Saturday, July 11, 2009

A final time to Shine

Probably the best way to get to Alcorn State University is to catch a flight into Jackson, take the U.S. Highway 61 exit, drive about 40 miles and then exit onto Mississippi Highway 552 west.

Take the highway for about seven miles - just follow the signs - and you will find yourself on the campus of the nation's first ever state-supported institution for the higher education of blacks.

Not much use in gussying things up: Alcorn State is one of the few bright spots in a really bleak landscape. Lorman, the unincorporated home of Alcorn, resides in one of the nation's poorest, fattest and most depressed counties (Jefferson) in the country.

Jefferson County also has the highest percentage of blacks of any county in the nation, according to the most recent Census.

Hardly anyone gets to Alcorn State by accident. Which is why Steve McNair mattered so much to so many people, particularly lots of black people. Because he chose to go there.

This is not a post designed to rehash his career in the NFL or the increasingly sordid, sad details of his death. And this is certainly not a post meant to consider the relative merits of an education at an HBCU.

No, this post is a reminder that for a brief but brilliant and record-breaking stretch, McNair went to Alcorn State and brought the eyes of the nation with him. That, in and of itself, is a minor miracle. His old offensive coordinator once said:
"He has put Alcorn on the map. When we visit kids, recruits, it's no longer, 'Where?' but 'Oh, that's Air's school.' "
True. McNair, also known as "Shine" to family members and friends, lured me and my father to the relative football backwater of Hunstville, Texas, in the fall of 1994. McNair was fresh off his appearance of the cover of Sports Illustrated, with this improbable headline: "Hand Him The Heisman."

Anxious to see if he was worthy of the hype, my father and I made the hour-and-a-half drive to Sam Houston State University and braved what to this day remains the largest home crowd in the school's history. Now, much of the memory of that day 15 years ago, has become blurry. It only seemed like McNair threw and caught his own passes.

Alcorn State lost that day mostly because "Shine" didn't have a third arm, a third leg, couldn't block for himself and couldn't play defense. Or, rather, he probably could have but didn't. He threw for 395 yards, rushed for 46 more and was responsible for 3 touchdowns.

And, in his senior year at least, that was an off-game.

He was the real deal, and I was absolutely mesmerized.

In that Sports Illustrated article, an official with the Buffalo Bills said: "He's on the same level as the best quarterbacks I've seen since I've been scouting ... Testaverde, Bledsoe, Shuler, Mirer, Dilfer."

No. McNair was better.

But today, there's absolutely no chance that a kid with the prodigious athletic talents of young McNair would wind up in Lorman. Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, maybe Southern Miss ... someone would have scooped McNair up and claimed him for themselves.

To that somber reality comes ESPN's Len Pasquarelli, who believes that McNair might be the last quarterback from a black school to be a first-round draft choice:

It's been an inexorable process, one accentuated by the integration of SEC teams and the overall acceptance of the African-American athlete, but the basic quality of play in black schools has suffered. Those universities now watch prospects they might have once recruited enroll at bigger universities. Clearly, the odds are stacked against a quarterback prospect's playing at a program like Alcorn State, where McNair honed his skills.

It will take an extraordinarily talented player, as McNair was, to star at a black school, command the attention of pro scouts, and have a chance to be drafted by an NFL team in the first round. Or, for that matter, in any round.

Yes, it almost goes without saying, but "Shine" is probably the last - and greatest - of a once-proud pedigree. If you're from the South, if you're a product of an HBCU, if you're a football fan aware of how much McNair's success paved the way for other NFL teams to entrust their teams with black quarterbacks like Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Akili Smith, that means something.

Though maybe he didn't know it at the time, McNair couldn't afford to fail. That he did it on his own terms, picking a small black school in Mississippi when so many others would not, makes him special. It made him "Shine."

Coates explains:
It's always cool when a kid from a black college goes and does something in the NFL. I think a lot of us feel this disconnect between living in a community that produces so much football talent, and yet having universities that produce so little. Obviously there are very good reasons for why that's true. Still, when you see a Walter Payton coming out of Jackson State, or a Jerry Rice coming out of Mississippi Valley State, or a Steve McNair coming out of Alcorn, you cheer a little harder.

I'm sorry Steve McNair is dead. As an HBCUer, he was one of us. When me and Kenyatta first hooked up, I'd use Steve McNair and Peyton Manning as Exhibit A for why she should be into football.

