Why I let go of anthem protests, and you should too

I used to be like you.

“How dare these athletes making millions of dollars sit down, lock arms or kneel during the playing of our national anthem?”

Then it became abundantly clear.

There is too little time on Earth for you or me to care if Marshawn Lynch or Colin Kaepernick have a hand over their heart or not during the national anthem.

“But Matt that’s an affront to the soldiers who gave their lives at Normandy and Iwo Jima to defend this country.”

No, your whining about someone exercising their fundamental freedom of expression is the affront.

I think at Normandy and Iwo Jima, the troops had more on their minds than what a football player who wasn’t even born until forty years after the end of the Second World War would do in 2016.

You know, like trying to survive being shot at by the Germans and Japanese respectively.

In a league where players are doping, sometimes more than once (Darren Waller), or running into trouble with the law (Rolando McClain), are Colin Kaepernick or Marshawn Lynch’s anthem protests the biggest problem facing the NFL?

Now do I agree with their actions? Absolutely not.

In fact, I think it’s completely ridiculous.

Not standing for the national anthem makes you look stupid and alienates prospective allies from your cause.

Growing up in Baltimore I was raised on the story of Francis Scott Key and The Star Spangled Banner.

I saw Michael Phelps win eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and sing along with a tear in his eye, and a hand over his heart, as the “Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave” portion of the anthem played in the background.

Three years ago next month, we commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of The Star Spangled Banner.

So yea the anthem means a great deal to me.

But so does the U.S. Constitution, which means no matter how stupid something you say is, you have every right to say it.

And at the end of the day, professional sports is not about social justice.

It’s about winning.

Why else do you think the Raiders signed Lynch, irregardless of his anthem protests while with the Seattle Seahawks.

In the case of Colin Kaepernick, he’s not the electrifying quarterback he once was, but he’s much better than the quarterbacks in Jacksonville – Chad Henne and Blake Bortles, who proved tonight, neither is capable of starting in the NFL.

During his post game presser, Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone made it clear he wasn’t happy with either quarterback’s performance against Tampa Bay.

So cheer up Colin, maybe it will get so bad over the remaining preseason games that Jaguars GM Tom Coughlin will ignore your anthem protests and give you a call.

After all, if I was Coach , and my hide was on the line, I’d rather coach a quarterback who can complete a 15 yard pass to a wide open receiver; something Bortles failed to do on more than one occasion tonight.

 

 

All quiet on the offensive front: Washington falls at Baltimore 23-3

Turn on the fourth quarter of any preseason game in any bar across America, and usually a broadcaster’s call is met with one word.

“Who?”

Seriously, before tonight when he went 4/4 with a touchdown, outside of Liberty Football fans, had you heard of Josh Woodrum before?

In all honesty, preseason should be taken with a grain of salt.

There are 90 active players on each NFL roster right now, and before the regular season kicks off a month from now, every team must cut 41% of their players.

That being said, the fact neither Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy could move the offense will lead Jay Gruden and Matt Cavanaugh to tinker with the offense before the team takes the field ten days from now against Green Bay.

In sixty minutes of football, the Redskins managed EIGHT, count ’em, EIGHT, first downs.

Two weeks ago talk of the Ravens potentially signing Colin Kaepernick took off after Ryan Mallett threw at least five interceptions in practice against the Ravens defense.

While not spectacular, Mallett did not turn the ball over tonight.

The Redskins on the other hand, fumbled the ball four times (recovering each time) in the first half alone.

Justin Tucker looked himself, save for a miss off the right crossbar that dinged so loud the stadium fell silent. However, Tucker’s miss was negated by an illegal formation penalty on the Redskins, and he made up for the missed attempt at the end of the second half with a 59 yard field goal to close out the quarter.

Rookie tailback Taquan Mizzell ran all over the Redskins defense in the second half for 51 yards on 15 on attempts.

Again, this is all preseason, and Mizzell likely won’t break camp with the team in September.

But for the players fighting for jobs in Washington, dropped passes, negative runs, fumbles and missed tackles could leave them out of a job come September as well.

Gameday Preview: Redskins at Ravens

After a seven-month vacation, the NFL returns to the DMV tonight with the annual “Battle of the Beltways” preseason matchup between the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.

