LIGHTHOUSE LOUDHOUSE

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

September 8, 2016

If the game of football in general, and college football in particular are anything, they’re speed and mass and loudness. Lacking the first two qualities by comparison to its upper level D-IA competition for more years than anyone cares to tally, the Orange’s spanking new skipper, one Dino Babers, is calling for more loud in its domed Loudhouse. Any why not? Despite thinning crowds exposing ever greater splotches of metal in the stands over the years, Orange fans have never been wanting in the “loud” department, starting most games and most seasons sky high on the decibel meter, falling off (and filing out) only in proportion to serially outmanned and outgunned performances vs its quality (non-scrimmage, a la Colgate) opponents.

And so begins yet another new season with another new coach, with the first game that matters on the schedule vs. the Louisville Cardinals. If Orange football for so many countless seasons over so many here-today-gone-tomorrow AD’s and coaches was a Bible book, it would be the “Book of Genesis,” the book of beginnings, starting yet another season with yet another coach and another new AD and another new system to “begin” all over again – like the high school grad whose was pushed through the system, mind you, not because he competed 12 years of schooling, but because he merely completed first grade 12 times.

As for rewriting the Book of Genesis al la Orange football; “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth and Orange football. And for eons its teams were without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the program, deemed Ichabod (meaning, “the glory has departed”), save for droll remembrances of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little.”

Despair not, however. While losses, like curses and plagues, can indeed be of Biblical proportions, redemption always draweth nigh – perhaps embodied in the spirit, energy and vision of its dynamic new coach, one Dino Babers. There is, after all, an air of authenticity in the guy, a very credible winsomeness. Too, there’s an unmistakalbe light in his demeanor and countenance, a light perhaps well worth cheering for – and cheering loudly in the weeks ahead:

“And the Creator said, Let there be light: and there was light. And the Creator saw the light, that it was good, and divided the light from the darkness.”

So much for Friday Night Lights . . .and LOUD.

Joe Masterleo

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ALI: FOREVER YOUNG

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

June 5, 2016

He had been regarded as one of the most significant sporting figures in history, if not the greatest of them all — inspiring, controversial and polarizing inside and outside the ring. An icon of the counterculture of his time, Muhammad Ali was foremost a showman, cleverly mastering the art of “Tongue-Fu,” a promotional trash-talking style borrowed from pro wrestler “Gorgeous George” Wagner. Known as the “Lousiville Lip,” he was a crafty boxer, talker and boyish practical joker without parallel. A boisterous trend-setter, his singular example changed the complexion and ethos of professional sports forever, ushering many of the copycat headliners that followed into the glitzy era of “Showtime” entertainment.

His fistic accomplishments are, of course, legendary, copiously iterated and reiterated in the wake of his passing. He stands alone among our national sports icons in the adulation department, transcending the American trinity of Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.

Ever the promoter, he once privately invited opponent Chuck Wepner to use the “N” word in a pre-fight press forum, all for show of course, a grandstanding ploy to sell tickets for their mutual profit. Wepner declined. But in a soft-spoken, almost apologetic manner, Ali candidly admitted off-stage that such was merely the public image of himself, a Trumpish-caricature calculated to advance his boastful persona and brash reputation before the cameras. “A wise man can play a fool” Ali once quipped, “but a fool can’t play a wise man.” Leave it to “The Greatest” to sift reputation from character, the latter defining the measure of a man, reflected in the way he treats those who can do nothing for him. Ali, the impish man, conscientious citizen and international ambassador, was all of that.

For Ali, boxing became a means to influence others and the world beyond the ring, making him a transcendental figure shrouded in a winsome electric aura that carried cross-cultural appeal, one that in his wake draws even greater reverence, and more smiles than tears. Beyond the contrived bravado his fiery spirit was forever young, tender and inspiring, one that the disease which so hindered his gate and silenced his once nimble tongue could not waver or quench. Such defines the transcendental. Aside from what he did for others, perhaps therein lies his greatest testimony and legacy, secondary to his noteworthy ring heroics.

As to the greatness he achieved in the ring, however impressive, Ali was but following the way of the male of his species, seen globally in pedestrian fashion wherever men gather in circles of competition, power and control — be it the locker-room, board-room, bedroom or war-room. In the law of the jungle, only the fittest survive. In his element, he was the paragon of excellence, a benign law unto himself.

