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Uppermost Black Male Scholar/Athletes Celebrated

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By Leland Stein III –

LOS ANGELES – The National Alliance of African American Athletes (The Alliance) recently hosted its 21st Annual Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Award at a Black Tie Gala at the prestigious Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California.

The Watkins Award honors the premier African-American scholar-athlete and is the most celebrated award of its kind in the United States. In recent years, the Watkins Award selection process implemented by scholars from around the country, have narrowed the field down to the “Elite Five”; however, this year’s collective was so dynamic that the selection committee for the first time implemented an “Elite Six.” After an exhaustive nation-wide selection process that saw the "Elite Six" produce comprehensive essays, letters of recommendation, demonstrated community and school service, official transcripts and documented athletic prowess, the final six was feted in a Heisman like affair.

The Watkins Award is a means for recognizing exceptionally talented African-American male athletes who, by their example, help promote high academic standards and a commitment to community service. But most importantly, destroy the perceived stereotype that African-American males are just athletes, who do not value education.

Brought to Los Angeles, six of the nation's top high school athletes joined the noteworthy fraternity of Watkins Family scholar.

“This group of young men is indeed worthy of this award,” keynote speaker Stephen A. Smith of ESPN said. “They represent everything good about athletes and academics.”

Added Everette Pearsall, Executive Director of The Alliance: "The 2012 Watkins Award features an incredible year of fine student athletes. Each of these young men are well equipped for success academically. We are proud that we are continuing to recognize and honor the premier African-American scholar/athletes.”

This year's “Elite Six” are:

Headed to USC is super lineman Zach Banner from Lakewood, Wash. He has a 3.5 GPA, is a winner of the Distinguished Scholar Award and is a volunteer for Tacoma Sports Association, middle school mentor, Ignite Mentor, US Army All American, and 1st Team USA Today.

The top defensive back in the country and Stanford signee, Alexander Carter, from Ashburn, VA hoist a lofty 4.1 GPA. He is a People to People Student Ambassador, National Youth Leadership Council member, volunteer at Christmas Gifts for Abused Women, volunteer little league coach and reader to elementary school students, and, U.S. Army All-American.

Set to continue his education at Purdue, Jonathan Curry from Phoenex City, AL has earned a 4.0 GPA. He is a member of the National Honor Society, National Society of High School Scholars, Who’s Who among All-American Scholars, a Special Olympics volunteer, and Top 16 ESPN tight end.

Signed with Georgia, Keith Marshall, Raleigh, NC posted an outstanding 4.3 GPA. He is a member of the National Honor Society, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, Pop Warner assistant, a volunteer to feed the homeless, is the No. 1 rated running back in the nation, State Champion in 100-meter dash, North Carolina Player of the Year, and Under Armour All American.

Headed to Duke, Deion Williams, Long Beach, CA has a 3.7 GPA. He is a member of the National Honors Society, member of the National Leadership Forum, People to People Student Ambassador, member of the Honors Choir, All-State wrestler and one of the top linebackers in the nation.

Set to quarterback Florida State University, James Winston, Birmingham, AL posted an outstanding 4.0 GPA. He is an USA Today Scholar Athlete, academic excellence Honor Roll, Max Prep Sports Scholar Athlete, Hueytown community tutor and youth baseball instructor, rated No. 1 quarterback in the Nation USA Today, baseball All American, and Under Armour All American.

This year’s collective “Elite Six” is exceptional in every sense of the word. All are All-American athletes who continue to dispel the lingering notion that most African-American male student/athletes are not concerned with education, only the playing fields. They all combine scholarship, athleticism, community awareness and volunteerism to form at their young age the character of developing men that are primed to take a place in society as more than just athletes.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and at Twitter at LelandSteinIII

Bruins Goaltender's Snub of Obama is Not Acceptable?

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By Leland Stein III –

What has happened to civility in this country? Simple respect for your fellow humans has to be the real spirit behind the Constitution, even if you disagree with them . . . right? I think the founding Fathers wanted us to debate and have choices in competitive but civil discourse.

By now I’m sure that most know Boston Bruins' goaltender Tim Thomas elected not to go to the White House recently with his teammates, who were at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to be honored for their 2011 Stanley Cup championship.

