‘Blame the ref’ mantra is an absurd cop out in wake of Rios-Chaves fight

Brandon Rios, left, and Diego Chaves fought to a controversial finish last weekend in Las Vegas.

Brandon Rios, left, and Diego Chaves fought to a controversial finish last weekend in Las Vegas.

So I tuned into HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” last Saturday and, to my delight, found an entertaining main event featuring welterweights Diego Chaves and Brandon Rios at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.

Chaves is an Argentine knockout artist who was looking to make a splash on U.S. soil and could do so with a win over Rios, a former world champion who was looking to get his career back on track after consecutive losses threatened to derail it.

For the first few rounds, it looked like a classic in the making. The fighters stood toe-to-toe throwing haymakers at each other as the crowd gasped and anticipated more action.

Chaves appeared to land the more telling blows, but Rios was landing with a little better efficiency and appeared to have the edge in ring generalship.

What already was a difficult fight to score became tougher when, in Round 3, referee Vic Drakulich, who has dozens of word-title bouts to his credit, penalized Chaves a point for excessive holding.

The penalty seemed quick, as there hadn’t been any warnings, at least none seen by viewers. In what rated to be a close fight, you’d hate to see the outcome decided by a questionable deduction.

But at least the fouls evened out when Drakulich penalized Rios a point in Round 5 for instigating a takedown of Chaves. At this juncture, the penalties were even, so the scoring would not have been affected because of fouls had it gone the distance.

Moreover, Chaves was getting the best of it. My arm-chair prediction was that Chaves was headed toward a potential knockout victory, as his heavy-handed assault was hitting its mark more often than not and I wondered whether Rios could withstand the onslaught.

But the fight grew uglier, the clinches more difficult to break, and Drakulich clearly was getting frustrated. At one point he told the fighters he was growing tired of their antics, and he wouldn’t be afraid to call off the fight on a disqualification if they didn’t clean up their acts.

In Round 9, he kept his word. The ugly round started with Chaves initiating a takedown, in which both fighters tumbled to the mat. After another aggressive clinch that Drakulich struggled to break, he pulled the fighters apart and declared the fight over by disqualification.

At first, I was unsure who was awarded the victory and why. But it was clear Rios was pretty upset as he emerged from the clinch, pointing at his right eye, screaming and calling a Chaves a “motherf—er” repeatedly, almost igniting another brawl.

Chaves was disqualified for dirty tactics, and Rios was awarded the win. Like most HBO viewers and boxing fans, I was disappointed that the fight couldn’t reach a more organic conclusion. I felt bad for Chaves (23-2-1, 19 KOs), who appeared to be just a couple rounds away from a victory.

But I also respected Drakulich, who has officiated fights for 25 years and has numerous accolades on his resume, for having the nerve to follow his convictions, make good on his ultimatum and govern the fight as he saw fit.

Even so, I wondered if the crime merited the punishment. Rios (32-2-1, 23 KOs) complained immediately afterward in the post-fight interview with HBO that Chaves was deliberately eye-gouging Rios with the open thumb of his glove whenever possible, and that this foul was what prompted the stoppage.

Sure enough, if you see a replay of the final clinch, you’ll see Chaves has Rios in a headlock and, with the head-locking hand, appears to be trying to stick his thumb in his opponent’s eye.

What’s more, I’ve since seen multiple snippets of the fight and concluded it was, in fact, a much dirtier brawl then I first realized while watching it live.

Even so, it was a disappointing ending to what could have been a classic bout with a potential rematch, regardless of who emerged victorious.

But upset fight fans and observers directed their ire at just one target — Drakulich, the referee. I guess this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but the old “blame the ref” cop out was both unwarranted and preposterous in this case.

That Drakulich got abused by the knuckleheads on social media didn’t catch me off-guard. What did surprise me was how many mainstream media members were right there pointing the finger with them.

I found it ironic and mystifying that many of the detractors suggested Drakulich “didn’t have control.” Um … let’s see … he took three point deductions, repeatedly admonished both fighters, and stopped the fight on a DQ.

If anything, you could argue he exerted too much control.

Moreover, if you are going to criticize, then you need an answer, as far as I am concerned. Drakulich was in the wrong? Then, what would have been the correct solution?

I was open to hearing arguments, but the blood-thirsty mob wanted nothing when it came to rational conversations.

Perhaps the worst sentiment I saw came from ESPN boxing writer Brian Campbell, who tweeted the following:

campbell-box

This sentiment is fundamentally flawed on many levels. Again, a generic and non-specific criticism with no context or solutions offered, along with the inherently inaccurate “didn’t have control” observation.

At this point, I felt I was the only boxing observer in the world cutting Drakulich the benefit of the doubt, as if he were in the ring on an island and I was his personal corner man. But I wasn’t seeing anyone else come to his defense, so I decided that I might as well be the voice of reason.

Campbell’s tweet was absurd and upsetting, and my first inclination was to fire off an angry response.

Then, thankfully, I remembered my mode of operation when it comes to Twitter — that lovely social media playground in which complete strangers feel it’s appropriate to just hurl insults at each other — and that is, I flat-out refuse to accept Twitter venom from anyone who interacts with me.

At the risk of operating under a double standard, I also try and treat people with the same respect that I’d like to receive in return, not unlike the approach one might take when interacting with others in the real world.

So I eventually collected my thoughts, showed restraint, and sent him what I believed was a fair and thought-provoking response, from one sports media guy to another:

jn-box

He never replied. So, absent of any explanation or mea culpa on his part, I now find it appropriate to say that Brian Campbell, it was you, sir, who gave an awful performance top to bottom in covering that fight.

There were no follow-up tweets, no (apparent) attempt to reach Drakulich (and I can tell you from experience, he’s reasonably media-friendly), no attempt to provide context for Drakulich’s actions.

Just another armchair, post-operation “expert” lofting a dart at an easy target. Zero empathy for the idea that Drakulich had an extremely difficult job, and even less for the suggestion that just maybe, maybe Drakulich was privy to things in the ring that we couldn’t see.

And maybe these critics could consider having a little reverence for the fact that Drakulich has a lot more experience in handling such situations than you, the keyboard warrior, can boast.

The next day, ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael weighed in with this beauty on Twitter, also devoid of context, details or solutions:

rafael

Good work, Rafael. Nice, even-handed analysis … hope your legs don’t hurt too much from that bandwagon plunge. Is it really too much for any half-sensible person to conclude that maybe it was the boxers who ruined the fight, and not Vic Drakulich?

Listen, fight fans have a right to be disappointed, but I’ll be the first to say this — Chaves cost himself the potential victory, not the referee.

Coincidentally, my view comes from a perspective that includes having covered a Drakulich-officiated fight in which I disagreed with his actions.

This was a lower-profile bout – although a very big deal regionally — between Jesse Brinkley and Joey Gilbert, two Northern Nevada natives who decided to settle their differences in a bout dubbed the “Civil War” in Reno.

Drakukich, a Reno native himself, was the third man in the ring for the middleweight bout. I sat ringside covering the fight for the Reno Gazette-Journal and watched as Brinkley, the slight favorite, quickly established himself as the superior fighter.

The bout took place on Feb. 14, 2009, at the Reno Events Center, and drew a near-sellout crowd of about 8,000 fans which made it the biggest Reno boxing event in recent memory.

Brinkley floored Gilbert with a smashing right hand in the 5th round. Gilbert suffered a broken nose, bled profusely and barely answered the count.

The remainder of the match was difficult at times to watch, and I felt it should have been called off. At one point early in the 9th round, Brinkley stepped in and landed another vicious left-right combination. Blood sprayed from Gilbert’s face — he exhaled and stepped back, and had a look of resignation on his face.

This would have been a perfect time to step in and stop the fight. Instead, Drakulich allowed it to continue, and Brinkley won a lopsided unanimous decision.

After reporting on the fight that night, I called Drakulich the next day to ask him why he let the fight go the distance. I believe I might have mentioned at some point that I thought it should have been stopped.

He answered my questions professionally and directly, and didn’t attempt to avoid the issue. Drakulich observed that Gilbert hadn’t lost the ability to defend himself, and emphasized the respect he had for the honor involved for a fighter finishing the match on his feet.

To this day, I disagree, at least with respect to this specific boxing match. I had an up-close view, and I thought letting that fight continue did nothing but extend a humiliating and potentially physically debilitating beating for Gilbert.

He stood zero chance of winning, wasn’t competing and the carnage was only getting worse as the fight wore on. Sure, he left with his pride in tact … I’d much rather see him leave with all of his faculties, and that’s the job of the ref.

So, Drakulich and I disagreed. Mature adults can do this. I called him, as a professional reporter doing my job, and he answered the questions as a professional official who, unlike many officials in many sports, didn’t try to hide under a cloak of anonymity.

He was fair to me, and I did my best to be fair to him (*see the full story below). Memo to Brian Campbell and Dan Rafael – if you’re reading this, the next time there’s a controversy in a fight, you might want to do the same.

