Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is New Mexico the Diversity Homeland?

Our attention should shift to Albuquerque, N.M. this weekend and the annual rivalry game between the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University. We should call it the Convention of African American Division I head coaches because exactly 29percent of the black coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision will present at University Stadium -- New Mexico coach Mike Locksley (left) and New Mexico State coach Dwayne Walker (right).

Only seven black coaches lead Division I teams, just one in the so-called BCS (Bowl Championship Series Division) -- Miami's Randy Shannon. The others are Houston's Kevin Sumlin, Miami (Ohio's) Mike Haywood, Eastern Michigan's Ron English, my old Mass Communication's classmate at UC Berkeley, and Turner Gill at the University of Buffalo.

Of the 120 FBS teams -- the highest level of college football -- seven have black coaches, a depressing number that continues to prove that diversity hasn't spread to all facets of athletics. While athletic directors seem to have no issue hiring black coaches to fill basketball positions, those same ADs hiccup when it comes to filling football posts with black men.

"I have a lot of respect for Dwayne," Locksley said. "For both of us to have our opportunity here in the great state of New Mexico to lead a program speaks volumes for the states, speaks volumes for both administrations and both places."

Yet, both major schools in New Mexico hired black coaches within months of each other, and let's face it, neither job is the envy of the coaching community. New Mexico State has long been considered one of the tougher FBS jobs because of the obscurity of Las Cruces, N.M. and the difficult of competing with Boise State and Fresno State in the Western Athletic Conference. New Mexico has always considered itself as a school that should compete with the major powers but never had the recruiting base to do so. How many premium high school athletes really come out of New Mexico?

So both of these men have been presented formidable tasks of rebuilding programs that haven't been national factors for years, if ever. But these are the jobs black coaches have to accept if they want to enter the coaching fraternity. Eastern Michigan has long been a downtrodden program in the Midwest with 13 straight losing seasons; New Mexico State has had one winning season the past nine years; Buffalo won 10 games in the previous seven years before Gill took over and guided the Bulls to a bowl game last season, considered a miracle turnaround for a program with no tradition.

Sumlin could be the next black coach to get a BCS job as he has the Houston Cougars ranked 17th with a win over then-No. 5 Oklahoma State. But black coaches shouldn't have to orchestrate a major resurrection of a dying program to be considered for a BCS job. Non-black coaches such as Tennessee's Lane Kiffin, Auburn's Gene Chizik, Washington's Steve Sarkisian and Syracuse's Doug Marrone were handed major jobs without previous head coaching experience or success, in some cases.

In other words, some AD liked these guys, were impressed with their credentials and vision and were willing to take a chance and stake their reputation on their success. That's what needs to happen more often with black coaches. So while Saturday's New Mexico State-New Mexico game ranks near the bottom of the college football landscape, we should take notice of the rarity of two black coaches facing each other, and hope that matchups like these happen more often.

I, for one, will definitely take note of what's happening in New Mexico.

Monday, September 14, 2009

We encourage arrogance, so why do you expect humility?

Hopefully, perhaps and quite possibly we have learned first-hand this weekend the perils of out-of-control, excessive arrogance.

But in a sense, it is our fault. We like our icons to talk, to sell themselves, play themselves up. We only want them to be humble when we want them to be humble and then we criticize them for crossing the "vain" line. This weekend, Michael Jordan and Kanye West angered their fans and millions of others with their overconfident and rather petty actions.

Jordan treated his basketball Hall of Fame speech like Martin Lawrence in the infamous "Pretty Ricky" episode of the 90s series "Martin". If you didn't catch that classic segment, Martin attends to his 10-year high school reunion with a checklist of people he plans to avenge for their mistreatment a decade ago. After winning "Man of the Year" from his classmates, Martin essentially disses the award because he admits he never liked any of his classmates, especially arch rival Ricky Fontaine, or "Pretty Ricky," who took his prom date.

