Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Here's hoping this year's Top Turkey doesn't choke on his candied yams

This is my 20th annual Turkey of the Year Countdown, and it would have been easy to choose America’s orange-hued dear leader for the top spot.

After all, Donald Trump engaged in Twitter wars with (among others) Steph Curry, Roger Goodell, LeBron James, Draymond Green, and about half of the players in the NFL. And that’s in addition to the Pathological Liar-In-Chief’s many non-sports-related bouts of incompetence, ignorance and hubris.

However, I want to keep this about sports, not politics. That’s especially the case given that I gave my 2016 Turkey “honors” to ex-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, whose decision to back the infamous (and since repealed) “bathroom bill” cost his state the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and numerous other sporting events that would have brought millions of dollars to the economy. Ultimately, that unwise move cost him his job.

So unlike 2017 voters who used Trump’s presence in the White House as a rallying cry to spit on just about every orange-endorsed candidate, I’ll give our dear leader a pass here.


Before I begin this year’s Turkey Countdown, let’s review the previous “winners” (and by that, I mean losers):

Mike McCaskey (1998); Jerry Krause (1999); Bobby Knight (2000); David Wells and Frank Thomas (2001); Dick Jauron (2002); Sammy Sosa (2003 and 2004); Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker (2005); Aramis Ramirez (2006); Charlie Weis (2007); Choking Cubbies (2008); Milton Bradley (2009); Mark McGwire (2010); Joe Paterno and the Penn State Enablers (2011); U.S. Ryder Cup Team (2012); Alex Rodriguez (2013); Roger Goodell and Ray Rice (2014); Derrick Rose (2015); Pat McCrory (2016).

Alert readers will note that up until 2010, each of those Turkeys did his gobbling in Chicago and/or the Midwest. Because I columnized for the Copley newspaper group in Chicago, where the annual countdown got its start under my predecessor and friend, the late, great Gene Seymour, I naturally favored that region. Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.


Without further ado, here are this year’s top dopes, douchebags, hypocrites, haters, chokers, cheaters … and plain old luckless lugs. Appropriately (and for the first time ever), we start with candidates from Turkey!

15. TURKEY YOUTH HOCKEY PROGRAM. That its representative in the European Youth Olympic Festival lost to traditional power Russia is hardly surprising. But how ‘bout this: The final score was 42-0. Again, folks, that’s hockey, not football!

14. MATTHEW FISHER-DAVIS. Vanderbilt’s basketball star thought his team was losing its NCAA tournament game by a point, so he intentionally fouled Northwestern's Bryant McIntosh. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt actually had been winning by 1. McIntosh made both free throws to give Northwestern a victory in its first-ever NCAA tourney game, and Fisher-Davis – who otherwise played superbly – joined Chris Webber and Freddie Brown in the kind of club (all-time boneheaded tourney playmakers) no athlete wants to join.

13. JOHN ELWAY. It's hard to be a brilliant team-builder when you haven't given your team a legit QB. Maybe Elway can come out of retirement. Hey, I hear Tim Tebow is still available!

12. JOHAN CAMARGO. The shortstop actually was having a decent rookie season for the Atlanta Braves until he hyperextended his knee while jogging onto the field in August. It happened while he was superstitiously trying to grab a small handful of dirt as he took the field. "I do the same thing every time," he said. This time, however, he admitted it was "bad luck."

11. JOEL BERRY. The North Carolina point guard broke a bone in his right hand when he slammed it into a door after suffering a video-game defeat. (Otherwise, it was all good for Berry and his mates, though. They won the national title and the NCAA inexplicably let them get away with massive academic fraud.)

10. KYLE SCHWARBER. The lovable Cubbie outfielder was the talk of the town in 2016 after he unexpectedly returned from injury to help his team break its 108-year curse. But reality took over in '17, as he had an almost impossible stat line - 150 K, 30 HR and 59 RBI in 422 AB - and the Cubs flamed out in the playoffs. Mad scientist/manager Joe Maddon even batted him leadoff for awhile ... and I can see why. After all, "Schwarbs," who has the blazing speed of a pachyderm, had a .315 on-base percentage, good for 353rd in the majors. But hey, at least he fields his position like a guy with 10 thumbs and 3 left feet.

9. JOE GIRARDI. The Yankees' manager failed to challenge a phantom hit-by-pitch in the ALDS, leading to a game-turning grand slam for the Indians. To Girardi's credit, the next day he admitted, "I screwed up," and his team rallied from a 2-game deficit to win the series. But after the Yankees blew a 3-2 series lead to Houston in the ALCS, he was sent packing. Given that the Yankees hadn't won a title since 2009 - his second season - I'm surprised he lasted that long. Had George Steinbrenner still run the team, Girardi would have been fired and rehired four times in that span.

8. CHRIS FOERSTER. He was forced to resign from his job as Miami Dolphins offensive line coach after a video surfaced showing him snorting coke through a rolled-up $20 bill. Cheapskate. I use hundies!

7. LOVIE SMITH. Heck of a job turning around the Fighting Illini football program. At this rate, they'll be contending for 12th place in the Big Ten in 2 or 3 years ... 4 tops!

6. CLAYTON KERSHAW. I really thought this would be the year that baseball's best pitcher would lead the Dodgers to that elusive championship. But he allowed 6 earned runs in the pivotal fifth game of the World Series, and the Dodgers couldn't recover. Unlike previous postseasons, Kershaw actually did quite well this time, but that performance will haunt him. It also was a rough postseason for several other star pitchers, including Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Dallas Keuchel and Chris Sale.

5. JERRY JONES. Months after voting to approve a contract extension for NFL commish Roger Goodell, the Cowboys' owner was threatening to sue the league over the extension. What possibly could have changed? Well, Goodell suspended Jones' star RB, Ezekiel Elliott, that's what. Jones threatened to bench any player who kneels during the national anthem ... but beat up women, as Elliott allegedly did and several former Cowboys also did over the years? Not a problem!

