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Monday, April 29, 2013

The man known as "Twin" knows how to win

Jason Collins was a member of the New Jersey Nets for more than six seasons. He was the starting center for the Jason Kidd-led teams that won two straight NBA Eastern Conference titles and went to the NBA Finals.

Collins was affectionately known as "Twin" during his days with the Nets, because he has an identical twin brother, Jarron, who also played in the NBA.

Although he wasn't a star with the Nets, "Twin" was always cordial in terms of offering himself to be interviewed, either at practices or after games. He was always willing to answer the tough questions, standing there, facing the media, every single day of the basketball season.

I always looked forward to the smiling Collins, who would handle jokes about being a classmate of Chelsea Clinton at Stanford and battling with the Secret Service, or having a twin brother and fighting over the remote.

Today, Collins became one of the bravest athletes to ever put on a uniform. He agreed to an interview with Frank Lidz of Sports Illustrated and in the story, Collins admitted that he is gay.

Collins said that he battled with the decision to come out of the closet, to become the first active athlete in any of the four major sports in the United States to admit that he was a homosexual.

Collins is now 34. He's played 11 seasons in the NBA. He's been part of six different teams. The news that Collins is gay isn't shocking or disturbing. In fact, Collins coming out while he's currently a free agent (his contract with the Washington Wizards expired once the NBA Playoffs began) is as courageous of a move that any basketball player has ever made.

Collins' decision to come out was the talk of the pre-game chatter at the Barclays Center, where the Brooklyn Nets were set to face the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs.

Everyone agreed that Collins was indeed a great guy and that his decision to come out now was indeed as brave as it comes.

"It is an honor for me to call Jason Collins a friend," said Brook Lopez, who also attended Stanford before coming to the Nets. "I admire his dignity as well as his courage to come out. I'll always have his back."
Joe Johnson, who played with Collins last year in Atlanta, also offered his praise of Collins.

"Jason Collins was one of the best teammates I've ever had," Johnson said. "I respect his tremendous courage to come out. I will always support him."

The reaction from the sports world has all been positive. The Twitter posts have all praised Collins for having the fortitude to come to grips with his sexuality.

Should it matter that Collins is gay? If he was an entertainer or an accountant or even a clergyman, the announcement wouldn't have received a peep of attention.

But because Collins plays in the manly NBA, with an image of rugged men sweating and dunking and soaring, the announcement has newsworthy aspects.

It was the lead story on ESPN's SportsCenter. It was the topic of conversation in both locker rooms prior to Game 5 and asked to both head coaches in the pre-game press conference.

Because Collins is an active member of the masculine and manly NBA, his coming out becomes huge news.

When honestly, it shouldn't. In today's day and age, we should be able to respect anyone's sexuality. We should be able to hear such news and let it roll off our backs.

However, you can be rest assured that Collins will be the victim of scorn and verbal abuse wherever he goes from ignorant fans who just simply don't know better.

"Twin" Collins couldn't even tell his twin brother about his sexuality until a year ago. That's how worried he was about telling the truth about the secret he hid for so long until yesterday.

No one should be ashamed for what they are. Gay, straight, bisexual. It's their lives, their priorites. Professional athletes are people like the rest of us. They don't have to have their lives placed under microscopes and scrutinized just because they play pro sports.

So in that respect, Jason Collins was indeed courageous in putting his private life on display for the rest of the world to see. Maybe it will encourage other gay athletes to follow Collins' lead and come out as well. Martina Navratilova has already declared Collins to be a "gay activist."

She's right. By coming out on the cover of SI, Collins became an instant celebrity for gay rights. Not there's anything wrong with that.

I applaud Collins for doing what he did. I wish others would follow suit so being a gay athlete isn't such a negative stigma. We are who we are. Jason Collins just happens to be gay. And that's something he should be proud of.
Everyone should be as accepting.

Thirty-one years in the sportswriting business and I had a first happen to me Sunday.

As I awaited to speak to the WINNING team in a local baseball tournament, the team's assistant coach told me to get off the field. And it wasn't in nice terms.

I was at the lip of the infield grass. The team sat on the outfield, so I was about 20 yards away from where they were gathered together.

