Jackie Robinson/Orlando Cepeda/Willie McCovey/Joe Perry; Aldon Smith/Chris Culliver/Colin Kaepernick/Jim Harbaugh; Cuonzo Martin/Mike Montgomery; Daric Barton
THE STORYLINE on college sports just keeps getting grimmer and grimmer.
The Huffington Post had an article this week on how much money some schools are making from football. It won’t surprise you that the University of Texas is No. 1, at a whopping $80 million a year. The other names on the top 10 won’t surprise you, either: Michigan, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Auburn and Ohio, which is making a paltry $40 million.
Meanwhile, athletes get nothing beyond a scholarship. As Shabazz Napier of the Connecticut team which just won the NCAA tournament said last week, that wasn’t enough to keep him from going to bed hungry. But if a collegiate athlete tries to use his name to sell merchandise, he’s suspended immediately.
This system can’t last much longer. It’s being attacked from several sides and the only question is how long it will take for it to collapse of its own weight.
Some in the NCAA try to defend it by saying the athletes are getting a free education. How much does that help? All you have to do is look 10 years out and see how many former college athletes come up when you’re talking about people of accomplishment in non-sports activities. Only a handful ever accomplish their dream of the NFL, NBA or, to a much lesser extent, MLB. Some manage to get a coaching job and occasionally work their way to the top. But most are consigned to menial jobs because they didn’t really get an education.
Decades ago, when intercollegiate sports meant white players only, an uneducated player could usually get a job from a sports-loving alum who owned a business. Selling used cars was a preferred job because customers loved associating with the former star athlete and would overlook his stupidity.
In school, star athletes got special treatment, which means money. When Hugh McElhenny went from Compton JC to the University of Washington, a magazine story said he followed a trail of $20 bills. When McElhenny came to the 49ers, Frankie Albert joked that he’d have to take a cut in pay.
But that picture changed dramatically when black athletes started to dominate in college sports. The sugar daddies of previous eras were white. They’re in no hurry to hire former athletes who are black.
So, colleges who let athletes slide through are especially hurtful to black athletes, which is unpardonable.
This is just the football programs. As I’ve written before, football used to pay for the non-revenue sports. Perhaps it still does for the schools listed above, especially if they don’t have many other sports. But, it no longer even comes close on many campuses, because so much more money has gone into coaching staffs and the sophisticated training sites.
I’ve said that the dramatic changes won’t come in my lifetime but now, I’m not so sure. I’m feeling pretty good these days and there’s longevity on both sides of my family tree, so I may still be around when most colleges switch to an Ivy League model before their football programs crash and burn.
YESTERDAY WAS the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball, an ironic note with only 7.8 per cent black players in the current MLB lineup.
Robinson’s feat meant nothing to me as an 11-year-old in San Diego. The major leagues were half a continent away so what was happening with the home town Padres was much more important. I had seen teams headed up by Bob Feller and Satchel Paige in an exhibition game at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles in the offseason, so I had no idea the major leagues were segregated. And, after spending the first 10 years of my life in northern Minnesota, where the darkest face I had seen was the one looking back at me in the mirror, I had had zero experience with blacks. Even in San Diego, there were many Latinos but just a handful of blacks.
By the time I got to San Francisco, the Giants were the United Nations, with a virtual monopoly on top players from the Caribbean, along with American blacks like Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. They were managed by Alvin Dark, a native of Louisiana who had a hard time shaking off the racial beliefs with which he had grown up – though he always made an exception for Mays, who had been a teammate in Dark’s playing years.
Later, when I got to know Cepeda and McCovey – much easier with the outgoing Cepeda – I learned about the discrimination they had faced coming through the Giants minor league system. It was especially bad for McCovey because he played on the Double A farm team the Giants had in Dallas then, in the Southern League. When the team traveled to play in Louisiana, McCovey and another black on the team, stayed in Dallas because there would be no accomodations for them in Louisiana in those separate but far from equal days.
