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SPORTSTALK

The Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League have not had the best May. Three consecutive losses have stalled the team's early season momentum and have led to the benching of quarterback Bernard Morris. The third loss, to San Jose at home, preceded a backstage brawl involving officials, players and coaches after the game, hinting at larger problems with the franchise going forward. It feels counterintuitive to say a team at 6-3 as of this writing is in disarray, but clearly the Sharks are having problems.

And these problems go beyond game day scrums and quarterback changes. Consider the curious case of Douglas Michael Kleiner, a 49-year-old white male who, until recently, served as the Sharks' director of sports medicine. Kleiner was arrested and charged, according to the police report, for trafficking in controlled substances, practicing or attempting to practice medicine without a valid medical license, delivery and distribution of schedule III opium or derivative, and dispensing prescription or medical drugs without a license. The timing could not be worse.

This year has been a downer for those who seek to skirt the law regarding distribution of prescription medicines. Gov. Rick Scott's administration and Attorney General Pam Bondi have gone after pill mills in the way politicians so often take law-and-order stances: so they can be seen as "doing something about the problem" — which they are, in a narrow sense. However, as long as Big Pharma can make ridiculous profits 
from patented medicines, the true source of supply will never abate. It's easy to bust a pill mill or a team trainer; good luck going after Pfizer or Ranbaxy.

Some observers might assert a causal link between the team's underperformance of late and its pharmaceutical supply — which included favorites like hydrocodone, valium and testosterone — being interrupted. I think it would be a bit reductive to go that far without further evidence. What is clear, …   More

SPORTSTALK

The Jaguars made it known heading into free agency that they would play their cards close to the vest. General Manager David Caldwell made no secret of that in his interview on 1010XL before free agency began.

“Every year, after this first week of free agency, they come out with the ‘big winners and losers’ of free agency, more often than not, the big winners in free agency are the big losers during the season, so it's just based off past history,” he said on March 9. “We're looking for good solid players that fit our age bracket [who] can provide not only some leadership capabilities, but some depth for our guys if we draft some young guys and have to play young guys early on, that these guys are going to be the bridge and help us get to the next level.”

Depth. Youth. Leadership.

These are the hallmarks of the Atlanta Falcons, the organization from which Caldwell hails, and the hallmarks of the Seattle Seahawks, the team for whom current head coach Gus Bradley worked as defensive coordinator.

As it turned out, the releases — not the signings — were the most notable aspect for the Jaguars in the days after free agency opened.

Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis — gone, if not forgotten.

Defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton — allowed to “test the market.”

Knighton’s first stop was Denver, where former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is now defensive coordinator. It remains to be seen if Knighton — whose weight and conditioning have been recurrent issues throughout his career — can handle the thin air of the Mile High City. The Broncos signed him almost immediately, though.

Last year’s free-agent splash, wide receiver Laurent Robinson, is gone after one season in the black-and-teal. A big year exploiting favorable matchups with the Cowboys earned him a $14 million bonus — a number widely ridiculed at the time of the signing …   More

SPORTSTALK

On a day when the biggest Jaguars news involved Maurice Jones-Drew copping out of answering questions about the "unfortunate incident" at the Conch House, there was far bigger football news for folks who call this area home.

The national media had counted Tim Tebow out. We here in Northeast Florida, who have watched him from his days as a wunderkind at Nease High School to his days as a dynamo with the Gators and onto his days as a pro with the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets, knew better. Or at least some of us did.

Some of us didn't. Pete Prisco had been dissing Tebow on Twitter for weeks, for example. I had filed a column speculating that Tebow could run for Congress — because his NFL career was "over" and all.

That column will never see the light of day, even though it seems like a viable option once Tebow's playing career is over. And — praise Bill Belichick — that isn't happening.

Multiple reports say that Tebow will be with the Patriots and in camp by the time you read this column. For those of us who have made a mini-career out of documenting Tebowmania, it couldn't happen at a better time.

