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Monday, December 1, 2014

Rams receivers out of line with stupid display

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incredibly, there were four juveniles who beat an unarmed man with a hammer in Ferguson over the weekend, but there was no outcry about that. Or there was a cop in South Carolina who shot an unarmed 30-year-old man. Yes, the four juveniles were black, the victim white in Ferguson. But there were no protests. The cop in South Carolina black, the victim white. Al Sharpton wasn't seen going there to voice his displeasure.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

My take on the Sayreville nightmare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was embarrassing in itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Did Tony Stewart mean to hit the kid he killed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thing is for sure: Tony Stewart's days as a commercial spokesman for anything are done. No one will touch him at all from now on.

I personally don't care how poorly Tiger Woods has played since his return to golf from back surgery. He deserves a spot on the Ryder Cup team in next month's competition as an alternate selection by captain Tom Watson.

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

Woods deserves the spot on reputation and resume. It shouldn't even be a debate. Plus, he will add some drama to the event, especially if he goes head-to-head with Rory McIlroy, who is definitely the new king of golf.

Incredibly, the high school football, college football and NFL regular season are less than a month away. The baseball season is within the last 50 games. The summer is rapidly slipping away. Through the wicked winter months, all we could do is say, "I can't wait for summer." Well, now it's here and it's almost gone. How does time go by so fast now?

ESPN has been policing itself by suspending personalities Stephen A. Smith, Dan LeBetard and Max Kellerman for their actions on and off air.

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

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

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

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

Do you think the Disney company wants to be associated with people who make such insidious comments about women? Think about that one.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dungy way out of line on comments about Sam

First things first.

I respect Tony Dungy very much. I applaud his grace and class as a football coach, as being the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl. He always displayed a lot of class in everything he did as a pro football coach.

I ached for Dungy and his family when his son, James, committed suicide eight years ago. It was one of the most heart wrenching moments in recent memory.

With that all said, I have to say this one thing: Tony Dungy is a jackass.

I never felt that way before until the other day, when Dungy got on his soapbox and boldly stated that he would have never drafted Michael Sam, because Sam being gay would "cause such a distraction" to everyone else on the St. Louis Rams.

If that wasn't bad enough, Dungy went on the Dan Patrick radio show to clarify what he said, that Dungy "didn't agree with Sam's lifestyle."

Lifestyle? Like gay lifestyle? Like it's a style of life?

I understand that Dungy is a deeply religious man. I also realize that there are some with the religious backgrounds who truly believe that being gay or lesbian is evil and that it is a bad choice to make.

That way of thinking is not only backward. It's just wrong.

Being gay or lesbian isn't a choice. It's a way of life.

So I understand Dungy's backward thinking because of his religious beliefs. I just don't agree with it.

And if Dungy thinks that having a gay player in a locker room as a distraction, he must be brutally naïve to think he had never coached a gay player during his days as a coach with either the Steelers or the Buccaneers. In all those years as a coach, Dungy had to have mentored a gay player.

Approximately 10 percent of the world's male population is reported to be gay. Does Dungy believe that he avoided that number entirely as a football coach? It's highly unlikely.

So if there were gay players in Dungy's locker rooms in the past, were they distractions as well? Well, probably not, because those players had to remain in the closet for fear of public persecution and scorn.

Michael Sam took a stand to come out and bravely tell the world about his sexual orientation and a former football coach (who now ironically is a supposed respected football television analyst for NBC Sports) says that he is causing a distraction and that he wouldn't have drafted Sam.

I got news for you. If Michael Sam was guaranteed to become the next coming of Kevin Greene or Warren Sapp, Dungy would have snagged him in a heartbeat, distraction or not. But because Sam is not a sure-fire NFL player and a seventh round draft pick, Dungy feels inclined to say such a ridiculous thing.

Here's how much of a distraction it will be. If Michael Sam can rush the passer and collect sacks like he did when he was a member of the Missouri Tigers, then it won't matter if Sam likes to sleep with other men or sheep or donkeys or green Martians. It will be because Michael Sam is a good football player.

Sure, I have a bit of a vested interest, being a diehard Rams fan. I applauded the Rams hierarchy, namely general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher, for having the guts to draft Sam and put him in a comfort zone, playing pro football just down the road from where he went to college. It all comes down to whether Sam can play or not.

As for being a distraction, there have been gay athletes before. I've personally known of several MLB players and several NBA players who were known (albeit in private circles) to be gay. Those athletes' teammates had to know that they were gay, yet there wasn't much if a distraction, because nothing was ever said about it.

I have to say that most of women's college basketball and later on, the WNBA, has featured women who are lesbian. Only a handful have officially come out and declared their sexual preferences. Distractions? Doubtful.

It's one thing for Dungy to have an opinion about gay marriage and gay people in general. It's another to express that opinion about an obviously courageous young man who has to live everyday under scrutiny.

Because Michael Sam is no longer the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He's no longer known as the best defensive football player to come out of Missouri. He's forever known as the first openly gay pro football player, with his entire life thrust under a microscope.

And he certainly didn't need someone like Tony Dungy to be as judgmental as he was. Sam handled it well, saying, "Well, I'm lucky that Tony Dungy isn't the coach of the St. Louis Rams."

You can say that again.

There will be a day when an athlete's sexual preference isn't an issue. I hope that day comes very soon, because it really shouldn't matter one iota. All that matters is whether that athlete can play their respective sport.

For now, we all still live in a giant fishbowl, where an athlete's image can be tarnished by sexual preference. We applaud wife beaters and drug users in sports. We cheer for drunk drivers and others who have been arrested. We accept gun toting people and forgive steroid cheaters.

But a decent young man like Michael Sam declares that he's gay and instantly he's subjected to ridiculous persecution from anyone who has a narrow mind.

Frankly, it's a little sickening. And totally disheartening.
I learned some sad news today. I learned that a fellow patient/friend of mine when I was at Kessler last fall took his own life, unable to handle the daily rigors of being a paraplegic. The young man, who broke his neck in an accident last August, was just 23 years old.

We joked with each other while doing physical therapy last year about our favorite football teams, him being an Eagles fan and me with the Rams. We spent one Sunday afternoon watching football together. He was full of life and seemed content with his fate as being wheelchair-bound. Or so I believed.

