What Happened to Cam Newton?


[Writer’s Note: At the time of this writing, the former Carolina Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton is unable to find a team, and Robert Griffin III (RGIII), Kaepernick, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota are in similar straits, or they’ve accepted the role of a backup with a team other than the team who drafted them. This might change for them, but the theme of this article remains.]   

Like RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton was the most talented athlete anybody ever saw for most of his life. He never met anyone bigger, better, or faster than in high school, college, and some might argue he was the best athlete anyone in the NFL ever saw. If he encountered someone who was one of the above, along the way, they weren’t all three. If he encountered one who was close, that player was not a quarterback. Cam won the National Championship in college and the Heisman Trophy. He was then the first player chosen in the NFL Draft. He went onto win rookie of the year award, the NFL MVP award, and then he did something, five years later, only 63 other quarterbacks in NFL history have accomplished, he led his team to the Super Bowl. He was fast, big, elusive, and he knew how to win. Some might argue that with the rules of the NFL game being what they are today, Cam Newton’s play almost single-handedly determined whether the Carolina Panthers would make it to the Super Bowl that year.

Prior to that Super Bowl, Cam led the Panthers to three straight division titles and a 15-1 record in their NFC Championship year. Following the Super Bowl, the trajectory of his career and the plight of the Panthers, has since followed a downward trajectory. The Panthers are now 29-35 since that Super Bowl appearance.

Cam’s measurables, coming out of college, were almost unprecedented. He had almost unprecedented size (Dante Culpepper was 6’4″ 260 lbs, Cam was 6’5″ 250 lbs.), and he had an almost unparalleled athletic ability (Culpepper ran a 4.52 40, Cam ran a 4.59). The three best QBs of the era (Brady, Manning, and Brees) would’ve killed for Cam’s measurables, but the question we now ask, in hindsight, is would those three have won as often as they did if blessed with Cam’s size and ability?

Personally, I don’t think so, because when a quarterback doesn’t have the measurables Cam had in high school and college, they, and their coaches, trained their focus on the immeasurables in practices and scrimmages. It’s those immeasurables, those intangibles, that have led those three best QBs of their era and many other lesser talents in the NFL playing QB to enjoy longer, more sustained success in the NFL.    

As another most talented athlete, anyone ever saw, former NFL MVP, and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner wrote an article that alludes to the idea that the NFL has a way of humbling even the most elite athletes. For Kurt Warner, that “most talented athlete, anyone ever saw” era ended for him when he left high school, but it didn’t end there for Cam Newton, and it didn’t end for him in college either. Few athletes can maintain this rarefied air in college, and even fewer like Cam, Colin Kaepernick, RGIII, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota maintain this stature in the NFL. Kurt suggests this might be a blessing and a curse for them.

The blessings are immediate, as everyone they’ve ever encountered told them that their athletic talent was such that they could achieve what nearly 100% of the rest of the us could only dream. The curse, that which arrives much later, happens when an elite athlete encounters a brilliant, NFL-level defensive coordinator uses his elite athletes to minimize the once-in-a-lifetime talents at quarterback to force them into jams they can’t escape with athletic talent alone.   

When forced into such jams, a quarterback learns why all of his previous coaches focused so much attention on developing their immeasurables during their formative years. One of Kurt’s college coaches taught him what to do when the offensive line breaks down, all the receivers are covered, and the defense has assigned one of their linebackers to spy on him, so he can’t run. This college coach instituted what he called a “Kill Kurt” drill that Kurt described as:

“One of my least favorite times on the field, but it may have also been the most valuable. That drill taught me to read defenses and keep my eyes downfield instead of looking at the rush and bailing out at the first sign of trouble. It forced me to know exactly who I was reading on each play and to make a quick decision, inside the pocket, or I was going to get hit. 

“I am grateful my coach installed that drill early in my career, because even though I may have been able to avoid a lot athletically at that age, there was no question the ability to do that would be over sooner rather than later. If I was going to be successful playing the position, it would have to come with what I processed mentally — not what I was able to avoid physically.” 

The young Kurt Warner probably hated the drill as much as he described, because it showed him he was no longer the “most talented athlete, anyone ever saw”. It informed him that if he was going to succeed at the collegiate level, he was going to have to stay in the pocket and develop instincts. The drill taught him that he would have to figure out what to do when things broke down, without taking off and running. When no receiver was open, he had to learn how to scramble in the pocket effectively, throw the ball away, throw it into a tight window that led the receiver to being open, or take the sack. Most coaches, as Kurt alludes, accidentally begin to rely on their QB’s athleticism as much as the QB does, to get him out of jams.  

“As we can see when we look at [Cam Newton], [he] never had to worry about not being the best athlete on the field,” Kurt wrote. “Where many of us lose that tag in high school or college, [Cam has] been able to sustain it all the way to the NFL.

“Sounds like an incredible blessing, and of course to some degree it is, but it has delayed [his] overall growth and remains the main reason [he might be] struggling at the NFL level now.

“Many [elite athletes playing quarterback] have never been taught how to play the position the way it has to be played against the best athletes in the world. They have always been taught the basics, but then been encouraged when things didn’t look right to “Do what you do.””

I inserted Cam Newton, in place of the examples (RGIII and Colin Kaepernick) Kurt listed to explain his point, to maintain the theme of my article, because I believe everything Kurt writes apply to Cam Newton’s current state. Some might state that the ‘X’ factor in Cam’s decline include the injuries he accumulated over the years, and they played a role, but there was some level of decline before the injuries that sidelined him. We also have to factor Cam’s style of play in the NFL, as the hits a running QB take are largely unsustainable, as evidenced by the short career of RGIII among others.

Somewhere along the way, incredibly gifted athletes, like Cam, RGIII, Kaepernick, Winston, and Mariota needed a coach to teach them how to avoid relying on their athleticism, and it has to happen in the formative years of the Quarterback’s career. Sports analysts suggest that playing quarterback in the NFL might be the hardest position in sports, and it has everything to do with the measurables and the immeasurables.

Kurt’s point is that the idea that an elite athlete’s failure to develop alternatives to their athletic talent is not always the player’s fault. Yet, some of the times it is. We have to think that when “once-in-a-lifetime” talents develop their talent, they also develop quite an ego, and most high school coaches and some college coaches don’t feel qualified enough to tell them what to do. They might try to enhance and adjust the quarterbacks game, but in that difficult adjustment period, the QB had a couple of horrible outings that hurt his stock. Their friends and family then tell them not to listen to the coach, “You do what you do. You be you. Did you see what Michael Vick did to the Vikings? That could be you. The game is changing, and you need to tell your coach that.”    

Like most professional sports, the NFL is comprised of the most talented athletes anyone in their local areas ever saw. Most of us don’t know what that feels like, and we don’t know what we would do or say when a middle-aged coach, who didn’t have one-fifth of our talent, tells us how to play the game. Even fewer of us, the most elite of the elite, would ever know what it’s like to prove that coach wrong, when the NFL drafts us in the first round, or as three of the four listed here, the first or second NFL pick. When these once-in-a-lifetime talents, who were the best athletes anyone ever saw, then run into the extent of their talent, it’s often too late to make any substantial adjustments necessary for a prolonged, successful career in the Not for Long league, we call the NFL. 

