Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Why Does the Media Demonize Terrell Owens and Lionize Ray Lewis?

One member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018 pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in an as yet unsolved double murder.

Another member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018 did not make many friends in the media but he worked hard, played hurt and earned the respect of most of his teammates.

Guess which of these two men is regularly lionized by the media and which one of these two men is regularly demonized by the media?

Media members stumble over each other to heap praise on Ray Lewis, who at the very least actively participated in a coverup of the murders of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Sports Illustrated writer Robert Klemko is one of the few media members who has not sold out to the Lewis cult of personality (a "crime" for which Klemko was denied access to the Baltimore Ravens' locker room when Lewis was an active player). Klemko recently penned a scathing indictment of what he called "the bubble" that has protected Lewis from having to face questions or any kind of scrutiny regarding the serious crime for which he pled guilty and the even more serious crimes for which he may very well be guilty:
For 13 years, Ray Lewis had hidden from his history. He hid behind his talent. He hid behind his religion. Most effectively, he hid behind his team's PR staff. His case isn't rare. The league insulates players in protective bubbles, and in doing so creates its own warped sense of morality that reporters are expected to adhere to. In this bubble, a story about the lasting consequences of a player being convicted of obstruction of justice related to the death of two men can seem outlandish, even predatory on the part of the media organization. In the eyes of Ravens players and staffers, we were out to dirty Ray Lewis. They refused to acknowledge the way he'd dirtied himself and dodged questions in the public sphere for so long. For two far-away families, the deaths were devastating, life-altering events. To the Ravens, they were ancient history.
So Ray Lewis will now be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, having never addressed his actions in a way that wasn't stage-managed, mainly because he didn't have to. The NFL's public relations machine made that possible, by creating an environment that limits player availability and bullies reporters who attempt to hold rich, powerful men accountable for their misdeeds.
The fawning over Lewis is even more outrageous and baffling when it is compared to the abuse that is heaped upon Owens, whose most recent "crime" is deciding to not attend this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. Instead, Owens--one of the greatest receivers of all-time, who was twice denied Hall induction due to petty politics among the media voters--returned to his alma mater University of Tennessee at Chatanooga to give his acceptance speech and celebrate with his family, his friends, many of his former teammates, and others.

Media members assert that Owens was a divisive force in the locker room. Tell that to his San Francisco teammate Derrick Deese, who attended Owens' celebration and said before Owens' speech, "Once people hear him today and what he has to say, they’ll shut up." Deese knows that the media caricature of Owens bears little relationship to reality. The media stated that Owens' Philadelphia teammates hated him--but the reality is that when Deese went to Owens' birthday party during Owens' tenure with the Eagles over 40 of Owens' teammates were there. Deese knew that, contrary to media accounts, Owens was a good leader whose halftime speeches to his teammates echoed the kinds of speeches that Jerry Rice had once given.

One of Owens' former coaches, Ray Sherman, declared, "People often confuse anger with passion. I never knew an angry T.O. He was never defiant or disrespectful. He was honest."

Owens delivered a heartfelt, inspirational speech. He began by stating, "I'm here to speak truth to power. And power to truth." Later, Owens told anyone in the crowd who had ever felt like an outcast to stand up and he says the same thing to anyone who ever felt isolated, or misunderstood, or who had been "been lied on, mischaracterized." Eventually, everyone in the audience was standing and Owens said, "The entire speech you thought was about me—this was for you."

Ray Lewis won two Super Bowl titles and Terrell Owens did not win any but Owens is more of a champion in life--in what really matters as a human being--than Lewis will ever be. Shame on the media for painting such distorted portraits of both men, lionizing someone who covered up murder while demonizing a hard-working and dedicated competitor who never lost sight of what really matters.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Nick Saban on the Mindset of a Champion

The May 1, 2018 issue of Fortune profiled many individuals who are leaders in their respective fields. Coach Nick Saban, who has won five national championships in nine years with Alabama and six national championships overall (the most by any college football coach in the poll era, dating back to 1936), was the obvious choice for college football (if not for the entire sports world).

