PAY BALL!

Aquarian Weekly
4/6/22

Reality Check

James Campion

PAY BALL!
New Rules for NYC – Courtesy of the Yankees & Mets $$

In the most expected outcome for us stalwart cynics, the New York Yankees and Mets used their hefty financial clout to bypass health mandates for vaccinated workers in New York City, something not available to the over 1,400 workers sacked due to their refusal to get vaccinated. Unvaccinated millionaire baseball players can now ply their trade come this week for opening day as people who make something in the ballpark (pun intended) of $30,000 to $60,000 a year stay unemployed by the same city. In a world filled with examples why things ain’t fair, this one is a doozy. Especially for those who believe, as we do here, that rules for the rich and famous – also massive corporations like Major League Baseball teams – do not apply to the rest of us.

This was the week of the infamous Slap Heard Round the World, which I was tempted to write about – saw it live and found it hard to fathom even after watching uncensored versions of movie star Will Smith assaulting comedian Chris Rock on live TV – but then I thought, if two men in their fifties can’t control their school-yard level teasing and vengeance, why should I comment? Shit, this is a space written weekly by a man in his fifties who challenged a sitting U.S. congressman to a fist fight (https://jamescampion.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=c9c075c37aeb02bd04a4e7dfb&id=2999703be6&e=c1ab353e46) in print. Cops were involved. Campaigns were upset (https://jamescampion.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=c9c075c37aeb02bd04a4e7dfb&id=0a3f7a5072&e=c1ab353e46) . It was a merry time of misrule, but I had enough clout to get away with it (https://jamescampion.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=c9c075c37aeb02bd04a4e7dfb&id=aa447d4ce6&e=c1ab353e46) , so I am the problem as much as the solution.

I am not saying I am rich (I am not, by Smith, Rock, or baseball standards for sure) nor famous, but if you have the First Amendment and the guise of satire behind you, there is some rope provided columnists that you might not have if you are not a member of the Fourth Estate and threaten to pummel politicians with their phone. Just ask the suckers on their way to jail for January 6.

Speaking of which, consider the ongoing mess that is Donald J. Trump, who has committed more crimes than any politician in our lifetimes, and that’s before he became president of the United States. Can’t seem to get an indictment on this guy. More investigations. Sure. Investigations. Ha! We understand that means – rich and famous people don’t get busted for shit that would put us in jail for years. That’s how it goes around here (Cue “God Bless America” while throwing up) The Academy Awards Committee (whatever the fuck that is) is investigating an assault every human has seen a dozen times all over the planet. What is there to investigate? They should have ushered Smith out of the building into a police car. Just like they should have impeached and removed that thug Trump when he was in office and then ushered him into a police car. You know that would have happened to 99.9 percent of us. But that’s not how the world works.

What changes from a transit worker and Aaron Judge? Money. Lots of money. That’s it.

Back to the Yankees and the Mets, who convinced the city of New York, one of the most hardcore purveyors of Covid-19 rules in the United States (I need to show a Vax card to get a slice of pizza), to toss its stringent restrictions so unvaccinated players can make that money. It doesn’t hurt that many of them are top stars. The Yankees best player, Aaron Judge is allegedly not vaccinated and didn’t plan to be, and as many as ten Mets, including the games’ best pitcher, Jacob deGrom, are also reported to not be vaccinated. Keeping them from filling the stands and bloating the TV and radio ratings won’t do for multi-million-dollar entertainers. So, the Mets new billionaire owner, Steve Cohen, who incidentally donated (invested, it turns out) $1.5 million to the current mayor’s 2021 campaign, got on the horn and made some inquiries. So did Yankees President Randy Levine, esq. (the key to that prior sentence is esquire), running interference for billionaire son of George Steinbrenner and current CEO of the Yanks, Hal. They both worked Eric Adams like a hand puppet for weeks to get this new ruling.

To bury the lede, Mayor Adams held a press conference to lift health restrictions for all of NYC’s “entertainers” everywhere (good cover to lump in mimes and buskers with MLB power) at the N.Y. Mets’ Citi Field. No more blatant spit in the face of health concerns and the ignoring of the 1,400 city workers could have been conjured by a Hollywood PR firm that frantically tries to paint Will Smith’s brutish behavior as a noble attempt to protect his wife, his race, and his profession’s honor by acting like a jabbering ass-hat.

I jest in place of rage. This is a fucking travesty. What changes from a transit worker and Aaron Judge? Money. Lots of money. That’s it. Cash. Not science. Not health. Not the greater good for the community or the city. Nothing. This is as craven a cash grab as can be displayed in broad daylight. (Cue “Money Makes the World Go Round” while you go fuck yourself).

And let’s face it, who cares about sanitation workers, firemen, cops, and the rest of the city’s civil workers when we can see baseball? I mean, I don’t live in NYC, and I am barely part of the human race, much less a functioning citizen of this long-line of bullshit country, so if I can see my Yanks and my friends can see their Mets, then I guess all is good. But is it, really? Is it more of the hold-your-nose kind of thing we’re doing with the evils of the NFL or college sports and the moral sinkhole that is the Olympics? Or the NBA, for that matter, as the Brooklyn Nets used several lobbyists at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars harassing the mayor’s office for months to get their flat-earth jackass point guard, Kyrie Irving back in business.

So, the answers are: Yes, all is good, and: No, hardly anyone one cares. I haven’t seen much outrage for this than usual. I think maybe a boycott might be in order for those who move with the whims of the almighty dollar, but, alas, I only watch the Yankees now. That is what is left of my interest in sports. So, fuck it. If this is how NYC and Mayor Adams wants to play this, I shan’t argue. Free market capitalism at its best.

When nurses ask me why people playing a child’s game make fifty time what they do, I point to the utter, sad, fucking horsecrap hypocrisy of this. Because that’s what we do here, make it clear we are all full of steaming shit. So we can go back to watching the curveball snap and someone go yard. Let us all bask in its obvious disregard for sanity, comportment, morality, and reason.

And play ball!

Or… ahem … pay ball!

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THE CURIOUS CASE OF AARON RODGERS & “THE WOKE MOB”

Aquarian Weekly
11/17/21
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
THE CURIOUS CASE OF AARON RODGERS & “THE WOKE MOB”
 
I realize I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now, so before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I think I would like to set the record straight on so many of the blatant lies that are out there about myself.
– Green Bay Packers quarterback and reigning NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers after getting caught in a dangerous lie about having been vaccinated according to league rules.
 
 
Spoiler alert: There is no “Wake Mob” that busted Aaron Rodgers. For very weird reasons, he didn’t want to get the Covid-19 vaccination, so when he was caught bullshitting his teammates, the league, the fans, the press, and anyone else who may have been in contact with him, and then consequently contracted the virus, he relied on the new way for idiots to get out jail free; blame it on “Cancel Culture”. Since Rodgers is purportedly a “smart guy” – when using football player metrics, this is like being the thinnest Sumo Wrestler – we’ll assume the maneuver is less brain damaged muscle goon and more like Ted Cruz lite. This is assuming the Texas Senator doesn’t have brain damage, which is still very much up for debate. Nevertheless, Rodgers is part of a league that makes him millions of dollars a year playing a kid’s game, and that league has a rule about Covid vaccinations, and he broke it. He could have at least blamed it on some middling employee like Tom Brady always does when he is nabbed cheating. But he went the lazy “Woke Mob” and “Cancel Culture” route, and that put him on the Reality Check radar.

