We are weeks away from the NCAA anointing a national champion — that could just wind up having its trophy vacated.
The timing of it all is uncanny when you really think about it.
We’re in that moment in the sports calendar when college basketball starts to shine. The NFL season is over, and the NBA is just about to come off its break from the All-Star game. This means that on most weeknights, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the country is warming up to the sport that is getting ready to dominate an entire month as we head toward March Madness.
However, this year feels different.
No matter how good Michigan State is doing on the court, it’s impossible to ignore the cloud that is hovering over that school and athletic department after the revelation that for decades young girls were being sexually abused by the school’s gymnastics physician Larry Nassar, and the numerous allegations of sexual assault by athletes that were ignored.
But while Michigan State is dealing with its own issues, the entire sport seems to be headed toward a hurricane, and Louisville’s men’s basketball program is in the eye of that storm.
On Tuesday, the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee announced that Louisville was going to be the first Division I team in the sport’s history to have a national championship (2013) vacated during the Final Four era. The program must also vacate all its wins from 2011-15 and pay back any money it received from appearing in the NCAA Tournament from 2012-15, all due to the sex scandal that took place in 2013, which involved a former director of basketball operations allegedly setting up sex parties where prostitutes were paid to entertain players and lure recruits to the school.
The decision came down after a two-year investigation, which included a self-imposed ban from Louisville for the 2016 ACC and NCAA Tournaments and recruiting sanctions. The school had already accepted four years of probation and scholarship reductions and were hoping that would be enough to keep them from vacating wins and paying back NCAA Tournament shares.
Three national championship banners hang from the rafters at the KFC Yum! Center, the home of the University of Louisville men’s basketball team. The 2013 banner will have to come down.
(Timothy D. Easley/AP)
And a lot of that probably had to do with former head coach Rick Pitino.
The fallout from the sex scandal was only the second strike on Pitino’s resume at Louisville. In 2009, Pitino said he was being extorted by the wife of the school’s equipment manager after the two had sex six years earlier in a Louisville-area restaurant.
Strike three came just last year and is what ultimately led to Pitino getting fired. Pitino is supposedly the “Coach-2” mentioned in the explosive federal investigation into college basketball corruption, the person who allegedly helped channel money to a recruit.
Authorities are alleging that Adidas executive James Gatto, along with others, were involved with funneling $100,000 to the family of a top recruit, former Louisville freshman Brian Bowen. Bowen is now at the University of South Carolina after he was cleared in the FBI’s investigations.
Last year, the Louisville Courier-Journal also reported that Pitino was receiving 98 percent of the money from the 10-year, $160 million deal that Louisville had with Adidas. In 2015-16, Pitino reportedly received $1.5 million under his personal services agreement, while only $25,000 went to the program. The year before that, Pitino received another $1.5 million, while the department only saw $10,000.
All of this set the scene for the bomb dropped by Yahoo! Sports last week, which indicated that a day of reckoning was on its way for college basketball as the investigation continues.
Fomer Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino
According to the report, “the impact on the sport will be substantial and relentless.” Every major conference is said to be impacted, and so will Hall of Fame coaches and the biggest names and programs in the sport. It is said that as many as 50 college programs could be compromised in the investigation that included 330 days of monitoring by the FBI that collected wiretaps and bank records.
It’s that bad right now.
The sad part in this is that the releasing of the FBI’s finding could forever change the sport, and all that we love about college basketball.
I understand that rules have been broken, and backroom deals have been made. It’s something that’s been going on in college athletics for decades.
However, the issue is that this investigation feels like it’s going after the bad apples, instead of dealing with the poisonous tree that produced the tarnished fruit.
The NCAA and Division I programs across the country make millions off the backs of unpaid teenagers each year, and something tells me that if we had a system that could compensate college basketball and football players in some way, a lot of the filth in college athletics, whether that be with dealing with agents or getting kickbacks from AAU coaches through shoe companies, could be cleaned up.
This season of college basketball is without a dominant team. And when years like this one occur, it usually means we’re in store for an exciting NCAA Tournament, because anybody can win it.
But with the FBI investigation acting as the elephant in the room, I caution everyone who fills out a bracket next month to do it in pencil — because the way this thing is starting to feel, the sport of college basketball as we know it, seems like it’s about to get erased.
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In 1926, Carter G. Woodson started “Negro History Week,” today it is known and celebrated as Black History Month.
And this past weekend, multiple events took place that prove why Black History Month is still so necessary, because even when African-Americans have the shortest month of the year to celebrate our history and culture, we still have to deal with intolerance and ignorance.