Bill Belichick and Nick Saban worked together for the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s before becoming, respectively, the greatest pro football coach and greatest college football coach of this era (if not all-time). One of Belichick's most famous mantras is "Do your job"; Belichick urges each coach on his staff and each player on his team to focus on the specific responsibilities of his job and to depend on each other coach and player to also do his job. "Do your job" encompasses many concepts, including the idea that if one player is hurt or ineffective then his backup is expected to come in and not just perform adequately but rather perform at a high level.

One example of that from Saban's recent experience is the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game versus Georgia. At halftime Alabama trailed 13-0 and Saban benched his experienced starting quarterback Jalen Hurts in favor of 19 year old freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who clinched the championship for Alabama with a 41 yard touchdown pass in overtime. Such individual and team success is not a fluke but rather a result of season-long preparation for such pressure-packed moments.

Saban told Fortune, "To me it takes a completely different mindset to stay successful as opposed to what you have to do to build something to be successful. All of us are sort of geared toward, if we have success, we're supposed to be rewarded for it, not necessarily that we have to continue to do things even better than we did before."

Saban explained that being a champion requires a different and special mindset: "I mean, it's like you make an A on a test and you say, 'I can take it easy for two weeks and make a C on the next test and have a B average' That's normal. It's special for somebody to make an A on the test and say, 'I'm going to try to make the highest grade ever in the class.' That's not normal. But yet, that's what you have to try to promote from a mindset standpoint to the people in your organization."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Vlastimil Hort Honors Bobby Fischer Without Humoring Fischer's Hateful Sentiments

There is a fine line to walk when attempting to appreciate a genius who possessed some unsavory or even loathsome traits. It is easy to veer to one extreme or the other--to completely refuse to acknowledge the work because one does not want to justify or publicize the person's flaws or, alternatively, to meekly explain away the person's flaws because the work is so magnificent. This troubling choice presents itself in many fields of endeavor.

Of course, for chess aficionados the classic example is Bobby Fischer, perhaps the greatest player of all-time but also a a deeply troubled--if not mentally ill--person. Fischer spewed hatred about the Jewish people and about the United States, going so far as to praise the horrific September 11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands of innocent people.

I found it disgusting when some Fischer sycophants laughed when Fischer made his hateful comments or just blithely dismissed those statements. It seems as if those people thought that by being "yes-men" to a mentally ill genius some of that genius' shine would be reflected back onto them, but instead they just came across as buffoons.

Grandmaster Vlastimil Hort, who knew Fischer for decades, struck a much better tone in his three part Chessbase series recounting his personal recollections of Fischer. Hort displayed great compassion and sympathy for Fischer the human being, as well as great appreciation for Fischer the chess player, but Hort never justified or dismissed Fischer's hateful statements.

Hort wrote early in part one, "I was lucky to meet three brilliant chess personalities, Robert Fischer, Garry Kasparov, and Mikhail Tal. For me, Bobby is definitely the strongest World Champion of all times." In part three, Hort discussed Fischer's post-World Champion days:
Bobby lives like a monk, sleeping on a mattress at his sister's place. Does he want to save the universe and mankind or does he want to flee from them?

Emanuel Lasker did not only write about chess, he also left philosophical works--which are, admittedly, not easy to digest. But from Fischer's Pasadena episode nothing tangible, logical or readable is known. Only racist statements. Did the Armstrongnism already affect his psyche much more than was thought?

His refusal to play against Karpov who had won the World Championship cycle 1972-1975 looked like giving up everything that makes the civilized world. My opinion? Against a Fischer in top form--as he was in Reykjavik--the Soviet challenger would not have had a real chance. The difference in playing strength was minimal, but the physical stamina clearly favored the American. "I want to break his ego." Playing every game until the bitter end, no breaks, no short meaningless draws would have been Fischer's strategy for the match. How many kilos would Karpov have lost during such a match? Efim Geller, Karpov's second: "We all make mistakes, but Fischer makes the fewest of us all!"
Later in that same piece, Hort wrote about the man who Fischer dethroned as World Chess Champion and later called his "frenemy," Boris Spassky and about Fischer's final days:
How did this late friendship come about? After Fischer had been arrested at Tokyo airport in July 2004 Spassky gave interviews to the press and dramatically offered to share a cell with Bobby should he be sentenced. To go to jail with him. Provided Fischer had made inner and outer peace with the state of Israel I would have joined them.

