April 2012 Archives

The NBA allows assault with a deadly weapon

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 I was preparing to write today on the plethora of athlete heart attacks that suddenly seem to be everywhere.  The Premier Soccer Leagues worldwide, in particular. 

As you know, I have been championing the idea of doing EKG's on High School Athlete's prior to training for the season. I consult constantly with Dr. Vishva Dev, Director of cardiology at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, CA. This was the column, armed with volumes of research, I was prepared to write.

However, for the moment, I have put that column on the back burner. The reason: I truly enjoy all your comments and this week, I received a great many, including one from my good friend Leon Lewitt, expecting that I would write a column on Ron Artest. Artest, in a momentary fit of "Macho Bravado", seriously injured an opposing player by throwing a hard elbow that caught Oklahoma City Thunder Guard James Harden on the side of his head.

Lewitt , in particular, called attention to other violent incidents over the years in professional sports..  These comments motivated me to express my own opinion.

The Kennedy Award named for my good friend, the late NBA Commissioner, J. Walter Kennedy, is given each season to the player who is considered the NBA's best citizen. Last year it was Meta World Peace aka Ron Artest.

 I knew J. Walter well and I know that he would be appalled at the minimal penalty handed down by Commissioner Stern, for what I truly consider "Assault with a deadly weapon."

 In fact, Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office did not discount the possibility that Artest could be charged. However, in order to be charged a referral would have to be initiated by local law enforcement. This would have to be initiated by the victim and it is doubtful that Harden might pursue this avenue.

My true concern is the effect it has on hero-worshipping young minds.

This not only teaches  the kids watching that violence is okay and should be considered part of the game, it adds fuel  to aggressive parents who seek success for their child.  It's not unlike, the stage mother who has never achieved , but only dreamed of success and now spends thousands of dollars while pushing her son, or daughter to perform.  While the child who may be talentless obeys, eventually to be disappointed.

The only real difference, there is seldom physical violence in music, drama, or comedy..

This, unfortunately, is not the case in youth sports.  There are many examples of letting the rooting for your child, get out-of-hand. Much of the violence takes place at school football or  Little League Baseball games.

For example: In 2001 at San Diego, three parents were arrested after a full-scale brawl erupted  between coaches, parents and fans at a youth soccer game. My friend John Chafetz who was AYSO Commissioner at the time would eventually  resign because of the overbearing parents.

How about the time in Texas (2005) where the father of a Texas Football Player shot and wounded his son's coach because he didn't think  his son was getting enough playing time.

 In 1999, still another enraged father was convicted of assault , after giving a 10 year old pitcher $2 to hit a batter with a fastball.

What about this one? In 2004, two teachers,  who were supposed to teach our children the lessons of fair play and sportsmanship, were arrested for fighting at a girl's basketball game in Alabama, while a parent was arrested for punching a referee.

Who can ever forget that in 2005, a 13-year-old youth baseball player killed a 15 year old in Florida when he struck him over the head with a baseball bat.  

There is a growing trend of parents pushing their kids too hard to "win" at any cost. It is easy to blame the parents who should be responsible and take control.  We must look at what they see on Sports TV. "Sports Rage" seems to be an out-of-control "epidemic" situation. A great deal of this is based on what they see on TV.

In Pro Sports, Law Enforcement seems to look the other way and let the Sport itself mete out punishment.  However, if the same person did something similar off the court, the  gridiron, the field, or the ice, they would get the book thrown at them.  There is apparently a double standard.  Not all the time.

I have a friend who is a well-known , respected judge here in Los Angeles.  Her name is Maureen Duffy-Lewis.  I have not consulted with her on this column, but I plan to and will write a follow-up.

Don't get me wrong there have been many instances in Pro Sports of the act being so horrendous during a game that arrests have been made as a result of the unprovoked aggravated violence.

The first jail sentence ever imposed on a professional athlete came in 1998. Dino Ciccarelli of the Minnesota North Stars was sentenced to one day in jail and fined $1000 for hitting Toronto Maple Leaf Luke Richardson twice in the head with his stick and then punched him in the mouth. The NHL suspended him for 10 days and fined him $25,000... a huge sum at the time.

In 2000, Marty McSorley of the Boston Bruins was  suspended for the entire season- the harshest penalty ever imposed by the league at that time.  He had slashed Vancouver Canuck Donald Brashear and knocking him unconscious.  McSorley was found guilty of assault and received 18 months probation. A condition of McSorley's probation mandated that he could not engage in any sporting event in which Brashear played on the opposing team.

