Friday, September 5, 2014

In non-football-related decision, Bengals make move that could help save a little girl's life

Is it allergy season? Did I get dust in my eye? That must be it. I'm reading about the Cincinnati Bengals signing DT Devon Still to the practice squad and my eyes are getting all watery.

Making the practice squad as a three-year veteran normally wouldn't be cause for celebration. But for Still, it could drastically affect his—and his daughter’s—life.

You see, in June, Still's 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with Stage 4 pediatric cancer. Since her diagnosis, Still understandably hasn't been able to concentrate on football as he did before. So when the 25 year old failed to make the Bengals 53-man roster, Still — who drafted him 53rd overall out of Penn State in the 2012 draft — said he wasn't surprised.

Cincinnati DT Devon Still and his 4-year-old daughter Leah, who is battling Stage 4 pediatric cancer.
Photo courtesy of Man_of_Still75 via Instagram
“I completely understand where they were coming from,” Still said of getting cut. “I can’t give football 100 percent right now. In the business aspect they want guys to solely focus on football, which is understandable. We are here to win this city a Super Bowl and right now I am not in a position where I can give football 100 percent of everything I have.”

Then, with what can only be described as a completely-non-football-related decision, coach Marvin Lewis called Still and offered him a spot on the team's practice squad. The move means the Bengals will pay Still $6,300 a week and, more importantly, provide medical insurance to him and his daughter, who completed her fourth round of chemotherapy last week.

The practice squad in Cincinnati, Lewis also pointed out to Still, is the perfect opportunity for the team to help Still, because he’ll continue to make more than $100,000 if he stays there all year, and he’ll maintain his health insurance at a critical time. It also means he won’t travel on road trips, so he’ll have the opportunity to spend more time in Delaware with his family and travel with them to Philadelphia as Leah continues chemo.

So while Still was disappointed not to make the roster, he said it feels like a blessing in disguise.

“They could have just washed their hands completely of it,” he said. “Say [sic] 'we don’t care what’s going on in his personal life, we just want people who can care 100 percent on football,' that’s what they pay us to do. But they thought about my personal issues and allowed me to come back on the practice squad so I still have insurance."

Stories like this make me love sports even more; the camaraderie, the brotherhood and the bond between players and teams. 

You might be saying, "of course they did that." But trust me when I say this doesn't happen everywhere — a coworker of mine recently told me that her husband’s company let go of an under-performing 60-year-old employee. When he called to say he was scheduled to get a pace maker in the next month, and would they please keep him on the insurance at least until that was complete, they said “no.” Sadly, he passed away from a heart attack shortly thereafter.

It would have been easy for the Bengals to completely cut ties with an under-performing second-round draft pick who wasn't putting his whole heart and soul into football; but it also would have been wrong. Still now has a loyalty to the team that drafted him and kept him in his time of greatest need, allowing him not only the insurance to pay for his daughter’s treatments, but the ability to be there for her as she goes through them. He said he hopes to repay them soon by living up to the expectations they had when they drafted him in the second round.

“Loyalty is something I really need right now because I never know what direction this is going to go with my daughter,” he said.

This is a reminder that there are a lot of great people in the world. Cheers to the Cincinnati Bengals, and prayers for Leah – stay strong little girl, you've got millions of people praying and rooting for you.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Accept the #IceBucketChallenge and don’t be such a cynic

I’ll admit I was skeptical at first; a few weeks ago when my former high school classmates started taking the #ALSIceBucketChallenge and posting the videos on Facebook I thought, “how does this help ALS?” I was being cynical, assuming most people were doing the challenge and posting it on social media because it was “cool” (no pun intended) but weren't actually donating.

I was quickly proven wrong, and gladly admit it. The craze spread - from the North Shore of Massachusetts to Hollywood and beyond. Because of a bunch of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads,The ALS Association has received $15.6 million in donations as of Monday, August 18, compared to $1.8 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 18). These donations have come from existing donors and 307,598 new donors to The Association.

