Archive | May, 2010

Stop Hating on Hip-Hop: Nikki Giovanni says genre is the Voice of the People

30 May

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and

The Sunday Sun

In an age of loud-mouthed pundits and snappy sound bites lacking context and substance, the musical and artistic genre known as “Hip-Hop” has been used as a “boogeyman” — the root of the all the evil facing urban youth today.

It is as visceral a buzzword as “communism” was often used by conservative Southern politicians to vilify Civil Rights protestors and anti-Vietnam war activists .

But you won’t hear such vitriol from award-winning poet and author Nikki Giovanni.

As someone whose  poetry was one of the many voices of the Black Arts Movement, the 66-year-old Giovanni said the negative criticism of hip-hop comes from people who don’t know or understand the genre.

“They demonize hip-hop like they demonized gospel music, like they demonized rock and roll. Anything that the people have done to make them absolutely better,” Giovanni said shortly after her recent presentation, “Hip-Hop Speaks to Children,” to a group of junior and senior high school students at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia.

“A lot of it is jealously of young people. A lot of it is also they didn’t do it. And so anything they don’t think of, then all of a sudden, it’s not right and they’re crazy. I like the kids. I always have. I really hope that I don’t reach a point where I become one of those people like ‘eww I don’t know what they’re doing’ because that’s your job, go out there and find out what they’re doing.”

Giovanni has the words, “Thug Life” tatooed on her left arm as a tribute to the late rapper Tupac Shakur. She said she edited her 2008 New York Times best-selling book, “Hip-Hop Speaks to Children,” because she was upset with how the genre has been vilified in the mainstream media.

“I got tired of people bitching about hip-hop because they obviously didn’t know what they were talking about and usually if you don’t know what you’re talking about, you should probably shut up,” Giovanni told her audience. “It’s amazing how a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about continue to yabber on.”

During her presentation, which was a part of the (Philadelphia) Art Sanctuary’s 26th Annual Celebration of Black Writer’s Festival, Giovanni said Hip-Hop is part of a tradition of art that spoke for the masses of people who didn’t traditionally have a forum from which to speak.

“Hip-Hop is in line with a long tradition of the people having a voice,” Giovanni said. “They found a way to express themselves. Now, of course, nobody liked that because nobody likes to be told that they’re wrong. These people are wrong. Our government is wrong, our business leaders are wrong. They’re greedy and crazy and so the people had to find a voice and they found a voice through Hip-Hop.

“It is a vernacular that speaks to the conditions of the people. If we don’t like it, we need to change, not the people, but the conditions the people live under.”

Giovanni was in her 20s during the Black Arts Movement and the like artist from the Hip-Hop era, the Sonia Sanchez’s and Amiri Barakas got more than their share of criticism from the mainstream literary establishment. One of those critics was Ralph Ellison, who wrote the epic novel, “The Invisible Man, who chided them for not wanting to be a part of the American mainstream.

“(Ellison) was like, ‘oh these people use bad language. Ralph, you wrote one book, you’re not God,” Giovanni recalled.

Giovanni said the difference between the activists of the Black Arts Movement and the artists of the Hip-Hop era was that her generation wanted to America to be in their image while the young people of the hip-hop want to be a part of the American mainstream.

“We were not Americans,” she said referring to the Civil Rights generations. “These kids are. They want to be rich, they want to dress well, they want to have big cars, they want to have lovely houses. . . They want to be Americans. My generation wanted America to be us and the Hip-Hop generation wants to be Americans. They are constantly being apart of America, so they pick up the gun, they sell drugs. They do what they have to do because that’s America.”

While it is easy for many successful artists to rest on the laurels of their past success and accomplishments, Giovanni said she refuses to stand on the ceremony of her many great works in poetry. She said she is always looking to challenge herself to come up with fresh ideas and different ways of looking at things.

“You have to look at things differently,” Giovanni said. “I can’t re-write ‘Ego Tripping, I’m not even thinking to, or I can’t re-write ‘Nikki-Rosa’. It’s done, it was well-done.

“You have to keep challenging yourself or you’ll become a politician. … You become somebody who’s done something for 38 years or 40 years and now it’s rote, you’re not interesting and you can do it in your sleep. Then what’s the point of me coming to hear you.”

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NFLPA Chief Hopes Supreme Court Ruling will spur NFL Owners to Bargain Fairly

27 May

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The recent Supreme Court ruling that the NFL cannot consider itself a single entity is the first major victory for the NFL Players Association in their efforts to get a new collective bargaining agreement with the league owners.

In the lawsuit, American Needle versus the NFL, the high court unanimously ruled that the league cannot act as one singular unit when it comes to marketing and other licensing issues. American Needle contended that the league’s exclusive deal with Reebok was a violation of antitrust laws.

The Supreme Court ruling was far-reaching for the NFLPA . For starters, since the 2010 season is an uncapped year, it will prevent NFL teams from collectively imposing a single standard salary upon the players similar to a situation in 1985 when an arbitrator ruled that Major League baseball owners acted in collusion against free agents.