There are no barriers for blacks today but baseball is not their preferred sport. Football and basketball seem much easier, especially basketball, where players can try for the NBA as soon as they’re 19. Few baseball scholarships are given and players have to stay in school for three years. Even then, they’ll probably have to ride the buses in the minor leagues before they get a shot at the majors.
Joe Morgan has made a special push for baseball schools similar to the ones in the northern rim of South America and the Caribbean to prepare American blacks for baseball, but frankly, I think that’s a losing battle.
That hardly means that Robinson’s battle was in vain. Because baseball was the No. 1 sport in the country at the time, its integration meant that other sports would follow quickly. Pro football had integrated earlier, but it was in the All-America Football Conference, which wasn’t taken seriously. The 49ers had Joe Perry, whom I regard as their best running back ever, though he wasn’t as spectacular as McElhenny and Frank Gore, playing in more games, has surpassed his career marks.
So, the small amount of football integration hadn’t made much of an impact, but Robinson’s breaking of the color line, followed closely by Larry Doby with Cleveland, was huge, changing the face of American sports forever.
THE RAIDERS I covered in the late ‘60s were known as a wild bunch but, except for Warren Wells who went to prison on a rape charge others have questioned, most of their “wildness” was excessive drinking and chasing women who usually wanted to be caught.
The current 49ers put them to shame. Aldon Smith was the latest as he was arrested at LAX when he talked of having a bomb in his luggage. How stupid can you get? Chris Culliver is facing a hit-and-run charge involving a cyclist and another for possessing brass knuckles. Colin Kaepernick was one of three players involved in a situation where a naked woman was found unconscious after taking hits of marijuana and alcohol. It was Kaepernick who took off her clothes.
Smith is in the most serious trouble. He certainly will be suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Coach Jim Harbaugh is not above reproach, either. When Smith was let out of jail after being charged with having unregistered weapons in his house, Harbaugh put him right back in the lineup. What kind of message was that sending?
Kaepernick’s actions are troublesome, too. It doesn’t appear that he will face any charges in the Miami case but there’s no way that event can be explained that puts him in a good light. Undressing a woman in the bedroom? Feeding her a combination of drugs and alcohol so that she passed out and couldn’t remember what happened?
Kaepernick is not stupid, but his judgment is flawed. We’ve seen this in important games, too, when he’s tried to force passes into tight coverage and failed.
Harbaugh has put his own reputation on stake with Kaepernick but I think he has to start cutting his losses by looking for another quarterback. Having one so immature, not matter how talented, as the face of the franchise is taking a serious gamble.
CAL BASKETBALL seems to have come up with a winner in selecting Cuonzo Martin as the successor for the retiring Mike Montgomery. Interestingly, Cal chancellor Nicholas Dirks and vice chancellor John Wilton apparently overruled athletic director Sandy Barbour, who wanted Cal assistant Travis Dequire. Barbour lost whatever clout she might have had when she hired Sonny Dykes to head up the football program. Dykes is a nice guy but out of his league and running an offense that has serious flaws.
Martin has coached six years at the highest level, the last three at Tennessee, whom he got to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament this year. He brings a 7-1 recruit, Kingsley Okoroh, with him. Okoroh had originally declared for Tennessee but changed his mind when Martin signed with Cal.
Martin inherits considerable talent and his task is obvious: To get through to these players. Montgomery never could, and he simply gave up trying midway through the season. I couldn’t blame him. Game after game, players would barely show up for the first half and really play hard only after the intermission. Then, they’d collectively say something like, “We’ve got to play the whole game.” Duh. They never did, missed the NCAA tournament and then lost in the second round of the NIT.
` And, Montgomery retired. He was certainly entitled, after a glorious career. I’ve said often that he’s the best college coach I’ve watched up close since Pete Newell, and I have no reason to change my mind because he couldn’t get through to a bunch of spoiled underachievers.
I wish Martin good luck. He’ll need it with this bunch.
