Monday, September 28, 2009

Browns have two QBs, none worth a darn

Browns coach Eric Mangini has faced the one thing he started the 2009 season trying hard to avoid. He has a quarterback controversy on his hands.

I can’t be hypercritical of his reluctance to entrust the job to anybody on his roster. Mangini had to pick among two pitiful options, and he picked Brady Quinn, a man whose skills aren't good enough to lead an NFL team to glory. Nothing Quinn did this season has proved this statement to be false; at best, he has shown he can be a backup for a bad team.

So how about Derek Anderson? Can he do any better than Quinn?

That’s the question Mangini and Browns fans sought answers to after Quinn, the Golden Boy from Notre Dame, played himself to the bench Sunday against the Ravens. Quinn, a former No. 1 pick, looked as inept as anybody who has played quarterback for the Browns since their reincarnation a decade ago.

The organization has been spitting out quarterbacks like Pez candy, and except for the Pro Bowl season Anderson put together in ’07, no one has taken ownership of the position long term. Quinn didn’t.

How bad Quinn has been is reflected in one set of numbers: 0-3.

I wish I could say his numbers were deceiving – that the Browns sported a won-loss record that misrepresented Quinn’s performance. But awful-and-3 is what the team has been under Quinn’s watch, which often reminded people of the defunct Tim Couch and Charlie Frye eras.

The Quinn era might be behind Browns fans -- thank goodness. But the way Mangini works, no one can be certain of it. He might still see a need to prove Quinn wasn’t a wasted a first-round pick, though wasted draft choices aren’t strangers to Mangini. Just look at his first draft as Browns coach. It didn’t yield much talent that is contributing.

That leaves Mangini to rely on Romeo Crennell's leftovers, and most of them had shown for years they didn’t amount to much – Anderson included.

Don't be seduced by Anderson’s 2007 success. It could have been just a confluence of extraordinary events, not necessarily an indication of his ability.

Uncertainty, however, remains on the latter point, but as bad as Quinn is, the ironfisted Mangini, a weak branch of the Bill Parcells coaching tree, might have a hard time justifying a decision to give Anderson the bulk of the playing time.

When Mangini benched Quinn after his disaster of a first half, the job seemed to belong to Anderson. But he took the field and also imploded in this 34-3 loss, which should get the merry-go-round at quarterback spinning again. Does Mangini turn next to Brett Ratliff, the third-string QB?

Regardless of whom Mangini settles on, he won’t have a productive quarterback until he surrounds him with more skilled pieces. He needs a fast, durable running back, a game-breaking wide receiver, a tight end who can block and catch and a stronger, more dependable right side of the offensive line.

It wouldn’t hurt the Browns if he could build a defense with the ability to stop opposing teams from turning a game into a scoring-fest. With either Quinn or Anderson, Mangini hasn’t put together a team that can pile up the points.

He might never have a team here that can do that, and he certainly won’t have one until he finds a quarterback who’s capable of running an offense effectively.

Neither Quinn nor Anderson has proved he can.

(Photo of Eric Mangini by bkrieger02's photostream)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wanted: A heavyweight fans care about

Boxing is a dead sport walking, some people contend. And they might be right if they’re judging the sport on the men who lord over the heavyweight division.

Quick, can you name any of the division’s No. 1 contenders?

Only the most diehard fan can, because the heavyweight division is a mishmash of nameless, faceless palookas that draw yawns from folks who still insist boxing matters.

Think this is an exaggeration? OK, did you know that the WBC champion defended his heavyweight belt Saturday night? Vitali Klitschko fought the tub of Jell-O known as Cris Arreola. No reason to offer details about a fight that nobody noticed. Klitschko fighting anybody wouldn’t fill a middle-school gym unless the promoter gave away most of the tickets.

Making a fight fan fork over cash to watch the bout on pay-per-view television is about as appealing as paying top dollar for box seats to an Indians-Orioles game. Or, more to the sport, paying for ringside seats to see Larry Holmes (old and beyond his fighting weight) and Muhammad Ali (old and in poor health) fight again.

Sentimental value, perhaps; as high art, well … retired fighters in their 60s ought to stay retired.

