Monthly Archives: August 2013

Friday musings

* The drive to Manhattan, which I made earlier today for K-State’s football opener against North Dakota State, is one of my favorites. I like coming up through Abilene on Highway 15. There’s just something about driving through Abilene that soothes me. I think it’s a combination of the historic, tree-lined homes and the Dwight Eisenhower presidential library. Abilene is one of my favorite Kansas towns. I think the fine folks of Abilene will enjoy knowing that.

* I like the Cardinals’ acquisition of reliever John Axford from Milwaukee. Axford was a beast for the Brewers in 2010 and 2011. He’s still relatively young (30) and every team needs bullpen help at this late stage of the season. Axford costs the Cardinals a player to be named later. In a tight pennant race with the Pirates and Reds, this move was a no-brainer. If Axford doesn’t work out, the Cardinals non-tender him at the end of the season. And that’s that.

* I know it’s football season now and everybody is excited. But let’s not forget about baseball. OK? Please? The final month of the baseball season is wonderful and it has a little more meaning around here since the Kansas City Royals are still on the cusp of contention.

* “Ray Donovan” has at least two “did that really happen?” moments per episode. I love this show but I’m also prone to hyperbole. So when I say that this HBO show is in the same league as “The Sopranos,” should I be wheeled away to a rubber room? Tell me.

* “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad,” two of my all-time favorites, are nearing their end. So while I greatly anticipate each episode, I’m also sad with each episode’s passing. If you knew the extent of my emotional ups and downs, you’d be surprised.

* So Miley Cyrus used to be a good little girl and now she’s a risque young woman? OK, can we move on now?

* One of the perks of covering games is getting to see some of the friends I’ve made in the business during the past four decades. Tonight, I’ve already talked to Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal. C-J columnist Kevin Haskin has been a buddy for years and Mark Janssen, who works for one of the dot.coms (I can’t keep them all straight) is another guy I like. We’re all veteran scribes and a dying breed. Not literally, of course. I hope.

* I would like to see the movies “We’re the Millers” and “Blue Jasmine,” during this Labor Day weekend.

* The League 42 project with which I’m involved – the goal is to give kids who otherwise might not get the chance to play baseball and opportunity to do so – is the most rewarding thing I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of. We have an incredible group of volunteers who are dedicated to making this a reality. Please check out our League 42 Facebook page if you’re curious to know more.

* I think Kansas State will beat North Dakota State tonight (the game starts in a couple of hours). But I think it could be close. I suspect the Wildcats will need a few weeks to hit their stride. Final score: 24-14.

* Gotta keep it relatively short today. Have a great Labor Day weekend. I might check back on the blog during the weekend for more musings. But musings can’t be forced. Please remember that.

 

 

Memories of a sports writer

When it comes to the newpress box at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, I feel like a kid starting his first day of school.

Friday is the big day. That evening, K-State opens the 2013 football season against North Dakota State. But more importantly, I’ll cover my first game from the expansive new press box on the west side of the stadium. It’s a multi-million dollar facility and I’m pretty sure they built it just for me.

Obviously, I have spent a lot of time in press boxes over the years. From small booths that could barely fit a radio play-by-play man and his color analyst to the mammoth.

A press box is important to me. There was a time, especially when I covered high school football, that I rarely went inside a press box because I preferred walking the sideline to get a better feel for the game. Not anymore. I want all the creature comforts that go with the very best college football press facilities.

The old K-State press box was serviceable, but showing its age. And it was perpetually cold in that facility, whether it was 100 degrees or 10 degrees outside. And, as the Wildcats became a nationally-prominent football program and more and more media types wanted passes, it became crowded. There were big games in which you could barely turn around.

I enjoy the press box at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, which was renovated several years back. It’s plenty big with all of the amenities that make those of us in the media happy. Like space, climate control and a better-than-average pre-game spread.

Thanks to K-State’s long run of success under Bill Snyder, though, I’ve spent a lot more time in the K-State press box. I had my parking pass, my front-row seat. I always arrive at least three hours early for a game – don’t ask, it’s just a habit and one I wish I could break – to get a lay of the land, so to speak.

