Thomas Jefferson and the Kneeling National Anthem Razorbacks

Why the Razorbacks’ national anthem kneeling fulfills some Founding Fathers’ vision for America

A statewide hubbub erupted earlier in November after six members of the Razorback women’s basketball team kneeled during a pre-game performance of the national anthem. “You all know that there’s been a lot of killings* from police officers of African-Americans and other minorities,” Razorback Jordan Danberry, a Conway native, said after the game at Bud Walton Arena. “Me and my teammates took a knee today during the national anthem to speak for those who are oppressed. As Razorback student-athletes, we have a platform to do that.”

Their head coach, Jimmy Dykes, and the UA athletic director Jeff Long defended their actions. “I am very, very proud of them,” Coach Dykes said. “They had very, very strong, well-informed, educated opinions based on their real-life experiences, their real-life emotions. Mr. Long added: “University campuses are places of learning and thus places where differences of opinion and varying perspectives are recognized. We respect the rights of our student-athletes and all individuals to express themselves on important issues in our nation.”

Already, thousands of Arkansans — including high-profile politicians — have begun blasting the Lady  Razorbacks who refused to stand. Laura Rushing, for instance, Tweeted: “I might just take a knee on UofA funding. Leadership needs to go!”

State senator Jason Rapert chimed in: “I agree Senator. Perhaps we reconsider the U of A budget since some in leadership don’t get it.”

I respectfully disagree, Sen. Rapert et al.

Public funding of higher education should not be cut because young women dared exercise their rights of free speech in front of fans who had paid to watch them do something else. Coach Dykes and Mr. Long should not be fired for their support of these women.

If anything, they should be praised.

A red white and blue flag wrapped around a soldier’s tomb is a strong symbol, sure. It often elicits strong emotions, yes. But a flag and a tomb are, at their core, manufactured products. The United States of America is supposed to represent something different.

The Razorbacks’ protest in Fayetteville reminds us the United States of America itself is a manmade invention, too. It had a beginning and will have an end. The more important things it represents, though, precede it and should persist long after it fades.

More than 240 years ago, the Founding Fathers did not conjure the United States as something that in and of itself should deserve and command respect, gratitude and unswerving loyalty.

Instead, they created it as a governing apparatus with a primary function of preserving the rights and freedoms of individuals living in specific geographic areas.  And one of the those liberties is the right to free speech without (financial or corporeal) punishment if said speech offends those in power.

The fabrication we call the “U.S.A.” exists to edify and protect its people, not the other way around.

The U.S.A. was founded as an ongoing political experiment meant to be refined and perfected by ongoing criticism, protest and peaceful dissent.  “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty,” George Washington wrote, “is finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People.”

In a 1804 letter, Thomas Jefferson wrote: ”No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”

Today’s “press” is more fragmented and prevalent now than in Jefferson’s newspaper-centric day. The protesting Razorbacks have taken of advantage of this. They deliberated with Coach Dykes beforehand on the consequences of their actions; they knew word of it would quickly spread on social media and online news sites.

So did Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who sparked this most recent round of athlete protests by sitting out of a national anthem in an August preseason game.  “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said afterword.

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This sentiment rubs many Arkansans the wrong way. They believe it disrespects the U.S. soldiers who have died in order to protect the U.S. and the very First Amendment rights the Lady Razorbacks exercised by kneeling on the court.

It doesn’t. Because often these soldiers and these athlete protestors act and suffer out of love for the very same thing: life and liberty. We can call it “American” life and liberty, but the adjective pales in importance to the nouns following it.

Granted, the costs entailed are on different scales. Soldiers can lose life and limb; Athlete protestors can lose sponsorship money and fan support. But both sides believe they are acting in defense of the things which matter most.

Hog fan Mike Todd touched on this in a recent post on the Razorback Coaches Facebook page. He wrote his father was a World War II Navy veteran. “When an activist in LR was going to burn the flag on the Capital steps I asked him what he thought of that. He said it was the guy’s right. I said ‘But you fought for that flag.’

I’ll never forget his words: ‘I didn’t fight for a flag. I fought for the rights it stands for – including burning it if you want to.’”

At its best, the “United States of America” and all the red, white and blue-clad pomp and circumstance this manmade invention may entail, provides a structure through which we can peacefully disagree and learn from that disagreement — without fear of retribution.

Before threatening to cut funding to Arkansas’ flagship university, our state’s leaders would do well to remember that.

 

*According to analysis by the Washington Post, black people in America are two and a half times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white Americans.

