Friday, March 14, 2008

Buyer Beware: ESPN's Hiring Bobby Knight a Poor Decision

ESPN isn't called the 'Worldwide Leader' for nothing. They remain the definitive place to turn for any and all sports news. That's mainly because they have created an incredibly diverse and marketable product and have worked equally as hard to protect their brand.

They dominate sports one even comes close. Which makes their recent move to hire the infamous Bobby Knight as a college basketball analyst that much more bizarre. Knight, the former media-bashing grizzled old coach, is suddenly the network's new poster boy for NCAA coverage. But why?

This is not to say that Knight can't pull it off. He can. Knight gets it. He knows exactly what the network is looking for and delivers good information. Albeit in his own slumped over, "I could care less" style. He's been interviewed more than any other coach imaginable. George Bush hasn't seen as many microphones and recorders as Knight has. And 'The General' knows the ins and outs of the television game. In his debut, he began well. It's about the soundbyte...making sharp witticisms quickly and succinctly. In all honesty, Knight (minus his vampire-like demeanor and elementary school gym coach attire) will be one of the network's better hoops analysts over the next few weeks.

But questions remain...why Bobby Knight? Why did ESPN feel they had to go and chase down 'The General' himself for this role? Their hoops analyst staff is already bloated...their contributing staff immense. Bilas, Forde, Katz, Brown, Vitale, Fraschilla, Phelps, Gottlieb, Glockner, Lunardi, Davis...the list goes on and on. What does Knight do that these people can't?

That answer is simple. He is such a polarizing personality that people, Knight-lovers or Knight-haters, will watch. As if ESPN needed to boost their already gargantuan ratings. But, how does ESPN use his expertise? They set him up in 'fluff' pseudo-analysis scenarios like Knight's Insights. A chance for fans to ask him questions about random basketball-related stories from working with the media, to career-reflection, etc. It's clear that ESPN isn't interested in bringing Knight to the network to address any real issues. They don't want the ugly side of the good General throwing chairs or choking players, they want the marketable side of Knight.

ESPN is giving Knight the broadcasting equivalent of an open-lane layup every time he goes on-air. No probing questions about his abrupt departure from Texas Tech and the fact that he all but forced that administration to retain his own son as new head coach. None of that. It's all fluff for Bobby Knight.

Case in point, last night Davis and Phelps dished out a nice PR-stunt assist. Knight was set-up for a two-minute discussion about his wife Karen's basketball I.Q. and her positive affect on his life. Now that is riveting analysis of the conference tournaments! Come on already! Also, as Leonard Shapiro of the Washington Post noted, Knight has also refused to address any potentially negative news regarding his old coaching buddies. Ask about Kelvin Sampson's exploits...his son's struggles at TT...recruiting violations at Harvard...Knight won't answer. So why hire him?

ESPN's coverage of Knight's retirement was fair, as it should have been. But while some of the network's analysts chose to suck-up to Knight, others took a more harsh stance. In Pat Forde's article, he lays it out on the line. Knight quit on his team. Plain and simple. A team that was 12-8 and 3-3 in the Big 12 conference...very much in the hunt. They finished 16-15 and 7-9 and had their bells rung by Texas A&M and Kansas. When he stepped down, Knight claimed he was tired and that he couldn't do it anymore. But just three weeks later Knight was back at work?!? Some vacation. This has truly become a theater of the absurd.

Besides his most egregious offenses, Knight has a history with ESPN. A history of attempting to embarrass and discredit reporters. Reporters like Jeremy Schaap. When Knight mocked Schaap on national television, Jeremy's father Dick (a broadcasting icon) appeared on Sports Reporters a few days later and derided 'The General' for attacking his family. It was a bold move and journalists everywhere applauded. Finally someone stood up to Knight. The schoolyard bully of coaches when it comes to media interaction.

If you think this is making a mountain out of a mole-hill, watch this. From cursing on-air, to cursing in front of a family-filled crowd, to insulting reporters, to verbally berating Indiana University officials, to cursing at an NCAA press official charged with trying to 'work' with Knight. Class act all the way.

And through it all, ESPN has been there to document it. To let us fans at home know just what Bobby Knight thinks of the media...thinks of us. In 1979, he assaulted a police officer in Puerto Rico. In 2000, a freshman at IU alleged that Knight attacked him because he didn't call him 'Coach.' Aren't coaches supposed to be teachers? What would have happened had an IU professor/staff member done the same? They would have been fired. And Knight promptly was.

