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Jason Collins: The First Openly Gay, Active Professional Athlete in Major Sports

In Life, Life Lessons, Sports on April 29, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Jason Collins - Sports Illustrated

The featured NBA story in the headlines this morning was about Dwight Howard being ejected from what may have been his last game in a Los Angeles Laker uniform.  The Lakers were dominated by the San Antonio Spurs and unceremoniously eliminated in a four-game sweep.  This morning, the conversation was all about Howard’s lack of leadership and where he will play next year.  This afternoon, no one was talking about Howard anymore because something of actual significance happened in the NBA.  Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay, active professional athlete in the major sports.

I wish that Collins’ revelation wasn’t a major story, but it is because he is the first active professional athlete to stop living a lie, something that should have happened a long time ago.

I hope that more professional athletes will come forward now that one of their peers has been the first one to jump into the frigid waters of the proverbial pool.  It’s 2013, and the time has come to let people be who they are regardless of their profession.

Although Collins readily admits that he wishes that someone else had already blazed this trail, the world of professional sports couldn’t have found a more eloquent spokesman to open the door for others.  Pulling snippets from the “coming out” article that he wrote for Sports Illustrated would not do Collins justice.  It should be read in its entirety to understand where he is coming from (click here for full article).

I wish that I wasn’t pleasantly surprised to see so many NBA stars coming out to show their support and admiration for Collins, but I am.  I guess seeing so much intolerance in the world has made me something of a cynic when it comes to people accepting others for who they are.

I wish that I was surprised to see a fellow professional athlete question the life that Collins lives, but unfortunately, I am not, given the anti-gay statements that some NFL players have made recently.

It is ignorant to think that being gay is a choice that Collins has made.  If it was a choice, then why would he spend his entire life trying to fool the world into thinking that he was straight, his twin brother in particular who has played with him all the way through college and into the NBA?

No amount of logical reasoning will persuade those who are steadfast in their anti-gay beliefs, and that is a shame.  And even if most teammates, players and fans accept gay professional athletes with open arms, the unaccepting ones will undoubtedly shout their point of view from the rooftops and perpetuate unnecessary controversy for the foreseeable future.

Like Jackie Robinson, Collins will likely deal with his fair share of intolerance going forward, assuming that he signs another NBA contract.  As a deep bench player who is a 34-year old free agent, his opportunities may be limited for legitimate basketball reasons.  Hopefully, at least one team will give Collins a chance to show the world that an openly gay athlete can thrive in professional sports.

There have been rumors recently that some high profile, gay NFL players will be coming out this season.  In various interviews on ESPN today, former Dallas Cowboy, Darren Woodson, has stated that he is absolutely certain that he played with gay players during the Cowboys dynasty days of the 90’s.  Woodson, like many other professional athletes, was solely focused on winning games and competing for championships.  The sexual preference of his teammates never entered his mind.  And while he admits that there will always be some intolerant “knuckleheads” in any given locker room, he believes that any player who is dedicated to doing what is necessary to help his team win, will ultimately be embraced by his teammates.

Until today, gay athletes in professional sports had remained closeted due to a fear of the unknown.  Thanks to Jason Collins’ courageous decision to be the first openly gay, active professional athlete, others will be able to stop living a lie.

Hopefully, one day in the not-too-distant future, the NBA will honor Collins in the same manner that Major League Baseball honors Robinson, and have all NBA players wear the number 98 for one game during the regular season.  It would be a fitting tribute to honor the man who broke down the barrier that has lasted for far too long in professional sports.

2013 NFL Draft: What Dallas Cowboys GM Jerry Jones and Weathermen Have in Common

In Sports on April 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Cowboys draft picks 2013

The 2013 NFL Draft is complete, and all of the priority rookie free agents have been signed.  Grades on the draft are pouring in from all over the country today.  While accurate grades on this year’s draft can’t truly be given for another three years (once these players have an NFL body of work to evaluate), the bottom line is that Dallas Cowboys GM, Jerry Jones, has once again left experts and fans scratching their heads for not addressing the most glaring needs on the team.  Fortunately for Jones, he has one of the two jobs in the world that has no penalty for constantly making mistakes.  The other being a weatherman.

