Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reflections on 2012

2012 is about to be a wrap and as I sit at the computer letting the Christmas holiday weight settle, I figured it be a good time to follow in the great tradition of coming up with some kind of commemorative list of important events from the year.  It has been a year that has seen a shift in my work to Family Life ratio, and I am thankful for that.  So here are my Top 5 Turning Points of the year that have lead to the life I currently get to enjoy.

5. Malibu Seawolves - When you spend time as a club coach, you hope to progress to the point where you have greater control over how things are run in the organization and that you have built up enough good will among families that they will not throw you overboard the minute you say or do something they don't agree with. If you're lucky enough to stay somewhere long enough you may even dare to dream of perhaps owning the organization one day. I hardly felt team ownership was the direction my life was heading after being dumped from two of the last three teams I had worked for, but that was the offer I got in June after spending some time working in Malibu. Bringing the Seawolves to life has been fulfilling and allows me to keep my feet wet in the club swimming world, a world that has become a major part of my identity. I look forward to seeing how it all develops.

The Auckland Museum
4.  New Zealand - In March I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying one of my athletes to the New Zealand Open Swimming Championships which served as their Olympic Trials. The excursion to Middle Earth was supposed to be a family one as the Mrs. had never been and we are all about getting as many stamps in Lil Man's passport as we can.  We had to go to Plan B however when Elijah joined us (see below) so I rolled to Auckland with Isaiah solo. It was the first time I had been away with Isaiah for such a long period, and it was the type of bonding time that I always hoped I would have for my children. I watched a whole lot of Disney Channel, fed him a whole bunch of Froot Loops and Gummi Bears, and also got to see his excitement as he saw all of Auckland. If I ever had any doubt about my ability to parent by myself, the trip put that notion to bed.

Conwell is 2nd from the left.
3.  Jeff Conwell - When Jeff Conwell asked me to preside over his wedding I was honored. It seemed like a cool thing to be able to say you married two of your good friends. As the date drew nearer and I started thinking about not only standing in front of Jeff and Alicia, but also their families to bless their union, it became a more serious matter. I was forced to really think about how I understand the covenant of marriage and how I wanted to speak on that understanding in a way that fit the bride and groom. Subsequently I have continued to explore how my life can be further enriched by aligning my steps with my faith. When I look around at who my role models and mentors currently are, they are all people who have had a close relationship with God that has sustained them. My father, for example has been an ordained deacon for at least thirty years. As I get older and have more familial responsibilities, I am beginning to recognize the power of a life closely tied to Christ to sustain me.  So in 2013 I will continue to look to Him to order my steps so that I can realize the full abundance of what he has in store for me.

2.  Harvard-Westlake - You know it when you have found a job that meets your criteria as a great position. Professional respect and room for development, excellent resources and facilities, peers who dont get caught up in BS, etc are all things that characterize a great job for me. I have found that working at Harvard-Westlake as head of aquatics (oh yeah the brand-spanking-new pool helps).  My schedule at HW also affords me the time to be present in raising the boys like no other job I've had.  I will not be surprised if I'm working there twenty to thirty years from now coaching and teaching the kids of my current students Shoulberg-style.

1.  Elijah Emeka Carroll - All you can do is marvel when your prayers are answered. We were blessed to have Isaiah six years ago on Thanksgiving Day.  We were resolute that we wanted to adopt our second child, but had no delusions that we would be matched with a newborn when we started the
process.  When I received the call from Nkechi, I was in the middle of a student teacher observation and nearly interrupted the whole class celebrating the news.  Having two boys in the house means
that I've had to develop as a parent in ways that I could not have imagined. I can't be a parenting liability if I expect our household to keep moving so that means being a better nurturer, being a more patient teacher, a more diligent house cleaner and a more efficient worker because if I don't sleep when the kids do, than there won't be any.  Wouldn't trade it for anything though because for every sacrifice there is a reward. Watching one son receive scholastic and athletic awards while the other learns to walk and talk have been more than enough payback, and I can't wait to see what lies down the road.

See you in 2013... I'm sure there will be plenty to write about.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After: How Will the President Spend His Next 4 Years?

This election season was exhausting.  As it became clear that Mitt Romney would indeed be the nominee of the GOP, I sidled up next to my mother everyday as she digested her MSNBC shows so that I could be as informed as possible.  Like many, I was skeptical of what President Obama had  done in his first term, and I wanted to see if in fact his opponent would be an option worth considering.  By the end of the summer I was weary of "campaign coverage" and simply resorted to reading from trusted sites to understand where the candidates stood on certain issues.  I didn't watch the debates because I knew that I wouldn't learn anything new about the candidates. I didn't volunteer to help as I originally had planned because I wasn't a fan of how the campaign was being run.  I voted and watched as the results came in.  I was surprised when the election was called less than twenty minutes after the polls in Cali closed, and then waited to see how the candidates would react to the results.  Ultimately what I had come to believe about the campaign, that it made these two men become different people just for the sake of winning, was confirmed in my mind as I listened to Governor Romney's concession speech and President Obama's acceptance speech.  When unburdened by the campaign and trying to conform to a set of ideals that weren't quite congruent with his own, Governor Romney is not as robotic and bland as he was characterized during the campaign.  He has a personality, and while I disagree with the way he envisioned leading the country, I had a greater respect for him after he walked off the stage in Boston.  The President sounded more like the man who talked about everybody's President when he addressed the masses in Grant Park in 2008.  He touched on ideas that he hadn't mentioned in weeks as he hunkered down to dismantle Romney's character.  I can only hope that folks will continue to lobby their local politicians so that the country can move forward and make some of the institutional changes needed to get people back to work.  Below are a few other things I wonder about as I wake up on the morning after President secured four more years in office

1.  Will the President's feet ever get held to the fire for his program of drone attacks?
According to a recent report published by the law schools of New York University and Stanford University, drone attacks are inaccurate in targeting Al Qaeda opeatives and have killed far more civillians than terrorists and actually incite more hatred of the US.  Pakistanis report fear of going to weddings or funerals because those gatherings may be viewed as meetings worthy of attack.  On a related note, the power that the Executive office has been given to execute American citizens believed to be participating in terrorist activities without due process is also troubling.

2.  Will the President be able to coalition build to pass policies that will make an impact on the deficit?
The popular narrative is that President Obama spent all of his political cache to pass Obamacare, and that in the effort to get reelected he was reticent to bully his policies through Congress.  What will now be his approach with four more years secured facing a Congress that is still Republican dominated?

3.  Will the privatization of American schools continue?
Public education is a dying institution in this country and the Race to the Top program simply creates more incentive for schools within districts to go for self which means the rich will get richer and the poor will be allowed to crumble and turn into charters which are only 50/50 in making the situation better.

I could go on, but it's time to get back to the grind.  For all those who voted for Obama, make four more years count.  For those who voted for Romney, continue to voice your opinion and hold the President accountable because there are changes that need to happen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Summer Well Spent

It was a blessing this summer to be able to spend time with my oldest son as he prepared to enter kindergarten.  He also faced the addition of a new sibling in the house. In past summers I have spent a large amount of time on the road coaching, but I have been blessed now with a position that allows me to spend more time with family at this important developmental stage. While Isaiah has done an exemplary job accepting the big brother role, he has also started to challenge authority, particularly with his mother, and that is something I want to shut down before it becomes a regular habit and starts happening at school.  Every day this summer, I would pick him up from camp, and either take him to the pool so he could burn some energy or we would go home and work on skills that would be useful in the classroom like counting or reading.  This kept him in practice with school skills like having to sit still and focus on a task.  He also got continued exposure to things he had learned during the school year.  Below are a couple other examples of how my additional time with my son was helpful:

Taking responsibility: Little Man struggled during the year with owning up to things that he did which he knew weren't right like not putting his clothes away, or forgetting to flush the toilet.  His teacher had observed the same thing in school. This summer when he tried to claim "I didn't do it" he was consistently held accountable.   I explained how he could get in more trouble for not owning up to his mistake than if he just apologized.

