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SPORTSTALK

The Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League have not had the best May. Three consecutive losses have stalled the team's early season momentum and have led to the benching of quarterback Bernard Morris. The third loss, to San Jose at home, preceded a backstage brawl involving officials, players and coaches after the game, hinting at larger problems with the franchise going forward. It feels counterintuitive to say a team at 6-3 as of this writing is in disarray, but clearly the Sharks are having problems.

And these problems go beyond game day scrums and quarterback changes. Consider the curious case of Douglas Michael Kleiner, a 49-year-old white male who, until recently, served as the Sharks' director of sports medicine. Kleiner was arrested and charged, according to the police report, for trafficking in controlled substances, practicing or attempting to practice medicine without a valid medical license, delivery and distribution of schedule III opium or derivative, and dispensing prescription or medical drugs without a license. The timing could not be worse.

This year has been a downer for those who seek to skirt the law regarding distribution of prescription medicines. Gov. Rick Scott's administration and Attorney General Pam Bondi have gone after pill mills in the way politicians so often take law-and-order stances: so they can be seen as "doing something about the problem" — which they are, in a narrow sense. However, as long as Big Pharma can make ridiculous profits 
from patented medicines, the true source of supply will never abate. It's easy to bust a pill mill or a team trainer; good luck going after Pfizer or Ranbaxy.

Some observers might assert a causal link between the team's underperformance of late and its pharmaceutical supply — which included favorites like hydrocodone, valium and testosterone — being interrupted. I think it would be a bit reductive to go that far without further evidence. What is clear, …   More

SPORTSTALK

The Players Championship was perfect, if you like redemption narratives. Tiger Woods found his mojo and his form, and his body looked better than it has in years. As someone who spent a lot of the 1990s watching athletes perform in everything from pro baseball to professional wrestling achieve these flawless physiques, I felt a stir of recognition. Woods isn't a young man anymore, but his pecs were impeccable, and his victory at The Players restored the sanctity of his narrative. Nike's new Tiger Woods shoes, for example, were hot sellers before the win. Now? Good luck finding them, even at $180.

America loves a winner. But what happens when winners don't win or stop winning? Things get real. That brings us to the story of Vijay Singh — one of the best golfers in the world at one point — who's making news these days more for scandal than for anything he does on the course. At 50 years old, Singh tied for 78th at The Players and came out of the event no richer than he went in.

Singh recently filed suit against the PGA for "violating its duty of care and good faith" regarding his recent deer antler velvet scandal. According to the lawsuit, the Tour "failed competently and responsibly to administer its own Anti-Doping Program. … As a direct and proximate result of the PGA Tour's actions, Singh has been humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and emotionally distraught."

At The Players, he wasn't exactly ridiculed — except by a spectator who razzed him by wearing deer antlers the first day. Perhaps that's a measure of respect for a veteran with one of the most impressive résumés of all active professional golfers — or perhaps it's a measure of the Fijian's irrelevance. Golfers half his age, such as Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, are the present day of the sport. At this point, Tiger Woods is an old-guard figure himself. Singh? Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard." He might be "ready for [his] close-up," but he …   More

SPORTSTALK

LeRoy Butler is as local as Famous Amos, the Pecan Park Flea Market and sclerotic traffic on I-95 North. The Lee High School grad had a standout career as a defensive back at Florida State University, then went on to play a complete career helming the strong safety spot with the Green Bay Packers.

Like former Packers defensive player (and long-deceased) Reggie White, Butler is a committed Christian. Getting beyond that, though, there are certain differences in the way they approach witnessing for the Lord.

One such difference has to do with the Packers' respective understandings of homosexuality, and how it factors into the Christian life. White opposed gays' civil rights struggles. During a 1998 address before the Wisconsin Legislature, White rejected comparisons of the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement, saying, "Homosexuality is a decision. It's not a race."

