Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jackie Robinson’s legacy should be studied, not celebrated.

On April 15, 1947 the racial landscape of Major League Baseball was forever changed when Jackie Robinson smashed the color barrier by taking the field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He planted the initial seeds of greatness that would later manifest in society and sport. Though Robinson’s historic feat took place four decades before I was conceived I'm fully aware of the magnitude of his accomplishments. Without question Robinson was champion with a warrior’s heart.

Robinson was the birth of Civil Rights Movement. He ascended 8 years before Rosa Parks decided she grew tired sitting at the back of the bus. It was 16 years before Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech,” and 62 years before Barack Obama got the keys to the White House.

Robinson was more than a Hall of Fame baseball player. He was a pioneer who made huge sacrifices so African Americans can enjoy the fruits of his labor. Without Robinson's efforts the likes of Alex Rodriguez wouldn't earn 28 million dollars a year for playing baseball. Oprah Winfrey wouldn't be a billionaire media mogul and Barack Obama becoming President of the United States wouldn't have been possible this soon.

While many marvel at the accomplishments of contemporary athletic stars like LeBron James, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Jimmy Rollins we tend to forget those catalysts like Robinson who paved the way. With the passage of time the accomplishments of the true role models continues to fade. Contributions made by pioneers like Robinson are meticulously being lost in the residue of selfishness and the collective ignorance of today’s professional athletes.

The only acknowledgement given to Robinson these days is having every Major League player and coach wear Jackie’s famous number 42 on April 15. To me wearing Robinson’s number is merely a symbolic gesture that does little to enlighten the ignorant.

Instead of having a tribute celebrating Robinson how about educating people of the vast contributions he made in sport and society?

How about letting the public know there was a proposed league wide boycott where if Robinson took the field in 1947 every player would strike? National League President Ford Fricke mandated that all players who boycotted would be banned from baseball as long as he was president. Because of Fricke's efforts a boycott was averted.

How about educating those who know little about the bitter cruelties Robinson endured? How about chronicling in detail his contributions he made in the face of racism on and off the field? How about Major League baseball pumping money into African American communities to entice youngsters to play the game again?
For instance, he was routinely called “nigger” by opposing players and by his own teammates initially. Pitchers purposely threw at Robinson to hurt him. Rocks were thrown at him by hostile white fans as he took the field in opposing cities.

For the first two years of his contract Robinson was forbidden to retaliate against the inhumane treatment he experienced. It was a monumental sacrifice to make because it was against his character to be docile. Robinson was a fighter who was asked to turn the other cheek. He put his manhood on hold for future African Americans to play baseball today.

Despite the bitter cruelties Robinson endured he was voted Rookie of the Year in 1947, Most Valuable Player in 1949, and won a World Series Crown in 1955. Robinson excelled in the face of racism despite its habitual presence.

In 1972 days before his death Robinson urged Major League Baseball to get African Americans in place as field managers. It didn't happen instantaneously but it happened in 1975 when the Cleveland Indians hired Frank Robinson as manager.

While most people were worried about paying Uncle Sam on April 15th I was paying proper homage to the man who made the success African Americans in society and sport enjoy today possible.

I knew people like Oprah wouldn’t have a show dedicated to Robinson nor would President Obama make meaningful note of Robinson’s accomplishments: they wouldn’t be where they are if it wasn’t for pioneers like Robinson. But their acknowledgment isn't necessary to validate Robinson's accomplishments in my world.

The real warriors know his story and that's what matters most.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

D’Arcy: Boycotting the Notre Dame Commencement is the wrong choice

President Barack Obama recently accepted an invitation to speak to this years Notre Dame graduating class. President Obama’s acceptance has caused controversy because of his pro-choice stance and support of stem-cell research. Many conservative Catholics think extending an invite to President Obama was a mistake. Some even want the Notre Dame administration to withdraw their invitation.

Anthony J. Lauinger, the Vice-President of the National Right to Life organization had this to say, "Notre Dame's invitation to the most pro-abortion president in U.S. history is a betrayal of the University's mission and an affront to all who believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life."

Lauinger, a father of seven Notre Dame Alumni and one current student continued, "We call upon Father Jenkins to rescind the invitation and stand up for the millions of unborn children who face death under Obama Administration policies."

John M. D'Arcy, the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, recently made it clear he will not attend the ceremonies. In a recent letter D’Arcy outlined his reasoning for skipping the ceremonies. “This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our President. I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith ‘in season and out of season,’ and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.”

If memory serves me correctly didn’t George W. Bush speak at Notre Dame in 2001? Isn’t he an advocate of capital punishment? Why didn’t conservative Catholics boycott former President Bush for his stance? I think conservatives are mad they lost the White House and they are just trying to pick a fight.

Get over it conservatives.

