Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cam Newton: The Cloud over College Football

I don’t have a Heisman Trophy ballot, but if I did it would look like this:

(1) Cam Newton, quarterback, Auburn

(2) Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford

(3) LaMichael James, running back, Oregon

(4) Kellen Moore, quarterback, Boise State

(5) Patrick Patterson, safety, LSU

Since I’ve been paying close attention to college football all season, I would have to vote for Newton because the field leader of the undefeated Tigers is undoubtedly the best player in the sport.

I would vote for Newton even though he appears to be the second coming of Reggie Bush—the first Heisman Trophy winner ever to give back the award because all the dirt on how he came to be a running back at USC threaten to bury him.

Bush has done extremely well in the NFL, helping the New Orleans Saints win the Super Bowl in February, and I’m sure Newton will do well in the pros.

I’m also sure Newton will be a pro in 2012 because he’ll have no reason to return to Auburn, whether he was paid to play there or not.

For now, he’s a 6-foot-6, 250-pound cloud over college football.

By now we know that his father, Cecil Newton Sr., spoke with someone supposedly representing Mississippi State about a pay-to-play arrangement for his son.

That Cecil Newton Sr. is a pastor only makes this story more obscene than the average big-time college sports recruiting scandal.

Newton did not go to Mississippi State. He went to Auburn…after leaving the University of Florida, where he reportedly stole a laptop computer and was caught cheating on three separate occasions, and a Texas junior college, where he played last year.

Cam Newton “is a great man,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said after Newton led the Tigers to a 49-31 victory over Georgia last Saturday.

A great college quarterback? Yes. A sensational athlete? Absolutely. But a great young man? Hardly.

Newton may well be remembered as the kamikaze who took Auburn football to heights even Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson—the school’s two Heisman Trophy winners—could not reach in the 1970s and ’80s, only to cause the school’s program to crash and burn after his departure.

Auburn is likely to lose everything because of the Newton affair: a Southeastern Conference division title, an SEC championship, an undefeated season, a national championship and a Heisman Trophy winner.

It would violate NCAA rules if Newton—or anyone representing Newton, e.g., his father the pastor—received money or financial incentives to attend Auburn.

Trouble is we’re not likely to find out if Newton got anything, and how much, and from whom before December 6, the final day on which Heisman votes can be submitted.

So voters have to vote for Newton based on what they’ve seen him do on the field. But voters also have to think harder this year about who their second choice would be—because he could well become the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner by default in a year or two.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sports Television Still in Need of Color Adjustment

Sports are not exempt from racial profiling. While the racial profiling in sportsworld is not as extreme or humiliating as that which exists in America’s airports and on the roads, it is mindless and infuriating nonetheless.

My skin crawled while watching an NBC Sports promo for this Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers football game. As NBC showed film of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick (right), a voiceover announcer intoned, “the master mind.” Then we saw film of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin (left) as the announcer said, “versus the master motivator.”

Both Belichick and Tomlin are Super Bowl-winning coaches. Belichick is white. Tomlin is black.

Why isn’t Tomlin credited with having a fine football mind? Why do media observers ascribe Tomlin’s success to an ability to give a fiery speech? Why are Tomlin and other black NFL playoff coaches past and present—men such as Tony Dungy, Herman Edwards and Dennis Green—reduced to mere “motivators”?

Racial profiling.

Before Tomlin became Pittsburgh’s head coach, he was the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator. Every week, he spent many hours breaking down film footage to develop game plans that included coverage and blitzing schemes designed to thwart an opposing offense.

Heady stuff. And Tomlin did it very well. The Vikings had the NFL’s top-rated defense during his tenure. And his work as Steelers coach has been so exemplary that no one believes Pittsburgh misses Bill Cowher.

Yet NBC could not bring itself to promote Patriots vs. Steelers as a battle of coaching masterminds.

Experience shows that both Super Bowl-winning coaches have to be white for that to happen.

Remember when Eric Mangini led the Jets to the playoffs in his first year as an NFL coach?

“Man-genius,” he was called. Or just “genius”? That is, until the Jets fired him after the 2008 season.

Did Mangini get dumb? Or was he never a “genius” in the first place, but rather the beneficiary of media hyperbole given to a successful white coach by a predominantly white sports media?

Mangini used to be the NFL’s youngest head coach. Raheem Morris is the NFL’s youngest head coach now.

Morris’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 5-3. Have you heard anyone call Morris a “genius” for turning around the previously woebegone Bucs? And you won’t hear it, even if the Bucs make the playoffs.

Racial profiling.

And it’s hardly limited to football.

On October 22, the night the Texas Rangers vanquished the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, former big-league catcher turned TV commentator John Flaherty said this about Texas manager Ron Washington: “He’s not the best Xs and Os guy in the world, but he gets his players to play hard.”

Flaherty, who works for the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network, would have us believe all Washington does is motivate. The fact is Washington out-managed Yankees skipper Joe Girardi so severely that, if not for a late Yankees’ rally in Game 1, Texas could have swept the best-of-seven series.

The list of baseball managers whose success has been attributed to an ability to motivate rather than an ability to strategize and make smart in-game decisions includes Washington, Dusty Baker and two-time World Series winner Cito Gaston.

Not surprisingly, all three are black.

A generation ago, we heard and read that successful black athletes were “natural athletes” while successful white athletes were “smart” and “brainy” and “savvy.”

Some older commentators still engage in this kind of racial profiling. (Pay close attention to Bill Raftery’s work on ESPN’s and CBS’s college basketball telecasts, particularly when he talks about point guards.)

Fortunately, most people who get paid to comment on sports have become enlightened enough to drop the “natural athlete” references or the stereotype that light skin = smart and dark skin = physical.

Alas, we still have to smarten up the ones who routinely subject black coaches and managers to racial stereotypes.