4. CHOKING WASHINGTON TEAMS. The government isn't the only thing that doesn't work right in the D of C. The Racist Name football team choked away a playoff spot; star Wizards PG John Wall spit the bit in a Game 7 playoff loss to Boston; the Capitals collapsed in the conference semifinals for the 6th time in 9 years; and the Nationals failed to get out of the first round of the postseason for the 4th time in 6 years (each time after winning at least 95 regular-season games). The Nats and Caps have never won a championship, the Wizards last won one in 1979 and the Racist Names have gone 26 years since winning the Super Bowl. Oh, and just a few days ago, the Racist Names had a 15-point lead with 3 minutes to go but still managed to lose to the Saints; at 4-6, put a fork in 'em again. 

3. LaVAR BALL. When LiAngelo Ball was one of three UCLA basketball players caught shoplifting in China, many were hoping he'd have to do hard time. Why? Not for any particular animosity folks have toward the kid. No, most of America hates Ball's boastful, narcissistic, boor of a father - which also is why so many NBA fans hope Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball fails. Just this week, LaVar whined that the Lakers don't know how to use Lonzo properly. He also ripped into Trump, who of course fired back on Twitter. Those two have so much in common, it's a shame to see them spat!

2. U.S. MEN'S SOCCER TEAM. All they needed was a tie against Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for the World Cup, but this motley crew couldn't pull it off, and so they will miss their sport's biggest event for the first time in decades. I'm 57 years old ... and I remember when I was kid ... and "everybody" was playing soccer ... and that was proof that the sport would overtake football, baseball and basketball in the hearts and minds of American sports fans. Stop laughing. Some people actually thought that was true! Of course, those are the same people who are enthralled by nil-nil friendlies between Kazakhstan and Luxembourg.

And now ... drumstick roll, please ... here is our 2017 Turkey of the Year:


After the Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 late-third-quarter lead to lose Super Bowl 51 to the Patriots, QB Matt Ryan said: "It's hard to find words."

Well, I'm always looking for ways to help, so here goes:

Chokers, dimwits, historic losers, chumps, turkeys ... shall I continue?

While he had plenty of company in the Turkey Dept. - from Ryan to head coach Dan Quinn, to inept offensive linemen, to ineffective defensive players, and so on - it was the Falcons' offensive coordinator, Shanahan, who ultimately made it possible for Tom Brady to complete perhaps the greatest big-game comeback in the history of major professional sports.

The Falcons still led 28-12 with only 8:31 to play when they faced a third-and-1 at their 36. If they get the yard to keep the drive alive, they almost surely win the game. Had they run the ball - as they had done well all game, averaging nearly 6 yards per carry - the very worst thing would have been getting stopped and punting 50 yards in the other direction.

But no. Shanahan - the "offensive genius" - called for Ryan to throw a bomb. As the slow play developed, Dont'a Hightower knocked Ryan into tomorrow, the ball came loose and the Pats recovered on the Atlanta 25. A blink of an eye later, Brady hit Danny Amandola for a TD, James White ran in for the 2-point conversion, and the Falcons' lead was down to 28-20 with 5:56 to play.

Now the Falcons had to try to move the ball, lest they turn it right back to Brady. And they did. A 39-yard screen pass got them going, and Ryan also hit Julio Jones, who made a great catch for 27 yards. With a first-and-10 at the New England 22, you almost can't lose the game. You run the ball three times up the middle, force the Pats to use their timeouts, and kick a 40-yard field goal for an 11-point lead. Done deal. Drop the confetti.

But no. After a first-down run lost a yard, Shanahan gambled with a pass play and Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. On the next play, Atlanta lineman Jake Matthews was called for holding, Ryan's 3rd-and-21 pass fell incomplete - stopping the clock, so the Patriots still had 2 timeouts left - and the Falcons had to punt.

Brady got the ball back at his own 9 with 3 1/2 minutes to go. Were there 100 people in all of America who didn't think he would march the Pats 91 yards for the tying score? That's exactly what happened - with time to spare.

Predictably, after the Pats won the OT coin toss, the Falcons' offense never got to touch the football. Brady led New England into position, and James White capped the amazing story with a 2-yard TD run. 

That evening, at the team hotel, Shanahan reportedly admitted, "I blew it." (Later, he said: "I don't know if I used those exact words, but that sounds like how I talk.")

Shanahan's 2017 "fun" wasn't finished, though! He left Atlanta to become the head coach of the sinking ship known as the San Francisco 49ers.

Through Thanksgiving, the Niners were 1-9, and their offense ranked near the bottom in almost every category.

Sounds like the genius has earned an extra helping of giblets and gravy!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Apologies from Cam Newton - and from the reporter he insulted

Cam Newton apologized Thursday for his sexist remarks of the day before. As these kinds of apologies go, it was a pretty good one.

I could have done without the obligatory "if I offended" line - you DID offend, Cam - and it would have been nice if he had mentioned the Charlotte Observer reporter by name: Jourdan Rodrigue

Otherwise, though, he seemed genuine, he wasn't reading from notes, he was contrite, he said "the joke is really on me," he mentioned his own daughters and the opportunities he hopes they have to be treated equally, and so on. 

These day-late, dollar-short apologies almost always leave the listener wanting, but Newton did about as well as he could. He was in serious damage-control mode, with one sponsor having already bailed (something he mentioned during his 2-minute speech) and others unhappy. 

Cam Newton certainly isn't "cured" from being a sexist, but he's only 28, and maybe this incident will be the first step toward some enlightenment for him. Most people don't change, but some do.


Meanwhile, in a unique twist, the reporter, Rodrigue, was discovered to have made some tweets 4-plus years ago that had overtones of racism. 

In two of the posts, she suggested that she was enjoying racist jokes her father was making. In the other, she quoted from a Twitter parody account in which the n-word was used. 

Obviously embarrassed given all that had transpired in the previous 24 hours, Rodrigue quickly apologized: "There is no excuse for these tweets and the sentiment behind them. I am deeply sorry."

Rodrigue was 21 when she sent those tweets. That's not an "excuse," just a fact. Most of us did many stupid things when we were only 21. Fortunately for those of us who are older than dirt, social media wasn't around to record everything we said and did or to tempt us into being publicly stupid. 

