Monday, January 30, 2017

Media matters: Fighting back against the bullies

        Keep in mind, I was a newspaper person for decades. So, yes, I'm partial to the media. I know the job isn't as easy as you might think, especially when you deal with jerks.
      And there are media people I did not respect all that much. But attacks on the media -- or disdain toward media people -- I don't like it. This has been a previous subject in this blog, so maybe you know how I feel.
      I find it disgusting, a copout, a poor excuse. But don't get the wrong idea. This is about football coaches, not politics. 
      Oh, I'll touch on politics -- but only for a moment.
      I don't agree at all when I hear the President -- making great use of his (appropriately named) bully pulpit -- attack the "dishonest, lying" media, just as he did as a candidate and then as President-elect. I think it is BS, Nixon-like paranoia, and we know how Nixon's political career ended.
      It takes a dishonest, lying person -- a bully -- to use those words. And it's every darned day; it gets old. It is a declared war.
      Media people are doing their jobs. If they don't agree with the President's actions and words, they are labeled "dishonest" and "lying." They are being told, by the President's top advisor, to "shut up."
      Wrong, wrong, wrong. That's not what the First Amendment is about.
      You don't like what I'm writing, you don't agree ... tough. Take it elsewhere. You are not going to convince that I am off-base, and I'm not going to convince you how ignorant you are to believe everything that's being said and done.
      I could do another whole blog on this (but I already have). Repeating what I said then: When I hear "mainstream media," it is a glittering generality. Be specific, give me names. Don't just say "the media."
      OK, I am going to leave it there. Back to football.
      Media access for those covering the NFL and college football is as limited as it ever has been. It is ridiculous; it is paranoia-plus. It is an undeclared war. 
Nick Saban: Election? What election? He's friendly and
 cooperative with the media only when he wants to be.
      Head football coaches, almost without exception, are running a secret society. They are a bunch of bullies. Yet we -- fans and, yes, sportswriters and talking heads -- glorify them, treat them like rock stars, like gods.
      Some of these coaches are being paid millions and millions of dollars -- that's the market now -- and it's all too much, in my opinion. Football should not be that important ... but in America, it is. And so are the coaches, unfortunately.
      When I wrote about this at the start of the 2015 football season -- -- a man I was about to interview first admonished me for that blog piece. I did not apologize, and I'm not apologizing now.
      And because we all look for affirmation of our beliefs (as we do about political matters), I found mine in a Sports Illustrated article by its media columnist Richard Deitsch posted Jan. 19.
      His main point is this "one voice" aspect that is almost universally followed now by head football coaches (NFL, college). Only one person -- the head coach -- speaks to the media. Access to the players is severely limited.
       These media-limited policies began, I believe, with Bill Parcells, an interesting guy and also a bully who passed it on to his cronies -- the unsmiling Bill Belichick (great friend of Nick Saban), Tom Coughlin, Al Groh, and on down the line. Soon it became standard procedure.
      We still like watching the games, we like the competition, we accept that brutality -- injuries, especially concussions and long-lasting effects -- are part of football and always will be. There's only so much that can be done to make the game "safer."
       (I use "like" instead of "love" for football now; I am, as I wrote last week, enjoyed it less and less. And part of the reason for that is the coaches' attitudes.)
       Here is how Deitsch began his article: 
       "I know, I know. Nobody wants to hear about the complaints of the sport media. But this is something that impacts you as a reader.                            

       "As part of an NFL roundtable discussion on a number of NFL-related topics, I asked six beat writers what they considered to be the most absurd media restriction in their market. I’ve always thought one of the most foolish media restrictions in sports was college football coaches not allowing assistant coaches to speak to the media. The restriction always struck me as strange (yes, I know Nick Saban has won a billion titles with it), especially given how successful teams in other college sports have no issues with their assistants speaking (e.g. Auriemma, Geno). It’s also an odd message to send to student-athletes: Only one person speaks for the program. But I digress."