I haven’t watched pro football for five, six years now. I don’t like the game anymore – the rules, the general play philosophy, the replay, the way it is broadcasted or the cadre of criminals that play for, coach, or run its teams. The whole thing is a cesspool unworthy of my attention. If it were still enjoyable, or more to the point, I still gambled, then I would endure the other stuff. I am no moralist. But the game sucks and the players mostly suck now and couldn’t hold a sweaty jock to anyone who played the thing before 1982, never mind the 1990s. It’s a joke. But I do know who Aaron Rodgers is, since he won a Super Bowl and an MVP before I bailed. He seems like a fine gentleman. He is friends with friends of mine. I don’t mean to disparage him here. But he needs to be made example. Not necessarily in the vaccination debate, which is even more inane than the NFL, but because we need to call-out phonies who fuck up and then conveniently blame some imaginary goblins.

The “Woke Mob” is a pejorative reference, I presume, to being “woke”, which when reintroduced into the lexicon in 2017 (a socio-political reaction to the Neanderthal horrors of a misogynistic racist having been elected president of the United States and duly supported Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia that year) is defined by Miriam Webster’s as “Aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” It was also attached that year to a modern women’s movement after the massive national inauguration day women’s march. But Woke is not a 2017 invention. Its earliest usage is as old as me, and if my knees are any indication, that is a long run. In a 1962 New York Times Magazine article written by African American novelist, William Melvin Kelley, titled “If You’re Woke You Dig It”, the author of that year’s controversial best-seller, A Different Drummer deftly satirized the mostly white Beatnik (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, etc.) movement’s appropriation of Black vernacular in their work.

We need to call-out phonies who fuck up and then conveniently blame some imaginary goblins.

Now, I don’t expect a Green Bay Packer QB or that fat idiot from Texas to know any of this, but people yammering on about shit they don’t know has kept the words flowing in this space for nearly quarter of a century, and I don’t expect that spigot to turn off anytime soon, so we forge ahead on this imbecilic issue.

Now, to Rodgers’ moronic attempt to place himself within the Cancel Culture argument – also a misinterpretation of a wider social undercurrent still in its infancy. Like sports trades, any social movement needs perspective. When people were in the middle of the Civil Rights era, there were arguments against providing rights to Black people considered cogent – state’s rights, property rights, who gives a shit about Black people, that sort of thing. Now, we think these things are insane. Unless you consider people cracking the social mores of society and being ostracized for this as some kind of sin against liberty. But that is a terrible shortcut to actual thinking. No one is jailing Aaron Rodgers for this, he’s not being “cancelled” – sent adrift like Bill Cosby, who got funneled into Cancel Culture after his repeated raping of drugged women for decades. In fact, I would respect Rodgers more if he was stripped of his right to earn a living like Muhammad Ali was by the boxing commission for rightly rejecting the draft on religious grounds. He could be a martyr. Get a little Lenny Bruce thing going. But he won’t, because he is a phony dipshit, who just wants to remain likable after lying about a dangerous disease he’s been spreading in secret.

Rodgers, unlike Colin Kaepernick, is still a viable talent. When Kaepernick was demonized for his right to protest the killing of unarmed Black men by police in 2016 – something the league did not prohibit, like unvaccinated cry-babies – his abilities had eroded so much that blackballing him from the league, which he most certainly was, worked famously. It also helps that Rodgers is a white man. And if you ain’t Woke, you might miss that point.

I am not into labels, and I really hate grown men who don’t man-up when they’re busted. If Rodgers wants to make a stand on this, which he most certainly won’t, because it will cost him a shitload of money and the last part of his prime, and let’s face it, the kind of courage and strength Ali possessed would not bitch about Woke nonsense.

You want to have the fluid social movement argument about Woke and Cancel Culture that will look as lovely to your grandkids as the state’s rights stuff did in 1962 to keep Black people from using the same toilet as a Caucasians, then have at it. Just don’t use them to make excuses because you got pinched. Own up. Move on.    

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CHEATERS PROSPER

Aquarian Weekly
1/22/20
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
CHEATERS PROSPER
A Guide for Our Children
 
This past week a Major League Baseball investigation concluded that the 2017 Houston Astros cheated to win the World Series. They stole signs that catchers put down to let the pitcher know which pitch he should throw (curve, fastball, change-up, slider, etc.) through an elaborate electronic system of cameras and then players banged on trashcans in the dugout to alert batters of what was coming. It is the greatest cheating scandal in modern baseball history. Only the 1919 Black Sox affair, in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox took mob money to throw the Series to the Cincinnati Redstockings eclipses it. And maybe not even that, as only part of the team was implicated. It is clear now that everyone in the entire Astros organization was part of the scheme to steal a title. All eight men on the White Sox were banned from baseball. Those guys didn’t have a union. Current players do. Thus, they were granted immunity to come clean. They did. They told MLB that they all cheated, all season, and during the playoffs. They admitted that their individual achievements and their team title were a complete and utter fraud. So, Astros owner Jim Crane, in a CYA move for the ages, fired manager, A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow after the league fined the team, took away draft picks and suspended those gentlemen for a year. However, the counterfeit title stands. Again, it was a fraud, but there it is, in the record books.

Was it worth it?

The answer would have to be yes.

The players are likely being vilified behind closed doors from fellow players who rightfully whisper if they knew what pitch was coming, or more importantly, which one was not coming, and they too could win an MVP, like Jose Altuve did that year or their entire team could lead the league in every offensive category or go 8-1 in the post season at home where the cameras and system to spy were set up. Sportswriters, ESPN and fans of other teams are registering their disgust loudly. No one outside of Houston actually considers them the legitimate champions of anything, but who cares? They have rings. They have awards. They got all the outside-the-game revenue that comes from being a champion, from being considered the best. It’s still there. Cheating helped that happen. Good for cheating.

Of course, the very next year the Boston Red Sox took the World Series, winning a ridiculous 108 games, and they also had an MVP, Mookie Betts, and led the league in all the pertinent offensive numbers. The stat-heavy Five Thirty-Eight web site actually said they were the closest thing to the immortal World Champion 1998 Yankees that went 125-50 that we ever thought we’d see. Their manager, Alex Cora had been the architect of the Astros cheating as a coach in Houston, so, of course, the Red Sox were caught using video monitors to steal signs. Why not? “If it ain ‘t broke, don’t fix it” is how the saying goes. The Red Sox are now under investigation and Cora was sacked to save face. Their title is also a goddamn fraud. But it still says 2018 Champs, so was it worth it?

You’d have to say by the standards of American ingenuity and success, absolutely.

Fairness? Fuck that. Sportsmanship be damned.