You would think that asking America not to be racist for 28 days would be a simple task, but this past weekend proved that even in 2018 it’s a big favor to ask that of a country that once counted us as three-fifths of a human being.
Before last week, the only time I’d ever heard of Laura Ingraham was when she made headlines for appearing to give a Nazi salute at the end of her speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention in support of Donald Trump — which is why her infuriating words on Thursday about a video of LeBron James and Kevin Durant discussing Trump with ESPN’s Cari Champion shouldn’t have been a surprise when you think about it.
By now, you know that Ingraham referred to James as a “dumb jock,” said his elocution skills were “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical,” wrongly described a video segment as a podcast, falsely claimed that James attempted to leave high school early, and doesn’t think athletes should speak on politics — even though her network has had the likes of Joe Namath, Bobby Knight, Curt Schilling, and even Dog the Bounty Hunter come on air to discuss politics — and still refuses to believe the President makes racist comments.
So, when Ingraham told James to “shut up and dribble,” it was just further proof that she views black athletes as nothing more than court jesters.
And for all of you who are still in shock and don’t understand how someone like James, who’s the best basketball player on the planet, could have the N-Word spray-painted on the front gate of his L.A. home last summer, Ingraham is a big reason why these things still happen.
After the incident, people immediately started to weigh in to defend James, with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts quickly adding their names to the list.
“I’m incredibly proud of our players for using the platform they have as players in the NBA and on social media to speak out on issues that are important to them,” Silver said. “I was proud of LeBron and Kevin’s response to the comments that were made about them.”
“Between LeBron’s 40 million followers and Kevin Durant’s 17 million followers on Twitter, Laura Ingraham has now introduced herself as intolerant and narrow-minded to 57 million people and the world,” Roberts added. “We stand with our players.”
James responded by informing us that he would not “shut up and dribble,” and thanked Ingraham for involuntarily helping his cause.
“She did the best thing to help me create more awareness. So I appreciate her for giving me even more awareness,” James said. “I get to sit up here and talk about social injustice, equality and why a woman on a certain network decided to tell me to shut up and dribble. So, thank you, whatever her name is. I don’t even know her name.”
And on Saturday, after LeBron and the rest of the world had addressed his situation, another racist instance occurred in Chicago that went under-the-radar due to most of the attention in the sports world being focused on the NBA’s All-Star festivities.
In a game between the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks, Devante Smith-Pelly — one of the handful of black players in the NHL — had racist taunts chanted at him from fans while he was in the penalty box.
The fans reportedly chanted “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, as if that’s the only thing black people are good at doing. And according to Smith-Pelly, this isn’t the first time it’s happened to him.
“It’s disgusting. It’s sad that in 2018 we’re still talking about this same thing over and over,” Smith-Pelly said when addressing the media Sunday. “It’s sad that athletes like myself 30, 40 years ago were standing in the same spot saying the same thing. You’d think there’d be some sort of change or progression, but we’re still working toward that, I guess.”
It is sad.
It is disgusting.
But most of all, it’s exhausting.
It just never seems to stop. Because on Monday night during the Kansas and Oklahoma game, ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe referred to Africa as a mere country, when it’s actually the second biggest continent on Earth, when talking about college basketball players from Africa who were coming over to play in the Big 12 Conference.
Sometimes you just have to call out ignorance, and over the past few days, multiple people have shown us their hand.
Team LeBron’s LeBron James holds the MVP trophy after the NBA All-Star game.
However, all is not lost.
On Sunday, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. became the first black driver to start the Daytona 500 since Wendell Scott did it in 1969, as his second-place finish was the best performance by a black driver in the storied history of the race.
“There is only one driver from an African-American background at the top level of our sport. I am the one,” Wallace said. “You’re not gonna stop hearing about ‘the black driver’ for years. Embrace it, accept it and enjoy the journey.”
By Tuesday morning, reports were coming in that “Black Panther” brought in $404 million worldwide in just four days, with $235 million of it coming domestically, as the movie continues to shatter box office records and destroy stereotypical and prejudicial mindsets that audiences won’t spend their money on black-themed movies, led by all-black casts.
And to top it all off, LeBron James was named MVP of the 2018 NBA All-Star Game.
Kendrick Lamar once said, “Wouldn’t you know. We been hurt, been down before…But we gon’ be alright.”
The lyrics are a testament to the innate ability that black people have to continually overcome insurmountable obstacles.
We’ve been here before. And once again, we’ll find a way to succeed.
Which is why, like James, I want to thank Laura Ingraham for her comments — because the past few days showed us why love will always “Trump” hate.
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Sports used to be thought of as an escape.
