Name, Image, And Likene$$

Name, Image, And Likene$$

Don’t get me started on this topic. I’m likely to say something I’ll later regret. But for the time being, as far as name, image, and likeness (NIL) is concerned, I’M AGAINST IT!

Now I’m not against individuals making money. After all, this is America. If you’re cunning enough and motivated enough and talented enough, you can make all the money you want.

I’m also not against college athletes having a little extra change in their pockets. They certainly deserve it for all the blood, sweat, and tears they put in the gym perfecting their craft. I just don’t want some pie-in-the sky statute regarding fairness and equity ruining the college game we’ve all grown to love. Football Saturdays and March Madness weekends are part of my sports DNA. Please, don’t do anything to screw it up.

Before you accuse me of being a self-centered loser, here’s a little background information for those of you who aren’t quite sure where I’m coming from.

What is NIL?

The NCAA recently enacted legislation allowing student-athletes in college to benefit and profit off of their names, images, and likenesses. It was a reluctant move by the much-maligned governing organization which—for the past few decades—has profited heavily from the cash cow directly generated by those who they allegedly claim to serve.

Over the years, the NCAA (and the conferences and schools it presides over) has raked in millions and millions of dollars in gate receipts and television revenue while the athletes themselves aren’t allowed to participate in any of the free-for-all money grab going on around them. Supposedly, these football and basketball prodigies hammer away as indentured servants. They allegedly don’t have extra money to eat at McDonalds, to go on dates, or even to do their laundry (cue in violin music, please). All the while, the overlording rule-makers stare greedily at their own bank accounts bulging at the seams.  

So why did the NCAA finally reverse course and cave?

Public pressure for one. When individual states (including Kentucky) started enacting legislation giving student-athletes free rein to cash in on autograph signings, appearances on Cameo, and t-shirts and sponsorships bearing their faces, the Big Bad NCAA and its president—Mark “Darth” Emmert—was forced into action.

Why Everybody Loves NIL

Everyone (but me) seems to be applauding and cheering on this new legislation. Coaches like Mark Stoops and John Calipari have both put on happy public faces. They really don’t have any choice but to clap loudly, or else they’ll come off looking like jerks. Think about it. If you’re making millions coaching these young men, you have to feel obligated to give them a little extra piece of the pie—or you really are a jerk.

Media people all seem to love the decision too. They see themselves as the ones anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and the release from darkness for the prisoners. They’re all celebrating (at least outwardly) the clarion call of all these previously oppressed athletes rising up on a level playing field and sticking it to “The Man.”

Of course the athletes themselves are ecstatic. “It’s long overdue,” they cry. “Here we come. Better put a few more Big Macs on the grill.”

Why I Don’t Like NIL

Here’s the way I look at it. The NCAA set up and organized the platform for all the players to compete. They put in the effort, took the initial risk, financed the infrastructure, made all the network deals, and promoted the heck out of their product over all these years. Why shouldn’t they continue to reap the fruits of their labor? If athletes can get a better deal somewhere else, then just go outside the system and do it. No one’s stopping you.

NIL Cheapens the Value of a Scholarship

If you’re telling me that a free-ride lifetime athletic scholarship isn’t an overly fair tradeoff for playing the game you love, then you’re  devaluing the worth of a college degree. My parents, frugal as they were, advised me to spend money freely on two things: my home and my education. I’m proud to say that my UK degree remains to this day my most valuable asset.

I also just spent a small fortune putting my daughter through a private out-of-state university. If the University of Southern California had offered to pay for all her tuition, books, room and board, private tutoring, first class travel, deluxe hotel accommodations, and state-of-the-art medical care for her entire four-year stay, I would have gladly kissed the feet of Tommy Trojan (and retired earlier).

Current UK athletes should value their education in the exact same vein. The University of Kentucky, with its rabid Big Blue Nation, has already increased the value of their individual names, images, and likenesses—several fold—just by inviting them into the successful UK corporate brand. They’ve just been given the best education money can buy—without having to plunk down a single penny.