While Ali embodied the art and science of his sport as no other, like most men he sometimes used his power imprudently under fire, and was not without foibles or domestic shortcomings. Yet the playful boy within him amply informed the man whose essence was genial, holding in check the kind of stereotypical machismo that renders some men unfeeling, and taints the character of many modern gladiators devoid of social conscience, compassion and self-control, of late lauded for their manly exploits in our nation’s competitive venues.

Let us not so much mourn Ali’s passing as memorialize his unique niche as a living icon during our nation’s turbulent times, now and then remembering to unleash the imaginative, Ali-like trickster within whose playful spirit is forever young, and father to the man.

Joe Masterleo

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A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

April 24, 2016

Pearl Washington was the most exciting and memorable player in the pantheon of Orange basketball greats, personifying the spirit, sum and substance of them all. That’s the plain truth, the real ‘Scoop’ if you can ‘Hackett.’ What did his presence mean to the team? Perhaps the answer was best summed up in his legendary half-court buzzer beater vs. Boston College in 1984, which, like ‘Lazarus,’ brought his team back from the dead. Simply put, he gave the Orange life, and gave it to them more abundantly right when they needed it.

‘Dajuan’-na know something? ‘Duval’ the point guards ever to play for the Orange, this master of the shake-and-bake kept defenders on their heels like they were dancing on hot ‘Kohls’ with ‘Byrnes’ on their feet. Talk about ‘Seikaly’-ing an opponent out.

In high school he could rattle off points like a ‘Thompson’ machine gun. Though a newcomer his freshman year, Pearl was not at all ‘Greene.’ He was seasoned, having sharpened his skills as a playground legend in Brooklyn. That’s why from the get-go he never languished on the bench where ‘Moss’ could gather, but saw ample playing time.

‘Santifer’ surely put ‘Forth’ his best effort back in 1984, delivering a gem of a ‘Christmas’ gift just when it was needed.

He was poetry in ‘Moten’ all right, an athletic work of art with a ball in his hands, a ‘Fair’ portrait framed in hardwood painted by ‘Rafael.’ We hadn’t seen the likes of his kind until ‘McNamara’s’ Band won it all in 2001.

Unconventional like his ‘Boheim’-ian coach, the Pearl was nothing short of ‘Fab’ on the court, and nothing less than ‘Melo’ off it.

Leading the fast break like ‘Sherman’s’ march to the sea, and playing with great ‘Hart,’ Pearl could score inside, dish ‘Orr’ just like that, ‘Bing,’ pull up for a quick jumper on the break.

That’s right, Pearl Washington was a composite of all the Orange hoop greats, the personification, sum and substance of their spirit, a one-of-a-kind guy who gave us something to cheer about during many a dull and drab CNY winter. He leaves a legacy that will continue in perpetuity, as no one truly dies who lives on in the hearts and minds of others. Though momentarily ‘Sad-at’, we shall applaud, rejoice and ‘Singh’ the praises of his exploits and spirit in these parts for many years to come.

Joe Masterleo

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PETE ROSE: STILL NO REPOSE

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

January 24, 2016

(Pete Rose was the featured guest recently at the Syracuse Chief’s Hotstove Dinner at the Oncenter in Syracuse)

All creatures seek repose in their natural efforts and motions, whether they know it or not. They prove this through their deeds. That some creatures are ignorant of same, or rendered clueless, maddened or driven out of their senses longing for repose by various means is a mysterious anomaly of nature. Few endeavors in life are devoid of this peculiar fact, least of all the world of sports.

Certainly, baseball has had its quirky share of star/celebs whose on-field talents are inversely related to their soundness as persons, forever rendering them strangers to repose. To name but of few; Ty Cobb, Dwight Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, Mickey Mantle, Steve Howe and Barry Bonds.

Like dazzling fireworks, such performers are thrilling to watch while they last, only to explode and fizzle before our very eyes. Cradled and primed for spectacular achievement and performance, their love of self is deep and abiding, in direct proportion to lack of same with regard to others and/or principle. While excessive self-regard may occasionally correlate with individual achievement, it is antithetical to repose, a nagging thirst slaked neither by wealth, fame or achievement, and certainly not via self-serving short-cuts. Fact is, winning or losing or success by means fair or foul have little to do with attaining repose, which overtakes only the un-self-conscious.

