Friday, March 16, 2018

Really Fouling Out

As the WIAA Boys Basketball State Championships continue today, one player will be garnering a lot more attention than many of the others.  It won't be the high-flying Tyrese Halliburton of Oshkosh North or the high-scoring Jordan McCabe of Kaukauna.  Instead, all eyes will be on Milwaukee Washington star Deontay Long--and for reasons that nobody wants to talk about.

Back in January, Long was convicted on a charge of Armed Robbery.  In exchange for a guilty plea, prosecutors dismissed charges of Carjacking and Reckless Endangerment.  According to the criminal complaint, Long and his friends pulled a gun on a Jimmy Johns delivery driver and another person--stealing money from them last summer.  They then held a gun to the head of an 80-year old woman and stole her car--crashing it into a building before being arrested. 

A lot of people are surprised to find out that being a convicted felon--or even being arrested for a crime--does not disqualify you from playing high school sports in Wisconsin.  The WIAA has a code of conduct that covers drinking, smoking and drug use--but it leaves it up to individual schools to handle far more serious things like committing violent crimes.  In a story done by WISN-TV in Milwaukee last week, WIAA Director Dave Anderson told the reporter that there had been "no arguments" from member schools to address eligibility of criminals--and when asked if he personally felt it needed to be addressed, Anderson (in typical WIAA official fashion) told her "Good luck with your story".

It should be noted that Milwaukee Washington did take punitive action against Long following his arrest.  He was suspended for the entire Cross Country season last fall--leaving him eligible to play his primary sport--basketball.  It is not known if Long had run Cross Country any years before this one.

This is not the first time that a student-athlete that ran afoul of the law is taking the floor at the Kohl Center.  In 2014, Dominic Cizauskus of Mukwonago played while police were investigating his sexual assault of a classmate--for which he was later convicted.  And in 2016, Blake Dodd of Lake Geneva played at State after he was charged with Sexual Exploitation of a Child.  Dodd would later be convicted on reduced charges.  But those cases are different from Long's in that due process had not yet run its course when they played--whereas Long is a convicted felon awaiting sentencing.

Those that advocate for Long's continued participation will tell you that allowing him to play at State is an example of "restorative justice".  That if he were kicked off the team, he would likely drop out of school and commit more violent crimes--as if basketball was the only thing keeping a kid from breaking the law.  I'm sure that makes the Jimmy Johns driver and the 80-year old woman that stared down the barrel of Long's gun feel a lot better about themselves, knowing that "their community" will benefit from their assailant continuing to play hoops.

Hopefully Long enjoys his time at the Kohl Center, because it will likely be the last time he plays for awhile.  Prosecutors will recommend a four year prison term when he is sentenced next month.  Although, the judge could sentence him up to forty years. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

From the Mouths of Babes

Sometimes you have to give kids credit, they can come up with really insightful things--despite their age.  That was the case with Nate Tinbite of Maryland yesterday as he took part in the National Walk Out Day event in Washington, DC.  Tinbite told the audience on site and on national television that "My parents never had to worry about someone barging into their classroom with an assault rifle and slaughtering everyone in their class".

As a 45-year old and someone that would certainly be old enough to be Tinbite's father I can unequivocally tell you that Nate is 100-percent correct, I never once thought about being shot in school with an assault rifle.

That sense of security came despite the fact that AR-15 rifles were already available for sale in the United States when I was in school.  Heck, you could even purchase a full-automatic AK-47 (or a reasonable facsimile) when I was a kid.  Those weren't banned in the US until 1994.  That sense of security came despite that fact that there were guns in my house--and likely the houses of most of my classmates.  But growing up, I knew that even touching those guns would result in the worst spanking of my life--and being grounded for what would be left of my life.  (And by grounded, I mean sent to my room after school and dinner every night where there was no TV, phone, internet, video game system, webcam, or other forms of entertainment.  You just sat there and thought about what you had done to deserve this.)

