It's hard to fault the Jacksonville Jaguars for finally parting ways with Rashean Mathis, and it's equally hard to fault most of the sports media for looking at Rashean's tenure in Jacksonville through teal-colored glasses. But let's be real about his legacy.
For the last few years, Mathis was the guy on the field who could be targeted with the deep ball and beaten, time and time again. There was good reason for talk throughout the media of possibly moving him to safety — a position shift familiar to cover corners who can no longer cover. The fact is that Mathis wouldn't have started for at least the last two years — possibly more — on a team where he had real competition for his role, which by the end, given the emergence of Derek Cox, was as a No. 2 cornerback.
What's next? Obviously, he will explore the free agent market, get a camp invite, maybe a roster spot. But will any team with real aspirations be able to use him? He's not really a nickel back type; at his age and with his mileage, a shifty slot receiver would school him on many routes, and burn him deep.
I know — Mathis is a classy guy, a fan of Burrito Gallery, and one of the best football players from Duval County. I wish him well. But I have to give general manager David Caldwell credit for making a personnel move that was divested of the sentimental hogwash that seemed to drive moves in previous eras. In the case of Mathis, we see an illustration of the principle "addition by subtraction." Keeping him on the roster would be fuzzy math, unless he somehow could tap into the Ray Lewis "fountain of youth."
Since the death of the wrestling territories, such as the then-local Championship Wrestling from Florida in the late 1980s, national wrestling promoters have faced a conundrum: How can they give their talent the necessary ring work so they look polished before putting them on the main roster? For World Wrestling Entertainment — far and away the leading outfit on Earth — the solution has been farm leagues; it's had them for the last couple of decades.
Over the years, WWE has had arrangements with a variety of outfits, like Louisville's Ohio Valley Wrestling and the United States Wrestling Association of Memphis. Those companies had plenty of success stories emerge from their bare-bones indie rasslin loops. Despite this, none of these solutions was permanent. This explains why WWE moved its training to Tampa, Florida, using the cryptically named NXT territory as its instruction base.
Why Florida? Why Tampa? The simple obvious reason: Wrestlers gravitate to Tampa after retiring, and so a lot of those who could teach greenhorns the ins and outs of the game are there already. Plus, Tampa has traditionally been a hotbed for pro wrestling. It was the spiritual center of the CWF decades ago; more recently, it's the spot from which all indie Florida wrestling emanates organically – again, due to the natural migration patterns of wrestlers, who enjoy the climate and the adult entertainment, to name two of the city’s main amenities.
NXT has television – only in Tampa. But, as has happened historically with Tampa promotions, the company's branching out, running shows throughout the state, as it did on Feb. 22 at the National Guard Armory on Normandy Boulevard. Now, this is Westside, way past I-295 — and the drainage reflected that. My subcompact car navigated a lot of standing water along the way.
Local event promoters know that rain kills crowds. Not pro wrestling, though; not on the Westside. Perhaps the marks were drawn in by the promise of meeting …
I may be the only person in America who is in favor of military sequestration. I realize that it impacts people, including many local families who depend on the military for direct or indirect employment. That said, much of the economy – and economic choices – surrounding the US military in recent decades are inefficient, illustrating what Noam Chomsky described as “socialized costs, privatized profits.” No matter what war we look at in our nation’s history, the common thread is that a subset of patriotic Americans is getting PAID. Which is fine – someone has to!
It is beyond this column’s scope to weigh the pros and cons of having a global military presence, of funding and otherwise abetting movements throughout what was once called the Third World, and so forth. But given the long-standing tradition of having military flyovers at Jacksonville Jaguars games, it is instructive to look at the use of military displays as propaganda, specifically designed to shape the short-term thought processes and long-term philosophical inclinations of those watching. What effect is the displays intended to create? And what is the real loss when those displays no longer happen?
A few days back, it was reported that the military sequestration process, among other effects, would end flyovers at all sporting events going forward. As Vito Stellino from the Florida Times-Union reported, the Air Force conducts “about 1000 flyovers at sporting events per year as part of their training routines.” A few of those flyovers, as you would expect, are at Jags’ games
There are some who believe that the Jacksonville Jaguars’ organization was instrumental in making those displays happen. That confusion wasn’t cleared up necessarily by team President Mark Lamping, who said, “We’ve only heard rumors and haven’t received any confirmation, but the flyovers have been an important part of the Jaguars games …
For whatever reason, David Garrard's comeback has not taken off. Despite the dearth of quality quarterbacking in the league, the former Jaguar Pro Bowler hasn't elicited a lot of interest in the league. Enter the quarterback-starved Jets, who worked him out this week.
All we know about the Jets' QB situation is in the linked article: Tebow will be released. That said, it seems like it might behoove the Jaguars to give Garrard at least a courtesy tryout. The Jags haven't gone out of their way to let former quarterbacks return, but at the veteran minimum salary, what is the harm of having a proven hand at the position to backup/challenge Gabbert? This would free up the team to draft a quality tackle in the No. 2 position instead of reaching for a quarterback without having the line to keep him healthy.
