Thursday, April 27, 2006

Law & Order: Special Juvy Unit

The end is near for the felon in training who lives in my house. Hopefully, my son’s brush with law enforcement has taught him a valuable life lesson. My daughter asserts that she has learned a little something, saying “I had no idea you would have to go through so much crap for a speeding ticket.” It appears some good may come from this escapade.
My invincible 16-year-old son had a rough weekend earlier this year. He got in some trouble at church camp, enough so that he had to have a face-to-face meeting with the bishop. That turned out well. On his way home from his misadventure, he was stopped by the police because he was driving 88 miles per hour.
A trip to juvenile court was a little more imposing than any of us had anticipated. The recently-renovated courthouse features a courtroom fit for any TV drama. There’s an elevated bench, a witness stand, jury seating, gallery seating and bailiffs with guns strapped to their sides.
The judge entered to the command of “all rise,” which we did. He was in no mood to fool around. With a scowl befitting the best caricature of a curmudgeon, he expressed his displeasure in seeing familiar faces among those who would face his wrath this day. Speedy teen after speedy teen stood before him and learned their fates. The more he talked, the harder my son started to breathe.
The lovely select soccer player who drew the judge’s initial attention and ultimately his ire was harshly rebuked. She obviously had seen him recently in a similar context, and she was compelled to hand over her license. She was fined, sentenced to community service and had her driving privileges suspended for ninety days. We were next.
My wife and I flanked our son as we slowly were enshrouded by the cloud of judgment. The judge asked, “Son, were you really going 88 miles an hour?” He said the only smart thing, “Yes, sir.” The next question seemed irrelevant, but it was asked anyway: “Where do you go to school?” When the judge was informed that my son attends Magnet High, he said, “Magnet High. They only let the best and the brightest in there. You’re too smart to do something so stupid. Do you know that? You have a lot going for you, son. You shouldn’t behave this way.”
His Honor then asked, “Whose car were you driving?” The answer was “My car.” More questions: “Did you pay for it?” “Do you buy the gas?” “Do you pay for the insurance?” The answer to all questions was “no.” So, then the judge advised the appropriately humbled teen facing him that the car is not his, at all. It is, in fact, his parents’ car and they’re just letting him use it. Then, he asked “Do you have a job?” The answer, of course, was “no.”
I have to hand it to this judge. He’s obviously done this before. He said he didn’t want the parents, who had already given the kid so much, to cough up any more cash. He asked if the kid could find enough odd jobs to pay a fine. We assured him we could make that happen.
Here’s the bottom line: for 88 in a 70 on the interstate, the fine was sixty dollars. Plus, he has to attend a class called “Arrive Alive,” which costs forty bucks. The judge gave him two weeks to come up with the 100 dollars, or he would double the community service, which was 16 hours. Finally, the judge said, “Son, you’re going have to get used to double-dating, because you’re not going to be out joy riding with your buddies for a while. Your driving is restricted to business only until July First.”
I had to go back into the courtroom after we arranged for our community service, just to get a clarification of “business” for a 16-year-old kid with no job. For the record, it means he can drive to school or church and can run errands assigned by his parents. That’s it. This may have been the most brilliant stroke by our black-robed, crafty curmudgeon.
As for that community service: Try eight hours on a Saturday, wearing an orange vest, picking up trash long a major highway. Not coincidentally, the highway runs right in front of the juvenile justice complex. Also, every day after school this week, he has reported to a local homeless shelter to “volunteer.” He’s been accepting donations and organizing the linen closet. It’s not exactly the chain gang, but it sends a message.
The end is near. He has been on severe restriction, anyway, for the church camp trouble. Now, the judge has restricted his freedom of movement on top of that. We told him once he pays his fine and finishes his community service, his lockdown days are over. This weekend, he may be allowed to see his friends again. Until July 1, though, somebody else is driving.
I agree with his little sister, that’s a lot of crap to put up with for a speeding ticket. I’ve got a secret, though. I had a chance to talk to the judge after our court appearance. I thanked him and told him I liked his style. He said, “Thanks, good to see you.” I’m guessing my son doesn’t share the sentiment.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What Can You Drink for $3,000?