And when I was a kid, even threatening violence against classmates brought swift retribution.  School officials would call the police and you would be taken away in a squad car for everyone to witness.  Then you would be expelled from school--not sent to the "alternative high school", not put into a "diversion program"--expelled, with few options for continuing your education.  Kids that 'acted up" weren't diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and put on behavior-modification drugs to be dispensed at the School Office.  You were told to sit in your seat, shut up and pay attention to the teacher--or detention awaited you at the end of the day.

Had there even been school shootings when I was a kid, we would not have heard much about them.  There would have been a two minute story on one of the three over-the-air network news broadcasts--and probably a second or third page story in the local newspaper.  We would not have seen live footage shot from a helicopter of kids running from the building in terror while reporters tried to guess what was going on.  The next 24-hours of television would not have endlessly replayed the video while talking heads argued about it.  And security camera footage from inside the school showing the shooter in action would not be posted on the internet for viewing anytime--over and over and over again.

Unfortunately, Nate Tinbite followed his wonderful bit of insight with blame for Congress and the NRA for a lack of gun control measures as the reason his generation has to deal with school shootings.  But I'm going to forgive him.  He's young and the society of today is the only one that he has ever known.  He doesn't know what it was like to have parents that actually supervised their children and it wasn't everyone else's "fault" when someone would do something bad.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The People's Champion

I know that many Packers fans are hurting today.  You are likely wearing your Jordy Nelson jersey to work one final time as a tribute to one of your "all-time favorites".  There was something about Jordy that just appealed to you from the day he joined the team.  You can't quite put your finger on it, but it's the same reason you love Clay Matthews and why you always chanted "KOOOOOOON!" when John Kuhn carried the ball.

You would always smile proudly when one of the TV color guys would say Jordy was "surprisingly fast" or that he was "more athletic than he looks".  You would nod your head in agreement when Coach McCarthy would say that Nelson is "one of the hardest workers on the team".  He's a Kansas farm boy--he "knows the meaning of hard work" you would tell your friends.

Deep down in your heart, you know that if Aaron Rodgers didn't get hurt last year, he would have been looking for "his favorite target" more often--and Jordy's numbers would have been better.  There would have been the long pass interference penalties on sideline fly patterns.  There would have passes over the heads of defenders looking into the backfield at Aaron rolled out right and Jordy ran the deep crossing route left that for some reason DB's could not recognize--even thought the Packers ran it every game.  It's really Brett Hundley's fault that Jordy never got the ball despite a total lack of separation from coverage.

Now you hope that Jeff Janis might get his chance to fill that role as the Packers "star receiver".  Sure, they are using the money saved from cutting Nelson to resign Randall Cobb and Davante Adams--but there's just "something" about those guys that doesn't make them seem that special to you. 

I thought it was a nice touch that in his initial statement Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst wrote that he "looks forward to Jordy's certain induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame".  There Nelson will join a plethora of other players whose popularity far exceeded their production on the field like Mark Tauscher, Mark Chmura, Brian Noble and Chuck Cecil.

So proudly wear that Jordy Nelson jersey one final time Packers fans.  Then get it framed and hang it on the wall next to the Bill Schroeder and Don Beebe jerseys that were worn by your "favorites" before him.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Playing Favorites

As any parent will tell you, even though they are supposed to love and treat all of their children the same, they do have favorites.  There's one child that isn't as exasperating, behaves better, excels at everything and isn't likely to cause the family great embarrassment.  And there is that other kid whom they love, but secretly fear will be featured on an episode of Cops or Live PD someday and that they will have to disavow.

And as any child will tell you, parents tend to treat their favorite differently from the others.  Punishments are less harsh, gifts are a little more extravagant and they are given a longer leash.  Parents like to brag about their favorites too, extolling their virtues and letting everyone know how great that one kid is--often using the phrase "why can't you be more like your brother/sister?"

The Oshkosh Common Council is a lot like a group of parents when it comes to Special Event Permits.  Tonight, they will again try to come up with a way to cut some kind of deal for the Downtown Farmers Market to avoid the ever-growing list of fees the City is imposing for "services" provided to special events.  You can tell the Farmers Market is the Council's favorite event.  It allows them to use phrases like "commitment to sustainable, farm-to-table production" and they can extoll its "benefit to the Downtown area".