To be sure, questions remain. The first of which, though not a pressing one necessarily: Who in Tebow's inner circle was it that "privately admitted" to media sources that Tebow's career was "done"? And will that person be in the inner circle going forward?

Other questions are more pressing — if you place any stake in the idea that Tebow will be a quarterback with the Patriots, under the tutelage of Tom Brady (an idea buttressed by the fact that the Pats cut backup quarterback Mike Kafka to make room for No. 15).

The question of Tebow's ability as a quarterback is still an open one. In the weeks leading up to his signing, reports from the media gave much anecdotal evidence of Tebow's failings as a quarterback — not just in the games, but even in practice, where he allegedly hit his coach in Denver, John Fox, with …   More

SPORTSTALK

Perhaps it is just the headcold I have. Or perhaps it is the recent report that the Jaguars are using ball boys as wideouts in practice. Either way, though, a season that started — as they all do for the Jags — with something approaching promise has devolved into an absolute disaster. It seems pointless to speculate on how the team might beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 29. The real question: How bad will the butt whipping be? And how will it proceed?

We can expect to see a couple of less than familiar faces making impacts for the Colts: Coby Fleener — Andrew Luck's college tight end — and Trent Richardson — just acquired from the Browns. A reasonable person might expect both of these guys to score at least once. With Blaine Gabbert back at quarterback, two touchdowns will probably be enough.

Beyond that, though, there are business questions. The closure of the Mathews Bridge and a weather forecast that includes clouds and rain — these may provide impetus for Jags fans to stay home. Things are ugly in the River City — really ugly for Game 4. And everyone knows it.

At the home opener, I listened to the derisive laughter in the press box. Not at all a good look. Did Shad Khan hear it? He was there, at least for the pregame, before he left for Tallahassee to meet with Gov. Rick Scott. The owners may change. The coaches may change. But the fans are not going to show up to see this for much longer. When the big tease is "will they sign Tebow," well, it's easy enough to say this is a lost season already. And it's only September.

Maybe a returning Justin Blackmon will make a difference. But it seems like entropy and apathy have already set in. Network cameras showed the Jaguars' two best running backs — Maurice Jones-Drew and Justin Forsett — laughing at the tail end of that dismal loss in Seattle. And why shouldn't they laugh? The joke's not on them — they are paid no matter what. …   More

SPORTSTALK

Ric Flair and Roddy Piper — two of the biggest names from 1980s wrestling — participated in "Celebrity Wife Swap" June 30 on ABC. I haven't watched the show before, but I gotta tell you, it was horrifying must-see TV.

You wouldn't know, for starters, that Flair's son Reid had died recently from a heroin overdose — because it wasn't mentioned. In the show, Flair was raising his girlfriend's kids with her. Those old school wrestling fans might remember his current girlfriend playing the Fifi the French Maid character in WCW a couple of years back.

Flair's life these days is basically the pro wrestling version of Jake LaMotta. He can't really work in WWE anymore, as his myriad health conditions preclude him taking an active role with the touring troupe, yet he spends like he's living in 1983 and making big bucks as the world champ. Spa visits, bar visits, fancy restaurants every night — it's like he believes his own promos from his prime and he can be all about "that life" in his dotage.

The most powerful parts of the episode involved figures from Flair's past. His first wife, Beth, spoke with Piper's wife during a segment, which basically spotlighted that Flair's extended midlife crisis started after the dissolution of his marriage to her. Piper, likewise, tried to tell Flair to slow down late in the show, but the Nature Boy wasn't hearing it.

It amazes me, on some level, that Flair is still alive, much less still able to afford the lifestyle he maintains currently, even as he is not employable in any significant way in the "sport" he once defined. I never thought I would be transfixed by "Celebrity Wife Swap." But it's hard to turn away from the trainwreck that has been the life of Flair in recent years.   More

SPORTSTALK

Jonathan Papelbon and I have a couple of things in common. We both went to Bishop Kenny High School, so chances are he, too, has a collection of white shirts, blue pants and maroon ties. Chances are he saw "Star Trek" in a religion class — assuming Sister Edith's curriculum hasn't changed. And he has a habit of saying whatever he thinks. This habit revealed itself — yet again — recently.

Papelbon is best known for his relief stint with the 2007 Boston Red Sox, where he looked like he might be a once-in-a-generation closer along the lines of a Goose Gossage. His time in Boston ended soon enough, but his predilection for explosive quotes remains — thank goodness. In what was intended to be an anodyne interview with regional sports network CSN Philadelphia, Papelbon made some comments regarding the incident at the Boston Marathon, stoking a fire of national controversy.

"Today's day and age has gotten so crazy. Shoot man, Obama wants to take our guns from us and everything. You got all this stuff going on; it's just a little bit insane for me, man. I'm not sure how to take it," said the pitcher.

Compared to former Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker's comments in 1999, at the height of his career, criticizing the diversity of New York City ("It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."), those comments seem relatively sane, I guess, but what wouldn't?

Still, when one's being measured against Rocker (who'll be here on June 6 as a special attraction at a Jacksonville Suns game), that's a red flag. And when one deconstructs Papelbon's sentiment, it's just as insipid.

Let's start with the first sentence. "Today's day and age has gotten so crazy." Really, Jon, you don't say.

What day and age hasn't …   More

SPORTSTALK

[Edited to reflect game results after this went to press].

If you're older than 40, you might remember the heartwarming TV show "Eight Is Enough." And you might have thought eight losses would be enough for University of Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley to send Will Muschamp packing … but you would've been wrong!

"I have total confidence in Coach Muschamp," Foley told the media before the team's final loss of the 2013 campaign — obliteration at the hands of Florida State. "I've made that very, very clear. You know, gotta fix some things, and you know when you have seasons like this, that's what you do. You evaluate, you analyze and you fix things. You don't panic.

"Obviously, it's not acceptable. It's not who we are. It's not what we're about. We're confident we can fix it," Foley said.

What drives Foley's confidence?

"He's been a big-time football coach for a long time. … When I'm around him, I feel even better."

Good that he feels good around Muschamp. But not surprising, since he said, when Muschamp was hired in 2010, that "he is the only person we met with [to discuss the opening] and the only person we offered the job to." Clearly, there was no reason to bother with anyone else! Foley saw no reason to bother with minority candidates, either, such as former defensive coordinator and current architect of the Louisville program, 
Charlie Strong.

Nothing hubristic about the instant hire, nor about the need to justify Muschamp staying on.

Foley went to great lengths before the Saturday game to resolve seeming inconsistencies between retaining Muschamp and canning Ron Zook nine years before, even though Zook never had a season as crummy as the one the Gators just played. But it was clear someone had to take the fall — and that someone was Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

The writing was on the wall even before the last game, as Foley set up something familiar to Jaguars fans: the Disappearing Coordinator …   More

SPORTSTALK

Greyhound racing is, by all accounts, a dying sport. Less popular with each passing year, it seems more and more that the tracks that still exist aren't there because they themselves are a draw, but because of an arcane state law passed in the '90s that allows tracks to feature lucrative poker tables if they run at least 90 percent of the number of races they held in 1996. So even as fewer and fewer people gamble on the dogs — and even as the industry hemorrhages money (Florida tracks lost $35 million in 2012) — the tracks remain.

Poker is not without its problems. People can get in over their heads and spend money they don't have. But one thing poker tables don't have is a body count.

The same can't be said for greyhound racing.

On Feb. 15, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times published an exposé of the industry. Drawing on newly available records, the investigation found that 74 dogs had died on racetrack properties in Florida in the last six months of 2013 — one every three days, on average. Jacksonville tracks were not immune.

One greyhound, the 3-year-old, fawn-colored Penrose Jake, had his final race at Orange Park Kennel Club last August. Jake started strong that night, but then slammed into another dog and finished last. A few hours later, following a 127-race career, he was dead. The track didn't say what caused Jake's death. It didn't have to: While Florida lawmakers recently began forcing tracks to report greyhound deaths, the tracks don't always provide detailed information about what happened.

In early September, a greyhound named Hallo Spice Key died after being sprinted around a Jacksonville track in the pre-dawn hours, long before a race. "It appears the death could have been prevented had the greyhound not been sprinted in the dark," the report concluded.

Most of these deaths are, in fact, preventable, the dogs victims of the industry's greed. Thirty-one dogs in that six-month span died or were euthanized for race-related …   More

SPORTSTALK

The national championship game between Auburn and Florida State is fast becoming a memory. What we saw on the field was revelatory. Jameis Winston had a lights-out performance as FSU stormed back and overtook Auburn in the second half of a game tighter than anyone expected.

Great game. Great end to the tortured history of the Bowl Championship Series — gone but not forgotten, late but unlamented. As soon as the game was over, however, another controversy was fueled — among the oldest in American public life.

A very excited Jameis Winston had this to say after the game: "We champions. We can share that. We are champions together. And through everything that we went through. Through all the haters. Through every single thing, we came out victorious. God did this. I'm so blessed. He's so blessed. All the stuff that he handled with Ethan [Fisher, the coach's son, who has been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called Fanconi anemia] and he come out here and coach us? That touched me. And it's nobody but God. It's nobody."

Winston, a native of Hueytown, Ala., hit all the expected points: An appeal to God. A recognition that he was blessed. The usual conflation of divine providence and athletic achievement. NBD, except to a certain observer, an Alabama resident herself.

"Am I listening to English?"

Those words from Dee Dee McCarron — the mother of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron — brought forth a reminder that, despite the integration of college football in the 1970s, back when Bear Bryant prowled the sidelines, we're never too far away from racially coded rhetoric.

Mama McCarron apologized. Retracted the Tweet. BFD. To borrow from The Four Tops, it's the same old song.

Perhaps because college football is so delightfully plebian — everyone has opinions, the most vociferous often coming from those who never actually attended a college — it tends to bring out sides of people that might better be kept hidden. The …   More

SPORTSTALK

Time was, wrestling cards in Jacksonville would draw upwards of 5,000 people — sometimes more than once a week. Back in the glory days of "Championship Wrestling from Florida," the Briscos, the Funks, Harley Race, Ric Flair and a rotating cast of barroom brawlers built like brick shithouses brought out huge crowds.

Today a lot of those guys are dead or getting there. And those days have been gone for quite some time.

Like stagflation, the Jacksonville Journal and the paper mill smell that choked this city like an olfactory homunculus, the days of turnaway crowds at the rasslin' matches are as dead as kayfabe — the belief, promulgated by promoters until the World Wrestling Federation steroid trials of the early 1990s that wrestling is "real."

World Wrestling Entertainment gets here a few times a year, and does decent business, but the old days are long gone, despite the best efforts of John Cena and the gang.

Wrestling, of course, is still an active "thing" — as Shelton Hull's profile of indie wrestler Jon Davis [News, "Don't Try This at Home," Jan. 8] indicated. There are still touring troupes. One of the best-regarded — Evolve — came back to Jacksonville for a pay-per-view performance for the first time since last summer, when the company drew a few hundred bodies to the sweltering Potter's House gym on the ever-scenic Westside.

The company continued its tradition of holding wrestling events in economic blight zones on Jan. 12, when it held Evolve 27 at one of the most notorious nightclubs in the entire city, Plush, located in the heart of the Arlington Crime Blotter. The club, which has been in operation almost continuously under one name or another since at least the early '90s (now sort of officially called Brewster's Megaplex), has been a rite of passage for everyone from 
hip-hop heads and rave kids to punk rockers 
— old and new school.

Noise is often made about shutting the place down, but it has …   More

 
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