Monday, September 22, 2014

Great, Now the Packers Stink, Too

Too cheap to buy Sunday Ticket, and too lazy to walk to the nearby (Packer fan-friendly) watering hole, I followed Sunday's Packers-Lions game on the radio and the good ol' internet.

Even that felt like a gigantic waste of time.

No one's seriously considering jumping on another bandwagon here, but there are all sorts of problems with a Packers team that -- while I knew was flawed -- should not be 1-2 for a third straight season.

Not with a schedule that included the putrid Jets and banged-up Lions. This should have been a gimme for Aaron Rodgers and this high-octane offense.

Instead, the Lions' defense outscored the Packers, 9-7.

Green Bay sacked Matthew Stafford twice, strip-sacked him once (hi, Julius Peppers!), and picked him off twice. The Packers were plus-two in take/give.

And lost by 12.

Rodgers just isn't sharp. Now, let's lay this out there. Rodgers not being sharp is still better than 60 percent of the quarterbacks in the NFL.

But he isn't Aaron Rodgers.

The fourth down throw to Jordy Nelson is a good example. Nelson catches a touchdown if it's well-thrown. Instead, he had no chance and the Packers never got the ball back.

Why didn't they get the ball back? Because the defense was gassed. It was too bad, really, because they played their asses off. But Detroit held the ball for over 38 minutes, and the defense couldn't get the two more stops it needed to get because Rodgers was incompetent on this day.

In July, head coach Mike McCarthy spoke of his desire to see the Packers run 75 offensive plays per game.

So far, his cries for pace have fallen way short. Through three games, Green Bay is averaging 59 offensive plays per game, with a high of 68 against the Jets in Week 2. The offense was on the field for 51 plays in Sunday's game, which is only two dozen short of McCarthy's desired number.

To put it all in perspective, the Packers need to average around 80 plays per game over the last 13 games in order to reach a season average of 75 per game.

I'll bet against that.

To make matters worse, McCarthy has appeared dull and unimaginative with his play-calling. Not really any screen passes to the running backs, which seem to be a solid elixir to a pass rush like Detroit's. No formation or route creativity. Remember when they used Randall Cobb as a running back? Where did that go?

(If they're afraid of him getting hurt, it's all the more reason to let him go elsewhere as a free agent.)

And if the quarterback doesn't sharpen up, this could be a rough season for the Packers. I'm not sounding the alarms, but that was a totally winnable game Sunday, and yet Green Bay somehow never led it. Worse, Green Bay never seriously threatened to lead it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NCHC Preseason Prognostications

Welcome to the annual post where I feebly try to predict the order of finish in a college hockey conference, based almost solely on the reputations of the programs involved and the returnees on each team.

Before we begin, let's look at last year's results. Here's what I predicted:

1. Miami
2. North Dakota
3. Western Michigan
4. UMD
5. Denver
6. St. Cloud State
7. Colorado College
8. Nebraska Omaha

Here's how they finished:

1. St. Cloud State
2. North Dakota
3. Nebraska Omaha
4. UMD
4 (tie). Western Michigan
6. Denver
7. Colorado College
8. Miami

Three teams in the correct position, based on tournament seeds (UND, UMD, CC). One other team (Denver) within one spot of correct. But I was so glaringly wrong on St. Cloud State, Miami, and Omaha that I probably should just hand in my credential and let Chris Dilks write this post.

Let's see how I'll be off my rocker this year. After all, the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result." And I'm nothing if not insane.

8. Colorado College Tigers

There is some intrigue on this team. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin is in a position to play 30-plus minutes at least some nights, and I really like some of the guys up front, most notably Alex Roos, who could take a huge step this season.

But depth is a question for first-year coach Mike Haviland, and so is goaltending. Josh Thorimbert was inconsistent at best on a bad team last year, and he's gone, leaving the job (in all likelihood) for Tyler Marble, who sat out injured last year.

Haviland takes over for longtime coach Scott Owens, and how the highly-respected veteran NHL coach fits in college hockey will be a storyline this season. And since I'm picking them last, the Tigers will probably win the league or something.

7. Western Michigan Broncos

This is where it starts getting really difficult, and I'm probably going to end up looking like an idiot. There's a lot to like about this Broncos team, most notably big forwards Josh Pitt and Colton Hargrove, along with smooth defenseman Kenney Morrison. However, Andy Murray loses Chase Balisy and Shane Berschbach up front, and their speed, skill, and leadership will be difficult to replace. Murray deployed both players in all situations last year, and they were effective.