NIL Invites Too Many Outside Influences

And yet, even with this glorious free ride, everyone demands that these student-athletes share in the pot. As I said earlier, that’s fine with me—just not at the expense of choking the golden goose that has fueled our appetite for amateur sports as we know it. Unscrupulous agents descending on campus, rival deals between teammates dismantling team chemistry, and member institutions losing significant portions of their revenue stream to boosters paying the athletes directly could all potentially upset the apple cart.

And this doesn’t even include what could happen in the media world. Imagine a scenario where the best player appearances, the best player interviews, the best of anything media related always goes exclusively to the highest bidder. If you’re an outlet with cash to burn, then you’ll control the flow of information. That type of police state can’t be good for the game (unless you’re JMI Sports—UK’s current multi-media partner). And that certainly doesn’t bode well for all the other legitimate and hard-working journalists scrambling for their livelihoods to report news and maintain accountability.

To me, all these risks simply aren’t worth it for what amounts to the nickel and dime benefits that NIL legislation targets. Many ivory tower purists will argue that it should come down to what’s best for the student-athlete. Here’s where it gets hairy because what appears good on the surface is what could ultimately cause the entire system to crash and burn.

The Ultimate Demise

I never played college sports, but I do listen to people who did. The other night, while I was waiting to go on as a guest on Dick Gabriel’s Big Blue Insider radio show, I heard some insightful comments from the guest who was on ahead of me. Former UK linebacker Kash Daniel, who could have personally benefitted immensely if NIL had been enacted during his playing days, had these extremely perceptive thoughts.

“Scheduling is one of the biggest challenges these programs are going to face,” Kash said. “Playing college athletics at the Division I level, no matter what sport it is, is a full-time job—plus going to school. When you’re not in class or with tutors or anything that requires your academic attention, you’re in practice, you’re in treatment, you’re in extra study hall, you’re watching extra film. You’re literally doing everything you can to be the best player you can be…I don’t really know how you could do [NIL activities] during the season.”

“It really just comes down to the administrators, the head coaches, the team captains to say, ‘Hey, this is great. We get to make a little extra coin off our name now. But remember why we’re here. Remember that we still play for the University of Kentucky, we still play for Coach Stoops, and we still play for one another.’”

College coaches, like Calipari and Stoops, have always harped endlessly about player distractions—friends and family whispering in your ear, girlfriend problems, impending career choices, and mental health challenges all vying for those precious 24 hours in your day. NIL could easily become the TOP distraction. Remember, these ARE student-athletes. Their focus needs to be in the classroom and on the court—not on making money, analyzing contracts, and paying taxes. They don’t need the stress of another full-time job. They should enjoy their college experience—perhaps the best four years of their life—without having to compete with fellow teammates for a table at the next car dealership giveaway.

The truth is that NIL will not be a good thing for the majority of student-athletes. It’s an additional headache that will simply not be worth it.

It certainly won’t be worth it if it messes up my Football Saturdays, my College World Series, or my NCAA tournament. Everyone agrees that there are already plenty of outside influences affecting the purity of the college game. Welcome now to the Wild Wild West. NIL could be like that thief in the night, signaling for all of us the beginning of the end.

Granted, for those very few uber-talented student-athletes who are graced with wise outside counsel, these next few months could provide for a significant personal financial windfall. More power to them.

My prayer is that for the rest of us mortals in the sporting world, NIL proves eventually to be much ado about nothing.

My Most Embarrassing Easter Moment

My Most Embarrassing Easter Moment

When I was in elementary school, my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Lyons, held a class activity during Holy Week that traumatized me for life. She called each of us, individually, to the front of the room and asked us an apparently simple—but loaded—question: What does Easter mean to you?

Yikes! For an immigrant kid from Taiwan who had rarely been to church, the prospect of making a fool of myself discussing spiritual issues in front of my American peers nearly had me wetting my pants.