Bottom line, Obama voted in as President and his status and his authority should be respected. Obama was voted into office because of his ability to lead. His stance on stem-cell research and abortion shouldn’t cause this much controversy. Besides, President Obama cannot be all things for all people.

Here’s a sports analogy. Jim Brown is regarded by experts and his peers as the greatest football player in NFL history. The Hall of Fame running back had the speed of a wide out, the strength of a lineman, and the intelligence of a surgeon on the field. During his nine-year career he never missed a game. In 1963 he played the entire season while nursing a broken toe and wrist. In 1964 his Cleveland Brows team won the NFL Championship. Brown was voted Rookie of the year when he entered the league in 1957 and retired from the game at age 29 as the league in MVP.

Seemed like Brown had it all but he didn’t.

Brown wasn’t a great blocker. He was perceived as arrogant, unapproachable, and militant. As great as Brown was couldn’t be all things to everybody.

Here’s my point. No one has everything. Obama was voted in by the American people on an “as is” basis President Obama cannot be everything for everyone. He can’t be a Muslim, Christian, Catholic, or Buddhist simultaneously to cater to all religions. He can’t be a Democrat, Republican, Independent, and Libertarian to appease everyone in politics.

Personally I’d love to see President Obama be more assertive regarding race. He shuns racial situations like roaches avoid light. Based on his complexion and platform he has an opportunity to really move this country forward. Instead he opts for silence when dialogue is needed.

But it’s President Obama’s choice to be who he is while simultaneously functioning as President.

I’ve consistently stated until there’s an honest and constructive dialogue regarding the various differences that abound controversies like this will continue to surface.

If America is truly a melting-pot we’d understand as individuals we have differences yet as human beings we are the same. President Obama speaking at Notre Dame shouldn’t be an issue. But to a segment of the Notre Dame faithful and conservative Catholics it is. This unfortunate situation is a reflection of how divided we still are as a country. President Obama’s presence should exemplify the strides we’ve made but instead it reminds us how much work that still needs to be done.

I think it’s disrespectful to seriously consider withdrawing the invitation to the President and for the likes of D’Arcy to boycott over this matter. But at the end of the day, it’s his choice even though I think it’s the wrong one.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Is Roger Federer Finished?

At the Sony Ericcson Open we’ve seen something from Roger Federer that was quite shocking. Federer pulled a John McEnroe and smashed his racket to the concrete against in his semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic. A frustrated Federer suggested he’s glad the hard court season is over and he’s looking forward to the clay.

After witnessing his meltdown against Djokovic if he doesn’t get his house in order soon future Grand Slams could be hard to come by. Even John McEnroe has offered his services to help the disgruntled Federer regroup. Personally I don’t think he needs a coach. Federer just needs to remember who he was so he can summon the energy to sit atop mountain once again.

Prior to his match against Andy Roddick I asked Federer what was more important to him at this point in his career. Winning Grand Slams or getting back to number one. He stated, “It goes hand and hand doesn’t it? I guess its slams right now, because I’m that close to with Pete’s record. I know if I win a slam, a No. 1 ranking will follow.”

I don’t think Federer’s situation is as dire as some think. It’s not like he’s routinely losing in the first and second rounds to guys who can’t play. He’s losing in semi-finals and finals to young-guns who are at the top of their games like Rafael Nadal and Any Murray.

But there’s no doubt Federer is facing a crossroads. At age 27 he’s reached a point in his career where he’ll have to do some soul searching like some of the greats of the past did.
Bjorn Borg ran off 11 Grand Slams by age 26. But suddenly after the 1981 US Open Borg decided he had enough and quit. His inability to win the US Open and pressures outside the game pushed Borg away at the apex of his career.

John McEnroe amassed 7 Grand Slams prior to squaring off against Ivan Lendl in the 1985 US Open final. McEnroe lost in straight sets to Lendl. As great as McEnroe was who would’ve bet after that loss at age 25 he’d never appear in another Grand Slam final until he retired in 1992?

After winning 3 Grand Slams by age 27 Andre Agassi nearly flushed his career down the tubes. In 1997 Agassi fell out of the top 100. Needing a change Agassi decided to rededicate himself and let the chips fall where may. Brad Gilbert helped Agassi regain his focus and his trainer Gil Reyes provided him with an impeccable training regimen. Five Grand Slams later Agassi got back to No. 1 in the world and eventually retired at age 36.

Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?

Let’s not forget the guy whose Grand Slam record Federer is chasing. Sampras faced a two-year drought after winning Wimbledon in 2000. He seemingly couldn’t buy a tournament win. The experts had written Sampras off. It was suggested his best days were gone with the wind but Sampras thought different. After losing in the finals of the US Open to Marat Safin in 2000 and Lleyton Hewitt in 2001 Sampras outlasted Andre Agassi in the final in 2002 to quiet his doubters.

What does the future hold for Federer?

I think the future is quite bright but I think Federer needs to make some adjustments. I think he’s still playing at an exceptionally high level but the younger guys are getting better and improving their games. Tactically I think he needs to come to net more to take maximum advantage of his skills. Also, getting a bit fitter wouldn’t hurt. He admitted as much in a press conference at the Sony Ericcson when he stated, “So for me, it was a matter of getting back in shape. I feel like I’m about to turn the corner.”

Players like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Fernando Verdasco, and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and are working hard off the court. I think Federer needs to do the same.

IMO (in my opinion) the most important thing Federer needs is to simply remember what got him his 13 Grand Slams. If he mentally resurrects those feelings of dominance he had during his 4 1/2 year run his body will follow.

Federer surely won’t pull a Borg and walk away at the height of his power. He won’t finish the latter stage of his career without sniffing another slam like McEnroe. I think he’ll do what Agassi and Sampras did and that’s get back to the mountain top retreat and in the years to come.

We don’t remember Sampras for his 2002 second round loss at Wimbledon to unheralded George Bastl. We remember Pete for quieting his critics and embracing his wife after winning the US Open. I don’t think Federer will be remembered for smashing his racquet in disgust and allowing history to elude his grasp. I think he’ll be remembered as someone who reclaimed his glory from the not-so distant past to reign once again.

Williams's sisters continue to live their dreams

The Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida was another Williams’ family affair. After Serena Williams beat a formidable opponent in Li Na 4-6, 7-6 (2) 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericcson Open it set up another duel with her elder sister Venus Williams. When asked if she’s playing well enough to beat her sister Serena stated, “Yeah, I feel like I am. I definitely feel like I need to just keep that confidence and go with that and see what happens. Just play the best I can play.”

When Serena squared off against Venus in the semi-finals the fans got what they paid for. The match went three tough sets in the Florida sun with Serena winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 which advanced her to the championship match.

In the championship match Serena faced a 19 year-old upstart Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. Serena’s mobility was limited due to a thigh injury she sustained earlier in the tournament. Azarenka prevailed over the hobbled number one player in the world 6-3, 6-1. Despite the loss Serena took it like a champion. She stated, “I’m not that bummed, because I feel like there’s next year. And then there’s the year after and the year after.”

Even though Serena didn’t hoist the trophy she displayed a champions’ attitude.

What the Williams’ family has done the last decade is remarkable on several fronts. One, they are a cohesive family unit. They are the best at their sport which historically has been dominated by whites.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet their father Richard Williams on several occasions. I briefly spoke with Mr. Williams while in Florida. He’s very outgoing and engaging. Also, being a product of the 1960’s he’s a man who speaks his mind. Mr. Williams along with is ex-wife Oracene Price have done an excellent job or raising two champions under one roof.

Here’s additional perspective. Tiger Woods is arguably the greatest golfer of all time. Two weeks ago Woods come back after nearly a year recuperating from a knee surgery to win a tournament in stellar fashion. Woods is great but could you imagine if Tiger had a brother just as good battling him for championships?

Venus and Serena’s feats are astonishing. Since 1999 37 Grand Slams have been played. To date Venus and Serena have won 17 of them. They are two African Americans who have dominated a sport that’s historically catered to whites and have made it their own.

The Williams sister’s greatness hasn’t halted them from taking social stands. Venus and Serena have boycotted the BNP Paribas Open for the last years. In 2001 the Williams family was subject to racist taunts. Because of how they were treated the family collectively decided to never play BNP Paribas Open again.


Even though neither Williams’ sisters won the title this week they are still winners. Despite being raised in the ghetto of Compton, California they didn’t succumb to the negative surroundings. Venus and Serena stayed focused on being the best tennis players in the world. They hit thousands of balls a day as youngsters until they realized their dreams as adults.

I personally think all things are possible. For those of you who are contemplating climbing the mountain of your own personal glory I say go for it. In the course of pursuing your journey you’ll find out what drives you.

If you have belief and persistence mountains can be moved. After all, we only have one shot at life. Why not take the chance to see what you are truly capable of? Besides, if it doesn’t work out you can always go back to what you are doing now.

You owe it to yourself to chase your vision whether it’s embraced by others not.
Some will not understand what moves you. That’s fine. Just press on. That which isn’t understood is typically ridiculed. Nevertheless, don’t stop because those who judge lack the understanding of lies within you.

It was great to cover the Sony Ericcson Open this year. It’s always an honor to witness greatness in action. Being in such venues induces me to work harder towards my goals. I watched great tennis, enjoyed good weather, but most of all I’m continuing to live a dream.

The Williams’ sisters are living their dreams for the world to see. I’m happy for Venus and Serena because they went for their dreams: I don’t know about you but I’m surely going to pursue mine.