Wednesday, October 7, 2015

From Anna to Maria

To be young, blonde, leggy, and the WASP standard of beautiful is a valuable combination of commodities to be possessed by a woman in this country, a near guarantee for no less than fifteen minutes of fame. Add being reasonably talented at something to the mix, just about anything will do, and the sky is the limit for such a blessed individual. For the past several years, one of the most prominent stars to fit this description was the promising tennis player, Anna Kournikova. By reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon in her first time out at the prestigious tournament, greatness appeared to be her destiny. Over the next few years she became one of the most recognizable people in the world, photographs of her appearing every which way one could turn. It seemed that at least half of the internet was dedicated to her lovely likeness. The media fawned over her every move. Endorsements were tossed her way like beaded necklaces at a college girl on a New Orleans balcony during Mardi Gras. Minor movie roles followed logically, because if one has proven to have screen presence, the bigger the screen the better. I suppose if Anna was halfway able to carry a tune, a record deal would been inevitable as well. All she needed to do to maintain her stardom was be young (and she certainly had ample days of youth ahead of her), remain attractive (and it didn't appear that her Lolita style looks would be going out of style anytime soon), and win the occasional tennis match. A major championship or two would have cemented her legacy and kept her as the apple of the fickle media's constantly gazing eye for years to come.

As it would turn out, Anna Kournikova's time in the sun was far more fleeting than expected, her promise of the variety that is never quite realized. The championships she was supposed to win never materialized. This didn't matter much at first. Although critics who want sports celebrities to actually earn their popularity bitterly complained and maliciously teased, Anna's beauty was enough to sustain her immense popularity. Instead of receiving press for winning trophies, she instead garnered it for activities such as the famous men she dated. On the court, the Williams sisters took over dominance of tennis where Anna's friend and sometimes doubles partner Martina Hingis left off, grabbing ownership of just about every major tennis championship. Off the court, Anna Kournikova ruled. Her rivals were not so much Venus and Serena Williams as they were pop stars such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Rather than winning multiple tournaments, or even just one, she instead claimed the most attention from sponsors and magazines and professional celebrity fawners in spite of this. Fans, and let's face it, by fans I pretty much just mean guys who lived up to the definition of the word fanatic, flocked to Anna's matches for an up close look at her game, though tennis had little to do with what her true game was. Tournaments were not so much opportunities to win prize money and knick-knacks for the mantel as they were convenient locations for Anna to stage her entrances, and her increasingly early departures.

It was not merely her desire to soak up the limelight that impeded Anna Kournivoa's progress with racquet and ball, though her peacock tendencies certainly didn't help her game much. Injuries plagued the starlet's final years on the tennis tour, eventually forcing her out of the game for good. Anna Kournikova was no longer a professional athlete, but she was still a star. She merely needed to find something else to exhibit talent at. Problem was, she didn't have any other especially strong suits.

I wouldn't worry too much about her though. I suspect that her fifteen minutes are far from up. Anna Kournikova is famous, and being famous is now officially a career in this country. She merely needs to change her role models. Instead of trying to be a dominant tennis player such as Martina Navratilova, Anna can instead follow the illustrious footsteps of those who are famous simply for being who they are, such as Paris Hilton to give an example. Perhaps Anna will join Paris and Nicole Richie in the next season of The Simple Life. Then again, Anna and her agent will no doubt insist that she be the sole star of whatever vehicle she next chooses to ride. And like Paris Hilton, Anna can always gain some extra notoriety by the trendy act of appearing in a sensual videotape with her boyfriend. That just happens to Enrique Iglesias, son of Julio and a pop star, so their relationship gives Anna additional street cred, if the street happens to be Hollywood Boulevard. No doubt the pairing of those two would give the Paris tape plus Tommy Lee canoodling with Pamela Anderson a run for their money. No, I definitely wouldn't spend too much time being concerned over the downfall of Ms. Kournikova.

But there are still those who want their sex symbols to be sporty, fans who want the objects of their affection to be famous for something other than being famous. These people have needs, and their needs must be met. Right on cue, Maria Sharapova steps into the picture. She is the personification of youth, blondness, legginess, and the WASP standard of beauty. She even shares being from Russia in common with Anna, so comparisons are inevitable. As for talent, Maria appears to have an abundance of it. So much so that she won her opening match at this year's Wimbledon tournament, and then her next match, and then her next. She kept on winning until she was in the Final against Serena Williams, and then somewhat improbably, Maria Sharapova won again, won the whole damn tournament. So now, like Anna before her, she is the cat's meow, the media's favorite pin-up girl. A star has been born, and it remains to be seen how long this particular one will shine. On the court, Maria has already surpassed an entire career's worth of accomplishments by Anna Kournikova. Off the court she still has a way to go, but that red carpeted path seems custom paved for her to gracefully travel.