       Here are some of the writers' responses:
       • Les Bowen, Eagles beat writer/columnist, Philadelphia Daily News: "I could write until my fingers bleed on this. There are about a dozen things that make it hard to do our jobs, starting with the fact that last year, the Eagles moved us from the media room, next to the media relations offices, into an outbuilding at the far edge of the parking lot, next to the entry gate. We have less access to the main building than we had previously. Also, we also only watch warmups and a brief bit of individual drills during the season; most of practice, we don’t see. And after games, the coach takes so long to come to the postgame press conference, if you go to that, you miss the players in the locker room. Then there is accessibility when it comes to the GM and the owner."                             
       • Mike Freeman, NFL writer, Bleacher Report. "The most ridiculous restriction of all time is not allowing journalists to cover practice. You hear from coaches and players how writers don’t understand football. So the logic is then to let us see less football?                            
       • Mary Kay Cabot, Browns beat reporter, "I dislike the fact that we’re not allowed on the field before the games. We used to be, and I always took advantage of it. In addition to running into some interesting people and celebrities, you can often the read the vibe of the team or the mood of a player heading into a game. You can glean something from pregame warmups and you can see how players interact with each other and their coaches. You see who the owner likes to talk to before games, and you have some great photo opportunities. There are tons of people on the sidelines before the game, from guests to corporate sponsors to people’s children and grandchildren -- and the media covering the team is not allowed down there. The other thing I don’t love is the once-a-week player designation. In the NFL, a few star players only have to talk to the media once a week, but lately it seems like too many players are only talking once a week. Here’s another way to solve the access issue. Once or twice a week, in addition to locker room access, let the media into the players’ lounge to have a more relaxed conversation with a player sitting on a couch, or over a game of ping-pong. Let us get to know the players and tell their stories. Don’t be afraid. It will be O.K."
     Of course, I empathize with these media people. Several of my friends and former co-workers are still covering college football and NFL teams, and I'm happy for them that (1) they're still employed and (2) doing what they love to do, and what needs to be done.
      I often have been critical in this blog about Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. But I will give him this: As far as I can tell, he makes himself available to the media -- because he loves the camera and those mikes. Do I pay attention to what he says? I do not. But he's there for the media.
      Jason Garrett, however, I think is as bland, as predictable, as secretive and paranoid as any coach in the NFL. Fits right in.
      But let's go back to -- other than the eccentric and wound-tight Jim Harbaugh -- the most fascinating character in college football: Nick Saban. He can be cooperative with the media and often is, and when he feels like ranting and going off on somebody or some subject, he does. He's the king; he knows it, and he shows it.
      (And Dabo Sweeney of national champion Clemson has a charming side to his personality. But we've seen some Saban-like rants from him, on the sideline and with the media.)
      While I'm sure there were other low spots during this past football season, it was Saban who provided the low spot for me. Back to politics.
      When he was asked about the Presidential election the day after Mr. Trump's victory, Saban replied that he was unaware that Tuesday (Nov. 8) was Election Day.

      "It was so important to me that I didn't even know it was happening," Saban told the media. "We're focused on other things here."
      Oh, good god. How macho. Football is the only thing that matters. The rest of society be damned.
      I feel sure that Alabama had some football players who were eligible to vote. Maybe the head coach could have dealt in some civics lessons for his players. Or does that matter, as long as they win games?
      Give Saban credit, though. He followed up that inane comment with an explanation of why  he didn't want to talk about politics.
       "If I say I like one person, that means everybody that voted for the other person doesn't like me," Saban said. "So, why would I do that? I want what's best for our country. I'm not sure I can figure that out.
       "I want what's best for people who want to improve the quality of their life. I hope whoever our leader is will do all that he can do to make our country safe and improve the quality of life for a lot of the people we have in our country and I don't think I am qualified to determine who that should be."
      Of course, he's qualified to tell the media what they should think.
       As it relates to football and to the head coaches -- hello, Nick and Sabo and Gary Patterson and Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, Jim McElwain, Bobby Petrino and even (when he returns to the game) Les Miles, and all the rest, here's what I think can improve quality of life: Don't be such secretive, tight asses.
       As for the bully President and his buddies, attack the media all you want. Make it the enemy; it's a convenient, easy target. Throw all that general crap out there because a lot of people believe everything you say. And a lot of us don't believe much at all.