ARE THE Warriors jinxed? Just when they seemed to be peaking, Andrew Bogut suffered a fractured rib that will keep him out of the playoffs – and probably dooms the Warriors to an early exit.
The Warriors are fun to watch, with a great guard duo of Stephen Curry and the fast-improving Klay Thompson, but guard-oriented teams almost never win championships in the NBA.
THE A’S are justifying predictions that they’ll win the AL West again with their early play, including another dramatic extra-inning win over the Angels in Anaheim last night.
But, I have just one wish: Could somebody please kidnap Daric Barton? He’s long been a favorite of A’s general manager Billy Beane but with age, he’s seriously declined as a defensive player and his at-bats are tedious, as he looks to draw walks, not to drive the ball. Enough, already.
THE FIGHT over where the Paul McCartney concert will be held is highly amusing, mostly because it shows the attitude of San Franciscans.
San Francisco mayor Ed Lee had announced that the concert would be one last event at Candlestick before the stadium is destroyed, mirroring the Beatles first appearance in San Francisco in 1964.
Then, the 49ers announced that they’d been approached to hold the concert in their new Levi Stadium, which will host the 49ers starting with the upcoming season.
San Francisco politicians cried foul and, according to Matier and Ross, view this as just the latest in a series of insults by the 49ers to San Francisco.
Really? Seems to me like it started on the other side. When 49ers owner John York called then Mayor Gavin Newsom to talk about a new stadium at Candlestick Point, Newsom didn’t take his calls. It’s no secret why. He knew the 49ers would want a financial contribution from the city because then the 49ers could apply for the “loan” from the NFL as a private/public operation. I put loan in quotation marks because it’s repaid out of the visitors’ share of the gate. We should all get such loans.
Newsom knew the city had no money to put into a stadium project. He only wanted to make certain the 49ers didn’t leave on his watch.
So, what were the Niners to do? They couldn’t stay at Candlestick indefinitely and they had to have a new stadium. Santa Clara stepped up with enough of a financial contribution.
As the front man for Lennar Urban, which has development plans for that whole area, former 49er president Carmen Policy proposed a site at Hunter’s Point. That was part of the company’s deal with San Francisco, so they could put commercial developments in the rest of the property, including the prime area when Candlestick Park is now located. But building on the Hunter’s Point site would have required great investment in infrastructure, including roads into the site. The 49ers did not want to add that to the already overwhelming stadium price and the city had no money to pay for them, either.
So, the 49ers built their new stadium in Santa Clara, where they will be much closer to those fans that have the money to buy the seats. Most of their fan base had already moved down the Peninsula. Many of those who had stayed in San Francisco were mostly taking the buses out to the games. Not the big spenders, obviously.
There is another irony to this story. The stadium idea that Policy and Eddie De Bartolo had promoted in 1997 included a tremendous retail operation. I investigated that and found that it was similar to the kind of retail operations in other parts of the country that drew customers from hundreds of miles away. I wrote that it would be a big success here. Other sportswriters scoffed. One said he had asked his wife if she would shop at a mall in Hunter’s Point and she had said no. On the basis of that extensive research, he declared the retail idea a no-go.
Apparently, Lennar wasn’t listening, because that’s the same kind of retail operation, offering merchandise on levels from the bargain to the Neiman Marcus level, that Lennar is planning for that area.
And, as for the original controversy, do you think McCartney will choose sentiment over the chance to appear in a beautiful new stadium with great sound? My guess is no.
IN A moment of weakness, I agreed to join LinkedIn when long-time friend Guy Benjamin asked me. Big mistake. I am just not a social network type of guy. I’ve gotten several requests to join others on this network. Don’t feel bad if I haven’t answered yours because I haven’t answered any.
GOOD NEWS: I have replaced my old car with one which is nearly identical, right down to the red color I prefer. So, I’ll soon be driving to games again, instead of watching on TV. No more falling asleep listening to Ray Fosse drone on.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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