team made the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament), as he held to his promise to only stick for one year on the campus of Westwood by declaring for the draft almost as soon as his Bruins team heard the final buzzer and was defeated in the NCAA Tournament.

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With such accolades and achievements, you would figure that Ball would be the talk of the draft. Unfortunately (for him), he has been overshadowed by his father, LaVar, who will tell anyone that will listen that his son(s) (that’s right, there’s two more following Lonzo) are going to change the basketball world. What the senior doesn’t realize is that he is writing checks that none of the Ball brothers will be able to cash.

Who is LaVar Ball? A quick look at his college life shows that he was a basketball player of no renown (averaged 2.2 points per game at Washington State over two seasons in the late 1980s) and found even less success when attempts were made to turn him into a football player. Ball would play in the World League of American Football (appropriate acronym of WLAF) as a tight end. In one season, he played with the London Monarchs and found time on the practice squads of both the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers. Other than this, there was absolutely nothing that would mark him as a “game changing” athlete, although even having the proverbial cup of coffee with a professional sports franchise is quite an achievement.

Apparently, this is about the time when Ball had his epiphany, even to the point of picking his wife for the express breeding purposes of creating basketball players. Don’t believe me? Ball himself said, “I see this tall girl, very attractive, walking down a hallway and I go, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re gonna be doing something!’ Once that was in her head, I had her. I picked a big girl who was beautiful. A big stallion.”

When’s the last time you called your significant other a “big stallion” – and you were SERIOUS about it?

This wasn’t the end of it for Ball. He’s has said that Lonzo is better than Curry, who was only the Most Valuable Player in the NBA for the past two seasons. Ball has trashed Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving for coming from a single parent home, ignoring the fact that Irving’s mother passed away when he was four. Ball has said that, in his heyday, he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one. Ball criticized Lonzo’s UCLA teammates, saying they were “too white” to win the championship (and, forgetting the fact that his wife is white, there’s a mixed heritage to Lonzo). He’s also created the family company “Big Baller Brand” and is currently marketing Lonzo’s signature shoe to the tune of $459 (you want them autographed by Lonzo? Make it $759…) – only after the three major shoe brands Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas, turned down his BILLION dollar demands for shoe deals with all three of his sons.

Having overbearing parents in sports is nothing new. You can see it pretty much every weekend when you go to a Little League baseball game or watch Friday Night Tykes (about PeeWee football) on television. It’s when those overbearing parents actually think they are doing their child(ren) a favor by pushing them hard does it usually blow up in their faces. One only should look at the career of former quarterback Todd Marinovich – basically engineered by his father to be an NFL quarterback, to the point that the senior Marinovich said that Todd had never eaten at a McDonald’s – or the up-and-down career of tennis player Jennifer Capriati (pushed by her mother) to see the down side of these types of actions.

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There has been at least one success story. The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, were driven by their father Richard to excel at tennis, while at the same time inciting similar vitriol from the public for comments that he made regarding taking his girls from South Central Los Angeles to the pinnacle of tennis greatness. It is arguable, however, that the Williams sisters didn’t really reach their peak form until after they removed themselves from Richard’s tutelage and began to think and act for themselves.

The elder Ball may think that he’s helping his children achieve their goals and wants to take the family along for the ride. And that is something that all mothers and fathers want to ensure for their kids. At a certain point, however, that assistance becomes an overbearing, maniacal obsession and needs to be ended. That is where the elder Ball finds himself right now.

While Lonzo may be a high draft pick in this year’s NBA draft (the Celtics have the first pick and the Los Angeles Lakers – whom LaVar Ball has said he wants all three of his kids to play for – have the second), there is still a very close-knit professional community of athletes that will not take kindly to LaVar’s statements. Lonzo, through no fault of his own, is going to be targeted by these professionals for retribution. You don’t think that LeBron James won’t light him up for some of the things that LaVar has said about him? You don’t think that Curry or his teammates, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant, won’t smoke Lonzo at every opportunity? The utter failure of Lonzo Ball – and the “Big Baller Brand” – is a very realistic possibility and it would be a warning to others coming down the road that they aren’t bigger than the game, something that LaVar seems to think his family is.

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Where Lonzo Ball goes in the draft – publicly NBA general managers and scouts are saying that Ball’s father isn’t going to affect his draft status – is still up in the air, but even he recognizes that his father rubs people the wrong way. “My dad’s a funny guy,” Lonzo said to Bleacher Report in an interview. “People were coming up to me and saying, ‘Are you embarrassed? Your dad said you’re going to win the championship.’ No, I’m not embarrassed. I know how he’s going to act. I just go out there and play. Let him be him.” There will come a point, however, where the junior Ball – and, if not him, one of his two brothers (who haven’t done jack shit yet) – will have to tell the senior Ball when enough is enough and cut ties with him if they are to reach their true success in professional basketball, just like Serena and Venus did in their pursuit of greatness.

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Protests Only Work When It Hurts…

It’s funny the things that will come up when you’re in the process of moving. During me and my wife’s latest move from the foothills of North Carolina to the Gulf Coast of Florida, I happened across probably one of the more disappointing moments from this year (at least until possibly the election in November)…

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Now, the seats weren’t fantastic – in fact, they were at the other end of the arena from where the stage was situated. But they were square on with the stage and would have offered a great opportunity to see much of the crowd enjoying the show from Bruce, one of the legendary performers in rock history (I could tell stories about seeing him in 1980 for a six-plus hour show, but we’ll save that for another time). My wife and I were eagerly anticipating the show as it had been many years since either of us had been able to see “The Boss” in action.