Unfortunately, there are still those who are cynical. There is debate over the actual “rules” of the challenge, but the quick rundown—for those of you living in a box—is that someone challenges you to dump a bucket of ice water over your head and you have 24 hours to accept or donate $100 to ALS. Some are going by the rules that, if you accept, you donate at least $10, dump the ice water over your head, and challenge three friends. But there are many accepting the challenge and pouring ice water over their head in lieu of a donation, which has let some to call the challenge “slacktivism.”

But before the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, when is the last time you heard about ALS? Or read about it? When was the last time ALS was at the forefront of our culture? The answer is July 4, 1939, when Lou Gehrig gave his famous “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech. After this, ALS was dubbed “Lou Gehrig's Disease.” But, sadly, very little has changed since 1939— there is still no cure for ALS so the prognosis is still 100% fatal.

If you don’t know anyone with ALS, it is an awful, awful disease. About 5,600 people are diagnosed with ALS each year in the United States. On average, it is diagnosed between the ages of 40-70, and the life expectancy for someone once diagnosed is 2-5 years. So when former Boston College baseball captain Pete Frates was diagnosed at 27 years old, he was told he would live to 32 if he was “lucky.” But during those years, he would lose the ability to walk, talk, breathe on his own and, eventually, move anything except his eyes.

But, despite the large amount of money raised, the challenge still has many skeptics, like Vice’s Arielle Pardes who wrote, “It’s like a game of Would-You-Rather involving the entire internet where, appallingly, most Americans would rather dump ice water on their head than donate to charity. There are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but most the annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism.” (You can read her whole column here: Dumping a Bucket of Ice on Your Head Does Not Make You a Philanthropist).

You know what I say to Parades? What a sad outlook you have. I'm sorry this challenge to support our friends and loved ones with ALS, a disease without a cure, is annoying you. More than a million people have posted #IceBucketChallenge videos, resulting in millions of dollars donated to ALS research, and you have to find the bad in it. Maybe the challenge itself is “silly” or is a stunt, mere “slactivism,” or just about showing off on social media… but who cares why some people do it? Money is being raised for a worthy cause, and people are talking about ALS! Whether you know Pete Frates or someone else with ALS, this challenge is about bringing the disease to the forefront and getting the research dollars it needs to end its fatal diagnosis. I don’t care that Kylie Jenner or Justin Bieber probably have no idea what ALS is – dumping a bucket of cold water over their heads (which, admit it, you would have liked to do for them) means something to those who have ever had a loved one with ALS. And, hopefully, all of these celebrities are donating money to ALS after they complete the challenge.

What the ice bucket challenge has done, in addition to raising more that $15 million so far, is to make people aware of this awful disease that doesn't get enough attention or enough research dollars. What started in Frates’ hometown of Beverly, Mass., has spread to the world – Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Lopez, Cristiano Ronaldo, the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Jimmy Fallon, LeBron James and Justin Timberlake are just a few of the hundreds of thousands who have “accepted the ice bucket challenge.” In a billionaire triumverate, Mark Zuckerberg challenged Bill Gates, who accepted and challenged Elon Musk, who accepted … and it goes on and on.

Personally, I accepted the #ALSIceBucketChallenge on August 8, and donated through petefrates.com. My five-year-old accepted a challenge from her uncle and money was donated in her name.

video


Yes, dumping a bucket of ice water of your head is silly. But what it stands for is anything but. So accept the challenge and donate — as much or as little as you want — at  http://petefrates.com/contribute.html, ALSA.org or your ALS charity of choice.

You have 24 hours!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rice’s slap on the wrist is a slap in the face of all women

In 2006, under then new-NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Albert Haynesworth was suspended for five games for stomping on the head of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode during a game.

In 2013, Brandon Meriweather was suspended for two games for “repeated violation of the NFL’s helmet-to-helmet policy.”

