LeBron Goes From Playmaker to Peacemaker

LeBron Goes From Playmaker to Peacemaker

By David Whitley, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

LeBron James is being likened to Superman. A better comparison would be Spider-Man.

Superman can get triple-doubles at will in the NBA playoffs. Spider-Man could probably score 37 points against the Hawks, too. But it’s the words he lives by that matter these days.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” his surrogate father, Uncle Ben, counseled young Spider-Man.

We’re seeing that in the way James is handling the crisis in Cleveland. The city has been on edge since Saturday when a judge acquitted a policeman in the shooting deaths of two unarmed African-Americans. It’s a drama that’s become painfully familiar.

Protesters gather. Justice is demanded. TV crews swoop in to see if the city explodes.

“Violence is not the answer,” James said almost as soon as the acquittal was read.

You’d hope and expect influential local athletes to say something like that. Some do in times of crisis, but others have jumped to conclusions and at least tacitly inflamed high-profile situations.

Look no further than the five St. Louis Rams who came out of the tunnel in pregame introductions last year sporting the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose. It was to protest the shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Missouri A show of solidarity was fine, but the manner the Rams chose further divided a racially-torn city.

There was plenty of reason to suspect Brown did not have his hands raised or said, “Don’t shoot.” A Department of Justice investigation eventually concluded Brown attacked the policeman, who acted in self-defense.

The Rams were initially hailed as a latter-day Muhammad Ali, bravely speaking truth. But did their actions lessen any tensions, much less promote a just result?

Or look no further than James himself. He tweeted a famous picture of his entire Miami Heat team wearing hoodies in 2012 as the Trayvon Martin controversy was starting to explode.

Again, a show of concern for Martin’s family and the handling of the case in Sanford was entirely appropriate. But James’ accompanying hashtag — #WeWantJustice — revealed his mind already was made up.

Spurred by players like James, the NBA players union called Martin’s death a murder and demanded the arrest of George Zimmerman.

Maybe Zimmerman was a racist killer, maybe he wasn’t. That argument will live on forever.

But players were convicting him of murder, and it was still a year before his trial. Nobody knew the actual evidence or was in a position to accurately judge the case.

That’s why I wondered how James would react this time. The initial police incident sounded inexcusable. Cops cornered fleeing suspects and fired 137 bullets into their car.

The shooting victims were suspected of trying to buy drugs. They fled when police tried to pull them over. About 100 officers pursued the car for 20 miles with speeds reaching 100 mph.

Police thought the pair had fired at them. They were wrong. But as with all these cases, the facts were complicated and demanded a detached study if you truly want justice.

That’s what LeBron said he’d do. In the meantime, he pleaded for peace and said he’d do all he could to keep Cleveland from turning into another Ferguson or Baltimore.

“Sports just does something to people,” James said. “You just feel a certain way about rooting for a team that you love, get your mind off some of the hardships that may be going on throughout your life or maybe that particular time or period. It just does that.”

By extension, players have an inordinate influence on people’s lives.

Superman has pretty much become the most powerful person in Ohio. It’s good to see he’s up to that responsibility.

Photo: Craig Hatfield via Flickr

Mark Cuban Is Wrong, There Are No Limits To NFL Mania

Mark Cuban Is Wrong, There Are No Limits To NFL Mania

By David Whitley, Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — Are you ready for some football?

Five nights a week?

That’s where the National Football League might be headed, and Mark Cuban is concerned. On the eve of the NFL meetings in Orlando, the Dallas Mavericks’ owner warned that the NFL is “10 years away from an implosion.”

The first step was CBS getting a deal for Thursday night games. That might tempt owners to book games two or three more nights a week beyond what we already get. Eventually, our eyes will glaze over and we’ll become a nation of WNBA fans.

“I’m just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” Cuban said Sunday, according to ESPNDallas.com. “When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way.”

Cuban’s a brilliant businessman, but he’s wrong about this particular pig. NBC could televise Bill Belichick’s next colonoscopy and it would get better ratings than “The Voice.” The question isn’t whether the NFL could successfully expand the schedule. The question is whether it should.

Millions of people already build their entire Sundays around football. They also show up bleary-eyed to work Tuesday after watching Jon Gruden until 1 a.m.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but America might grind to complete halt if the NFL had games four or five nights a week.

“We’ve got a great fan base and a great product,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Tuesday. “And Commissioner Goodell has done a great job building our brand.”

“It’s a beast,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

And it’s getting beastlier. As the TV market fragments, live sports have become one of the few sure things. Last year, 34 of the 35 top-rated shows after Labor Day were NFL games. The interloper was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at No. 22.

Twenty-two games were watched by at least 25 million people. That’s 14 more games than the previous season. Games on CBS, NBC and FOX averaged 20.2 million viewers, which was 190 percent higher than the average prime-time viewership.

All that in a year when the NFL took a P.R. beating over concussions and bullying. Is there any doubt the people are ready for more football?

“The thing I’m seeing now is it’s not just the boys watching the games,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “When you look around, you see all the moms and kids. It’s not just a guy thing. It’s an everybody thing.”

Games should now begin with a Surgeon’s General’s warning:

“This product is addictive and may lead to divorce, lack of sleep, poor job performance and forgetting your kids’ names. Even worse, you might join a fantasy league and bore people to death discussing which wide receiver to start.”

There is a saturation point for some. It’s doubtful 25 million people would watch Oakland play Buffalo on a Tuesday night. But the ratings would still be more than good enough to justify the broadcast.

For all the talk about “greedy owners,” there’s no shame in trying to maximize profits. That’s what businesses do. It’s just that the NFL is a unique business.

Goodell is like Walter White, the chemistry and criminal genius in “Breaking Bad.” He made the world’s best methamphetamine, and there was no saturation point for addicts.

The NFL is like blue meth. I’m all for people using the football version, just not to where it takes over their lives and they turn into total gridiron zombies. Seriously, wouldn’t you rather spend a couple of nights playing with your kids, boning up on world events or reading a good book?

Don’t answer that.

“The NFL is so strong,” Ryan said, “it seems the only reason you’re trying to put games on every night is that’s what the fans want.”

If pro football were on TV almost every night of the week, Cuban shouldn’t be worried about the NFL.

In 10 years, it’s the country that might implode.

 AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar