Hats off to KC Royals’ Pitcher, Gil Meche, For Doing the Right Thing

What would you do if you were in Gil Meche’s shoes?

Now 32 years old, he’s pitched serviceably for the Kansas City Royals for the last four years. But over the last few seasons, he’s run into all sorts of arm problems. Nevertheless, for this coming 2011 season, he was slated to earn $12 million . That money is guranteed, so long as Gil heads off to spring training in Arizona in a couple of weeks. Even if his arm isn’t heathy —  so long as he makes an attempt to pitch — he gets the dough. Even if he just ends up going to rehab for his arm, the money is his to keep.

Gil Meche decided he didn’t want to be accused of just picking up a paycheck if he couldn’t earn it. So he called the Royals GM and told him that he was going to retire. Meche knew full well that if he retired, then the money wouldn not be forthcoming.

Meche shrugged and said, in effect, that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he got paid under false pretenses. So he walked away, and left the $12 mil on the table. $12 mil that was his!

Mind you, Meche has earned $40 million over the last four years for his efforts for KC, so it’s not like he’s destitute. But still, in a world of pro sports where the mantra is still “Show me the money!” a story like Meche’s is, well, just amazing. And inspiring.

Do yourself a favor and take a couple of minutes and tell your young athletes this story. Twelve million dollars is a LOT of money, but sometimes, you have to ask yourself what’s the right thing to do.

Has the Time Come to Pay College Athletes a Salary?

For years, it’s been debated as to whether college student-athletes should be paid a small salary in addition to the tuition, room, and board they receive for being on an athletic scholarship. After all, it’s pretty clear that the university benefits greatly from having these talented athletes wear the school colors on the fields of competition.

As noted on the show, when a college has a successful athletic program, usually student enrollment goes up as do alumni donations. This explains why that even at non-scholarship schools (such as in Div-III), kids with less GPAs and SAT/ACT scores can gain admission. Why? Because the university knows that having winning teams translates into more money coming in — money that the school keeps but does not share with the student-athlete.

Bear in mind that a kid on an athletic scholarship is told that their top priority to be at all practices and games. Studies come second. In effect, the kid has become an employee of the school. Furthermore, as one caller pointed out, lots of college athletes pretend to go to class. They have private tutors or are enrolled in meaningless courses, just so they can maintain a GPA so they can play.

So, why not pay the student-athlete a salary of $15,000 a year, and he or she can decide whether they want to pursue liberal arts, OR learn a technical skill that will prepare them for a real job in the real world when their four years of athletic eligibility are over OR they can choose not to go to class at all. Let the young athlete make some important decisions. Let them be accountable for their actions. But most of all, let’s get away from the sham of having the NCAA serve as watchdogs over which student-athletes are really going to class.

I know this all sounds perhaps like fantasyland, but trust me, this conversation ought to be had by top college presidents sooner rather than later.

Is Trash-Talking a Curse? Or Just Entertainment?

It used to be that coaches warned their players all the time not to engage in any trash-talk, lest the comments find their way to the opponent’s bulletin board, which then becomes stronger motivation for one’s opponent.

But that all changed this week with the NY Jets’ profane and pushy comments about their game with the Patriots. Antonio Cromartie was particularly outspoken about Tom Brady. And Coach Rex Ryan wasn’t far behind.

To tell you the truth, I had a very strong hunch that every football fan in the USA (with the exception of Jets’ fans) was hoping that the Patriots would clobber the Jets.  But, of course, that didn’t happen. In fact, the Jets dominated and won going away against New England.

So, what’s the take-away? Is trash-talking now the new way to pump one’s team up? Is that now the key way to insure that one’s team plays well?

As one of my callers said this AM, “C’mon — it’s just entertainment. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s like pro wrestling.”

But on other hand, does this mean that sportsmanship has pretty much become extinct?

As you probably can guess, personally I’m not big on trash talking. I may be old school, but I still prefer winning with dignity. That seems to be a trait that Ryan and the Jets don’t seem to care much about.