* Here is the follow-up sidebar I wrote on the Brinkley-Gilbert fight after contacting referee Vic Drakulich:

Referee doesn’t regret letting the fight go 12 rounds

By Josh Nagel
jnagel@rgj.com

A week after the “Civil War” bout in Reno, referee Vic Drakulich said he doesn’t regret letting the boxing match, between Jesse Brinkley and Joey Gilbert, go all 12 rounds, even though it turned into something of a Valentine’s Day massacre.

Yerington’s Brinkley dominated the Feb. 14 middleweight fight from the opening bell, and the outcome was never in doubt after a fifth-round knockdown that left Gilbert bleeding profusely from a broken nose he suffered in the third round.

Gilbert, of Reno, spent much of the remainder of the fight eluding Brinkley’s relentless attack, though he did throw an occasional flurry.

A veteran of 35 world-title bouts, Drakulich said he consulted with ringside physician Dr. Damon Zavala, who determined Gilbert wasn’t having trouble breathing and that he wasn’t swallowing a dangerous amount of blood.

Although the fight grew more lopsided as it wore on, Drakulich said his respect for both boxers played a role in him allowing the fight to go the distance.

“I’ve known Joey for many years,” the Reno-based referee said. “He and Jesse Brinkley both are great warriors, great fighters. He earned the right to finish the fight.”

Drakulich said Gilbert showed he was capable of defending himself, and provided just enough offense to warrant the referee’s approval to continue.

Gilbert later said the blood affected his vision and gave him breathing trouble, but he hid the severity of his injuries so the fight would not be stopped.

Two of the three judges scored the fight 120-107 — a shutout for Brinkley — and the third scored the bout 119-108. The Reno Gazette-Journal also scored the bout 119-108.

Even so, the Yerington fighter did not emerge unscathed. At the post-fight news conference, Brinkley removed his shades to reveal a black eye and other scrapes.

He also gave Gilbert credit for getting off the canvas after taking a vicious overhand right in the fifth round.

“I never dreamed he would get up from that right hand,” Brinkley said.

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Allen Muse: The best college football story of the year

Muse-TD-STILL (2)

The best game of the college football season came Monday between two high-profile schools against the sunny backdrop of Pasadena, Calif., in one of the game’s historic monuments, the Rose Bowl.

However, the best story came the previous night from a little-known receiver in a bowl game between two mediocre mid-major teams playing in a bowl sponsored by a domain-name-hawking website on a cold, misty night in Mobile, Ala.

Had I known beforehand the back story of Arkansas State receiver Allen Muse, I might have burst into tears when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass for a 23-20 victory over Ball State in the GoDaddy Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

As it was, I still nearly cried when I found out about Muse’s personal story then watched the replay of his touchdown, a play that will forever have more symbolic value to life than it did in a football game.

For perspective, the last – and only – time a sporting event brought me to such emotion was 24 years ago, when Loyola Marymount basketball star Bo Kimble shot his first free throw left-handed in honor of his late teammate Hank Gathers (who also shot free throws left-handed), who had collapsed and died of a heart attack on the court just days earlier.

It’s worth noting that I had never heard of Allen Muse before the GoDaddy Bowl. For someone who is an unabashed college football junkie, it seems a bit unlikely his story, until now, would have escaped me. But it’s one I will never forget.

The GoDaddy Bowl was a snoozer between two average teams for more than 3 hours. One of my overriding impressions after watching the first half was that Ball State, a 7-point favorite, was the slightly more talented team, but Arkansas State clearly wanted the bowl game more. Turns out this dynamic might not have been mere coincidence.

This didn’t make the game easier to watch. For the most part, it was sloppily and poorly played, and I took a nap that bridged the end of the third quarter and most of the fourth. I woke up just in time to see a flurry of touchdowns in the final few minutes that more or less compensated for 3 hours of boredom.

I watched as Muse caught his touchdown pass, then as the Red Wolves sealed the game by blocking Ball State’s attempt at a game-tying field goal as time expired. I figured that sequence would close the story of the GoDaddy Bowl.

Little did I know it was just the beginning. About 10 minutes later, someone tweeted out a link to a heartwarming story that was written about 18 months ago on the hero of the GoDaddy Bowl, Allen Muse.

As a lifelong fan of good sports stories — I’ve made a decent part of my living by trying to tell some myself — and out of curiosity because I had just watched the GoDaddy Bowl, I clicked on the link. The story I read (link below) was one of great tragedy and triumph, and I was riveted from start to finish.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sports/college-sports/headlines/20120616-arkansas-state-s-allen-muse-has-struggled-to-find-peace-after-father-s-suicide.ece

The piece chronicled Muse’s difficult upbringing, which included his family home’s devastation by Hurricane Katrina, to his father’s suicide a couple of years ago. Muse was extremely close to his father, and the loss sent him spiraling into depression, alcohol abuse and other troubles.

Football wasn’t much of a sanctuary for him, and it probably didn’t help that Arkansas State, a revolving door for coaches on their way up, had five separate coaches in Muse’s five years at the school.

Before last season, he met with then-coach Gus Malzahn (who would go on to coach Auburn to this year’s BCS title game), and they agreed it would be best if he sat out football and got his life in order.

http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/article/86916/arkansas-state-says-wr-allen-muse-no-longer-with-football-team

Muse returned this year for his final season of eligibility under Bryan Harsin (who has since already bolted for Boise State) and was basically a third receiver, grabbing 29 catches for 370 yards and two TDs. First-team all-Sunbelt receiver J.D. McKissic led the Wolves with 82 catches, and Julian Jones had 52.

But Muse made sure the final catch of his collegiate career was one to be remembered. With Arkansas State trailing 20-16 after a Ball State touchdown, backup quarterback Fredi Knighten, playing for injured starter Adam Kennedy, led the Red Wolves down field with a series of successful pass plays, and they had a 1st-and-10 at the Ball State 13 with a minute left.

And suddenly, there it was, the best story of the college football season taking shape on a drizzly night in Mobile, with a player and team performing for an interim coach in a game that was little more than a pedestrian appetizer for the following night’s main course, the BCS title game.

The GoDaddy Bowl highlight video, linked below, captures the sequence well. At the 7:30 mark, the play begins. On 2nd-and-4 with 34 seconds left, Knighten fakes a short throw on an out route to McKissic, the team’s top receiver who quickly draws the attention of two defenders.

This allows Muse an opportunity to sneak into the corner of the end zone, and Knighten lofts a perfect pass -– into a stiff wind -– that Muse adroitly snatches with both hands.

Probably my favorite scene comes at the 8:10 mark, right after a replay of the touchdown. You can see the Arkansas State bench absolutely erupt in joy and celebration after Muse’s touchdown, players sprinting down the sidelines and uncontrollably rejoicing. This is one of the most spontaneously selfless and touching moments I’ve seen in athletics in ages.

His teammates knew what this meant. Of course, they would have been happy had any player scored a game-winning touchdown. But this is not a touchdown celebration – this was much more about Muse’s personal triumph than a football game, and these student-athletes were big enough to know it. Their reaction was authentic and moving, and they deserved to win.

The author of the piece chronicling Muse’s life is a regional AP sportswriter named Kurt Voigt. In the intro to the article, he explains he was drawn to the story of Muse, at least in part, because the journalist had a significant tragedy in common with the football player. Voigt also lost his father to suicide.

Voigt clearly formed something of a bond with Muse throughout the course of doing the story and, after the game, he sent out the following tweets:

VOIGT-TWEETS (2)

I realized as I re-read Voigt’s piece and re-watched the highlight video that I, too, was drawn to Muse’s story because of some similarities it has to my own. I didn’t lose a parent to suicide, but I did similarly grow up in poverty, and a home life that was both unstable and darkened by an ever-present cloud of depression and other mental illness.

In some ways, I think everyone can relate to the story of Allen Muse at least a little and, if we follow his example of resilience, maybe our stories also can end with a game-winning touchdown pass.

After seeing the game and reading Voigt’s story, I scoured the Internet a little, looking for more information on Allen Muse. I came across his Twitter profile and noticed that his profile reads, “All Conference … All American.”

Unfortunately, neither of these designations is true (and, presumably, they were made part of his bio for motivational purposes). However, Muse doesn’t need to be an All American to be someone I root for.

He’s already something much more significant — an inspiration.

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Tale of the Christmas lights that were stolen, not given

christmas-lights-home-pictures

There are fewer lower life forms than thieves, though liars can’t be too far behind.

Even so, it’s amazing and a tad ironic how often victims of the former end up quickly becoming the latter.

And I’ve found that it might be close call between which I despise more –- the thief himself or the victim who utters what it fast becoming a narcissistic, nearly auto-response to such situations:

“I would have given it to him if he just asked.”

Which, of course, is a total crock, and the use of this phrase immediately dilutes the sympathy I had for the person from whom something was stolen.

No, you wouldn’t have given the stuff simply had someone asked. And that’s OK — you’re allowed to be upset as the victim of a crime. Your role isn’t to prove not only that you were wronged, but, while we’re at it, that you also have plenty in common with Mother Teresa.

I bring this up because it happened just a few days ago, when I called out an acquaintance for this blatant hypocrisy after he returned home to find his Christmas lights were stolen.

As you might imagine, it didn’t go well. Actually, it went about as well as could be expected under the circumstances, though I guess it depends on your perspective.

