The public–private divide

With the last fall state tournament taking place in Wisconsin, Ally Jansen writes:

High school sports play a significant role in the lives of many young individuals. Once tournament time rolls around for the sport that is currently in season, everything else fades in importance and the focus locks in on winning the next game.

Battling for the chance to play once more.

Fighting to remain as long as possible.

Every team prays that they have what it takes to make it to the final destination: the state tournament championship game. Any athlete who has a love for the game carries the dream to bring home a gold ball for their school and community.

Each year, a select number of teams will make it to the Wisconsin state tournament; and each year, these teams contain a mix of both public and private schools. The difference between the athletic teams of these two types of schools is the way the teams are created. Public schools take their pick of players from the students available at their school; smaller schools take every student they can get- sometimes it is a miracle just to have enough kids for a team. Bigger schools with more students have the chance to hold tryouts, picking the talent they want and cutting what they don’t.

But private schools are completely different. These are schools that cost almost as much as college tuition to attend, and their athletes are not just students from the area. These athletes are recruited from around the country to attend these specific schools at a reduced cost, or even for free. These schools eliminated the idea of local talent, which gives them a leg-up on their public counterparts.

The state tournament is divided into divisions; the number of divisions depends on the sport involved. Schools are divided based on their enrollment numbers, with higher divisions correlating with smaller schools. A private school may be as tiny as the smallest public school, but that does not make the competition fair. The public school has a small number of students, and an even smaller number of athletes to choose from. The chances of having multiple gifted athletes are minute; whereas the private school hand-picks student-athletes from around the country, which significantly increases their chances of having multiple gifted athletes.

Anybody should be able to see how pitting these two types of schools against each other, based only on enrollment numbers, is unfair.

Each year, in almost every sport, the state tournament will see a public school play a private school.

In many cases, the public school is not victorious.

I once saw a small school from my area lose a football state championship when the other team’s kicker made a field goal. Fair enough, right? That is, only until you consider the fact that the kicker was from Texas, and this was a Wisconsin state championship game.

Something needs to change. In the past, these two types of schools did have separate tournaments at the season’s close, and a fairer playing field was imminent. The decision to combine them was a mistake that needs to be reversed.

Sure, sports are about more than just winning. But when did high school sports become important enough to move these young kids away from their family and hometowns? If they are truly as gifted as recruiters from private schools think, I am a firm believer that they will receive recognition and success, no matter the school they play for or the state they are in.

Let’s separate private and public schools into two tournaments again. Let’s even the playing field. I am a firm supporter of “Public Power,” as the kids are calling it these days.

With three divisions of football remaining, here is the complete list of state team champions over the past year (with private schools listed in italics):
Boys swimming: Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial, Monona Grove.
Team wrestling: Kaukauna, Ellsworth, Stratford.
Girls hockey: Schofield D.C. Everest.
Boys hockey: Hudson.
Girls basketball: Appleton North, Beaver Dam, Madison Edgewood (over Greendale Martin Luther), Howards Grove (over La Crosse Aquinas), Loyal.
Boys basketball: Stevens Point, La Crosse Central, Appleton Xavier, Milwaukee Destiny (a Milwaukee Public Schools charter school), Barneveld. (Marshfield Columbus Catholic and Manitowoc Roncalli also played at state.)
Boys golf: Hartland Arrowhead (over Milwaukee Marquette), Madison Edgewood, Fond du Lac Springs.
Boys tennis: Milwaukee Marquette, Racine Prairie (over Madison Edgewood).
Girls soccer: Brookfield Central, Whitefish Bay, Waukesha Catholic Memorial, Brookfield Academy.
Girls track and field: Milwaukee King, Wittenberg–Birnamwood, Algoma, Chippewa Falls.
Boys track and field: Kimberly, Appleton Xavier, Coleman, Madison La Follette.
Spring baseball: Kimberly, West Salem, La Crosse Aquinas and Athens.
Softball: Chippewa Falls McDonell Central, Juda/Albany (over Stevens Point Pacelli), Laconia, Rice Lake, Kaukauna.
Summer baseball: West Bend West over Milwaukee Marquette.
Boys cross country: Middleton, Valders, Durand.
Girls cross country: Sun Prairie, Freedom, Dodgeland.
Girls swimming: Middleton and Madison Edgewood.
Girls golf: Hartland Arrowhead, La Crosse Aquinas.
Girls tennis: Mequon Homestead and Milwaukee University School. (Three of the four teams in Division 2 were private schools.)
Boys volleyball: Milwaukee Marquette.
Girls volleyball: Burlington, Lakeside Lutheran, Lake Country Lutheran (over Eau Claire Regis), Clayton (over Oshkosh Lourdes).
Boys soccer: Milwaukee Marquette, Whitefish Bay, Mount Horeb and Racine Prairie.
Football: Bangor over Black Hawk in Division 7, Fond du Lac Springs over Iola–Scandinavia in Division 6, Amherst over Lake Country Lutheran in Division 5, Lodi over St. Croix Central in Division 4. (No private schools are playing today.)

Given that around 15 percent of the schools in Wisconsin are private schools, the argument could be made that private schools are overrepresented at state. The issue is particularly noticeable in girls volleyball. One Division 1 team, two Division 2 teams, two Division 3 teams and two Division 4 teams, out of a total of 20 state teams, were private schools this year. In 2014, three of the four state girls volleyball champions were private schools.

You may notice a number of repeat schools italicized in the previous list — Milwaukee Marquette, Waukesha Catholic Memorial, La Crosse Aquinas, Madison Edgewood and Appleton Xavier, to name five. Fond du Lac Springs is a perennial in football. Burlington Catholic Central has been well represented at state boys tournaments.