Controlling Emotions:  We wanted to move Little Man forward beyond crying when he did not get his way.  His teacher noted that he often did this in school.  This summer I pushed him to use his words to explain why he was upset.   I also forced him not to whine when he wanted something.  He is only five, but he looks to be seven or eight, so we want his maturity to match what his teachers perceive when they see him.

Bonding Activities:  Little Man and I grew closer over the summer because of the opportunities we had to do things together.  He came to the pool with me to watch me coach, and I answered all of his questions about what was going on.  We also went to the movies together, and I took him to his karate classes, which allowed me to give instant feedback on what I saw. 

Ultimately, this summer gave me a multitude of opportunities to affirm my love, and support of my oldest son at a time when he could easily think that there is less attention available for him.  The early payoff is that he has started the school year very positively, and his teacher has been impressed by his leadership and work ethic.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Olympics Post-Mortem

It's been a week now since the 2012 Summer Olympics hosted by the city of London concluded.  Americans have been rejoicing ever since as we topped not only the overall medal count, beating China by 16, but also finishing atop the standings in the number of gold medals won with 46, eight more than 2nd place China.  As usual, contests that seemed to be a forgone conclusion on paper turned out totally different.  That drama, along with the great human interest stories, is what makes the Olympics so compelling  Let me go over the things I thought would be big stories, then recognize some things that became big stories, and then look ahead to Rio 2016 when we'll put on our Uncle Sam hats and do it again.

PRE-GAMES HEADLINERS - These folks had big hype coming in, but it's hard to live up to Olympic-level scrutiny...

RYAN LOCHTE - In a pre-Phelps swimming world, what Lochte did in 2012 would have been revered.  But just like NBA players who don't have rings because they played in the Jordan era, Lochte will always be measured against his homey.  Two gold, two silver, and a bronze is a nice haul for any Olympic swimmer, but when you consider that he won five gold at the 2011 World Championships, and that he lost his signature event (200bk) and got run down on the anchor leg of a relay, you'd have to say that he didn't quite deliver in London.  No worries, he's still going to get his money, and he'll likely be back for more medals in 2016.

USAIN BOLT - Delivered like a champ.  Erased all memory of him getting beat in the Jamaican trials by Johan Blake, and got the gold trifecta (100m, 200m, 4x100relay).  Got no problem with him saying he's a legend, but he's not the greatest athlete to live.  For my money, he'd have to hurdle and long jump to begin to make that claim.  Speaking of long jumping, shame on Carl Lewis for trying to rush the stage Kanye-style during Bolt's moment.  Nobody has forgotten Los Angeles in '84 Mr. Lewis, relax.

JORDAN WIEBER - The regining All-around World Champion gymnast didn't even make it to the all-around Finals in London, though she arguably deserved to.  Then when she got a chance to earn a medal in an individual event, she got seventh.  To spin this positively, it is a testament to the development of US Gymnastics that the reigning World Champ could be outshined by two teammates, and be reduced to a supporting role.

SANYA RICHARDS-ROSS - You could not miss Richards-Ross face in pre-Olympicpromotional campaigns from Shell, Citibank, and Nike.  She delivered in this Olympics unlike in Beijing '08 by winning her signature event, the 400m.

OLYMPIC SCENE STEALERS - These folks were not high on the national radar coming in to the Games, but they made their mark, and now stand to gain handsomely...

ALLISON SCHMITT - Became more than just "Michael Phelps Training Partner" during this Olympics as she took home an individual gold in the 200m freestyle plus two relay gold medals, and then added a silver and a bronze.  I look to see her back for 2016

GABBY DOUGLAS - In a story made for Hollywood, the 16yr old becomes the first Black woman to win the Olympic all-around.  It was tough watching her fall off the beam and struggle in her individual events, but her Olympic performance will go down in history.

DAVID BOUDIA - Made Americans remember that we have a history of diving excellence by becoming the first since Greg Louganis to win a diving gold medal (10m platform)

YE SHIWEN - The Chinese 16yr old took gold medals in the both the 200 and 400 individual medley, and raised eyebrows for her blazing freestyle split in the 400. 

DAVID RUDISHA - Performance of the Games as far as I'm concerned winning the 800m on the track with a world record time of 1:40.91. The way he ran the race, effortlessly separating at the 450 mark, had to leave not only the track fan, but the layman saying "How did he do that!"  Hope they find a nice spot for his tree at St. Patrick's.

LOOKING FORWARD TO RIO 2016 - Things that I'll have my eye on to see how they develop as we move towards Brazil in four years...

AGE LIMIT FOR US MEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM - David Stern wants to see an age limit imposed for Team USA of under 23 in order to protect his NBA product.  According to, FIBA is not prepared to put this age cap in place for 2016, but I wouldn't be surprised if the NBA continues to make a strong run at this.  While it is entertaining to watch Team USA go Harlem Globetrotters on Nigeria or Tunisia, I think it would be interesting to see if Jerry Colangelo could develop an under 23 squad that could beat the more seasoned world teams.  Here's what a U23 might have looked like for 2012 (pre-injury):

Kyrie Irving (G)
John Wall (G)
Jrue Holiday (G)
Klay Thompson (G)
Brandon Knight (G)
DeMarcus Cousins (C)
Anthony Davis (C)
Derrick Favors (F/C)
Paul George (F)
Kawhi Leonard (F)
Derrick Williams (F)
Tristan Thompson (F)

Knight, Williams, and Thompson are the only ones not already in the USA Basketball pipeline.  The other 9 were members of the 2012 Select Team which served as a sparring partner for the Olympic team.  I could not see this team not winning the Gold medal because there's no proven player like LeBron, Kobe, Kevin Durant, or Chris Paul who could put the team on their back in the 4th quarter, but it would be interesting to see who might emerge.

REINVESTMENT INTO USA TRACK&FIELD - I've never seen such a poor showing on the men's side in Track & Field.  Bronze in the 100m, NO medals in the 200m and 400m (first time since FOREVER), and Silver in the 4x100 and 4x400.  In contrast, it was a banner Olympics for the T&F field women.  Silver in the 100m, Gold and Bronze in the 200m, Gold and Bronze in the 400m, Gold in the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.  What is apparent is that there is very little support for the National team unless you have past medal pedigree, which means we're left with college athletes, who are overextended by the time the Games take place, and a large number of pros who cannot fully dedicate themselves to training because they have to work at Home Depot or Staples to support themselves (hence why Dawn Harper and Kellie Williams have been unloading darts on Lolo Jones).  I wonder if USATF will figure it out like other USA governing bodies have.

WILL NFL FOOTBALL GO OLYMPIC - If I had not heard Roger Goodell talk about it with my own ears, I wouldn't believe this to be an actual movement.  Can't ever see this happening, but it will be interesting to see if it's still being talked about four years from now.

Here's to another four years of buildup...

Friday, August 10, 2012

10 Years of Married Happiness...How Fast A Decade Goes By

I'm feeling really blessed  like Jill Scott today as I have reached Year 10 of my marriage to the former Nkechi N. Okoro. Ten years means alot to me, and I see it as a milestone because it is half as long as my parents were married. It makes me reflective about what has worked so far and what I need to continue working on. I'm only riding the marriage coaster once, so I plan to do everything I possibly can to maximize the experience.

At ten years, with two kids, and living in a house with an actual picket fence, I feel like we have achieved many of the goals that couples set for themselves when they come off the euphoria of the wedding and honeymoon. The Mrs. and I are now into what I call the Foundation Years where we are building our family and looking to cement our brand so that we are maximizing the return on our labor.  When we reach the empty nest Legacy Years post-retirement, we'll have solace in knowing that we have left something for the next generation of Carrolls. In arriving at this point, I feel like the eighth grader who has graduated and is now about to start high school.  I'm more concerned with how I can learn from the upperclassmen, then what I can tell a sixth grader about surviving middle school.

