Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Boycotts To Lawsuits: What Does All This Mean?

Coming off the heels of my father’s recent induction into the Grambling Legends Hall of Fame the current situation at Grambling hits close to home with me with him being a former athlete, alumnus, administrator, and athletic director at the time of his passing.  Grambling's recent boycott was over many well documented issues including the condition of their facility.  I remember 16 years ago my father lobbying for the facility during coach Eddie Robinson’s last season so Grambling could have comparable facilities to other institutions’ that the state supports.  As he shared with me, “Just give me what is mine and not a stick in a fight in the competitive recruiting of college athletics.”
Grambling Football Players'

Grambling’s football players are not the only student athletes taking a stand for their rights.  Former UCLA basketball standout Ed O’Bannon is leading a case against the NCAA regarding current and former athletes likeness being used in video games and other licensing deals for profit without the players receiving compensation. 

In September players from Northwestern University, Georgia, and Georgia Tech had “APU” on their wristbands.  "APU" is short for All Players United, a NCAA protest and reform campaign led by the National Collegiate Players Association, an advocacy group comprised of current and former college athletes and supported by the U.S. Steelworkers union.  This campaign is more than about compensation, but also the NCAA and its institutions handling of injuries and guaranteeing scholarship renewals amongst other issues.
These issues cover two extremes.  The Grambling football team is fighting for issues such as better travel arrangements and facilities and most of the former and current athletes in the O’Bannon case are fighting for compensation in an industry that uses their ability and likeness to generate billions of dollars.  Both have legitimate arguments.

The root of the issue at Grambling is that in 2009 when offered stimulus funds for the state of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal rejected them.  That same year, Jindal cut $219 million in state funds for higher education, including $5 million that would have been earmarked for Grambling. In January 2012, Jindal announced an additional mid-year budget cut of $50 million for higher education, with Grambling losing out on nearly $1 million of that total.  

Other institutions’ have been able to deal with the budget cuts better because of increased tuition and fund raising, but are still impacted.  Grambling’s issues reveal a bigger issue of what is currently taking place with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  Enrollment is down at many institutions and many black families are impacted with cutbacks with state and federal financial aid support.  All of these issues trickle down to the athletic department.

"Colleges, especially public [ones], face enormous pressure to replace lost state revenues by seeking more full-paying and out-of-state students," said Rodney Morrison in 2011, associate chancellor for enrollment management at Rutgers University. "With the loss of state and federal financial-aid support, we are rapidly eroding access for future students."

Spelman College, a small a historically black women's college in Atlanta announced in November 2012 that it was returning to the old model and doing away with intercollegiate athletics. The school said it would use the nearly $1 million that had been dedicated to its intercollegiate sports program, serving just 4 percent of students, for a campus-wide health and fitness program benefiting all 2,100.

On the other hand, athletes at major institutions’ see the multi-billion dollar industry that intercollegiate athletics has turned into.  Debates have increased on whether they should be paid or not.  The Ed O’Bannon led lawsuit has forced the NCAA to end their relationship with EA Sports who produced video games and EA Sports reaching a settlement with O’Bannon’s group.

Johnny Manziel Jersey
This past summer ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas called out the NCAA over several tweets in regard to the hypocrisy of selling current and former NCAA student-athletes jerseys on their website.  Names are not tied to student-athletes jerseys, simply searching “Manziel” revealed a strong correlation between his name and Johnny Manziel’s # 2 Texas A&M jersey.   The NCAA removed the feature the next day.  Athletes such as Manziel receive a full scholarship including room and board, tuition, coaching, training, tutors, use of state of the art facilities and more, but universities benefit from selling merchandise attributed to specific players and sports without the student-athletes receiving compensation.

Johnny Manziel, 2012 Heisman Trophy winner reportedly was worth $37 million in media exposure.  Texas A&M University raised a record-breaking $740 million in donations and pledges over the last fiscal year, potentially the most ever raises by a public university, the Bryan Eagle reports.  The University is in the process of funding $450 million in upgrades to their football stadium.