A speaker of the Iceland Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "Granting Fischer Icelandic citizenship is a purely humanitarian gesture, and by no means implicates support of Fischer's political views." How many years, Robert, would you have spent in jail should the gigantic claws of the USA snatched you?" Bravo Iceland!

In April 2009, I received an invitation from the Icelandic Chess Federation. Paul Benkö, William Lombardy, Fridrik Olafsson, Lajos Portisch, and Boris Spassky also came to Laugardælir to say goodbye to the brilliant maestro and to pay him the last respect. Only Viktor Kortchnoi did not accept the invitation. He did not want to give Bobby the license of being psychologically ill.
A small cemetery in the countryside, forgotten by civilization. A plain chapel. Small ponies trotting on the light-green grass so typical for Iceland, just behind the gravestone. Occasionally a curious seagull appeared. The earth was still frozen and we were shivering with cold. As the youngest of the group, I was last to speak. Which was difficult for me--we all furtively wiped tears from our eyes.
Hort's respect and sympathy for Fischer are evident, yet Hort in no way justifies or excuses Fischer's words or actions. Bravo Hort!

Here are links to the three articles:

Vlastimil Hort: Memories of Bobby Fischer (1)

Vlastimil Hort: Memories of Bobby Fischer (2)

Vlastimil Hort: Memories of Bobby Fischer (3)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Terrell Owens Decides to Not Attend Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and His Critics Lose Their Minds

Terrell Owens announced that he does not plan to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony this fall and that has provided fodder for his many critics to crawl out of dark corners to pick on him yet again. Instead of delving into the media-created controversy or relying on second-hand accounts about Owens' thought process, here is Owens' official statement:
I am so grateful for all of the support my family, friends, and certainly my fans, have shown me throughout my entire career in the National Football League. When it was announced that I was going to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the response received from my fans was overwhelming, and I am truly humbled. I am honored to be included among this group of fellow inducted individuals.

While I am incredibly appreciative of this opportunity, I have made the decision to publicly decline my invitation to attend the induction ceremony in Canton. I have already shared this information with the Hall. After visiting Canton earlier this year, I came to the realization that I wish to celebrate what will be one of the most memorable days of my life, elsewhere. At a later date, I will announce where and when I will celebrate my induction.

I would also like to thank the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals for the time I was granted with each organization. I am thankful for the relationships forged and the lessons learned while part of each team.

I wish to congratulate all past, current and future inductees. It is quite an honor to be part of such elite company. This honor is something that I will cherish forever.
Forget what anyone else says or has said about this issue. Owens' own words are measured and respectful toward the Hall of Fame, each of his former teams and his fellow inductees. Owens has the right to decline to attend the ceremony and he has made the public announcement of his intentions months in advance so as to not inconvenience or surprise the event's organizers.

Let's also make something else clear: Owens should have been selected as a first ballot Hall of Famer. It is obvious that he did not somehow become a better player or a more deserving Hall of Fame candidate three years after he became eligible for induction. The Hall of Fame voters--not just in pro football, but in other sports--have often revealed themselves to be ignorant and/or biased. If I were Owens or anyone else who was repeatedly snubbed for no good reason then I would be upset/outraged and that upset/outrage would not instantly disappear upon belatedly receiving the honor. The voters did not do anything for Owens and he does not owe them anything; Owens earned Hall of Fame status by virtue of his productivity and his durability.