And plodding fighters like Klitschko need to get out of the sport, too. Then again, he can’t be blamed for what’s happened to the most prestigious division in boxing. Not since Lennox Lewis retired in 2003 has the heavyweight division had a fighter anybody cared about, and even Lewis wasn’t a headliner in the Mike Tyson mold.

This is the nadir of the division. It had a transitional period after Rocky Marciano retired unbeaten in the 1950s and again when Viet Nam-era politics put Ali’s career in limbo during the ’70s. But the sports revived itself; it found new personalities to carry the banner of yesteryear’s greats.

But where are those personalities today? They can’t be found in Klitschko and his brother Wladimir, who combine to hold three of the four heavyweight belts. Before the bout Saturday, the two brothers had beaten two unknowns -- Ruslan Chagaev and Juan Carlos Gomez -- this year.

Did anybody notice those fights? Did the bouts make the SportsCenter highlights? Did they give fight fans things to talk about?

This is not to denigrate the Klitschko brothers. They can’t be faulted for breaking into boxing during a period when the heavyweight championship isn’t the glamorous title it used to be. Nor can they be faulted for being Ukrainian and for not being able to build a following among American fans.

The division might benefit if the Klitschkos played the role of the evil Soviets, stealing a persona that helped pro wrestling thrive: good vs. bad. But the ill-well toward Ukrainians isn’t what it was during the Cold War and when the Soviet Union stood as a threat to Americans.

That threat no longer exists, of course. And a legitimate American threat in the heavyweight division doesn’t exist either. Absent one, the division can’t grab the attention it once held.

That has allowed the smaller weight divisions to take the spotlight. The Juan Miguel Marquez-Floyd Mayweather bout eight days ago packed the MGM Grand and drew one-million buys as a pay-per-view attraction.

Klitschko-Arreola filled nothing, and the bout probably didn't draw a million viewers on cable TV, which is a pity. Then again, maybe the lack of interest in this bout simply proved that a boxer's size never should have been important when judging talent inside the squared circle.

The little men have always put on a great show.

(Photo of Vitali Klitschko by sunshinetrue's photostream)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Packing heat: No, Delonte, no ...

Cavaliers star Delonte West, a guitar case strapped to his back, was riding a Can-Am Spyder motorcycle on the Capital Beltway last Thursday when cops in Prince George County, Md., pulled him over for speeding.

No surprise here that a pro athlete was traveling in the fast lane. Athletes tend to be thrill-seekers, often living their lives on the edge. And what is more thrilling than cruising the roadway with the wind at your back, weaving in and out of traffic with a panoramic view everywhere?

Had speeding been all West did wrong, he wouldn’t have found himself wearing a pair of handcuffs. Speeding alone might have gotten him a stern warning, and he could have been on his way home.

But cops would issue West no warning; nor would cops send him anywhere except to jail. On looking inside his guitar case, they didn’t find a Fender Stratocaster; they found a loaded Remington 870 shotgun.

Carrying a guitar case with a shotgun inside isn’t the smartest thing to be traveling the roads with. The shotgun had to leave cops wondering to themselves what was West up to. They had even more questions that needed answers when they patted him down.

Along with the shotgun, cops found West packing two loaded handguns: a Beretta 9mm and a Ruger .357 magnum.

A motorcyclist who drives around with a shotgun and two powerful handguns earns himself a go-directly-to-jail card. He can be Delonte West or Jerry West or Mae West or the Wicked Witch of the West, and the cops are going to be taking whoever is on the motorcycle somewhere that has iron bars for a door.

For the public's good, cops know they have plenty of questions to ask. The first one is this: What was a cyclist doing riding around with loaded guns?

The possibilities run wild, though the answer itself could be simple. Maybe West was going duck hunting or to a gun range or to …

Who knows the answer but the tattooed Delonte West, who was released without bail Friday morning. So far, he hasn’t said a word. Yet it’s hard to see what good he was up to with so much firepower at his disposal.

None of it made sense – then and even now. What was West thinking? Had he lost his mind?

Expecting a pro athlete to use common sense is a recipe for disappointment, because common sense often proves a scarce commodity in men whose net worth comes with plenty of zeros. Maybe a night or two in jail has a way of helping them sort through such foolishness.