God bless him. I know the great people at Kessler worked hard in trying to rehabilitate him, but sometimes, the pressures of life can become too much for a young man who had such an active, athletic existence.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Dick Cheney should be ashamed of himself

This blog is a week in coming, but it is definitely necessary, especially with the tension going on currently in Iraq.

OK, so I'm starting off with a non-sports point, but I've been really angry since our former beloved vice-president Dick Cheney, a man with a very appropriate first name, appeared on national television last week, donning a cowboy hat and a vest, trying his best to look like a cross between Ben Cartwright and the man who shot Liberty Vallance, instead of the clod who once shot his hunting partner in the face.

This fool actually went on CNN and Fox News to say that the current administration, especially President Obama, was at fault as to what's going on now currently in Iraq, that it was the current administration's mishandling of Iraqi policies that led to the country's major cities falling to the radical military.

Now, I'm not a flag waving supporter of our current President. In fact, after the way he handled the trade of five Al-Queda leaders for one U.S. soldier who appeared to be a deserter, I'm done defending what Obama does. I voted for him twice, but his sole claim to fame right now is taking down Osama bin Laden and implementing a health care policy that doesn't fit the needs of all Americans. Other than that, it's been six years of wasted time.

But is this current administration to blame for what is going on in Iraq?

I think it's safe to say that there wouldn't be any situations in Iraq whatsoever if it wasn't for that money-hungry war monger, who still had his hands deep in a cookie jar called Halliburton, the company that had a $2.5 billion contract with the U.S. Army to build military bases and to also find oil refinery fields in Iraq.

Bingo. The appropriately named Dick Cheney was set to make a boat load of cash on a war in Iraq, so he contrived an idea that Saddam Hussein and the radical Muslims in Iraq had the magically named "weapons of mass destruction," when in fact, Hussein, a despicable man in his own right, didn't even have camels of mass destruction.

There's no question that Hussein was doing horrendous things to the people of Iraq and should have been stopped. But a full-fledged war? One that cost us the lives of more than 4,000 young men and women and billions of dollars?

I mean, they spent $500 million to give the Iraqi people a functional postal service. Who's kidding whom? If they wanted to send a letter to one another, strap a slice of loose leaf on a camel's back and point the camel across the desert.

So the United States got involved in a war it shouldn't have even considered, because Iraq was never ever a serious threat to our safety here. The GWB administration even tried to justify the war, saying that the Iraqi people sheltered the Al-Queda terrorists and therefore, Iraq had its hand on the attacks on the World Trade Center.

And whose idea was it to get involved in the war in Iraq? The same dick who went on the news shows last week, dressed like a complete clown, trying to be a cowboy and instead came across as being a jackass.

This is a man who should just shut the hell up and go away. Other than Al Gore and his idiocy with cable networks and global warming, what other vice-president was even heard from after the term was up? Did anyone ever hear a peep from Walter Mondale after Jimmy Carter was done? How about Spiro Agnew or Nelson Rockefeller? Scrap that idea. One went to prison and the other died having sex with a much younger woman, covered in whipped cream.

But why should we care what this Dick has to say? Why does he have to come across trying to look like John Wayne and blame the current administration for a mess that he helped to cause a decade ago? Look in the mirror, Dick. You are the one to blame.

The war started, your administration started the policies that were supposed to liberate the Iraqi people (whoever those people were, because there were three separate factions) and now the cities are falling and it's Obama's fault.

That's like blaming ice machines for the sinking of the Titanic or Lee Harvey Oswald for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Our beloved former vice-president, who just had yet another heart procedure done on the dime of the American public, has one gigantic set of cojones to go on national TV and place blame on the current administration when in fact, he should look in the damn mirror and put blame there. And for God's sake, take off the cowboy get-up. Leave that for Roy Rogers or Woody from "Toy Story."


Carmelo Anthony opted out of his contract with the Knicks to become a free agent. A lot of local fans are up in arms. But can you blame him? Is there anything promising about the Knicks these days, other than bringing in Phil Jackson to run the show? There isn't much talent remaining. Anthony can go elsewhere, albeit for less money. But when you get to numbers like $75 million or $60 million, who cares? Does anyone need more than that?

St. Anthony High School and the Archdiocese of Newark announced Monday that legendary basketball coach Bob Hurley has been named as the school's new president.

From my standpoint, this looks like a move of complete desperation. The Archdiocese no longer wants to be in the business of education and would like to close all of its schools, like it did with Immaculate Conception of Montclair this week.

So this way, the school and the Archdiocese approach the coach, tell him that they need him to take over running the school and raising even more money to keep the school open. And if it fails, then they can throw Hurley under the bus by saying, "See, even Bob Hurley couldn't save St. Anthony."

There's no question that the real estate value of the school's current location in downtown Jersey City is in the millions, perhaps as high as $10 million. That's a nice sum for the Archdiocese.

St. Anthony's enrollment numbers are down. The school is struggling and has now gone through three principals and two presidents in a span of two years. This was a last ditch effort. Hurley would do anything for St. Anthony, but he wants to coach basketball, not pinch numbers and worry about test scores, employee morale and student discipline.

Hurley was probably approached by administrators, telling him that he had to help save the school. What was he going to do? Say no? That's not Bob Hurley. But this is a huge step that it looks like he was forced to take.

It's not fair to Hurley, but then again, is anything fair when it comes to the Archdiocese of Newark? Just ask the students of schools like St. Aloysius, St. Joseph of the Palisades and St. Mary's, other Hudson County Catholic schools that were shut down by the Archdiocese in recent years. It looks like St. Anthony is next, only now, they're going to make a legend like Bob Hurley look like he's either a savior or a failure.