Auburn 56, Arkansas 3: What They’re Saying

Some of the best commentary following 2016’s “Massacre on the Plains”

Ah, the age-old ugly flip side to winning as a team.
Losing as one.
Boy howdy did Arkansas accomplish this feat Saturday night throughout pretty much the entirety of a 56-3 meltdown at Auburn.
Razorback football insiders point out practically every part of the team, save field goal kicking, deserves strong blame here. Here’s a look at some of their best insight:

  1. Matt Jones, WholeHogSports:

Arkansas’ run defense was supposed to be the team’s strength this season. The Razorbacks returned starters at almost every position from last season’s unit that was a top 15 national run defense. It was a group that held eventual Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry to his lowest output of the season, and LSU’s Leonard Fournette to his second-lowest output last year.
With as many as 10 defensive linemen thought to be SEC starting quality, stopping the run was going to be a given with this group, even if the back end continued to struggle to defend the pass.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Arkansas’ run defense is the worst in recent memory. You can say the same for the defense as a whole. The Razorbacks are allowing 8.3 yards per rush attempt in SEC games. That’s almost a first down every time the opponent carries the ball.

2. Trent Wooldridge, Arkansas Fight:

Two years ago I watched a team that was in the middle of an historic losing streak go out every week and play their hearts out. They lost game after game, but it was obvious that nobody wanted to play them because it was apparent that every contest would be a battle. Last night, I watched a ranked Arkansas play a game against a team that was obviously licking it chops before facing the Hogs. I watched Arkansas play a team that knew it could make them quit… Life in this league is short and brutish, Coach, but a 53 point loss stays with you forever. A 53 point loss is so bad that it has Jack Crowe shit-talking you on Twitter.

JACK CROWE LOST TO THE CITADEL AND WAS FIRED ONE GAME INTO HIS THIRD SEASON HERE. AND HE’S TALKING SHIT ABOUT YOU. THAT IS HOW BAD LAST NIGHT WAS.

3. Mitch Petrus, former Razorback offensive lineman:

I’m gonna put it all on the offensive line. I’m gonna take this whole game and put it on the offensive line. It’s all your fault offensive line… I’ve never seen a game where guys don’t care so much — we got our chips down and we just give up. I can’t have that as a coach.

4. Jimmy Carter, WholeHogSports.com:

Like the Alabama game, Arkansas struggled stop the run outside the tackles, which allowed the Tigers to gash the defense for big gains. Too often, corners failed to set the edges and linebackers were stuck inside, either too slow to react and fit outside gaps, suckered in by false steps or effectively walled off by solid blocking. The safety issues, detailed below, didn’t help matters, with 6-yard runs turning into much longer, chunk gains several times.

On safeties Josh Liddell and Santos Ramirez regressing after standout performances against Ole Miss:

Each missed a number of tackles, failing to wrap up on some and going for big hits on others, the latter an area Bret Bielema stressed the coaching staff was working to correct. Against Ole Miss, Ramirez’ late big hit didn’t connect squarely with Chad Kelly but forced the fumble that allowed the Razorbacks to secure the win…

Auburn didn’t have to throw often, but it was able to take advantage of Ramirez for a big play in one key instance when it did. The sophomore left a wheel route uncovered late in the second quarter, gifting Tigers quarterback Sean White a 45-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 28-0…

Receiver Eli Stove scored a 78-yard touchdown on a jet sweep on the first snap of the game. Arkansas didn’t react to the motion at all, leaving Ramirez and cornerback Jared Collins in space as the only defenders with a shot at stopping Stove. Neither did and Auburn quickly gained momentum.

On the linebacker corps featuring Dwayne Eugene, De’Jon Harris, Brooks Ellis and Khalia Hackett at the “SAM” position:

The weakside spot has been a question mark without injured Dre Greenlaw. Ellis struggles in space at times and doesn’t have the luxury of being spelled by a backup. The entire group struggled to fill gaps and get off blocks Saturday, regularly being locked up by Auburn blockers and unable to get off blocks to make a play.

Ex Governor David Pryor Condemns Hogs’ “Nuclear Arms Race” Mentality

On September 8th, University of Arkansas trustee David Pryor cast a “no” vote for the bond issue behind the largest stadium construction project in state history. Below is a detailed explanation of the former governor’s reasoning, as laid out in a letter earlier in the summer.

Ultimately, Pryor’s veto was in vain.  By a vote of 6-2, the UA board of trustees approved the final step needed to launch the Razorback Stadium north end expansion. The other “no” vote belonged to Monticello lawyer Cliff Gibson. I got Gibson’s take on the issue here.


June 15, 2016

Dear Trustee:

For our Thursday morning meeting, I have requested the opportunity to discuss my reasons for opposing the North End Stadium project for the Fayetteville campus.  I write this letter to you and my other colleagues on the Board as time may not allow me to cover the salient points of my argument during the oral presentation before the full Board.  I sincerely thank you for taking the time to read these thoughts and certainly hope you realize that my position is being taken after much thought, discussion and input.  This is not an attempt to “lobby” you for your vote, but to simply share one Trustee’s belief as to the wrongness of going forward with the North End project.

