Peter Richmond

Maybe “Guilty of Murder” is what he wanted to hear.

April 16th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Pop-psych theory: Testimony makes it clear that Hernandez was so sloppy in trying to cover up evidence he was certain to be caught…as he was, allegedly, for the other murder he’s about to be tried for. Every talking head on the radio today is wondering how he could “give it all away,” as if what he had — $40 million, fame, our worship — was something he really wanted.

We’d want it, sure. But I don’t think he cared one way or another about the football thing. He was a true gang member, or thought he was, anyway, and when true gang members — real ones, not wannabes — feel they’ve been dissed, they do what they have to do, what there’s no option not to: they do the crime, they do the time.

Who knows? Maybe in his world, and that of his friends, he just entered the hall of fame. Or maybe, knowing he couldn’t be executed, he knew that prison — where he’ll be a gang leader — was his true destiny. Not playing a sport, where the violence is mostly mock, and the glory you receive is virtually meaningless in the real world, and you wear pads so you won’t get hurt.

Maybe his destiny was to play a real sport. Where it isn’t “only just a game.” It’s real life and death. You know how they keep showing shots of his face during the reading of the verdict because he didn’t flinch, didn’t bat an eye? Maybe that’s because “guilty of murder in the first degree” was what he’s been waiting to hear his whole life.

For the next 18 months, can we ignore the sexists and let Clinton do her job?

April 13th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

So it’s already getting ugly, even here on our side of FB, among friends, and the sniping will reach dissonant crescendos over the next year and a half: She “is in bed with Wall Street.” Her (pioneering) attempt to take on Big Health Care in her husband’s first term “failed.” She’s a “politician.” (Well, yes. That’s how she’ll be able to build a whole lot of bridges which will help accomplish the many good things she has been trying to accomplish since we first heard her name. Good “politicians” do that, don’t they?) (She was pretty good for my home state, even if wasn’t a native.) (And would Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders be electable? Despite their terrifically populist stances that we on this side of the Facebook Page prefer?) (We are currently cursed to have to abide by this current political system; until a revolution, then, by definition, a “politician” is always going to be elected.) Anyway: I, for one, am going to let the next 18 months of sniping at her past mistakes, much of it accurate, but now irrelevant, slide over my back, like a stone at the bottom of a stream as the yattering passes over me, tractionless — because we have been here before, exactly eight years ago, when all of the slamming of our current president running up to his election turned out to be ineffectual. Over the course of the next eight years — two terms that future presidential scholars might, you know, smile upon — the critics kept slamming, though most of this president’s initiatives have been not only successful, but essential to a reasonable global way of life. So what were the detractors keeping on about, if, by every metric, we’re all in a far, far better place? Racism. I’m American. I know it to be true. And so now: for the next 18 months, and the next eight years after that, they’ll pretend to be criticizing her policies. But the “debate” won’t be legitimate, not really supported by any real data. It’ll be fueled, at bottom, by institutional and organic and generic and personal sexism, pure and simple: as strong and toxic an undercurrent as the hate that tried to bring Mr. Obama down. So, go ahead, guys: rail away at her, as you try and flay her for not being some idealized combination of Benazir Bhutto, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, Jane Alexander and Jane Goodall, with some Kiera Knightley and Nicole Kidman thrown in. As you pick at her, from both sides, count me out — if only, and if everything –: That when she is elected: I will be able to say that I was an American in an era in my country’s growth as a nation when we elected a black man as president, and then a woman. Cooler still? Growing up, I think that my two children, now in their twenties, expected nothing less of their country…and their country has risen to the challenge. So, to those who want to make the next year and a half prickly and nasty: Go ahead and criticize her hair, her laugh, her lousy individual people skills (when she is 100 % in this for the actual people). But don’t ask me to listen to your message — especially over the next 18 months — until you can convince me that sexism isn’t the basis for your rant. I expect to be waiting for a long, long time. Just sayin’. I could be wrong.

On Greg Hardy, America’s Team, and Deafening Silence.