       Be sure that the media will fight back. Truth will win out.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Staying positive while the world keeps turning

Happy reading: It's 738 pages
       So after a 2 1/2-week blogging break, we're back because I know you eagerly -- anxiously? -- have been waiting.
       The blogs are supposed to make a point, but sometimes I'm just writing to be writing, just to say hello and catch you up on our lives.
       We have a big day -- anniversary -- coming up in 11 days. Wait for it; watch this space. 
       There were several reasons for the break, most notably the change in the political atmosphere. I'm not going to go into politics again -- much -- since we all have our minds made up anyway.
       What I will say is that, no matter what, the intention here is to remain positive. Heck, no, I don't like a lot of what is happening; I think it's a bizarre world -- you must remember that from previous blogs -- but the only control I have is over my own thoughts.
       So I take the positives out of each day, and I keep my gratitude journal, and I always find something for which to be grateful.
       Hope you do, too.
       Life has its challenges, though. Let's see:
       My cellphone died two weeks ago on a trip to  Shreveport; there was no bringing it back.  Hello, new cellphone. Still trying to figure out how to use it.
       Yesterday afternoon the water heater in the apartment went cold. Not good. Work order turned in; repairs made. Looking forward to a hot shower after my daily walk in a few minutes.
        Facebook changed its Messenger page; I don't like it. Technology wins out again. Quit messing with me.
        Then there was this: A two-week battle with bronchitis. A first for me -- cough, cough. It only took nine days for my caring, overly concerned wife to convince me to go to an urgent care clinic. A few meds -- and a thousand more coughs later -- and I'm (almost) well. 
       You know when, for 13 days, I don't go to the Downtown YMCA for yoga/stretching and when I get in only one daily walk in the same time frame that I'm off-course.
       Please hold the sympathy notes. I am not often sick and I don't do it well, but I have a friend who injured herself in a fall while running, one who is paralyzed and mostly bed-ridden, a couple dealing with cancer (and treatment), and one who had open-heart surgery Thursday. So bronchitis is nothin'.
       The time away from blogging left me with other goals, and a lot on which to comment: 
        Still promoting my book, Survivors: 62511, 70726. Uh, sales are down a bit from November and December. So check Amazon or CreateSpace, and tell your friends.
        Spent much time researching professional baseball history in Shreveport, a project that might lead to a publication. It is a daunting task. If anyone reading this has stories or photos to share from the Shreveport Sports/Captains/Swamp Dragons days, let me know.
        Lots of time to watch sports ... but it has its limits.  Friends can hardly believe this when I tell them: I seldom enjoy watching games, in person or on TV, these days. I find much hypocrisy in athletics, college and/or pro. Just where I am in life; it's probably a blog piece in itself.
        I did record a number of the college bowl games and College Football Playoffs and watched them later. (Bea is so anti-football that I don't subject her to the sport, and I'm less of a football fan every day.)
       Did not even watch LSU-Louisville live. Had other things to do that day, and did not begin watching the game until a couple of hours it was over (stayed off social media, so I did not know the score). Great effort by the Tigers. 
        Did not watch any of the NFL playoffs live; no, not even the Cowboys. Sure I rooted for the Cowboys -- I always have -- and it's easy to root for QB Dak Prescott (from Haughton, La.), but it's hard to feel sorry for Jerry Jones and the Jones family.
       I won't watch the Super Bowl, haven't watched it live for several years. Will record it; might or might not watch. Bottom line: I just don't care much about the NFL.
       I will root for the Atlanta Falcons, although I think the New England Patriots -- again -- will win the Super Bowl. As a New York Yankees fan, I should appreciate a "dynasty" franchise. But I am not a Patriots' fan, never have been, never will be.
       Believe, strongly, that Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever -- that's for my old late 1980s friends from  the Florida Times-Union sports staff who argued about that status every day for months -- and that Bill Belichick is arguably the best NFL coach ever. But Belichick (my opinion) is a boor, or a bore, whatever. Takes the fun out of the game, although some people thinking winning is fun.
       And speaking of boor/bore/no-fun-except-winning, how about Belichick's close friend, Nick Saban?
