Archive | July, 2017

Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp 2017: Improving Cornerback Position Critical to Birds Success This Season

29 Jul

 

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Eagles rookie cornerbacks Rasul Douglas (32) and Jomal Wiltz (30) are competing to get playing time in the Eagles secondary. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With a group of new players and rookies and a ton of expectations, the Philadelphia Eagles 2017 squad started training camp on Monday with more questions than answers.

But fans are hoping that once the team gets these questions answered, the Eagles will be a shoo-in for a playoff spot and possibly a Super Bowl.

Among these questions fans and coaches have is How much better will quarterback Carson Wentz play now that he has more weapons to work with? The Eagles signed wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in the off-season, giving Wentz two more weapons to work with. He’ll also have running back LeGarrette Blount behind him, and the team is hoping that he can duplicate his career-high 1,161 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns from last year. Coaches will also be keeping an eye on diminutive rookie running back Donnel Pumphrey to see if he can be an every-down running back despite weighing just 178 pounds.

On the defensive side of the ball, the weakest link on the Eagles squad appears to be the secondary in general and the cornerback slot in particular. That’s because you have a group a group that hasn’t played with each other much that includes a group of talented, but untested rookies and a second-year player still trying to find his way.

“We’re going to continue to look to bring in guys, if we can, to create as much competition at that spot,” said head coach Doug Pederson during his post-practice press conference on Monday. “It’s obviously a spot we’re going to keep our eyes on throughout camp, but it gives a couple of our younger guys a chance to get some valuable reps.”

Rookie and former West Virginia star Rasul Douglas is among the group of Eagles first-year players that could crack the starting lineup or at the very least get some time on the field.  If you know something about his past, this is a young man whose motor is on all of the time.

Before transferring to West Virginia, Douglas played his collegiate ball at Nassau Community College as a walk-on and there were times he had to rely on ordering the McDonald’s dollar menu for meals because he didn’t have a lot of money. That experience fueled his determination to succeed once he got to West Virginia, he said.

Douglas will certainly need that kind of hunger (pardon the pun) to get playing time on the field, much less a starting spot. Especially since the competition appears to be really tough in his chosen slot.

“All of us have a chance to be a starting cornerback every position is open and up for grabs,” said Douglas, who intercepted eight passes in his final season at West Virginia. “We’re all trying to compete and get better every day. We’re definitely working and improving.”

The presumed starters at the cornerback positions are second-year corner Jalen Mills and 10-year veteran Patrick Robinson with Ron Brooks, who missed last 10 games with a torn quad last year, playing in the slot. The Birds also signed five-year veteran Dwayne Gratz. Also, veteran corner and former Canadian Football League standout Aaron Grymes returns to the Eagles after being cut last year.

If anything is going to prepare the Eagles young cornerback group for the upcoming season is the group of wide receivers they’ll be going up against in practice. Smith and Jeffrey are veteran receivers who know how to stretch defenses.

During the Eagles mini-camp in June, it was Jeffery who said that he liked Douglas’s potential at the cornerback spot and predicted that the rookie could have as many as five or six interceptions for the Eagles.

If that’s the case, the Birds could make a run for the division title this year.

“(Jeffery) has played against some of the best cornerbacks in the NFL,” Douglas said. “To hear something like that and being a rookie, not knowing and just playing off the athleticism means a lot.”

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said his young corners competing  against quality wide receivers in practice can only help the maturation process.

“I think the competition helps them. Whether it helps them to develop quicker, I don’t know. But I know that competition is going to bring out the best in them,” Schwartz said. “If they make a mistake in technique, it will show. You can’t cover it up against a veteran player. So I think that’s probably the biggest part of that equation.”

But players like Douglas are going to have to learn from players like Brooks and Robinson. Douglas said there were times he struggled during OTAs, but the veteran told him that there are going to those days when receivers get their catches.

“When we first came out here, we were out here just running around, trying to make a play,” he said. “They (the veterans) were like, Look young fella, they (wide receivers) get paid like you get paid. You can’t take away everything.”

The Eagles secondary will certainly need a push from the front seven to get pressure on quarterbacks. On the defensive line, former Baltimore Raven Tim Jurnigan along with defensive end Chris Long will give the Birds a solid rotation.

Meanwhile, rookie and No. I draft pick Derek Barnett is looking to join Brandon Graham as a starting defensive end.

“OTAs were very competitive. I’m competing with guys who’ve been in the league for a while and guys who’ve been in the league for two or three years. It’s all good competition,” Barnett said.

Despite breaking former Eagles great Reggie White’s all-time sack record at the University of Tennessee and being the Eagles No. 1 pick, Barnett knows he’s still got a lot of work ahead of him.

“What I did in the past doesn’t mean nothing, being a first-round pick doesn’t mean nothing,” Barnett said. “I still gotta come and go to work every day, improving my craft and showing the coaches they can trust me and showing my teammates they trust me on the field as well.”

The road to the Philadelphia Eagles 53-man roster for the 2017 season begins with the team’s first pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 10.

Negro League Baseball Museum Still Thriving as a Beacon of Black History

9 Jul

The Negro League Baseball Museum shines a light on the players who played with Jackie Robinson first.

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Major League Baseball commissioner Robert Manfred; Kansas City Mayor Sly James; Judy Pace Flood, widow of Curt Flood; MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark and former player Dave Winfield attend ceremonies in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Major League Baseball and its players’ union presented a $1 million grant to the Negro League Baseball Museum to help with operating costs, expansion plans and educational opportunities. Photo by Philadelphia Sunday Sun via the Associated Press.

 

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game coming up on Tuesday, I am reminded of the time prior to Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color line when baseball, not basketball, was the most popular sport among African-Americans.

In the 30s and 40s, stadiums like Chicago’s Comiskey Park and Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium would be filled with African-Americans coming to see Negro League Baseball teams like the Philadelphia Stars play the Negro League’s elite players like Satchell Paige, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Josh Gibson.

“Let me tell you something, fella, Negro League baseball was a happening in the Black world,” the late Stanley Glenn told me when I interviewed the former member of the Philadelphia Stars in 2005. “Women came to the ballpark dressed in their Sunday best, high heel shoes, silk stockings and they had hats on their heads on their hats and long-sleeved gloves … Let me tell you something — we married some of the girls. They would be there dressed to kill. You would think you were at a cotillion.”

While memories of those days have faded along with African-Americans interest and participation in the game, there’s a monument to the Stars at 44th and Parkside in West Philadelphia, as well as a wing dedicated to Negro Leagues at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

But if you really want to see what the Negro Leagues were all about, and you can’t find a copy of the Richard Pryor film “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings”, a visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is a must.

Since it opened in 1997, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has become a showcase and permanent monument to the greatest players in the history of baseball; players that were kept from the major leagues because of the color of their skin.

“It’s an American history, it really is,” said Bob Kendrick, the museum’s president. “It is a story of America at her worst, but it’s also a story of America at a time of her best because what drives this story is the American spirit. America didn’t want to let these guys play, but the American spirit propelled them to do so. That’s why it’s such an awe-inspiring and such a compelling story that few people have been exposed to until the rise of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”

Whether you walk inside the museum’s hallway with the uniforms and old photographs of the players or you’re seeing the bronze statues of players like Paige and Gibson playing their positions in a makeshift stadium, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a living, breathing monument to the greatness of those players.

And it’s a greatness that tends to attract Black major leaguers to the museum, Kendrick said. Many of them have come to the museum to draw strength and inspiration from the statues and artifacts contained there, including former Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who would often visit the museum to draw strength and inspiration before heading to spring training.

“Ryan used to come to the museum before we even knew who Ryan Howard was,” Kendrick said. “Every year he would come to the Negro League museum because he said it was place he need to come before spring training. He drew strength. It was almost like his rites of passage.”

In the aftermath of being jeered with racial epithets by a fan at Boston’s Fenway Park, Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones visited museum and talked about its importance to him.

“Some have no idea what the Negro Leagues are about or what they went through. I appreciate people coming out here to learn something they didn’t know about the great game of baseball through the Negro Leagues’ eyes,” Jones told MASN.com (MidAtlantic Sports Network) after donating $20,000 back in May.  “This is just the place to learn what these great men had to go through.”

Recently, the Negro League Baseball Museum, which has had its share of financial ups and downs, received a huge boost from Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association in the form of a $1 million donation.

The contribution will support the museum’s operations, services, its expansion as well as its educational and community programs. The portions of the money will go to complete the Buck O’Neil Research and Education Center on the Paseo YMCA site where Andrew “Rube” Foster formed the Negro Leagues in 1920. 

Kendrick said museum’s partnership with MLB through Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBA Executive Director Tony Clark is yet another way of reaching out to the African-American community in an effort to renew their interest in the sport.  African-American players make up just 7.1 percent of the athletes playing the sport.

Not only was the financial contribution significant, it was the presence of both Clark and Manfred at the museum to make the announcement last month that made it even more special for Kendrick.

“They have embraced the notion of the museum playing a significant role in its effort to bringing African-Americans back to our sport in terms of playing and watching it,” Kendrick said. “This is the first time that we’ve sat down and look at this as a collaboration and the partnership aspect of what this means.

“(Manfred and Clark) being here to me, in some regard, is more important than the financial because it raises the platform, the profile of our museum and how it is seen and valued by those who run our great sport.”

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be broadcast from Marlins Park in Miami beginning at 8pm on Fox-29.

 

#BlackFansMatter: Colin Kaepernick and how the NFL disregards its African-American Fan Base

1 Jul

If nothing else, the verdict in the Philando Castile case should show the National Football League that Colin Kaepernick had a point.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Following the acquittal of the police officer who shot him, the video of Philando Castile being shot  by a Minnesota police officer was released.

Like many of you, I was shocked and horrified by what I saw. Castile, by every measure, complied with the officer’s instructions and even lawfully informed him that he had a gun.

And yet, former St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez still shot Castile to death because let’s face it — if you have the wrong skin color, running a stop sign can be an offense worthy of capital punishment by a law enforcement officer more than willing to serve as judge, jury and the guy wearing the black hood.

Which is exactly why former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spent much of last season taking a knee.

In the  same week that the Criminal Justice system proved him right with the acquittal of Yanez, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement saying that Kaepernick is not being “blackballed” for his national anthem protests during the 2016 season. 

Goodell is the commissioner of a league where 70 percent of the players are Black. Despite their status as professional athletes, they face the same possibility of “Death By Police Officer,” that Castile faced. Black men, according to the “Washington Post”, are almost three times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers. Unarmed Black men are seven times more likely than Whites to die in police gunfire, according to the Post.

You would think that at the very least, Goodell and the league owners would have some type of sensitivity, empathy, or come to some understanding of a problem that affects the majority of their players.

Instead, the NFL, like the juries and prosecutors that allow cops who kill unarmed Black people to go free, has chosen to turn a blind eye to this injustice against African-Americans.   

That’s because calling  Kaepernick unpatriotic and  using him as a cautionary tale for other Black players is easier for the owners to do than it is to listen to these athletes when they  speak about the racism that affects the Black community.    

And as Castile found out by being  shot to death, and  Kaepernick is finding out through being blackballed because he refused to just shut up and play, the Constitution is First Amendment never really applies to African-Americans.

Don’t believe me? Check this out.

The Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman said he talked to several owners around the NFL who said they would not bring Kaepernick on their team because of his refusal to stand for the national anthem.  Freeman is a well-respected, by the book, old-school reporter who would not make stuff like that up.

But if that’s not enough for you, here’s New York Giants owner John Mara.

“All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Mara said to a reporter. “If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game. It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, more so than any other issue I’ve run into.”

I wonder many letters Mara has gotten from African-American fans telling him they support Kaepernick and that he and his fellow owners shouldn’t deny him a job?  Mara’s statement tells me NFL owners are always more concerned about the sensibilities of their White fans first and foremost.

Or put another way, #BlackFansDontMatter.

And that’s actually pretty stupid because African-Americans football fans love their football, too. You can see them tailgating at stadiums, ordering Papa John’s Pizza during the games, drinking Coors Lite and spending  money on officially licensed NFL apparel, probably more than their White counterparts.

More than a few African-Americans that I’ve come across on social media have told me they won’t watch the NFL this season because of how Kaepernick is being treated. But don’t expect Goodell and the owners to raise an eyebrow, or to even be concerned, because their Black fans don’t matter to them.

(And if we’re honest, Black players and the Black doctors trying to help them don’t matter much either. This is a league, after all, that vehemently denied that head trauma was affecting its players long after their playing careers were over. This was also the same league that relentlessly vilified Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Black Nigerian forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy and how if affected players after their careers were over.)

In the end, Castile’s death and the apparent death of Kaepernick’s football career are the latest examples of a country that is still in deep denial about how racism affects African-Americans and other people of color.

But then again, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise either.