What Had Happened Was Trending stories on the intersections of race, sports & culture

Philly sports teams are having their best year yet; Philly music is not

The City of Brotherly Love is the newest title town, but native rapper Meek Mill isn’t having the same luck

10:50 AMIf you’re a Philly sports fan, this quote from legendary black philosopher Young Jeezy’s 2005 sermon “Get Ya Mind Right,” Minus the bulls—, life’s great, may be extremely relevant to your life right now.

After years of coming up short and outright irrelevant in some sports, Philadelphia is America’s newest title town. The Eagles are the reigning Super Bowl champs and widely regarded as the most socially conscious team in a league that would rather its players be anything but. They also appear to be getting stronger with a slew of offseason moves. The Sixers are riding a 10-game winning streak, Ben Simmons is dating rhythm and blues starlet Tinashe, and, despite a recent injury, All-Star Joel Embiid should be back in time for the playoffs (though that hasn’t stopped him from tweeting Rihanna once again). The Philadelphia Flyers are still in playoff contention as the NHL season winds down. The Phillies are still in the hunt — with only 159 regular season games remaining. And Monday night the Villanova Wildcats captured their second national championship in the past three seasons with a 79-62 victory over Michigan.

On the flip side, all is not well in Philly’s pop culture world. The cold war between Judge Genece Brinkley and Meek Mill wages on. Brinkley recently denied the request to recuse herself from Mill’s case after repeated attempts by his legal team. She then doubled down by killing the request to reconsider his sentencing, calling Mill’s two- to four-year term “absolutely necessary.” Meek, of course, has become a rallying point for the city’s sports teams — especially the Eagles, who rallied (literally and figuratively) around his “Dreams and Nightmares” intro all the way to the city’s first Super Bowl championship, and the Sixers, with Embiid and Sixers minority owner Michael Rubin visiting the rapper in prison.

Such is just the latest chapter in a saga that has transcended hip-hop, becoming a lightning rod around the ongoing criminal justice debate. Mill’s next post-conviction hearing is set for April 16.

Don’t try this at home: a 36-year-old accountant plays goalie for the Blackhawks

Here’s why it would never work in football, basketball or baseball

5:34 PMYou know the scene in Rudy where members of the 1975 Notre Dame football team lift the titular character on their shoulder pads and carry him off the field? Such a heartwarming, grit-into-greatness underdog story of an objectively mediocre kid who Chester and Spike’d his way onto the field for a big-time college football program.

In 2018, we now have Rudy 2 (or 2 Rudy 2 Furious, or the Nike-inspired Ru2y).

On Thursday night, 36-year-old accountant Scott Foster suited up as an emergency goalie for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks when they faced the visiting Winnipeg Jets because of injuries to starter Anton Forsberg and backup J.F. Berube, and a demotion of Jean-François Berube to the team’s minor league affiliate earlier in the week. Foster, who played hockey at Division I Western Michigan, was signed to what’s called an amateur tryout (ATO) contract, which was for just one day and came with zero compensation.

Unlike Dan “Rudy” Ruettiger, Foster actually played admirably in his lone outing, playing in 14 minutes against the playoff-bound Jets and stopping all seven shots he faced. His 1.000 save percentage would tie him for the league lead if he were eligible.

Hockey, as Stu Hackel at The Hockey News pointed out, has one of the weirdest rules of any of the major American sports leagues that allows any Joe the Plumber to lace up his skates and go up against real-life professional athletes. “It’s the only pro sport with the potential for someone not on the roster to come out of the stands and actually play in the game,” Hackel wrote.

And while the Bow Wow-led Like Mike inspired many basketball fans to believe they, too, could cross over Jason Kidd or Allen Iverson, what Foster managed to accomplish on Thursday is next to impossible in the other three major sports. In essence, no amount of “intelligence,” “intangibles” or “determination” is preventing any nonprofessional from getting washed if they step on the field, court or diamond.

Here’s why:

National Football League

If you ever wanted to experience a ruptured spleen, broken back and concussion all at once, just try returning one kickoff against an NFL special teams unit. No amount of padding is saving you from a 280-pounder running 20 mph at you with nothing in his way by air and resistance. A 36-year-old who used to play tight end for Miami (Ohio) 10 years ago wants zero parts of James Harrison in the open field. Harrison would fold that person up like a fitted sheet and toss him on the sideline like he was taking out the trash. Brian Bosworth was the baddest man on the planet until he met Bo Jackson, so there’s nothing but blood and guts in the future for any lesser person against NFL competition. Go be a family man rather than try this.