       No question the Clemson-Alabama national championship game was tremendous, and to me it proved how great an effort it takes to (barely) beat Alabama (and Saban). You have to know that nationally the only fans not rooting for Clemson were Alabama fans.
       Also in my "don't care" category: the NFL's Pro Bowl; the NHL All-Star Game; the NBA All-Star Game; tennis (Australian Open). OK, I'm more cynical than ever.
       Which takes me to college football recruiting, as it nears National Signing Day. I've written this previously, and I repeat: This is so overblown, so overdone, so unhealthy -- I believe -- for the kids' egos (and the fans' egos). I advise again: Don't put so much stock in the "verbal commitments" by these 17- and 18-year-olds. Waiting until they sign the scholarship papers and, beyond that, they actually qualify academically and enroll in school.
        I wish I could care more about college basketball, but with the way LSU's men are playing -- 30-point losses are mounting -- it is discouraging. The less I say, the better. March Madness can't come soon enough.
        We're going to miss Mary Tyler Moore. She was one of America's Sweethearts -- Laura Petrie of the 1960s, Mary Richards of the 1970s. Like many of us, she had her issues, but didn't you love her smiling face? 
        No more "you're looking live" at Brent Musburger, thank you. Sorry, not going to miss him. It's about time he left TV sports play-by-play to others. I liked that he was a newspaper sports columnist decades ago, but once he went to television -- and we saw him so often -- I got the feeling that Brent's biggest fan was/is ... Brent.
       So I mostly used the "mute" button for his games on TV, and I occasionally would turn on the sound to hear him proclaim something stupid. He never failed.
       And speaking of "mute" -- fair warning -- I now turn to a bit of politics. You can stop reading here. 
       We won't be listening on our TV to President Barnum's omnipresent "spokespeople," known here as Wicked Woman and Press Attack Dog. They have no voice here.
       Here is the coolest thing I did in these 2 1/2 weeks; I fulfilled a promise to Bea, and myself, to (1) finish reading Hamilton The Revolution, the book on the genesis, writing, production and organization of the play and (2) kept reading Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton (I am through 106 pages; only 632 to go).  
       You know Hamilton, the "overrated" Broadway play that won only 11 Tony Awards.
       It reminds me that a couple of months ago when you-know-who was critical in two tweets of the Hamilton cast's "statement" to the Vice-President-elect and I posted how outrageous that was, I was told -- repeatedly -- that the statement was ill-timed and out-of-place. 
       And my reply was: If you think this was a protest, you haven't seen anything yet.
       Now you're seeing the protests, in all forms ... day after day after day, from shore to shore and beyond. And it's not going to stop for four years. 
       Hamilton, of course, reminds us how divided our political world always has been, since the beginning of this great country. It did not start with the previous President.
       George Washington had his critics, but Hamilton had enemies, among them Thomas Jefferson and -- yes -- Aaron Burr. And Burr, the then-Vice President,  shot the former Secretary of the Treasury to death in a duel.   
       Build that wall. Attack the "dishonest, lying" media. Send federal troops to protect the Alamo from the Mexican army. Watch the bizarre world turn every day.
       Take heart: No duels are scheduled ... yet.
       Here's what I repeat: Stay positive. Deal with it.   

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Saying "well done" to Coach Sigler

        I want to thank Coach Orvis Sigler's daughters and his widow, Joanne, for asking me to speak at his memorial service Saturday in Shreveport.
        To be honest, I was not a close family friend or even that close to Coach Sigler. But I was a longtime admirer, I certainly appreciated what he did for athletics and other areas in Shreveport-Bossier and beyond, and perhaps because of what I wrote on the blog about him last April, I was asked to be part of the tribute to him.
         It is always an honor to be asked to do a eulogy, and it's never easy.
         I want to share a couple of thoughts by Taylor Moore, the former Shreveport Captains president and a partner in the sporting goods business with Coach Sigler.
         "Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn't like," Taylor told me Saturday before the memorial service. "Well, Orvis never met a [basketball] referee he liked."
         I remember a couple of antagonistic situations involving Centenary basketball -- and thus Coach Sigler: (1) the rivalry with Oklahoma City University teams coached by smart-aleck Abe Lemons that a couple of times erupted into free-for-alls; and (2) the refereeing of one Bill Valentine, then a controversial American League baseball umpire who also worked basketball in the Missouri Valley Conference, from which Centenary got its officials for home games.