Maryland statutes outlaw carrying loaded guns and concealed weapons, and the punishment for running afoul of these laws could be serious jail time. None of this sounds like good news for the 26-year-old West, who might have reasons for this craziness.

He has admitted to having emotional problems. A year ago, he sought treatment for depression, and West had attended therapy sessions. But no one should rush to think the unthinkable in this case.

Still, his odd behavior raises questions – about the troubled West and about the pressures fame and fortune can saddle an NBA star with. They can steer him into doing strange things, such as driving the public roadways armed like a one-man militia.

(Photo of Delonte West by Real Cavs Fan)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No justice in Plaxico's prison sentence

He looks like the portrait of injustice. That’s about all you can say about Plaxico Burress as he walked into a New York courthouse Tuesday and prepared to begin his sentence of two years in state prison.

Yeah, Burress broke the law, but if his punishment reflects the best of American justice, I prefer something else.

I guess if I hadn’t seen lesser crimes than his earn a “perp” probation, I wouldn’t feel as I do about this sentence. I also know that if I liked Burress more, I might even be more outraged about it.

But he’s hardly a player whose behavior engenders warm feelings. Burress exudes a cockiness this is off-putting, and he doesn’t help his public profile when he lets his appetite for high style trump substance. He often displays a smug callousness that borders on self-righteous, although he’s hardly the lone athlete who does so.

Yet athletes who flaunt their wealthy lifestyles win few popularity contests. Fans yearn to see a star's profile packaged with humility, the sort of image they extol in Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter: classic cool instead of hip-hop crass.

Image is everything, isn’t that what Andre Agassi told us a decade or so ago? Agassi had it right, but when that image carries a hard, urban edginess to it, it isn’t much of an image in some people’s minds.

That image never sits well with the larger public, and when that image is that of a black athlete like Burress … well, that’s an altogether different discussion.

In some ways, I suspect what happened to Burress, the New York Giants star, had less to do with his skin color and more to do with bad law. I do understand New York City’s interest in getting unlicensed handguns off the street; I applaud the city’s efforts. Laws should be in place to punish people who run afoul of that effort; the remedy, however, should be a sentence that reflects all circumstances.

The law should have some bend to it, all things considered.

For if it did, I doubt anybody would find two years in prison an appropriate punishment for a man who shot himself in the leg – an unlicensed .40-caliber Glock or not. The person that Burress hurt was Burress.

I know others might argue that he could have hurt someone else. His Glock went off inside a Manhattan nightclub, and a gun that goes off in such intimate surroundings threatens more than the gun’s owner. The bullet could easily have ricocheted and taken a bystander’s life.

Had the bullet killed or injured another person, New York City has laws to address the taking of a life. Nobody, athlete or not, could expect a free pass, not even a man with Burress’ access to the best lawyers.

But when the law itself has no bend -- gives no consideration to an extraordinary set of circumstances -- it becomes a law that needs to be changed. For no man deserves two years in jail for shooting himself.

Punishment should always fit the crime, but the crime of stupidity, which Plaxico Burress pleads guilty to, shouldn’t put a man behind bars for two years. I see no justice in that.

( Photo of Plaxico Burress by sholmes10191's photostream)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Milton Bradley: Going, going, and he's gone

You can only show compassion for so long, because at some point, compassion has to step aside and let pragmatism move into its breach. In Chicago, it did just that when the Cubs told Milton Bradley to take his baseball gear and go home.

Like a handful of teams before them, the Cubs tried and failed to fit Bradley’s combustible character into a situation that would keep it from turning into an inferno. They surrounded Bradley with professionals, partnered him with a player-friendly manager in Lou Piniella and plopped him into a city that reveres men who wear Cubs jerseys.

The organization was hopeful that, under these circumstances, Bradley would achieve the stardom that has long been predicted for him. He would build off the season he had with the Rangers a year ago and give the Cubs a potent bat in the middle of the batting order.

Hope, of course, can be the best of thing when tempered with caution. Not that it should come wrapped in unchained optimism, because optimism unchecked can prove dangerous.

But the Cubs signed Bradley with all the best intentions. They figured he would thrive in a place that ballplayers dream about. While historic Wrigley Field might not be “Baseball Heaven,” the ballpark is a long way from the hell Bradley can remember from his playing days with the Montreal Expos.