Will Maria be lured by the appeal of maximum magazine covers, celebrity relationships, and constant mention of her name in gossip columns? Will she instead choose to dedicate herself to tennis and prove that her Wimbledon triumph was no fluke, but rather, a harbinger of great things to come? Or will she somehow manage the neat trick of balancing both sides of her fame? However things turn out for Maria, one thing is for certain. All eyes will be on her.

John Rocker

Say what you will about John Rocker, one fact about the man cannot be denied. He certainly has personality. It’s abrasive, obnoxious, ignorant and unrepentant. But definitely not bland.

By now, sports fan or not, the average American probably knows who Rocker is, and many of them have been offended by him. Particularly if they belong to a minority group, are homosexual, or aren’t native born citizens of the U.S. Particularly if they live in New York city and ride the 7 train. I myself am a regular subway passenger in the Big Apple. Therefore, I can say in John’s defense that being jammed into a metal box with the huddled masses yearning to get to work can be quite aggravating. I will also admit, because I want to be as fair as possible, that if beer, batteries and curses had been flung at me for the sin of trying to do my job, I might be inclined to hold a grudge as well.
Here is one of many ways in which I differ from Rocker. If I was sitting next to a reporter from Sports Illustrated, I would make a concentrated effort not to spew the most vile, hateful commentary I could think up. That would make me more than just a bigot. It would make me an idiot. Or am I repeating myself?

And yet there is a part of me that applauds anyone who defies the regulations of political correctness. These rules do tend to be somewhat strict. Honesty is supposed to be an admirable trait, after all. Does the commandment about truthfulness become obsolete if the truth believed strikes some as tasteless and cruel?

Had Rocker remained true to his less than enlightened convictions, I may have formed a begrudging respect for him. Once the you-know-what hit the fan however, he resorted to self-serving excuses and flat out lies. Suddenly he did not mean the things he said in that interview, they were taken out of context, were the result of stressful circumstances. "My words got ahead of my head", is how he explained himself. He wanted to retaliate strictly against rabid Mets and Yankees fans, but ended up offending everyone who isn’t a member of the Aryan race. He now hopes to convince us that he doesn’t really consider a teammate of his to be a "fat monkey". That was just light hearted humor. I suppose we’re also supposed to believe that John is a proponent of immigration and does not have a racist or homophobic bone in his body. For his last trick, I’m guessing he tries to sell us all the Brooklyn Bridge.

The response of the powers that be in Major League Baseball to Rocker’s faux pas was nearly as ridiculous as his judgement was. He was forced to see a psychiatrist, as if being a redneck is equivalent to claustrophobia. Rocker did not hurl insults as he does baseballs because he’s crazy. Nor did he break the law, as first amendment groupies are quick to remind us. He has a Constitutional right to voice any opinion he wants, no matter how unpopular. Perhaps this is why Rocker instantly appealed his punishment (a $20,000 fine and 73 day suspension), in hope that it will be greatly reduced if not completely overturned. Then again, although the first amendment does keep people from being imprisoned for stating their beliefs, it does not protect them from the discipline of employers in the private sector. Rocker is legally entitled to speak his narrow mind, but has no right by law to play professional baseball.

There are those who feel he merely gave voice to beliefs that are commonly held but typically muffled. In some parts, not so muffled. Athletes have received lesser punishment for physically assaulting fellow players, officials and coaches; for testing positive for drugs; for being arrested and convicted of crimes. It is somewhat reasonable to feel Rocker has been treated unfairly, since he did not do anything wrong, but only said it. His supporters can stand up and applaud the man if they so choose. Others were appalled by what Rocker said, at what he appears to stand for. These folks also have a legitimate point. They can boycott Braves games, or perhaps show up at ballparks to let John know exactly what they think of him. Such are the plentiful options we have in a democratic society. Our government is so proud of this aspect that they are defying a foreign dictator and a little boy’s immediate family to keep the child hostage in the land of the free, home of the Atlanta Braves. But I digress.