What would I do if I were Owens? I would show up at the ceremony, speak about my journey to the Hall of Fame, thank those who helped me to achieve that honor and perhaps say something about the flaws in the voting process that result in deserving players either not being selected or having to wait for many years before being selected. I understand the perspective of those players who are already inducted in the Hall of Fame who feel like Owens should show up at the ceremony and publicly embrace joining the only team from which you cannot be traded or cut. It is a great honor to be selected as a Hall of Famer.

Does that mean it is wrong for Owens to not show up?

No.

If Owens feels hurt by being snubbed and/or if Owens prefers to celebrate this milestone achievement in some other manner, he has earned the right to do so. The Hall of Fame invited him to the ceremony and he politely declined. While Owens' decision is unprecedented, he has the right to make this choice and he announced his choice in a respectful manner.

Owens' critics should do some real soul-searching about why his words and choices elicit such a visceral reaction.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Endless Fascination of Chess

People who have never played chess or who only play chess casually often are puzzled by the strong grip that the game has on its most avid adherents. How can something that is "just a game" be so captivating, enticing--possibly even addictive?

A few months ago, International Master Justin Sarkar wrote eloquently about this subject, stating, "Words can hardly even describe the impact of chess on me or where I would be without chess...The inherent beauty of the game and personal benefits in fighting my illness speak louder than the implicit demands and stresses of chess tournament play, to the point of it being more like a stress reliever and positive distraction than other things."

Prof. Lakshmi Narayana's article Understanding My Passion for Chess provides an in depth look into the mind/soul of a chess lover. Please take a moment to click the link and read the entire piece; here is a taste of his perspective to whet your appetite:
If I ask myself why do I have such a great passion for chess and analyze the reasons for my predilection I get the following answers:
Logic and Reasoning triumph and there is no element of chance in chess which is the reason for any philosophically inclined person to admire chess...

Another important quality of chess is the aesthetic element. It not only satisfies the sense of logic of humans but also their desire for beauty. Beauty according to Kant's Critique of Judgment is "A harmonious interplay of all the different faculties of human mind." This definition applies very well to the chess game...

Humans have the enduring need to reach their goals in the most perfect and elegant manner. Chess reflects this and fulfils this need. The feeling of empowerment is embodied in chess and gives the experience of a sense of mastery and control to the players. People love adventures. Each game of chess is one such adventure...

The world-class grand master of his times from Germany, Dr.Siegbert Tarrasch has said "Chess like love like music has the power to make men happy" (Tarrasch,1935). Similar to the experience of love which shakes one to the core and which opens a whole new world for one completely forgetting the outside world, chess also takes one to a whole new world of pawns and bishops, knights and rooks, kings and queens and their interplay and the patterns that develop will shake you to the core.
If someone tells you that chess is just a game and you should not waste your time with it, you can reply that life may be a game with uncertain rules and outcomes but chess is an oasis of logic, beauty and purity in an otherwise often chaotic world.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Chess Life Online Disrespects GM Anatoly Lein

Grandmaster Anatoly Lein often stated that he was underrated and unappreciated. Sadly, proof of this disrespect can be seen after his passing.

Chess Life Online, the official website of the U.S. Chess Federation, posted a brief obituary for GM Lein on March 2, 2018. The headline of the obituary refers to GM Lein as "Anthony Lein." The incorrect first name is also listed under a photo caption and in the article itself. Given this tragicomedy of errors, I can understand why the byline for the obituary is US Chess, instead of a person's name.

On March 5, a reader pointed out these errors, but CLO did not correct them. Today, I posted a comment about the errors. CLO deleted my comment but still has not corrected the errors--so it is abundantly clear that CLO knows about the mistakes at this point.

For those of you who may have missed it, here is the obituary that I posted about GM Lein:

Anatoly Lein, 1931-2018: Grandmaster, Coach, Author 

It would be very nice if CLO posted an obituary worthy of GM Lein, instead of a truncated item with his name spelled incorrectly three times.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Anatoly Lein, 1931-2018: Grandmaster, Coach, Author

Grandmaster Anatoly Lein--one of the top chess players in the world in the 1960s and 1970s and an accomplished chess coach/author--passed away yesterday. Lein's beloved wife Barbara passed away on February 16. Lein was born in the former Soviet Union in 1931 and achieved prominence there--earning the International Master title in 1964 and the Grandmaster title in 1968--before emigrating to the United States in 1976. Although Lein was perhaps past his prime by the time he arrived in this country, he nevertheless made an immediate and huge splash on the chess scene, sharing first place that year in both the World Open and the U.S. Open. Lein lived in New Jersey for many years, working as a chemical engineer, before relocating to Cleveland, Ohio in the 1990s. Cleveland remained his home for the rest of his life.