         Saturday evening, Taylor sent me a note, saying, "I  remember Orvis telling about the days at Hirsch [Youth Center] when the player benches were on the end of the court, under the basket, and how that gave him a better opportunity to work the officials every time they passed in front of him.
        "It was a shame that Bill Valentine passed away a couple of years ago because they had some real battles. ... I am not sure both of them are in the same place for the afterlife, but if they are, I bet Valentine has already teed him up."
         Before I share my speech with readers -- it will be a recap for those who attended -- I think back to the Sigler coaching days and if you had told me then that I would be one of the people speaking at his memorial service, I would not have believed it. But repeating, it was an honor.
COACH SIGLER memorial speech – Jan. 7, 2017
      To begin, I attended Oklahoma at TCU basketball game Tuesday night. TCU has a beautiful new coliseum on the site of its old coliseum, and I was reading about the history of the old place, Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. The first game there was in 1961, and TCU beat the Centenary Gents 63-61. And I  know who the Centenary coach was that night. So it’s a small-world connection to today.
       Today we pay respect to Coach Sigler and his family, and when we talk about Coach, respect is the appropriate word.       

Coach Sigler, with daughters Sally and Susan
     I think all of us here feel as if we were blessed to have this man as part of our lives, and that Shreveport-Bossier was fortunate that he chose to make this his permanent home – and that we had him for so long.
       He already was a well-traveled coach (as many of them are) when he arrived in the spring of 1958. The man from Missouri, by way of the U.S. Navy and later the U.S. Military Academy (where he was head basketball coach for four seasons and an assistant football coach on a staff that included two legendary names, Col. Earl “Red” Blaik and Paul Dietzel), became a Shreveporter. And almost 59 years later, here we are to honor him.
         We don’t get to Shreveport-Bossier much these days, except for Holocaust Remembrance events and, unfortunately, memorial services, and that is where we saw Coach Sigler and Joanne in the past couple of years. Always good to see them, and to know that even as his physical strength declined, Coach was still super sharp. And so it was a pleasure to talk with him and then write about him on my blog last April because as I wrote, he was one of the most valuable people in Shreveport-Bossier and ­– to stretch it, Louisiana – in athletics, and in the community, over the past six decades.
          He proved to be so much more than just a very capable basketball coach.  He was a diligent, convincing recruiter, and he was as good or maybe better a promoter of the sport and of athletics than he was a coach.
          He was so wise, so knowledgeable, so well-connected in basketball and athletics all over the country, and he was a pleasant person to be around. Well, mostly pleasant. I mean, five technical fouls in one game? That will get you kicked out of 2½ games these days.
         And he was such a contributor.
         In Shreveport, you have to start with his influence in taking Centenary basketball from a strong small-college program to NCAA Division I a year after he arrived. He took the Gents to a competitive, big-time level, a challenge even though it was such a small school. He started, I believe, the first basketball camp for kids in this area. One of his biggest achievements was in 1961 helping start the state high school basketball tournament, the Top Twenty as it became known, and he was its guiding director the first several years when it became an established and popular event, which Shreveport was proud to have. It’s now about to be 57 years old and still going.
        You know, of course, about his great interest and involvement with the Independence Bowl. Others will talk about that.
        He was the Centenary athletic director who oversaw the building and opening of the Gold Dome, an impressive monument of sorts to him. You could say Robert Parish played there, but also say it is the house that Coach Orvis Sigler built.
         You think about Centenary College basketball, and that’s where so many of us first met him. It was a job that – as oldest daughter Susan told me --  Paul Dietzel recommended to him and also recommended him for it. I think you’ll agree that for the 10 seasons he coached the Gents and five more that he was the athletic director, they took on some big-name schools and helped give Shreveport a lot of big-time basketball.

     Just as with Army, it was a challenge for its coach because of limitations in size, but the Gents were competitive, they were tough, and what I remember most is they were fun to watch and to follow.