Then the North Carolina General Assembly and asswipe Governor Pat McCrory got their panties in a bunch.

In February, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance extending protections to the lesbian/bisexual/gay/transgender (LGBT) community. A part of this ordinance – and the issue that sparked the most controversy – was the provision for allowing people to use the restroom of their gender identity, rather than that of whichever sex they were born. In essence, the ordinance allowed those who were in the process of shifting from one sex to another to use the restroom of that other sex (male transgendered individuals could use female restrooms and vice versa).

The response by McCrory and the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature (which has been gerrymandered to make it virtually impossible for a balanced legislature to occur – witness the THREE TIMES that the federal government has called the state’s legislative districts unconstitutional) was immediate. Convening a special session of the General Assembly (one outside the normal working times of the legislative body), McCrory and his henchmen pushed through HB2, a bill that was so overreaching in its aim it was destined for the “unconstitutional” bin almost from the start.

Not only did that bill immediately set that “all people” had to use the restroom of the birth sex, but it also removed the right for minorities and the LGBT community to sue through the state court system for discrimination. It included a provision that prevented individual cities from enacting their own laws that differentiated from state statutes. With many Democratic representatives protesting by leaving the voting floor, the statute passed through the General Assembly with only about 12 HOURS of overall discussion.

This was the end of March and, within days, the impact was felt. Several local productions in theaters around the Tar Heel State reported that the rights holders to significant stage productions (plays) were pulling their approval for performance over the bill. The streaming provider Hulu pulled the production of a program they had set for airing out of North Carolina over the bill and PayPal suspended expansion of its operations center in the state. This was but the tip of the iceberg, however.

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Many entertainment artists have also pulled out of shows that they were scheduled to perform, including “The Boss,” Pearl Jam, Boston, Bryan Adams, Ani DiFranco, Ringo Starr, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato and Cirque du Soleil. The real thunder came down, however, over the past couple of months, first with the National Basketball Association’s removal of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte. Then, just yesterday, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) removed SEVEN championship games or playoff sites from the state, citing the law as the reason. All totaled, the loss of business regarding all of these repercussions could total to as much as half a billion dollars by the year anniversary of HB2’s passage, with the NBA All-Star Game accounting for about $100 million of that total, and could even impact future business in the state.

The reason this came back to me was not only a result of the move. Finding that ticket stub for an unused concert was simply the catalyst for a reply to model Kate Upton’s Twitter hissy fit over athletes not standing for the National Anthem. Of course, over the weekend was the opening weekend of the National Football League season (and the 15th anniversary of 9/11, just coincidentally) and, following in the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s continuing protest against inequality in the United States, some players either did not stand for, knelt in protest or displayed the “Black Power” salute as the National Anthem played. This bunched Upton’s panties, who stated, “This is unacceptable. You should be proud to be an American. Especially on 9/11 when we should support each other.”

The continued attention being drawn to what has now become a movement (hey, if a subject catches the nation’s attention for more than two years – yes, it’s been that long since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, widely considered the spur – it is a movement) is only done when a protest has an impact. Kaepernick has been vocal in the past regarding the issues of black people in the United States and their treatment at the hands of law enforcement, but no one was paying any attention to what he was saying. It wasn’t until his act of defiance of not standing for the National Anthem – and attention was drawn to the fact that he was doing it – that there became a national conversation (admittedly sometimes not about what Kaepernick wanted to talk about, as with Upton’s attempt at using her First Amendment rights by silencing Kaepernick’s, but still there was discussion).

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For a protest to have an impact, there are a couple of things that it should have. It has to have some financial teeth, some fiscal bite, that pushes some to reconsider their positions (it also has to have a side that understands those fiscal implications – apparently North Carolina Republicans are morons if they issue this response). Along with that, it should have some emotional impact on people. There were plenty that were upset over Springsteen’s decision to not perform in North Carolina, just as there are more than likely many upset that Demi Lovato didn’t come to North Carolina or that LeBron James won’t be making an appearance during the NBA All-Star Game in the state. A protest only works when it hurts, either physically or emotionally. That is what makes a protest enact the change that comes about (eventually) with issues.

I’m putting those unused Bruce Springsteen tickets back in the desk as a reminder to myself for a couple of reasons. One, something has to be lost (in some cases) for a protest to have its desired effect, and Two, there is the ability to protest at all levels, from the richest of us all to the poorest. It will be some time before the protests of the actions in North Carolina and the national discussion of inequality are adequately addressed, but hopefully it is sooner than later.

Freedom of Speech is a Right Until Someone Disagrees with It

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WRITER’S NOTE:  Been awhile, hasn’t it?

Rather than trying to recap what has happened in the world over the last month (to give you a reason for the lack of material, real life invaded on essays – and moving from North Carolina to Florida had a huge impact itself), we’re going to pick up with the latest discussion du jour. Trust me, there’s going to be more concentrated efforts here over the next few months, especially with the Presidential Election on the horizon!