The acquaintance is a guy named Bill Bixler from Indianapolis, and I only know him through Twitter. His Twitter bio reads, “Proud Dad. Decent citizen. Pilot, poker player. Goal of leaving planet better than I found it.”

Probably because of our mutual interest in sports and poker, at some point we crossed paths. We’ve had a few benign exchanges on Twitter or the past year or so although, coincidentally, the first time he messaged me was to express outrage over a joke I made about Jim Valvano.

I joked that I couldn’t understand why the late basketball coach was basically credited with coining the phrase, “Never Give Up,” and, if it were that easy, I wanted a patent on something like “Good Morning,” so I could watch the royalties pour in.

Bixler was offended by my joke and let me know it, and we had something of a mature exchange about it.

This is probably why, at least in part, I felt I could address him when I saw — and cringed at — the following tweet in his timeline:

Bixler-1

I don’t know why, but I think seeing that tweet in my timeline, just innocuously killing time on a lazy evening, ruined my day as much as the theft ruined his.

I swear, this sentiment drives me absolutely berserk on so many levels.

I suppose the main reason is because I don’t understand why. Why? Why is this just such an ingrained response when something is taken from us? It’s as if saying you would have parted with it voluntarily is some sort of defense mechanism against the potential perception the theft was some sort of karmic revenge for something you’ve done to someone else. But I don’t know who would think that.

Or, it’s some twisted way of crying foul behind the premise that you’re a good person and thus, something like this just isn’t fair, although it’s a tunnel-vision perspective that is naïve to the ugly truth that bad things happen to good people disproportionately to the converse.

When something is stolen, it’s a violation of our personal space, our trust and faith in humanity and our belongings.

What it’s not is an indictment of our character and I can’t, for the life of me, understand why so many people rush to defend their honor as human beings when they are victimized by theft.

The two things are unrelated. I mean, I think the guy who has a million bucks in the bank but won’t tip the Denny’s waitress a dollar doesn’t deserve to have his stuff stolen (though I admittedly would feel less empathy for this individual than others).

And, as it pertains to other crimes, this sort of reaction is an anomaly. Seriously, have you ever heard anything else like it, with respect to other crimes?

I mean, how many shooting victims have you heard say, “Well, it’s awful that I got shot. I mean, I would have cleaned the gun and held up a bulls-eye for the guy if I knew he needed to fire at something that bad.”

It’s also pure, unfiltered BS, and I think it’s the core dishonesty of the statement that irks me. I’ve heard people say it, who I knew growled at homeless panhandlers, and haven’t donated a dollar, a good, a service or a moment of time to a charitable cause in their entire lives.

But when they get ripped off, it’s time to hear a soliloquy on what a fine human being they are. It makes me more sick than the crime that evoked the pompous reaction.

This defense mechanism, if you call it that, is something I just don’t understand. The victim of a crime has nothing to apologize for. Last year, my car was burglarized on New Year’s Eve, the window broken and stereo stolen. I felt devastated and violated like anyone would.

But I can also assure you, had the thief knocked on my door and politely asked for the car stereo, I’d have turned him away empty-handed. Not because I’m cold-hearted, but because I would know I was unable to afford another one, and I’d admittedly find the request a little intrusive from a stranger.

However, some people just can’t admit they would do the same. I remember several years ago, a fight broke out during a baseball game involving the Los Angeles Dodgers, ostensibly because a fan stole the cap off one of a player’s head.

fight-stands

The players then went into the stands and beat the living daylights out of the spectators.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/mlb/news/2000/05/16/cubs_dodgers_ap/

Afterward, one of the Dodgers players gave a comical response:

“If you wanted a hat that bad, be polite and ask for one. We’ll give it to you. We’ve got a whole bunch of them,” Todd Hundley of the Dodgers told the media.

Sure, Todd. Like that would have worked. Can you imagine how this conversation would go down? Something like this:

Fan: “Excuse me, Mr. Hundley. That fine ball cap you’re wearing as part of your uniform? I’d love to have one to call my own, if it isn’t too much to ask.”

Hundley: “Coming right up. What size are you looking for -– a seven? Sure thing. I’ll be right back.”

Give me a break. We all know the conversation would have ended with Hundley saying something along the lines of, “Get outta here, stupid (kid/moron/idiot),” and that would be the end of that.

As well it should. Fans asking for or stealing merchandise from baseball players is inappropriate behavior at a ballgame -– that’s what gift stores are for -– as is beating the hell out of someone who does so.

But Hundley’s response made me wish for an 18-wheeler full of official Dodgers merchandise –- driven by Hundley — to be hijacked at gunpoint, and all the goodies given out to fans at the side of the road.

Which brings me back to Bill Bixler from Indianapolis. I don’t know much about the guy, other than he seems like a decent dude from what I can tell.

But his tweet –- particularly because it came from an intelligent and apparently well-adjusted individual — bothered me, and I decided I’d tell him so.

I tried to resist. It’s the holiday season, and the guy just came home to find his Christmas lights stolen. He’s having an emotional reaction, and at some point he’ll let it go. I should do the same -– except I couldn’t.

I decided I’d try, as politely as possible, to find out why Bixler felt compelled to break out the old “I would have given it” response to the theft. I figured perhaps being questioned on the spot might shed some light on the answer for both of us.
So I sent him this message:

response-1

To which he replied:

Bixler-2

I countered with this:

Response-2

Now, I expected the worst, and basically braced myself for an expletive-laden fury from Bixler. Instead, he replied with the following:

bixler-3

Well, now we are getting somewhere … sort of. I respected the self-awareness and the acknowledgment that he understood my point.

But wait a minute?!

Who’s to say that “truly in need” and “punks” are mutually exclusive qualities when it comes to the thief? And how exactly did he plan to judge their need, or who was a punk? I mean, a nose-ring wearing, backward-hat sporting, Slayer T-shirt clad kid -– who might fit Bixler’s stereotype of a “punk” –- might have more true need than the clean-cut neighbor you’d never suspect (and who might be the culprit).

Moreover, isn’t any thief by definition a punk, regardless of need? And isn’t even trying to quantify such details just another charade that needn’t be present to justify the outrage of having your shit stolen?

Furthermore, would Bixler really have voluntarily parted with his Christmas lights had someone met his definition of “in need” and also not a punk?

I somehow doubt it, and suspect the exchange would go similar to that of the baseball fan’s with Todd Hundley. Not that this makes me feel any better about my stance, or Bixler about the theft, or how he felt about me taking him to task on Twitter about his reaction.

But I just had to ask, and I was glad Bixler was civil enough to reply without exploding, even if his response left me a little baffled.

I wanted to make sure he knew I wasn’t just trying to pick an Internet fight, and that I did, in fact, empathize with him, so I sent him this final message:

Response-3

He didn’t reply.

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Memories of Sammy Hagar and a bunch of Facebook likes

SAMMY-COVERR

Sometimes, it really is the little things that end up meaning the most. My pair of interactions with Sammy Hagar -– nearly a decade apart –- lend credence to this cliché.

The Red Rocker simply remembered who I was -– twice -– and it’s hard to overstate what that means to a writer like myself who has done a lot of work in the entertainment and sports field, but is pretty shy in the area of self-promotion.

Thus, recognition often is hard to come by, that’s why it’s so appreciated on the rare occasions in which it happens. Hagar made this happen in more ways than one.

Long-story short, I first met Hagar nine years ago as part of an invitation-only media tour in advance of him opening a Cabo Wabo Cantina at Harveys Lake Tahoe, the first such Cabo Wabo franchise on U.S. soil.

Then, I was a reporter in my late 20s working for Best Bets magazine, the same weekly of which I am now the managing editor. I had already done my share of celebrity interviews, but most were by phone.

This was going to be one my first in-person interviews with a celebrity of Hagar’s magnitude, and the fact that I’m a longtime fan of his just added to the anxiety of my preparation.

I remember rehearsing my questions so I wouldn’t come off as a bumbling buffoon, wearing a nice dress shirt (but no tie, because I knew Sammy doesn’t roll like that), and arriving super early for the press event.

I ended up getting about an hour of one-on-one time with Hagar, and he couldn’t have been more welcoming, easygoing, kind and humorous. He even gave the scoop on the upcoming Van Halen reunion tour, which his people said was off-limits for questions (I didn’t ask, but he offered the info).

I took the interview and wrote what I believe, to this day, to be one of the best articles this tortured scribe has ever managed to put on the press.

Hagar’s people got a hold of the piece and invited me to the grand opening of the Cabo Wabo in Tahoe a few weeks later. I went but decided to eschew the temptation to ask Hagar for a photo or an autograph – even though in that setting it was probably within the rules, such behavior generally is seen as unethical in my line of work, and it’s not much my style, anyway.

I ended up with something much better -– a memory. Hagar sat at a small table, greeting patrons as they made their made through the entrance. My friend Neil Baron and I got in the line, which was about six people deep. Hagar’s PR people recognized me and led Neil and I past the ropes, and she wondered if I wanted to say hello to Sammy.

We stopped at his table, and the Red Rocker looked up as he finished signing an autograph (on one of the dozens of magazines featuring my piece that fans picked up as a souvenir).