The assistant coach, mind you, said that I was too close to the group, that I could hear what they were saying.

"Get off the field," the assistant coach said.

So I did. I got in my car and drove back home. I'm not about to get scolded like I'm a 5-year-old in kindergarten by an assistant coach no less. There were better ways to handle the situation. The coach should have come over to me and explained what was going on.

The assistant coach ran to catch me at my car, but kept yelling, "Bob, Bob, Bob." At last check, I'm not Bob.

He got to my car and tried to explain that they were a private team and they were addressing a private matter. I don't care of they were planning the next Brink's Job. I just wanted quotes from the head coach and two players and go home. It was already an exhausting day.

But I couldn't have heard what was happening with a hearing aid. I was that far away. It was ridiculous, embarassing and something that will not happen again.

I've had friends in the business that said I should have told the coach off. I'm better than that. I did what any good baseball player does. I went home.

And as for the rest of the high school season, you can bet your bottom dollar I won't be at that place. Dignity has to be a priority, you know.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Barchi has to go, too

Let's face facts. No one in the sports world knew who Robert Barchi was until a few days ago, when it was revealed that Barchi, the president of Rutgers University, never saw the now-famous tapes of RU basketball practices under the now-deposed head coach Mike Rice.

But after Friday's bizarre press conference that was televised live on the high-and-almighty ESPN, the sports world certainly now knows who Barchi is. One thing is for sure: He's no Jerry Seinfeld, but Barchi certainly tried to be at least light-hearted, if not mistakenly funny, during the whole mess.

While Barchi was trying his best to tap dance around the tough questions, he failed to reveal one important fact.

Why in the world did Barchi wait until Tuesday, a day after everyone saw the shocking videos on ESPN, to view the tapes himself?

Barchi, who took the job as Rutgers president just last November, should have gone out of his way to make sure he knew what was on those tapes when now-former AD Tim Pernetti brought it to his attention that something had to be done to punish Rice back in December.

As soon as Pernetti told Barchi that such horrific videos existed, then the president should have taken the time to view the tapes with Pernetti in attendance. Then they should have both agreed on the right course of action, which of course, should have been Rice's dismissal back then.

But Barchi enabled Pernetti to make the decision to simply suspend and fine Rice on his own. It's your athletic mess, Tim, you take care of it.

Now we all know that it wasn't the most prudent thing to do. Because now Rutgers has a major crisis on its hand and the school continues to suffer daily embarrassments by leading every single sports show imaginable, including ESPN, which is treating the whole thing like they're proud they broke the story.

ESPN has been treating this mess as "Hey, look what we did!"

"As first reported on our Outside the Lines..."

That's just a little sickening for my taste. ESPN is pounding its chest while Rice and Pernetti lost their jobs.

They shouldn't have been the only ones. When he decided not to take the time to watch the tapes in December when Pernetti brought the tapes to his attention, Barchi lost the right to lead the university.

Barchi basically threw Pernetti under the bus Tuesday by saying that he hadn't watched the tapes, watched Pernetti squirm as he had to fire Rice, then drove the bus back over Pernetti by forcing him to resign.

Plain and simple, the new sports icon Barchi should have marched out the door at the same time. He failed to administer any sense of decency by allowing Rice to stay.

Now, he stands before a press conference and tries to crack jokes? What's so funny about this?

No one knew who Barchi was before Monday. It should be that no one knows who he is again by this Monday. He got his 15 minutes _ literally. Now it's time for him to disappear as well.

And as long as he stays around, Rutgers will continue to look like a complete laughingstock _ and do you think that's what the Big 10 wants, as Rutgers comes waltzing through the front door with its collective hand outstretched, looking to claim its first $22 million payday from the Big 10 Network.

No, I think if Big 10 guru Jim Delany had his way, he would reneg on that deal now, because Rutgers' failings in this mess only now makes the Big 10 look silly they accepted Rutgers in the first place.

Barchi can't dance around the fact that he failed to lead Rutgers through this mess. He ignored the warning sign from Pernetti by failing to watch the horror show, then made like a spoiled kid in kindergarten by basically throwing Pernetti to the wolves and stating, "Hey, I didn't do it. He did."