Outside of the Cowboys organization, it is difficult to find people who thought that their first round trade (which dropped them down 13 picks), returned fair compensation.  But more importantly, it is impossible to find anyone who believes that Wisconsin Center, Travis Frederick, should have been chosen in the first round, including Fredrick himself, who expected to get picked no earlier than the second round.

Assuming that Frederick would have been available when the Cowboys picked in the second round (which is a very safe assumption), the trade should be evaluated over time by answering the following questions:

[1]     Is Gavin Escobar a productive NFL Tight End, and how does he compare to Tyler Eifert (the TE that the Cowboys could have drafted with the 18th pick in the first round)?

[2]     Is Terrence Williams a productive NFL Wide Receiver?

[3]     Is the combination of Escobar and Williams as good, or better than, Eifert or Shariff Floyd, the DT out of Florida that was considered by many to be a top five talent?

All first round picks will be under pressure to produce, but Frederick may have the most pressure on him because of his draft position, team needs and the fact that Jones did nothing to address the offensive line after the first round.

The offensive line was the biggest weakness of the Cowboys going into the draft, and yet only one pick was used to address the position.  To make matters worse, the Cowboys signed 15 rookie free agents after the draft, none of which are offensive lineman.  Even though undrafted linemen are unlikely to earn a starting role, their presence would at least push last year’s underachievers to play to their potential.

By all accounts, Frederick should provide an upgrade to the middle of the offensive line.  However, even if he is better than the Cowboys expected, and he justifies his draft position, what happens if he goes down with a season-ending injury?  Who is going to help protect the $100 million quarterback?  Escobar, the pass-catching TE with limited blocking skills?  Williams, the projected third WR?

In a featured article on after the draft was completed, Cowboys Head Coach, Jason Garrett, stated “games are won up front on the offensive and defensive lines.”

The post-draft comments from many experts state that Garrett has now been given the tools to create a prolific offense, but based on his comments about the importance of offensive and defensive lines, it seems as though he has been set up to fail and lose his job after yet another disappointing season.

Many teams passed on Floyd (Florida DT), so the Cowboys can’t be totally faulted for doing so as well, but they can be heavily criticized for failing to draft a defensive lineman with any of their seven picks.  Adding insult to injury, none of their 15 rookie free agent signings were defensive lineman, despite the fact that it is an obvious area of need for the Cowboys.

However, according to Jones, defensive line is a position of strength for the Cowboys.  He better hope that aging DT’s Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher stay healthy and out of trouble if they plan on having a pass rush up the middle, a key component of Monte Kiffin’s “Tampa 2 Defense.”

Sadly, the most exciting Cowboys pick of this year’s draft was 5th round RB, Joseph Randle (Oklahoma State).  He is the one proven commodity that was looked at as a “value” pick while also filling a need.

The rest of the Cowboys draft consisted of players with tons of upside potential, which is great for teams with deep rosters like the San Franscisco Forty Niners and New England Patriots, but not for an underachieving team with salary cap issues and aging stars trying to make a run before their window of opportunity closes.  This strategy even makes sense for teams that have entered a period of rebuilding because they have time to see the potential realized.

Will J.J. Wilcox transition from a small school Safety with one year of experience into an NFL star?  Possibly, but the odds of him doing so this season are fairly remote.

Even if small school prospect, B.W. Webb, becomes the team’s 4th CB, the only way to justify picking him over a lineman is if he becomes a game-changer as a return man.

LB DeVonte Holloman fills a need, and has value in the 6th round, but you have to wonder what the thought process was in drafting someone who slid in the draft because of a DUI conviction, in light of what happened with Josh Brent, who will miss the entire 2013 season and may very well end up doing significant jail time for killing a fellow teammate while driving drunk.

Ever since Jimmy Johnson left the Cowboys, Jones has been trying to prove that he is capable of orchestrating a Super Bowl victory on his own.  Based on this year’s draft picks and crop of rookie free agents, it doesn’t seem like the Cowboys are any closer to making the playoffs this year, much less a Super Bowl.

