The Blog Squad

Friday, September 28, 2007

Columnists Should Also Be Reporters

Maybe you were in Africa this week and missed the latest coach-reporter spat. This one was a doozy.

Not only did it involve a 40-year-old coach of a major university, but also a female columnist, who rose quickly to her title without enough time on a beat.

First, you should watch the video of Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State coach, whose team defeated the Texas Tech Red Raiders last Saturday. Instead of discussing the victory, he chose to blast a column written by Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman.

Now I won’t opine on who is right or wrong. I can’t. I’ve never been a coach of a Big 12 program in the heartland of America where football is king. I don’t understand or realize the pressures that go with such a job.

Also, for me to criticize a coach who acted on emotion, well, I would be a fraud. I’m cool most of the time, but when something hurts me deeply, I can’t contain myself. I’m capable of such an outburst.

However, I do believe with credibility, I can comment on the journalism side of this story. I have been a columnist as well as worked sports beats for metro dailies. I understand the differences between reporter and columnist and the demands of each.

Carlson’s piece, and Gundy’s biggest contention with it, is that it’s based on inaccuracies. Speculations. Hearsay. Second-hand information from colleagues, sources and dare I say message boards.

Carlson uses ambiguous phrases to disguise her lack of viable attributions.

“If you believe the rumors…”

“Tile up the back stories told on the sly…”

“Word is…”

“If you listen to the rumblings and rumors…”

This is the part I have most trouble with. I’ve met many sports columnists who join a fistfight late and since they hold the title, they feel they should deliver the knockout blow. Unfortunately, they do research by reading the beat reporter’s stories for the season. They scour the Internet. They call a booster. They use their intuition, which has gotten them by in similar situations in the past. They do everything but observe a practice, question the coach, talk to the subject of their column.

What’s worse, many columnists believe — and this is ego — they know exact what’s going on in a locker room or how players feel. There’s no need to do the reporting.

Don’t blame those columnists too much. The job is hard enough trying to produce insightful, inspiring and informative columns several times per week. But to also understand what a hot route is or how to attack a Tampa 2-deep defense, and then try to come in late and decipher a team’s mojo, that’s quite a challenge.

Plus, many columnist have never played the game, never understood the pressures to perform in front of a nationally televised audience. So how can columnists accurately portray what’s going on between coach and players behind closed doors?

The answer: Don’t try.

Not without the coach or player openly stating there’s a problem.

For Carlson to question this young man’s heart, desire and courage—the staples of a football player and some would say the very attributes of a man—by suggesting that he is weak because his mother fed him chicken, crosses the line.

Never mind that most college kids love having their mothers around to feed them.

Football is brutal. You don’t have to play the game to know that. It takes tremendous courage to strap on the helmet, tighten the cleats and go out and dominate your opponent.

There is not one cowardly football player, chicken hand-fed or not.

I understand, though, why Carlson chose to use the chicken analogy after being told about it by the beat reporter. Some columnists, who never played or don’t have a level of understanding of the game but try to be above it, the key is to mask weaknesses with witty, sarcastic and even humorous copy.

Sometimes in this attempt to bowl over the reader, columns become personal and hurtful.

Should columnists be allowed to do that without retaliation like the one Gundy gave?

If you believe what I’ve told you on the sly—then absolutely not.

OUT AT HOME: I think I’m a land person. It seems I’ve talked to quite a few people lately about their homes. I’ve noticed that they either boast about their house or simply say, “My rancher is cute, but I have a lot of land.”

VIDEOS OF THE WEEK: My heart is still broken.
I’ll drown my sorrows with this clip.

And a bonus: Check out Michael Conley’s mad skillz.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Steps to a Cure

Kevin Everett, the Buffalo Bills player who was paralyzed after breaking his neck on the football field, will soon walk. That’s what doctors said as he was transferred from Buffalo to a Houston hospital today, less than two weeks after sustaining a life-threatening spinal cord injury.

“Soon… they’re going to stand him up,” Dr. Barth Green, president of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, told the Associated Press. “(Doctors are) very confident he’ll be walking very soon… in the next days or weeks, not months.”