You can read more of my work at, and

Saturday, June 14, 2014

"Field of Dreams" column reprised, in honor of Dad and Dads everywhere

This column was first printed in the pages of the now-defunct Hudson Dispatch on June 29, 1989. It ended up winning several different awards from the New Jersey Press Association, the North Jersey Press Club and the Garden State Society of Journalists. It was also reprinted in Reader’s Digest later that year (although I never got credit, the paper did).
For several years, the clipping sat in an old Avon box in my basement. We had a major flood two years ago that ruined a lot of my old clippings, including several of the old Dispatch articles. But somehow, this one survived. It’s very weather beaten and faded, but it survived.
I’m re-typing it today and posting it, because after all, it’s Fathers’ Day.
I ventured to the movie theater the other day. No, not to see “Batman” or even “Ghostbusters II.” I’m not a trendy type of guy. In fact, I’m a little behind the times. I saw “Field of Dreams.”
OK, so the rest of the western world has already plunked down the cash to see “Field of Dreams.” We’re in the midst of a blockbuster movie season. “Field of Dreams” is old news to movie freaks. After all, it was only released nine weeks ago.
But “Field of Dreams” is about baseball _ sort of. And besides, “Batman” is not about Don Mattingly. I am a sportswriter _ at last check. And I’m a movie fan. Just a tardy movie fan, that’s all. I had to go see it. Who cares if I’m late?
I heard so many things about the movie. It was supposed to be the best thing ever to happen to baseball movies _ which wouldn’t be a hard feat, considering that most baseball flicks flounder.
I went with an open mind, waiting to be disappointed. I left feeling wonderful, feeling alive, feeling good. “Field of Dreams” touched me more than any other movie. It was clearly the best picture I’ve ever witnessed.
And my strong feelings about “Field of Dreams” had nothing to do with baseball. It had to do with life. Or, for that matter, afterlife.
For those who have not had the chance to see “Field of Dreams” _ like all seven of you _ you can stop reading here. Take my word for it, the movie is excellent. It’s the best thing you’ll see all year.
Now, for you other fortunate folk.
Let’s face it. “Field of Dreams” has its flaws. I mean, Shoeless Joe Jackson batted left-handed in real life and threw right. In this movie, the exact opposite. He batted right and threw left.
Brings up a good question. Do your extremities become mirror images after death? Only Elvis can answer that one. Remind me to ask him the next time the King is spotted at a 7-11 in Michigan. Elvis probably shoots at TVs with his left these days.
Gil Hodges is mentioned to be on the “Field of Dreams.” But there were no Brooklyn Dodgers uniforms to be found.
Still, this movie was absolute perfection to me, because it was able to touch me in a way that some people can relate to _ but hopefully not many.
Because of one movie, I got in touch with the huge vacancy that has been dominating my life for the last 18 years _ namely the absence of my father.
I was 10 when cancer snuffed Jack Hague away from me. He was sick, dead and gone within one month’s time in 1971. He was my everything. He was my inspiration, my motivation, my life. He was my Little League manager, my friend. He taught me so much about life in 10 short years _ and then he was gone.
It left me with a brother who was 60 miles away with his own family, a sister who was maturing rapidly _ and a loving mother, who had to be both parents from that point on. It was not easy.
Especially because of my obsession with sports _ something I shared with my Dad. We would watch ball games together, talk baseball constantly, play catch in my backyard.
With no father, those times came to an abrupt halt. I longed for the days of playing catch in the yard. They were long gone.
“Stop throwing like a girl, James,” I could hear him saying. “Step and throw.”
There were so many times in 1972, the first year after my father’s death, that I would stand in the yard, hoping he would come back. I just kept standing there, smacking the ball into my empty glove.
Little League was no longer fun without my Dad. It was a struggle to play for some other manager.
That summer, my mother bought me a “Pitch-Back,” the net that snapped the ball back to you after you tossed it. However, the damn thing never offered advice. It never told me what I was doing wrong. It just stood there.
And the “Pitch-Back” could never tell me what I was doing wrong in life. Of course, my mother did _ and worked hard at it. But living with two women and no man’s view of life certainly was no breeze for a moody kid who found his only release through sports.
As time went on, I tended to forget about my Dad. Not entirely, but enough that he wasn’t a major part of my life anymore. I lost his set of values, his standards. I forgot what Jack Hague stood for. I wanted to be independent, my own person. I couldn’t fill the shoes of a memory.
Sure, sports remained my one constant _ and still is today. Without it, I would be lost. But most of all the other values I thought I had disappeared.
People think I’ve lived a good life, an exciting life. But it’s been fairly shallow. I never realized that until recently _ and never more so until I saw “Field of Dreams.”
It was a total awakening for me. I knew how important my father was _ and still is. Sure, my father was gone, but I should never let him stop being my parent. I should have left his values live on in my life instead of being pigheaded and stubborn and wanting to be something and someone else.
“Field of Dreams” touched me so much that I wanted to build a field in my backyard, albeit a small patch of brown grass nestled in Jersey City. And all the greats of yesteryear who are now departed could come back. They wouldn’t even need an invitation.
Gil Hodges would wear a Met uniform and run the show. Thurman Munson would be behind the plate. Satchel Paige on the mound, Lou Gehrig at first _ and Jackie Robinson stealing bases all night.
And the players would leave a little spot where right field would be, just enough for a grey-haired man with a three-finger glove could throw some high hard ones to his son.
“Field of Dreams” did what it was supposed to do _ make us all dream. It made me dream _ of the days when my father taught me about baseball and life.
I almost took those days for granted. I look back now and cherish. I never realized how much I truly missed my father.
So this is somewhat of an open call to all our readers. Stop, take time out and realize how important your father is.
Sure, there may be some differences and there may be some strife, but the day may come when your father is suddenly not there _ and that vacant feeling of his loss almost gets a stranglehold of you.
I know what that feeling is like. I knew it 18 years ago _ and I rediscovered that huge gap 11 days ago. Yes, Fathers’ Day, the day I saw “Field of Dreams.” I had totally forgotten it was Fathers’ Day. It was so totally ironic I saw the movie on that day.
I’ll never forget Fathers’ Day again. That’s why I love the movies so much _ and why “Field of Dreams” is the best movie I’ve ever seen. I found my Dad. I’m grateful for Hollywood for that.
That’s why I’m asking all of you to find your fathers, too. While he’s still around.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What's a Mainland anyway?

The high school baseball season ended here in New Jersey Saturday with a host of games played at three sites in Toms River, the respective NJSIAA state championships.

I was first at Toms River North to see Jackson Memorial defeat Roxbury, 2-0, then went across town to Toms River South to watch Mainland Regional knock off Mount Olive, 5-3.

You can read both of my game stories on

Anyway, I was particularly appalled and angered by the behavior of the fans (adults and students alike) from Mainland who actually booed the Mount Olive players from the minute the starting lineups were announced through the start of the game.

