Vladimir Putin/Avery Brundage/Jesse Owens; Michael Sam/Jonathan Vilma/Jim Harbaugh/Al Davis; Stephen Curry/Andrew Bogut/Mark Jackson
THE WINTER Olympics, a.k.a. the quadrennial effort to prop up a corrupt dictator, are on in Soichi now, and NBC has already treated us to a treacly introduction for the opening ceremonies about the greatness of Russia. Yeah, tell that to the 30 million people Joseph Stalin had killed, or the countless number of political prisoners Vladimir Putin now has locked deep in Lubyanka prison. Putin was KGB chief in the bad old Soviet days and his personality hasn’t changed.
Avery Brundage started this coddling of tyrants with the worst example, in 1936 with the Berlin Games. Americans like to think that Jesse Owens showed up Adolf Hitler in those Games and the Owens story is a heartwarming one, the subject of another American Experience show this month. But what the rest of the world took away from those Games was the efficiency of the Nazis and a respect for what they had done. Hitler wasn’t even in the stadium when Owens competed. Meanwhile, the Olympics were used as a massive propaganda triumph for the Nazis.
Brundage learned nothing from this. In 1972, at the Munich Olympics, Arab terrorists killed two Israeli athletes and kidnapped nine others, all of whom were later killed. After a brief stoppage, Brundage declared the Games should continue. A few deaths can’t be allowed to deter the glorious athletic competition. Brundage had a strange set of priorities.
Those who have followed him haven’t been much better. When Chinese leaders promised to stop their persecution of political opponents, the Olympics were put there. No doubt you’ve noticed all the political freedom that Chinese dissidents have had since then.
Now, it’s Putin’s turn to be propped up. Massive amounts of money have been spent on building new sports complexes in Sochi, and they are indeed magnificent. Does anybody think that Putin’s attitudes have softened? The question answers itself.
One of those attitudes is his animosity toward gays. As an in-your-face gesture to Putin, President Obama named Billie Jean King (who had to back out because her mother is apparently terminally ill) and Brian Boitano, who took the occasion to announce that he was gay, which may have come as a surprise to the mayor of Soichi, who thinks there are no gays in his city, but nobody else. (A political opponent of the mayor noted that there are seven gay bars in Soichi, which the mayor had apparently overlooked.)
Why does the Olympic committee consistently pick sites like this? I used to think they believed the protestations by politicians that they would change. Now I think the only question they ever ask is, “What will our accomodations be?” Assured that they’ll be lush, the IOC dignitaries give their approval.
The skiers and skaters are graceful and talented, and they’ve worked very hard for years to get to this point. So, I admire them, but it’s hard to watch more than a few minutes without feeling guilty.
INTOLERANCE HITS closer to home with the announcement by Missouri defensive tackle Michael Sam that he is gay, well in advance of the NFL draft in May.
One current NFL player, New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma, has already said he wouldn’t want to be showering next to a gay player and have him looking at him. Of course, Vilma has probably already showered next to a gay player. He just hasn’t known it.
I remember when I came to San Francisco in 1963 and jointed the young adult group at Glide Memorial. (I was religious in those days and no longer am, but that’s another story.) I told the group leader that I had never known a gay. He laughed and told me to look around. At least half of the group was gay. I had had pleasant interchanges with them and decided that, if I got along with them when I didn’t know they were gay, there was no reason I couldn’t now. Since then, I’ve had many pleasant relationships with gays; for a time, two gay men owned the house next to ours and were probably the best neighbors we ever had. They threw great Christmas parties with a mixed group of guests, gays and straights.
I’m sure NFL players will have similar experiences if they allow themselves. Sam’s teammates at Missouri had no problems as they rolled to a 12-2 season and a win in the Cotton Bowl. Sam was the defensive MVP of the SEC.
The problem in the NFL won’t just be the players, though. Senior officials on NFL teams have beliefs firmly locked in a very long period of intolerance. Always speaking anonymously, they talk of upsetting the balance of the locker room when what they really mean is that they don’t like gays. At the gathering of pro prospects in March, players are often questioned about whether they like girls. That hasn’t weeded out gays but they’ve had to come out after their careers are over, as Kwame Harris did.
In the NBA, we’ve had an example of that prejudice this year when Jason Collins went unsigned after he announced that he was gay, though he’s a seven-footer who can rebound and play tough defense, which many teams could use. I don’t feel sorry for him because he’s very intelligent man and working now in broadcasting. Nobody will ever read about Jason Collins squandering his money as so many presumably heterosexual players have done. But, it’s a sad commentary on NBA executives.
There have been the usual anonymous quotes from NFL personnel men that Sam’s draft position will fall because of his announcement. Perhaps. On the other hand, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said it would make no difference to him, so perhaps, the 49ers will pick up a bargain in the draft. It often pays to be on the right side of progress, as opposed to allowing prejudice to produce bad decisions.
And, if he doesn’t fall to the Niners, the Raiders might pick him up. Al Davis did some awful things in his final years but before he went totally nuts, he established a firm policy of judging on ability and nothing else.
When I was covering the Raiders, he brought in Ike Lassiter, a very good defensive end who had been released by the Denver Broncos because he spoke back to an assistant coach, which black players were absolutely not permitted to do in those days. He had many black players including Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown. He even drafted a black quarterback, Eldridge Dickey, in the first round, though it was Ken Stabler, drafted on the second round, who eventually became the Raiders starter. Davis was the first to hire a coach with a Latino background, Tom Flores, and the first to hire a black coach, Art Shell. He was also the first NFL owner to hire a woman, Amy Trask, for a significant position in the front office.