April 3rd, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Sometimes it’s really cool to be an American, like when a prehistoric governor signs a prehistoric bill and the backlash is so mightily forceful that the BBC, heard everywhere from Sri Lanka to Syria, is compelled to lead a morning broadcast with details about the nation-wide outrage across the pond. Like when the panicked state legislature revises the bill with a linguistic band-aid to try and stem the PR bleeding — but the gesture is too little, too late, and Angie’s List stands by its decision to halt its $40 million expansion, deeming the new wording “Insufficient.” Like when you search the words “Indiana backlash” and there are more links than you can keep up with.

Then, sometimes it’s not as cool. Like when America’s Team signs a football player who’d been convicted of dragging his girlfriend out of the bathroom he’d thrown her into, throwing her onto a couch covered in loaded assault weapons, choking her and saying, “I’m going to kill you” — when the other 31 NFL teams decide to pass on him — and the state of Texas shrugs. Like when you search the words “Greg Hardy backlash,” and the fifth link is a former Dallas Cowboy named Charles Haley saying, “Everybody deserves a second chance.”

If they really are America’s Team (and all you have to do is listen to NFL satellite radio for a day to know that they are; every other call is from a Cowboy fan), then the mass indifference that followed the Hardy signing (for a possible $11.3 million) speaks worlds about how primitive the culture of our nation’s most lucrative form of entertainment is when it comes to violence against women. The clamor over Indiana: one step forward for human rights. The indifference in Dallas: a huge leap backward.

For the record, Hardy’s conviction was overturned. After a judge convicted him of “assault on a female and communicating threats,” he appealed and asked for a jury trial. But in the months before the new trial, the accuser could not be located, and the conviction was overturned. Reportedly, Hardy had reached a civil settlement with her prior to her disappearance.

That leaves us with some of her sworn statement to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department:

“On May 13, 2014, Greg Hardy…picked me up and threw me into the tile tub area in his bathroom…pulled me from the tub by my hair, screaming at me that he was going to kill me, break my arms and other threats that I completely believe…choked me with both hands around my throat while I was lying on the floor…threw me onto a couch covered in assault rifles and/or shotguns…bragged that all of those assault rifles were loaded… took me out into the hall, pushed me down & went back inside his apartment. I crawled to the elevator and ran into CMPD.”

In court, the accuser testified: “He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me. I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said just, `Do it. Kill me.”

The guns? He owned at least ten, all of them scary. The scariest? A P-415 semiautomatic rifle with a 30-shot magazine (think 30 shots in 10-15 seconds), and a Mossberg pump-action 12-gauge shotgun with a nine-shell magazine (maybe 15 seconds). So let’s say for the sake of argument that the woman was lying. Fabricated the entire thing, including the emergency-room photographs (which the NFL has asked to see, even though common sense would dictate that if the photos were persuasive enough for a judge to convict, the NFL should hardly need to see them.) But what kind of guy needs to own ten guns, each capable of inflicting massacre-level fatalities? The kind of employee you’d want in your entertainment industry?

The NFL will likely suspend him for six games, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who also wrote that he believed many teams were wary of signing Hardy because of the “public battering” they’d receive.

This is the scope of the “public battering” The Dallas Cowboys have received in the week since Hardy joined the team: Other than Dallas mayor John Rawlings denouncing the signing, calling it a “shot in the gut” — curious metaphor, there — and a passionate excoriation by the Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen…nothing. No call for a boycott of the team by anyone. Not Bank of America, Lockheed, JP Morgan, ATT or American Airlines. Not a word — online, anyway — from the Dallas chapter of NOW.

All of which begs the question: Since the Cowboys just restructured quarterback Tony Romo’s contract to free up $13 million, and Viking running back Adrian Peterson’s contract calls for $12.5 million this year, but Peterson’s conviction for whipping his child with a switch prompts the Vikings to trade him, will the reaction in the Big D be as disappointing if America’s Team trades for America’s Not-Father of the Year?

Speaking of questions, I asked one yesterday, of my Young Adult literature class: two dozen freshmen and sophomores, most of them young women. I described the details of the Greg Hardy case. I reminded them that America is the land of second chances.

Does Hardy deserve one?

Two dozen “no’s.” The jury has spoken. Why hasn’t anyone else?

Bednarik Did Not Make The Hit. But He Invented The Taunt.

