Monday, September 26, 2005

Slant & Go: Some stories aren't getting told

(NOTE: This column ran in the Sept. 25, 2005 edition of The Hammmond (La.) Daily Star).

By Fred Batiste

Three weeks have passed since Hurricane Katrina cut a swath of destruction, despair and calamity through southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Saints and Tulane sports have been scattered throughout the south, like many of the residents of south Louisiana. Southeastern, Nicholls State, LSU and Southern all have canceled games due to Katrina's wake.
Stories hit the wire about how many of some of our favorite professional athletes' hometowns were effected by Katrina. Camera crews followed Brett Farve as he surveyed storm-strewn Kiln, Miss. NBA players hastily gathered in Houston, putting up $10,000 of their own money each, to play a charity game to raise money. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton hit the airwaves to raise funds.
Something felt missing, however. It seemed as though some stories were not being told, let alone being told enough. People read about LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell put up blues legend Fats Domino in his on-campus apartment for a spell, where Domino later hooked up with family friends after being rescued. The story of Southeastern's Keithshone Dantzler, however, was not given to as large of an audience.
Lions' head coach Dennis Roland's voice was dripped with concern when he said one of his players went unaccounted for after the hurricane. Dantzler went to New Orleans to be with his mother before the storm hit, but Roland said he could not get out of the city in time. Dantzler made contact days after the storm and he and his mother are safe.
Chicago Bulls' guard Chris Duhon, a Slidell native, did not have a televised tour of his hometown after the storm. Duhon sent supplies back home and talked about stories he had heard. One of those stories was probably the condition of the town and Salmen High, his alma mater. St. Thomas Aquinas football coach Randy Johnson said he has a son that lives next to Salmen and gave him an update on the school.
"When I tell you there's no Salmen High School, there's no Salmen High School," Johnson said.
Peyton and Eli Manning sent supplies to evacuees and visited them in Baton Rouge. Cameras were there, with reporters in tow. Little to no ink on Marshall Faulk, who came out of the Ninth Ward's Desire Street Housing Projects to become a future Hall of Famer and has given thousands of dollars back to his old neighborhood. No real coverage on how the storm affected athletes like Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne of Marrero, WNBA Rookie of the Year Tameka Johnson of New Orleans or World Wrestling Entertainment performer John Heidenreich of New Orleans.
Even Shaq himself, the giant man he is, received a smidgen of coverage as he and his wife shipped supplies to evacuees. Nothing was made of the fact that NBA pariah Ron Artest was one of those players in that charity game in Houston, and reports from people there said Artest was the nicest guy there. Stephon Marbury friggin' cried as he announce he was donating between $500,000 and $1 million to relief efforts, and Marbury's from Brooklyn.
Any network TV interviews? Any extended coverage? There could have been - with all the channels satellite and digital cable television provides - but it was probably few and far between.
It is refreshing to know that these spoiled, egotistical, me-first professional athletes do know what truly is important to life. It is refreshing to know that these people who make these ludicrous sums of money and have literally everything show they actually care and put for the effort to help those who have absolutely nothing but each other right now. It is also situations like these that show the rest of the world that athletes and other celebrities are just as vulnerable to disaster as everyday people, and they are not as removed from reality as some think.
It is unfortunate the general public is not seeing or hearing it all, and probably will not see or hear it either.
Now, as Hurricane Rita bears down on southwest Louisiana and south Texas, you wonder if more coverage will be devoted to how Roger Clemens fared while stories about George Foreman, Donald Driver, Keenan McCardell and others get brushed to the back pages.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Another One of Fred's Katrina Adventure's: A Whoadette

All this Hurricane Katrina (the baddest bitch) mess went a whole new level for me, somewhat.All over a whoadette--a female from New Orleans--a.k.a--Whoadieland.

Picture it: Baton Rouge, 1998. Carefree guy being a summer counselor for a high school program. The whoadette was student at Southern at the time. We met through a mutual friend, a co-worker of mine, and we were kicking it hard during that summer.

