About Brent Weber

Storyteller, artist, photographer, journalist, sportscaster, actor, writer, father, seeker, budding real estate professional and video production professional. For more info, visit http://www.weber-creative.com or find me on facebook.

Lawrence Phillips dies in prison

My headline is cold. It hurts, others more than me, of course. I didn’t really know the man beyond a few brief, well-coached interviews many years ago surrounding football games.  To most who hear the news, it will be surmised as a football player died in prison, perhaps after committing suicide.

Here’s the Associated Press lead, Jan. 13, 2016, 9:25 pm EST: (Link to full story below)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Lawrence Phillips, a star running back at Nebraska and first-round NFL draft pick whose pro career quickly unraveled amid disciplinary problems, was found unresponsive in his California prison cell on Wednesday, and officials said they suspect suicide.

The story is difficult, requires a reality check for all involved in sports, mental illness, social change. It’s way bigger than me.

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I first wrote about the former Nebraska Cornhusker at length in my book. Here is an excerpt from the ebook 2nd edition.

Another disturbing story to cover was that of Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips. A Heisman Trophy candidate with a history of social difficulties, Phillips was accused by his ex-girlfriend, a Cornhuskers’ basketball player, of dragging her out of her apartment by the hair. It was not a pretty picture, and Phillips was charged with assault. The University of Nebraska’s student handbook seemed to be clear; this was grounds for dismissal from the school. Such behavior would obviously get him kicked off the team. But it didn’t. While the woman who was assaulted was left with little choice but to leave school in the aftermath of the incident, her life uprooted and irreparably damaged by Phillips’ actions, the football star was merely suspended from the team. He was charged with domestic violence for beating his ex-girlfriend and sentenced to probation. His coach at the University of Nebraska at the time, Tom Osborne, one of the most successful in NCAA history and later elected as a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives, spoke passionately about his concern for Phillips the man.

“If we take football away from him,” Osborne reasoned, “we might lose this young man.”

I don’t doubt Osborne’s sincerity. I don’t doubt he believed he was right in keeping Phillips on the team, reasoning that when he talks to the families of young athletes he promises to act as a surrogate parent for them. And at the press conference the questions as to why he wasn’t treated as any other student, why he wasn’t held accountable, seemed to be less important than protecting Phillips from himself. I wondered aloud, then, that if helping Phillips the man was the number one concern, why not provide him with personal charity, give him three square meals a day, give him a warm bed to sleep in at the Osborne home? Family treatment, yes, but not special treatment at a public university. Why should Nebraska pay to keep Phillips fed after what he did to his fellow students?

The argument made by many on campus and many in the outside world was, if you give him this special treatment – only to keep him in the football program – you not only send a message that the University of Nebraska cares less about the student body as a whole than they do about the football players, but you also send the message that some are even above the law.

Phillips returned to the team in time to play against Iowa State and was later named the starter in the Fiesta Bowl, which pitted number one Nebraska against number two Florida. Soon after the Cornhuskers won the national championship, Phillips was the sixth overall draft pick as an early entry into the NFL. But football wouldn’t define him. At the end of a career bouncing around from league to league and bouncing in and out of trouble, Phillips was convicted of multiple crimes in multiple courts, leading to his incarceration. He will not be eligible for parole in California until he is 57-years-old.

In the end, I am not sure that Phillips, the man, was served as much as the Cornhuskers program. He needed help more than they needed a football player.

When covering this, I was not asked to editorialize on this story; that was not my role with CNN Sports. I just told the facts, let Osborne say his thing, let Phillips run with the ball. As a journalist, that is my role. The public can cheer or jeer as they wish, but it is important to a free society that we are allowed to tell these stories and not paint these athletes as anything more than they are: men and women who are entertainers with dramatically different histories, responsibilities and sensibilities. Hindsight is 20-20, but it was sadly predictable in the case of Lawrence Phillips.

(excerpt from The Sports Guy: Scorecard Scribblings From An Ordinary Journalist, 2nd edition, ebook

I have also blogged about this story before, most recently when we learned Phillips cellmate was found dead at the hands of Philips, who insisted that it was in self-defense.

What could have been different? What will we learn? What have I learned? I will continue to sift through it at every level, listen and learn, as a human, a journalist, a member of our free society. And maybe in the future, be a little more forceful in how I tell the story, perhaps less passively and more pointedly from the beginning.

Here are some articles written today about Phillips’ death and life.

From The Associated Press by Don Thompson and Eric Olson

From The Nation by Dave Zirin

From USA Today by Josh Peter

From CNN by Jason Hanna and Amanda Watts

From Yahoo Sports by Frank Schwab

And the stories I covered for CNN Sports back in the day? A few are on-line as well.