We’re only two weeks away from the start of the National Football League season and, to be honest, it seems as if they are in midseason form in many areas. Complaints about the officiating, season-ending injuries, suspensions for drugs and/or wife beating have been handed out and controversies over who should be playing are already raging and we have only seen each team play two meaningless preseason games. One instance, however, seems to have stepped beyond the bounds of the gridiron and into the public consciousness.

At the start of their game with the Denver Broncos on Friday night, virtually all of the San Francisco 49ers team stood at attention on the sidelines as the National Anthem was played. After the ceremony of the performance and the start of the game, it was noted by television commentators that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was conspicuously missing from the team lineup, instead sitting on the bench behind his teammates as the National Anthem played. What may have been an insignificant occurrence instead became the latest in media-driven hyperbole and faux patriotism.

Following the game, Kaepernick responded to questions about why he didn’t stand for the National Anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick stated, apparently in reference to many of the incidences regarding black people and their killing by law enforcement officers, among other things. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick didn’t hold back from those sentiments after some thought. On Sunday, as a vortex of controversy swirled in the air, Kaepernick doubled down by saying, “I’ll continue to sit. … I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change, and when there’s significant change — and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way it’s supposed to — I’ll stand.”

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Needless to say, this incited a boisterous outpouring of condemnation for Kaepernick, including fans of the 49ers burning his jersey, political pundits blustering that he should give up his job and leave the country and others who blasted him for his political stance. A much smaller segment of the population recognized the reasoning that Kaepernick was using but thought he could have done something other than not stand for the Anthem (for the record, Kaepernick said the protest was in no way a reflection on the military men and women who defend the country). An even more microscopic group agreed with Kaepernick, at their own risks.

First off, let’s look at the rules. There is NOTHING that states the athletes have to stand for the National Anthem. This is the path that officials for the 49ers took, issuing an official statement of support for Kaepernick but stating, “The National Anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony…In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the National Anthem.” The NFL echoed the 49ers brass, with spokesman Brian McCarthy saying, “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”

Secondly, it isn’t the first time such a situation has occurred. Former National Basketball Association guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (born Chris Jackson) refused to stand for the National Anthem during a game in 1996 because of his religious beliefs. This resulted in a one-game ban by then-NBA President David Stern that was quickly rescinded because of Abdul-Rauf’s religious convictions (the two parties eventually negotiated a deal where Abdul-Rauf would recite Islamic prayers yet stand with his teammates for the National Anthem).

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It seems that the problems arise when people – some who would normally be the staunchest defenders of the “freedom of speech” – forget that this caveat of the First Amendment also applies to things to which you don’t agree. Everything is good for people when they are supportive of the messages put into the ethosphere, but when something is stated that violates the bubble that people have put around themselves, then they begin to deride someone’s “freedom of speech” to the point of having it taken away. Many have stated that Kaepernick should be forced to stand for the National Anthem, depriving him of his First Amendment rights.

As a Marine veteran, we are sworn in on an oath to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This oath also includes defending discussion that you don’t necessarily believe in, such as the statement that Mexicans are rapists or throwing a party for Martin Luther King Day that is questionable in nature. It is only through the respect of all speech, including that type of speech that you find objectionable, that the freedom of the First Amendment – and, by extension, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution – are truly exercised.

This seems to be lost on most, however. Some cite their service or that of another family member and view it as an affront (if they truly considered that oath that I spoke of earlier, they’d know they were wrong). Some cite that, by saying Kaepernick was wrong and being criticized for it, THEY are being silenced are also out of line…you can make your statement, but you also have to respect the rights of Kaepernick to his stance and not state that HE should be silenced. The rights granted by government cover a wide range of issues, including flag burning and having a Nazi rally march through a Polish neighborhood, and are not limited to just what is pleasant in your mind.

Kaepernick has made his statement and he is the one who has to stand with it and defend it. Whether you agree with him or not, you have to respect his right to be able to make the statement. Once you start to abbreviate or censor a form of thought, then that First Amendment begins to shrink, something that no one should desire.

Leicester City – The Greatest Sports Achievement Ever?

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It may not have gotten much attention here in the United States, but I certainly was keeping an eye on it over the weekend. For those that don’t know anything about football – soccer to the U. S. fan – the English Premier League’s championship was decided over the weekend. In a shocking occurrence, Leicester City – who was on the verge of relegation (re:  being sent down to a lower division of professional football in England because they finished in the bottom three of the Premier League) with seven games to go last season – completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history in winning the Premiership this season.

How big of a turnaround was this? Here’s some stats to give you an idea. The British bookmaker William Hill had Leicester City as a 5000 to 1 shot to win the Premiership at the beginning of the season last fall (and was still around 100-1 in January when Leicester City was leading the league) and many felt that relegation was more likely for the team in 2016 than anything else. They had to make a late run last year to finish in 14th place and started this year with a new manager, Claudio Ranieri, who wasn’t exactly loved by the Foxes fandom. Additionally, in the 30-plus years of the Premier League (and in going back to 1888 with English football), Leicester City had NEVER won the top-tier football league championship; in fact, in the Premier League, no team not named Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United had won the title since 1995 (Blackburn Rovers).

The stunning turnaround by the Foxes has brought up the question by many if it is the greatest sporting achievement of all-time. While the achievements of Leicester City are up there on the ladder, there’s a whole world of instances like this to choose from.