But she left the yard to attend another school, and I got into a relationship/got out of a relationship months later. We'd run into each other during homecoming or Bayou Classic, and it just had that same vibe seeing her years later as I did when we first met.

We kept communicating after she left, I even wrote a letter to her. She told me on several occasions she still had it and reads it from time to time. She also remembers things about me and vice versa. When I became a taxpaying citizen and got the young cell phone...we talked more and caught up on what each other was doing.

To some, she could be the one that got away. To me, I don't know. Can't miss what you really didn't have, I guess. But then, Katrina came through the N.O. The storm caused levees to break, which y'all know flooded out a good bit of Whoadieland. I know the area she lived in was flooded because she told me it was off Elysian Fields down the street from Dillard and the University of New Orleans.

I hope she, like all my other Whoadieland friends/associates/drinking patnas, and her loved ones made it out alright. The storm has sort've reinforced the notion I've held that enjoy the company of people because you never know when the next time you'll see them. It has also made me somewhat nostalgic, something rare for me. Remembering people, places, events, drinks and some good times. At least I'm glad a Category 4 storm cannot flood away all of that. Memories are better than nothing, jack.

Fred's 2005 SWAC football preview

This ran in the Hammond (La.) Daily Star Aug. 28, 2005. But for obvious reasons (the Hurricane), I wasn't able to get this online...

The quest for the 2005 Southwestern Athletic Conference title features just as many question marks and storylines than the conference probably has teams.
Of the 10-team conference, only three - defending champion Alabama State, runnerup Southern and Grambling State - have very realistic shots at hoisting the championship trophy Dec. 10 in Birmingham, Ala. All three have question marks, but not as pronounced as the other seven schools.
The Hornets and Tigers were picked by several media outlets to win the SWAC's eastern and western divisions, respectively. However, many perils lie in wait to thwart prognosticators during the season including the newly reinforced 9-game mandate. That means all teams must play each other, also rendering the conference championship game a redundant rematch (how it got to that point is a whole other story).
Predicting an order of finish for a conference's football season is too, well mundane. Here's one better, briefly discussing some issues that may prevent these teams from becoming champion this season.

Alabama State has the SWAC's best quarterback-tailback duo in seniors Tarvaris Jackson in Keldrick Williams, but have to replace their top two receivers, three offensive lineman and five defensive starters. One of those starters was linebacker Rock Dillon, the conference's defensive player of the year in 2004.
Linebacker Billy Gresham was named preseason defensive player of the year over returning performers such as Alabama A&M linebacker Johnny Baldwin, Mississippi Valley State linebacker Jarette Prout and Amite's Cletis Gordon, cornerback/return specialist for Jackson State. Jackson, who was second in the SWAC in total offense in 2004, was named preseason player offensive player of the year and Williams, led the SWAC in rushing two years running averaging 1,100 yards each season. Throw fullback Robert Randolph in the mix with Jackson and Williams, and the Hornets should not have to worry about offensive production.
Gresham and linebacker Chris Dupuy solidify an experienced front seven and experienced players will be in the secondary, but it will probably be enough to outlast the teams in the SWAC's Eastern Division. It may be different when facing the SWAC's Louisiana contingent.

Grambling returns two-time Payton Award finalist Bruce Eugene at quarterback, but it may not be enough for the Tigers to reclaim the SWAC title. Eugene, a senior, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener last season. Grambling muddled their way through 2004 to notch a 6-5 record, knocking off rival Southern in the Bayou Classic to earn that sixth win.
Eugene's presence may possibly cause a quarterback controversy in Lincoln Parish. Last year's starter, true sophomore Brandon Landers, threw for over 2,000 yards as a freshman. Some of the Grambling faithful might call for Landers if Eugene does not show the form that made him one of I-AA's top quarterbacks.
The Tigers discovered they had the tools to make a powerful rushing attack late in the season, utilizing tailback Ab Kuuan and fullback Ruben Mayes finding holes provided by consensus All-American Jonathan Banks and a mammoth offensive line.
Grambling also returns wide receivers Tim Abney and Moses Harris from season-ending injuries, who will figure prominently in another possible conflict - whether to air it out with Eugene and the receivers or pound it out with Kuuan and Mayes. The Tigers must first find an offensive identity before it gets too late, like last season, and find themselves out of the hunt for the West title.
The defensive line lost All-American Kenneth Pettway but gains defensive tackle Lennard Patten, an academic casualty last season. South Carolina transfer Moe Thompson, who lands at Grambling after running afoul with law enforcement in the Palmetto State, will start on the defensive line as well. The defense will need another leader like Pettway if it wants to get back to what Tigers fans refer to as "Gramblingham, Alabama."

