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Social Issues in Sports: How PEDS are Becoming Rampant in Mixed Martial Arts

18 Sep

By Jay Hill

Chris Murray Report Correspondent

Use of PEDs has apparently become a problem in mixed martial arts.

Use of PEDs has apparently become a problem in mixed martial arts.

LONDON, England–Social issues in sport are a well-publicized topic throughout the media, today. And with how the media in many different forms is so accessible now via modern day gizmos and reading platform that surface, what feels like every other quarter, society now has a voice that wasn’t afforded to us in the past.

Whether it is racism, ageism, gender discrimination or another social implication that is often discussed regarding sport, the matters seem to be discussed most on the many forums and media platforms that inhabit the Internet’s vast landscape.

Internet World Stats recently published an infographic showing that there are currently an estimated 2.8 billion people with Internet access globally –a figure that is only set to continue to increase.

Gaming Realm, an illustrious gaming developer behind online portal and PocketFruity documented that the world’s smartphone use is now at a reported 16%.

All this points to the fact that society has never had such a potent voice or ability to change circumstances they feel are incorrect or implemented in a haphazard manner.

One frequently discussed matter of late is the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in the mixed martial arts promotion, UFC. There has been a raft of high-profile fighters failing drug tests, most notably American wrestler, Chael Sonnen.

Sonnen, a supposed “company man” and one of the biggest pay per view draws in the sport failed a recent drug test and has been subsequently banned from the sport for two years. But the sanctions don’t end there: apart from losing any possible revenue from fighting for the next two years, he’s also lost his presenting job with Fox Sports.

So what are the social implications for viewers?

Sonnen was viewed by many as the UFC’s blue-eyed boy. He was someone who could do no wrong in the eyes of UFC President Dana White and a man who was essentially being groomed for bigger things.

However, all this went up in smoke when he failed the aforementioned test. For the fans of Sonnen and the UFC to see one of the poster boys of the sport fail such a test can only have a negative affect on the image of professional mixed martial arts. The damage cuts deep, very deep.

Unfortunately, it sends out so many bad messages to the MMA community. If someone of Sonnen’s profile was taking PEDs, does this mean you can only get to that level of the sport if you take PEDs? Does it mean that everyone in the sport is engaging in illegal substances to reach the elite level of the sport? The questions are boundless and the implications are extremely damaging.

The most worrisome message that it has sent out is that the use of PEDs is both needed and accepted if you can hide it. This is not a message that should be out there for the next generation of MMA nor for the fans to be reading about on the many MMA websites and social sharing platforms.

It’s an uncertain time for MMA, in general, and the only way this problem can be eradicated or at least controlled is by the organization cutting fighters from their rosters and taking a stand against PED users with  more frequent drug tests.

How?

Utilize the many social platforms to voice your opinion and instigate change. The next generation of athletes should know that you can succeed in this world by hard work, not by purchasing PEDs.

Champs Again: Eagles Should Win a Weak NFC East

5 Sep

Order of predicted finish: 1. Eagles 2. Washington 3. New York Giants 4. Dallas Cowboys.

Note: Because the nickname of the Washington NFL franchise is considered to be an offensive racial slur to Native Americans, The Chris Murray Report will no longer use that name in its editorial content.

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—After all the OTAs, off-season acquisitions and sitting through preseason games, we are finally into the regular season. The Eagles will open the 2014 season against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (1:00 p.m. CBS).

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Birds will come into the 2014 season as the defending NFC East champions and there’s no reason to think they will not be in that same position when the regular-season ends in January even with a tougher schedule and the loss of speedy wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

I don’t know if Nick Foles (27 touchdown passes, two interceptions) and LeSean McCoy (314 carries, 1607 yards) will put up the numbers they did last season, but they have a year under head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced, no-huddle read-option offense and they are expecting to be even better.

With additions like speedy veteran running back Darren Sproles on the team, McCoy said he’s expecting the Eagles offense to be even better in 2014 whether he touches the ball more than 300 times or not.

“I think with the mix of Sproles doing different things, sometimes a 65-yard carry can be the same as a 65-yard (pass) route with Sproles,” McCoy said. “I’m learning that it doesn’t take a lot of reps or a lot of touches to be more productive and get what you want done. You could do it with less.

“I know I’m going to be the key guy they’re watching … but the guys up front with the way they’re blocking and the guys around me, especially with Sproles in there mixing it up with screens and runs and passes. With Maclin getting back and healthy, we have a guy that can stretch the field and do things across the middle. We definitely have weapons.”

Eagles’ fans are no doubt wondering if Jeremy Maclin, who hasn’t played in a regular season game since the end of the 2012 season, can be the deep receiver that can stretch the defense in the way that Jackson did last season.

The question for the Eagles is whether or not the defense can improve upon their performance late last season in 2014? The Birds ranked fourth in the NFL in the takeaway-giveaway category last season, but was 32nd against the pass.

But the big concern for the Eagles is whether they can generate a pass-rush, something that hurt them in the loss to the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last season. During the preseason, the first team didn’t get a sack.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he’s confident in his defense because his players are more familiar with the team’s 3-4 scheme. He won’t know how better his defense is until the lights come on against Jacksonville.

“Every year is a new year, so you don’t know until the final whistle goes off in the Jacksonville game, really what our starting point is,” Davis said. “But we are more confident because we know them better.”

Both Davis and Kelly said they are expecting big things from backup defense end Vinny Curry and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The Birds added a pair of free agents in veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins and former Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll to bolster the secondary.

The Eagles will win the NFC East because quite frankly the rest of the division isn’t that good. Look for them to finish 10-6. Actually, 9-7 might be enough to put the Birds over the top.

Washington (Predicted finish: 8-8)

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden's offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden’s offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Among the teams other than the Eagles that could win the NFC East, the Washington squad could be that team.

With defensive coordinator Jim Haslett running the defense and veterans like linebacker Brian Orakbo, defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Trent Murphy, along with newcomer defensive end Jason Hatcher, who had 11 sacks for the Dallas Cowboys last season, Washington will be decent on defense.

The Redskins will have a veteran secondary with players like safety Ryan Clark and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

The question is whether Washington’s offense with Robert Griffin III at quarterback can be consistent. The team has the weapons on offense with running back Alfred Morris and wide receivers like DeSean Jackson, Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon.

RGIII struggled in preseason so badly that former Washington quarterback and TV analyst Joe Theismann said the team should start Kirk Cousins instead of Griffin. The former Michigan State star did a better job of moving the team during the exhibition season—albeit against second and third string competition.

In Griffin’s defense, Washington’s first team offensive line didn’t do a good job of protecting the quarterback during the preseason. The same could be said for last season as Washington quarterbacks were sacked 43 times.

One of the things Washington did to get better for 2014 was cut center Will Montgomery, who reportedly made incorrect line calls that probably caused some of the sacks of Griffin and Cousins. This season, Kory Lichtensteiger was moved from guard to center and they also signed six-foot-3, 315-pound guard Shawn Lauvao, who played with the Cleveland Browns.

The offensive line will be the key to protecting Griffin and making holes for Morris.
New head coach Jay Gruden is sticking with RGIII as Washington’s starter for now. If Griffin struggles in the early going will Gruden pull the plug and go with Cousins?

Under Gruden’s system, Griffin won’t be running the read option. He has to make plays from the pocket and not take off and run when his first option is not open. That may be an adjustment for Griffin, but he’s also smart enough to discipline his game to do it.

If RGIII can get off to a good start and can be consistent with the weapons he has on offense, Washington can make this a competitive race and perhaps win it if a few things break their way.

New York Giants (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning had the worst season of his career in 2013. He threw 27 interceptions. Coming into this season, New York hired former Green Bay Packers quarterback Ben McAdoo as the new offensive coordinator who will install a West Coast-style offense.

With the sudden retirement of running back David Wilson due to a neck injury, the Giants running game will feature former Oakland Raiders ball carrier Rashad Jennings and former Boston College star Andre Williams, who gained 2,177 yards as a senior and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

At the wideout position, Victor Cruz should be the beneficiary of the Giants new West Coast system. New York also has rookie wide receiver and former LSU star Odell Beckham, who has been slowed down by a hamstring injury. The G-men will also return Reuben Randle who has shown flashes of brilliance at times.

The key to Giants on offense will be their offensive line, which was the main culprit of the Giants woes last season. New York will have a revamped offensive line with left tackle Will Beatty (6-6, 319 pounds) as its most experienced player.