It’s a big part of the reason why some people, of all races, were so upset with the peaceful protests that took place across the sports world last year. The one thing that folks had at their disposal to help them get away from all the serious stuff that life brings was now being politicized like never before.
But the problem with that thinking is that it strips athletes of their humanity. And while athletes know that they provide entertainment, they also understand that once the games are over, their “celebrity” doesn’t shield them from the racism and injustices that the rest of us face on a daily basis.
Which is why it shouldn’t be a surprise that after one of the most polarizing years in sports, athletes and coaches have been some of the loudest voices in the wake of the school shooting that took the lives of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Wednesday.
Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo speaks at vigil after shooting at alma mater
“Nothing has been done. It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death day after day in schools,” said Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.
Kerr has been one of the strongest voices over the past few years, openly discussing such minefield topics as racism and politics. He’s also expressed some of the most pointed and critical comments on gun violence and this government’s unwillingness to do anything about it.
Steve Kerr has been at the forefront of conversations on gun violence and social injustices.
“It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert and a movie theatre. It’s not enough to apparently move our leadership and our government and the people running this country to actually do anything,” he continued.
“That’s demoralizing. We can do something about it. We can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people’s lives and not just bow down to the NRA because they finance their campaign for them. Hopefully we’ll find enough people, first of all, to vote good people in. And hopefully we find enough people with courage to help our citizens remain safe and focus on the real safety issues, and not building some stupid wall for billions of dollars that has nothing to do with our safety and actually protect us from what truly is dangerous, which is maniacs with semi-automatic weapons that are just slaughtering our children. It’s disgusting.”
LeBron James: Donald Trump ‘don’t give a f— about the people’
The reaction from athletes has been interesting to watch as our government’s refusal to address gun violence is causing people to speak out like never before.
“Is our President ever going to get in front of a camera and talk to the nation, these families of lost ones, these frightened student survivors?? Stop hiding behind your Twitter account and be a damn Commander in Chief, PATHETIC…” wrote former NBA great and TNT analyst Reggie Miller on his Twitter account.
Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell wrote “end gun violence” on his shoes before a game against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, as the list of athletes who spoke out about the shooting continued to grow, including the likes of: Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo — who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and spoke at a vigil in Parkland, Fla. Thursday — Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, and even U.S. figure skater Adam Rippon as he competes in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Athletes and other figures of the sports world have spoken out since Wednesday’s school shooting in Florida.
So far, there have been 18 school shootings, 30 mass shootings, and almost 1,800 gun-related deaths in 2018 alone. The AR-15 was the gun of choice for 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday. Cruz’s gun choice is not a surprise; the AR-15 assault rifle should have been suspected as it was the same legally-purchased one that was used to kill innocent civilians in a Texas church, a Las Vegas concert, a nightclub in Orlando, an elementary school in Newtown, an office in San Bernardino and a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Athletes react to Florida high school shooting that left 17 dead
The fact that nothing has changed says a lot about us. Our politicians would rather tweet their condolences than legislate the safety of our children. These are the same politicians who couldn’t vote to outlaw bump fire stocks, an attachment that essentially turn a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic one, which was used in Las Vegas last year to kill 58, the largest mass murder in modern America.
It’s crippling and infuriating.
“I have 10 nieces and nephews,” said CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd as he broke down crying on live TV Wednesday when trying to discuss the shooting. “We’re talking about bump stocks, we’re talking about legislation. A child of God is dead. Can not we acknowledge in this country that we cannot accept this?”
“I can’t do it, Wolf,” he said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I’m sorry, we can’t do it.”
CNN analyst Philip Mudd broke down in tears talking about the deaths in Parkland.
As I was scrolling through my social media feeds watching the reactions of Americans dealing with another school shooting, I longed for a government that actually cared about public safety.
But sadly, we live in a country in which the President has publically told the NRA that, “you have a true friend in the White House.” Which is why when I saw a tweet scroll across my timeline on Thursday, it perfectly captured the sadness of the moment.
“2018 is watching children live tweet mass shootings while other kids who’ve survived school shootings talk them through it,” wrote @muna_mire on Wednesday.
The role that sports used to play as a safe haven for Americans has been erased. The spaces we have to go to get away from the afflictions of life are becoming fewer and fewer.
That means that instead of trying to escape our problems, it’s time we finally address them and do something about it.
And if 2017 was any indication of the future, those in the world of sports will be the ones on the front line.
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Kobe Bryant is trying to sell us a dream, but I’m not buying it.
In a recent piece as part of The Undefeated’s “Dear Black Athlete” special, Bryant sat down with Jemele Hill for an in-depth interview about a variety of topics. One of them was Bryant’s thoughts on Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem, and why he claims he would kneel if he were still playing.