Incredible news. Some would consider Everett’s progress a miracle.

But it’s not.

There were many steps taken before and after the tight end fell limp on the field. It started 22 years ago when Marc Buoniconti collapsed from making a tackle for The Citadel and was paralyzed for life.

His father, Nick Buoniconti, is an NFL Hall of Fame linebacker and a former HBO football show host. After his son’s injury, Nick Buoniconti joined a group to establish The Miami Project, now one of the world’s leading neurological research centers and located on the University of Miami campus.

Over the years, Nick and Marc put a face to spinal cord injuries and the Buoniconti Fund raised millions for The Miami Project, which today has an impressive list of researchers, clinicians and therapists whose purpose is to find a cure.

Christopher Reeve, the former actor, was treated at The Miami Project when he was paralyzed after being thrown from a horse in 1995. Reeve later also established a foundation to pursue a cure.

All the work, all the hopes, and unfortunately all the new cases of paralyzes (10,000-12,000 per year in the United States) culminated when Kevin Everett ran down the field full speed to open the second half against the Denver Broncos.

Marc Buoniconti checked his e-mail and relived his own tragedy as he read of Everett’s injury moments after it happened. Buoniconto said in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel article that he had a flashback to the time he couldn’t feel his body and thought: “Oh my God, I broke my neck. I’m paralyzed.”

When Marc snapped back to reality, he called Bills owner Ralph Wilson and asked how The Miami Project could help. Ironically, Wilson is one of the project’s biggest financial donors.

Green contacted the Buffalo doctors, who already knew of project’s work with hypothermia, or cooling of the body, as a way to treat spinal-cord trauma. Within 15 minutes of the injury, cold saline solution flowed through Everett’s body and lowered his temperature to 92 degrees. It reduced the swelling. Doctors likened it to putting an ice pack on a sprained ankle or knee.

Initially, the prognosis was not good. Everett’s injury was “catastrophic.” Doctors said full recovery was not likely. Then Tuesday (Sept. 11) came and Everett was taken off sedation and his limbs started to move.

Green would tell the Sun-Sentinel, “For us, it’s hard to describe. It’s basically everything Nick Buoniconti and Marc and I have dreamed about—actually getting people walking out of the hospital. It’s a surreal feeling.

“Added to the fact is Mr. Wilson being so important to us here and a University of Miami player is involved—more irony, considering we’re part of the University of Miami. It’s karma. It’s amazing. It’s all a bit mind-boggling.”

There’s one more bit of information that’s numbing. Green added that Everett’s injury to the C-3 and C-4 vertebrae was exactly the same as Marc Buoniconti’s.

“If this treatment was available 20 years ago, Marc would be walking right now,” Green said to the Sun-Sentinel.

This year, the NFL stopped funding a Miami Project grant that studied spinal cord and brain injuries. Perhaps Everett’s accident will bring the league back.

So if you have one dollar to give, one dollar to add to a collective lump that will improve the world, consider giving it to the Buoniconti Fund. You never know when karma will save your life.

OUT AT HOME: I’m going to the Redskins-Giants game Sunday with a relative who loves the New York team. So much, in fact, he went to a game at FedEx Field two years ago dressed as a blue Santa. He was booed and had beer thrown on him. Mothers and their children took turns giving him the bird.

Right on, Skins fans! Nobody wears a blue Santa suit in our house!

When my relative came back from that Christmas Eve game, he looked like Dan Aykroyd in “Trading Places” after he takes a big bite of a salmon he stole from the company party.

Anyway, I don’t think he’ll pull any stunts this year. He doesn’t drink anymore.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Elton John an Atlanta Braves fan? Who knew?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Viva Sports!

Before we start this week’s blog, I need help getting this jingle out of my head. I don’t have much free time to think, and when I do, I like to dream about movie stardom, Redskins victories and how much I want to eat raw clams.

But I can’t anymore because this jingle occupies those moments now. This week, I’ll focus on a little show-and-tell and a little trivia. Let’s get started.

