Monday, September 26, 2016

Colin Kaepernick Isnt Entertaining. Good.

Colin Kaeprenick, joined by teammate Eric Reid (Marcio Jose Sanchez/ AP)

I highly doubt Colin Kaepernick envisioned sparking any sort of social movement when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL draft. Indeed, he recently stated that he didn’t have a desire to kneel indefinitely. And why would he? Certainly it’s exhausting to be such a polarizing lightning rod, especially for someone who has spent his life entertaining millions. But black entertainers (sports or otherwise) have always had a unique relationship with the people they entertain in this country. We could perform on TV and in night clubs long before we were seen as equal in the eyes of the law, or given the same rights to elect public officials.

It’s painful now to watch Amos and Andy or read about Jesse Owens representing his country, with the knowledge that they were coming back to the reality of their home’s inequality. To know that black people were good enough to bring joy into the lives of millions, but in those same homes weren’t viewed as an equal.  Being a black entertainer has meant being a jester for so long that a protest by Kaepernick (or his compatriots) is met with anger and bewilderment.  So when Dabo Swinney proclaims that those that are protesting should, “move to another country” it is (in part) because those voicing dissent aren’t viewed seriously.  Jesters don’t dictate policy.

Swinney, or Jim Harbaugh (who had his own comments regarding the viability of Kaepernick’s protest) were outspoken in their opposition to Kaepernick’s actions, but silent to the police brutality and its effects on the African American community.  These two men have made a career out of young African Americans performing for their benefit.  Every year they go into homes of young black men and claim that they can offer the best experience for them.  But with the disregard for black life for the sake of decorum, how could they be?

The moment has turned into a movement (Bill Streicher USA Today Sports)

Ultimately, this protest is about refusal from a marginalized group to only be a trinket of society; something pretty to entertain without any profound substance to add.  Through that prism, the death threats that Kaepernick has received as a result of kneeling begin to make more sense.  With the understanding that some believe blacks are only good for entertaining, it is only natural that the protestor and the protest are under more scrutiny than the continued deaths of black people at the hands of state actors. Banishment is of course on the table for the problematic ornament—if we aren’t entertaining, what else can we possibly contribute?

The growing movement started by Kaepernick underscores the sentiment that blacks will not silently entertain the masses while real issues and problems that directly affect them go unresolved. Kaepernick’s methodology of protest has been questioned by everyone from Tony La Russa to Trent Dilfer, and while there is plenty of room between the two on the level of vitriol Kaepernick should receive, the overall message is the same “not here, not now”.
If the refrain sounds familiar, it’s because it should.  To quote Swinney’s favorite freedom fighter, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’” For some there will never be a proper time to fight this injustice. But time is a luxury that couldn’t be afforded to Tyre King, Terence Crutcher, or Keith Lamont Scott.

Professional or amateur, this message resonates in the black community. As HU cheerleaders demonstrated

Real change is needed to combat the way in which the black community is policed. Brutality can take many forms, as is evident by the Dept. of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department. Combine that report of a major American city, and the repetitive nature of the violence, and it’s obvious that there is a systematic issue that should be addressed by important changes; among them, the need for special prosecutors to prosecute police-involved shootings cases instead of district attorneys that have and must maintain a relationship with the police department.
No one wants to see more civilians unnecessarily killed by police officers, but until they are held accountable for their poor decisions that lead to fatalities, the value of black lives will remain less than. But they are still public servants that serve the community.  So when a police union threatens to stop working games affecting the safety of those at the San Francisco stadium, it should outrage everyone.

