Leland Stein III

Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

Terrell Owens always the Diva . . .

In sports column on August 10, 2018 at 10:10 pm

 

terrele owens yellow jacket By Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

I am not surprised that Terrell Owens became the first NFL Hall of Famer to skip the Canton, Ohio induction ceremonies. Instead he staged his own celebration with a speech on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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The 2018 NFL Hall of Fame Class enjoy each other’s company.

What this solidifies in my mind is that Owens is simply an attention seeking confused man. Much like Kanye West and others, Owens takes-action with the thought that people will have to address him, he simply cannot comprehend the long-term reality or negative repercussions or aftermaths of his choices.

Some of my peers wondered aloud whether Owens’ stance would distract from an awesome 2018 Hall of Fame Class. Well, after watching the event and listening to the noteworthy orations by the 2018 inductees, I am glad to report Owens’ absence did nothing to distract from the positive aura surrounding this group. 

With Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher joining the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, and, Owens and Brian Dawkins joining them, it became one of the youngest enshrined groups in history. Those five players were joined by longtime personnel executive Bobby Beathard (contributor) and seniors committee nominees Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile for enshrinement.

Looking and listening to this amazing assemblage of gridiron legends, there was absolutely no way Owens stole their collective shine.

With Lewis a 13-time Pro Bowl selection, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a Super Bowl MVP in his career as a Baltimore Ravens linebacker. There is Moss, who is second all-time in touchdown receptions with 156 and had eight 1,200-yard seasons in his career. Urlacher was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.

Then there is Owens, who ranks eighth all time in receptions (1,078), second in receiving yards (15,935) and third in receiving touchdowns (153).

Owens was in just his third year of eligibility. Dawkins was in his second year of eligibility.

Because Diva Owens did not go into the Hall in his first year, he regressed into I’m a big baby mode and called the Hall of Fame, “Hall of Shame.”

Predictably the voters shunned Owens in his second year and he took the discourse up another level, threatening to skip the enshrinement, which he eventually did.

Sure, Owens had a point for maybe being a first ballot Hall of Famer; however, what he is missing is that in this life being right sometimes comes with patience and placidity. He simply does not have the skills of compromise or conciliation, which are some of our most important gifts in making our interaction with humanity smoother.

Like in a marriage or on a job or coaching or teaching or raising children, the ability to make a defined statement or point without an acrimonious or rancorous retort toward anyone that may have a differing opinion or thought than oneself . . . is a quintessential life skill – Owens seems to not have.

How many of us have had to cajole our wife to please marry me or push their kids to put a better effort into their school work or push one’s boss to honestly give he or she a fair shot at a promotion or push your coaches to let them know you are ready to be a starter? These things do not always happen on one’s first try, yet we keep at it.

I have covered three NFL Hall of Fame events in Canton, and I can clearly say that the four or five-day event is beyond special. Owens in his myopic vision of right and wrong missed a chance to fellowship with other legends that already have the Yellow Jacket (Jim Brown, Franco Harris, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, etc. al.), break bread at the Hall dinner, the presentation of the Yellow Jackets event, his teams he played for hosting and celebrating his enshrinement, and finally the day of one’s speech where coaches, teammates, family and fans come to Canton stadium to honor and rejoice a career.

In Owens’ self-serving speech in Tennessee, he tried to frame his stance as helping others that may follow him in the Hall. “I am against sportswriters who are not in alignment with the mission of the Hall of Fame core values,” he told reporters. “I am helping the next guy.”

Sorry Owens, in a time when your fellow athletes are putting their careers on the line to bring attention to injustices in the courts and with law enforcement, his trying to help other does not measure up.

Who is Owens helping? I project the .0001% of America’s population will be in a position to become first ballot Hall of Fame inductees. So, his helping people claim is basically counterfeit. 

What Owens did against the Hall only serve himself. He seems to not have the ability to correct himself when, like all of us who make mistakes do, he just insulates himself, does not take personal ownership and creates a they are against me aura.

That is hard to project when Owens himself alienated so many with his over the top end zone celebrations; being the father of two daughters and two sons, by four different mothers; his off and on the field antics; having to pay $45,000 per baby mama for child support; having allegedly tried to kill himself by intentionally ingesting an overdose of hydrocodone, a pain medication; and spitting in the face of a fellow athlete.

Owens was a superior athlete, but his on and off the field antics caused pause by the voters. He just does not understand that life is not a horizontal line ray, but a circular geometry line that is interconnected. What one does over here does not disappear into no-man’s land, it remains. Our actions throughout life connect us like a DNA life-link chain.

Owens is an exceptional athlete who played basketball, football, and ran track in college. Surely, he is worthy of his Hall of Fame induction, but this man is stuck in the you wronged me zone and that has costed him an amazing weekend that only happens once.

If you asked your wife to marry you three times and she finally says yes, do you boycott her? When you push your children to try harder in class and it takes five to twenty times to get that message through do you kick them out the house?

Owens once again fell prey to his self-serving demons and boycotted an event that was meant for him to give honor to his coaches, family, teammates and life. This brother is his own worst enemy and simply cannot humble himself for others.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and Twitter at LelandSteinIII

World Cup aftermath: Black kids should be exceling at soccer, but . . .