I mean, the most powerful person in the free world is a little older than 21 ... and he sends dozens of tweets per week that are falsehoods, moronic, sexist, racist, hypocritical, narcissistic, bellicose, or all of the above. Again, not an "excuse" for the reporter, as we all should strive to be better human beings than our dear leader is. (A low bar, indeed.)

Rodrigue has been reporting on the Panthers for about a year now, and I have been impressed with her work - and I am a darn tough grader. She is only 25, and I think she has a bright future. I am glad the Observer didn't overreact by disciplining her (or firing her!), and I hope this experience doesn't hurt her career. Like Cam, she can learn and grow from this.


If I were going to use this as a teaching moment for my kids - or any kids, not to mention plenty of adults - I'd say: 

Do NOT tweet or re-tweet (or Facebook or Instagram or Snap or whatever) anything that could come back to bite you on the tuchis someday ... because it probably will!


I know I'm glad that it isn't easy to come back at me with verifiable proof of some of the stupid crapola I said or did when I was 15 or 18 or 21 or 25 or 28. 

It's bad enough folks can cite all the stupid crapola I said this week!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

It's far easier to defend Cam Newton, the QB, than Cam Newton, the sexist

Picture this:

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is at a financial conference with 30 other well-to-do potential clients. During the Q&A session, he asks one of the experts on the panel: "I am interested a little in I-Bonds for safety, but won't I get a lot more growth if I stay primarily with equities?"

As Newton mentions "I-Bonds," the panelist starts to grin. It's not a friendly grin, but a smug, condescending smirk. The grin only grows as Cam goes on. Finally, when Cam is finished with his question, the expert, smiling broadly, responds:

"It's funny to hear a black guy talk about I-Bonds." 

He chuckles a little and repeats: "It's funny."

How would that fly in our racially charged climate? Not well. Not well at all. Nor should it - in any climate.

So I hope Newton is not surprised by the vitriol being directed his way after he condescendingly dismissed a legitimate question (about one of his receiver's route-running skills) asked at a press conference Wednesday by Jourdan Rodrigue, a reporter who for the last year has been covering the Panthers for the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” Newton said, laughing to himself and then repeating, “It’s funny.”

(For more about the encounter, as described by Observer columnist Scott Fowler, read THIS.)

(AP Photo)

Sorry, Cam, the question wasn't funny; it was good. And your reaction wasn't funny, it was sad.

Later, given the chance to apologize in private to Rodrigue, Cam declined. As Fowler wrote:

"Newton said that maybe he should have said it was funny to hear 'reporters' talk about routes and that, if she actually did know about them, then she knew more than most reporters."

That's not an apology. That was as if our fictional financial expert, trying to save face, had said this after having insulted Newton:

"Maybe I shouldn't have said it was funny to hear a black guy talk about I-Bonds but rather it was funny to hear any dumb jock talk about them."


Part of me is very disappointed in Cam Newton. In many interviews I've heard, he has been insightful and thoughtful. He usually is pretty careful and measured when he talks. He has sincerely expressed interest in playing a role in sensitive conversations about race. He doesn't seem like "a bad guy."

So he should be better than this. At the very least - and I mean the VERY least - he should have been smart enough to keep his sexist thoughts to himself and just answer the football question.

If he had shown that minimum amount of class (even if it had been feigned class), he wouldn't be getting ripped today on ESPN, on talk radio and in newspapers across the country. Even the NFL quickly condemned Cam's boorish behavior.

Part of me, however, is glad he didn't keep his thoughts to himself. We need to know who the ignorant people and sexists are in society, just as we need to know who the racists are. That's why, when the president of the United States actually cozied up to white supremacists, it was, in a strange way, a good thing. It was the leader of the free world confirming that he's a racist, as many suspected him of being. It's important to know that.


On a personal note, I admit this does sting some.

For one thing, I have worked with dozens of outstanding female sports reporters - talented, intelligent journalists who are dedicated to their jobs of informing their readers, viewers and listeners. It seems outrageous that in 2017, we have to even have this conversation. I feel badly for them that there are athletes, coaches and others (including fans) who judge them purely on the basis of their gender.

For another thing, I have stood up for Cam repeatedly, and now I feel like I've been played a little.

Because of his on-field celebrations, his occasional mopey behavior, his perceived selfishness and, yes, his race, he has been a lightning rod for criticism since he entered the NFL in 2011. (Actually, he was a lightning rod before that due to some incidents during his whirlwind college career.)

I often felt he has been criticized more harshly because he's black. I mean, nobody seemed to mind celebrations by Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I encouraged Cam's detractors to look at his entire body of work: his mostly fine play for the Panthers, his work ethic, his support of teammates, his charitable acts, his obvious love of children, etc.

Now, unfortunately, his body of work includes his neanderthal attitude toward women.

If Newton's "people" are smart, they will have him publicly apologize to Rodrigue and promise to work on his shortcomings. Cam's apology would sound insincere, of course, but at least he would be on the record as having said he was sorry - and that he aims to improve himself as a human being. A donation to a shelter for homeless women would be a nice touch, too.


Hey, I am not naive. I covered big-money sports for three decades. I was in hundreds (maybe thousands) of locker rooms. So I witnessed all manner of crude, sometimes misogynistic behavior. That many athletes act like jerks toward or around women is hardly shocking.

Furthermore, when I'd go on the radio or have some other interaction with a large group of sports fans, one question I almost always would get was: "Is (insert player's name) a good guy?" I usually answered by saying something like:

"He seems to be, but I don't really know. Who knows what he does when he gets home? I don't know him, you don't know him, and he doesn't really want to get to know any of us too well. In the end, as good as he is at (insert sport here), he's just a human being, with the same kinds of flaws and frailties the rest of us have. Never forget that."

So I won't say this episode proves that Newton is a "bad guy." I don't know him well enough to know that. It doesn't make him any less charitable, any less good with kids, any less of a football player.

But one thing we do know now is that Cam is at best, ignorant; at worst, a sexist.


Having said all that, I realize that there might be a few people saying: "OK Mr. Women's Lib, what about your take-down of Erin Andrews back in 2008?"

OK, what about it?