 

Piazza’s Hall of Fame spot earned, time to stop the PED self-righteousness

Mike Pizza is the best-hitting catcher in MLB history. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.  I know that arguments can be made for the likes of Josh Gibson, the Negro League great, and those arguments are what is fun about being a baseball fan.

I grew up idolizing Johnny Bench as a young kid. He wrote the book on the sweep tag, he was a catching artist and a feared clutch hitter in one of the greatest lineups in baseball history. His arm was a cannon. He came along mostly before modern medical science could keep us all playing, repair our broken joints and ligaments, fuel our bodies in remarkable ways. So generations can argue. There are those who would throw in Yogi Berra or his Yanks backstop predecessor. Pudge Rodriguez is next on the list to be considered…

And now that Piazza is headed to Cooperstown, the PED pundits are frothing at the mouth to discredit his candidacy, much less his election. It is the nature of the sports talk beast. Too many of us, pros and fans alike, seem to relish every opportunity to bring people down, and people in my industry – sports media – are more about opinions – their own opinions, than realities currently.

I covered Piazza on a regular basis while on the west coast as CNN Sports reporter based in L-A during the mid-1990s. He hit the ball so damn hard. And yes, I saw him without his shirt. I can’t tell you about acne. I didn’t think he even looked like he lifted weights. He had a lineman’s build. He was in his 20s and early 30s, of course. He denies having used steroids, but frankly, I could care less.

I think it’s a load of crap that guys waited until the steroid thing exploded – after the game finally got around to formally banning PEDs – to express outrage. Guys worked out to get stronger, had personal trainers and every year in the game was potentially worth a million (then millions) for somebody who could stick around. Some guys took supplements. Sure, guys took steroids and PEDs. It got worse as baseball stood by and built smaller ballparks and frenzied for crazy home runs.

We saw it in the press. As far as I’m concerned, those guys and gals who cover sports or the game who jumped on the bandwagon to rip the players who may (or may not) have used PEDs in front of our own eyes, are missing the point. Where was your outrage at the time? Bud Selig was commissioner of the game, and after the fact, in the greatest stretch of mock denial I have ever witnessed, he acted publicly as if he had just realized there may have been an issue with PEDs on his watch. It was on his watch.  Selig seems to blame everyone else, yet if it were a business like most others, or one where he was elected by the public, he would have been booted at the next election or forced to step down because it happened right under his nose, and he should have addressed it earlier.

Baseball didn’t address steroid use, and what we broadly refer to as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) today, until they addressed it. They put in testing for it. They put in policies against it. Minor League Baseball is part of the deal. People take it seriously now, that PEDs and steroids particularly are bad for the game MOVING FORWARD.

At that moment, and only at that moment, should we have gotten righteous about the issue. Up to then, it was overlooked, accepted, even embraced. Brady Anderson? Bret Boone? We celebrated them, too, when their bodies underwent seemingly overnight changes of Marvel Comics proportions. It was an era in the game. Period. There was the dead ball era. The foreign substances era. There was the live ball. (Babe Ruth?) There was the WWII era. There was the pitching mound change. There was the beginning of expansion and divisional play. The Designated Hitter era. Expansion again? There was/is even a fitness era that prevails, and clearly led to a bastard offshoot with steroids. But players today are bigger and faster and stronger and have at their disposal the very best of modern medicine and health and fitness techniques.

The steroids era is over. To not vote someone into the Hall – or to even use innuendo in the absence of proof as a reason to keep them out – is self righteous and ass-covering behavior by my peers. Yes, they are entitled to their opinions, but are they just mad they accepted it while it was happening? That they were lied to by players accused? And don’t even get me started on the B-S and self-righteousness the US Congress displayed while wasting our time and money with hearings AFTER the game instituted sweeping changes to the drug policy regarding PEDs.

I am all for ripping players, banning players, and keeping players out of the Hall of Fame for transgressions after the testing changed. What of Ryan Braun? Seems to have cleaned up his act and made amends. But he lives with his lies. He lives with a Major League career in tact, too, so I’m not apologizing for him. He should be looked at differently because of the timing when Hall voting comes around.  Manny Ramirez, who everyone seemed to love as player, was busted for stuff after the testing began. Will he get a pass next year because he was well-liked?

There was a time in the 50s and 60s, when weight lifting for athletes was becoming more and more prominent, that some (unbelievable today) questioned the fairness of guys who lifted weights, saying they weren’t natural so it wasn’t a level playing field. What if Big Klu, Ted Kluszewski, showed up today? He lifted bags of corn meal, not weights, to get that body. Today, some would question those biceps as unnatural. This is not a comparative analysis, just a point of reality when it comes to how we look at a dude’s biceps in baseball today.