I have tasted wine that costs three grand per bottle. It happened for me last weekend. This is a life experience I did not anticipate. I have absolutely no idea why any bottle of wine would cost three thousand dollars, but this one did, and I got two glasses out of it.
This was after sharing two bottles of French wine that were on the wine list at 500 bucks a pop. Again, this is something I never aspired to do, but it’s one of those things; if the opportunity presents itself, you live the moment.
I’ll leave out some of the details for the sake of propriety, but let’s just say all of this happened far from any traditional cultural or culinary Mecca. I had occasion to visit an ordinary mid-sized U.S. city on a routine matter. I anticipated staying in a non-descript hotel for one night, possibly two. I fully expected to spend somewhere around twenty bucks for dinner, then to wake up and have “continental breakfast” at the hotel using plastic utensils and Styrofoam cups.
Somewhere on the road, my traveling companion’s phone rang and a dinner invitation followed in short order. I was dozing or something and missed this piece of news. When we arrived in AnyCity USA, I was told we would be meeting a couple of Fellow Traveler’s friends. Before I knew what hit me, I was whisked into a restaurant which one of the friends owns.
The menu was high-end. Chef and the boys quickly gathered ‘round the boss and started fawning. The Boss, obviously hoping to impress his visitors, had a bottle of Burgundy brought forth. It had French words on the label with hyphens and accent marks. Suddenly, it was open and one of the guys was swirling some of the wine about in his glass and sniffing it like that guy in the movie “Sideways.” The wine was deemed acceptable. A discreet glance at the price list revealed all those hyphens and accent marks add up to $500.00. The wine was excellent, and I would have said that if I hadn’t known the price. It was also gone rather quickly, and another bottle just like it magically appeared and opened just as suddenly. Soon, all of that wine was gone and we hadn’t even gotten to the salads yet.
So, there I sat with one acquaintance and two strangers. Despite this circumstance which ordinarily I would find quite uncomfortable, I was having a fabulous time. More wine, this time from California, made its way to our table. I personally had consumed what I estimate to be about 750 dollars worth of fine wine before I ever got near my pasta and shrimp appetizer. This may be the only time in my life I will be able to truthfully construct that sentence.
The Boss and his high-rolling buddy obviously know this restaurant well. Chef and the Boys were told just to “bring us whatever you think is good tonight.” They did, and it was. Clearly, a significant amount of high-end intoxicants had been consumed, and The Boss was feeling convivial. He invited the dinner party of four to his house for after-dinner (you guessed it) wine.
The Fabulous Manor of The Boss, of course, has a wine cellar. Traveling Companion, Boss and Boss’s Buddy apparently are wine connoisseurs. They regaled one another about their vineyard conquests and one-upped one another with knowledge. It was all very entertaining, to be honest. Finally, The Boss lovingly cradled a bottle of white wine which he asserts was purchased for three thousand dollars. The Other Two nodded their assent, and I hung in there. Again suddenly, there was opening afoot. I have to tell you, there’s pressure in consuming a glass of wine poured from a bottle that purportedly costs three grand. You certainly don’t want to break the glass. You don’t want to spill a drop. You don’t want to shotgun it, do you? Sipping appropriately while staying in touch with my own manliness, I enjoyed the experience.
How do you thank someone who provided you about 1500 bucks’ worth of beverages in one night? Carefully and graciously, that’s how. I think I did okay. The four of us got back together again the next day, so something must have gone right. That time, I just had soup and salad at a restaurant that looked something like a Bennigan’s or a Friday’s, and the bill was about fifteen bucks.
Everything was back to normal, or so it seemed. The food was above average at best and the ice tea was a little weak, a meal you would expect in an ordinary mid-sized U.S. city you’re visiting on a routine matter.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Irony of Policing

This is hardly original thought, but it occurred to me this morning that there is irony in policemen pulling people over for speeding. In order for the officer to catch up to the offender, he must exceed the speed limit himself. In fact, the immutable laws of speed and acceleration tell us the officer must, in fact, drive faster than the person he’s trying to catch.
Does the law allow this? It must. Certainly no officer would knowingly violate the law he is sworn to uphold. The city police are determined these days to crack down on inpatient scofflaws on the north-south interstate highway in our city. They’re out there in sedans and on motorcycles pointing their little radar guns at everyone who drives by. Frankly, I’m happy about it. This is I-49, not the Autobahn. Since my son drives that road every day, I see the guys in the mirror sunglasses keeping him honest and safe. He’s noticed them out there, and so he’s driving more slowly, I can only presume.
This brings us to his recent brush with the law. He was on the same highway, except about an hour south, when he was caught speeding. The officer wrote him a ticket for driving 88 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone. I wonder how fast the guy had to drive to catch up to him, 95, 100? Again, there’s the irony.
The justice system has a way of lulling you into a false sense of security. Just when we thought he might have fallen through the cracks, a summons arrived in the mail. He and his Great 88 escapade have to go to juvenile court.
Frankly, I’m hoping the judge makes him work or take a class or something. Any fine doesn’t punish the kid, it punishes the parents. We’ll pay the fine and the increased insurance premiums. He doesn’t have any money. He doesn’t have a job.
I am confident that His Honor has done this before. The summons says a parent has to appear. Maybe we will get a chance to speak. We’re both going, and I’m thinking of dragging two or three grandparents and maybe a parish priest along for good measure. I’m not trying to demonstrate that we’re praying for him (we are, but that’s beside the point), I’d just like everyone to know the kid is being held accountable by several levels of Higher Order.
Upon reflection, though, that seems like overkill. We’ll stand before the judge and accept whatever fate jurisprudence hands us.
As long as we’re contemplating irony, I feel compelled to point out that on the same weekend he got the ticket he got in significant trouble at church camp. He was, in fact, driving home from a diocesan youth event. This is a kid who is seriously contemplating the priesthood as a lifetime commitment, so much so that’s he has met with the bishop about what direction to take. The bishop caught wind of his “lost weekend” and sat him down in a closed-door meeting last week to let him know what he thought about it all.
I know my son was worried about that meeting, but it was a warm, fuzzy positive thing. I’m not so sure that’s how it will go with the juvy judge.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

The Adventures of Stat Girl

I hired a new per diem person to help with my Arena Football play-by-play gig. I think she’ll keep the job. Here’s the good news: she’s accepting payment in services instead of cash. I’ll allow you to use your own imagination on services rendered in exchange for spotter-statistician duties.
It became obvious from the outset that “Stat Girl” wasn’t clear on the position she was accepting, but took the opportunity on faith. I explained that her job would be really simple. Watch the game. When somebody caught the ball or made a tackle, she should just point to his number on this simple yet effective grid I prepared. Following the play, she should write down whether it was a run, a pass or a kick and keep track of the number of plays and the result of each possession. This is straightforward stuff. I had great confidence in stat Girl. I happen to know she has an advanced degree and she comes across as highly intelligent.
One of the first perks of the job was wardrobe. She got an official team tee shirt. It’s all black with the team’s logo in silver and white. I almost lost her though, because of a comment I made. Stat Girl is in her forties, and she steadfastly refuses to artificially color her hair. So, looking at her shirt, I said, “Hey, your hair matches the team colors.” She almost resigned on the spot. However, the promise of services to be rendered overcame a moment of inappropriate humor. Still, a Stat Girl of her stature felt somewhat conspicuous in a football team’s tee shirt. When she arrived at the arena, resplendent in 100% cotton, she discovered that she was something of a sartorial conformist. Pretty much everyone else who was “working the game” was wearing some version of silver and black. I said, “You feel a lot better now that you see everyone is dressed like you, don’t you?” She turned a little red and said “Yes.” Keep in mind; I was wearing a black-with-silver-trim coach’s shirt, so I fit right in, too.
I have to hand it to Stat Girl; she jumped right into the process. Like a media veteran, one of her first inquiries was about the pre-game meal. We found quickly that the media room was catered, and so we were ready. Proudly wearing her team colors now, she took her place beside me in the press box and helped with the set-up of the radio gear. I asked for her assessment of the visiting team’s colors, gave her a headset and did a microphone check. The game producer at the radio station like what he heard and asked for a phone number. Stat Girl let the request pass without comment. That’s so like her.
The pace of the game and commensurately that of the broadcast caught her little off-guard. Arena football moves quickly. But, as I anticipated, she was up to the challenge. There was a little unpleasantness between a couple of other media members about seating arrangements. Stat Girl just sat back and watched wide-eyed as these guys wallowed in little pools of testosterone. She let the incident pass without comment. That’s so like her. Ultimately, she proved more valuable as a spotter than a statistician, but that part will come around.
After almost four hours of live radio describing a game which featured 90 points scored, a drop-kick, a kicker attempting two passes, an ejection and a season-ending injury, Stat Girl was legitimately tired. I think watching the play-by-play man suffer through his team’s 20-point loss had a little to do with it, but nonetheless she came away with a new appreciation for the preparation and execution of a football broadcast. She will watch and-or listen to games with a new perspective now.
Plus, she promised to come back for the rest of the season. You have to like that, especially since the pay scale is quite favorable. She’s certainly not doing it for the clothes. When I closed the post-game show, I thanked the listeners, the studio producer, and of course, “Claire Rebouche, our stat girl and spotter here at the arena.” At that moment, the guy back at the station retracted his request for a phone number. Stat Girl helped me pack up the equipment, and we left, eager with anticipation for the next opportunity to work together.
The good news is, she was so tired by the time the game was over she requested no services. Although, I suspect she’s running a tab.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

More Daddy D in the News!

My name keeps showing up deep in newspaper stories. Check out the last paragraph:

Local recyclers doing their part, but seek others' participation

By Mary

For the McCullough family, the nagging feeling of being wasteful is much stronger than the inconvenience of taking a drive to the Browning-Ferris Industries Regional Recycling Center on St. Vincent Avenue in Shreveport."If we're going to throw it in the trash anyway, why not put it in a box and take it to the recycling center once a week or once a month?" said Kevin McCullough, who along with his wife, Kate, has been recycling for about seven years. "We're going to have to do it for the future of our kids, bottom line."
Shreveport's landfill on Woolworth Road, which receives trash not just from Shreveport and Caddo Parish, but east Texas, Bossier City and Bossier Parish, received about 364,972 tons of trash in 2004, with only 5,900 tons of trash recycled in the same year, according to Shreveport Green, which coordinates the city's recycling program, and the Office of Public Works, which manages solid waste.Those are pretty good figures for a drop-off recycling program, says Mike Strong, director of Shreveport's Department of Operational Services.For those wondering why there isn't a curb-side program, it's because Shreveport's trash falls squarely on the shoulders of the city."We don't charge for garbage collection and never have," Strong said. "It was felt that the increase in cost of the curb-side program would not be outweighed by the space saved in the landfill."The Woolworth Landfill may be the biggest factor in the city's attitude toward recycling.According to Fred Williams, superintendent of solid waste for the Office of Public Works, the life span of the Woolworth Landfill takes it to 2025. "That's with added height modifications," Williams said. "But we're looking at two parcels of land which would take us well beyond 3000."Six hundred acres on the north side of the landfill and 400 acres on the south side of the landfill are being considered for the expansion.But others feel now is the time to think about long-term solutions.Bill Robertson served for eight years as the recycling coordinator for the city before Shreveport Green took over in 1999. Now the executive assistant to Public Service Commission Foster Campbell, Robertson is an observer like anyone else."We have a landfill, and we don't have to worry about garbage disposal and that's good," said Bill Robertson. "But what worries me is how long that landfill will last. It's not going to last forever, and I haven't seen any progress in that direction."One element to the recycling issue that has been a disappointment is the loss of the yard waste program, which failed in 2003 after 10 years."We lost a big chunk when we stopped doing green waste composting," said Donna Curtis, executive director of Shreveport Green. "Now all that green waste goes into the landfill."The Environmental Protection Agency estimates yard trimmings and food scraps that can be composted make up as much as 25 percent of the waste in U.S. households.But a 2002 study of Shreveport's volunteer composting program showed green waste only accounted for about 5,000 tons a year, or 1.5 percent, of the landfill. City officials predicted the additional green waste would not significantly shorten the useful life of the Woolworth Road Landfill. In addition, the program, which included a contract to have separate trucks pick up yard waste, was costing the city an estimated $700,000.Lack of participation was also seen as one of the downfalls."Certainly if people had used it more, it would have been more feasible," Strong said.Some would be open to other options.Shreveporter Darrell Rebouche would be all for a garbage fee, especially if it meant a recycling program that would encourage more people to participate."I just can't bring myself to throw away something that can be reused," said Rebouche, whose family of four has avidly recycled for about nine years. "I see the volume of trash my family can generate, and in my mind, I can extrapolate that to the amount of waste a city our size produces. We are filling landfills and cluttering the earth when we can reuse."

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Redefining Broadcast Excellence

I experienced a strange, familiar feeling Saturday night. I walked into my house late at night following a problem-plagued, deadline-intensive sports broadcast.
This is something I did quite routinely for twenty-five years. The nature of putting together a nightly sportscast at an under-equipped local television station is stressful. Combine a perfectionist personality and things can get intense pretty quickly. The late nights, the stress, the unreliable equipment all were factors in my decision three years ago to walk away from something I had done for a quarter-century.
I jumped back in with both feet Saturday, except in radio. It was fun in its own way, but I’m glad this is a part-time, seasonal pursuit. The Arena football team with which I’ve become affiliated opened its season, and the game didn’t go the way we had hoped; neither did the broadcast. Our team surrendered two scores for every one it made and lost, 63-34. If there had been more time, the other team would have actually doubled our score. Our guys demonstrated an utter inability to stop them. That’s important, but it didn’t affect me as directly as the broadcast of the game did.
I wasn’t intimidated by the idea of doing play-by-play for arena football. After all, all you really have to do is describe what you’re seeing. In this game, things happen quickly. All it takes is to remember a few key names, marry them in your mind with jersey numbers and then just say what you see. A broadcast isn’t a broadcast, however, unless you actually broadcast.
I had never worked with this equipment I was assigned to use. Certainly, I’m not a technical person. I’ve been on-air or management for decades. I’ve “run the board” at a radio station or two. I know the business end of a TV camera, to be sure. I know how to press the right buttons, flip the proper switches, and turn a knob here and there; but if something goes wrong, I absolutely am not your man. I was assured that this equipment was simple to work and easy to hook up. It certainly appeared that way.
At 6:00, with a pre-game show set for 6:40, I began the process of connecting my equipment to the equipment back at the “flagship station.” It should have taken two or three minutes, and I would have the rest of the time to organize my important papers, my thoughts, my pregame and half time shows. It didn’t happen. 6:40 came and went. Then, we passed by 6:45, 6:50 and 6:55 without even noticing. At 7:00, with kick-off less than five minutes away, they still couldn’t hear me back at the station.
With the game about to start, I made an executive decision. I was trouble-shooting this problem (quite unsuccessfully) by talking on the phone with the man running the show at the radio station. As the players took the field, I just said, “Carl this is it. Just put the phone on the air.” You’ve figured it out by now: I literally phoned it in!
I was holding a phone to my ear for almost four hours. I had no headset. I only had one hand to use. I couldn’t take notes or keep stats. I lost almost an hour of pre-game prep time. Other than that, things went well. The average listener apparently didn’t know anything was wrong. That means we did something right.
I came home about 10:30, just like old times. My wife was complimentary of what I had done, just like old times. I was obsessing about how much better it could have been if technical issues outside my control hadn’t interfered, just like old times. I had a great time. I’m looking forward to doing it again, only better, next time.
It was a little bit like going to mom’s house for dinner. It felt good, you’re glad you did it, but you’re also glad you moved away when you did.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Daddy D in the News!

In the Sunday edition of the Shreveport Times, there is a story about the NFL banning local TV cameras from the sidelines (first called to your attention on Daddy D's storytime). You will see quotes from me, Daddy D:

NFL limits local television coverage
New league policy bans TV stations from sidelines April 9, 2006
By Brian Vernellis

A recent decision by the NFL has local television sports directors and national journalism associations questioning the league's motives and, in the end, may cost local NFL fans coverage of their favorite teams.NFL team owners voted unanimously at their spring meetings on March 31 to ban local television crews from videotaping from the sidelines and rely on the NFL and its broadcast partners for game footage. Local publication photographers are still allowed on the sidelines however.
The terms of the policy have not been finalized, but the NFL is expected to explore its options in more depth on Monday.NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the policy was passed so the league can protect broadcast rights and alleviate congestion along the sidelines."We need to limit the sources of video of our game action that is quite often used illegally on Web sites and otherwise," Aiello told The Times."We have to protect our intellectual property rights and be consistent with what other major sports organizations do when it comes to their major events."The ban includes preseason games which are broadcast nationally, like the Aug. 21 New Orleans Saints-Dallas Cowboys game at Independence Stadium that will be broadcast on ESPN.Under the new resolution, local stations KTBS, KTAL and KSLA may tape pregame and postgame events, including postgame locker room interviews, but will not be allowed on the Independence Stadium sidelines to shoot the Saints and Cowboys.Instead, the only game footage the three local crews will be allowed is from ESPN, which will televise the game for a national audience."Here's something that we've been counting on and looking forward to and it's a great thing for the city, and we're not going to have any way to historically document it five, 10 years down the road," said Tim Fletcher, KTBS sports director.The NFL isn't sympathetic."It doesn't impact the fan in any significant way because the game highlights are all fully available as they always have been," Aiello said. "Local stations can use highlights from the game telecasts which is the highest quality you can get, including multiple replays of key plays."But it isn't always about the highlights.The league's decision makes local stations' job in covering local athletes in the NFL all the more difficult with no game footage of the athlete. Instead they would have to rely on postgame interviews and any game footage shot by a national network, if there was any.For example, if KTBS, KTAL or KSLA wanted to do a story on Philadelphia Eagles running back Ryan Moats, a former Louisiana Tech star, it could not include game footage it videotaped, only national footage -- if there was any."In a way it makes the job easier because shooting games is hard work, but we can't do our job anymore," KTBS sportscaster Clif Cotton said. "We're limited to whatever FOX decides to give us."What I don't think (the NFL) understands is it affects people in markets like ours more than the guys in New Orleans and Dallas. We may go to a game in New Orleans and we might shoot four stories and that's all the airtime that they would be getting because we do a feature on someone that would air on Tuesday when we might not even talk about the Saints on Tuesday otherwise."The Society of Professional Journalists and Radio-Television News Directors Association have requested the NFL and the 32 team owners to reconsider its actions and reverse the policy."The NFL proposal is not in the public interest," said SPJ national president David Carlson. "It is bad for the public, bad for the news media and bad for the NFL."The NFL isn't the only professional league to ban local television crews from the sidelines. The NHL, Major League Baseball and the Masters golf tournament already have policies in place that limit local coverage.The NCAA also doesn't allow local stations to tape the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments."It's not uncommon (to ban local TV stations), but it's normally done for something that's perceived as a special event, not a run-of-the-mill regular season game," said former KTAL sports director Darrell Rebouche."I don't think the local stations have much strength. The NFL is so big and popular that the local stations have to cover it even on (the NFL's) terms to be successful, particularly in NFL markets. During the fall, that's the lifeblood of those sports departments."Local television stations hope this action isn't the start of sweeping changes in the future."Where does it stop?" asked David Schwartz, KTAL sports director. "Now we can't go on the sidelines, are we eventually not going to be able to go into the locker room?"Are we only going to get pool seats at a press conference because we're cluttering up the press room and the players are complaining? Are we not going to be able to go into practice? It's going to keep going."

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My Wife Cried on Easter Sunday

My wife spent part of her evening on Easter Sunday 2004 in tears. I should have seen it coming, because all the ingredients were in place for a show of emotion. She’s a “steady as she goes” type, with a personality complementary and antithetical to my own. The daughter of a minister, Easter weekend always has been meaningful to her on many levels. She maintains a steadfast acceptance of her lifelong Christian learning about the day’s historical and spiritual significance. Our children have outgrown the idea of the Easter Bunny, but she can’t resist grouping fuzzy toys and brightly packaged chocolate together in baskets for them. She likes the azaleas in her yard and wants her family together in the dining room after church. She’s happy on Easter. Sure and steady as she is, this is something we can count on.
2004 was a little different. The weekend went well. The kids were happy and got along with one another. We had planned a low-key day. Relatives who live out of town did not come to visit and the in-town folks had plans of their own. We were content, just the four of us to stay together and enjoy the day. Everything went according to plan. Church was nice. The kids were acolytes and they looked positively angelic dressed all in white. The music was fine that morning, with a brass quartet accompanying the organist and the choir. We sang “alleluia” songs and said good-bye to the somber Lenten liturgy we had endured for more than a month. Lunch was well prepared, and we all enjoyed one another’s company.
It was the Easter we anticipated. Then, along came Phil. Somewhere along the way, while living the life of a sportscaster’s wife, Claire developed a fondness for watching golf on television on Sunday afternoons. As a by-product of this she became, like so many others, a long-suffering Phil Mickelson fan. I have watched her sit, literally on the edge of her seat, imploring Mickelson not to lose his confidence on the final holes of a major tournament. She has suffered through chili-dips and yips. She has grown hopeful watching his free-wheeling style. She’s never played a round of golf but, thanks to Phil, she can make a pretty accurate assessment of a “good lie.”
When David Toms defeated Phil by a stroke at the PGA Championship, she was the textbook definition of ambivalence. She knew Toms was the Shreveport-Bossier guy on the brink of a professional breakthrough. Like the rest of our community, she wanted him to win. But, she absolutely did not want to watch Mickelson suffer yet another agonizing near-miss.
When she learned that Mickelson was tied for the lead going into the final round of the Masters, she said “I don’t want to think about it.” Yet, when the last alleluia was sung and the last dish was put away, she locked in on Lefty at Augusta. For a while, it looked like another Mickelson moment. Ernie Els took the lead away with a lot of skill, a little luck and a couple of successful eagle putts. But Phil stayed steady. As he walked up to the green on the 72nd hole of the Masters while tied for the lead with a chance to win with one putt, my wife pulled the covers up over her eyes like an adolescent girl as a slumber party watching a horror movie. She couldn’t bear to watch and yet she couldn’t turn away. What that putt dropped into the cup, she screamed so loudly that our daughter came running into the room in wide-eyed amazement.
Mickelson grabbed his own little daughter and said, “Daddy won! Can you believe it?” It was over. Mickelson, labeled for so long as the best golfer never to win a major, shed his torment. My wife shed tears. She’s a Phil fan. I guess now I am, too. What makes my wife happy makes me happy. Thanks to Mickelson, she was happy on that Easter. That’s something we can count on.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

The Responsibility of Being "Part of the Team"

I’ve never been a “team announcer” before. All the years I spent in broadcasting, I was ethically bound to make a stab at objectivity. That’s because a news organization always was my primary source of income, and that’s what news professionals are expected to do. Sure, I got off the straight and narrow path with some regularity as I did a talk show on the side. Even in that context, though, I knew there were limits.
I’ve discovered in the months since I left journalism that people in general are less guarded around me. It’s amazing how much information you can get out of people when getting information isn’t your job. When people know that you won’t take what they say and pass it along in a publication or on radio, television, or the internet, they’re just more forthcoming.
I’m telling you right now, I know some things that several reporters would fall all over themselves to know. One of the most eye-opening realizations for me, once I left the news business, was how much closely-guarded information I was missing. I realized all along, of course, that anyone who speaks to the media has an agenda. Still, my own naiveté, realized in retrospect, surprises me.
All that being said; I’m astonished at the level of access to certain knowledge that comes with being “part of the team.” As I prepared for my first game at the Bossier-Shreveport BattleWings’ play-by-play man, I knew about roster moves before almost anyone. In my background, coaches speak to you only at pre-appointed times and hand out information in tiny, discerning pieces. To have the playbook, the chalk talk, and the personnel moves enthusiastically revealed to me has been quite a change.
When I left the media, I was a little worried that I would miss being “in the know.” Obviously, my apprehension was ill-placed. In fact, quite the opposite has happened. In matters that are of interest to me, I actually know a lot more now than I did before.
I think now my limited endeavors in the media are more fulfilling than when I pursued broadcasting full-time. I get just enough opportunity on the radio to soothe my broadcasting soul, and it comes without the preposterous level of responsibility that was attached to what I had been doing. In other words, I’m just doing the fun stuff now. What’s wrong with that? Plus, people trust me and tell me things.
A little pressure is starting to build, though. I’m making last minute preparations for my first Arena Football play-by-play performance, and I want to be good. I know it’s not the NFL and a good Texas high school team will have a larger listening audience. Even though I’m not a full-time broadcaster anymore, I feel a responsibility to the team that showed enough faith in me to give me a chance.
After all, being part of the team has its perks. I hope I earn them.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My Brother Got Hit By a Car

Life continues to take its twists. The son is back from his flirtation with TV stardom, and the daughter arrived home safely from The Big Apple. These kids are close, 22 months apart, and amazingly they don’t fight. I hear stories from friends and acquaintances about how their kids are engaging in constant warfare. It doesn’t happen in our house.
I believe they actually missed one another while she became the world traveler. They’re out of school this week, and today they’ve been driving around town together. They’re just running errands. It’s kind of sweet, really.
Just when you think everything has smoothed out, don’t let down your guard. I was sitting at work, minding my own business, when my phone rang. My brother was in the Emergency Room (thankfully, at a facility which generates my paycheck, as well as my wife’s). Dude was not working today and decided to ride a bicycle to a nearby store. He got hit by a car. When you’re middle-aged with an older brother, you don’t expect to get this phone call: “I’m in the emergency room. I was riding my bike and got hit by a car.” Two or three years ago, a phone call like that in reference to one of my kids would have been alarming but not necessarily surprising. But, there it is: an ordinary Wednesday and your brother gets hit by a car. He’s okay, with some bruises, contusions and a few stitches, but doggone.
I’m telling you, life is interesting. What’s next, my wife falls off the monkey bars on the playground? My father’s skateboard hits a crack in the sidewalk and he takes a header?
I’m ready to predict what’s next. Our health system has acquired the latest in cardiac imaging, a 64-slice CT scanner. I have volunteered to let them try the thing out on me. I fully expect them to take one look at my heart and the surrounding arteries and scream, “Stent! Stat!” Or, “Crack him open, we’re doing a quintuple bypass!” I like my bacon and my butter and my cheese, and I’m thinking my arteries are slamming shut on me.
Who knows, the way things are going, they might just find Chicken Pox or Measles.
I have to take a drug to slow down my heart rate and another one to dilate my vascular system. But the hardest part might be avoiding caffeine for 12 hours before the test. Either that, or the IV they plan to use to inject dye into my body. Sounds like a pleasant experience, doesn’t it?
I’m happy to do it, though. As I’ve mentioned, my diet leaves something to be desired. Who needs a heart attack? Isn’t it strange, though? You take the opportunity to subject yourself to a state of the art diagnostic process with a notion of warding off a potential life-threatening issue, and suddenly you’re hit in the face with reality. It might not matter, anyway. You could just be minding your own business, getting a little exercise. Then, without warning, you get blasted by a Toyota Tercel. It could happen. Just ask my brother.

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NFL Owners Deny Local Stations

Local television sports departments across the country are quivering right now. Their very existences are being threatened. This is not hyperbole. The National Football League is reportedly taking a step that will go a long way toward rendering local sports departments essentially superfluous.

I’ve stepped away from the media for the most part. I say “for the most part,” because it’s proven to be impossible for me to divorce myself emotionally from a lifestyle I embraced (endured?) for 27 years. I reacted with some emotion when I read that NFL owners had voted unanimously to ban local television cameras from the sidelines of all of their games. They can do it. Apparently, they have done it. But, we don’t have to like it.

The Radio & Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), of which I was a member until the end of 2005, has reacted strongly. Here’s part of a letter the RTNDA sent to the NFL:

RTNDA members include the news directors at local stations in every city with an NFL franchise. These stations cover the activities of their local NFL teams, providing news and information of great interest to the local community. RTNDA members began contacting our Washington headquarters yesterday as they learned about this discriminatory and unprecedented policy. They are deeply concerned that NFL team owners have taken such action without announcement, consultation or consideration of the broader impact on public interest. RTNDA’s members are hard-pressed to understand the rationale behind your decision, which effectively prohibits coverage of NFL games by television reporters. Even private entities should not be allowed to engage in behavior that impedes the media’s right to gather and disseminate public information such as information about sporting events. Certainly, severely restricting the rights of the electronic media to gather news in publicly funded stadiums raises significant First Amendment questions. When electronic journalists are denied the ability to report on a news event with their own microphones, cameras and production crews, it allows newsmakers to determine the content of the news, a result that is inconsistent with our society’s democratic values. This week’s decision gives no weight to the public’s interest in the free flow of information and access to events that define our national culture. As a vital and highly respected American institution, the National Football League should not be in a position of subverting the American tradition of a free press. Because your policy distinguishes between still photography and video cameras, it discriminates against television journalists, and interferes with the public’s ability to get information from a wide variety of sources. By banning local television coverage, this policy harms the local stations’ ability to serve the public and has the potential to damage the bonds between the NFL franchise and the community. For all of these reasons, we strongly urge you to reconsider your policy, and continue permitting television journalists to use the tools of their trade to independently and accurately bring information to the public about NFL games.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. In fact, I wish I had written it. Rarely do I run across anything that crystallizes my thoughts exactly, but this does it.

I got an e-mail from a TV photographer I know who works in Atlanta. He said a “local boycott” of the NFL by Atlanta televisions stations is being discussed seriously. I sincerely doubt that will work out. The NBC and FOX stations, in particular, will be under great economic pressure to support their networks’ investment into the NFL product. It’s virtually impossible to get competitors to work together on anything, anyway…even if it serves their mutual interests.

The fact remains; the NFL has all the leverage here. Even without local stations, the league certainly will not operate in anything close to a vacuum. Sadly, the local stations need the NFL and its teams significantly more than the NFL needs the local media. The league has the national media. In fact, two broadcast networks and a cable network have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to the NFL for the right to show their games. Nobody’s boycotting anything.

Did I say this move is a step toward rendering local sports departments superfluous? Don’t dismiss this notion as preposterous.
Not long ago, I was at an RTNDA sponsored seminar in Washington, DC. The other local television executives there had no idea I had a decades-long background as a sports director. We were sitting around at dinner one night and every single one of those news directors and managing editors was complaining about their sports departments. One, in fact, was absolutely reveling in the fact that he had shut down his sports department. He was bragging that he had locked the door to the sports office, moved the editing system into general use and had let the main sports anchor go while transitioning the weekend guy into the general assignments reporter pool.
An assistant news director from an NFL market was complaining about his sports department’s use of manpower, saying “We shoot all this ground-level video, and then I watch our newscast and see highlights cut from the network feed. What are we paying these guys to do?” There is a growing sentiment among local TV management and ownership that the local sports departments are not worth the salaries and operating expenses associated with them.

An exception to that may have been most NFL markets, where the team captures the fascination of a large percentage of viewers. The local stations can do local features and special programming to cater to those fans. Removing local cameras from the sidelines will make that pursuit significantly more challenging. It might also be more expensive if the NFL starts charging for the right to uses its video.

Make no mistake about it: this is an unsettling, frustrating and possibly frightening time for local TV sportscasters. I hope for their sakes that the RTNDA wins this fight for them.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Life's Like That

This is how my life has changed: My daughter is flying home from New York and my son spent the day on a movie set.
For those of you with young children, this is hard to imagine. I have two living, breathing teenagers and it’s still hard to wrap by brain around it. Imagine the confluence of events that led to my daughter being in Manhattan and my son reporting to make-up and wardrobe at 6:00am.
I can say in all honesty that I never anticipated writing the sentence “My daughter is flying home from New York and my son spent the day on a movie set.” The first part isn’t all that mid-boggling. School trips at spring break are commonplace, and aside from some beach, NYC is a desirable destination. Still, it’s a little unnerving to call my baby girl (Well, not a baby anymore!) on her cell phone on a Saturday night and ask, “Where are you, honey?” and hear, “Times Square.” It happened last Saturday. She’s been sending photos home. My daughter on the observation deck at the Empire State Building, Ground Zero, Ellis Island, Wall Street, Little Italy, ChinaTown, Harlem, Broadway! I’m amazed and envious at the same time.
To understand the improbability of the second circumstance, you have to know my son. When he played youth sports (he’s staunchly retired for years now), he absolutely hated to be the object of attention. We were not allowed to cheer while using his name. We were restricted to a subtle “thumbs-up.” That’s how I really knew he’d never be a sports star. But, a movie star?
We’re a long way from that, too. Believe it or not, Shreveport has become some kind of a film hub. Sandra Bullock, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Costner and many other household names are cruising around town making movies. There are TV shows in production here, too. There’s a new show on FX called “Thief,” which debuted last Tuesday. The pilot was shot mostly in New Orleans. But, after Hurricane Katrina, the whole operation was moved here. In the previews, Shreveport sites were easily detectable to the familiar eye.
Mr. Teen Angst was sitting at home with no specific spring break plans when his phone rang. Somebody who knows somebody who knows him is working with a casting agency in town (Yeah, a casting agency in Shreveport). A Lifetime made-for-cable movie is in production, and they needed teenage extras. So, he rolled out of the rack at 5:15am for a 6:00 cast call, and there you have it.
I don’t think he’s been bitten by the film bug, though. He said there’s a lot of sitting around followed by doing the same thing over and over. Of course, any film veteran knows that. He may be complaining, but it’s easy money. He played a skater-boy. Maybe it wasn’t so easy, after all.
I’ll just be glad when everybody gets home and life returns to normal. Although, I suspect as they get older and life presents itself to them in a broader fashion, we will constantly be redefining “normal.”

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