You may also notice a number of repeat schools not italicized in that list, chiefly Hartland Arrowhead. Cuba City has been dominant in girls and boys basketball for decades. Kimberly plays today for its fifth consecutive Division 1 football title, having won 69 consecutive games. If you were a freshman at KHS in the fall of 2013, you never saw your Papermakers lose a football game, and the Class of 2018 may be able to say the same thing after this afternoon’s game. Wisconsin now has open public-school enrollment, so if a high school football player wants to play for potential state champion Kimberly, only the Kimberly School District can stop that. (School districts can set limits on how many open-enrollment students can come in, but school districts cannot prevent students from open-enrolling out of the school district.)

The issue has to do with what people consider to be legitimate reasons to not have your child enrolled in the school district where they live. Republicans favored private school choice for Milwaukee Public Schools students because of the crappy state of MPS schools. That extended to public school students statewide. If a better educational opportunity exists in another school district for a family’s child, why should that child not be able to take advantage of that opportunity? The flip side, however, is whether an athletics should be part of that “educational opportunity.”

The reason people get more upset over private-school athletic dynasties than public-school athletic dynasties is the accusation that private schools recruit, either openly or covertly,1 students who otherwise would go to public schools. Private schools have the right to set their own admissions standards and even, I suppose, give tuition discounts (up to 100 percent) to whichever students they like, including gifted athletes. Whether that is right depends on your point of view. Whether private schools, which are smaller in enrollment in the public schools within the metropolitan area from which they recruit students, should compete in the same enrollment division as small-town or rural schools is Jansen’s point.

There have been proposals to do something about that. Minnesota weights enrollment by the percentage of students who get free or reduced-price lunch. Illinois has a multiplier for private schools. Both were considered and rejected in Wisconsin. So was a so-called “success factor” that would have pushed schools that get to state, public or private, up an enrollment class.

The latest proposal from a small-town school superintendent who sits on the WIAA Board of Control is to eliminate the public or private distinctions, but instead assign schools based on the U.S. Census classification of the community they’re in, moving up schools smaller than a certain size if they fit in the City or Suburban category. That would move some, but not all, private schools upward, with the added effect of moving many public schools to smaller enrollment classes. It’s being considered for basketball, possibly as early as next year, and my guess if it’s approved and it has no big issues, it will extend to other sports in the following year.

This is not a universally loved plan. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

Milwaukee-area athletic directors and administrators in attendance at the area meeting in Greenfield two weeks ago essentially dismissed the idea like a shot swatted into the fifth row. There was absolutely no interest in discussing it further. Zero. In every other meeting state-wide, there was a general interest in continuing the discussion.

What that means is anyone’s guess. The plan we see now doesn’t have to be the one that is voted on early next year and there is obviously no guarantee anything will pass.

What is clear is that schools in the Milwaukee area need to make sure their opinions are heard and that they contribute to the process. Otherwise, you might not like what you get.

“My hope is that through the coaches advisory, sports advisory and advisory council process that they tease out some things that make it better or make it more closer to the end product,” said board member Luke Francois, who crafted the plan.

Monday’s area meeting at Mount Horeb High School was the last of seven the WIAA held around the state. Schools in Mount Horeb’s region have been the loudest in the push for greater competitive equity in the state. Francois, the superintendent at Mineral Point, represents the area.

As the plan reads now, any urban schools with an enrollment below 600 would play in Division 3. That means you Salam (enrollment 151) and Heritage Christian (165). Ditto for Milwaukee Juneau (203) and Milwaukee Academy of Science (200). Defending Division 4 state champion Destiny (285) could handle the move up a division on the boys side, but the girls team won one game last season.

Using the most current enrollment numbers, the enrollment disparity in the division would be 588-61.

As one administrator noted Monday, “That’s not good for kids.”

When the plan was discussed at Greenfield, it was ripped for segregating schools and some wondered its passage would set the up WIAA for a lawsuit.

I don’t like the plan. If the issue of competitive equity is going to be dealt with, it should be done in a manner that doesn’t just help smaller schools in one sport. It should apply to all sports and do so in a way that doesn’t target schools because of their location.

Otherwise, you’ll get what we have now, which is many people in this part of state feeling like they’re targeted because of their success.

But that’s just me talking. I’m not a coach or an AD or a principal of students who would be affected by this. Those are the people who need to make sure they’re heard on this topic.

The WIAA plans to convene its basketball coaches advisory committee as soon as possible. At that meeting, the group can vote in favor or vote against what has been proposed or amend it and then make a vote. It will then continue to move through the committee structure and eventually back to the board of control for its January meeting. At that time a final vote is expected to be taken.

”This is where I’d look to my friends in the southeastern part of the state to help us tweak this to help us address their concerns,” Francois said.

Many of the sentiments in that Journal Sentinel opinion could be said to express the attitude that “we’ve got ours; the hell with you.” There is a line roughly from metro Green Bay to metro Madison east of which population growth, including school enrollment growth, is taking place (except in the city of Milwaukee), and west of which population growth is not taking place. Schools east of that line are able to spend more money on activities, including athletics, because they have more students and more money.

Another option would be to simply assign private schools to their own state tournament classes. The WIAA could, for instance, change from five basketball divisions to four public-school divisions and two private-school divisions and keep the state tournament at three days. (In fact, adding a division would add a session to state and thus bring in more money, something lost when the WIAA went from four divisions to five, eliminating the Division 1 quarterfinal round.) That would negate the rationale for the merger of the WIAA and the former Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association in 2000. Private schools don’t appear to want to be handicapped, but public schools the size of private schools claim they’re already being handicapped.

The even bigger issue, perhaps, is how society feels about sports. You can tell high school students and their parents that it’s much easier to earn academic scholarships in college than athletic scholarships, and the message goes in one ear and out the other. You can pass on the percentage of high school students who become professional athletes — 1 percent or less. You can point out that high schools produce more professional musicians than pro athletes. No dose of reality seems to work on high school students with unrealistic expectations, or parents forcing aspirations on their own kids that they themselves couldn’t reach.