It has been a long offseason for both clubs that came into last season with high hopes, but failed to make the playoffs.

Baltimore’s Spring and Summer were marred by injuries and suspensions. Tight end Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip for the third time during minicamp in June and was released shortly after.

Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco has dealt with a nagging shoulder injury that’s kept him out of practice since the beginning of Training Camp, leaving Ryan Mallett to start the preseason opener tonight.

Tight end Darren Waller, expected to help fill the void left by Pitta’s injury was suspended for the entire 2017 season for PED use, joining running back Kenneth Dixon, who was suspended for the first quarter of the season.

Meanwhile the Redskins come into this season with a great deal of uncertainty. After missing the playoffs by imploding against the Giants during a Week 17 matchup to close the regular season, Washington is asking itself, “who are we?”

The team has consecutive winning seasons for the first time in a decade, and coach Jay Gruden remains in good standing with team owner Dan Snyder, something no other coach, save for Joe Gibbs, could claim during their tenure with the team.

But questions remain.

Gone are offensive coordinator Sean McVay, the architect of the greatest Redskins offense in a generation, who took over as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, and defensive coordinator Joe Barry was fired after running the defense into the ground.

Replacing McVay and Barry are Matt Cavanaugh, who led the Ravens offense during their Super Bowl XXXV winning season, while former Chargers and 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky takes over Barry’s old position.

The Redskins also lost their top two receivers, DeSean Jacon and Pierre Garcon to free agency, banking heavily on last year’s first rounder, Josh Doctson, and former Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. to replace them.

The defense retooled with first round defensive lineman, Jonathan Allen and free agent safety, D.J. Swearinger.

Baltimore signed safety Tony Jefferson, running back Danny Woodhead and receiver Jeremy Maclin to try and fix crucial weak spots on last year’s team. With Steve Smith Sr. retiring, the Ravens had no true number one receiver until they signed Maclin; failing to address the need during May’s NFL Draft.

With no standout running back (Buck Allen and Terrance West join Woodhead and Dixon in Baltimore’s backfield), the Ravens are hoping the former Patriots and Chargers tailback can invigorate their running game and take some of the pressure off Flacco.

Tonight’s preseason opener will give the Redskins and Ravens a chance to gauge how well their teams click. But with the starters on both sides expecting to see limited action, the emphasis remains on finding those unsung players who can contribute on special teams and make the squad, or stand out enough to make another squad after final cuts are announced in September.

Last Matchup: Washington defeated the Ravens last October, 16-10 in Baltimore leaving the all-time series tied at 3-3.

Next Up: Washington heads home to take on the Green Bay Packers at FedEx Field on August 19th at 7:30 p.m. Baltimore travels to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami to take on the Dolphins at 7:00 p.m. on August 17th.

Rolling the dice on prospects

It's that time of year.

No not summer vacation or back to school season.

I'm talking about the annual make or break month where Major League Baseball teams decide if they're buying or selling by the July 31st non-waiver deadline.

By selling, you're especially folding on the season and turning your attention to the future; usually by unloading free agents to be, or contracts that burden your team's ability to compete financially in the future.

The Chicago Cubs and their South Side rivals, the White Sox, kicked off "Christmas in July" a week and a half ago when pitcher Jose Quintana was dealt North for a range of prospects including Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and Matt Rose.

Over the next week, teams will have to decide if this is their year or not.

In the American League, six teams sit within five games of the second wild card spot currently held by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Over on the Senior Circuit, no team is within five games of the Colorado Rockies for the second wild card, with the closest being the aforementioned Chicago Cubs.

It's clear the Cubs are taking a shot at the second wild card, or more likely, the division leading Milwaukee Brewers who they trail by only a game entering play Sunday.

Herein lies the struggle facing both buyers and sellers at the deadline.

Are you willing to roll the dice on:

1.) Making the playoffs.
2.) Ensuring that you don't give too much up (in the case of buyers) or get nothing of value in return (in the case of sellers).
3.) The player(s) you trade away coming back to bite you.

Eight years ago this December, the Toronto Blue Jays dealt fan favorite, and arguably greatest player in franchise history, Roy Halladay, to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis d'Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor.