Take the New England Patriots aka America’s Cheat Machine, its coach, Bill Belichick aka Belicheat and its bogus quarterback Tom Brady aka Tommy Tuck-Rule (look that one up, it’s a doozy), who have been making a mockery of the rule book for over a decade and as such winning championships and awards after championships and awards. It’s a tragic fucking joke what is going on up there. And everyone knows it. The league has repeatedly fined and disciplined and suspended and warned and castigated this gory lot for camera and audio spying, deflating footballs, finding weird loopholes in rules, and other illegal shenanigans. The players, coaches, owners, front offices and fans of the teams that have repeatedly cheated have screamed from the rooftops. For a while. But everyone loves a winner. Beantown loves to say everyone is jealous or that they’re being persecuted. Everywhere else watches the Patriots get slapped on the wrist, another freaky thing occurs, everyone winces, and things go on as before. Tainted Super Bowl titles stay in the record books. Hell, “if you ain’t cheating, you aint’ trying,” is another old saying that applies here.

So, you see, none of it matters in the end, and all of it has led to an unprecedented era of winning for the Patriots. Even their owner Bob Kraft aka Nasty Krafty was busted in some sex trafficking, porn video, massage parlor shit and he gets to go back to his luxury box and preside over all this cheating. Because winning is the thing, how this achieved is a bunch of detailed bullshit for moralists. Fairness? Fuck that. Sportsmanship be damned.

Then we have our game show president. Holy shit, what a corruptibly insane asshole Donald Trump is. He gets help from a foreign enemy, like his rich daddy, denies it happened, like every stupid thing he says and does, fights the United States intelligence community, goes to Russia, tells our press that Russia didn’t do it, then when he is up for re-election tries to threaten another foreign nation to help him win again.

He is our greatest and most successful cheat. He sidestepped his way into the most powerful position in the world. If everyone on the Astros, Red Sox and Patriots shot everyone walking down Fifth Avenue, he can pardon them. He can assassinate heads of state. He can take people from their land to build an imaginary wall. He can even shut down baseball and pro football if he wishes. He is the shit, and he’s lied and cheated his way there, and that is a lesson for us all.

The illegitimacy of the president’s 2016 win becomes ever more into focus with every new allegation and piece of evidence that comes down on what eventually got him impeached. Impeached? Stained? Tainted? Sure. But Trump still gets to be president. Was it worth it? Fuck yeah!

Even when you erase the hoary characters from this fiasco, the entire electoral process is now in question. Who knows who’s currently hacking into the private emails of a major American political party, spreading false information and passing it off as news on Facebook, or even queering the vote counts of how many counties in how many states? Who knows?

But without all this, there is no victory in 2016 or the presidency. So, cheating worked spectacularly and may work again. Hell, those who voted for him or share his politics agree it doesn’t matter if he cheats. They love tax cuts, conservative judges, a rising stock market, and for those of us covering this hot mess, there is a shit-ton of craziness to get into print. Goofiness. Embarrassment. Anger. Racism. Idiocy. It is all on the table and a win-win for everyone.

Ask the U.S. Senate, who are preparing to sweep all of this president’s constant cheating and stonewalling under the rug. They will cheat to victory and move on for more cheating.

Cheating is in.

Class dismissed.   

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NFL PATRIOTIC NONSENSE HAS TWO SIDES

Aquarian Weekly
10/4/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

NFL PATRIOTIC NONSENSE HAS TWO SIDES
Corporate Con Comes Home to Roost

The National Football League has done a magnificent job these last few decades conflating patriotism with its product; a product, by the way, run by despots, played by a disturbing number of criminals, and whose chief purpose now is to keep everyone from recognizing that their sport causes brain damage. Its play is sub-par, its rules a joke, and the team that wins all of its championships cheats constantly. But give the NFL a few moments to roll out a giant American flag that covers a 100-yard field, march out some uniformed people to salute it, and fly a bunch of fancy jet planes over head while someone butchers a horribly written song about bombing shit, and you will forgive them.

And this carefully concocted ruse is what makes people go nuts when someone, in this case a few players, decide to take the opposite tact and reject it wholesale in a fairly sincere albeit clumsy attempt at protest.

It is this cynical marketing ploy that makes people nearly topple over with shock and dismay when I tell them I no longer watch pro football. Sure it was my favorite sport when I was a kid and for most of my life, but there are plenty of things I liked to do when I was younger that I no longer do. But when I casually mention this to family and friends they react as if I have renounced my citizenship. “Why it’s downright un-American to do anything on a Sunday in the autumn but watch football like some dead-eyed man-child with an acute case of arrested development. You have to wear a jersey and show up to tailgate for six-hours or attend ten-hour fantasy football drafts and sing along with whatever crap they play at the top of whatever network falderal is carrying the latest slice of Americana.

It is a clever con, but then the other “knee” dropped.

This past week nearly the entire league – players, coaches, owners, the guys who help the Patriots cheat by deflating footballs and spy on other teams – responded to our Game Show president’s demands that teams begin firing “sons of bitches” for practicing their right under the First Amendment of the Constitution (the one he purportedly swore to uphold), because five or so players protested violence against African Americans by not standing for the aforementioned shitty song about bombs.

Some people with a preponderance of time on their hands that I can hardly conceive of and apparently faced with very little in the way of actual things to be appalled by had a fit.

Their reasons are as follows; the national anthem and the flag represent our military and what they have done to fight for our right to protest (the one Donald Trump clearly doesn’t understand or believe in); the players protesting are rich and famous and so they should shut-up and give up this right (similar to what most people who voted for the president think about gays and marriage); and finally sports should just be about sports and not all this annoying free speechifying, or what we have come to discuss; the playing field is no place for politics.

Except that the NFL has been a recruiting base for the military for decades and has used pre-games and half-times to conflate this idea that pro football is some kind nationalistic cornerstone of our culture, strike that, our very being and nature. NFL equals America. This includes bringing the players (the actual product) into it, for it has only become in recent years a thing for players to even be on the field for the anthem. Why? So we can forget that nearly every player at the top of every draft have records for abusing and assaulting women, random gun-play, drug busts, etc. So if this is how the NFL wants it, then their football field is the perfect place in which to express your displeasure with the country at large.

If NFL equals America, and the first tenant of the nation is the right to peacefully protest and freely speak out against (you name it), then what is the issue here?

The NFL’s military fetish – not only ceremonious rituals and support of wars (the worst of this is during the first Gulf War when the yellow-ribbon, giant flag stupidity reached its puke-inducing apex with the late Whitney Houston’s lip-synching of the crappy song about bombs that became a big hit – is also why people, for some weird reason, only equate this idea of standing for the national anthem as some kind of salute to the military, when the flag represents every walk of life, profession and blah blah blah.

And this is why simpletons like Trump think that the league should expunge those who besmirch this great game and its spiritual connection to our flag and our military.

The NFL created this monster, which is now equally being exploited by its players and the president, whose entire administration has to retain council and whose approval ratings are at record lows. The players see a way to get the reaction they want, which is what they got (thank you, America) and El Douche gets you to argue about a piece of cloth and a badly written song with more octave shenanigans than can be stomached on one listening and lyrics that sound like a fifth-grade poetry assignment gone terribly wrong.