In sports column on August 10, 2018 at 9:05 pm

 

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France celebrates second World Cup victory

By Leland Stein III

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Recently when France overcame Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final in Russia, I was simply glued to the action and the players. The preponderance of black athletes in the tournament just captivated me.

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Superstars Paul Pogba (L) and Kylian Mbappe of France celebrate victory with the World Cup trophy.

 Now in my mid-sixties, when I reflect back to my youth as an athlete in inner-city Detroit, I realized just how myopic my vision of sports was. My crew and I only played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. 

Do not get me wrong, those sports are awesome and has uplifted thousands of black boys and girls out of poverty and has exposed them to higher education. Indeed, those sports have given purpose to too many youths that had become demoralized due to their family environments and struggles with education.

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Tim Howard, US national team, has made millions playing soccer all over the world.

 As a retired teacher and coach, I have witnessed first-hand how those sports have given purpose and define direction to many. However; after watching the 2018 World Cup, in particular France, I see there is so much more opportunity for inner-city youth to expand their vision of what may be possible via sports.

 

With black Frenchmen like defender Samuel Umtiti, midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, and forward Kylian Mbappe, just to name a few, displaying speed, agility, coordination and swag, I could only wonder, why not here in America?

Well, the soccer situation in America’s inner-cities is non-existent. Looking worldwide, it’s obvious that the most popular sport in the world is filled with faces of all colors. Yet, soccer in the United States still finds itself at cross-roads when it comes to diversity – perhaps as much in how its perceived as the reality of who’s playing the game today. 

Despite a US soccer boom, the sport has made barely a ripple in black communities. Could unlocking this talent base revive the failing national team? The US National team did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Sure, our best athletes run track, play football or basketball. But let’s just dream for a minute: what if Barry Sanders (the most elusive running back ever), Russell Westbrook, Le’Veon Bell, Marshall Faulk, Adrian Peterson, Odell Beckham Jr., Steph Curry, Isiah Thomas, “Bullet” Bob Hayes, Chris Paul, Carl Lewis, Tommie Smith, Antonio Brown, Jim Brown etc. al. chose soccer?

Imagine the above mentioned superstar athletes running, dipping, cutting and juking on a soccer field and behind them in goal, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant blocking every kick attempt. 

Oh, how the world of soccer would change if America put any effort into giving opportunities to the millions of inner-city youth just falling short of the limited possibilities open in football and basketball. Even better is that football (soccer) becomes so accepted that on the regular some our greatest athletes like LeBron James would chose the football pitch just because it would afford even more money and the same status. 

If somehow, our inner-city school administrators could get state and federal government we to invest in soccer, or maybe even wrestling and volleyball, what an expanse of new opportunity that investment would present to our youth.

Soccer is one of the world’s most democratic games, played on streets and in alleys around the globe – just like basketball. It would seem a natural fit for America’s predominately black inner cities, where basketball thrives on playground courts.

America’s media has long been small-minded, parochial and narrow-minded in its presentation of what sports are important in its newspapers, televisions and broadcast highlights.

Our media has always presented soccer, and, women’s sports as second-class citizens. Very minimal coverage and airtime. 

We have failed to inform our youth that soccer (known worldwide as football) players are the highest paid athletes in the world, and its Super Bowl (World Cup) is the world’s second greatest gathering of nations after the Olympics.

In America, soccer is seen as a sport played by middle-class suburban kids. Even the term ‘soccer mom’ conjures up an image of a white, suburban mother shuttling her pre-teen kids to games in a plush minivan. 

Our national team has been unable to develop dynamic, creative players (now playing basketball and football) who can compete at an international level. Many see the roots of this failure in the expensive, well-organized network of pay-to-play suburban leagues. Some parents spend more than $10,000 a year on membership fees and out-of-town club tournaments.

What about college opportunities? Well, competitions where college coaches find recruits and national scouts identify prospects are at the club level. Children in poor neighborhoods are priced out and struggle with the logistics of reaching training fields far from public transport and inner-city routes. 

As a result, millions of children don’t ever try soccer – including some of the country’s best athletes.

“To not be allowing non-white kids to develop shows why we aren’t in the World Cup,” Amir Lowery, a former Major League Soccer player and executive director of Open Goal Project, said in an interview. “A kid playing basketball and American football can see a chance to play in college, they see a path through. If you want to play soccer [beyond high school], there’s no path there. You don’t ever see college coaches at high school games. Mentally, the kids aren’t even thinking soccer is accessible.”

If our closed-minded media can expand its presentation and build a connection with the recognizable, pop culture stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Lionel Messi, as they have with stars LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers, Usain Bolt, Tom Brady and Bryce Harper, it would open minds and doors.

This would unlock a new smorgasbord of role models that would trickle down to possible sports choices youth scan as real potential opportunities to uplift one’s life. 

Hylton Dayes is the men’s soccer coach at the University of Cincinnati, and one of only eight black coaches in all of Division 1 soccer.

“There’s no question that there’s an improvement in the number of African-American players playing soccer,” Dayes, told ESPN.com, “but we also need to be cognizant that there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. The majority of the good African-American athletes aren’t drawn to soccer.”