There have been numerous times when I’m the first media person to arrive in a press box, especially now that my friend and colleague Rick Plumlee is no longer covering Kansas athletics. I’m not sure I ever got to a game earlier than Plumlee. I’m not sure anyone ever got to a game earlier than Plumlee. He must have had the keys to Memorial Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse.

I’m early for everything. I don’t think I have ever arrived late for a game or a function. I cross my fingers that I never have car trouble on the way to a game I cover. I think I would panic.

Friday should be fun, providing the Internet works inside K-State’s new press box. The game will produce an extremely tight deadline, which always make me crazy. I’m prone to throwing my drink on the floor when stressed. But I’ll do my best to avoid doing so inside the shiny new press digs in Manhattan. It’s our responsibility to take care of the place.

 

The art of interviewing

I’m not Mike Wallace orEd Bradley, but I like to think I know my way around an interview.

I’ve done thousands of them during my newspaper and radio career and the interviews have always been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. I don’t consider myself a talker, really, but I am curious about other people and what makes them tick.

The reason I’m blogging about this today is because I just hung up the phone from one of the worst interviews I’ve ever conducted. Ever. Conducted.

In fact, I’m not sure you can say I even conducted this interview because there was really nothing interview-ish about it.

I had high hopes. I was talking to a guy who had accomplished something really cool in his career, something I figured he would be happy – or at least willing – to talk about. He did, after all, give me permission to call him via telephone.

But it started off badly and went downhill from there. My questions were met with monotone replies, many of fewer than five words. Instead of taking the ball and running with it, the way many interviewees do, this guy took the ball and went home. And slammed the door behind him.

There was nothing the least bit controversial or illicit about the interview. It was all good stuff. And if I have discovered one thing over the years, it’s that most people like talking about the good stuff they’ve done or are about to do.

Not this guy.

I kept it going as long as I could until I finally just gave up and said something like: “Hey, thanks and I really wish you good luck.”

Surely he knew what a bad interview he was giving me. Right? Nobody can be that put off or detached intentionally, can they?

Perhaps I had written something about this guy in the past that set him off. But, then, why would he agree to this interview in the first place?

My questions were obvious, but good. I wanted to delve into a particular period of this person’s career in which he had tremendous struggles. He had to almost re-set his career to get to the point where he is now. There’s a fantastic story there somewhere; it’s just not inside of him to tell.

And in this case, a writer (me) can only do so much without some help from the subject (him).

I tried with six or seven questions, all of which received the same lackluster response. This guy, had he chosen, could have told a great story about perseverance. He just didn’t choose to do so. And short of stopping the interview and asking: “Are you kidding me?,” there wasn’t a lot I could do.

It got to the point of being uncomfortable. Then it became irritating. Then I became angry, although I couldn’t let that on to him. I continued with my professional approach until, finally, I had come to the end.

It was so bad that there’s probably not a column to be written. I’m going to reach out to some other people who might be able to talk about this person’s journey in sports, before I put an official kibosh on the column. But at this point, it’s not promising.

The surprising thing is that the subject of my potential column is nearing 30. You run into an occasional dud interview with high school kids from time to time, simply because they’re not worldly enough yet to be able to provide much introspection. But this guy has been around a while. He’s gone from highs to lows, like so many of us. There’s something to be said about his story.

Except he’s not saying it. So I’m probably not writing it. And that’s frustrating.

Thanks for letting me take out my frustrations on you. And by all means, let’s talk sometime. I mean, really talk.

 

How does Cabrera stack up back to back?

Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera could win his second consecutive American League Triple Crown this season. Honest. It could happen.

Detroit Tigers third baseman, and reigning AL Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera.

Cabrera leads the AL with a .360 average and 120 RBIs and there are still 38 games to play. He also has 40 homers, but is seven behind Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis.

But I wouldn’t count Cabrera out.

