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Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Penn State Football: Did the Punishment Fit the Crime?

In Life Lessons, Sports on July 23, 2012 at 4:13 pm

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The NCAA came down extremely hard on the Penn State football program today by levying a $60 million sanction (the equivalent of one year’s football revenues), a 4-year bowl ban, a drastic reduction of scholarships (from 85 to 65), in addition to vacating every win dating back to 1998.  The announcement was made just one day after Penn State voluntarily removed the Joe Paterno statue from the front of Beaver Stadium.

As a result of the vacated wins, Paterno is no longer officially the winningest coach in college football history, but that is of little significance in the scheme of things.  The program that Paterno built may never again be considered one of the elite in college football, and the university has only itself to blame for shamefully covering up the vile crimes and abhorrent behavior of Jerry Sandusky in an effort to avoid tarnishing the Penn State football brand.  Yet somehow, many people still love Paterno in spite of his despicable decision to help cover-up Sandusky’s crimes.

Even the most diehard fans realize that football is just a game, not a matter of life and death.  Sadly, that fact was lost on all of those in the Penn State administration who placed a higher value on football than it did on the protection of innocent children whose lives have been forever altered by their selfish decisions.

Did the punishment levied against Penn State football today fit the crime?  Absolutely!

However, like all NCAA punishments, there will be collateral damage to people who had nothing to do with the crimes committed or with the cover-up that happened for several years afterwards.

There is no sadness or anger as great as that of Sandusky’s victims and their parents.  Their lives will never be the same.  Any good parent should also be saddened and disgusted about what transpired at Penn State, even those parents of the current players who are being severely punished for something that was beyond their control.

While Paterno is looked at as a deity amongst many Penn State students and alumni, no one should feel sorry that his legacy is forever tainted.  No one should lose any sleep over the fact that he is no longer listed in the record books as the winningest coach in college football history.  And no one should bemoan the fact that his statue was taken down because it had become a source of great controversy.

The student athletes who are being punished by the sanctions levied against Penn State today are the only ones who deserve any sympathy, because they are being victimized as they pay for the sins of high-powered grown-ups who could have, and should have, put a stop to Sandusky’s heinous acts.

The Penn State faithful who are still having trouble accepting the removal of the Paterno statue and the sanctions levied against the university should think about Sandusky’s numerous victims and their families.  Before chastising the NCAA or the current Penn State administration for their actions, they should ask themselves…

“What if Sandusky had molested my child, and Joe Paterno chose to look the other way instead of doing something to prevent it?”

An honest answer to that question will leave little doubt that the punishment absolutely fit the crime!

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Hard Times: Lost on Long Island

In Family, Life, Life Lessons, Television on July 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

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No one ever thinks that it could happen to them…until it does…and then they understand just how quickly the “American Dream” can turn into the “American nightmare.”  In what has to be one of the most depressing documentaries ever, Hard Times:  Lost on Long Island shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that bad things happen to good, hard-working people.

There used to be a perception that people who needed any kind of government assistance were lazy, unmotivated and perfectly content to “live off the dole.”  In some circles, that perception still exists, and while it may be true for some, it certainly is not true of those who were once considered middle class and upper middle class not too long ago.  Anyone who thinks otherwise should take an hour out of their day to watch this eye-opening HBO Documentary.

Seeing the shear agony on the faces of those who were brave enough to share their story with the world should be enough to at least alter the perception of those who think that government assistance is a crutch that merely prevents people from trying to find steady employment.  It simply is not the case.

Growing up on Long Island, I didn’t see much poverty, although I’m sure that it always existed in places that I never frequented.  My only real exposure to poverty as a kid was in Manhattan when my father used to take my brother and me to the Bowery to see the “bums.”  Back then, they weren’t called homeless.  And though many years have passed since I last visited the Bowery, I do remember that the “bums” did not seem particularly desperate, rather more resigned to living on the street and drinking heavily.  That’s not to say that some of them weren’t in real pain, but they just didn’t seem as hopeless and sad as people are today (even those who still have a home).

For those in dire straits, the sobering statistics shared on Hard Times:  Lost on Long Island offer very little in the way of hope:

  • 25 million unemployed and under-employed people in America
  • There are 4 job-seekers for every available job
  • Average length of unemployment is over 9 months long
  • The longer people are out of work, the less likely they are to find a job
  • Long-term unemployed suffer more often from physical and psychological health problems
  • More than 5 million personal bankruptcies have been filed since 2008
  • More than 6 million homes have fallen into foreclosure since 2008
  • Today, a record 45 million people use food stamps
  • Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have more than tripled since 2007

In May of 1947, the suburban dream began on Long Island in Levittown with 2000 affordable homes being rented and then converted into purchases with no down payment and monthly mortgage payments equal to the rental price.  The concept then spread across America.