I remember sitting agonizingly at my desk waiting my turn. As the students with names beginning with letters at the front of the alphabet took their spot at the podium, I listened intently for something I could plagiarize. However, statements like “Jesus died for us” and “the blood of the lamb” made absolutely no sense to me. It’s as if they were speaking a completely foreign language.

Having no way to fake it, I hesitatingly made my way up toward the teacher’s desk before my classmates’ laser-focused eyes. To make matters worse, Mrs. Lyons prefaced my impending humiliation by enthusiastically exclaiming, “I can’t wait to hear John’s answer. He’s from China. Class, listen up. This should be quite interesting.”

After all these years, just replaying this horrific unfolding horror scene still sends shivers up my spine. Much of it remains repressed for my personal self-preservation, but I do remember mumbling something about hunting for eggs and getting gifts from a rabbit.

Immediately afterward, the incredulous looks on my classmates’ faces and the guffaws that followed my “answer from hell” shamed me to no end. Red-faced and nearly in tears, I was exposed on the spot as a heathen among believers—a true alien from another land who knew nothing about Jesus, Chevrolet, or the American way. Mrs. Lyons politely dismissed me, but I knew my reputation was toast.

Well, over a half a century later, I’m now looking to redeem myself.

In the midst of another Holy Week, it’s time for all of us to ponder the question: What does Easter mean to us?

Surprisingly, it’s still a difficult question to answer. Even after years of studying the Bible, listening to countless sermons, and examining church doctrine, I’m not sure I could give a better response than my eight-year-old self caught in the crossfire.

Ask me to explain the significance of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, and you’ll probably get an incoherent word salad of religious gobbledygook. Quiz me about what goes on at a Seder meal or Tenebrae services, and my primitive answers would no doubt make you cringe—just like Mrs. Lyons when I described my encounter with the Easter Bunny.

Here’s the one thing, however, I now know about Easter that I didn’t know back then. On this coming Easter Sunday—and every upcoming Easter Sunday—believers like myself will acknowledge and commemorate the moment that Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior, rose from the grave and conquered death.

That’s important to know. In fact, as Christians, that may be THE most important thing to acknowledge about our faith. Everything else about Jesus—his miracles, his ministry, his morality—they all become secondary by comparison. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

It’s only through the resurrection—through the conquering of death—that our faith has significance. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

Because Jesus conquered death, those of us who believe have now been given eternal life. That magnanimous act is still hard for me to comprehend. There’s a lot about grace and truth that goes into the explanation behind it. We can talk about that some more at another time. But given my cultural background, I’ve eagerly accepted that precious gift. I hope you have too.

Remember, regardless of your pedigree or heritage, that same gift of salvation is free to all. I promise it’s the best gift you’ll ever receive from anybody—rabbit or otherwise.

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.     

A Slanty-Eyed Man Responds to Dr. Seuss Controversy

A Slanty-Eyed Man Responds to Dr. Seuss Controversy

First it was Mr. Potato Head. Now it’s Dr. Seuss. We’re definitely living in some crazy times.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, two of my childhood icons have been in the news lately. OK, maybe Mr. Potato Head doesn’t qualify for iconic status, so we’ll save his predicament for another time. But Dr. Seuss under attack? C’mon Man!

Like many of you, I grew up learning to read with Dr. Seuss. To this day, I can still recite parts of The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham by rote. What’s more, I can also picture all the vivid illustrations that accompanied the catchy text jumping at me off the printed page. Just thinking right now about all those warm and fuzzy childhood narratives puts me immediately in my happy place.

So, imagine my surprise when I heard accusations that people were branding Dr. Seuss (whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel) as a racist and banning some of his books due to racist imagery. My immediate reaction was disbelief—almost a “you gotta be kidding me” type of denial akin to being told that the Kentucky Wildcats would be 8 – 15 this year.

I hastily started investigating, and sure enough, I discovered that what I had heard was true. The company that oversees the publishing of his works confirmed that six books—If I Ran the Zoo, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra! Scrambled Eggs and Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer—would never again see the light of day because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

Now I was really curious. Inquiring minds want to know, right? What in the world was hurtful and wrong about my beloved Dr. Seuss?