And then, as the so-called leader of the state university, he dances around questions at a press conference and tries to make light of the situation.

It's all part of this embarrassment that won't go away anytime soon _ or at the very least until ESPN stops leading SportsCenter with the daily saga.

And here's my last bit on this Rutgers crap: How in the hell is Eric Murdock being treated like a champion in all this?

The former assistant coach, who as the director of basketball operations was in charge of filing the practice tapes and keeping a record of them, tried to extort $950,000 from Pernetti, when he said "Gimme the money and this goes away. And if you don't..."

It's not heroic. It's extortion. Now Murdock is filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against Rutgers. Well, Eric, here's some news for you. You weren't fired or terminated. You just weren't rehired. Your contract expired and that was that. There's no cause for a suit. Wrongful termination, my derriere.

I don't understand how Murdock walks away from this looking like a hero. In my eyes, he walks away smelling like a rat.

From Atlanta and the Final Four, I'm trying to find a way how the Shockers of Wichita State are going to upset Louisville, but I can't. I also remember the former Wichita State head coach Eddie Fogler hanging out in Dohoney's in Jersey City way back when, saying that he was going to get Jerry Walker to go to Wichita. Fogler was certain he had a shot to get Walker, when in reality, he had no shot. Much like the Shockers have no shot today.

The second game will be more interesting. We're hoping that John Beilein and the Wolverines can somehow beat Syracuse. Beilein is a fantastic coach who coached Carlos Cueto at the University of Richmond. I coached Cueto, the current Secaucus High head coach, when he was 14. Is there a parallel? Hardly. But we want Beilein and the sensational Player of the Year Trey Burke to win.

With that, until Rutgers makes news with some other disaster, we will bid farewell and head out to enjoy the sights in Hotlanta.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

No question, Rice should have been fired

First, let me start this entry by saying that Mike Rice is a great guy. The now-beleaguered former Rutgers basketball coach is a family man, a devoted husband and father.

I've known Mike since his playing days at Fordham, when he was a tough-as-nails guard who was quick to pick up a charge and not afraid to dive on the floor for a loose ball.

I followed Mike through his days as an assistant coach at my alma mater Marquette, a hard-working, diligent student of the game. I watched him work his way toward becoming the head coach at Robert Morris and witnessed first hand a verbal altercation between Rice and former Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez during a game, where Gonzalez was heard threatening Rice.

"Jimmy, did he just say he wanted to kick my ass?" Rice asked me during that game at the Prudential Center, a game where Robert Morris managed to blow a 22-point lead in the second half. "Did he really just say that?"

I heard Gonzalez's taunt and later told Rice that if a fight was going to take place between the two, I might have been right behind Rice. As everyone knows, there was no love lost between me and Gonzo.

So when Rice got the job at Rutgers, I was generally happy for him. I thought he was an excellent hire and would do a great job in Piscataway.

I was wrong. Dead wrong.

The rest of the universe realizes that as well, after ESPN aired the horrific tapes of the practice antics of Rice _ throwing the ball deliberately at the heads of his players, grabbing and pushing them, calling them derogatory names, even going as far as kicking one.

Watching the tapes were sickening. Everyone had to sit in a state of shock watching them, wondering if they were for real. You almost wanted to turn away, like videos of nannies tormenting babies or sick individuals torturing animals. It was almost too unbelievable for words.

So it wasn't a shock that Rice was relieved of his duties this morning. In fact, it's a wonder why it took so long.

Rutgers thought they did the right thing by suspending Rice in December for three games, docking his pay for about $35,000 and fining him an additional $50,000.

But that was on the suggestion of AD Tim Pernetti after he was given access to the tapes. Pernetti apparently never showed the tapes to his superiors, to the school president, to the chancellor.

The powers-that-be were blind-sided by the extreme violence of the tapes. They didn't realize the brutality until it was too late.

So now Rice is deservedly gone, with the school taking a $1.8 million hit for his firing. Pernetti more than likely will be shown the door as well, because it was his duty to show the tapes to his superiors when he received them.