Luckily for Jones, even if the Cowboys deliver another 8-8 season, he is at no risk of losing his GM position.  After all, his boss has tolerated mediocrity for the past 17 years.   Like weathermen, Jones’ inability to forecast carries no consequence, so Cowboy fans can look forward to another pedestrian year of football in the coming season.

Jerry Jones: Dallas Cowboys GM Once Again Suckered Like a Bad Fantasy Football GM

In Sports on April 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm

jerry jones

The first round of the 2013 NFL Draft has left Dallas Cowboy fans shaking their heads in disbelief once again, courtesy of the only GM in the league that could survive a 17-year stretch with only one playoff victory.  After signing QB Tony Romo to an unbelievable contract extension this offseason, Jerry Jones knew that he needed to get some protection for his overpriced investment.

With two outstanding offensive guard prospects on the board, the Cowboys should have been in position to take one with the 18th pick, but the demand for offensive lineman and the lack of stars at the skill positions left them on the outside looking in.  One by one, the top offensive lineman came off the board, and a trade down looked like it might be the best option for the Cowboys until Florida DT Shariff Floyd inexplicably landed in their lap.  The dominant defensive lineman was projected by most experts as a top three pick, and with aging defensive tackles and a new defensive scheme, Floyd seemed like a no-brainer.

Cowboy fans were celebrating their unlikely good fortune when the announcement was made that the 18th pick had been traded to the San Francisco 49ers.  Dropping down 13 spots with a blue-chip player on the board surely meant that the Cowboys were offered a king’s ransom that was too good to pass up.  And given the fact that the reigning NFC Champion 49ers had more picks than they could even use (13), Cowboy fans anxiously waited to hear the details of the trade.

Jaws dropped across the country as the trade details revealed that the Cowboys dropped down 13 spots for a mere 3rd round pick, a rip-off by the point value charts that are used around the NFL.  Of course, according to the spin doctors in Dallas, their charts say that they got the best of the deal.  Truly absurd!  Even if the Cowboys had gotten fair value in the trade by everyone else’s standards, the fact remains that they still passed up on an impact player in a draft devoid of stars.

When the Cowboys finally made their pick, it was announced that had they selected Travis Frederick, a Center from Wisconsin who had one of the worst combine workouts in recent memory.  Considered the top player at his position, most teams and experts still had him ranked as no more than a third round prospect.  Even Frederick himself admitted that he was surprised to get the call in the first round.

In 1998, the Cowboys desperately needed a top WR, and the whole world expected them to take Randy Moss with the 8th pick in the draft.  They chose DE Greg Ellis instead, and Moss haunted the Cowboys for several years with the Minnesota Vikings.  It is quite possible that history is going to repeat itself for Cowboy fans.  After the Cowboys passed on Floyd, the Vikings snatched him up.

It won’t take long for the Cowboys to see if they made the right choice by trading down in the draft.  On November 3, 2013, Floyd and Frederick will line up head-to-head at Cowboys Stadium.

If Floyd ends up becoming a dominant player, Cowboy fans will be left once again to wonder what might have been if not for “Trader Jerry” desperately trying to prove that he can win a Super Bowl without Jimmy Johnson by making moves that most GMs would never consider.  Ironically, the one person who might think that Jones is doing a good job is former Vikings GM Mike Lynn, who essentially handed the Cowboys a championship roster by giving away the farm to acquire Herschel Walker in 1989.  Come to think of it, maybe Jones is just trying to repay the Vikings for their past generosity.

Boston Bruins Fans Deliver Greatest Rendition of National Anthem Ever

In Inspiration and Motivation, Life, Sports on April 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Boston Bruins Fans

The National Anthem is played before every professional sporting event and many amateur events as well.  For the most part, it is a largely ceremonial tradition that goes relatively unnoticed unless it is badly butchered by a celebrity or delivered in a memorable way at events like the Super Bowl, or Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance.  Before last night, no one would have ever imagined that the greatest rendition of the National Anthem would take place at a regular season NHL game.  Boston Bruin fans made sure that the first major sporting event following the terrorist attack on the city will be remembered for many years to come.