The Jays knew they would not be able to re-sign Halladay, who expressed interest in pitching for a contender.

Rather than letting him walk for nothing, the Jays dealt him to a powerhouse looking to acquire another elite arm.

While with the Phillies, Halladay started an All Star Game, pitched a no-hitter in the 2010 Division Series versus the Cincinnati Reds and a perfect game against the Marlins, becoming the first player in Major League Baseball history to have a no-hitter and perfect game in the same season.

Doc Halladay pitched with the same zeal and finesse that Toronto fans remembered during his tenure in Canada.

Jays fans adored him so much, that upon his return to Rogers Centre on Canada Day in 2011, he received a standing ovation and was greeted with cheers from the fans he thrilled for 11 years in a Jays uniform.

The same cannot be said for the prospects Toronto received from the Phillies in the Halladay trade.

Travis d'Arnaud never played an inning for the Jays, and was one of the highly touted prospects (along with Noah Syndergaard — a.k.a. Thor) sent to the New York Mets in 2012 for reigning National League Cy Young award winner, R.A. Dickey.

Like d'Arnaud, Michael Taylor never played for the Jays and was immediately dealt to the Oakland Athletics for first baseman Brett Wallace.

The centerpiece of the Halladay deal, Kyle Drabek, never lived up to the sky high expectations he brought with him to Toronto.

Drabek, the son of 1990 National League Cy Young award winner, Doug Drabek, compiled an 8-15 record in five seasons with the Jays.

In contrast, Roy Halladay reached eight wins with the Phillies on June 4, 2010 following a victory over the San Diego Padres.

While the Halladay trade exemplifies the risks that come with dealing a franchise player, their rival, the Baltimore Orioles, showed how dealing a franchise player can set a team up for the next decade.

Following the best season of his career in 2007, Orioles pitcher Erik Bedard was dealt to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for a young outfielder named Adam Jones, along with pitchers George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio, Chris Tillman and Tony Butler.

In four seasons with Seattle, Bedard posted a 15-14 record; two more wins than the 2007 season that led the Mariners to deal for him in the first place.

Meanwhile, Adam Jones has gone on to hit the fifth most home runs in Orioles history (240) trailing only Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson.

Did I mention his four Gold Glove awards? How about the fact he is a five time All-Star? His Silver Slugger award?

Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler never panned out for the Orioles.

George Sherrill was an All Star for Baltimore in 2008.

Chris Tillman has proven to be an undervalued commodity acquired in the Bedard trade.

He's posted a 73-53 mark, and between 2012 and 2016, was one of the most reliable pitchers in the organization.

This season has been a let down for the tall right hander who has spent the season battling a shoulder injury. Tillman is currently 1-5 with a career worst 7.01 ERA.

So there you have it.

Trades can make or break your franchise.

In the next week general managers will have to roll the dice and ask themselves, will one trade make their team better or worse in the long run.

Prospects can either pan out or flame out.

The good news is, if they flame out, they can still become general manager of the Oakland Athletics and have Brad Pitt portray them in an an Oscar nominated film.

How's it going Billy Beane?

Dear Lakers…

Please don’t draft Lonzo Ball.

Thirteen years ago, Eli Manning famously declared he would not play for the San Diego Chargers who held the first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, and wanted to take the Ole Miss quarterback as heir apparent to Drew Brees.

Manning’s father Archie, himself a former NFL quarterback, chimed in that his son would be a perfect fit for the New York Giants, who were looking for their own franchise quarterback that April.

San Diego ignored the Manning’s request and took Eli first overall. So began draft day drama.

Manning was traded later that night to the Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers (who the Giants took fourth overall), a third round pick in the same draft (kicker Nate Kaeding) and a first rounder (linebacker Shawne Merriman) and fifth rounder (which was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for offensive lineman Roman Oben) in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Thirteen years later we have come full circle, and it’s become ten times worse.

Lonzo Ball is without a doubt a very talented basketball star. But whichever team takes him tonight will also be asked to carry the baggage that is his father LaVar.

Lonzo only scheduled one workout (with the Lakers) and his father stated his son, “would only play for the Lakers,” before  quickly walking back those comments.