Kyle Novak needs to take a big step at forward, and Morrison will be counted on for a lot of minutes with trusted veterans Dennis Brown and Jordan Oesterle both gone.

Lukas Hafner and Frank Slubowski compete for time in goal, where WMU should continue to be rock-solid. I'm just not sure Murray can find enough goals to get this team in the top four.

6. Denver Pioneers

There might not be a more important player in the league than DU defenseman Joey LaLeggia. He moves the puck, he protects his own zone, and he's a huge key to everything the Pioneers want to do in 2014-15. His presence is of added significance with the loss of David Makowski on the blue line. Yeah, Jim Montgomery can also send sophomore Will Butcher over the boards, but LaLeggia is the straw that stirs this drink.

The Pioneers have talent up front with guys like Ty Loney and Quentin Shore, but it's in goal where the big question mark lies. Who takes over for the departed Sam Brittain? That player will have huge shoes to fill come October.

5. Nebraska Omaha Mavericks

Yes, UNO loses Josh Archibald, Ryan Walters, and Brock Montpetit. Yeah, Nick Seeler is a late-summer departure Dean Blais can't recruit a replacement for. No, the goaltending situation doesn't really look like it's that much better.

Just look at those freshmen. Luc Snuggerud joins from Eden Prairie and will play a lot on the blue line. Blais added Duluth's Jake Randolph and Grand Rapids Mr. Hockey winner Avery Peterson up front, along with Tyler Vesel. Lots of high-end skill there, and no reason this team can't score goals.

Don't forget: Jake Guentzel and Dominic Zombo are both back, too. If Ryan Massa can grab the starting job and hold on to it, UNO is one of the most interesting teams in the nation.

4. UMD Bulldogs

No one wants to put all the pressure on a freshman, but UMD's fortunes this year will almost certainly be tied to freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo. The former Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL) star is the likely starter at a position UMD has seen two years of struggles at. After five straight years of team save percentage of .900 or higher (as high as .920), the Bulldogs have slipped to .896 each of the last two winters. Last year, UMD would have allowed 15 fewer goals if that team save percentage would have matched the Bulldogs' opponents (.911). Considering UMD scored and allowed 104 goals last year, cutting 15 from the goals allowed total would have made a huge difference.

Can Kaskisuo do that? We don't know. But UMD should score more, as almost every key offensive contributor returns sans Caleb Herbert, who left early to sign with Washington. Joe Basaraba has gone pro after an 18-point senior season.

3. North Dakota

Yes, UND loses the criminally underrated Rocco Grimaldi, who left early to turn pro. Yes, North Dakota no longer has Dillon Simpson, one of the top defensemen in the country.

It doesn't matter.

Defensemen Jordan Schmaltz and Paul LaDue return. Forwards Mark MacMillan and Michael Parks are back, and so is goalie Zane McIntyre (formerly Gothberg), a 20-game winner if you're a Neanderthal and think "wins" matter when it comes to judging the quality of a goalie.

Oh, and the recruiting class includes stud forwards Nick Schmaltz and Austin Poganski.

North Dakota's going to be good. Probably really good.

2. St. Cloud State Huskies

After winning the league last season, Bob Motzko's Huskies will be a favorite again in 2014-15. They should be, too. SCSU needs to replace goalie Ryan Faragher, but the Huskies return forwards like Jonny Brodzinski and Kalle Kossila, along with star defenseman Andrew Prochno, who is one of the best in the country at his position.

Charlie Lindgren is favored to get the bulk of the work in goal. He made a handful of appearances last year and acquitted himself very well.

(The freshman class includes former Duluth Marshall Hilltopper Judd Peterson, by the way.)

SCSU has depth, snarl, and a lot of skill. This team will be a force again this season.

1. Miami Redhawks

Yeah, that whole "definition of insanity" bit. I know.

Rico Blasi's crew had a Murphy's Law type of season. Between injuries and surprisingly leaky goaltending, just about everything that could go wrong did for MU last year.

Don't bank on it happening again. Miami's run to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game is just the start for this program. Nearly everyone is back, led by the dynamic Austin Czarnik and thumping forward Blake Coleman. The same suspects are back in goal, so MU is relying on improvement from Jay Williams and Ryan McKay. But if Miami stays healthy, Blasi has a much deeper and better-skilled team than last year.

I know "worst to first" seems like a stretch in such a strong league, but the Redhawks are going to be a contender this winter.