I personally am glad Rocker said what he did, for I prefer that ignorance be brought to light than remain hidden where it can do covert damage. When there is an action, there is inevitably a reaction. Perhaps as damage control, Major League Baseball will arrange for the ascension of an extra minority or two to the ranks of upper management. Maybe more ballparks will stage cultural appreciation days, such as was done in Shea Stadium last year. If nothing else, the fallout from Rocker’s interview may help him develop greater tolerance. Given time, his head may one day catch up to his mouth. Plenty of ears on the 7 train will certainly be grateful for that.

John Rocker may have a valid point with one thing he said in his defense. "To make one comment like this doesn’t make you a racist." What little leaguers who idolize Major League stars like Rocker might not realize however, is that feeling and speaking as such is an effective way to get started as one.

Rush Limbaugh - Sports Commentator

Rush Limbaugh has had an unquestionably successful career as a Conservative radio show host and political commentator, managing to garner a fair measure of fame and fortune in the process. His efforts to make former President Bill Clinton squirm were quite effective, although they fell short of getting Clinton to resign or getting him impeached. The messages he ranted to the masses on his radio program were delivered so persuasively that they earned him a seemingly unrelated gig as a sports commentator. He was hired to give a fan’s perspective of football on an ESPN television program, much like Dennis Miller did for ABC on Monday Night Football for a couple seasons. The Dennis Miller experiment was ultimately judged a flop, though by no means a major catastrophe. Mr. Miller did nothing to embarrass himself, nothing that would cause people to picket outside of his office building. He simply proved to be far better in the role of stand-up comedian with a large vocabulary and somewhat foul mouth who comments on various societal issues, than he was at describing the happenings on a football field. No crime in that. Dennis Miller went back to doing what he does best, and the world according to Monday Night Football viewers was made a better place for it.

One of the people that Dennis Miller beat out for the MNF job was Rush Limbaugh. When it was decided that the Miller experiment was a failure, ABC wisely went after and secured John Madden, a seasoned football commentator whose job previous to broadcasting was as an NFL coach. His name is also associated with an immensely popular video game that allows couch potatoes to simulate the gridiron experience in their own homes. Madden was a natural fit for the gig. You’d think that ESPN would have learned from the MNF experience and gone after someone similar to the exuberant Madden. But instead, they were no doubt impressed by the success of The Best Damn Sports Show Period, which employs Tom Arnold to hang out with a variety of jocks and discuss sports in between making jokes at the expense of his ex-wife, Roseanne. And so, ESPN looked for an unconventional choice to team up with Chris "Boomer" Berman, Tom Jackson, Michael Irvin (fresh from his stint on The Best Damn Sports Show Period, now sporting a more toned down wardrobe), and Steve Young. These four guys, who all certainly know a thing or two about professional football, sit together behind one desk. A much smaller desk for one was brought onto the set and placed off in the corner, and the man hired to sit at it was Rush Limbaugh.

The gimmicky format of the show was allowing Limbaugh a certain number of challenges to make per show, imitating the challenges that NFL coaches make about questionable calls on the field. One of the challenges that Rush chose to make a few weeks into the gig was on the subject of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Donovan McNabb. His take on the subject was that McNabb is overrated. McNabb has certainly been off to a slow start this season, justifying any criticism of his abilities that one may choose to make. To call him overrated after a few poor early season performances, discounting all of the success he has enjoyed throughout his career up to now, may be somewhat of an overreaction. But sports writers and commentators overreact to streaks and to slumps all the time. It was not surprising or upsetting that Rush Limbaugh jumped on the McNabb-must-go bandwagon. He was saying nothing that countless Philadelphia fans have not expressed at one point or another in a much harsher manner than Rush would ever dare use on national television.

Then Mr. Limbaugh gave his explanation for exactly why he believed Donovan McNabb had been overrated to begin with. Basically, he felt that the media covering professional football conspired to praise McNabb and position him on a pedestal he had not earned. The reason for this conspiracy was that they wanted a black quarterback to succeed in the NFL, never mind that there already were several successful black quarterbacks. According to Limbaugh, the Eagles success (making it to two consecutive NFC championship games and counting) was due exclusively to the prowess of their defense. Their quarterback was simply along for the ride, yet the sports media was determined to make sure he received most of the credit.