Lein won the U.S.S.R. Armed Forces Championship in 1962. He followed that up with a first place finish in the 1963 Russian championship and he was a member of the Soviet Union's team that won the 1965 European Championship. He also coached the Russian junior team to a gold medal and he won two gold medals as a member of the Russian adult team. Lein was a seven-time participant in the prestigious Soviet Championship Final, a field which was dotted with World Champions past, present and future. Lein scored wins in tournament games against World Champions Mikhail Tal and Vassily Smyslov. Some of Lein's many big tournament first place finishes include the 1971 Moscow Championship, Cienfuegos 1972, Novi Sad (1972 and 1973) and the 1973 Capablanca Memorial.

After emigrating to the United States, Lein participated in four U.S. Championships (1977, 1978, 1980, 1981). He also represented the United States in the 1978 Chess Olympiad, helping the team win a Bronze medal. Lein won the New Jersey State Championship in 1993 and 1995. In 1999, Lein added the Ohio Championship to his list of titles, scoring 5/6 in the Ohio Chess Congress to tie for first place with International Master Calvin Blocker.

Lein was inducted in the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 2004.

FIDE (the International Chess Federation) has published chess ratings since the late 1960s (the ratings became "official" in 1971) and according to their calculations Lein peaked in 1969 as the 24th highest ranked player in the world. Lein was ranked in the official top 50 in the world as late as 1979 (when he was 48 years old, an advanced age for top level chess) and after dropping as low as 194th in the early 1980s he had a revival in late 1985/early 1986 during which he surged back to 53rd in the world. Lein was still among the top 300 players in the world when he was in his early 60s.

According to Jeff Sonas' historical chess ratings, Lein peaked in the late 1960s as the 26th highest rated player in the world and he maintained top 100 status until past the age of 50, ranking among the 60 highest rated players of all-time in the 50 and over age group.

In addition to his accomplishments as a player and as a coach, Lein wrote or co-wrote several chess books, including Sharpen Your Tactics, In the World of Tactics, The Latvian Gambit: A Grandmaster View and Kasparov v. Karpov 1990 (a book that he was particularly--and justifiably--proud to have co-written with Garry Kasparov, Efim Geller and Viktor Chepishny).

I first met Lein in the early 2000s, when he was still playing in large events such as the Chicago Open. I took some chess lessons from him in the mid-2000s and some of the concepts/methods/approaches that I learned from him played a role in helping me get within 10 points of attaining the U.S. National Master title. My understanding and appreciation for top level chess increased immensely as a result of the time that I spent with him and I will forever feel privileged that I had that opportunity.

Lein could be both proud and self-deprecating, often in the same sentence: he would say, "I used to be a Grandmaster, but now I am a Grandpatzer." He had keen insight about the current chess scene. For instance, Lein told me that Anish Giri was a player to watch prior to Giri receiving much media attention. "This boy has real talent," Lein commented, after looking at some of Giri's early games--and that statement meant something coming from Lein, who often thought that even some of the most famous chess players were overrated.

Lein was an avid reader who could converse intelligently on many subjects. I enjoyed not only learning chess from him but also hearing his stories about his various experiences in the world of elite Grandmasters, as well as his observations about life.

I know that Lein felt underrated as both a player and a teacher but I always told him how much I appreciated his accomplishments and the time that he spent with me. This article can only provide a mere glimpse into what made Lein special but I hope that it serves as a worthy tribute and as a source of information for those who do not fully know chess history and Lein's rightful, prominent place in that history.