Whatever the outcome of this important decision by the Board, I will honor your position and the reasons for your vote – regardless of whether you vote to approve or disapprove this enormous commitment for the State of Arkansas.

Some months ago, I proposed that we adopt the “cost/benefit test” as we proceeded to decide this project.  As you know, the stadium expansion will be the largest bond issue in the history of higher education for the State of Arkansas.  It is a monumental commitment of resources, and to some extent, our Board will be establishing by our support that a few luxury boxes and special seats in a football stadium used some six times a year is the highest priority for the institution we all revere and serve.  I personally do not believe this project is the highest priority for the University of Arkansas.

There is a great applause line we all hear and sometimes ourselves repeat:  “We must always put students first.”

The stadium expansion does not put students first.  In fact, the some 26,000 students on the Fayetteville campus will not benefit one iota.  There are no extra student seats added.  In fact, there are no general admission seats added – but only some 3,000 “special seats” for those fans in the upper income levels.

Not one student has contacted me to express support for this project.  To the best of my knowledge, not one student organization, alumni group or chapter, or booster club has voiced their support for the North End expansion.  To the best of my knowledge, not one sports writer or newspaper has endorsed this expansion.  In fact, I have received several hundred e-mails, phone calls and citizen expressions of opposition to this mammoth bond issue which obligates the entire State of Arkansas to support a “chosen few” fans to enjoy an “enhanced game day experience.”

Between 2009 and 2013, our Board chose to support several athletic program projects, establishing a deeper footprint in the Southwestern quadrant of our campus.  In 2013, we voted on the concept of enlarging and improving the North End.  At that time, the estimated cost was not the $160 million price tag of today’s proposal, but $78 to $95 million.  I have yet to see how this enormous cost escalation has occurred in such a short time.  There has been no explanation.

It is now estimated that “only” $120 million will be required of bonded indebtedness, given that $40 million of private funds can be applied to the expansion.  Assuming a bond issue of $120 million, the 20-year cost of principal, interest, and servicing fees, we are facing an obligation of approximately $186 million dollars!

We will not just be endorsing a project costing $160 million but $186 million.

We have just raised tuition, thus adding to the backbreaking debt load our students and their families bear.  With state funding for higher education stagnant, where do we get the dollars for future classrooms for the fast growing student population?  How do we equip our labs and find scholarship support?  Can we continue being in last place in faculty salaries, according to the Southern Regional Education Board (16 southern states).  Are we to accept as a given fact that we are 45th in the nation of those states with the lowest percentage of college degrees?  And, is our answer to these and many other questions going to be, “Let’s use our resources to add 3,000 luxury boxes and high end seats for our football stadium?”

Some have recently said that this addition will help with “recruitment” in enticing prospective Razorbacks to Fayetteville.  Do any of us actually believe that an 18-year-old potential from Conway, Judsonia or Smackover really cares or is impressed by the fact that we have 75,000 stadium seats rather than 72,000?

The Athletic Department states that the expenditure of $160 million on the stadium’s north end will enhance the “game day experience” for Razorback fans.  Will two new elevators, a new Broyles Center, a multi-million video board in the south end, adding some 3,000 new luxury seats truly add any benefit except for a privileged few?

Should we ever decide to issue bonds for classrooms, labs, scholarships, tuition or faculty salaries, count me as a supporter.

A South Arkansas banker e-mailed me that this project is “ill advised.”  Another wrote:  How many student scholarships could we provide with these millions of dollars?  Several former University Trustees have recently stated their opposition to the North end expansion.

In some 8 ½ years as a Trustee, I have voted for many bond issues, every tuition increase and all athletic facilities proposed by the Athletic Department.

I cannot support this proposal.  It makes no sense.  In fact, it defies common sense and fairness that has always been a part of the Arkansas character.  Well known and respected sports writer Nate Allen recently added some true wisdom to this discussion:   “Reserve the Razorbacks just for the rich and they become a brand who fewer can afford and for which they will lose their passion.”

In America, college football has become a nuclear arms race.  Yes, it is BIG BUSINESS.  Fancy stadiums, outlandish salaries, luxury amenities.  We all know that.  On this vote, we now have a rare chance to become the school that takes the bold step of stating what our priorities are really all about.

I look forward to our Thursday discussion of the stadium issue.  You have been kind to read these comments, and to hear me out — and I am grateful.

Respectfully,

David Pryor

When Muhammad Ali visited UALR

In 1969, what is now the University of Arkansas-Little Rock received a surprise visit from the former heavyweight champion.

Looking through the Arkansas Gazette archives, I was surprised to learn Muhammad Ali visited Little Rock University — now known as UALR — in 1969. The legendary boxer had been banned from boxing after refusing military service two years earlier, and was on a speaking tour at college campuses nationwide. His swing through Arkansas also included speeches at the UA, Philander Smith College and what is now UAPB (where the photo in this post was taken).