With the current collegiate athletic system, players have virtually no rights. Athletic scholarships are up for renewal at the discretion of the coach every year, meaning that a student's place at a college or university is not secure beyond one year. Coaches and athletic directors just have to give a student-athlete notice that their scholarship is not being renewed; collegiate athletes can find themselves out of the athletic program and out of a chance at an education.

These statements by student-athletes address the broad scope of issues in intercollegiate athletics and reveal many issues that HBCU’s face.  HBCU’s must realize that they’re targeting a small segment of the population that have many choices pertaining to where they want to further their education.  Attending a HBCU may not be the first choice as it was for previous generations for prospective black students.  Some HBCU’s have the reputation for poor administrations and organization must change.  They have to adapt to the current financial climate and have leadership that are visionaries with fresh ideas to keep HBCU’s relevant with an emphasis on quality customer service to potential students, current, and alumni.   Some HBCU’s are moving in that direction and have for many years. 

In November 2012 Hampton University entered into a partnership agreement with the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. The HU-UPenn Biodental Program will allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology at Hampton University and a doctorate in dental surgery from Penn.  Milwaukee Public Schools established a partnership with Morehouse College in June 2012. That partnership netted $800,000 in scholarships and will send the largest-ever group of Wisconsin to Morehouse College.  These kinds of innovative approaches will position HBCU’s to attract students.

As Samuel Freedman noted on since 2008, when, Grambling has had to cut the number of its academic degree programs from 67 to 47, lay off 127 employees, and defer more than $24 million of maintenance and rehabilitation for classroom buildings, dormitories, the main library and the football stadium.   Grambling and other HBCU’s do not have a T. Boone Pickens (Oklahoma State) or Jerry Jones (Univ. of Arkansas) to pump millions of dollars into the university and athletic programs.
For example, LSU and their athletic department can withstand cutbacks with television deals and bowl game appearances.  Grambling has an endowment just more than $5 million; LSU's, in comparison, stands at $437 million.

The class and race issues cannot be avoided.  Most student-athletes come from poor families and are minorities.  Calling home for $100 is a sacrifice for many players’ families.  Alabama safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dixon was suspended two games this season for borrowing money from an assistant strength coach on staff.  A player in a revenue-generated sport should have enough cash available to not resort to those actions even though he knowingly violated a NCAA rule.

The Grambling’s of the world do not generate enough revenue to even entertain compensating players.  When a student-athlete decides to play for a Grambling they understand it is not as big of a stage as LSU or Texas A&M.  They should have formidable facilities, travel arrangements, uniforms, and overall care.

The day is coming soon where student-athletes benefits above the scholarship will be in place without taking away from the non-revenue sports.  Grambling should not have been in the predicament that facilities are in a condition that has students’ safety and the quality of their education in jeopardy.  The recent statements by student-athletes in both spectrums will lead the charge that change is coming!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Surviving In The Desert

A food desert is an area where affordable healthy food is difficult to obtain, particularly for those without access to an automobile.  Food deserts are also noted in rural areas and are most likely to be found amid low-income communities.   Food deserts can be at our schools and jobs because healthy food options are not accessible.  In some circumstances food deserts can be difficult to overcome because of environmental factors, in other instances better choices and preparation can overcome your environment. 

Most of us spend the majority of our time at our places of employment and with children at school.  During the course of a typical day, time can be limited in terms of eating lunch and snacks.  The food options that are accessible near your job or children’s school are usually unhealthy such as fast and processed foods.  That is why it is important to evaluate the environment you spend the majority of your time.  Preparing meals and snacks ahead of time to bring with you to work and/or pack for children’s lunches will help.