I will not bother to counter the stupidity of this opinion, because an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary is already contained in statistics kept by the NFL, and plenty of others have already ripped into Rush, causing him to resign from his job at ESPN before the network would be forced to fire him. I will not resort to name calling, for Al Franken has already entitled a book: "Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot". I doubt I could put it any more eloquently or accurately than that. The person who made the best point on this unsettling matter was the recipient of the insult, and I don’t mean the entire African-American race, but specifically Donovan McNabb. He questioned why none of the other members of ESPN’s broadcast team had bothered to contradict Limbaugh. In the uncomfortable moments following Limbaugh's proclamation, I found myself wondering the same exact thing. Tom Jackson and Michael Irvin are both black, neither Chris Berman nor Steve Young are known members of the KKK, yet not a single one of them chose to voice a difference of opinion. Did none of them disagree with Limbaugh? Was I the only one staring incredulously at my television set, wondering if I had heard right? As it would turn out, I was not alone in my dismay.

Apparently, the lessons on political correctness inadvertently taught by Jimmy the Greek and Al Campanis did not make their way to Rush Limbaugh. Perhaps ESPN does not offer a racial sensitivity course to its new hires. This left Rush on his own to express whatever opinions came to mind, a recipe for disaster that ESPN probably should have taken into greater consideration before bringing him aboard.

At the beginning of this article, I remarked that Rush Limbaugh has been quite successful at his non-sports related body of work. I have a theory as to how this came about. It was a conspiracy on the part of the United Stated of America that a portly, insensitive, full of himself, opinionated Caucasian who is deeply in love with the sound of his own voice be made the champion of all political issues to the far right of reason, compassion and common sense. We don’t have to like him, but we do have to accept his existence and the microphone constantly placed in front of it, because the rise of Rush Limbaugh was inevitable, engineered behind the scenes by those at the very top of the American power structure. As for his downfall, Rush probably won’t need any assistance with that. He, seated at his very own desk, is capable of taking care of it all by himself.

Dress Code

NBA commissioner David Stern considers the league under his direction to be a class organization, and he wants to be certain that we all agree with him.  He realizes that a growing majority of professional basketball players are from America’s hip hop generation, yet this does not mean he intends to market the league predominantly to this particular fan base.  After all, luxury boxes and court side seats are still mostly purchased by those who belong to a more affluent demographic.  Those corporate types surely must not be neglected. 

If a Wall Street executive comes to Madison Square Garden for a rap concert, he knows he’ll look out of place if he doesn’t change out of his Brooks Brothers suit and into something considerably more casual before heading to the show.  If he comes to MSG for a New York Knicks game, that’s another matter entirely.  The fashion standard will vary widely, from fellow suits to those in loose jeans and bling bling to spare and every look in between.  It used to be that NBA players off the court but still on the clock could also choose to dress in whatever style most appealed to them.  Per David Stern’s latest edict, those days are now in the past.  A dress code has been instituted for pro ballers, and unless they don’t mind being fined on a regular basis, they have no choice but to adhere to it. 

This is not to say that the new dress code is particularly strict.  Most people in the workplace would consider the guidelines defining “business casual” in the National Basketball Association to be quite reasonable.   The league has banned sleeveless shirts, shorts, chains worn over clothing, sunglasses while indoors, and headphones during team or league business such as flights, public appearances and post game interviews, as well as sitting on the bench when not suited up to play.  Now required are collared dress shirts or turtlenecks; dress slacks, khaki pants or dress jeans; and dress shoes or boots or "other presentable shoes" with socks, and no sneakers, sandals, flip-flops or work boots.  In other words, the standard casual Friday look as you and I know it is acceptable to David Stern, but dressing like you’re onstage to accept a Source Award for best gangsta rap CD is not.  The arena of fashion is not the only one being policed by the commissioner in his effort to reform the somewhat thuggish image of the NBA post “Ron Artest Gone Wild”.  He also announced the inception of N.B.A. Cares.  With this vast public-service initiative, Stern vowed that the league, its players and its teams would raise $100 million for charity, serve more than one million volunteer hours and build more than 100 youth centers over the next five years.  As lofty an ambition as this may be, it is the new dress code that is garnering most of the publicity and stirring up controversy.