There are plenty of individual acts that you can put up as the greatest sports achievement ever. If you look at the sport of baseball, we can go back to the legendary Cy Young’s record for most wins by a pitcher of 511. The next closest pitcher to that mark is another member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Walter Johnson, who is nearly 100 wins behind Young with his 417 victories. To get to someone from the “modern era” (let’s be kind and call that 1950), you have to go down to Warren Spahn in sixth place with his 363 wins; even Greg Maddux (355) and Roger Clemens (354), legends from my lifetime, aren’t even close (the active pitcher with the most wins? I didn’t believe it myself…Bartolo Colon with 220!).

Then there are the hitting achievements. Nobody thought that Ty Cobb’s 4191 all-time hit record would ever be touched, but then Pete Rose came along and stroked 4256 hits (best active player? Alex Rodriguez, 3082). The home run record is a bit tainted with the Steroid Era of baseball (I personally still consider Hank Aaron’s 755 the record), but thoughts of anyone touching Barry Bonds’ 762 is a fantasy (even A-Rod – or A-Roid – can’t reach it at 692). The ONE record that might stand the test of time is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak; nobody’s come close to that since 1978, when Rose went for 44 games (most recently, Jimmy Rollins went for 38 between two seasons in 2005-06).

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors

Basketball has its share of great sports achievements and, this time, there are some team acts that come into the mix. This season in the National Basketball Association, the defending champion Golden State Warriors broke the record for most wins in a season (73) that had been held by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The Boston Celtics’ string of eight consecutive NBA championships will never be equaled (neither will their nine titles in twelve years) and the dominance of John Wooden’s UCLA teams in the NCAA Men’s Collegiate Basketball Tournament (champions for seven consecutive seasons, ten in twelve years) is unmistakable.

Still, arguably the biggest achievements in basketball were done by individuals. Back in 1962, the legendary Wilt Chamberlain went off in an NBA game against the New York Knicks, scoring 100 points in a game that was played not in the (then) Philadelphia Warriors’ home in the “City of Brotherly Love” but in Hershey, PA. If that wasn’t good enough, that 1962 season Chamberlain AVERAGED 50.4 points per game and a stunning 25.7 rebounds per contest. It makes the recently retired Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 dim a little in recollection.

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There are potentially only two things that could approach what Leicester City did this season. Once comes from the National Football League and the other comes from the Olympics.

Back in 1969, the New York Jets were a huge underdog to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. An 18-point underdog (the second largest point spread in the history of the Super Bowl, second only to Super Bowl XXIX, where San Francisco was favored by 18.5 points over San Diego), quarterback Joe Namath not only guaranteed that his Jets were going to win the game but then went out and dominated the event, with a late touchdown by the Colts saving them from a shutout. But were the Jets even close to a 5000-1 shot to win Super Bowl III at the start of the season? Even with a similar number of teams in the NFL/AFL at that time as the Premier League has (18 for the NFL/AFL, 20 for the EPL), probably not.

The ONLY thing that might be comparable to the achievement of Leicester City is the Team USA “Miracle on Ice,” the defeat of the Soviet Union’s Red Army team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. It isn’t that the 4-3 match in the semifinals of the Olympic hockey tournament that stands out so much – albeit it was a stunning occurrence – but in looking back at the history between the teams and the overwhelming dominance of the Soviet hockey machine, there are parallels that can be drawn with Leicester City.

The Red Machine stormed through an exhibition tour against National Hockey League teams in 1980, going 5-3-1 before crushing an NHL All-Star team 6-0 to win the Challenge Cup. Team USA, on the other hand, had a 61-game exhibition schedule against European and U. S. teams not nearly as talented as NHL squads before meeting the Red Machine on February 9, 1980. To call that match competitive would be a joke; the Soviets crushed Team USA, 10-3, and went to the Olympics as the overwhelming favorite, while Team USA was thought to have no chance of even reaching the medal round (the semifinals).

Of course, we know now how history played out. Team USA and the Soviet Union would reach the semifinals and be paired together, with the college boys from the lakes and ice rinks of northern U. S. cities and towns giving the vaunted Red Machine – technically soldiers in the Soviet Red Army but professional hockey players all – the toughest game they would receive during the Olympics. After Mike Eruzione gave Team USA the lead with 10 minutes remaining, no one in the crowd of 8500 could believe what they were seeing (believe it or not, the game was not being shown live in the U. S.). As the partisan crowd counted down the seconds – and as announcer Al Michaels would say over the tape-delayed commentary later, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!!” – Team USA would defeat the Soviet Union and, two days later, defeated Finland to win the gold medal.

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When you have to go back more than 30 years – and back to something that was geopolitically charged as well as nationalistically inspired – to find something that is even CLOSE to what you’ve done, then it is pretty special. Let’s not start worrying about how Leicester City will do in defending their championship in the Premiership next season, nor worrying about how the Foxes will do in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League that they have qualified for. Bask in the warming glow of what is arguably the greatest sporting achievement in the history of team sports, whether it is English, European or internationally.

Rail Against a Theocratic Government? Start with The GOP’s Vision for the United States…

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the Republican Party was one that stood up for business interests, be they the street corner “mom and pop” shops or the monolithic companies such as General Motors or General Electric that employed thousands of workers. They stood for a strong defense, a military that was prepared to do battle anywhere but wasn’t wasted on piddling matters that weren’t of our nation’s interests. They also could, at one point in their history, be the spark of what were some of the great movements in the United States, changing what would be the course of our nation.