His numbers over the past couple of seasons got me to thinking about what hitters in baseball history have been able to match Cabrera for back-to-back seasons. So I did a search today of many of the top hitters in baseball history to see how they stack up against Cabrera for two seasons of production in a row.

I’m not including Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire. You know why; don’t make me explain. They are not deserving of being mentioned in this conversation.

But I did include 15 others. First, Cabrera’s numbers for 2012 and the numbers he is on pace for this season:

Miguel Cabrera

         Avg.     HR      RBI     OPS     Total bases    Slugging Pct.

2012 (age 29)                  .330        44       139     .999         377                   .606

2013 (projected)             .360        52       157    1.141        406                   .689

Willie Mays

1954 (age 23)                   .345        41       110    1.078       377                    .677

1955                                   .319        51       127    1.059       382                   .659

Henry Aaron

1959 (age 25)                    .355       39       123     1.037      400                   .636

1960                                   .292       40       126       .919       334                   .566

Ted Williams

1941 (age 22)                    .406       37       120      1.287      335                    .735

1942                                    .356       36       137      1.147      338                    .648

Stan Musial

1948 (age 27)                     .376       39       131      1.152      429                    .702

1949                                    .338       36       123      1.062      382                   .624

Albert Pujols

2008 (age 28)                    .357       37       116       1.114       342                   .653

2009                                   .327        47       135      1.101       374                   .658

Babe Ruth

1920 (age 25)                    .376        54       137       1.379       388                   .847

1921                                    .378        59       171       1.359       457                   .846

Lou Gehrig

1927 (age 24)                     .373        47       175       1.240       447                   .765

1928                                    .374        27       142       1.115        364                   .648

Jimmie Foxx

1932 (age 24)                     .364        58       169      1.218        438                   .749

1933                                     .356        48       163      1.153        403                  .703

Hank Greenberg

1937 (age 26)                      .337        40       183      1.105        397                   .668

1938                                     .315         58       146      1.122        380                  .683

Rogers Hornsby

1924 (age 28)                      .424        25         94      1.203        373                  .696

1925                                      .403       39        143      1.245        381                  .756

Mickey Mantle

1956 (age 24)                       .353       52        130      1.169        376                  .705

1957                                       .365       34          94      1.177         315                  .665

Hack Wilson

1929 (age 29)                       .345        39        159      1.044        355                 .618

1930                                      .356        56        191       1.177         423                 .723

Al Simmons

1929 (age 27)                       .365        34        157       1.040        373                 .642

1930                                      .381        36        165       1.130        392                 .708

Joe DiMaggio

1937 (age 22)                       .346        46        167       1.085        418                 .673

1938                                      .324        32        140        .967         348                 .581

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday musings

* Kansas City left-hander Danny Duffy got his manager, Ned Yost, off the hook today in a first game of a double-header against Detroit. Duffy allowed only one hit over six shutout innings and the Royals eked

Royals left-hander Danny Duffy.

out a 2-1 win. I thought Yost should have sent veteran James Shields against Verlander. Honestly, I thought the Tigers would chew up Duffy.

* But baseball continues to defy explanation, as it has for about 140 years now. The Royals scratched out a couple of runs against Verlander, one on a home run by a resurgent Eric Hosmer and the other on doubles from newcomers Justin Maxwell and Emilio Bonafacio.

* Maxwell and Bonafacio? Talk about a couple of scrap-heap acquisitions in the past couple of weeks. And here they are, making contributions in the heat of a pennant race. Maxwell has been a plus-.325 hitter since the Royals picked him up from Houston and Bonafacio, in two games, has a pair of hits and a couple of stolen bases. You don’t always have to go out and get Willie Mays to improve your team.

* Now the Royals can get greedy with Shields going in Game 2 this evening against young Detroit left-hander Jose Alvarez. Then who knows what happens in the final two games of this crucial five-game set.