Under Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders are making much more sensible moves than in the last frantic days under Davis, but I believe they’ll continue in his no prejudice mode. The question of drafting an announced gay player never came up, but I’m sure Davis wouldn’t have hesitated if he’d been a player the Raiders needed.
KAEPERNICK’S FUTURE: On KNBR on Monday, I debated Colin Kaepernick’s future with Damon Bruce. Not surprisingly, Bruce disagreed with my column in the Examiner last Tuesday in which I said that the Niners should wait on extending Kaepernick’s contract. Younger fans and media members – who are sometimes the same person – all like Kaepernick for his big plays. Those of us who have been around awhile would like to see Kaepernick shake his bad habits of always locking in on one receiver, only throwing to his favorite receivers and making stupid decisions in crunch time of big games.
In my column, I said I hadn’t seen any real change in Kaepernick’s approach and that the Niners should wait and see if he changes next season. I also said I don’t expect him to.
Bruce asked me if I’d felt the same way about Steve Young, and I could tell he thought he was making an important point. But I told him I hadn’t – because Young had been a very good T formation quarterback at BYU, setting an NCAA record for accuracy. He had to shake some bad habits from his USFL days and his time at Tampa Bay, when his coach told him to “go out there and make something happen” but I was sure he could do it, as he did.
Kaepernick has never been that kind of quarterback. He ran the “Pistol” offense in college, running or passing on his own decision. He’s running a similar offense now, like a gunslinger in the old West. That’s his mentality. I don’t think he’ll ever change and I think his NFL career will be a short one as defenses more and more catch up to his style. The 49ers should be looking for a quarterback they can develop on the second or third round of the upcoming draft.
AS THE WARRIORS continue to careen toward an uncertain postseason, there’s been a flap about a comment made by coach Mark Jackson about his injured center, Andrew Bogut.
Bogut took exception, as he should have, to Jackson’s statement that he didn’t know how Bogut was hurt and that his injury may have come when he was sleeping. I can’t blame Bogut for his reaction because he’s played hurt and come back from some horrific injuries. He admits he doesn’t know exactly how he got hurt this time but however it happened, the problem occurred while he was playing.
This is not the first time Jackson’s mouth has landed him in trouble, not what you’d expect from a man who worked on TV before becoming a coach. I’ve noted before that the NBA is a players’ league and the most successful coaches are former players who don’t have complicated rules, but there’s also a question of respect. If players lose respect for the coach, it’s all over. Jackson may be nearing that point. Certainly, the Warriors don’t need this distraction, with a team that is struggling to get a high enough position that they won’t get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. If they even get that far.
Meanwhile, owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber are facing a bigger challenge off the court with their grandiose real estate scheme planned for the San Francisco waterfront.
The first setback was a finding that it would cost substantial more to shore up the pier where the structure is supposed to be built. That caused the Warriors to announce that the opening would be later than expected, so they’re trying to get an extension of their lease at the Oracle Arena.
An ever bigger obstacle has appeared with a petition signed by more than double the required voters in less than three days time to force a referendum on the ballot. Some of those names will probably be thrown out but there are more than enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot.
Interestingly, a San Francisco attorney claimed this would violate several state and local laws, though he did not specify which ones. The law firm to which he belongs also does work for the Giants, who are very much opposed to this referendum because, if it passes, it would also cover the work they want done on the back end of their parking lot, which would mean considerable expense for them. Hmmm.
Supervisor Scott Weiner has also introduced a resolution that would have seven city agencies examine the resolution, a transparent move to try to get it killed. The board rubber stamped this proposal earlier, so supervisors should be cautious about approving Weiner’s proposal, now that more voters are aware of what’s happening.
The Lacob/Gruber project (Lacob is probably the main man here) has used the Warriors arena to get the public interested, but in fact, the arena is a small part of this package. The plan is to have 220 evenings of entertainment during the year, but the Warriors only play 41 games.
Mostly because of the tireless efforts of former Mayor Art Agnos, the public has become aware of what this really means – a blight on the waterfront and a source of added traffic in an area which is already close to gridlock at all times. I’ve traveled it as late as 9 p.m. after doing TV shows and it’s very slow going even then.
San Franciscans have long been very proud of their city and very protective of it. Some well-connected women fought an effort by developers to fill in the Bay south of the Bay Bridge in the ‘50s, and thank goodness for that. Can you imagine development instead of water there now? Another dedicated woman fought the attempt to simply eliminate cable cars at a slightly earlier time. Most lines were eliminated but there are still enough to lure tourists. And what would Tony Bennett have sung if he didn’t have “Cable cars climbing to the stars.”
Now, they’ve beaten back the 8 Washington plan, which would have created a wall of condominiums, and I think they’ll vote down this plan.
STEPHEN CURRY got the most votes for the NBA All-Star game because of a Warriors promotion to get out the vote. Is he the best player in the sport? Of course not. He doesn’t belong in the same conversation with Lebron James and Kevin Durant. But the NBA All-Star game is a joke, anyway, because teams don’t play defense so it becomes little more than a layup and dunk competition.
And, this isn’t the worst example of stuffing the ballot box. That belongs to the Cincinnati fans in 1957 when The Cincinnati Enquirer printed ballots – no e-mail then – for them to fill out, and they just wrote in seven of the Reds eight starters. No Willie Mays or Hank Aaron, though baseball commissioner Ford Frick substituted them for Gus Bell and Wally Post.
That was important because, at that time, the baseball All-Star game was very competitive. Stars stayed in until the end. As I’ve written before, the first All-Star game I covered, in 1961, the winning National League rally in the 10th inning featured Mays, Aaron and Roberto Clemente. Today, they’d have showered, dressed and left. Just like an exhibition game.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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