By using her position as a high-profile ESPN reporter to flirt with athletes in the locker room while dressed as if she were heading to the beach - stuff witnessed by dozens of Cubs players and media members on that July 2008 day - Andrews, in her own way, insulted female reporters as much as Cam Newton did.

Many women in the industry actually thanked me for writing that column, because they wanted to be taken seriously as journalists, not sex objects.

And to Andrews' credit, I have not seen her act unprofessionally since then.

Obviously I'm biased, but what I wrote about Erin Andrews is not even remotely relatable to what Cam Newton said about Jourdan Rodrigue.


I moved to Charlotte in 2010, I have been a Panthers fan since, and I want "my" team to win. The only way the Panthers win big - as they did in 2015, when they went to the Super Bowl - is if Cam consistently plays as he did just a few days ago in the big victory at New England.

So as a fan, I'll still "root" for Cam Newton to play well. But I admit that I won't look at him in quite the same way I did only last week.

If I hear somebody make a racist remark about him (as I have in the past), I will still admonish the offending party. If somebody rips him for costing the Panthers a game when I feel other players or coaches were more responsible, I'll stick up for Cam there, too.

However, if somebody calls Cam a sexist - or even a jerk - it will be difficult, if not impossible, for me to leap to his defense.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New Adventure for Coach Nadel

I have been a North Carolina resident for nearly 7 years now, and the single best thing I have done since moving here was agreeing to become the girls basketball coach at The Scholars Academy. It was an amazing 4 seasons, capped by the first 2 conference championships in school history, and I will remember my experience with my Eagles forever.

However, life is not static, and when opportunities present themselves, one must be ready and willing to seize them.

And so, I am excited and honored to have accepted the position of Assistant Women's Basketball Coach at Ardrey Kell High School.

Academically, the school in the south part of Charlotte is one of the best in the state. Athletically, it's one top-notch, too. The Lady Knights have won 4 consecutive titles in one of the most competitive conferences in the state (South Meck 8), and have advanced deep in the NC tournament in all 3 seasons under Coach Jeff Buseick, my new boss.

The Lady Knights won the Hoodie's House Hoops Classic
under Coach Jeff Buseick a few years back.
Coach Buseick is a dynamic, knowledgeable, young coach. I have seen him in action and have been very impressed with his grasp of the game, his passion for teaching and his ability to communicate with his athletes. I am looking forward to helping him any way I can and to learning a ton from both him and his players.

One fringe benefit of building a winning program is it leads to the coach getting a little attention. That's exactly what happened for me, as the hard work, dedication and success of my Eagles led to several high schools inquiring about my availability for next season.

I actually interviewed for a head coaching job at a very good school, but I came away from the experience believing I was not quite ready to take such a major step. Coach Buseick happened to have offered me the Ardrey Kell position just the night before, so I ended up removing my name from consideration for the other job and accepting the AK offer.

My long-term goal is not just to be a head varsity coach but to be a great one, and working with an amazing high school coach and outstanding young athletes will help me see if I have what it takes.

This will not be the first time I will have coached prep athletes. Several years back, I was the assistant softball coach at Charlotte Country Day. I mostly took that job as a favor to the athletic director back then, as I knew next to nothing about coaching softball. It was fun, and it showed me that, personality-wise, I could work with HS kids. But this will be an entirely different experience.

One thing I'll have to get used to: I had my middle-schoolers call me Coach Mike. At Ardrey Kell, they will call me Coach Nadel because that's simply the way things are done there.

Two years ago, I almost left Scholars Academy to be JV coach at Latin High School. It was a very good job at a great school, and I was honored to have been their choice. But at the last minute, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had unfinished business at Scholars and that, with only 2 years as a middle-school head coach, I might not be quite ready for the move.

As it turned out, staying at Scholars was the second-best thing I've done during my time in Charlotte. I don't regret the decision for one second, as these last two years were so rewarding and enjoyable. Those years were crucial to my development as a coach, as I feel I improved in every facet, from preparation to motivation to game situations. A huge bonus: The girls and their parents became like a second family to me.

Still, it was time for this big Eagle to flap his wings. I feel confident that, a few years from now, I'll look back on my decision to join Coach Buseick at Ardrey Kell as another of my best decisions.

Go Knights!


Last week, Jack McCloskey, the architect of the "Bad Boy" Pistons who won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990, died at age 91. He also had been the GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves - a team I covered during my AP days - and I got to know him fairly well.

Here's my "Trader Jack" story ...

On Jan. 13, 1993, midway through McCloskey's first season in Minnesota, I wrote a column about team management's general incompetence since being awarded an expansion franchise.

I said this in my 15th paragraph:
Finally realizing that they needed a 'basketball man,' last summer they hired general manager Jack McCloskey, who had helped build Detroit's championship teams. However, the 66-year-old "Trader Jack" was available partly because he had failed to stem the Pistons' slide from supremacy.
One of my duties as AP's Minnesota Sports Editor was that I ran the annual state meeting of newspaper sports editors. In that capacity, I had to line up guest speakers. Near the end of the T-Wolves' 1992-93 season, I called McCloskey's secretary to see if we could get him to join us.

Two days later, he called me, and here is how our conversation went ...

Jack: Thanks for thinking of me, but I have another commitment and I can't do it this time.

Me: Oh, I understand. It was worth a shot.

Jack: Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to get out of it. I'd really like to do it and I hope you'll ask me again next time.

Me: OK, great. I will.

Jack: And one other thing ... That column you wrote about me not being able to stem the slide was complete horse-(bleep). If the Pistons' owner had let me make the moves I wanted to make, we would have won three more titles!

Me: (Stunned silence, followed by ... ) Uh, OK, sorry about that. Bye!

Who knew an NBA general manager read my columns, let alone all the way down to the 15th paragraph?!?!?!

The next time I saw McCloskey, it was as if our conversation had never taken place. He treated me with respect, and vice versa.

He went on to draft Christian Laettner and J.R. Rider for the Timberwolves, but out of respect for the dead - and out of concern that he'll call me from the grave - I won't say a word about those choices!

R.I.P., Trader Jack.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A black eye for me ... a championship for the Warriors?