* Isn’t it amazing how one game can so strongly affect the mood of a fan base? You would have thought the Royals were had both feet dangling from the Titanic after Thursday night’s lackluster loss to the Tigers, which came on the heels of two straight defeats at the hands of the Miami Marlins. Problem is, the Royals just aren’t hitting. That’s a concern, even after Friday’s Game 1 win.

* Greg Holland is the Royals’ MVP. The closer picked up his 33rd save against the Tigers on Friday, allowing just a walk in his one inning of work.

* Since Holland allowed four hits and a run, and blew one of the two saves he’s blown in 2013 against the Chicago White Sox on May 6, Holland has been the most dominant closer in baseball. In 36 innings since May 6, he has allowed 17 hits and three runs while walking only six and striking out 57. Holland is money.

* Enough about the Royals, who continue to lurk. How about the Cardinals promoting young second baseman Kolten Wong from Triple-A. Wong is in the lineup today against the Chicago Cubs and third baseman David Freese is not. Regular second baseman Matt Carpenter is moving to third, at least for today’s game, to make room for Wong.

* Interesting development for the Cardinals. Could they be parting ways with hometown hero Freese after the season? Don’t discount that possibility. Freese is owed his second bite at the arbitration apple after this season, during which he’s making $3.15 million. He’s having a down season and will be 31 shortly after the start of the 2014 season.

* Freese hit the most famous home run in Cardinals history in the 2011 World Series Game 6 against the Texas Rangers after hitting most likely the most famous triple in franchise history to tie the game in the ninth inning. He grew up dreaming of playing for St. Louis. The team faces a difficult decision with Freese, especially because Carpenter is a natural third baseman and has been one of the best hitters in the National League. Glad I’m not general manager John Mozielak when it comes to making this call.

* I hope you’ll check out our League 42 Foundation project. I won’t go into details here, other than to say it’s a baseball league being formed for underprivileged kids in Wichita. You can join our League 42 page on Facebook for other details.

* “The Heat” is the best movie I’ve seen this summer. Admittedly, I haven’t seen many. But Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy have great chemistry, which means you can probably expect this to become a franchise. They’ll be back. I almost guarantee it.

* It was a really good season of “The Killing” on AMC. I hope that show returns. “Dexter” is having a fantastic final season on Showtime. “Breaking Bad” is off and running in its final season, which promises to be classic. I’m enjoying “The Bridge” on FX and “Under the Dome” on CBS. And then there’s “Ray Donovan” on Showtime. Everybody I know who watches this show loves it. I think it’s in the class of “The Sopranos,” which is crazy to say. Yet I’m saying it. Does that make me crazy? You decide.

* How can a show with Elliot Gould, James Woods and Jon Voight go wrong. And that’s not even giving

Jon Voight.

credit to the lead character, played by Liev Schreiber. It’s got all the family drama of “The Sopranos” and quite a bit of the violence.

* I’m looking forward to football season and I would not have picked Kansas State sixth in the Big 12. To those who believe the Wildcats’ talent level is down, I say Bill Snyder will find a way. After more than two decades of Snyder, I’ve learned that he almost always finds a way.

* I don’t watch NFL exhibition games. So shoot me. I just don’t. Nine times out of 10, nothing interesting emerges from them. And I’m not going to waste three hours or more hoping for that 10 percent shot.

* I also don’t watch NBA exhibition games and MLB exhibition games. OK, I might watch a St. Louis Cardinals exhibition game just to see some different faces. But I never put any stock in the result.

* I went to see the Eagles in Louisville on July 6. It was a great trip and the old guys still have it. Whenever I get a little down about my advancing age, my wife implores me to think about Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit, still going strong into their mid-60s.

* That’ll do it for today. Big 40th high school reunion this weekend. Gotta go get all pretty.

 

Memories of a sports writer (reunion edition)

Good afternoon, everyone.I haven’t been very consistent with my blogging of late, but that’s about to change. In a couple of weeks. Next week, I’m kind of on vacation, though I will be working some. Then it’s full steam ahead for college football season. Can’t wait.