March 21st, 2015
by Peter Richmond

He was the archetypal poster-boy for a lunch-pail league that was finally escaping its status as a sport whose reputation lay one step above pro wrestling (as Charlie Conerly’s widow once told me about the early days). The old NFL has gone all fuzzy and rose-colored in retrospect, but it harbored more than its share of madmen, with styles of play that were routinely borderline felonious (see Bill Pellington, Baltimore Colts, 1958).

Now the old Eagle linebacker Chuck Bednarik is dead, at 89, and amid all the deserved paeans to his balls-out style of play, we will not read this: That the first true taunt in NFL history, the seed that’s led to the routine mocking and self-celebration that asterisks the modern game, was laid down by Chuck Bednarik.

On November 20, 1960, in Yankee Stadium, Frank Gifford caught a pass from George Shaw, whereupon Bednarik tackled him, throwing him to the frozen ground, whereupon Gifford’s head bounced very hard, and knocked him out. Gifford instantly lost consciousness.

The ball popped loose. Bednarik did not chase it. Instead he stood over Gifford and began counting, throwing his arm down again and again, like a referee dramatically counting out a fallen champion. If he’d done it today, of course, flags would have filled the sky. But back then, tacky celebration wasn’t outlawed…because as far as I can tell, no one had ever done it, until Chuck did.

History has chosen to ignore the The Taunt, dwelling instead on “The Hit:” the moment that defined “Concrete Charlie’s” illustrious career. This passage from a Sports Illustrated profile in 2007 exemplifies the way the play has been long celebrated: “Gifford tucked the ball under his arm and turned back in the right direction, all in the same motion—and then Bednarik hit him like a lifetime supply of bad news”…except that, uh, no, he didn’t.

Even a cursory look at the play on Youtube makes it clear: Bednarik actually moves his head away so as to not go head to head, then, corrals Gifford by the shoulders — on icy dirt, Frank was going moving just above a fast walk — and slams him to the ground by grabbing both of his shoulder pads.

But don’t trust your own eyes. Listen to Frank, from the “The Glory Game,” which I co-authored:

“It’s time to set the record straight on that play. It wasn’t the Eagle linebacker who hurt me. It was the hard, frozen Stadium dirt that did the damage.

“Shaw hit me on a slant, coming across the field on our own 30 yard-line. I was wide-open, and as I looking to cut upfield, I didn’t see Bednarik coming full-speed at me from the far side of the field. Bednarik, taking aim, actually turned his head away. There was no helmet-to-helmet collision. There was no clothesline; his arms weren’t even raised. Bednarik’s left shoulder pad hit my left shoulder pad as we ran in opposite directions. Period. Our helmets never even touched.

“But with no traction on the hard turf, I was immediately knocked right off my feet. Now I was in free-fall, backward, with no time to cushion myself, my helmet slammed to the hard ground – just as Bednarik threw his entire weight on top of me, his stomach landing on my head. That caused the concussion: hard turf and a huge body as it piled on.

“There was no reason for Bednarik to jump on me; I’d fumbled the ball away before I hit the ground. He could have chased the fumble. He chose to throw himself on top of me. So if history wants to think that I was somehow leveled by the hardest hit ever thrown, let it. But the truth is completely different.”

The takeaway? How to truly remember Concrete Charlie (he sold the stuff in the offseason) at the very time we’re bemoaning CTE and concussions and uncontrollable violence? Maybe we should praise Bednarik for trying to set an example on the play, and not trying to hurt Frank. Those days of civility would soon pass, as we soon learned to gauge the likes of Lawrence Taylor not by the number of tackles he made, but the number of QBs he’d disabled.

Yes, he epitomized the old lifeblood of the game, this son of Slavic emigrants who grew up in the shadow of the Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces where his parents worked. But let’s not forget that he also opened the Pandora’s Box of Self-Promotion.

So the next time you rail against a wide receiver mockingly wagging a finger in the face of the cornerback who blew the coverage, pause and thank one of the true pioneers. RIP, Concrete Charlie. You were only human, like everybody else.

Game for the Ages. Too Bad You Had to Miss It.