No place for Bradley will ever be heaven. An ill-tempered introvert, he’s made his life a torture chamber, a place constructed with skepticism and depression and frustration and anger and disappointment and loneliness and ...

In Bradley’s mind, he sees himself as misunderstood. His public problems are somebody else’s fault, not his. His private problems are his alone. For whatever reason, Bradley has always avoided the introspection that a boy needs to grow into a man.

He’s always seemed to be a man who wanted people to love him. He’s longed for their acceptance, their adulation and their acknowledgement that he’s got the makings to achieve greatness.

The expectations to be great are a burden some men can't shoulder, and Milton Bradley is one of those men. He seems to inch toward it, but once greatness comes within arm’s reach, he runs from it. For to grab greatness would put Bradley in a place he detests: on a giant marquee.

He picked the wrong profession if he wanted to avoid attention. Sports don’t allow a man with Bradley’s talent to fade into the background. He’s not playing baseball with Kevin Costner on a cornfield in Iowa; he’s playing in Wrigley, on television and in a market where performances go under the media’s microscope day after day.

The attention puts Bradley’s face everywhere. It draws the curious to him, men and women who want a piece of him – an autograph, a handshake, a smile or an interview.

These are things that Bradley never felt comfortable giving people. He merely wishes to play baseball in a vacuum, collect his paychecks and then go home.

The Cubs granted two of his wishes. They sent him home with his paychecks, but they won't let him play baseball again this season. They have expended all their patience with a man who never appreciated what playing in Chicago meant.

Now, what will they do with Bradley next? They have a ballplayer who’s unwelcomed in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Oakland and San Diego. He’s untradeable; he’s unplayable, a toxic talent who carries a big contract.

But the Cubs will come out better if they eat his contract rather than allow Bradley, an emotional tinderbox, to return and destroy another season. They have no room for compassion after spending all of this season trying to douse the flames that come with it.

The man needs a psychiatrist's help, not another person's empathy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

'Fire' Tressel? Have OSU fans gone crazy?

He used to be icon, a sports god of sorts. Coach Jim Tressel could have run for Ohio governor and won handily as a write-in candidate. But the only time people use the word "run" with Tressel's name now is when they cry about wanting to run the man out of town.

They want to fire Tressel for losing too many big games.

Well, what must the talk be like among Southern Cal alumni these days after coach Pete Carroll lost another game Saturday to an unranked opponent?

For college football fans, I have a bit of advice for you: relax, no college coach is going to beat everybody; a football program like the Washington Huskies is also ready to spring an upset.

Going through a football season is a minefield, as Tressel and Carroll know well. Each weekend holds the prospect for a good team to end up on the wrong side of the score. Last Saturday was Carroll’s team’s turn. But other coaches will follow suit as the '09 season rolls on.

That’s the lesson for feckless Buckeye fans to learn. They aren’t satisfied with a coach who has made everybody who bleeds Scarlet and Gray forget the John Cooper era.

Now, let me confess straightaway: I was never keen on my alma mater’s decision to hire Tressel in the first place. I didn’t think a coach from a football program like Youngstown State had proved he was capable of stepping up to the Major Leagues, because the demands at an elite Division I program like Ohio State trumped whatever challenges Tressel faced at YSU.

But Jim Tressel understood Ohio State football, a fact he made plain on the day his hiring was announced. He talked boldly about righting the many mistakes of Cooper, who never grasped the importance of beating Michigan. Tressel revived what had been a one-sided rivalry, and his success at defeating the Wolverines hastened coach Lloyd Carr’s departure.

Year after year, he’s brought that victory home, which is far more important to OSU football than losses to the Trojans.

I learned years ago that fans – and my fellow OSU alums -- are fickle. For them, it’s all about what a coach like Tressel has done for them lately. Even then, no coach can win enough to satisfy a certain segment of Buckeyes fans; not even the late Woody Hayes could do that.

Ask Trojans fans or people who follow Oklahoma about losing. They know it, too. Coach Bob Stoops has a championship ring and a fistful of Top 10 finishes; he also has a loss to Boise State in a bowl game and to Brigham Young this season. Has Stoops won enough in Norman to satisfy OU fans?