For all his baseball accomplishments, and they are many, Pete Rose remains tethered to the gravitational pulls of a very brash ego. The nearer a flame burns to the wick, the blacker and coarser it will be, while the higher a flame blows above the wick, the clearer it will be. As such, Rose’s flame continues to flicker, burning coarse and sooty.

So at age 74, banned from major league baseball for life, Pete Rose still knows neither tranquility nor repose, which continue to slam the door on the man’s nose whether he knows it or not.

Every athlete “gambles” in one way or another merely by stepping onto the field. If sports halls of fame are hallowed places reserved mainly for achievement, honoring those who go for broke in order to overcome all odds in games of competition, indeed, Pete Rose should be counted among his peers in their mortal pantheon. After all, Rose merely “gambled” to the uttermost in pursuing his version of achievement, fame and fortune. Says here, Rose is guilty only of putting all his chips on the table all the time, while his similarly distinguished peers, less reckless gamblers and connivers of a different order, held a portion of their chips more discreetly in reserve.

None of which has anything to do with attaining repose, which all creatures seek in their natural efforts and motions all the time, whether they know it or not.

Joe Masterleo

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IN FOOTBALL WE TRUST

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

December 12, 2015

Football has not only bypassed baseball as America’s Pastime, but judging by the sheer number of college and pro worshipers (fans) who pilgrimage annually to its cathedral-like stadiums for Sabbath Day (weekend) services, football has become America’s National Religion. While church attendance is on the decline across the nation, football stadiums are bulging with swarms of convert-followers. America may be divided politically, polarized racially and otherwise fractured religiously, but it is united as a football nation.

One need only count football’s many denominations (teams and leagues), to say nothing of the loyalty, devotion and zeal of its countless worshipers. Such religion is replete with Popes (commissioners), cardinals (trustees) and high priests (AD’s), who in turn anoint and sanction a serving ecclesia (“the called”) of pastors/priests (coaches), associate pastors (assistant coaches) and a host of shamans (medical personnel and trainers).

What’s more, parishioners tithe handsomely and pay steep pew taxes (for reserved seats) in return for access to holy relics (souvenirs and memorabilia) and communion services (concessions). Bulletins (programs) are customarily printed and distributed prior to each service. Worship hymns are held at the midpoint of meetings (halftime) led by marching musicians and an all women’s choir (cheerleaders). At such gatherings, Red Sea dramas are occasionally re-enacted, as knightly crusaders file and assemble, crossing-over into ceremonial venues while thousands of ogling worshipers line streets or walkways as participants tunnel between them en route to the Promised Land. At times, worshipers are given to mimic the undulating sea (The Wave) from distant pews during lulls in the on-field action.

Group prayers, dutifully offered up via pre-game rallies and half-time pep-talks, are also practiced among combatants in on-field form (ritual huddling). As a last resort, the Hail Mary prayer may be invoked (desperation pass). Baptismal ceremonies (Gatorade immersions) are also commonplace at the close of services. Football also beatifies its immortals, canonizing its college esquires in a Georgia sanctuary, while its professional luminaries are likewise ensconced in an Ohio pantheon (Hall of Fame). Worship services, enshrinement’s and beatifications are broadcast by a TV network (ESPN) dedicated to covering same, enabling worshipers around the nation and world to participate in each ceremony. For non-participants, self-generated ceremonial enactments and group prayers (Fantasy Football) are offered at mid-week.

Losing coaches are excommunicated (fired), condemned to purgatory or limbo until they get it right. Such penances are often merciless, rife with painful hell-fire and brimstone consequences. Atonement and propitiation rituals are widespread, whereby football’s young (lambs) are ritually sacrificed to the gods on a gridiron via injury or maiming, sometimes with an agonizing crown of thorns (concussions). All this, witnessed by a holy hush of worshipers while trainers and medical personnel (deacons) genuflect before the immolated offering lying prone on the altar (playing field). Only the redeemed that persevere attain Nirvana (esteemed titles, trophies, national rankings and Super Bowls). A sizable minority of its worshipers become radicalized, ceremonially costumed and frenzied for the occasion during pre-game tail-gating feasts, amply lubricated with libations of wine and spirits (alcohol).