Indeed. McNair was everything everyone said he would be. Maybe more. That's why so many people, black people especially, felt some ownership in his success. McNair was tangible proof that the poorest, fattest and, yes, blackest corner of the country could produce something more than despair.

In a way, you have to come from there to understand why that matters. A native, Dr. Saturday, said it best: "My home state doesn't generate much positive news, so we Mississippians hold the heroes we have close."

Today, McNair was buried in his hometown of Mount Olive. And once again, he brought the eyes of the nation with him - if only for a couple hours - to the easily overlooked Mississippi backcountry on a Saturday afternoon.

With his arms, legs, smarts, leadership and grit, Shine was always destined to go far. But it's no surprise that he made sure to come back.
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Friday, July 10, 2009

Shots fired

The Game seems to have a problem with Jay-Z. I assume he tried to resolve the disagreement in a professional manner but was rebuffed in his efforts. The following video is definitely NSFW:

It's hard to know the proper reaction to this. If he was talking about the First Lady, I might consider a swift and certain chokehold for Jayceon Taylor. But I wonder if this is a legitimate beef or a cry for help?

h/t Shep Continue Reading »

Not fulfilling the dream

Martellus Bennett and the "Black Olympics," featuring fried chicken, watermelon and Kool-Aid. Because, you know, black people don't actually compete in the real Olympics.

And stereotypes are funny:

Eh. I never liked the Cowboys anyway.

h/t You Been Blinded and The Big Lead. Continue Reading »

Thursday, July 9, 2009

This is why we're fat

The Chubby South:

People from Mississippi are fat. With an adult obesity rate of 33%, Mississippi has gobbled its way to the "chubbiest state" crown for the fifth year in a row, according to a new joint report by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Alabama, West Virginia and Tennessee aren't far behind, with obesity rates over 30%. In fact, eight of the 10 fattest states are in the South. The region famous for its biscuits, barbecue and pecan pies has been struggling with its weight for years — but then again, so has the rest of the country. Wisconsin loves cheese, New Yorkers scarf pizza, and New Englanders have been known to enjoy a crab cake or two. So why is the South so portly?

... Southerners have little access to healthy food and limited means with which to purchase it. It's hard for them to exercise outdoors, and even when they do have the opportunity, it's so hot, they don't want to.

I might add a few other reasons: the car-centered culture and the sprawl, which both make walkable communities virtually impossible in this part of the country. I don't think I need to explain why walking, regularly, to and from work and within your community, might be healthier than relying on a air-conditioned vehicle to get around.

Because of that, over the past year or so, I've grown disenchanted with the idea of settling and raising a family in the South. This is a relatively recent development. Maybe that's because I spend two hours a day commuting to and from work. Maybe I like the idea of being able to find something to eat after 9 p.m. besides Chili's. Or maybe I like the idea of being able to walk outside without breaking out into a full-bodied sweat.

Don't get me wrong: I love the South, I love living near the best beaches in the country, I love college football, I love shrimp and grits, and I've learned to live in an uneasy peace with people who take pride in brandishing the Confederate flag.

But I've seen the toll this has taken on my waistline. I'm only 31, and I can imagine that things aren't going to get easier my lifestyle doesn't change drastically. I don't want to have to buy bigger pants or start worrying about high-blood pressure or diabetes in my 30s.

I think I want to move. Really. I fell in love with the D.C. area recently. Philly has always had an appeal to me that I can't quite explain. I love Chicago but those winters seem too brutal. The Bay Area might be out of my price range. I've heard really good things about Seattle. And I've got this inexplicable fascination with Toronto though, once again, winter would be a problem.

Should I stay or should I go?
Continue Reading »

Obama likes onions

UPDATE: Ok. On my part, at least, it was a joke. But of course, Fox News is running with this one. Nobody turns sugar to shit faster.

Hey, he did spend most of his adult life on the Southside of Chicago:

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Sweet science

If there truly is an appreciable divide in this country on a number of scientific issues - global warming, evolution, federal funding for embryonic research, etc. - then I'm gonna have to say that: scientists > ordinary Americans.

Almost a third (of the general public) say human beings have existed in their current form since the beginning of time, a view held by only 2 percent of the scientists. Only about half agree that people are behind climate change, and 11 percent do not believe there is any warming at all.

According to the survey, about a third of Americans think there is lively scientific debate on both topics; in fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution and there is little doubt that human activity is altering the chemistry of the atmosphere in ways that threaten global climate. (emphasis mine)

In the future, I'm prepared to cut-and-paste that second paragraph as much as necessary. You can review the results of the study here.