March 16th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

To make it clear from the start: This is not going to be a screed about the controversial call at the end of the best, most competitive basketball game I’ve seen since Bird dueled Dominique in the old Boston Garden in Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, because I happened to actually attend both schools, and I didn’t really have a dog in this hunt. If the out-of-bounds call with 33 seconds left goes the other way, maybe Yale wins. But maybe Harvard did play an overall better game, so whatever.

No: this is going to be a bitch about how one of the most hallowed, cool, historic athletic conferences in the land has officially been reduced to afterthought status — or, as someone named Carl said of The Ivy League, on the ESPN3 webcast, “The most historical (sic) league in the country.” (Other Carl-isms: “It’s a man world on the glass.” “They’ve come to play.”)

Then, what did I expect from a guy doing color commentary for a syndicated network I’d never heard of that sells live web streams to ESPN3? With all due respect to color-commentating Carl, that’s a pretty low bar.

And therein lies my bitch: an astounding, lead-changing, punch-counterpunch, breathtakingly tense basketball game between two colleges that have been rivals since 1701, with an NCAA tournament berth at stake, being played in the storied, sold-out 8,700-seat Palestra in Philadelphia (c. 1926; from the Greek “palaestra”), was not deemed by the WWL as broadcast-worthy. (That’d be World Wide Leader, as ESPN employees have been known to refer to their employer.

At the same time, over on actual television, the WWL featured a one-sided bore of a game between Arkansas and Georgia, played out in a half-empty cavern in Nashville called The Bridgestone Arena, named (for $80 million) by a Japanese company that had to pay the U.S. Justice Department $425 million last year for “price-fixing and bid-rigging.”

Forget the marketing illogic here, wherein ESPN decides to abandon a somewhat prized audience demographic (if the high-end advertisers in my alumni mag are any indication) in favor of people who are fans of Fayetteville’s Razorbacks. No: what’s truly dismaying is that the corporation that controls American sport deems style over substance, as in: athleticism over competition. As in: Neither of these schools stands a chance of making it very far in the March MoneyMadness brackets. They’re smart, so they must be stiffs. Anyway, they all run the country. Fuck ‘em.

No, Harvard’s Wesley Saunders and Yale’s Justin Sears (Ivy player of the year) will not play in the NBA. No, not a single player in this game unveiled an acrobatic 360, or took off from the foul line to soar into the stratosphere. Mostly what they did was pass, then pass, then pass, then pass again, kind of like the way Bradley, Debuscherre, Reed, Frazier and Monroe used to — or, more recently, Phil’s Bull teams.

But no, they are not caricatures of one-percent-ness. They’re kids, trying their brains out. When they win, their elation is really elated. When they lose, they are no less devastated.

Not that I was surprised that I had to watch the game on a MacBook. We’ve grown accustomed to the slight. And for the most part, we can live with it. It’s when people get snide about us that I want to cop a Howard Beale We’re not-gonna-take-it attitude.

Like two years ago, when CBS Sports’ web page headlined Harvard making the tournament, “Tiny Dancers.” Like Friday, when a Wall Street Journal writer advanced the game using terms like “geeks” and “uber-elite,” and referenced Yale’s secret societies.” And mentioned that Yale lost a player because he was touring with a college singing group (meaning, exactly, what? That he wasn’t man enough to commit to the court?)

For the record: In my four years at U-New Haven-Ivy League, I never met a student who was in a secret society. And if finishing 1492 in a class of about 1500 makes me uber-elite, I can live with it.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s hard enough trying to convince the world at large that going to an Ivy League school doesn’t mean you’re an alien, or someone whose life will be a guaranteed success without having to do any work. It’s downright weird to decide to tell other writers in a press box that you went to The University of New Haven (not to dis UNH) to avoid stereotyping.

If that sounds whiny then it’s whiny. Whatever.

But it’s harder still to come from schools whose sports heritages are historic(al), and whose games often feature an intensity you have to witness to believe — only to have the networks refuse to let anyone witness them.

Or even acknowledge them. The next day, these were the three top headlines on the ESPN web page:

“Comeback Kids give ISU Big 12 title”

“ND rallies for ACC title”

“Dos Anjos pummels Pettis, captures UFC title.”

Not a mention in the other seven headlines, either.

