Leland Stein III

Posts Tagged ‘sports’

World Cup aftermath: Black kids should be exceling at soccer, but . . .

In sports column on August 10, 2018 at 9:05 pm

 

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France celebrates second World Cup victory

By Leland Stein III

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Recently when France overcame Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final in Russia, I was simply glued to the action and the players. The preponderance of black athletes in the tournament just captivated me.

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Superstars Paul Pogba (L) and Kylian Mbappe of France celebrate victory with the World Cup trophy.

 Now in my mid-sixties, when I reflect back to my youth as an athlete in inner-city Detroit, I realized just how myopic my vision of sports was. My crew and I only played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. 

Do not get me wrong, those sports are awesome and has uplifted thousands of black boys and girls out of poverty and has exposed them to higher education. Indeed, those sports have given purpose to too many youths that had become demoralized due to their family environments and struggles with education.

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Tim Howard, US national team, has made millions playing soccer all over the world.

 As a retired teacher and coach, I have witnessed first-hand how those sports have given purpose and define direction to many. However; after watching the 2018 World Cup, in particular France, I see there is so much more opportunity for inner-city youth to expand their vision of what may be possible via sports.

 

With black Frenchmen like defender Samuel Umtiti, midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, and forward Kylian Mbappe, just to name a few, displaying speed, agility, coordination and swag, I could only wonder, why not here in America?

Well, the soccer situation in America’s inner-cities is non-existent. Looking worldwide, it’s obvious that the most popular sport in the world is filled with faces of all colors. Yet, soccer in the United States still finds itself at cross-roads when it comes to diversity – perhaps as much in how its perceived as the reality of who’s playing the game today. 

Despite a US soccer boom, the sport has made barely a ripple in black communities. Could unlocking this talent base revive the failing national team? The US National team did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Sure, our best athletes run track, play football or basketball. But let’s just dream for a minute: what if Barry Sanders (the most elusive running back ever), Russell Westbrook, Le’Veon Bell, Marshall Faulk, Adrian Peterson, Odell Beckham Jr., Steph Curry, Isiah Thomas, “Bullet” Bob Hayes, Chris Paul, Carl Lewis, Tommie Smith, Antonio Brown, Jim Brown etc. al. chose soccer?

Imagine the above mentioned superstar athletes running, dipping, cutting and juking on a soccer field and behind them in goal, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant blocking every kick attempt. 

Oh, how the world of soccer would change if America put any effort into giving opportunities to the millions of inner-city youth just falling short of the limited possibilities open in football and basketball. Even better is that football (soccer) becomes so accepted that on the regular some our greatest athletes like LeBron James would chose the football pitch just because it would afford even more money and the same status. 

If somehow, our inner-city school administrators could get state and federal government we to invest in soccer, or maybe even wrestling and volleyball, what an expanse of new opportunity that investment would present to our youth.

Soccer is one of the world’s most democratic games, played on streets and in alleys around the globe – just like basketball. It would seem a natural fit for America’s predominately black inner cities, where basketball thrives on playground courts.

America’s media has long been small-minded, parochial and narrow-minded in its presentation of what sports are important in its newspapers, televisions and broadcast highlights.

Our media has always presented soccer, and, women’s sports as second-class citizens. Very minimal coverage and airtime. 

We have failed to inform our youth that soccer (known worldwide as football) players are the highest paid athletes in the world, and its Super Bowl (World Cup) is the world’s second greatest gathering of nations after the Olympics.

In America, soccer is seen as a sport played by middle-class suburban kids. Even the term ‘soccer mom’ conjures up an image of a white, suburban mother shuttling her pre-teen kids to games in a plush minivan. 

Our national team has been unable to develop dynamic, creative players (now playing basketball and football) who can compete at an international level. Many see the roots of this failure in the expensive, well-organized network of pay-to-play suburban leagues. Some parents spend more than $10,000 a year on membership fees and out-of-town club tournaments.

What about college opportunities? Well, competitions where college coaches find recruits and national scouts identify prospects are at the club level. Children in poor neighborhoods are priced out and struggle with the logistics of reaching training fields far from public transport and inner-city routes. 

As a result, millions of children don’t ever try soccer – including some of the country’s best athletes.

“To not be allowing non-white kids to develop shows why we aren’t in the World Cup,” Amir Lowery, a former Major League Soccer player and executive director of Open Goal Project, said in an interview. “A kid playing basketball and American football can see a chance to play in college, they see a path through. If you want to play soccer [beyond high school], there’s no path there. You don’t ever see college coaches at high school games. Mentally, the kids aren’t even thinking soccer is accessible.”

