Archive for November, 2015

I keep my voodoo doll hidden away and only bring it out, along with the poison pin (not pen, mind you), when a really bad actor crosses the most sacrosanct of boundaries.

I can put up with political incorrectness, lies and shameless displays of arrogance. But mocking a person with a physical disability is the ultimate boundary breach.

Now, who on our political scene these days might be most likely to stoop to such depths?

That’s right, the liar, charlatan and ultimate loser Donald Trump.


Serge Kovaleski

At a rally last Tuesday, Trump appeared to ridicule the physical disability of a New York Times reporter named Serge Kovaleski, with whom Trump has a beef. (More about that in a minute.) Kovaleski has a chronic condition called arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his arms and hands.

Flailing his arms as if imitating Kovaleski’s disability, Trump said, “You oughta see this guy” and then went on to mimic Koveleski backing away from a story he wrote after the 9/11 terror attacks, when Kovaleski was a reporter for The Washington Post.

Trump has denied he was mocking Kovaleski, but take a look at the video that accompanies this CNN Money story and see what you think.

The backdrop is Trump and Kovaleski have been skirmishing for almost a week over Trump’s recent assertion that he watched thousands of people in New Jersey cheering the collapse of the World Trade Centers. Numerous fact-checkers have debunked that claim, and Trump, fighting back, pointed to a story co-written by Kovaleski on Sept. 18, 2001. The story said authorities had detained “a number of people” in Jersey City who had allegedly been seen celebrating the attacks. But no proof has emerged that any such celebrations actually occurred, and Kovaleski, when asked about the controversy, said, “I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating.”

Two days ago, Trump tweeted that he didn’t know Kovaleski and didn’t know what he looked like — even though Kovaleski had covered Trump when he was with the New York Daily News back in the 1980s and 1990s.

The capper to all this was Katrina Pierson, a Trump campaign spokesperson, asserting that Trump would never knowingly mock a person’s disability. For good measure, she added this laughable contortion of reality: “He has so much respect and care and compassion.”

…Yep, it’s time to dig out the voodoo doll and sharpen that poison pin. Don’t be surprised when Donald starts complaining in a few days about a disabling pain in his ass. We reporters have been making those happen for a long time.

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Some hither and yon reflections while waiting for the rain to stop…

:: We used to go to the Plaza lighting ceremony almost every year but haven’t been the last three or four. Sometimes it’s been the weather, sometimes circumstances and sometimes just lack of motivation. One thing that has seriously crimped my motivation was the addition of fireworks. The Plaza Association or Highwoods, or whoever, for some reason decided some years back that one of the most distinctive, heart-warming events you can find anywhere in the country wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own. I guess some executive sat bolt upright in bed one night and said, “What the Plaza lighting ceremony needs is some rootin’-tootin’ fireworks to work up the crowd”!

However it came about, it was a supremely stupid notion. In times past, when the lights went on, it was an “Ah, yes,”  moment that also illuminated the collective spirits of tens of thousands of people standing side by side. It capped off a day of quiet celebration and thanks-giving. And then, in the glow of the lights, many people would mill about, strolling around the Plaza and enjoying the communal uplift, before drifting back to their cars and heading home.

Now, those personal, calming moments that come with the turning-on of the lights are quickly followed by the ka-bang! ka-boom! ka-whoosh! of commercial fireworks, the kind you can see so many places these days, including after every Friday night home game at Kauffman Stadium.

I don’t know about you, but I’m good for maybe one fireworks display a year. And it should not be on Thanksgiving night at the Country Club Plaza.

It came out recently that Highwoods is putting the Plaza up for sale. Let’s hope the new owners have enough sense to turn back the hands of time as far as the Plaza lighting ceremony is concerned.

:: On the subject of overkill, how about those college bowl games? Twenty-five years ago, in 1990, there were 19 bowl games. This year there will be 41 — so many that, for the first time ever, teams with losing records will be invited to participate. Until two years ago, teams had to have a record of at least 6-6 to be eligible. This year there won’t be enough 6-win teams to cover all the bowls, so several schools with losing records will be invited.