A Catch is not a Catch


Other than the fact that I wanted to see a Big 10 team beat an ACC team, I had no rooting interest in the College Football Playoff semifinal game that pitted Clemson against Ohio State University (OSU). In the third quarter of this game, a Clemson receiver caught the ball and made, at least, three full steps before the ball came loose. Numerous replays show the ball didn’t move throughout those steps, and the officials on the field declared that the receiver made the catch, he fumbled, and an OSU defender retrieved the ball and took in the end zone. The replay officials, in the booth, carefully examined this play and determined that the receiver did not make the catch.

Announcers, analysts, all players involved, and fans can argue about what the definition of a catch is, per the rules of the league, but two facts undercut the “it was not a catch” argument in this particular instance. The first argument involves our common sense that the receiver did catch the ball, and I consider it ridiculous to suggest otherwise. I don’t care what the league rules dictate, 99.9% of the population from all genders and just about every age group knows that that was the dictionary definition of a catch, and if there is a rule that suggests otherwise, it should include an asterisk that suggests that officials and replay officials use their common sense when needed. The second, and far more frustrating point, is that the replay officials reviewing this play needed indisputable evidence to overturn the call the officials on the field made that this was a catch, and they obviously thought that they found it. One person in the broadcasting booth suggested it was not a catch, and that the replay officials would overturn the officials on the field, because the receiver did not make a football move. The idea that he made, at least, three steps did not move this broadcaster, because those three steps did not advance the ball up the field. This definition is so ridiculous that it almost requires an obnoxious reply, “What if a receiver catches a ball and for whatever reason remains still for an elongated period of time? If he doesn’t make a football move, how long can he remain in that position before the officials officially declare the pass complete?”

The overturned call in this game, coupled with the irrational rationale behind it, made me so sick that I fast-forwarded through a chunk of the game. Again, I had no rooting interest, and I’ve probably rooted against OSU more than I’ve rooted for them in my life, but I cannot shut out that part of my mind that calls for rational, common sense. As illogical and irrational as fast-forwarding through the game to try to pretend the replay officials didn’t overturn the call was at least as illogical and irrational as the call was. 

I imagined being a top broadcaster who is skilled enough and lucky enough to call such a game. I have to imagine that the promotion and the subsequent uptick in salary would change the way I buy products. I would probably buy some large products without any guilt, and I would loosen the purse strings on my budget as the huge checks rolled in. If a play like this happened in a game I was calling, however, I would probably be so sick and irresponsible that my impulses would drive me to ignore the increase in salary and the luxuries it affords me. I would probably also ignore any concerns I have about the network dismissing me after the game. 

“A call like that disgusts me. My heart goes out to all of those involved at OSU who worked so hard to make this day happen, and my heart goes out to their fans too. This replay official just single-handedly robbed all of you of the chance to play for the national championship. I’m sorry Jed,” I would say to my broadcasting partner, who would probably have to lead the search for a new broadcasting partner the next day, “but you make a call like that, you deserve to be fired. I know officials have a tough job, and they need league rules to protect them and provide some parameters that promote consistency in their calls, but to declare that there’s indisputable evidence that that was not a catch just doesn’t make sense to me on any level.”   

In the post-game analysis, some obnoxious fool dropped the obnoxiously foolish comment that all obnoxiously foolish analysts make when an official blows a call that affects a game (Clemson won 29-23). He wrote that to avoid allowing officials decide a game, OSU should’ve scored more touchdowns. He correctly pointed out that OSU had at least two opportunities in the red zone that resulted in field goals. He failed to mention that if Clemson wins the national championship this year, it will be their third in four years. I mention this, to note that if a team wins a national championship, they have to have a competent defense at the very least. If that team wins three of four, their defense is probably great. OSU made some costly mistakes that affected this game, it’s college football after all, but I have some problems with analysts who say a team should’ve been able to overcome disastrous live calls from on the field officials. I have greater problems with analysts who say that a team should’ve been able to overcome disastrous calls from a replay official who is able to slow the film down and analyze the play for however long it takes them to reach an official conclusion.

Any time a team loses a huge game like this one, as a result of one disastrous call by an official on the field or in the booth, at least one of these ingenious analysts trots out the ingenious insight that if the losing team considered scoring more touchdowns that would’ve resulted in more points, and that would’ve increased the probability that they won the game. The losing team, they add, shouldn’t have put themselves in a position where a bad call could determine the outcome, and these analysts write these articles in a manner that casts blame on the losing team for failing to consider that. As ridiculous as these suggestions sound, their argument is correct and logical, but is it as logical as a statement that suggests that it doesn’t matter how many touchdowns a team scores if there are enough bad calls from officials and replay officials, made against them? 

Let’s Make Football Violent Again


“Make football violent again,” was a hat the safety for the Minnesota Vikings, Andrew Sendejo, wore in an NFL training camp. The instinctive reaction we might have to such a call is that Sendejo is trying to be provocative, for no one who knows anything about violence would condone it in anyway. We might also say that, as a professional football player, Sendejo is setting a poor example for the youth who look up to him. Our society should be moving in the exact opposite direction, others might say, especially when it comes to young men. 

An argument that condones violence in any way will never make its way to a broadcasting booth of any kind, unless it is to condemn it, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit, when it comes to football at least. If the argument did make it on air, in some form, we have to imagine that the broadcasters would say, “I don’t condone violence, but …” to distance themselves from Sendejo’s argument, but there is a but argument that is worthy of some consideration. The but argument focuses on the unpleasant fact that some young men have violent impulses, and they need an outlet, or a ‘somewhat’ controlled and monitored environment, to indulge that primal impulse for violence. Most audiences don’t want to hear anything about that. They prefer a more rational discussion that focuses on ways to make would young men less violent in a way that might help make our world less violent. No rational discussion by a professional in any field would focus on the need for an outlet for violent activity.

The well-intentioned opponents of the game now know that football is too entrenched for them to make any strides with regard to banning football from the high school level on up. Yet, they are making strides at banning tackle football in youth groups, and they are using the banner of ‘player safety’ to lessen the impact of some of the more violent hits in the game from the high school level on up. Proponents of the traditional game know that some measures are required to make the game safer, as athletes become stronger and faster, but as these measures to remove violence from the game progress, proponents warn, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’

We’ve all heard horrific tales of the wide array of what can happen on a football field, and we’re all sympathetic to the players and their families affected by it. Among these stories, are those that involve brain injuries, including concussions and repeated severe concussions that could lead to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). We’ve heard that various forms of CTE have ruined lives. We’ve heard neurologists state that scientific studies of the harm football causes young people is now irrefutable. We’ve had neighbors tell us that these studies scare them so much, they won’t let their children play the game. The NFL has heard all of this too, and they’ve made substantial rule changes to try to lessen the violent impact of the game, in the hopes of influencing college football, and high school football officials to follow suit.

The ‘be careful what you wish for’ crowd has heard all of these arguments too, and they’re sensitive to them. No one wants to see a young life affected to the degree we’ve witnessed in far too many instances, but when esteemed neurologists list sports’ alternatives for concerned parents, proponents suggest that they fail to recognize the need young boys have to hit one another in a violent manner. Those other sports might satisfy the need young people have for competitive athletic activity, team play, and various other character-building exercises that build self-esteem, but they don’t satisfy the primal impulses young men have to commit violent acts on one another.