In 2004, Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks  sucker-punched Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche. Moore was hospitalized for several weeks with a concussion and fractured vertebrae. Bertuzzi was found guilty and given a one year conditional discharge, had to perform 80 hours of community service and a lifetime ban for the remainder of the 2004 season and received a lifetime ban of playing against Moore. He was also banned for the rest of the 2004 season and from playing on Team Canada in the 2004 World Cup.

Here, let me explain.  There  have been  many more villains in Sports over the years that I have not cited. We all know their names!  Many are legendary!

We can look at the New Orleans Saints and their Bounty quest. Part of the overall fan base couples their passion for hockey with their passion for WWE and UFC. The amount of suspensions and fights this year delights NBC which claims a 35% increase in viewers this year over last.

It's all about money.  However, impressionable young minds imitate and follow what they see in movies and TV. In addition, the violent portrayals that they are exposed to in video games and the actual sports events, add to how they visualize and re-enact their participation in sports.

We recognize that Boxing by design is a violent sport.  Today, however, the old bromide, " I went to a Boxing match and a Hockey Game broke out", is a truism.

While working with the Lakers, , I  witnessed  one of the most horrendous incidents in the history of the NBA. Kermit Washington the Lakers strong Defensive forward while engaged in a dust-up with one of the Houston Rockets when Rudy Tomjanovich tried to intercede from the rear.

 Without thinking, Kermit wheeled around and punched Rudy in the face. The blow shattered Rudy's face and jaw while inflicting  life-threatening head injuries. Rudy was sidelined for 5 months .  he eventually made a full recovery, but his playing career came to a halt and he was forced to retire.

Despite his stellar career, Kermit is best remembered for that one punch which still haunts him to this day. 

It doesn't help when Kobe Bryant the Lakers' potential current "Hall-of-Fame" candidate and crowd favorite lets everyone know in no uncertain terms for retaliation.  It is the wrong message.

Getting back to MWP aka RA:  as an old jock, I can, without question, tell you that you know when someone is on your shoulder. It's instinctive!  The angry MWP decided he was going to show  Harden as to who was the boss by pretending to clear every one away from him.  This move with a deadly weapon was completely unnecessary as the skirmish was already over.

Based on his history, not unlike in the case of a rehabilitated felon, the incidence of recidivism  (returning to one's old habits) is extremely high.

To me, he knew what he was doing and was intent on inflicting harm. He has had more chances than an actually criminal.  Here in California, we have the 3 strikes law.  Ron Artest aka Meta World Peace like in the game of Monopoly has been given a free pass one too many times.


Baseball's national monument, Fenway Park

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This is my third column today on this subject.  I tore up the other two, because they were emotionless and filled with boring facts. To me, Fenway Park represents a significant part of my childhood. Along with the Red Sox, it is part of the legacy I am turning over to my children and grand children.

I was reminded of the importance of Fenway to we Bostonians when I talked to my grand daughter Jilian yesterday. She is a California kid going to college in Boston. She watched her first Marathon as it passed right under her window on Commonwealth Avenue. She told me the spectators were 10 deep trying to get a glimpse of the runners. Unlike they way I remembered it.  It used to start at 8 A.M and end around 11 A.M, but it was still crowded.

In those days, there were slightly over 100 runners.  Today, there are 1000's. Then,they would start early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day.  Yesterday, it was so hot that 4000 plus of the potential runners didn't even start. Because of the heat, an additional 2000 were treated in medical tents, an  unprecedented number and 100 were taken by ambulance to the hospital.

The officials have allowed some 400 runners who picked up their Bibs, but didn't start to defer this year's entry until next year. That will be the marathon's 117th year!  For a long time, the only race of its kind in the U.S.

The race is fashioned purely after an historic run made in Greece 2500 years ago. The legend tells us that an Athenian Soldier named Pheidippides ran from the town of Marathon Battlefield to Athens carrying a message of victory over the Persians. The distance was 26 miles, 385 yards.  Upon presenting his message, he dropped dead. Ironically, over 2000 runners were taken to the hospital this year and treated for heat prostration mainly due to the late start time.