       For us kids in Shreveport-Bossier in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Centenary was our basketball team. Dad, who was a great basketball fan, and I went games at Hirsch Youth Center many times – but not often enough for me – and I listened to IZ (Irv Zeidman) doing Centenary games on radio, home and away, as often as I could. And how about those late-night TV rebroadcasts on Channel 12 in the early 1960s? Stayed up for most of those.
       Actually, as I was thinking about this, I realized I was a Centenary basketball fan before I was a fan of LSU or Louisiana Tech (but not before the Shreveport Sports and New York Yankees, thank you).
         And so I quickly want to give you some names – my Coach Sigler-era Centenary basketball favorites, and I apologize for the dozens I can’t get to: Gerald “Tooley” Martello, Jackie Crawford, Leon Shaw, Don “Dusty” Ensley, Dale Van Bibber (Dad loved him because of the Dutch name and then we got to know him when he helped Ken Ivy coach Woodlawn to a state championship), the best-known redhead in Shreveport and the only Sigler player eventually to also be the Centenary coach and athletic director – Riley Wallace, Willard “Soup” Moore, Stan McAfoos, Jerry Butcher, “The Ringgold Rifle” from my wife’s high school -- Barrie Haynie, Larry Shoemaker, Larry Ward and John Blankenship (have to mention them together), and three Shreveport-Bossier guys (Jimmy Williams from Byrd, Andy Fullerton from Fair Park, and one of Centenary’s greatest athletes, a very good basketball player but better in baseball, Cecil Upshaw of Bossier).
         And one more name: Tom Kerwin. Captain Hook. Yes, we all loved watching Robert Parish play at Centenary, but I’m telling you that watching Tom and that fabulous hook shot is one of my favorite basketball memories.
          Kerwin’s greatest game? I was there, as a freshman basketball statistician for Louisiana Tech. I can tell you that it was very hard for me personally to pull against Centenary; I really had mixed emotions for four years at Tech. But in late February 1966, near the end of Tom’s senior season, we came to Hirsch and we had a good team, an improving team. That night we “held” Kerwin to 47 points (which set the Centenary school record; Barrie had scored 46 a few games earlier). Funny thing is, we – Tech -- won the game in overtime. That’s a story in itself, and some of you remember it.
           Coach Sigler always said that was one of his most painful basketball losses. But basketball is one thing; painful losses come in life, too. And here were some great lessons Coach Sigler taught us: You keep going; you persevere.
           Job-wise, after 15 years at Centenary, it was time to move on. He did quickly, helping start a very successful sporting goods business. Later he went into specialty advertising, and he ran the Shreveport Sports Authority. He was deeply involved in the Independence Bowl. He found new worlds.

         But real losses, painful losses: A spouse of 25 years and later his only son.  And yet he found another new world, and a whole new family.      
Coach and Joanne (photo by Roger S. Braniff Sr.)
     Coach and Joanne were blessed to find   each other and marry in 1970. Two families joined into one. A good pairing, don’t you think? Yes, Coach could be just plain-spoken, exacting and tough, but Joanne was a match – that’s an understatement -- and in this community, there were outgoing and omnipresent.
        Joanne, as many of you know, took her turn in the media world, writing columns for The Shreveport Times. After 7½ years, her last column – in early December 2014 – was probably her best, about World War II servicemen and in particular about her hero, a Navy bomber pilot from Missouri named Orvis Sigler Jr.
         And from my media standpoint, here is what I liked about Coach Sigler – no matter what the subject, but especially Centenary basketball and the Independence Bowl, he was going to address it with an honest, studied evaluation. He was going to do and say what he felt was best for Centenary or Shreveport or Louisiana.  
         After I wrote my blog last year, I laughed when Missy Parker Setters, director of the Independence Bowl, said that Coach and Joanne were still part of the scene and that he was still “feisty.”
          Yes, he was. And as daughter Sally noted last week, in his final days and the final decline, Coach could still be “strong as an ox” when he wanted something.
           We think of how good a family man he was, how good a friend, how dedicated a coach, recruiter, administrator and promoter, and how big a role he played in so many ways. We thank his family for sharing him with us.
           Mostly, thank you, Coach Sigler. We respect what you gave us.