The fact of the matter is soccer is simply not cool with African-American kids for lack of a better phrase. Who can be cooler than James, Brady or Curry per ESPN Sports Center.

Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people that little else has.” 

The inclusion of soccer in inner-cities as a very real and viable alternative to football or basketball as Mandela noted, it has the possibility to uplift thousands and thousands of searching youth.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and Twitter at LelandSteinIII

 

 

THE ROLE OF ATHLETES AND ACTIVISM HAS A STORIED HISTORY

In sports column on June 30, 2018 at 5:19 pm

 

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Iconic Black Economic Union summit (sitting l to r), Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Standing (not in order) attorney Carl Stokes, Curtis McClinton, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Jim Shorter (Redskins), Walter Beach, and John Wooten.

By Leland Stein III

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Leland Stein III

As a kid growing up – outside my family – some of the first role models I drew inspiration from were athletes.

First, there was Joe Louis, whom my father trained along side of at Detroit’s renown Brewster Recreation Center. Then there was NFL Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Gale Sayers and my friend, Lem Barney. Next, tearing up the track was two-time Olympic Gold medalist and Northwestern High’s Henry “Gray Ghost” Carr.

I know I’m not alone in this declaration. Generally, after Mom and Dad, most youth look up to the people they see and hear both in newspapers, music or on television.

Throughout the Unites States long history, there have been musicians, politicians, television personalities, actors and athletes who have used their national platforms, some understood the vehicle they have and found ways to lend their collective voices to perceived injustices in America’s society.

So, when a Fox news anchor proclaimed that LeBron James and Kevin Durant should keep their political commentary to themselves and just “shut up and dribble and stick to sports,” calling their comments “ignorant,” I just cringed!! 

Just like President Trump, this Fox news reporter was serving her own agenda, while completely whitewashing The First Amendment which guarantees the right of freedom of speech, the right of peaceable assembly, and the freedom of the press.

Trump and that Fox reporter, both have no learned understanding of history and of the things that have truly “Made America Great.”

The worlds of sports and politics are invariably intertwined in a multifaceted, complex and convoluted mixed that is in the words of jazz legend Miles Davis, a “Bitches Brew.”

On one hand, sports are entertainment, and an escape from the doldrums that permeate peoples’ everyday existence. Yet on the other hand, sports entertainment presents itself as a much too serious endeavor for too many. Politics, unquestionably, is the vehicle that generates laws and govern our everyday movements through humanity.

Still, sports are an undeniable vehicle that galvanizes entire communities, towns and even countries into a collective discourse that move many into civic, regional and national pride.

Long before America admitted, recognized or documented that its segregation policies and laws, both unwritten and written, were racist … sports took center stage.

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Jack Johnson and wife.

When Jack Johnson won the World Heavyweight boxing title in the very early 1900’s, most African Americans could not live, work, marry or compete in sports activities with their white American brethren.  So, the politics of that day passed a law that would not let him travel with his white wife over state lines. It caused him to leave the country for eight years and when he returned he was put in jail.

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Joe Louis knocked-out Max Schmeling and Hitler’s Aryan Supremacy with one punch.

In 1936 and 1938 two men changed many perceptions and some perceived prejudices – albeit not the educational, political or the economic plight of most African Americans. They were Jesse Owens and Joe Louis. Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, as Germany was on the eve of World War II.  Owens on the track debunked Hitler’s Aryan Supremacy rhetoric, making him a national icon and world figure.

Later in 1938, Louis knocked out Germany legend, Max Schmeling, moving him past just a boxer to a true American hero. Whether either of them wanted it, they became political figures that represented an entire race. Many of our white brethren in America embrace Louis and Owens – white and black, rich and poor.

Yet the politics pouring out of Washington still did not change the segregation and racist agendas of the courts or police or military.

After Louis’ and Owens’ break through, Jackie Robinson furthered the cause of the African American in the United States as he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 – a significant moment in race relations that Louis and Owens helped forged.

Like bacon and eggs, socks and shoes, grits and butter… sports and politics, like it or not, have always walked hand in hand.

So, I think it is safe to postulate that Barack Obama becoming the country’s 44th and first African-American president was cleared in part by athletes whose courage, heart, determination and talent helped the country move through the slow, violent, tedious and painful process of desegregation.

Hall of Fame slugger, Hank Aaron, who experienced first-hand the ugliness of racism as he chased Babe Ruth’s hollowed homerun record, told a reporter that he was just overwhelmed when Obama won. “Every time I see him on television I just smile because he represents me,” he said. “No matter how I look at it, he’s me. For the first time you can see this country becoming the kind of country that we all are very proud of.”

Aaron and other Black athletes broke barriers and changed the political climate before the Civil Rights Movement commenced. In fact, Aaron was among the early influx of black players to follow Robinson, breaking into the majors in 1954, a month before the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that opened the way for school integration.

Then in the 1960’s, men like Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Curt Flood and even Spencer Haywood, challenged America’s First Amendment and segregated policies and used their celebrity to force the political climate to become more inclusive.

In particular, gold medalist sprinters, Tommie Smith, along with bronze medalist John Carlos, raised black-gloved fist at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City to protest the racism and segregation overwhelming too many in the United States.