White's position is not an unfamiliar one, especially to those of us who have spent significant time in places where the culture is determined by evangelical Christian churches. The old "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" canard — if you took a drink every time you heard that, you'd be pickled by noon.

In the 15 years since White courted controversy and endeared himself to a moralistic swath of the Christian right, we have a much greater understanding of sexual orientation, as well as an understanding that sexual identity is not a matter of conscious choice on the level of "I'd rather go to Carrabba's than Olive Garden."

Butler was booked by a Wisconsin church to speak to a youth group on the subject of bullying and was to receive $8,500 for his efforts. All would have been fine had he avoided tweeting about Jason Collins' decision to become the first openly gay male athlete currently in American major team sports.

The tweet was an innocuous message of congratulations; the firestorm that followed, ironically, is far more instructive, in that it shows the …   More

SPORTSTALK

I've analyzed Jaguars' drafts in Folio Weekly for the previous decade, and for the better part of that decade as a fan, so I have plenty of opinions. Along the way, I've learned an important lesson: Nothing is ever as it seems on draft day.

It all seems simple in late April. Some teams draft the best available player (BAP) more often than not, knowing that attrition and injury will require that potential to find its way onto the field. Other teams draft for need — a philosophy decried by some as too reactive, as if the so-called BAP is a sure thing or a known quantity. Still others emulate Bill Belichick and trade down, under the assumption that diversifying the portfolio and putting more bodies in camp is the smartest play — sort of like what Rumsfeld said about Iraq: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. … there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

There's something there that applies to more than Mesopotamia. We never truly know the outcome of a situation going in. Despite the ruminations of self-styled purists, all teams basically use a hybrid of those draft philosophies: sometimes need, sometimes best player, sometimes an aggregation of picks. The three philosophies were at work in General Manager David Caldwell's first draft, and the results are more promising than they've in years.

The first pick, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, graded out as the best tackle — indeed the best player — in many pre-draft projections, and if you saw him keep the heat off Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M last season in the school's first year in the SEC, you'd agree. The obvious comparison to Joeckel is Tony Boselli — and though those are big shoes to fill, one hopes he'll be closer to that than the 2009 second-round bust pick Eben Britton, the discharged right tackle who talked a much bigger game …   More

SPORTSTALK

Jonathan Papelbon and I have a couple of things in common. We both went to Bishop Kenny High School, so chances are he, too, has a collection of white shirts, blue pants and maroon ties. Chances are he saw "Star Trek" in a religion class — assuming Sister Edith's curriculum hasn't changed. And he has a habit of saying whatever he thinks. This habit revealed itself — yet again — recently.

Papelbon is best known for his relief stint with the 2007 Boston Red Sox, where he looked like he might be a once-in-a-generation closer along the lines of a Goose Gossage. His time in Boston ended soon enough, but his predilection for explosive quotes remains — thank goodness. In what was intended to be an anodyne interview with regional sports network CSN Philadelphia, Papelbon made some comments regarding the incident at the Boston Marathon, stoking a fire of national controversy.

"Today's day and age has gotten so crazy. Shoot man, Obama wants to take our guns from us and everything. You got all this stuff going on; it's just a little bit insane for me, man. I'm not sure how to take it," said the pitcher.

Compared to former Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker's comments in 1999, at the height of his career, criticizing the diversity of New York City ("It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."), those comments seem relatively sane, I guess, but what wouldn't?

Still, when one's being measured against Rocker (who'll be here on June 6 as a special attraction at a Jacksonville Suns game), that's a red flag. And when one deconstructs Papelbon's sentiment, it's just as insipid.

Let's start with the first sentence. "Today's day and age has gotten so crazy." Really, Jon, you don't say.

What day and age hasn't …   More

SPORTSTALK

I’ve been skeptical. I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth.

I’ve doubted the viability — or potential viability — of pro hoops in Jacksonville. And a part of me still does. Then again, I’ve been here a long time. The city of Jacksonville is changing.