Meals should be planned just like everything else on your schedule.  Being a spontaneous eater will lead to poor choices.  Deep-fried popcorn chicken, tiny taters, bread, ice cream, ketchup, milk. A high-fat, high-sodium, low-fiber menu is a typical lunch at a typical American elementary, middle, and high schools.  In July 2012, school meals were required to offer fruits and vegetables to students every day under standards issued by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Huffington Post reported in April 2013 that after just one year, some schools around the country are dropping out of the healthier new federal lunch program, complaining that so many students turned up their noses at meals packed with whole grains, fruits and vegetables that the cafeterias were losing money.

Children are not forced to take the vegetables and fruits onto their plates; the standards require that the various food groups be offered.  That is why it is important that healthy food choices are taught and exemplified at home.

With busy schedules at home and work people are more inclined to go to drive thrus and eat out rather than prepare meals at home.  Preparing meals at home is better for your health and your wallet.  Cooking at home can lead to a 31-48% savings from your total food bill.  Preparing meals in bulk will be a time saver and help you be prepared each day.  Meals can be prepared for lunch and/or frozen to eat later.

For those living in low-income communities surviving in a food desert is more challenging.  In the Washington, DC area there are cases of food deserts that are impacting families and children.  Approximately 18,000 D.C. residents live in food deserts, where there are also high concentrations of children. In one such food desert, 39 percent of residents are children. And although Prince George’s County, MD has more food deserts, D.C.’s deserts have higher concentrations of children. In fact, only two food desert Census tracts in all of Maryland and Virginia have higher concentrations of children than any of D.C.’s food deserts: Norfolk, Va. and Anne Arundel, MD according to Elahe Izadi’s report in DC Centric in March 2011.
The pink areas are food deserts.

Prince George’s County, MD is reportedly the most affluent county in the United States for African Americans.  There is not a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s in the county and very few farmers’ markets. In March 2010 Wegman’s opened a store in Woodmore, MD, which is strategically located in the center of the county and visible and accessible off of a major interstate 495.  Wegman’s is considered a high-end grocery chain and offers their own brand of many products at competitive prices.  The Woodmore location has exceeded expectations with their success over the last three years.

These communities are not only food deserts, but exercise deserts as well.  Fitness and community centers, fields, and programs are not in these respective communities.  Crime in some areas makes it unsafe for children to play outside.   Poor nutrition and lack of exercise in theses communities impact children’s cognitive skills and health.    They live in these communities all their formative years and the lack of exercise and proper nutrition impacts their long-term health.  

We can fall into two different categories: not having the information to understand what eating healthy means and having that information and then choosing to eat unhealthy.  For those of us that have the information better choices and preparation is the answer.  It is debated whether government should get involved in school lunches and assisting communities.  Something has to be done!  It will take a combined effort of government, schools, health and wellness industries, and other in the public and private sector working together to improve communities.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

NFL: Will Greed and Hypocrisy Ruin The Game?

Junior Seau

The NFL is the most popular professional sport league in the United States.  The league generates annual revenue of $9.5 billion compared to Major League Baseball, the second-highest grossing league, had an annual revenue of $7 billion in 2012 and the NFL more than doubles the National Basketball Association and their revenue of $4 billion.    After watching the PBS documentary League of Denial:  NFL’s Concussion Crisis this week it was very disturbing of the circumstances that forced the NFL to be proactive regarding the issue.  What the documentary revealed is how it took bad public relations including lawsuits and a prominent player such as Junior Seau committing suicide caused from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease, which can only be definitively diagnosed postmortem in individuals with a history of multiple concussions and other forms of head injury.

Jonathan Vilma and Drew Brees
This pattern is concerning because the NFL has become a public relations machine for the good and bad.  Current commissioner Roger Goodell has an apparent disconnect with the players' that was evident during the most recent collective bargaining negotiations in 2011 and other recent issues.    The New Orleans Saints in 2012 received unprecedented punishment for their bounty program.  As Dan LeBetard of the Miami Herald stated, "Goodell chose to reveal it and then punish it with iron-fisted overindulgence, gift-wrapping the media an easy and noisy story in America’s most popular sport. Goodell, faced with the oxymoronic task of making a violent game safe, decided to scapegoat the Saints for something that was about as old as football."
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the season and later had is suspension lifted by an appeals court, but the damage was done to Vilma and his team.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees stated after the decision, "If someone would just come out in the league office and admit, ‘You know what? We could have handled this situation better,’ it would go such a long way with both players and fans. People would really come around to realize what this thing was all about because right now the league office and Commissioner Goodell have very little to no credibility with us as players."

