Month: September 2014

Florida State, Steve Smith and Derek Jeter

FLORIDA STATE

I took a week off in protest of the Jameis Winston suspension as it was clear my view of events is far afield of what passes for normal these days. With a week’s reflection, here is what I got. Winston is a polarizing figure. Based on his body of work, he is generally immature and naïve off the field, and exceptionally mature on the field. His competency at quarterback seems at odds with his off field persona, and quarterbacks especially those that have been awarded the Heisman Trophy and/or otherwise pass as the Face of the Program/Franchise, carry pseudo-presidential responsibilities in terms personal conduct and comportment that Winston, at this point, seems to consciously disregard. Interviews ranging from clichéd to countrified incoherence, serial episodes of petit theft, inaccuracy with a paintball gun and public directions on the art of intercourse might be dismissed with little to no public outrage if Ray Rice hadn’t dropped his fiancé with the efficiency of a primed Joe Frazier on camera in an elevator, and Winston’s hadn’t become involved in a sexual assault incident. The Rice video ushered in an era of hyper-sensitivity to all matters of violence and sex, and Winston’s sexual assault incident defined him for a vast swath of the holier-than-thou populace, regardless of whether the incident warranted charges let alone a conviction.
To that swath, he did something he shouldn’t have, something that wasn’t right, and nothing he will do now or in the future will ever change that belief while every transgression, no matter how trivial, will incredibly affirm their belief of bad character, while every positive, no matter how magnanimous, will be trivialized.

On the field with Winston back in the fold, Florida State escaped NC State 56-41 in a bizarre game. The Wolfpack, led by Florida-transfer, Jacoby Brissett sprinted to a 24-7 lead behind some great offense and a couple of Seminole turnovers. Florida State showed great resolve in pulling back two scores before the half to trail by only three at 24-21. The teams traded punches in a wild third quarter that saw NC State lead 38-28 before succumbing to a three touchdown onslaught from which they never recovered.

The positives. Winston, despite three turnovers, makes an enormous difference which was evident early on when FSU stayed aggressive and threw for a touchdown on third and 20. Without Winston, that’s a draw or screen pass to salvage three points. The running game showed signs of life producing a 100 yard game for Karlos Williams. The offense was excellent on third down and in the red zone. The defense generated three turnovers and came up big when it needed to.

The negatives. Four turnovers from your two best offensive players. Crappy tackling and blown coverages all over the field for much of the game, and only sporadic control of the line of scrimmage on the defensive end.

The conclusion. Florida State is not playing championship caliber football. They are wildly inconsistent from possession to possession on both sides of the ball and special teams have been solidly unspectacular. The mantra of finding ways to win is a valuable commodity that the Noles are trading heavily on right now, but they must avoid deluding themselves into thinking that is enough. Substantive progress must be made throughout the team for this season to be remembered for anything more than its controversies.

STEVE SMITH

After 13 years of exemplary service, the Carolina Panthers cut him. Smith signed with the Ravens a few days later, and vowed that playing his old team would result in “blood and guts everywhere”. Yesterday, Smith torched the Panthers for two touchdowns and 139 receiving yards.

Steve Smith is undersized and was never a blue chip recruit or a first round draft pick. He has a temper. He has been thrown out of practices, fought teammates in meetings and been suspended. He speaks the truth and can be a pain in the ass. He has no shortage of faults, but he is important because his self belief and competitive hunger never wavered through a 14 year career that should land him in the Hall of Fame.

DEREK JETER

There are events every day that wreak of injustice, cruelty or just plain bullshit, and make us ask “why?” If we endure enough of these events, enough of these days, we get to watch Derek Jeter hit a walk-off single in his final at bat in Yankee Stadium, and while it will never erase injustice, cruelty or bullshit, it makes us smile, laugh spontaneously, maybe even tear up in a dusty living room, and be glad for just a moment that we were alive to see it.

Simmons Suspension is Simultaneously Uplifiting and Depressing

ESPN suspended Bill Simmons for three weeks for some indefensible combination of calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar, cussing and/or general insubordination. This is just the most recent in a series of suspensions the World Wide Leader has imposed on Simmons, who lives in LA and ostensibly runs the ESPN offshoot Grantland.com. He appears regularly on the network as part of its NBA coverage, has written best-selling books and hobnobs with the biggest names in sports.

The origins of his career are back in Boston where he fervently followed the Boston teams, smoked pot, talked with his friends and wrote a blog. In those days, Simmons access was confined to season tickets and he found a voice that was equal parts sarcastic, snarky and insightfully romantic. His writing resonated with fans and developed a cultish popularity. He was free to be petty and take pot shots because that’s what his readers did among their friends, and it was balanced by his uncanny ability to frame and give context to transcendent sports men and moments.

ESPN recognized the talent and bought it. It has been an uncomfortable alliance. Simmons is by nature petulant and combative. ESPN is enormous, pandering to greater enormity and controlling. Simmons has lost much of his essence in the deal as he generally writes less, and has gotten to know many of those people that he had fired shots at from afar. He no longer inhabits the environment that made him.

It is refreshing and important that on occasion he is moved to speak in a manner that draws the ire of his employers. It shows he has not completely sold his soul for profit, and it compels ESPN to show its oppressive hand so we don’t forget the depressing power of financial fortitude, or the situational affirmation of the first amendment.

Why ESPN Needs You to HATE Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles

SEC Exposed

FisherWinston2014

It has been a wild and crazy past week for the Florida State Seminoles. Their QB, a magnet for controversial news ever since his stint as quarterback for the reigning national champs began last year, once again was at the top of the headlines after being suspended by FSU for a half, then a whole game, for being spotted in the student union yelling a vulgar popular online meme. While we have seen the outrage on TV and on social media forums, and even the anger coming from a small contingent of FSU alumni, we are going to tell you all something you probably didn’t realize and that never occurred to you.

ESPN and the SEC-enamored media desperately WANT you to hate Jameis Winston. They need you to despise him. They’ve been working for you to hate him for a long time. If you don’t hate him by now, you…

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My Thoughts on the Ray Rice and Roger Goodell Soap Opera

1.  Ray Rice ran afoul of the law and common decency when, in the context of an argument with his fiance, he knocked her out. 

2.  This conduct is unacceptable and requires punishment.

3. The fact that the event was captured on video should not be blown out of proportion in terms of violence or punishment.  The violence of a particular act is defined by the act, and not whether it is captured on video.  The video just makes us bystanders.

4.  Even the first publicly released video left no doubt that the fiance was knocked out, and that requires a significant amount of force so the ferocity of the actual punch, while uncomfortable to watch, should surprise no one.

5.  The video clearly shows the fiance in an aggitated state, and advancing on Rice prior to the blow.  That said, she did not pose a threat to Rice’s safety, and he would have been better served absorbing at worst a Jay-Z-style elevator beat down.

6.  Domestic violence while unacceptable is not as black and white as many would like it to be.  It is complicated.  Rice is now married to his then fiance, and they appear intent on making a life together.  Her lack of cooperation with law enforcement contributed significantly to his acceptance into a pre-trial diversion program.   The cooperation of the victim is an enormous factor in the prosecution of domestic violence cases, and their a multitude of reasons a victim may choose to withdraw their cooperation with the prosecutor: fear, insecurity, financial considerations, family considerations, and even guilt of provocation.

7.  Domestic violence is a societal issue, not a football issue.  Criminal conduct is best handled by the judiciary, who has laws and means to prosecute and punish crime.  Pressure, external or internal, should not overwhelm the League to do something beyond the reach of society as a whole.

8. That said, it is total bullshit for the NFL to claim they did not have both videos at the time Rice was suspended for two games, and in the unlikely event they did not have both videos, it was the result of an unacceptable degree of negligence/incompetence in their investigation of this matter.

8.  The two game suspension was too light in the context of the league’s suspensions for drug use.

9.  The league was right in revisiting and revising suspensions for domestic violence, and the 6 games for a first offense and a ban subject to review after one year are contextually appropriate.

10.  The league is wrong in retroactively revisiting the Rice suspension on the basis of evidence it had or should have had at the time of the initial suspension. 

Week Two College Football Observations

FLORIDA STATE

The defending champs beat the Citadel 37-12. There were signs of progress and distress in near equal measure.

PROGRESS

Jameis Winston was much more efficient, and avoided turnovers against a lesser foe. Importantly, Winston got several receivers involved in the passing attack, but he must have the confidence to maintain this diversity in high stakes games. The Noles made a more concerted effort to run the football, and Karlos Williams looked better. He is a one cut, downhill runner, and not very effective when he diverts from that identity. Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook both ran very well, and it seems likely that FSU will again feature a three-headed platoon at running back.

DISTRESS

The defense could not get the run-heavy Citadel off the field in three downs or less, and conceded 12 points to a team that should have been shut out. FSU has failed to control, let alone dominate, the line of scrimmage for the second week running. Championship defense begins up front and is supplemented by causing turnovers. This was an also ran performance.

A HUMILIATING WEEKEND FOR THE BIG 10

The much-maligned Big 10 fueled the fire of their critics by shitting the bed in three high profile games. Unranked Michigan was shut out by a better, than believed Notre Dame. Unranked Virginia Tech traveled to the Horseshoe and beat #8 Ohio State by two touchdowns, giving the Buckeyes their first loss in a home opener since 1978 when Jimmy Carter was President. Finally, #7 Michigan State was eventually overrun by #3 Oregon. Michigan State did not suck, but this was a territorial game for both teams in terms of establishing credibility with the selection committee, and consequently a disproportionately crushing loss.

PAT HADEN, RHODES SCHOLAR, ATHLETIC DIRECTOR AND PITCH INVADER

The chest puffed indignation of the studio guys was in full peacock mode after USC Athletic Director Pat Haden allegedly received a text message from the USC coaching staff and invaded the pitch for an animated discussion with the referee after three calls went against the Men of Troy. Most of the indignation seemed to stem from Haden’s role on the selection committee, and whatever presumed impropriety that entailed, but the incident was pretty funny as it occured and did not compromise the integrity of the Trojans three point win over Stanford nearly as much as the Cardinals moronic incompetence.

PERSONAL NOTES

Two of my former basketball/football players had big weekends. John Boston pounced on a loose ball to score a touchdown for the Florida A & M Rattlers against Miami, and Blake McClain continued to establish himself as a core defender for the Kentucky Wildcats with his second solid game in as many weeks. I am so happy for both of these guys, and look forward to seeing more from them as the season progresses.