When I was a kid it always took place on April 19th, Patriots day, a major Holiday, celebrated in only Maine and Massachusetts. All civic buildings, offices and schools were closed. It honored the day that Paul Revere rode to warn the farmers of Lexington and Concord that the British (the Red Coats) were coming. This holiday still exists, but is now celebrated annually on the 2nd Monday in April.

From the time I was four, my dad would take me, ironically, right to the corner where Jilian now lives to watch the race.  After the first 20, or so, runners had passed us, we would hop in my dad's car and navigate the cobble stone streets that passed for roads in order to get to Fenway in time for batting practice.

What a wonderful experience! My dad and I watching the Red Sox on Opening Day at Fenway.  Our personal tradition began 76 years ago.  This year, Fenway celebrates its 100th year.

When you approach it, it doesn't look like much.  In fact, when the great pitcher Roger Clements saw it for the first time, he supposedly said to the Cab Driver, "Hey I asked you to take me to Fenway Park, a Major League Baseball Stadium, not to this old barn".

It may look like an old barn outside, but inside the confines there are so many memories.  For example, when the publisher of Boston's venerable newspaper, the Globe also owned the Red Sox and built the Ball Park in 1912, he could not get a front-page story in his own newspaper, because the Cruise Ship Titanic had sunk on the same day as the first game100 years ago.

Ironically, my favorite book about Baseball is "Ted Williams" written by former Globe reporter Leigh Montville. One of the reasons it hits home with me is that Ted is my all-time favorite Ballplayer. As fate would have it, in 1946, I did not miss a single home game.  I also saw some of the Braves games, but it was the Sox that called me.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts where I lived, the Parks and Recreation Department in conjunction with both the Red Sox and the Boston Braves, sold memberships to "The Knothole Gang". In these economic times, I know it is hard to realize that for a Dime, I could not only join the club, but could get in free at every game all season, sitting in any empty seats in the Left Field Stands. That of course was where my hero Ted Williams played.

Many other cities had the same thing. The clubs got their names originally from Minor League Teams who created this to increase lagging attendance. In those days, many of the Minor league fences were made of wood, which had knotholes through which kids, in order to avoid paying an admission, would sneak peeks to look at the game.

Watching Ted play that year was wonderful!  On June 9, 1946, Ted hit a Home Run that was officially measured at 502 feet and landed in the Right Field Bleachers. It landed in Section 42, Row 37, and Seat 21. Years later to honor the stupendous feat that area, (the seat) was painted Red.  In 1946, there were no actual seats, just benches marked with location. I eventually sat in the seat. It cost me $23.

It was also in the 1946 All-Star Game played at Fenway that Ted hit the only Home run ever hit off of the Pirates great Rip Sewell and his Ephus Ball. This was a high arcing pitch that sort of wiggled its way over the plate. It had no velocity arriving at the plate in a descending curve.  No one else could hit it long, never the less over 400 feet. He went 4 for 4 and had there been an MVP Award at that time, he would have been the recipient.

There have been so many other events; concerts, soccer matches, ice hockey and football. Both collegiate and professional football teams including the Boston Yanks and later in 1959, the fledgling Boston Patriots of the AFL played there prior to becoming the NFL New England Patriots played there.

I saw President Franklin D. Roosevelt while he was campaigning for a third term in 1939, enter the park in a Packard Phaeton.  I was there.  I was 8 years old, but still got goose pimples because my dad conveyed his excitement.

In 1908, the Red Stockings became the Red Sox... never to look back. Fenway is an old and proud lady. It has many stories to tell.  For example, the times it snowed on opening days. It saw the antics of Centerfielder Jimmy Piersal as he ran the bases backwards after hitting a Home Run. It saw a Seagull drop a fish on the mound, as lefty Mel Parnell was getting ready to pitch.

Fenway saw its darkest moment when the current owners decided to raze the Park and build an ultra-modern one in South Boston six miles away. In Southie, there are plenty of open spaces.  Currently, the constraints of the Fenway area and its crowded neighborhood only allow for limited seating capacity.

The last of the original parks, it is also among the smallest. The plan was to replace Fenway and its cramped quarters with its limited parking availability and the many seats located behind Steel Poles. A hue and cry went up from the faithful.  The cry was so loud; the owners were forced to rethink their plans.

So much so, that in 1986, the National Park Service Advisory Board recommended that Fenway Park be designated a National Historic Monument.  The owners, who at the time were dreaming of their new park, fought the National Park Service.  The Battle still rages!