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State of the stadium

At 10 this morning (Central Standard Time) I will be calling the 2017 WIAA state Division 7 football championship here.

This will be the third state football championship game I’ve called. The first two were losses — Platteville to Winneconne in the 2013 Cinderella Bowl (both teams ended up 9–5, which is an unusual record for the top two teams in a division), and Shullsburg to Edgar last year. That doesn’t really minimize the experience because I got to announce the last game of the year (in their enrollment divisions) those years. I’ve also done state basketball championship games where the right team won.

The worst game to lose is not the state championship game, though you might think that. The worst game to lose is the game before state — Level 4 in Wisconsin football and the sectional final in other sports. That’s because if you lose that game, regardless of what you accomplished, it won’t include the state tournament experience — having entire communities wound up for you, having your games on statewide TV, being on Camp Randall’s field or the Kohl Center or Resch Center’s floor, and having your name reverberate through those stadiums when introduced.

 

The press box’s big three

I had a great time announcing a women’s basketball game at the UW–Madison Kohl Center Wednesday.

The team I was covering lost 107–58, and we had some technical problems. I don’t care. It was still fun. Sports announcing, as I think I’ve said here before, is the most fun thing I do in my life.

I pointed out to my on-air partner how things had changed in that neighborhood over the years. Thirty years ago, when I was a UW journalism and political science student (pause to blow the dust off myself), the first story I did for my TV news class was of a proposal to finally build a replacement for the Fieldhouse and the Dane County Coliseum on the east side of campus where students lived in old houses. As part of that story I got to interview UW men’s basketball coach Steve Yoder and hockey coach Jeff Sauer, and they were nicer to students who weren’t their own players than one would figure. (Sauer was a class act who didn’t get enough credit for his coaching success.)

The Kohl Center did open in 1997, after Herb Kohl donated $25 million of the $72 million for it. A lot changed at UW over that time, beginning with cratering football, followed by football’s rebirth. Twenty years after it opened, I cannot think of a better college basketball facility, and it’s better than the soon-to-be-replaced Bradley Center in Milwaukee, since the Herb Garden has basketball sightlines patterned on the Fieldhouse and the Bradley Center did not.

Then while wasting time on Facebook (and I apologize for the redundancy) someone mentioned former UW football announcer Fred Gage. Which got me to find this:

Long off the tee and legendary around a piano bar, Fred Gage was a pillar of the local radio market and a voice of the Badgers in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. He was also a pretty good athlete. At Green Bay East High School, he competed in football, basketball and golf. At UW (1938-1940), he lettered three times in football for head coach Harry Stuhldreher. One of his earliest teammates was running back Howie Weiss, the Big Ten MVP and sixth-place finisher on the 1938 Heisman ballot.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Gage returned to Madison and went to work in the communications business with the Capital Times and WIBA radio (the former owned the latter through 1977). In the late ’60s, Gage was instrumental in expanding the FM band, out of which “Radio Free Madison” was born. Besides sitting on the board of directors of the Cap Times and the Evjue Foundation, he was one of the top amateur golfers in the state of Wisconsin.

It has always been hard to sell Shreveport, Louisiana, as a desired postseason destination. But the Independence Bowl committee scored a major coup in 1982 by landing Don Meredith to be the guest speaker at the luncheon honoring the competing teams, Kansas State and Wisconsin.

Meredith, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback (1960-68), was then sharing ABC’s Monday Night Football booth with Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and Fran Tarkenton.

“Everyone has asked me what Howard is really like,” Meredith crowed to the gathering. “Well, he’s a guy who changes his name from Cohen to Cosell, wears a toupee and says he’s telling it like it is. You’ve got to be kidding.”

That got yuks from the audience, which included announcers from Wisconsin’s three broadcasting teams. Prior to radio exclusivity, Madison listeners could choose from Jim Irwin and Ron Vander Kelen (WISM), Earl Gillespie and Marsh Shapiro (WTSO) or Fred Gage and John Jardine (WIBA).

Following the luncheon, Gage and Jardine, the former UW head coach, were mumbling to themselves “You’ve got to be kidding” when they learned of their broadcast position for the game. Because the stadium press box was too small to accommodate everyone, they drew the short straw.

Gage and Jardine were perched on top of the press box. They had to climb a ladder to get there. Save for a tent over their heads, they were exposed to the elements. Of course, it rained. Cats and dogs rain. Thunder and lightning. Sideways rain. Below freezing temps and 23 mph gusts.

About 50,000 tickets were sold. About 25,000 showed up.

On the air, Gage noted that the Independence Bowl committee had spent $20,000 to paint the field with a gigantic red, white and blue eagle, whose wings spread from the 20-yard-line to the 20-yard-line. But he quipped that they hadn’t spent a nickel on a tarp to protect the field.

Gage and Jardine soldiered on. As they did famously throughout their friendship. When Jardine retired from coaching, he had his choice of analyst jobs.

“My dad had a choice between taking the money (from the other competing radio stations) or hanging out with Fred on a Saturday afternoon,” Dan Jardine once recalled fondly of the negotiations. “And he went with hanging out with Fred on a Saturday afternoon.”

Friday nights were fun, too. Especially since Gage could never turn down an opportunity to belt out “Danny Boy” — his go-to Irish ballad. Former UW athletic director Pat Richter used to say, “There are certain people who are characters in every lovable sense of the word and Fred was one of them.”

Gage was the Voice of the Badgers in football for 35 years.

As previously mentioned, there were other “Voices” who shared the stage before exclusivity.

Irwin was best known as the Voice of the Packers. That was his title for 30 years — 20 of which were spent bantering with analyst Max McGee, the former Lombardi-era wide receiver. There was a folksiness to their broadcasts, not unlike Fred and John. They were Jim and Max to their loyal fans.

Irwin was ubiquitous.