Can you imagine? Booing high school kids? This was an all-time low in sense of sportsmanship and class. The PA announcer even read the prepared statement from the NJSIAA which stated to "cheer and root in a positive manner for your team."

Booing the opposition? Are you kidding?

So I wrote my displeasure on a line on my Twitter account, updating fans about what was taking place during the game.

This is what I wrote:

Jim Hague@ogsmar Jun 7
While the Toms River South people have been accommodating and helpful the mainland fans are actually booing the Mount olive kids. Classless

Well, that little tweet sent off a barrage of insults and comments from people obviously from the Mainland side. I received at least 60 comments from Twitter people who went off on me calling them "classless," saying that booing was common place at sporting events. One said that it was a case of showing school spirit.

I'm sorry. I've been covering high school sports for more than 30 years and I have never EVER heard booing the opposition before. This may be common place in places like Mainland (wherever the hell that is) but it's not proper behavior in my eyes.

Cheer your team on all you want. Scream at the top of your lungs for your beloved Mustangs. But booing the opposing team showed that Mainland had no class whatsoever. There was at least two teachers/chaperones who were monitoring the student section and they did nothing to halt the hideous behavior.

If booing the opposition was so common place and part of school spirit as you believe, then why didn't the students or fans from Mount Olive boo Mainland's kids? Because they knew better and knew the proper protocol.

As much as you people from Mainland (wherever the hell that is) want to attack me with personal attacks on my career and my stature, know one thing. I know what I'm talking about. I've been doing this for far too long not to know what I'm talking about.

Here was one gem: you must've never played a sport in your life if you if you think it's classless to boo.. It's all fun and games just trash talk..

Yeah, and games, just trash talk....sure...It's fine for professional athletes, but high school kids? No way.

Here's another: have fun writing 4 high school sports for the rest of your life.. Thats where u belong.. Dispicable u would stoop down to this level

As for the "insult" that I should "be happy for the rest of my life writing about high school sports," I take it as a privilege and an honor to write about high school kids.

I've covered pro sports for 32 years. I've covered the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Finals. I've traveled the nation covering sports. And I'll tell everyone this without hesitation: I enjoy covering high school sports much more than I do covering the pros. Not even a question.

And I have no problem calling people CLASSLESS for booing high school kids at a state championship game. None. Maybe you think it's fine to boo high school kids in Mainland (wherever the hell that is) because that's what you do. It's not what people with class do. They don't boo.

California Chrome didn't win the Belmont Stakes and didn't take the long-coveted Triple Crown.

It was a shame for horse racing, which longed for someone to give a needed boost to the sport.

However, the horse's co-owner Steve Coburn used the defeat to sound off about the way the Triple Crown races are run, that horses that run in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness should face each other and not a newcomer to the three races, like Tonalist did, the winner of the Belmont. Tonalist didn't race in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but entered the Belmont and won.

Coburn called Tonalist's approach as "the coward's way out." He believes that his horse was shortchanged because Chrome had to run in all three races and that Tonalist was a fresher and less tired horse.

Maybe Tonalist was. But the rules are the rules. As long as Tonalist's owners were willing to put up the money to enter their horse in the Belmont, then he could run.

Coburn was obviously upset that his horse lost the race. It was a glorious Cinderella story, an $8,000 purchase winning $3.49 million in earnings. Chrome was on the threshold of an additional $5, not to mention horse racing immortality and a gigantic syndication breeding price.

Chrome still may demand a big breeding tag. It remains to be seen. But this owner coming out and blasting the process of winning the Triple Crown was out of line. Maybe there's part of the reason why it's so tough to win the Triple Crown, that no horse has done it since Affirmed in 1978.

It's not easy to accomplish, to win all three races. Coburn's horse came close. That should have been good enough on this day. Don't blast the process or the horse that beat you. Just collect your horse and move on.

All things said, it was sad that horse racing is once again without a Triple Crown winner. I actually never thought California Chrome was that good of a horse. It wasn't like Big Brown in 2008, which I thought was a sure-fire Triple Crown champion. That horse was majestic, big, huge, strong, one of a kind. Big Brown eased at the Belmont that year. I was shocked. I wasn't too shocked Chrome didn't win yesterday.


Congrats to Hudson Catholic, which won the NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship Saturday with a thrilling win over St. Joseph of Hammonton, giving the Hawks their first-ever state championship.

The Hawks beat St. Mary's of Rutherford, when no one thought it was possible. They then had to sprint from their high school graduation and get on a bus to make it down the Garden State Parkway in time to knock off St. Joseph in another win that no one thought was possible.

Considering that the school almost closed six years ago, if it wasn't for a last-minute effort from some prestigious and influential alumni, who raised the money to keep the doors open. Considering that they had to change the school policy to allow girls to attend.

This is a great story and will be told in this week's Hudson Reporter. Today, it's a day of congratulations for head coach Alberto Vasquez and his staff and players.

To read more of my work, log on to, and

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Have to get at least one blog in for May

A quick glance at the calendar today showed me that May is rapidly slipping away, that Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and I've been negligent of my blogging duties.

In fact, the last blog was about the NCAA basketball tournament. That's March Madness. It's almost June. Why bother even having a blog if I'm going to be that lackadaisical?

So tonight, with some free time on my hands for the first time in _ I don't know, say two months _ I decided to write at least one blog for the month of May in 2014.

First, let's talk about my favorite topic, the New York Mets. Can anyone comprehend the interview that General Stooge, oops, General Manager Sandy Alderson did with Michael Kay and Don LaGreca on Kay's ESPN Radio show the other day?

Alderson actually had the audacity to say that since fans aren't going to CitiField in droves this season to watch this ho-hum bunch of misfits, then the team has no need to invest money in getting better players.

"The lack of support we're getting from the fans proves to us that there's no need to add payroll," Alderson said. "If the fans come out and support us, then maybe we'll be able to add payroll."

What an absolute crock of bullspit that is! We're supposed to believe that the reason why the Mets have a less than competitive everyday lineup is because the fans aren't coming out? That absolutely took the cake. We stink, so let's blame the loyal fans who do come out and pay ridiculously high prices to watch an inferior product.