“Oh, hi Josh, glad you could make it,” he said without prompting. He stood up and shook my hand, and I introduced him to Neil.

So I didn’t leave with a signed magazine, or a photo of this moment. And while I can’t say I’d be opposed to having either, the snapshot of that moment, where it rests in my memory, is priceless.

Fast forward to this year. Hagar is playing a couple shows in Tahoe -– as he does somewhat regularly -– and I decide to pursue a story. It’s just about the 10th anniversary of the Cabo Wabo opening at Harveys, and I figure we could talk about this milestone.

Along with the fact that, at age 65, Hagar is still active as ever in the music industry, and recently released a solid album with his band, Chickenfoot, I thought were enough elements in play to make a decent story.

His Tahoe shows sold out within days of tickets going on the market, which gives the artist all the leverage –- and puts someone like myself at a decided disadvantage –- when it comes to potential press arrangements.

His people knew it, too. When I called and talked to his representative, the young woman said she would consider the request, but reminded me that the shows were sold out and, as such, their motivation to connect Hagar and I would be low.

She basically asked me for some sort of motivation, or a hook, some reason why they should do this.

“Because … um … Sammy’s cool, and we kind of know each other,” I uttered.

She appeared unmoved.

“Please just tell him the request is from the guy who interviewed him at the Cabo Wabo press event nine years ago,” I pleaded, and she told me she would.

A few days later, the phone rang.

“Hey, it’s Sammy Hagar,” the voice on the other end said. “You know I don’t stand much to gain promotion-wise from this interview, because the Tahoe shows sold out long ago. So why do you think I am doing this?”

It sounded sort of like a trick question, so I backhanded the ball into his court.

“I don’t know, why don’t you tell me,” I replied.

“Because of course I remember you, man!” he said, and burst out laughing. “I saw your name on the request and knew you were the guy who did that great coverage of the Cabo Wabo. I remember talking to you. I figured the least I could do was make this call and give you whatever you need.”

We chatted for more than half an hour and, again, his candor, insight and humor made for what I thought was a pretty serviceable story. And again, Hagar remembering me left me with that warm-and-fuzzy, someone-appreciates-me feeling, one that I’m sure is a fleeting sensation for a lot of us.

This time, the memory came with a special enhancement, one that I believe worthy of what commonly is known these days as the “humble brag.” That is, something that’s pretty cool that happens to you, which might sound self-serving to boast about, and yet you can’t resist.

I decided this was worth a humble brag because a) I NEVER do it, so I should be cut some slack for any perceived chest-thumping and b) if there were ever a time for me to make an exception, this is it.

So, the story prints on a Thursday, May 2, the day Best Bets hits newsstands, and it seems generally well-received. It was the first cover story in the newly designed version of Best Bets and, thanks to a great photo his PR folks sent my way and what I thought was a catchy headline, I was proud of the finished product (see above).

However, in this day and age, a good barometer of audience approval lies in the impact you see on social media, where it’s all about tweets, Facebook likes and shares, and +1s.

In the pre-Internet days, it was always heart-warming when someone took the time to drop you a note saying they liked a story you wrote. In the 21st century, a virtual thumps-up often yields the same effect.

Generally speaking, I’m pretty stoked when anything I write reaches double figures in social-media approval, whether it’s in tweets or Facebook likes, or some combination therein.

This shows you people are paying attention and, to this point, my previous personal best was about 200 Facebook likes for a Q&A interview piece I wrote on Don Henley last summer.

So I was thrilled to see the Hagar piece got about 70 Facebook likes during its first day on the web, figuring, should it pick up any momentum, the piece had a chance to challenge Henley for my personal record.

Pick up steam, did it ever. The following day -– Friday, May 3, the first of his two concerts at Tahoe -– I noticed someone on Sammy’s team (or perhaps the Red Rocker himself, though that’s likely a long shot) had posted a link to my story on his official Facebook page.

Suddenly, the Facebook hits on the story’s home page started rapidly spiraling upward, reminiscent of when you hit a winning combination on a slot machine and watch the jackpot credits rise, gleefully wondering when and where the number eventually will land.

In this case, the number was 4,000 in a 24-hour period.

SAM-4K (2)

Real-time evidence of this social-media “milestone,” if there is such a thing, exists in cyberspace if you follow the link below.

http://www.rgj.com/article/20130501/ENT/305010086/Sammy-Hagar-Red-Rocker-hits-overdrive-65

I told another entertainment editor about the rapid hits, and he warned me that the number could be skewed because sometimes the system will give an inaccurate reading if a story gets hit hard at a particular time. But there was a way to check using our system’s analytic software, so that’s what we did.

Sure enough, the hits kept coming and they were all legit, almost all directly from the link on Hagar’s Facebook page.

Later, as the number swelled into the four figures, the same editor texted me, “Nicely done,” aware that the figure was both rare and the level of exposure pretty considerable for a market our size.

I appreciated the comment because, for all intents and purposes, no one else at the company really seemed to notice.

To put it in something of artistic context, this type of traffic on the story would be tantamount to opening a local art exhibit and having 4,000 people show up on the first night, or playing in a local band and having 4,000 fans show up to your concert.

By today’s social-media standards, it’s in fairly elite company. Coincidentally, a few weeks later I saw a Rolling Stone interview piece on Bruce Springsteen, who also is one of my favorite artists. The piece, on the site of one of the most respected music publications on the globe, had 2,400 Facebook likes and had been posted for a week when I saw it.

Bruce (2)

While Bruce’s numbers are far from paltry, it made little old me in the Biggest Little City feel pretty proud of generating 4,000 hits on a story about Sammy.
As it turns out, writing a piece on Sammy Hagar that the Red Rocker approves of is good for both your media company’s web traffic and your ego.

It’s also an example of how you should never take for granted how simply remembering someone likely will mean more to that person than you’ll ever realize.

Try it sometime -– I guarantee the recipient will be grateful.

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There’s a war on for your mind (and your ratings, too)

There’s a war on for your mind, conspiracy zealot Alex Jones tells us, and there’s little doubt Jones himself is among the combatants.

Alex Jones

Alex Jones

But there’s also little doubt that Infowars, Jones’s well-oiled, paranoia-spewing, alternative-media machine, is fighting a losing battle.

It’s not that he doesn’t have enough firepower –- figuratively or literally, as it turns out -– to gain a foothold in the struggle. The problem is in his technique – shoot first, aim later, ask questions only if they fit his agenda.

I used to think Jones’s biggest problem was that he got in his own way, and that he might be somewhat purposely oblivious to this dynamic in his quest to provide an alternative to the mainstream message that is fed to the masses.

At some point it became clear that Jones has become what he claims to despise – a fear-mongering, paranoia-inspiring, ratings-whoring, less-than-trustworthy source of facts and information. It also became apparent that Jones didn’t care, so long as his shtick resulted in a few more page views or Twitter followers.

Which is really a shame because, in practically no time at all, my view of Jones has transformed from someone who was just a few sloppy habits away from having a legitimate anti-establishment media outlet, to a tired circus clown whose old bones are cracking and whose makeup is running down his face.

I’ve had a short-term, love-hate relationship -– with an emphasis on the latter — with Infowars. For those unaware, Infowars is Jones’s multimedia, conspiracy-theorist blitzkrieg that includes blogs, videos and a number of other media formats the Austin, Texas native uses as a vehicle to spread his message.

At first I respected what he was trying to accomplish, which I generally believed was an earnest attempt to unmask information that the government and other public figures don’t want you to see or hear -– information that no doubt exists on some level.

But from the start I’ve had an issue with how Jones, a junior college dropout who has no formal media or broadcast training of any sort, presented his murky cases as though they were iron-clad truth.

The cringe-inducing part of it is that Jones occasionally does an ample enough job of presenting alternative information. It’s worthwhile and it’s capable of grasping the attention of anyone with an open mind and half a brain.

However, the 39-year-old isn’t interested in intelligent dialogue or professional reporting -– he’s in the fear business, and business is good. So much so that he has a show on Sirius radio and boasts of the luxurious lifestyle his career path has afforded him.

I’ll give Jones some nominal credit -– there’s no question he works hard and what he does, however you define his “work.” The whole Infowars assault is nothing if not aggressive and, after watching some of his videos and reading his blogs, you wonder when the guy sleeps.

Moreover, some of his material is what would universally be considered pretty good work.
He’ll pull out a couple of magazines and note that politician John Doe said this in X magazine, only to say this in Y magazine two weeks later. So what was Senator Doe really trying to say? It would be a terrific question to ask the politician in question point-blank.

Instead, Jones fills in the blanks with his own far-fetched conclusions, thereby negating whatever solid grass-roots work he might have done.

I found Jones, as I suspect a lot of people have, by accident. It was not long after I saw the film, “Zero Dark Thirty,” wondering if the movie would shed some light on questions I had about the May 2011 raid that killed terror leader Osama Bin Laden. I went looking for some reviews of the film after learning it had spawned some debate over the use of torture tactics in the search for intelligence on Bin Laden.