Many NBA players have no problem with the attire directives.  These are the players who already dressed accordingly and therefore won’t have to go on shopping sprees for more suitable wardrobes.  But since there are two sides to every coin, of course there are those who see the matter differently.  Among them is Indiana Pacers guard Stephen Jackson, who told ESPN that the league ban on chains worn over clothing is "a racist statement" from the league.  “I just think that's attacking young, black males," he proclaimed.  Does he have a valid point to make as he pulls the proverbial race card?  Not in my opinion.  A man’s blackness or lack thereof is not defined by how he dresses, so judging a person’s wardrobe is not one and the same as judging his race.  The hip hop generation consists of plenty of young white men who David Stern would be equally offended by.  Baggy jeans, tattoos, thick chains with large medallions, skullcaps, and whatever other pieces of apparel are currently fashionable in the hip hop world transcend race, color and creed.  What they do not transcend are rules that any private organization in this country has a right to make.  There are various jobs a person can hold that would allow him to dress as he pleases during work hours.  Bike messenger is one that leaps to mind.  Stephen Jackson is free to change vocations if the limitations of the NBA’s new dress code offends his delicate sensibilities, but he should keep in mind that opting to haul packages while riding a bicycle bumper to bumper with midtown traffic will come with a considerable reduction in salary.  The other way to go would be for him to become the owner of a business and set his own standard of appearance.  He could then choose to mirror the laissez faire frat guy look exhibited by Mark Cuban, or perhaps the inexplicable head of hair look perfected by Donald Trump.

It shouldn’t be necessary to state this, but wearing a shirt with sleeves and a collar will not automatically designate Stephen Fetchit/Lil’ Sambo status upon a young man.  There is a time and place to dress like a homey, and a time and place to dress like someone with a respectable job.  A tie is not a noose.  An NBA player doesn’t need to have gold and diamonds gleaming from every few square inches when conducting postgame interviews to convince us that he is obscenely wealthy.  We already know what these guys make, already consider them to be among the luckiest people in the world. 

So I’m afraid I just can’t feel the pain of Stephen Jackson and Allen Iverson on this one.  David Stern’s class war is not being waged against young men simply because they are black, but rather, against black men mostly because they are young and therefore instinctively rebellious against authority, even when the figures of that authority have nothing but their best interests in mind.  The NBA commissioner may have ruffled a few feathers with his new fashion rules, but he knows better than to bite off the hand that feeds him.  Hip Hop flava won’t be drained from pro basketball anytime soon.  Some minor image shaping won’t doom the league.  Contrary to what certain people might believe, demonstrating a little professionalism has never hurt anybody, and it has never subtracted the slightest bit of melanin from one’s skin or soul from one’s character. 

Private Club - Public Concerns

The privileged few in society born with silver spoons in their mouths and accustomed to most of life’s offerings being handed to them on a platter are rarely coerced into doing what goes against their wishes. Since attempting to treat them like regular folk with accountability to others tends to be futile, such attempts are rarely made. When someone nonetheless shows the gall to take off kid gloves and treat the privileged few as if they are subject to the same rules and regulations as everyone else, hell hath no fury like a spoiled brat being told what to do.

Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organisations (NCWO) certainly understood this when she sent a brief letter to the attention of Hootie Johnson, chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club. In her note, she criticized Augusta’s long-standing (69 years to date) practice of excluding women from membership in the private club. This is not to say that Ms. Burk has a problem in general with private organizations. Most Americans accept the fact that the Girl Scouts have the right to exclude boys, and that college sororities should not be made to admit young men. There are plenty of boys-only and girls-only organizations in the U.S. that are allowed to conduct their activities hassle free. In the case of the Augusta National Golf Club, however, this particular private club happens to host the world-renown Masters Golf Tournament. By sponsoring one of the four major championships in the sport of golf, for one week in every year a very public spotlight is cast upon Augusta. The event is televised for the viewing pleasure of millions of people who tune in to see who will receive the coveted green jacket that is awarded to the tournament champion. Some people feel it is reasonable to say that the Masters, which is the youngest but also the most popular of golf’s four major championships, is public property. And since the tournament belongs to all of us, should it not be played at a venue that belongs (at least in theory) to all of us?