Distinguishing hallmarks of football’s religiosity include rituals that are held on Sundays, with money being a major concern. And true to form, this cult is not without misconduct scandals and abuses (Sandusky/Paterno-gate), and other stories of fallen men who place such sacrilege as salary, reputation, rankings, perks and popularity ahead of duty, honor, loyalty, integrity and truth. And that, without contrition or remorse.

As in all religions, the corruption of the best is the worst.

Of late, iconic millionaire priests (coaches) have become so many itinerant evangelists, often employing salty militant rhetoric while traveling near and far to preach their charismatic brand of pigskin gospel, mic’d from bully pulpits (press conferences). Such alluring happy talk tickles the ears of the faithful seeking amusements to deliver them from boredom, and/or the restless evils of a combative nation’s mortal taboos (losing and defeat). Such fiery preachers wave their Bibles (playbooks) at team meetings (youth groups) and promise fruits (victories) where barrenness once prevailed, all the while taking-up hefty collections (flock fleecing) at each whistle-stop before abruptly fleeing town for further diocesan barnstorming or revivalist tent meetings.

Let’s not forget the scribes. Obediently devotional to a fault, they follow in tow, pens in hand, hanging-on every inspired utterance with the credulity of a wide-eyed choir boy at Christmas, eagerly anticipating his upcoming role in Handel’s “Messiah.”

While real faith has questions that may never be answered, football has answers that may never been questioned. Pontificating ex-cathedra, apostolic NCAA and NFL orators proclaim as much.

What’s next? Shall America’s coins soon be minted with engravings of “In Football We Trust?”

Some things have to be believed to be seen.

While America may be divided in every conceivable way, for sure, it is seamlessly united in football. No doubters or agnostics to be found here, and nary an atheist.

Hallelujah!

Praise the Lord, and pass the remote.

Joe Masterleo

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Trick? or Treat?

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

October 31, 2015

There’s not a lot of mirth and joy in sports and life these days. But today being Halloween, its a time for displaying disguises and unmasking same:

SPORT, that which diverts and makes merry
SPORTLESS, without sport or mirth; joyless
(American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828)

We live in an age when sport is sport-less, religion is devoid the divine and politics has become disconnected from the body politic. In the Age of Smoke and Mirrors, methinks evolution is really devolution, or rather, dissolution, the wholesale normalization of what was once firmly held as aberrant. Somewhere along the line the American head got severed from its heart and soul, having long-since made an alliance with the body and its insatiable appetite for amusement, entitlement, pleasure and personal gain. A body minus its soul becomes a ghoulish specimen, whereby perversion replaces diversion, vanity displaces sanity and progress becomes regress by a different name. Such is a consequence of macabre and devilish proportions.

Joe Masterleo

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PERSONAL FOUL; ON BRAIN INJURY IN FOOTBALL

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

October 2, 2015

To: Senators John DeFrancisco, Chuck Schumer, and Congressman Katko:

I wanted to call your attention to a recent column that appeared in the Syracuse Post-Standard this week (10/01/15) written by Syracuse sports columnist Bud Poliquin on the subject of brain injury in football. Mr. Poliquin wrote the column based on information provided to him in an interview with Dr. Don Brady, a local psychologist who specializes in the study of brain injury in sports. My particular concern regarding the column and the information contained therein pertains to the health and safety of our schoolboy athletes. (see link to Poliquin column below)

The findings on brain injury in contact sports, particularly as it impacts the lives of youngsters have been long known and extensively documented. On review, one would expect the welter of facts to be alarming and downright scary for parents and educators alike. Yet on the contrary, such facts have not been received as such, not in proportion to the scope of potential harm and/or level of risk involved. In that injuries sustained to the brain are medically irreversible, such remains a widespread public denial of the highest magnitude.

Indisputably, from a health hazard standpoint football has become the new cigarettes. And like the lethal findings of smoking on health, there appears to be an appreciable lag-time in the public awareness of same on the subject of schoolboy brain injury. However, an awareness of the grave findings seems to be attaining critical mass, fast reaching a tipping-point that will hopefully lead to enacting appropriate legislation and implementing concrete solutions to protect our most valued resource — our nation’s youngsters.

I am a clinical social worker in private practice who often counsels with teens. I’m not anti-football. I played the game in high school some years ago, having learned valuable life lessons by participating. My son also played high school and college football, having sustained several concussions in the process, with serious consequences. Had I known then what I know now about the serious risk and impact of short and long-term brain injury on young athletes, I would have redirected my boy toward less dangerous sports.

I realize the game is a huge athletic and entertainment staple that feeds a voracious fan base hungry for football, one that has a powerful draw on fans and players alike. Yet there is a dark-side to this para-military endeavor that has been vastly denied and grossly minimized as a health hazard to our youth. I believe it is high time for parents, educators and legislators alike to face the sobering facts, followed by some hard decisions and difficult interventions.

If you haven’t already done so, please review the contents of Mr. Poliquin’s column. No doubt, the data has, or should have, incredible shock value. As our senator, I would ask if something more substantive could and should be done on the legislative level, at the very least requiring school systems to take more responsibility in fully informing parents and students as to the risk and potential dangers of such violent endeavors, much the way health hazard warnings are required by law to be on cigarette packs. That doesn’t even begin to broach the question of whether state funded public education should be endorsing or promoting a sport that poses an imminent risk to a child’s neural health.

As an integral part of our sports-loving public, parents and children remain passionate and enthralled with our nation’s tradition of football, but in a manner that obscures seeing the sport’s downside in a clear and unbiased way. Yet in all instances, the passion for wisdom should temper the passion for pleasure and excitement. To date, it remains shamefully appalling that educators are mum on the subject, when in fact they should be on the vanguard voicing appropriate concern, galvanizing themselves to create policies and programs to protect those in their charge.

And so I ask, in the midst of this moral issue regarding the health and safety of our nation’s youngsters, where should our legislators stand? After all, what’s right is not always popular, and what’s popular is not always right. I think its time to begin doing the right things on this issue, and at many levels, however unpopular. And I think legislators and educators ought be leading the charge.

As distinguished public servants, thanks for your availability in fielding the above comments and concerns.

Respectfully,

Joe Masterleo LCSW, DCSW
Syracuse, NY 13203

Read more…

Football concussions and brain injuries: Let the discussion continue (readers emails) Dr. Don Brady had his say in this corner of cyberspace on Tuesday. Today, these four folks, from near and far, belly up to the debate bar and share their thoughts on the issue.

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THE BOYS OF BLUE RIDGE

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

May 15, 2015

It was spring again at Blue Ridge. The ice had gone out. The dam outlet was bursting with the roar of snow-melt, making the dark waters appear as a vast root beer draught. The loons were back, paired-up and in full yodel. We were thirty strong, strangers of sorts before we arrived, at least for that portion of the year that had formed the parenthesis of our lives between fishing trips. During daylight hours we would inhabit small boats of equal size with poles in hand and Lake Clear Wobblers dancing in the bright sunlight. There, all distinctions vanished save for two. We were boys again. And we were free.

We were around the lakes, woods and waterways where comfort zones expand and bonds grow, even among the most steeled, aloof and reserved of us. An environment that increases our receptivity to others, a world apart from the usual force field of defense mechanisms, pride and self-contained cocoons, the “normal” world that keeps a tight lid on being real, relaxed and personally disclosing. No deadlines. No cell phones or schedules or “to do” lists. To a man we were offstage, back to who we are, who we’re meant to be, who we prefer to be. Nary a care or worry to beset us — or off-set us. The wilderness is not only common ground but sacred ground, egalitarian turf devoid of the usual markers of success and competition, the only place men have left where they’re on a level playing field – not in fancy buildings or pecking orders, just the forest and waterways and fish. We were in our element, in kinship with the wild. Time spent at play again. Our common focus? The “catch” of course, drawing out the archetypal hunter-fisher within. And there were, after all, traditions to uphold and legacies to carry on.

As boys, we had been imprinted to the lakes and streams, enchanted places where one could sit and listen to the melodious sound of wind, waves and flowing waters. Especially in places where we could hook a worm, tie a fly or wet a line — and hope. A place where one could explore, and experience those curious things that nature had placed hidden in rocky pools, under sunken logs and beside mysterious bogs. The unexpected made exploring an adventure. To be alive, for us, meant being on the lake or in the creek or near the river, for the waters there were teeming and alive. They named us. They called to us in silent whispers, hushed sounds and soothing smells. So, later proximity to them would necessarily awaken the raw and wild feelings of freedom that had first stirred our youthful souls so many long years ago, unbound by time, the workaday world and the constraints of indoor living. Once imprinted, always imprinted.