He talked up his son’s Big Baller shoe line, and said the cost of a pair of ZO2’s was $495, and that the shoe, “means something.”

It means LaVar Ball’s out of his mind.

Like it or not, the grestest player in the NBA right now is LeBron James; and the most expensive pair of his Nike shoes retail for only $220.

So the fact LaVar Ball thinks his son’s shoes are worth twice and more of a pair of LeBron’s goes to show why the Lakers need to pass on his son. 

The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off two of their worst seasons in franchise history. They just traded away their first round pick from two years ago in D’Angelo Russell. This team is trying to find itself and get back to the championsip Lakers tradition that doesn’t have them finishing near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Adding the headache of Lonzo Ball and his father will only keep the team where it is for the foreseeable future. Remember how I told you all a week ago the Cavs lost in the NBA Finals this year because one man does not a championship team make.

You can be sure Lonzo and LaVar will be out for two people, themselves.

Not the Los Angeles Lakers, and certainly not their fans.

Most people don’t know this, but LaVar Ball was a washout NFL player who never made the sidelines of a regular season game. He was also a washout college basketball player at Washington State who transferred his senior season to Cal State-Los Angeles. 

He’s said his son is better than LeBron (4x MVP), Steph Curry (2x reigning MVP) and Russell Westbrook. He mouthed off that he would have taken out Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one in his college days. 

He’s garnered criticism ranging from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to NBA Hall of Famers, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley.

When asked about the cost of the ZO2, LaVar Ball said, “If you can’t afford a pair of ZO2’s, you’re not a Big Baller!” – referencing the line that makes the shoes.

Having lived in Los Angeles for the last ten months, I can tell you there are a lot of people in the city Mr. Ball wants his son to play in who can’t afford his son’s shoes. Los Angeles County alone is home to over 250,000 homeless, a jump of 23% in the last two years.

Walking from my apartment up South Figueroa Street on my way to Staples Center, I would pass upwards of a dozen or more homeless Angelinos walking down the street with shopping carts full of tin cans and bottles, or camped under the 110 overpass, unsure of where their next meal would come from.

Over 60,000 of those homeless Angelinos are children.

Athletes like Lonzo Ball are supposed to inspire hope in children that while they may be homeless today, eventually their future can be brighter and someone out there cares about them. Instead, the Ball’s seem more interested in shaming anyone who can’t afford their ridiculous shoe cost.

Honestly the fault for all this lies primarily with LaVar Ball, who is acting as a helicopter parent trying to make up for his lost dreams by living vicariously through his superstar son. Because he failed to crack the pros in his “heyday,” LaVar Ball id treating his son’s forthcoming career like its his own. An entitlement to a dream lost decades ago. However, this is Lonzo’s dream, not LaVar’s.

So tonight, do me a favor Lakers, and don’t draft Lonzo Ball. I know it will be hard, but trust me, you will be better for it in the years to come.

One man does not a championship team make

Good morning, and congratulations to the Golden State Warriors on their second NBA title in three seasons, after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers last night. 129-120.

As was the case when I discussed the Baseball Hall of Fame class in January, this article, sadly, is not about the Warriors.

Let’s be honest, Cleveland got its backside whooped in this series.

The Warriors learned first from their own failures in last year’s NBA Finals, when they were up 3-1 on the Cavs before an epic collapse, then from the Indians imitation against the Cubs in last Fall’s World Series and finally the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 lead in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, to get the job done before momentum shifts.

Both teams had an incredible season. The Warriors finished the playoffs 16-1 after a 67-15 record in the regular season.

The Cavs, left for dead midway through the season during a rough patch where pundits and writers jumped ship to the Raptors, Celtics and Wizards, turned it around when they had to, and dispatched the Pacers and Raptors 4-0 each, before eliminating the Celtics 4-1 on the way to their third straight NBA Finals.

Again this article is not about them.

Would Cleveland have made the playoffs had LeBron stayed in Miami, gone to New York or wherever, instead of returning home?

Maybe they would have, or maybe they would have continued their fall as as the case in the wake of his initial (he’s going to leave again…) exit from Cleveland.