Hootie disagrees with the premise of this argument, and expressed his difference of opinion to Ms. Burk’s three-sentence letter of complaint with a three-page response of indignation. After all, for fifty-one weeks of the year Augusta is a private club, with the emphasis on private. There is no application to obtain, membership is offered strictly to those who are deemed worthy rather than merely being a matter of one's ability to afford entry. For one week of the year, Augusta presents the world of sports with the gift of the Masters. They offer this tournament with a lack of commercialization that has distinguished it not only from other golf tournaments, but from all major sporting events. Unlike other tournaments that are played on a different course each year, there are strong ties between the Masters, the course it is played on, and the organization that presents it. So the suggestion to simply move it elsewhere if Augusta refuses to change its policies would be met with much resistance. Augusta and the Masters have always gone hand in hand. Tradition serves in this matter (as it often does in the American South) as a double edged sword, with both praise and derision earned for the same act - standing still in a perpetually changing world. Augusta generates a sizeable chunk of change for its efforts, so hosting the Masters is not exactly charity. According to Johnson though, this money does not benefit the club membership, but goes back into the tournament or is given away. He finds it unfair for Augusta to be “penalized” by having to forfeit its private-club status because they do something that is universally viewed as good for the game of golf with minimal compensation. So regardless of one’s views on feminism or elitism, it seems that Hootie does have a well thought out answer for every one of Martha’s concise charges.

Nevertheless, Ms. Burk and the NCWO are by no means backing down. They intend to organize a protest at next year’s (April 2003) Masters if a woman member has not been admitted to Augusta by then. They will certainly be joined by others, including Reverend Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition, who are offended by the discriminatory practices of Augusta. As for going to the sponsors of the tournament for support, Ms. Burk need not bother. In a pre-emptive strike, Johnson cancelled the sponsorships of Coke, IBM and Citigroup, opting to broadcast the tournament commercial free rather than giving them the chance to snub the Masters. So when Tiger Woods attempts to earn a historic third consecutive green jacket, he will be doing so at a televised but nonetheless private show being put on by a private club. There will be picketers carrying signs and shouting disapproval, but will this be enough to budge the obstinate Hootie Johnson? Doubtful. Mr. Johnson and the club members that he speaks for live in a privileged world that has suited them just fine for a long time. They are quite slow to change, as is evidenced by the fact that it was not until 1990 that the first African-American member was admitted. This came a full fifteen years after Lee Elders became the first black man to play the Masters. Hootie does not rule out the possibility of a woman gaining entrance into his club someday. But he adamantly states that there is no chance of this event occurring prior to next Apirl, regardless of what Martha Burk and others do or say. This is his right under the law of the land.

To illustrate that there is national support for Augusta’s cause, they commissioned a poll. 74% of the respondents agreed that a private club has the right to choose its own members, and if that means single sex membership, so be it. Hootie further points out that women are allowed to play the Augusta courses, so long as they are accompanied by a member. This makes Augusta more progressive than certain other golf clubs where women are not allowed at all. With Hootie Johnson making several reasonable points, some people have criticized Martha Burk for making such a big deal of this issue when there are so many situations that seem more pertinent to the rights of women. How many lives will be affected to a significant degree if one or two wealthy women are allowed to become members of Augusta? Will this truly be a major step forward for the women’s movement? Why would any woman even want to join a club where she was so obviously not wanted? Perhaps my last question is irrelevant. The women’s movement, like the civil rights movement, like any movement undergone by those in a subjugated societal position, is not about gaining admittance to places that are welcoming. Rather, it is about forcing change against the will of those who want things to remain as they have always been, because they are the sole beneficiaries of an unenlightened society. Jackie Robinson did not join the Dodgers because Major League baseball players and fans of the sport were clamoring for a black man to take the field. He took the field, stayed on it, and excelled on it, in spite of opposition to his presence.

Of course, breaking the color barrier in a prominent sports league, or a school system, or a field of employment is not exactly equivalent to getting into country club. This is a significant point to many people, but not necessarily to Martha Burk. Her contention that the Masters is a public rather than private event can be rightfully disputed. She can claim however much she wants that this is a moral issue rather than a legal one, but legality is enforceable, morality is not. It is however rather difficult to argue against her viewpoint that the discriminatory policies of Augusta remind women of “the glass ceiling and unequal pay and all the reasons women are running second in America”. Such policies remind all of us, regardless of race or religion or gender, that the privileged few reside in a world that is above you and I, and they want it to stay this way. For those who have a problem with this state of being, maybe it doesn’t matter what lies behind the doors that a movement breaks through. Perhaps it only matters that the doors go down.

Too Young To Be a Baller?