This link provides possible evidence on how the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick cheated. The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell fined Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000 Thursday night. The Patriots also will forfeit a 2008 first-round draft choice if they reach the playoffs or second- and third-round picks if they do not qualify for postseason play.

Honestly, I think the punishment is too light. Belichick was caught last year doing the same thing and warned not to do it again. So how does he respond? He cheats in the first game of the season.

I would have suspended the coach for four games and taken away all the team’s draft choices for next year. And I would have fined them. Apparently, Philadelphia Eagles players, who lost to New England in Super Bowl XXXIX, are questioning whether Belichick spied on them. It seems every time the Eagles defense blitzed, the Patriots responded with a screen pass or a quick hitter. Hmmmm.

This definitely taints Belichick’s legacy, and I believe it’s as damaging to the game as steroids.

I’m not sure what the next link says about our “alleged” national pastime. The Marlins-Nationals game Wednesday drew a crowd of 400 at Dolphin Stadium. That’s 74,600 empty seats if you’re keeping score. What the???

The stadium was so empty that a season ticker holder was thrown out for heckling the umpire too loudly. Again I say, “what the???”

The fan could be heard saying “you don’t make more than me” on the television broadcast before he was escorted away. According to the Washington Post, “The three-day series between Florida and Washington at Dolphin Stadium drew a total of perhaps 3,000 fans, though the announced attendance was reported to be more than 10,000 every day. Monday’s and Tuesday’s games, both at night, drew about 1,200 each.”

At least it would be easy to get the beer man’s attention.

The next link has a photo midway down that should come with a warning. It shows my nominee for worst broadcast team in the history of professional football. Mike (Greenberg), Mike (Golic) and Mike (Ditka) were the broadcasters for the late Monday Night Football game on ESPN pitting San Francisco against Arizona. Rating for the second game was down 19 percent from the previous year.

Greenberg and Golic are funny when they are talking about milking a cow or being tasered. They aren’t amusing when analyzing Frank Gore’s cutbacks or Alex Smith’s development or Matt Leinart’s noodle arm. Ditka had some entertaining moments on Saturday Night Live and the soccer movie with Will Ferrell.

Speaking of Ditka (here’s the warning part), what the??? is he doing in that photo? I thought I saw it live, but assured myself I was seeing things. Unfortunately, I was indeed correct. Wonderful!

OUT AT HOME: For crying out loud!!!

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Actually two videos. The first has a European flavor and is for a Richmond magazine employee. The second is fast becoming one of my favorite songs. The video is pretty cool too.

Friday, September 07, 2007

She Needs to Play the Lottery

Could it be possible? Perhaps. I guess in a lifetime of golfing, if a person plays three or four times per week for 40 or 50 years, one could make 16 holes-in-one. But to do it in a span of nine months?


But that’s what Jacqueline Gagne of Rancho Mirage, Calif., claims to have done so far this year. And you thought the 84 you scored this summer at the local municipal course was impressive, consider that the odds of making 16 aces during that span is the same as being struck by lighting several billion times.


Apparently it’s all true. The lucky lady, who has played just four years, made her first ace on Jan. 23 and her 14th on May 25. The Palm Springs Desert Sun was called after the eighth hole-in-one and even though everyone in the sports department was skeptical, they decided to check it out.

Here’s what the Desert Sun sports editor wrote after the newspaper investigated.

Believe me, to say that we didn’t believe Jacqueline Gagne’s hole-in-one claims is an understatement. I believe the phrase “That crazy woman just e-mailed again with another hole-in-one” was uttered more than a couple times around the office.

But after golf writer Larry Bohannan talked to her and started to believe, so did we. Every one of her aces was witnessed and her character appears unassailable. We tried to poke holes in her story, and we couldn't. So in short, we believe in miracles.

Word of her amazing feat spread after the article was printed. Two of her next holes-in-ones reportedly came in the same round at a course where she does not normally play. Then a local television station crew joined Gagne on an outing to do a story.

Here’s what happened.