At the White House, President Obama honored the hockey champions for their on-ice effort and for the Boston Bruins Foundation's off the ice charitable work which has donated more than $7 million to charities in New England.

The question is why did Thomas, the winner of the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender in the regular season and the playoff MVP last year give President Obama the cold shoulder, or as they say in the hood, give the Pres “the brush-off?”

Apparently the Bruins star goalie simply could not stand to be in the same room with America’s current President. The Flint, Michigan native back tracked after his rebuff hit the media airwaves, saying it wasn't about "politics or party" and yet he also took the time to slam the government for being "out of control," which sounds kind of political to me.

According to the Boston Herald, Thomas is a big fan of Glenn Beck expressing a secret wish to one day be a guest on his show. He is also a hunter and concerned about Second Amendment issues, has expressed his support for the Tea Party movement by wearing a mask emblazoned with “In God We Trust” on its front, and the Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me”) flag on its back panel.

Thomas released a statement via Facebook: “I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This was not about politics or party. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.”

It sure sounds like a Thomas Tea Party political rant to me, full of generalizations with hasty scare tactics in the face of evidence to the contrary. Still, I support anyone’s right to free speech and freedom of choice. But what has happened to agreeing to disagree, while still having cordial interaction?

Is it any wonder that this country is so politically fractured when a bunch of guys can't agree to just get together and talk sports? What Thomas did was take a harmless event for and about his team and turned it into an event about himself. It was a selfish act, plain and simple, but more importantly, it was bad manners and a slap in the face to the leader of the free world.

What has happened to civilized conduct, courtesy, politeness or a simple polite act or expression? Wasn’t Obama’s acknowledgement of the Bruins a simple polite act? Shouldn’t a gesture like the President’s be received amicably and harmoniously?

Unfortunately in this reality TV era, civility and courtesy have and are taking a backseat to the antonyms of civility such as discourteousness, impoliteness, incivility, rudeness, surliness, and ungraciousness - all have engrained themselves in the spirit of too many Americans.

Thomas' self described non-political stance, is an unquestionable Tea Party position, and follows suit with the uncivil behavior that has been permeating America’s discourse concerning the Obamas. The socialist rhetoric, Hilter references, being called a liar during his State of the Union Address, reference to his wife’s body parts and on-and-on it goes.

Everyone has the right to voice their opinion, but as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick noted: “It just feels to me like we’re losing in this country basic courtesy and grace.”

“I didn’t think much of President Bush’s policies – two wars on a credit card, prescription drug benefit that we couldn’t afford, deficit out of control – but I always referred to him as ‘Mr. President.’ I stood when he came in the room,” Patrick said in a segment of “Ask the Governor”.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @ LelandSteinIII

Jeremy Lin Takes NBA by Storm

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By Leland Stein III –

Okay, I know I’m jumping on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon of hype, but I cannot help myself! It’s too much fun!

I’ve been covering the NBA as a writer for 20 years and I have never, ever seen a feel good story like this one.

Personally, I think Lin has been a victim of discrimination during his path to the NBA. Major collegiate programs and the NBA overlooked him because he is Asian American.

We all have personal bias no matter how hard we try to ignore it. When a recruiter or scout watched Lin, they saw an Asian kid, not an athlete. That clouded their ability to recognize he can penetrate and distribute the ball on a high level. Their eyes contradicted their bias and they couldn’t overcome it. If Lin were African-American he would have been drafted and very likely stuck on the bench of an NBA club.

Lin would have been better off born in China. But being a Chinese-American, Ivy-Leaguer from Harvard, outplaying Kobe Bryant, breaking the stereotypes has driven the New York fans and even the nation to join in the obsession that is “JLin”, "Linsanity", "Linspiration", and "Lincredible"!

Since entering the Knicks' starting lineup on February 4, Lin has averaged 26.8 points and eight assists on a true shooting percentage of 58 percent. The 13-15 Knicks have won all five games Lin has started.

What may have hampered Lin in the beginning has turned into his blessings. Being Asian has put him in another level of humanity. He has become an extremely hot ticket. In fact, in a recent road game the Minnesota Timberwolves sold standing-room only tickets to pack in an announced crowd of 20,232 -- the largest crowd here since 2004.

The first American-born NBA Chinese player is drawing the casual fan even in road games. I am one of those! After he busted 38 points against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, giving him 89 points in 3 starts, the most by a Knicks player in his first 3 starts with the team since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77, I was all on board the Lin train.