In addition to his “Ironman” stretch with the Packers, 612 consecutive regular season and postseason games, he was a voice of Wisconsin football for 22 years. During that period, Irwin missed only one Badgers game, and that was when his father died in 1977.

In another role, Irwin was the Voice of Hoops in the state. He did UW basketball for five years and UW-Milwaukee games for two years during which his partner was Bob Uecker, for whom he’d sub on Brewers broadcasts. Moreover, Irwin was the voice of the Milwaukee Bucks for 16 years.

Irwin was indefatigable.

For those 16 years, he pulled off the hat trick as a voice of the Packers, Badgers and Bucks.

“I probably had, from a sportscaster’s standpoint, the three best jobs in the state and that’s very fortunate,” Irwin told the Wisconsin State Journal in 1999. “But I don’t know whether I would recommend anybody trying to do that. It was a logistics nightmare trying to get to all of those events.”

It might mean covering the Bucks on Friday, the Badgers on Saturday, the Packers on Sunday.

There was even an occasional doubleheader.

“There were a number of times when I would do a Packers game,” Irwin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “then jump in a plane and fly home for the Bucks. Somebody else would start the (Bucks) game and I would slide into the chair at the end of the first quarter and take over.”

While Irwin was synonymous with the Packers, he had strong feelings for the Badgers.

So did Gillespie, who was the Voice of the Milwaukee Braves after the franchise moved from Boston in 1953. Gillespie’s run lasted a decade. (The Braves eventually relocated to Atlanta in 1966.)

His signature phrase with the Braves was “Holy Cow,” which he began using while broadcasting the Class AAA Milwaukee Brewers in the early ’50s. Even Harry Caray conceded Gillespie used it first. “You tried to paint a picture with your words and I painted it the way it looked to me,” Gillespie said.

When covering the Badgers, he used broad strokes.

“There are so many people in the business who look for the glass being half-empty,” Shapiro, a longtime TV sports anchor in Madison and the owner of the Nitty Gritty, once noted. “Earl always looked for the bright side and it was always half full when he talked about Wisconsin football.”

Whether listening to Gage, Irwin or Gillespie, the results were always the same even though the on-air presentations were different. So it was on Dec. 11, 1982, when the Badgers beat Kansas State, 14-3, in the Independence Bowl. It was the school’s first bowl win.

But it was not Gage’s and Jardine’s first rodeo.

They survived the wind, rain and rooftop view.

It’s a safe bet that they even toasted to it once or twice.

Jardine, who stayed at Wisconsin after he retired as football coach and did a lot for the UW, was Gage’s last on-air partner. Having done a high school football playoff game on a press box roof in similarly dire weather (no rain, but 50-mph winds), I am highly amused at the thought of having to do a Division I bowl game (known to the UW Band as the “Inconvenience Bowl,” because it was played the day before fall-semester final exams, and known by others as the “Insignifance Bowl”) outside. Somewhat amazingly, the Independence Bowl (now sponsored by something called Walk-On’s Bistro and Bar, previously sponsored by the Poulan Weed Eater) still exists today.

Gage’s UW broadcast was only on WIBA in Madison. Gillespie’s broadcast originated, believe it or don’t, in Wisconsin Rapids; his partner before Shapiro was ’60s Packers radio announcer Ted Moore. Gillespie, as you know, was the first voice of the Milwaukee Braves.

Irwin’s broadcast originated from WTMJ in Milwaukee and was on WTSO before WISM. When Gage and Jardine retired, their replacements were Paul “Shotandagoal” Braun and former UW tight end Stu Voigt, who did Vikings radio for several years. There were two other broadcasts until UW decided to consolidate broadcast rights in the late 1980s.

Irwin first worked with Gary Bender (as well on Packer games) …

… and then got the play-by-play role when Bender left for CBS, leading to …

Those three and others worked during the days when the Badgers would go entire seasons without being on TV. (Though Wisconsin Public Television carried replays the night of the game, with Braun announcing.) The only way to follow what was happening at Camp Randall if you weren’t there was by radio.

Irony that didn’t happen: Had Bender, instead of (future Bucks announcer) Howard David, had done the game (it was a syndicated broadcast), he would have been announcing his alma mater (Kansas State) against one of his former employers (Wisconsin). Irony that did happen: The Badger quarterback that year was Randy Wright, who ended up getting drafted by the Packers and replacing KSU alum Lynn Dickey as quarterback.

 

If it’s Wednesday I’m in …

I am making my season college basketball announcing debut tonight when UW–Platteville plays Wisconsin in women’s basketball from the Kohl Center on http://www.am1590wpvl.com at 7 p.m.

This is a first for me because I have never announced a game for an opponent of my high school or college alma mater. However, it’s an exhibition game. It will also be the first time I have ever announced a game where the UW Band will play.

I have done two Division I games. The first was when Ripon College played at Utah (the defending national runner-up, coached by the entertaining Rick Majerus) in 1999. It was a great trip extended because the day of the game O’Hare International Airport in Chicago was hit by two feet of snow, pushing our departure three days back. About 18 inches of snow fell that night in Ripon, and since the game wasn’t on TV the radio station news and sports director said they probably set a listener record.

The second was when the UW–Platteville men played at UW–Milwaukee (then coached by former UWP guard Rob Jeter) in 2014. I sat courtside at the old Milwaukee (now Panther) Arena, the same place where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Sidney Moncrief played and Al McGuire and Don Nelson coached. That was a cool realization that I didn’t get to savor because after that game I had to run from Milwaukee to Green Bay to announce two days of state volleyball.

The great thing about doing college sports is that someone else does some of your work for you — compiling statistics going into the game (though that is now easier thanks to such websites as WisSports.net and MaxPreps), and statistics and other information during the game from sports information directors. That takes one big thing off your plate to allow you more time to report and observe. (Packers announcer Wayne Larrivee says the hardest sport to announce is high school football due to the need to generate your own information, along with sometimes, shall we say, interesting settings. I think a lot of high school announcers put into a major college or pro broadcast would probably sound a lot better just because they would have comparably less to do.)