The below is from March 11, 1969:

ALI’S SURROUNDED AT LRU AFTER SIDE-DOOR ENTRANCE

Muhammad Ali paid a surprise visit to Little Rock University Monday morning and spent about an hour in the student union talking with students, shaking hands and signing autographs. Ali entered the side door of the Union with several Negro students and stood talking to the Negro students inside for about five minutes before any of the white students seem to recognize him.

He was immediately encircled by students and instructors when he was recognized. Ali, who was scheduled to speak to students at Arkansas AM and N College at Pine Bluff later in the day, said he came to LRU, “to see how things are.”
He signed autographs on anything from notebook paper to textbooks. One woman asked to his hand “so I can tell my husband.”
Ali, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, answered students’ questions on subjects ranging from black separatism (he’s for it) to the Vietnam War (he’s against it.) On Vietnam, he recited a poem, which began “Hell no! I won’t go” which met some cheers.
Ali has been found guilty of refusing induction into the Army. He is appealing on the ground that he should be deferred as a black Muslim minister. He changed his name from Cassius Clay when he converted to that religion. Ali, dressed in a dark business suit, arrived on the campus in his black limousine, which he announced was as good as a car as President Nixon’s.”
Ali discussed theory of black separatism briefly with the 50 or 60 students gathered around them. He said he was against integration because it was forced. He said he was against interracial marriage and that the Negro had all the variety he needed within his own race.

“If you want a chocolate one,” he said putting his arm around a Negro student, “or a honey-gold one,” he said grabbing another girl, “or a peach one,” as he put his arm still another.

Negro students escorted Ali to the parking lot. The students gave a loud cheer as Ali rode away in his black limousine.

Is Wrigley’s Racism to Blame for Chicago Cubs’ World Series Drought?

Why have the Chicago Cubs been so bad, for so long? Lore has it blame should fall at the smelly feet of a billy goat  Since the day in 1945 when Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley blocked William Sianis from bringing his pet goat through the Wrigley Field turnstiles, the Cubs haven’t won a single National League pennant. In the decades following that rebuff, the Cubs became one of the worst teams in pro baseball.

The real reasons behind Chicago’s struggles don’t entail P.K. Wrigley’s refusal of a goat. They hinge more on his refusal to admit “G.O.A.T.s.” Wrigley worked within miles of some of the greatest Negro Leagues players of all time during the 1930s and early 1940s. Chicago hosted the league’s annual All-Star game and Wrigley Field itself was home to a Negro League team and occasional all-black barnstorming teams featuring the likes of Satchel Paige.

For years Wrigley was exposed to ample evidence black baseball players were as good as white baseball players. He had even more evidence after Jackie Robinson broke down the Major League color wall in 1947, and in the following years the likes of Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Larry Doby and Satchel Paige followed. After Robinson’s first year, “the bold and smart owners reached into the talent-rich Negro League and grabbed instant stars,” columnist Mike Royko wrote in the Chicago Tribune in 1993. By the time the Cubs started hiring black players, “they had established themselves as the most predictable klutzes in the National League. Had Wrigley the brains and/or the courage—he definitely had the money—the modern tradition of the Cubs might have been entirely different.”

In 1942, a local African-American committee advocating for blacks in the major leagues brought this issue directly to Wrigley’s office. Wrigley listened to a representative make his case, then told him while he would like to see blacks in the MLB, “I don’t think the time is now.” He feared the potential of rioting and didn’t think there would be “sufficient public demand” despite enormous crowds which the best black baseball players drew in Chicago at that time.

Wrigley appeared to thaw a bit in the following year. In 1943, he announced the Cubs would soon hire a scout to solely focus on the Negro Leagues. But when pressed on whether this hire meant he was ready to sign black players, Wrigley said “The middle of a war isn’t the spot to make such a departure from custom. I told [the committee members] that we would not stick our necks out now,” according to Steve Bogira’s 2014 article in the Chicago Reader.

Delaying integration wasn’t the only reason the Cubs franchise essentially nosedived after that 1945 World Series appearance. The Cubs depended heavily on purchasing players from independent minor league teams. After those teams folded, the Cubs were one of the last MLB clubs to assemble a minor league farm system. Even then, for decades, they struggled to develop their minor league talent.

Yet, for Chicago fans, it’s hard not to daydream about what could have been. What if P.K. Wrigley had even half the guts of Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who signed the Negro Leagues stars and launched his franchise to the top?