I often silently observe married couples whom I respect, and try to distill which qualities I think most help their marriage.  Through those observations I have realized that discipline, patience, and efficiency are the qualities that I need to continue to develop because they make me a better father, husband, and professional.  Here's why:

 - Discipline is necessary to make sure that when I plan to do something, I execute the plan.  My disposable time is not as abundant as it used to be, so in order to achieve my goals and maintain the life balance I want, work time has to be just that so that I can play when the opportunity arises.

- Patience allows me to be a better father because it enables me to take the time to teach my sons the lessons they need to learn. It helps me be a better husband because I don't take it personal when I can't have as much of the Mrs. undivided attention as I once got.  Patience keeps me from being selfish.  The minute you start to feel like you're entitled to be selfish in a marriage, the foundation starts to crumble.

- Efficiency is making sure that my efforts are focused.  If it's time to write, then I've got to put the focus there, and not split time writing and Facebooking/Tweeting/Instagramming, etc.  The same is true for spending time with the kids.  I'm a Iphone addict, and I'm trying to recover.  Time with the kids and Mrs is just that, and in order to enjoy it fully I can't be distracted

The beauty of marriage is that it's the partnership that allows you to see the things about yourself that you want to improve because the growth is for the good of the union.  The self-work that I do allows me to be a better captain of the ship, and the better I captain the ship, the less chance there is for a Titanic vs. Iceberg moment, or in my case, the Mrs. running off with 50 Cent, or some other Hollywood leading man. 

One of the things I'm most excited about for this anniversary weekend is the chance to celebrate with many key members of our support network and express to them how much they have meant to us.  Marriage peers and mentors are instrumental in making it last, and we have a number of role models who have taken us under their wing, and have given us a roadmap of what the road looks like ahead.  At the same time, our peers have been able to share in the successes and prop us up in the seasons of struggle.  While ten years is good, there is much more marriage ahead that I'm looking forward to.  There is not a day that I don't think I've got the best partner I possibly could have riding shotgun with me.  Love you Nkechi.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Outstanding Performances from Olympics Past

Now that the Opening Ceremonies have concluded and proper protocol has been set for the 2012 Olympics, it's time to sit back and see who can join this list of the most outstanding performances in my lifetime.

Before My Time:

Jesse Owens - 4 track gold medals in ('36) while Hitler watched.
Wilma Rudolph - 3 track gold in Rome ('60). First American woman to top the podium 3 times.
Mark Spitz - 7 swimming gold in Munich ('72).  Set the bar that couldn't be touched for almost twenty years.
Nadia Comaneci - 3 gymnastics gold and 5 medals overall in Montreal '76. First perfect 10 awarded in competition for uneven parallel bar routine.

In My Lifetime

Michael Phelps - In the history of swimming, the number 8 will forever be associated with Phelps run in Beijing ('08). Though there was a little bit of luck involved, he was also damn good in crushing the field in the 4IM, 2IM, 2fl and 2fr.

Matt Biondi - First swimmer in my lifetime to make a serious run at "The Spitz". Brought home 5 gold medals from Seoul ('88) and was a bad touch away from a 6th in the 100fl.

Vitaly Scherbo - Bealrusian gymnast took home 6 gold from Barcelona ('92) out of the eight events he competed in.

Natalie Coughlin - 6 medal haul in Beijing ('08) was the biggest ever for an American woman. She took gold in the backstroke, but also medaled in the free and IM.

Mary Lou Retton - In ('84) she was the 1st American gymnast I ever saw win the all-around. A feat also accomplished by Nastia Liukin in Beijing, but Mary Lou did it first and her coach, Bela Karolyi puts her over the top.

Carl Lewis - 4 Gold in ('84). So versatile. 100/200, and probably best technician ever in the LJ. Had the event locked down from 84-96.

Janet Evans - Queen of American distance swimming. Took 3 gold in Seoul ('88) and the look on her face after smashing the WR in the 400fr is a lasting mental image.

Greg Louganis - Double gold in springboard and platform in Los Angeles ('84) and Seoul ('88). The Seoul performance after being concussed on springboard is unforgettable.

Michael Johnson - Gold shoes in Atlanta in '96 and he came through with WR in both the 200 and 400, my all-time favorite track events.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee - JJK not only won the multi-event heptathlon in Barcelona '92, but also the long jump. She still holds the WR in the heptathlon.

All asterisk performances - Performances derailed by positive drug tests
Ben Johnson - Seoul '88
Marion Jones - Sydney '00

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Trials Wrap Up:

The 2008 Trials in Swimming and Track & Field, my two favorites of all, did not disappoint, and we now have two London-ready contingents who should bring back a nice haul of medals if their Trial performances give us a fair indication of who they are.  Below are my final Class Notes on what I saw over the course of last week, and into the beginning of this week.

Swimming's Obama moment:  As a lifelong swimmer who constantly had to explain to people that my lanky frame was not used for basketball growing up, but instead for swimming, it was a prideful moment for me and my Black swimming brethren and sistren to have Cullen Jones not only make the Olympic team in his first individual event, the 100-freestyle (not easy out of lane 1), but also win the Olympic Trials in the 50-freestyle.  Hopefully it will be easier to digest now when a young Black man says he wants to swim now that there is a face to model after in the same way that young Black boys can confidently say that occupying the Oval office is now possible.  The legacy of African-American swimmers in this country was enriched by Jones' achievements last week as well as those of Anthony Ervin who came out of retirement to make another team as well as Lia Neal, who followed in the footsteps of Maritza Correia to become the second Black woman to accomplish the feat.  I hope these results will inspire the USA Swimming Foundation to redouble their commitment to the Make A Splash campaign, of which Mr. Jones has been an ambassador for the past quadrennium.

Youth Movement Continues:  USA Swimming continues to do a commendable job identifying and developing young athletes who will one day become part of the National Team.  As we say happy trails to Katie Hoff, Amanda Beard, and Dara Torres as Olympians, we welcome Missy Franklin, Kate Ledecky, and Lia Neal to the Olympic stage.  This lies in stark contrast to the Men's Olympic team where there is no member under the age of 20 years old.

Phelps vs. Lochte:  The races at the Olympics between these two will be some of the greatest we have ever seen between two Americans.  The variety of events in which they will compete is what makes the rivalry unique, and will be must-see TV during the first week of Olympic coverage.

Allyson Felix's Gold Quest:  As decorated an athlete as Allyson Felix has been, her resume does not have that signature individual gold medal performance that allows an Olympian to be able to do speaking engagements for the rest of their lives.  She looked like she is intent on making sure she gets that medal as she blew away the field at the Trials in a time of 21.69.  I don't know how much we will ever know about the machinations that enabled Felix to gain an additional spot on the team in the 100m dash over her teammate, Jeneba Tarmoh, but she is now in a nice position to bring home four more medals from London to bring her total to seven.  This would give her more than Jackie Joyner-Kersee, one of the most decorated American track athletes ever.

Struggle to make the Olympic Standard:  I became well-versed in the swimming Olympic standards during my March trip to New Zealand where it was cause for celebration when a competitor won an event and actually made the standard.  In the US, there is no Olympic swimming event where the two qualifiers struggle to make the standard.  It speaks to the strength of the team.  On the track however, it seemed that in many of the events over 400m, the question of whether or not the athletes had the Olympic qualifying time was a constant part of the race analysis, and does not bode well for American prospects for medals.  I hope the powers at USA Track & Field (USATF) have a development plan in place as College track and field programs continue to be killed off.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Trials Continue

Last night the swimming Finals got right to the good stuff with the 400 Individual Medley featuring three of the most talented American swimmers in Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps, and Tyler Clary.  Lochte took the win, contrary to my pick, but I can guarantee we'll see a better performance out of Phelps in London.