Apparently, the shot was not technically an ace, since she was hitting three after a penalty. But still. The video does not clearly show the ball falling into the cup, but based on everyone’s reaction, there’s no way Gagne could have pulled a fast one.

Gagne also made an appearance on the Early Show with Harry Smith and golf teaching pro Peter Kostis. The pro seemed impressed with Gagne’s swing and admits he’s a believer. She also appears to have a better swing than Harry Smith.

There’s also an interesting 10-minute interview on YouTube that drew the scorn of many visitors who commented on the feat.

Life has definitely changed for the 46 year old—for the good and bad. She launched a Web site, hired a public relations firm and signed two significant endorsement deals.

A quick check of her Web site reveals some really bad PR. The press release about her 16th ace opens with a paragraph that likens Gagne with the Almighty. Scary.

For 46-year-old gifted golfer Jacqueline Gagne, rarity has become routine. By her own hand (and some say by the hand of God himself), she has managed to recreate the miraculous time and time again. After her astounding sixteen hole-in-ones (all since January, 2007), she has now become something of a Par Three Prophetess!

With this kind of proclamation, it’s no wonder some have ridiculed her and she finds herself defending the feat almost daily. She explains in a midsummer article by the Desert Sun.

As for me? I’m a believer. I just don’t see how a person can pull off such a scam. Gagne would need dozens of witnesses and then get lucky and make a hole-in-one while the cameras are rolling.

You can check out some of her holes-in-one at the United States Golf Register. Just search her name.

OUT AT HOME: My wife likes to play a little game with my daughter Emalene. My wife pretends she’s crying so Emalene races over and consoles her. I got into the game the other day.

“Waaaaaaa!” I wailed.

“Oh no. Daddy’s crying.” Emalene said while giving my wife a concerned look.

My daughter then went to the coffee table and grabbed the remote control for the television. She rushed over to me.

“Here Daddy.”

Suddenly, I felt a lot better.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This video made me laugh. Out loud. I would be the Bad Gear Guy. I do hate Dr. Quickskins.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Carytown Goes Green

Tomorrow night, Sept. 6, is Fashion First in Carytown, a night when many of the stores stay open late and host special events or sales. This month, many of the stores are focusing on an eco-friendly theme. So get out and shop for sustainability. Here’s a sampling of store events.

Que Bella will introduce a new reusable shopping bag for frequent shoe-buyers. Anyone who spends at least $200 will get one free and shoppers who bring it back for their next comfy-yet-stylish shoe purchase will receive a $5 discount. In addition, Lauren Carroll, co-owner of the cruelty-free, eco-friendly shoe line Charmone will be in the store from noon to 8 p.m.

At Soak! shoppers will be offered organic Hawaiian hand treatments along with special discounts and refreshments. The evening will feature Malie Kauai’s line of all-natural aromatherapy products. If you stop in, make sure to smell the coconut vanilla: The creamy, rich scent is absolutely delicious.

Need Supply Co. will launch three new socially and environmentally sustainable clothing lines. The first is Good Society, a denim line that uses 100-percent organic cotton. The company focus on clean, simple jeans for both men and women and donates 10 percent of its profits to various charities worldwide. Loomstate is a denim and chinos line for men and women that’s also made with organic cotton. And for customers who want an entire “green” outfit, Need Supply Co. will be featuring Alternate Earth, a line of basic tees made from organic cotton that come in a range of styles and colors. While you’re in the “green” mindset, owner Chris Bossola wants you to recycle your old jeans. So, if you bring in an old pair and buy a new pair, you’ll get a 20 percent discount and your old jeans will be donated to charity. And if that isn’t enough, Sticky Rice will be serving up vegan sushi and DJ Rudy Lopez will be providing music.

Animal-friendly handbags by Canadian Matt & Nat will be the focus at Jet Set Boutique. Many of the designs have the look of leather with a price tag of $150 or less. If you buy one during Fashion First, you’ll get 20 percent off. A fashion show at Pink will feature Stewart + Brown, an eco-friendly fashion-forward clothing line.

These are just a few highlights of tomorrow’s big night. Look for more events in the other boutiques as you wander up and down the street.