Anyway, my 40-year Derby High School reunion is coming up this weekend, starting tomorrow evening with a get-together at a bar. Me and many of my classmates have conducted much of our business at bars since we graduated from high school many, many years ago.

Our big dinner/dance event Saturday night is not at a bar. I think it’s important to mention that bars aren’t always in the mix for us. However, there will be a cash bar. So there’s that.

At past reunions, few have been excited to see me. I believe it’s because I have remained in the public eye since high school because of my work at the newspaper and, subsequently, my radio gig. There is a theory that few have been excited to see me because of my immense unpopularity, but I’m not buying it.

I was a pretty cool kid, if I say so myself. I hung around with a lot of different people, from the jocks to the semi-jocks. I had some friends who were in the choir, but none from the Future Farmers of America. I’m not sure why, maybe because they grew things.

I’m not the same guy I was in high school. I’m losing my memory and, honestly, I’m not 100 percent sure I even graduated. But most of these people believe I did, so that’s good enough for me.

I played basketball and baseball in high school and I wrote for the school newspaper, at least until I was kicked off the staff just days into my senior year for reasons that I’m still not sure of. I was more or less a class clown, with emphasis on “more.” And some teachers, believe it or not, just didn’t get it. They thought it was actually more important for students to learn than to feign laughter at whatever ridiculous thing I was doing.

Through my antagonizing antics, though, I learned tremendous charm. When I was booted from the paper, me and my friend Ron Keller transferred to drama class. I was even in a couple of plays, including the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” I forget what part I had, but I’m sure it was crucial.

My academic career was a mixed bag. I was generally pretty awful at the important subjects, but my knowledge of baseball and sports was superior to most. When we took bus trips to various games, I impressed my friends by being able to tell my friends which players played for which teams in major league baseball. They would peruse the box scores, pulling out obscure names, and I would almost always be right.

Yet the principal never seemed all that impressed when he called me to his office. Nor did my parents, when my principal called them.

I noticed even in high school that I refused to take that many things seriously and I’m still working on it 40 years later. I’m looking forward to introducing my wife, Debbie, to my classmates this weekend. I was voted most likely to be a ridiculously bad husband and for many years it looked like those high school voters were going to be right.

But no more. I have a ridiculously fantastic wife and it will be my pleasure this weekend to strut into these events with her on my arm.

Even though my experience on the Panther’s Tale, the school newspaper, didn’t go that well, I did go ahead and pursue a career in journalism. I ran into the teacher who banished me a couple of years ago, believe it or not. Her name is Sue Holsapple and we didn’t really talk about what happened way back then. We didn’t really talk about much of anything.

Things turned out fine for me. Being a sports writer has been a great career. But at the 40-year reunion, it’s not about what any of us have done. It’s about being in the moment, 40 years after high school and still going.

Those of us who gather this weekend have been through many of life’s ups and downs. We’ve endured happy times and unhappy times. We’ve experienced glee and remorse.

I have known many of these people most of my life. I will sit down this weekend with guys I went to Kindergarten with at Pleasantview Elementary in 1960. I remember walking home from school and watching the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees play in the World Series while my mother fixed my lunch.

Some people don’t like high school reunions. I have been to every one we’ve had, even though I wouldn’t classify myself as the most social guy in the world. But these are people I share experiences with. We grew up in a simpler time and a great town. Derby was small in those days. There was a strong bond.

We all have had our children. Now we’re about our grandchildren. We’ve most likely gone as far as we’re going in our careers, although I’m still holding out the hope of a Pulitzer.

This weekend will be a lot of fun. Exciting, even. I’m looking forward to seeing (most) of these people.

 

Cleaning MLB is a dirty mess

We are at a moral crossroads in America as it relates to performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.

A little strong? Yes. Over the top? You could say that.

But the game – the beautiful game of baseball – is being threatened by louts and cheats who couldn’t care less about the historical significance or integrity of what used to be America’s national pastime. And if I sound like “baseball old-timer guy,” it’s because I am.