One such article mentioned there were conspiracy theories about the raid, and included a link to an Infowars piece on the topic. I was interested to find that Jones thoroughly addressed the topics about the raid I had questioned, and they are the two obvious ones: The chopper that crashed at the Abbottobad, Pakistan compound but somehow resulted in zero casualties or injuries and barely affected the mission, and the U.S. government’s apparent decision to quickly dump Bin Laden’s body at sea, knowing full well that a failure to show some sort of proof of his demise to the American public would feed conspiracy theories.

Jones had some great material on the Bin Laden raid, including interviews with people who have both built and flown choppers like the one used, who said it was physically impossible for the helicopter to crash-land as safely as the government version of events suggested it did. He also showed numerous interviews with Pakistan residents who witnessed the raid, many of whom reported seeing three helicopters enter the Bin laden compound, and just two leave.

This type of information is solid enough to stand on its own merits, but this is what Jones doesn’t get. Alerting us that our BS radar should be up when it comes to the government’s story about this isn’t enough – it’s as though finding holes in the story gives Jones a license to feed his far-fetched “theories” as truth.

In this case, Jones has concluded that the whole Bin Laden raid was a hoax, the whole thing a gimmick to improve President Barack Obama’s approval rating in an election year. This is where any credibility he established goers out the window.

Almost all of Jones’s outrageous yarns have the same basic flaw. For one, most people are too dumb to consistently remember their role in a sophisticated cover-up or hoax. This is why, when they do happen, they are usually easily discovered, as his work often points out.

Also, people generally are terrible at keeping secrets and, despite Jones’s assertions otherwise, the government can’t kill everyone who knows one.

Moreover, at some point people get on with their lives -– they have other shit to do and things to think about, and I’m not sure anyone has the time or wherewithal to pull off the grandiose scandals Jones alleges.

This isn’t to say the government officials won’t lie to you -– because rest assured, they do –- but Alex Jones does, too, so it’s a zero-sum game in that regard.

Jones also lost any respect I was gaining for him with his recent behavior on a national stage. In other words, this guy never met a shameless self-promotion opportunity he didn’t like.

When he recently got an appearance on CNN with Piers Morgan, he turned the gun-control “debate” into an absolute farce, screaming at Morgan at the top of his lungs and insisting a 1776-style revolution would break out should the government ever enact strict gun control.

Jones looked like a pathetic, attention-whoring muse, and the whole episode was a blight both on real journalism and humanity, but he got his wish. Millions of people who’d never heard of him, now did, and he parlayed the insta-fame from his rant against Morgan into an hour-long interview with Howard Stern just days later.

But for whatever newfound notoriety he has gained, it appears he is just as quickly wearing out his welcome in many circles. Like a schoolyard bully who takes an uppercut from his lunch-money victim, Jones has been absorbing a counter punch lately, but it’s one he deserves.

This is especially true in the wake of how he handled the Boston Marathon bombings. Before a regional audience that was already wary of him because of the Piers Morgan debacle, there was almost an advanced backlash in anticipation of the yarn Jones was destined to spin about the bombings.

Sure enough, within hours Jones was showing “suspicious” film of guys in similar-colored sweat suits signaling to each other on the marathon course. Come to think of it, I’ve seen similar-looking guys at other sporting events. They are called event staff.

As if his “theory” weren’t absurd enough, there were a couple of ironies in play. For one, the Boston Marathon bombings were a relatively simple case in terms of who did it. Although the “why” remains something of a question, the high-def videos of brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev carrying around bombs strapped to their backs was pretty damning evidence.

Moreover, get this: the investigation into how Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother who was killed in a shootout with authorities, became radicalized revealed an interesting fact -– he evidently was a huge fan of Alex Jones and Infowars.

http://gawker.com/accused-marathon-bomber-influenced-by-infowars-478641825

The irony that Jones, who makes a living out of promoting far-fetched theories about grand conspiracies regarding real and imagined acts of terror, might have inspired someone to actually commit an indisputable act of terror, is one that isn’t lost on a lot of people.

The mainstream media that he generally uses as a punching bag couldn’t help take a few shots of its own when Jones’s public-approval rating was at its lowest following the Boston bombings.

jones-cartoon

When Jones started sending his cronies out on the streets of Boston to gather his “story,” they were predictably met with a hostile response, such as the memorable one caught on video below.

Jones’s momentum is fading fast, and it’s deserved and just as well. Some of his basic tenets are relevant -– mainly, don’t believe everything the government tells you. The problem with Jones is, there’s no reason to believe him, either.

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Golf still lives off its past — and apparently, so do I

Apparently, my feelings on the golf establishment haven’t changed in the past four years. I wasn’t aware of this until yesterday, but there’s something to be said for consistency.

Jason Day

Jason Day

With that, this weekend I will be rooting for charismatic 25-year-old Australian Jason Day -– the leader after Day 2 — to win the Masters, instead of the guy who likely will be the sentimental favorite, 53-year-old Fred Couples.

This is because most fans of Fred Couples sort of look and act like Fred Couples, and it’s about time golf expanded its cultural and ethnic horizons.

Crowning a younger, worldly champion like Day might help carve this path.

Anyhow, this was the argument I had planned to bring yesterday to the William Hill Sports Show, on which I’ve become something of a regular guest. The show runs Fridays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on 94.5 ESPN Radio.

With the second round of the Masters finishing up as we took to the airwaves, I knew the golf tournament would be the topic of at least one segment.

In an effort to make sure I was prepared, I decided I was going to dust off my “new school > old school” argument about golf, and I remembered that I had penned a blog post about it a few years back when a then-59-year-old Tom Watson came within a missed 8-foot putt of winning the British Open.

I tracked down the post -– which exists on a now-defunct free blog site I used back in the day -– and re-read it, in order to see if there were any tidbits I could use for my radio spot.

Much to my pleasant surprise, I found out there were quite a few timeless, relevant points from that post that I could use on the show. Moreover, I discovered something else even more surprising … it made me laugh … repeatedly.

This is a rarity on several fronts. For one, I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to humor, particularly from writing. It’s difficult to move me to laughter from the written word, and I don’t find most humorists as funny as many people believe they are.

What’s more, I am by far my own worst critic. It’s an extremely rare occasion in which I’ll look at something I wrote and decide it’s above-average or, dare I say, “good.” This Tom Watson post is pretty good.

I had forgotten almost every word of it and, as I read it yesterday, it felt as though I was reading someone else’s work. I also laughed out loud a few times, and both such reactions are a bit uncomfortable and unusual.

Anyhow, I decided to pay homage to my irreverent take on the golf establishment by re-posting it on my (somewhat) new-and-improved website, where it’s bound to get a few more views than it did on my low-profile, pre-Facebook (for me) WordPress site four years ago.

Enjoy.

No Ground Control For Another Major, Tom (July 23, 2009)

As Tom Watson strolled up the 18th fairway Sunday to the deafening roars of the faithful golf fans in Turnberry, Scotland, you had a feeling we were about to see history.

Tom Watson

Tom Watson

Sensing the gravity of the moment, as any sports fan might, a couple of words came to mind as I watched Watson line up his 8-foot putt for the win in the British Open.

Please choke.

Make that six words.

Please, please, please, please please choke.

This was asking a lot, because I knew most of the sports world was against me, including a warm-and-fuzzy ABC commentator who predicted Watson would sink the putt and win his ninth major title at age 59.

Then, as if I had scripted the outcome, Watson approached the putt with that dentist-chair-in-sight squeamishness to which we have become so accustomed while watching Shaq step to the free-throw line.

His stroke also mirrored that of Shaq; no touch, no confidence, no chance.

Mission accomplished.

Although Watson’s miss didn’t technically end his British Open run, we all knew it was over. Similar to Derek Fisher’s 3-pointer that tied Game 4 of the NBA Finals at the end of regulation, Watson’s playoff against Stewart Cink was a mere formality, similar to the Lakers’ overtime walk-through against the Orlando Magic.

Whew. With all due respect to Major Tom –- and a guy with eight majors to his credit deserves his share -– the last thing the golf establishment needs is another reason to give more unabashed glory to an old white guy.

The thought of this makes me more ill than all those unfortunate close-ups of the blotched, faded skin on the back of Watson’s neck, to which ABC so regretfully subjected its viewers.

Golf already is bent on deifying the ghosts of its past without any legitimate justification, and a win by Watson would have taken this shtick to unprecedented lows. The sport’s silent majority was still rolling on the putting green with laughter at the fact that the really famous black guy in the tournament missed the cut.

This gave them a chance to celebrate the British Open’s winner as a master of the “old school” style of golf. Well, when perfectly true tee shots hit the middle of the fairway, only to be sucked into an abyss of a bunker 40 yards out of view, this isn’t golf. It’s the old Atari video game “Pitfall” brought to life on a grassy knoll.

Given the alternative, I’ll take Tiger Woods and Anthony Kim smashing their drives 350 yards and drilling 50-foot putts any day of the week. Call me “new school” if you will, but don’t call me on Sunday at 6 a.m. to watch the British Open.

Handing over the “jug” that is bestowed upon the winner to a guy who needs to change his Depends after nine holes -– six or seven on some days, it depends -– would have effectively rolled golf’s clock back at least 20 years, and the sport’s “purists” would have put a death grip on the hands of time to keep it there indefinitely.