Then, Friday night, I get to announce a Level 4 football game between Black Hawk and Fall River from Middleton on http://www.wglr.com. Level 4 is the game before state, so of course it is the most pressure-packed game of all.

Wait! There’s more! I am also making my public address announcing debut at UW–Platteville’s final football game of the season against UW–Stevens Point Saturday at 2 p.m. (If you listen to the game online here, you may be able to faintly hear me. I will not be doing any sort of impression of Michael “lllllllletsgetreadytorumbbbbllllllllleeeeeee!” Buffer.)

 

The Anthemgate we deserve

As usual, Mike Rowe gets to the crux of the matter about Anthemgate:

In democracies, we the people get the government we deserve. We also get the celebrities we deserve, the artists we deserve, and the athletes we deserve. Because ultimately, we the people get to decide who and what gets our attention, and who and what does not.

Right now, The NFL, the players who choose to kneel, the networks who choose to broadcast their protest, the advertisers who sponsor the games, and the President of the United States, are all eager for our attention. And they are all using football to get it. That’s all well and good, right up to the point where it isn’t. In my view, the real controversy here isn’t about patriotism, social justice, racial inequality, or free speech. It’s not even about the flag or the national anthem. It’s really only about one thing – what we will tolerate, and what we won’t.

I was disappointed … to hear President Trump encourage owners to fire players who refuse to stand for the anthem. Not because I dispute the owners right to do so, or the players right to protest. I was disappointed because the President’s comments presuppose that the owners are in charge of the game. They’re not. We are. We decide what to watch, and that decision – far more than any other consideration – will determine the what the owners choose to do. And that in turn will affect what the players choose to do.

As the leader of the country, the President had an opportunity to remind us that The NFL, the networks who broadcast their games, and all of the players – standers and kneelers alike – work for us. He might have also used the occasion to remind us that he too, serves at our pleasure.

I felt a similar bemusement when the Commissioner issued his response, followed by the President of the Player’s Union. Their comments – along with the comments of many of the players themselves – were perfectly reasonable, perfectly understandable, and perfectly in keeping with their first amendment rights. But they were also perfectly arrogant. Because they too, presuppose that millions of fans will continue to watch them play a game – no matter what.

Perhaps they’re right. Historically, football fans have shown a collective willingness to ignore and enable all sorts of dubious behavior. The players have agents and unions, the owners have money and power, and the fans are always caught in the middle. The resulting strikes and the constant uprooting of teams from broken-hearted towns proves beyond all question the overall lack of regard for fans in general.

… The fans of professional football are not powerless – they’re just not yet offended enough to turn the channel. Should that ever change in a meaningful way – if for instance, a percentage of football fans relative to those players who chose to kneel during today’s games, chose to watch something else next Sunday – I can assure you…the matter would be resolved by Monday.

Two views on Anthemgate

Proving itself not a monolith, National Review has two different perspectives on Anthemgate.

First, David French defends the First Amendment against the man who swore Jan. 20 to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States””

Americans do not and should not worship idols. We do not and should not worship the flag. As a nation we stand in respect for the national anthem and stand in respect for the flag not simply because we were born here or because it’s our flag. We stand in respect because the flag represents a specific set of values and principles: that all men are created equal and that we are endowed with our Creator with certain unalienable rights. These

These ideals were articulated in the Declaration of Independence, codified in the Constitution, and defended with the blood of patriots. Central to them is the First Amendment, the guarantee of free expression against government interference and government reprisal that has made the United States unique among the world’s great powers. Arguably, it is the single most important liberty of all, because it enables the defense of all the others: Without the right to speak freely we cannot even begin to point out offenses against the rest of the Constitution.

Now, with that as a backdrop, which is the greater danger to the ideals embodied by the American flag, a few football players’ taking a knee at the national anthem or the most powerful man in the world’s demanding that they be fired and their livelihoods destroyed for engaging in speech he doesn’t like?

As my colleague Jim Geraghty notes this morning, too many in our polarized nation have lately developed a disturbing habit of zealously defending the free speech of people they like while working overtime to find reasons to justify censoring their ideological enemies. How many leftists who were yelling “free speech” yesterday are only too happy to sic the government on the tiny few bakers or florists who don’t want to use their artistic talents to celebrate events they find offensive? How many progressives who celebrated the First Amendment on Sunday sympathize with college students who chant “speech is violence” and seek to block conservatives from college campuses?

The hypocrisy runs the other way, too. I was startled to see many conservatives who decried Google’s termination of a young, dissenting software engineer work overtime yesterday to argue that Trump was somehow in the right. Yet Google is a private corporation and Trump is the most powerful government official in the land. The First Amendment applies to Trump, not Google, and his demands for reprisals are ultimately far more ominous, given his job, than even the actions of the largest corporations. Google, after all, has competitors. Google commands no police force. Everything it does is replaceable.

In the space of less than 24 hours this weekend, the president of the United States did more to politicize sports than ESPN has done in a decade of biased, progressive programming. He singled out free speech he didn’t like, demanded that dissenters be fired, and then — when it became clear that private American citizens weren’t going to do what he demanded — he urged the economic boycott of their entire industry.

He told his political opponents on the football field — men who have defined their lives and careers by their mental and physical toughness — to essentially, “Do what I say or lose your job.” In so doing, he put them in straits far more difficult to navigate than anything Colin Kaepernick has wrought: Stand and they are seen to obey a man who just abused his office, and millions of Americans will view them as a sellout not just to the political cause they love but also to the Constitution itself; kneel and they defy a rogue president, but millions of Americans will view them as disrespecting the nation itself to score political points against a president those Americans happen to like.