One of the many age groups I umpire involves "machine pitch." The kids are 7 and 8 years old. A contraption operated by a coach hurls a pitch toward the plate, and the kid gets 5 or 6 tries to put the ball in play. The theory is that the machine is more consistent than a human is in "coach pitch," which many other leagues use.

In machine pitch, there is only one umpire. He stands about 10 to 15 feet behind the batter - not behind the plate, but behind the batter's back. Most kids that age swing late, and the vast majority of foul balls go the opposite direction.

Well, in a game I umped Monday, one of the little sluggers really got around on a pitch. The ball was on me before I could react, and it hit me square in the left eye.

In the first photo, that's how the eye looked two hours after contact, despite me getting an ice bag on it almost immediately. Cut me, Mick! 

By Saturday, it looked like a regular black eye, and I could see quite well out of it. In fact, I made my return to the field to ump a game later that day (but not a machine pitch game).


I didn't consider myself lucky at the time of impact, of course ... but looking back (pun intended), I really was lucky. The ball could have broken numerous bones, could have blinded me, etc. Also, the on-deck batter was standing a few feet behind me, and if the ball had missed me, it could have hit the kid.

I don't have any answers, but we need to find ways to protect the umpire in machine pitch, and probably to protect the on-deck batter better, too. If this happened once, it could happen again.

In the meantime, I've been hearing all the comments ... and making some, too.

It does get a little tiring saying, "Yeah, you should see the other guy." 

"Cut me, Mick," is a favorite. Also: "Prediction? Pain!" 

I've used "I'd rather fight than switch," as well ... but not a lot of people under 50 know the old Tareyton cigarette ads!

One thing for sure: I'd rather fight than umpire another machine pitch game!


On to a happier subject, the upcoming NBA Finals ...

I am a big LeBron James fan because I love witnessing true greatness. I happen to think he has ascended to be the second-best basketball player ever, and he has closed quite a bit of ground on You Know Who. He does have plenty of haters who wouldn't rank him that highly, but I doubt even they would put him outside, say, the top-10 all-time. 

So we have gotten to watch this guy come into the league as a teenager and grow into one of the best ever, right before our eyes. He usually has risen to the occasion, too, and he unquestionably makes his teammates better. 

The man has made it to 7 straight NBA Finals and 8 overall - including 3 with a Cleveland franchise that, to put it kindly, bit the big one before LeBron existed. Pretty amazing stuff.

I also very much enjoy watching the Warriors play. It's a fun style, and when they are clicking they work so well together. Kevin Durant is unbelievably talented, and he has been integrated nicely into their system.

Even when the Cavs were blowing out Boston and Toronto, they sure were leaving a lot of 3-point shooters wide open. I'm talking, nobody within 10 feet of the shooters. The Celtics and Raptors couldn't make the Cavs pay, but Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson & Co. will.

Offensively, the Cavs also tend to devolve into a lot of 1-on-1 play, mostly by LeBron and Kyrie Irving. It's fine when they are rolling, but it hurts when they aren't - and either way, it leads to stagnation on offense. Golden State also is the better defensive team.

The Warriors had a 3-1 lead in last year's Finals. We can debate all the reasons they couldn't close out the series - starting with the suspension of Kicky McKickerson, and then going on to the heroics of LeBron and Irving. But the Warriors sure looked like the better team most of the series. 

Well, as my son Ben points out, the Warriors have that entire team back ... except they have replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Freakin' Durant!

Barnes arguably was the worst player on the court in Games 5-7 last year. I feel confident saying KD won't be the worst player on the court this time.

Of course, Kevin Love - who missed a couple of games with a concussion last year and otherwise was mostly a non-factor - is relatively healthy this year and playing very well. So it's almost as if the Cavs have added an All-Star, too. If both are at their best, though, Durant is quite a bit better than Love.

I hope I'm wrong because I want it to be a long, great series, but I'm thinking ...

Warriors in 5.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Comrade Trump: Don't Do As I Say; Do As I Don't Do!

Comrade Twitler's tweet to Obama in 2013 after Assad used poison gas to kill his own Syrian people:


Comrade Twitler's statement this week after Assad again used poison gas to kill his own Syrian people:

"These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of (Obama's) weakness and irresolution."

Times Comrade Twitler put any responsibility on Assad ally Putin in 2013:


Times Comrade Twitler put any responsibility on Assad ally Putin this week:


Nuff said.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

GOP's WeDon'tCare is DOA ... but my NCAA bracket has new life

The House GOP had to cancel Thursday's scheduled Obamacare Repeal/WeDon'tCare Replacement vote ... because they don't have enough votes for it to pass.

Dems won't vote for it because it's a draconian plan that gives billions of dollars in tax cuts to the top 0.5% while throwing the middle class and working poor under the bus. Moderate Republicans (an endangered species, to be sure) also worry about that, though a "softening" of some of the most draconian language appeased many of them.

Meanwhile, the right-wing extremists won't vote for WeDon'tCare because it isn't draconian enough. All those fetuses they don't want aborted? Welcome into the world ... but no health care for you!

Ryan, Trump & Co. managed to come up with a lose-lose proposal, one that every national medical society has panned as a potential disaster.

Among the health-related things Trump promised in the year leading up to his inauguration:

++ "We're going to have insurance for everybody."

++ "Everybody's got to be covered."

++ "We're going to come up with a new plan that's going to be better health care for more people at a lesser cost."

++ "You're going to end up with great health care at a fraction of the price."

And then he backs a plan that does none of that. I guess the only campaign promises this so-called president really cares about are the big, beautiful wall and the Muslim ban.

As John Oliver said: "He asked us, 'What do you have to lose?' And we're finding out every day."


And speaking of Trumpian lies, here's an amazing interview he gave Time - READ IT - in which he defends his many lies by, well, lying some more.

And yet his sheeple are either so gullible or so afraid of him that they just keep lining up behind him. I've never seen anything like it.


OK, on to something more fun ...

My NCAA tournament bracket is so broken that I've decided to take a mulligan and tee it up again.

Sweet 16

Michigan over Oregon
Kansas over Purdue
West Virginia over Gonzaga
Arizona over Xavier
Butler over North Carolina
UCLA over Kentucky
South Carolina over Baylor
Florida over Wisconsin

Elite 8

Kansas over Michigan
Butler over UCLA
Arizona over West Virginia
South Carolina over Florida

Final Four

Kansas over Butler
Arizona over South Carolina

National Championship

Kansas over Arizona

Somehow, the Jayhawks have mostly flown under the radar. They are too good for that, and I think Bill Self wins his second title.

Unless, of course, I'm wrong.

If so, I'll admit it. Which I guess means I can't be president of the United States.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Destiny Calls ... And My Champions Answer!

The questions have been answered ... and the final answer my Scholars Academy Eagles delivered was both resounding and sweet:

We STILL are the champions, my friend ... because we kept on fighting till the end!

To get back to the top, we had to overcome mild concussions sustained by three players. Our captain and point guard, Ritika, indisputably the best player in the league, was sidelined for four games down the stretch, including our first playoff contest. Our starting center, Mary Kate, missed two games, as did our first player off the bench, Emma. In addition, another key player had to deal with an off-the-court issue much of the season.

We entered the season as an extremely inexperienced team; four of the five players who returned from the championship squad had played only small roles in 2015-16. Each of the six newcomers had never played competitive basketball.

And yet these feisty, fantastic athletes stuck together as closely as any group I've coached, swept their way through the playoffs (outscoring our three opponents, 77-40) and earned the right to hoist the Charlotte Gastonia Athletic Association championship trophy again.

They then took the opportunity to blast their coach with Silly String, and I didn't mind the mess one bit!

Rebuilding ... Or Retooling?

Accomplishing something that had never been done is always heady stuff. When the girls captured the first CGAA basketball title in school history last year, the feeling was incredible. Actually, I should say, "feelings."

I felt exhilaration and pride, of course. I also felt relief, because those Eagles were so tall and athletic and experienced and talented that I sometimes worried that only the coach could hold them back. And naturally, I had bittersweet feelings, too. Six of the 11 players were 8th-graders, including four of our best players ever, and I was sad my time coaching them had ended. We had been through a lot together while growing the program from scratch.

At our season-ending party a year ago, several parents talked in end-of-an-era tones. The dreaded "R-word" - rebuilding - was uttered more than once. The parents were nice about it; they weren't saying we were doomed to be terrible or anything like that. They simply were acknowledging what seemed obvious: We were losing several proven performers, and those girls would be leaving behind a team with a lot of question marks.

How can we replace the standouts who graduated? Who will emerge as leaders, both on and off the court? How much will the returning players improve? Will any newcomers make an impact? Will we have good team chemistry? Will the new group respond to coaching the same way the departing players did over the years? Will we be athletic enough and determined enough to implement our aggressive, attacking system? Will the coach be able to adapt and adjust as necessary?

I would be lying if I told the parents that I was sure we would go back-to-back, but I did say that I thought we would have the best player in the league, that at least a couple of our other players would become major contributors, that we would continue to be the hardest-working and most aggressive team in the league, and that we would be very competitive.

Hey, even I can be right sometimes - and I'm glad that this was one of those occasions!

Ritika exceeded even my high expectations, 6th-grader Deirdre emerged as a big-time scorer, Jackie had a remarkable second half of the season, Kaylee was our defensive catalyst, and several others made significant contributions.

It all added up to a 15-2 record, a third straight appearance in the title game and another raucous championship celebration.

I Am Not Worthy

A few days after winning the title, our team gathered again for our postseason party.

I have been at Scholars - a charter school for "highly gifted" students and the No. 1-ranked elementary school in North Carolina, according to a recent study - for four years. Many of these parents have been with me for multiple seasons. In the case of Emma, Mary Kate and Maddie, I was coaching the younger sisters of previous Eagle standouts. The parents and I are comfortable around each other, and they have always been very supportive. One after another, they voiced their gratitude, and it was so nice to hear all those kind words.

After I spoke at length about each of the team's 11 players and revealed our four award winners, Ritika pulled up a chair for me in front of the TV and started an 8-minute video she had made. In it, this year's 8th-graders and stars from previous Scholars seasons spoke about how much I had meant to them.

See the video HERE.

What an amazing tribute. In all of my years on this earth, I don't think anybody has ever made me feel more special. It was all I could do to keep the water works from flowing.

It would not be an exaggeration to call it one of the great nights of my life.

Our Heroes

Front Row (L to R): Kaylee, Jackie, Emma.
Second Row: Ayushi, Meeta, Harshitha, Ritika, Deirdre, Maddie.
Back Row: Adriana, Mary Kate, Coach Mike
Ritika is the only girl to have played all four seasons for me and leaves Scholars as the No. 2 all-time scorer. As a tiny 5th-grader in 2014, she scored the final 4 points to deliver an improbable playoff victory over a team that had defeated us twice that season. Over the ensuing years, she just kept getting better and better and better. As a 6th-grader, she was our first player off the bench, made nine 3-pointers and was one of the main reasons we reached the title game for the first time in school history. She moved into the starting lineup as a 7th-grader, made 11 more treys, and finished third on the team in scoring. And this season, she led us in scoring average (8.5 points), hit 9 more from downtown, kept our offense organized, and led the world in steals at the top of our active 2-3 zone. When her mother texted me the morning of the semifinal game to say Ritika had been medically cleared from her concussion, I immediately told my wife that we were going to win the championship. Ritika will always remember the half-court shot she swished at the final buzzer of a decisive victory - it was NOT luck, as she practices that shot constantly. I, however, will most fondly remember the final basket she scored in a Scholars uniform because of its importance and its style. Our championship game opponent had stolen momentum and had cut a 14-point deficit to 7 with a few minutes to go. Ritika took an inbound pass, used several crossover dribbles to weave her way through defenders, and finished with a left-handed layup that clinched our second straight title. Most high school seniors can't pull off a play like that! For all of her talent and determination, the thing that stands out about Ritika is that nobody who has played for me has loved playing basketball as much as she does. It's fitting that she is in the center of the photo above, holding the championship trophy. Naturally, she won our award for Most Valuable Player.

Deirdre was supposed to be our manager last season, when she was in 5th grade, but she did so well in practice that I promoted her to the active roster. By season's end, she was our top scorer off the bench. Over the summer, I went to see her AAU team play a couple of games, and I knew she would be one of the best players in our league as a 6th-grader. She had grown taller, and her game had grown significantly to include post moves and aggressive dribble-drives on offense, and blocked shots on defense. She led us in scoring with 130 points - the third-highest total during my time as coach - and several of our victories were spurred by her dominating performances. She had one of the biggest plays in the championship game: After our opponent had scored two straight baskets to pull within 3 points, Deirdre grabbed an offensive rebound and banked in a 10-footer just before the halftime horn to give us more breathing room. In addition to being a starting wing for us, she regularly played point guard  on offense and center on defense when both Ritika and Mary Kate were getting some rest. I have been fortunate to coach several talented players, and I correctly predicted that a few of them would become all-time greats for us. With Deirdre, the ceiling is so high that I won't even hazard to guess how good she will be. She earned the Coach's Award for All-Around Excellence.

Jackie was a role player who averaged about a point per game for last year's team. If you watch the video tribute, you'll hear her say some hilarious things about how little she knew about basketball back then. She is a very good athlete and I expected her to take a take a major step forward this season. She did, but at first it was mostly as a super-aggressive defensive player and vocal leader. Despite having a nice outside shot, Jackie was content to defer to Ritika and Deirdre on the offensive end and averaged only 2 points through our first nine games. When the calendar flipped to 2017, we had a game on the very first day back from winter break. We had to play without any practice and also without the concussed Ritika, and we were awful in falling behind 11-0 after 11 minutes. Near the end of that stretch, one of our former players (Olivia, who was there to see her sister Maddie) told Jackie to start looking for her shot and to play with confidence. Hearing those encouraging words from a peer she respected, Jackie became a different player. She finished with 13 points in that game as we rallied to lose by only 2, and followed that up with 18 points in our next game. Over the final eight games, she led us with 9.4 points per game - by far the most astounding transformation I have witnessed from a player I've coached. She was our leading scorer in the playoffs, too. Part of her team-high 12 points in the championship game included a 10-second flurry in which she hit a jumper, stole the basketball and hit another 15-footer to give us a double-digit lead. Always a vocal supporter of her teammates, Jackie emerged as a leader by example and earned the Coach's Award for Leadership.

Kaylee was a little-used reserve as a 7th-grader, when she scored only 4 points the entire season. But she was determined to contribute a lot more this year and her outstanding play, especially on defense, forced me to use her more and more and more. Kaylee became our "pest," hounding the opposing point guard into turnovers and harassing any opponent who dared enter her territory. She wore knee pads so she could dive to the floor without fearing scars and bruises, and she surely led the team in causing tie-ups, gaining us dozens of extra possessions over the course of the season. Kaylee also has a nice shot from the wing and finished fifth on the team in scoring. I preach aggressiveness above all else, so I know Kaylee was happy to get the coveted Coach's Award for Aggressiveness.

Mary Kate was our tallest player and I asked a lot from her. Her main job was to "play tall" - in other words, use her long arms to defend our basket at all costs. A great athlete with good hands, MK also spent many games at the high post of our offense, helping create scoring opportunities for her teammates.

Emma was one of four players who didn't give up after having been cut in previous seasons. In fact, like Kaylee, she had been cut twice yet stuck with it, improved and became a valuable contributor. Emma is a good passer and a real tough kid who battled opposing interior players even though she has a guard's size.

Maddie was our other 6th-grader. Olivia spent three years on the team, so Maddie has been around the program forever , and she has grown to be a nice young player in her own right. She has a good shot, fights for rebounds and has a chance to be a fine all-around player. A lot of potential there.

Ayushi had a great season, especially for somebody who tried out for the team on a lark. "Yoosh" was one of our best athletes, and Ritika's injury forced her to play quite a bit of point guard - she did amazingly well for a girl who had never played competitive basketball. She also has a nice jumper and finished fourth on the team in scoring.

Harshitha was our other 8th-grader, another athletic player who helped put pressure on the opposing guards.

Meeta, one of our two 7th-graders, was one of the best shooters on the team. She finished sixth in scoring and improved as a defender as the season went on.

Adriana, our other 7th-grader, actually was surprised to make the team in November. I liked her athletic ability back then, and I am pleased with how much better she has gotten.

Past, Present & Future

Each team has its own personality and each season has its own vibe.

My first year, I barely knew what I was doing - as was the case for pretty much all of my players - and we figured it out together the best we could. It was a minor miracle that we won seven games, including one in the playoffs.

In my second season, we got a nice talent upgrade and the returning players improved a lot. We went 15-4 but couldn't beat one team - losing three times to them, including the championship game. Although happy we had become legitimate contenders, we left with a feeling of unfinished business.

Last year's team was the envy of the league. To outsiders, winning the title must have seemed easy, but we had several bumps along the way to our 19-2 record.

This year's Eagles were a work in progress, and we progressed well as the season unfolded. We were offensively challenged at times, but we held opponents to 12 points per game - our lowest total in my four years - and the girls worked really hard.

This team required a little more coaching, teaching and mentoring than those of the previous two years, and it was a fun challenge for me. I should be so lucky to have all basketball challenges end in a Silly String shower!

None of us knows what adventures life will bring next. I soon have tryouts for an AAU team I will be coaching this spring, my first such opportunity. Could it lead me in a different direction next season? Well, I certainly will keep an open mind, but I am not in any hurry to leave Scholars Academy - a place that has been so welcoming and supportive, a place filled with smart, motivated, fun kids.

At the start of each season, I give the girls a Player's Guide, filled with our plays, formations, team rules, individual goals, etc. On the cover of this season's guide I put this photo:

One parent saw it and said, "You aren't putting too much pressure on the girls, eh?" My intention was not to put pressure on them but to get them thinking that anything was possible.

So here's to the 2016-17 Eagles. They had a tough act to follow, and they rose to the occasion. They were faced with adversity, and they overcame it. They were determined to create their own place in Scholars Academy history, and they did just that. What a special group of young people!