If our closed-minded media can expand its presentation and build a connection with the recognizable, pop culture stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Lionel Messi, as they have with stars LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers, Usain Bolt, Tom Brady and Bryce Harper, it would open minds and doors.

This would unlock a new smorgasbord of role models that would trickle down to possible sports choices youth scan as real potential opportunities to uplift one’s life. 

Hylton Dayes is the men’s soccer coach at the University of Cincinnati, and one of only eight black coaches in all of Division 1 soccer.

“There’s no question that there’s an improvement in the number of African-American players playing soccer,” Dayes, told ESPN.com, “but we also need to be cognizant that there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. The majority of the good African-American athletes aren’t drawn to soccer.”

The fact of the matter is soccer is simply not cool with African-American kids for lack of a better phrase. Who can be cooler than James, Brady or Curry per ESPN Sports Center.

Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people that little else has.” 

The inclusion of soccer in inner-cities as a very real and viable alternative to football or basketball as Mandela noted, it has the possibility to uplift thousands and thousands of searching youth.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and Twitter at LelandSteinIII

 

 

North Carolina gets Deliverance and a title

In sports column on April 10, 2017 at 2:45 am
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North Carolina celebrates its methodical victory over Gonzaga.

By Leland Stein III

GLENDALE, Az. – This was my 21st Final Four and I have to interject that this collection of college basketball teams assembled together in Phoenix were extremely unique.

In the 2017 Big Dance there were three rookies and one veteran. This Phoenix congregation of three teams – Gonzaga, South Carolina and Oregon – had one Final Four appearance among them. Oregon proudly claimed that lone one, which unproudly happened 78 years ago in the very first NCAA title game – when the NIT was a much more prestigious tournament.

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Leland Stein III

It all started in November with 351 teams, and now, five months later it was down to three Final Four rookies and one vet. Make no mistake about it however, as all four of these teams were deserving of being one of the Final Four contestants for the national title. Each team here implemented, followed unique, and in some cases unlikely, paths to Phoenix. But all four teams had a singular moment that cemented its Final Four status.

Finally, March Madness aficionados were left with two, after Gonzaga outlasted a scrappy South Carolina squad, and, North Carolina had squeezed by Oregon.

In the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship game before 76,168 we were left with one traditional powerhouse, North Carolina, and, Gonzaga in its 20th NCAA tournament appearance reaching its first Final Four in program history.

The three rookies getting to the final game weekend was an awesome story, but 2017 was not to be the year of Cinderella. With methodical precision the North Carolina Tar Heels (33-7) did just enough to win the national title overcoming Gonzaga 71-65.

The victory for the Tar Heels was sweet redemption, after they lost in 2016 on a last second shot from eventual champion Villanova.

“I put it (redemption) on the locker room up on the board,” coach Roy Williams exclaimed in the post-game euphoric interview. “They wanted redemption and my guys bought into it. They played tough, although neither team played their best, but both were competitive and battling through it all.”

Added Tar Heels center Kennedy Meeks: “It hurt badly last year losing, so we dedicated ourselves to ensuring we produced a better result than last year. I told the fellas that we could get back and get a better result and we fought through all the fouls and adversity to get it done.”

Unfortunately each team did not only have to battle each other, the referees interjected themselves into the fray and turned the game into a stop-and-start ugly contest.

The referees called 27 fouls in the second half, completely shattering the flow of the game and sent North Carolina’s

Meeks, Gonzaga’s 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, and, a horde of others to the bench in foul trouble.

The game “featured” 52 free throws. Both teams were in the bonus with 13 minutes left. Somehow, Collins was the only player to foul out.

“It sucks that I fouled out this important game,” Collins said. “Look I am going to put it on me. I had been having some foul issues all year, but I thought I had worked hard to get my defensive effort under control. The referees did not see it that way I guess.”

I will never understand why or how the NCAA allows the referees to dominate a national title game like they did. No one came to the game to see them blow whistles and run over to the scorer’s table to give a number of the supposed fouler.

No matter, Williams got his third championship, putting him one ahead of his mentor, Dean Smith, and now behind only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp.

“When I think of Coach Smith, there’s no question,” Williams interjected with sincere enthusiasm. “I don’t think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him. But we got three because I’ve got these guys with me and that’s all I care about right now – my guys.”

Added Joel Berry II, the 2017 NCAA Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player: “Sure it feels great to get Coach his third title. With all the ups and downs this win was awesome. It was a complete 180 degrees from last year that feeling of losing. I cannot describe how excited it is to be on the other end of this. Coach told us to remember how we all felt last year so we went out and gave it our all.”

In spite of the loss, Gonzaga has a lot to feel good about. It had made 20 tournament appearances and finally reached the Final Four for the first time — becoming the first West Coast Conference team to advance that far since San Francisco made its third straight trip in 1957. The Zags closed out their season with a lofty 37-2 record.

Also, Phoenix became the first far west city to host a Final Four since Seattle in 1995. That was a memorable one for me as I was there to watch the UCLA Bruins claimed their 11th national basketball championship.

In the end Zags coach Mark Few handled the referees with more class than I ever could. Taking the high road, calling the refs “three of the best officials in the entire country,” and insisting they did a fine job. Political correctness at its finest and probably the right call, because what else could he do? Nothing!!!!!

After all, his Bulldogs a small school in the equally small West Coast Conference, tried to keep the big picture in mind. Twenty years ago, this sort of run looked virtually impossible. With less than 2 minutes left, they had the lead in the national title game, but on this day in the desert Cinderella could not crash into the champion’s realm.

“We broke the glass ceiling everyone said we couldn’t break,” junior forward Johnathan Williams said. “We had a great season and gave ourselves a chance to win it all, but we just came up a little short.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and Twitter @LelandSteinIII

NBA’s Dan Roundfield dies tragically

In sports column on September 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm

By Leland Stein III

As a wannabe basketball player in Detroit Public Schools (Mackenzie High) I was just making my way on the varsity team, while former Chadsey High’s Dan Roundfield was locking horns with my Mackenzie High’s Lovell Rivers in a big man clash.

Rivers went on to Michigan State and Roundfield to Central Michigan University. The 6-foot-8 Roundfield was an intimidating force in the PSL and later in the Mid-America Conference.

On the collegiate scene, Roundfield was twice selected to the All-Mid-American Conference Team for Central Michigan University; he was also the 1975 M.A.C. Player of the Year.

Roundfield spent 12 seasons in the American Basketball Association and National Basketball Association, playing for the Indiana Pacers (1975–1978), Atlanta Hawks (1978–1984), Detroit Pistons (1984–1985), and Washington Bullets (1985–1987). Then he moved to Turin, playing for Auxilium Torino.

Roundfield earned a reputation as a strong rebounder and tenacious defender, and during his career and he was named to five NBA All-Defensive teams and three All-Star teams. His nickname was Dr. Rounds.

He was selected to the NBA Eastern Conference All-Star team in three consecutive seasons from 1980-1982.

The last time I saw Dan was in 2003 when the NBA All-star Weekend was in Atlanta. He was at the Legends Brunch and he and I and the late Dave Debusschere found ourselves at the same table. We talked about Detroit and all our memories here. It was an enlivened conversation. It seemed like we had known each other for years.

That is why I was particularly excited to see Dan and help welcome him into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame recently at the Detroit Gem Theatre. The 56th Induction ceremony was held this past Sunday, and as ill-timed faith would have it Dan was not there to revel in his hometown moment of glory.

Roundfield, 59, died off the Caribbean island of Aruba the week before his scheduled induction. Reportedly he was trying to save his wife from drowning and did help her to safety, but the extreme undertow sucked him back out to sea.

The former All Star was apparently swept away in a strong current as he tried to help his struggling wife. Police, firefighters, the Coast Guard and volunteers searched for him, finding his body about 90 minutes later, trapped by rocks underwater.

Bernie Roundfield, who said she was helped to safety by a U.S. tourist snorkeling nearby, said in an interview that the couple, who live in the Atlanta area, had come to the island with their two grandchildren.

The couple had visited Aruba nearly 20 times and were caught off guard by the strong currents at the swimming area known as “Baby Beach,” even though they had been there many times in the past, she said.

“We always go to Baby Beach, and we go there because it’s so safe,” she told The Associated Press. “It happened so fast.”

Bernie Roundfield was treated for shock after the incident. Julia Roundfield, a sister-in-law of the athlete, who lives in Detroit, said members of the former athlete’s extended family were still trying to get details of the incident.

“He was a real sweet guy,” Julia Roundfield said. “He really was a sweetheart.”

Said former Piston Rick Mahorn at Roundfield’s MSHOF induction ceremony: “Dan was a tough competitor, but he was a wonderful person first and foremost. He was respected around the league as a person of character.”

Added Former teammate James Edwards: “When I came to Indiana I knew no one, but Dan and his wife opened up their home to me. Whenever I needed a meal and needed to be around family, Dan was my family. He was that kind of person, big hearted.”

Detroit has lost one of its favorite son’s way too soon. He gone, but will forever be remembered as a member of the MSHOF.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.