In 2014, Ray Rice was suspended for two games for knocking his then-fiancé unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

Does this not add up to anyone else? Let me get this straight: Rice was given the same punishment for knocking a woman unconscious on video as Meriweather was for tackling violations? And received a lesser suspension than Haynesworth, who’s violation was against another man and during a game when the man had protective gear on? Haynesworth’s suspension, at the time the longest ever for an on-field incident, was appropriate; Rice’s suspension is shockingly and disgustingly light. I am outraged, irate, infuriated… there aren't enough words for my level of disgust at Ray Rice, the NFL and those supporting this wife beater.

We have all seen the video of the Ravens running back carrying Janay Palmer’s lifeless body out of the elevator and laying her carelessly on the floor. Ever the gentlemen, he makes sure to pull her feet out of the way so the doors could close. It wasn't made public, but Atlantic City Police have said they have video of Rice actually punching Palmer unconscious. Think about that for a moment — Rice took his fist and hit his fiancĂ©, who he supposedly loves, in the head so hard that she was out cold. But of course that doesn't render the same punishment as Haynesworth using his foot to hit another man who was wearing protective equipment.

What might even make the light suspension worse is that it was handed down by Roger Goodell, the man who is supposedly “cleaning up the NFL.” Apparently cleaning up the NFL doesn't refer to those who abuse women, only those who smoke pot, take performance enhancing drugs or hit other men too hard during games.

The first time I saw the video I gasped in horror. Rice's attorney described the incident as a "minor physical altercation." I’d like anyone to look at the video of Rice dragging Palmer’s limp body out of an elevator and tell me there was anything “minor” about it. That any lawyer would dare to use such a word—minor— to describe what Rice did to Palmer is utterly degrading to all women.

Adding insult to injury, the Baltimore Ravens released a statement a few days after the video went public, in which Coach Jim Harbaugh said, "The two people obviously have a couple issues that they have to work through, and they're both committed to doing that....They understand their own issues. They're getting a lot of counseling and those kinds of things, so I think that's really positive."

Wow. Bad grammar aside, are you $a*!@#(%&;@#! kidding me?! This isn't “a couple [of] issues,” it is violent abuse that is indicative of the man Ray Rice truly is. Do we think this is the first (or last) time he has done this? Statistics tell us that it is likely not: Most female victims of intimate partner violence were previously victimized by the same offender, including 77% of females ages 18-24, 76% of females ages 25-34, and 81% of females ages 35-49. Palmer standing by his side, and even marrying him, after the incident does nothing to change what happened. Sadly, many women stay with the men who abuse them, either because they confuse abuse with love, they believe he “won’t do it again,” or because they are scared to leave because they fear for their safety or they are afraid to be alone.

As a female football fan, I’m insulted and disgusted that Rice was given such little punishment for his violent crime. I’m offended and sad that his lawyer would call the exchange “minor” and I’m further offended that the Baltimore Ravens organization, players and some fans are standing up for this wife beater – because that is exactly what Ray Rice is.

Despite saying he was “taking responsibility for his actions, Rice rejected a plea offer that would have spared the running back jail time in exchange for completing probation and undergoing anger management. Instead, he pleaded not guilty—not guilty to something that is on camera. In a move that says far too much about our society, Rice was accepted into a program for first-time offenders that will clear him of charges in as few as six months if he stays out of trouble and attends regular counseling.

I am sad that the only consequence for Rice knocking a woman out cold is a two-game suspension. No jail time, no probation, not even a fine. I am sad for Janay Palmer, even if she isn't sad for herself. I'm sad that, yet again, violence against women goes underpunished. I'm sad that a man was let "off the hook" because he can run with a ball. And I'm sad that talent and money outweighs violence.

I hope no one cheers for Ray Rice in his first game back; I hope the Baltimore fans turn their backs when he is announced; I hope they boo him when he gets handed the ball. But, sadly, history tells us that if Rice does well on the field, all will be forgotten and forgiven. In fact, this week it was reported that "Rice gets warm reception from fans at practice." Applauding a guy that is so tough he knocks out his girlfriend in an elevator where she had no where to run. They should be ashamed of themselves

I, for one, will not forget. I hope others do the same.