Preseason All-NCHC Team
Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State
Tony Cameranesi, UMD
Jake Guentzel, Nebraska Omaha
Joey LaLeggia, Denver
Andrew Prochno, St. Cloud State
Zane McIntyre, North Dakota

All-Rookie Team
Karson Kuhlman, UMD
Avery Peterson, Nebraska Omaha
Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota
Louie Belpedio, Miami
Luc Snuggerud, Nebraska Omaha
Kasimir Kaskisuo, UMD

Preseason Player of the Year: Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State
Preseason Rookie of the Year: Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Vikings Reverse Course Again, Ban Adrian Peterson

Here is the Vikings' statement on Adrian Peterson, released early Wednesday morning (around 12:45, to be more precise):
This has been an ongoing and deliberate process since last Friday’s news. In conversations with the NFL over the last two days, the Vikings advised the League of the team’s decision to revisit the situation regarding Adrian Peterson. In response, the League informed the team of the option to place Adrian on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list, which will require that Adrian remain away from all team activities while allowing him to take care of his personal situation until the legal proceedings are resolved. After giving the situation additional thought, we have decided this is the appropriate course of action for the organization and for Adrian.

We are always focused on trying to make the right decision as an organization. We embrace our role - and the responsibilities that go with it – as a leader in the community, as a business partner and as an organization that can build bridges with our fans and positively impact this great region. We appreciate and value the input we have received from our fans, our partners and the community.

While we were trying to make a balanced decision yesterday, after further reflection we have concluded that this resolution is best for the Vikings and for Adrian. We want to be clear: we have a strong stance regarding the protection and welfare of children, and we want to be sure we get this right. At the same time we want to express our support for Adrian and acknowledge his seven-plus years of outstanding commitment to this organization and this community. Adrian emphasized his desire to avoid further distraction to his teammates and coaches while focusing on his current situation; this resolution accomplishes these objectives as well.

We will support Adrian during this legal and personal process, but we firmly believe and realize this is the right decision. We hope that all of our fans can respect the process that we have gone through to reach this final decision. – Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf
Not surprisingly, I have a few thoughts.
  • I can't believe it took this long.
  • The local business impact isn't huge on the Vikings bottom line (most NFL money comes from national revenue sharing), but the situation wasn't going to get better, and everyone in the organization had to know that. It was smart of the team to do the right thing, and better late than never, but did I mention I can't believe it took this long?
  • If I were Adrian Peterson, I'd be instructing my legal representation to craft a plea deal as soon as possible. Suddenly, there's very real motivation for Peterson to get this resolved as soon as possible. Yes, the NFL will probably suspend Peterson once the case is resolved, but he can't concern himself with that. If he allows this case to go to trial, he will have missed 15 games as a result of the Friday indictment. If there is a conviction, there's no guarantee the NFL will just allow him to be reinstated with time served. If he cuts a deal next week as he should, he doesn't miss more than half the 2014 season, and it should be less than that. He'd then be eligible to play for his new team since the Vikings will obviously cut him after the season at the onset of the 2015 season.
  • Or maybe Adrian sees that writing on the wall and wants to take a break so he's fresh for 2015 with the Cowboys. Or whoever. Who knows?
  • Oh, and I can't believe it took this long. How did the Wilfs get so rich? They clearly aren't very smart, at least when it comes to public relations.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

UMD Depth Chart 2014-15

I know. I usually post this in July.

1) I was incredibly busy with real work. 2) I don't have a clue how this is going to turn out.

But I owe it a shot. So here goes.

As usual, these lines and all are nothing more than my opinion. I'll throw in some comments after each position group, as always.

Kyle Osterberg - Tony Cameranesi - Justin Crandall
Austin Farley - Cal Decowski - Karson Kuhlman
Alex Iafallo - Dominic Toninato - Adam Krause
Charlie Sampair - Jared Thomas - Brett Boehm
Blake Young - Austyn Young - Sammy Spurrell

I opted to keep Cameranesi and Toninato with the linemates they finished last season with, but there are arguments for switching a few guys. Krause is probably the extra pivot, a guy who can play in the middle if there's an injury or someone isn't effective. Thomas is a guy who could move to the wing to make room for Krause if the coaches want to start with more experience down the middle.

Farley could re-crack the top line if he can get back to the production we saw in his freshman year. I know Cameranesi's numbers tailed off, too, but if you watched this team, you'd know he was a very effective player who didn't seem to have any luck around the net. It's not like he wasn't in the right places or doing the right things. If he's healthy, he could conceivably double his point total from last year (21).

Decowski continues, I believe, his steady ascent from "part-time guy" as a freshman. I thought he had a very good season last year, getting a shot to fill in on the second line (Caleb Herbert's line) when Farley was out injured. He's a very smart player who is still developing his offensive skills. There's absolutely more to come from him.

