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What my musings are all about...

Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.

The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.

The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why the shock?

It's time to take a step back from the recent problems facing sports and look at our society in general: Americans use drugs of all kinds. Americans drink, many to access, some to maintain, others minimally to socialize. A surprisingly high percentage of American men -  mostly whites, blacks, and Latinos - physically abuse their women, not to mention verbally abuse them. Many Americans are still racially prejudice.

So why are we shocked when our sports stars succumb to the same failures as the general population of the country?

Because they, like movie stars, are our nation's heroes? Is that a good enough reason?

Professional sports teams have a responsibility to clean up their organizations, (No tolerance? You bet!) but so do NBC, Exxon, Walmart, the neighborhood plumbing company, high schools, colleges, YMCA's, grocery store chains, the military, the United States Congress, and all churches.

The egregious acts of abuse and prejudice of some of our pro athletes, administrators, and owners only point to a national ethical and moral failure. We better get with it, folks. This is a wake-up call.
We can't sleep through another generation of children. With the very first breath of air, children should learn:

Men do NOT physically ABUSE women.
                                                             Drugs and booze are CRAP.
                                                                                                           Racial prejudice is EVIL.

How sad writing this blog left me. Sportsmen should be better than this, a cut above. There in lies the rub. We're not. Charles Barkley had it right when he said (I'm paraphrasing), he didn't ask to be any one's moral compass. So that just leaves the sport, the act of playing, how we athletes are purified by the noble acts of our bodies.

It doesn't get more pure than running. Here's a poem about the simple physical pleasure of a boy running the bases.

            By Richard Wilbur

1. 1933
(North Caldwell, New Jersey)

What were we playing? Was it prisoner's base?
I ran with whacking keds
Down the cart-road past Rickard's place,
And where it dropped beside the tractor-sheds

Leapt out into the air above a blurred
Terrain, through jolted light,
Took two hard lopes and at the third
Spanked off a hummock-side exactly right,

And made the turn, and with delighted strain
Sprinted across the  flat
By the bull-pen, and up the lane.
Thinking of happiness, I think of that.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Prejudice Deep in the Soul

The first  published comment attributed to Danny Ferry seemed to me a tasteless and mean-spirited attack against  Luol Deng. But, today, I read Ferry's entire comment describing Deng as someone who "has a little African in him (sic) "He's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back."

As an NBA player (retired) who traveled extensively in North and West Africa and made tons of wonderful African friends, I was horrified. This was no longer a slam against Deng the person, but against Deng, the African and, by not so subtle implication, all Africans and all descendants of people from Africa.

I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject of racial prejudice, but my experience over my adult years leads me to believe that once one is prejudice against a race, it is damn hard to nearly impossible to rid oneself of the prejudice (This may or may not be true of all types of prejudice against religions, women, gays). Certainly, Ferry's prejudice will not disappear after a couple of months of "personal healing" as  Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koomin suggests.

Not only is Danny Ferry's prejudice disgusting, it is also steeped in ignorance of Africa and the African people The continent of Africa is divided into many countries that are made up of many races. Of the races that are Negroid, there are hundreds of different tribes exhibiting hugely different cultural and social constructs. I am sure there are a great number of psychological factors that create a racially prejudiced person, but Ferry's ignorance of Africa is proof that stupidity is one of those factors.

I wonder how all my African-American friends and fellow NBA players feel about Ferry's comment, for surely they all have "a little bit of  African in them." Just as all my Irish-American friends have a little bit of Irish in them, and being a Russian-American, I have a little bit of Russians (not to mention Tatar) in me.

Danny, you need to take a couple of years off, not a couple of months off, and go live in Africa among people whose live are no less worthy than your own.

I know one thing for certain, if I was a black player for the Atlanta Hawks I would not trust Danny Ferry or any person he hired. And based on CEO Koonin's slap on the wrist discipline of Ferry (long process of healing, my buttinski) I would not trust him either.

Bottom line: there is no room for prejudice in the NBA.