At one stroke, thanks to an attempted vulgar display of strength, Trump changed the playing of the anthem and the display of the flag from a moment where all but the most radical Americans could unite to one where millions of well-meaning Americans could and did legitimately believe that the decision to kneel represented a defense of the ideals of the flag, not defiance of the nation they love.

So, yes, I understand why they knelt. I understand why men who would never otherwise bring politics onto the playing field — and never had politicized sports before — felt that they could not be seen to comply with a demagogue’s demands. I understand why even owners who gave millions to Trump expressed solidarity with their players. I understand why even Trump supporters like Rex Ryan were appalled at the president’s actions.

I fear that those who proclaimed [Monday’s] events a “win” for the president — after all, many of the players were booed for their stance, and in American politics you generally don’t want to be seen as taking sides against the flag — are missing the forest for the trees. If we lose respect for the First Amendment, then politics becomes purely about power. If we no longer fight to secure the same rights for others that we demand for ourselves, we become more tribal, and America becomes less exceptional.

I respect Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle (and former Army ranger) Alejandro Villanueva, who — alone among his teammates — came out of the locker room to stand for the pledge while the rest of his team remained off the field. I also respect players who reluctantly, but acting out of the conviction that they will not be bullied by the president, chose to kneel when they otherwise never would. I do not, however, respect the actions of Donald Trump. This weekend, he didn’t make America great. He made its politics worse.

When the history of this unfortunate, polarized era of American life is written, whether a man stood or knelt will matter far less than the values we all lived by. Americans who actually defend the letter and spirit of the First Amendment will stand (or kneel) proudly in the history books. Those who seek to punish their political opponents’ speech, on the other hand, can stand or kneel as they wish — so long as they hang their heads in shame.

Next, Kyle Smith decries how Trump politicized the NFL when he should have shut the hell up:

A few weeks ago, there was nothing left of Colin Kaepernick’s ill-advised national-anthem protest except a few dying embers. Now the twin bellows that are President Trump’s lungs have blown a blast of pure oxygen into the fire. Suddenly, it’s going stronger than ever.

If you’re an NFL fan, you can only be aghast at what Trump has done. His side — our side, the side that said you shouldn’t insult the flag because of the mistakes made by some police officers — was winning. All Trump had to do to secure this small but important victory was keep his mouth shut. Kaepernick had suffered the twin humiliations of being forced to recant his position last spring by promising to end his pregame protests and being snubbed by every NFL team this summer, which left him free to spend the opening weeks of the season protesting injustice from his couch. Copycat demonstrations were dwindling out.

Now, thanks to Trump, Sunday brought the spectacle of more dismaying national-anthem protests than ever before. Players were taking a knee from coast to coast. We were presented with the mind-boggling spectacle of Patriots players being booed by Patriots fans for being unpatriotic.

Or maybe they were just backing the First Amendment. Or expressing solidarity with fellow athletes such as NBA superstar Stephen Curry, whom Trump blasted in a tweet. Or simply expressing the sentiment that the president of the United States should stay out of their business. Trump gave them a pile of reasons to politicize the presentation of the flag.

How can anyone who wanted the NFL to shed its political baggage possibly back Trump this time? Football, and sports in general, had for many years served as a welcome refuge from questions about race. The link between Black Lives Matter and taking a knee during the National Anthem brought racial resentment to the field of play. Trump made that much, much worse.

Trump’s latest move may, as Rich Lowry has suggested, benefit him personally. Broadly speaking, he and the flag are on the same side. But it would benefit him personally if every American were forced to serve Trump-branded wine and steak for dinner once a week. What damage is he doing to the rest of us in the cause of furthering his own party-of-one agenda? If you wince at the way it seems that every awards show, late-night comic, and even horror story is obsessed with Trump, why would you back Trump baiting the NFL and the national anthem to also become all about him? “I never signed up for that,” said Trump supporter Rex Ryan, the former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills coach who is now an ESPN analyst.

Those of us who didn’t vote for Trump because we’re more conservative than he is — not to mention more patriotic, being appalled by his suggestion that John McCain is a loser for allowing himself to get captured — are in the position of perhaps being associated with him simply by standing for the national anthem. Now non-radical liberals, people who would never (as Kaepernick idiotically did) wear a Castro T-shirt or socks depicting police as pigs and who would ordinarily never show disrespect during the national anthem, are tempted to scowl at the flag because Trump has stamped his brand all over it. The simplest, most unifying things become divisive in the age of Trump. America is a lot surlier and more disputatious than it was just a few days ago. This is not progress.

Barack Obama was frequently, and rightly, criticized for wading into cultural areas he would have been better advised to avoid, as when he made himself part of the Trayvon Martin case by saying, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” He suggested Christians had little moral standing to oppose Islamist terror because of the Crusades. He repeatedly issued off-hand insults when saying things like, “Typically, when people feel stressed, they turn on others who don’t look like them.” The White House formed a partnership with the Academy Awards when Michelle Obama called the 2013 Oscar for Best Picture.

Trump has gone much farther down this road than Obama did. Comparing Obama’s culture war to Trump’s is like comparing a sword to a tank. One did real damage. The other is far worse. Obama chose to do the things that made him an incredibly divisive president. The response to that on the part of those who opposed him shouldn’t be, “Let’s have our guy be even more divisive.”

America doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be the case that we have a president who seizes on disputes from pop culture and entertainment and makes them into sources of national irritation. Football shouldn’t be a political football. May the next president have the wisdom to mollify, de-escalate, and lower the volume. May the next president make America normal again.

Anthemgate

Rich Galen begins by telling the story of how we got to yesterday:

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to sit during the traditional playing of the National Anthem during last year’s pre-season games. Kaepernick said, when asked about his then one-man protest:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Over time, as happens so often, it is not the issue Kaepernick was protesting that has become the source of dispute, but the fact that he and others are protesting at all.

The thing about protests is, they don’t do much until they do become the focus of the discussion.

Rosa Parks first got thrown off a bus in 1943 for entering through the front, and not the rear, door.

But, we didn’t know about that at the time. In 1955 she was arrested for having violated Alabama law by refusing to give up her seat to a White man when the bus was full.

“I did not get on the bus to get arrested; I got on the bus to go home.”By then she was a member of the NAACP which took up her cause and the Civil Rights movement in the United States got a huge boost. And, the 1943 incident became part of the Rosa Parks story.

For the half-century since Rosa Parks was arrested, the Civil Rights Movement has been at least as much of a point of disagreement as civil rights themselves.

Is Colin Kaepernick the NFL equivalent of Rosa Parks? Those are the kinds of things you can’t know until well after the fact.

We do know that Kaepernick was not released by the 49ers for his actions. He, in effect, released himself this past March when he opted out of his contract to become a free agent.

Whether he is still a free agent because of his actions is a matter of some discussion on sports talk programs across the nation.

The other night – also in Alabama – Donald Trump told a political crowd, according to CNN’s report:

“Team owners should fire players for taking a knee during the national anthem. Trump added that if fans would ‘leave the stadium’ when players kneel in protest during the national anthem, ‘I guarantee, things will stop.'”

Sounded just like Voltaire.

Before Sunday’s early games just about every team had some players who stood, some who kneeled, some who sat on the bench and one – the Pittsburgh Steelers – stayed off the field until the Anthem was finished.

In the NFL game played in London (9:30 AM Eastern time) several players on both sides knelt for the National Anthem, but they all stood for “God Save the Queen.”

SIDEBAR

Maybe that’s the answer. Play “God Save the Queen” before every NFL Game just like they did before 1776.

END SIDEBAR

… Unlike Rosa Parks – and many other Civil Rights leaders – no NFL player is likely to be arrested, attacked with a fire hose, or lynched.

For his part, Donald Trump got back on Air Force One after his speech, glowing with self-appreciation on the ride back to Washington, DC, reinforced by his staff chattering like a group of bad angels perched on his shoulder: “You were terrific, tonight.”

Thus, reinforcing Trump’s bad behavior.

Do I agree with these protests? No. Nor, do I agree with Donald Trump’s taunting the players because of them.

I have, in fact, put my life at risk to defend the players’ right to protest, and for Donald Trump to be able to continue acting like Donald Trump.

And, so have many of you.

As far as Kaepernick and his lack of employment are concerned: Every time I see someone saying the NFL needs to stop blackballing Kaepernick, I ask whether that person would want his team to sign him. I have yet to get an answer.

This could be said to be one giant diversionary tactic on the part of Trump and the NFL. Trump is trying to rev up his base, perhaps to divert attention on what he hasn’t accomplished — the Mexican wall, immigration reform (whatever his position is on that today), ending ObamaCare, cutting taxes, cutting the federal debt, ending the North Korean and Iran threats, stomping out radical Islam, and all the other things he promised and has so far failed to deliver upon. (Those are Congress’ fault? That’s not something a leader would complain about.) Trump accomplished nothing to Make America Great Again through inserting himself into something he should have stayed out of.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this …

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month,” Goodell said in the statement.

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

… perhaps to get everyone’s attention away from the claim by the attorney for NFL tight end-turned-murderer Aaron Hernandez that he had severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which doesn’t put football in a very good light. The NFL is also being cynical by making players stand on the field for the National Anthem when it could deflate this issue by having the players in the locker room while it is played (as used to be the case).

Facebook Friend Kevin Binversie says:

No doubt most Americans agree with Mr. Trump that they don’t want their flag disrespected, especially by millionaire athletes. But Mr. Trump never stops at reasonable, and so he called for kneeling players to be fired or suspended, and if the league didn’t comply for fans to “boycott” the NFL.

He also plunged into the debate over head injuries without a speck of knowledge about the latest brain science, claiming that the NFL was “ruining the game” by trying to stop dangerous physical hits. This is the kind of rant you’d hear in a lousy sports bar.

Mr. Trump has managed to unite the players and owners against him, though several owners supported him for President and donated to his inaugural. The owners were almost obliged to defend their sport, even if their complaints that Mr. Trump was “divisive” ignored the divisive acts by Mr. Kaepernick and his media allies that injected politics into football in the first place.

Americans don’t begrudge athletes their free-speech rights—see the popularity of Charles Barkley —but disrespecting the national anthem puts partisanship above a symbol of nationhood that thousands have died for. Players who chose to kneel shouldn’t be surprised that fans around the country booed them on Sunday. This is the patriotic sentiment that they are helping Mr. Trump exploit for what he no doubt thinks is his own political advantage.

American democracy was healthier when politics at the ballpark was limited to fans booing politicians who threw out the first ball—almost as a bipartisan obligation. This showed a healthy skepticism toward the political class. But now the players want to be politicians and use their fame to lecture other Americans, the parsons of the press corps want to make them moral spokesmen, and the President wants to run against the players.

The losers are the millions of Americans who would rather cheer for their teams on Sunday as a respite from work and the other divisions of American life.

I understand that this is not technically a First Amendment issue, because the NFL is the employer of all the protesting players, and the First Amendment protects us from government abrogation of free expression. It is certainly an issue in the spirit of the First Amendment, however. (How many people would like to be fired from their employer for doing a non-work activity on work time, such as picking up a child from school, making a personal phone call, or, heaven forbid, making a social media post during work hours?) I also understand that the First Amendment doesn’t include protections from the consequences of someone’s free expression. But on the other hand, the First Amendment doesn’t protect anyone from being offended or feeling disrespected at someone else’s free expression.

Trump fails again here because, unlike everyone else in this idiocy, the president swears to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That includes the First Amendment rights of those who disagree with him.

It is also true that the U.S. flag is not Donald Trump. (Thank heavens.) I don’t think kneeling is necessarily disrespect. Sitting, as four Packer players did during the National Anthem before Sunday’s Bengals–Packers heart attack — I mean football game — is disrespect, intended or not.