Sure, it's not our fault, as owners, as administrators. No, it's the fans. Hey, the fans are booing classic underachievers like Chris Young (who ironically just hit a two-run homer as I write this) and Lucas Duda, and the now fired hitting coach Dave Hudgens said that part of the reason why they didn't perform this year was the lack of support. Sure, blame the fans.

Then Alderson's absolute gem. See, I think it works like this. If the Mets spent money on getting good players and not parade this sack of noise out there, then chances are more people would spend money to see them play.

See, I was one of those avid fans, owning at least a portion of a season ticket plan for more than 20 years. And when the Coupon boys, the cheapskates named Freddie Coupon and his cheaper son Jeffy Coupon decided NOT to re-sign the 28-year-old franchise shortstop Jose Reyes, then that's when I decided NOT to re-up my tickets.

Why should I spend thousands of my hard-earned dollars schlepping to Citifield to watch an inferior product? There was no way possible. The Mets weren't offering any ticket deals for the avid fan base because they were fielding an awful team. In fact, ticket prices went up.

So Alderson wants fans to come out, spend at least $75 a ticket to watch a God-awful team and if that happens, then the cheapskate owners will spend that money and get players. I have never heard of such a ridiculous premise in my life.

It's been a whirlwind of stupidity for the Mets organization this year. They have really botched everything and anything, like that silly missive e-mail that asked fans to "be true New Yorkers" and support the team like they did in the winning years of 1969 and 1986, putting players' names to the letter, like Cleon Jones and Ron Darling, when both said they never even read the thing before it went out.

If that plea for support was some sort of a public relations ploy, it was borderline retarded, especially if two of the heroes of the past they put on the e-mail didn't even know about the damn thing.

Well, now we have Sandy Stooge, who has basically been nothing but a puppet for the Coupon Boys, making such a ridiculous comment. He's Dartmouth educated. At least that's what his resume says.

Enough is enough with these clods. I still can't comprehend how they put a Cirque de Soleil tent in the parking lot while Opening Day is taking place, taking away hundreds of prime parking spots for their baseball fans. After all, aren't they into the baseball business?

I want the Mets to succeed. I really do. I'm a diehard fan and love the Mets with all my heart. But the management makes it hard to watch the team. Just now, they took Zach Wheeler out of the game in the seventh inning after he gave up one run via a homer. He was breezing along, 10 strikeouts, four hits, and Terry Collins (who I have now lost total faith in) goes out and takes him out. UGH! It's so frustrating and won't get any better anytime soon, afraid to say.

There is joy in one part of my sports-driven life these days and that's the excitement being generated by the New York Rangers.

I've been a Ranger fan since I was a little boy. Yes, I was once little.

I go back to the days of Ratelle and Gilbert and Hadfield and Giacomin. My favorite player was a non-descript defenseman named Gilles Marrotte, who had the nickname of "Captain Crunch," which was of course my favorite cereal, so Marrotte was my man. I even wrote Marrotte and No. 4 on my first-ever street hockey stick.

So I'm not a bandwagon Ranger fan. I've been true Blue---Broadway Blue--ever since.

I was at the parade 20 years ago, soaking that all in. And I've enjoyed this playoff run to the fullest, watching every minute of every game.

So as a Met fan and a Ram fan, it's about time I had something positive to root for. It's been a lot of fun watching this playoff run. There's nothing like playoff hockey for excitement. There's nothing like it when your favorite team is involved and on the doorstep of playing for the Stanley Cup.

Despite the demise of the Newark Bears this year, I did have the opportunity to announce my fair share of games at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium this spring, doing Rutgers-Newark and NJIT games, as well as a handful of high school games.

Well, I completed my tour of duty Wednesday afternoon with a high school game between Newark Arts High and Newark Tech. Let's just say I earned my pay as the P.A.

The final score was Arts 8, Newark Tech 7 in a game that took three hours and 22 minutes to play. Yes, only seven innings.

Even more incredibly, Arts won the game despite having made 11 errors in the field. That's right. Eleven errors. The scoreboard couldn't even handle that total. I never saw one team make that many errors on any level there in the hundreds of games I either scored or announced over the last 15 years there. And they won the game.

It marked the last baseball game to be played at the once-majestic ballpark for the summer. With no more Bears, the place will remain dark throughout June, July and August. There's a sense of sadness with that, knowing that there will be nothing going on there. NJIT has assumed the responsibilities of running the building for now. There are rumors that a prospective buyer for the place may be happening, but that's speculation. No one knows if bringing another pro baseball team in would be part of the sale.

So that was it Wednesday, the final baseball game at a beautiful baseball park. What happens in the future remains to be seen.


Some little tidbits of interest:

I can't comprehend that the former CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer has bid $2 billion for Donald Sterling's Los Angeles Clippers. Yes, that's billion with a B. For the Paper Clips? A team that has won all of three playoff series since Bill Walton played for them? They don't own their own building or have their own TV network and they can get $2 BILLION?

If that's the case, what in the world are the Yankees worth? The Dallas Cowboys? Holy BeJesus! Maybe Sterling should have been an open racist sooner...

There was a play late in the Heat-Pacers playoff game last night, where the referees didn't know if the ball was off Shane Battier or off Paul George or off both or whomever. So they went to the replay to review it. And ESPN showed the replay about 96 times. Over and over. More than they showed Buckwheat being shot on Saturday Night Live and more times than I've seen The Wizard of Oz.

It took 20 minutes of real time to get to the final 16 seconds of the game. The referees had to watch it at least 35 times and did nothing. The call remained the same. I understand they want to get it right, but watch the replay once, make a determination and get on with the game. It was annoying...

I think right now that California Chrome will win the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont next Saturday. There hasn't been a late entry that has blown me away just yet. But there is still a week to debate it. Everyone involved in horse racing wants the Chrome to win. It's a great story. But is he truly a great horse, in the mold of other Triple Crown winners like Affirmed and Seattle Slew? Let's not even go near Secretariat comparisons, like one CBS Sports announcer did this week. That's just insane.

So we're hoping for the Chrome to shine on Long Island next Saturday afternoon. We'll hold off making a prediction for now.