 

No doubt, the question loomed large in the minds of Chicago Defender writers in May 1949 as the Cubs slogged through another dismal campaign. Robinson and Campanella had just helped the Dodgers twice clobber the Cubs, inspiring a Defender to take a jab at Wrigley:  “Some years ago when efforts were made to get Negroes in major league ball clubs, the stock reply was that the public had to be ‘educated’ before this could happen. Branch Rickey, who is the kind of American that keeps democracy alive, simply hired Jackie Robinson and told those who did not like it to lump it. Now this is the kind of ‘education’ that really educates.”

 

The columnist continued: “Incidentally, the Cubs got two powerful lessons last week out at Wrigley field and the two professors were Robinson and Campanella.”

 

***

 

In the 1950s, the Cubs brought on board African-American star Ernie Banks, but their record still remained dismal. As I read through Steve Bogira’s article, I was struck by a couple Arkansas ties. I present them here simply for the sake of trivia:

  • Banks convinced Arkansas City, Ark. native John Johnson, the publisher of Ebony and Jet, to buy Cubs season tickets for a year in the 1960s. “To Banks’s knowledge, Johnson was the Cubs’ first African-American season-ticket holder. But not long after Banks sold him the pair of tickets, Johnson ‘called me and said, ‘Ernie, I gotta cancel my tickets. I can’t get nobody to go with me!’”
  • In 1964, the Cubs traded El Dorado, Ark. native Lou Brock (a future Hall of Famer) to St. Louis for Ernie Broglio, a pitcher who would win six games in two seasons. It has gone down as one the worst trades in baseball history. While some of the Cubs’ reasoning involved Brock’s subpar fielding, prejudice also played a role, according to an essay written by former Cubs coach Buck O’Neil.

When general manager John Holland was deliberating on the move, O’Neil warned him not to trade Brock away. Holland’s response involved pulling out a mass of letters from season-ticket holders. Complaints about the increasing number of black players signed by the Cubs filled them. O’Neil recalled Holland saying some of the fans wrote: “What are you trying to make the Chicago Cubs into? The Kansas City Monarchs?”

 

Nick Saban On Why Alabama Consistently Gets Hosed By Ole Miss

And other insights from the Alabama football head coach from the transcript of his 15th SEC Media Day appearance


Not exactly what Mark Stoops experiences

NICK SABAN: The one thing that I will miss is I’m usually up here responding to some barb from Coach [Steve] Spurrier, who is no longer with us and is retired, and probably playing a lot of golf, which we just wish he and Jerri the very best in the future. He’s made a tremendous impact on the game and I’m sure will continue to do that with his leadership and deeds and actions even though he’s not coaching.

Verne Lundquist who is the only person that I know, and there may be somebody else out there in the media or somewhere, that has spanned my entire career. Verne tells my wife Terry about a game that I was coaching at Kent State when I was first coaching 40-some years ago that he actually covered. So he — and he’s done a tremendous amount for the SEC on CBS in terms of the great job that he’s done with his telecast, and we wish him very well after this season, because this will be his last…

One of the very difficult experiences for us this summer was the terrible flood in West Virginia, which is where we’re from. And I think you probably all know we made a statement about trying to get some equipment for I think seven high schools that lost just about everything. So anything that you all could do to promote that to get equipment for these young people so that they’ll be able to participate and have a season this year, because otherwise they won’t, would certainly appreciated.

But after this week, our coaches will be back, and we’ll be making final preparations for our season. Our players report on August 3rd and we practice on August 4th, and we’re certainly looking forward to that. We continue to try to develop our players in so many ways, even over the summer, where we have all of our players now for summer school in terms of personal development programs, whether it’s mental conditioning for success, peer intervention for behavioral issues, leadership, communication, all of these things that create value in players that help them be more successful in life, and obviously academics is a big part of that.

We’re really, really proud of what we’ve been able to do to create a very positive history of academic success with our players in terms of — I think our graduation rate is well over 80 percent for several years now. One of the tops in the country, one of the leaders in the conference. Also a number of graduates that participate in playoff and bowl games and championship games. Last year we had 29. Three guys who already had master’s degrees, guys out there playing against Clemson that already had their degrees. I think we’ve been the leader in that regard for the past three years as well…

I’m really proud of the players that we have here representing our team. Jonathan Allen and Eddie Jackson on defense. Both players will graduate in December. O.J. Howard, who has already graduated and working on a master’s degree in sports medicine. All three of these players probably could have gone out for the draft and chose to stay in school and sort of enhance their draft status as well as finish their education or continue their education…

Our team has had a very good offseason. I’ve been very pleased with the progress that we made. We obviously lost some really, really good players from last year’s championship team, good leadership, good people. Great team chemistry. All things that are intangibles that are difficult to build, and our challenge is to recognize as they develop, because those things just don’t happen overnight. You know, it’s a work in progress. And it’s certainly been the case with our team this year.

But a year ago I didn’t know that we were going to have that kind of team chemistry when I stood up here and talked to you. I didn’t know we would have that kind of commitment. I didn’t know we would respond to adversity the way we did. And even though we’re trying to work on creating those things with the personality of this team, we don’t know that for sure either. But I’ve been pleased with the progress that we’ve made in the offseason, the spring practice that we had, the summer conditioning program.

We obviously had some challenges. For the third year in a row, I’m standing up here talking about somebody’s going to be a new quarterback for us. Somebody’s got to win that job. Somebody’s got to win the team. You know, that has not necessarily happened yet and, you know, I’m not going to sit up here and sort of try to, you know — I don’t know the right word, but give you some statistics on who’s winning the race and how the race is going and who’s ahead, are they on the back stretch or in the final turn. That’s something that’s going to happen probably in fall camp. I hope in fall camp.

We have three starters back on the offensive line, which is a good start of building a good nucleus there, and we have some good young players that can develop at that position. You know who our receivers are, and we have a pretty talented group. This is the first time for many, many years that we have not had an experienced, talented running back who has proven his value, whether it was way back when Glen Coffee played, it was Mark Ingram. Mark Ingram came back and played with Trent Richardson. Trent Richardson played with Eddie Lacy. Eddie Lacy played with T.J. Yeldon. T.J. Yeldon played with Derrick Henry.

We always had one of those guys coming back. This year we lost both guys in Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. This will provide opportunity, even though they are less experienced, for some other players who are talented players to have a chance to succeed at that position.

Continue reading Nick Saban On Why Alabama Consistently Gets Hosed By Ole Miss

Top 10 Most Lucrative Single-Year Salaries in NBA History

Mike Conley, Jr. shares his thoughts on inking a deal bringing him $34.5 million in one season.

Mike Conley, Sr. could hardly believe it.

Same with his son, professional point guard Mike Conley. Jr. The two were looking at a five-year contract offer from Memphis owner Robert Pera sent to Jr. early in the free agent signing period. Surely, the Conleys’ eyes got a little bigger with each figure, one larger than the next, as they scanned the contract. The number attached to the last year, though, was the kicker.

“We were looking at the fifth year and I was talking to my dad and saying ‘That number can’t be right,’ Conley recalled to the Memphis Commercial  Appeal. “I never thought a day in my life that that number would be reasonable.”

The number?

And the reason? The main reason is that Conley, like a lot of other good-but-not-great players, find themselves very lucky to be free agents this summer. They are negotiating with teams with money to burn after their salary caps were raised in the wake of two events:

a) a recent TV contract agreement that will pour $26 billion dollars in the NBA coffers over the next nine years

b) a collective bargaining agreement more friendly toward players which puts half of all league revenue into their pockets

This means the floodgates have opened on a bonanza that is rewriting the record books. Below are the top one-year salaries in the history of NBA contracts*, according to sportrac.

Essentially, these are the most lucrative years in the most lucrative multi-year contracts.

Name, Season, Amount

  • Mike Conley, 2020-21, $34,502,130
  • Damian Lillard, 2020-21, $34,502,130
  • Michael Jordan, 1997-98, $33,140,000
  • DeMar DeRozan, 2020-21, $32,782,609
  • Kobe Bryant, 2013-14, $30,453,805
  • Al Horford, 2019-20, $30,123,014
  • Bradley Beal, 2020-21, $28,751,775
  • Anthony Davis, 2020-21, $28,751,775
  • Andre Drummond, 2020-21, $28,751,775
  • Carmelo Anthony, 2018-19, $27,928,140
  • Kevin Durant, 2017-18, $27,734,405
  • Nicolas Baturn, 2020-21, $27,130,435
  • Hassan Whiteside, 2019-20, $27,093,019
  • Chris Bosh, 2018-19, $26,837,720

*Agreed upon or signed

Conley, who grew up in Fayetteville, Ark., hasn’t yet specified what he’ll do with his windfall other than probably buy a new car for his mother. He’s found out the contract has certainly made him more of a celebrity in Memphis. “It doesn’t hit me as much until I go out in public,” he told the Commercial Appeal’s Ronald Tillery. “It’s like I became famous overnight. It’s like people all know the number.”

He credited Grizzly leadership for helping cement his decision to re-sign through “a great draft” and the signing of highly sought 6’10” forward Chandler Parsons. “He’s giving us something we haven’t had in a while as far as playmaking and shooting ability from that position,” Conley told Tillery.

While the money’s nice, Conley says he is far more driven to complete a mission he’s held with Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol for more than half a decade now. “I want to win a championship and that’s the expectation of every guy on this team. Nothing less. We understand that we’re within a window to win.”

Ali & George Foreman: “The silent hulking brute becomes America’s sweetheart”

This is Part 2 of a fascinating discussion between sports commentator Dave Zirin and sportswriter Robert Lipstye on the proud socio-cultural legacy of Muhammad Ali. Check out Part 1 here.