Carl was right: They came to play. For the ages. Too bad no one saw them. But why should I care? I’ve always had it made. Just don’t tell that to the bank that owns my house and the people who keep calling about those student loans I co-signed. For some reason, they won’t take silver spoons as collateral.

On why 47 white men committed treason

March 11th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Isn’t it less depressing when you try and look for the possibly positive effects of negative events? So: Maybe this is what’s happening when 47 white guys commit treason, and lots more white guys ignore the Selma celebration and blaspheme the heritage of the nation of whose ideals they purport to be proud: between Fox being in free-fall, and gay marriage likely a given when our kids are our age, and Obamacare recruitment being even more successful the second time around, and the economy thrumming, the extreme Caucasians now know that they’ve entered into their endgame. Sensing that they will never again have power-traction, they are spasmodically, frantically acting the way any cornered beast does when mortally wounded: by resorting to the last resort available: extreme illogical action which, when taken, while causing a brief splash, always guarantees its own death. For in waging their last-ditch war on America, they are resorting to terrorism. And America doesn’t like terrorists, Mr. Boehner.

The Only Thing Wrong With Three New NFL Angelean Amigos: Why Stop There?

March 7th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Traditionally, the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area has been to professional football what Uzbekhistan is to the PGA Tour. Back in the day, the Anaheim Rams and the L.A. Raiders would routinely draw, combined, what a single team was drawing anywhere back East — which is why three teams are seriously thinking of coming to town.

Kidding! They’re each considering an imminent migration because three owners with a collective net worth of $7 billion want more money. As the comedic Koch clan has recently made obvious: If there’s one truism about billionnaires, it’s that they’re desperate to be more billion-y.
So here’s a plea to all three very cool towns involved in this shell game:

Call their bluff. Let them all go. Fight the addiction to a sport whose stewards are more than willing to let the fan pay for J.J. Watt’s $100 million while routinely extorting their towns for stadia that lie dark about 350 days a year. Let them fight for an Angelean fan base that hasn’t existed since Roman Gabriel was handing off to Dick Bass in the then-relatively spiffy Coliseum under the watchful eye of George Allen.

St. Louis, San Diego, Oakland: You can be heroes! For more than one day!

Might it all happen? Well, this much is a good bet: The Rams will soon be coming back to their second home (they started in Cleveland) — maybe to a palace in Inglewood, maybe somewhere else. The Charger-Raider alliance in the Los Angeles suburbs? Somewhere between plausible and probable.

So, how cool would it be if three towns, each with their own urban ills, instead of frantically trying to save their squads, copped a Howard Beale “We’re not going to take it anymore!” stance and went cold turkey, middle-fingering Goodell’s megalomaniacal money-machine.

Here’s why it should happen, city by city:

In St. Louis, the Rams were short-timers from the moment Georgia Frontiere signed a twenty-year-lease on the most dour dome in sports history. The current owner, a guy named Kroenke, is married to a Walton — the family whose wealth equals that of forty-two percent of American families combined. (Pause to savor that fact for a second.) A move to Inglewood, where they’ll sell out for the first few novelty years, would make that forty-three percent, easy.

Here’s the good part: St. Louis won’t care. The capital of professional baseball, home to the Blues’ cult, has never been enamored of these Rams, not in the fashion of any true NFL town. Meantime, both the seminal American city and the county are in dire need of infrastructure improvement, education, and jobs. The $100 million that Kroenke wants the locals to pitch in for a stadium that ain’t gonna happen could go a long way toward boosting teacher salaries and getting Cardinal fans back to work.

San Diego? Yes, the city has loved its Chargers loyally, through the lean years and the fat years — a lot more than it loves it gangs.
What gangs? I haven’t heard about San Diego’s gangs. Of course you haven’t! As a former resident, I’m here to tell you: It’s a municipal statute: no news but good news is allowed to issue from the land that rain forgot. Not bloody likely (literally) that the West Coast Crips, the Asian Insane Boys, the Oriental Killer Boys and their peers are going to make it into Chamber of Commerce bleats. Not with (according to the L.A. Times) the San Diego gangs controlling most of the prostitution in Southern California.

According to the National University System’s Institute for Policy Research, the public cost of a new stadium to replace ancient Quallcom could top at about…$1.15 billion. A Charger move north to Carson would leave considerable coin on the table to deal with all sorts of issues in the mission town — starting, perhaps, with an ancient municipal water system whose street-busting geysers flood entire neighborhoods with disquieting frequency of late.

Here’s the beauty part of this move: true Charger fans will have less than a two-hour drive to see their guys. In Southern-California drive-time, that’s the equivalent of a 15-minute commute back East.

The sticky one, of course, is the Raiders. Oakland and its football team have the most storied of histories. It was once a truly magical vibe (see “Badasses,” Richmond Peter. HarperCollins, 2009). But note the past tense. As Al’s kid continues to show all the entrepreneurial expertise of a slug on qualuudes, the magic increasingly wears thin. The sorry truth: No matter what the future football fortunes in Oakland, they are never — never — going to come close to the vibe of the golden days. In the history of Oakland football, there were Snake, Freddie, Upshaw, Shell, Villipiano, Atkinson, Tatum, Plunkett, Hayes…and then a lot of, like, other players.

Wait: There was 1983 team, too. Which played in The Los Angeles Coliseum.

Public obligation for a proposed new stadium in Oakland? Proposed to have fewer than 60,000 seats — and thus unable to ever host a Super Bowl? Starts at $300 million. If Mark Davis takes the money and runs, those funds might help alleviate, well, for starters, the second highest-violent crime rate in the nation. (Not including the police.)

Gertrude Stein was so wrong about Oakland: there’s a lot of there there. The city’s long-suffering don’t deserve to be played for fools by the fool son of a giant who once had the guts to take on the Park Avenue Gang.

Now: would a teaming of two age-old rival be all that unholy? Not anymore, not in a corporation where the geographic lines of its franchises are routinely held in thrall to its bottom lines. Casper falling on the Holy Roller, breaking San Diego’s hearts? As relevant and timely to the modern game as the Holy Grail.

Here’s the only thing wrong with Three Amigos: Why stop there? Why not start making plans for Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Tennessee to join the migration? They could be their own division: The SoCal Six. Because you just know there are always going to be enough brain-dead municipalities in Lemmingland to beg for the grand status that an NFL team bestows on a hometown.

And more than enough civic-minded billionaires to grant them their wish.

A Paragraph on Winter, Womens’ Basketball and War

March 3rd, 2015
by Peter Richmond

You can endanger my health. You can freeze my car’s brakes. You can laughingly wake me up interminable morning after interminable morning knowing that you have defeated me before I have arisen because the snow has overnight now risen above my car’s roof and the outside temperature is lower than the IQ of a slab of recently mined slate. But when, in March, your omnipotent power decides to toy with whether or not the Moravian College Lady Greyhounds’ first game in the ECAC tournament (on our court!) might be cancelled tomorrow night? This is War.

On Anthony Mason’s Eulogies, and What’s Missing: That She Was 15

March 1st, 2015
by Peter Richmond

When Anthony Mason played for the New York Knicks he was fun to watch. He was tough in the paint and very physical. His emotions sparked the team. Raised in Queens, his home-town status made him kind of a hero. When he died Friday, at 48, of a heart attack, local writers waxed eloquently.

A columnist for the Daily News quoted a former Knick executive as saying, “He was a nasty character on the court who was capable of being an extraordinary gentleman away from it.” The columnist finished his piece thusly: “There have been other New York basketball stories. His was still a great one. Kid from the corner and off the streetcorners of Queens. Mase: Dead at 48. That was some heart that finally gave out.”

The New York Post columnist wrote, “Even after he was finally exiled to Charlotte, and for the rest of his career, the Garden would always cheer him. He was, after all, not only of New York but from New York. He wasn’t perfect, there were off-court incidents, there were things he said later on he shouldn’t have said. Never seemed to matter.”

A New York Times’ columnist wrote, “Mason was behaviorally indulgent (he also had issues away from Garden, some with the law), so few could resist rendering occasional judgment. But time had its soothing effects.”

Yes, it did. Time has apparently soothed February 7, 1998, right out of written history. On that night, according to the arrest warrant, Mason was charged with the statutory rape and sexual abuse of a 15-year-old in a limousine after a charity basketball game in Queens. The girl had told their older sister of the incident.