Ever since then, some people have seen fit to coddle him for one reason or another. Texas Tech gave him a chance. They wanted to liven things up and awaken a dead program. While with the Red Raiders, Knight got his 800th and 900th wins on the way to becoming the winningest coach in NCAA D-1 men's hoops history. But how did he truly regard their program? By cutting out five months after signing a contract extension that would have kept him in Lubbock until 2012. He was supposed to be committed to his assistants, players, recruits and their parents. But he's not a 'committer,' he's become a quitter.

Knight has stated that being employed as a member of the media was "one or two steps above prostitution." He also once said of journalists, "All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things." This coming from a coach. Not a scientist, governor or doctor, but a BASKETBALL COACH.

When Knight was hired, ESPN's Executive Vice President for Production said Knight brought "sophistication" to the table. Really? And with that, 'The General' joined 'The Dark Side.' He's one of "them."

A step above prostitution? Not for ESPN...they are official broadcast hustlers. They are the pimps pushing Knight out onto the street corners of college basketball's landscape. He's turning tricks for them, grabbing cash and smiling on-screen. But Knight will ultimately have the last laugh. He'll do the song and dance until the 'Big Dance' is over. Then he'll go back to hunting and fishing.

You see, he's into killing. Just watch Texas Tech over the next few years. He just effectively killed that program. Now he's about to bag the credibility of the 'Worldwide Leader' for giving him a platform. Knight is working from the inside-out, just like a good hoops coach would. He's suckered ESPN, the same network that he's insulted and cursed for decades.

Congrats to ESPN for hiring the man who has spat in their collective face time and time again. All for a meaningless ratings boost.

And congrats to Robert Montgomery Knight. The ultimate hustler.

Damn he's good.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Community Mourns: Todd Miller's Death Inspires Thousands

Over the past few days, the small campus community here in Farmville has been turned upside down. And it ended this past weekend with a respected and loved student-athlete leaving this mortal Earth.

Todd Miller, a senior rugby player, passed away yesterday morning after spending the past seven days in a coma. Miller was injured in a match against VMI on Sunday, March 2nd. Having already scored three tries and adding five conversion kicks that day, Miller's squad was dominating...the game winding down. However, this towering young man wasn't the sort to shy away from contact. He wanted to play on for his team. But late in the match, Miller went for a tackle. After a significant collision, Miller exited the playing field and, to the shock of teammates and spectators, collapsed on the sidelines. He was eventually taken by MedEvac to MCV Hospital in Richmond but seized on the way, severely complicating his situation and chance for survival. Miller was then kept alive in the hopes that reducing swelling to his brain would allow for a miraculous recovery. But that was not to be.

Todd died at 10:20am Sunday, on a morning when people all over the world lifted their voices in prayer for him. His soul was guided to the afterlife by those who cared for him. A fitting tribute to an incredibly strong young man. A young man that has affected the lives and thoughts of thousands. Most of whom never met him...but never had to.

Last Tuesday night inside Longwood University's Willett Hall gymnasium, over a thousand people gathered in a vigil to pray for Miller's recovery. Among them were 'ruggers' from all across the state, players and coaches that had come to fear and respect this man's ability and leadership skill. Standing 6'3" and weighing just over 200 pounds, Miller was the quintessential rugby that combined God-given size and speed with a tenacious desire to win. Miller had long served as a leader for the club team and was Vice President his junior year. That night in the LU gym, coaches, teammates and friends spoke in turn about Todd's positive affects on their lives. They all wanted Todd and his family to know exactly how they they loved. Todd's mother Ellie was able to watch the entire vigil via simulcast...from Farmville to the MCV intensive care unit. A wonderful way for the university to bring the campus into his family's life at a very hard time.

Five days later, Todd died. But his friends and those who wished to have known him still talk to him. Not only through prayer, but through the one great global communications device...the Internet. The night Todd was injured Chris Foster, a teammate, created a group called "Pray for TODD MILLER" on the social networking phenomenon Facebook. That group now has over 2,300 members...people that constantly visited the site to see the latest news on their friend. Last night at 4:51, Todd's mother posted the information that so many had feared to read. Ever since, dozens of people have left their own personal goodbyes to Todd.

And many of those people are so-called 'perfect strangers.' People that never met Todd Miller but were so touched by his story that they prayed and hoped as if they were family. And through those unselfish actions they became family, at least temporarily. And in acknowledging and embracing that love for her son, Ellie Miller has taught us all a great deal.

In the 'Recent News' column of the group page, Ellie's post has been updated several times. But the orginal words are intact:

Todd passed away this morning at 10:20 am. Thank you all so very much for your prayers, loving thoughts, shared memories and pictures.....they have helped me so have no idea. I have felt your love surrounding me during this horrific week. I know Todd will live on in our hearts and memories forever.....and through the miracle of organ donations Todd may save the lives of as many as 7 people over the next 48 hours and impact the health of countless other people..Think of the miracle of that....his legacy and "his life" will live on."