I say let’s all jump off the high horse and move forward. It was The Steroid Era. I just capitalized it. I italicized it. There should be no revisionist history. The games were played, the stats compiled and damage was done. We watched, cheered, reported. Some fans stepped away from the game when the stories began to be told, but baseball righted the ship, beat its chest, down-sized (in body type and home runs) and moved on.

The game is great. It connects us as families and generations. It ignites passions, fuels arguments (they can be friendly and fun), and it gives us what we seek from it. Hope springs eternal for fans of the game. Players will continue to seek out tools for an edge. A better type of wood? Higher infield grass? Soggy base paths? Sabremetrics? Data? Specialists? Chicken? Cheeseburgers? Coffee? Cokes? Red Bull? Apple juice? Cocaine? PEDs? We have set the bar back to where it belongs in the case of PEDs/drugs. Baseball doesn’t need it. Its bad for the game. Enforce rules, get guys help if appropriate, and assure fans (old and new) that we’ve moved on.

As Ernest L. Thayer wrote, long ago, in Casey At The Bat

“A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest

Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast…”

Spring Training, after all, is just a few weeks away. Let’s start talking about the game as if we enjoy it, we love the way its being played today, and we recognize wins and losses are only part of it. A new era of the game, whatever it will be called, has already begun.

NOTE: I am not a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, thus do not have a vote for the Hall of Fame.

Thanks to SABR and Baseball-Reference, Cincinnati Enquirer, and a site called Baseball Quote of the Day.

OKC Thunder escapes with win over Lakers

What a difference a few weeks make. The Lakers kids (and that old man named Bryant) showed some resolve inter late-game challenge.

Here’s my post wrap for the folks in OKC for InsideThunder.com and Thunder Raw. (Apologies to Lakers fans since there are no Lakers interviews, since that’s the angle I had to take for them.)

 

Here it is with the InsideThunder graphics…

http://www.insidethunder.com/videos

Clippers Thunders recap for InsideThunder.com

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 1.17.53 PMIt’s great to be home in SoCal, and while I am enjoying getting back into the swing covering the area teams again as a contributor and storyteller  (scorecardscribblings.com and California Life), it’s always great to revisit some of the most amazing moments of my career spent in OKC as sideline reporter for the Thunder with the travel crew, including Matt Pinto and Brian Davis. Below is a post-game report I did for Thunder Raw and InsideThunder.com. Props to my friends Randy Renner and Jeremy Griffin, as well as the boys and girls with Thunder and Clippers PR. I will be feeding post-Lakers/Thunder this week as well. Here’s my post-Clips/Thunder feed…

 

Brent chats with Eric Geller of Beast 980 on LA hoops

(12/21/15, Los Angeles) One of the great things about doing this for three decades is that you meet amazing, positive people such as Eric Geller. We were co-workers and friends at the Orange County Newschannel (and beyond!) and he’s doing great work these days with The Beast 980. Since he covers both the Clips and the Lakers, we talked a little NBA hoops this week after the Thunder downed the Clippers 100-99 and before OKC visited the Lakers…

Brent Weber’s The Sports Guy Kindle edition FREE – Limited Time Only

In honor of my birthday (maybe), or more likely for Halloween (Trick or Treat?, you tell me!), I am offering the Kindle version of The Sports Guy: Scorecard Scribblings From An Ordinary Journalist for FREE between October 28, 2015 through November 1, 2015. That’s zero. Nada. No dinero. Zilch. As Dr. Evil may say, “WWW dot ZIP dot com!”

Why? I’m stoked to be back in SoCal working as a correspondent for California Life (seen all over the state), teaching journalism at Cypress College and covering as many great stories as I possibly can. That means, I want to inspire young journalists, artists, actors, broadcasters, creative types…. or just friends or people in general, with the silly story about the ordinary career of yours truly and some advice (take it or leave it!) if you’re interested in pursuing this thingy.

How do you get the FREE book? Between October 28, 2015 through November 1, 2015… 

Click HERE. 

You do not have to buy any type of Kindle reader. There are free apps for that. And yes, one day soon, I am still hoping we get this second edition hard copy finished as well for those who prefer the tactile experience of a book that will only need to dry in the sun if you drop it in the bathtub.

By the way, if you have Amazon Prime or use the subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can always snag it for free.

 

Thanks for hanging out…. See ya at the ball field.

Brent Weber