Roger Goodell works for the NFL owners and is the messenger for them to the players’ and the public.  There is one thing that many NFL owners and Goodell share, they have very little in common with the players who participate in the game they oversee.  It is expected for many owners to have that disconnect.  Hiring competent executives in their football operations can fill that void.  The Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, and New England Patriots are examples of having a reputation of a culture that produces quality teams. 
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
The position of NFL Commissioner was Goodell’s dream job, evident in his letter to then Commissioner Peter Rozelle in 1981 after his college graduation seeking an opportunity to work in the NFL.  He is the son of the late United States Charles Ellis Goodell and competed in football, basketball, and baseball in high school.  His story is compelling and inspiring, he went from an intern to COO to Commissioner in over 24 years. 
In a USA Today Poll released in January 2013 of NFL players 61% said they disapprove of the job Goodell has done overall, with most focusing on the increased fines of players for dangerous hits on defenseless receivers and quarterbacks and the perception of the commissioner's investigation into the New Orleans Saints bounty matter.
Perception is the public’s reality.  His lack of popularity will not impact his job security.  NFL owners are pleased with the job he is doing because the league is continuing to be profitable.  My concern as a fan is when will the rule changes, punishments, and fresh ideas finally catch up with the league to impact the product on the field.  Some will argue that it already has.
Even causes are being used for profit.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  NFL players and officials are wearing pink with their uniforms.  According to the League, 100% of the proceeds from the specialty auction go to the American Cancer Society, but the total percentage of purchases of officially licensed gear that actually goes to FINDING A CURE is only 5%.   The players wearing pink are basically walking billboards.  NFL products are sold at a 100% markup and only 5% of sale proceeds go to the American Cancer Society, then the NFL is pocketing 90% of sales of Breast Cancer Awareness products. 
NFL's Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign
Breast cancer has impacted many individuals in one form or another, but men are vulnerable to prostate cancer.   According the American Cancer Society prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer found in American men, other than skin cancer prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, behind only lung cancer. One man in six will get prostate cancer during his lifetime. And one man in 36 will die of this disease.  The NFL does not have a campaing for prostate cancer because it is not as sensitive of a topic. 
The NFL appears to be full of hypocrisy and greed.  It implements changes for player safety, but to open the 2012 football season the Baltimore Ravens played four games in 17 days.  This season Thursday night games were increased to 13 meaning more weeks of short rest for many teams.  The most recent proposal from the NFL is for expanded playoffs and shortening the preseason from four to three games.
Goodell’s disconnect with the players most likely will not improve over time.  He will not be motivated to make any changes for two reasons, the league will keep selling product and fans will keep buying it.   The NFL knows how to market its product even when dealing with bad public relations. 
What compounds a situation with leaders is when they do not relate with a group, but think that they do.  Athletes know when they are interacting with people that do not “get’ them or their culture.  Within an organization the coaching staff and front office serve as the messengers.  As Commissioner he does not have an intermediary to serve as a communicator.  As Stephen Covey says, “It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it, analyze it and appropriately act on it.” 
Goodell was given the keys to a Roll Royce and told don’t crash it.  The continued growth of the NFL has more to do with increased television coverage and great marketing of the sport, which for the last 30 years it has been great at.  Hopefully rule changes, concussion lawsuits, additional games, and damage control public relations will not damage the game loved my many.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fit To Succeed