Southern breaks in its third new quarterback in as many season, but the last two starters before redshirt sophomore J.C. Lewis only won SWAC Offensive Player of the Year and led the Jaguars to the last two SWAC title games. The entire offense, led by first-team All-SWAC wide receiver James Vernon, is virtually intact and looks ready to make a case for I-AA's top offensive unit.
The defense is the big question mark, having lost experienced guys in the much-maligned front seven and in the secondary. Head coach Pete Richardson will look toward the return of veterans like Kevin Mack, along with young players like freshman defensive backs Randy Thomas and Michael Williams to make major contributions to the Jaguars.
Another note: Southern under Richardson have been great in odd-numbered years. The Jaguars won 11 or more games in 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2003. The only aberration, a 7-4 record in 2001. Look for the defending Western Division champions to have a say in who takes home the crown this season, if the defense holds. The west will be decided, as it has always been, at the Bayou Classic.

Alabama A&M's defense seems to always be one of Division I-AA's best, but the Bulldogs' offense has been its Achilles heel. Bulldogs fans are long-starved for a breakthrough in the SWAC East under head coach Anthony Jones, but it seems as though Alabama A&M are the SWAC's version of Texas - their season gets thrashed after losing to their main rival. The Bulldogs must take that step to get into the SWAC title hunt by knocking off Alabama State in the Magic City Classic, but it won't happen for one reason - the Hornets' offense can consistently put up points while the Bulldogs' offense cannot.
Baldwin leads an experienced front seven while Leveronte Turner and Jamerson Baker are back in the secondary. The front seven is the Bulldogs' strong suit, able to make even the most cold-blooded quarterback get happy feet because of the pressure. The secondary goes through too many mental lapses, like the one that resulted in Southern's game-winning touchdown pass a year ago in Huntsville, to stay consistent.

Mississippi Valley State would have won the Division I-AA national championship if college football games only lasted two or three quarters, but football games have four quarters - which the Delta Devils often failed to show up for. Recent College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Valley head coach/former quarterback/school icon Willie Totten, has vowed to turn quarterback Aries Nelson, 2004 SWAC Newcomer of the Year, and his array of receivers into the 2005 revival of the famed "Satellite Express" offense. That offense, the wide open offense that put Itta Bena on the map in the early 1980s, got Totten's favorite receiver noticed by and drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. Besides, the Delta Devils' stadium isn't named Rice-Totten by some stroke of luck.
Prout and fellow linebacker Tyler Knight are tackling machines that provided the base for the SWAC's fourth-best defense. This team experienced growing pains last season as they constantly failed to finish the job in the second half in close games. The Delta Devils can only improve, but that depends on how much they tire out on both sides of the ball. Valley is still a year away from really contending for the East crown, unless they backslide away from the momentum being built this season.