If NFL equals America, and the first tenant of the nation is the right to peacefully protest and freely speak out against (you name it), then what is the issue here?

So to save everyone the trouble I simply call for there to be no mention of the flag or the playing of the awful “Star Spangled Banner” before sporting events again. None of this has to do with football. I agree, let’s keep the sport to the sport and stop trying to cash in on people’s emotional connections to symbolism – a fine tact used by every fascist movement since the dawn of civilization.

By the by, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” should be the national anthem; a beautifully written folk song with fine lyrical stanzas about all the things this country is supposed represent beyond killing things and football. Best of all it was written by a communist, as was the Pledge of Allegiance, so that actually works. You might not know any of this because you’re busy arguing over a child’s game, a piece of cloth and a shitty song.

Meanwhile, as a postscript; the man who started all this as a simple protest, Colin Kaepernick, who has given a million of his own dollars and has raised millions more for charities and African American groups, is being blackballed by the league. And maybe in the end this is why the NFL and the president has made this whole goofy thing such a big deal. Let’s forget that black men are being slaughtered by cops and not going to jail for it on an almost weekly basis.

I say let’s sing a song about that.

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MUHAMMAD ALI – 1942 – 2016

Aquarian Weekly
6/15/16

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MUHAMMAD ALI – 1942 – 2016

He is America’s greatest ego.
– Norman Mailer

Few lives are as epic as Muhammad Ali’s. It is an American epic, an African American epic, a religious epic, a boxing epic, a socio-political epic, a generational epic, and most of all, an inspirational epic. It is what the great Joseph Campbell coined the Mono-Myth, a composite philosophy of the “hero’s journey” in which all valiant stories, especially those entrenched in the Western culture, are the same – a character of common means ventures forth into a supernatural realm to defeat darker forces and emerges with a great victory. It, of course, stands to reason that Muhammad Ali is my hero in every possible way that the term may be defined. I have been and continue to be inspired by, in awe of, idolize, emulate, and use his seemingly indestructible force of will to empower me. In my youth, Ali was a towering, almost comic book figure. In my professional years, I wrote extensively about him in heroic terms whenever commissioned, and even sometimes for pure joy. His Mono-Myth has become my Mono-Myth; like the enduring myth of America, sport and life.

06-15-ali

Any understanding on the immensity that was Ali has to begin with his times. Confucius said, “May you live in interesting times”, and Ali did. Of course, it was he that made them eminently more interesting, but it is an indisputable fact that from the mid to late 1960s through the 1970s, Ali was quite simply the most famous human dead or alive. Everywhere. There are people in China who have no idea who Jesus Christ is or was, or Thomas Jefferson in Zimbabwe or Elvis Presley in Venezuela or Michael Jordan in Jordan. But everyone knew who Ali was. He was international in a singular way. He was Ali. Period. Ali was universal. Even if people had no idea why they knew him, that his name was Cassius Clay and he hailed from Louisville, Kentucky, or that he engineered one of the greatest upsets in boxing history at twenty-two, or that he took on the entire U.S. government for five years and won, or that he became the first boxer to lose and then win the world title three times. He was Ali, and Ali is universal. Ali is life.

But that is not what makes Ali epic; it is his flaws. It is his darker side, which I am sure will be ignored this week when the world mourns his passing. It is his raging narcissism and viciousness, his forays with racism, religious fanaticism, repeated adultery and misogyny. Like all heroes, he fell. And like all heroes, he rose again. This was due to his magnificent fearlessness. He owned fear. You had the feeling when you saw Ali or listened to him that he had known fear, like we all do, and then he took it down like he took Liston down when he was a seven-to-one underdog and a newly minted member of the Nation of Islam, which is to say he was the devil.

It took Joe Frazier, his greatest opponent and likely the second best heavy weight fighter in the latter half of the twentieth century, decades to get over Ali’s dehumanizing of him during pre-fight promotions; something Ali invented and did better than anyone ever. But it crossed the line. It became something else for a black man to call another “gorilla” on national television, repeatedly, in poetic and jocular form, to his face; to say he was the white man’s champion. Frazier, like all epic opponents brought the worst out of Ali, but it also brought the absolute best out of him too. He handed “the greatest” his first defeat in the real and only true “fight of the century”; Madison Square Garden, March 8, 1971 – the first time two undefeated titans would square off. It was the night the world stopped. It is the greatest, most covered, most mythologized sporting event of my lifetime. It was, in a word, epic. And when it was over, Ali nearly died. But, as the epic story goes, he rose again.

Ali emerged from this brutal beating to defeat Frazier in the rematch. But all of this pales in comparison to how Ali had seen him as an enemy first; an enemy of Allah, of the African experience, of his spiritual quest to be free of the forces of evil perpetuating a war that will stain our national soul forever. And before he could fight Frazier for the title, he had it stripped from him, because he refused to fight in Viet Nam, as all men should have rejected the immoral and useless sin that massacred 60,000 Americans, and hundreds of thousands more Vietnamese and Cambodians and severed a nation. Assassinations and riots and protests and a national spying ring that would bring down a president; there was a crack at the base of the system, and standing on the fault-line was Ali. Because Ali was not American, Muslim, Black, he was Ali. He is universal, epic.

I keep this Ali quote, with other inspiring musings about speaking truth to power in a drawer where I do most of my writing, to remind me of what we do here at The Desk, but it may be my favorite: “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. . . Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

Ali also famously said, “It ain’t bragging, if it’s true.” It was his calling card, and what made him both the most hated and beloved athlete in this country; changing his name, throwing his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River, taking on the government and winning a unanimous Supreme Court decision against the unconstitutional murder of thousands of American kids and wiping out any rational idea to the entire horror show. It was, even as a kid, what made knowing, watching, worshiping Ali a special thing. The sun came up, my mom loved me, my eyes are blue, and Ali is the champ.

Like all heroes, he fell. And like all heroes, he rose again. This was due to his magnificent fearlessness. He owned fear.

I remember part of my childhood went away the night a brutish dolt by the name of Leon Spinks took the articulate, brilliant, poetic, epic Ali down. He was no longer the champ – even when he wasn’t the champ, like when they stripped it, or temporarily when Frazier beat him into a bloody stump, but forever; like he was old and Spinks was not and boxing would go back to its primitive barbarism again with no charisma and no universal personality, a vacuum soon filled by the bestial visage of Mike Tyson, which would teach us all what missing Ali would mean.

Of course, Ali would step back in the ring again, and again, and again, until his mind would eventually go away and his body would shake and they would call it Parkinson’s Syndrome, but we knew it was a human tank called George Foreman beating on him for fifteen rounds in Zaire and those three wars with Frazier and Spinks taking him down ignominiously, and that asinine exhibition in suicide against Larry Holmes. He got back in the ring and took the title back one more time from Spinks, but there was something hollow and sad about it, and we knew we weren’t kids anymore, or at least I wasn’t; and all those things about “invincible” and being “the greatest” was finite, like life. But until that moment, for me, it was infinite, because Ali said it would be, and if he didn’t say it, he meant it anyway. He was, after all, finite, and so I was no longer a kid and soon would be an adult and am now 53 and mourning the passing of my hero.