National Basketball Association

Remember that time DeAndre Jordan murdered Brandon Knight? Or the time Kyrie Irving made Knight look like he was doing the Wobble on the court? Or the time Nikola Pekovic ran through Knight like he was just a child? What I am trying to say here is that if a 6-foot-3, 195-pound man like Knight gets embarrassed nearly every night, what chance does Robert Jones from Queens have against a charging LeBron James coming down the court? Deflecting a 90 mph hockey puck is peanuts to Shaquille O’Neal caving in your chest like the hood of a car. There are no longer “posterizations” in the NBA, either; the second you get dunked on or crossed over like Wesley Johnson, that clip has already been shared on Twitter more than 200,000 times. There’s no coming back from being on the wrong side of a meme. I am almost 100 percent certain that Johnson hasn’t been seen since what James Harden did to him.

Major League Baseball

What baseball lacks in contact, it makes up for in nostalgia and danger. For one, no matter how many times you visited the batting cages at your local miniature golf facility, you’re not making contact with any ball that Clayton Kershaw or Noah Syndergaard are sending across the plate. In hockey, you can at least use your body to deflect the puck; there are no such safeguards in baseball. A 100 mph fastball is doing one of two things: 1) safely landing in the catcher’s mitt or 2) ricocheting off your skull because you played the game the “wrong way.” That’s the real danger in the majors. Brain aneurysms are handed out like candy in that sport because someone had the nerve to flip his bat 12 feet into the air. How do you think you’d manage when you’re desecrating the sanctity of baseball by not paying your dues by riding on a musty bus to the middle of North Dakota to play in front of 1,500 fans? Even if the pitchers don’t get you, there’s a guy at second base ready to fracture your leg or a 72-year-old coach trying to run up on you from the dugout. High risk, zero reward.

Stephon Clark’s autopsy results released a day ahead of rally created by former King Matt Barnes

The Sacramento native also provided financial assistance for Clark’s funeral

5:06 PMThe day before retired NBA veteran and Sacramento, California, native Matt Barnes was set to hold a rally in the wake of the death of Stephon Clark, the results of an independent autopsy on Clark’s body were released during a news conference on Friday morning.

The Sacramento Bee broke the news at approximately 9 a.m. PST, after Ben Crump, the attorney retained by the Clark family, spoke to the local paper. Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor famous for his discovery and research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy and portrayed by Will Smith in the 2015 movie Concussion, announced his findings outside of the Southside Christian Center.

Clark was shot eight times, with six bullets hitting him in the back, while another one hit him in his side.

On March 18, the 22-year-old father of two was gunned down by Sacramento police officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, who each fired 10 shots at Clark in his grandmother’s backyard.

Autopsy results by the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office have not been made public, and as a result of not trusting the coroner’s office, Clark’s family decided it wanted a private autopsy. CBS has reported that a federal civil lawsuit could be coming from the family as soon as Friday.

A funeral service was held for Clark on Thursday at Bayside Boss Church. Barnes attended the event, as did the Rev. Al Sharpton, who provided the eulogy. Barnes, a former Sacramento King and Del Campo High basketball player, provided financial assistance for the funeral. He spoke to USA Today Sports‘ Sam Amick about his efforts to persuade current Golden State Warriors and Kings players to participate in the rally, being held at noon, before their game Saturday night.

With eight games to go and the Warriors 6½ games out of first place behind the Houston Rockets and 8½ ahead of No. 3 Portland in the Western Conference, their position in the No. 2 spot is nearly set. The Kings, on the other hand, are about to miss their 12th straight postseason with their 24-51 record.

“I know the Warriors and the Kings both play that night, so I’m going to try to talk to both sides and, you know, the game at this point kind of doesn’t really matter,” Barnes, who played 74 games with the Warriors and Kings last season, told Amick after the funeral. “The [playoff] positions are already set, so I’m hoping [the Warriors] can come out and support.