While I concede that the Toninato line is more than a typical "shut down third line," they're really good in that role. There's more this group can do offensively, too. If Krause moves to center, Boehm could be a fit to help in that area. Iafallo is going to be a beast at this level. Probably could argue he already is.

Kuhlman and Boehm should put pressure on the veterans for "top six" roles. As a whole, this forward group is as deep as it's been in some time. You have at least nine or ten guys who could easily argue for top six minutes, including the two aforementioned freshmen.

(There are a lot of interesting combinations, including Sampair - Decowski - Crandall and Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman. I'd also like to see Iafallo with Cameranesi at some point, maybe with a guy like Kuhlman on the right side. Whatever combos we see in the exhibition and against the Gophers at the Ice Breaker could completely change by the time we see the Gophers again in November, even if everyone stays healthy and the team is playing well. Scott Sandelin likes the term "work in progress" early in the season, and it'll be just that as the coaches try to find what clicks the best.)

Carson Soucy - Andy Welinski
Derik Johnson - Willie Raskob
Willie Corrin - Brendan Kotyk
Nick McCormack - Dan Molenaar

Again, I decided to keep the top pair together from a year ago. It just makes sense. I thought they developed a good chemistry, and I like how their styles mesh on the ice. As Soucy becomes more confident and more responsible, it should help Welinski's offensive contributions.

Kotyk is the wild card. He isn't what you picture from a Division III transfer. Eligible to practice last year, he stepped right onto the ice and showed he belonged at this level from the start. A giant at six-foot-six, Kotyk is a good skater for how big he is, and let's face it: This isn't the biggest defensive corps in college hockey. That size could be a huge asset with this group.

Raskob should make a bigger impact offensively this season, and the coaches know Johnson will block any shot he can get to and defend any teammate at any time. Molenaar finished last season healthy and I thought he played well, especially considering how much time he had missed over the last couple years. He's smart as heck with the puck and will challenge for playing time.

Kasimir Kaskisuo - Matt McNeely - Alex Fons

I don't know how this will play out, but I believe Kaskisuo -- who was one of the better goalies in all of junior hockey last season -- will start the opener against the Gophers. That doesn't lock him in for the season by any means, but I don't think he was brought in so he could warm the bench while someone else plays. McNeely has every physical tool in the bag, and though he obviously had his struggles last year, he will be a huge factor if he puts everything together. Fons has played in three games -- starting one -- in two years at UMD. He isn't likely to play much, but his experience and attitude make him a great asset in this group.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Packers Offer More Questions Than Answers

Well, that was three hours of my life that I'll never get back.

Could have spent quality time with the family. Instead, settled in front of the TV to watch the Packers do, well, that.

I'm left with more questions than answers out of a 36-16 loss to Seattle. Surely, many Packer fans are, too. The difference? I'll actually ask them.

You had six months to prepare for this, and the game plan was to cut the field in half offensively?

I'm not saying Aaron Rodgers should have thrown at Richard Sherman all night. That's preposterous, but so is not even looking at him most of the time. Rodgers is one of the best. No single defensive player should be allowed to have such an impact on the game by simply stepping on the field. Rodgers and head coach/principal play caller Mike McCarthy allowed the Seahawks to turn this into a ten-man game. Didn't even throw up an attempt to make it 11-on-11.

Surely, no team will look at this and think the Packers had a good idea.

McCarthy said this week he had some unscouted looks he was excited to see. What/Where were they?

Seattle looked a step ahead of the Packers in all facets of the game. If McCarthy rolled out any of these unscouted looks, the Seahawks were on to it.

McCarthy also wanted to run 75 plays per game. Only came up 18 short Thursday. Why such a slow pace?

Don't fret. Rodgers said the pace was slowed because Seattle has a great defense. So apparently the Packers only want to play with pace when they play a bad defense.

When will the Packers employ an offensive line that actually blocks people?

It's been a few years now, and this team is still soft up front on both sides of the ball (more on that in a bit). Watch replays of run plays from Thursday night. When Seattle ran the ball, the Seahawks' line moved the point of attack back at least a yard almost every time. When Green Bay ran the ball, the point of attack was usually in the backfield before the running back of choice had a chance to do anything with the football. Eddie Lacy earned each of the 34 yards he ran for, because he had little help up front.

Why is it okay for Rodgers to dress down the only lineman who was playing well when he wasn't playing well himself?