Speaking of Africa, here's a poem from my recent collection: Sweat: New and Selected Poems About Sports. 

In the Summer of  1963, 64, and 65 working for the United States Information Agency, I traveled to a  number of West African Countries to coach their basketball teams. I returned in the fall and winter of 1983.

Liberia, 1963

For Enid Buchanan

I remember thinking back that this was  country 
of hot dog stands and transistor radios playing 
rock and roll, and that the palm trees must have been
imported from Los Angeles, and the tin roofs
were like umbrellas over a beach of slums,
with open sewers, and the streetlights in Monrovia 
worked only if the spirit moved them and evil spirits
were at work to make the poor poorer and the rich richer

But, what the hell, I was young and in love 
in this land of poverty with one of the rich girls,
with a beautiful set-shot, who played on the Women's 
National Basketball Team. Her house was like the one
in the movie Mogambo, white pillars, wrap-around
veranda. Her father was the Secretary of the Treasury.
Much later, back in the States, already retired
from the NBA, I read that her father  had been shot
along with others by Sergeant Doe and his gang.
I refused to believe she too had been shot,
so I told myself that she'd escaped and was living
in Switzerland on the money her father had embezzled
from his poor country and that she was still beautiful.

Monday, September 1, 2014

To Arms!

NFL wives and girlfriends, arm yourselves! Although it goes against my Liberal beliefs about gun control, it seems clear to me you are all in grave danger. And with the amount of testosterone roiling in the bodies of your men folks, the danger seems to be increasing not diminishing. A 22 caliber pistol or revolver should suffice and fit nicely in your purses along with a card with a divorce lawyer's phone number on it. California divorce law calls for a 50/50 split of all assets. Considering the enormous salaries of pro athletes I'm reading about, taking half, after being abused and beaten doesn't sound like nearly enough. As for the guns, lets hope you don't have to use them, but given the difference in size, weight, speed, and general badassness of NFL players. I don't see a jury seeing it as anything but self defense. To avoid the possible use of firearms, you should warn hubbys or boyfriends ahead of time that you're packing. And make sure you get a license to carry.

Good luck.

Board games are not sports, but they do employ strategies in the same way as sports. Here's a poem about Checkers that has a nice feminine touch to it.

Chinese Checkers    by  Arleen Cohen

The dragons
tell me how to move,
like a grasshopper across
the multi colored field
springing from hole to hole
outmaneuvering the beetles.

I see the sacred star 
and one by one
I deposit my eggs
until it is filled and full.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Aldon Smith

The NFL slapped Aldon Smith's large wrists, suspending him for 9 games for offenses that would have put the average young man off the streets behind bars. Not that being incarcerated is always the best solution, but for our wealthy, pampered professional athletes, some time in an orange jumpsuit doing a little hard time is in fact, in my opinion, the best solution. Aldon Smith is 23 years old and enormously talented. His talent is not going to disappear between the start of the season to the time his suspension ends on Nov. 10th. The suspension does not ban him from the 49er's training facility; it allows him to attend team meetings. His teammates will be supportive. Why wouldn't they be, considering what Aldon can do for them on the field?

So, what has the NFL Commissioner's  suspension accomplished? Is he suspended without pay? I couldn't find that in the paper. I have to assume it's without pay. But even so, what does it matter to Aldon? Really? Check out the salary Smith is making and going to make given his skills. I hesitate to say future, because I believe Aldon Smith will NOT change his behavior, that this last episode is NOT the end of his stupidity, just as I don't believe the savage beating the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice inflicted on his wife will be the last time he'll be involved in domestic violence.

One might argue that proportionally the Knucklehead club of the NFL simply reflects percentage-wise the Knucklehead Club of the general population of males. If so, then what's the big deal? We'll let the analytics' guys figure out the math.What's real is that, aside from Hollywood stars, professional athletes are the most publicly visible citizens of our country, their actions noted and considered by young males who look up to them as models of behavior.

