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.