Alcorn State returns one of I-AA's best wide receiver duos in Charlie Spiller and Nate Hughes, but who is going to throw them the ball? The answer could be true freshman Tony Hobson, who thwarted his hometown Jackson State Tigers to don the purple and gold of the Eastern Division rival. It could be the start of another era at Alcorn because the school's top two career passers - Donald Carrie and a certain Tennessee Titans quarterback - both were 4-year starters.
Inexperience at running back will hurt the offense, just as the lack of experience at linebacker will hurt the Braves whenever they try to stop the run. The Braves were terrible against the run last year. Taurian Banks and Quentin Sullivan are good corners, but in a conference where there are a lot of 4- or 5-receiver sets, two good corners are not enough. Expect the Braves' secondary to get "Air Raided" this season.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff went 6-3 last season and look poised to make more noise, but that record came without playing Southern or Alcorn State (another story regarding the 9-game mandate). Head coach Mo Forte turned the Golden Lions around, but this season will be different as UAPB loses its top rushers and some key defensive players. Southern and Alcorn are also on the schedule this year.
History doesn't bode well for UAPB as well. Forte led a similar resurgence at North Carolina A&T, going 9-3 in 1986, but the Aggies went 3-8 the following year.
The Golden Lions will have three seniors on the defensive line, but only return one starter in the secondary. Having only one veteran in the secondary in the SWAC is literally begging the scoreboard operator to spot the opposing team 30 or more points. That, coupled with being in the West with Southern and Grambling, only spells trouble.

Prairie View was not the cupcake last season, but the euphoria of their 3-win Cinderella season will get erased quickly, just like their 2-0 start was erased quickly by Southern last season. The Panthers could compete for the SWAC West title in about three years, if they can increase their win totals by one each season. One small victory for any other school is one huge victory for Prairie View.

Jackson State's only won six of 23 football games in the last two seasons, but beleaguered head coach James Bell might just throw everything and the kitchen sink at the conference in order to come up with a winning season and save his job, yet alone beat the last-place predictions and win the SWAC East. Hey, when there is a 2-year-old Web site called promising visitors it's returning bigger and better, then that's an indication of a coach that has alienated Tigers fans could call on desperate measures.
Those desperate measures might include Gordon, a consensus preseason All-American, could possibly see time at corner, wide receiver, equipment manager, ticket salesperson or athletic director if it means the Tigers will get above .500 and compete for the SWAC championship. That will not happen, because the damage caused by the worst two-year stretch in J-State history will be too much to overcome this year. This program needs CPR.

Texas Southern's 0-fer last season will not be repeated this , but don't expect the Tigers to just go from 0-11 to contending for the SWAC West title overnight. They bring some experienced players back on defense, but the offense looked awful at times. The crash-and-burn of last season even has Prairie View fans looking forward to beating up on the Tigers in the Labor Day Classic in Houston.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Jerry Rice's retirement, as told by the WMD

Sorry about the hiatus folks, things are starting to get back to "normal" since the baddest bitch/Hurricane Katrina came callin' a couple weeks ago. Here's my take on Jerry Rice's retirement, but be warned, it's in my usually twisted point-of-view.

Jerry Rice has retired, or as I like to think of it, euthanized by the football gods. I know that the guy Gunglinger Cooley said could catch BBs in the dark and was called "World" as Miss. Valley State felt like he could play, but Mike (the false genius) Shanahan kinda let him down easy. If Jerry felt like he could play, more power to him. However, the only person that could consistently put press coverage on ya boy got him, and that's Father Time.

Football, unlike the other major sports, puts the player at a greater degree of risk when it comes to long-term physical harm. Johnny Unitas couldn't use the right arm that made him God in Baltimore after he finished playing, Keenan McCardell can't comb his hair after games, Terrell Davis is in his early 30s with athritic knees, and etcetera etcetera.

Very few come out relatively unscathed like Jim Brown, Howie Long and Cris Collinsworth (now which one of those three didn't belong?). Jerry just had the good fortune, and good skill/conditioning, to last as long as he did in the NFL without that much wear and tear on his body. But come to think of it, Jerry became something most of us have seen on the streets and ignored, something that someone close to us has become, or something we just shake our heads it and amazement/shame at...

Jerry Rice was a junkie lookin' for a fix...and football was his drug.