No Rice.
Domestic Violence Statistics*
  • On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.[i]
  • Nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) and 1 in 10 men (10%) in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner and report a related impact on their functioning.[ii]
  • Nearly, 15% of women (14.8%) and 4% of men have been injured as a result of IPV that included rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.[iii]
  • 1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.[iv]
  • IPV alone affects more than 12 million people each year.[v]
  • More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.[vi]
  • Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4% and 48.8%, respectively).[vii]
  • Females ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced the highest rates of intimate partner violence.[viii]
  • From 1994 to 2010, about 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence were female.[ix]
  • Most female victims of intimate partner violence were previously victimized by the same offender, including 77% of females ages 18 to 24, 76% of females ages 25 to 34, and 81% of females ages 35 to 49.[x]
*Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of the Department of Justice (DOJ), both government agencies.




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

LeBron's inevitable homecoming

LeBron to Cleveland?!
Friday afternoon as I drove from Atlanta to Savannah to enjoy a slow, lazy and, of course, spirit-filled weekend (it's Savannah, after all), we heard BREAKING NEWS: LeBron James is returning home!

Well color me surprised! Just kidding, I'm not. Had LeBron chosen to stay in Miami I would have been shocked, because I believe that ending up back in Cleveland was always LeBron's plan. LeBron was forced to leave Cleveland in the first place because they didn't fully realize his worth and wouldn't build a championship team around him.

After the 2014 Finals,
who didn't see this coming?
LeBron always wanted to end up back in Cleveland. But he needed to leave in order to gain the power and sway to get what he needed to bring a championship to his hometown team. He could only get that power by leaving and doing it elsewhere. He had to make a point to Dan Gilbert: even though he loves his hometown, if they weren't going to surround him with talent to win a championship, he was going to find somewhere that would. He did that in Miami—with two championships and back-to-back MVP awards (bringing his total to four, just one behind MJ). Before, Gilbert seemed to think either LeBron could do it on his own with minimal surrounding talent, or that LeBron loved home so much that he would just accept Gilbert’s refusal to spend the money necessary to bring the right players to Cleveland. Now that Gilbert has seen what a LeBron-less Cavs team looks like, and that his superstar won’t sit back and just take it, his wallet is flying open.

But there’s another reason LeBron left Cleveland. It’s because a superstar of his caliber can't be in a town like Cleveland forever. It’s not like Jeter with the Yankees or Kobe with the Lakers – he couldn't stay with one team his whole career because his team was in Cleveland, not New York or LA; he had to get out and live somewhere a superstar lives for a few years to become “LEBRON JAMES.” Miami gave him the prestige, the “it factor,” to go along with his name. He lived it up for four years, and now he’s ready to settle down back home. LeBron got everything he wanted out of his time in Miami – two rings, the superstar lifestyle and the pull necessary to make this move back to Cleveland, where they will now do whatever he wants.

The old sweatshirt that was the
2014 Final's Miami Heat
LeBron's exit from Miami became was clear to me, and anyone else watching, during this year’s Finals. The Heat had become LeBron's favorite old sweatshirt — warm and cozy but, in reality, all worn out and he knew it was time to get rid of it. The magic was gone and would not return. The past four years with LeBron, Wade and Bosh were truly special, but by this year’s Finals they were running on fumes. I knew LeBron was gone because you could read the frustration on his face; he had gotten what he wanted out of his time in Miami and he was done.

There was no “Decision” this time. In fact, I don’t think there was much of a decision for LeBron to even make; his return to Cleveland was inevitable and inescapable. When a superstar like LeBron James keeps a home in AKRON, there is a reason: because it is home and that’s where—excuse the pun—his heart is.

Now that Cleveland lost LeBron once, they are going to do everything in their power to make him happy. What makes LeBron happy? Championships to add to his legacy. Cleveland has a better foundation upon which LeBron can build numerous more championships, with young talent like Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. They also have the cap room with which to bring in key role players, and LeBron is someone people will take a pay cut to play alongside.

Every NBA player over age 30.
Now LeBron looks to cement his legacy as one of the greatest of all time by bringing Cleveland, his hometown, its first title in any sport in 50 years. I don’t think there is anyone who doubts he will do it. This was his plan all along.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not your mama's Brazil: The aftermath of Germany's rout

It was a beating of epic proportions; a smack down, a throttling, a whipping, a trouncing. No matter what you call it, Germany’s 7-1 win over Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semifinals was stunning—stunningly good for the Germans and, almost more noteworthy, stunningly bad for the Brazilians. Brazil was at home, where no one expected them to lose; but they were also at home, with more pressure than has probably ever been on one team.

You see, Brazil is a soccer (or fotebol) nation and they expect to always win—especially at home. But tragedy struck the team in the quarterfinals when superstar forward Neymar was hit from behind and fractured a vertebra, rendering him unable to play the rest of the tournament. The team was in shock that their star was out; in fact, it is reported that the team was so "stressed" about losing him that they had a sports psychologist come speak with them.

Apparently it didn't work.

The Brazil that showed up, also down central defender Thiago Silva who was out on the accumulation of yellow cards (which is a whole other issue we can discuss another time), looked more like a mediocre college team than a world-class national team with five World Cup trophies. They were sloppy, slow and uninspired. Instead of rallying around the loss of their superstar, they imploded.

All things said, this 2014 Brazil team was far from their best. They didn't play o jogo bonito, or fotebol arte, that we've become accustomed to seeing from them. There was little beauty in their recent games; there were no Brazilian playmakers gracefully dancing and weaving around the competition and they had the most fouls of any team in the tournament through the quarterfinals. The result (winning), not the style, was all that mattered. For a nation and a national team that prides itself on beautiful, flowing and exciting soccer, this was not the team of their dreams.

The news has all been about how bad Brazil was; but one of the reasons they were so bad was their opponent played nearly flawless soccer. The Germans played a masterful game and even a healthy Neymar couldn't have stopped their relentless perfection. They created opportunities and took advantage of every opportunity given by Brazil (and there were many). The Germans score five goals in the first half — in just 18 minutes. They were fluid, aggressive and physical. The result was perhaps the most complete, and certainly the most dominant, game in World Cup history.

I, along with most of the world, always forgets how good Germany is; how good they've always been. This was the fourth World Cup semifinal they've made in a row and the second final in the last four, with this game their redemption to losing to Brazil in the 2002 finals—the only other time these two teams have met. In 18 World Cups, they have finished in the top four 13 times (including this year's yet-to-be-determined final result); they won it all in 1954, 1974 and 1990, they've been runners-up four times (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002), come in third four times (1934, 1970, 2006, 2010) and fourth once (1958). Impressive to say the least. Their striker, 24-year-old Thomas Mueller is playing in his second World Cup with 10 goals in 12 games, making him just the second player to score five goals in consecutive World Cup tournaments. The other? Mueller's teammate Miroslav Klose, who did it in 2002 and 2006.

Germany is a national team that historically, and currently, is a force to be reckoned with. If you  want to read about how and why the German national team is so good, I highly suggest you read this article: How Germany's 14-Year Plan Destroyed Brazil, it's fascinating.

In the aftermath of the bloodbath in Belo Horizonte, we expected objects thrown onto the field and riots to break out across Brazil as fans openly and unapologetically wept in the stands. But then something beautiful happened: at the conclusion of the game, the Brazilian fans stood and applauded the German side that had just embarrassed their team (and some would say their nation). The show of sportsmanship was unexpected and inspiring; it reminded us that this game, this beautiful game, is more important than any result. And though national pride is at stake, the love of the game itself is the final outcome.