Rodgers wasn't sharp. Left a few plays on the field and led an offense that played scared all night until the game was in hand for the opponent. So when he had to burn the team's final timeout of the first half because rookie center Corey Linsley didn't snap the ball when he wanted, he yelled at the kid.

Keep in mind that Linsley was about the only member of the offensive line who was pulling his weight, and he was doing so as a rookie pressed into starting duty by -- you guessed it -- an injury.

When a Packers beat writer -- Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin -- indicated he didn't like the look of Rodgers doing that, people yelled at him. Of course they did. Rodgers is untouchable, what with that impressive 0-6 record against San Francisco and Seattle since the start of the 2012 season and a 7-11 record as an underdog.

Clean your own house, QB1, and quit making yourself look like an ass on the field. It's unbecoming of you.

Will this team ever out-physical a quality opponent again?

I'm starting to wonder about this regime. Ted Thompson has done some great things, but as recently as last January, he bristled at the mere suggestion his team was soft.

Unfortunately, given a myriad of chances to show it isn't soft Thursday, the Packers failed to do so every time. I drank the Kool-Aid on this offensive line, hyped as one of the best McCarthy has seen here. But it's the same crew with the same problems. They get pushed around by good teams, and all that does is set the table for overall failure.

The 1978 Buffalo Bills allowed 3,228 yards rushing. That's the single-season record. Works out to just over 201 yards per game. Seattle hit for 207 Thursday, and the Packers haven't tried to tackle Adrian Peterson yet. The run defense showed zero improvement off last year, when it was miserable.

Not a good start at all.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Bruce Irvin 'Going to Pray' for Corey Linsley

In case you're wondering, Packers fans, they do have the internet in Seattle.

And the Super Bowl champion Seahawks use the internet. They read things, and they can comprehend what they read.

How do I know? Because they're fully aware the Packers plan to start a rookie center Thursday night in the NFL season opener at CenturyLink Field.
"I'm going to pray for him," (linebacker Bruce) Irvin said Tuesday of Linsley, a fifth-round draft pick out of Ohio State. "It's going to be a long night, man. We've got to just take advantage of it."

... "All the weaknesses that (Linsley) shows us, we've got to expose it," Irvin said. "Hopefully, 'Bane (nose tackle Brandon Mebane) going to do what I know he's going to do to him. So, we've just got to be ready."
Prayers? How nice of Irvin.

Listen: I'm sure some will look at this as bulletin-board material. But it's only bulletin-board material if the Packers win. For that to happen, it'll take more than Linsley having a great game.

For now, it's the champ saying what the champ wants to say. Winning has its privileges. Seattle won it all last year, and now its players have free reign to do the Diamond Dallas Page self high-five bit.

Of course, in the NFL, success can be quite fleeting, even for teams that appear to be built for long-term winning. I just don't see Seattle being one of those teams that goes away.

(And if they do, it won't be quietly. The Seahawks don't do anything quietly.)

I have no issue with Irvin's comments, even if they were a bit eyeroll-inducing. The Packers -- and only the Packers -- can shut him and his teammates up. Just don't bet on that happening. 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Red Zone Radio Network Launches

My apologies for not being around much this summer. This project has been a great learning experience for me, along with being quite time-consuming. It has taken me away from blogging time, though it thankfully hasn't affected family time. No offense, but they're more important. :)

Check out our company's press release, and if you're in one of these areas, we invite you to check out Red Zone Sports Radio.

I'll be around soon with UMD hockey-related content. Our 100 day season countdown is underway on Twitter (follow me @bruceciskie if you aren't already), with a UMD hockey fact every day until the Oct. 9 lid-lifter against Minnesota.
Red Rock Radio Corporation is proud to launch the Red Zone Sports Radio Network.
Starting Monday, August 4, 2014, Red Zone will be comprised of six radio stations within the Red Rock Radio Corporation group, and will blanket northern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Red Zone is designed to deliver comprehensive sports coverage to all six stations.

Red Zone’s properties include existing sports stations KQDS-AM 1490 (“The Fan”), based in Duluth, as well as KRBT-AM 1340 (“The Fan”), which is run out of Eveleth, MN. They will continue to air programming from The Fan Radio Network, which is run out of KFXN-FM 100.3 in the Twin Cities.
Joining the network for its initial launch on August 4th are KKIN-AM 930 (Aitkin, MN), WCMP-AM 1350 (Pine City, MN), WHSM-AM 910 (Hayward, WI), and WXCE-AM 1260 (Amery, WI). These four stations will primarily air programming from NBC Sports Radio.