So what happened to the “Grand Old Party,” the GOP, the Republicans? Religion, and in particular the zealous “Religious Right” is what happened to them. (And this guy? Your guess is as good as mine…)

Over the past few weeks, a couple of states in this country – both with Republican leadership in their legislatures and Republican governors – have passed some of the most heinous laws this country has seen since the Jim Crow days following the close of the Civil War.

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In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory (who has that same sheepish “look what I got away with” bullshit smirk that President George Bush [Bush II] had) signed into law HB 2, officially titled the “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.” Much like other Republican bullshit laws like the “Patriot Act” or the “Troubled Asset Relief Program,” HB 2 was a move by the GOP-led General Assembly to thwart an ordnance that was passed by the city of Charlotte – and only applicable in that city, it must be stated – that allowed for transgender persons to use the bathroom facilities of the sex that they identified with (as such, a man in the process of switching to being a female would use the ladies’ room and vice versa). Calling a special session of the General Assembly to Raleigh (at a minimum cost of $42,000 per day for a state currently running a budget deficit), the GOP felt this HAD to be addressed.

The law specifically outlawed transgendered people from using the restroom of their changed sex, saying that they had to use the facilities of the sex they were identified with on their birth certificate (which of these GOP assholes is going to be the guardian at the gate?). Not only was this an abomination, the General Assembly went further in stripping the rights from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people (LGBT) from state anti-discrimination protections (although they were never mentioned in any discrimination laws previously), including job protection and housing requirements. Finally – and as a last “fuck you” to the people of North Carolina – the General Assembly made it law that no city can raise their minimum wage over what the state deems correct (this is irritating enough on its own).

North Carolina doesn’t take the prize for being the biggest bigots on the block, however. Mississippi voted through the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act (see what I mean about bullshit titling?),” through a bicameral system dominated by Republicans. In that act, the bill allows for the out-and-out discrimination against LGBT people by businesses based on religious reasons. The bill was signed into law by another Republican, Governor Phil Bryant, and is now in effect in the state.

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Other states with Republicans running things have gotten wise and decided it wasn’t worth screwing up business dealings with other states for the potential to have such “religious freedom” laws on the books. Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Maine and Ohio have decided that the ability to have businesses welcomed in the state, movies and television shows filmed inside their borders or athletic events contested in their arenas is better than being a social outcast. This is something that North Carolina is learning and Mississippi will probably be learning soon.

In North Carolina, the National Basketball Association is considering the removal of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and the All-Star Game Weekend festivities from the city, with Basketball Hall of Fame member Charles Barkley seconding those statements. The NCAA is looking at its 2017 and 2018 college sports tournaments, which could host at least 20 games at venues in the state, and whether it will hold those games at those arenas. PayPal has decided against opening a global operations center in Charlotte over the passage of the law (which was to have provided 500 jobs) as Apple, IBM and Google have also lined up in opposition to the law. The streaming television provider Hulu pulled production of its pilot for a new show, Crushed, from the state and, on Friday, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in Greensboro, citing the oppressive new law as the reason. All of these individual items could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues and it is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The Republican Party enjoys talking about how they dislike the theocratic government of Iran or the hideous atrocities that groups like ISIS inflict on their people in the name of religion, but let’s start with them as a zealous religious group that would look to install a theocratic reign of terror should they be allowed everything they would like to see installed (nullification of Roe v. Wade would just be the beginning). The different “religious freedom” laws are about as ludicrous as it gets as NO ONE is infringing on the freedom of ANY religion in this country. Last I checked, you could freely walk around the streets of Anywhere, USA, with a Bible, Book of Mormon, Qur’an or Torah without anyone accosting you. You can gather anywhere – a park, a home, a school or even an actual house of worship that isn’t taxed by said government – without the danger of having the government shut it down. You can even – shock of shocks – WEAR A PENDANT DECLARING YOUR FAITH openly in public. So quit with this bullshit of “religious freedom” and call it what it is – the new way of saying “racial or personal bigotry.”

Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the GOP has slowly been eaten away by the “religious right,” and it has been a slow process. It started against those who were “different” – minorities, gays (this was also the time of the Stonewall Riots in 1969), “foreigners” (screw the fact that many in this country were maybe one or two generations removed from being a foreigner themselves) or “hippies” who were against the Vietnam War. As the 70s came along, that “Religious Right” became capitalized as the GOP discovered that it was a sizeable force that presented several things that a political party likes – a solid voting bloc that won’t sway and, in most cases, quite affluent to be able to support the party financially.

That “Religious Right” became the “Moral Majority” that spewed its vile verbosity across the country in the 1980s, perpetuated by President Ronald Reagan and George Bush (Bush I). With such hucksters as Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts (who once famously said that “God would call him home if he didn’t raise $6 million” in a certain time frame – when it didn’t happen, no one called him on his bullshit), Benny Hinn and others piping their drivel across cable networks, their power continued to grow (never mind that they couldn’t keep their privates in their pants if their lives depended on it). While it might seem it calmed in the 1990s, it only changed its face into the Neo-Conservatives.