Growing. Attracting more people with disposable income. More people who expect urban amenities — like the NBA.

Take the latest triumph of the Jacksonville Giants, our local American Basketball Association franchise that, in the words of acclaimed griot DJ Khaled, “all they do is win win win no matter what.”

The Giants, you see, have done it again. Yet another ABA championship for the city of Jacksonville. In what might have been their proudest moment as a franchise, they got it done.

Sweeping the first two games of what was intended to be a best-of-three series against the acclaimed North Dallas Vandals, the clincher was won by one point on a rainy night, on a weekend that let us know that summer is but a heartbeat away.

It was a one-point victory, keynoted by the usual suspects: Anthony Jackson, who’s been so clutch this year, with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 105 seconds left on the clock; Jermaine Bell, who poured in 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help in the effort; and Ed Horton and Currye Todd — the dynamic duo of guards — each with 22 points.

This was a different Giants victory than many we’ve seen. The turbo-charged NBA jam scoring wasn’t as much in evidence, even though at the half the team had 57 points. The Giants went cold in the second half, letting the Vandals back in the game as if the ABA were fifth-century Rome, but no matter. They were able to close out, like champions do. Word is, Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan, whose team played every close game as if they needed a collective Heimlich maneuver, was watching the game and furiously taking notes.

OK. Maybe not. We know that ABA …   More

SPORTSTALK

There are several notable events going on in area college sports this week.

 

JU’s Juggernauts

One of the more heartening local sports stories of 2013 is the rapid ascendance of Jacksonville University's men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. The programs haven’t been around long, yet they are reaching national power status quickly and dominating the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the process.

JU’s men’s team suffered its first MAAC defeat, 14-11, to Marist College on April 13, snapping the Dolphins’ four-game winning streak. JU’s conference in other sports, the Atlantic Sun, prepares to add lacrosse to its roster next season. The Dolphins are a resilient bunch, as their recent trip to Virginia Military Institute indicates. The Keydets rallied, even tying the game at halftime, but the Dolphins came out of the break strong and finished off VMI.

In the 13-8 victory, two Dolphins with international backgrounds — Paraguay native Ari Waffle and Cameron Mann of Hamilton, Ontario — did hat tricks. Kyle Rebman and Rob Wertz each scored twice, and Will Crenshaw, Dakota Rohlin and Brian Kensil each added a goal.

In addition to all of those scoring threats, JU’s defense was equally solid — especially in the final minutes. Pete DeLuca stopped 15 shots on goal, including seven in the fourth quarter. The JU team won in Lexington, Va. — a tough place to play. It’s easy to imagine them making a deep run in the MAAC Tournament the first week of May.

The same can be said for the women’s lacrosse team. The Dolphins routed the University of Detroit Titans on April 14, improving to 11-4 overall. The JU women are 3-0 in coverence, clinching at least a share of the A-Sun title.

The women’s squad is a family affair. Head coach Mindy McCord is married to an assistant, Paul McCord — a relationship that only adds to the storybook quality of this program and …   More

SPORTSTALK

When considering how successful the Jacksonville Suns have been over the decades, it's a good idea to allow for more than just the win/loss record. The Suns — owned by the Bragan family since Jacksonville was a much smaller, more provincial city — have adapted with the times. Still, some things remain the same. One thing is a robust schedule of crowd-pleasing promotions designed to keep people coming to the park all season long.

The team just wrapped up its first homestand against the Jackson (Miss.) Generals, and the promos were all centered on Peter Bragan Sr., the legendary owner who died last July. Bragan was honored with a talking bobblehead giveaway and a distribution of Bragan Field baseballs. These are the kinds of keepsakes that diehard Suns and Minor League Baseball fans will cherish for years and are great kickoffs for what will be a special season. There'll be many events, and while there's not enough space to cover them all, a few highlights should be noted.

