Archive for June, 2010

There’s only one thing to do when you’re down, kicked around and feeling sorrow for yourself:

Get out and look for opportunity.

Yes, Kansas City is taking a hit with the impending break-up of the Big 12 conference, and, yes, business is going to be a little slower, at least for a while, at the Power & Light District.

But I think KC Star columnist Sam Mellinger was too bleak — too defeatist — in his assessment of the sporting landscape in Friday’s paper. Mellinger, in case you haven’t read it, called Friday “our darkest sports hour.”

Mellinger wrote: “Right or wrong, sports are a huge part of a city’s identity, and getting punched in the gut is now as familiar as humidity, potholes and bad public schools. If this is the day our college sports scene is forever diminished, how could it not be our darkest sports hour?”

Well, Mellinger didn’t make much of a case for Kansas City, as a whole, being down and out, did he? I mean, humidity, potholes and bad schools? A lot of cities have those drawbacks…and a lot more. In his hand wringing, Mellinger failed to take into account the bigger picture, the overarching reality: Kansas City is a great city and has been for a long time.

Kansas City has endured bad fires, bad floods, ice storms, the collapse of the Hyatt skywalks, the loss of professional sports franchises (baseball, basketball and hockey), the departure of the FFA and the NCAA, many years of  losing Kansas City Chiefs teams, and, now, Mark Funkhouser. And yet, it remains a great city. Why? Because we have a storied history, an indomitable spirit, old and new money, and tens of thousands of young people who are out there scraping and scrapping, determined to succeed and have fun along the way.  

I remember so well how Emanuel Cleaver, after being elected mayor in 1991, almost singlehandedly threw aside the pall of dullness that had settled over Kansas City during the 12 long years that Richard Berkley was mayor. I remember Cleaver standing at the podium in the City Council chamber and, more than once, inveighing the council to push for bigger and better things.

“This isn’t some podunk town along I-70,” Cleaver would say, resoundingly, “this is Kansas City!”

And that brings me back to where I started. Opportunity. Mellinger noted that Kansas City’s chances of landing an NBA or NHL team for the Sprint Center have never been lower. Well, we already had one of each (the Kings and the Scouts in the 1970s), and neither worked out. I don’t think much has changed in that regard, either. So, forget it. It’s too big a roll of the dice.

But there is a professional sport that could easily be in Kansas City’s range: women’s professional basketball. The season is short, running from about mid-May to mid-August. The salaries are relatively low ($803,000 salary cap per team), which makes it relatively affordable for an owner. Plus, women’s basketball is on the rise. 

What we need is someone (or some group) who has fairly deep pockets and loves women’s basketball to step up and take a chance. So, let’s stop the hand wringing over the loss of the Big 12. Now is the time for the Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation, city leaders and influential commentators like Mellinger to start stirring up interest in something new, something untried in Kansas City but with a decent reasonable for success. I really believe that with enthusiastic and creative ownership and management, the WNBA could do well here.

Hey, Tulsa got a team this year, the Shock. Tulsa…which, in my opinion, is little more than a podunk town along I-44.

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Like many other Big 12 fans, I’ve struggled with the question of whether Missouri should switch to the Big Ten Conference, if an invitation is extended. 

In a flash of grammatical and linguistic obfuscation, I found my answer a couple of days ago. In Saturday’s Star, sports writer Blair Kerkhoff reported on e-mail correspondence between two Big Ten officials that shed light on where the Big Ten might be headed in its quest to expand from the current 11 schools. (I know its odd that the Big Ten has 11 schools, but the Big Ten is a brand name that probably won’t change, even if it ends up with 15 members.) 

It was actually the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch that got its hands on the e-mails, and Kerkhoff properly credited the Dispatch. The e-mails were between Ohio State president Gordon Gee and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. In his message, Gee informed Delany that he had spoken to a University of Texas official, who had told him that if Texas was asked to join the Big Ten it would have a “Tech” problem. The problem, seemingly, was that Texas would be hard pressed to pull up stakes and leave fellow Big 12 member Texas Tech in the lurch. 

Jim Delany

Here’s where it gets interesting, and curious. Delany — remember, he’s the Big Ten commissioner — responded like this, and I’m quoting word for word, letter for letter: “We are fast-tracking it but need to know the $ and observe contracts. Also need to make sure we leverage this to increase chances of hr additions. Finally double chess # of moving parts including not harming brand as we executy.”  