“Being a father of two boys, it’s something that’s near and dear to my heart, so it’s something I had to get involved in,” Barnes said. “I think we need [change], and I’m going to make sure I show my face more and more in Sacramento to make sure it happens. [The Police Department is] so worried about the gang violence, but at the same time we’ve got to hold these people who are paid to protect and serve accountable. … The black-on-black crime is also something that’s very prevalent in these neighborhoods, and I’m here to try to help make a change.”

On Thursday, the Kings announced they were holding an event with Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the Build. Black. Coalition to uplift the black youths in their community and setting up a fund for Clark’s two young sons. Forward Vince Carter and guard Garrett Temple were announced as attending the event.

“We have a rally Saturday at noon at [Cesar] Chavez Park … to hold these people accountable, to bring the community together, and address the black-on-black crime issue in not only this neighborhood but in neighborhoods across the country,” Barnes said. “Tons of former and current players called me to ask what I was doing, so myself and my team, we jumped in the line of action, providing whatever the family needed and putting together the rally for Saturday.”

Embezzlement at Howard is an embarrassment

Anonymous posting on Medium exposed the mismanagement that university had to address

10:43 AMTwitter went into a frenzy after records that alleged Howard University financial aid employees embezzled $1 million in financial funding were posted by an anonymous author on Medium this week. The university’s student newspaper, The Hilltop, gave details of how the story received mass attention after a social media post from the student activist group HU Resist.

Many Howard students were already skeptical of the administration on campus, and this latest news of financial wrongdoing has only increased tensions between administrators and students.

“I had heard people before saying that money was being embezzled, so this wasn’t the first I had heard of something along these lines,” said Lawrence Dow, a senior sports management student from Philadelphia. “It made me think they figured out something was wrong but wanted to avoid public embarrassment, so they instead tried to keep it as quiet as they could. It made them seem untrustworthy to me.”

Dow is not alone. As the news broke on Twitter, HU Resist started the #StudentPowerHU movement on the social media platform. Students using the hashtag voiced their displeasure with the university, and some even called for the resignation of Howard president Wayne Frederick.

https://twitter.com/bribridemming/status/979110571168673793?s=21

Frederick did release a statement in response to the report that included the dismissal of six employees for “gross misconduct and neglect of duties.” However, even with the president’s statement, students are still unhappy and looking for more transparency between the students and administration. So Frederick issued a second statement after meeting with students Wednesday.

“I think the strife between students and administrators already existed,” said Dow. “This will probably further exacerbate it, and I would be beyond shocked if there wasn’t protests.”

HU Resist has already published a list of demands for the administration. But there has been no word if a formal protest has been planned to challenge Frederick’s leadership.

The name of a former student-employee has surfaced on Twitter as having taken money from the Howard financial aid office. But he has denied any connection to the missing funds.

This is a story that we will continue to follow as more developments arise.

Baseball is back — and in a weird spot

For the first time in a long time, it feels like the sport is having an identity crisis

9:44 AMFor some people, Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season is amateur hour. Like New Year’s Eve, driver’s ed courses and cooking classes. You show up, complete the task, then claim for the rest of that particular time cycle that you’re good because you’ve completed the requirements of being a baseball fan.

But for me, Opening Day is a tradition that I’ll probably hold on to longer than any other. Not because I want to eat a hot dog and drink a beer with a bunch of other people, but because of the journey it represents. Hack sportswriters will all tell you that everyone starts at the same place and thus everyone can conceivably have hope for a successful season. That’s a false utopia, but whatever.

This year, though, baseball is in a weird spot. People who grew up watching the game as casual fans now feel alienated from the game because it’s too specialized, too long and too boring. All are understandable feelings. For the first time in a long time, it feels like the actual sport itself is having an identity crisis.

Minor League Baseball is experimenting with putting a runner on second in extra innings to make things more exciting, apparently. MLB is putting a limit on mound visits as a way to try to shorten games. One franchise, the Arizona Diamondbacks, is bringing back the bullpen car to liven up pitching changes, and in Baltimore, the team is letting kids age 9 and under into games for free because that’s what they’ve come to.

If I’m being real, it’s heartbreaking. The sport has understandably turned to various gimmicks to try to improve ratings and attendance, and at the risk of sounding like the oldest man in Oldmanistan, it’s sad. To be clear, bullpen carts are incredible and letting kids into the park is even better. It’s not about the specificity of the gimmick, it’s about the fact that baseball is no longer good enough.