My curiosity was piqued even greater when word leaked out that there were demeaning Asian stereotypes peppered throughout these publications. Now you really had me going. This was personal. You talk about a man on a commando mission. I had to get to the bottom of this.

You see, I’m an Asian American—a full-blooded Chinese dude who has lived in the United States for over half a century. I was born in Taiwan and moved with my family to America at the age of four as my parents went in search of the American dream. Growing up in Kentucky in the 60s and 70s, there simply weren’t many Asian folks around. In fact, I seem to recall being only one of two “Orientals” in my elementary school and, for a time, I was the only “Chinaman” in my junior high school class.

You know how mean kids can be. They subjected me to every racial taunt and limerick known to mankind. My classmates pulled their eyes back and bucked their teeth out ad nauseum. They spewed nonsense in a sing-song manner as if I understood what they were saying. I was called “Chink” and “Gook” as I went to the bathroom and lined up for lunch in the school cafeteria. I even had to lay low on Pearl Harbor Day—even though I wasn’t Japanese. You get the picture.

So what was Dr. Seuss saying about Asian people that was so horrific that his books would be taken off the shelf?

Upon further review, I discovered that it was indeed his character portrayals that came under critical fire. The Mulberry Street book evidently included a drawing of a Chinese man with slits for eyes. It also contained a supposed controversial illustration of an Asian man holding chopsticks and a bowl of rice whom the text called “A Chinese man Who eats with sticks.” If I Ran the Zoo describes Asian characters as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell.”

Excuse me? I’ve been subjected to far worse cultural derision in my neighborhood potlucks. Besides, all those descriptive examples are kind of true for me. My sloping eyes do often give me a different slant on things, I love eating rice, and I’m a whiz at using chopsticks. In fact, I’m damn proud of my Asian heritage. I’m not offended at all by diverse appearances or customs, nor do I think that you should be either. I bet you can’t spell G-U-A-N-G-X-I.

Look, I get it. Stereotypes are often insulting and demeaning. At the very least, they can lead to some pretty awkward moments. I can’t tell you how many times well-meaning adult acquaintances have unintentionally said something culturally insensitive or hurtful right before my eyes. Left unchallenged, these inadvertent racial gaffes can grow into something far more insidious. The recent increase in violent acts against Asian Americans (or anybody for that matter) is disturbing to me. As part of God’s master creation, we should never face discrimination based on the color of our skin. Red or yellow, black or white, we are all precious in his sight. Those who think otherwise need to be educated and/or held accountable.

But let’s not all go ballistic over a few descriptive words penned at a time when there was far less scrutiny about such things. Let’s not overreact for the sake of twenty-first century political correctness. Geisel’s writing was a product of a different time. Plus, there’s no compelling proof that the guy was racist at all. Just the opposite by many accounts. For good measure, his family and the company that preserves his work have acknowledged the errors, they’ve apologized, and they’ve agreed to take these books in question out of circulation.

So what’s the big deal? It pains me to see the good doctor under attack. There’s no need to skewer the brilliant man’s legacy. You have to think that those who are doing so are just piling on.

Now I hear that many school districts have also decided to no longer promote Dr. Seuss’s books on Read Across America Day. On Monday, President Joe Biden also refrained from mentioning Dr. Seuss in his Read Across America Day proclamation.

That’s disappointing to hear. Because in this world we live in, nobody’s perfect. You have to take the good with the bad. And with all that Dr. Seuss has done—gifting us all those formative hours spent learning to read, broadening all our imaginations in his colorful make-believe world, and leaving us all with those impressionable flashback memories of Horten Hears a Who, or The Lorax, or How The Grinch Stole Christmas—his good FAR supersedes any hint of bad that troublemakers are trying to stir up.

From my slanty-eyed perspective, Dr. Seuss’s stories will always remain Pulitzer worthy.

And here’s a final piece of world-wide truth for citizens around the globe. Chopsticks work better than forks.

It Is Well with My Soul

It Is Well with My Soul

When my church offered a spiritual wellness checkup at the beginning of the year, I was intrigued. Similar to what an annual physical checkup does for your body, the wellness check was designed to assess the health of your inner spirit and relationship with God. Although I didn’t quite know exactly what that entailed, I had just listened to my pastor preach about the importance of a wholesome and healthy soul. With the pandemic and all, I was a bit confused about where my mind, body, or SOUL was taking me. So like a sheep being led to slaughter, I eagerly signed up.

No sooner had I received my email confirmation, I began having serious second doubts about the decision. Did I really want to bare my most intimate fears and failures in front of a church staff member that I barely knew? Would they ask me my underwear size? Would the interview be secretly recorded and somehow used against me?

Curiosity got the best of me, and I proceeded to fill out all the online forms. I was given a list of several of the church staff who would be conducting the wellness interviews and was asked to choose two of the ones I felt most comfortable in meeting with. Knowing the baggage I would be bringing, I surmised that I needed the heavy artillery right from the get-go—so I asked for a session with the big cheese himself, Pastor James Williams. I was given two options—in-person or Zoom. I chose the Zoom—I figured it provided an easier escape route if needed.

I was then told to expect a list of upcoming questions designed to facilitate the meeting with Pastor James. Immediately, my mind flashed to queries such as “Have you ever peed in a pool?” or “When was the last time you cheated on an exam?” or “How often do to you pretend to pick up after your pet?” I kid you not. I truly expected tough, cutting questions designed to measure every angle of my integrity, character, and moral fiber.

Fortunately for me, none of the survey questions were quite that pointed. Instead, I was asked to reflect on seven general statements designed to evoke a torrent of personal thought and self-evaluation.

  1. Describe how you feel close or connected to God?
  2. What gives your life meaning and purpose?
  3. How are you experiencing (or not) spiritual growth or witnessing God’s power?
  4. What areas of your life feel most vulnerable, uneasy, or wounded? When things are difficult, how do you find comfort and/or hope?
  5. What are your rhythms of work and rest? How is your physical health affecting your spiritual health?
  6. How are joy and celebration a part of your life?
  7. How do you hope to grow spiritually in the coming year?

Wow! My first impression was Fuhgeddaboudit. No way was I going to be able to answer these—much less talk about it in front of others. But, as I put in some actual thought to developing coherent responses, I realized there was a distinct method to all this madness.

There were no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. They weren’t designed to embarrass you or put you on the spot. They were simply conversation starters—a way for Pastor James and I to connect and shoot the breeze, as comfortably as if we were talking about the current trials and tribulations of UK Basketball.

I’m not going to go into the details of our conversation together. That’s between the two of us. I will say that the session lasted over an hour—probably a bit longer than we both had anticipated. We also hit on some intensely emotional topics geared toward hope and healing. I’ll daresay that a couple of suggestions Pastor James cast my way were semi-revelatory and outlandishly comforting—worth the price of admission alone.

I’ll confess, I’ve got a long way to go on my spiritual walk. It seems I keep making the same mistakes. Often times, it’s one step forward and two steps back. It’s terribly frustrating. I keep telling myself that I should know better by now.

But maybe that’s part of God’s master plan. He doesn’t expect you to be perfect all the time. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us. That’s his grace at work…and I’ve learned to be much more grateful for it as the years roll by.

Would I recommend a wellness checkup for everyone? Absolutely! If you’re still hesitant about signing up, I’d encourage you to at least explore those seven spiritual questions listed above. Better yet—especially if you’re already a part of Centenary United Methodist Church—you can sign up for the actual wellness appointment at www.lexchurch.com.

It’ll be the best investment you can make for your mind, body, and soul. I promise—you won’t even have to reveal your underwear size.

It’s Time To Dress It Up

It’s Time To Dress It Up

If the suit makes the man, then Coach John Calipari hasn’t been much of a man this year.

I’ll readily admit that I’m no fashionista. Although my hat game was strong during the ponytail era, I’ve never ever owned Armani suits or donned Gucci shoes. I do believe, however, in dressing for success.