Even worse, the victory by the Jets and their verbal demonstration will, unfortunately, have real impact on amateur teams. After all, why should HS kids or younger athletes care about keeping their mouths shut when the Jets have yapped their way to the AFC championship game?

Only time will tell, of course, just how all of this plays out. But for those of us who care about doing the right thing in sports, this kind of verbal behavior really sets back sportsmanship.

Put it this way: wouldn’t the Jets’ win today been a lot sweeter if it hadn’t been tarnished by all their pre-game trash-talk?

Can A Kid Be Cut from a Team for Not Cutting His Hair?

The short answer is…yes.

This stems from a recent Federal lawsuit from Indiana where a junior HS basketball player was cut from the school basketball team because the coach had a rule that all kids on the team needed to have short hair. Apparently, the kid balked at getting a hair cut, so the coach dismissed him from the team.

The parents filed suit. But as law professor Doug Abrams pointed out this AM, there’s quite a body of legal decisions that say that being on a team is a “privilege” – not a right. And as such, the coach and school have a lot of leeway when it comes to setting down certain rules and regulations regarding hair length, dress codes, demeanor, behavior, and so on.

In truth, this somewhat surprised me. After all, in this day and age where parents file lawsuits routinely, it seemed to me that rules regarding freedom of expression (in line with the First Amendment) would make it difficult for HS coaches to be too demanding or strict about such items as hair length, facial hair, tattoos, dress code, and so on. But as Doug made clear, coaches and schools these days are allowed the freedom to use common sense rules when governing their teams.

Please note, of course, that I’m writing very precisely here. That is, once you get into issues of religious or ethnic concerns, the laws become a lot hazier. For example, if an athlete’s religion dictates the wearing of certain headwear or clothing, the school (and coach) have to respect that. If there’s a medical reason as to why a young man can’t shave his beard, the school (and coach) have to allow that as well.

But it can be confusing. As my colleague Tony Fiorino asked on the show, “What if a coach mandates that all the kids on the team have to get a mohawk in order to show solidarity? Can a coach make all the kids do that?” Good question. Answer? Probably not.

Or as Doug asks: what if a swim coach mandates that all kids have to shave their head in order to swim faster – and a kid doesn’t want to do that? Does the coach have the right to boot him or her? Good question. Answer? I just don’t know.

Bottom line? The good news for schools and coaches is that there’s a lot of legal precedent for them to put down their team rules and regulations, and truly expect the kids to follow them. And if they don’t, then the kid can be dismissed from the team since being on the team is seen as being a privilege, not a right.

However, if I were coaching a HS or Jr HS team and I wanted to set down some team rules, I think I’d want to check with the school district’s policy on such rules before announcing them to the team. During these litigious times, you just can’t be too careful.

Baseball Bat Alphabet Soup: BESR, BBCOR, etc…

I truly feel sorry for any well-intended Mom or Dad who attempts to purchase their son a new baseball bat for this coming spring. That’s because -thanks to the aluminum and composite bat manufacturers and fueled by the dopey support of LL Baseball that there’s no difference between a ball coming off a wood bat or a non-wood bat —  there’s now more confusion than ever in the history of baseball as to what kinds of bats are legal to use in amateur ball in 2011.

And here’s the irony. All of these new bats with new rules are being constructed with one purpose in mind – to come close to simulate the effect of a wood bat hitting a pitched ball.

Huh?

I can hear you asking. “Well, if that’s the purpose, why not just get rid of aluminum and composite bats, and simply go back to just using wood bats.”

And that’s exactly my point. Starting this spring, and then carrying over into 2012, pretty much every baseball bat will have to carry a BBCOR certification…which means that the bat will have the same kind of very restrictive trampoline effect that all wood bats have. The only advantage, from what I can tell, is that non-wood bats won’t break. Aluminum bats and composite bats won’t drive a ball any further; they’ll just be difficult to break.

So the question is: why would you spend $300 or more to buy a composite or aluminum bat when a really good maple bat only runs $125? True, a maple can break, but even that extra maple bat still costs you less than the $300 composite.