The U.S. flag and the National Anthem frankly are less important than the U.S. Constitution is to this country. Ask yourself this question: What if the United States of America was a Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton/Charles Schumer/Nancy Pelosi wet dream, where the government took every dollar of our work, gave conservatives no right to free expression, allowed us no gun rights, gave us no rights against unreasonable search and seizure and self-incrimination, and didn’t let us elect our leaders? Would you still love your country if it wasn’t worth loving?

Facebook Friend Michael Smith lays out the myriad stupidities:

Fact 1: The “kneeling” fad started with the San Francisco 49ers and this “protest” has spread to the NBA via the Golden State Warriors and MLB’s Oakland A’s. What do all these teams have in common? They are all from California, specifically the San Francisco Bay Area, where social justice warrioring is less of a hobby and more of a full time job.

Fact 2: The paradox of the wealthy progressive is at play. The “protesters” are by and large, a very privileged group – being millionaire athletes. Their very existence disproves their premise that America is inherently racist.

Fact 3: These “protests” are narcissistic. The leader of the Golden State Social Justice Warrior basketball team’s opposition to “racism” is Steph Curry – the son of a millionaire former NBA player, Dell Curry. Steph went to private schools as a kid and to college on a full ride scholarship (even though his family was of significant financial means) due to his on-the-court skills and who, in June of this year, signed a 5-year, $201 million dollar deal. People accuse Trump of being a narcissist (with good reason) but these protests by highly compensated athletes reek of narcissism as well.

Fact 4: The “protesters” cannot seem to articulate what it is that they are actually protesting other than to mumble a bunch of generalities ending with the word “Trump.” The “protests” are also dripping in hypocrisy – athletes feel free to directly attack certain people but when they catch a little return fire, they claim to be the victims. Yesterday, Curry was quoted as saying:

“It’s surreal, to be honest. I don’t know why he feels the need to target certain individuals, rather than others. I have an idea of why, but it’s kind of beneath a leader of a country to go that route. That’s not what leaders do.”

These “protests” aren’t principled – they are purely political. Curry quipped, “I’ve played golf with President Obama,” Curry said. “I’m pretty sure I won’t get a tee time invite during this regime.”

No doubt where Steph stands.

Look, I sort of agree with Curry about one thing – that this is beneath the Presidency – what Steph Curry, Colin Kaepernick or Bruce Maxwell think should not occupy one second of his time. By and large, the professional sports market is just that, it is a market for people with very specific talents, primarily talents possessed by minorities but other than for entertainment, professional sports is inconsequential to the pressing issues of this country. That is why I think it was beneath the office for Trump to engage in a petty and stupid fight with privileged millionaire pro athletes about fake issues.

Facebook Friend Devin Rhys adds three more points:

1. A lot of people whining about have never been in the military and are using the military to justice their snowflake whining. We didnt serve to protect speech everyone loves. We served to protect the speech everyone hates.

2. A lot of people supporting the protests (players and such) arent brave. Doing something that everyone else is doing is being a sheep, not being brave. The Army ranger in Pittsburgh is more of a hero than anyone kneeling could ever be. …

4. President Trump was a jackass for making this bigger than it was. This entire weekend was his fault.

(Yes, the order was correct. Devin is a 49ers fan, and points three and five were about his sad-sack team.)

It was pointed out in our own house that all the NFL Anthem kneelers are accomplishing nothing by their protests. And they’re not. In fact, as Kennedy Democrat Vince Lombardi put it:

“Our society, at the present time, seems to have sympathy only for the misfit, the ne’er-do well, the maladjusted, the criminal, the loser. It is time to stand up for the doer, the achiever, the one who sets out to do something and does it. The one who recognizes the problems and opportunities at hand, and deals with them, and is successful, and is not worrying about the failings of others. The one who is constantly looking for more to do. The one who carries the work of the world on his shoulders.”

Protesters aren’t really doing that merely by protesting.

The real bottom line comes from Facebook Friend Nathan Schacht:

The Packers made $441 million in revenue last year, $244 million came from national TV revenue. Until those advertisers care, the NFL won’t.

Facebook Friend Jason Wisniewski adds (capital letters his):

Out of 1696 players in the NFL only 43 protest the national anthem. That is less than 3%. Over 97% of players DON’T protest. Teams like the VIKINGS, COWBOYS & LIONS to name a few have ZERO players protesting.

I am not going to let less than 3% of players ruin the sport I grew up on and love that keeps me sane. I will NOT boycott the entire NFL over this.

He lost his way by rooting for a Packer rival after that, but he started in the right direction. There is already too much politics in our world, and it’s quite unfortunate that Trump decided to insert more politics into sports.

My Facebook feed was full of promises Sunday to never watch the Packers or the NFL again. Why do you care? Why do you care what Kaepernick thinks, or any of the Packers, or Trump, or Goodell, or what any other celebrity (and politicians are unfortunately celebrities) thinks on this or any other issue? I honestly do not care what NFL players do during the National Anthem, or their reasons for standing, kneeling, sitting, raising fists or anything else.

This is the latest sad example of where we have sunk to as a country, when someone else’s free expression is an affront to yourself if it represents a point of view contrary to yours.

60 years ago tonight

On a Monday night at Milwaukee County Stadium 60 years ago, the Milwaukee Braves took on the St. Louis Cardinals in an effort to clinch the National League pennant.

Here, not in a MP3 file, is how Braves announcer Earl Gillespie called the bottom of the 11th inning.

Foreshadowing alert: Here’s the finish (not narrated by Gillespie):

Gillespie and Harry Caray, then the Cardinals’ announcer, both were known to exclaim “Holy Cow!” They probably both said that this night, though for different reasons.

The next afternoon’s Milwaukee Journal reported thusly:

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