My writing hero, Hunter S. Thompson, oddly or not oddly, also from Louisville, once wrote of Ali (in maybe the finest twenty-four words said about him), “Anybody who can sell his act for $5 million an hour all over the world is working a vein somewhere between magic and madness.”

And it is between those two poles in which the hero resides; where he thrives, where he captures our imagination beyond the terrible notion that life is just this series of beats and electrons and periods of joy and grief and that it is special in the way you want it to be.

Ali gave me that, and I am not alone.

Not by a long shot.

This is what you get from universal and epic.

You get Ali.

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MO

Aquarian Weekly
10/2/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MO

Straight as an arrow; stoic with a slightly visible breath – a fierce figure of calm in a gathering storm standing upon a raised patch of dirt 18 feet in diameter. The left arm mobent to the chest, the ball gripped in the mitt, the right hand dangling casually. A look in at 60 feet and six inches – razor sharp and icy like a jungle cat at prey – before a slight shift in weight brings the bare hand to meet the ball. Then in one fluid series of ballet-esque motions – a coiled slant forward, as if a bow fletching to strike, cranks the body fusion into a bullet arc, a millisecond prelude to the knee kick from the left leg and the arm whirling high above the head with the release of the stitched sphere to its destination.

A single pitch. The professionals call it a “Cutter”, a spinning, knifing diving thing that burns inside on lefty batters and disappears to righties. One pitch. Nineteen major league seasons. A record 652 saves (the final outs of a close game) over a record 952 appearances in Major League Baseball contests. An unprecedented stretch of excellence with a single, devastating pitch has ended.

The great Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is retiring as quite simply the undisputed finest closer to ever ply the trade at any level anywhere, and without question the longest running level of near-perfection in the history of sport.

I first heard the name on July, 4 1995 while riding shotgun in a grey Isuzu pick-up truck with fellow Yankees fanatic, Peter Blasevick, a long-time friend and colleague, whose band DogVoices I decided against all reason to follow and turn its exploits and that of the New Jersey rock circuit into a book called Deep Tank Jersey. Rivera was dismantling the Chicago White Sox over eight innings, allowing one run while striking out 11. He would never be as affective a starter again.

The next time his name hit my radar was an 11-inning play-off game in 1995 between the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners, when a skinny reliever my dear friend Tony Misuraca called The Elfin while another, Bo Blaze frantically scribbled onto scraps of paper, “Please, Young Mariano, get this out!”, pitched three scoreless innings – the 13th, 14th and 15th to earn the win in a marathon at Yankee Stadium. The team would eventually lose the series in its final inning with Rivera in the bullpen helpless to stop it. But that would not happen too often over the next five years when the team that had not tasted a World Series in 18 years (an annual event the greatest franchise in professional sports history practically invented) would reach it five times, winning four, including three in a row.

Rivera would be the lynchpin of those title teams that could well be (considering the three-tier postseason set-up) the most dominant the game has ever seen.

By ’96, Rivera was a full-time bullpen pitcher, a set-up man for the then closer and mentor, John Wetteland. First year manager, Joe Torre, who had previously cobbled five winning seasons out of twelve in prior locations, placed the budding Rivera in the seventh and eighth innings and ostensibly turned a nine inning competition into six. It would earn the 26-year old right-hander a top-five finish in the Cy Young voting, almost unheard of at anytime in the game’s history and a telling quote from two-time champion manager of the Minnesota Twins, Tom Kelly, who famously said of Rivera, “He needs to pitch in a higher league, if there is one. Ban him from baseball. He should be illegal.”

Fortunately for the Yankees Rivera was not banned, and went on to shatter regular and post season records for closing out games from 1997 until this season. The most incredible of these statistics is his incomparable play-off performances, which for all intents and purposes Rivera turned into grand opera and classic art all at once. Over 96 appearances in his career (missing only 2008 – the only year the team did not make the post season – and last season due to injury) the man the sport affectionately called Mo would post an historically low .70 ERA with a record 42 saves and eight wins against one loss.

Robin Roberts of ABC News recently figured that less people have walked on the moon (12) than have scored a post season run off Mariano Rivera (11).

When the Yankees won, as they did in ’96, 1998 through 2000 and 2009, he was unhittable, and when he hiccupped in 2001 and 2004 for one inning each, the team went home. Only in the 2003 World Series loss to the Marlins did Rivera not play a prominent role in the team’s fortunes, but that was after his Herculean three inning scoreless performance in the second greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen, the 11-inning epic against the rival Boston Red Sox that ended on one swing of the bat.

This is the literal definition of most valuable player.

During the unfathomable 1998 season in which the Yankees posted a 125-50 record – the best single-season baseball team ever – I accepted a job hosting a sport show at WFAS in White Plains with my good friend and now Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino. The following three years I spent a lot of time in the Yankees clubhouse, and there was never a time when Mariano Rivera wasn’t laughing or counseling or motivating his teammates, a completely opposite figure than the almost robotic assassin that took the mound time and again, cracking bats in half and whiffing confused hitters.

After the ’99 title, where he recorded the last out of the 20th century, a century the Yankees owned, I stood with him at his locker in the din of celebration all around and we spoke of his World Series MVP. Over a full ten minutes never once did he mention himself. In his then broken English, speckled as it was with contemplative uhhs and ahhs, he sounded like a Zen Buddhist, spiritually humble, defiant against the idea of the world being a random swirl of events. He was centered in all his genuine talk of God and family and teammates who allowed him to have the ball in the final minutes of glory.

In the press box that night, as the fly ball that ended the series nestled into the left-fielder’s glove, I jotted down a note in my scorecard to my Unlce Vinnie, who had seen Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio play and who had passed away when I was off on my honeymoon in mid-June.  I recalled one day the previous summer when he shook his head at the mention of Rivera. “That kid,” he whispered, “is an all-timer.”

In October of 2009, I took my wife, now a diehard Yankees fan, more than me, for sure, to Game 2 of the World Series, a game in which, as he had done countless times, Rivera came in to clean up a mess in the eight – two on, no one out in a two-run game – and closed the door.

This past August, I walked hand-in-hand with my five-year old daughter, Scarlet into the new Yankee Stadium; a favor my father granted me over 40 years before in the old one, and on her back was a number 42, Mo’s number, and the name of her favorite cat that we named after the great Rivera.

And so one of the leisure pleasures of my life, like a Joe Namath pass, a Woody Allen film, a Stones song, and a Hunter S. Thompson screed, the great Rivera standing on the mound about to throw, will no longer be.

Mo.

Thanks.

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MR. RODRIGUEZ VS MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Aquarian Weekly
8/7/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MR. RODRIGUEZ VS MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL   

Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez is a Major League Baseball Player. He also happens to be an America citizen. Mr. Rodriguez’s treatment by MLB makes it hard to swallow that his employers are fully aware of this. It appears, in fact, that MLB considers one of its signature employees a faulty product it’s recalling. And for that this space is openly imploring Mr. Rodriguez to take immediate legal action against MLB, so it can explain its motivation for threatening to deny his right to work based on circumstantial evidence that he broke any of the collectively bargained rules agreed to by the league and its Players Association.Bud Selig

And, as a result of this proposed legal action, this space hopes once and for all that MLB’s ridiculous exemption from the United States’ anti-trust laws be ceased, so its $9 billion enterprise can finally be litigated like every other business in this so-called democracy.