Think about it, Jerry was riding high when Bill Walsh fed him that good West Coast Offense dope. Jerry was on top of the world, setting records that may never be broken, getting snubbed for a Super Bowl MVP award and setting a standard at his position that may never be paralleled in any sport by any player at any position.

Then, as Bill Walsh got pushed off the block and Seifert and Co. took over and left (along with John York taking control of the team away from Eddie Debartalo--thanx to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards), the front office felt that Jerry's football habit was too expensive to spend on when they had fine young foxes J.J. Stokes and Terrell (Tuh-RELL not Teh-RULL) Owens waiting in the wings. So what did they do...stage a "last hurrah/passing over the torch" at Denver (ironic) and let T.O. snag 20-plus balls at old Candlestick Park to break a Jerry Rice record.

Dejected, like junkies are when their longtime supplier don't want them no more, he went searching for a new fix. Junkies do some strange things when they look for that fix. In this case, Jerry went to Oakland. Man, Jerry in the silver in black is like David Duke and Mark Furman doing a remakes of "Fu*k the Police" and "Can't Truss It" in Adamsville off 285 -- you would never believe it unless you saw it.

Jerry hooked up with some other ol-school football junkies -- Rich Gannon, Tim Brown, Rod Woodson, and their new pusher Jon "Chucky" Gruden..and the old junkies did pretty damned good. But after Chuky left for Tampa and got credit for winning with Tony Dungy's talent built up, Jerry was left with another regime change, with new pushers saying Jerry was too expensive to maintain while their younger foxes like Jerry Porter, Doug Gabriel and Ron Curry waiting in the wings.

So Jerry headed north to Seattle, of all places, to try to get a taste with a new pusher, Mike Holmgren. He knew Holmgren from back in the day with 'Niners -- Jerry was the star WR while Mike was learning how to cook that raw from Bill Walsh. Jerry thought he could lend his vast junkie experience to help younger foxes Darrell Jackson, Koren (poor man's Randy Moss) Robinson and Bobby Engram (who I'm surprised is still in the league). But, those three got the rock time and kept droppin' passes while ol' Jerry languished on the bench, searching for a fix.

Jerry was let go by ol' dope apprentice Holmgren and tried to latch on to another Bill Walsh apprentice, Mike (the false genius) Shanahan. Shanahan made no promises to keep him if Jerry couldn't be third on the depth chart, but junkies just can't quit...and lo and behold he was beaten out for that job by a younger fox, Darrius Watts.

So after 20 years of the football drug, Jerry decided to admit he had a football problem and he needed help to become a regular citizen. He retired from the drug and will seek some serious rehab to get back to a regular life. But, as we all know, junkies can't quit cold turkey...So they'll wean him off. Here's how they'll wean him off..

1. He'll get a gig doing some commentary (have Super Bowl rings: will analyze!)
2. He'll probably go back to Valley to get some of that ol' school dope (his buddy, "Satellite" Totten is the coach)
3. He'll still get that fat NFL pension, which all of us wish we could get.
4. He'll do some Visa commerical or FedEx commercial

But, look at the bright side. He's already admitted he has a football problem, and admittance is the first step to recovery.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not saying Jerry Rice is, or ever was, a junkie. I was just using "junkie" as a metaphor. This is just for laughs, folks.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Another one of Fred's Katrina Adventures

Powerless. That's how I felt for a few minutes Friday. It's not powerless like being without electricity or batteries. I mean powerless like there's nothing you can do to change the situation.

There's only been two situations in my life when I felt that way--when my little cousin died in a car wreck when I was in 7th grade and when my father died when I was 15. That third moment came while I was covering volunteers in Independence, La. (hometown of Jacksonville Jaguars RB LaBrandon Toefield) distributing ice, water and meals-ready-to-eat to locals without power and water.

I was talking to the school superintendent in Tangipahoa Parish (a Southern alum), who was helping with the effort. One of the volunteers asked me if I knew phone numbers to the local radio stations. Apparently, some displaced people from New Orleans were trying to get the word out that they were looking for relatives that they haven't heard from since Hurricane Katrina came through Monday.
I didn't know the radio station numbers, but quickly gave phone numbers to my newspaper's makeshift office - which had numbers to all agencies and media outlets on hand. One of the family members, a female that looked to be in my age range, was visibly shaken and had tears in her eyes as she talked to me.