Juxtapose that with another Downtown event--Pub Crawl--which most of the Council members detest more than their worst enemies.  The same downtown businesses benefit from a large number of people taking part--but every effort, including legal challenges, has been made to shut down Pub Crawl because some folks at City Hall "don't like it".  It should also be noted that the Special Event Permit fee structure was adopted to put another event--Sawdust Days--out of business because, again, some people in high places aren't fans.

When parents play favorites, kids just have to learn to live with it.  But when governments try to play favorites, that's when things tend to get ugly.  We expect our statutes and laws to be applied fairly to all people and groups--not just those that meet the fancy of the select few elected to a majority of the Council.   If the Council decides to cut the Farmers Market a break tonight, it should also develop the list of "Favorites", "Events That Will Be Tolerated (But Not Given A Discount On Fees)" and "Events We Want To Drive Out Of Town With Even More Additional Fees"--just so everyone knows where they stand in the pecking order.

Friday, March 2, 2018

It Just Doesn't Feel Like Justice

Yesterday's sentencing hearing for Dennis Brantner--the man found guilty of abducting and killing Berit Beck in Fond du Lac almost 28-years ago--leaves me feeling that justice was not done.  Brantner got ten years in prison for a crime that went unsolved for 25-years.  Beck's family said yesterday's hearing provided them with closure, but Brantner will spend less than half behind bars than Berit's friends and family had to spend wondering if her killer would ever get caught.

I guess that we should be satisfied that there was at least a conviction in the case.  Brantner would likely have gone free the rest of his life had he not been busted on an unrelated felony in southern
Wisconsin--requiring his DNA to be collected and added to the state database.  The value of that DNA requirement and comparing those samples to those from unsolved crimes is borne out in this case.

Despite no logical explanation for how his DNA got in Beck's van in the Forest Mall parking lot in 1990, one juror refused to convict Brantner on a more serious charge of First Degree Intentional Homicide last year--causing a mistrial.  Rather than risk another hung jury--or even an acquittal--in another trial, Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney offered Brantner a plea deal to a reduced charge.  Since Brantner entered what is known as an "Alford Plea"--admitting there is enough evidence to convict him, but not admitting any guilt--there will likely never be an explanation of how he managed to kidnap Beck, what happened before and while he killed her, and how he dumped her body in that ditch near Waupun to be found a few weeks later.  Maybe the Beck family didn't want to know that, but as a person who tells stories for a living, I feel like we should know. 

Brantner is in his late sixties, and it's entirely possible that a ten year prison term will end up being the life sentence that he would have automatically faced had the jury convicted him on the First Degree Intentional Homicide charge.  I'm guessing the Beck family would like the assurance that they would never have to see Dennis Brantner out and about again--after cheating the system for 25-years of freedom he did not deserve.

Hopefully the Beck family won't be put through the hell that Teresa Halbach's friends and relatives have been going through.  I doubt that Dennis Brantner's case is going to draw the attention of wacko conspiracy theorists, one-sided "documentarians" looking to cash in on the story, and media-hungry appeals attorneys who like to try their cases on social media like we now have with Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.  It's come to the point in that case where it's hard to remember who the victim of the real crime was.

It's just too bad that the it doesn't always feel like the justice system delivers justice.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

It Makes No Difference

Based on social media reaction yesterday, the CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods should be preparing his Nobel Peace Prize after announcing the stores would no longer sell AR-15s.  What I found most interesting to that public reaction is that the same people that celebrating Dick's decision to not sell a legal product are the same people that attack healthcare providers that don't perform abortions, pharmacists that won't sell birth control and churches that won't hold same-sex weddings.

I'm not even sure how many AR-15s Dick's actually sold every year.  The few times I've gone past their hunting section, their selection seemed to be more hunting rifles and shotguns and not that many sport shooting rifles.  The decision not to sell AR-15s will likely cost them as much business as a decision not to sell Pink Lady golf balls anymore.

It should also be noted that the Florida school shooter did not buy his gun at Dick's.  Nor did he buy it at a gun show or from a private seller--the two "background check loopholes" that Democrats are demanding be "closed" in the wake of every shooting.  And the Las Vegas, San Bernadino, Orlando nightclub and Sandy Hook shooters didn't get their guns there either--so it's not like a "major pipeline" is being shut down.