Alex Rodriguez was suspended by MLB on Monday for 211 games. Then last night, he came out and played third base for the New York Yankees.

Alex Rodriguez played for the Yankees on Monday night, hours after he was suspended by MLB for 211 games. It’s true.

You can’t make this stuff up. While A-Rod appeals MLB’s suspension, the Yankees have no choice but to put him in the lineup and see what he can do. Plus, since Alex glows in the dark he can be useful if the lights go out during a game.

It was a surreal night as Rodriguez talked about what an honor it was to be back in a Yankees uniform and how he was ready to try to help his “brothers” on the field.

Oh, brother.

A-Rod was piling it on thick, for sure. The man is either innocent of all alleged violations or the most delusional person of the 21st century. And even though the competition is thick, I’m going with the latter.

I’m no one’s moral compass, trust me. But I do worry about our cheating ways, induced by mountains of cash that make it justifiable to do what it takes to get ahead. At some point, I do believe money becomes evil. And for a guy like A-Rod, who is still owed more than $100 million on the kind of contract that used to be issued only for the building of a fleet of aircraft carriers, the end apparently justifies the means.

I get the sense that his attorneys are telling him that while he’s going to sound like a blithering idiot saying the things he’s saying during this ordeal, the checks will still cash and the bank will still want his business.

The value of integrity, we have learned, does have a limit. There are still more than enough people willing to kiss the feet of these cheats and scoundrels that they can drown out the more sensible shouts from the masses.

I was sickened by the comments of Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, who said after the Yankees’ loss to the Chicago White Sox on Monday night that Rodriguez could help the team get better and that he was happy to have him back.

Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson chimed in, too.

“I want him back with us,” Granderson said. “This is arguably one of the best hitters of all-time. Having him in the lineup is obviously going to be very positive for us.”

I need a shower.

All across baseball, players are speaking out against the known cheaters and substance abusers. Unless that known cheater or substance cheater is a teammate, apparently. Then everything’s OK because “he’s going to help us win games.”

Hogwash.

And I don’t want to hear about due process, either. While I acknowledge its importance, and understand that under baseball’s provisions with the player’s union Rodriguez has the opportunity to appeal his suspension, is there really any doubt?

How many times do we have to be snowed under before we realize we shouldn’t believe anything these cheaters tell us. They’re cheaters and liars who go to great lengths to keep from telling the truth. Until they’re finally forced to spill their guts to Oprah Winfrey or Katie Couric, lies beget lies.

Remember in December when the Toronto Blue Jays signed disgraced outfielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million contract just a few months after he was suspended for 50 games by the San Francisco Giants. Cabrera, another violation of MLB’s PED rules, got right back into the game.

Kudos to the Giants for not re-instating Cabrera during the playoffs of World Series last season and for not offering him a new deal. But the Blue Jays couldn’t resist.

“We have said as an organization, we will give a player a second chance,” Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said at the time of the Cabrera signing. “Maybe not a third or a fourth, but we’ll definitely give a player a second chance.”

I’m all for second chances in most areas of life. But not with PEDs and not in baseball.

The rules aren’t harsh enough. A 50-game ban for a first offense isn’t serving as a detriment. There is too much money in the game and too many players are still willing to roll the dice.

I also hated hearing the remarks coming out of the Texas Rangers clubhouse in regard to fallen teammate Nelson Cruz, one of the players who was slammed with a 50-game suspension Monday.

General manager Jon Daniels said he would welcome Cruz back for the American League playoffs if things worked out, then passed the kid gloves to Rangers players.

Hours after Cruz accepted the suspension for violating the Joint Drug Agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, he tried to explain why he wouldn’t be with them the rest of the season. Cruz broke down while explaining that he ended up a Biogenesis of America client while trying to put weight back in the aftermath of a stomach infection following the 2011 World Series.

“It was hard,” Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus told the Dallas Morning News. “I’ve known Nelson since I came to this organization. He’s helped me in this game. I know who he is. But we are all going to make mistakes. He’s learned his lesson. And that’s all we can ask.