What’s at work here? Why, TV, of course. In a Kansas City Star story a few days ago, college sports reporter Blair Kerkhoff said bowl-game saturation isn’t going away:

ESPN wants live programming around the holidays, and even the lowest profile bowl games rate well. Plus the market supports the enterprise. Communities benefit from the tourism and it’s a big week for local charities.”

Of course, I understand the need for all these bowl games…The holidays just wouldn’t be complete without the Potato Bowl, Dec. 22, in Boise…Put the TV in the oven at 325 for two hours and it’s done.

:: This headline on The New York times home page got my attention last night — “Don’t Feel Bad About ‘Bad Sex’.”

I immediately thought, “There’s a story I need to read.” I mean, don’t we all — or most of us, anyway — live in fear of the possibility of bad sex? Just about as disappointing as the Royals’ Game 7 loss to the Giants last year, right?

When I got to the story, though, I quickly realized I’d been duped, along with a couple of million other NYT readers, I’m sure.

The story was by a novelist named Manil Suri, who was writing about the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award, handed out by the Literary Review of London. The award is of interest to Suri because he was a “winner” last year.

…Sadly, then, I’m still waiting for the definitive (and comforting) article on not feeling bad about bad sex.

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For the most part, I gave up watching pro football at the start of the 2014 season because of the high risk of long-term brain injury — a risk that the NFL spent millions of dollars trying to hush up for many years.

Studies have shown — and the NFL has acknowledged that nearly one out of three pro players ends up with neurological problems of some sort, the worst being CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which literally reduces the size of the brain.

My personal withdrawal from pro football hasn’t been extremely difficult — I have substituted a lot of televised golf — and I have continued to watch a little college football.

But after reading an extremely troubling and sensitive story by sports columnist Sam Mellinger in the Sunday Star, I’m starting to wonder if I should swear off following football at every level.

The story was about a former high school and college player named Michael Keck, who grew up in Harrisonville and ended up dying of CTE complications at age 25…No, I didn’t get those numbers transposed; 25.

When he died in 2013, he left behind his wife Cassandra and their 2-year-old son Justin.


Michael Keck

I think the word sad is applied too frequently and too loosely, but it certainly applies to this story…Michael took a lot of hits during his playing years, but the worst was at his last stop, Missouri State, when he took “a massive blow” to the head when the pads inside his helmet were losing air. Shortly after that hit, he quit playing football.

Within a couple of years, signs of trouble began popping up, like forgetting his keys or wallet. The problems escalated to uncontrollable anger — a symptom of CTE. Soon he became violent toward Cassandra — so violent that she developed an emergency self-defense plan. Mellinger explained:

“She moved the dresser in a way that she could shut the door and stiffen her legs against the furniture to keep him out. She didn’t always get there in time, so she learned to protect herself. Arms up.”

Incredibly, as her husband’s mind disintegrated and he turned on her out of frustration and convenience, Cassandra responded with love, compassion and understanding.

“I never took it personal,” she said. “I saw everything. I was with him every day. He showed me every part of his suffering. I saw it all.”


Cassandra and Justin Keck

(As I read the story, my heart went out to Cassandra as much as Michael. Her commitment and courage make her worthy of a story in her own right. I hope that down the road Mellinger will consider a follow-up piece on Cassandra. I would like to know what unfolds for her.)

The unusual part of Michael’s case, obviously, is that CTE hit him so young. It usually begins exhibiting itself in former players when they are in their 50s, 60s or 70s. Because of the shockingly early onset, Mellinger wrote, Michael’s case is potentially ground-breaking for scientists and physicians studying the disease.

Mellinger quoted Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University who studied Michael’s brain.

“I have to say I was blown away. This case still stands out to me personally…It reinforces the notion that some people are very susceptible to this disease. They are exposed to this in amateur sports. They don’t have to be professional athletes bashing their heads in for a living. Michael, for whatever reason — and we need to figure it out — was very susceptible to this. This is just not acceptable.”