The controversial salute during the national anthem by Smith and Carlos came six months after King’s assassination. Predictably both athletes were denigrated and disparaged by white America for their actions.

“People wanted to label me a militant,” Smith, told me in an interview. “The fact of the matter is what we did was a Project for Human Rights. We needed to bring attention to the negative condition of too many in the States.”

The world’s biggest gathering of nations, the Olympics has and will always live with the politics of humanity. Sometimes it has been very good like China using the 2008 Beijing Games as a coming out party to the world showcasing its rich history, culture and creativity.

On the other hand, it has also been used to further political agendas like the Palestinians taking the Israeli athletes in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. All the hostages were killed. Then the United State boycotted the Russian Games in 1980 and Russia did likewise, boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Sports and politics go hand in hand, much to the chagrin of many; however, they will always be wedded.

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Kevin Durant and LeBron James celebrated 2012 USA Basketball Gold Medal.

James seems understand and embrace his platform saying: “When I was growing up, there were like three jobs that you looked to for inspiration. It was the president of the United States, it was whoever was the best in sports, and then it was like the greatest musician at the time. At this time right now, with the president, it’s at a bad time. We cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, but we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us, that this is not the way.”

Added Durant: “What’s going on in our country, it’s all about leadership. We need to empower people, we need to encourage people, and that’s what builds a great team. And I feel like our team, as a country, is not run by a great coach.”

Other athletes understand their political opportunities like the:

The St. Louis Rams “Hands Up” to raise their arms in awareness of the events in Ferguson, MO.

Miami Heat wearing “hoodies” to protest the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin, who was on his way home to watch his beloved Heat.

Billie Jean King’s stance for “equality” for women in tennis. Prize money for women’s tennis increased because of her advocacy.

And then there was Colin Kaepernick who took a knee during “The Star Spangled Banner.” He launched a protest that sent aftershocks everywhere.

The fact of the matter is sports and politics are married, and, after a lull, some of today’s athletes seems to grasp the enormous cultural and economic influence they possess, and it is heartening that some have started to understand how to leverage that status for something more than selling sneakers.

Leland Stein III can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and twitter @LelandSteinIII

Shields overcomes knockdown, outlast Gabriels

In sports column on June 24, 2018 at 3:01 am

 

 

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Claressa Shields gets left hook on Hanna Gabriels. Bob Ryder – photo

 

By Leland Stein III

 

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Leland Stein III

 

DETROIT – I have covered over 100 championship boxing matches and every other sporting event too, but there is something about a sweet science title contest that is simply electric.

Flint, Michigan’s Claressa “T-Rex” Shields (6-0, 2 KOs), a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (2012 and 2016) and now unified women’s super-middleweight champion versus Costa Rica’s Hanna Gabriels (18-2-1, 11 KOs), who despite the loss is still unified women’s junior middleweight champion, together they not only illustrated how far women’s boxing has come, but more importantly, they put together an action-packed fight that was indeed worthy of a national event presented by Showtime Boxing.

At Detroit’s historic Masonic Temple one boxing’s more famous combatants, 23-year-old Shields, undeniably had the estimated 3,000 in a frenzy throughout as fisticuff enthusiast stood from the third round to the final bell as “T-Rex” craved out an exciting unanimous decision.

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Shields hits canvas for first time. Bob Ryder – photo

The victory gave Shields the IBF and WBA middleweight world championships.

Having glided through an exceptional amateur career and her first five professional fights, Shields found herself in uncharted waters. First, she gets knockdown in the first round (her first time touching the canvas), getting hit more than in any fight she has engaged in, and, getting head butted numerous times with one opening up a large cut on her left cheekbone.

Still she found or elevated that special intrinsic something that all champions possess, heart and swag, and, she needed it all.

“Once I went down,” Shields recalled in the post-fight press conference, “I took a deep breath and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m about to whip this girl a*s.’ I just remember thinking let’s use the jab, be smart, move your head and tire her out.

“What I proved to myself was I can get put on my a*s, get up and come back and win. This was my night and I had to show the world I’m the greatest of all-time. I showed who I am. Now, I’m really dangerous because you can even put me down, and I’ll still come back to win.”

Indeed, she came back to win. Shields represents more than just boxing, as everyone knows about the horrible decisions made in the Flint water crisis that hurt so many. Also, the city has become a victim of the economic and manufacturing changes that happens to cities that rely too heavily on any one industry, and, the subsequent poverty that follows.

“I know I am one of the most popular people to come from Flint,” Shields deadpanned, “so, I represent my city, my community and the U.S.A. I know a lot of people are expecting great things from me, but no one expects more from me than I do from myself!”

Shields is a female Sugar Ray Leonard, in terms of her hand speed. She always unleashes punches in combinations and flurries that puts unrelenting pressure on her opponents. She came at Gabriels, 35, in tsunami like waves of smites that just overwhelmed her opponent.

She commanded the exchanges after the first round, but got a stern test from Gabriels, a former welterweight world titlist, in her toughest fight yet. According to CompuBox statistics, Shields landed 162 of 506 punches (32 percent) and Gabriels landed 133 of 510 (26 percent). Shields averaged 66.5 punches thrown per 2-minute round and landed 46.6% of her power shots. She out landed her opponents by more than 3-1 in power shots.

