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Two Games Are Not Enough for Ray Rice

404px-Baltimore_Ravens_logo.svgI had the two feelings upon hearing about the “punishment” Ray Rice received for assaulting his then-fiancée.

Disgust and shame.

I was (and still am) disgusted that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed Rice what I felt was a light punishment – a slap on the wrist no less.  I was (and still am) disgusted that violence against women is not taken as as seriously as violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

And I do not care if Josh Gordon was a repeat offender in the substance abuse department – he didn’t knock out any women along the way.

And by the way, I am also disgusted that this young sister decided to become Rice’s wife.  What message will that send to their child?  That it’s ok for a man to strike a woman when engaged in a quarrel?  That it’s ok for a woman to accept abuse from a man acting strictly on cowardice?

I felt shame for being an rabid fan of a league that is run by a commissioner who obviously could give two damns about violence against women.  I felt shame for being a fan of a team (the Steelers) whose starting quarterback has a history of sexual assault against women, though he has never been charged.

And while the uproar over that “punishment” is growing louder, there are people out there – mainly men – who have come to Rice’s defense.

I’ve heard the tired chorus: “we didn’t know what happened on the elevator.”  Another gem I’ve heard was “maybe she provoked him by hitting him first”.

Those folks needed to be drug-tested, plain and simple.

What if that young lady was a sister or daughter of theirs’?  Would those same morons still cling to those same stupid-ass arguments?  I’m guessing that would not be the case.

There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that justifies a man putting his hands on a woman.  Even if Rice’s fiancée at the time was throwing haymakers at him, that still does not give him – or any man – the right to strike a woman.

There were many ways that Rice could have prevented the situation from escalating (and yes, the responsibility lies on the man to be the bigger person).  Talk it out.  Listen to her.  Once she starts swinging grab her arms and wrap her up.  Last I checked, dude is an NFL player who takes punishment from defenders for a living.  There was no way in hell a girl that slight in frame could get out of his arms if he wrapped her up.

I am concerned that there are some powerful men in this league who did not send the proper message to Rice for his actions.  Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh, while saying mostly the right things in his press conference concerning Rice, clumsily said that Rice is “one heck of a guy.”  Really coach?

And why haven’t Ravens ownership stepped in where Goodell failed by adding more games to the suspension followed by a hefty fine to be donated to women’s shelters in the Baltimore area?  The team is allowed to suspend a player up to four games per the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Maybe they will, though I am not holding my breath.

And speaking of Goodell, he had a chance to make a strong statement to the players and society at large: that the NFL does – and will always – take violence against women seriously.  If he is as serious as he lead on concerning growing a female fan base, he may have embarked on pissing away that opportunity.

And that in and of itself is a damn shame.

Soccer Has Staying Power in the U.S.

719px-WC-2014-Brasil.svgFirst, let’s give props to the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team for its performance in the 2014 World Cup.

To those anti-soccer folks, sure the Americans lost to Belgium in the first stage of the Knockout Round.  Sure the Americans finished with a 1-2-1 record.  I get that all of that.

HOWEVER (channeling my inner Stephen A. Smith), those folks have to realize that the Americans were not expected to do but so well at the World Cup.  Hell, they weren’t even supposed to advance past the Group Stage.

I mean, the U.S. was stuck in Group G with Germany (a finalist who just curb-stomped host Brazil), Portugal (with Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players in the world) and nemesis Ghana (who eliminated the Americans from the last two World Cups).  Fans and the media dubbed that group “The Group of Death” for a reason.

But thanks to gritty play and excellent leadership from coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the Americans not only played well – they advanced and nearly won their group in the process.

Now that the U.S. has been eliminated from the World Cup, what now?  Will people in the U.S. still watch the World Cup in record numbers?  Will Americans give two damns about soccer?

Before I continue, let me first say that I had long been an anti-soccer dude.  I have gone out of my way in the past to discredit soccer, dismissing it by saying “it’s not a sport, but an excuse to riot”.  I even bagged on soccer fans for being so damn deranged and crazy (in the RHOA sense). And while I still think some soccer fans are WAY too passionate for my comfort, I have to give soccer its due.

I think that not only soccer has caught on with the American public, but I think the sport has staying power.