Some model Aldon Smith is. Yeah, let's have crazy parties with lots of guns and booze. Let's drive drunk. Let's bomb threat in airports. And let's get away with it with a slap on the wrist. 9 GAMES? GIVE ME A BREAK!

Since I'm down on football this morning, my closing poem will be about a game that's fun, pure fun. No gun totting knuckleheads involved.

The Yo-Yo King   by Syma Cheris Cohn

   When he showed up on the sidewalk in the old neighborhood, the children gathered around him At the top of an incline he stood, his black hair glistening, the lavender yo-you spinning. With pressed black pants and white shirt, he was willing to play  game. He could make a yo-you walk, sleep and rock the baby, than snap it back. He proposed contests. he gave glittering  yo-yos and singing strings a prizes.
   Was he sent by the company, all the way from the Orient?
   It coast 50 cents for a fairly good Duncan, shiny and black. the lavender model with rhinestones was $2.50. Nobody had that kind of money. Most of us bought the dull, red and black twenty-five-centers.   
   We tried to make our yo-yos do his tricks. We practiced. We bought new string, believing the secret was in the strings. We dreamed we could make our yo-yous dance.
   We waited for the king to return. After long intervals, new kings would appear. Never the same king. We put our yo-yos in a drawer. We played jacks. We played ball. We went to school. And slowly we forgot. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Don't Do It.

A while back, Coach Greg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs said of the Spurs' policy regarding player acquisition: we don't take head cases or problem children. Listen carefully Sacramento Kings as you consider trading for Josh Smith. You already have a problem child, a large brooding, frowning one, in Demarcus Cousins. He is indeed a great talent and worth the risk you took signing him to big bucks. But, if you're smart, you'll do your best to surround him with emotionally stable teammates. Josh Smith does not fit that definition, a high school kid drafted into the NBA, his prior coaches never schooled him, never matured him, never provided him with the guidance.

So many years into the league, I'm afraid Smith's game is not going to change. Can the Kings' coaches stop him from pumping up ill advised 3's? Can the Kings' coaching staff make him a consistent defender and shot blocker and rebounder. I'm not impressed with 7.5 career boards a game and 1.5 blocked shots a game. He pouts and in some games he disappears. Enough said. Listen to Pop. I know the Kings need more at the power forward position. I get it. But the Kings say you want to change the culture. Smith will not help the Sacramento Kings do that.

Once again, let me weigh in on the Warriors hopes for acquiring Kevin Love. Barnes and Lee and a first round draft choice make sense to me. But the Warriors will lose too much if they add Klay Thompson to the package. A franchise can't trade away a backcourt of Curry and Thompson that is the envy of the their opponents and their opponents' biggest headache.  Every team's first consideration and consternation when playing the Warrriors is how to deal with the SPLASH BROTHERS. If you add Love to that powerful duo, the headache becomes a migraine. Eliminate Thompson and add Love, and things just return to headache mode. I grant that Love will add a defensive rebounding component to the Warriors that would help, but with the absence of Thompson the team loses an important backcourt defender, and the way the league looks today, controlling backcourt penetration is essential.

I saw in this morning's sports news that Bill Russell fainted while on a speaking tour. Let's pray this is not serious and Bill will be back on his feet soon entertaining people with his wit and intelligence. Here's a poem I wrote for Bill from my recent collection of poems.

Bill Russell

Once, in a poem I call him an eagle
with a bread. I was young and the poem
held promise that the writer might improve.
I always liked the image. It asked
the reader to see Bill with slightly stooped
shoulders, long feathery arms and talons
hovering above the paint protecting it 
like his nest intruders entered at their peril.
His beard was dark as was he, a shadow
that darkened our attempts to score.

I am older. As is he. I saw him recently
on TV still an eagle, giving an interviews
and tried picturing him as something else
and couldn't. I found it comforting
to think I got him right so many years ago,
that now, so close to both our dying
I hoped for the Hindu afterlife, Russell
as a real eagle. Then,came a troubling
thought, given what happened on the court,
catching us by surprise, the way he did,
appearing our of nowhere to slap our shots
away, what would our reincarnation be?