One thing I've noticed in my years doing this column — and my years writing about the Jags, especially — is that NFL players are, in the final analysis, commodities, nothing more, nothing less. The commodification of the gridiron hero has facilitated many narratives, none more so than the tendency of sportswriters to put those narratives in the Manichean framework of heroes and villains.
Consider how Jimmy Smith was treated as he wrestled with addiction issues; or, more recently, Justin Blackmon, who entered rehab after being indefinitely suspended from the team in November. Contrast that with the lionization of Brad Meester, a wholly average interior lineman whose gifts have been longevity and staying out of trouble.
For Jacksonville's white-bread sports media, that's more than enough.
The Meester narrative, along with the team's slow-crawl improvement over the last weeks of the season, allowed the Jags' home finale to feel better than earlier ones at the ass-end of lackluster campaigns. The Dec. 22 game against the Titans, in the sun-soaked, surprisingly full confines of EverBank Field, was a capstone on the Meester era — and a fine illustration of how reality once again was framed by a convenient narrative in Jagland.
The Meester farewell had everything, including a treacly message on the videoboard from his kids. It was easily the greatest send-off for an interior lineman in franchise history. And why not? He'd been here since the Coughlin era. Meester even got a gimmick play in the red zone — shades of former Jags lineman Guy "the Human Turnstile" Whimper.
That was a nice moment. A few days before, however, the Jags sent another veteran off with considerably less ceremony. It wasn't nearly as pretty.
On the cusp of Jeremy Mincey's 30th birthday, after cultivating a well-earned reputation for tardiness (he missed the Jags' trip to Houston because he overslept), he was cut. The defensive end and Gators alum, who's always …
Some folks believe — mistakenly — that football is inextricably linked with autumnal chill or frozen tundra. Not so! Football is a year-round occupation now. For NFL fans, free agency and the impending draft take pride of place. And for those who'd rather watch live action, the Legends (formerly Lingerie) Football League and the Arena Football League have offerings worth checking out.
Ladies first, as the aphorism goes. At first glance, the Legends Football League struck some observers, like me, as willfully exploitative. That reputation might stick. However, if one looks at this brand of women’s football from a different angle, the precise analogue for it may not be the NFL, but something like roller derby — a sport that defied its roots long ago and has become a vehicle for genuine female empowerment.
What I’m saying is, don’t let the pretty faces and the taut bodies fool you into thinking there's anything soft about this version of the game. With a name change and an alteration of the uniforms, the LFL is moving toward legitimacy, in a WWE diva sort of way. The women will still be wearing short shorts and exposing their midriffs, but garters — which haven’t been used in the NFL in some time — are now gone. This makes it easier, in theory, for sports fans to know these women for the athletes they are.
And just like athletes in any other sport, there are legitimate rivalries — though, admittedly, they fly below the SportsCenter radar. And smack talk galore.
“Everyone thinks we are looking forward to the Atlanta game this year because everyone is talking a big game about them. [They] are the least of my worries right now,” said Jacksonville Breeze linebacker Adrian Purnell on LFL360.com, an indispensable Legends Football League resource.
It's hard to say, given the paucity and opacity of information about the league, how good the Atlanta team coming to town March 30 might be. …
The Age of Austerity is upon us, and legislators at all levels want to make cuts. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) is currently in the crosshairs of the Florida Legislature, and it’s hard to see how it will escape.
House Bill 1279 would cut FHSAA revenue and executive director Roger Dearing's $151,000 salary. Dearing would be terminated at the end of June. All 16 board members would be replaced at the end of September. The proposal passed a legislative subcommittee unanimously, and it’s easy to see why.
From the outside, especially considering what used to be traditional conceptions of amateur sports as an adjunct to the educational process, it’s hard to understand why the FHSAA executive director would have a higher base salary than the Florida governor – even before factoring in Dearing’s car and cellphone allowances.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported the proposal would “chop in half the FHSAA share of revenue from the preseason classics and postseason playoffs it sanctions. That is $2.5 million in 2012-’13, almost half of a $5.2 million budget.” Dearing maintains the FHSAA has a right to this money.
“The misconception is that we’re taking tax revenue," Dearing said. “That’s not the case. The money we get is from gate receipts of events we put on. We receive nothing from regular-season games. That stays with our schools.”
The bill would also change student-athlete eligibility, requiring the FHSAA to presume a student is eligible unless proved otherwise, opening the door to students no longer being barred from receiving benefits from schools, changing the language to the more subjective “significant benefits” — a phrase that will undoubtedly be open for discussion if HB 1279 passes.
The FHSAA has been on the ropes in recent years, with legislative efforts designed to make it easier for transfer students to be eligible to play …
There are several notable events going on in area college sports this week.
One of the more heartening local sports stories of 2013 is the rapid ascendance of Jacksonville University's men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. The programs haven’t been around long, yet they are reaching national power status quickly and dominating the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the process.
JU’s men’s team suffered its first MAAC defeat, 14-11, to Marist College on April 13, snapping the Dolphins’ four-game winning streak. JU’s conference in other sports, the Atlantic Sun, prepares to add lacrosse to its roster next season. The Dolphins are a resilient bunch, as their recent trip to Virginia Military Institute indicates. The Keydets rallied, even tying the game at halftime, but the Dolphins came out of the break strong and finished off VMI.
In the 13-8 victory, two Dolphins with international backgrounds — Paraguay native Ari Waffle and Cameron Mann of Hamilton, Ontario — did hat tricks. Kyle Rebman and Rob Wertz each scored twice, and Will Crenshaw, Dakota Rohlin and Brian Kensil each added a goal.
In addition to all of those scoring threats, JU’s defense was equally solid — especially in the final minutes. Pete DeLuca stopped 15 shots on goal, including seven in the fourth quarter. The JU team won in Lexington, Va. — a tough place to play. It’s easy to imagine them making a deep run in the MAAC Tournament the first week of May.
The same can be said for the women’s lacrosse team. The Dolphins routed the University of Detroit Titans on April 14, improving to 11-4 overall. The JU women are 3-0 in coverence, clinching at least a share of the A-Sun title.
The women’s squad is a family affair. Head coach Mindy McCord is married to an assistant, Paul McCord — a relationship that only adds to the storybook quality of this program and …
I’ve been skeptical. I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth.
I’ve doubted the viability — or potential viability — of pro hoops in Jacksonville. And a part of me still does. Then again, I’ve been here a long time. The city of Jacksonville is changing.
Growing. Attracting more people with disposable income. More people who expect urban amenities — like the NBA.
Take the latest triumph of the Jacksonville Giants, our local American Basketball Association franchise that, in the words of acclaimed griot DJ Khaled, “all they do is win win win no matter what.”
The Giants, you see, have done it again. Yet another ABA championship for the city of Jacksonville. In what might have been their proudest moment as a franchise, they got it done.
Sweeping the first two games of what was intended to be a best-of-three series against the acclaimed North Dallas Vandals, the clincher was won by one point on a rainy night, on a weekend that let us know that summer is but a heartbeat away.
It was a one-point victory, keynoted by the usual suspects: Anthony Jackson, who’s been so clutch this year, with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 105 seconds left on the clock; Jermaine Bell, who poured in 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help in the effort; and Ed Horton and Currye Todd — the dynamic duo of guards — each with 22 points.
This was a different Giants victory than many we’ve seen. The turbo-charged NBA jam scoring wasn’t as much in evidence, even though at the half the team had 57 points. The Giants went cold in the second half, letting the Vandals back in the game as if the ABA were fifth-century Rome, but no matter. They were able to close out, like champions do. Word is, Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan, whose team played every close game as if they needed a collective Heimlich maneuver, was watching the game and furiously taking notes.
OK. Maybe not. We know that ABA …
I've analyzed Jaguars' drafts in Folio Weekly for the previous decade, and for the better part of that decade as a fan, so I have plenty of opinions. Along the way, I've learned an important lesson: Nothing is ever as it seems on draft day.
It all seems simple in late April. Some teams draft the best available player (BAP) more often than not, knowing that attrition and injury will require that potential to find its way onto the field. Other teams draft for need — a philosophy decried by some as too reactive, as if the so-called BAP is a sure thing or a known quantity. Still others emulate Bill Belichick and trade down, under the assumption that diversifying the portfolio and putting more bodies in camp is the smartest play — sort of like what Rumsfeld said about Iraq: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. … there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."
There's something there that applies to more than Mesopotamia. We never truly know the outcome of a situation going in. Despite the ruminations of self-styled purists, all teams basically use a hybrid of those draft philosophies: sometimes need, sometimes best player, sometimes an aggregation of picks. The three philosophies were at work in General Manager David Caldwell's first draft, and the results are more promising than they've in years.
The first pick, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, graded out as the best tackle — indeed the best player — in many pre-draft projections, and if you saw him keep the heat off Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M last season in the school's first year in the SEC, you'd agree. The obvious comparison to Joeckel is Tony Boselli — and though those are big shoes to fill, one hopes he'll be closer to that than the 2009 second-round bust pick Eben Britton, the discharged right tackle who talked a much bigger game …
The Players Championship was perfect, if you like redemption narratives. Tiger Woods found his mojo and his form, and his body looked better than it has in years. As someone who spent a lot of the 1990s watching athletes perform in everything from pro baseball to professional wrestling achieve these flawless physiques, I felt a stir of recognition. Woods isn't a young man anymore, but his pecs were impeccable, and his victory at The Players restored the sanctity of his narrative. Nike's new Tiger Woods shoes, for example, were hot sellers before the win. Now? Good luck finding them, even at $180.
America loves a winner. But what happens when winners don't win or stop winning? Things get real. That brings us to the story of Vijay Singh — one of the best golfers in the world at one point — who's making news these days more for scandal than for anything he does on the course. At 50 years old, Singh tied for 78th at The Players and came out of the event no richer than he went in.
Singh recently filed suit against the PGA for "violating its duty of care and good faith" regarding his recent deer antler velvet scandal. According to the lawsuit, the Tour "failed competently and responsibly to administer its own Anti-Doping Program. … As a direct and proximate result of the PGA Tour's actions, Singh has been humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and emotionally distraught."
At The Players, he wasn't exactly ridiculed — except by a spectator who razzed him by wearing deer antlers the first day. Perhaps that's a measure of respect for a veteran with one of the most impressive résumés of all active professional golfers — or perhaps it's a measure of the Fijian's irrelevance. Golfers half his age, such as Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, are the present day of the sport. At this point, Tiger Woods is an old-guard figure himself. Singh? Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard." He might be "ready for [his] close-up," but he …
Earlier this month, Jaguars owner Shad Khan voiced an interest in the Shipyards property. Not a moment too soon. For virtually the entire century thus far, there have been plans for the Shipyards — plans that have not come to fruition.
"I've said all along, Jacksonville has great potential. Developing the north bank of the riverfront would go a long way toward achieving our potential," Khan said in a statement. "A new life for the Shipyards would be good news for the Jaguars, EverBank Field, the Sports Complex and all of Downtown Jacksonville."
Indeed it would. As Jacksonville grows, it still faces the challenge of igniting Downtown, making it more than just a place to work, visit a club, go to a Monster Truck rally or see a concert at The Florida Theatre. To become the city that city planners, major stakeholders, many residents and visitors envision, we have to maximize the potential of underused parcels of land and resources. Certainly, Khan — comfortably ensconced on the Forbes 400 — has the resources and wherewithal to do that. And he has the motivation.
Consider the constant grousing in recent years about the Jaguars gameday experience. There are some who complain about the traffic to and from the game (and many of those folks have never tried to see the New England Patriots at Foxboro Stadium or the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, two spots where the commute can be prohibitive for a variety of reasons). I remember a sports blogger who said Shad Khan should build a stadium on the Southside because it would be better situated for Jags fans making the trek from Nocatee and other outposts. Such complaints lack merit and seem provincial. However, there are other, more legitimate issues with the Jaguars gameday experience.
Consider what there is — or isn't — Downtown. After a Sunday game, traffic patterns and local habits dictate that people are going to get the heck out of Downtown back to their suburban sanctuaries …
The NBA season ended with a thrilling seven-game series between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. At any given time, a half-dozen future Hall of Fame players were on the floor. Up until the last game, it was impossible to figure out which team would win the series. The Heat were pronounced dead and LeBron called a fraud seemingly every day until the end; the Spurs, the underdogs, avoided such castigation.
Will the Heat be an official dynasty, like the Lakers and Celtics of bygone eras? Who really knows? Much changes in the NBA on a yearly basis. It's easy to imagine a key injury or two driving the Heat back to the pack. It's equally easy to imagine other franchises rising to take the Miami club's place.
Some franchises are closer to that goal than others. Two that don't seem especially close to championship glory — at least at this time — will meet in an October preseason tilt in Jacksonville: the Orlando Magic and the New Orleans Pelicans. This will be the Magic's third preseason trip to Northeast Florida and the first since 2008, just eight days after the team opens training camp in Orlando. In discussing the initiative, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown was his usual restrained self.
"When the 2013 NBA preseason begins, Jacksonville will be getting a piece of the action," Brown said in a news conference. "We're very excited to be working with the NBA again … one of the strongest and most recognized brands in the world."
Brown said the game allows Jacksonville to show the world that it's a great destination for sports and entertainment.
"We want this to be a spotlight that helps fans everywhere get an interest in Jacksonville and in Jacksonville's story, because we have a great story to tell," he said, referring to a revitalized Downtown, parks, beaches and a "re-energized job market."
After his remarks, Magic representative and former star Nick Anderson and Jacksonville University hoops legend Artis Gilmore added a few …
In my years of writing this column, I've found that I write many more arrest/trouble-with-the-law stories than I'd anticipated when I was handed the keys to the Sportstalk franchise in 2005.
Athletes across the spectrum seem to have issues with law enforcement. I feel like I've written a few articles about various arrests and legal situations faced by pro wrestling legend Ric Flair.
But the bulk of my "athlete gets arrested, and in other news, the sun will rise tomorrow" stories have to do with college athletes — specifically athletes from the University of Florida. As good as their football team has been on the field, and their basketball team has been on the court, the school's student-athletes can't seem to go very long without being clotheslined by the long arms of the law.
Sometimes, we see basketball players running afoul of statute — consider Joakim Noah's bust a few years back for a double dribble: open container law violation with a side violation of marijuana possession. Usually, though — and perhaps not surprising, given how many people are on the roster in any given year — the offenders are football stars.
Quite often, those offenses involve guns. I remember writing about former Gators and Jaguars player Dee Webb and the unfortunate incident that happened when he and a couple of other players were present when an assault rifle discharged and fired into a neighboring apartment. Charges were dropped, that time, for what a Gainesville police rep called "an accidental shooting with incredibly poor lapses in judgment." I bet Marissa Alexander wishes she'd received that benefit of the doubt.
And then, there's the Aaron Hernandez story, which seems to involve a purposeful shooting, albeit one with more "incredibly poor lapses in judgment." Though it is said that he has been a model prisoner since he was locked up a few weeks back.
Not all lapses in judgment involve firearms and inconvenient corpses, of course. …