“Had the Court allowed the NFL to evade the anti-trust laws, ticket prices would have increased, free agency would have ended or been crippled, the way we watch football on television would have been fundamentally altered and our states and local governments would have been held hostage by a league with a Court-issued license to run wild,” the NFLPA said in a statement on its website.

Meanwhile, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is hoping the Supreme Court ruling will be the catalyst that will bring about a renewed effort by the league to negotiate a fair collective bargaining agreement.

“(May 24) Supreme Court ruling is not only a win for the players past, present and future, but a win for the fans,” Smith said in a statement. “ While the NFLPA and the players of the National Football League are pleased with the ruling, we remain focused on reaching a fair and equitable Collective Bargaining Agreement. We hope that today also marks a renewed effort by the NFL to bargain in good faith and avoid a lockout.”

Even with the current ruling, the players union has advised its players to save about 25 percent of their salaries in anticipation of a lockout by the owners. That’s something that Smith and the players union believe the owners are looking to do if things aren’t settled by March 2011.

With the NFL not having anti-trust protection, the NFLPA could decertify itself, sue the league on anti-trust gounds and allow the players to make their own individual deals with teams around the league. That could be disastrous for both sides and considering that the NFL made close to $9 billion dollars in revenue in 2009.

But the NFL downplayed the ruling’s effect upon its current negotiations with the players. During this week’s league meetings in Dallas, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the ruling had no effect in its negotiations with the players union which is set to resume in June.

“I’ve never bought that. I’ve said before our labor issues are going to get addressed in collective bargaining and that’s where they should get addressed,” Goodell said. “I’ve never felt that this had any impact on our collective bargaining process. What we have to do there is sit down at the table, address our issues and get it resolved. We will have a labor agreement and it will be done through collective bargaining and not through the courts.”

Goodell said he is hopeful that a new collective bargaining arrangement will be in place by March 2011.

The main bone of contention between the players and the owners is how to divide the revenue between the players and the owners. When the current collective bargaining agreement was reached in 2006, the NFL’s 32 owners agreed to allow the players to make 60 percent of the gross revenues.

But by 2008, the owners canceled the final two years of the current CBA citing that the current arrangement was favorable to players. The owners claimed that because of the poor economy that their costs were rising faster than they were making a profit.

For the new collective bargaining agreement, the owners want the players to give back 18 percent of the revenue. But the players union are not willing to take that cut because of the league’s growth and because of the owners failure to disclose information regarding their expenses.

Whether you believe the owners or the players side in these negotiations, the possible loss of billions dollars in revenue as the country’s No. 1 professional sport will probably be enough for both sides to come up with an equitable solution to satify both sides.

For Smith and the NFLPA, the lack of anti-trust protection for the NFL might be the first step in getting the owners to realize the gravity of the situation.

Ramirez Benching Shows That Players have to Hold Themselves Accountable

20 May

Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez was benched this week for lack of hustle

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Two years ago, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins was in the team clubhouse fielding questions about his lack of hustle around the basepaths during a Phils win over the Cincinnati Reds.

In that particular game, Rollins, who was coming off an MVP year in 2007, was benched by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for his casual stroll around the bases on a fly ball that was ultimately dropped by a Reds outfielder. In the locker room with reporters, Rollins, to his credit, admitted he was wrong and that Manuel was right for taking him out of the game.

As a team leader, Rollins apologized to his teammates and took his punishment like a man. It was one of those small bumps in the road to the Phils march to the 2008 World Series title.

Flash forward to this past Monday (May 17) in South Florida where Florida Marlins’ shortstop Hanley Ramirez accidently kicked a ball he was supposed to field into foul territory and then casually jogged after it as Arizona Diamondback baserunners were swiftly winging their way around the basepaths to score runs.

Ramirez claimed his foot was sore after a ball he hit bounced off of his shin earlier in the game and that he was doing the best he can under those circumstances.

As you know by now, Ramirez was immediately benched by manager Fredi Gonzalez and kept out of the next game against the Diamondbacks as well. But unlike Rollins back in 2008, Ramirez refused to apologize to his teammates or his manager. In fact, Ramirez took a shot at Gonzalez in the media by saying that his manager never played in the major leagues. He topped it off by throwing his teammates under the bus by pointing out the times that they dogged it.

Only after things got hot in the media did Ramirez apologize to his teammates and his manager.

While I applaud Gonzalez for benching the Marlins All-Star shortstop, I believe that Ramirez’s teammates should have admonished him behind closed doors and not in front of the press. Ramirez’s lack of effort was offensive to his teammates, especially because they are chasing the Phillies in the National League East. As one of the best players on his team, Ramirez has to lead by example and must be held accountable for his actions.

That’s what Rollins did when he apologized to his teammates after the game. When you’re in a chase to win a championship, you have to realize that you have to give it your all on every play even when you’re playing a 162-game season. From the Marlins perspective, you can’t afford to get complacent when you’re chasing the team that has dominated the National League East for the last three years. I’ve seen players in all sports who played with broken bones and were hurt worse than Ramirez and they still hustled and played through it.

As this situation in Florida was unfolding, I kept thinking about how guys like Bob Gibson or Frank Robinson would have reacted to Ramirez’s actions. I don’t think he would have gotten out of the locker room without a harsh tongue lashing and a fine from his teammates.

In the late 60s and early 70s when the Baltimore Orioles were winning four pennants and two World Series titles in six years, Robinson and his teammates held what they referred to as “kangaroo” court in which players had to defend themselves for their on-field transgressions.

Former player/manager and Robinson’s teammate Don Baylor said those mock trials and public tongue lashings helped him to become a better player.

Robinson used to wear a mop wig when he served as a judge to add a little tongue and cheek to the proceedings. It was the players way of policing themselves and keeping their noses to the grindstone during the course of a long season.

“It can be important to a team if people will accept it for what it is,” Robinson told USA Today Sports Weekly back in 2002. . “It’s a way to point out mistakes, a way to poke fun and get a point across at the same time. It’s a way to get people to focus more.

“It wasn’t to bully people. It was to get them thinking about the game.”
This is something that Ramirez has to understand moving forward. As one of the Marlins’ best players, Ramirez has to keep his head in the game, play hard on every play, and set an example for his teammates. As much as it is the responsibility of the manager and the coaches, the players also have to take it upon themselves and hold each other to a higher standard

No More Excuses: Boxing Fans Demand Mayweather-Pacquiao Bout

5 May

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Now that “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Jr. has done away with a game, but very old “Sugar” Shane

Photo courtesy Getty Images

Mosley, it’s time for everybody in boxing to stop fooling around, shucking and jiving and make the Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight a reality.

Now!

If boxing wants to command the respect and esteem it once held during the days of Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Hearns, Pryor-Arguello, Robinson-LaMotta, Zale-Graziano and a whole host of boxing great rivalries that are too numerous to list here, the promotors of Pacquiao and Mayweather have to make this happen.

With all the talk of mixed martial arts supposedly gaining in popularity over boxing, a big-mega fight in the “sweet science” like a Mayweather-Pacquiao would certainly command the attention of the sports public that would  go beyond just hardcore boxing fans.

The storylines for this one are very easy. Mayweather is your trash-talking, cash-flashing braggart who claims he is greater than Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and the legends in the sport. Meanwhile, Pacquiao (58-3-2, 38 KOs) is that hard-hitting force who has methodically destroyed everyone in front of him He is the classic little man from the Phillipines with fast hands who can hit you from all kinds of angles.

For all of Mayweather’s boasts of his prowess in the ring, he has not faced a fighter of Pacquiao’s caliber. He has not fought a guy strong enough to keep the pressure on him and make him have to gut out a win. Unlike the great fighters of yesteryear, Mayweather Jr. hasn’t had that arch-nemesis capable capable of putting a few marks on his face.

If anything, Mayweather (41-0, 25 KOs) has managed to avoid fighting some of the better fighters in the welterweight division  like Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and Paul Williams, who is now figthing as a junior middleweight.

When negotiations broke down between Mayweather’s camp and Pacquiao’s camp over drug-testing, some of Mayweather’s critics said he was afraid to fight Pacquiao because he might lose to what they feel is a stronger, tougher opponent.

Here’s the deal, folks. If Mr. Mayweather, who has a propensity to flash his cash everywhere, wants to truly cement his greatness as a boxer, he has to get in the ring against Pacquiao. If Mayweather is really among the best of all time he has to beat the guy who is now considered the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighter.

The one thing that boxing fans have been wanting to see from Mayweather throughout his career is how he responds when an opponent wracks him with a hard shot. In his fight against Mosley, Mayweather took a couple of hard rights to the head that staggered him and nearly sent him to the canvas in the second round.

To his credit, Mayweather regained his composure after that second round and pitched a shutout against Mosley for the rest of the fight. In the third round, Mayweather, who is normally a defensive fighter who likes to counterpunch, went on the offensive against Mosley and peppered him with several two-punch combinations en route to an easy unanimous decision.

But you might say that Mayweather should have a dominated Mosley because he is 38-years-old with diminishing skills.  For that matter,  Mayweather probably should have knocked out  Mosley, who didn’t throw many punches to follow up his early success. After that second round, Mosley got old in the ring. His body couldn’t execute the punches the way he did when he was a young relentless fighter who could chase his opponents down and keep the pressure on.

If you’re in Pacquiao’s camp, you gotta be thinking that your man can win this fight because if Pacquiao hits Mayweather the way Mosley rocked him in that second round, there’s not going to be any let up. Pacquiao, in knockout wins over Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya and Rickey Hatton, has shown that he is  a devastating finisher.

And so here it is, boxing, a golden opportunity to recapture the public’s imagination with the sweet science. No excuses, no drug tests, no politics, no promoter tricks. Just do it. To quote former boxing referee Mills Lane: “Let’s Get It On.”