David Stern is pushing hard to raise the age limit for entrance into the National Basketball Association. Under current NBA rules, a U.S. player's high school class must have graduated in order for him to become eligible for the draft, while international players must turn 18 before the draft in order to be eligible. If Stern gets his way, and he often does in basketball matters, being old enough to vote or get drafted into military service won't be sufficient. He would prefer that NBA ballers be at least 20 years of age rather than going pro directly after the prom. In his vision of a Utopian basketball world, freakishly talented young men who don't yet need to shave regularly will either go to college or else enter the National Basketball Development League, using it as more of a traditional minor league system.

There are vocal critics of Commissioner Stern's proposal, such as Jermaine O'Neal of the Indiana Pacers who made the leap from high school to the NBA a few years ago. He points to his own success in the league as just one example of the relatively smooth transition from boy with a basketball and a dream to man with a mansion and millions in the bank. Last year, eight high school seniors were among the first 19 picks, including the number one overall selection. The last two NBA Rookie of the Year winners, LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire, were drafted straight out of high school. This year's All-Star game featured seven players - Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Rashard Lewis, O'Neal, Stoudemire and James - who made the jump directly from the preps to the pros. Convincing evidence indeed that there's no time like the present to exchange a varsity jacket for a pro uniform. Many lawyers would agree with O'Neal's contention that a raised age limit would be unconstitutional. Does he make a valid point in suggesting that Stern's age limit proposal hints of racism, since the NBA is so heavily comprised of African-Americans, unlike sports such as baseball and hockey that do not have similar age restrictions? Or does Stern have a better argument in claiming that his plan is necessary because too many young urban Americans are looking at the NBA as a viable avenue to financial security for their families and a quick path to stardom for themselves, and the vast majority of them end up chasing a dream that will not be caught? It used to be that basketball players routinely graduated college before turning pro. Then they began entering the NBA draft after their junior year of college, then after their sophomore year, then after only one year of collegiate experience, and now increasingly more of these young men aren't even bothering to take advantage of athletic scholarships being offered to them. Why pursue higher education at no cost when Escalade ownership and several pounds of bling to accentuate arms full of tattoos is only a contract offer away?

Maurice Clarett, who recently brought a lawsuit against the NFL challenging the league's age requirement policy while sitting out his sophomore season due to ineligibility, no doubt agrees with O'Neal and others who feel that if an athlete is skilled enough for a pro team to offer him a contract here and now, he should have the right to sign it whether or not he's done going through puberty. I myself never thought to sue anybody for not offering me a job when I was 18. Avoiding any kind of real responsibility and making most of my decisions based on raging hormones was all the work I cared to have at that point in time. Then again, if there was a chance of being offered millions of dollars to play a game I gladly would have played for free, two years would have seemed like an awfully long time to wait for the opportunity.

The most recent trends in the NBA have been towards youth, locating talent in foreign lands where the fundamentals of the game are still stressed, and the emergence of mobile giants who appeal to an enormous Asian fan base. These trends have each netted success stories. The NBA machine does not appear to be broken in any way, yet David Stern still wishes to tinker with it. I guess he isn't too worried that thousands of young men in urban areas of this country will grow frustrated that their dreams of NBA stardom have been deferred, and opt to put down their basketballs in favor of hockey sticks. Mr. Stern was patient enough to earn a college degree, followed by a law degree, and then marched steadily up the ranks of his chosen profession until becoming the commissioner of the NBA and proceeding to revitalize the league. The reward for his due diligence is that he now gets to make and enforce the rules, whether the Jermaine O'Neals and Maurice Claretts of the world like it or not. The wisdom David Stern has accumulated over the years has perhaps enabled him to realize that while a handful of young phenoms such as Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony can infuse a jolt of energy to the NBA, more harm than good may be done if the amount of professional teen ballers is allowed to increase to too high a percentage. One senses that Stern fears letting the NBA turn into Daddy Daycare at best, League Gone Wild at worst.

Patience, like a back breaking crossover dribble, is a virtue. So my cliché filled advice to all young men with hoop dreams is to bide your time and enjoy the early days of your lives to the fullest extent. The future isn't going anywhere, and gaining more experience at your chosen craft never hurts, no matter how unnecessary it seems. Gaining a little maturity never hurt anyone either. Don't fixate on your destination to the point that you barely notice the ride. Youth may not be wasted on those who possess it, but it certainly isn't appreciated enough until it is gone. And unlike Michael Jordan, once it has left, it never comes back. As for racism, that never quite goes away.