We knew the drill, the routine, the history of our sacred seasonal endeavor because it had been passed down to us from our fathers, uncles, and other boys who had grown up and become men. We could sit by a small fire in our secret places by the waterways and tell one whopping tale after another about the events that had taken place in the wonderland of our outdoor sanctuaries. We laughed and swapped stories and played practical jokes and commenced with all sorts of foolishness. And as always, measuring and comparing, we inquired daily amongst ourselves about each other’s catch. Who caught the biggest stringer, the prized lunker, and where? Parts one and two of that question were eagerly proffered. Part three was a different story. Secrets revealed are secrets no more.

It was spring again at Blue Ridge. No need to hurry back to the work-a-day world. The ice had gone out. The dam outlet was bursting with the roar of snow-melt, making the dark waters appear as a vast root beer draught. The loons were back, paired-up and in full yodel. No place else in our adult lives could we feel the complete sense of liberation, exultation and expectation found near these woods and waterways – in a boat on a lake cradled by the splendor of the mountains, warmed by a hearty breakfast, sallying forth for a whole day with pole in hand and Lake Clear Wobblers all dancing in the rising sun — hoping to lure the “big one.”

We were boys again, plain and simple. And we were free.

Joe Masterleo

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THE THRILLA IN VANILLA

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

May 1, 2015

Vanilla: (slang); ordinary, plain, unexciting, conventional, boring – Urban Dictionary

At one time, the world was flat, the sun orbited the earth, and medicine’s highest offering were leaches sucking blood. Even sex was considered dirty, and believe it or not, the air was verifiably clean. What’s normative today can become tomorrow’s passing fancy. Likewise, a wooden spoon, a bone or a cotton shirt aren’t living things, though at one time they were very much parts of living things. Before they died, that is, and became something altogether different, barely recognizable in petrified form. Ditto boxing, which like horse racing, was once relevant, teeming and alive, the biggest draw in American sports. Now both endeavors are striving not thriving, borderline museum pieces. If you haven’t noticed, men doing serious hurt on one another or animals for the sheer pleasure of others ain’t what it used to be.

Unlike today, boxing once played the cat and other sports the mouse, instead of the other way around. Then, like a disposable crime boss it was taken-out, toppled clean off its national throne, mainly by self-inflicted KO. Suicide, it was. No one knows exactly where, or when. But of a certainty, it did happen. Why? That’s another story.

Rumor has it that the electric stir of Mayweather–Pacquaio will resurrect the sport. Come now. If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets. One robin doesn’t make a spring, or one defibrillator jolt a pulse. Likewise, a momentary buzz, however euphoric, does not constitute the sport’s revival, to say nothing of a radical conversion or reformation. Fact is, despite a sizeable minority of devoted fans, and moderate doses of ESPN, HBO and Showtime stimulants, boxing has devolved into a wheezing niche sport. Not as droll as barrel-jumping, mind you. More like bowling, track and field, and yes, even horse-racing.

Billed as a modern day ring extravaganza, this long-overdue dream-bout between aging legends may turn out to be a barn-burner alright, a refreshingly welcome display of ring skill and smarts. As competitive excitement goes, it ranks right up there, at least on paper — green paper. Lest we forget, the bell that tolls for prime-time boxing is a cash register. But a terminal disorder is a terminal disorder, after all, even though the afflicted enjoys the respite of an occasional remission between endless rounds of woe.

The hype is building, the planets are again moving into alignment. Few things in sport are as thrilling as witnessing champions battle it out for 12 rounds in the ring. But face it, this isn’t Ali-Frazier or Holmes-Norton or Marciano-Wolcott or Louis-Conn. While the lighter weight divisions have had their share of notable icons, including those who carry boxing today, historically, the heavyweight division has been the lifeblood of the sport, its canary in a coal mine. As the canary goes, so goes the sport, at least for the average American sports fan. Not since Muhammad Ali retired and Mike Tyson staggered off the radar has boxing been the same. Enter “Requiem for a Heavyweight” stage left. Most serious American contenders now choose to do their concussive brain damaging as NFL linebackers. In a Ben & Jerry world of amusements, entertainment and synthetic passions, and with such brute specimens gone elsewhere, the sport’s popularity remains vanilla (with apologies to the flavor). Save for a cluster of Eastern-bloc fighters, it might sooner be ten bells for boxing.

On the other hoof, flash-in-the-pan May-Pac will give a lively facelift to boxing’s dead-pan countenance. The makeover will be a pricy, especially for fans – to the tune of $89.95 for a mere PPV cheap seat. The cost of arena seats is scandalous, even by boxing standards. As for post-bout re-enactments, best save this extortionist drama for the silver screen — Rocky style. Call it The Multi-Million Dollar Baby. Raging Bulls**t. The Cinderella Scam. The Thrilla Amid Vanilla. Take your pick. For boxing definitely has a self-image problem, soothing quick-fixes and media-frenzied band-aids notwithstanding. Speaking of makeovers, some Hollywood mogul should revamp the 1956 boxing flick on the life of Rocky Graziano. Re-name it “Somebody Up There DIS-Likes Me,” starring Rodney “No Respect” Dangerfield.

Nonetheless, the main event promises to be the sport’s one-day, one-time only, step-right-up-folks adrenaline rush, the fistic equivalent of the Kentucky Derby, complete with two thoroughbred favorites, media trumpeting, a circus atmosphere and celebrities dressed in sassy sartorial splendor — the “beautiful people” who perennially follow in tow. The Derby itself remains one of the most highly anticipated sporting events in the US in any given year. That this classic is also headlined for May 2nd will make it a busy weekend for sports fans and bettors. (The picks are easy, written in the stars. Can’t resist the Derby’s 40-1 shot named “Itsaknockout.” As for Vegas, it’s no longer February weather. It’s May weather, so look for “Money” over the distance in another boxing masterpiece).

You’d be hard pressed to recall the last time a boxing event was poised to overshadow “The Run for the Roses.” What nostalgic irony. The sagging old mare and the Sweet/Sour Science jostling stride-for-stride down the home stretch. For one day and one day only, boxing and horse racing will again share the limelight as co-monarchs of American sports. I’ll drink to that. Mint Juleps and Vanilla Lattes all-around.

Win or lose, the principals in this bout will be laughing all the way to the bank. Too bad there’s no profit-sharing in boxing, because the gazillions generated here could keep the sport’s majority, its poorest of have-nots, in health-care and benefits all the way to the grave. Talk about paradoxes; here we have a ragged, also-ran fiefdom-sport on life support dominated by a few filthy-rich barons; a sport not only in possession of the richest modern athlete in Floyd Mayweather Jr., but a sport sitting in mirthful anticipation of its richest purse ever. Go figure. Seeing how in a dog-eat-dog world, morons and oxymorons aren’t going away anytime soon, may as well enjoy such stellar couplets while they’re flashy hot, because like Halley’s Comet, they don’t streak by very often.

When the dust finally settles on this one, it will either go down as a memorable classic, be much ado about nothing, or end up as something in-between — though it strains the imagination to think of a Mayweather-Pacquaio affair as a tweener. Viewed in the context of boxing’s heyday, however, this gloved firestorm isn’t as likely to celebrate the fight game as it will commemorate (memorialize?) it. Even these much ballyhooed champs are powerless to raise the dead. While the bout has significance in its own right, by the same token taking-in this rare phenomenon can be likened to watching Civil War or D-Day re-enactments. Its simple algebra, expressing x in terms of y, or in this case, images of the present conjuring specters of the past; Tunney-Dempsey, Louis-Schmeling, Louis-Wolcott, Robinson-Lamotta, Ali-Frazier, Pryor-Arguello or Leonard-Hearns to name but a few.

So, resin sniffers, let’s get ready to pummel. Play it again Sam. It’ll be a Thrilla in Vanilla alright, a jewel set in rhinestones, so much chicken salad in a sport rife with chicken manure. Even if the formidable alley cat that once had its run of the joint has devolved into the mouse that roared. As such, it matters not if May-Pac is five years overdue. We’re talking relativity here. In boxing, the public has become interested only in select championship events. And in horse racing, only the Triple Crown. Everything of temporal distinction takes the ten-count sooner or later, going the way of terminal extinction.