This is very frightening…And I’ll tell you something else that is frightening. This morning, I looked at the NFL injury report prior to this week’s games. The report lists the injured players on every team and their playing status.

I counted the number of players listed with concussions. Fifteen. That’s a big number. That’s 15 individuals who are significantly closer to developing CTE. Some might well be lucky and never develop it, but the odds are that at least one out of three of them will develop CTE…Concussions today, when they’re young and “healthy,” and chronic trauma when they’re older and the cheers and big money have stopped.

…In yesterday’s Chiefs-Chargers game — a bit of which I listened to on the radio on the way home from the golf course — one player for each team went out with a concussion. In addition, Chiefs’ wide receiver and punt returner Jeremy Maclin came out of the game for several plays after a helmet-to-helmet hit. I guess he passed the “concussion protocol” and then came back in the game — a move that left WHB radio personality Kevin Kietzman beside himself. On his show this afternoon, he said the hit was obviously so jarring that Maclin should have been kept out as a precaution, even if he passed the concussion test.

…And here’s the topper. St. Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum got his head slammed violently to the turf in a game against the Baltimore Ravens. Despite being loopy, he was allowed to stay in the game.

Here’s how Bernie Miklasz, a sports-talk radio host and former columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, described the scene after Keenum went down.

“Clearly disoriented, Keenum squirmed on the ground. You could see him holding his head. Teammate Garrett Reynolds tried to pull Keenum up and get him to his feet, but Keenum wobbled and flopped down again. He was on all fours, then rolled over. Reynolds made a second try, and Keenum barely managed to raise himself up. His mind was in a different location.”


Case Keenum, after the hit

Not only did Rams’ Coach Jeff Fisher and other team officials fail to do anything — Fisher said later he didn’t see Keenum (yeah, sure) — neither did the NFL injury “spotter” assigned to the game. The spotter has the authority to halt play if he has reason to believe a player may have suffered a concussion, and the player must come out of the game and be administered the concussion test.

Didn’t happen yesterday. Ready, set, hike…On with the game.

But after the game, guess what? Yeah, Keenum was diagnosed with a concussion.

The NFL is now investigating the circumstances, trying to determine why Keenum was not removed from the game.

What a joke. NFL football — and quite possibly football at lower levels — is killing people. Yes, the players are now aware of the risks and are choosing to play anyway, but, holy shit, isn’t this, yes, sad?

…Do you remember the old Waylon Jennings song “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”? Well, I hope mothers everywhere are paying close attention to these concussions and to the incidence of CTE and vowing not to let their babies grow up to be football players.

If they are doing so increasingly, it would support speculation offered earlier this month by New York Times reporter Clyde Haberman. In a Nov. 8 story, Haberman suggested that somewhere down the road football could go the route of boxing, which once enraptured people nationwide but trickled into marginalization after a few fighters died or were mortally injured in the ring.

“Boxing’s contraction,” Haberman wrote, “is evidence that anything can happen.”

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Before I tell you about a sports photography panel discussion at the Kansas City Public Library tonight, take a look at this photo…


You’ve seen it, of course: It was the lead photo on the 64-page World Series special section The star published on Sunday, Nov. 8.

The photographer was longtime Star photographer John Sleezer, who has been the paper’s primary Kansas City Royals’ photographer for years.

The picture captures the exultation of the moment just after Royals’ reliever Wade Davis struck out the last New York Met to seal the World Series championship for the Royals. The photo would be excellent without Eric Hosmer’s glove in the air, but that element gave it a mesmerizing effect, as if the moment of victory was hermetically sealed.

Sleezer was one of four sports photographers who participated in an excellent program at the Central Library, 10th and Main. The other participants were Dave Eulitt, also of The Star, and freelancers Jamie Squire and Denny Medley. Squire and Medley are based in Kansas City.


Sports photographers (left to right) John Sleezer, Dave Eulitt, Jamie Squire and Denny Medley

More than 100 people attended the event, which was presented by Pictures of the Year International, a program administered by the MU School of Journalism, and the Kansas City Chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers.