The current MLB “investigation” resembles more a witch hunt against one particular player than satisfies the grounds in which that player can be harassed with the threat of suspension. Such a suspension, whether it is the reported remainder of this season and all of next, never mind this insane nonsense of banning him for life, will cause adverse career ramifications for Mr. Rodriguez.

This is not some mere penalty handed out by a game. This is a man’s life and livelihood at stake and if it is to be impinged in any way, then there needs to be just cause. There is not.

In order for MLB to suspend a first-time offender for a maximum of 50 games, that player must fail a random blood test. MLB does not have a positive blood sample from Mr. Rodriguez. What MLB has is the testimony of a drug dealer and a vague list of clientele from a Miami biogenesis lab, which the league sued this past March for selling illegal substances to a handful of its players. In less specious terms, under the agreement MLB has with the Player’s Association, it has no grounds to perpetuate these actions against Rodriguez.

Yet the man the sports types call A-Rod, a cute nickname which reduces him to a figure from a children’s game and not an American citizen that provides him protection under the Bill of Rights, is currently the subject a dubious investigation for being linked with the lab in question. I merely use the word “dubious” to point out that while there has been a lot of unsubstantiated jabber about a preponderance of evidence piled up against Mr. Rodriguez, much of it has yet to surface, and the league, which is oh-for the courts in its long and sordid history, fails to engender any benefit of the doubt.

Moreover, this is a league well versed in the practice of leaking harmful information on an employee it wishes to besmirch preceding a suspension. In fact, MLB has done this once before to the very same Mr. Rodriguez. This ham-fisted but effective burying of a player’s reputation queers public opinion and riles the sports writing world (where nearly every speculation has something of a 17 percent success rate), making the subject guilty in the court of public opinion before any actual evidence is revealed.

In 2003, MLB conducted its “anonymous” testing of hundreds of players for steroid use; a test the league promised in collective bargaining with the Player’s Association to keep sealed. For reasons only known to MLB, in 2009, Mr. Rodriguez’s name happened to wind up in the notebook of a reporter working for the most prominent sports magazine in the nation. When Sports Illustrated got a hold of this illegally leaked information, Mr. Rodriguez had to eat shit, call press conferences, and deal with the fallout.

This is a league well versed in the practice of leaking harmful information on an employee it wishes to besmirch preceding a suspension. In fact, MLB has done this once before to the very same Mr. Rodriguez. This ham-fisted but effective burying of a player’s reputation queers public opinion and riles the sports writing world (where nearly every speculation has something of a 17 percent success rate), making the subject guilty in the court of public opinion before any actual evidence is revealed.

This leaking method was especially efficient on A-Rod, who, while he could not be suspended since no rules had yet to be put in place, was branded as an actual offender by proxy.

There was a time not long ago when Alex Rodriguez was arguably the best player in the majors and well on his way to perhaps being the best to ever play his position. He was an exceptional shortstop; a defensive master, and a high-average, run-producing machine with immense power. He plied his trade in Seattle, Washington and then Arlington, Texas, where he became a star. In 2003, he morphed into something of a celebrity icon when he was traded to the NY Yankees, the most famous professional franchise in the biggest city on planet earth. It was here where he became notorious for appearing with the TMZ set.

This put an already intolerable celebrity big ticket athlete on the shit list of a majority of the Americans, who, while worshiping the rich and famous, and harboring a love-hate fascination with New York City, tend to hold same with deep seated jealousies. Mr. Rodriguez was our specially packaged asshole; much of it, truth be told, due to his Herculean self-inflicted narcissistic idiocy. He’s a dumb jock; a muscle-headed pretty boy dickhead; none of which is even remotely illegal or pertinent to his first run-in with MLB, which was merely a media circus since before 2005 it was not even a rules violation for players to use PEDs.

In fact, one could argue that MLB not only ignored the use of PEDs, but in many ways, encouraged it, as did the sanctimonious band of feckless sports writers who made good livings sending sonnets to press about Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa’s famed home run chase in 1998; when both were most likely jacked to the tits on every steroid known to modern man.

MLB commissioner, Bug Selig, forever tarnished with presiding over the longest and most wildly uncontrolled abuse of PEDs in modern sport, subsequently reaping billions in revenues for MLB and its owners, finds he can no longer handle bad steroid press on his watch. Back when the homers produced by PEDs were pulling his sagging sport out of distant third place behind the NFL and the NBA, neither Selig nor his giddy owners could ever have dreamed the level of shock and awe produced from human parade floats making a mockery of baseball’s sanctified record books. This turned Daddy Warbucks into Captain Morality, and so now Selig wants desperately for there to be a symbol of steroids that has nothing to do with him.

Bud Selig simply needs a scapegoat, since Barry Bonds beat his system and then Roger Clemens went to congress and pissed on him. Whether they or Mr. Rodriguez are actually guilty of PED use is not at issue. They probably were and he probably is, but there are rules in place to cease this behavior, and none of these applies to his case.

So it’s Mr. Rodriguez’s turn to be the scapegoat and he should not take it. He needs to sue baseball for threatening to deny him the right to earn a living. Most of all, Mr. Rodriguez needs to put before a court the atavistic anti-trust exception that MLB has enjoyed for a century of its outside-the-law practices. He must break the backs of these tyrants and force baseball out of the shadows of American business practices.

Play ball!

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James Campion – Sportswriter and Broadcaster

 

SPORTS BIO

jc at Yankee StadiumFor four years jc penned a sports column called Sports Shorts for a weekly newspaper called the North County News out of Yorktown, NY, where he gained notoriety and acclaim for his emotional, funny, and often compelling look at the world of fun and games. Although some of the work was considered for his latest book, Fear No Art, jc thought it too much a departure from the flow and subject matter dominant in the original manuscript, and thus left this fertile period out almost entirely. Now exclusively for jamescampion.com, the author has selected some of his favorite pieces from that era and beyond. They appear in public here for the first time since their original release.

A broadcaster and writer during his formative years in high school and college, jc embraced his first love, sports. Fascinated by the raw and unpredictable nature of the athlete in his/her physically and mentally challenging environment, he sought to portray their triumphs and tragedies in a far different slant from the normal fare, without forgetting the voices and craft of the genre’s true giants. As one of the only national columnists for the small, but influential, Westchester newspaper (it won many NY state awards for journalism during his stay and beyond) jc became both celebrity and demon by his rabid readers, balancing his radio and television work as a local talk show host.

jc and cb on Sports Club - 1992His many live sports-talk television programs from Cablevision’s “The Sports Club Live” (1989-1996) to Continental Cablevision’s “Sports Talk Live” (1995-1997) and the award-winning baseball interview show, “X-Tra Inning” (1990-1994) and co-hosting WLNA radio’s “Sports Nite” (1993-1995) provided jc with a wide-ranging and oft times loyal fan base. He was able to meet many prominent sports figures and attend some of the most exciting and important events of the time while extending his reporting talents.