Shawn Skramstad, President of Red Rock Radio, says, “We have been looking for ways to use the power of the group and the various assets of our stations to help build something together that individually would be difficult. The Red Zone Sports Radio Network is a good example of this new strategy.”

“Red Zone represents a new brand for sports programming in the region,” Red Zone Sports Director Bruce Ciskie said. “These stations will continue to cover local sports in their markets while giving listeners comprehensive coverage of the sports news and issues that interest them.”

Ciskie will provide daily sports updates on network stations. Red Zone will include comprehensive local sports coverage, outdoor programming, and bring listeners the latest weather information.

Red Zone Sports Radio Network can be found on the internet at

For more information on this announcement, contact Karina Bite, Promotions Manager, Red Rock Radio Corporation: 218-728-9500.

Red Rock Radio Corporation operates 25 radio stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ray Rice Punishment Misses the Mark

I could sit here and list off all the NFL suspensions over the years that help make this punishment look completely non-sensical.

After all, Terrelle Pryor got five games for getting some free tattoos. While in college.

You don't need to know anything more than that.

I could just post Keith Olbermann's epic takedown of the NFL from Thursday night. But I only need to mention a few words. The last ones.

While noting that NFL Network's Chris Rose -- a rock-solid broadcaster, to be fair -- had the audacity to talk about Rice's suspension while coining the term "the iron fist of the NFL," Olbermann had this to say:

"Right now, the iron fist of the NFL has just been used ... against Ray Rice's wife ... and against every woman in America."

Many people love NFL football. Hell, I watch every weekend. There are countless web sites, blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, and other media dedicated to covering the NFL and living the NFL. The league has made a lot of people -- and not just those directly participating as owners, players, coaches, administrators, broadcasters, or whatever else -- a ton of money.

The NFL's success is largely related to its marketing. They're always trying to grow the league, instead of being content with what they already have. In this world, you're either growing or dying. There is no third direction.

(That's from "Tommy Boy," and it's still completely valid some 20 years later.)

That marketing has stretched to females. The NFL has smartly recognized that women around the world have become huge football fans. They might not be fans for any reason besides the fact their significant other is a huge fan, and they've turned football Sundays into a huge part of their relationship, but they're fans.

(Don't misread that. There's a slew of females out there who are football fans without any coercion from the opposite sex. No matter how they've become fans, they matter to the NFL, as they should.)

That means you can coax them into spending their money on the league, and many of them do just that.

Unfortunately, the NFL doesn't treat all women well.

Look what they just did to Janay Palmer-Rice.

The Ray Rice suspension should bother you as a human being. It isn't a tacit endorsement of the behavior caught in that video, where Ray Rice callously drags his unconscious (then) fiancee out of an Atlantic City elevator. He's not dragging her out of the elevator because he's concerned and wants to get her medical attention. He's not dragging her out of the elevator in a panic because he thinks something is wrong. Instead, his actions appear calm and, yes, callous.

Janay Palmer didn't pass out. Ray Rice knocked her out. And he got a two-game suspension for it.

And then Ravens coach John Harbaugh had the utter nerve Thursday to talk about how kids can learn from Rice's actions and the subsequent punishment.
“It’s not a big deal, it’s just part of the process. There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He makes a mistake, alright? He’s going to have to pay a consequence. I think that’s good for kids to understand it works that way. That’s how it works, that’s how it should be.”
Ray Rice might be the nicest guy on Earth. But that should not -- hell, can not -- matter when levying a punishment for something as severe as this.

And I don't want my 12-year-old son learning from any part of what has happened here. This is where the NFL's past punishments become more than just a valid argument. They become downright scary.

I'm not pro-marijuana, but I'd much rather my son smoked marijuana during the NFL offseason than knocked another human being -- worse yet, his significant other -- out cold before dragging that person's lifeless body out of an elevator with no regard for safety or well-being. And the NFL has just sent the message that it would rather you did the opposite.

Justin Blackmon -- who unquestionably needs help before he could ever even consider a comeback -- might never play football again. Ray Rice will be back on the field in Week 3.

It's the wrong message, and it's one I'd like to think the NFL is smart enough to get right. It's failed in this case.

It failed not just women around the world, but it failed its players, even Ray Rice.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thinking Out Loud: Tony Dungy's Irrational Fear of Distractions, Chris Kluwe's Fight

The idea of an openly gay player in a professional sports locker room is one that's been danced around for years. Many have been afraid to discuss it, and while it's unquestionably true that we've had gay professional athletes, none have been willing to come out during their playing careers.