You can read more of my work at, (thanks to the Observer and Kevin Canessa for putting a link to this blog on the website last week) and

Thursday, April 10, 2014

NCAA title game, Julie Hermann's idiocy and other stuff

The NCAA men's basketball tournament lived up to its nickname as always. It's not called "March Madness" by mistake, because it truly is pure bedlam, unpredictability and excitement throughout.

But the title game proved to be the NCAA's biggest nightmare, pitting a program in Connecticut that the holier-than-thou, money-grubbing institution wanted to damage by leveling a probation against it versus a Kentucky program that basically laughs in the face of the NCAA with its "one-and-done" philosophy.

Neither UConn nor Kentucky embody what the NCAA wants from its universities. They're far from being the clean cut, bookworm nerds that the NCAA would love to have. In fact, those two programs are the exact opposite of what the NCAA strongly desires.

Before we go any further, kudos to the performance of UConn's brilliant guard Shabazz Napier, who was clearly the best overall player in the entire tournament.

I told some of my colleagues that I would have voted for Napier as the tourney's Most Outstanding Player win or lose Monday night. He was that good. Napier dominated play more than any March Madness performer since the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. When the ball was in Napier's hands, the game was totally in control. You didn't even notice the other nine players on the floor.

However, Napier had his chance to shine after the game and totally flubbed it. Standing next to Jim Nantz in the post-game celebratory confetti, Napier grabbed the mike away from Nantz and asked for everyone's attention _ both inside the "Palace outside Dallas" and the millions still glued to their televisions at home.

"Can I have your attention?" Napier asked. Seriously, I was anticipating him saying something about his mother, who raised Shabazz and his two brothers on her own with a strict, yet soft hand. Nope, that wasn't it. He went off on a very wrong tangent.

Napier said that "you guys put a ban on us and that made us hungry for two years. We were a hungry bunch."

Oh, really? Let's put the blame on the NCAA for the probation and postseason ban. Shame on the bad NCAA for trying to hurt poor old UConn.

In my opinion, the NCAA went too soft on UConn with the one-year probation for the program's failure to live up to the NCAA's new academic performance quotient for graduation.

It was actually part of a three-year probation penalty that the NCAA placed on UConn in 2011 for a ton of recruiting violations, including monetary gifts, free airplane tickets, illegal phone calls, and according to the NCAA's own release "a failure to monitor, by the university, and promote an atmosphere for compliance by the head coach (Jim Calhoun)," as well as "unethical conduct and some secondary violations."

It's a program that has seen its basketball players commit serious crimes while at the school, including sexual assault, theft, you name it.

So Napier blames the NCAA for the ban? Sorry, try blaming UConn for the ban, cheating, lying, stealing, doing whatever it could to get ahead. It started with the administrators who turned a blind eye to the problem child players, went down to the coaches who were doing all the illegal recruiting and continued on down to the players who were stealing laptops and beating up women with no fear of any recourse.

UConn did all those hideous things _ top to bottom _ and deserved a much stiffer penalty from the NCAA. The one-year ban was nothing, because it didn't really hurt the program, considering that the Huskies managed to win the whole thing just a year later.

And are we ever going to find out what the school did under the table to keep people like Napier and Ryan Boatwright at UConn when the sanction was imposed? What would make a kid want to stay when kids nowadays transfer because a girl looked differently at him or he didn't like his philosophy teaching assistant? Something was extremely fishy about those kids remaining there. You can't say it was to get an almighty UConn degree.

So please, Shabazz, if you felt cheated about missing the NCAA Tourney last year, blame the real villains that are still bouncing around Storrs or glorified in retirement like Calhoun. UConn is the main reason why UConn was banned from the 2013 March Madness. Not the NCAA.

And as long as the NCAA enables players to leave after one year of college to apply for the NBA Draft, then coaches like John Calipari will continue to recruit players with the "one-and-done" mentality. And sorry, that's just not good for collegiate athletics, promoting the idea that kids can leave after just one year of school.

Let's face facts. Julius Randle has already left Lexington. There's no need to go back to take final exams. In fact, the future NBA star is a Dallas native. He might have just stayed there after the loss to UConn.

Randle knew he was coming out after one year before the year began. Heck, Andrew Wiggins announced before the Big 12 Tourney that he was not returning to Kansas after his one year. These kids are getting lured by big-time NBA money even if they're not at all ready to play in the NBA.

So those six top Kentucky players all knew they were "one-and-done." Is that college sports? It's certainly not what the NCAA wants to promote.

In that respect, then the March Madness finale was not what the NCAA could have imagined, pitting two of the worse examples of college basketball programs. Maybe the money-hungry, greedy NCAA got what it truly deserved.


Julie Hermann really did it now.

First, the embattled Rutgers athletic director didn't remember being part of her assistant coach's wedding party, the same woman who she threatened to fire at Louisville if the coach managed to get pregnant (the coach did and was fired by Hermann).

Then Hermann said that she didn't know anything about a letter that was signed by the entire Louisville volleyball team, criticizing Hermann's behavior toward the players, using derogatory terms.

Hermann then didn't remember if she spoke to the actual parent of a disgruntled Rutgers football player, who was reportedly bullied and harassed by an assistant coach. She said that she actually spoke to the kid's father _ and those claims were denied by the father. She said it was a "problem in communication."

But there were no problems with Hermann's communication skills last week, when she spoke to a Rutgers Media Ethics and Law class and told them that the world would be a better place if the Newark Star-Ledger would die.

Here's an excerpt of what Hermann told the class:

"If they're not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they're not selling ads – and they die,” Hermann said. "And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”
“They might die again next month,” a student said.
“That would be great,” she replied. “I'm going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.”

It would be great if the Star-Ledger, the state's largest newspaper, would die. This comes on the heels of the Ledger having to lay off 167 employees, 40 of which were reporters, some of whom are good friends. Yes, it's real great when newspapers die, Julie.

I have had the misfortune of working for some newspapers when they folded, namely the old Hudson Dispatch in 1991 and the Daily Journal of Elizabeth in 1992. It's not fun. In fact, the feeling is beyond funereal. You walk out of the building for the last time, carrying a box of your belongings and a slice of history with you.

Without question, the newspaper industry is struggling. A lot of papers are now working on shoestring budgets. Since she was hired in controversial fashion by Rutgers last year, Julie Hermann has angered so many people with her words and actions. She certainly hasn't made many friends, especially in the media business.