One of the notable things about Tim Tebow's occasional forays into preaching and Christian ministry is that the scrutiny on him seems to increase with each passing occurrence — even as his career on the gridiron seems in doubt. His recent decision to speak at a Dallas church, only to rescind it, hints at him being at a crossroads.
The spurned Dallas Minister, a Robert Jeffress, has taken heat for the kind of comments that we expect to hear in certain churches — fusillades against same-sex marriage and other issues that are betes noires to the fundamentalist community. Unfortunately for Tebow, Jeffress is ready and willing to engage the quarterback for his reversed decision:
"I am grateful for men of God like these who are willing to stand up and act like men rather than wimping out when it gets a little controversial and an inconvenient thing to stand for the truth … God bless men like that."
This is a fight that Tebow — with his careful, anodyne public image always at the forefront — simply cannot win. He can't engage in a discussion of these issues; he has far too much to lose, no matter where he comes down. If he agrees with the preacher and like-minded folks, that will be how he is defined in the mainstream media, which still remembers his Super Bowl ad years ago. Disagree, and he launches himself into a role his endless campaign of self-promotion cannot handle. He can't discuss this issue, no matter how he comes down on it, without ticking somebody off. And therein lies the problem with his recurrent desire to witness his faith while working in the sports-entertainment industry.
The problem isn't that Tebow is a wimp, but that he is a cipher. He stands for what people want him to stand for, espousing a Christianity much closer to Joel Osteen than C.S. Lewis. That is his prerogative. But when one decides to accept these speaking gigs, rejecting the invitation once media …
First, let me say I'm not a fan of the new logo. I think the cat’s head is slimmed down too much, the ears are too pointy, and the tongue — why it's still teal is beyond me.
That said, I understand the need for it — just as I understood the need to take the team to black uniforms. Aggressive rebranding is necessary for this franchise to take the great leap forward. It's time. In fact, it was long past time.
Change came quite slowly and cautiously in the Wayne Weaver era. The original Jaguars owner was a throwback in a way that fit Jacksonville of a bygone era — a time when Baymeadows Road was two lanes and Mandarin was still out in the sticks.
By the time the team got to the 21st century and the interminable Jack Del Rio epoch, it seemed like Weaver was standing still while so many other teams in the league were moving forward. The chances that were taken — Matt Jones as a project wide receiver in the first round, Jerry Porter as a big free-agent signing — seemed like half-measures, partly because the coaching staff didn't seem able to maximize the talent on hand. The David Garrard phase seems a lifetime ago, partly because there are so few signature memories attached to it.
We're long past that now. Garrard will likely never play another down of pro ball, and his replacement, Blaine Gabbert, inspires little confidence outside his own locker room. It doesn’t seem to matter too much. This team — 2-14 last year, with the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft — has something intangible going for it. And there are tangible factors, too.
Let’s start with the head coach. When Mike Mularkey was hired, the fan base and NFL observers were both underwhelmed. He hadn’t had rousing success during his previous head coaching stop in Buffalo, and his mild-mannered personality seemed anticlimactic after the tempestuous Tom Coughlin and Jack Del Rio, who definitely could show fire when he wanted. It was inconceivable that he'd get only one year to …
We are living in what the fortune cookies call interesting times. North Korea is running nuclear tests, the Pope just “resigned” (presumably with Papal Infallibility intact) and gas prices are surging. Despite the maelstrom of geopolitical uncertainty, we still have our traditions — the things that make us American, as they go in the 21st century. One of those is roaring to Jacksonville yet again: the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam.
This isn’t for everyone. There's no need for a corporate suite at Monster Jam. It's highly unlikely that super-agent Drew Rosenhaus and other sports celebrities will attend. There won’t be many stretch limos out front. The monster circuit isn’t about that.
It’s about torque. It’s about big trucks with big tires and big names, crushing or totaling anything in their paths, bringing to life in vehicular-metaphorical fashion the aspirations of both little kids and grown men with Napoleon complexes.
It’s about power. As monster truck driver Scott Buetow told the Chicago Sun-Times, “Monster trucks are about 10 to 11 feet tall and weigh about 10,000 pounds. And there’s about 1,500 horsepower under the hood.”
And all of us need something, somewhere that convinces us, in some capacity, of the individual’s ability to triumph over adversity and absurdity. If we spend our days taking orders, as most of us do, don’t we, on some level, need to see narrative payback, a sort of illustration of the principle of eternal recurrence? And while the monster truck narrative isn’t for everyone — indeed, most folks in my social set shun monster trucks and the Monster Jam — it definitely resonates with its target audiences: kids, parents and the young at heart. Luckily for promoters, there are a lot of numbers in these groups.
