Monday, November 28, 2016

Why I'm Watching Less Of The NFL

Photo:  Jim Rogash/Getty Images
NFL ratings are down and it has been attributed to things such as the strong MLB postseason, Presidential election and Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest.  I find myself not watching as much NFL football as I did in the past and I had to pause and ask myself why?  I was very engaged in the political climate this year more than year’s past.  But I don’t think that was the main reason.  The over saturation of the product is why I am watching less.

Don’t get me wrong, I still follow the NFL very closely.  I watch my favorite NFL team the Washington Redskins on a regular basis.  I no longer watch NFL games simply because they are on.  I don't have the desire to watch daily programming of NFL news or 2-4 hour pregame shows.  I'm not staying up late on a Sunday, Monday, or Thursday for games that are not competitive.  If I want an update I can go to my phone and check.  It is what Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban mentioned in March 2014 and was criticized for.  

"Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I'm just telling you, when you've got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That's rule No. 1 of business."

"They're trying to take over every night of TV," Cuban said. "Initially, it'll be, 'Yeah, they're the biggest-rating thing that there is.' OK, Thursday, that's great, regardless of whether it impacts [the NBA] during that period when we cross over. Then if it gets Saturday, now you're impacting colleges. Now it's on four days a week.

"It's all football. At some point, the people get sick of it."

There can be too much of a good thing.  It is not only that games are on three days a week, there is literally coverage of the league 24 hours/day.  Thursday night games are bad because they usually are between division opponents to minimize travel, but many times the matchups are not good which lead to poor games.  They have adjusted the offseason calendar to be in the news all year.

The league’s poor handling of player discipline has become increasingly frustrating from Tom Brady's "Deflategate" to the mishandling of Giants kicker Josh Brown's domestic violence.  The reaction of owners and other players in response to Kaepernick’s protest was also disappointing.  

When Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was asked about the protest his response was, "It hasn't been a positive thing...What we all have to be aware of as players, owners, PR people, equipment managers, is when the lights go on we are entertainment. We are being paid to put on a show. There are other places to express yourself."

This is the same league that for the entire month of October promotes breast cancer and November the military.  Questions have been raised regarding whether it is more of a marketing ploy than raising funds and awareness.  

In 2013 it was revealed only 8.01% of merchandise for breast cancer goes toward cancer research.

Photo:  Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports
In May it was announced that the NFL returned more than $700,000 of taxpayers' money that was paid to teams for sponsored military tributes after being criticized for "paid patriotism," in which money came out of the armed forces budget for various measures of public recognition during games, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that the league would pay that money back.

These are causes that have impacted most of us in some form or another and are safe.   It will be difficult to find someone offended by these.  But when it comes to social issues too many of those around the league wanted to players to be quiet and just play.

This past Thursday the Cowboys/Redskins game was watched by a record 35.1 million people on Fox which has aired games for 22 1/2 years.  This is the last quarter of the season and games will have more meaning heading into the playoffs so I’m predicting ratings will increase and if two marquee teams like the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots go deep into the playoffs ratings will be through the roof.

The NFL takes its players’ and fans for granted and appears to attempt to insult our intelligence.  But what I am guilty of and most fans is that we can compartmentalize those issues when it is game time.  The only way the NFL will make changes is when it affects their bottom line.  Simply doing the right thing doesn’t appear to be a good enough reason.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Inconsistencies In Grocery Store Quality By Neighborhood

Being a fitness professional in the Washington, D.C. area I’m in different communities and have made observations regarding the variation in food quality.  It is very disturbing to that major chain grocery stores do not have consistency in the quality of their buildings, food, and customer service.

The examples I’m going to use are grocery stores in the D.C. area, these examples could be consistent in your respective areas.  Grocery store chains such as Giant and Safeway do not have consistency from store to store.  Communities where minorities are the majority and/or low income the quality of the store and food is not up to standard and items are not well stocked.

Plenty of research has been done to confirm these observations.  A 2009 study lead by Dr. Nicole L. Larson and other colleagues found people who live in poorer neighborhoods in the U.S. are less likely to have easy access to supermarkets carrying a wide variety of fresh produce and other healthy food.  But they probably have plenty of unhealthy fast food joints to choose from.

The studies they reviewed confirmed that minority and low-income individuals who live near supermarkets have healthier diets. For example, one investigation found that the likelihood that African-Americans would meet guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption rose by 32% with every additional supermarket located in the census tract where they lived.