The Giants will need to develop some chemistry along that offensive line to make sure McAdoo’s schemes can work.

On defense, the Giants are hoping that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul can have the kind of season he had in 2011 when he had 16.5 sacks. The Giants also have veterans Mathias Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins. Key free-agent acquisitions include corner back Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain.

The Giants are average at best and don’t necessarily scare anybody on defense. But then again no one in the NFC East does.

Dallas Cowboys (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Speaking of defenses that don’t scare anybody, the Cowboys were awful on defense last season even with DeMarcus Ware and they will be awful without him this season. They lost former Penn State star Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury during OTAs.

The Boys will be without injured cornerback Orlando Scandrick and cornerback Morris Claiborne didn’t play during the preseason. Throughout the preseason, the Cowboys got pushed up and down the field.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to figure out a way to make chicken soup out of chicken bleep or lemonade out of lemons. However you want to look at it, Marinelli has to make something out of a defense that is destined to give up a whole bunch of points and a lot of yards this season.

The good news for the Cowboys is that they are stacked offensively.

Everybody’s favorite whippin’ boy, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is not only coming off of back surgery, he’s also coming off a season in which he threw 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

In week 16, his last game before his surgery, Romo rallied the Cowboys from a nine-point deficit in the last five minutes to beat Washington to keep their playoffs hopes alive to that point in the season.
With receivers like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the Cowboys are going to put points on the board.

They also have a solid running game with DeMarco Murray, who gained 1,121 yards and scored nine touchdowns last season. If you have Bryant, Witten and Murray on your fantasy team, you will no doubt score points.

It is also no doubt in my mind that Dallas’s defense will also give up just as many points as Romo and the Cowboys will score. Dallas will win games by scores like 38-31 or 51-48 and they will lose games like that as well. When you’re playing from behind or having to score on every possession, mistakes are going to be made.

Romo will throw a few “Hell-no’s” along the way which means you’ll be hearing a lot from his critics.

A Heroes’ Welcome Home for Taney Dragons by the City of Brotherly Love

29 Aug

Thousands of Philadelphia sports fans gathered near the Kimmell Center to welcome home the Taney Dragons  and hear the Philadelphia POPs Orchestra salute to the team for their successful run to the Little League World Series. Photo by Chris Murray.

Thousands of Philadelphia sports fans gathered near the Kimmell Center to welcome home the Taney Dragons and hear the Philadelphia POPs Orchestra salute to the team for their successful run to the Little League World Series. Photo by Chris Murray.

By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

After the Parade down Broad Street, the Taney Dragons were honored by Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen's Bank Park before Wednesday's game against the Washington Nationals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

After the Parade down Broad Street, the Taney Dragons were honored by Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen’s Bank Park before Wednesday’s game against the Washington Nationals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA –A lot of people who would normally be hard at work in their Center City offices were instead gathered on the streets of Philadelphia in support of the Taney Dragons Little League team as part of a parade honoring the Mid-Atlantic Little League champions Wednesday.

Waving signs that said, “We Love Taney,” “We’re on the Dragon Wagon,” and “Let’s Go Taney,” a crowd of thousands took part in the parade, which also featured performances by the Philly POPS orchestra in front of the Kimmel Center and the Mummers at Broad and Washington.

In the midst of a tumultuous summer on the streets of Philly and around the world, the Dragons, a multi-ethnic team of 12 and 13-year-olds, gave everyone something to smile about during their Little League World Series run in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said Mayor Michael Nutter.

“We’ve had a number of tragedies this summer just in Philadelphia involving children, very tragic situations, so we mourn all of those losses and it really hurts our heart when bad things have happened to our children,” said Nutter said. “To have a few weeks, a month or so of this kind of incredible joy around children just playing a game, just having a good time, I think it was really exciting for the whole city and people responded.”

Taney Dragons pitcher Mo'ne Davis and her teammates took a victory lap around Citizen's Bank Park.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Taney Dragons pitcher Mo’ne Davis and her teammates took a victory lap around Citizen’s Bank Park. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Taney Dragons were one of two inner city teams to play in the LLWS, and the first from Philadelphia. They, and the U.S. Champion Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago, became favorites of fans around the country and garnered a lot of media attention in the process.
Taney manager Alex Rice applauded his kids for how they’ve handled it.

“It was an honor to be associated with this team for the past two months,” Rice said. “They’re talented, wonderful, high character, smart, funny wonderful kids. They played terrific baseball.”

Though the Taney Dragons finished third, they received a heroes’ welcome from a grateful hometown on Wednesday in a parade that went from downtown to Franklin D. Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia.

“The parade was awesome,” said Taney Dragons slugging outfielder Zion Spearman. “I wish we had another one, but this was awesome. I think it was nice seeing all the people. It was fun. It was pretty good because it was, I don’t know, exciting.”

Taney Dragons second baseman Jahli Hendricks looks out into the crowd during the parade down Broad Street. Photo by Chris Murray.

Taney Dragons second baseman Jahli Hendricks looks out into the crowd during the parade down Broad Street. Photo by Chris Murray.

After marching down Broad Street, Mayor Nutter and Second District City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson honored the team with a proclamation and announced plans provide more resources to recreation programs in the city and repair the city’s baseball fields.

Later in the day, the team went to Citizens Bank Park where the Philadelphia Phillies honored them and let entire team threw the ceremonial first pitch. They also got some encouragement from Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who spent time with them in Williamsport.

“This is the epitome of Philadelphia right here,” Howard said during the ceremony. “I felt like a little kid when I was hanging out with these guys. They were full of life and full of energy and just plain fun.”

For the kids, it has been a whirlwind last couple of weeks with games and celebrations. This is especially true for 13-year-old pitcher Mo’ne Davis, who thrilled fans and dazzled with her 70-mile per hour fast ball and became the darling of the Little League World Series.

Davis was the toast of the morning TV talk shows including ABC’s Good Morning and became the first Little Leaguer to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. By the time the parade ended, a visibly-tired Davis talked to reporters about the run through the Little World Series.

“It’s been half and half. I like it sometimes, but most of the time I don’t. I’m looking forward to school,” Davis said. “What sticks out to me is being on (the cover) of Sports Illustrated, throwing my shutout and making it to Williamsport. … It was very cool.”

Taney Dragons manager Alex Rice fields questions from reporters with his team gathered around him after the Phillies tribute to his team. Photo by Webster Riddick

Taney Dragons manager Alex Rice fields questions from reporters with his team gathered around him after the Phillies tribute to his team. Photo by Webster Riddick

The solid of performance of both the Taney Dragons and the all-Black U.S. champion Chicago Jackie Robinson West squad marked the comeback of urban baseball. The Taney Dragons squad was a multi-ethnic squad that looked more like America.

“I ran with my kids from Philadelphia, they were a perfect cross section of Philadelphia and I was thrilled with ther talent that made the team and I loved them,”  Rice said.

Eagles Moving Closer to Being Ready for the Regular Season

24 Aug

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy scores on a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy scores on a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Perhaps the biggest questions for the Eagles coming into the 2014 season is how much has their defense improved and can the offense put up even bigger numbers than they did last season?

On the defensive side of the ball, the answer  has come with some uncertainty throughout the preseason. Last week against the New England Patriots, the Birds starters and reserves got pushed up and down the field for over 400 yards of offense.

The Eagles starters on defense got a better sense of themselves in the Birds 31-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at Lincoln Financial  in the pivotal third preseason game, considered to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole go after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Thursday's preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole go after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Thursday’s preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Birds held Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense to 94 yards in the first half before letting the second team take over late in the first half. It was a good bounce-back from their performance against the Patriots.

What impressed defensive coordinator Bill Davis was the way his team got off the field on third down situations, something they didn’t do against the Patriots. The Eagles starters were 3-of-7 in stopping third down conversions.

“It was real nice and we know third downs are a point of emphasis for us,” Davis said. “It hasn’t been good enough, we moved forward. … We have to do better than we did tonight, but I did like the way it got better.”

With the season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars (Sept. 7) on the horizon, the defense still has a lot of work to do to be ready for the regular season.

“Personally, you should never be satisfied,” said Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole. “We have room to improve. I think we’re ready, but there’s always room to improve. While we’re on the right road and everything’s in the right direction and looking good out there, now we can improve on the positive things that we took from this game and improve all week.”

The only disclaimer to the Eagles improved play on defense is that they were facing a bad Steelers offense that couldn’t get out of its own way.

Roethlisberger was out of sync with his receivers and they just couldn’t establish any kind of rhythm offensively.  Quite frankly, the Steelers were just awful on offense and didn’t get on the scoreboard until the second half when the Eagles second team took the field.
If there’s a unit that is ready to start the season, it’s the Eagles offense. During their stint on the field in the first half, the Birds first-team offense rolled out to a 17-0 halftime lead on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to LeSean McCoy, a one-yard run from running back Darren Sproles and a 36-yard field goal by Alex Henery.

With the preseason behind the first-team starters on offense, the Birds seem to be pleased with the progress they’ve made from the first preseason game against the Chicago Bears.

“I feel like we’ve improved as a unit and as a team,” said Foles, who completed 19-of-29 passes for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception. “There are a lot of corrections to make from this game, but I feel like we out there and got in a rhythm faster and started moving the football. “

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin grabs his right knee in pain after his foot apparently got stuck in the turf. He was not seriously injured. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin grabs his right knee in pain after his foot apparently got stuck in the turf. He was not seriously injured. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The one thing the Eagles will have when they open the season is their starting wide receivers—Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin.

Things got scary midway through the first half when Maclin’s right knee buckled into the Lincoln Financial Field turf. The crowd held its collective breath with Maclin writhing in pain from the same knee that put him on the injured reserve list last season.

After returning to the sideline, Maclin started running like normal and eventually got back out on the field. But he admitted that he got a little worried.

“Absolutely, it is something that brought back flashbacks,” said Maclin, who caught six passes 43 yards. “When I got up and could walk when the initial shock went away. I was pretty good.”

The Eagles have one last preseason game next Thursday (Aug.28) against the New York Jets at Lincoln Financial Field. The game will be played by second and third string guys still trying to make the team.

Notes- On Saturday, the Eagles cut 14 players. All NFL teams must cut down their rosters to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Eagles roster currently stands at 76. Here are the players who were released:
TE Blake Annen
OL Michael Bamiro
OL Karim Barton
WR Kadron Boone
WR B.J. Cunningham
OL Donald Hawkins
TE Emil Igwenagu
LB Jake Knott
DE Joe Kruger
S Daytawion Lowe
DE Frances Mays
S Davon Morgan
K Carey Spear
DE Alejandro Villanueva

Mo’ne Davis and Chicago Jackie Robinson West Will Hopefully Rejuvenate Interest in Baseball Among African-Americans

22 Aug

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Mo'ne Davis' 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Mo’ne Davis’ 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

PHILADELPHIA—In 2005, I did a series of stories for the Philadelphia Tribune on the declining number of African-Americans in Major League Baseball.

One of the people I interviewed for the story was Negro League legend Buck O’Neill, former manager of the Kansas City Monarchs. As we talked about how to turn the tide, O’Neill said that programs like the Reviving Baseball in the Inner City, or RBI, would help because he was convinced that once Black kids started playing baseball, they’d grow to love it.

That two of the remaining teams in the Little League World Series–Philadelphia’s own Taney Dragons and the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago—are teams that feature Black kids proves that O’Neill might have been on to something.

The Chicago Jackie Robinson West representing the Great Lakes Region will take on Nevada for the U.S. Championship on Saturday.

The Chicago Jackie Robinson West representing the Great Lakes Region will take on Nevada for the U.S. Championship on Saturday.

Somewhere in the heavens, the performances of the all-Black Jackie Robinson West team and Taney pitcher Mo’ne Davis are making O’Neill smile. Both teams have been the talk of the summer classic of the country’s best 12 and 13-year-old baseball players held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

As her team’s best player and pitcher, Mo’ne is giving new meaning to the phrase “throws like a girl”. With a 70 mile-per-hour fast ball, the 5-foot-4, 13-year-old pitcher has been mowing down her competition.

Mo’ne has led the South-Philadelphia based Taney Dragons, the first team from the city to make it to the LLWS, to a 2-2 record in the Little League World Series before they were eliminated by the Jackie Robinson West Squad from Chicago on Thursday.

As the first girl to throw a shutout in a Little League World Series game, Mo’ne is the first Little Leaguer and the youngest athlete to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She gave up three runs and struck out six in three innings of work in Taney’s 8-1 loss to Nevada on Wednesday.

(Which might also make her the youngest victim of the dreaded SI jinx, but we’re not going to talk about that…)

The success of Mo’ne and the Dragons has had fans from around the country glued to their TV sets. Folks ranging from First Lady Michelle Obama to NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson have praised the female hurler and WNBA star Britney Griner is looking for Mo’ne’s jersey.

(I wish you luck on that one, Britney. They’re selling like hotcakes!)

But while Mo’ne Davis is making young girls practice their curveball grip, Taney’s just one of the LLWS’s big urban baseball stories. The kids from the all-Black Chicago Jackie Robinson West team are also making history.

Jackie Robinson West is the second team from Little League Baseball’s Urban Initiative to make it to Williamsport. The champs of the Great Lakes Region will have taken on Taney for the right to face Nevada in the U.S. Championship game.

Coming from an urban center known for its crime, violence and poverty, the kids from Jackie Robinson West have been a breath of fresh air to a city where hope oftentimes doesn’t exist.

It’s also a team that knows how to bounce back from adversity. After a 13-2 loss to Nevada in a game that was called after four innings due to the Mercy rule, the kids from the Southside of Chicago found themselves on the short end of a 7-6 deficit against the team from Cumberland, Rhode Island coming into the fifth inning.

But the hard-hitting team from Chicago rallied to score two runs to take the lead and thanks to some outstanding relief pitching held on to win 8-7. After wins over Pearland, Texas and a close 6-5 win over the Taney Dragons, they will have a rematch against that unbeaten Nevada squad for the U.S. Championship.

The winner of that game will face the winner of the International Championship game between South Korea and Japan.

At a time when costs for the game including gloves, bats and other equipment run into the thousands, watching the performances of the Taney Dragons and Jackie Robinson West have taken the edge off of a summer where violence and racial tensions have been far too prominent.

I don’t know if seeing these two groups of kids playing in Williamsport will spark a renaissance of urban baseball that will bring the percentage of American-born Black players in the major leagues up its current 8 percent, but it’s a step in the right direction.

It’s certainly enough to bring a smile to the faces of Buck O’Neill, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson and the rest of Black Baseball’s ancestors.

Eagles Defense Needs to Improve the Pass Rush

17 Aug

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By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Eagles defense needs to put more pressure on the quarterback, something they haven't done so far this preseason.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Eagles defense needs to put more pressure on the quarterback, something they haven’t done so far this preseason. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Eagles third preseason game this Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the horizon, there are some things from last Friday’s exhibition game they need to fix coming into what will be a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Of course, the big worry for the Eagles has to be their defense, which did not play well in the 42-35 loss to the New England Patriots in Foxboro. The Birds starters and backups collectively gave up 476 yards of offense.

The only bright spot from the defense in that game was Cary Williams 77-yard interception return for a touchdown on the Patriots first series of possession. Williams wound up pulling his hamstring on the play and did not play the rest of the game. Even with the pick-six, the Patriots had driven through 50 yards through the Eagles defense without much resistance.

“We need to generate a better pass rush,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “I think our defensive line has to do a better job in terms of what their rush contains are. We had that one play with (Ryan) Mallet where Marcus (Smith) does a nice job of making him flush up in the pocket, but we got nobody on that side containing the quarterback and we let the quarterback scramble in for a touchdown.”

The Eagles first-team defense, which ranked 32nd in pass defense in 2013, didn’t get any pressure on Tom Brady. He completed 8-of-10 passes for 81 yards with one touchdown and an interception. After Brady’s early pick-six, New England got touchdown passes on their next three possessions— one from Brady and two from backup Jimmy Garoppollo.

Backup cornerback Curtis Marsh got torched for three of the Patriots four touchdown passes. The defense got just two sacks from their backups—linebacker Brandon Graham and rookie defensive end Alejandro Villanueva.

“We use a lot of different combinations and we try to get some guys in with the ones to see them work around,” Kelly said. “We had a lot of different rotations going on just to see if we can get some guys evaluated on film. We do need to generate a pass rush, especially if you’re going to play somebody the caliber of Tom (Brady).”

For all the talk of the improvement of the Eagles defense, they took a step backwards last Friday. Granted, it’s only the second game of the preseason and defensive coordinator Bill Davis might have been trying different personnel groups.

The good news for the Birds is they will have at least the first half and a third quarter of Thursday’s game against the Steelers to fix the deficiencies on defense. They better do it quick.

On offense, Nick Foles found his rhythm and showed flashes of 2013 with his performance in the first half. He was of 8-of-10 for 81 yards with one touchdown, one fumble and no interceptions after throwing two last week against Chicago.

In fact, all three Eagles quarterbacks performed well during their stints against the Patriots. Mark Sanchez is showing that he will be a capable backup if Foles gets hurt. Against New England, Sanchez is 11-of-12 for 117 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Third-string quarterback Matt Barkley also played well, completing 9-of-12 passes for 132 yards and one touchdown pass and one interception.

With both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper sitting on the sideline with injuries, the Eagles got a good look at six-foot-seven Ifeanyi Momah and rookie Jordan Matthews , who struggled last week a pair of drops.

Suffice it to say, Momah had a tough night in New England. He had two fumbles and three drops. Oddly enough, one of Momah’s drops inadvertently led to an Eagles touchdown late in the first half when the ball caromed off his hands and into the clutches of Arrelious Benn. He had three catches for 28 yards.

Meanwhile, Matthews made a strong case for him to be included with the first stringers with his performance Friday. He caught nine passes for 104 yards. After the game, the former Vanderbilt star said he still has a lot of work to get better.

“I want to always keep that mindset and just go out there and make plays,” Matthews said. “I just continue to slow the game down in my head and make it feel more like practice. I feel like I did some good things, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

Howard’s Struggles Are Not From a Lack of Effort

14 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Last Sunday, Ryan Howard drove in the winning run with a walk-off single to cap a 7-6 come from behind victory over the New York Mets.

In a season where Howard has been struggling and getting booed by whoever shows up at Citizen’s Bank Park, it was refreshing to see No. 6 carry his team to victory the way he did during the Phillies remarkable five-year run of division titles that included a World Series championship.

The 2014 season has been the worst for Howard in a non-injury season. He is batting an anemic .219 with 18 home runs and 73 runs batted in (third in the National League). Even with Sunday’s game-winning hit, Howard is batting just .223 with runners in scoring position. He was benched for three games this by manager Ryne Sandberg.

On the Phillies last homestand, Howard had four game-winning hits while batting .266 with a pair of home runs.

There have been calls by fans and media folks for him to be traded. If it wasn’t for his hefty $25-million per year salary, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have sent him packing.

The hard part of watching Howard go through his struggles at the plate is that it’s not for a lack of effort on his part. Leg and foot injuries, especially those to the knees and Achilles, take their toll on athletes and it takes them time to be back at 100 percent.

That was something that Howard said he was going through when I spoke to him about it back in June.

“Once you suffer a big injury, it does take a little bit of time for the normal aches and pains that you used to have before your injuries to become commonplace,” said Howard, who hasn’t played beyond 80 games since 2011. “Now as my body is starting to go through all that stuff, it’s re-learning how to work its way through.”

But fans aren’t going to buy that. When they see Howard strike-out with the bases loaded, they will point to his $25 million per year salary and say that’s not what he should be doing whether he’s hurt or not. They are going to show their displeasure through booing or calling for the team to run him out of town on sports talk radio or social media.

That’s a burden Howard has carried during his time here in Philly. It’s the monster created from 2005 to 2011 when it was his home runs and runs batted in that led the Phillies to a remarkable run that included a World Series championship.

Howard doesn’t have the luxury being the gritty, blue collar player who is gamely trying to fight through his injuries after missing most of the last two years coming into this season. The fact that he leads his team in runs batted in and is third in RBIs in the National League is of no consequence to Phillies fans.

What I find fascinating is that during those periods when fan favorite Chase Utley was fighting through his injuries and not performing at his best, he didn’t get the same kind of acrimony that Howard has gotten during his struggles.

But as much I like and respect Utley, he is able to play the blue-collar superstar role because the real burden of moving and shaking the Phillies offense over the years was on Howard who was the main reason for the Phillies success when they were on top of the division standings.

Howard’s recent complaints about fans booing him were not so much about the fans themselves, but it was more about the frustration within himself of not being able to help his team the way he once did.

I think Howard has more aches and pains that are affecting his performance than he is telling anyone including his team. If he points to it, he will be seen as a $25 million a year whiner. So Howard will do what he always does—soldier through it with his best effort while hearing the boos along the way.

 

 

 

 

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