Kaepernick’s protest has already done more than I could have imagined.  It’s started an actual conversation because it involves one of the nation’s prized commodities—football. And because so many different people from so many different walks of life enjoy football on Sundays, it may actually lead to changed minds and changed policies. In its simplicity, Kaepernick struck at the core of America. To take a knee in football is to, quite literally, let a down pass with no resistance for the betterment of the team. In kneeling before a flag of unfulfilled promise, Kaepernick’s resistance is anything but passive; and may put this country in a much better position once the whistle blows to start the next play.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Carolina Panthers 2016 Preview

No more street clothes for Kelvin Benjamin, how will his team respond to his return?
Carolina Panthers

Previous Season Record: (15-1) 

Key Acquisition(s): Paul Soliai

Key Loss(es): Jared Allen, Brad Nortman, Josh Norman

What a year the Panthers put together.  They begin the season without their best wide receiver because of a camp injury, and proceed to have the best offensive season in Carolina Panthers history.  Cam Newton won MVP and was the League’s most dominant offensive weapon.  It all ended in tears in the Super Bowl. There wasn’t much turnover on either side of the ball, this will essentially be the same squad as last season’s.  Kelvin Benjamin will be back, and Ted Ginn Jr. will become the number 2 receiver again.  TE Greg Olsen had a career year, becoming a welcomed security blanket after Benjamin’s injury.  The offensive line made dramatic improvements, particularly at the LT position.  Michael Oher was a dramatic improvement for Cam’s blindside, despite the way the last game played out.  And despite Newton’s star power, this is still a running team—they ranked 1st in rushing touchdowns and 2nd in yards. Look for Cameron Artis-Payne to have a few breakout performances over the course of the season.

New faces in new places, Norman is gone. What will that look like for the Panthers?

This side of the ball had one large change, with the surprising departure of cornerback Josh Norman. The team responded by drafting 3 defensive backs.  Bene Benwikere has been returning from injury most offseason, and will be ready to take on the number one corner responsibilities.  The team added defensive line talent with Olivier Vernon, which will perhaps allow more pressure without the need of blitzing—the team blitzed more last season to makeup for a lack of pass rush, even scooping an elder Allen midway through the season.  With fewer blitzes, the secondary will have more bodies to overcome deficiencies.

Prediction: This team should be good (not 15 win good) but should win the division and be on the short list of Super Bowl contenders. It’ll be interesting to see how, or if, the Super Bowl hangover will affect this team as it has past champion runner-ups.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

AFC South Preview

"If you look closely, you can see the stardust transfer"--Houston, prolly (Rod Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

Houston Texans

Previous Season Record: (9-7)

Key Acquisition(s): Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller

Key Loss(es): Nate Washington, Rahim Moore, Arian Foster, Brandon Brooks

They got the Super Bowl-winning QB, even if they weren’t the team that he won it with. Osweiler joins an offense that was clearly the slow link on a team with real talent.  Their 30-0 drubbing in the first round of the playoffs was a perfect synopsis of the squad—talented enough to make the playoffs, with the Achilles heel of an offense tripping it up. They were a balanced team—meaning they were equally ineffective running and throwing the ball; they were 28th and 26th in yards per attempt, respectively. With Foster leaving, (and Andre Johnson long gone) it feel s like the guard has completely changed. In their stead, superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins and underrated running back Lamar Miller fill in the remaining of the new trifecta with Osweiler. Their first four draft picks were on the offensive side of the ball, including big-play threat WR Will Fuller.

The defense features one of the most dominant men in the sport, JJ Watt. Watt is struggling with a back injury and is in question to start the season, but coupling him with OLB Whitney Mercilus forms the most dangerous pass-rushing duo east of Denver. Run-stopper Vince Wilfork is as steady as he is big at the nose tackle position, and with JadeVeon Clowney finally able to get a healthy offseason under his belt, this front 7 could be truly frightening; they were ranked 5th in sacks per game, and could easily improve on their pass-rushing capabilities.

Prediction: the defense carried the team to the playoffs last season, and has only gotten better.  I think the Texans will repeat as divisional winners.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Previous Season Record: (5-11)

Key Acquisition(s): Malik Jackson, Chris Ivory, Prince Amukamara,

Key Loss(es):

Welcome to 2016, where the Jags might actually be good. The Jags improved on offense immensely from their 32nd ranking in points per game to 14th ranked in the category.  Blake Bortles, the team’s first round pick in 2014, improved on his disappointing rookie campaign.  He was a more efficient and effective passer, improving on his touchdowns, yards, and QB rating. The WR duo of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns has expedited Bortles’ advancement. Their running game was solid, averaging 4.2 yards per carry—good enough for 15th in the NFL. Between Ivory and TJ Yeldon, the backfield is talented and versatile.

The Allen brothers are a driving force behind this suddenly potent offense (Reinhold matay/USA Today Sports)

The defense didn’t undergo the same dramatic improvement that the offense did last year. The Jags offseason is attempting to rectify that. Jackson was a huge presence for the Super Bowl-winning champions. He was a stalwart nose tackle that created havoc on passing and running plays. Amukamara is a capable (albeit oft-injured) corner. The veteran presence will be appreciated as the Jags got Jalen Ramsay and Myles Jack with their first two picks to add versatility to the secondary and Linebacking units, respectively.  This side of the ball is teeming with talent.

Prediction: I’m drinking the kool-aid, the Jags will compete for a wild card berth.

Indianapolis Colts

Previous Record Last season: (8-8)

Key Acquisition(s): Patrick Robinson, Robert Turbin

Key Loss(es): Jerrell Freeman, Coby Fleener, Dwight Lowery, Matt Hasslebeck

Last season was rough for the offense.  Andrew Luck’s poor play, injury, and subsequent poorer play were crippling for a team built to outscore their opponent. They went from 6th in the NFL in points per game, to last season’s ranking of 24th.  And a once high-powered aerial attack slumped to dead last in yards per attempt. Perhaps the silver lining of the season is that Luck sat back and watched Hasslebeck have success in the offense by getting the ball out quickly, something Luck could benefit from to help avoid future injury.

If Colts' fans never see this again, it'll be too soon

An already poor defense collapsed under the prospect of defending more plays and having less offensive support.  They were equally bad against the pass and run, ranking in the bottom third of the league in yards allowed in both categories. Arguably their two best defenders (Robert Mathis and D’Qwell Jackson) are in their 30s.  So it should come as no surprise that they will be looking for contributions from 2nd round pick, safety TJ Green. He adds to the team’s strongest defensive unit—the secondary. Vonate Davis and Robinson should improve the team’s pass-defending abilities, though they are still bereft of much of a pass rush.

Prediction: There’s something about the way this team is constructed that I don’t like.  They can never run the ball and their talent on defense is pedestrian in lots of places. I think they’ll miss the playoffs again.   

Tennessee Titans

Previous Record Last Season: (3-13)

Key Acquisition(s): Rishard Matthews, Rashad Johnson, Demarco Murray

Key Loss(es): Zach Brown, Dorial Green-Beckham

Marcus Mariotta may have gotten all the headlines last season, but the story of the 2015 Tennessee Titans was written on the defensive side of the ball.  They had a dramatic improvement in their ranking for points allowed per game.  After being passed over for the head coaching job, defensive coordinator Ray Horton asked for his release. Dick LeBeau is a legend and was already on staff last season, so while the guy calling the plays is new, he is already familiar with the personnel.  Any regression on this side of the ball and Titans fans will surely fill misled by management.

Marcus Mariota good enough to win without much receiving help?

The team added one Heisman trophy winner, to go along with the one they have calling plays.  Derrick Henry joins Mariota in the backfield (along with Murray).  It should help improve a run game that was largely lackluster. The term, “exotic smashmouth” has been the talk of Titans camp. So it sounds like the team will look to be provocative…while running the ball down their opponents’ throats.  They’ll need to be adept running the ball, because with the Green-Beckham experiment officially done, there isn’t much explosive talent manning the WR corps (they were in the bottom third in passing yards and yards per attempt for a reason).  As good as Mariota is, he’ll need more dynamic weapons through the air than just Delanie Walker before this team makes the next leap to contender.

Prediction: This might be the best bottom team in the league, in a division that I think will be the most talented and competitive in the League.  That’s as much praise as I can bestow on a team that won’t seriously compete for a playoff spot.