I've probably mentioned this before, but as a student I struggled in most of my science courses. As a result, I developed a deep appreciation for people who excelled at the sciences.

So if 51 percent of the American public isn't sure that earth is getting warmer because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, and only 16 percent of scientists feel the same way, there's little doubt about which way I'm going to lean on the issue. Continue Reading »

Free period

Sorry things have been so slow and, uh, light over here today and this week in general. I've been struggling post-vacation.

I got some things coming later this evening and over the weekend - particularly this Steve McNair post that I've been toying with. Please bear with me as I work to squeeze out some of these creative juices. In case you haven't noticed, when the well is dry I resort to videos and music lists.

Things ain't changed:

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An indecent proposal

UPDATE: Seems like Rampage needs to be neutered. He seems to be unusually frisky. If you see him anywhere on the street, don't make eye contact with him and briskly find safe quarters.

Lucy Liu, you've been forewarned. Stay far away from this manimal:

More than ever, the moniker "Rampage" seems appropriate. h/t Sporting Blog.

On a somewhat-related note, Victoria might be the craziest Jackson of them all. Continue Reading »

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fit for a King

Thoughts about today's memorial service? I just finished up watching a replay on VH-1 a few minutes ago.

Did anyone else feel like they experienced some Church? Or did it feel like the most somber, star-studded concert ever?

To me, the organizers seemed to hit all the notes that BET missed - badly - during its Awards Show a couple weeks ago. It was a memorial service fit for a King.

Stevie was Stevie. Usher sounded better than ever. I loved Magic's story about sharing a bucket of KFC with Michael - it was especially humanizing. Rev. Al was particularly stirring. Marlon made it a little, uh, drizzly in here.

And Paris' impromptu tribute to her father stole the show. It was touching but I really hope that's the last time we'll hear from her for quite awhile.

By the end, I felt like part of the family. To borrow a riff from Jamie Foxx, today's service proved without a doubt that Michael really did belong to us.

If only for a passing moment. Continue Reading »

Palin's pass and fail

Via Deadspin:

As a result, I bet Malcom Gladwell thinks Palin's epic fail proves that all liberal bloggers should use a full-court press against fading Republican governors. That means you better have someone working with you on that ball-handling, Sanford.

No punchline. It's too easy and downright cheap.

And in other Palin news, someone should tell her that there is no federal Department of Law.

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Til the cops come knockin'?

What's the opposite of a happy ending?

A 16-year-old girl thought she heard her mother being assaulted by her boyfriend and rounded up some friends who beat him up, only to learn later that the couple actually were having sex, the woman and police said.

The girl misinterpreted the woman's amorous screams, and she and four other teens went to the woman's bedroom in the Torrington home on June 6, police Lt. Bruce Whiteley said Thursday. One of the teens beat the 25-year-old man with a bat and others punched him, police said. He suffered a black eye and several bruises.

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Free Period

Could it be I stayed away too long?:

In my absence, G.D. turned me into Wally Pipp with this week's edition of Your Monday Random Ass Roundup. But I'm back and I'm black. So there's always that.

Posted yesterday over at PostBourgie, the links cover topics ranging from the tragic shooting death of Air McNair, the strange case of the Quitta from Wasilla, Marion Barry (SMH), and the distubring tale of a college soccer star turned convicted rapist.

Also, a few other things:

1. Contrary to my spotty memory of an event that happened over 20 years ago, my mother has informed me that my beloved aunts - Tootsie and Nell - were the ones who escorted me to the Michael Jackson Bad concert. Apologies for the oversight.

2. I mentioned this Saturday but I'm still mulling over my thoughts about McNair. At this very moment, I can't find the words.

3. Here's a few more links in addition to the Random Ass Round Up:

a. Jason Whitlock, professionally edgy and thought-provoking columnist, thinks Serena Williams is an underachiever and a tad overweight. "BBWs — Big Booty Women — do not write me angry e-mails. I'm only knocking Serena's back pack because it's preventing her from reaching her full potential as an athletic icon. I am not fundamentally opposed to junk in the trunk, although my preference is a stuffed onion over an oozing pumpkin." Imagine what he might have written had she actually lost Wimbledon.

b. Like any limited point guard, Sarah Palin has been dishing off instead of taking it hard to the hole for quite awhile now.

c. Minnesota Senator Al Franken is both funny and wonky. It's possible to be both, you know? No surprise that David Broder can't understand that.

4. Don't forget to rock the vote!

More later. In the meantime, let's all hope that Michael gets a proper send-off.

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