Isiah Thomas revived the role of "Pretty Ricky" as Jordan recalled when Thomas and several other all-stars decided to "freeze" him out of the 1985 All-Star Game because they were jealous of Jordan's new-found stardom and felt the rookie hadn't paid his dues. He then added rivals to the list as if he were shopping for a Super Bowl party. Dean Smith for not inviting him to pose for a Sports Illustrated cover, check. Pat Riley for not allowing the Knicks players to fraternize with Jordan before playoff games, check. Leroy Smith for the heinous act of accepting an invitation to join the varsity team at Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C. while Jordan didn't receive one, check.

It was classic Jordan, a summation of a man who was as good as creating motivational tools as dunking on opponents. He listed every one of his adversaries and thanked them for having a part in his Hall of Fame induction.

Less than 48 hours later, West jumps on stage (where is the security here?) at the MTV Video Awards grabs the microphone out country singer Taylor Swift's hands and proclaims Beyonce as the real winner of the best female video. He then hands the microphone back to the shell shocked Swift and then walks off the stage, as if he just solved the health care debate.

This is the only time you will hear me compare Jordan and West, because there is no comparison. One man is the greatest basketball player of all time and image icon, and another is a pretty decent artist who has capitalized on a horrid music market that devours and lauds anything, including "Mary Had a Little Lamb, the remix."

But people have spent the weekend complaining about both acts, and honestly neither Jordan nor West would have been successful with strictly humility. Jordan told friends he would become a shoe icon while he was at North Carolina.

West complained when his "College Dropout" CD was not given prestiguous five-star rating by Rolling Stone magazine and threatened to never to grant a cover story again. We didn't complain then. We kept buying his CDs, calling his stunning acts of pompousness a mere personality trait, not a concern that needed to be addressed.

We seem to live in a society where everybody considers themselves "all that" even if such feelings are conceived or serves as a defense mechanism for insecurity. Humility is frowned upon until the moment we feel as its appropriate and then we expect our artists, athletes and even politicians to immediately know when to say "Aw shucks."

This weekend was a lesson that there is nothing wrong with opting for humility or modesty, even if you privately want to tell the world how great you are. As one wise person told me, when a person constantly lauds themselves and their own accomplishments, they are more trying to convince themselves than anyone else.

We consider our humble icons boring or dry. We relish arrogance and conceit, even sometimes in our mates. It makes them more attractive. But the question is what exactly was attractive about the events of this weekend? I don't heard anyone admiring, just cringing.

It starts with young people judging each other for their material goods and looks, and it ends, unfortunately, with talented artists and athletes unable to control their own emotions because they have been allowed to fester and smoulder too long. It may be too late to save MJ and Kanye West, but this should serve as a lesson for all of us to stop encouraging such behavor and excusing it as genius.

We're smarter than that.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blount Paid Too Severe of a Price for Punch

LeGarrette Blount should have been suspended for his slug of Boise State defensive lineman Byron Hout on Thursday night following the University of Oregon's 19-8 football loss to the Broncos. Blount had been quoted as saying Oregon would get revenge for its shocking home loss to Boise State last year and obviously he didn't back up those statements.

The Oregon offense was terrible and Blount rushed for minus 5 yards on eight carries. It was a bad night, a disappointing effort and the last thing Blount needed was Hout walking up to him after the game at midfield, tapping him on the shoulder pad and mouthing trash talk. (See video in next post)

Blount reacted by slugging Hout in the jaw, a punch that so clearly connected, saliva could be seen exiting Hout's mouth. It was an ugly scene, filled with bitter emotions, frustration and immaturity. The University of Oregon suspended Blount, who spoke with the media after the game and apologize not only for his punch but charging some Boise State fans who were pelting him with insults while walking off the field, for the rest of the season, thus ending his college career.

Blount is an angry young man who needs help, but robbing him of 11 football games because he snapped isn't the answer. Of course, he deserves a suspension, a hefty one, but it was apparent he was provoked. In sports, you generally never touch an opposing player following a game unless it's to congratulate him for a good effort. Hout slapped Blount on the shoulder pad, which to many who grew up in urban communities, is an action asking to for retaliation.

There was no way Blount should have punched Hout, but let's say Hout keeps walking and never utters a word, does Blount snap? Probably not. He was level headed enough to apologize for his actions just minutes after the incident. The University of Oregon should have taken the weekend to decide Blount's fate, should have approached the kid and gotten his side and then made the call. But what the university did is react to the perception that some angry brotha socked an innocent opponent following a loss, a sore loser who couldn't contain his emotion.