Southern Prince George’s County is where I lived until eight grade and I still have family and friends who live in that area.  Regardless of income levels, the grocery store quality is not the same as bordering counties or other parts of the county.  Newer developments in the county have single family homes, townhouses, and condos and still would be located in what I could consider a food desert.

Wegmans Woodmore 
Harris Teeter and Wegmans are two chains that have expanded their presence in the area.  In 2014 Consumer Reports named Wegmans the best grocery store in America.   The Woodmore Wegmans location in Prince George’s County, MD has exceeded expectations.  

Prince George's County EDC CEO Jim Coleman credits the shopping center's success to its location, directly off I-495, as well as the surrounding area's income. The average household income within a five-mile radius was $76k when they closed the deal in 2008, and by 2013 it grew to $89k. 

What I’ve noticed with Harris Teeter and Wegmans is that they are very selective where they choose to place their respective stores.  Another grocery store the quality of Wegmans is not within close distance of the Woodmore location.  With a prime location within a reasonable distance of various income levels over 20,000 cars travel to the shopping center where Wegmans Woodmore is located.
Wegmans recently opened a store in Alexandria, VA has a planned location in Tysons and is working on opening one on the Walter Reed campus in Washington, D.C.   Anyone familiar with the D.C. area will see a pattern with these new locations.

Harris Teeter has more than 230 stores in seven states and Washington, D.C., according to its website.  Harris Teeter and Wegmans have consistency in their food quality and customer service.  They have been the anchors for new and redevelopment.  

Safeway is the second largest grocery chain in North America.   There are three Safeway’s within 10 minutes of my home.  All of them are very different.  Two are older and one is fairly new after being torn down and rebuilt as part of a redevelopment.   One store has very poor customer service, a shortage of cashiers and no self checkout.  Another is an older store, small and needs to be remodeled.  The third is large, plush, well stocked, and staffed with self checkout.  Why is this the case?

If you live in a community and are not pleased with the food quality in your community I encourage you to galvanize your neighbors and demand improvements in the stores that are convenient to you.  Government does play a role to make it attractive for a Harris Teeter or Wegmans to come, but they can’t make them.   The stores you do have access to should not take convenience for granted.  They should supply the same quality in your part of town that they do others.  It’s a conscience effort to be very concerned in some instances and dismissive in others.  They have to do better!

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Contrast in NBA and NFL Post-Election Reaction

Photo Credit Getty Images
These have been very polarizing times.  Sports figures have not been exempt from commenting before and after the recent Presidential election.  The NBA and NFL have had very different reactions from players and coaches alike.  This is not surprising to me given the nature and their respective sports. 

NBA head coaches Steve Kerr (Golden State), Greg Popovich (San Antonio), and Stan Van Gundy (Detroit) have not been hesitant to voice their displeasure of Donald Trump victory last Tuesday, the tone of his campaign, and the aftermath with the reality that he is our President-elect.   

According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the NBA was 74.3 percent black during the 2015-16 season and 81.7 percent were people of color. The study said that the NBA was 18.3 percent white last season, which was 5 percent less than the season before. The league was also a record 22.3 percent international last season.   That 18.3 percent of whites in the NBA from TIDES also includes non-Americans such as Europeans, Canadians and Australians of white descent. Entering the 2015-16 season, the NBA had 42 white American-born players.

The NBA is a players’ league.  Meaning that they have most of the leverage in terms of impact on the game and player movement.  A basketball team is comprised of only 12-15 players.  It is a very intimate group and the head coach needs to have a relationship with all of them.  The relationship between star player and coach is paramount to the team’s success and in reality dictates a coaches' reputation for the future.  

If Phil Jackson couldn’t get buy in from Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal or Greg Popovich from Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker they would not have generated the 16 championships between the two of them.  

Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy addressed the media before a recent game vs. Phoenix.  He noticed his team was “a little quiet” entering the arena. He initially thought the silence might’ve been caused by the previous night’s blowout loss to the Clippers, but backup center Aron Baynes said team’s mood was about “last night.”

He admitted that he and his players will have trouble facing fans from a city whose voters largely supported Trump.“I’m having a hard time being with people. I’m going to walk into this arena tonight and realize that -- especially in this state -- most of these people voted for the guy,” Van Gundy said. “Like, (expletive), I don’t have any respect for that. I don’t.”

In 2015 the NFL percent of black players was 68.7% while the percent of white players was 28.6%.  Unlike the NBA, NFL players are more disposable and are treated as such.   There are multiple layers between the head coach and players with position coaches and coordinators.