Those of us, who played an inordinate amount of unnecessarily violent, pickup games of tackle football, know that football was our favorite way to satiate that primal need for violence. We didn’t know anything about these beneficial qualities, and we didn’t know the possible harm we were doing to ourselves when we played these games, but we saw our non-football playing friends go out for the evening just to “crack some skulls.” We thought they were joking, or engaging in some false bravado, but they had all this pent-up rage, and this general sense of animosity and anger that they couldn’t explain. They needed to unleash in an impulsive, irrational manner. They wanted to hurt someone, and they always got hurt in the process, but they wore their bruises and open cuts as symbols of valor. They failed to adequately explain what a rush it was to the rest of us, because they probably couldn’t understand it well enough to explain it. The only thing they knew was that they gained respect from their peers for their violent tendencies, and it did wonders for their self-esteem. They also enjoyed an element of team spirit in some cases. Those fight nights gained them what the rest of us attained playing football.    

“No one is saying that if we ban football or make it less violent, it will automatically lead to more violent young men, but if you think it will make them less violent, be careful what you wish for,” proponents say to parents who will not allow their children to play football. When our grade school banned football on the playground, we played kill the man with the ball. Our school administrators caught on, and they banned that. Soon after that, we played kill the man with the pine cone. If we dilute football to the point of hopscotch, proponents say, boys will find a way to hit each other, tackle each other, or some way to inflict pain on one another, because we cannot legislate the impulsive, primal nature out of boys and young men. Most parents, who raise their children in safe, happy climates cannot understand why they have violent tendencies, and we might not remember why we did, but football proponents suggest that the sport satisfies something in us that no other non-contact sport can.

Even though this impulsive need for an outlet to indulge violent tendencies has existed throughout human history, we have to imagine that B.C. humans didn’t want to discuss it in polite company either. The games the cavemen and the ancient Romans played were more violent, of course, and modern man might think he stands above that which occurred back then, and we might have a more advanced brain than those who sit below us in the animal kingdom, but the primal need for an outlet still exists in some. This conversation is so unpleasant and uncomfortable that the major broadcasts networks will never cover it on one of their pregame broadcasts, and I don’t think we’ll ever hear this as a topic on one of the all too numerous sports radio programs, because it feeds into the portrayal of young men as primal beasts. Yet, we all know this unpleasant side of young men exists, and if we don’t provide them a monitored, somewhat controlled method of channeling their impulses and needs, it might result in other unintended consequences our society doesn’t want to consider.

The Curse of the Bambino, Harry Frazee, and Ed Barrow


Until the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, many Red Sox fans talked about something called The Curse of the Bambino, as if it was a real thing. Cubs fans talk about a billy goat, and various other sports organizations’ fans develop other myths for why the guys on their team can’t defeat the guys on the other team. The Curse of the Bambino might be the one myth that has any merit, however, for at the point of sale the Red Sox won four World Series and the New York Yankees won zero. After the sale, and up until 2004, the Yankees won 26 World Series and the Red Sox won zero. This changing of the tide was engineered by one man, then Red Sox owner Harold Frazee, who then proceeded to sell nearly all of the World Series champion Red Sox team to the Yankees.

How many of us have made a mistake on par with selling Babe Ruth and the rest of a World Series championship team? How many of us have had a bout of insomnia over a silly mistake we’ve made? Have we ever stopped in the midst of obsessing over a mistake we’ve made, until we realize that it happened over three decades ago? Most people don’t. Most people are blessed and cursed with short-term memories. We’ve all made mistakes though. We’ve made errors in judgment based on uninformed choices, and dumb decisions that seemed so right at the time. Most of us are able to move on in life, even after making decisions that proved catastrophic at the time. Most of us have never made a decision, or series of decisions that proved so catastrophic that people will be talking them nearly one hundred years from now, characterizing our choices as some of the worst mistakes in human history. Other than those decisions made by those involved in the Black Sox Scandal, there might only be one person, in baseball, that continues to be mocked, ridiculed, and scorned over one hundred years after he made a series of historically poor decisions, Harry Herbert Frazee.

Ed Barrow, Babe Ruth, and Harry Frazee

Harry Herbert Frazee (June 29, 1880 – June 4, 1929) was an American theatrical agent, producer, and director, and he remained successful in this field until the day he died. He also happened to be a successful boxing promoter who once landed one of heavyweight champion Jack Johnson’s matches. Harry Frazee also bought the 1915 and 1916 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, who won the 1918 World Series for him. One of the players he sold was also on the 1912 World Series championship team. The error in judgment, uninformed choices, and dumb decisions that Frazee made were to sell, and sell/trade almost all of the best players on those teams. Yet, for all of the successes and failures of Harry’s life, many believe his tombstone should read, “Here lies Harry Herbert Frazee, the man who sold Babe Ruth.”

Most writers love to write provocative articles from an angle no one has ever considered before. We enjoy taking a well-known story and providing a non-traditional perspective that opens our readers eyes to “the other side”. The other side, of the story we now call The Curse of the Bambino involves a suggestion that the conditions surrounding Harry Frazee’s sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees were a lot more complicated than most people know. The author of such a provocative article is then obligated to back up his assessment with data that supports his thesis. This thesis becomes more provocative when the author can provide data that most people don’t know.

The Curse of the Bambino suggests that the sale of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the New York Yankees prevented the Red Sox from winning the World Series from the point of sale in 1920 to the publication date of the Dan Shaughnessy book in 1990 (the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004). Some of the authors, who attempted to write the other side of the sale of Babe Ruth and eight other players from the Red Sox to the Yankees, looked at the data from a baseball perspective, others chose a financial lens, and some had slide show presentations that suggest while history will never judge Harry Frazee kindly, the reactions to his sales and trades were evenly divided among fans and sportswriters at the time. Anytime we read an article that suggests a matter is far more complicated than we ever knew, our natural inclination is to weed through their narrative for the simple truths. One simple truth that permeates all of the articles written on this topic is that Harry Frazee made historical mistakes, and those mistakes led to the Yankee dynasty of the 1920’s and the early part of the 1930’s.

Another simple truth that is impossible to ignore is that the Red Sox won three World Series in four years before the sales and sale/trades, and they finished no higher than fifth in the thirteen years following the sales/trades. Other than a blip in 1925, the Yankees finished no lower than third in their league, and they won seven pennants and four World Series championships over the same thirteen-year period, following the trades. Another fact that’s impossible to ignore in all of the data is that among all the players involved, there were three people most responsible for this shift in the balance of power, Babe Ruth of course, Harry Frazee, and former Boston Red Sox manager-turned-New York Yankee business manager (general manager) Ed Barrow. 

Those of us who enjoy reading authors take those simple truths and attempt to provide another perspective on them, enjoyed the article written by Glenn Stout titled Harry Frazee. In this article, Stout writes that The Curse of the Bambino, and the subsequent demonization of Harry Frazee, was largely a myth created by writers to help Boston Red Sox fans explain their team’s disastrous loss to the Mets in the 1986 World Series. The thesis of the The Curse of the Bambino was there was no other way to describe that inexplicable loss. Stout writes that 1986 Red Sox fans were looking for someone to explain the inexplicable to them. They wanted a scapegoat, and they found one in Harry Frazee. His actions, over sixty years prior, allowed them to think there was more going on than some clutch hitting by the Mets, and an error in game six of the series that led to the Red Sox defeat that year. It was, of course, the ghost of Babe Ruth haunting them.

Stout also writes that Harry Frazee was not a greedy owner who wanted money more than a successful franchise. He writes that Frazee was independently wealthy from an early age, and he died that way. He also writes that Frazee was a wealthy and successful man before and after the trades that depleted the Red Sox and built the Yankees eventual dynasty. He writes that when Frazee died, a majority of the fan base, a majority of the sportswriters, and a majority in baseball didn’t hold him singularly responsible for the fall of the Red Sox. He states that while history might make Frazee appear incompetent, the reality of the situation that occurred during the 1920-1923 period was a lot more complicated than most people know.

To illustrate his point, Stout wrote a book with Richard A. Johnson called Red Sox Century, in which they provide a note Harry Frazee wrote to explain that the sale of Babe Ruth was based on Ruth’s contractual demands, and “[Ruth’s] disruptive influence on the team, and the fact that [Ruth] had “jumped the club” at the end of the 1919 season.” In the book, they also provide Frazee’s frustrations with The Bambino:

“While Ruth without question is the greatest hitter that the game has seen,” Frazee wrote in a 1,500-word statement, “he is likewise one of the most inconsiderate men that ever wore a baseball uniform.”

The Red Sox owner said Ruth had “no regard for anyone but himself” and was a “bad influence on other and still younger players on the team.”

He continued: “A team of players working harmoniously together is always to be preferred to that possessing one star who hugs the limelight to himself. And that is what I’m after.”

The sale of Ruth aside for a moment, Glenn Stout attempts to defend the fire sale of the other eight players by writing that the minor leaguers the Red Sox received in those subsequent trades didn’t pan out, as some of them suffered career-ending injuries.

Injuries are a part of the game, of course, and they can make owners and GM’s look bad when they make deals for players who were injured so early in their careers they appear anonymous to history. This attempt to defend Frazee is valid, until one asks the question how many minor league prospects reach their full potential? Whatever the actual answer is, it surely pales in comparison to the prospect of whether or not a player who has already won three World Series might succeed. Stout does not specifically address this particular idea in his defense of Frazee.

Stout also writes, “no one could know that Babe Ruth would become Babe Ruth”. Fair enough, but at the point of sale in 1919, Ruth played six seasons for the Red Sox, and in that brief span, he set the record for home runs in a season twice, and he led the league in eight different batting categories in 1919, the year before Frazee sold him. He was also a dominant pitcher early in his career, before he switched to hitting. 

As one of his peers, Rube Bressler said in his interview for the book The Glory of Their Times “[Ruth] played by instinct, sheer instinct. He wasn’t smart, he didn’t have any education, but he never made a wrong move on a baseball field. He was like a damn animal. He had that instinct. [Animals] know when when it’s going to rain, things like that. Nature, that was Ruth! 

Stout’s point that Frazee couldn’t know Ruth would be one of the top five players of all time is a valid one, as I point out, but it sounds like if he wanted to know the potential The Babe had to be great, all he had to do is ask around. Some of those who provide an alternative view of this story suggest that Frazee saw how undisciplined Ruth was, and how unintelligent he was, and he figured that Ruth’s 1919 season was a peak performance, and he wanted to receive peak value for his services.

Stout, and numerous others, state that the previous owner of the Red Sox was calling in Frazee’s loan, and that Frazee was in a tight spot financially. If Frazee didn’t pay the loan back that year, he might have lost the franchise. Yet, Stout and others assure us Frazee was never personally broke and none of the sales between the Yankees and Red Sox involved Frazee’s attempts to enrich himself personally. If that’s the case, and I appreciate the author’s attempt to dispel this simplistic notion, I cannot understand the deals Frazee made with the Yankees following the Ruth sale. If those latter deals involved Frazee’s continued efforts to save his franchise, one would think he might dip into his considerable personal finances and help the Red Sox over the temporary blip. I prefer to think, as Daniel R. Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt write, that Frazee somehow became addicted to making deals with the cash rich Yankees to help him resolve the Red Sox debts. 

Those of us who know history, cannot put blinders on. No matter how many alternative “time and place” perspectives various writers put before us, we know that Frazee sold Ruth for money, and no matter how much money he received from that sale, it paled in comparison to the money Ruth would’ve generated for Frazee in the coming years. Stout’s argument that, “no one could’ve known that Babe Ruth would’ve become Babe Ruth” is a decent one when we think about how many could’ve been should’ve beens dot baseball history, but Frazee received $100,000 and a loan of $300,000 from the Yankees for the services of Babe Ruth. We can speculate that this wasn’t the initial offer from the Yankees, and we can guess that Frazee and his people drove that initial offer up by detailing for the Yankees Babe Ruth’s current, 1920 market value. We can also guess that they had detailed forecasts on Ruth’s future, market prospects to drive that price up further. We can speculate that in those dark room negotiations, Frazee and his people displayed intimate knowledge of Ruth’s current and future market value to persuade the Yankees to pay more for Ruth than any major league franchise had ever paid for a single player before. One thing we do know is that many around the league considered the Yankees fools for paying that much money for one player.

Harry Frazee probably tried to feed into this with his explanation for selling Ruth, “With this money the Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team in all respects than we would have had if Ruth had remained with us.” Sportswriters and fans believed this at the time, for they probably shared the sentiment that one man does not a team make. With the amount of money the Yankees were paying, many inside baseball thought Frazee got the better end of the deal, but no one knew how addicted Frazee would become to using the Yankees’ money to escape debt, no one, it seems, except Ed Barrow.

***

Ed Barrow

Authors Daniel R. Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt introduced this name Ed Barrow to us in an article titled Harry Frazee and the Boston Red Sox. Ed Barrow, they state, played a prominent role, perhaps the most prominent role, in the sales/trades the Red Sox made to the Yankees following the sale of Babe Ruth.

“[Glenn] Stout and [Richard A.] Johnson claim that Frazee made sound baseball deals with the Yankees and that he could not have foreseen what the trades would do for either club,” Daniel R. Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt write. “This argument does not hold up. Ed Barrow, manager of the Red Sox from 1918 through 1920, left the Red Sox and became general manager of the Yankees. Barrow knew the Red Sox players as well as anyone, and he spent the next few years grabbing all of the good players, like future Hall of Fame pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock, catcher Wally Schang, shortstop Everett Scott, third baseman Joe Dugan, and pitchers Joe Bush and Sam Jones, among others. In fact[,] Barrow liked his former players enough that he got the Yankee owners to give Frazee $305,000, convincing evidence that both teams agreed that the talent was imbalanced. To argue that Frazee made good deals is to suggest both that Barrow and the Yankees somehow lucked into their dynasty and that the money was not the central piece of the deal for Frazee.”

In my opinion, the answer to the many questions we have regarding why Frazee sold so many players to the Yankees revolves around the question why did Ed Barrow quit his job as Red Sox manager to become the business manager (general manager) of the Yankees? The answer to those questions involves the insider information Barrow had about Harry Frazee, the debt the Red Sox were experiencing in those years, and how Frazee planned to resolve that debt.  

Before Ed Barrow left the Red Sox in 1921, we can assume that for most of his three year tenure, he was so satisfied to be the Red Sox manager, that if it were up to him he would retire from baseball as their manager. He led the Red Sox to the 1918 World Series championship after all. When Frazee sold The Babe, it probably came as a shock to Barrow, but we can guess that Frazee sat him down and explained to his manager why the sale was necessary. When Frazee sold four more players, we can guess that Barrow required a more detailed explanation, as Frazee opened the books for him to show the manager the debt Frazee incurred as owner of the Red Sox. This moment, right here, resulted in the changing of the tide in baseball more than anything else. Regardless what the books said, Barrow probably realized that his owner’s primary concern was making himself and the Red Sox financially profitable. Those who say that Frazee was already rich, and that he didn’t make these deals to enrich himself are probably spot on, but Frazee obviously fancied himself a wheel and dealer who could build a winner, as opposed to inheriting one. 