The photographers talked about their craft, how they were “photo geeks” and how they strive to capture key moments in sports or, as Squire does, frame them in unique ways.

For example, Squire said it took him three days to set up a shot he took at a National Hockey League game. He encased a remote camera in metal and carefully positioned it on the ice, inside the back netting of one goal. The shot Squire ultimately went with showed the goalie on his knees and an opponent’s stick jutting inside the net, seemingly headed toward the viewer’s face.

The use of remote cameras was one of the most interesting parts of the discussion. Sleezer said that for the home World Series games he had three remote cameras set up to give different perspectives, such as views from behind home plate, center field and third base. Sleezer took up his customary position in the “photo well” near the first-base dugout. Then, when he “fired” with his hand-held camera, the shutter action triggered the remote cameras as well, capturing simultaneous frames from different angles.

…At one point in the discussion, Squire and Eulitt talked about their favorite photos. Squire selected one he took of Royals third-baseman Mike Moustakas about to catch a foul pop in last year’s American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles. The photo shows the ball an instant before dropping into Moustakas’ glove as he is reaching over a railing, about to fall into a dugout suite.


Eulitt picked a photo of a just-defeated wrestler at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Eulitt said the photo’s great appeal to him was that it was “based in emotion.” The identity of the wrestler or what country he represented were essentially beside the point, Eulitt said; it was the crushing experience of defeat, as seen in the face and body attitude of the wrestler, that made it special.

In a brilliant touch — and Eulitt didn’t talk about this — he intentionally omitted the head of the victorious wrestler. The photo is exclusively about the vanquished.



I want to finish on a digressive note: Under the energetic, inspired leadership of director Crosby Kemper III, who took over in 2004, the Kansas City Public Library has become one of the best in the nation. I can’t imagine how a library could be better.

Shooting Sports,” as tonight’s event was called, was another in a series of outstanding programs that we Kansas City area residents are privileged to have access to on a regular basis.

If you have not signed up for the library’s email list, I urge you to do so. You can subscribe on this page by clicking on the “get the latest library information” link at the bottom of the page, left side.

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For the week of May 22, 1961, when I was a freshman in high school back in Louisville, KY, five killer rock ‘n roll 45-rpm records ruled the Billboard Hot 100.

The top five were, in order, “Mother-in-Law” by Ernie K-Doe; “Runaway” by Del Shannon; “Daddy’s Home” by Shep and the Limelights; “One Hundred Pounds of Clay” by Gene McDaniels; and “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson.

“Mother-in-Law” was a song I always liked, partly because it was easy to sing along to — especially those opening notes — and it was unique.

Although I would never have put “Mother-in-Law in my list of all-time favorites, last week I gained a new appreciation for it. What got me thinking about it — and singing it and listening to it on YouTube — was hearing that the writer of the song, Allen Toussaint, a New Orleans musician, died of a heart attack at age 77.


Allen Toussaint

I can’t say I’d paid much attention to Toussaint, although he was a New Orleans legend, but in his obit I read that he had written “Mother-in-Law” and another great oldie, “Working in the Coal Mine,” which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of July 23, 1966.

A story about Toussaint in today’s Kansas City Star got me thinking about “Mother-in-Law” even more. That’s because the writer of the story, Star music critic Timothy Finn, didn’t even mention “Mother-in-Law.” He touched on “Working in the Coal Mine,” but the bulk of his story was about Toussaint and his impact on the music industry.

That story sent me back to YouTube to listen to “Mother-in-Law” several more times, and I turned it up for Patty and Brooks to hear. When I went into the kitchen, Patty, a very good singer, was singing along and bobbing her head to the melody.

I wanted to know more about that song, so I dug into Google.

The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, by Fred Bronson, paid high tribute to the song, saying it “earned a place in rock history by spreading the gospel piano of the New Orleans sound, as championed by Toussaint.”

Of course, you can’t talk about “Mother-in-Law” without talking about Ernie K-Doe.