That’s why, as an orthodontist, I usually attended patient consultations in a coat and tie. And why, in the early years of my new media gig covering sporting events, I frequently showed up in a three-piece suit. I wanted to represent my practice—and subsequently the media outlets for whom I wrote—in the most professional light possible in front of my patients, peers, and business clients.

I realize that coaching basketball games is different from working in a clinic, bank, or on Wall Street—but the optics of representing your company, your organization, or your university in a professional manner remain exactly the same. How you look matters. If you appear at company sponsored events unkempt and sloppily dressed, that’s a poor reflection of the people you represent.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that for the past few games, Coach John Calipari has been casually attired in a sport coat while ranting on the sidelines. Mind you, this was an actual upgrade from the track suit he wore during much of the preconference slate. To the chagrin of many in BBN, both blazer and windbreaker are no substitute for the regal pin-striped suit and tie we were all accustomed to seeing in years past.

I’m not saying the team struggles this year are directly related to the missing suit and tie on the sidelines, but as long as we’re all piling on, I thought I’d add fuel to the file.

Granted, Calipari is just a basketball coach, but he’s also the most famous face associated with the University of Kentucky. Just as you wouldn’t expect the leader of the free world to conduct business in sweats and tennis shoes, you shouldn’t expect the coach in charge of the program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball to be sloppily attired either—especially since his image is so prominently displayed across countless media platforms.

I’ve always perceived Coach Cal to be more image conscious than he lets on. Frankly, I was surprised he chucked his customary and formal game-time threads. Was it just a matter of a Covid-19 blip, or had he finally abandoned style for comfort in his old age? How does he feel coaches should be dressed on the sidelines?

“I would tell you whatever makes them comfortable,” he answered when I asked him directly. “No, I won’t do any suit and tie. But I needed to feel like I was coaching again. And I was kind of feeling like this was all pick-up basketball. I wanted to feel like I was coaching. That’s why I did it. I didn’t do it for any other reason. But I would tell any coach, ‘whatever makes you comfortable.’ Coaches dress different. If they’re comfortable in a sweat suit or a t-shirt or a pullover shirt, be comfortable. I’m just more comfortable with a sport coat and a pair of jeans—which is what I’ve been wearing.”

For all I care, Calipari can wear a bathrobe and bunny slippers during his time away from the university. But when he’s on company time—i.e. coaching during games—he needs to be attired professionally. I’d prefer the sartorial splendor of a Jay Wright or Jerry Stackhouse every single night, but I guess I can live with the sport coat and slacks. Just please don’t regress to Huggy Bear sweats or Mike Brey shorts.

On the Women’s Basketball side, I have no complaints. Former head coach Matthew Mitchell was certainly GQ worthy while strolling the sidelines. Current head coach Kyra Elzy continues the tradition by knocking it out of the park. Just like Coach Cal, however, when it comes down to what to wear during games, the first-year head coach feels as if it’s to each their own.

“As far as how people are dressed, it’s up to each individual,” Elzy explained. “To coach good, you want to feel good. You just wear what you’re comfortable with…I’m not dressing any different than I normally dress. Thank you for everybody watching.”

And therein lies the key. Remember, everybody’s watching. You’re a professional, a mentor to future generations, and a representative of the state university. Act like one. Be like one. Look like one. It matters more than you think.

When it Comes to Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine, Should Kentucky Basketball Players Cut Line?

When it Comes to Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine, Should Kentucky Basketball Players Cut Line?

The one thing we all agree on as a cultured society is that there’s a special place in Hell awaiting those who cut in line. We’ve all experienced it. You’re queued up at Kroger, or at the airport check-in counter, or ready to board a Disney World ride after a two-hour wait…and some goober with a FastPass suddenly bolts right in front of you.

Whether it’s a bathroom line—and you REALLY need to go—or you’re stuck in construction traffic and some idiot on a cellphone zips past you for a last-minute merge, alarms go off in our head warning us that we’ve somehow just been screwed.