What a wonderful woman Ellie must be. She was more than ready and willing to share her son's final moments with his friends and all concerned. A hard thing to do for certain. Something that only a person with superior inner strength and wisdom could handle. This amazing woman answered phone call after phone call and acquiesced to every information request his teammates and friends made. In doing so, Ellie's grace allowed for so many to intimately share in her relationship with her son. The young man's Facebook profile, Mrs. Miller's own profile, and the group page dedicated to him, are all adorned with pictures of Ellie and Todd together. It's clear their love truly defined that which only a mother and son could share.

Todd's final act of unselfishness is truly inspiring. It is reminiscent of the story of former UNC mascot, Jason Ray, a young man who was killed in a hit-and-run but whose organs saved or vastly improved the lives of several others. Ray's story was made famous with extended coverage on ESPN. Each story is equally impressive...both horrifically tragic but simultaneously uplifting.

Todd donated his very body to strangers in hopes of improving or saving their lives. A mortal way of being immortal. A 'Christ-like' gift one can only give in death.

Let us all learn valuable lessons from Todd's passing.

Love all of those around you, everyone you come in contact with. Todd clearly did, the love returned was intense and passionate.

Live your life to the fullest. Absorb it all. Every moment is one fewer God intended you to have. Todd literally attacked life. We should all be so bold.

When we face the bleakest times in our lives, turn to those that love you and that love will lift you to a higher place. While nothing will replace her son, Ellie Miller has already displayed ultimate courage. Those who have publicly voiced their love and appreciation for Todd have shown her so much. Ellie raised a wonderful man. Todd's legacy is so immense, it can't be measured.

Every day, take a moment...just a express your love to those who matter to you most. Never go to bed mad. Never leave something unsaid.

Love as God has commanded us.

Live as God has demanded us.

Todd & Ellie deserve our collective thanks. God bless them both. May we all be better people as a result of having heard their story. May we all love, and be loved, as much as they.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Our First Child: Isabelle Marie

As the spring semester has cranked up over the past few weeks, I've found it more and more difficult to enjoyably waste my own time, let alone yours, with a blog post. But I return this week to celebrate the upcoming birthday of our daughter. Isabelle Marie Halliday turns two-years old this Sunday, March 9th.

She is pictured above in the fall of 2006, right around 5-6 months old. She's mid-meal with a smile that seems to be permanently affixed to her face.

Here she is with Grandad Halliday on a surprise visit. This pic was taken shortly after she attempted to remove his corneas with his pocket pens.

And here is Ms. Isabelle once again just before Christmas 2007, talking to me as I snap a quick shot.

I'd like to tell you her story.

Ever since I was young, I've always wanted a family. I never really knew/expected that it would happen. But I wanted to be a Dad. I wanted that responsibility and accountability. Being a parent provides both the ultimate challenge and the ultimate reward.

When Susan and I were married in 2004 (click this to read our sappy story), we talked a lot about kids...but it was always "down the line." That is until the following year when we started asking each other, "What do you think?" I wanted to start ASAP. Men always do. After all, it's not on us to physically/emotionally/spiritually carry the actual burden. We have our own issues with pregnancy, but we're not toting around a living being. Susan didn't need convincing, but there were financial concerns. In the end, we went by the age-old mantra that you can never actually afford children...but that's not why you have them.

Within ten days of deciding we would "actively try," Susan was pregnant. The pregnancy was tough on her. Standing less than five feet tall and weighing under 90 pounds, her frame wasn't built for childbearing. She had to gain weight in order to avoid any complications and that was difficult for my wife. All the while, Susan worked full-time to support us. She eventually went part-time and worked right up until the week before Isabelle was born. There's no way I could have done that. But she did.

Susan wanted to know "what we were having." I remember finding out it was a girl. Susan thought I would be disappointed. All women say that..."Guys want to have sons." Maybe so, but having a sister myself, I wanted a healthy child. Period.

And we got one. But not without trouble.

In November of 2005, while nearly five months pregnant, Susan was involved in a single-car wreck on the way home from work. Her tire blew out. She lost control, went off-road and rammed into a barbed wire fence. Her car was totaled. Mostly cosmetic damage, but there was enough of it. Susan stepped out of the car and walked away from the scene. Not a scratch.

The weekend before, I was supposed to get her tires changed. I didn't. I forgot. The tire blew because it's tread was bare. She was lucky to be alive and still with child. I nearly cost them their lives. Simple decisions have such grand impact.