A few days before the Toledo game, I listened as Tressel fielded questions about the USC loss. On his weekly radio show, he faced criticism from the faithful; he felt the anger and frustration of men who measure their manhood on how well their alma mater does. They seemed to want Tressel to commit self-flagellation on the airwaves. He didn’t.

While he acknowledged their disappointment, Tressel never let their feelings define him or his football program. He came across as man self-assured about the direction his team is headed. He put the focus on his football tomorrows and not on his football yesterdays.

Too bad so many Ohio State alumni can't do likewise, which is a pity. But they need to remind themselves that Tressel has done more good than bad with his program.

He has one NCAA championship, the same number as Les Miles and Stoops have. Tressel's total is one more than Cooper and Earle Bruce combined were able to win and one more than any other coach in the Big Ten, not named Joe Paterno, can boast of.

Shouldn’t that appease people awhile?

Mangini's Browns no better than Crennell's

It might not matter who coaches the Cleveland Browns these days, because the coach has absolutely nothing to work with. The team was closer to being decent when it returned to town 10 years ago than it is today.

This second incarnation of the Browns, a franchise the NFL recreated from scraps after Art Modell spirited the original off to Baltimore in 1995, hasn’t been much to talk about. Nor is the team’s most recent performance: a 27-6 loss Sunday to the Broncos.

Losing to the Broncos is not unusual; those old Browns did so with regularity. But at least they routinely made a game of things in Denver; at least they went onto the field and looked like a polished NFL team.

Not much in these Browns resembles a polished team. They started the ’09 season with another coach, having hired and then jettisoned past coaches as if holding auditions for "American Idol."

Somebody named Eric Mangini, whom the Jets fired after last season, runs the show now. Since his arrival, Mangini has tried to instill discipline. His hard-driving style contrasts sharply with his predecessor Romeo Crennell's, whose approach mirrored a doting father’s.

No one on this Browns roster will warm to Mangini like a “father,” partly because he’s not much older than the men he coaches. He’s the sternest of taskmasters, a coach from the Bill Belichick School of Coaching, a school whose philosophy brooks no foolishness.

Crennell was also from the Belichick school, which serves as a reminder that not all graduates of Harvard and Yale will end up as successes. Crennell wasn’t, not with the Browns anyway.

To say Mangini has failed would be to judge him before all the tests have been taken. The early evaluation of his work, however, would earn the coach a failing grade.

The sample of his work here is too small: two games with 14 more to go this season. But in those two games – both ugly losses -- it’s been hard to see the product as any better than what Crennell or Butch Davis put on the football field.

The holes in Mangini’s team are everywhere, starting with a quarterback whose play has been tentative and uninspired. As with the coach, putting a letter grade on Brady Quinn now would be unfair. He remains little more than an untutored rookie.

From what Quinn has shown in his two starts, he’s not quite ready for the job. Does anybody think Mangini has a better option than Quinn on the bench?

The last thing Mangini needs is a quarterback controversy, so no need to dust off Derek Anderson’s name from the depth chart, even when some Browns fans might be calling for it.

To play musical chairs with his quarterbacks will merely complicate Mangini’s job, which is to return the Browns to glory, to revisit the days of Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Paul Warfield, Leroy Kelly, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar -- times when pride was as much a part of the organization as its orange helmets.

Since its rebirth a decade ago, the Browns have given their fans little to be proud of, and this season seems to hint thus fair that pride might have to go into hiding as it looks at another losing season.

The last thing Mangini wants is a quarterback controversy, so no need to dust off former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson’s name from the depth chart, even when some Browns fans might be calling for it.

To play musical chairs with his quarterbacks will merely complicate Mangini’s job, which is to return the Browns to glory, to recapture the championship days of Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Paul Warfield, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar -- times when pride was as much a part of the organization as its orange helmets.

Since its rebirth a decade ago, the Browns have given their fans so little to be proud of, and this season seems to hint thus far that pride might have to go into hiding again as it looks at another losing season.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

'Pretty Boy' puts on a handsome performance

I love watching artists perform. It doesn’t matter if it’s a jazz virtuoso like Joshua Redman or a singer with the operatic-like range of Aretha Franklin. I just wish I could have walked into Andy Warhol's or Jackson Pollock's art studio and watched him create.