Golf doesn’t merely celebrate its past -— it lives off it, present and future be damned. Never has an entity honored dudes who have at least one foot in the grave this side of the local funeral home, and the assisted-care facility with which it contracts.

Whenever you watch the Masters or the British Open, the coverage is flooded with highlights and homage to past champions. Not last year’s champion, mind you, but endless, grainy reels of guys like Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and the like.

Without fail, one living member of the Boys Club is trotted out to take part in the tournament. Inevitably, our living legend limps through a round of 97, and his triple-bogey on No. 18 is met with a standing ovation, as if this were some sort of accomplishment.

Really, it isn’t. Such deeply grounded golf traditions only prove that an old fart like Arnold Palmer is, in fact, old.

Watson’s near-miss in the British Open -– though his choke on the final putt was anything but “near” –- is a much more meaningful feat, but that doesn’t mean it’s something we couldn’t have lived without.

For instance, I’d be willing to bet that Rick Barry could beat LeBron James in a free-throw shooting contest today, but I wouldn’t turn on the TV to watch it. Moreover, you don’t see the Lakers letting Jerry West play the first 5 minutes of a playoff game, to pay homage to the fact that he used to be good at basketball, do you? And if they did, would you be impressed?

I’d like to tell you how badly I feel for Watson, but I don’t. Frankly, he was a little too self-indulgent for my taste. When his performance became the story of the British Open, he did everything he could to keep it that way. When was the last time you saw Tiger Woods lead the crowd in the wave, or visibly cry as the other guy sealed a victory?

In the end, Watson’s putt just didn’t have enough ground control to win another major for Major Tom. Although, to his credit, he didn’t go down without a fight.

I could have sworn I saw him replace the ball at least two inches ahead of where he marked it on hole No. 18 (I’ve never understood why golf allows this, seeing as it is physically impossible to place the ball in the exact same spot from which it was moved), and I’m pretty sure I saw Watson purposely break wind during Cink’s backswing on the first playoff hole.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. So instead of the jug going to a past-his-prime champion who looks like a dead ringer for William H. Macy — minus watson’s goofy powder blue sweater vest and pants — it went to an underachieving first-time winner who has lookalike qualities of his own.

The 36-year-old Cink, coincidentally, is a dead ringer for the third-place finisher, 36-year-old Lee Westwood, save for the latter’s goofy neon green sweater vest and cap. This merits mention because the loud attire is the only way to tell the two apart.

That, and the fact that the Alabama-born Cink was the one holding the trophy at the day’s end. I would have preferred watching it go to Westwood, because the England-born golfer at least would have given the tournament a quasi-homegrown champion around which you can build a decent story.

Even so, watching Cink break through and capture his first major still strikes me as more relevant than Watson choking, cheating, farting and crying.

While the latter made for an interesting side show for one weekend, the former will have a more of a say in golf’s future.

And it’s about time the golf establishment gave “new school” players their due.

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John McAfee is honest about one thing – his product blows

Man, do I hope John McAfee meets justice someday. But this idea seems about as likely as McAfee ever comporting himself with a shred of dignity -– don’t count on it.

John McAfee

John McAfee

I do know a couple of things about McAfee – don’t move in next to him and never, ever use his God-awful anti-virus computer software.

At least one poor soul learned the first lesson the hard way and I, like millions of other computer buyers, discovered the latter.

McAfee puts the “snake” in snake-oil salesman. Although, to give the cliché its due, he’s got plenty of “oil” and “salesman” to go along with his slimy exterior.

McAfee is the worst kind of scumbag -– arrogant, self-important and someone who believes his above-average IQ will allow him to dupe the masses for a lifetime. I’ve met people like him countless times, and their biggest mistake is they take for granted the idea that no one is smart enough to compete in their psychological chess game.

For the most part, con men like him are proven right, as they tend to have a gut-wrenching success rate, even though anyone with a half a brain can tell his shtick is as transparent as Scotch tape.

As if his doucheified approach to life weren’t enough, he’s also a murderer. But of course, how does this turn out for our villain? Most likely, with him washing the blood off his hands and cashing in by selling his fairytale to Hollywood.

Here’s a brief background on McAfee – the 67-year-old was a one-time Silicon Valley “prodigy” who once developed a product that evidently was ahead of its time back in the day. But, let me tell you, it has been behind the times ever since.

Even so, he made a boatload of cash, retired early and took his treasure chest to the tropical paradise of Belize. There, he fancied himself a techy-nerd-meets-Rambo-type who spent his days sleeping with ugly, barely-legal native women (“The uglier the woman, the better the sex,” those are HIS words people, not mine, see the link below), taking photos of himself shirtless while posing with firearms and thinking his oh-so-sophisticated, McAfeeian thoughts.

http://gizmodo.com/5975435/john-mcafee-the-more-ugly-the-woman-the-better-the-sex

Then, he killed a guy. A former American contractor named Gregory Viant Faull also retired early and moved to Belize in search of retirement-life bliss. Unwittingly, his beach-front property neighbored McAfee.

Faull soon found out, to his displeasure, that McAfee had about 12 dogs protecting his property, and they barked all night and often ran free at all times. The dogs reportedly attacked several tourists and locals alike and, after Faull was bitten, he’d had enough.

He apparently tried reasonable routes to solve the problem, going to the authorities and registering a complaint at town council meetings and such. When nothing was done, Faull then made a critical mistake: He went to another council meeting and threatened to poison McAfee’s dogs if no action was taken.

Then, he made two more. One, he followed through on the threat. Worse, he had the lack of sense to then brag of his exploits at a dinner party hosted by friends. He returned home that night and was shot in the head by McAfee.

I state all this as fact, eschewing journalistic-savvy words like “allegedly,” because it is fact. Faull had no other enemies, there are no other suspects, McAfee was the only guy around who had the motive, shooting skill, ammo and cojones to kill the guy, and word likely got back to him that Faull admitted poisoning his dogs.

McAfee also acted like a guilty man. He immediately fled from the authorities, all the while spinning a bizarre Belizean-government conspiracy story to a few American media outlets. He managed to flee to Guatemala, and somehow found a way to get deported back to the United States.

Upon his return to the U.S., he wasted no time doing national and local interviews, hoping to sell his victimization to the masses and cash in on his murder. Naturally, there was no shortage of media outlets eager to give him a free vehicle of promotion by profiling this fascinating, worldly man and his fantastic tale.

McAfee has reportedly settled in Portland and, lo and behold, the rights to his story have been sold to Warner Bros., with a Wired Magazine writer agreeing to be a co-producer of McAfee’s life tale.

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/14/business/la-fi-tn-john-mcafee-movie-20130114

If you have an eating disorder, or simply need to make yourself vomit for any reason, feel free to check out some of the interview videos like the one linked below.

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/The-Interview-John-McAfee-188136041.html

The barrage of sound bytes and print articles were predictably deceptive, sickening and hollow, but there was one nugget I found borderline fascinating. Toward the end of one story, a reporter asked McAfee if he actually used his own anti-virus product.

“No,” McAfee answered. “I take it off all my computers. It’s too slow.”

A couple of thoughts came to mind: 1) Amen to that and, 2) Why didn’t he say this before many PC manufacturers gave consumers the “gift” of having this product pre-installed on their computers? Guess he had better things to do.

Although his murder victim passed quickly –- Faull was assassinated at point-blank — the McAfee software inflicts a slow, painful death on the hard drives it attacks.

I learned this a few years back when a computer I bought, less than a year old, had what I thought I might be a serious virus issue. Every program seemed to work at a crawl or not at all, and I hired a computer expert to pinpoint the problem.

The tech, who works a day job as high-ranking computer guy at IBM, labored for three hours before identifying the issue. I didn’t have a virus, he concluded, I had something much worse – McAfee software.

One of the many freebies that came with the computer, my tech guy concluded the McAfee software was engulfing my programs like a barrel of molasses dumped over a snail race. It took him forever to remove it and, ultimately, he suggested a different anti-virus product that I have used since, and the computer has been essentially problem-free.

The problem with McAfee himself is much easier to identify but, unlike his inept computer product, he likely won’t be going away anytime soon.

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If it weren’t for bad luck, Ron Wayne would have no luck at all

You might have heard about Ron Wayne, the Apple co-founder who squandered a fortune by walking away from his share of the company for next to nothing.

Ron Wayne

Ron Wayne

What you might not know is, Wayne’s luck is actually much, much worse than that.

I did a little research on him recently and, after what I’ve learned, I can’t decide if I feel sorry for the guy, am amused by him, inspired by him or sort of see an exaggerated version of myself in him. I suppose all of these feelings have their place.

But it’s nearly impossible to escape being entertained by his story, particularly if you’ve ever gambled on a game, played poker, or missed out on a business venture.

You know, we all have that story of the 12-team parlay we missed by a half-point; the poker tournament we would have won if we had the nerve to call our opponent’s all-in bluff; the invention we tinkered with and gave up on, that someone else made a fortune by developing.