The below originally aired on Zirin’s Edge of Sports show.

Zirin: You ever think about this? You talked about it being Shakespearean and whatnot. Ever notice how George Foreman, Frazier, Larry Holmes, these were not big talkers, but they became big talkers in retirement. While Ali loses his speech, almost like his powers were sent to the people he vanquished, or that they vanquished him. I always found that to be almost too cinematic for words as well.

I don’t know — I just thought I’d throw that out there to you.

Robert Lipsyte: It’s a beautiful thought.

Dave Zirin: You’ve met Larry Holmes a million times, he’s the funniest guy in any rooms he’s in, and he certainly wasn’t that when he was a boxer.

Robert Lipsyte: Yeah, and think of George Foreman.

Dave Zirin: Oh my God, that’s the ultimate one. The silent hulking brute becomes America’s sweetheart.

You know it's true.
                   You know it’s true.

Robert Lipsyte: Yeah. One thing is George, it was the end of an interview. He had been very warm and open. I said, “How did he feel that he was an accomplice in the physical destruction of Muhammad Ali?” Of what he was now.

He said, “I think about the great war heroes and how we honor them and see them take out their glass eye or remove their prosthetic arm, and we can only be grateful that they sacrificed so much for us. That’s the way I feel about Muhammad Ali.” I go, “Whoa, where did that come from?” I mean, maybe your idea of Ali transferring his energy and poetics to those he had beaten is part of that.

Dave Zirin: I gotta say, my favorite George Foreman moment is I interviewed him and I said, “What did you think the first time you learned who Muhammad Ali was?” He said, “We were terrified in my poor neighborhood in Houston because the heavyweight champ was a black Muslim.” I said, “Oh, you didn’t like Muslims?” He said, “No, we didn’t know what Muslims were. We were terrified he was calling himself black. We were Negroes!”

Robert Lipsyte: (laughs) That’s wonderful.

Dave Zirin: What was the experience like the first time you ever saw Muhammad Ali? Or I should say Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. — what was your impression?

Robert Lipsyte: I did not see him alone, as you know. The reason I had been sent to cover that first Liston fight was that at the time most everybody thought that he would be knocked out in the first round and they didn’t want to waste the time of a real reporter, so send a kid — that was me. I had yet to meet him.

I went up to the 5th street gym at the same time that The Beatles showed up for a photo op. Ali, Cassius Clay, had not yet arrived so the five of us were shoved in a deserted dressing room and the door was locked. I was the fifth beetle for that 15 minutes. They were very angry. They were really not quite The Beatles yet. They were very angry at being trapped like this. They banged on the walls and cursed.

I interviewed them and I asked them what they thought of the fight. They said, “Oh, that wanker’s going to be knocked out in the first round.” They banged and cursed and kicked at the door. Then suddenly the door burst open and the five of us in unison gasped, because there before us was the most beautiful creature we had ever seen, and probably would ever see.

He was big, he was broad, he was glowing, he was laughing. He was just gorgeous. We fell silent and he stuck his head in the room and he said, “Come on, Beatles, let’s go make some money.” Then he led them out to the ring.

…Tell your listeners to go to YouTube, type in Cassius Clay and The Beatles and you’ll see these pictures. He led them into the ring, they lined up, he tapped the first one, they all went down like dominoes. They leaped up, they formed a pyramid so that they could reach up and pretend to hit his jaw. If I hadn’t known that they had never met before I would’ve thought it was all choreographed. For five or 10 minutes it was this thrilling little play of the 5 most famous people on the planet. Then it was over.

Continue reading Ali & George Foreman: “The silent hulking brute becomes America’s sweetheart”

Golden State’s Greatest Team of All-Time Hopes are on Life Support

Golden State has much on the line when it faces Cleveland on the road in Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals. Still ahead in the series, a loss won’t cost Golden State its season. But it will extinguish any lingering hope the team’s fans have of laying claim to Greatest of All-Time status over the ‘96 Bulls. The Cavs are 2-point favorites on Thursday night, according to online NBA sportsbook odds, but they can likely keep M.J.’s Bulls safe by simply not losing by more than 25 points.

Read on to see how.

 

Prologue 

At its core, matching great NBA teams across eras against each other is a quixotic task. Important rules change, leading the way to an evolution of the game itself. For instance, the game which the Chicago Bulls dominated in the mid-90s was a more physical one where defenders could hand, forearm and body-check their opponents. In that time, a zone defense was an illegal one. You had to either guard your man straight up or double the man with the ball.

All this changed in the early to mid 2000s with new rules that forbade all the rough defensive tactics as well as eliminating the “illegal defense” rule itself, allowing only a defensive three-second violation to remain. Essentially, this meant that zone defense was now allowed everywhere except in the paint. These rules led to such profound shifts in the fabric of the NBA game that it’s best to divide the “modern era” of basketball into separate epochs: pre-zone and zone.