ReligiousRight

Those “conservatives” (and I will use that term because there are SOME conservatives out there who are aghast that their GOP has been overrun by religious zealots) have destroyed what was once a party that did things, that tried to run a country. These “conservatives” now want to deny everyone anything (including gay marriage and any other rights), put Christianity as the only religion of the land and, in essence, become the same theocracy they say they preach against (they have their “perfect leader” in Rafael Eduardo Cruz). This isn’t a political party, this is a religious movement that is impersonating a political organization, not the Republican Party or GOP that was around after World War II.

Fortunately, the world is changing. There are fewer and fewer of these brain-dead religious zealots pandering to a close-minded bigoted electorate who still want to look in the bathrooms and bedrooms and keep an eye on what people do, but it isn’t dwindling quickly enough. It’s time to let the GOP know that their archaic social stances will keep them from ever being considered seriously as a political entity. Within a generation, either the GOP will have grudgingly entered the 21st century or they will have died a painful death (they may very well be in those death throes now). If it brings an end to this bigotry masquerading as “religious freedom,” then I’m all for it.

Super Bowl 50, Part One: Got Money Burning a Hole in Your Pocket? Here’s Some Crazy Prop Bets!

SuperBowl50

We are just a couple of days away from the spectacle that will be Super Bowl 50. The Carolina Panthers, led by their becoming-iconic QB Cam Newton and looking to finish their stupendous season with only one loss, will be taking on the Denver Broncos and the legendary QB Peyton Manning in what could be his swan song. What better way to celebrate this matchup than – racking up prop bets on things that don’t even have anything at all to do with these men, these teams or sometimes the game itself!

It is estimated that over $100 million is legally bet on the Super Bowl in Las Vegas and upwards of $3 billion worldwide on the game, legally and illegally. More than half of the Las Vegas total is on something that is called “proposition bets.” These bets aren’t your normal “point spread” occurrences or even something that might go on within the actual field of play itself. They are based on some of the activities that may or may not occur during the play of the game – sometimes not even involving the players themselves.

Prop bets come from “proposition betting” where gambling sharps would rope in rubes with a nicely set up short con, basically. In these “propositions,” the sharp would say that they could do something normally unthinkable – such as the legendary road gambler “Titanic” Thompson’s prop bet that he could drive a golf ball 500 yards (legend has it he pulled this trick against notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone). After getting people to place their bets – normally against him – Thompson would then wait until wintertime, activate the bet and go to a nearby lake, where he would indeed proceed to drive a golf ball 500 yards across the frozen surface.

Prop bets today aren’t far removed from something along the lines of what Thompson did. They sound so outlandish that you don’t think that they will happen but, if you do your homework, you can actually make some hay out of the bets. There are also those that you should stay far away from because they are an obvious setup bet. Over the next few choices, we’re going to take a look at some of these prop bets, examine them closely and try to decide whether to take a shot at them or not.

Will there be a missed extra point in the game?

Yes – +300
No – -360

(Remember, this means that, if you want “yes,” you’d have to wager $100 to win $300, for “no” you’d have to wager $360 to win $100)

This was the first year that the National Football League experimented with a longer extra point attempt. Previous to this season, all extra point attempts were from the two-yard line, resulting in a roughly 20-yard attempt for a point. In 2015, however, the NFL backed the kick spot up to the 15-yard line, making the kick a 32-yard attempt. As a result, 71 extra point attempts were missed this year, a 94.2% conversion rate (the lowest rate since 1982). Using that factor, there should be a better payout for those looking to bet the “yes” route. Add in the statistic that Graham Gano of the Panthers and Brandon McManus of the Broncos only missed a grand total of four extra point attempts between each other this year, I’d pass on this one as it isn’t likely to occur. Still, a bet on “Yes” wouldn’t be out of the question…two years ago, the Seattle Seahawks defense scored a safety for the first score of Super Bowl XLVIII, a traditional long-shot prop bet that paid out handsomely for many people for the first time in the history of the Super Bowl.

The first touchdown of the game will be:

Passing touchdown – -165
Any other – +145

The Panthers have scored their first touchdown eight times on the ground, six times through the air and two times via an interception. The Broncos have gotten their first touchdown six times via a passing play. For some reason, the odds makers are saying that the first touchdown is going to come through the air when it is slightly more likely that it will come through other means. I like taking the “any other” route with this one as Newton’s legs or a defensive TD would be a winner.

Stephen Curry (-4.5/-110) scores more points than the Panthers (+4.5/-110)

Here’s where things start to get fun. When you start throwing the results from two sports into the mix, then you really either know your stuff when it comes to sports betting or just like to set your money on fire. In this case, we will put the reigning Most Valuable Player from the defending National Basketball Association’s champion Golden State Warriors, guard Stephen Curry, and put him up against the entire Carolina Panther offense in a simple challenge:  who will score the most points?

Just a couple of nights ago, Curry went unconscious in scoring 51 points in a game, including scoring 25 in the first quarter alone. Currently he is averaging 29.8 per game to lead the NBA in scoring so, allowing for the spread, the Panthers would have to come within 4.5 points of Curry’s output against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night in Oakland. With the Thunder/Warriors game on primetime television – and the fact that Curry will be taking on two other superstars of the NBA in the Thunder’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – I’m expecting Curry to go off in this game; take Curry and give up the points. Don’t bother about betting the money line on this one because whenever you see both sides with the same payoff, there’s no side for action.