Boston is a city that is steeped in tradition, particularly when it comes to sports.  The tradition of having Rene Rancourt perform the National Anthem at Bruins home games dates back to 1976.  With 37 years of experience, you would think that Rancourt would be immune to nerves, but for the first time ever, the powerful opera singer was nervous.

Last night, more than any other performance in Rancourt’s career, the meaning behind the National Anthem was front and center.  Every time that he had practiced singing the National Anthem since the bombing of the Boston Marathon, he burst into tears.  He didn’t think that he could get through the performance without breaking down because his city had just suffered through a terrorist attack.

With tears glistening in his eyes, Rancourt took to the ice and began to sing the National Anthem as he has done so many times before.  “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so…” is as far as he got before 17,565 Bruins fans joined in and sang in unison “proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming.”  The fans would flawlessly finish the entire National Anthem with Rancourt acting as a conductor, singing along for brief moments, but overpowered by Boston fans showing their resolve in the face of tragedy.

Years from now, no one will ever remember that the Bruins lost the game in a shootout to the Buffalo Sabres, but the world will never forget the greatest, most emotional rendition of the National Anthem ever…

New York Yankees: Poetic Justice for Jackie Robinson

In Sports on April 17, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Robinson Cano Mariano Rivera Jackie Robinson

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  This landmark day happened during a time when many felt justified to judge people by what they were instead of who they were.   On the 66th anniversary of Robinson’s historical day, every player in Major League Baseball wore the number 42 to commemorate the occasion, just as they’ve done on every anniversary since 2004.

This year’s celebration of Robinson’s anniversary was marred by the tragic terrorist bombing in Boston by an as yet unknown source.  Regardless of who was responsible for this act of cowardice, it is a virtual certainty that the bombing was carried out by a person or group that has no tolerance for people who don’t share their irrational beliefs.  It just goes to show that no matter how far we think that we have come as a society, the fact remains that there are people out there who are just as ignorant and hateful as those who believed that black baseball players had no place in Major League Baseball in the 1940’s.

The two most prominent connections to Robinson in baseball today are on the New York Yankees.  Robinson Cano was named after (Jackie) Robinson, and wears the number 24 (42 backwards).  Fellow Yankee, Mariano Rivera, is the last player to ever wear the number 42.

The Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks were off on Monday, so they all wore the number 42 in last night’s game, a day after the anniversary that will always be known for the events that took place at the Boston Marathon.

With pitcher, Ivan Nova, struggling early, the Diamondbacks took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning; it looked like it might be a long night for the Yankees at that point.

After the third inning was completed, the Yankees and their fans showed their support for the people of Boston by playing “Sweet Caroline” – a time-honored tradition that has taken place at all Red Sox home games since the late 1990’s.  The bitter rivalry between the two cities was forgotten for at least one night in favor of the bond that we all share as Americans.

The tribute to the people of Boston, combined with the inspiration of Jackie Robinson seemed to lift the Yankees in the fourth inning.  Nova gave up a leadoff double, but eventually settled down, retired the side and held the Diamondbacks scoreless.  In the bottom half of the fourth, with two men on, Cano blasted a 426 foot home run, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

Kevin Youkilis scored on a sacrifice fly by Eduardo Nunez in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead on the night that every player was wearing the number 42.  It was fitting that the fourth run was scored by a former Red Sox player and fan favorite of the people of Boston.

As they have done since 1995, the Yankees called upon Rivera to preserve the victory.  Rivera’s appearance was extra special last night given the fact that he is retiring at the end of the season, and he is the last player ever to wear the number 42 in the Major Leagues.

Rivera retired the side with a strikeout, a pop-up and a ground out, sealing the 4-2 symbolic victory for the Yankees, and giving poetic justice to the anniversary celebration of Robinson that was otherwise tarnished by the terrorist attack that occurred at the Boston Marathon a day earlier.

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