Ed Barrow also knew, as many did at the time, that due to the “Black Sox Scandal” and Frazee’s disputes with American League Bam Johnson and the other teams in the American League loyal to Bam, Harry Frazee was limited to dealing exclusively with the Yankees. (Note: There is a consensus among the writers of the various articles I read on this particular topic that these circumstances forced Frazee to deal exclusively with the Yankees for the reasons listed here. The idea that Frazee and the Red Sox could have dealt with a team in the National League is not mentioned in any article I’ve found, and there is no reason listed for why this wasn’t a possibility for them.) Whatever the case was with Frazee, we can also presume that in his meetings with with the man, Barrow saw the writing on the wall for the Red Sox franchise, and his owner’s willingness to sell his team down the river for large sums of cash.

As anyone who has experienced debt knows, if we find one way to resolve some of our debt, we are prone to follow that path wherever it leads to become debt-free. Barrow may have experienced some disgust when Frazee began selling his 1918 World Series Champions, but he was probably one of the few who knew the situation so well that when the previous Yankees general manager died in 1920, Barrow probably raced down to the Yankees front office to pitch them on how he, if hired him as their next general manager, could persuade Frazee to sell more players to the Yankees and help them build a dynasty.

At the point when Barrow decided to join the Yankees, the Red Sox won four World Series, and the Yankees won zero.

As the new business manager for the Yankees, Ed Sparrow helped the owners of the Yankees engineer four subsequent trades with Frazee and the Red Sox that involved 12 players and $305,000 “to help Frazee recover from his debt”. As the Levitts’ and Armour article suggests, the idea that Barrow convinced the Yankees to add $305,000 to the deal provides compelling evidence that both teams knew the Red Sox were getting the raw end of the deal. If we are to believe the writers who write from another perspective, it’s simplistic to say that Frazee made these maneuvers for the money, and “the reality of the situation was a lot more complicated than most people know”. If he didn’t need the money, as they write, and it was his goal in life to continue to own a profitable, winning major league baseball franchise, then he was either an incredibly poor business man, or someone who did not know baseball very well. Whatever the case was, Barrow knew who he was dealing with, and he knew how to convince Frazee to sell/trade twelve more players to the Yankees.  

When Barrow’s new team, the New York Yankees, won their first World Series two years later, in 1923, four of the eight starting position players were from the Red Sox, and four of the five starting pitchers on that championship roster were former Red Sox players. The Red Sox finished last in the American League that year, and “their skeletal remains would be the doormat of the league for many years”. With this team of former Red Sox players, Barrow would oversee the Yankees winning six more pennants, and three more World Series. During his tenure as general manager, the Yankees would win a total of fourteen pennants and ten World Series. This level of success, initiated by Barrow’s maneuvers with Frazee, would lead many to call Barrow an “empire-builder for the first quarter-century of the Yankees’ dynasty.” These sales/trades also landed Ed Barrow in the baseball hall of fame and Yankee Stadium placed a plaque of him in center field.

As Harry Hooper, the center fielder for the ‘15,’16, and ’18 World Series champion Red Sox, states in his interview for the book The Glory of Their Times, “The Yankee dynasty of the twenties was three-quarters the Red Sox [dynasty lineup] of a few years before. All Frazee wanted was money. He was short of cash and he sold the whole team down the river to keep his dirty nose above water. What a way to end a wonderful ball club.

“Sick to my stomach at the whole business,” Hooper followed Ruth’s hold out with a hold out of his own just to get out of Boston before it all came crumbing down, and Frazee sold Hooper to the Chicago White Sox.

It would be devastating to any franchise, of any sport, to sell one of the top players of his era, who would become one of the top five greatest players to ever play the game. Yet, even selling a once-in-a-generation talent like Babe Ruth is not enough to sink a franchise for eighty-four years, in a manner suggested in The Curse of the Bambino. It’s even difficult to believe that Ed Barrow taking advantage of Frazee to the point of selling/trading twelve other players over the course of three years can curse a franchise for that long, but as we all know winning breeds winning. In the course of those eighty-four years (1918-2004), the Red Sox did have some high quality, competitive teams. Various Red Sox teams won division titles, pennants, and they competed for the World Series in 1946, ’67, ’75 and ’86 only to fall short. The Yankees, of course, would win 26 World Series championships in the same time-frame, and they would appear in 39 World Series. Many of those Red Sox teams were unlucky, but unlucky is difficult to grasp when it occurs over the space of eighty-four years and the score with their cross town rivals was 26-0 when it came to World Series championships. Some people need an explanation, any explanation, to explain how some bizarre plays and unlucky events lead to a championship drought, and the 45% of the population who believe in ghosts thought they found the reason in Babe Ruth, Harry Frazee, and The Curse of the Bambino. Now that it’s over, and Boston Red Sox soaked the curse for all that it was, what do Red Sox fans talk about now that Boston has won the World Series four times including 2004?

So, you want to be a Kindergarten, Flag Football Coach


We should applaud anyone who volunteers to coach kindergarten football. It’s not easy, it’s a learn-as-you-go job, but it is rewarding and fun. In their own intangible ways, these kids appreciate what you’re doing for them. Most of them want to play football, and in some ways, they’re receptive to what we’re saying, because they want to learn the game beyond what they see on TV.

In my year-and-a-half of teaching kindergarten kids the game of football, I developed a few rules, based upon trial and error. Two quick notes before we continue: These are tidbits and observations, nothing more and nothing less. I will also use the term “tackle” to describe the act of pulling a flag, as this discussion focuses on flag football.  