Of course, with all the good, there is one downside:

It's gonna cost me another 30 bucks to buy a new personalized license plate!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Today's High Five: Super Bowl Edition

1. I'm still trying to figure out what Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his boss, coach Dan Quinn, were thinking after they made it possible for Tom Brady to complete the Patriots' incredible Super Bowl comeback.

The Falcons had an 8-point lead and had moved into FG range with 4:40 to play on yet another circus catch by the indomitable Julio Jones. On first down, Shanahan called the only play that made sense: a handoff up the middle. It lost a yard but it let the Falcons kill another 45 seconds. The clock read 3:56 when Atlanta snapped its next play at the New England 23-yard line.

If the Falcons had run two more times into the line of scrimmage, the very worst outcome would have been this: The Patriots would have burned two time-outs before Matt Bryant, Atlanta's nearly automatic kicker, would have attempted a 40-yard (or so) field goal that would have all but clinched the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl victory.

Instead, inexplicably, Shanahan called for a pass. Matt Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss and the Patriots immediately called their first time-out. Now there was 3:50 left and the Falcons were on the fringe of FG range - it would have been a 52- or 53-yarder.

Again, Shanahan called for a pass. This time, the Falcons were guilty of holding, putting them back at the 45 with 3:44 to go, with the clock stopped due to the penalty. Finally, one more pass play was called, and the pass fell incomplete, again stopping the clock. Time to punt.

So now, instead of a likely 11-point lead with less than 4 minutes to go and New England having only one time-out, Brady trailed by only one score, had a ton of time to work with and still had two time-outs plus the 2-minute warning.

Predictably, the Patriots drove downfield, got a TD with plenty of time to spare, scored the 2-point conversion to tie the game and won in overtime.

After the Super Bowl a couple of years earlier, Seattle coach Pete Carroll was figuratively killed by critics after okaying a pass on first-and-goal from the 1 instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch. The Patriots intercepted to clinch the victory.

That decision, however, was nowhere near as bad as the one by Shanahan (and, by extension, Quinn).

The Falcons had the game and gave it away.

It was a heck of a way for Shanahan to end his Falcons career. He is headed to San Francisco to be the 49ers' new head coach, and I have seen tweets suggesting he already should be fired!

2. How many anti-Trump statements were made in Super Bowl commercials? Five? Ten?

All you need to know about the tenor and tone of our country right now is that some of the largest corporations in America spent millions of dollars for the right to rip Comrade Twitler for his unconstitutional, exclusionary, hate-fueled, anti-immigration decrees.

Some will say the Super Bowl is no place for such political statements. I say we must fight this administration's worst instincts and actions every chance we get and with every method at our disposal - and I applaud Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Airbnb and others for taking financial risks to do so.

3. No matter how much the Falcons helped him, Brady obviously deserves credit for orchestrating the biggest Super Bowl comeback ever. Even if somebody is trying to give you something, you have to be willing and able to take it.

Still, let's not forget that one reason the Patriots were in such a deep hole was that Brady had played horrendously for much of the first half. He repeatedly missed wide-open receivers on what would have been big plays, threw behind several receivers on short passes and was victimized by a Pick-6 on as bad a pass as I have ever seen him throw.

The mark of a champion is one who can overcome adversity - even adversity that he created - to emerge victorious.

Tom Brady did just that, cementing his legacy as the greatest quarterback ever.

I'm sure he is proud and relieved to have my endorsement.

4. It still doesn't seem right that, in the most important game of the year, one team can win the game without the other team's offense even having a chance to touch the football.

Nevertheless, I'm having trouble feeling too sorry for the Falcons.

Even after the collapse of the century and even after losing the pre-OT coin flip, they still had a chance. All they had to do was stop the Patriots short of the goal line, and Ryan, Jones & Co. would have had one more shot.

Instead, the Falcons' defense provided so little resistance that Brady never even faced a third down while orchestrating his team's 8-play, 75-yard, championship-winning drive.

It was a well-earned victory for the Patriots, and a VERY well-earned defeat for the Falcons.

5. I was chicken, and it cost me $350.

I have a friend who makes wagers on an online site and I was going to have him place two bets for me. I was going to put $250 on the Patriots and give 3 points; and I was going to throw $100 at the "over" (on the 59 over/under). But when it came time to actually part with my dough-re-mi, I opted not to.

For most of the night, I was pretty darn happy with my decision.

And then the Patriots kept scoring. And the Falcons kept choking. And then the game went into OT. And then the Patriots won by 6, putting the total points at 62.

But that's OK. I actually got to enjoy the game without having to sweat (or swear). A small price to pay, I guess.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

We Are The Champions ... Again!

In a satisfying finish to a fun, crazy, adversity-filled but ultimately triumphant season for my high-flying Scholars Academy Eagles, we used a big third-quarter surge Monday to put away our rivals, Fletcher, and win our second consecutive Charlotte Gastonia Athletic Association championship.

Scholars Academy, the No. 1-ranked elementary charter school in North Carolina (and No. 3 in the nation), had not ever reached the title game until 2015 ... but now we're on a roll!

Three straight appearances, including two consecutive championships - I'm so proud of my hard-working, determined Eagles.

When the final horn sounded for our 29-20 victory, we celebrated with hugs and high-fives and laughter and smiles, as parents clicked hundreds of photos. A few of the girls started acting a little weird and then I found out why, as they pulled out cans of Silly String and let me have it!

They later said they had considered the more traditional Gatorade bath but realized the clean-up would have been ridiculous. Another smart basketball decision by my girls!

The game was supposed to have been played last Thursday, but our opponent requested a delay because their coach had to leave town for a family emergency. We of course granted their request. At first, I wished we had played because we had a lot of momentum going after two playoff wins earlier last week. But in retrospect, it was great because it meant the season got to last a little longer!

We have one more team function, our season-ending party on Saturday, and I'll have a more detailed report after that.

Until then, I will bask in the championship glow for a few days ... and I'll keep trying to get all of the Silly String off of my clothes - a small price to pay for such a wonderful accomplishment.