All-Star Blitz: Why not showcase some of the best talent in the Minor Leagues — the Southern League All-Star game in July? Bragan Field is the crown jewel of the parks of the Southern League, as locals know, and the Suns are among the minor league's preeminent franchises. So it makes a perfect locale for the All-Star game on July 17, as well as the Homerun Derby, a favorite of kids of all ages. The day before the game, go by The Jacksonville Landing and check out the MLB All-Star Game “Watch Party” on the big screen.

Rocker Around the Clock: The team is bringing two former Atlanta Braves from back in the day. A hero to every 30something Southern male who ever played outfield and swung for the fences every time he stepped to the plate … Dale Murphy hits town May 6. On June 6, fireballer-turned-conservative-flamethrower HYPERLINK "http://www.johnrocker.net/"John Rocker visits. He made some controversial comments about New York City’s ethnic …   More

SPORTSTALK

The Age of Austerity is upon us, and legislators at all levels want to make cuts. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) is currently in the crosshairs of the Florida Legislature, and it’s hard to see how it will escape.

House Bill 1279 would cut FHSAA revenue and executive director Roger Dearing's $151,000 salary. Dearing would be terminated at the end of June. All 16 board members would be replaced at the end of September. The proposal passed a legislative subcommittee unanimously, and it’s easy to see why.

From the outside, especially considering what used to be traditional conceptions of amateur sports as an adjunct to the educational process, it’s hard to understand why the FHSAA executive director would have a higher base salary than the Florida governor – even before factoring in Dearing’s car and cellphone allowances.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported the proposal would “chop in half the FHSAA share of revenue from the preseason classics and postseason playoffs it sanctions. That is $2.5 million in 2012-’13, almost half of a $5.2 million budget.” Dearing maintains the FHSAA has a right to this money.

“The misconception is that we’re taking tax revenue," Dearing said. “That’s not the case. The money we get is from gate receipts of events we put on. We receive nothing from regular-season games. That stays with our schools.”

The bill would also change student-athlete eligibility, requiring the FHSAA to presume a student is eligible unless proved otherwise, opening the door to students no longer being barred from receiving benefits from schools, changing the language to the more subjective “significant benefits” — a phrase that will undoubtedly be open for discussion if HB 1279 passes.

The FHSAA has been on the ropes in recent years, with legislative efforts designed to make it easier for transfer students to be eligible to play …   More

SPORTSTALK

"What was silent in the father speaks in the son, and often I found in the son the unveiled secret of the father."  ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Ric Flair's son was found dead March 29, according to WrestlingObserver.com. There is no good way for a man in his mid-20s to die, and the speculation — given his predilections — was that his death was due to a drug overdose. A sad end to a life that seemed to have so much potential.

The American public's first introduction to Reid was on an episode of "WCW Monday Nitro," in which the young man appeared in a segment with Eric Bischoff in 1998, in which he showed a remarkable sense of timing and ability, even at the age of 9, to move as a pro wrestler should. I thought at that time that Reid would be a future world champion. It never came to pass. He spent most of his life dealing with what are so euphemistically called demons. And there seemed to be plenty.

Having Ric Flair as a father certainly must have been a mixed bag. For Reid and his brother David, they elicited instant interest from wrestling fans; in the parlance of the game, both were pushed "too hard, too soon." In the 1980s, Reid's drug use might not have been a dealbreaker — as any survey of YouTube indicates, there were no shortage of wrestlers with obvious issues. In the more corporatized world of 2013, however, his rep seemed sealed as that of a washout.

Ric had worked a deal with a Japanese federation to help get Reid some ringtime, and with Reid's sister Ashley in WWE Developmental Territory NXT, it seemed logical that Reid may join her. Obviously, that won't come to pass.

Ric's own career is in serious jeopardy. He has been working as a non-wrestling performer for WWE of late, but a blood clot in the leg ensured that he couldn't work TV this week, and he has been advised not to fly going forward. It is terrifying and heartbreaking to imagine what is going on in Ric Flair's mind right now, and the closest analogue this …   More

 
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