But there is so much more to the story. It's the story of a winning player who sought out Blount to rub his nose in his failures. You are asking a 22-year-old young man to contain his emotions enough when he is jabbed by someone he hardly knows. Without a doubt, Blount should have walked on, swallowed his pride and not defended himself or escalated the incident, but to end his college career when there are college athletes who have DUIs on their record, have been arrested for stealing, assaulting students at campus parties and even assaults against women, but yet are still allowed to play, is a woeful reaction.

Blount's action was of immaturity and emotion, and perhaps an anger management course during a five-game suspension would have been more appropriate, but to take his career away, and then hinder his chances for a professional career because the lone image scouts and general managers will see is the slugging of Hout is unfair. This is needs attention, professional help and in a sense, some encouragement. These are still kids. Even though Blount is a hulking 6-feet-2, 240 pounds with a good right hook, he is still a kid, filled with insecurities, simmering emotions and lacking those social skills for success.

"LeGarrette's hurt," Coach Chip Kelly told the Oregonian. "I think he understands that he made a mistake. I'm sure it's a very difficult situation for him to go through. He cried, I cried. I told him he needs to stay with this football program, and we'll do everything to support him."

Taking his career away isn't the answer. Penalizing him for his actions but teaching and reaching the kid is the answer. The University of Oregon blew this one and let's hope Blount experiences personal growth and success and is able to create new and more positive images. He deserves a second chance.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Before We Criticize, Let's Take Mental Health Seriously

Michael Beasley is a tragic story that could turn into a motivating life lesson because he sought help. The Miami Heat forward, entering his second season, checked himself into a rehabilitation center after some frightening Twitter posts that obviously was a cry for help. Beasley, who averaged 13.9 points and 5.4 rebonds per game as a 19-year-old rookie, has always been known as a little "strange" or "crazy" but recently it appeared he was contemplating suicide.

He Tweeted statements such as "Feelin like it's not worth livin!!!!!!! I'm done" and "I feel like the whole world is against me I can't win for losin"

Luckily, he was coerced into seeking help and Beasley should be applauded for that because many of us assume 1) that rich folks don't have anything that should cause mental health issues and 2) admitting mental health issues means you are weak. Beasley is a hulking man, a millionaire and one of the NBA's most promising players. But even young, rich and handsome folks are capable of experiencing mental health issues.

Too many times we put ourselves in the shoes of these rich men and women and then predict how happy we would be; what we would do with all that money and how carefree our lives would be with the wealth. We are the crazy ones to believe that life would be that simple. Not that I am outpouring with sympathy, but just imagine being 20 years old and rich? Do you recall how many silly things you did at 20 when you were broke? Imagine adding a couple of million to that situation? When you can afford to do more expensive stupid things.

The pressure of having to satisfy family members, friends with sob stories and their hands out (and it's always a loan, never a gift until the money is exchanged) and then have to perform professionally can sometimes be too much to bear for our young men and women. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Delonte West was one of those brothers who was considered "issued" or a "little crazy" and eventually sought help for depression.

We assume that money will erase some of the physical and emotional abuse these young athletes have endured. We assume that money will compensate for a lack of a father in a home or a mother who may have worked so hard, she allowed her children to raise themselves. Twitter and Youtube has allowed athletes to seek even more attention but honestly many of these impromptu reality shows (i.e. Stephon Marbury) are cries for help, cries for someone to pay them attention -- positive attention. Not the type of attention that money attracts, not women who would do anything for a night or buddies who will be down when the cash is flowing, but simple friendship.

And we wonder why athletes equip themselves with weapons in public, pursue eccentric interests such as collecting swords and guns or littering their bodies with excessive tattoos. In their own unique and guarded way, they are seeking attention and comfort.

These athletes lack guidance, lack friends, lack role models and lack the mental capacity to realize they have a problem. So they keep going, hoping money, women and allure will cure their mental ills. And it doesn't. So cut Beasley a break when he exits rehab because thankfully he acknowledged his problem and is addressing it. Too many people don't take mental health seriously, and that is crazy.