U.S. media outlets are not alone in the coverage of the undrafted point guard from Harvard. He has emerged from the end of the bench to become a worldwide phenomenon in a week. His Twitter followers have risen by 50,000 to a total of more than 155,000. The Asian media are so taken with Lin, crowding him at shoot-arounds and post-game.

The fact of the matter is the Knicks were in the NBA toilet and the coach, Mike D'Antoni, was in jeopardy of getting fired. New York came into the season with such high hopes with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, plus free agent signee center Tyson Chandler had all the Knicks faithful believing, hoping that this would be the season.

Smartly, Lin went to Harvard and has embraced his heritage. Former Rockets All-Star center Yao Ming was the subject of a documentary entitled "The Year of the Yao," and is single handedly the main reason basketball is the favorite sport in China.

Unexpectedly to me, Lin and Yao are actually very close friends. "I talk to Yao after every game," said Lin, who took part in Yao's foundation tour in Taiwan in August 2010. "He's taken me out to eat every time we're in the same city. He's obviously a role model and a big brother and mentor to me. We keep in touch all the time."

For nine seasons, Yao was the Asian ambassador of the NBA, but unfortunately various injuries cut his career short, and he retired last summer. With Asia the fastest growing NBA market, it is primes for Lin to take over that prestigious position. With the way word spreads around the world nowadays, especially through the advent of social media, that may have already happened.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

Raiders Making Right Moves

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Silver and Black are moving away from old habits that have gotten them nowhere

Gary Montgomery, BVN Staff –

True to their legendary Moniker, the Raiders are usually unpredictable and very secretive. Nearly two weeks after hiring former Bronco’s Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen as their 18th head coach, the team finally held a press conference to introduce him to the local media.

Raiders new General Manager, Reggie McKenzie started his coaching search as soon as he knew that he would be the Raider’s new General Manager. It didn’t take long for him to settle on Allen as his number one man.

Allen, 39, comes to the Raiders with an impressive track record and glowing reviews from nearly everyone he has worked with. As the Broncos defensive coordinator, Allen presided over a defense that was responsible for launching Tebowmania. Denver’s defense was so good that the team was able to start a second year quarterback-in-training and win games.

Allen is the teams seventh head coach since 2003. He is taking over a team that has not had a winning season or a playoff appearance since 2002. Allen is also the first coach to be hired by Mark Davis who took over team operations after the death of his legendary father in October.

The new coach replaces Hue Jackson who was let go after only one year. The Raiders were 8-8 under Jackson with their biggest win coming on the road in Houston one day after Al Davis’ death.

Sadly, a decade of despair has left the Raiders in a tough way. Hiring a defensive coach is really a no-brainer considering that the team finished 29th in total defense this season.

If that wasn’t enough, the Raiders are also the most penalized team in the league nearly every year. Although some are legacy penalties bestowed on them simply because they are the Raiders. Even so, they had 163 penalties last season that cost them a little over 1300-yards.

“The only way that you can create habits is through consistency, doing the same thing over and over. Well if you are committing penalties that might become a habit. We have got to develop the proper habits so that we’re not creating those penalties on a daily basis,” said Allen. “We are going to put a team out there that is going to play with passion, a team that is going to play with emotion, a team that is going to play with discipline,” said Allen.

Allen could be the future but his first decisions already concerns me. His immediate decision to go with Palmer as the starter is interesting for a number of reasons.

First, there is a long standing and sometimes respected tradition in sports that says a player should never lose his job to an injury. When starter Jason Campbell went down with a broken collarbone, he likely expected to at least compete for his job after he recovered.

Second, the Raiders have had success with recycled quarterbacks in the past. Rich Gannon being the most recent example. But Gannon was acquired from Kansas City after beginning his career as a Viking, Gannon took over Gruden’s offense and become league MVP. I can’t see that level of success with Palmer, a pure pocket passing quarterback.

And finally, everyone in the Raiders’ organization that had anything to do with the Palmer deal was sent packing. Which makes me wonder how popular that decision really was?