  • Be a Coach with a Plan. Enter your season with a plan. Develop a few bullet points, or talking points, that you want your team to know by season’s end. These bullet points should focus on teaching the kids some of the fundamentals of playing football. Walk into your first meeting with the team thinking that if you can teach them a couple of things that will stick, your season will be a success. Accomplishing this, of course, requires repetition. My advice to the new coaches is to watch some YouTube videos on “coaching kindergarten flag football”. Some of these videos provide some very helpful drills a coach can run in practice, and they offer some simple plays to run. Some of these plays involve simple fakes, reverses, and some simple passes. This leads us to rule#2:
  • Keep it simple. If this is your first season with a fresh group of youngsters, you’ll witness more organized teams pull better fakes and more complicated plays. I don’t know if they practice more often, or if they stick together for years, but in my experience, it’s best to keep all plays as simple as possible. Again, the best thing you can do, as a kindergarten coach, is teach them the basics of the game.
  • We’re talking about practice. Some leagues require one mid-week practice. Anyone who has worked with kindergartners knows that coaches need to make their practices simple, active, and participatory. If you are a born leader with a commanding presence, and your team is largely comprised of good kids, they might behave 51% of the time, but those who enter into this with the idea that they can manage adults, and they have a well-behaved child, might be in for a shock when they try to corral 10-to-12 other peoples’ kids at the same time. They’re not bad kids, but they are kids, kindergarten aged kids. My advice is to try to diminish the chaos is try to develop drills and activities that don’t let the kids stand around idle. If there is some idle time for some of them, you might want to develop an activity until their turn arrives. (Some examples are jumping jacks and other forms of running in place. Whatever we do, we want to keep them moving.) If you’re lucky, another parent will volunteer to assist you. If that’s the case, divide the team into offense and defense for drills, then allow them to scrimmage. Drills are important, but they do create a line of kids with nothing to do until it’s their turn. Kids will also run around and pull each others’ flags off. A rule we incorporate is, if you pull someone’s flag, while playing around, you have to put it back on. 
  • No Juking. When game time rolls around, one of the most important rules we try to teach the kids is, “When you have the ball, don’t try to juke, shimmy, or shake your opponent.” Most kids want to flash the dreams they have of becoming an NFL running back, but at this level we need to teach them that the key to scoring more touchdowns is to run straightforward as much as possible. “How difficult it is for you to pull flags when someone is running past you?” we ask them. “You have one, quick chance right? The toughest flags to pull are those on someone who is running as fast as they can. When you run your fastest, it’s just as tough for the other team to tackle you.”
  • Two hands. Two eyes. “When you catch the ball, use two hands and two eyes. Look the ball in.” We institute this rule to try to prevent them from running before they catch the ball. (Once they secure the catch, we can tell them to run, but this happens so infrequently that we should be able to get away with only preaching those first two steps for at least half the season. 
  • On defense, we teach the principle of “side integrity”. It might sound like a complex concept for kindergartners, but that might be why they like it. Our advice to our outside defenders (linebackers or corners), “Don’t let the ball carrier run outside of you, because if they get past you, it’s probably a touchdown.” We line our outside defenders outside the furthest player on the other team, and we stress that they not let the runner outside of them, even if they don’t make the tackle. 4b) “When the other team tries to block you inside, watch the ball, and the minute it moves outside your blocker, use a spin move on the blocker to get outside of them. (Some of the kids love the idea of a spin move, as we can tell them NFL players use it to get past blockers. It also seems tricky and an advanced concept to the kids, and some of them use it quite well. They are also quite proud when they do it well, regardless if they make the tackle.) “Even if you don’t make the tackle,” we tell them, “you need to push the runner inside to the rest of your teammates.”
  • Safety. We established the position of Safety as the most important position on the defense. As a result, every kid on our team wanted to play Safety. (It might also have something to do with the idea that kids don’t like being blocked.) Based on the idea that this became the most prized position on defense, we developed a rule, whoever made the last “tackle” on the last play becomes the safety on the next play. Everyone wanted to be safety, so they strove to make the tackle. (This also ended the “Can I play safety?” yells that occurred after every play.)     
  • Back at Practice. When you’re done with the repetitious drills, in practice, let the kids have some flag football fueled fun. We call one of these games Sharks and Minnows. The shark(s) (two if you have over seven participants and one if you have less) start in the middle, and they try to pull the flags of all of the other players (the minnows). When a shark “tackles” a minnow that minnow then becomes a shark, and they join the shark(s) in trying to tackle the other minnows remaining, until there is only one minnow left. Other than teaching them how to pull flags, the game also teaches them the concept of boundaries, as we set up four-to-six cones to mark out of bounds.
  • First game. Your first game will probably be a disaster, if you’re a new coach starting out with a bunch of newbies. It’s important that we do two things here. First, during the game, we need to compliment the players for every good play they make on the spot. A casual high five with a “there you go Joey!” will do wonders to lift that morale and self-esteem. When the game is over, remain enthusiastic, regardless of the outcome. You will learn some things about your team, and the game itself, after your first game, and you will need to make some necessary adjustments, but try to stick to the tenets of your game plan. At this level, if you’re in it to win it, you’re probably in it for the wrong reason.
  • Plays. In this, my first season, I flirted with dropping the whole notion of plays, as they only invite more questions and different levels of chaos, but just handing the ball off on every play doesn’t teach kids the fundamentals of the game very well. On the subject of plays, I don’t think it will shock the potential volunteer to learn that if you plan to have a playbook, the goal should be to as simple as possible. I thought adding a simple reverse would fall under this heading, until I witnessed one in real time. (Picture a herd of wet cats attempting to run to the source and away from it at the same time.) I also added a pass play, in which the receiver runs a simple curl route. I thought this was a simple enough play, until I saw it play out live. (If the coach is lucky, they’ll have one player who can throw and one player who can catch. It’s the coach’s job to determine who can do this with some modicum of success.) The goal here is not necessarily to achieve a good play, a touchdown, or a win. We just want to put every player in a position to succeed, and if a player doesn’t throw or catch well, they might become demoralized. The coach should also prepare for the idea that most players won’t know what they’re supposed to do on any given play, so you’ll have to provide individual instructions to each player before the snap, and you’ll have to tell them where to stand. Again, the coach will have to accomplish this while trying to keep the referee happy by getting your players to the line and pulling off a play in time.
  • Repetition. The kindergarten coach should prepare to repeat their very specific instructions throughout the season, and answer all questions that follow. The most popular question a coach will have to answer in each huddle is, “When do I get to I score a touchdown?” My pat response is, “That team over there is not going to let you score a touchdown. You have to go get it, when it’s your turn.” The reason we must continually express the idea of turns is that once they score a touchdown, they want to do it on every play, and as many times as we express the idea, most kindergarten-age children don’t fully comprehend the idea of taking turns, or if they do, they don’t prefer it.
  • One voice in the huddle. “Coach! Coach! Coach!” is something every kindergarten, flag football coach will hear in a huddle, on just about every play. When the coach responds, they are likely to hear classic gems like, “I have a new shirt,” “I felt a raindrop,” or “I have a loose (or new) tooth.” Then there are the most common questions that follow every play, “When do I get the ball?” and “When do I get to score a touchdown?” The other comments I’ve heard are, “I don’t have a mouthpiece,” and “how come you’re not wearing sunglasses today?” Some of the kindergarten children repeat the shouts of “coach!” so often, while you’re attempting to tell the players involved in the next play how to run it that by the time we get to their question/comment, they forget what they wanted to ask/say. Once we complete that exercise, and get the kids to the line of scrimmage, ready to run the play in the time allotted by the referee, be prepared for them to forget everything you just said. Even when we keep it as simple as possible, by telling them to hand the ball off and run left, they often run right about 50% of the time. (Hint: point the direction of the play out to them. It’s okay to remind them at the line which way they should go, because chances are most of the kindergartners on the other side of the ball aren’t listening to you either.)  
  • “We can only have one voice in the huddle,” is something we say in the huddle. Some comply, but most forget these instructions when the next play rolls around. I’ve instructed them to keep all comments and questions related to football, but they’re kindergartners. One important note to add here is the patience and understanding a flag football coach must employ. Remind yourself, throughout the game, that they’re kindergarten kids. Most of them have the retention levels of a goldfish, and they can’t remember what we said five seconds ago.
  • Injuries. Anytime kids are involved in a game that involves running, they will inevitably run into one another. Most volunteer coaches have no experience in such matters. The simplest thing to do is address each injury on the spot. Depending on the severity of the injury, of course, our goal should be to diffuse the minor injuries that occur in a game. Ask the injured player if they are okay, where they are hurt, and what happened. Most kids need nothing more than a couple plays off, and a drink of water, and they are okay. We might also need to address the fact that the other kid didn’t injure them on purpose. It was just a part of the game. 
  • Displays of Anger. The coach will also have to deal with the emotional aftermath of a child having their flag pulled. To us, this is part of the play. Person A runs down the field, person B pulls their flag, and the play is over. To the kindergarten mind, this is a humiliating condemnation of their athletic ability. They might regard it as an unfair part of the game, or the coach’s fault. At times, they will express their anger. When we experienced such a display, we simply moved on and let his parents handle the matter. As a voice of authority, on the field, the inclination might be to correct that child’s behavior in some way, but we have to remember that these are other people’s kids. It might embarrass us to have one of our team members act this way, but we have to respect our boundary while trying to keep control of the individual players. The best advice I provide the disappointed kids who don’t succeed on a play is to have a short-term memory. “Try your hardest on every play, but if you don’t succeed, employ a ‘next play’ mentality.” Also, if they gained any yards, focus them on that. This mindset requires repetition. I developed this short-term mindset after years of playing recreational sports. It worked well for me, but it’s often too complex for the disappointed, kindergarten mind to comprehend.
  • Winning and Losing. We all have egos. All coaches want their game plan to work, and we want our coaching techniques to result in wins. A season and a half of kindergarten coaching have taught me to control what I can control. Let the players worry about winning and losing. We should also make sure we take turns giving the ball to each kid. Not only is that what they signed up for, but it maintains their focus. I try to compliment each player on their strength and ignore any weaknesses they might have. This keeps them happy, focused and interested. The most important ingredient is to try to keep it fun for the kids. Structure is vital, of course, but we need to institute a balance of fun and structure. 
  • Dealing with Kids. After dealing with these kids one hour a day, for six weeks, I now have profound respect for anyone who chooses a career that requires them to deal with kindergarten age children full-time. If, at one time, I considered my son’s teachers unreasonably strict, by instituting a level of structure to try to establish some level of order, I now empathize. “Could you take care of Johnny today? I can’t deal with Johnny today,” I heard one kindergarten teacher say to their assistant. I was shocked at the time, because I thought it meant the kindergarten teacher couldn’t control her class. I now have a couple of Johnnies that I only deal with for one hour a week, and if I could have one on-field assistant answer the questions, and tend to, just one of my Johnnies, I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece to voice my frustrations.