Let me first acknowledge that soccer is still a niche sport in this country.  I get that.  It will never be football (NFL nor college), basketball, baseball nor even golf.

However, I do think that it’s almost as big as NASCAR and has done laps around hockey in this country.

If the ratings from the World Cup has taught us anything (Google it), it’s that soccer has caught on in this country from an interest standpoint.  There were HUGE watch parties around the nation tuning into the USMNT’s matches.  Even casual fans were watching World Cup matches not involving the U.S.

Now that soccer has officially caught on in the U.S., here is how it could have any more staying power.  It first has to develop big name talent.

Sports fans tune in to see the big names.  Check out the ratings the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga pull in this country.  Casual soccer fans such as myself want to watch stars such as Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, serial biter Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi do their thing on the soccer pitch.  If this country produces big name talent to go along with the likes of stud goalkeeper Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, more Americans will care.

Another thing that needs to happen is that Major League Soccer has to improve – a lot.

Let’s be honest here, the MLS is at best AAA minor league baseball compared to the European Leagues.  Washed-up European stars play in the MLS.  You couldn’t pay soccer purists in this country to watch it.

Now I know there are some MLS teams that draw well (the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and LA Galaxy lead the MLS in attendance), and that’s good for the league.  It’s just that the American public does not tune into minor-league shit.

The last thing I think needs to happen is that the MLS needs to somehow convince UEFA (governing body of the Premier League, La Liga, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1 and Dutch Eredivisie) to allow regular season matches (and more friendlies) between its teams and UEFA’s.  It’s a long shot to be sure, but with the right power brokers in this country (tycoons including some NFL, NBA, and MLB owners could have a stake in this) things could happen.  After all, they say “money talks” for a reason.

Even if my second idea does not come to fruition, soccer still has further ingratiated itself with the American sports fan.  More kids are playing it, and the older generations of naysayers are slowly dying out.

Move over Europe and South America!  North America has entered the soccer club.

2014 NFL Draft: First Round Thoughts

NFL

The first round of the NFL Draft came and went (FINALLY).  From what I saw, I have more than a few observations.

Shall we go? …

The Houston Texans made the right pick in Clowney.  Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  I have one thing to say to that: bravo Houston!  Let’s examine this closely.  The Texans are getting an uber-talented pass rusher in Clowney to go with another stud pass rusher in J.J. Watt.  On a team with several needs (Houston did finish 2-14, you know?), getting a stud pass rusher was not a bad start.

If the Texans want to make some noise in the AFC South again, they have to beat Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.  Now Luck will have his head on a swivel with both Watt AND Clowney coming after him on the pass rush.  And anyone who understands Football 101 will tell you the key to a good turnover machine playmaking defense is having a good-to-great pass rush.

Now Houston can focus on getting their quarterback of the future – Derek Carr, come on down!

That St. Louis defense is going to be VERY nasty.  In what had to be one of the biggest surprises in last night’s draft, the St. Louis Rams drafted Aaron Donald from Pitt.  The Rams’ defensive line depth chart will now look like this: Chris Long, Donald, Kendall Langford, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn.  Dayum!  As I said with the Texans, the key to a having a good playmaking defense is a good pass rush.  With those five defensive linemen, there should be no need for the Rams to blitz – EVER.

How about that NFC West?  All four teams – Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and Rams – have hellafied defenses.

The Jacksonville Jaguars obviously do not know what the hell they are doing.  Blake Bortles with the #3 overall pick – when they could have had Johnny Manziel?  Really?  See, this is the reason why the Jaguars are the Jaguars.  For some reason Jacksonville felt as though Blaine Gabbert wasn’t bad enough, so why not draft Bortles?

Look, I know that Bortles has the measurables.  He has been compared with Big Ben Roethlisberger because of his size (6’4″ 230-plus lbs).  And more importantly, he has a smoking hot side piece.  But Bortles does not pass the smell test with me, certainly not enough to be drafted #3 overall.

It’s as if those cats were listening to Ron Jawkorski and company on ESPN hyping Bortles and downgrading Manziel.  Speaking of which, the Jags will rue the day they passed up Johnny Football for Blaine Gabbert Part II.