Virtually everyone who's a fan of the sport — and, yes, it is a sport — has a favorite monster truck or …
Growing up, I never had illusions about the substance use of professional athletes. Then again, my favorite sports team was the 1980s New York Mets, and my favorite athletes were in the rings of the National Wrestling Alliance. Spending as much time as I did watching amped-up athletes ranging from Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry to Ric Flair and Road Warrior Hawk, it was hard to be surprised when evidence of their substance use came out. And, despite the Just Say No agitprop, I never really felt much like condemning them for their choices.
This was not a majoritarian viewpoint in the media of the ’80s, when sports columns and commentaries often came with a heavy glaze of empty moralism. Most of us who were teenage males in the ’80s remember, for example, when Len Bias died from a cocaine overdose. The flipside to all of the hysteria spoon-fed to the middle class from the corporate media, however, was a logical deduction: specifically, that drug use was a matter of free will. Despite the athlete-as-hero mythology used to sell sports memorabilia, the fact was that these were and are driven men who did what they wanted and had the money to do so.
Cocaine hasn’t disappeared from sports, as the preponderance of sinus conditions on every NBA telecast indicates. Over the years, though, we've seen drugs (especially performance enhancers) employed for purposes as professional as they are recreational. And scandals galore to match.
Consider Lance Armstrong’s recent protracted tumble from grace (ironic, given how doped-up the competitive cycling circuit has always been), or the ritualized savaging of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for boosting their power numbers with performance enhancers. And then, as recently as Super Bowl week, the staunchly denied allegations that Ray Lewis of the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens used deer antler spray in an effort to prolong his valuable career for one more campaign.
Closer to home, yet another …
For local diehard fans of women’s soccer, this week's U.S. vs. Scotland exhibition match is an unprecedented opportunity to see the American team — stars both old and new. With 29 players on the American roster, it's hard to tell exactly how long any given player will be on the field; the smart money is on a rotation of talent.
Returning to the pitch for the American side, after more than a year-long layoff: defender Ali Krieger. Krieger, a 28-year-old alumna of the Penn State Nittany Lions, tore knee ligaments in an Olympic qualifier match against the Dominican Republic last year. She'd spent the better part of the last five years overseas playing in Germany, but has decided to spend the next stretch of her career Stateside. A big driver of that decision, as you would expect, is her involvement with the U.S. National Team.
“They really kept me motivated to want to get back, but also my younger fans and actually just my fans in general,” Krieger told NWSL News. “They were amazing throughout my entire process of rehab, and I couldn’t thank them enough. But little did they know they inspired me so much to want to get back. I received letters from all across the world saying how much I inspired them to want to be better and be good players. You know, you don’t realize that until someone writes you, so having the support of the fans, the National Team and U.S. Soccer was unreal. I was so thankful and grateful for them.”
There are many athletes on many levels who derive strength from their fanbases. This seems especially true with female athletes, perhaps due to the barriers that have kept women’s sports from being considered equal to men’s, barriers rooted in patriarchal constructions that extend well beyond the metaphorical arena of sport.
In men’s sports, there's often the tacit understanding that the athlete is an antihero. Think Jack Tatum, crippling people in the ’70s as an Oakland Raider. Think of Charles Barkley, who famously …
The first weekend of February brings the most important sporting event to town since the Super Bowl. Davis Cup tennis is a series of matches between some of the best men’s players the United States and Brazil have to offer. For fans of world-class tennis, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Davis Cup matches are played in a best-of-five series over three days. The first-round match on Feb. 1 features two singles matches, in which Brazil’s No. 1 player will play the second-best American, and vice-versa. Feb. 2 features a doubles match between the two pairs. And Feb. 3? The 1s, then the 2s, square off in singles play. Watching this on TV doesn’t really do justice to the spectacle and the athletic accomplishment. As the saying goes, you just have to be there to appreciate it. Fortunately, 13,000 fans will be able to watch at Veterans Memorial Arena.
If you're a fan of great tennis or international competition, don’t just sit there. If you just watch it on the Tennis Channel, you'll regret your failure to act. Guaranteed.
For one thing, everyone who's anyone in the history of this great sport has competed. The most acclaimed American competitor: John McEnroe, who owns or shares 20 Davis Cup records. Rene Lacoste, whose shirts have filled my closet since the Ronald Reagan era, is just one of the many players who forged his reputation in international team play. Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi, Arthur Ashe — three more names even non-fans of the sport know — likewise distinguished themselves in Davis play.
Another great tennis player with Davis Cup experience lives closer to home. Ponte Vedra Beach resident MaliVai Washington competed in 1997 for the U.S. team when they last played Brazil, teaming with Jim Courier for a 4-1 win. Washington described visiting Brazil to play that formidable squad in front of a boisterous home crowd.
“Brazilians are very passionate about their football and their tennis,” said Washington, who founded the …