Before going through the combine and the NFL Draft, Missouri linebacker Michael Sam decided it was time to do just that. He came out as gay, saying his teammates knew last season.

You know the rest of this story. The St. Louis Rams took Sam in the seventh round, and he will have a chance to make the team during training camp, which starts this week.

Good thing Tony Dungy wasn't in Jeff Fisher's spot.

"I wouldn't have taken him,'' Dungy told the Tampa Bay Tribune. “Not because I don't believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it.

"It's not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen."

Keep in mind: Dungy blazed a trail for African Americans to become head coaches in the NFL. He wasn't the first, but he was one of the most successful, and his presence made a huge difference for those who thought the NFL was not providing African Americans the opportunity to become head coaches.

Dungy is a man who stared racism down and persevered despite it.

Sam is blazing a different kind of trail, and Dungy says that trail is too distracting to a team.

That tells you all you need to know about the NFL and its priorities.

Michael Sam's gay. That's a distraction.

Ray Rice drags his fiancee around a casino, and that isn't.

Take it away, Mike Freeman.
Unfortunately, Dungy isn't alone, but Dungy is supposed to know better. He's supposed to be a leader, a man of principal, a man who knows the sting of bigotry. Quite simply, he's supposed to understand.

... Dungy should know better, but he is clearly a good man with a weak spot. Imagine if an NFL team, when Dungy came into football, decided not to draft him because they wouldn't want to "deal with all of it" by picking a black man. Or if Dungy's hero, Chuck Noll, instead of hiring Dungy as an assistant coach, decided, "You know what, the attention will be negative. I don't want to 'deal with all of it.' "

When Dungy was trying to be a head coach, he was rebuffed in many instances because of the color of his skin. Or other superficial features. The late George Young, who was the general manager of the Giants, once told Dungy (as told in Michael MacCambridge's book America's Game): "I want to help you. I want to see you succeed in this business, and I think you can. But you'll never advance any farther with that beard. It's just not seen in the NFL."

When Dungy told Steelers owner Dan Rooney about Young's words, Rooney said: "In some organizations, that's probably true. But we like people to be themselves."
I like people to be themselves, too. I like Richard Sherman as Richard Sherman. He adds to the experience of watching football. As much as Jermichael Finley's flamboyance drove me nuts at times, it'll be missed in Green Bay if he can't play again. I believe the Vikings will miss Jared Allen's personality, possibly as much as the Bears will appreciate having him around.

Some guys stand out because of their uniqueness. If they're doing their jobs and the team isn't suffering because of that "individuality," there's no reason to think that player is a distraction.

Sure, Finley's gestures after every random catch look stupid if the team is down 30-7 or if the record is 3-9. Same for Allen's calf-roping sack dance. But if the team is winning, it's like a rallying cry.

It's amazing that Dungy -- a well-spoken, intelligent man who went through a lot of crap before he finally got the opportunity he needed to prove himself as a coach -- would so easily dismiss a guy like Sam.

Michael Sam's a distraction, but the guy who was thrown in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring (Michael Vick) deserved a second chance at the NFL.

OK, Tony.

I wonder how Dungy would have handled Chris Kluwe if the two had worked together at any point. There's another story.

Kluwe basically took a live grenade to his NFL career in January, when he penned a piece for where he alleged he was let go by the Vikings because of his outspoken support for gay marriage. If that wasn't enough, Kluwe threatened to sue the team (and apparently will file that suit on Wednesday) if they didn't release the results of their commissioned investigation that resulted from Kluwe's piece, as well as levy heavy sanctions against the main subject of that story, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.

The Vikings called Kluwe's bluff. He wasn't bluffing.

Do I think Kluwe is a bit of an attention seeker? Yes. But I also believe he is standing up for something he feels strongly about: gay rights. And he thinks he is still doing that in trying to get the Vikings to change what he insists is a broken culture within the organization and, more specifically, in the locker room.

This isn't a money grab from Kluwe. He said he will donate every dime he may be awarded from the Vikings. It also isn't a ploy to get back in the NFL. Between the Deadspin piece that started all of this in January and the pending lawsuit, Kluwe knows he's done in the league.

And as the Vikings tried to deflect Kluwe's barbs by leaking word that he had taken part in some ribbing of a Penn State alum on the Vikings' staff (making fun of the Jerry Sandusky scandal), Kluwe went back on the offensive. He said (correctly) that his behavior, while not necessarily right, doesn't justify anything Priefer is alleged to have said in team settings. Priefer is a leader and held to a higher standard, Kluwe says, and he's right.