“I was a little surprised at her speed,” Gabriels said in the post-fight press conference. “She has a lot of heart, but so do I. I left my heart in that ring. I trained to go the distance but my heart betrayed me, because after that first knockdown, I was looking for another one. I wanted to show everyone I had a warrior’s heart. I didn’t feel I had an advantage after the knockdown. I felt I had to work round after round to even have a possibility to win.”

Said Shields: “[Gabriels] a good fighter. She has skills and just the way she carries herself. She’s very calm and her facial expressions never change. I think she’s tough, but not as tough as I am. I know I’m the better fighter.”

The victory over Gabriels set up a fall showdown for the undisputed women’s middleweight world championship with fellow two-belt titleholder German fighter Christina Hammer. Hammer routed Tori Nelson to retain her belts in the co-feature.

Shortly after the decision, Team Shields and Team Hammer began the hype for the mega fight, as an ugly scrum broke out after the fight.

“I’m just tired of Hammer disrespecting me all the time,” Shields said. “She comes into the ring after all my fights, stealing my shine, talks trash, and then she goes in there and looks like s— against Nelson. I’m sick of it. But I let her know I’m more than ready for a fight against her. She wanted me to lose tonight, but I wanted her to win because I want to fight her. We have to unify now.”

Said Hammer: “I’m really looking forward to fighting Claressa. She will try and fight me on the inside, but my footwork, and my reach, will be the difference. The fight with Claressa will be a game-changer. It will be the biggest women’s fight ever.”

In the opening bout of the Showtime-televised tripleheader, light heavyweight Umar Salamov (22-1, 16 KOs), 24, of Russia, knocked out Brian Howard (13-2, 10 KOs), 38, of Atlanta, in the ninth round. Salamov was ahead on all three scorecards when he dropped Howard for the count with two right hands at 53 seconds.

Leland Stein III can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and twitter @LelandSteinIII

NFL & Trump: What has happened to the First Amendment Rights?

In sports column on May 27, 2018 at 12:47 am

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By Leland Stein III

DETROIT – It all seems so simple to me! One of the non-negotiable tents of our United States Constitution is the First Amendment right of free speech.

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Why don’t the Second Amendment rights advocates cajole for the First as passionately? Just wondering. After all, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are the bedrock of America’s uniqueness.

The First Amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights and the amendment which disables an entity or individual from practicing or enforcing a religious viewpoint which infringes on the freedom of speech, the right of peaceable assemble, the freedom of the press, or which prohibits the petitioning for a governmental evaluation of grievances.

With the urgings and admonishing’s of President Donald Trump, the National Football League recently proclaimed that players on teams that kneel for the national anthem, their teams would be discipline by instituting fines.

Protesting football players were extended the option of remaining in their locker rooms until the anthem is over.

The owners instituted the new rules after players joined former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling on the sidelines throughout last season to protest police brutality.

President Trump promptly chimed in and unleashed this anti First Amendment tirade: “Any players who kneel during the national anthem should not live in this country.”

Wow!!

What has happened to the “right of peaceable assemble” as outlined in our First Amendment? It is beyond amazing that our president is advocating for muzzling Americans, who happen to have compelling opinions that differ from Trump’s myopic views of American life.

He simply refuses to recognize or appreciate the expansive diversity that live in the United States and the varying challenges that differing cultures face and endure.

It is shameful, dishonorable and reprehensible that the President and many of his minions continue to bastardize the players’ narrative concerning their peaceful attempt to draw attention to police brutality and a historically racist justice system.

There is a reason from the time one is old enough to read in the Black community, the phrase, “Just Us” is the acknowledged acronym for “Justice.”

Even NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, wondered aloud how the on-field protests created the false perception among fans that NFL players who participated in the protests were unpatriotic, hated military or law enforcement.

However, there are many that think the NFL’s action was simply aimed at their bottom line. Many projections claim the NFL rakes in $10 billion or more a year and doesn’t pay any taxes, and, is only worried about profits and image.

Trump played to his right-wing base during a rally in Alabama last September when he called NFL players who kneeled “sons of bitches.” He also encouraged fans to boycott the games when the protests occurred.

The NFL is 77 percent black. Is that just happenstance that many have taken arms against the players exercising their First Amendment rights?

One fact I know for sure is that the players protesting never had any intention of hating on the military, law enforcement or being unpatriotic. How easily Trump changed the discourse and how and why too many Americans have latched onto his negative invention, is simply disheartening.

I have interviewed many NFL players and have covered the league for over 30-years and many, many of the players have family members in the military and in law enforcement. Their plea for help and fairness was simply just that, nothing else.

Ironically, as the NFL unveiled its new rules, the same day Milwaukee Police released a video of police officers tasing and wrestling to ground Sterling Brown, Milwaukee Bucks rookie guard, in January following a very minor parking violation in a Walgreens parking lot.

The Milwaukee Bucks organization called what happened to Brown at the hands of police “shameful and inexcusable.” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the city’s police chief Alfonso Morales have apologized to Brown.

Fact is this is a sad actuality for minority communities throughout America.