Although there was little sign among his peers at the time that jc would abandon his prominent post at the North County News and head on the road with a New Jersey club band in the summer of ’95 to write his first book, Deep Tank Jersey, many admirers of his later work point to these years covering sports as not only a stepping stone to a promising career, but another vehicle for his unique literary voice. Evidence of this is that during the early 90s’ jc was working extensively on research for what was to be his first book about the legendary Yankees/Red Sox of 1978. A book, mentioned in several interviews, that he plans to finish one day. His last extensive sportswriting work was a one-year stint penning the Sporting Strife column for the New Jersey entertainment weekly, East Coast Rocker in 1996.

jc and Rob Astorino - 1991Today jc remains the voice of local sports in Westchester, recently completing a four-year run with his nightly radio show, “Inside Sports” on WFAS radio out of White Plains, where he and his co-host, Rob Astorino have covered the World Series, the NBA Finals and more. As the television voice of high school football and basketball for MJM. productions, headed by long-time producer/director Mike Miner, and the Cablevision Network, jc continues to give local athletes a chance to shine. His annual Major League Baseball and NFL previews for Genesis magazine are read nationally, and he continues to contribute stories for the North County News.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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In Search of Reggie

North County News 8/5/93

IN SEARCH OF REGGIE…

For the better part of ten years, I was surrounded by pictures of him on my bedroom walls. Every night before I fell asleep he’d be staring down at me, and every morning I’d awake to a still photograph of his famous powerful, two-handed swing.

I listened to his exploits on my radio and studied him on the tube. His career marked my childhood: the Swingin’ A’s in grammar school, the Mighty Yanks in high school.

It was during one of those years that I swore I’d be there when they put him in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. And last week, Reginald Martinez Jackson and I had a date with destiny.

I arrived in the quaint village of Cooperstown, not as the wide-eyed fanatic of my youth, but just another member of the bulging media; trying like hell to look uninterested in my suit and tie, like it was just another job, and Reggie Jackson was just another story to cover.

Of course, when Reggie was involved there was always a story. For 21 years he was the quintessential sports superstar, a human spotlight magnet. He talked with unhinging bravado and backed it up; from his rookie season in 1969 when he shocked the baseball world by blasting 41 home runs by the all-star break, his Ruthian blast in the ’71 mid-season classic, to every consecutive swing of the bat during his three-homer outburst in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

The humble smile he’s been donning for most of the day, his day, leapt off his face, and the dauntless grin of coiled arrogance that managed to hit belt 563 career home runs nodded toward me. “I wasn’t thinking of anything, son; I was just trying to turn on a fastball.”

Everywhere you ventured to look throughout the usually quiet hamlet of upstate New York, there was a likeness or mention of him. Just a simple “Reggie” would do. No second name was needed. Unless, of course, it was “Mr. October.”; a name he earned in five World Series appearances in which he would hit a lifetime .357 with 10 home runs and grab two MVP awards.

Collectors’ cards, photos, silver coins and tee shirts of every size and color lined Main Street on the way to the building where they would hang his plaque forever. But the image of him had somehow changed from the hero of yesterday. That was a Reggie Jackson who glared unceasingly into the eyes of convention without blinking. He broke the rules, set the pace, and put a considerable mark on a game bloated with atavistic traditions and unspoken etiquette for the black athlete balancing a sizable chip on his shoulder. Who exactly was this man I thought I’d known from the seemingly endless array of games I watched and books I’d read?

I first met him in the baseball summer 1990 as a member of the television medium. He was casually moving about the batting cage at Yankee Stadium working for the California Angels radio team. He was standing only a few feet from where he slammed those three incredible home runs on three consecutive pitches that October night 13 years before, when I sat a million miles away in Freehold, New Jersey beaming.

I shook his hand, making an offhand remark about some motivational letter I’d sent him earlier that historic season when he was struggling and being booed unmercifully by fans home and away, and jokingly wondered if he remembered receiving it. He looked at me strangely, the way I’d pretty much expected, and I thanked him for the memories. “Thanks buddy,” he smiled and strolled away confidently.

Although that classic Reggie ego had shown through, he appeared small in his pink polo shirt and jeans, not at all the giant in pinstripes from bygone days swaggering across my television screen like a conquering knight from the court of King Arthur.

Now on a lazy Sunday morning on the first day of April, 1993, I found myself standing just a few feet from the podium he was delivering his Hall Of Fame induction speech. His eyes were swollen from tears of joy. He appeared worn, his hair line in a gray, middle-aged recede, decked out in a navy blue suit and bright blue tie; a vision of the quiet executive he’d become the last few years.

He spoke gently about his loved ones, his influences in the game he loved, and his ultimate respect for the honor bestowed upon him. The young lion that once quipped “I’m the straw that stirs the drink,” was now the straw that was happy to just be in the glass. He was humble, gracious, and at times apologetic for the in-your-face attitude that made him the kind of player that would expect a trip to immortality. In other words, he was anything but Reggie Jackson.

There was little in that speech that hinted at that Reggie Jackson. But I figured that in the post-ceremony press conference, away from his adoring public, probing cameras, and the rows of baseball great behind him, the real Reggie would emerge from the shadow of this mellowed facsimile. I was wrong.

There he sat, less than 20 minutes later, grinning politely, offering the odd joke and talking about his respect for the beauty of the game. I couldn’t take much more, so I up went my diminutive left arm, waving for his acknowledgment.

Before he was done pointing at me to begin, I rambled out a double-edged question about his years of frustration battling against the tide of adversities that often finds a young man of pride, talent, and conviction. I asked if he contemplated chucking the whole thing to waltz into an easier life devoid of blaring headlines and echoing boos. I eluded to the moment of his speech when he chronicled his agonizingly controversial first year with the Yankees, after he’d won three consecutive championships in Oakland and took less money to play for the Bronx Bombers only to be treated like a journeyman by manager Billy Martin, a man he’d admitted to despising in his autobiography.

“Quit?” he snarled, his stare burning a hole through my skull. “I had 300 more home runs to hit, and too many moments to create.”

Before he was done, that infamous intimidating Reggie heat was beginning to rise from out of his tightly buttoned collar. Yet, I mustered the audacity to conclude that perhaps by releasing the anger of the entire year acted as motivation for the events of Oct. 18, 1977 when those three World Series swings planted him in the record books and in the lap of legend.

“Are these real questions?” he asked, looking around the room packed with media from all over the world. “Because it sounds like your just throwing these off the top of your head,” he laughed. “Maybe you should ask one of these guys to help you out.”

The room of mostly grizzled sports writers and broadcasters chuckled at my dilemma. It was likely that each of them had been on the wicked end of Reggie’s venom before. However, I smiled back at him and demanded an answer. “What were you thinking when you stepped to the plate to make history?”

It was at that moment when the larger-than-life figure of boyhood memories melded together with the man before me. The humble smile he’s been donning for most of the day, his day, leapt off his face, and the dauntless grin of coiled arrogance that managed to hit belt 563 career home runs nodded toward me. “I wasn’t thinking of anything, son; I was just trying to turn on a fastball.”

