Saturday, June 23, 2007

SLANT-N-GO: Pacman and McMahon

NFL commissioner Roger Goddell may have a much-younger kindred spirit in the 10-year-old son of local resident Myrtle Johnson.

Johnson said her son needed to take medication after watching World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon "get killed" in an exploding limousine at the end of "Monday Night Raw" two weeks ago.

Goddell probably had to take medication after suspended Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones somehow is entangled in another shooting incident, this one in the wee hours of last Monday after a fight in a suburban Atlanta strip club.

At first glance, McMahon's death hoax and Jones' latest involvement with law enforcement seem to be on opposite sides of the reality spectrum. McMahon's case is just another despicable display of poor taste to boost ratings while Jones' case is just another episode of his now-legendary lack of judgment.

Matter of fact, it is poor taste and lack of judgment that make these two seemingly opposite people very similar.

McMahon is the third-generation wrestling promoter that made the change from "rasslin'" to "sports entertainment" to keep his company from sporting events regulated by various state athletic commissions — avoiding commission fees and license costs in the process. He built his empire by taking over smaller territorial companies in the early 1980s in his own version of manifest destiny.

He then pushed it into the national landscape with the help of cartoonish characters that bordered on the ridiculous, but partly based on stereotypes. The characters and storylines took a turn during the last 15 years as storylines became more offensive and violent, featuring a dose of misogyny mixed in with the "Mr. McMahon" character's various abuses of power.

The June 11 episode of Raw was billed, ironically, as "Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night." Last Monday's episode somehow mocked the WWE's own coverage of deaths like Owen Hart's in 1999 and Eddie Guerrero's in 2005 as it focused on the "death" of the Mr. McMahon character, going as far as saying federal investigators were looking into the incident. WWE programming also gave passing mention to the recent death of New Orleans native, and 2006 WWE Hall of Fame inductee, Sherri Martel.

By the way, letters from WWE stockholders have been showing up on websites dedicated to covering the sports entertainment industry voicing their displeasure at the McMahon death hoax. A CNBC commentator also pondered if the hoax violates a portion of the Securities and Exchange Act, which would bring about real federal action if it was indeed a violation.

Pacman Jones, who is not related to writer Bomani Jones, pushed himself into the national spotlight with a cool retro nickname and his dramatic kick and interception returns while playing for former Tulane assistant Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia. Pacman experienced heartache as a child. His father was shot and killed when he was 10-years-old, leaving his mother and grandmother to raise him in the Altanta suburb of College Park. His grandmother succumbed to cancer during his freshman year with the Mountaineers, and the game he missed to attend the funeral was the only one he missed during his 3-year stint at West Virginia. He was even on the academic honor roll.

Jones, who brought the strip club slang "making it rain" to the national lexicon, was charged with two counts of felony coercion stemming from the now-infamous NBA All-Star weekend rainfest at a Las Vegas strip club that turned into a fight that came before a triple shooting. The shooting left one bar employee paralyzed and two others with less serious wounds.

In other news, Jones made it rain in Vegas again early Friday. He dropped $20,000 into the Clark County coffers — $10,000 for each charge — as he surrendered to authorities and posted bond. He also made a change, cutting off his dreadlocks for the mug shot. Ironically, Jones ‘‘was in and out around 2 a.m.,’’ said Lt. Jason Letkiewicz, a Las Vegas police watch commander.

Columnists and TV personalities also like to poke fun at the fact that Jones has more arrests (six) than interceptions (four) since being taken with the sixth-overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.

McMahon and Jones each did a little bit of violating with their respective transgressions. McMahon violated the trust of a 10-year-old child that believed he was being entertained until that limo went kaboom. Everyone knows the outcomes are predetermined, but people respect the performers for their toughness, athleticism and ability to entertain. However, try explaining to a 10-year-old who "loves rasslin’" the difference between Mr. McMahon getting blown up in a limo on TV while Vincent Kennedy McMahon is still alive and well at this moment.

Jones violated the trust of Goddell after telling him he was going to take his 1-year suspension like a man and work to improve his image in order to be reinstated. The NFL would have reviewed that possibility as early as the Titans' 10th game, but that is probably out of the window now. Jones somehow became the poster boy for bad behavior in professional sports with his constant run-ins with the law. Goddell probably hoped Jones kept his nose clean in order not to get to that next step of possibly banning Pacman from the league, but Jones just could not keep his butt out of the strip club or keep his "posse" in check for him not to get into trouble.

By the way, only middle-aged, out-of-touch writers would refer to an athlete and the gaggle of folks around him as a "posse." That is so "Arsenio Hall Show."