GRAMMY Awards 2015

Length of time for Lady Gaga to sing the National Anthem:

UNDER 2:20 – -200
OVER 2:20 – +150

It wasn’t announced until this week that Lady Gaga would take on the National Anthem prior to the start of the Super Bowl and, once she was named, the wagering began on how long it would take her to sing the song. There is actually a precedent for Gaga with the National Anthem; in 2013, she performed the National Anthem in public and brought it in five seconds under the 2:20 that the line is currently set. You can also consider that, off the last ten Super Bowls played, only one (Alicia Keys in Super Bowl XLVII) went longer than 2:20 (Keys’ was 2:35).

Personally, I think that the scheduling for the Super Bowl has gotten so precise that there is no way that it will go beyond 2:20. I’d like to see a Lady Gaga prop bet on whether she’ll be dressed normally – like she was when she performed on the Academy Awards last year when she performed her stirring tribute to Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music – or whether she’ll come dressed as the Vince Lombardi Trophy. For this bet, though, take the UNDER.

How many times will the Golden Gate Bridge be shown?

OVER .5 – -400
UNDER .5 – +250

This is an intriguing bet. All the Golden Gate Bridge would have to do is show up once to either win someone a nice payday or, if it doesn’t show at all, let someone else pick up some nice green. You might think this one is a no-brainer, but some are overthinking it way too much. The game is being contested in Santa Clara, CA, at Levi’s Stadium, quite some distance from the Golden Gate Bridge, which makes some believe that the iconic span won’t be seen at all during the game broadcast. But the stadium IS the home for the San Francisco 49ers, the Super Bowl festivities for the week have consistently been focused around the Bay Area (that’s where the NFL Network and ESPN has parked their carcasses for the week) and the two teams are both staying in hotels in San Francisco. That means the stock footage shot by the CBS crew has got to have some of the San Fran surroundings in it and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge is a part of that. If you’re going to bet this angle, take the OVER and pick up an easy payday.

Will Mike Carey be wrong on a challenge?

YES – +145
NO – -190

It is tough enough for the seven guys on the field – the officials assigned to the game by the NFL – to determine what happens in a football game, let alone the Super Bowl. In that rare case when there is a replay challenge – either called by one of the coaches or by dictate of the rules – it can be even more difficult for the replay official to make a determination of the call. That is where CBS’ replay guru Mike Carey comes into play.

Carey, a veteran official who worked one Super Bowl, has caught a great deal of grief for some missteps he has made through the season regarding review calls. With hope, there will be no need for Carey’s (or the replay official’s) services in Super Bowl 50 but, just in case there is a couple of instances where Carey is called on, let’s go ahead and pick YES here for a nice $145 score if we bet $100.

What color will be the Gatorade dump?

Orange – +125
Blue – +300
Clear – +400
Yellow – +400
Red – +600
Green – +1000
Purple – +1000

You might think that, with the Panthers favored to win the game, that a bet on BLUE would be a good call here. That isn’t necessarily the case; after winning the NFC Championship Game, the Panthers doused head coach Ron Rivera with ORANGE Gatorade. In fact, three of the last six Super Bowl winners have chosen the ORANGE bath and that seems to be the safe way to go. I’ve looked around and the one bet that I haven’t been able to find…what if, for a change, there wasn’t a Gatorade bath? I’d like to put a wager on that one myself.

And that’s the thing about Super Bowl prop bets…if you look around long enough, if you find the right spot online or you find yourself in the right locale to be able to get someone to set the bet for you personally, you can bet on pretty much anything about the game. It also gives you something to think about, especially if the game turns into a blowout (see Super Bowl XLVIII, Seattle vs. Denver, as an example).

In Part Two, we’ll actually look at the reason everyone will be tuning in on Sunday…THE COMMERCIALS!!! No, we will take a look at the game and see who will be lifting the Lombardi Trophy come Sunday night.

Goin’ South: Pick For the Next NASCAR Champion and Why NASCAR’s Popularity Died

Irwin Tools Night Race

After a week like the one the world has been having, everyone just needs to step off this weekend and let their minds dwell on less testy matters. The start of college basketball season has been a nice salve for me as it is always interesting to watch the next crop of multi-million dollar NBA pros ply their trade…I mean, play for the honor of the school they are attending. Add in the NFL, the NBA and NCAA college football and the plate is pretty full.

I happened to glance at the calendar and realized this weekend is “Championship Weekend” for NASCAR, the venerable stock car racing body in the United States. On Sunday, four men (and we will get to details on them in a moment) – four-time champion Jeff Gordon, defending champion Kevin Harrick, “wild child” Kyle Busch and “steady Eddie” Martin Truex, Jr. – will be eligible to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in the final race of the “Chase for the Sprint Cup (oddly enough, also its final race…a new sponsor takes over in 2016).” Usually I would have been all over this – who doesn’t like a good stock car race? – but, as I have grown older (and NASCAR has made mistakes), it isn’t a priority to me anymore.

One of the problems with NASCAR is that the season lasts WAY too long. Beginning at the start of February with preparations for the Daytona 500, NASCAR only takes about three weeks off between then and almost the end of November, when they conduct the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. That’s nine months of week-in, week-out events and they all can’t be “edge of your seat” entertainment. There’s more times than not that the product put on the stage is more a solution for insomnia than bringing somebody back to life.