As far back as The Boston Tea Party in 1773, when protesters gathered in Boston Harbor to reject the latest shipment of tea from the East India Company, protest has been at the root of America’s development. The Colonist were speaking out against the Tea Act, that gave a British government-controlled company an effective monopoly. The colonists stormed the ships as they pulled into the harbor and chucked some 46 tons of tea overboard.

The real issue at hand, of course, was the colonists’ lack of representation in the British Parliament. That night, their cries reverberated near and far, and helped spur a movement that would see the states gain their independence from Mother England in just a few years’’ time.

Since that call to action in 1773 the United States has a very long history of peaceful and violent protest against perceived wrongdoings.

Henry David Thoreau, the Harvard-educated 19th-century philosopher and poet, remains a major symbol of peaceful resistance because of his 1849 work, “Civil Disobedience.” On account of his opposition to slavery, Thoreau refused to pay taxes, an act that briefly landed him in jail.

The Flint, Mich. sit-ins happened in 1936 at the Fisher Body Plant as United Auto Workers tried to organize their massive work force. Within two weeks, about 135,000 men were striking in 35 cities across the nation. The movement solidified one of North America’s largest unions.

How can I forget Rosa Parks declaring enough is enough? Even though African Americans constituted some 70% of total bus ridership in Montgomery, Ala., people of color were forced to sit in the back of the bus. She refused to give her seat to a white man and was arrested inciting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It took an entire year of protest, arrest, and violence acted on the boycotters before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that made segregated seating unconstitutional. Parks was known thereafter as the “mother of the civil-rights movement.”

How can Trump and others forget the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led First Amendment March on Washington to demand equal rights for African Americans and poor, where over 200,000 people gathered in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. There King delivered one of the greatest speeches ever, “I Have a Dream” and it awakened and galvanized a nation to action. The protest led to the successful passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

And my Mom and wife surely rejoice the 19th Amendment, which formally granted women the right to vote. The women’s-suffrage movement/protest dates as far back as the Revolutionary War, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B Wells and Alice Paul, spearheaded the strong push for equal voting rights. In 1920 — 41 years after it had originally been drafted — Congress ratified an amendment that said: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

How about track athletes Tommie Smith (first place) and John Carlos (third place) using their wins in Mexico City’s 1968 Olympic Games to show their opposition to the continued oppression of blacks in the U.S. They stood in black socks to represent black poverty; Carlos wore beads to symbolize black lynchings; together they raised their black-gloved fists in a cry for black unity.

What about the Vietnam War, where thousands of Americans sporting flowers over guns protested a perceived unjust war and gave their lives (re. Kent State massacre) and efforts to end that costly conflict.

My question to Trump is, “Should suffrage leaders Stanton, Anthony, Wells and Paul; Martin Luther King Jr.; the flower children (now CEO’s); Ms. Parks; Smith or Carlos; all the UAW workers; Thoreau and/or the colonists been kicked out the country? Were they all “sons of bitches” as Trump proclaimed about the predominately African-American NFL players who protested.

I know Trump is pandering to his base; however, it saddens me that more Americans than I could believe leaped on the negative bandwagon. Considering the history of the USA and its protest that have enacted positive change in this country, why did the NFL players deliberation cause so much divisiveness?

From the American Revolution through the civil rights era history, Irish, Italians, African Americans, Protestants, Catholics, Hispanics etc. al. have rallied around the First Amendment rights to do as King said “cash a check” against the U.S. Constitution that guarantees all the right of free speech, life and liberty for all.

Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, called the president’s remarks “disgusting” and said that while he doesn’t like the league’s new policy, he understands it.

“We’ve got freedom of speech, right? Freedom to protest? Just because somebody disagrees or has an issue with something that’s going on in this country, that doesn’t mean that they should pack up and leave,” Marshall told reporters in response to Trump’s comments.

That is not all, Trump also said the about the protesters, “Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”

Our President really does not understand America’s true “heritage” of protest and has completely forgotten freedom of expression is right there in the First Amendment. And our brave soldiers didn’t fight and die so that everyone would stand during the national anthem. They fought so people could have the right to decide whether or not they want to stand. That’s the genuine and fundamental point of the First Amendment.

The thing is: We don’t live in a color-blind society. Slavery sits at the beginning ancestries of America. The goal of racial egalitarianism remains a goal, not an accomplishment. To fantasize otherwise is to willfully blind one’s self to hundreds of years of history.

Somehow, we all have to get back to listening to each other and accepting our differences – somehow.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

 

Michigan outlasted by Villanova in National Title Game

In sports column on April 13, 2018 at 12:12 am

 

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Villanova enjoys third National Title. AP Photo

Noteworthy run to Finals by UM halted firmly by Wildcats.

By Leland Stein III

 

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Leland Stein and HoF Coach John Thompson

 

SAN ANTONIO, Tx. – With underdog University of Michigan playing a sharp-shooting, balanced Villanova team, and, every prognosticator predicting a blowout Wildcats victory, the Wolverines jumped out on top of the favorite before 68,831 in the championship game of the 2018 Final Four at the Alamodome.