Your blood pressure goes up. You stare at the perpetrators with disdain. You question when the cosmic laws of karma will finally kick in and teach these elitist snobs a lesson they’ll never forget.

This immutable law of “waiting your turn in line” was exactly why Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari was so quick to clarify his statements the other day regarding his players getting preferential treatment during the Covid crisis.

“The safest place for all these athletes is on our campuses,” Calipari said initially when asked about the possibility of a shutdown to the basketball season. “Most of us have hospitals, whether they’re in our town or somewhere close by, if something does happen. And they move to the front of the line and get the best care.

That’s not breaking news. We’re all accepting of the fact that UK basketball players are treated by a different standard than the rest of us commoners. They’re coddled, pampered, and often worshipped like deities. First-class charter flights, five-star hotels, and the best medical care that money can buy. It’s all part of the scholarship package enticing them to come.

That’s not all. If they come to UK, these players will never have to wait for a table at a restaurant either. The occasional comped meal, front-row concert tickets, and all the swag you care to muster are simply par for the course—universally accepted perks for being able to dribble and shoot (although with this team, the jury is still out on whether they can indeed dribble or shoot).

So why, then, did Calipari feel the need for clarification?

“I want to be very clear,” he tweeted out shortly after he made his initial statement. “Our guys are not jumping to the front of the line if we have any health issues. I could have said it better. What I mean is these kids are better off here because of the access to our hospitals being close by and because we can monitor them as a staff.”

Say what? We all know UK basketball players go to the front of the line whenever they have health issues. So why did Calipari say they didn’t? Does he really want us to believe that Terrence Clarke had to call for an appointment when he recently tweaked his ankle? Would Olivier Sarr really have to take a number and sit in a crowded waiting room if his tooth abscessed? Of course not. When it comes to health care issues, they’re shuttled immediately to the front of the line.

With the news of the first shipments of the Coronavirus vaccine being distributed as we speak, a more pertinent medical issue popped into my head. I wondered where the current UK basketball players will rate when it comes to getting inoculated. Will they jump to the front of the line? Perhaps a better question is should they jump to the front of the line.

The answer depends on who they’re jumping over. If it’s over the first responders, other critical medical personnel, or the elderly, then the answer is a resounding “no way!” It’s crucial that our society protect those on the front lines and those who are most vulnerable. Calipari is right on point here. To jump in front of those folks would be a blatant travesty of justice. If that happens, I’ll be the first to scream in protest.

Perhaps a more difficult question is should the UK players cut in front of someone like you or me?

I’m a relatively healthy guy, but I am approaching the age of vulnerability. I’m a cancer survivor, my blood pressure and sugar levels are higher than I want them to be, and I do my share of long-distance travel on airplanes. In other words, I could really benefit from getting vaccinated, and getting vaccinated early on in the process.

But I’m also exactly the kind of guy who’ll probably get bumped by the UK players. Because in the high-stakes world of college sports, they’re deemed more valuable than an “average-Joe” like me. So they’ll most likely get their shot in the arm first.

Surprisingly, I’m OK with that. I understand that life’s not fair. It never has been, and I’ve come to accept some of life’s inequalities—especially when UK basketball players are involved. I’m even guilty of hero worship myself. When I ran my dental practice, UK players always got preferential treatment if they came to see me. It wasn’t always the right thing to do. It certainly wasn’t fair to my other patients. But it’s part of human nature. I loved my Wildcats and was always eager to show my appreciation for the pride and joy they brought me.

And I think that’s a key to this decision-making process of when the players should get vaccinated. Kentucky Basketball is important to a heck of a lot of people in the Commonwealth. It creates a lot of happiness in a year where joy is hard to find. It provides a much-needed jolt of serotonin to our dopamine deprived brains. We need the players to stay healthy so that the season can be played out. It’s important to the overall economy, but even more critical to our individual psyches.

John Calipari quips that he hasn’t been wrong since 1978. Well, he’s wrong here. His players are going to cut line when it comes to the vaccine. They already do it when it comes to other medical and social issues. In our sports-obsessed culture, they’re treated as VIPs. Most of us are fine with their preferential treatment.