Simply put, Hermann deserves to be shown the door, but there's no chance she's going anywhere soon, because Rutgers would have to pay her a lot to go away. This was a mistake from the start and it just keeps getting to be even more of a disaster every time she opens her mouth. She must like the taste of her own toes.


Dean Anna hit a home run tonight for the Yankees. I have one question. What's a Dean Anna? I know Dean Martin. Dean Jones, sure. But Dean Anna? That's a new one.

The Mets opened the 2014 season in fine fashion by losing. It's certainly a trend that we're bound to see often this year. GM Sandy Alderson said the team would win 90 games. One scout in Sports Illustrated said they would win 63 games. I tend to think it's somewhere in between there, probably closer to 63 than 90.

Have to give former St. Patrick's of Elizabeth guard Derrick Gordon credit for becoming the first NCAA basketball player to admit that he is gay. Gordon was first at Western Kentucky, then transferred to UMass last year and came out earlier this week. It comes on the heels of Jason Collins of the Nets and future NFL player Michael Sam coming out within the last year. There will be a day when an athlete's sexual preference is not newsworthy. The more that people like Gordon make their feelings public, then perhaps the general public will become more acceptable.


You can read more of my work at, and

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Looking back at Sochi and other things

Now that the 2014 Olympics in Sochi are over, there are a few things to review.

First, NBC has to be extremely proud of its wide-spread and extensive coverage. The network made sure that everything was covered on all the different venues on all hours of the day and night, on all different channels.

The ratings proved that NBC did a fantastic job, even through Bob Costas' battle with pink eye. It was the first time in ages where the Peacock flew above the other networks in the ratings, so it proved that America loved NBC's coverage as well.

Now, for the Games themselves. The hockey was definitely exciting with Team USA's thrilling shootout victory over Russia, but the air came out of the balloon with the semifinal loss to Canada and then the inexplicable shutout loss to Finland in the bronze medal game.

Hockey fans certainly took to the Olympics, evidenced by the sale of team sweaters, not just Team USA, but Canada as well. So is it worth it for the NHL to shut down operations for three weeks, then pick things back up again?

Only time will tell what kind of hockey we will see in the coming weeks, but you can be rest assured that the NHL applauds the Olympics, because it helps the sport to be more mainstreamed than it is regularly. More people _ especially women _ watched hockey over the past two weeks than they did during the course of the regular season.

Some hockey purists are pushing for the Olympics to make hockey a sport in the Summer Olympics, so this way it doesn't interrupt the regular season like it does now. That's just not going to happen. There's not a lot of ice to be found in July and August. And the NHL isn't going to let that happen, because the league's popularity is at all-time high right now, after the outdoor games and now the Olympics.

Now, I'm not exactly an expert on the other sports in the Winter Olympics, like curling, which is still too bizarre for words, or the biathlon, which combines skiing and rifle marksmanship, neither of which I know anything about.

But I found one Olympic sport to be especially exciting. That was snowboard cross, which was basically like motocross on snowboards. Five guys streaming down a ski slope on a snowboard at the same time. There were collisions galore, even one time where a competitor actually leaped over the other.

I was totally mesmerized by the entire thing. The event was breathtaking.

I can't believe I actually just wrote that about the Winter Olympics. Before this year, my memories of the Winter Olympics included Bob Beattie screaming Franz Klammer's name and Dick Button blubbering and crying over the "travesty of Tai and Randy," namely the skating pair of Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, after Gardner was injured and couldn't skate. I also felt bad when Dan Jansen kept falling and falling.

Needless to say, I wasn't a big fan. Sure, I still get choked up by the sight of Mike Eruzione standing on the podium and waving his USA hockey teammates to join him after the Miracle on Ice in 1980.

But there isn't much more.

Give me some snowboard cross any day of the week. If there was a snowboard cross league, I'd be watching it regularly. It's the biggest novelty since the XFL. You could even give me a network of snowboard cross. Heck, there are already enough sports networks on the air now. I can watch virtually every single sport that the Big Ten can offer right now, including gymnastics and ping pong. I can handle the snowboard cross network.

So we can put Sochi in the memory banks now. Hopefully, Costas' eyes have recovered and he can continue to spew his ridiculous venom about how the American Indians are persecuted by the name Washington Redskins.

One last thing: Now that the Winter Olympics are over, can Tonya Harding crawl back to the trailer park she rolled out from and go away forever? Does anyone in the world believe that she had nothing to do with the attack on Nancy Kerrigan?

Just give the girl a couple packs of Parliament, a couple bottles of Boone's Farm and some beef jerky and let her disappear. I cannot believe a word she says. Bottom line is that after 20 years, does anyone really care? Especially since Kerrigan went from being the nation's sweetheart to a pariah in the matter of a few months.

I applaud athletes like Jason Collins and Michael Sam coming out and revealing that they are gay. The world of sports should be more accepting of those who are gay and lesbian and not shun them.

And yes, for now, stories like that should be atop the fold of the sports section, because they have come out and proudly and bravely proclaimed their sexual preferences.

However, there should be a time when this is not newsworthy, when it becomes commonplace. Everyone should be more accepting of gays and lesbians. Chances are that we've all had friends that are gay and couldn't handle the scorn that comes with it, so they remained private.

I've been a sportswriter for 32 years now. I've heard stories of professional athletes, some big name players, being gay, but would never dream of reporting it. More than likely, there have been others who were _ and kept their lives private.

More than likely, I've had teammates over the years who were gay and no one knew. We didn't worry about what would be said in the locker rooms. Honestly, no one paid that much attention to it.

So yes, it's a brave world that Jason Collins and Michael Sam have entered. They deserve credit for their courage to come out in the macho world of professional sports. But in reality, it shouldn't be a big deal at all, because it's just part of real life.
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Friday, February 14, 2014

Remembering the great Ralph Kiner

I was born a Mets fan.

At least, I think I was.

I mean, the Mets were born right after me. We entered the world almost together. I entered the world in 1961, the Mets a year later.

I don't remember consciously making a choice to be a Mets fan. My first baseball game came in 1965, when my father took me to see Sandy Koufax pitch against the Mets. My father was a baseball historian to the utmost degree. He taught me about all the legends, about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and his all-time favorite Ted Williams.