In a tournament of UMBC and of Buffalo, of Florida State and of Nevada, of upsets and outright jolts, of Loyola Chicago and Loyola Chicago and Sister Jean, Villanova had whisked through Radford, Alabama, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas by 26, 23, 12, 12, 16 and 17 points.

 

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Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo’s 35-points earned him MOP of the Final Four. AP Photo

 

The Wildcats’ dominate run did not stop in the title game as they toasted Michigan 79-62, producing a 17-point victory, and, in the process evaded any of the last-minute hysterics that capped their previous title in 2016 over North Carolina.

“When we got to the 2009 Final Four and we lost the first game,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, “I thought that was my shot, I was fine. Then, when we won the title and I thought alright, I’m happy and now I just want to make sure the guys graduate and the team stays competitive. This (second title) is out of my comprehension.”

In the post-game press conference someone asked Coach Wright if he now considered his team among the elite. “We don’t really judge ourselves on being called elite. We judge ourselves on how the guys do in school, how they grow as men and how we play night in and night out. But, when the media calls you a blueblood, we’re not turning it down. We’ll take it.”

After the first five minutes, Michigan looked they were ready to give Blueblood Villanova a skirmish, holding a surprising 11-6 lead following a Moritz Wagner layin at the 15:09 mark.

The Wolverines held on and earned a 21-16 advantage after 10 minutes of play in the first half, but it was all a mirage, a delusion or figment of the imaginations of the thousands of Michigan faithful that were full of hope and joy as they traversed the San Antonio Riverwalk garbed in blue and gold, and shouting, “Go, Blue!”

With six minutes left in the first half Villanova took a 23-21 lead and never looked back. The Wildcats gathered steam and built a 37-28 lead at halftime.

“We got off to a decent start at the beginning of the game; however,” U-M head coach John Beilein said after the game, “we were not able to sustain it. That is a very good team we played and we needed to have had one of our better games to beat them.”

After Michigan’s Charles Matthews basket got the Wolverines within 12 points at 56-44 with nine minutes remaining in the game. The Wolverines’ fans got excited and extremely loud.

However, backup guard and eventual Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Donte DiVincenzo, drained two consecutive threes and just like that the score ballooned to 62-44 and Villanova went on to route Michigan.

With somewhere near 20,000 Wolverines yelling and screaming most believed that the dream of being National Champions appeared real or possible but in fact it was just another smoke screen.

Said DiVincenzo after tossing in 31 points, “It is indescribable to explain that we went through so much in practice and in conference play this year and to get on a run through college basketball’s greatest event is beyond words. This team was determined to get it done.”

Villanova was indeed determined as evident by its dominate run through the tournament.

The 80th edition of the tournament began with 68-teams, and, the nature of the single-elimination tournament to determine the men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I college basketball national champion makes it compelling to say the least.

I root for the underdogs each year, and this was a great year to be a proponent for the small fry.

For the first time in tournament history in the first round, UMBC became the only 16-seed to defeat a 1-seed in the men’s tournament by defeating Virginia 74–54. Also, for the first time not one of the four top seeded teams in a single region (the South) advanced to the Sweet 16. Putting the icing on the underdog’s 2018 Final Four cake, No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago scratched out win after win on its way to becoming the Cinderella in San Antonio.

Michigan, after besting the “Cinderella Team” of the tournament, and, carrying the nation’s longest current winning streak of 14 games, felt it was embolden or destined to maybe win its second NCAA title. The Wolverines just could not put together an awesome shooting night, and DiVincenzo and his teammates did.

“Basketball is a hit or miss game,” UM guard Matthews deadpanned. “Today our shots weren’t falling. It is what it is.”

After coming so close, Matthews tried as hard as he could to keep things in perspective, saying “the high and low is the same thing; we lost! The high is getting here. The low is being here in the losing locker room, but I’m proud of this group of guys.  I couldn’t be more appreciative to be here.”

Added Michigan senior forward, Duncan Robinson: “We missed a lot of good shots that I feel like we usually make, so it was tough to have it on this stage and this game. Credit to them they are a really good team. We didn’t make shots we had all year. But it is basketball.”

Villanova finished 36-4 and improved to 3-1 all-time in the National Championship game, with previous victories in 1985 over Georgetown and 2016 over North Carolina. The Wildcats become only the eighth school to win three NCAA National Championships. The other teams with at least three titles include: UCLA (11), Kentucky (8), North Carolina (6), Duke (5), Indiana (5), UConn (4) and Kansas (3).

Meanwhile, Michigan finished 33-8, setting a school record with 33 wins.  The loss dropped the Wolverines to 1-6 in the National Championship games with its losses coming in 2018, 2013, 1993, 1992, 1976 and 1965.

Heading the All-Tournament team were four Villanova players; MOP DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Eric Paschall, and UM senior Wagner, Michigan.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

“Fantastic Four” continues Watkins Awards legacy of noteworthy scholar athletes

In sports column on March 18, 2018 at 12:10 am

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Eagles demand first Super Bowl title

In sports column on February 14, 2018 at 12:21 am

 

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Tom Brady tries to avoid a Bradon Graham sack. – Gary Montgomery photo

By Leland Stein III

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Leland Stein

MINNEAPOLIS, Mn. – No matter that the weather outside was hovering around zero, the over 67,612 fans in US Bank Stadium, and, the millions of television watchers world-wide were on fire as the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots got set to engage in American gridiron football action.