I still haven’t stopped smiling.

Congratulations Reggie.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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Life, Myth & Influence of Howard Cosell

Aquarian Weekly 12/14/11 REALITY CHECK

THE LIFE, MYTHS & INFLUENCE OF AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL In Praise of A Riveting New Biography on Howard Cosell

May you live in interesting times. – Ancient Chinese Proverb My disposition demands the immediacy of translation of effort into result. – Howard Cosell

Howard Cosell BookI last sent words to press on the subject of Howard Cosell in April of 1995 for a now defunct weekly on the occasion of the legendary broadcaster’s death. Yet, in every piece I’ve researched, each story I’ve covered or subject dissected in a column since, his spirit resonates.

Like nearly everyone from my generation, and the one preceding it, we began by hating Cosell; his sneering egoism, the pompous self-congratulatory harangue that fueled an incessant rambling myopia never failing to garble our sports viewing experience. Certainly, it was a strange preternatural hate, a raging abhorrence that comes from somewhere not altogether rational. But unlike many of my friends, I aspired at an early age to be a broadcaster, mainly of sports. So Howard Cosell became in many ways a touchstone; he was no ex-jock, hardly a handsome television prop, and there was something emancipating about his brashly opinionated and wholly pathological style. If nothing else, the man had balls.

In 1995, still in the midst of my sports writing, I penned this:

“This country has not known a more influential journalist than Howard Cosell. His innate ability to dissect an event, infiltrate a personality and offer honest analysis at the point of attack made him a unique voice in an otherwise antiseptic profession. The resonance of his talent is an echo in the world of reporting today, but it is a faint reminder of the man whose voice served as a sonic boom that shook the walls and shattered the windows of broadcasting.”

A fairly blubbering tribute for the previously despised, but aside from finally laying to rest the paradox of the love/hate aspect of a Howard Cosell, it missed one key ingredient; despite Cosell’s impact on pop culture, his prominent place in the power and prestige of network television or the incredible shadow his figure cast on a period of unparalleled on-air oligarchy, he failed to leave a legacy. Cosell, in the strangest of ways, was a one-off.

There is nothing or no one today that resembles a serious evolution of his style or substance – in the realm of sports or elsewhere. Maybe, if you’d stretch it, occasional ball-busting commentators or grand-standing blowhards, but none of them with an ounce of the self-effacing humor or hardcore passion for singular causes or mind-curving bombast as the original.

And this glaring omission unfurls with intriguing momentum in the first thoroughly researched and effectively framed biography of Cosell and his times, Mark Ribowsky’s Howard Cosell – The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports.

Beyond its poignant depiction of a flawed, paranoid and narcissistic character with the uncanny talent to immerse himself entirely, almost supernaturally, into emerging events, Ribowsky’s Howard Cosell makes crystal clear the entwined path of Cosell’s epic career within the world of Big Time sports and its broadcasting partners, as they quite literally created the monstrosities they are today.

“If you look at the lay of the land in the Fifties when Cosell started out, there really was no industry called sportscasting,” Ribowksi told me recently. “It just wasn’t important. All you did was kowtow to the teams and their sponsors, until Howard Cosell changed all that.”

It was a change that according to Ribowski had to be fought by Cosell tooth and nail.

“He had three strikes against him from the beginning, his Jewishness, his Brooklyness, his abrasively unattractive voice, but he was relentless and uncompromising and lasted long enough to match the times. People were looking for this anti-hero in the emerging counter-culture of the Sixties and Seventies, but he had to get there first.”

“He had three strikes against him from the beginning, his Jewishness, his Brooklyness, his abrasively unattractive voice, but he was relentless and uncompromising and lasted long enough to match the times. People were looking for this anti-hero in the emerging counter-culture of the Sixties and Seventies, but he had to get there first.”

Howard Cosell is a riveting journey of personal upheaval and challenges for Cosell and his times, but mostly the burgeoning art form he created, from his steadfast defense and promotion of lifelong friend, Muhammad Ali and his making and breaking of the fight game, to the emergence, almost mainly due to his talents and the vision of Roone Arledge, ABC and the iconic Monday Night Football, of sports as showbiz, all the way through the defining moments of broadcast journalism.

“Cosell is the one who merged entertainment and sport, and there’s a great irony to that,” Ribowski says. “It had never been done like that before, but today it’s almost completely eclipsed by entertainment. There’s no journalism left. Journalism was the important underpinning of what Cosell was creating, but now there’s almost nothing of importance going on.”

Ribowski echoes in Howard Cosell much of what the man brought to his craft, a sense that he would always take a stand based on principle even if it was guided by emotion. It was something I had not considered with Cosell until this book. What made him a hero and mentor to me was his detached sense of a story, to take from it the clearly absurd notions and deconstruct it coldly and rationally, as Cosell did brilliantly in covering Ali’s battles with the U.S. government over his draft status.

“The thing that you can always say about Cosell, and it applies in most cases for his work, is simply two words – he cared,” Ribowski cites. “He cared about what he did, he cared about the people he spoke about, he cared about the issues that he elucidated, he cared how the public would perceive them; he just cared.”

However, the godfather of sports journalism at the top of his game in the late Sixties to early Seventies would soon develop a dark side in which Ribowski argues turned a stellar career into one of parody.

“Cosell lost that aspect of the whole thing with Monday Night Football,” the author states. “It was both great and horrible for his delicate pathology, both soothing his ego but also challenging it with all the criticism he had to endure, the death threats and personal attacks in the press, which ruined him.”

Howard Cosell is an even-handed appraisal of Cosell’s mammoth influence on and contribution to broadcast journalism – Ribowski agrees with Cosell’s own gaudy estimation that he was along with Walter Cronkite and Johnny Carson among the pop culture media icons of that era – but it also paints a picture of a sometimes petty, often jealous and wildly paranoid jock-sniffer, who was from the start an obsessive collector of celebrities and newsmakers for self-promotion. His enigma, some may argue hypocrisy, dealing with the ever-evolving social debates on race, religion, law and culture are many and varied, which make Cosell one of the most complex and fascinating subjects to cover.

This brings to mind why no one dared touch his life for a telling before.

Perhaps it was Cosell’s final years spent penning vicious barbs in books that built upon the myths of his image and burned every bridge that had ferried him to fame and fortune, from the NFL to ABC to colleagues and confidants. Maybe it was the reluctance of his immediate family to contribute to the book; although Ribowski admits some have enjoyed the results and now wish they had relented. Then there is also a generation of sports writers who recall Cosell as more pop culture caricature than significant pioneer.

None of this stopped Mark Ribowski from giving us a much-needed glimpse into our media history and an American success story like no other, one long in coming. At the close of our conversation the author was adamant; “To do all Cosell did at his age, tear down as many barriers as he did, is like a fable. What a change this man was responsible for, and it’s a great tragedy that he took that change to the grave. He deserved a permanent rendering in society. Where we deserve to have a lot of Howard Cosells around, unfortunately there was only one.”

 

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