Hill: “Given the NBA’s stance on standing for the national anthem, and seeing the landscape in sports, if you were still playing would that have been something you would have participated in?”
Bryant: “I would have participated in it for sure. Yeah. I’m sure I would have gotten some flak for it, but that’s fine. I think Colin’s (Kaepernick) message was a very simple one. This police brutality needs to stop. We need to take a look at that.”
Hill: “What kind of conversations, I guess, could you have imagined taking place in the locker room as that was going on?”
Bryant: “Well, I mean from my experience in the locker room it doesn’t seem like any of the players I played with certainly [would] have had issue with that. I think we understand that this a free country. I think we have the right for peaceful protest. We have the right to, and by the way, I mean from my point of view that’s what the flag represents as well. The ability to speak and ability to voice your opinion. Everybody is entitled to that. So, everybody getting up in arms about it, they’re certainly in their right to do that. As we’re certainly in our right to protest. Peacefully, at that.”
There’s a lot to unpack in what Bryant said. And while it sounds nice that he thinks he would be the first player in the NBA to take a knee, I don’t believe him.
Bryant comes off as misguided.
It’s easy to say what you would do from the comforts of retirement, and Bryant walked away from the NBA months before Kaepernick took a knee.
Maybe he should have something more along the lines of, “I’d like to think that I had that sort of courage, but it would be unfair of me to say that I would from my living room.”
That’s an answer that doesn’t belittle the actions of the men and women who took a knee across the sports world who had to deal with the ire of angry fans, and death threats from the crazy ones, not to mention being personally attacked by the President of the United States. That answer would also show us that Bryant understands that this decision is one that’s a lot easier said than done.
In the past, Bryant publicly defended Kaepernick and others who have taken a knee, and even criticized Donald Trump last year after he referred to them as “sons of bitches.”
“A #POTUS whose name alone creates division and anger. Whose words inspire dissension and hatred can’t possibly ‘Make America Great Again,'” Bryant wrote on Twitter.
He’s also donated money to Kaepernick’s million-dollar “10-for-10 initiative.” But cutting a check doesn’t mean you’d be the first person to break a rule in the NBA. Last September, the league sent out a memo reminding teams of its policy that requires players and coaches to stand during the national anthem.
It’s easy for Kobe Bryant to say he’d kneel during the national anthem from the comfort of his couch.
There has yet to be a player to challenge the rule.
But, I’m supposed to believe that Bryant would?
It’s not adding up.
In the piece with Hill, Bryant said, “it doesn’t seem like any of the players I played with certainly [WOULD]have had issue with that.”
Well, he’s wrong. I guess Bryant forget he played with Karl Malone and Shaquille O’Neal.
Back in 2015, Malone said that he didn’t think race played a part in what happened in Ferguson and that he believes that “everyone was at fault.”
“Let me tell you something, our first responders have a hell of a job to do. They have families as well,” Malone said to Marc Lamont Hill on an episode of HuffPost Live.
“But I think this right here: our problem now is that we do so much talking and beating things to death. Let’s take ownership in ourself. What can we do? What can we do as a society, what can we do as African Americans? And stop waiting on someone to come in and march for us. Be your person and own up to what you need to do and handle your business.”
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in 2002.
And in 2016, Shaq took exception to Kaepernick’s peaceful protest, which means that he would have taken exception with Bryant’s, as well.
“I don’t know Colin, but to each his own. I don’t really have a say on it, but I would never do that,” O’Neal said on an episode of “Fox & Friends.” “My father was a military man, and he protected this country. Uncles are in law enforcement, they go out and work hard every day. Just, you know — other ways to get your point across.”
“My question is: What happened last year? How come you didn’t decide to do this last year, or the year before that, or the year before that. My thing is, you know, you have to enter onto the scene one way. People like Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell, they were one way their whole career.”
“You can’t show us something, and then go to another, just because of certain issues.”
And Shaq, who’s a reserve police officer in South Florida, says he plans to run for Sheriff of Henry County, Ga. in 2020. He just might take issue with a teammate kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality.
Seems like Bryant doesn’t have as good of a grasp on his former teammates as he thinks he does.
Mike Tyson famously once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
I think that logic applies to Bryant.
In his mind, I think he truly believes that if he were still playing, he’d take a knee. He’s a black man in America, making it impossible for him to be ignorant to what African-Americans go through on a daily basis in this country.
But once Bryant stepped on the court, and the lights dimmed, and an artist stepped to the microphone to sing the anthem, I don’t think Bryant’s knees would bend an inch.
Because if Bryant was really about that life, he’d be doing way more than ESPN interviews to make an actual impact on social injustices.
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