The Eagles and Patriots both felt the heat of the moment too, as the two teams combined for a shocking 673 yards in the first half, the second highest total in Super Bowl history.

Oh the crazy/awesome offensive heat did not stop in the second half either, as both teams combined for 1,151 yards – the most in any modern NFL game.

The exhilarating and breathtaking contest was hot throughout – if one loves offense – as Philly indeed did just enough to outlast 40-year-old G.O.A.T Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to become NFL champions for the first time since 1960. The 41-33 victory was one for the ages.

Overzealous Philadelphia fans lost their minds back home as their owner lifted the Lombardi Trophy signifying that the Philadelphia Eagles really had did the darn thing in its third Super Bowl appearance.

“I am so excited for our locker room,” Eagles second-year coach Doug Pederson exclaimed, “and Mr. (Jeffrey) Luri he gave me the opportunity to coach this team. A lot of people counted us out, but the locker room believed, believed in each other, believed in me and together we found a way to get it done.”

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Ron Gronkowski corrals touchdown over Ronald Darby – Gary Montgomery photo

Pederson did not approach this game with his tail between his legs and he went for the win at all times. In particular Mr. Guts and Glory with 38 seconds remaining in the first half (Patriots had just scored and brought the score to a respectable 15-12), and the Philadelphia Eagles facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, he went for a trick play – the “Philly Special.”

With a little bit more the one minute left running back Corey Clement pitched to tight end Trey Burton who flipped the ball to quarterback Nick Foles that engineered an important 22-12 halftime lead.

“Our coach has got some guts, huh?” Burton unleashed. “He’s got some big ones.”

When the Eagles needed a yard for a touchdown – when most coaches might have trusted their offensive line to just push their way forward – Pederson called a play on which his quarterback would ideally be the last of four people to touch the ball. It was a play the Eagles had practiced a total of six times.

“You never know what he’s thinking,” Burton said. “Here we are. Philly’s never won a Super Bowl. We’re fourth-and-1 on the goal line and he calls a trick-play pass to the quarterback? Come on, man.”

The play worked and Pederson did it again on fourth-and-one from Philly’s own 45 yard line with 5:39 left in the game. Again it worked as the Eagles keep the ball and eventually scored on the game winning touchdown on a 11-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz that was sent to the replay official for review, but eventually was acknowledges as a score and it was a game changer as Philadelphia took a 38-33 margin they never relinquished.

It worked, of course. Pretty much everything Pederson and his Eagles did Sunday night work which is the reason why it’s no longer true that Philadelphia has never won a Super Bowl.

“You don’t just roll in with any old game plan and expect Foles to win a 41-33 shootout with Brady,” Pederson noted. “You don’t play it safe and expect to out-coach Belichick.”

Pederson continued: “I trust my players, I trust my coaches and I trust my instincts. I trust everything I’m doing, and I wanted to maintain that aggressiveness. In games like this, against a great opponent, you have to make those tough decisions that will keep yourself or the team aggressive.”

Coach may indeed have trusted his players; however, the Eagles made the clutch plays as they did just enough to coral the Patriots in a very tight game.

Fact is Foles guided the drive of a lifetime as Ertz made a bobbling touchdown catch that had to survive replay review, and then an exhausted defense came up with two defensive stands in the final moments.

That game-clinching defensive stance was initiated with a Brandon Graham strip-sack against Brady with Derek Barnett recovering, setting up rookie Jake Elliot’s 46-yard field goal for an 8-point lead.

Graham, “We knew we were playing Brady and those coaches in the biggest game. I knew I had a one-on-one with the guard. We had been doing something that had been working, but I acted like I was pulling, then I snatched the ball right off Brady’s arm and it changed the game.”

The breathtaking effort of the game was that quarterback Foles had been something of a journeyman in his six pro seasons, but he was spectacular in four career playoff games. He finished 28 of 43 for 373 yards and three TDs in the title game

The 40-year-old Brady finished 28 of 48 and picked apart the Eagles until the final two series.

Graham and his squad held Brady in check to win in the final minutes.

Said Malcom Jenkins: “We knew that in the two minute situation that most likely they were going pass the ball so in the two minute situation our d-line could finally cut it loose. The whole game they had us on our heels, but we did what we needed to coral that awesome team.”

Journeyman Foles taking the place of Carson Wentz, did the impossible, guiding the Eagles to the title, earning Super Bowl MVP.

“I am speechless,” exclaimed Foles, “All glory to God first and foremost. To be here with confetti flying and the greatest group of men, such a great city to play for and I am proud to be a Philadelphia Eagle.”

Brady got his team to midfield, but his desperation pass fell to the ground in the end zone.

“For us,” Graham exclaimed, “it was all about one stop we had to make. We went out here and made that one stop.”

The underdog Eagles (16-3), earned its first Super Bowl title after going 7-9 last season.

“If there’s a word (it’s) called everything,” Eagles owner Lurie said. “That’s what it means to Eagles fans everywhere. And for Eagles fans everywhere, this is for them.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII