Archive for September, 2017

You Can Climb The Telephone Pole, But If They Catch You, You Done

September 27, 2017

We don’t mind cheaters as long as they don’t lie, too

by John Furgele (The 228 That Plays It Straight)

When I was in high school in the 1980s, it was quite easy to steal cable TV. There were de-scramblers available that allowed you to receive HBO, The Movie Channel, and yes, The Playboy Channel without paying for them.

A second way to steal it was to actually climb the telephone pole and move some things around.   That’s what one of my friend’s father did.   He climbed the pole and was moving things around, and was doing it in broad daylight. When the cops approached, they asked what he was doing, and, in complete honesty, he said with hands in the air, “You got me, I am trying to get free cable TV.” He knew what he was doing, he got caught and  did what nobody does anymore– he admitted it.   I’m not sure if he was fined, or charged with anything, but I continued to see him, so I know he didn’t go to jail. I think, by admitting what he was doing, he got a pass and probably provided the cops with a good laugh and story to tell.

We all know that college athletics are as crooked as the day is long. There is some corruption that we actually accept; if a player gets to use a car for free, do we really care? But, today, the corruption is endless, and what makes it worse, is the lack of contrition by those caught.  Nobody admits to climbing the telephone pole these days.

When 52 Baylor players were accused of sexual assault, the school did everything in its power to cover it up to keep the players eligible. We all know that Art Briles was complicit in the cover up, yet he denied he knew anything. Briles’ lack of honesty is what did him in and a reason why he couldn’t stay on for more than four hours as a coach for the Hamilton Tiger Cats.

A few years ago, Louisville basketball hired some strippers to entertain and have sex with would-be recruits. Head coach Rick Pitino, known to be one who controls everything about his basketball program, claimed to know nothing. He denied and denied and kept his job. Now, he is about to fired in a nation-wide corruption scam and once again, he will claim to know nothing of the alleged wrongdoing.

We all know this is about money. The money is so out of hand it is beyond ridiculous; to the point where schools feel if they don’t cheat, they won’t win. How much longer can it go on before people who work hard to make a living tune out completely? We’re seeing it with the NFL; people want to watch football, not see guys kneeling, or even worse, hear and see the media talk about it incessantly. We saw this with the Oscars and Emmys, too. People may hate the current president, but they are sick of the daily bashing that goes with it. Most of us want to sit in front of the TV and not to have to think too much about what we’re seeing. That’s the supposed joy of TV—a few hours to escape before trotting off to bed and repeating the grind the next day.

Why couldn’t Briles admit that he turned away from what was going on at Baylor? He has enough money, and yes, he would lose millions by not coaching, but why not take the blows that are coming? Be the guy who climbed the telephone pole. You got caught, admit it and move forward.   Briles couldn’t do it, choosing to lawyer up so he could someday, get another coaching job and the money that goes with it.

Pitino failed the honesty test—twice. He knew about the strippers because he talks to his assistant coaches every single day. Yet, there he was lying, saying he was blindsided by the allegations.

Now, Pitino is out and he will lie to us again. He will use words like shock, disappointment, devastated, and so on, but nobody will believe him. This is a guy who cheated on his wife in a piano bar, and though there are various reasons why spouses cheat, it certainly stains his image. If he could do that—in a bar—of course he could secretly see that strippers have sex with potential recruits and that shoe companies pay a recruit to come to the University of Louisville. The only person surprised—-him!

We live in a world of dishonest people. Politicians, O.J. Simpson, Joe Paterno, priests, doctors, lawyers, teachers, bricklayers, truck drivers and so on and so forth. But, the thing that puzzles me about college coaches is that most are being paid millions to coach; moreover, they have huge buyouts—Pitino’s is reportedly $44 million. These people make more in one year than the truck driver makes in a lifetime. The money is guaranteed, so why cheat?

But, if cheating is what you want to do, fine, go ahead and do it. But, don’t tell me—tell us—that you’re not cheating. When you get caught, don’t be afraid to admit it. It’s okay to say that I wanted to win a championship for this school, and because of it, I broke some rules. For that, I am sorry and I hope that in time, you can forgive me.

The fans—and as a whole, we’re not very bright—will forgive you. When the stripper scandal broke, most Louisville fans were afraid that the 2013 NCAA basketball title was going to be taken away, or better, stripped. They would have been alright with being banned from the postseason for a few years so as long as the banner stays. Even Pitino was scared about that; he wants to be the two-time national champion coach, not the coach who saw his title—-stripped!

We don’t hate cheaters; what we hate is those who cheat, get caught red-handed and lie. Cheaters—yes—liars—no.

Sadly, that’s how it goes in the billion dollar industry that is athletics.  There needs to be a complete overhaul of college athletics but as long as there are 110,000 seat stadiums and boosters, it isn’t going to happen.  But, we’re to blame.  Many admire the Ivy League football model–10 games, no postseason–but we don’t watch their games.  In fact, you can’t find their games on TV and even in places like New Haven, CT and Ithaca, NY, very few attend them. To be blunt, we are hypocrites.

On paper,  the Ivy is great, but it’s the green paper that will always carry the day.  Briles and Pitino got caught; Sean Miller may get caught. You know climbing the pole is illegal, but, you do it anyway.  But when you get caught, admit it, get down and move on.

Pole climbing and cheating will continue and climbers will keep getting caught.  The only question—who’s next?




Top Flight Angel Says Toiling In Obscurity Is What We Do Best

September 14, 2017

He would have told the press that, but they weren’t there

by John Furgele (The Trusted 228)

Imagine the Preakness winner coming to Finger Lakes Racetrack to run in a $100,000 Grade III stakes race in the middle of their three-year old campaign?  It’s more than improbable, in fact, it’s impossible.  But on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 that’s kind of what you saw at Batavia as the winner of the $500,000 Yonkers Trot showed up to race at 71-year old Batavia Downs.

Before we wonder why, let it be known that Top Flight Angel was participating in the lucrative New York Sire Stakes for three-year old trotters.  Wednesday’s race had a purse of $60,200, so this wasn’t your normal $10,000 open or conditioned trot.  The Sire Stakes is a series, a buildup, contested throughout the year with each race offering good purses until the big money October 14 final at Yonkers Raceway. As a New York bred, Top Flight Angel is trying to cash in.

The Trotting Triple Crown consists of the Hambletonian, Yonkers Trot and Kentucky Futurity, and last year, Marion Marauder captured all three affairs.  With Perfect Spirit prevailing in a controversial Hambletonian and then skipping the Yonkers Trot, the chance for back-to-back crowns went away faster than hot dogs at a July 4 picnic.

Be that as it may, the fans at Batavia Downs were treated to a little bit of harness racing royalty, as Top Flight Angel was made the 4/5 favorite in a solid field of seven colts and geldings. The son of Archangel did not disappoint, cutting fractions of 29, 29.2, 28 and 28.1 en route to a 1:54.3 on the half mile track, which oh-by-the-way tied the track record that was held by his father.  Finishing second was Guardian Angel As who was sired by—you guessed it—Archangel.

In thoroughbred racing, if a Triple Crown race winner was heading to the local track, there’d be some local coverage of it, but unless you’re a harness racing diehard, you’d have a better chance of getting hit by a bus than reading about “TFA’s” invasion of the little track in Genesee County.

This is the world we live in of course.  Life is not always just or fair.  But, we could be in for a sort of sports crossroads.  Opening week in the NFL saw low ratings, boring games with lots of dead time.  Baseball does well regionally, but no longer captivates nationally.

One thing that is on the uptick in America is events.  We will rally around the big events like the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby.  When American Pharoah runs for glory, we’ll watch the Belmont.  If there’s a Game 7 in the baseball, basketball and even hockey, the casual fan will tune in. Why can’t harness racing, with plenty of big, lucrative races each year, put forth an effort to get some exposure?

It would have been nice if the media in Buffalo and Rochester pumped up the appearance of a Triple Crown race winner in its backyard, but local coverage was nowhere to be found.  The sports pages used to be about the games and the personalities that played them, but now, it’s more about drama and psychoanalysis.  On Wednesday, a Triple Crown race winner came to town, no posse in tow.

After the race, a few gathered in the Winner’s Circle to fete Top Flight Angel.  He was asked if he was disappointed at the lack of attention by the media.  The colt responded in typical fashion.