There are some major problems with this story. Why did Pernetti fail to show the tapes to his bosses? Why did Eric Murdock try to basically extort money from Rutgers, trying to bargaining with Pernetti and school officials, asking for a reported $1 million to keep the tapes private? That's just really sleezy to say the least.

Why didn't Pernetti fire Rice when Pernetti first received word of the tapes in November? Was it done to try to save face because Rutgers was applying for admission to the Big Ten? That news of such horrific actions by their basketball coach might be enough to steer the Big Ten clear of Piscataway?

It's just another chapter of hideous behavior involving the men's basketball coaches at the school. We recall former coach Kevin Bannon forcing his players to strip naked during free throw drills. And then there was former coach Freddie Hill, Jr. going apeshit during a baseball game coached by his father.

Now, this latest episode. Why do these things always happen to Rutgers?

Where do they go for a replacement? Well, it's late in the coach/recruiting game right now and whoever leads the RU athletic program in the weeks and months to come will have to find a suitable leader who will make the school proud in its final season in the American Athletic Conference - WHAT A PINCH OF THE ACC THAT WAS! - and then the Big 10.

But that coach will have to come on the cheap, because any coach will have to make less money than women's coach C. Vivian Stringer. However, Rutgers will most certainly have to overpay to get someone to turn this troubled mess around.

Some of my writing colleagues mentioned Danny Hurley as a possible replacement. Well, why would Danny want this mess, when he's already got a good paying gig in Rhode Island? Maybe they can woo former assistant Darren Savino home from Cincinnati. There were others mentioned like Fran Dunphy of Temple, but he's also getting more than Rutgers will be willing to pay, again less than what Stringer gets.

Whatever happens won't change one thing. Rutgers is once again the laughingstock of college athletics, with these tapes making the lead story on the network news broadcasts. Free publicity? Hardly.

Mike Rice is now gone and will take a long time to get back into any school's graces to even be an assistant, much like the guy he almost locked horns with at the Prudential Center three years ago. But nothing will change my opinion that Rice is basically a good guy who got wound too tight when he coached, made some mistakes and will now pay the ultimate price with his job.

Bad guy? No way, no how. Anyone who has ever met Rice will say the same thing. He was just completely out of control as a coach and never had a chance to harness that intensity in a positive fashion.

And it's safe to say that Pernetti might not be too far behind.

I attended Opening Day at CitiField Monday and once again, I was dismayed with what went on.

First of all, my ticket cost $130 and I was in the left field bleachers. C'mon. Jacking up the prices for Opening Day is like price gouging at a gasoline station. It's wrong. These were $45 seats at best. And the sad thing was that there were several hundred of these $130 tickets in my section.

Secondly, as I pulled up next to the ballpark, I noticed these huge tents in the left field parking lot. I wondered what in the world they were.

As I got closer, I realized that they were the home for the Cirque de Soleil troupe, which is apparently performing in the tents from now until Christmas.

Wait a second! In the parking lot at CitiField on Opening Day? What wizard dreamed up that deal? It was just another sign of the Coupon family trying to nickle and dime their way into our hearts. Can you comprehend putting some circus troupe in the parking lot on Opening Day, forcing fans to park in Astoria?

Now, you get inside and the concession lines were longer than the bread lines in Russia during the Cold War. It took about an hour to buy a beer. Or even fried dough. Yes, that's what they sell. Fried dough.

However, on the beer line, they had one octogenarian who saw Babe Ruth play live trying to operate the beer line ALONE! I've seen dead animals move faster that this senior citizen. When I got to the front of the line after three innings, I said, "Why do they have you working alone?" She replied, "I don't mind." Sure, you don't mind, Lady, but the rest of us thirsty morons do.

It was yet another example of the Coupon organization doing something on the cheap. They couldn't hire additional people to work the stands on Opening Day? Or have additional ticket takers or ushers? Nope. They let us all suffer.

Sure, the Mets won and a lot of people left happy. But I wasn't one of them. The Mets are a second-rate cheap as they come organization. I was embarrassed to be a fan on Monday.

OK, so they're 2-0 now...that's nice. But what about those blasted circus tents???

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