On the track, there were only a few finals, but the men's 800 packed plenty of excitement as Nick Symmonds, Khadevis Robinson, and Duane Solomon, Jr. emerged from a close pack at the top of the last 100.  Shout to Robinson and Solomon, Jr. who I used to see putting in work when I coached in Santa Monica.  On the women's side, Alysia Montano (aka Ms Flower Power), held on after leading the whole race to win in 1:59.08 followed by Geena Gail and Alice Schmidt.  Both groups of 800m runners have work to do if they hope to make the podium in London.  On the men's side, it will take at least a 1:43 to make it to the Final, and likely a 1:42 low to get on the podium.  For the women, 1:58 and 1:57.  The track goes dark until Thursday, so just swimming picks tonight

Women's 100 butterfly:
Dana Vollmer - She's on a mission, and looks to be swimming more for the podium than to just make another team.
Kathleen Hershey - She's been to the Olympics before, and I think she has a better chance here than in the 200fl where she made the team in 2008

Men's 100 breastroke:  
Brendan Hansen -  the comeback kid looks to add another Olympic chapter to his legacy
Eric Shanteau - he's been 58 long course before, and he's going to need a solid sub-minute performance to make the team.

Women's 400 freestyle: 
Allison Schmitt - She's been one of the most consistent female performers in the last quad.  I don't see her getting unseated here.
Katie Ledecky - There's always a young girl who bubbles up and makes the team.  By all accounts, she is the real deal at 14 years old.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Weekend Trials Wrap Up

The first weekend of competition for the 2012 Olympic Trials in Track & Field lived up to my excitement for it by delivering solid performances by vets and newcomers, and even a World Record in the Decathlon (salute Ashton Eaton, get that Wheaties Box pic).  Here are a few of my Class Notes followed by my Head of the Class predictions for tonight's first night of Finals at the Swimming Trials in Omaha

FloJo Performance of the Meet:  Carmelita Jeter looked easy through the heats and handled the final of the 100m with no problem, and did it with FloJo like swagger.  I can see her face time growing as the Olympics approaches.

On A Mission:  The winners of the women's and men's 400m, Sanya Richards-Ross and LaShawn Merrit, appear to be on a mission to be at the top of the podium in London.  For Merritt it will be a repeat performance.  For Richards-Ross, a Gold medal would be redemptive after she lead the 400m final in Beijing most of the way before fading to third.

50-Cent Performance of the Meet:  Bryshon Nellum was a HS track superstar here in SoCal before injuries and gun shot wounds threatened to end his career.  His third place finish in the 400m was inspiring.  It is an event that America is always strong in, and he did his best time when it counted.  Salute.

Up Off the Mat:  Tyson Gay got in good enough shape after hip surgery to run 9.86s and take 2nd to Justin Gatlin in the 100m to make the team.  Lolo Jones took third in the 100m hurdles at 12.86s against a strong field to earn a chance to earn the Gold medal that eluded her after she hit the final hurdle in the final of the 2008 race.

All Gone Fishin Team:  Some of my Olympic favorites didn't get their tickets punched this time around, but they do earn a tip of the cap for lacing them up again.

Jeremy Wariner (400m)
Lauryn Williams (100m)
Joanna Hayes (100m hurdles)

SWIMMING:  (lots of chalk picks tonight.  You can't fake the funk in the 400s)
Men's 400IM:  Phelps wins to show folks he's back and that he's still got the juice.  Lochte 2nd.
Clary 3rd

Women'ts 400IM:  Biesel 1st, Levernz 2nd

Men's 400fr:  Vanderkay 1st, Houchin 2nd

Friday, June 22, 2012

LeBron Coronation Perfect Primer for Olympic Lead Up Events

Many are writing today about the Miami Heat, and the coronation of LeBron James as a champion.  It is the unquestioned lead sports story of the day after eight seasons of the King being without a crown.  There are many angles you can take on this story, but I'll leave that to the hoop heads while I spend some time previewing two of my favorite events which I can now devote my full attention to over the next week: the 2012 Olympic Swimming and Track and Field Trials.  Both events will ramp up over the weekend and will extend into next week.  Both Trials are considered a true crucible where in many events competitors who could medal a the Games don't make the team.  Both sports are showcased at the Games and consistently produce stars like Michael Phelps and Carl Lewis who are arguably the greatest Olympians ever.  So on a day when we are all reflecting upon LeBron's cresting of the mountaintop (hopefully not for the last time), I think it's fitting to look forward to the building stories of athletes who will be looking to culminate their own journeys at the end of the summer.  For some, the end of the NBA season means a focus on baseball, others look to football.  As someone who grew up spending two hours in the pool daily, the Olympics have always been an important event.

In 2008, the world became engrossed in Michael Phelps' pursuit of eight gold medals, a feat that realistically hadn't been attempted since Matt Biondi in 1988.  Phelps, much like LeBron, had been dubbed the next big thing when he made the team in 2000 at 15, and broke his first world record a year later.  He came through in 2008, and has been soaking in world wide adulation ever since.  Now 26, Phelps comes to the 2012 Olympic Trials looking to add to his record 14 gold medals, but will have to fight to take the spotlight from friend Ryan Lochte who has become the leading American male swimmer after a five gold-medal performance at the most recent World Championships.  Those attending the meet in Omaha will be treated to seeing these two go head-to-head in as many as six events.  On the women's side, we could potentially see the rising of the next Natalie Coughlin-like athlete in Missy Franklin, who at 17 already has an American record to her name.  It will be interesting to see if Olympic veterans like Katie Hoff, and Elizabeth Beisel can make another team and get a chance to break through for their first individual gold medals.  The coverage of Jessica Hardy will also be something to watch as she tries to make her first Olympic trip after being removed from the team in 2008 due to a failed drug test.  Much like the NBA, Olympic legacies are based on gold medals first and number of medals second.  Many of these athletes need to make another team to continue to develop their brands so that they can continue to be attractive product pitch men and women.  The same is true for athletes hitting the track in Eugene, OR.

Tyson Gay comes into the 2012 Olympic Track Trials as the LeBron-like figure who needs that Olympic gold medal or world record to truly cement what has been an all-time sprint track career.  He faces the daunting task of unseating 2008 100m and 200m champion, Usain Bolt, and current 100m World Champion, Johan Blake.  His preparation has been less than ideal due to hip surgery, and his pre-Trials quotes coming out of Eugene indicate he will be happy just to make the team.  This is unfortunate as the 100m is one of the crown jewels of the Olympics, and it is not the same when there is no American to face the best that the world has to offer.  Though Bolt was incredible to watch in 2008, the fact that there was no American (or anyone else for that matter) to really challenge him took away some of the drama.  Walter Dix managed to grab Bronze medals in both sprint events in '08, and 2004 gold medalist Justin Gatlin is back.  However, if the Trials champion can't go faster than 9.8, I doubt they'll seriously threaten the Jamaican contingent.  Similar Jamaican dominance exists on the women's side and I look forward to seeing if Allyson Felix, who has taken Silver medals in the 200m race in the last two Olympics, can make another team to get a chance to make that step to the top of the podium.  400m runner Sanya Richards is another athlete who's out to make another team to see if she can close the deal on her signature race where she took Bronze in '08.  Aside from the known names, what heightens watching the Olympic Trials to me over the championships of one of the major sports is that an athlete can go from being unrecognizable to a national star by making an Olympic team and winning a medal.  Their journeys are longer than many major sports stars because they have to wait four years for that moment to shine, and if they miss, it's four long years before their next chance.  So as we watch the aftermath of the Heatles realizing their destiny, I invite you to check out both the Olympic swimming and track trials for some quality, pressure-packed competition and LeBron-like coronations, that will get you ready for the Olympics this summer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Graduation Season is the Best

I'm putting it out there now that I am going to be a teary mess when my sons graduate from high school, and who knows what I'll do when they graduate college.  I love graduation season because it is a time when families can come together to collectively celebrate the achievement of the student as they reach an important milestone in their life.  Parents get a moment to pat themselves on the back for steering their child in the right direction and keeping them on the road towards being a productive adult.  As an educator and parent, I have a unique appreciation for this journey that families take together.  When I consider all of the things that can cause the K-12 journey to go off track, I can't help but get emotional when students make it to the finish line and share that moment with those who helped make it happen.  For some, it is the only graduation that they will experience.