As Steve Kallas pointed out on the show this AM, this is just madness. Plus all of these BBCOR/BESR certifications now puts an extra burden on umpires working the game to review all the bats before the game. Umps will need a long list of which bats are legal, and which ones aren’t.

What’s the simple solution? Just outlaw aluminum and composite, and pass a rule that only wood bats – just like they use in pro ball – are allowed. Not only does it make for a better game, but it’s the way the game was invented.

I just don’t see any reason why this can’t be done. It’s just common sense, plain and simple.

Does the Punishment Fit the Crime? Hockey player gets 3 games for using racial slur; Opposing coach gets suspended for a year

During an amateur hockey game in mid-November in Peterborough, Canada, a 16-year-old kid gets angry at an opposing player – who happens to be black – and uses the N-word.

The racist kid is benched by his coach for the remainder of the period, but then comes back to play in the next period, as if nothing happened. No apology, no nothing.

Outraged, the black kid’s coach takes his team off the ice and refuses to play the rest of the game. His attitude is that his player has been insulted to the highest degree, and seemingly the other coach isn’t going to do anything about it.

So what does happen? The Ontario Minor Hockey Assn. deliberates and decides that the racist kid should be suspended for 3 games. But the opposing coach of the black kid should be suspended for the rest of the season. After all, the league decides, taking one’s team off the ice and forfeiting a game is ten times more offensive than using the N-word.

Fortunately, the word began to spread throughout Canada, and after a month of media and corporate sponsorship fury, the league decided to reverse its decision on booting the coach for the season. He was reinstated right away.

What’s the takeaway here? To me, this case cried out for simple common sense. If a teenage kid utters a racial slur, that’s the prime time for an adult coach or league administrator (or even the kid’s parent) to step in, remove the kid from the game  immediately, and banish the kid from the game and any future ones until he fully understands the impact of his words. A written apology wouldn’t hurt either.

But in this case, it was the opposing coach who got punished…even when he was doing the right thing! So how come it took the hockey league more than a month to figure this out?

PS – one of the callers on the show mentioned that during the course of many sporting contests, a lot of trash talk goes on, and that often racist slurs are shouted between athletes who have the same ethnic background. As the caller said – and I agree – using any kind of ethnic slurs during a game is flat-out wrong, and should be addressed immediately. From my perspective, playing sports should lift our society to a higher level, not take it down a few notches.

More warnings about Athletes, Coaches, and the Internet

Coaches and parents…here’s a lesson you need to get across to your son or daughter. When they first start to learn about Facebook or blog posting or texting, that’s the moment to teach them that whatever they post online will stay there forever.

Please. Don’t put this parenting or coaching lesson off. Too often kids don’t often think ahead about the consequences of their actions. And with the internet, while they might think that only a small number of their friends are reading their postings, the truth is — their writings are open to the entire world. Plus those adolescent postings will stay online forever.

As was discussed on the show, there was the case of the HS football players from New Jersey who thought it would be great to videotape a post-game celebration after they won a big game. Within hours, it had been uplinked to Youtube and launched. Within a few more hours, those athletes had been seriously punished by their football coach and suspended from school. If only those kids had thought twice before posting their silly video celebration.

Then there’s the youth football coach from Georgia who must have thought he was being funny or clever by posting a bunch of ethnic slurs on his blog. Most of us realize that Archie Bunker is long gone, but this knucklehead must  have thought it was time to resurrect Archie’s slurs.

In any event, once the blog postings had made the rounds, the coach had to resign from his coaching post, and of course had to apologize to his community for his not-funny, stupid comments.

As many of the callers pointed out, these days, if you have a Facebook account or can be Googled, understand that college admissions officers, college coaches, and employers ALL check on you, or on your athlete.

As such, it’s worth your while to review all the text, postings, and photos that appear online. THINK TWICE before you post anything online. That’s still good advice – not only for kids, but for parents and coaches as well.

Are Today’s Athletes “Softer” than Our Generation?