At one time the world was flat, the sun orbited the globe, and blood sucking leaches were medicine’s best offering. Sex was dirty, and believe it or not, the air was verifiably clean. All of them are snickering absurdities now, every last one. And you can look it up.

And boxing? Take it from the late Frank Sinatra, blues-tinged saloon singer and Life Magazine’s official photographer for Ali-Frazier I; it was once “king of the hill, top of the heap. Riding high in April . . . shot down in May.”

Every May, that is, with the exception of this one.

Joe Masterleo

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BOEHEIM: IT TAKES A VILLAGE . . .

Joe Masterleo lives in Jamesville, NY, practices psychotherapy in Syracuse and sees the world of sports as mirroring the best and worst of what a society values and tolerates in its citizenry and character. His columns and commentaries appear regularly on the editorial page of the Post-Standard, as well as in the newly minted Central New York Sports Magazine published quarterly by the newspaper.

March 20 2015

Seems the NCAA operates somewhat like the IRS in that it’s an inefficient bureaucracy, replete with volumes of rules, arbitrary decision making powers, ribbons of red tape and more time to kill than an inmate on death row. Such lumbering agencies can’t possibly scrutinize the multiple compliance factors of all those within their purview. Sieve-like, such monolothic watchdog agencies cannot be fooled by everyone all the time. Bypassing NCAA regs is often easier than slipping by the Texas Border Patrol. Such is the particular temptation of those perennially successful D-IA programs prone to being corrupt or lulled into negligence in overseeing their athletic programs.

Too, there is ample historical evidence that such bureaucratic behemoths are no respecter of persons, especially when an individual or program invites itself into their crosshairs. So, forewarned is forearmed. As for respecting the arbitrary clout of the NCAA, one need only recall the harsh penalties for football infractions meted out to the Miami Hurricanes and the USC Trojans in 2011. Or more recently, the rigorous sanctions exacted upon Penn State football following Sandusky-gate in 2012.

Giants are seldom less than heavy-handed, so conventional wisdom dictates that an “offender-beware” policy be in place for big-time athletic programs. It would further seem that this common sense beacon of warning, and preparedness, would be a no-brainer priority within such programs, as in the case of once-burned Syracuse basketball. As for SU hoops, it appears the consequence of oversight deficiencies rightly fell on the shoulders of the coach and AD, implicating the chancellor and trustees in the process. The University’s sin, it seems, was not one of commission or ignorance, but one of omission or negligence. That is, what a party or program should have done but didn’t.

That coach Boeheim could confidently boast, as he did to at the recent Hardwood Club Awards Dinner, that “I’m not going anywhere,” plainly speaks to the root of the problem, reflecting a measure of petulance and brash egotism typical of big time coaches at D-IA schools — even those, like coach Boeheim, who vehemently deny any inherent power to bypass academic protocols. Though appeals to the latest NCAA rulings may be in order, damage to the University’s integrity and reputation has been done, requiring damage control strategies by its Chancellor.

At his worst, the surly coach plays the role of a contrarian fellow, who, despite disclaimers, was exposed as less than zealous in bird-dogging the off-court details of his basketball program. How a cock-sure coach who has managed his post-game duties before the press with a painful absence of decorum, unchallenged, had been trusted to manage and address the nuances of his program remains a glaring paradox. Apparently, those above and around him, the press included, have chosen to look the other way. Therefore, those who have chosen to abide in deadly silence before his shortcomings must share in his culpability. If all concerned continue to do so in the future, this coach will become but another sports figure hoisted by his own petard, tilting at windmills, sallying forth daily to vanquish a contrived enemy perceived everywhere, but within.

To be a professional one must act the part. To his credit, coach Boeheim presented as more refreshingly human in his last press conference; perhaps circumstantial, but maybe a harbinger of better things to come. In an imperfect world, redemption is an equal opportunity commodity. Lest coach exit from the national sports stage a mere tragi-comic caricature of himself, here’s hoping that others – from Chancellor to ball boy to reporter to waitress – all improve their respective roles as accountability figures before him, more vigorously so, but in a manner mixed with appropriate compassion. That way, whenever he leaves his post, he will have changed much more than his won-loss record or his outrageous attire of years past. It takes an entire village, after all, to raise a child, or change a man given to being wise in his own eyes.

Joe Masterleo

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