G. Montgomery can be reached at sports@blackvoicenews.com.

Former President Clinton Saves Desert Classic Humana Challenge

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Mark Wilson wins the Humana Challenge But Former President Clinton’s foundation Makes it happen

By Gary Montgomery, BVN Staff –

La Quinta – Already recognized as one of the great presidents of our time, Bill Clinton continues to impact lives in a multitude of ways.

His philanthropic body of work is unparalleled. Now, he can be credited with saving the 52-year-old Palm Springs (Bob Hope) Golf tournament and Keeping the PGA Tour in the Inland area all while promoting healthy living tips along the way.

The William J. Clinton Foundation, teaming with Louisville, Kentucky based health insurance provider Humana, added their names to the ailing Bob Hope Golf tournament this year and by all measures have rescued the event and restored a successful venture back to health, so to speak.

The event began in 1960 as the Palms Springs Desert Golf Classic. In 1965 Bob Hope signed on, lending his name and star power to the event. Over the years, the tournament grew based on the appeal and entertainment prowess of the legendary entertainer.

Since Hope’s death in 2003, the tournament’s fortunes have steadily waned with fewer and fewer top named touring professionals willing to sign up each year for the grueling and very unusual 5 day 90 hole format.

The PGA has been picking up the tab for several years with an agreement to continue for a couple more years before bailing out and allowing the tournament to fade into extinction. But apparently, the former President had developed a fondness for the event dating as far back as 1995, while in office; he and former presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bob Hope played a round together in what is believed to be the only time three presidents have played together in the same round.

“We are really glad to see him here. It (the tournament) was getting pretty sad,” said Steve Dectonin a business owner from San Juan Capistrano and a PGA West homeowner. “The last few years, it was hardly worth attending.”

The event has been struggling with sponsorship for years and the level off competition had fallen to near Nationwide Tour levels.

The former president’s participation has paid immediate dividends. There were twice as many sponsors and exhibits as in past years. The opening day field of 144 touring professionals included Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman, Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, David Toms, Ben Crane, Camilo Villegas, defending champion Jhonattan Vegas and a host of top 100 players. The most recognizable field in years.

The 144 participants in the celebrity field included Smokey Robinson, Alice Cooper, Julius Erving, Craig T. Nelson, Don Cheadale, Michael Bolton, Morgan Freeman and a host of other lesser know celebrities, executives, and really good amateur golfers.

President Clinton walked the fairways all week meeting and mingling with the golfers and fans, and generally being a gracious host.

The excitement really got started on Saturday’s morning when Clinton teed off with his partner Greg Norman, Scott McCarron and Humana Healthcare CEO Mike McCallister. Clinton’s galley quickly swelled to several hundred people following the former president during his round.

Clinton warned during his impromptu press conference on Friday that his golf might be rusty. The former president said that his heart surgery a few years ago changed his game. His best golf was back in 2001, shortly after leaving office. Since then, health problems and his busy schedule have hampered his game.

He was right. The former president started to tire after seven holes and put one on a roof top and another in the lake but he maintained his sense of humor and continued to entertain the huge crowd following him.

After every hole, Clinton worked the ropes, shaking hands and repeating “I’m glad to see ya” as if he was talking to old friends.

The celebrity round was shortened after gale force winds erupted knocking over everything in sight, halting play and ending the celebrity round. But, I doubt the former president was disappointed that he didn’t have to play 18 holes.

Final round play continued on Sunday morning under near perfect conditions. Third round leader Mark Wilson continued his assault on the field, fighting off Johnson Wagner, John Mallinger and Robert Garrigus by 2 strokes with a 24 under 264 to walk away with the 1.08 million purse.

Winning the Humana Challenge gave Wilson his fifth career PGA win and the 500 FedExCup points earned catapulted him to number 2 in the FedExCup point’s standings.

Wilson and the entire Inland region owe the former president a debt of gratitude. He says he plans to “put the tournament back on its feet and promote health and wellness. He plans to be here every year. “I signed on. First, I’m having a good time. And second, it’s my responsibility. Said the former president.

Changes like shorting the format from the old 5 day 90 hole format to the more traditional 72 hole format has already improved the field.

Bill Clinton has quickly become the face of the event and saved it from extinction. His star power has given it life and a new direction.

The former president has committed his foundation to 8 years participation and support for the event. And thankfully there are no politics involved.

G. Montgomery can be reached at sports@blackvoicenews.com

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BVN National News Wire