The NBA is not the NFL where in 2010 then Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan benched starting quarterback Donovan McNabb with under two minutes in a six point game questioning his understanding of the offense in that situation.  With the history of black quarterbacks and the issues they have faced of having their intellect and leadership questioned to run a football team many, including myself took this as racial coding.   Shanahan had been around the NFL too long not to know that and this was his first black starting quarterback.  Shanahan made multiple appearances on the campaign trail for Donald Trump.  “We need leadership for our country,” said Shanahan. “We need leadership for our kids.”

During a speech the day before the election Donald Trump not only announced that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady called him earlier in the day to say he voted for him, but also read a letter of support he received from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

Current San Francisco head coach Chip Kelly faced criticism of his relationship with black players while coaching the Philadelphia Eagles.  Players made comments such as “uncomfortable around grown men of our culture.”   Philadelphia was Kelly’s first professional coaching job.  Traded cornerback Brandon Boykin said, “He can't relate and that makes him uncomfortable...He likes total control of everything, and he don't like to be uncomfortable. Players excel when you let them naturally be who they are, and in my experience that hasn't been important to him, but you guys have heard this before me.”

Ownership is key in any business including sports.  In NFL culture it is front office, head coach, and quarterback focused.  If a key player or coach on a NBA team publicly acknowledged Trump in the manner Brady and Belichick did  it would cause issues within the team.  I’m sure some NBA players and coaches voted for Donald Trump, but they also would be in tune with their teammates feelings.   Trump has become a taboo topic in some NFL locker rooms as Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report has reported during this election season.

In sharp contrast, eight black players Freeman spoke with expressed the sentiment that the Trump election was one of the ugliest moments in American history and was about white America wanting to keep blacks, and other people of color, as one black player said, "in our place."

"Black players are constantly playing the race card [when it comes to Trump]," a white NFC player said. "This election had nothing to do with race."

A white NBA player and coach could not survive and be successful in the league without being conscious to some degree.  The beauty of the game is the close knit nature of the group.  The time together forces understanding from one another.  The head coach must be engaged with all of them.  With that you get what we heard from the respective NBA coaches and players who did speak out.   

One thing players can sniff quickly is a phony.  A pro basketball locker room is the toughest to win over.   They know the power they have and the coach better be able to communicate with them effectively.  Unlike college basketball where the main stars are the coaches and they have the most of the leverage.  Many of them have been quiet because they represent universities whose dynamics from the administration, student body and donors are not reflective of the athletes.  They don’t want to rock the boat.  The NBA is a workforce where there is reliance respecting and understanding it.  The NBA is and has been steps ahead of the NFL in terms of social awareness and this is no exception.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Takeaways From Ben Simmons One & Done Documentary

After watching the documentary on Ben Simmons on Showtime there were so many takeaways.  A few things stood out.

He would have been better served playing overseas for a year or going to a program such as Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, or UNC that had experience dealing with one year players.  The coaches at those respective schools would have had some boundaries in place and better prepared him and his family for what was in store.  Simmons had the attitude that he was doing LSU a favor by attending, which he was because he was their most high profile basketball player since Shaquille O’Neal.  The coaching staff couldn’t tell him anything.  The team’s struggles were concerning and his lack of competitiveness in key moments.  His teammates didn’t appear to trust him.  They go 18-13, miss the NCAA Tournament and get blown out by 23 points in their last game in the SEC Tournament.

  The one and done rule needs to go.  For an athlete of Simmons stature who has no interest in being a college student attending college for a year, especially with the attitude he had toward it makes a mockery of college.  This is not about simply being 18 and having the right to work.  Every entity makes a decision on what is the minimum requirement whether it is age, education or years of experience.  Enough players have had success entering out of high school.  With the NBA Developmental League they can continue to develop until they are ready.  I would like a rule similar to baseball, which has a three year mandatory stay if you choose to go to college and not turn pro out of high school.  Basketball would be better served with a two year rule.  But this is a NBA and union issue to resolve, not the MCAA, but they need to get involved.

Simmons had legitimate complaints regarding the NCAA, but they are not new and he is not the first. His family was very supportive, but appeared overwhelmed and when he was drafted #1 the end seem to justify the means.  Then he ill-advisedly puts on 35 lbs in the offseason and breaks his foot three weeks before the season begins.  The majority of that weight cannot be lean muscle and will have an impact on movement.  It is not shocking that he suffered an injury to a lower extremity.

That being said, he is very talented and a full recovery is expected.  A bright future is still available to him.  From my observation certain intangibles are missing and he is young and his teammate weren’t that good are irrelevant in how a player approaches the game and competes.  Time and age in most instances doesn’t change that.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out for him.