The first apartment that my wife and I shared together was a rental in Levittown.  When the homeowner died and the house was sold, we were asked to leave the property.  The job market at the time for elementary education teachers on Long Island was very difficult, so my wife gave up on the dream of becoming a teacher and we moved to Manhattan.

Even though my wife had given up her teaching dream, we still planned on living the “American dream.”

After moving around a bit, we ended up back in the suburbs of Suffolk County, where we saw first-hand that life on Long Island quickly got to be very expensive.  Being a real estate agent at the time, I foolishly believed that the irrational exuberance of the real estate market would continue and home prices on Long Island would keep rising, so we purchased a home at the height of the market.

All bubbles burst, so it is not at all surprising to me (in retrospect) that the real estate bubble burst as well.  And as a result, the suburbs are now the fastest growing area of poverty in America.  Those who think that foreclosure and bankruptcy could never happen to them should not think in such absolute terms.

The stories featured on Hard Times:  Lost on Long Island were about successful people with good jobs who lived within their means.  But when income is lost for whatever reason, it is impossible to continue to live the same lifestyle, even for the most disciplined among us.

Unlike most fictional stories that come out of Hollywood, this documentary did not feature many happy endings.  Only one of the people featured in the program was finally offered a job (after a two-year search).  The others continue to struggle and one story ended in tragedy.

Dave Hartstein, a 35-year-old chiropractor and father of three (including an infant with Downs Syndrome), died after contracting Hantavirus while cleaning out the basement of his home to put it up for sale.  He and his wife, Heather (an out-of-work school teacher), had filed for bankruptcy and were trying to work out a loan modification with the bank at the time.

At the end of the documentary, a still shot of the Hartsteins walking with their kids is displayed as Heather sadly states…”We had the dream, the dream was lived…the dream ended.”

Please share your experiences (anonymously if you would like) in the comment section below.  If you, or someone you know, has been out of work for a long time or forced to rely on any kind of government assistance during this economic crisis, please share this post on Facebook (or privately).  At the very least, those who are suffering will know that they are not the only ones who are going through difficult times.
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Classless in Kansas City: An MLB All-Star Disgrace

In Sports on July 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm

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There is only one all-star game in professional sports that truly captures the essence of the game…Major League Baseball .  Many people don’t like the fact that the result of the game determines home-field advantage for the World Series, but that is irrelevant in the scheme of things.  The bottom line is that the game should be about watching the best players in the world showcase their talents for baseball fans everywhere.  Unfortunately, Royals’ fans in Kansas City took it upon themselves to disgrace both the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game with their relentless booing of New York Yankee – Robinson CanoEven more disgraceful is the fact that these same fans verbally attacked Cano’s family in the stands for no reason whatsoever.

Cano’s crime?

Failing to choose Royals’ DH, Billy Butler, to participate in the Home Run Derby in front of the hometown fans.

Did the fans have a right to be upset with Cano’s choices?  Perhaps, but only because the game was being played in Kansas City, not because of merit.  There are currently 15 American Leaguers with more home runs than Butler this season.  Of the participants chosen, only Prince Fielder had less home runs than Butler heading into the competition, and he only trailed by one home run.  And the fact of the matter is that baseball fans love to watch Fielder hit home runs, while only Kansas City fans were interested in seeing Butler.  Based on Fielder’s dominant victory, and the performance of the other American Leaguers chosen over Butler, it seems like Cano did a good job picking his team.

Does it make sense to have captains choosing their team instead of just being the leader of their respective teams?  In my opinion, it does not.  And after what happened to Cano and his family this year, it would be surprising if Major League Baseball doesn’t take over that responsibility going forward.

Many people hate the New York Yankees because of their bloated payroll and continued success; it is their right to feel that way.  But that is not an excuse to treat the individual players with such disdain, especially when there was no heinous act committed.

The Yankees have no bigger rival than the Boston Red Sox, but even Red Sox slugger, David Ortiz, came out to try and help Cano as he struggled mightily during the Home Run Derby.

Despite the fact that Cano hit no home runs during the competition, the smile never left his face.  He handled the classless crowd by taking the high road as he always does.

Royals’ fans celebrated each of Cano’s outs with a fever pitch that sounded like they had just won game 7 of the World Series.  Of course, the last time that happened was October 19, 1985.  Since that time, the team has been relegated to irrelevant status, while the Yankees have won five world championships, to go along with numerous playoff appearances.

At the end of the Home Run Derby and All-Star game, the Royals are still a non-factor in this year’s playoff race, but they are no longer irrelevant.  Unfortunately for them, they are not relevant for their play on the field, but rather for their classless fans who acted like petulant children when their hometown hero was passed over by Cano for what was supposed to be a fun exhibition.

Thankfully, the crowd at least had the decency to cheer for Chipper Jones in what was very likely the final All-Star Game at bat of his illustrious career.  However, that moment is a case of too little, too late when it comes to how America will likely view Royals’ fans going forward.

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