It always bothers me when I attend a graduation that there is a disclaimer about families staying quiet until all the names are called.  This is an issue for me because it means that families can only celebrate for the collective, and not have their moment to celebrate their graduate, which is the reason why they come in the first place.  In some places rules are in place to remove parents who cheer "too much".  A few weeks ago, South Carolina beautician, Shannon Cooper, was senselessly arrested for "praising, woohooing and cheering it up" for her daughter Christin.  As far as I'm concerned as long as you don't turn around and punch someone as your child's name is called, you should be able to cheer as loud and as you can and as long as your graduate takes to get across the stage.  If schools are worried about families drowning out the next person's name being called, turn up the PA system a little louder.  If time is an issue, keep the prinipal's remarks and whoever else speaks to a time limit so there is more time to recognize the students.  That's what the day is all about in the first place.  I love that all of the school graduations I attended this year, realized that, and no matter how buttoned-up the school, parents could sound their air horns and whistle all they wanted.  Schools that try and deprive families of this moment are effectively slapping those folks in the face and ignoring the support they have provided the school over the years.  Those who are blessed with the honor to speak at graduation should also be mindful to remember the spirit of the day.

David McCullough became unexpectedly infamous this week because his graduation speech at Wellesley HS in Massachusetts was characterized as telling students that they were not special.  Kudos to the first news organization who began to spin his words out of context for a nice summer headline in a news cycle where we crave to hear anything that doesn't center on Romney vs Obama and the economy.  As Mr. McCullough correctly stated in his post-graduation interviews, he was just speaking to the kids, and as their teacher, he was reminding them of things he had told them throughout their years at Wellesley, and that would be "useful" as they move forward.  In looking at the transcript of the speech this nugget stuck out for me:

"As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages."

With a quote like this, it is obvious that this guy understood the moment, and wanted to give a hearfelt message to students he'd mentored over the past four years.  When it comes to speakers at graduation, this is the best approach you can take.  If Mr McCullough had taken the moment at the podium to advance some political agenda, then that would've been disrespectful.  Yes he told the students that they were not special, but his final sentence is key  "The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.  Because everyone is."  I hope that as I sit holding my wife's hand, sporting my best suit that I hear such a poignant message given to my son as he sits with the class of 2025.  I'll also make sure to have multiple handkerchiefs available for my tears. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Corey Booker Demonstrates Why I Will Never Be a Politician

I felt for one of my favorite politicians this week as he got caught up in the spin cycle that begins when you speak "off script". I have followed Cory Booker since one of my frat brothers worked on his first mayoral campaign. Since becoming mayor of Newark (aka Brick City) in 2006, he has easily become one of America's most recognizable mayors for his insight and community activism, but this week that rep took a hit as had to do some moonwalking after sharing some thoughts on the 2012 campaign. As I watched the fallout from his Meet the Press appearance, it reminded me why I could never be a professional politician.

Politics as currently constituted wouldn't work for me because you are beholden to cash interests above all else at the end of the day. The ability to speak what you truly feel is right is limited by how it will impact those who spend the most money to keep you in office. For all the goodwill Mayor Booker has built up as he tweets tirelessly about getting trash picked up, snow shoveled, and crime under control, he found himself the focus of news shows this week for daring to express his disdain for the hyper-partisan nature of politics today. His commentary went against the game plan of Team Obama 2012, and in the rules of the politics game in order to keep riding the escalator up to the top of the Democratic party, you gotta fall on line like a good soldier. This is especially true in an election year, and it doesn't matter that much if what the Mayor had to say made sense if you view it from his frame of reference.

If you are Cory Booker, your job is to continue to raise the profile of Brick City, and find jobs to replace the manufacturing positions that used to be the hub of the City's economy.  Major insurance companies like Prudential have been headquartered in The Bricks forever, but insurance companies and tech companies like Panasonic (opening up in 2013) often require employees with advanced degrees, which in Newark is only a small portion of the population.  According to the 2000 Census, Newark had the lowest educational attainment numbers of any city, and one in four children lived in a household with no working parents.  If you are Cory Booker, and you know that this is the profile of your city, of course you would be open to solutions that would help bring jobs and fortify pensions much like he has leaned heavily on charters to help raise school test score numbers.  Not saying that I agree, but I can understand.  So when you understand the economics of Newark, and you remember that Cory Booker was most recently a trending Twitter topic for being a super neighbor, rescuing one of his from a fire, of course he thought he could speak his mind, but alas he quickly found that that wasn't the case.

Ultimately this was another case where the nature of soundbite media makes something way worse than it is, and if you don't go back and check the raw message without the spin, then you are left thinking something way worse than you should.  Here is the Booker quote that got all the attention:

"As far as that stuff [Bain critique], I have to just say from a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it's just this--we're getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know. I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, it ain't--they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses, And this, to me, I'm very uncomfortable with."

I have no problem with any of that because as the Mayor mentions, he was speaking from a point of view of what has been good for his city and state, which is his main concern.  But ultimately that sentence about "looking at the totality of Bain's record" could not stand because it was made at the same time that Team Obama was releasing attack ads painting Bain as the job killer.  So Cory Booker had to go on his Ustream and "clarify" in a manner that sounded much more like the talking points that the President's campaign workers want out in the media.   If you wonder why one of the most recognizable Mayors in America would do this given how much cache he has built, you just have to remember that he is a self-described Obama surrogate.  He wants to keep playing the political game when his time as Mayor is done, and being able to call on the Obamas (as well as the cultural and financial capital they inspire) when he needs them will always be a good "chip" to have in his back pocket.  I would have a hard time swallowing what I was truly feeling just to keep donors and cronies scratching my back while I'm trying to advocate for the people in my care, so worry not about me ever contacting you for donations for a political campaign run.  The game is rigged.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Classroom and the Cell: A Perilous Balance to Navigate

As a teen I used to get my haircut right across the street from my house at Ms. J's barbershop.  I often listened as the men and ladies would come in and have various conversations with the barbers while in the chair.  As I got older I would occasionally try to participate in these discussions, however it would become apparent to me that I still had some reading to do as the complexity of the conversation would quickly grow beyond my adolescent understanding.  As I completed The Classroom And The Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Marc Lamont Hill, I was reminded of these barbershop moments partly because of the format of the book, and also because Professor Hill's brother Leonard was often a prominent participant on those weekend afternoons as I waited to get my haircut.  As a grown adult, with a bit more reading under my belt, I found the topics which the authors discussed to be pertinent and their insights fresh.  The book embodies the type of intergenerational dialogue between Black men which is sorely lacking in our community particularly as you consider recent and ongoing events.

This week news came out that thirteen students at Florida A&M University (FAMU) would be charged with the death of "Marching 100" drum major Robert Champion.  The 26-yr old was beaten during a band hazing ritual, and ultimately passed due to shock and severe internal bleeding from repeated blunt force trauma.  As I read the Abu-Jamal/Hill text, I was saddened by the literal Classroom and Cell circumstance that these students now face in the name of upholding a "tradition" that was never intended to include this level of violence.  The words of Abu-Jamal and Hill were particularly piercing as they discussed Black masculinity and the "performances" that it entails.  Hill in particular noted the troublesome connection between a detachment from emotion, which many Black men are taught to have, and the normalizing effect it has on our views of violence.  When you add to that a particularly strong brand of homophobia that exists within many Black communities, you have the recipe for how a young man's life could be ended on a charter bus outside a football game.  I have seen the same escalation in violence among many of the Historically Black Greek Letter Organizations (HBGLOs), and it is particularly troubling because none of these organizations was founded upon principles of self-destruction.  In fact, all of the fraternities, sororities and their surrogates were created upon ideals of uplift and community service.  The FAMU case is just one example of how the conversations that Abu-Jamal and Hill were having play out in the larger world.  This is a key reason that this work is so important, and can serve as a catalyst for continued examination of key issues within Black communities across the nation so that healing strategies may be developed.