Hot Dog Gets Ketchup


The most exciting play of the 10/2/2016, fourth week of the NFL, for me, was a legal hit by Atlanta Falcons Linebacker Deion Jones on Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton, as Newton jogged to the end zone for a two-point conversion. The jog, for those not familiar with Cam Newton’s show-boating style of play, is a deliberate pace Newton will use to make the defense look even worse for their inability to stop him, than they may have looked had he completed the play at full speed. Jones’ hit was not only an attempt to punish Newton for a slow jog, that was intended to humiliate the Falcons defense, it was revenge for a previous play in which Newton got in Jones’ fan to celebrate a first down, a play in which Newton was flagged for excessive celebration. Deion Jones’ hit not only wobbled Jones, it sent Newton to the locker room with a concussion.

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Although I’m not for players getting injured, I am all for “on the field” justice. As it stands right now, the NFL permits an offensive player a number of different celebrations, and the defensive player is not permitted to retaliate for the offensive player celebrating. The player from the offense is permitted to walk off the field of play without any form of retribution for that celebration. I realize that the NFL attempted to make all celebrations illegal, years ago, and that that attempt resulted in a public relations nightmare that led to fans and writers calling it the “No Fun League”, but if the NFL is going to allow “some” celebrations and some showboating, within strict guidelines, they should permit “some” retributions for those celebrations, within strict guidelines. If I were to write this “retributions” rule, it would follow some of the other rules the NFL has instituted for other plays. It would permit “one player from the defense one shot against a celebrant that is below the head and above the knees, and it has to occur in the midst of the offensive players’ theatrics, or in an acceptable time thereafter.” This addendum to the celebrations rule, would allow professional football players to clean up their own in a manner similar to the manner baseball players and hockey players are allowed to clean up their game.

Cam Newton may be an excellent teammate, and an all-around good guy off the field, but I, like most football fans, only care about his on the field activities. On the field, a Cam Newton is emblematic of the “me-first” athletes that are not afraid to humiliate their opponents, because there is no real retribution for doing so. Part of Cam’s alleged charm that he is willing to mock other players, and walk away with the knowledge that those players can’t do anything to him.

“If you don’t want me to celebrate, don’t let me score,” Cam Newton said to those that have suggested that his celebrations were over the top. I would have less of a complaint if football were more of a mano y mano game, in the manner say boxing, tennis, or golf are. Cam’s line of defense suggests that the defense is trying to stop him, and him alone, and that they cannot do it. Yet, Newton has an offensive line keeping the defense away from him, and a number of different threats on the field that the defense has to consider before attacking Cam Newton. If the NFL were to allow “some” retribution, and perhaps allow Cam Newton to retaliate against the retaliation, that would result in a limited hockey-like scrum that the officials would allow for a period of time before it got out of hand, and league rules would prohibit anyone but the celebrant and the defensive player from participating in this scrum, Cam Newton could say something along the lines of: “You’re allowed to retaliate, I challenge you to retaliate.” As it stands, Cam Newton is protected from most hits by players, and rules, and he is allowed to celebrate in a manner that the defensive players are forced to walk away from, until it builds such resentment in the defensive player that a legal hit, such as the 10/2/2016 Deion Jones hit, is a lot more volatile than it would have been otherwise.

The Other Side of Talent


“He has a talent,” one person said of another. “I don’t know what it is,” she furthered, “but he has a real knack for taking photos.” The subject of that compliment beamed in the afterglow. The compliment was vague, but she used the ‘T’ word, and very few can avoid the gush that follows having a ‘T’ word thrown at them.

It was a nice photo (not the one pictured here), but the ‘T’ word? The compliment suggested that this photo was but one of a long line of photos that you had to see to believe, but it was still just a photo.

Most of us reserve our use of the ‘T’ word for athletic and artistic accomplishments, but we know that many use it in broad terms. We know, for example, that an engineer can display a wide array of talents for his craft that others may not have, but we often say that that person is good at what he does, a master craftsman, or expertly skilled, but the use of the word talent is not often used in conjunction with most skills.

Some could say that a grown man’s ability to outdo his young peers in a game of hopscotch is a display of talent, but most fellow adults watching this man hop from square to square would suggest that he should consider finding a more constructive use of his abilities, if he wants others to consider him a talent.

Merriam-Webster defines talent as “a special ability that allows someone to do something well.”

Philosopher Ayn Rand steadfastly refused to recognize photography as art, but she did concede that it requires a skill, a technical skill, as opposed to a creative one.

We all know that definitions, such as these, can be broad, but most of us have personal definitions that fall on stricter lines. If the definition of talent is as broad as Merriam-Webster described, and photography requires some technical skill, then we should concede that taking a quality photograph does require some talent. One could also say that a talented photographer uses discretion and selectivity when he selects his shot, but could this ability to capture a moment be more of a right place, right time decision making process that this man has over even the broadest definition of talent?

If one takes a thousand photographs, for example, and only one of them is of an exceptional quality, is that a display of the photographer’s skill? Yes it is, in a broad sense of the term. If that’s the case, we could that if a man takes a thousand free throws, and he makes one, he has a talent for shooting free throws, if that one free throw is so perfect that it barely touches the net.

If a photographer purchases a top of the line camera, and he uses the best photo-enhancing software available to produce evidence of his prowess, and he lays that photo down on a table next to the photo another taken with a disposable Walmart camera, and no enhancements are permitted, does his superior photo reveal God-given talent on his part, or does it contribute to the lie that a skilled, talented photographer is artistic in any manner?

The Truly Talented

We’ve all witnessed the effect truly talented people can have on a room, and this effect often makes us a little sick. “He’s just a human being for God’s sakes!” is one of the snarky, coping mechanisms we’ve developed for dealing with “the gush” to adore the talented.

The adoration of talent varies with the skill required to accomplish the feat, of course, but if you’ve ever met truly gifted people, you know that most of them are not interested in being better today than they were yesterday. Most of them enjoy the potential they have to be better than they do the work involved in becoming better. “We’re talking about practice!”