“I race for the fans who are here and those that follow at home,” the colt said.  “I wish more people were interested because we put on a good show and many are missing it.”

The colt is right, people are missing a good show, but it’s up to those in the sport to let people know what’s happening.  Thoroughbred racing is not as popular as it once was, but they do a good job of pumping up their big events. It’s time for harness racing—both nationally and locally—to do the same.


Let’s Not Dismiss Ed Cunnigham’s Actions

September 1, 2017

Cunningham’s resignation over safety concerns should be a wake-up call

by John Furgele (The Compassionate 228)

Ed Cunningham had a nice job, not a cushy job, but a nice job.  He was a college football broadcaster for ESPN.  Each week, he traveled to a school to call a game with Mike Patrick, his regular partner. But, something was eating away at Cunningham, and late Wednesday, it ate through him to the point where he quit doing something he has loved for decades.

Most of us would give up much to cover sports and make the good money that goes with it.  But the job is far from easy.  There is the travel, the time away from family and friends and lots and lots of prep work.  It looks easy, but is far from it.  Cunningham played at the University of Washington, helping the Huskies win a share of the national title in 1991.  He also played five seasons in the NFL and since, has been around football on a regular basis, mostly as a broadcaster and talker.

Like many, Cunningham was concerned about the massiveness of football.  The players are bigger, faster and stronger than they have ever been and because of it, injuries and attrition are a huge part of the game.  Head trauma has come to the forefront in recent years.  Yes, players have always suffered from head injuries, concussions, knees, you name it.  Football is not only a violent game; it’s a dangerous game.  If you’re old enough, you remember the gruesome injury suffered by Joe Theismann in 1985 on Monday Night Football.  If you recall, even the toughest of tough guys, Lawrence Taylor, was screaming at the gruesomeness of Theismann’s leg.  There was Willis MaGahee getting his knee bent backwards in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl and Marcus Lattimore’s brutal knee injury at South Carolina that prevented him from ever playing in the NFL.

Today, head injuries are getting lots of attention.  It’s not so much the concussions, it’s the repeated trauma that players suffer during the course of the careers.  There are only so many shots to the head some players can take.  The movie “Concussion,” showed that the effect it takes comes long after the careers end.  There was Andre Waters, who was in so much pain that he took his own life.  There was Dave Duerson, who was in so much pain, that he, too, took his own life; careful enough to shoot himself in the chest so his brain could be donated to science.  Hall of Famer Junior Seau also suffered, his life also ending by suicide.

I often wonder if people feel guilty when watching football.  In the past, I’m sure the number was minimal, but given the recent evidence that we have heard, seen and read, has the number increased?  Cunningham is certainly not the only one who feels this way, and his standing up and admitting the guilt should be commended.  Personally, I don’t know what to think.  I love watching football, especially college football, and my hope is that all the players finish their careers and walk away on their own terms.  It’s easier said than done. When I see Julian Edelman shred his ACL by just planting his foot, it makes me cringe.  When I see Vontaze Burfict drive his helmet into another player’s helmet, I cringe again.  Part of me wonders why players can’t just tackle with their arms and not their heads, but football is a reaction game.  You can try to legislate it, but because there is vicious contact on every play, there will be injuries—bad ones.

Cunningham decided that he couldn’t take it anymore, choosing to step away. It can’t be easy for him because unlike most of us, he played the game and excelled at it; it’s in his blood. Deep down, he loves the game and that 1991 Washington Huskies team that went 12-0 has to bring a smile to his face every day of his life.

As good as things can be, everybody has a breaking point.  For Cunningham, seeing players “targeted,” “concussed,” and seriously injured began eating away at his soul to the point where he had to walk away.  His decision should send some shockwaves to those who run both college and pro football.  No longer should these issues be ignored and even though it is virtually impossible to take collisions out of the game, the dialog on how to improve the game and make it safer must continue.

Football should reach out to Ed Cunningham and offer him a job as a safety consultant to see if he and a Blue Ribbon panel can make the game a little safer, a little less violent.  If this can happen, Ed Cunningham would be validated, his actions commended and a higher purpose served.