Stu Jackson, former executive vice president of basketball operations for the NBA, and other leaders wanted to create more free-flowing offenses. Looking back in 2009, he told NBA.com “With the rule and interpretation changes, it has become more difficult for defenders to defend penetration, cover the entire floor on defensive rotations and recover to shooters.”

“This has provided more time for shooters to ready themselves for quality shots. With more dribble penetration, ball handlers are getting more opportunities at the rim. Additionally, teams now realize the 3-point shot is a great competitive equalizer, so they are taking more.”

By far, the best team of the zone epoch has been this season’s Golden State Warriors, a team which has exemplified the three-point evolution to which Jackson referred better than any other.  This year the Warriors shattered multiple offensive efficiency records, won 73 games in the regular season — most all-time — and are ahead 3-2 against Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals.

But are they better than the best pre-zone team — the ‘96 Bulls?

Continue reading Golden State’s Greatest Team of All-Time Hopes are on Life Support

Muhammad Ali: “not a countercultural hero sprung from the loins of Jesus”

And other insights from renowned journalist Robert Lipsyte, who knew Ali for 55 years.

 

Of all the obituaries which have run this week about the singular life of Muhammad Ali, perhaps the greatest belongs to a New York Times writer who knew Ali for decades.

Below is an interview between that writer, Robert Lipsyte, and preeminent sports commentator Dave Zirin on Edge of Sports. The below, Part 1 of 2, is lightly edited and condensed.

…You’ve been associated with Muhammad Ali, I was thinking about this, for 55 years almost. What have the days since his passing been like for you?

Robert Lipsyte: You know what’s interesting, Dave, I’ve gotten hundreds of emails since the obit ran and I would say the overwhelming number of them are offering consolation for my grieving process, and mentioning that they had spotted him once in an elevator, he had given them a hug from across the room. It’s so hard to separate the symbolic political figure that’s powerful shaper, in a sense, of our times, from this glowing human being who made these incredible little connections with almost everybody that he ever came in contact with.

Dave Zirin: Wow. What was your reaction when you heard he passed?

Robert Lipsyte: It’s been a bizarre period because it’s been so many years since we’ve really heard him and since he’s been Ali, that at first his death felt like a formality. But the grief has been so overpowering and the remembrances, it really was like the world stopped. You’re right, but it was a combination. On the one hand as far as I’m concerned, he’s not dead. The memories, the photographs, the legacy. He’s all still there.

On the other hand, whatever grieving process there was, that was over a few years ago. He hasn’t been Muhammad Ali for some time. Coming to grips with the incredible Greek tragedy, Shakespearean, I don’t know what would you call it, irony, of this most noble and loquacious man on the planet suddenly struck dumb and twisted into an immobile hulk. It’s terrible to even think about it.

That, of course, began to be quite evident 20 years ago at the ’96 Olympics where with that shaking hand he lit the torch. The hot wax flowed back, burnt him. He never winced or showed that.

We’ve seen for some time his retreat from the camera and from the public view, until he just became invisible to so many. I hadn’t seen him for several years. Even then, it was remarkable. I would try to ask him a question, he would put his mouth to my ear and mumble something that was absolutely incomprehensible, and his wife from across the room would speak for 5 minutes and tell me what he had just said.

She really became the curator of that legend. Not to make fun of that, because I thought that’s a very well structured paragraph that he could not have written at his zenith attacking Donald Trump for Trump’s suggestion that the government keep all the Muslims out was wonderful.

Dave Zirin: Can I ask you, we talk about this idea of Greek tragedy for me. I know I’m projecting my own politics onto the tragedy here, but this idea of someone who spoke so eloquently against war, finds himself unable to speak, his face an expressionless mask, being led to George W Bush who puts a medal around his neck.

This idea of does Muhammad Ali, A — Does he know what’s happening right now? B — Does he agree with what’s happening right now? And C — is there an issue of consent here in terms of him being in the White House and getting this medal from George Bush?

Robert Lipsyte: That’s a wonderful question. Also maybe goes to the heart of something you and I have talked about so many times about Muhammad Ali as this magnetic slate on which we can put our wishes, hopes, bumper stickers, on.

Who really knows? Who really knows what went on inside. Even from the very beginning, his closest biographer Tom Hauser, spend an awful lot of time with him. Probably more concentrated time than anybody in the ’90s when he was writing that big oral biography.

I always felt that Ali was stunted emotionally, that he probably had reached the level of a 12 year old. So much of what he did and said was the quick study of a somewhat innocent mind, a child-like mind. He was capable of things that we would interpret, but exactly what did they mean?

Continue reading Muhammad Ali: “not a countercultural hero sprung from the loins of Jesus”