Nevertheless, all that remains is the trauma and tears of a 10-year-old rasslin' fan and a half-empty bottle of headache medicine for the NFL commissioner. All thanks to two men that suffer from an obvious lack of judgment and good taste. Heck, they make a great tag team.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

SLANT-N-GO: mini-camp, mega-madness

METAIRIE, La.—Remember the mall concert madness of the late 1980s through early 1990s? You know, the thousands of screaming fans with T-shirts, hats and posters cramming into the food court or some other small space to see some young up-and-coming teen heartthrob send mall security into DEFCON 1?

Well, the New Orleans Saints' facility had that same energy during its mini-camp a week ago. Hundreds of people lined the street between the Saints home base and Zephyr Field while hundreds more looked both ways before running across Airline Highway, oops, Airline Drive just to get a chance to see the defending NFC South champs and soon-to-be trendy pick to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLII Feb. 3, 2008 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

This experience was a totally new one for me. I've covered the mini-camp last season and spent part of a day last fall in Jackson, Miss., for training camp at Millsaps College. It is one thing to cover the NFL as a member of the media, but its a whole other world watching it from a fan's point-of-view.

In a nutshell, watching the NFL as a reporter and then watching it as a regular spectator is sort of like flipping the channel from "Larry King Live" to "Total Request Live." Sure, the nice little media tag grants a good deal of access to the workouts and the players but the atmosphere is just stolid, business-like, and down right cold. That atmosphere is a not-so-subtle reminder of why some people call the NFL the "No Fun League."

On the other hand, the fans were what Southeastern head football coach Mike Lucas would call "crunked up." I arrived at the Saints facility about 45 minutes before the gates opened, and you could see just driving by the long line of would-be spectators that they were just getting warmed up.

The fans brought their energy and enthusiasm to the place — along with enough Saints paraphernalia to devote a good 2-hour block on either QVC or the Home Shopping Network. They came with their photographs, jerseys, footballs, mini- and full-sized replica helmets and just about anything else under the sun in the hopes that their favorite guy in black and gold puts their John Hancock on it.

I made that drive from Baton Rouge to Metairie with my 15-, 13- and 11-year old nephews thinking we would get there early enough to cop a good spot amongst the throngs of Saints faithful. WRONG!!! The traffic on Airline robbed me of a good 10 minutes, enough to put my group at least four football fields away from the gate to enter. Fellow Daily Star employee Tammy Pierson and her son saw me pass by, but they were in a far better position that my group was.

Enough about the celebrity sightings, let's get back to this experience. Saints officials opened the gate to the public around 9 a.m., and the fans were rushing in there like the Saints facility was a Foot Locker in the mid-90s and a new version of Air Jordans were just getting put on the shelves. Thousands of fans, along with this casual onlooker with puzzled nephews, swamped the area set aside for spectators and waited for nearly an hour before the first wave of Saints players jogged out for workouts.

A group of guys sitting around midfield started to belt out that familiar "Who Dat" chant, and the call-and-response spread quickly throughout the crowd. My nephews looked at me with some confusion, and I just told them to just sit back and enjoy the show.

It started to startle me when the crowd started chanting different things at the sight of different players.

When Deuce McAlister strolled out, the crowd broke out its "Deuce" chant. You know, the one where everybody yells out "DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSE!" whenever he gets the ball.

When Reggie Bush jogged out, that "REG-GIE! "REG-GIE" chant was as loud as the one he got before he broke that punt return for a TD against Tampa Bay in the Dome.

When Drew Brees came out, these two little kids just kept screaming his last name. They did this for about 30 minutes nonstop, trying to get the starting QB to acknowledge them while warming up. All they did in 30 minutes was drive me crazy. In fact, that's what all of the fans did.

The media guy in me wanted to get on a megaphone and say "Look, y'all. It's just mini-camp. It's not preseason. It's not mid-October. It's mini-camp in June." However, acting out on that thought would have gotten me branded a Saints hater and then probably would have received the beating of my life from the overexuberant Saints faithful.

So here's this media guy in fans clothing, hearing the "oohs" and "aahs" of the crowd as the team went into coverage drills pitting the DBs against the WRs. Ironically, I saw Robert Meachem running — albeit just as briefly as the Saints brass saw him run as well. I thought to myself what just was the payoff from me sitting out in the heat with thousands of diehards.

Well, the payoff was the joy on my 13- and 11-year old nephews' faces as they walked away with their T-shirts covered with autographs from some of their favorite players.

And that was well worth the headache.