The first sentence, which is a sentence, is pretty clear. The second, although not really a sentence because it lacks a subject, is nevertheless decipherable. With “hr,” he apparently was referring to “home run” additions to the Big Ten, and Texas would fill the bill. But that last sentence — lacking both subject and verb — left sports writers throughout the Midwest scratching their heads.  

Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune had this to say: “Is ‘executy’ a typo for ‘execute’ — or some altered version of ‘extra cutey’? And what’s with the chess reference? Either Big Ten power brokers have their own language, or Delany is all thumbs.” 

Here’s my thought. One of the reasons that Missouri reportedly is interested in the Big Ten — besides an influx of money into its athletic programs — is that the Big Ten schools, which include, among others, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State and Illinois, generally are a cut above the Big 12 schools academically. So, you would expect the commissioner to be a pretty sharp fellow, wouldn’t you? 

From his e-mail, however, he looks like a guy who butchers the King’s English and doesn’t edit his writing before hitting the “send” button. As a person who respects the nuances of language and grammar, I’ve always understood the importance of double checking what I write before hitting “send.” Of course, I’ve made mistakes and sent messages that I wish I could have back for further editing, but I don’t think I’ve messed up a message of great sensitivity, like Delany apparently did. It’s best to assume that any e-mail you send could end up in the wrong hands and could come back to embarrass you.   

So, that does it for me: Missouri should stay in the Big 12 and avoid the lure of the league where the commissioner can’t spell and has trouble fashioning a complete sentence.

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About this damned airport — Kansas City International, or as I know it, Kansas City Insipid Airport.

On Tuesday, June 1, The Star’s Randolph Heaster had a front-page story saying that reduced traffic at KCI — only 42 of 63 gates are being used — has airport officials looking more seriously at the possibility of scrapping the three-terminal set-up and going to a single terminal.

The story prompted at least two letters to the editor in The Star, both stressing how “convenient” and “traveler-friendly” Kansas City Insipid is.

I say balderdash. KCI is the dullest, dreariest major airport I’ve ever seen, and it’s horribly inefficient as far as check-in, security and concessions. A move to a single terminal — an inevitability — can’t happen soon enough for me. 

A new, all-in-one terminal would inject energy into Kansas City, just as construction of the Power & Light District energized downtown. When you’re going after conventions and out-of-town visitors, you have to get people’s attention the moment they come off the jetway and take in their new, temporary surroundings. 

It wouldn’t surprise me if the people who prattle on about KCI’s convenience are among those who complain about continued references to Kansas City’s “cowtown” roots. Well, I think we should be proud of our heritage and play it up. It’s distinctive, and it’s us. But it doesn’t mean we’re dull and dowdy.

That cowtown past is part of what piqued my curiosity about Kansas City when I pulled into town — driving my ’59 white Pontiac — in the fall of 1969. I remember going downtown to the Towne Cinema, I believe it was, and seeing the John Wayne movie “True Grit.” Maybe it was the movie and maybe it was just me — young and single and on the cusp of life on my own — but as I stood on the street later that afternoon and watched people pour out of the office buildings, I got a sense of a city with a pulse, a city where you could have a good time and set your own pace.  

But that’s not the sense that travelers get when they arrive at KCI, is it? No. You step off the plane and into the terminal and you’re usually hit with the sight of a nearly empty concourse and the sounds of luggage wheels on marble. It doesn’t exactly cultivate a sense of action and excitement.

That’s what I want my city to have — a sense of excitement. As people get off the plane and check out their surroundings, I want them to be thinking, “All right, now, this is looking promising. What adventures are in store in this former cowtown?”

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Two things before leaving for our daughter’s graduation on Saturday from Knox College in Galesburg, IL. (Whoo-hoo!)

:: KU athletic director Lew Perkins says, “I’m the victim.”

What a joke.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. Perkins makes $900,000 a year, but he accepted a free loan of $15,000 to $35,000 in exercise equipment for four years in return for prime Allen Fieldhouse seats for the equipment provider.

Then, after the school’s former director of sports medicine threatened to go public with details of the swap unless he was compensated for the cost of storing the equipment the last year or so, Perkins went to the cops.

Not only was Perkins’ acceptance of the loan unethical, it was also illegal, in all probability. The law states that “no person subject to the provisions of this section shall solicit or accept any gift,economic opportunity, loan, gratuity, special discount or service provided because of such person’s official position.”