 

“But we are a family,” Andrus said. “We win as a family. We lose as a family. We stick together. … I definitely want him back.”

 

Second baseman Ian Kinsler seconded that emotion.

“Absolutely, we want him back,” Kinsler said. “When this is over, there is no reason he can’t return to the team in my eyes. I’m not here to judge him. He made a bad decision and he’s ready to accept responsibility for it. Everybody has different circumstances for doing what they do.”

 

Lots of mixed signals. Lots of confusion. Lots of anxiety.

If Major League Baseball is serious about cleaning up the game – and is there any doubt now that it is – penalties have to be more harsh. Compassion can’t be factored in with something this serious. There are players speaking out about how they want their game back and without all the PEDs that have permanently stained baseball.

Unless, apparently, it involves a teammate. Then maybe it’s OK because, well, that guy can “help us win.”

 

 

 

 

Riley Cooper’s public display

Do we file Riley Cooper’sracial slur, caught on video at a Kenny Chesney concert in June, under “D” for “Dumb?”

Or is it something bigger, something that warrants a greater discussion of race in American culture?

I think it’s a little of both. I think another young athlete has put his foot squarely into his mouth, then was

Riley Cooper.

left to scramble with apologies and excuses that just don’t work.

Cooper, who reportedly blew up when told by a black security guard at the Chesney concert that he couldn’t get backstage, has been fined by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie but Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick says he has forgiven Cooper and that it’s time to move on. Many other Eagles players don’t agree with Vick and say they don’t want to play with Cooper, who is on leave from the team indefinitely while he attends sensitivity training.

I have spent a lot of time today thinking about Cooper’s racial slur. He claims he was drunk at the time and that it is not a true indication of his character. He says his parents raised him better and that they’re disgusted with his behavior.

Sorry, not buying it. Cooper’s parents may indeed be fine people, but their son isn’t. Fine people don’t say what Cooper said under any circumstances.

I have also listened to various national radio shows today, during which the Cooper discussion has been heavy. And I’m disgusted that so many people – mostly white people – don’t understand how or why this slur is offensive and why it should never be uttered by white people.

I’ve never said the N-word, not ever. Not in a moment of anger or drunkenness. And that’s not to prop myself up as some kind of moral barometer because that’s not what I am.

It’s doubtful Cooper used the word for the first time at the Chesney concert. What’s more likely is that he’s used it many times in his past, probably in much safer environments and without a bunch of people with recorders and cameras nearby.

The Eagles are sending Cooper to sensitivity training. At first blush, that seems like a cookie-cutter approach to the problem, but perhaps some training in this area will help Cooper. After all, it’s ignorance or blatant racism – and the two can easily go hand in hand – that leads someone to use the word Cooper said.

Can you be sensitivity-trained out of such a harsh character defect? I suppose so, but my fear is that Cooper will go through the motions, confident that this dark cloud will soon pass. But it won’t, especially if Cooper is just giving lip service to the severity of his blunder.

Then again, perhaps there is hope. Perhaps Cooper will genuinely pour himself into the process and press to learn as much as he can about black culture and about why what he said is so insensitive and damaging.

Once a racist, always a racist? Once ignorant, always ignorant?

Cooper has expressed remorse over his behavior. He sounds genuine, but it’s impossible to know what is in his heart.

I’m glad he was fined, but also glad that he wasn’t suspended or dropped from the Eagles. There are still so many lessons to be learned about race relations in America. We have come a long way, but not far enough that we can let down our guard. Not even close.

Cooper can be a symbol of America’s continued issues with race relations or an example of how to make progress. But he can’t fake it.

The discussion of race in this country is still hot and divisive. Far too many people just don’t understand why it’s not OK for white people to use the N-word under any circumstances. They point to the fact that the word is used by blacks in their music and in the every-day culture of black America.

There’s a simple rule that every white person in this country should follow. And you know what it is. If racism is in your heart, don’t let it come out of your mouth. And work on the heart while you’re at it.