Secondly, there is this manufactured “Chase for the Cup” as a method of determining a champion. About ten years ago, NASCAR thought they needed to add some drama to their method for determining a champion. Some years a driver would win so much that, by the end of the season, said driver had already locked up the championship and made the final race of the season a snooze fest, something that didn’t set well with NASCAR brass from a fan perspective as well as a television (advertisers) perspective.

To counteract this, NASCAR came up with the “Chase.” Using a variety of different point qualifying methods over the years, essentially after 26 races (leaving the final 10 as a “playoffs”) the top ten racers would be separated from the field and deemed the “only” drivers who could win the Sprint Cup. This “playoff” system has been derided by many old school fans of the sport but can be given credit for drawing some eyes towards the battle for the championship over the years (usually after some big crash has caused a fight between the drivers while in the pits).

Thirdly, if you haven’t seen a race on television lately, the reason is that it is harder to find than a virgin in the infield at Talladega. With the current television contract (split between the Fox Television Network and its Fox Sports 1 cable outlet and NBC and their cable side, NBCSN), there are at least four different networks you’d have to search over to find the race. If you don’t have the proper cable package, you might not get NBCSN or Fox Sports 1; that means you’re going to miss some races that have been shuffled off of the major network to these cable sister stations.

Finally, have you looked at attendance at the tracks over the past couple of years? There is hardly anyone in the stands for some of the biggest events on the schedule. It is almost expected that some areas like Kansas, Kentucky or even California might not be able to fill the grandstands (due to location or just plain boring racing), but when such popular racetracks as Talladega and Bristol have empty seats, something is going wrong.

The problems facing NASCAR aren’t exclusive to that sport alone, however (OK, having races somewhere in Kansas might be, but we’ll let that alone for now). Much like the National Football League, with the advent of HDTV and internet services, fans are more likely to stay at home – where they can see pretty much everything going on rather than just when the race screams past them for the umpteenth time – and kick back in their recliner to watch the event. Count in cheaper beverages, not having to pay for a ticket (a family of four could spend as much as $400 to attend one race) and not having to deal with pre- and post-race traffic, it isn’t hard to see why attendance is down and, perhaps, even viewership (due to the television contracts and the different stations).

OK, if you’ve reached this far, you’re probably interested in a prediction on who will win the Ford 400 (look, you have to have a bigger name for your Championship Event than this!) on Sunday. Let’s break the four contenders down in their “Pros and Cons.”

Jeff Gordon

PROS:  This Sunday is the final race in what will eventually be a Hall of Fame career for Gordon. The four-time NASCAR champion would like to go out on top with a fifth championship and there is a sentimentality factor for the fans to send him out that way.

CONS:  For the past few years (he won his last NASCAR championship in 2001), Gordon has been hanging on the edge of the game. Sure, he gets a win once in a while and, for the most part, always was in the Chase for the Cup, but he never was a serious contender. If Gordon was to win the championship, the screams of “FIX!!!” would be heard at racetracks from Fontana to New Hampshire.

Kevin Harvick

PROS:  The defending champion of the series, a likeable character nicknamed “Happy” (once a tongue-in-cheek ode to his temperamental outbursts), Harvick would demonstrate that his 2014 title wasn’t a fluke. He’s been at or near the top of the leaderboard all season long and has won three races over the course of the season.

CONS:  While leagues may like dynasties, NASCAR fans don’t (just ask six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who won five of them in a row). Harvick also rubs some people the wrong way with his attitude towards other drivers, especially when he uses the same tactics. Thoughts are if he hadn’t caused a huge wreck at the end of the November Talladega race, he wouldn’t even have made it to the Round of Eight in the “Chase.”

Kyle Busch

PROS:  One of the most winning drivers in NASCAR and its different racing series over the past decade. Huge talent that has never been this close to claiming a championship. Has a racing pedigree with his brother, Kurt, also winning a NASCAR Cup title. Won four times over the course of the season.

CONS:  Bratty, arrogant, pompous – these are a few of the kinder adjectives used to describe Busch. All those wins hasn’t exactly bought him a great deal of respect from the fans, either. Missed a great deal of the season after a crash at Daytona in February broke his leg; he needed a waiver from NASCAR (and a bit of hard work on his part) to even make the “Chase” to begin with.

Martin Truex, Jr.

PROS:  The epitome of hard work. A single car team from outside the South (the Furniture Row team Truex drives for is based in Denver, CO), Truex has been able to bring this team to the precipice of the goal of any competitor – being a champion. One of the most popular drivers with both fans and fellow drivers in the garage…don’t think that anyone would begrudge him winning the title.

CONS:  Who? Truex isn’t exactly the fan-favorite like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and he nor his team have the history of being among the best in stock car racing, a field that is dominated by three or four large teams for the most part (racing teams operated by Hendricks, Gibbs and Childress, for the most part). If he were to win the title and not win on Sunday (the champion will be determined by who finishes the highest amongst these four men in the race), his one win would be the least by a champion since Matt Kenseth in 2003.

I’ll probably tune in for the final 20 laps or so of the race on Sunday, but I certainly won’t be glued to it as I might have been in the past. While the story of Gordon is nice, the story of the “underdog” Truex is a better story, so I’ll be rooting for him. Hey, it isn’t like they won’t be starting the next season in a month or so anyway.