So when my father took me to see Sandy Koufax pitch against the Mets, he kept reminding me how great Koufax was and that I should always remember how great he was. Only one problem. On that day in August, 1965, the Mets beat Sandy Koufax. So I was hooked.

But I truly think my love for the Mets started before that day in 1965. It was an inane gift, something always in me.

So with that in mind, my childhood always centered around the Mets. I remember sprinting out of third grade to go home to watch the Miracle Mets in the 1969 World Series. I remember sneaking a transistor radio into seventh grade to listen to the 1973 World Series.

My early childhood was filled with days of Seaver and Koosman and Harrelson and Agee and Grote and Shamsky and Swoboda and Cleon Jones. They were my life back then. I lived and breathed the Mets. Those were my heroes. I don't know if anything else ever existed back then.

And those days were also filled with Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner.

They painted the picture of the ballpark when they were on the radio, doing the games for WHN. They made the grass greener and the lights brighter. That trio also did the games on WOR Channel 9, although back then, not every game was televised.

When a game was on, I was glued to the set, hanging on every single pitch.

And those games were produced to me by Nelson, Murphy and Kiner.

Ralph Kiner had even a bigger role. He was the host of the post-game show, the popular Kiner's Korner. If the Mets won, you wanted to hear your heroes talk. This was long before every word was recorded on video like it is now.

The only way we would get to hear Seaver or Koosman would be after a Met win with Ralph. They would sit with their warm-up jacket on, a towel around their necks and a cup of Rheingold, the extra dry beer.

So in that way, Ralph Kiner was a huge part of my upbringing. My Dad was dead and gone in 1971, but Ralph continued to bring me Met games and Kiner's Korner every year.

I remember Kiner's Korner when Benny Ayala was a hero rookie, hitting a homer in his first major league at-bat. Benny was a guest on Kiner's Korner, but there was a problem, because Benny couldn't speak English, so Felix Millan was on as well as an interpreter.

Another time, Roy Staiger was on, after his three-run homer gave the Mets a win, but since Seaver was on, Staiger never got a chance to talk except for the pitch he hit for the homer. "It was a curveball, Ralph."

I religiously watched Kiner's Korner, even all those times when the Mets lost (and there were plenty of those nights) and the guest was someone on the opposing team.

After many years, after I was a sportswriter, I used to take "my annual baseball sojourn," to Chicago and then Milwaukee to see the Mets play six games. I made that trip for about seven straight years. It was a blast to go back to where I went to school and see the Mets play.

In 2000, the Mets were supposed to play the Brewers, but there were thunderstorms all day. I stayed in the same hotel, the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, with the Mets.

I thought it would be a nice thing for my two-year-old nephew to get him a baseball signed by the two greatest Mets, namely Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza, considering they were staying in the same hotel with me.

So I went to a sporting goods store, bought a baseball, and approached Seaver with a pen and the ball.

"Would you sign the ball for my nephew?" I asked.

Seaver went bananas.

"I'm not signing that shit. That's what they have card shows and autograph shows for. I'm not signing. And don't you guys sign it either."

Seaver was sitting in the lobby with Kiner and Al Leiter.

I was devastated. I took the ball and went to the hotel bar.

Soon after, Kiner walked into the bar. He ordered a bratwurst and a beer. He looked over at me sitting there.

"He can be like that sometimes," Kiner said about Seaver.

Kiner then asked me to slide over and sit with him. We spent about an hour talking about baseball, Milwaukee, Hank Aaron and Joe Adcock, about good meals, anything and everything, as the rain continued to pour down. There wasn't going to be a game that day, so we sat and had beers and brats at the hotel bar.

We were later joined by Met players Todd Zeile and Mike Hampton.

It really was a wonderful afternoon, thanks to the friendly gesture of Ralph Kiner.

About three years ago, I was at a Met game and as I came down to the front entrance, Ralph Kiner was sitting there in a wheelchair, waiting to be escorted home.

I approached Kiner and said, "Mr. Kiner, I don't know if you remember me, but..."

"Milwaukee, the hotel bar," he said in amazement. "How could I forget someone your size?"

He had a good point.

I asked if he wouldn't mind posing for a picture with me. His handler obliged. The picture was taken. I have that picture to treasure forever.

Ralph Kiner died last week at the age of 91. He lived a fruitful life, announcing games right until his final year on the planet.

He was such a huge part of my childhood, my adolescence, my adulthood. Ralph Kiner helped to carry me through those years _ and then became an absolute joy in one chance encounter, right after my childhood hero treated me like a piece of trash.

I will treasure those memories, those childhood days of Kiner's Korner, the day that I met him and the day I saw him again.

Through all his malaprops, like calling Gary Carter "Gary Cooper," and failing to say Candy Maldonado after three tries, or saying that the Dodger pitcher was born in Valenzuela, he was still Ralph and we loved him.

Ralph Kiner was a part of the Mets since they were born, since I was born. Now, another piece of my childhood is gone, like my father, like my mother. I'll remember them all fondly.

Derek Jeter announced that he will retire at the end of this season and he will get the same farewell tour that Mariano Rivera had last year.

And the Yankee captain deserves it. Over the last two decades, no one handled being a superstar better than Jeter. He understood his importance from the beginning and was the ultimate role model for young kids. In an era where our children need positive role models, you needed to look no further than Jeter.

Who knows how many games he will be able to play this year after missing most of the last 17 months with bad ankles? Instead of bemoaning the fact that Jeter announced his retirement before the season, we should applaud him and treasure him, because players, people like Derek Jeter don't come around often.


As for my health, I'm coming along, slowly but surely. I've been announcing games at Rutgers-Newark and NJIT and covering some indoor track meets. I'm still hobbled, relying on a cane and sometimes a walker, but I'm getting better. I'm still going to physical therapy three times a week, working hard, like I learned at Kessler Institute, to get better, to walk freely again without any assistance.

I'm not there yet. In fact, I'm not close. My doctors said that it would take months and guess what, it's taking months, but I am getting better.

Like they say, it's one day at a time. Today, regardless of the piles of snow outside, it's a good day. I love the good days. The doctors say that there will be some bad days _ and I have those _ but lately, the good ones outweigh the bad. And that's a good sign.

Thanks for the love and concern.


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