Artists tend to hone their craft in private, and all we get to see and enjoy is their finished handiwork, which can be spellbinding when it presents the artist in his finest moment.

Late Saturday night in Las Vegas, in front of a Pay-Per-View audience around the world, an artist performed at his finest. His art was the sweet science, which might not earn the artist -- the glib, flashy Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- a Nobel Prize, but it did re-enforce his boast of being the best fighter in the world.

That’s good enough for men and women who still fancy themselves as boxing acolytes. They pray for performances like Mayweather’s; they long to see great fighters inside the ring, plying their craft, showcasing their skills and dazzling the world.

And, oh, did Floyd Mayweather dazzle.

He left little doubt he was Juan Manuel Marquez’s superior. It was hard to find a single round that Marquez won, and none of the three judges gave him more than two rounds, which in itself was an injustice of the worst sort. Marquez was a thoroughly beaten fighter – from Round 1 to Round 12.

Yet I had expected as much. I saw no way the smaller Marquez (50-5-1), a champ with moxie and grit and pride, could handle the stronger, faster and more polished Mayweather, who came into the bout with a question hanging over his head: What would a 21-month layoff do to his skills?

He needed 10 seconds to answer it. The layoff didn’t affect his skills one bit -- not a hint of rust against Marquez. For in winning a bout only promoter Oscar De La Hoya thought he would lose, Mayweather kept Marquez’s face on the business end of his left jab.

He controlled the pace of the fight and kept Marquez in the center of the ring, a terrible place to be for a man who wants to brawl. The center of the ring is for an artist like Mayweather; it was his canvas, because the center of the ring gave him room to roam, letting his fleet feet and quicksilver combinations keep Marquez from getting inside and punishing Mayweather’s body.

At fight’s end, the unbeaten Mayweather was every bit the “Pretty Boy” he had been before he climbed inside the MGM ring. His dark face was unmarked, his toothy smile still wide; except for the marathon of fighting 12 rounds, he wasn’t overly weary from his performance, as complete a show of his excellence as any performance he’d given in his career.

Questions to answer still -- Mayweather? Not a one. In winning, he reclaimed the “unofficial” title as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Who would dare challenge Mayweather for it? What fighter in any weight class has put on a more overwhelming performance against a top-flight challenger than he did -- Manny Pacquiao or Sugar Shane Mosley or Miguel Cotto or, perhaps, Paul Williams, boxing’s most avoided man?

I see no purpose in debating what others might want to say about laying claim to the title. Right now, with Mayweather’s performance so clear in my mind, I see nobody more worthy of it than “Pretty Boy Floyd.” His latest work should silence any talk to the contrary.

Just hang that masterpiece inside a gallery and let patrons of the art of boxing enjoy it.

(Photo of Mayweather-Marquez fight by G10 Classified)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Oscar's wrong: Take 'Pretty Boy' to win

Don’t listen to Oscar De La Hoya. I’m not saying De La Hoya has lost his damn mind, but, well … if the man thinks Juan Manuel Marquez will beat Floyd Mayweather Jr., then the "Golden Boy" has taken a few too many blows to the head.

The Marquez-Mayweather fight, which De La Hoya is promoting, takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas, and the bout has the potential to be the 2009 Fight of the Year, which isn’t saying much for a sport that is becoming as irrelevant in the United States as cricket.

For a lot of reasons, Mayweather and Marquez should have fought awhile ago -- long before Mayweather took a 21-month sabbatical to do whatever uber-rich, self-absorbed personalities like him do when they have too much idle time and money but no common sense.

Nobody expected Mayweather to stay retired. What fighter does anymore? Which one of them can shake a love jones for the limelight?

De La Hoya couldn't. He made more comebacks than Brett Favre, and the last championship-caliber fighter who retired and stayed retired was heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, although you keep thinking in the back of your mind that he’ll be stepping back into the ring, too.

But it is hard for fighters with Mayweather’s skills to leave millions on the table. Glib, flashy and unbeaten, he could be a marketing man’s dream: a bad boy plays well with the boxing crowd. If he had any social grace, Mayweather could be an iconic figure like Sugar Ray Leonard and De La Hoya himself.