Ron Wayne is a walking, living bad beat. And although there’s a good chance I would enjoy meeting him, I’m not sure I’d want to if given the chance. I don’t know, I mean … I just have enough bad luck on my own without letting an encounter with Wayne factor into my mojo.

My interest in Wayne was sparked when I saw a tweet about a week ago that made a joke at his expense: “If you think you are having a bad day, think about Ron Wayne. He sold his 10 percent share in Apple for $2,300. It would be worth $56,000,000,000 today.”

I found out the story not only was true, but the tweet also sold it short: Wayne’s 10 percent share is estimated at more than $60 billion today. Moreover, he didn’t just walk away from the Apple money machine once – he did it three times.

To top it all off, he took one last brush with good fortune and hip-checked it into another loser.

A good portion of the information I got was from a recent full-length feature done by engadget.com, which sent a reporter to spend two days with Wayne at his Pahrump, Nev. home.

http://www.engadget.com/2011/12/19/two-days-in-the-desert-with-apples-lost-founder-ron-wayne/

Here is a synopsis and some highlights: Wayne, who is now in his late 70s, was a co-founder of Apple along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Nearly 20 years their senior, he provided the guidance, leadership and organizing skills that the two young techno prodigies needed to get Apple on a solid foundation.

He wrote up the original business contracts for Apple, in which he was entitled to a 10 percent stake. He walked away from the company less than 2 weeks after inking the contract.

He was paid $800 for his stock, and an additional $1,500 to sign a waiver forfeiting all future claims against the company. He went back to working engineering jobs for Atari and other Bay Area high-tech firms.

To this day, Wayne claims he has no regrets about walking away. He says he made the best decision based on the information he had available at the time. Jobs and Wozniak were young and ambitious and he couldn’t keep up with them.

As if to further his point, Wayne later rejected overtures from Jobs to take high-ranking positions in Apple – twice. Wayne said he believed he would be stuck in uninteresting administrative tasks, and he wanted to continue work in engineering.

When I heard this, all I could imagine was a kid at a birthday party taking a swing at a piñata and missing. The gracious party hosts then remove the blindfold, give the kid a bigger bat and hold the piñata still. And the kid misses again.

Ron Wayne is that kid., but he might have saved his biggest whiff for last. Later in his career, Wayne took to selling rare coins, stamps and other collectibles, which he still does today out of his house in Pahrump. About 20 years ago, a customer asked Wayne if the Apple co-founder had any valuable autographs.

Wayne couldn’t think of anything at first … but wait a minute. There was, he remembered, that original Apple contract he drew up that contained the authentic signatures of Jobs, Wozniak and himself. The customer offered him $500 for it.

Sold.

In December 2011, two months after Jobs died at age 56, the contract sold for $1.6 million in a Sotheby’s auction.

Hearing this reminded me of the story of Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson. The former NFL star threw away a promising career in the late 1970s because of drug addiction, and later served prison time on drug-related charges. In 2000, Henderson got a second chance at fame and fortune – by winning the lottery.

Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson

Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson

Wayne owned his own lottery ticket, but used it as a coaster, then a napkin, then tossed it in the trash without checking the numbers. He told the interviewer he has a little more regret about this move than his decisions at Apple.

The rest of the story paints a picture of a quirky character who finds some bright spots among his misery but I’d stop short of characterizing him as happy. He smiles through what seems an inescapable swath of sadness.

He lives in a modest house in the barren desert outside of Las Vegas. He’s something of a gun freak who recently wrote a book titled “Insolence of Office,” which basically suggests that apocalypse is upon us.

His other book, “Adventures Of An Apple Founder,” seems to have one conspicuous omission -– Jobs. On this front he has something in common with Wozniak, who famously was snubbed in his request to have Jobs write the foreword for his book. Jobs also turned down Wayne, telling him in an email, “I don’t consider you a co-founder of Apple.”

Wayne takes something of a posthumous shot at Jobs on his website (www.ronaldgwayne.com). Not longer after Jobs passed, Wayne posted a two-sentence “tribute” to his former colleague.

Wayne is fascinated by slot machines, part of the reason he moved to Nevada. He owns several vintage slots, knows how they work and how to find the ones that offer players a positive expected value. He also designs his own make ands models but, to this point, has yet to find a major manufacturer who wants his prototypes.

Which is a little bit sad, I suppose, but I can’t say I blame the slot makers. As I alluded to earlier, I might have a cup of coffee with Ron Wayne, but I am sure as hell not gambling with him.

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2013 is shaping up as Year of the Fraud in sports

Ray Lewis

So, it looks like 2013 is quickly becoming the Year of the Fraud in sports. Or maybe it’s just coincidence that we’re finally starting to debunk the myths Lance Armstrong and Ray Lewis have been feeding us for ages.

I’ll never understand what took so long. For some reason, it appears to have taken a superficial milestone surrounding both athletes before many observers started asking questions or looking for answers.

With Armstrong, it came last week with his half-hearted, anti-climatic admission and apology for using performance-enhancing drugs. No one was surprised that the seven-time Tour de France winner cheated to win in a sport rampant with drug use.

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

But now the media bandwagon appears full of armchair critics who suddenly are outraged over the lives Armstrong crushed and the intimidation tactics he used to amass fame and fortune off the Livestrong empire.

News flash: Those stories have been around –- and true -– for years. Armstrong not only threatened to destroy the lives of any detractor who got in his way, he followed through on many such threats.

Just look at the case of Greg LeMond, the three-time Tour winner whom Armstrong basically strong-armed into oblivion by persuading LeMond’s sponsors to stop doing business with him.

Of course, many observers believed Armstrong doped and, despite overwhelming evidence to that notion, stating speculation as fact can come with legal ramifications. Many media outlets learned this the hard way when Armstrong sued them – and won.

However, his consistency in the way he has treated people never has changed. Yet it took the combination of Armstrong giving up his fight against the United States Anti Doping Agency and his admission last week for some people to finally let go of their grip on the Myth of Lance.

Shoot, some people are still arguing that the “good” he did for cancer patients through his foundation outweighs the negative actions. I say anyone who benefitted form the Livestrong foundation simply got a beneficial whiff from the fumes of the vehicle Armstrong used for his personal gain.

I doubt Armstrong is opposed to having a positive influence in anyone’s life, but I also doubt he would have lost any sleep if you told him he hadn’t influence one person for the better.

All you have to do is look at some soundbytes from his interview with Oprah Winfrey last week: Armstrong looks like the reluctant truant who is apologizing to the principal for no reason other than hoping to reduce his detention time. Sincerity clearly isn’t his forte.

The same might also be said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who might be on the cusp of finishing off his fairytale – and perhaps mythical – NFL career with another Super Bowl victory, 12 years after he was MVP in his first appearance.

The self-proclaimed God-fearing Lewis has the whole “cry-on-command” thing down pat these days. His internal tear-jerker has been on automatic drip during the playoffs – he cries during the national anthem, he cries on the field and in postgame interviews.

I’ve been a little bit surprised – and, admittedly, pleasantly so – at the number of media types who have started suggesting Lewis’s legacy should be one a great football player weighted against the fact that he was involved in a double-murder on Super Bowl Sunday in 2000, and has never yet come clean about what happened that fateful night.

But it shouldn’t take another Super Bowl appearance for these questions to arise – I’ve been wondering for years why no one in the media, particularly someone in Baltimore who covers the team – never has had the nerve to ask Lewis exactly what happened that night, and why the families of the victims still have no answers.

I think there are a couple explanations. For one, most media, I’m convinced, are scared of the guy. Can you imagine covering the team and being the one who writes the column about him answering for his actions, then having to walk past him the locker room every day? It’s not a pleasant proposition.

Moreover, many of the media have, at least on the surface, bought his shtick and practically worship the guy. I’m convinced if Ray Lewis were Warren Sapp, or a player less media-friendly, the hard questions would already have been asked.

Nobody wants to be the first to break from the pack, and doing so might crack the foundation of the pedestal on which Lewis was long ago placed. And at some point, everyone decided that they either didn’t want to be the first one to swing the hammer, or that doing so was just too much work.

Couldn’t blame them for the latter. This is a guy who has job offers waiting for him from ESPN and the NFL commissioner when his playing days are through. He’s incessantly celebrated as a combination of a gridiron warrior, spiritual ambassador and family man.

The fact that he openly lied about the murder case has long been an inconvenient speed bump on the story of Lewis going from behind bars to Super Bowl hero. As such, most have just ignored it.

Until now, that is. Hey, if it takes Lewis getting to a Super Bowl for these questions to be asked, then I’m all for it. Though I will say now, if the Ravens somehow defeat the 49ers, I will be on the phone to the local carpet company because mine will be ruined from the vomit I will inflict on it at the sight of what is sure to be one more spectacular, relentless reel of Lewis worshipping.

It’s not that I believe people should never be able to escape their mistakes. But doing so comes with making amends and taking consequences from one’s actions, and Lewis never has been big on either.

If Michael Vick were playing in the Super Bowl, I’d hope that questions about his past were minimal. I don’t condone what he did, but at some point he came clean with the truth and also paid a price for his behavior.