So, the oldest Ball yard in the Major Leagues, a place that has seen the Red Sox enjoy consecutive sellouts for almost 9 years... home of the Green Monster, the 37-foot high left field wall erected to protect neighbors from flying balls breaking windows, remains.

Well my dad is gone and I have lived in California for almost fifty years, but my love of The Red Sox and Fenway Park remains strong.  Fenway Park has been called "the cruelest, coolest, longest-running Major League Baseball Stadium". It is all those things and will probably outlive us all.  You know what, it's okay with me.


Once a champion, always a champion

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For me, yesterday was a day to go down memory lane. Every six months, or so, I have lunch with the first man I shared an office with when I came to California, almost 50 years ago.

We do what a couple of guys who have been blessed for the most part for over 8 decades, we reminisce. We talk about both our successes and our failures. What we mostly talked about are the wonderful memories of people who have played a role in our lives.

Artie Price, my dear friend is successful and ebullient, he founded MTM Productions with Mary Tyler Moore. Artie who is blessed with a wonderful memory for places, faces, and dates pointed out that over 400 people had been alongside us in our days working with MCA.  Today, counting us, there seems to be only 4 left.

Now, I don't want you to get the idea that this is a column of sadness.  Nothing could be further from the truth. We have a lot for which to be thankful. For example, I have two great kids, a super son-in-law and 4 wonderful grand children.

So, instead, this is a column of reflection and appreciation.

After dining with Artie, I watched the first Baseball Game of the season at the Marlins new Florida as the Fish met with the Saint Louis Cardinals. The most natural thing was to have a legendary sports figure connected with the Miami region throw out the first ball.

The choice was simple ... Muhammad Ali!

 Ali, after his Olympic Victory trained professionally for the first time and also a great number of his fights at the 5th Street Gym (see Ferdie Pacheco's Tales of the 5th Street Gym).  Here, under the tutelage of Chris and Angelo Dundee, he honed his skills... plus under the watchful caring eye of Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Cassius Clay became the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Eventually, the world was to get to know him as Muhammad Ali.

Ali, who has been called by many "The Greatest" today, continues to fight the biggest battle he's ever had, inside, or outside of the ring.  He is suffering from the devastating ravages and the debilitation of Parkinson's disease.

Sure he looked tired and weak. At this stage of his disease, he personifies what his body has gone through. I was with him for many of his fights.  I was there when he lost to Joe Frazier the first time, March 8,1971. He was strong and strapping.

I was also there in the Bahamas when he lost his last fight to Trevor Berbick in a fight that never deserved to be made. We, at ringside, realizing his skills had eroded, openly cried for we knew we were witnessing the passage of an era.

At that time, my partner in Satellite TV, Phil Gillan, said it best, "there will never be another like him". Ali was an unusual combination... wit, wisdom, showmanship and athletic skill.

 As he was driven around the Miami infield waving to the crowd, I thought to myself how wonderful his family has to be. Understand, despite all the years of working with him, I have never met his present wife.

It is obvious she understands her man.  ... A champion who craves the adulation of the crowd and always has given them his best.

Unlike others who felt sorry to see him in his present state, I have a different mind set.  Sure, we all want to remember our icons they way they looked at the height of their popularity.  It hurts when we see them, pale, drawn, wan and depending on others. In seeing Ali, we feel no different... but the Champion by being in public is doing a great deal of good.

Ironically, my feelings are different.  I recognize his condition and I regret what he is going through.  However, I realize the contribution he is making to the necessary awareness of Parkinson's.

Ali, in a very public way, has joined Michael J. Fox who is waging his own battle against the disease they both suffer.

Michael has appeared before Congress, been on many Talk Shows, given countless media interviews, and all in the effort to both create awareness and raise much needed money for research as we seek a solution and hopefully a cure. He has raised millions and yet millions more are needed.

Ali, no longer possesses the voice that once brought about laughter and tears with his poems chastising his opponents. A deeply religious man, with his presence and without the necessity of speaking out loud, sends an important message. The message is three-fold: this is what the disease can do to an unsuspecting and healthy body... none of us are immune ... and only research funded by donations can bring about a cure.

For nearly 20 years, my friend of over 60 years, Allan Rice has battled on. Like Ali, with his presence he serves us notice that we must win this Battle.  It is not for a Championship Belt, but rather it is for a better life for all.


Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.