Just don’t insult our intelligence by denying that it happens. 

Press Box Humor is No Joking Matter

Press Box Humor is No Joking Matter

It’s kind of scary when you think about it. In this ever-colliding world of social media and political correctness, we’re all just one mis-uttered word away from crashing and burning. Just ask Thom Brennaman.

By now, everyone has heard the replay of the Cincinnati Reds broadcaster using a homophobic slur during his call of the Reds versus Kansas City Royals game last week. The fact that Brennaman didn’t know the mic was hot doesn’t really matter. Nor does the fact that he issued an apology shortly thereafter. The damage was done. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. As far as his career with the Reds is concerned, most people I’ve talked to think he’s toast.

But should society be so quick to judge? What about forgiveness? In my new gig working with people in the broadcasting profession, I’ve learned that everyone brandishing that microphone is nowadays acutely aware of slipping up and saying something stupid, vulgar, or offensive—spewing out an on-air comment so galling that it costs them their career.

I’m not here to defend Thom, but there is a culture among media people that’s similar to a locker room. I’ve felt it personally in the press box. Everyone, including myself, wants to belong—to be accepted as one of the boys. As you know, for an announcing team to “click,” there has to be a natural camaraderie between the participants in the broadcast booth. It’s why we all tune in to Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro calling the Kentucky games. They’ve developed that in-studio comfort level that Dick Gabriel of Big Blue Insider explained to me the other night on his show. It’s the same comfort level banter between Michael Bennett and Shannon the Dude that makes our Just the Cats hour so entertaining.

“What comes on in broadcast booths during commercial breaks is at times like a locker room,” confirmed Alan Cutler, my soon-to-be published co-author, and the former long-time host of the Cincinnati Bengals Radio Network. “Sometimes it’s very funny. And sometimes there are things said that shouldn’t be said. I’ve never heard anything like what Thom said, but I’ve heard plenty of things that NEVER could be broadcast.”

Regardless, Thom should have known better. His actions were wrong and what he said was not funny and deeply offensive. He probably got a bit too comfortable in his exalted status as Reds radio kingpin and thought he was above the law. He suddenly forgot that it’s now 2020 and not 1984. Times have changed, and multiple segments of American society remain ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. As Governor Andy has scolded us all ad nauseum during the pandemic, “You cant’ be doing that.”

So what do we make of all of this? Thom says that he’s a man of faith. So am I, and so are many of you who are reading this. Should we forgive him? The Bible tells us “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” But more importantly, it also challenges us to do better. “Let us not love with words or speech but with action and in truth,” said the Apostle John. Action and truth is the only way we can bring proper healing to this divisive mess of a country we’re in.

In his on-air apology, Thom claims that’s not who he is. Well, then show us—not with mere empty spoken words, but with sincere heartfelt action. Because we don’t really know what’s in his heart, Thom needs to do something radically productive to make a difference. He can apologize all he wants to his bosses and his fans, but he has to first reach out and embrace the LGBTQ community in some unprecedented way. He has to act in a manner which earns their forgiveness and demonstrates his repentance before a righteous God. After all, if you don’t show love to others, then you’re not a true Christ follower.

Thom has a ton of equity in the professional bank. He’s worked as a successful broadcaster for Fox Sports for nearly two decades. He has a strong family pedigree and a personal reputation to match. If he can now just humble himself to act in a fashion that earns him kudos directly from the community he has disparaged, it’ll be a heck of a lot easier for everyone else watching on the sidelines to forgive him also. If sincere, it’ll also go a long way toward personal redemption and restoring his professional life.

It’s his move. I’m hopeful he can do it. We should all be cheering him on.

Thanks to Pastor Randy Maynard for always keeping me accountable walking my talk, and for reminding me constantly of the powerful reach of a sports related platform. If you enjoy my writing, you can read more at JustTheCats.com, NolanGroupMedia.com, or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.