You know what gets me about situations like this? In many, many cases, those caught on the take are people who could whip out a check and write it for however much is needed to conduct an honest and above-board transaction. Perkins could write the check and forget about it, probably without even having to transfer funds from his brokerage to his checking account. 

But, no, he takes the freebie. I guess Perkins is so used to having people throw gratuities at him in return for low-down, center-section seats that he couldn’t push himself away from the table.

Low-down is the right term, all right. But now I’m not talking about seat location; I’m talking about Perkins’ morals. 

Last week, if you’ll recall, Perkins said, “I accept responsibility” (but not full responsibility) for a multi-million-dollar ticket scam that occurred under his nose. Now, the other shoe has fallen, and I don’t see any way that Perkins can survive. I say he’s gone by Independence Day.

:: Talk about victims.

How about the 25-year-old man and 21-year-old woman who were ambushed behind Charlie Hooper’s in Brookside last Friday morning? Two thugs beat the couple with handguns and kicked them mercilessly, even though the couple handed over their belongings.

The woman suffered a broken jaw and vertebra and three skull fractures. She was initially listed in critical condition. I don’t know what it is now, but from what I read on a KCTV-5 online story, she’s been able to communicate with police. 

The cowardice of the perps is infuriating. There was no reason whatsoever to harm the couple. And to kick and stomp on the woman? Two pieces of space junk named Durrell D. White and Andre D. Valentine have been charged. The victims identified their attackers from photo lineups, according to the KCTV- 5 story. 

I’ve been waking up early in the morning, thinking about this case, thinking mostly about the woman…a girl, really. Thinking about her parents, other relatives, friends, who have to suffer along with her. Thinking about my own, beautiful, 22-year-old daughter and how vulnerable she — and almost any other young woman — would be to such an attack. 

The unfairness of it and the inability of anyone to change what has already happened make me rage against fate…and a little bit against God. And yet, at the same time, I pray. Please, God, let both victims make complete recoveries; help them and their families to cope with the physical and psychological injuries they have suffered at the hands of  unthinking, unsympathetic individuals. I ask You, why does the world have to be like this? I ask You, don’t let anything like this happen again…And yet, I fear, I know, it will. Damn!

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Talk about a club that’s hard to get into.

Whew. The priesthood. Yes, that club that is dying even faster than daily newspaper subscribers.

The priesthood, and the rigorous psychological gauntlet one has to survive to get in, was the subject of an astonishing front-page story in The New York Times on Monday. The story, written by Paul Vitello, focused on the screening of seminarians in the wake of the long-running priest sexual-abuse scandal.

And let it be noted that the enhanced interrogation techniques for prospective priests came about as a result of the sexual-abuse scandal of 10 or more years ago. With the issue re-heating this year in Europe and the U.S., the interviews probably will become even more intrusive, if that’s possible.

You can’t get in the priesthood if you’re gay. You used to be able to but no more. And you can’t get in if you’re heterosexual and you’re sexually active. You can get in, however, if you’re straight, provided that you are “capable of abstaining from genital activity” and you have a good strategy “for managing sexual desire.” 

Here are some of the questions that candidates for the priesthood have to answer:

— When was the last time you had sex? (The preferred answer is three years, at least.)

— What kind of sexual experiences have you had?

— Do you like pornography?

— Do you like children?

— Do you like children more than you like people your own age?

Those are just the general questions. The story goes on to say that most candidates for the priesthood are likely to be asked about “masturbation fantasies, consumption of alcohol, relationships with parents and the causes of romantic breakups.” 

Msgr. Steven Rosetti, a psychologist at Catholic University who has screened seminarians, was quoted as saying, “We are looking for two basic qualities: the absence of pathology and the presence of health.”

Well, I’m just not sure what answers to the above questions would be considered healthful, in the church’s view. For example, if  a prospective priest were to say that he had not had sex in five years, I guess he would get a check mark (good) from the interviewer. But if he was being interviewed for just about any other job and the interviewer cold ask that question, what kind of margin notes do you think the interviewer would make? Maybe…”Yikes!” or “Weirdo!”

And suppose you were to say that, no, you don’t like children. How would the priesthood police rate that answer? Good? 

It looks to me like the questions form a maze from which there is no reasonable way out. Or, as Harvard Divinity School professor Mark D. Jordan observed in The Times’ article, “A criterion like this may not ensure that you are getting the best candidates. Though it might get you people who lie or who are so confused they do not really know who they are.”

Ah, the perfect priest!

God, help the Catholic Church. Please.

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