After Mason surrendered to police, they questioned him for five hours, and then arrested him. The Assistant District attorney said at the time that Mason knew the girl’s age. He was released on $20,000 bond. Depositions claimed that he had kissed and fondled the 15-year-old in the limo.

Four months later, Mason pled to a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a minor; had he been convicted in court, he’d have faced prison time, due to a prior weapons charge. (An assault of a policeman in Times Square in a separate incident was also settled).

When a man dies, it is human nature to not dwell on his flaws. When a basketball player dies, it’s sportswriting’s nature to not mention them specifically at all. When they involve taking advantage of a teenaged girl, this is inexcusable.

Whether whatever happened in the limousine was consensual or not is not relevant. What is relevant is that Mason was a child molester, according to the law, which was enacted to protect young girls who don’t have the ability to reason.

This is the neuroscience: The rewards center of an adolescent’s brain — the part that wants things — develops earlier than the prefrontal cortex, which serves to tell the rewards center, “Hold on. There will be consequences to taking what you want.”

The 15-year-old girl’s brain was not working the way Mason’s was. She was vulnerable in every sense of the word.

In an age when sexual assaults, domestic abuse and other ugly sides to professional athletics are finally being scrutinized, the death of Anthony Mason prompted not a single writer to examine our relationship to our heroes, or to question why we continue to wax nostalgically about a man who too egregious advantage of a girl. That is not a journalistic misdemeanor. That is a felony.

I taught 15-year-old girls for three years, and now teach 17- and 18-year-old girls. The idea of a large, muscular, famous 31-year-old man ever laying a hand on any one of them is something I will not allow myself to conjure. But if I ever came across such a man who had taken sexual advantage of any of the girls I have ever taught, I would not be responsible for my actions.

And if I ever had to write about him after his death, I would mourn his passing by asking, “We’re waxing fondly and rapturously about a man who pled guilty to criminally fondling a girl. What does that say about us?”

I don’t think I’d want to hear the answer.

On A-Rod’s Eternal Adolescence

February 26th, 2015
by Peter Richmond

Alex Rodriguez’ return to the playing field is not working out the way he’d envisioned. Then, Rodriguez’ regular efforts to garner our affection never do. It’s a given: The more he really, really wants to be liked, the more he mucks it up. And the more his judges pile on.

His handwritten apology to Yankee fans, issued on the eve of his return to baseball after a year-long suspension? Universal reaction: Obviously Insincere! The 12,000-word profile written by a Pulitzer-Prize winner in ESPN The Magazine, after the writer spent 100 hours in the man’s company? Featured not a single quote from Rodriguez, because, as the author said, “He’s a proven liar, a repeated liar…there’s just no point in quoting him.” Then, the New York Times columnist — sick of the “lies” — who  suggested that the Yankees should sever ties with him; to do so, said the writer, the team “will have to show two qualities not usually mentioned in the same context as Rodriguez: bravery and honesty.”

All kids lie. Demanding bravery? What is he, William Wallace? Or just a wildly insecure kid playing a kid’s game, never actually coached in mind as well as body, and as brave and honest, in general, as any knuckleheaded, swaggering teenager? I’ve bought into that pop-psych theory for 15 years now, and I’m sticking to it, ever since the two of us sat for a few hours in the wardrobe/makeup trailer for a GQ cover shoot on Miami Beach. He’d be sharing the cover with Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra. We were talking about how the three of them — the Mexican Garciaparra, the Dominican Rodriguez and the biracial Jeter — symbolized a new kind of era, and one that had been too long in coming.

“It’s like the baton has been passed…Let’s see if we can take it,” Rodriguez said, just as there was knock on the door and the famous photographer’s assistant was summoning the Mariners’ star to the set. Rodriguez was about to step out of the door of the trailer when he stopped and glanced back at me with a look, as I described it in my story, of “little-kid panic.”

“I don’t mean to say there aren’t a lot of other great players out there,” he clarified. “That’s not what I meant, you know?” He was genuinely, almost frantically, worried that he’d come off as pompous, even though it was a pretty benign quote.

I wasn’t surprised he’d been anxious to clarify. We’d spent a good two hours together, enough time for me to sense that Alex Rodriguez really, really wanted us to like him. Wanted everyone to like him. A lot. At one point that day, he’d asked me, genuinely, whether I, as a New Yorker, thought he should come to the Mets as a free agent. (I thought: he’s asking me? Doesn’t he have legitimate friends and advisors?) “Of course!” I said.

“What about Derek?” he answered. At first, I didn’t understand. “It’d be the coolest cross-town rivalry,” I said. Rodriguez dropped the subject. But I knew what he’d been worried about: going to a city where someone else would always be more beloved…or, more specifically, where being constantly compared to Jeter would ensure that, popularity-wise, as well as character-wise, he’d come up short. Way short.

He went to Arlington, Texas, to a team with no prospects for winning, in a town otherwise devoid of a-list athletes (unless you count Cowboy quarterback Quincy Carter).

When he finally did come to New York, it’d be tempting to say he’d outgrown that adolescent-stud mindset, wherein it’s second nature to grab for whatever you want, be it the babe, the beer/drug, the bucks…

…Unless you recall the night in 2007 when, on a Yankee road trip to Toronto, he ushered a woman who wasn’t his wife to a strip club, and then his hotel. Trailed by paparazzi. Hello, New York Post front page: “STRAY-ROD.” Or the time he flipped out during a midtown Manhattan appeals hearing, slamming his briefcase shut (according to someone who knows what happened in that room), and stomping crosstown to immediately blast the league on the most listened-to radio show in New York…when he’s trying to get back into said league.

Stupid behavior? No stupider than any 16-year-old kid star athlete getting into a car driven by a friend who’s already drunk half of the six-pack on the front seat. It’s an actual neuroscientific fact: the adolescent brain’s “rewards center” develops ahead of the pre-frontal cortex, which accounts for how many teenagers do things without seeing the possible effects of their actions.

Why’d he stop growing emotionally? Maybe as soon as the coaches at the University of Miami started treating him like very valuable meat, and coaches kept handing him up to the next level of the carnival, no one bothered to pay attention to the little kid crying out for attention. And yes, okay, so his reasoning circuits should be wired by now. But old psychological habits die hard when no one tries to genuinely, sincerely remedy them, wherein the more things change, the more they stay the same, if something he said in his eight-minute press conference on Monday is indicative of his mindset: “No mistake that I made has any good answer, no justification. It’s unexplainable.” As in: if there’s no explanation, how can I really be blamed?

*
Time was, the pastime promised an annual psychic rebirth when they unlocked the gates in Florida and the writers gave us the early news. Who’s going to be the fifth starter? Who’s the unknown minor-leaguer who’s going to emerge and win a roster spot, to everyone’s delight?

So maybe it’s fitting that we open this year with columnists piling on the guy. The headline on the Times column? “Lying, Lying, Gone. Fans Should Hope So.” After all: the current national pastime seems to be shouting and fist-shaking between any two sides at any give time: Right/Left, O’Reilly/Maddow, Creationist/Evolutionarian.

Why shouldn’t dialogue about the sporting pastime be any different? Why shouldn’t the first stories from Florida pile on a fallen man? Because he doesn’t deserve such shallow, one-sided, knee-jerk condemnation. Because he isn’t a man. He’s a lost little kid.
He didn’t kill anyone, or rip off subprime mortgage holders. Just his own legacy. Consider this: If a high-school kid serially cheats on tests, as well as his girlfriend, and then says he doesn’t know why he does it, we don’t condemn him for betrayal, for not being brave, for letting us all down. We try and help him see the error of his ways. And then, when he gets it wrong again, we shake our heads and try again to help him grow up. We don’t act as if he’s a cowardly, dangerous, treasonous betrayer of all that’s right and good.

Hey: If you’re a true fan, look at it this way. If we back off a little, give him the benefit of the doubt (again), who knows? Maybe he gives us a good season of baseball. Talented teenagers are capable of doing it, and so is Alex Rodriguez. So let’s back off and let him try and hit some doubles, okay? And stop pretending that the men in uniforms are statesmen? They’re the joy givers. Sometimes they suffer because of it, too. And if we praise them when they delight us, we ought to try and understand when they fail to.