41DFBDNHXXLHe was born Ernest Kador Jr. and was raised in New Orleans by an aunt. Kador began singing in his church as a boy. He was first noticed by a talent scout when he was with a group called the Blue Diamonds. The scout signed him to one record label, but he bounced to another and then to a third, called Minit, where Toussaint worked.

The owner of the company was a man named Joe Banashak, who suggested that Ernie start going by the last name of K-Doe because “Kador” was too hard to pronounce.

Toussaint had already written “Mother-in-Law,” and K-Doe took a fancy to it because he was having marital problems and blamed them partly on his mother-in-law.

The song was an immediate hit. The Billboard Book of Number One Hits describes the crux of its appeal:

“The irresistible hook in the song is Benny Spellman’s deep bass voice intoning “mother-in-law” after K-Doe pauses at the appropriate places.”

The opening notes, of course, are what immediately come to mind and begin running through the head. Just the mention of the song makes me smile because, as The Billboard Book of Number One hits says, it is “the ultimate mother-in-law joke.”

K-Doe sings the song with a combination of angst and resignation:

She thinks her advice is a contribution
But if she will leave that will be a solution…

…As was the case with many “one-hit wonders,” K-Doe’s career reached its apex with his first big song. The Billboard Book of Number One hits says:

His final chart entry was ‘Popeye Joe’ in February 1962. He continued to record for Minit until it was sold to Liberty in 1965, and then signed with Duke Records. After three years, he returned to producer Toussaint, but without productive results. K-Doe died of liver failure at University Hospital in New Orleans on July 5, 2001. He was 65.

While K-Doe muddled along, Toussaint went on to become a legend. But Ernie K-Doe helped push him to legendary status, and I’m sure he appreciated that. Together, they gave us this incredible song, which is as fresh today as it was when it was released more than half a century ago and which people will continue to enjoy for years to come.

…The full lyrics:

The worst person I know, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
She worries me so, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
If she leaves us alone, we would have a happy home
Sent down from below
Mother-in-law, mother-in-law, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
Sin should be her name, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
To me, they’re about the same, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
Every time I open my mouth, she steps in, tries to put me out
How could she stoop so low?
Mother-in-law, mother-in-law, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
I come home with my pay, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
She asks me what I make, mother-in-law, mother-in-law
She thinks her advice is a contribution
But if she will leave that will be a solution
And don’t come back no more
Mother-in-law, mother-in-law…

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After MU graduate student Jonathan Butler concluded his week-long hunger strike, my daughter Brooks posed an interesting question: What was his first meal when he resumed eating?


Here’s a freeze frame from a video of MU grad student Jonathan Butler enjoying his first meal after concluding his week-long hunger strike…The people want to know: Just what did that meal consist of???

I combed The Star and the Internet and found, in a Los Angeles Times story, that his last meal before launching his strike was half a waffle. I came across video of Butler smiling and eating his first post-strike meal (above), but nowhere could I find exactly what the meal consisted of…Was it a banana? A steak? Spaghetti? I tell you, journalists these days just don’t have the curiosity they used to. Damn shame…I’ll be interested to see if any of our resourceful commenters can find the answer. I’d offer a free pizza from Minsky’s as a reward, but I’m afraid 100  people would come up with the answer.

:: There’s an interesting side story to the Gary Pinkel resignation that The Star didn’t write about in either of its stories today — although I suggested it in an email last night to Tod Palmer, who covers MU sports for The Star…In his resignation letter, Pinkel said he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma and wanted to spend his remaining years with his family and friends. He was diagnosed with cancer last spring. Many people might not know that he married a woman named Missy Martinette on June 27. (He and his first wife, Vicki, divorced several years ago after more than 35 years of marriage.) It would appear, then, that Pinkel’s second marriage took place right on the heels of the diagnosis…Not a huge deal, but if a big-name, local coach says he’s resigning to spend more time with his family, wouldn’t a journalist worth his or her salt think it was relevant to at least give a capsule of his family situation? Again, where’s the reportorial curiosity? Or is it just that my curiosity’s working overtime? Maybe, but don’t really think so.