Professional athletes possess exceptional physical ability.  It requires talent, discipline, hard work, and dedication to become an elite athlete.  Some athletes never reach their full potential because they don’t take their nutrition and fitness seriously or work as hard on their craft as they should and consistently look for ways to improve.   Others have Hall of Fame careers, and win multiple championships in their respective sports.  With year-round training becoming a normal practice, athletes are realizing the importance of making nutrition and fitness a priority.  This should not only pertain to elite athletes. Most of society neglects their health.  Regardless of anyone’s level of achievement, it shouldn’t come at the cost of poor health.  The consequences can jeopardize quality of life and maximum efficiency.  Athletes can serve as examples of what valuing nutrition and fitness can do for a career—and illustrate how disregard will short-change a legacy.

Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., each carry a family tradition in boxing along with their fathers’ namesake.  The “juniors” have taken two different approaches to their careers.  While both prizefighters were introduced to the sport at a very young age, what separates them is desire. Mayweather appears to have genuinely developed a passion for the sport, while Chavez seems entitled because of his family legacy.  Mayweather is an undefeated champion (46-0). The 36-year-old boxer is as sharp as ever—dismantling the previously undefeated Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, 23, on Sept. 14. Mayweather takes pride in keeping himself in peak shape year-round. He has excellent trainers in uncle Roger Mayweather and father Floyd Mayweather, Sr.

On the other hand, Chavez gives the impression that he does not take his training seriously.  He tested positive for marijuana after his first defeat against Sergio Martinez in September 2012, and his trainer, the renowned Freddie Roach, criticized his preparation for the fight.  In his most recent Sept. 28 fight against Brian Vera, he struggled to make a contracted weight that was renegotiated twice. It appears Mayweather will go down as one of the best boxers in history. Chavez, with an impressive 47-1-1 record at age 27, has yet to fully tap into his potential.  While natural ability, environment, and training over a long period of time enables some athletes to become very good at their respective sport, their dedication to taking care of their bodies enable them to reap the full benefits of training.

Two NBA Legends—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal—illustrate this difference in approach to nutrition and fitness throughout their careers. Abdul-Jabbar played 20 productive seasons (1969-89) in the NBA, a six-time champion and league MVP.  Out of his 20 seasons, he only played less than 65 of 82 games twice in his career, and remains the league’s all-time leading scorer. Abdul-Jabbar attributed the longevity of his career to taking up yoga in 1976. "I believe that yoga is one of the reasons that I was able to play as long and as healthy as I did.  Yoga is somewhat hard to quantify in terms of benefits because you see them in all the injuries you don't get," the basketball legend explained.

Shaquille O’Neal played 19 seasons (1992-2011), a four-time champion and league MVP in 2000.  He led three different franchises to finals appearances and rose to become arguably the most dominant big man in NBA history.  Twelve of O’Neal’s 19 seasons he played 67 games or less.  His injury-plagued career was mostly attributed to lack of conditioning and recovering from surgeries.  Imagine if O’Neal took his nutrition and fitness as serious as Abdul-Jabbar: the impact he could have left on the game and how many more championships he could have won.

Elite athletes can love playing their respective sport, but detest the preparation that it takes to master it. Some individuals have a passion for exercising, but struggle with proper nutrition.  Great genetics can lead to complacency.  The importance of nutrition and fitness can assist us all in our careers and quality of life.  Physical activity helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression as well as improves mood.  It helps maintain brain function in older adults.  That is why more organizations are investing in educating employees on nutrition and fitness along with providing resources such as on-site fitness facilities and workshops.
Most of us aren’t elite athletes, but not taking nutrition and fitness seriously can jeopardize our overall health, quality of life, and careers. Mayweather, Chavez, Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal are accomplished in their respective careers.  Imagine how a proper nutrition and fitness regiment could enhance your quality of life and effectiveness in your career.  It can be a 9-5 desk job, technical, or blue collar.  It doesn’t matter.  Don’t cheat your level efficiency by neglecting to take care of yourself.  Regardless of how anyone defines success, we all want to be healthy to enjoy the fruits of our labor.