The image he has cultivated is like the heel in pro wrestling. His talent inside the ring is obvious for even the most unschooled fight fans, but his crass behavior and loose, vulgar tongue make him the easy foil of those who would like to see less talk and more action.

He’s not likely to give them that in his Pay-Per-View fight against Marquez, a dangerous fighter who has had his share of wars inside the ring. At 36, Marquez, a five-time world champion, has left his best years behind him. His high-risk style is tailored for Mayweather to beat.

His speed will frustrate Marquez, just as that speed frustrated De La Hoya when he lost to Mayweather in 2007. He’s also the bigger man, which will confound Marquez more than the speed does.

Styles make fights, as De La Hoya pointed out. That’s the good thing about this matchup between Mayweather and Marquez. It’s the slugger vs. the craftsman – a welterweight version of Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali.

No amount of hype can bring the Mayweather-Marquez bout to the legendary heights of Frazier-Ali I and II. Nor can the inflated rhetoric of De La Hoya, the current generation’s version of Don King.

But De La Hoya has stepped into the fray, absent any reason to apologize for his prediction of a Marquez win.

"I'm convinced he will win this fight,” De La Hoya told Reuters. “He's looking sharp, he's looking fast and he's looking strong."

He’s also old, a fact that no fight fan can ignore. Beat Pretty Boy Floyd? Marquez will need more than De La Hoya’s prediction to accomplish that. Having Oscar in the ring with him, his gloves laced, might help.

(Photo of Floyd Mayweather Jr. by Madison Skye)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

High court vs. name 'Redskins'? Maybe

It was a small story, one that didn't lead the nightly newscast the other day, create giant headlines in daily newspapers or prompt much discussion. To some, it had grown long ago into a wearisome tale; it has mostly drawn yawns from people who aren’t Native Americans.

For they have the biggest stake in this fight.

Pride fuels their fight, which centers on how others value Native Americans and their heritage. They have fought to validate that heritage, working on several fronts to erase the term “Redskins” from the sports lexicon.

They have won a round or two, but failures aplenty have followed their successes, turning what should have been an easy decision into what amounts to a legal ping-pong ball.

Now, the seven plaintiffs behind this latest battle have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their story, which posits the argument the term "Redskin" is so abasing of their people that it should not be trademarked.

In 1999, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office sided with Native Americans. Theirs was only a temporary victory, however. For the Redskins owners didn’t relent. Using their financial muscle, they took the fight to federal court, where they have won a series of victories.

An appeals court reaffirmed last May that the plaintiffs had waited too long to file their lawsuit, a legal technicality that didn’t address the merits of the case.

The next round put the issue back into the hands of the plaintiffs, who decided to ask "the court of last resort" to hear the case. If the high court accepts the case, it will end the legal wrangling over “Redskins.”

I’m not a legal scholar, no matter what yardstick you use to measure scholarship. But I can say that I hope the high court sees something unseemly about letting people slap trademarks on racist terms.

To strip “Redskins” of its trademark, the court would essentially take its commercial value away, and without that commercial value, the Redskins organization would have no choice but to find a new name for its NFL team or risk seeing millions of dollars leak from its revenue streams.

The plaintiffs tried reasoning. They couldn’t persuade the Redskins ownership into dropping the offensive nickname, nor could they shame the team's fans into pushing for the change. Native Americans were left to try whatever else might work.

Periodically, they have held protests outside the stadium (and, elsewhere, over grotesque images like “Chief Wahoo”). They stir up a fuss, although their protests lose momentum after a while; they’ve been unable to find allies to stand tall behind their cause.

And this might be their last round, one I hope the court considers.

I see no reason the Washington Redskins can’t find a better nickname. The Washington Wizards abandoned “Bullets” years ago, and the organization survived the change without losing a piece of its history.

The Redskins, a franchise as financially stable as any in sports, can thrive no matter what team nickname appears on logos. But changing a nickname shouldn’t have to come because of protests and boycotts and lawsuits.

A simple acceptance that the days of debasing a race are behind this country is all anybody needs to know if he wants to see what Native Americans have been fighting about all these years.

(Photo of FedEx Stadium by Kevin Coles)