Let me start by emphatically saying that I don’t think there’s any question that young athletes today are bigger, stronger, and faster than when I was growing up. Whether it’s better nutrition, better training, whatever – today’s athletes are the best ever.

However, I do think a case can made that perhaps kids today, in general, don’t cope as well with adversity as athletes of a generation ago. This theory was supported by a recent survey done of HS football coaches in Georgia by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Overwhelmingly, the coaches reported that kids are too often shielded by their hovering parents, and when it comes to adversity, kids today too often fall back on Mom and Dad when the coach starts to lean on the kids to work harder or practice harder.

Some coaches call it a “lack of mental toughness” in athletes today —  that when you start to push the kids to reach a higher level, the kid often balks or shies away.  They’ll either be non-responsive, or will hide behind the defense of  “I’m supposed to have fun, and this is not fun.”

This kind of general reaction is both baffling as well as frustrating to coaches. As one said, “I want to get these kids to believe in themselves, but how can I get them to do that when they don’t even try to respond?”

Friends, let’s face it. Learning how to deal with setbacks and overcome adversity is perhaps one of the most important life-lessons that sports teaches us and our kids. As I said on my radio show, I have never met a professional athlete who didn’t have to overcome some sort of adversity in their playing career (and of course, you can start with the story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his basketball team in his sophomore year).

Bottom line? Maybe in our rush to protect our kids in their sporting quests we’re actually doing them a disservice by not letting deal with the kinds of adversity that come normally through sports. We may be producing betters athletes, but sadly, not athletes who know how to fight back from a setback.

What Kind of Message Did the NCAA Send with the Cam Newton case?

So let me get this right…Cam Newton – the star QB of Auburn University and the favorite to win the Heisman – didn’t know a thing about his Dad shopping him around to various top D-I colleges, and that his Dad was looking for a payment of $100,000 to $180,000 for his son to sign a letter of commitment?

That’s what the NCAA ruled last week. In effect, they are convinced that the father was way off base, but that Cam was innocent.

Looking beyond the cynicism – I mean, is it possible that Cecil Newton didn’t tell his son about what each college was offering? The real question is, why didn’t the NCAA stand up and punish the father and the son.  They ruled that it’s not fair to punish the son for the sins of the father. Well, I agree with that. But the NCAA could have certainly used this prime-time opportunity to send a very strong message to sports parents everywhere.

Unfortunately, they chose not to do that. And as a result, sports parents everywhere will continue to find other ways to get college coaches to “insure” that their kid is swayed by one program or another. A decade ago, college coaches would simply hire a top prospect’s dad to be on the coaching staff. That was ultimately shot down. But where do we go from here?

Can HS Coaches Openly Criticize the School’s Code of Conduct?

An interesting turn of events from Cheshire HS where a captain of the girls’ soccer team violated the school’s Code of Conduct. The school’s Code explicitly said that if a kid is caught in violation of the underage drinking laws (and according to the arresting police officer, she was), then she had to face being suspended immediately for several weeks. And because the incident happened late in the soccer season, the girl ended up missing the rest of her games.

Parents were, of course, understandably upset by this ruling, and many banded together, saying that the Code of Conduct was too tough in its punishment. Even the coach of the team got caught up in the fervor, and in an email, he said that he was opposed to the Code’s directive as well.

That’s when things got interesting. Even though by all accounts, the coach was a terrific guy and very supportive of the girls, the principal of Cheshire HS and the school board decided to ask for his letter of resignation. While they wouldn’t openly comment on this since it was a personnel matter, it was clear that the school administration didn’t care for the coach taking exception to its Code of Conduct.

Which brings up the next question: do teachers and coaches have a right to voice dissenting opinions on school board policies? Appaently in Cheshire, they do not. Law professor Doug Abrams pointed out on my show that teachers, even those protected by unions and the such, probably would be smart not to publicly air their opinions on what the employers felt strongly about. There’s lot of legal case history which we didn’t have enough time to get into on the show, but clearly this is a real hot button issue.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see where the girls’ soccer coach from Cheshire ends up – perhaps at another HS.