Those that become obsessed with being better, and enjoy the benefits the rigors of practice can produce, often end up having their names etched into something by the time they’re finished. For these people, their talent is but a starting point and a gift that they end up honing to perfection, but even for these people talent can be a curse and a burden, and it can lead to acceptance, love, worship, and being scrutinized, ostracized, hated, and ridiculed. The idea of their talent, i.e. their potential, can also haunt them when they encounter its limitations.

An edition of 30 for 30 called Of Miracles and Men portrayed the other side of talent. It depicted the other side of the Miracle on Ice story that we all know of a ragtag group of American amateurs defeating the most talented Russian hockey team ever assembled. Some would argue that this Russian team might have been the greatest assemblage of hockey players ever to tie skates on their feet. This team had already won four Olympic gold medals in hockey, by the time they took to the ice against this American team, and some of them would go onto win a fifth after the 1980 defeat. To hear this group of talented men speak of their careers, the 1980 loss to a group of American amateurs, in a medal round, sits in their system like a kidney stone that will never pass. This Russian team beat an assemblage of Canada’s best that included probably the greatest hockey player that ever lived Wayne Gretzky. They also beat the 1980 American team in a match that preceded the 1980 medal round upset, and those two matches were not even close. This team was so dominant that they could not be beat, until they were.

Some would think that such an historic upset might serve to highlight the Russian team’s greatness, if one could say that one defeat in the midst of a record of total annihilation is a blip in the overall dominance this team displayed over the hockey world for two decades. Listening to these men speak, however, the listener gets a taste for the other side of talent when the only story anyone wants to hear from them involves the one time they didn’t succeed, and how that has haunted them since.

The point one could take from this 30 for 30 episode is that these men spent an excruciating amount of hours of their young lives in cold, dank gyms honing their God-given gifts, trying to improve on the smallest details of the game, only to fall to a bunch of ragtag Americans that may not have spent one-fifths the amount of time honing their gifts. Even with five gold medals (including the 1984 Olympics), the only thing we want to talk to them about is that one match they failed to win thirty-five years ago.

If you’re acknowledged as the most talented person anyone you know has ever met, and the only thing anyone wants to discuss is the one time you failed, why would you want to raise their expectations? Why would you want to endure the marathon practice sessions that focused on the minutiae your coach informed was going to be vital when you encountered the wall of your God-given abilities? Why would you want to invest more of your life becoming better at something other people hate you for being so good at? We’re talking about desire here.

We’re talking about the desire to be better today, than you were yesterday. “We’re talking about practice!” We’re talking about preparing for that day, that every talented person experiences, when they meet their personal wall.

The wall, for those that have never read about it, involves going up against other people that were the most talented people anyone they know had ever met. It involves seeing what the gifted person is made of when they encounter the another person loaded with so much talent that talent is afterthought.

To read the former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner’s examination of the natural talents that fail to succeed on the NFL level, it’s about having a coach, or mentor, early on that recognizes the person’s talent level, and challenges them in a brutal, heartless manner, to reach within themselves to find various other methods of succeeding beyond the talent level they’ve always known. This heartless mentor also helps the talented person in question determine if they have the desire to succeed on a level they may not have even considered to that point.

The Less Than Talented

“My talent has always been, and will always be, and it should be written with a capital ‘P’!” –Your potential

What if your talent has never taken you the places you thought it would, but you’ve always known you had the potential you had to succeed. What if your talent lays somewhere between being as talented as anyone that you’ve ever met, and perhaps more, but that untapped potential to be more has always remained at a frustrating distance?

We spoke of ‘the wall’ that every recognized talent experiences, but there is another wall that can be more formidable: the wall of self-imposed expectations. The talented might encounter this wall in moments considered inconsequential to other participants, and observers, but to the person that has lived with the idea that they’ve always had the potential to succeed it is but another example of their ineptitude. Most of them do not know that this is the source of their frustration, or if they do, they won’t acknowledge it.

As the Kurt Warner story informs us, the primary difference between those that will succeed and those that won’t occurs soon after an example of they experience ineptitude. Moments of adversity can be large and small, but they all reveal whom we are, and who we are going to be.

A young Kurt Warner may have dealt with moments of adversity throughout his largely undocumented young life, but we can guess that none of them would compare to the adversity that the adult Kurt Warner would experience in his adult life. The most talented person in his area received so few scholarship offers that he ended up playing quarterback for the University of Northern Iowa. The NFL draft did not draft him, following that college career, and the only team that gave him a try-out, cut him before the season even started. He ended up stocking shelves for a supermarket chain. He then played quarterback in the Arena Football League, and he had a stint in NFL Europe before an injury to a starter allowed him to lead a NFL team to a Super Bowl victory. He was MVP of that Super Bowl and MVP for the season. That Super Bowl team cut him a couple seasons later, and he went onto play for another NFL team for a couple of unproductive seasons, and he ended up with a team that he, again, guided to the Super Bowl. After Kurt Warner’s career was concluded, he was considered to be the best undrafted free agent to ever play the game.

Kurt Warner’s story is one of not living up to his self-imposed expectations. It’s a story of what he did after failing to succeed on many levels. It’s a story that should be held out as an example to talented people, but for most of those that are more talented than anyone they’ve ever met, talent and work have always been a zero-sum game: The more talent one has, the less work they think they should have to do.

Warner states that most coaches and mentors coach to the talent, and they let the talent do what they do well in a manner that the coach hopes will reflect the coach’s ability to harness talent. They coach for the next game. They coach to keep the talent happy.

If we’re talking about practice, however, one of a coach’s duties should be to put talented people in uncomfortable positions to reveal to them what they must do when talent alone may not be enough get them out of scrapes.

It also allows those talented people –that have always used their talent as a picket sign to avoid the rigors of practice– to learn how to finesse the minutiae of their abilities and hone their desire.

As anyone that has displayed an ability to do anything knows, there is always a ceiling, and when one hits their head on that ceiling it can be quite humiliating. Some of the times, it’s more rewarding to hide in a cloud of potential. Those of us considered lesser-thans don’t understand what it must feel like to have so many consider us a true talent, and we never will, and that can provide the talented a comfortable space between the reality of their talent and the potential we believe they might have.

If you’ve ever witnessed a display of YouTube-worthy temper tantrum in a bowling alley, on a miniature golf course, or at a softball field, and you’ve wondered why a person would attempt to gouge their own eye out for missing a two-foot putt, I can tell you –as a former wild temper tantrum thrower– that there’s something more to it than the fact that the ball won’t go where we want it to go. We thought we spotted something at a very young age, we thought we were going to be a somebody, a contender, and the obnoxious five-pin that will not fall no matter what we do is not just a configuration of rock maple wood to us, it is the eye of fate staring at us, mocking us for what we’ve become.

These eye-catching temper tantrums are borne of an inability to deal with even the most inconsequential moments of adversity, because we never had a heartless mentor in our lives that cared enough not to care that we were tired, that our feelings were hurt by something they said, or that we wanted to quit the game because “it’s just not fun anymore”. One could read this post, and think it’s all about sports, until they witness a guy that has no capacity for dealing with the obnoxious five-pins of life, and in the moment that captures his frustration in life for all to see, he does something to the ball return that causes parents to shield their kids’ eyes. For an overwhelming majority of those that would have their names etched into something by the time their career is over, their mentors would spend countless hours teaching them how to deal with such adversity, how to overcome walls –self-imposed and otherwise– and how to become successful people, and yes, talented photographers, I guess.