I’m going to pray for Johnny Manziel.  I’m happy that Johnny Football got drafted.  I’m one of the few who thinks he will make an impact in the NFL.  I’m just sad that he got drafted by the Cleveland Browns.  While the Browns have a capable offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan who knows a thing or two about working with mobile QBs (see Robert Griffin III), there is no need to believe that Manziel will succeed where others such as Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden failed.  Simply put, Cleveland is where QBs go to die.

You are in my prayers Johnny…

Something Ain’t Right about DeSean Jackson’s Release

NFLThere are times where I step back and wonder aloud “something ain’t right”.

The Philadelphia Eagles cutting DeSean Jackson last Friday is one of those times.  This comes on the same day reports surfaced of his alleged gang activity/support via the website NJ.com.

Look, I understand that Jackson was, according to most “in the know”, a royal pain in the ass.  I’ve seen his histrionics on the field, most notably when he blew up at his position coach on the field at Oakland.  I do know that the Eagles have a plethora of talent on offense that could make head coach Chip Kelly’s offense thrive in stud LeSean “Shady” McCoy, a health Jeremy Maclin, newly acquired Darren Sproles, and the bigoted Riley Cooper.

I also know that Jackson committed the sin of wishing he was paid more after a home playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints.  That did not sit well with fans, and apparently not with Kelly as well.  Kelly figures that he now has more than enough talent on offense to move on from Jackson.

That said, I have a big problem with folks who intentionally sully a guy’s name.  First of all, that report in NJ.com had to come from the Eagles’ organization.  What would anyone else seek to gain from leaking Jackson’s alleged gang ties?

What makes this “leak” even more messed up is that Jackson’s childhood teachers, coaches and family friends all swore that he is not a member of – or even affiliated with – gangs.  While all of those folks would not say that he was a choir boy, they do not think he is a true gangster in any form or fashion.  Also, keep in mind that Jackson has never been arrested or even thought of to be a person of interest in any crime.

And let’s be honest about something here: do we REALLY think that Philly didn’t know about any suspicious off-field activities from Jackson before a few days ago?  Hell everyone knew that perceived character issues were reasons Jackson dropped into the second round to begin with.  So the report making the Eagles nervous is, frankly, bullshit to me.

It’s time for the Eagles organization to come correct.

If Kelly was tired of Jackson’s diva act and thinks that his offense would be just fine without Jackson, just say it.  If the Eagles’ front office didn’t think that Jackson was worth the huge cap number this season, just admit it.

Just don’t sully Jackson’s name for no reason.

Deep Thoughts on Free Agency: Week 1

NFLThe Baltimore Ravens made the best free agent move in bringing in Steve Smith.  I knew this was going to happen.  I had a very sick feeling in my stomach as soon as the Carolina Panthers made the head-scratching move in cutting Smith a few days ago.  Smith is still a very productive receiver who is always eager to prove people wrong and rub their faces in it.  He is also a guy who will bring attitude and swagger to a locker room.  The Panthers fed off of his intensity for the majority of his career.  And now, unfortunately, that attitude will do nothing but help the Ravens.

The Ravens missed that attitude and swagger when they let Anquan Boldin go for pennies last off-season.  You could tell how bad they missed him during their 8-8 season.  Now Smith’s swagger will help a receiving core that features Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones.  Great move for Baltimore, bad news to the rest of the AFC North (especially for my Steelers).

Speaking of Carolina…

What in the hell are the Panthers doing?  It wasn’t just that Carolina let Smith go.  It was HOW the team bungled it.  General manager Dave Gettleman disrespected Smith and denigrated his accomplishments at the NFL Combine.  Gettleman said that Smith would become a distraction in the locker room.  Gettleman allowed the news to leak that the team was trying to trade Smith – without having a conversation with Smith.  Smith wasn’t even offered to take a pay cut.  Now the Panthers are in the midst of dealing with a PR disaster.

And Smith’s release alone is not troubling.  Tedd Ginn, Jr signed with the Arizona Cardinals.  Charlotte native Hakeem Nicks spurned the Panthers and signed with the Indianapolis Colts.  Domenik Hixon signed with Chicago.  Brandon LaFell is testing the free agent market.  Who in the hell can QB Cam Newton throw the ball to?

Anyone?  Bueller???