All I could do is hand her those numbers to our office and get her on the path to getting the word out. It took every ounce of me not to weep with her and her family. People that know me well know that I'm not the most sympathetic person in the world, but the pain and sadness in that woman's voice, and the desperation in the body language of her family, spoke volumes. For the third time in my soon-to-be 27 years on this planet, I truly felt powerless. Powerless to change an outcome, a situation, a scenario, yaddah yaddah...

Degrees of separation between me and the chaos have all but been eliminated, as this storm has affected family, friends and perfect strangers that I've come across in recent days. One of my best friends from college is still unheard from as the storm also messed up a good chunk of the 'Sip (get at us, mane!) while another just got his Internet service restored. My friend from Slidell (also hometown to Chicago Bulls guard/former Dookie Chris Duhon) is still unheard from.

Coming Soon...How something as mundane as getting gas has turned into episodes of the Crocodile Hunter and my much delayed SWAC football preview!!!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Fred's Hurricane Katrina Adventure(s)

I was about 12 years old the last time I witnessed something nearly on the level of this here Hurricane Katrina mess. It was 1992, and Hurricane Andrew ripped Florida and Louisiana, leaving my hometown without power for two weeks easy and devestating a lot of things around me. I was too young to fully understand the damage that Andrew wrought. Now, I totally understand because another, more powerful storm, has done far worse than any storm has ever done along the Gulf Coast.

Just imagine a gumbo consisting of 9/11, the tsunami and scenes from the "Mad Max" movies...if you can imagine that, well you've probably got a decent picture of what's been going on after Hurricane Katrina (the baddest bitch) paid south Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast a little visit Monday...

Well, this story starts Saturday. I was in New Orleans with a friend, a police officer, and she told me to get out of the city before 4 p.m. because that's when they were going to start the contraflow to allow people out of there. Well, I got on the West Bank and about 4.5 hours later, I was back in my Baton Rouge home (FYI: BR to the NO is about 75 miles).

I had this sick feeling in my gut that something bad was going to happen. The howling winds that broad, the hurricane, peppered the house with Monday should've been a harbinger to something much worse. I didn't know it was going to be as bad as it is now.

In case you've been chillin' with Osama bin in a cave, you know what went down in these here parts. Scenes from Biloxi/Gulfport of buildings taken off their foundations look like someone scraped them off like they had a wire brush cleaning off a barbecue grill. The NO, known to me as "Whoadieland" is a submerged wasteland filled with desparation, lunacy, anarchy and that almighty primal sense of self-preservation.

I have a friend who's from Slidell, a major suburb north of the NO. I haven't heard from her yet. I just heard from my police friend for the first time since I left the N.O. Saturday. She lost her house, only getting out with the clothes she had on her back and her laptop that she took Sunday when reporting for duty.

Oakwood Mall on the West Bank (right off the N.O. Connection Bridge in Gretna/Terry/Algiers) has been burned down by looters. Dead bodies are being strung up to poles just to keep them out of the way/floating away. Looters are shooting at officers and getting shot by officers. Despite the situation now, she said she's going to continue living in Whoadieland.

Work has been in conditions that would make Spartan seem like crashing at Oprah's guest house for a week. The office just had power restored Wednesday, so writers had to write their stories longhand and give stories to clerks to type. I haven't done that since I let my cousin type a junior year of high school.

One of my best friends from college, along with my brother, experienced a lesser form of Katrina in south Florida. My brother's house needs a new roof because of the number of leaks and my homeboy couldn't get back to his place for two days because of fallen trees. But they're alright, like my officer friend, and that's good enough for me...

It's funny that this "Apocalypse Whoadie" is sort of like a prism to me now: you can see all shades of the human spectrum once you look into it.