Lewis was charged with murder after a bloody brawl in Atlanta left two men stabbed to death. Eye witnesses at the time claimed Lewis was actively involved in the fight, and there’s little dispute he destroyed evidence.

Lewis spent two weeks in the county lock-up, during which he conveniently found Jesus. Prosecutors eventually agreed to drop the murder charges in exchange for a guilty plea to obstruction of justice and a promise to testify against the other two defendants in the case.

The linebacker snatched this get-out-of-jail-free card faster than a starving lion can pounce on a rib-eye steak. The problem is that he failed to hold up his end of the bargain.

On the witness stand, Lewis suddenly couldn’t remember anything about the night of the murders. Other witnesses, including those who had implicated Lewis suddenly had fuzzy memories, too.

Ultimately, his lack of cooperation led to all three suspects – himself included – walking out of the court free men. The only thing the families of the victims received was a check Lewis wrote — reluctantly — when it became clear he stood to lose civil lawsuits they filed. No apologies.

It was a win-win for Lewis. He kept his street cred in tact by the carefully orchestrated manner in which he failed to roll over on his homeboys while on the witness stand, and he also was afforded the opportunity to resume his undeniably Hall of Fame-worthy NFL career.

For years, Lewis has referenced the Atlanta murders as if he were the victim — with his highly spiritual diatribes about seeing life’s dark side and such — and the next time he publicly acknowledges the real victims will be the first.

That’s why I hope the media are absolutely relentless during Super Bowl week with questions about the Atlanta murder. So much so that maybe Lewis goes home one night and actually gives some thought to the victims, and maybe doesn’t sleep so well.

A couple of weeks ago, a USA Today reporter asked Lewis a question about the murders. Of course, the reporter was unceremoniously dissed — as he stood to spoil all the fun surrounding the hype Lewis was getting for this playoff run — and no one else pushed the issue.

But the incident seemed to spawn more media interest in revisiting details about the case. For the record, I’ve never once been inspired by Ray Lewis, but I do get fired up when someone like Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports has the guts to bring up questions that need to be asked.

Busbee penned an excellent column about the case (linked below) in which he writes:

“The story of Ray Lewis is the story of American culture at its most redemptive … and its most soulless.”

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nfl–how-did-ray-lewis-go-from-murder-suspect-to-nfl-royalty–201947666.html

At one point, the columnist references a fairly recent interview with Lewis:

“I’m always disturbed in my spirit about how people look at me from that incident,” Lewis continued in another interview. “Those families that were affected will never know the truth. And that’s sad.”

Busbee: But why will they never know the truth? Isn’t it within his power to tell them?

I’ll answer those in reverse order: Of course, it’s in Lewis’s power to tell them. And they’ll never know the truth because old Ray ain’t talking. And it’s about time some light is shed on this story, which has been grossly under-reported for more than a decade.

I used to think that someday, when his football career no longer was in jeopardy, maybe Lewis would come out with the truth about the murders and his involvement in them.

On second thought, there’s no chance. He’s got a lucrative media career ahead of him, and there’s no way he is going to endanger the myth he has worked so hard and so long to cultivate and protect.

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Rob Parker is just the latest cornball to spout off on ‘First Take’

Last Thursday, ESPN suspended commentator Rob Parker 30 days for referring to Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III as a “cornball brother.”

I was surprised Parker didn’t get a raise. There’s so much hypocrisy surrounding the episode that it’s almost impossible to decide where to start. For those unaware, Parker, a sports columnist and often irreverent commentator, made his comments on ESPN’s “First Take.”

Rob Parker

Rob Parker

“First Take” is the network’s highly criticized, highly rated sports debate show that puts less of an emphasis on substance than it does on insisting its hosts having a confrontational, if not controversial style. The bolder, the better, and as much as the viewing public despises Skip Bayless, his job likely never has been safer.

He and his employer relish his role as public enemy No. 1 in the sporting view, and the show, like professional wrestling, is done with a sort of implied wink and nod that suggests the network won’t disclose the degree to which the theatrics are staged, so long as the audience doesn’t complain.

Robert Griffin III

Robert Griffin III

Parker, who is black, essentially called the football player an Uncle Tom. Of course, this is inappropriate. However, the show makes its living by crossing the line on a regular basis. Parker likely has been encouraged to be bold and uninhibited, and probably thought he was just doing his job.

How can ESPN repeatedly spit in the face of its viewers, then, when Parker made his unfortunate comment, tell them it’s raining? The double-standards here are astounding, and they include the fact that other employees have done the same thing without consequence – hello, Jalen Rose – and that the words spewed by hosts Bayless and Steven A. Smith often are just as disparaging as what Parker did.

The difference is that the comments from Bayless and Smith are like a series of rib-crunching body blows, whereas Parker went for the first-round knockout.

But first, let’s start with the network’s most blatant example of a double-standard in regard to the words of Parker. Last year, Rose, a basketball commentator who sometimes appears on “First Take,” directed a film about the “Fab Five” teams at Michigan, where he famously played alongside Chris Webber and others in the early ‘90s.

In the film, which appeared in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, Rose spoke of his hatred for Duke. He said he despised its white superstar, Christian Laettner, and also resented the school because, “it only recruited black players who were Uncle Toms.”

This prompted a written response from Duke alum Grant Hill, who is still in the NBA:

http://thequad.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/grant-hills-response-to-jalen-rose/

Rose took some heat for the comment, and spent the next few days doing a series of cringe-inducing interviews in which he alternately tried to defend what he said or gratuitously backtracked, depending on who was doing the asking.

It was far from a satisfying response but, within a few days, the furor basically had died down, but ratings for re-runs of the “Fab Five” movie had gone through the roof. I don’t remember anyone calling for the firing of Rose, though he was a trailblazer for calling another man an “Uncle Tom” on ESPN.

The rules aren’t the same for “First Take” stalwarts Bayless or Smith, either. Perhaps the biggest knock on Bayless – deservedly so – is that his criticisms and insults of athletes have a distinct vitriol to them that suggest a personal vendetta or agenda on his part.

This perpetual lack of professionalism could be a fireable offense, but you can bet it won’t be so long as “First Take” keeps drawing viewers.
For example, Bayless for years has referred to Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh as “Bosh Spice.” In one fell swoop, Bayless is questioning Bosh’s determination and heart, his manhood and – as a bonus – making a juvenile word play on the player’s surname.

Bosh, to his credit, confronted Bayless on the show, and showed more class than Bayless ever has.

If you’ve ever listened to one of Smith’s rants, you’ve likely come across his preferred pronunciation of Slava Medvedenko, the Ukrainian former basketball player who spent several years with the Los Angeles Lakers. Smith’s contemptuous, shameless treatment of Medvedenko – Smith has inexplicably defended it many times – turns the player’s four-syllable last name onto about a 10-syllable insult.

While not overtly racist, Smith’s derisive delivery of “Med-vuh-DANK-Oh!” smacks of sophomoric ethnic ridicule, mixed with a needless mean-spirited touch.

In fairness, Smith has toned down his obnoxious alter-ego over the past few years, and his commentary is much more palatable because of it. Even so, when you compare the body of work of Smith and Bayless over the past five years, you could argue ESPN not only cultivated, but encouraged the environment in which Parker blurted out his “cornball brother” comment.

And although I can’t speak to Parker’s motivation, I wondered if his issue was less about the quarterback’s race as it was an underhanded allusion to resentment toward the media treatment of Griffin, who some believe isn’t held to the same standards as others in his position.

I think Griffin is a great player who, like fellow rookies Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, have performed beyond expectations and made this one of the most exciting rookie classes in NFL history. I also believe Griffin has escaped criticism for some immature behavior that some of his contemporaries, such as Cam Newton, have taken heat for.

For example, I thought Griffin’s public plea for the Heisman Trophy in a nationally televised interview after his last regular-season college game lacked humility, but I also believe he wouldn’t have won the award without it.
Newton was widely panned for suggesting, before his rookie season, that he wanted to be an entertainer and a showman, in addition to a great athlete.

By comparison, Griffin suggested that his celebration – which he termed “Griffining” – should be patented and marketed. This came after his first NFL touchdown pass, and yet it seemed nobody pointed out that such a boast might have been a bit premature. Conversely, Newton has been criticized for his “Superman” routine when he scores a touchdown.

Moreover, when it was announced Griffin would be held out of a game against the Cleveland Browns because of an injury, the quarterback went on Twitter to emphasize that the decision wasn’t his.

This is far from a crime in this age of social media, but perhaps a tad immature. Still, Griffin seemed to get a free pass, whereas if Newton or someone else had done the same thing, they probably would have a taken some heat for it.

I think it’s important for the media to always have an awareness of whether they are treating people and situations fairly, regardless of who is in involved, and whether the coverage is positive or negative.

If we regularly pan Cam Newton for the same behavior Robert Griffin gets away with, then there’s a dilemma of bias at hand: Either Griffin deserves more scrutiny, or Newton more slack, but we can’t expect to have it both ways without anyone taking notice.

The same holds true for media accountability for comments such as Parker’s. He deserved consequences for his actions, but instead of making an example out of only him, ESPN might want to look at the environment “First Take” has created in which such commentary can hardly be considered shocking.

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