Just ask the Miami Dolphins, who fired offensive line coach Jim Turner last year after he was found to be taking part in the bullying of lineman Jonathan Martin.
"The language and behavior as described in the Ted Wells report are against the core values of our organization," Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in a statement. "After receiving the report, I conducted my own internal review of the facts to determine the appropriate steps for our organization. Jim Turner and Kevin O'Neill are good people who care a great deal about their profession and the players whom they serve, but both exhibited poor judgment at times which led me to this conclusion.

"As owner, I know firsthand of the high-character and dedicated professionals in our building. I believe in our team and know the hard work and sacrifices they make every day on the field and in the community. However, this is an opportunity and a teaching moment not only for the coaches, staff and players in our locker room, but also for participants throughout sports."
I don't know if Priefer should have been fired, but the results of this Vikings investigation -- even our limited knowledge from that report -- make it clear that locker-room behavior continues to be a problem for the NFL.

Guys are going to kid around, have fun, and get on each other's nerves. But there has to be a line where words and actions start to genuinely offend people. And those people have to be encouraged to speak up, not ripped limb from limb when they do.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Thinking Out Loud: California Chrome Fails, So Do Hockey Fans

Listen, I'll be the first to admit. I'm not a horse racing guy. I bet on the Kentucky Derby in Vegas four years ago (won), but it was nothing more than a lucky guess.

I'm a passive fan when it comes to the Triple Crown, but I'm fully aware of how it works. When a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, he will inevitably face a horse in the Belmont that did not run each of the first two legs.

The co-owner of California Chrome, Steve Coburn, clearly isn't happy about this fact. Here is his rant from after Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

Coburn didn't back off Sunday.

"It says Triple Crown. You nominate your horse for the Triple Crown. That means three," Coburn said in the track-side interview with ESPN on Sunday. "Even the Triple Crown trophy has three points on it. So when you earn enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby, those 20 horses that start in the Kentucky Derby should be the only 20 allowed to run in the Preakness and the Belmont for the Triple Crown."

He also made a questionable analogy of why Tonalist's participation Saturday was unfair.

"These people nominate their horses for the Triple Crown and then they hold out two [races] and then come back and run one," Coburn told ESPN. "That would be like me at 6-2 playing basketball with a kid in a wheelchair. They haven't done anything with their horses in the Triple Crown. There were three horses in this race that ran in the first two -- California Chrome, Ride on Curlin and General a Rod -- none of the other horses did.  You figure out. You ask yourself, 'Would it be fair if I played basketball with a child in a wheel chair?"

Coburn made the analogy in both interviews Sunday morning. He was asked in the "Good Morning America interview" if he considered the comparison offensive.

"No, I'm just trying to compare the two," he said. "Is it fair for me to play with this child in a wheelchair? Is it fair for them to hold their horses back?"

Coburn said he has no problems if people label him a "sore loser" and even proceeded to give out his phone number so people can call him with their complaints.

Listen, I'm not an expert on this. But the Triple Crown has been run the same way for 146 years. When Affirmed won in 1973, he beat horses that didn't run all three races. When Secretariat won two years earlier, same story.

Whether Coburn likes it or not, this is how the sport works. If he doesn't like it, maybe he should bring it up with racing commissions who run the Triple Crown. I highly doubt anything will change, but perhaps Coburn will feel better.

I get that it's a quick turnaround for the horses who run, but I'm not in favor of anything that will make the Triple Crown easier to win. It's been done 11 times, and it should be difficult. Otherwise, it wouldn't carry nearly the prestige it does. Then the sport suffers, and horse racing has suffered enough over the years.


Coburn wasn't the only person putting his foot squarely in his mouth over the weekend.

Hello, hockey fans.

As soon as LeBron James left Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday because of leg cramps, the internet started in.

I'm as pro-NHL as the next guy, but this is a great example of hockey fans' inferiority complex. The sport doesn't do as well on television as the NBA does, and that drives people crazy, because they don't think there's any competition when it comes to the quality of the games.

I don't argue that. What I argue is how NHL fans choose to articulate themselves.

LeBron James might be an egomaniac, but he's a two-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, and an Olympic gold medalist. He isn't a quitter. If he's not finishing an NBA Finals game, something is wrong.

And I've seen what leg cramps can do to elite athletes. I've seen some of the best marathon runners in the world crippled by cramps less than halfway into a 26-mile race. These folks train their entire lives to run distance, but end up unable to stand without help when the heat and humidity prove to be too much for them.

Comparing LeBron James to a hockey player just doesn't work. All it does it make hockey fans look petty and silly.