Look around the league and tell me who the people are who move the needle the most. The guys with the personalities, who play like they don’t care what opponents think and just want to have a good time playing. You can see it in the World Baseball Classic when players represent their home nations, and you can see it at lower levels of the game, where the notion of decorum and code are a little less rigid.

As a kid who grew up a baseball fanatic in a city without a big league team, I fell in love with the characters on the field, doing my best to connect with their personalities as humans and players, far more than my allegiance to the success of any one team. And those years of the ’80s and ’90s, there was a large swag element that was noticeable, and from far more people than just the stars. Now, if a team has a manager who curses a lot and a player who wears his hat askew, they’re looked at as loose cannons.

All this is to say that it’s an important season for the big league product. When I sat on a panel at the winter meetings in Orlando, Florida, I was asked what big league teams could do to improve the television experience of baseball. There’s a monumental focus on time, when the reality is about the game. If people don’t want to watch guys field ground balls, make throws and foul off pitches, then they just don’t.

Throwing bells and whistles into random parts of the sport is not going to draw people to the yard or their television sets. Baseball has become too monolithic in style, with the personality of the game we’re told to draw on as a child to endear ourselves to the game erased by adulthood with the wholly idiotic phrase “that’s not how you play the game.”

I’ve been to probably 10 ballgames already this season. None of them in the big leagues, but the passion was equally present. The Opening Day crowds across the nation are an interesting indicator of who the big leagues are trying to draw. There are those who show up for the experience and those who show up for the game, while most people do both. But are pitch clocks and batter’s box restrictions going to bring them back to the park? Unlikely.

If a game is entertaining, it doesn’t really matter how long it is. That’s the whole point of the sport. And the players are the ones who make it so. But as long as those in the ranks are operating on a code that strips the diamond of what originally made it delightful, the fans will know better. Everyone who shows up this weekend to watch hardball is there to have fun. Whether they do or not will likely be on the guys in uniform, not the ones in the commissioner’s office.

Ben Simmons calls Karl-Anthony Towns’ shot

Towns drops 56 on Hawks, whom Simmons told him not to worry about

7:16 AMBen Simmons is set to make just $6 million this season, but he could easily make nearly 100 times that if he plays the lottery Friday.

The Philadelphia 76ers rookie guard is obviously some kind of wizard or prophet based on his ability to predict the future, so why not take a stab at Friday’s reported $500 million-plus Mega Millions jackpot?

Let’s rewind first.

On Tuesday night, Simmons was playing something called PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds over a livestream (reading that sentence is like reading Spanish or Mandarin), and was joined by Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. At one point, the third-year 7-footer told Simmons he had to hop off because 1) it was bedtime and 2) he had a game the next day.

Simmons wanted to keep playing, so he asked Towns who the Timberwolves’ next opponent was. Towns responded the Atlanta Hawks, to which Simmons quipped: “You got plenty of time.”

We haven’t seen that level of disrespect from a rookie since Daniel Puder sized up Kurt Angle on WWE SmackDown.

Anyway, Simmons turned out to be correct, as Towns laid a franchise-record 56 points on the Hawks on Wednesday night, including 26 in the first half. This was the third-highest point total the Hawks have allowed, behind only Michael Jordan’s 61 and Larry Bird’s 60. This also continues a rough seven-day stretch for Atlanta, who lost to the Sacramento Kings in front of fewer than 2,000 fans on March 22 because of protests outside the Kings’ arena.

But back to Simmons. If the young guy can predict a player’s first 50-point game, there’s no telling what else he knows.

NFL

New rule aimed at eliminating lowering of head to make contact could change the way football is played

The wording of the rule will be finalized later this offseason

6:44 PMThe rules changes coming out of the NFL owners’ meetings in Orlando, Florida, are aimed at addressing a few of the league’s most controversial issues from recent seasons. Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday discussed catch rule adjustments that we all knew were coming, and most fans believe are overdue. The hope is that simplifying criteria for a catch will lead to less ambiguity and fewer Monday morning controversies.

Those alterations will have a substantial impact on the game, but the impact will be minor compared with the potential effect of a rule meant to eliminate lowering of the helmet to initiate contact for any player. The penalty for violators can range from 15 yards to ejection or even suspension. Depending on the wording of the rule, which will be finalized later this offseason, it could completely change how football is played. But it also might ensure that the NFL football will continue to be played for decades to come.