Gun control advocates may actually want Dick's to continue to sell sport shooting rifles.  They would be considered a "reputable firearms dealer".  You know that every person trying to buy a gun at Dick's is subjected to a required background check--because they have a national reputation to uphold.  What's more, you never hear about people breaking into Dick's to steal dozens of guns--because their stores feature advanced security systems--keeping more illegal weapons off the streets.

The only thing that Dick's and other retailers deciding to stop AR-15's or to raise the age for buying a gun to 21 will do is drive buyers to different outlets--all of whom will be more than happy to get the additional business.  As we have seen for decades now, any talk of increased gun control or outright bans on weapons produces a buying frenzy--as shooters want to stock up before no stores can carry a weapon anymore.  There are tens of thousands of small gun stores around the country that feature many hard-core gun-rights owners who will sell you any legal weapon you want--in any quantity they can get in. 

As retail gun-purchase options tighten, that will also drive more buyers into the less-regulated secondary market.  When Dick's stops selling AR-15's, those who want one can go to the myriad gun shows across the country and pick up a used one--in some cases not having to pass a background check.  Or they will find someone a couple of counties over selling one on the internet no questions asked.

So everyone can laud Dick's and Walmart and any other retailers looking to jump on the "we won't sell these guns" public relations bandwagon all you want--but they aren't "making America safer" by one iota.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The JV Tournament

The Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament tips off today.  Now before you get excited about Selection Sunday coming up this weekend, know that is not actually the case.  For the first time since it was instituted, the Big Ten Tourney will not be held on the final weekend of the regular season. 

Instead, conference officials--in yet another money grab--agreed to hold the tournament a week earlier so they could play in that hotbed of Big Ten Basketball: Madison Square Garden in New York.  MSG is not available during traditional Championship Week because the Big East plays its conference tourney there.  That basically relegates the Big Ten to JV status--playing at the same time as such powerhouses as the Patriot League and the Horizon League.  And we're not talking about the "real" Big East when Syracuse, Georgetown and Villanova were national powers.  We are talking about the Marquette, Creighton, Butler Big East--which just adds further insult to injury.

Although, the watered down Big East will likely still pack in bigger crowds for their tournament games that the Big Ten will.  The average conference campus is more than 650-miles from Madison Square Garden.  And hotel rooms in New York City are much more expensive than the usual conference tournament host sites of Indianapolis or Chicago.  The one bright spot is that attendance should be better than last year's Big Ten Tournament in Washington, DC which conjured up the phrase "Plenty of good seats still available" every time there would be a shot of the stands on TV.

This downgrading of what should be the premier event of the Big Ten Basketball season is part of the conference's misguided efforts to make New York and Washington "Big Ten cities".  While there is certainly fan interest and media coverage of Maryland Basketball in the nation's capital, nobody in NYC gives a rat's behind about Rutgers.  I would be willing to bet there are more alumni of Big Ten schools in New York than there are fans of the Scarlet Knights in the entire country.  But is that interest worthy of having the conference tournament moved out of its regular timeslot and playing second fiddle to everything else that goes on in NYC when it could be the biggest thing going on in Indy, Milwaukee or Detroit?

And any "inroads" the conference may make this week will be quickly forgotten next week when the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden itself gets overshadowed by the Atlantic Coast Conference tourney taking over the Barclays Center in Brooklyn at the same time.  The ACC will be coming to town with number one ranked Virginia and the Duke Blue Devils--who are reviled by even the most casual college basketball fan.  By Selection Sunday, you'd be hard pressed to even remember who won the Big Ten Championship.

Perhaps most importantly, how will this early tournament affect Big Ten teams that do make the Big Dance?  Those knocked out in the quarterfinals will go two weeks without playing a game.  The conference championship game participants a week-and-a-half.  You ask any coach and he'd tell you it's best to play every third day to stay sharp.  When the Big Ten fails to get anyone to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament I hope that conference officials can take time away from counting their money and consider the negative effects of their short-sighted decisions.