Though she was shaken, Susan was undaunted and went right back to work. Within a few days, we bought a new car. We bought a Toyota Matrix because it's frame had a higher safety rating than the Pontiac Vibe. That was a good decision.

Two days later, Susan wrecked again. On her way home from work, in the dark of the night on Route 33 between Elkins and Buckhannon, West Virginia, Susan crested a hill and was face-to-face with a large black plastic garbage bag in her lane. We later discovered it was over-stuffed with cement mix, rocks and spare lumber. Susan watched that bag get obliterated by a semi as she feared for her daughter's life, waiting in a ditch.

Afraid of the impact at 70 miles per hour, Susan whipped the wheel to the right when she saw the bag. The Matrix lost its traction, skidded onto its side and spun like a top before promptly hitting a wall of granite just off of the right side of the road. Hitting the four-story cliff-side caused the car to somehow pop up onto its wheels. Once again, Susan got up out of the car and walked away. Without a scratch.

God is good.

But the car was not. Completely totaled. Susan hunted through the broken glass to find her cell phone and called me. I rushed to the hospital. She had been in great spirits with the nurses and doctors on call, masking her anxiety. She was bruised and sore, but able to walk with some help. But what about our baby?

The moment she saw me waiting by her hospital bed, Susan finally showed her emotion. All I could do was hold her and wonder. Surely, we would not lose this baby. We didn't want to talk about our worst fear. We needed an ultrasound. I prayed silently, so as not to disturb my bride. She prayed silently, so as not to disturb her husband.

We had already decided on our little girl's name. She may not have been out in the world, but she was ours. Kicking when I spoke to her late at night or early in the morning. The warmth of my hand would draw her across the womb. She would punch and shove while Susan ate. She was our baby. We couldn't wait to meet her.

Isabelle Marie Halliday.

Somehow, despite Susan being flipped like a flapjack, Isabelle was fine. No harm done. Two car wrecks in the course of a week and she was no worse for wear.

God is good.

Isabelle finally entered our lives in person on March 9th, 2006 in Elkins at the Davis Memorial Hospital. She was late to the party, but has since mastered the art of a grand entrance.

Isabelle was born with coal black eyes and hair. Everyone said she looked like me. She looks nothing like that now and hopefully for her sake it stays that way. She was alert from the start. She hated her first bath...she still doesn't care for them on occasion. But she was wonderful. Our doctor visited the next morning and commented about how alert and attentive she was. He said, "I believe she is very smart." Of course she is. She got that from her mother.

The name is an homage to family. Isabelle is my mother-in-law's middle name, Marie is my mother's. Our little girl represents all of these ladies. She carries their best qualities.

My daughter is gorgeous. Her smile cracks the most hardened soul. Her laugh is contagious; it dances across the room and brings joy to your heart. She is exceptionally petite, but she runs the show. She is the most engaging two-year old I've ever seen. She loves people, and people love her. She'll speak in toddler-gibberish to strangers for ten minutes, telling them about her day, then cordially bid adieu. At times, she'll blow them a kiss.

When I come home from work, she runs to the door and eagerly waits for me to bend down and hold her tight.

When I'm in the room with her, I want to kiss her all the time. She often gets mad at me when I do. She's very independent and when I interrupt her for the tenth kiss in the last five minutes, she gets annoyed. But she always returns the kiss and laughs.

She giggles, looks me in the eye and says, "Love you Daddy."

Isabelle is a dedicated big sister. She takes it very seriously. She searches the house for her brother's pacifier and always hugs him to start and end the day. She asks to hold him, caresses his head and kisses him gently. She talks to him. He always listens. He can't wait for the moments when she talks. He loves her voice.

She waltzes into the room and says, "Hi guys!" She directs us at the dinner table. We sing, dance and play games as we eat. She's the life of the party...when she wants to be.

I have been blessed with a lot of wonderful things in my life. My wife, my family, my friends, my work. But the love I hold for my children knows no bounds. I can't express it. I physically beam when we are together as a family. When she smiles, I want to cry. I am that overjoyed to witness her happiness and to know that I'm a small part of it.

In our house, we call her 'Goofball' for all of her little idiosyncrasies. She's a riot. But she's ours. I know one day she'll make me very proud. My little girl.

She may not always be a daddy's girl, but I'm forever a 'daughter daddy.' I've found that you care for your children on many different levels. But this little lady is something special; she transcends any earthly knowledge of love.

She's our first child, and we are lucky to spend our days and nights near her.

Happy Birthday Isabelle Marie.