Packers’ pass rush improved with Julius Peppers signing.  The Packers were moribund on defense, and their pass rush suffered after injuries to Clay Matthews and others.  Peppers is a feared pass rusher who will help the Packers immensely.  Peppers on one side and Matthews rushing the passer from the other – scary.

By the way, Peppers leaving the Bears for the arch-rival Packers goes to show how NFL free agency has killed any sense of loyalty.

Deep Thoughts on Day #2 of NFL Free Agency

NFL“We are the New England Patriots, and you’re not…”  That’s what Pats fans are at least thinking today.  Their team pulled off what I think is the biggest NFL free agent heist to date.  Forget Aquib Talib, right?  This is turning into an awesome arms race between the Patriots and the Denver Broncos.  It’s good to see Peyton Manning help bring his disdain for the Pats to Denver.

At any rate, Revis replaces Talib – and is seen as an upgrade for only one year and $12 million.  If Revis could live up to the contract, then he’ll be in store for another payday.  And the Patriots stand to benefit in a huge way if Revis could live up to the contract.

Credit to the Patriots organization to once again proving why it is the gold standard in the NFL.  I’ll tell you what, if the Pats manage to land Steve Smith (if the Panthers are indeed stupid enough to release him), then expect Tom Brady to twerk his pretty-boy ass all over Boston.

Browns rid themselves of Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.  Whoever thought that Weeden was the answer to the QB problems in Cleveland, then what the hell was the question?  This just in: Weeden got on a wide-open plane, and still couldn’t complete a pass to an empty seat.  Uh anyway, Campbell, while serviceable, was obviously not the answer as well.  Cleveland obviously has had a hard time getting its QB situation together.  It has become a place (as well as Oakland) where QBs come to die.

In the meantime, Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel – come on down!

Eagles offense becomes scarier with the acquisition of Darren Sproles.  Damn, how in the hell do you defend this offense?  DeSean Jackson and “Riley the Bigot” Cooper at wideout.  Lesean McCoy toting the rock at running back.  Now defenses in the NFC East have to worry about containing Darren Sproles on third down?

In New Orleans, Sproles was the ultimate match-up nightmare for defensive coordinators.  He will also excel on special teams.  Hell with head coach Chip Kelly leading the way, Philly might become “New Orleans North”.

Now if only the Eagles could find a defense…

Deep Thoughts on the First Day of NFL Free Agency

NFLNFL free agency is here, which means I can start talking football again.  WHOO HOO!!!  I will be sharing my thoughts throughout the free agency period, starting today.

Let’s go…

San Francisco made a good move in trading for Jonathan Martin.  This is a win-win for both sides.  First of all, Martin gets a second chance to get his once-promising career back on track.  He played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and several of his assistants when they were at Stanford.  Harbaugh has been a champion for Martin. He vouched for Martin in the Wells report that examined the bullying case.  What better cheerleader a player could have than the head coach?

The 49ers also get a talented offensive lineman in Martin.  He will provide valuable depth to an already great offensive line.  It doesn’t hurt that Martin was a second-round draft pick.  It also doesn’t hurt that the 49ers have a stable, professional locker room whose players condemned what went down in Miami.

Bottom line: Martin 1, Richie Incognito 0.

Denver is loading up for another Super Bowl run.  The Broncos signed former New England cornerback Aqib Talib to a six-year, $57 million contract last night.  Talib was not only the Patriots best corner – he was the best corner in the free agent market.  Couple this with the news of Denver bringing in former Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware, I’d have to considered the Broncos the huge favorite to represent the AFC again in the Super Bowl.  The defense was Denver’s weak link, and Talib (and maybe Ware) will make it considerably stronger.

Okay Peyton Manning, you have no excuses for coming up short this coming season.

Pittsburgh is off to a good start in getting younger in its secondary.  My Steelers made an unusual early free-agent splash, signing former Carolina safety Mike Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract.  This confirms that my Steelers weren’t just willing to address their defensive backfield through the draft.  I am happy to see the Steelers getting serious about getting younger on defense.  The defense lost many games last season, and the Mitchell signing is a step in the right direction.  Pittsburgh gets a 27-year-old starter who was a play-maker for the Panthers last season – a younger version of Troy Polamalu.

Steeler Nation is rejoicing.

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