My reading of this text comes at a key juncture in my life where I have a rare moment to really reflect on who I am, and how I want to continue to develop.  One of my main theoretical undertakings during my doctoral studies was the issue of racial identity, how it continually morphs, and how the development process is fluid.  In this rare reflection moment, I face questions of how to parent, how to structure my career in a way that fits my marriage, how to use my accrued cultural capital to address gross inequities that exist in our society, and how to continue taking what I understand from a life that is centrally Black and male to foster meaningful personal relationships that are built on a shared humanity, one that transcends race, ethnicity, class, gender, and other labels.  This book was instructive because in Abu-Jamal you have a cultural and historical "oldhead" who can speak to issues of Revolutionary Black Leadership, Black Politics, and the Prison Industrial Complex in a very real, un-romanticized way so that the portrait in your mind is less abstract and more real.  In Professor Hill, I have a peer who has clear insights on issues of the day, yet is struggling with many of the same issues as I am, so it is easy to place myself within the the "conversation" going on between them.  While not exhaustive on any given topic, the text serves as a viable appetizer for further satiation of the appetite for knowledge, and insight into where Black people have been in this country and where they need to go.

There is a chapter on love in the book that is particularly poignant and instructive because the authors go beyond talking about the love that we have for self, or even our families, but of humanity.  If one can develop this kind of love, then they can become an agent for liberation.  The authors note how Martin Luther King, Jr laid down his life marching with garbage workers in Memphis.  That was out of love for people and humanity.  Throughout the book I found myself asking the authors to say more about the complexities of identity for Black people today and how that can help or hinder relationships, but then when I read Abu-Jamal's comments about the revolutionary powers of an all-inclusive love, in a manner similar to the way Paulo Freire described it, I realized that while the complexities and nuance exist, we don't have to get lost in them.  I salute the authors for their honesty and efforts and hope that folks will support this book so they too might have conversations with peers like the ones that used to take place at Ms. J's.  I will move forward reassured that love is a starting place answer many of the questions that I am pondering and it will also sustain me as I try to work towards a socially just society.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mo' Money Mo' Opportunities at the Box Office

I was both happy and relieved to see that Think Like A Man, the most hyped Black movie in recent memory made it to the top of the box office not only on it's opening weekend, but also on the equally important second weekend. I was relieved because had this movie flopped given the amount of marketing dollars spent on it, it would be easy for pundits and haters to say that there is no real market for films featuring an all majority Black cast or that stars like Oscar-nominated Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Hart cannot carry a movie. I was happy because Kevin Hart, a dude I've known since he was 10 (RIP Ms Nancy), got to show out in a way that made comedians like Chris Tucker and Martin Lawrence box office headliners. I was also happy that producer Will Packer of Rainforest Films can add another No. 1 hot to his production resume (Takers, Stomp The Yard) as can director Tim Story (Fantastic Four x2, Barbershop). With over 60 million in box office sales after two weekends, Rainforest is producing for distributor Screen Gems in a manner similar to how Tyler Perry films draw for Lions Gate, and this will hopefully lead to additional opportunities for minority producers moving forward.

It's a fairly recent phenomenon (as in the start of the Oughts) that movies featuring Black characters have also been produced by other Blacks. Box office draws like Ice Cube (Barbershop) , Eddie Murphy (Nutty Professor II),  Will Smith (Pursuit of Happyness), and Queen Latifah (Bringing Down the House) have parlayed on-screen success into production roles.  Smith, Cube, and Latifah run companies dedicated to producing films told from a minority perspective. The more people that there are who are able to bring projects together, the more likely it is that people will be able to find something on the big screen that they feel connected to. Think Like A Man has been critiqued for among other things it's nod to patriarchy, but the key is that it exists to be critiqued just like any Tyler Perry, Ice Cube, or Will Smith flick. The art can only get better the more that it gets made and supported. Hopefully this continued domestic success will not only lead to larger producing opportunities, but also support internationally.

Side Note: Jerry Ferrara aka "Turtle" from Entourage must take GREAT care of his agents because this dude gets prime ladies to hook up with no matter what he's in (look up Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Dania Ramirez, and Gabrielle Union)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Where is the Anti-Gun Lobby?

There has been a new level of scorn cast on the  National Rifle Association (NRA) in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case for their orchestration of Stand Your Ground laws which allow citizens the ability to use deadly force instead of retreating in instances where they feel threatened.  In spite of this backlash, it was surprising to see GOP Presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, go to the NRA annual convention to make a speech pandering to the membership in attendance.  A logical person might ask why would a person who has been tepid at best on his gun control stance would choose this time to address an organization widely viewed as an enemy in the Trayvon Martin case.  Upon doing a little digging, the answer is unfortunately simple: money.  The NRA puts it money where it's mouth is when it comes to protecting the right to be strapped, and in the long run Romney knows that he has no shot to occupy the Oval office if he alienates such a conservative-based constituency.  My bigger question however, is whether or not in the wake of Trayvon, and the increasing number of person-to-person murders, there will finally be a serious gun control lobby to counter the current influence of the NRA and similar organizations.  The current disparity in numbers is staggering.

According to the most recent report on Open, an average of 4.5 million dollars a year has been spent on gun rights in the last five years.  In contrast the average four gun control has been about 250K.  The NRA has lead the lobbying effort putting almost 3 million towards gun rights in 2011 followed by Gun Owners of America who spent almost a million.  On the other end, the leading gun control advocate was Mayors Agains Illegal Guns.  They put 200K towards lobbying in 2011, five times the amount of the next highest contributor, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (40K).  These numbers make it easy to understand why Stand Your Ground Laws as we currently know them have spread to twenty-four states.  Even as the world watched George Zimmerman surrender himself to the police, and be charged with 2nd-degree murder, special prosecutor Angela Corey cautioned that a conviction will be difficult to obtain as Stand Your Ground laws have been hard to fight in Florida.  An April article in the Wall Street Journal regarding the rise of justifiable homicides paints a clear picture that the change in self-defense laws has had an impact.  In Florida for example, the number of justifiable homicides has more than tripled, and in states like Texas and Georgia, the numbers have doubled.  No matter the race, ethnicity, or social standing of the victims, Americans are losing their lives due to laws that wrongly empower people to think they can act like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven.  There must be a greater effort to combat gun freedom or else the numbers will continue to rise.  The question becomes who will provide the financial clout to match the NRA and it's cousins?

It was a great symbolic gesture to see so many don hoodies and march in order to see criminal charges brought against Mr. Zimmerman and insure that due process is carried out.  Even athletes and entertainers, often vilified for their political neutrality, showed solidarity with the Justice for Trayvon movement as it struck a personal chord with their own positions as Black males and fathers in the case of NBA ballers Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.  As the Martin case unfolds, the movement must continue to press for FINANCIAL support to ensure that Stand Your Ground Laws and other injurious laws continue to be scrutinized and the influence of the gun lobby can be matched.  Micro-donations help put President Obama in office, and they can certainly insure that when we send our little ones to the store, they can come home safely.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I'll Take Stan Van's Pepsi Swig Anyday

It's been a tough couple of weeks in the coaching profession as there have been a number of serious missteps ranging from declaring love for Fidel Castro (Ozzie Guillen) to getting fired for lying about an affair even in the face of getting caught with said girlfriend on the back (Bobby Petrino). What has been odd to me is that of all these transgressions, Stan Van Gundy, head of the Orlando Magic received some of the sharpest criticism for simply telling the truth about the state of affairs in his organization. Given what I've dealt with in my own coaching career and understanding how outside factors shape your thought process when you are a coach, I'll ride with Stan and his Diet Pepsi swigs between dropping truth all day over some of the other behaviors coaches of all ilks display. Let me first lay out some of the factors that lead many coaches to ultimately crash and burn in the first place.

From the time a coach starts working as a volunteer for tot tee-ball, he or she is quickly made to understand that winning trumps all else if you expect to advance. Parent boards exercise the same coldness as a college board of trustees when it comes to getting rid of a coach who they think isn't "producing" no matter if the coach does an excellent job of imparting keys sports lessons like the value of teamwork, discipline, and hard work. The savvy coach develops a selfish mindset to take advantage of talent at their disposal and move on when it is gone. No one cares about the personal sacrifices the coach has to make to develop a "winning" program, so the coach in turn has no problems pulling up stakes and rolling out when a better opportunity comes along. Lane Kiffin jumped at the chance to come back to USC after only a year at Tennessee, Jim Harbaugh left a Stanford team that was a lock to be a top 5 team when the NFL came calling. You can never expect coaches to show loyalty to an organization or school because they learn early on that it will never be shown to them.

Due to the significant position that sports hold in our society, successful coaches are often asked to comment on issues outside of their realm of expertise, and this is a recipe for disaster. I'm sure there are other folks TIME magazine could have interviewed besides Ozzie Guillen to meet their mission statement, but they want to sell magazines and Ozzie is a quote machine so of course journalists set up camp in front of his desk and wait for the fireworks to begin. Coaches should be respected and celebrated for what they do in their profession, but just because you can win a national title does not mean that you are instantly ready to speak intelligently on topics such as American neo-imperialism.

This is the status when coaches have truly reached the top of your professional food chain, and now feel as if they can do no wrong, or will never get caught. It is the most dangerous because you feel entitled to do whatever you please because you have worked hard, moved your family around, and now it's time to reap the benefits. So if you're Rick Pitino, and you're the man in Kentucky, you don't think it will matter if you have sex in a restaurant bathroom. For Petrino, you don't think you'll ever get caught sending naughty texts on a university issued cell phone. Even in sports with less spotlight on them, you can still get busted, ask John Trembley, the former swimming coach at the University of Tennessee. Women sports aren't exempt either as Kim Mulkey, coach of the undefeated women's National Champion Baylor Bears, will face sanctions for overseeing a basketball program where thousands of impermissible texts and phone calls were placed. Given the money involved in big-time club, college and pro sports, it is easy to see how coaches slide down a slippery slope in order to maintain their jobs. So when I see Stan Van calmly displaying that he's had enough of the game, I'm ready to take a Diet Pepsi swig with him.

Kudos to University of Arkansas athletic director, Jeff Long, for being able to stand up and say to a football-rabid community that even though the football coach has lead the program to a 21-5 record in his tenure, and there are no NCAA sanctions pending, this behavior cannot be tolerated. The same can be said for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who has consistently shown the willingness to bring the hammer down on athletes, teams, and now coaches who don't "protect the shield". Goodell's latest target, the New Orleans Saints, will be without their head coach, Sean Payton, all year, and without their top assistant for almost half, because of a pay-for-destructive-hits bounty scandal. These suspensions make it a pretty good bet they won't be returning to the playoffs. Meanwhile Stan Van Gundy has had to put up with the circus of Dwight Howard publicly yo-yo-ing back and forth on whether he wants to stay in town, and up until recently, managed to keep his team high in the Conference standings. Even as it stands now, the Magic would be like their chances in a first round playoff matchup with Indiana. Stan spoke his truth when asked if he had heard that his franchise player wanted him fired, and let said franchise player twist in the wind when he decided to act like a clown and crash the press conference. If "speaking out of turn" after two years of making the most of a difficult situation is a problem, then I'll take that coach to run my team anytime. And I'll put in his contract that he can't own a motorcycle, speak on politics, or have the power to hire staff without my approval just to make sure it all works out.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Justice for Trayvon Means Institutional Change

The death of Trayvon Martin is a critical moment for America to send a clear message about where it stands on gun violence in general and the use of deadly force on Black men in particular. The emotional response from the nation in response to the fact that George Zimmerman has been able to walk freely for more than a month has been warranted and necessary, but as the coverage continues, I worry that those most concerned with justice for Trayvon will get side-tracked on issues peripheral to the situation. If we are to make certain that young Black men are not continually targeted as dangerous suspects, then there are large scale changes that must be made in the area of law enforcement that will require the focused channeling of all of our collective political and cultural cache. I would urge those at the forefront of the Justice for Trayvon movement to consider the story of Megan Kanka as they strategize and think of ways to prevent repeat Trayvon tragedies.

Megan Kanka was a seven year-old girl living in New Jersey who was raped and killed by a child predator who lived across the street. In the aftermath of their devastating loss, the Kanka family successfully fought to pass legislation that required communities to be notified when known sex offenders moved into the neighborhood. The law that was passed in the New Jersey legislature in 1994 became federal law in 1996 requiring states to develop a process by which communities be notified when a sex offender was released into the area. The Kanka case brought a heightened awareness to this type of crime to the point where we now have a regularly viewed show like To Catch A Predator on TV. In the case of Trayvon Martin, the Florida Stand Your Ground law has come under fire for being written in such a vague fashion, that it allows for there to be argument over whether or not the actions of George Zimmerman warrant him being in custody or not. It would stand to reason that amending this law would be at the top of the Justice for Trayvon goal list.

The authors of the Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, Senator Durrell Peadon and Representative Dennis Baxley, have stated on a number of outlets that the INTENT of their law is not to provide protection for people like Mr. Zimmerman who willfully pursue and attack innocent citizens, however the LETTER of their law apparently is not specific enough. I hope that at some point in the near future, the Seminole County Branch of the NAACP (Sanford is located in Seminole Co.), the national office of the NAACP, the National Action Network, and any other concerned parties would start to exert pressure on the Stand Your Ground authors in addition to Congressman John Fica since Sanford is in his jurisdiction in order to get the law amended. This would be a tangible first step in reversing the trend of putting law enforcement in the hands of citizens, and might provide momentum for tougher gun laws to be enacted. In the same way that many states mimicked Florida's law in the first place, then it should reason that they would change their laws accordingly given the amount of press that the case has generated. In this way, public sentiment and media work together to form a formidable force for change. When I see Toure getting into verbal slap box matches with Piers Morgan about the toughness of an interview, then I shake my head because I can already see that the effort has become distracted and is more about who can get in front of the camera fastest and most often. Justice for Trayvon has nothing to do promoting individual brands and everything to do with focused, collective strategizing and executing. So while you're rocking that hoodie , take a moment to send an email, Tweet, Facebook message, etc to your favorite leader and ask what he or she is doing to help move the justice for Trayvon initiative forward. We cannot be okay with a society that allows for young men of color to be hunted like game without consequence.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

One Door Closes, Another Opens... For Real!

Time for me to testify so cue up the old school church organ in your head as you read this. If it's been a while since you made it to testimony hour, the Kanye West "Testify" track will suffice. Now that we've got proper background music, let me set the context of our tale. Since 2000, my professional life has revolved around coaching and education, and this past summer, it appeared I had reached a minor pinnacle, becoming the Aquatic Director/Head Coach at a brand new pool while also securing an adjunct professor position allowing for the continuation of my dual professional life. In less than three months, the team went from 40 athletes to 180, and while I was getting little sleep keeping up with my schedule, there was at least the pride in knowing that something good was unfolding at the pool and things were going well in the classroom. In addition, there was actually some money in my banking account between checks. Guess I should've known that there would be test coming soon.


I sat down with my aquatic bosses three weeks ago thinking that we'd be taking stock of the recently completed short course season, and making plans for the summer and next year, only to be told that they wanted to go in a different direction. One that didn't include me remaining in my position. Ironically, just before going into the meeting, I had done my daily bible reading and the verse that stuck out to me was that God is with us through all tests and trials. He doesn't say "IF" we make it through the trial, but "WHEN", and as I walked out of the meeting shell shocked after being blindsided, I kept from panicking by reminding myself of that reading. Negotiating to be paid the final months of my contract also helped ease the sting. If it was time for me to hang up the stopwatches and free my weekends of swim meets in favor of karate, hip hop dance, and swim classes, then that was fine. I have had a great ride as a swim coach. What was difficult was to see what was in store for me seeing as there were no tenure-track assistant professor positions being offered to fill the void.


On Wednesday afternoon, I sat in a HS classroom observing a student teacher practice her craft when I got a 911 text from the Mrs. saying that she had gotten a call from one of our many social workers saying that they had a baby that was a match for us as foster-to-adopt parents. A year ago we had started the adoption process through the LA Co. Dept. of Child and Family Services. We had become fully certified in late October, and hadn't heard anything since. Now out of the blue, we were about to be parents of two. "Should I tell her we'll take it?" texted the Mrs. and I immediately texted back that we would. We met the 3-day old on Wednesday night, and brought him home Thursday evening. Elijah Emeka Carroll now has us back in the mode where more than two straight hours of sleep is a luxury, but he is our blessing. Often newborns who enter the foster system have been exposed to drugs, and Elijah is no exception, yet he tested negative for everything. Many of the scriptures that I have read recently discuss the benefits of faith to God's word. Nkechi and I could not ask for a more tangible representation, and we thank everyone for the support and well wishes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reflecting on "The Announcement"

Earvin "Magic" Johnson was my favorite player growing up after local legend Dr. J. The big smile, the no-look passes on fast breaks, and the visual of a 6'9" point guard had me glued every time the Lakers played. He never made playing in the NBA look like work. I'll never forget the sinking feeling I had when he announced that he had contracted the HIV virus because my understanding at fourteen was that HIV equaled death, and a slow ugly one at that. The movie Philadelphia, with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington came out in 1993 and it was easy for me to map the deterioration of Tom Hanks character onto what I thought would happen to Magic. As I watched The Announcement, and relived the context around Magic Johnson alerting the world to his HIV status, I thought about that event in a whole new light.

Magic Johnson was thirty-two years old when he stepped to the podium with his wife Cookie, NBA commissioner David Stern, and teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar among others on the dais, and delivered the news that he had contracted the virus through unprotected sex. This was a man who characterized words like "Champion", and "Leader". He was the face of the NBA, and in that moment he became leper. As a thirty-four year old with a family, I marvel at the fortitude that he had to not just confirm it to the media and go into hiding as Karl Malone asserted he could have. He had to face the severe consequence of his actions in front of the world. His wife could have easily left him to deal on his own, and many would have cheered for her as she left. All those years of being the leader of the Lakers along with Kareem were vaporized, and as accountable as he held his teammates on the court, he had to stand there and tell them he had been reckless off the court. And finally, there were his business connections. Athletes depend on these to provide a parachute when they walk off the court, Magic's announcement made him beyond radioactive. Somehow he made it through, and I as I watched him breakdown how he did it, I couldn't help but think about where we are as a country twenty years later as we compare it to where Magic is in his own life.

I was struck by the point Magic made at the end of the documentary when he talked about being a "blessing and a curse" to the disease. A blessing in that he was a public figure who spun the archetype we attached to the disease previously 180 degrees. For a horny adolescent like me, he drove home sex ed lessons in a way that my parents and textbooks could not. His advocacy has brought awareness and money to the fight so that more research can be done. The downside is that you see Magic on ESPN and at events, and you don't immediately think back twenty years, or if you do, you slip into thinking that he's cured, and so maybe that lesson about irresponsible sexual behavior is blurred, and the "downfall" from having contracted the disease isn't as steep when the cautionary tale is told. This is unfortunate to me as I think about how much unfiltered sexual exposure young people get now without the proper guidance and understanding to make mature decisions about sex. For that reason alone, I'm glad The Announcement was made to take us back and allow us to digest that moment again.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Top Cases of "Well Done Young Man"

Today's lesson is about the "Well Done Young Man" phenomena. This happens when a couple gets together and just by the eye ball test, you think to yourself "Somebody came up!", or "How'd he snag that?". Notable examples are when you see the old "gray hair' with the young thing on his arm (salute Morgan Freeman and Harrison Ford) or the dude who's body type is the complete opposite of his lady's (Nutty Professor-style). The most recent example is Wiz Khalifa, who just put a boulder on Amber Rose's finger, so in honor of their impending union, here are some other Well Done Young Man examples:

5. Cash Warren and Jessica Alba - Yes, Mr. Warren is the son of UCLA baller and Hill Street Blues star, Michael Warren, and has lived a comfortable life, but to snag the Dark Angel, Honey, Fantastic Four star at the height or her stardom is still a come up.

4. Sasha Vujacic and Maria Sharapova - "The Machine" couldn't hit enough 20-foot jumpers to stay a Laker, but clearly he was finding the range when it came to trading strokes with the Wimbledon champ.

3. Jermaine Dupri and Janet Jackson - Still scratching my head on how Mr. ATL managed to Control the Nasty Girl for seven years of Anytime Anyplace.

2. Jay-Z and Beyonce - Love the Jigga Man, but I wasn't the only one thinking "For real?" when I heard of this union. Congrats on B.I.C

1. Seal and Heidi Klum - The thing that puts the crooner at the top of the list is that he held on for seven years, successfully planted his fertile seed THREE times.

Honorable Mention: Russell Simmons and Kimora Lee Simmons, Robin Thicke and Paula Patton

Friday, February 17, 2012

When Does the Cycle End? AI and TO Struggle to Provide for Families

It truly saddens me that two of my favorite athletes of all time, Allen Iverson (AI), and Terrell Owens (TO), have had to resort to extending their playing careers past their ability to gain employment in the NBA and NFL respectively, because of financial troubles. Many have written and examined how these two and many other professional athletes manage to squander hundreds of millions of dollars before they reach the age of 40, but for me what is especially troubling about these falls from grace is that their troubles signal that they will have difficulty maintaining their families. It has been well documented by VH1 that TO has multiple children by multiple women who have recently sued him as he has become increasingly unable to pay child support. Iverson also has a starting five worth of children whom he currently can't provide for, which leaves me to wonder about his ability to be a father. Both men came from homes that lacked a consistent male presence, and now after attaining so much success using their physical gifts, that cycle will now continue with their own families as they struggle to find work to provide.

Magic Johnson, Dave Bing, David Robinson and others have been lauded because of their ability to transition from a career in athletics to other endeavors in business, politics, and education respectively. A common theme between these men is their level of educational attainment. I'm talking more than just "walking the stage" here as Magic Johnson did not finish his studies at Michigan St, but did recognize the need to continue amassing intellectual capital as he began to focus on his business ventures. Dave Bing graduated from Syracuse University and had a career as a businessman in the auto industry before running for May of Detroit. "The Admiral" of course completed his studies at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and was central in opening the Carver Academy, and later the Admiral Capital Group. In contrast, former Baltimore Raven, Chris McAllister, graduated from the University of Arizona, but has been unemployed since having his contract voided in 2009, and has no money after an 11-year NFL career. I used to beat the drum for making athletes stay in school so that they might develop the type of know-how that would prevent these baller-to-broke bum outcomes, but I later realized that if athletes don't want to go to school, they just cheat the process and end up putting the school in a compromising position. I do however, still feel it is imperative that those who view athletics as their Golden Ticket, must also understand that if they don't develop an acumen in something else besides, dribbling, hitting, and running, that these narratives will continue to occur in high frequency, to the detriment of numerous families.

The key is the creation of a value system where young people, and particularly those who are able to rise from underprivileged populations, understand that the shelf life of physical capital is finite, so it is imperative that intellectual development continues as physical capacity starts to wane. If you are an athlete who can no longer touch the top of the backboard, or run a 4.3, you are then able to leverage the capital you have built up with those gifts and use your mind to create a sustainable life for yourself and those you are charged to protect. Buying out bars, and other outlandish wealth display behaviors, will not lead to a life that can be passed on through multiple generations as those in historically privileged communities are able to do. When this value system gets passed on along with the physical traits coded in our DNA, then hopefully the cycle of fatherless families can start to be stemmed. I truly hope that both TO and AI get a run somewhere because their children deserve better and were not the ones wasting money that should have been stashed on their behalf.