Regardless, LeBron James is the greatest player in the NBA right now. You know it, I know it. Everyone except for Lamar Ball probably knows it, including his son.

But one man does not a championship team make.

This offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays said goodbye to a fixture in their lineup over the last decade, Edwin Encarnacion.

Encarnacion, who departed for a three year deal (with a fourth year club option) with the Cleveland Indians in January, left many Jays fans feeling abandoned and that their team would implode. 

Granted, the Jays have been cellar dwellers for the entirety of the 2017 season (the team can move into fourth place in the AL East with a win over Tampa Bay and a Baltimore loss tonight), but that isn’t Encarnacion’s fault. 

Jays fans made similar excuses in 2015 following their loss to the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.

One man does not a championship team make.

Think about how important Jays fans considered someone who didn’t give them a championship.

Along with Jose Bautista, who re-signed with the club following a fruitless search for the 100 million dollar deal he sought only two seasons ago, Encarnacion was the face of the franchise, which led fan to compare him to Judas Iscariot or Benedict Arnold after he defected to an Indians team that dashed their World Series aspirations in October.

But how important was he?

After all, the Royals and Indians managed to dispatch the Blue Jays handly in the last two ALCS’ without him being on their roster.

Like LeBron, Toronto fans placed way too much value on Encarnacion, something Jays management was unwilling to do. 

They offered him a 4 yr./80 million dollar deal, he said no, they moved on and signed Kendrys Morales.

So while Cleveland fans may have believed the greatest player in the NBA would deliver them another championship, one man does not a championship team make.

LeBron averaged a triple-double in this year’s NBA Finals, something no other player in league history has done.

And yet, it was the Warriors who hoisted the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy last night.

One man, does not a championship team make.

Enough with the rankings already

2017 marks 40 years since the Toronto Blue Jays made their Major League debut on a cold and snowy April afternoon at Exhibition Stadium.

jays-home-opener-1977.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x720

Zamboni clearing snow off the field at Exhibition Stadium – April 7, 1977

A lot has changed since then.

The Jays now play 2.3 miles (I don’t speak kilometers sorry — pronounced: sorree) up Lake Shore Boulevard at the retractable roof covered Rogers Centre in the heart of downtown Toronto (pronounced Torono). Exhibition Stadium was torn down in 1999 and the site is now the location of BMO Field — home to the Toronto Argonauts.

Rogers-Centre-Dirt-Infield

Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) home to the Toronto Blue Jays since June 1989

So where am I getting at with all of this, and why did I just give you a brief history of Toronto sports?

The latter can be answered simply by saying Toronto is one of the greatest sports towns in North America.

The former question comes from an article posted this week on Sportsnet; Canada’s largest sports network conglomerate. They asked Canadians, and to a lesser extent, Americans like me, to rank the 40 greatest Blue Jays of all time.

Roy Halladay number one, easy.

Halladay 1

Roy Halladay pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre

He was my favorite player growing up and why I’m a diehard Jays fan.

To me the remainder of the list was arbitrary.

But it got me thinking; what is with rankings in sports?

After all, aren’t they arbitrary as well?

I mean, how do you say Halladay was better than Roberto Alomar, Dave Steib or George Bell?

Half of those four are pitchers and the other half position players.

So trying to compare them is like apples and oranges.

Every February, CBS and FOX rank the greatest Super Bowls of all time.

Again, arbitrary.

To me, the greatest Super Bowl of all time (Super Bowl XXII — Redskins 42, Broncos 10). But that answer is going to be different than the one you would hear from a 49ers or Cowboys or Dolphins fan.

President Ronald Reagan throwing a pass to Redskins receiver Ricky Sanders during the team’s visit to the White House

Side note: Unless you’re a Falcons fan, it’s pretty hard to argue last year’s Super Bowl was not the greatest of all time from a strictly non-partisan viewpoint.

SportsCenter has made arbitrary rankings a thing with their nightly Top 10 highlight reel.

The point of all this is as sports fans we’re always going to disagree on everything from which beer tastes best before kickoff (Coors Light) to what jersey we should wear to the game (none because if I do the Redskins will lose…).

It’s up to sportswriters to recognize their arbitrary lists aren’t showing us anything other than the fact they have WAY too much time on their hands!