Pinkel and family in 2006: He and then-wife Vicki and their four children (first four from right in back row), their son-in-law (back left), and two grandchildren.


…with new wife Missy Martinette, whom he married in Naples, FL, June 27

:: Finally, I trust some of you saw the story about 80-year-old mobster — or maybe former mobster — Vincent Asaro getting acquitted of participating in the 1978 Lufthansa robbery, which was believed to have been the largest cash robbery in U.S. history at the time. (The great mob movie “Goodfellas” was based on the crime.) Now, your average defendant, upon being acquitted of such a crime, might break into tears or collapse in his chair. Not Asaro. He pumped his right fist in the air three times, like he’d hit the winning homerun in a World Series game. Then, outside the courthouse in Brooklyn he raised his hands in the air and shouted, “Free!” Moments later, as he got into a white Mercedes, he took a jab at the prosecution, remarking to one of his lawyers, “Don’t let them see the body in the trunk.”

Now that’s being acquitted in style…


Vincent Asaro — happy with good reason.

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Hugs. Tears. Breaking voices. Balloons sent skyward. And, of course, even after all these years…broken hearts.

Thirty-four years after 114 innocent souls died in the collapse of the Hyatt skywalks — during a late-afternoon tea dance — a stylized, polished-steel heart was dedicated to those who died and were injured in the July 17, 1981, disaster, the greatest in Kansas City history.

As was abundantly clear this morning, on a hillside across the street from what was the Hyatt Regency Kansas City hotel, the memorial is just as much for the living — those who lost relatives and friends and those of us who simply will never forget.

The memorial was nine years in the making. The ramrod — the chairman of the Skywalk Memorial Foundation — was Brent Wright, whose mother and stepfather died that fateful day. Along with others, Wright pushed relentlessly for the memorial and helped raise more than $500,000 to see it created and erected and to establish an endowment fund to maintain it.

The sculpture, called “Sending Love,” was designed by Kansas City artist Rita Blitt, who was among more than 200 people attending the dedication. The stylized heart, appearing poised to lift off into the sky, stands atop a matte black circular base that bears the engraved names of the 114 victims. (Note: In a story posted this afternoon, The Star’s Matt Campbell says the sculpture depicts a couple embraced in dance…Oh, well, the beauty of art is what you see in it and how it affects you, right?)

The memorial is at the north end of Hospital Hill on ground maintained by the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. A semi-circular stone and concrete bench offers visitors a place to sit, reflect and pay homage.

One of those who spoke most movingly at the dedication program was Frank Freeman, whose domestic partner Roger Grigsby died in the collapse. Freeman was seriously injured.

Voice cracking, Freeman said, in part:

“I’m overcome with joy and pride…This is a moment (when the skywalks collapsed) that wrenched loved ones from our arms but nor our hearts…The wounds remain. It is never gone.”

Of all the speakers, Freeman was the only one to allude to the cause of the disaster, mentioning the “careless, inexcusable design” of the skywalk support system.

…In a design change, engineers decided to use offsetting support rods instead of a single set to suspend the skywalks from the hotel ceiling. The change doubled the stress on the rods supporting the upper skywalk, on which people were standing and swaying to the band music…It was the first time most Kansas City area residents heard the term harmonic vibration.

The Hyatt name remained on the hotel until 2011, when it became a Sheraton property.

I have closely followed — and contributed to — the memorial effort, and this is a great day in Kansas City, commemorating the worst tragedy in our city’s history.

Here are some photos:


The memorial site offers an excellent view of the skyline.



Part of the crowd.


Rita Blitt, who designed the sculpture. Behind her, seated, are Mayor Sly James and former Mayor Richard Berkley, who was in office in 1981.


A family member of a victim had to pause as she read the names of some who died.


From left, Frank Freeman, Brent Wright (chairman of the memorial foundation) and Peggy Olson. Freeman lost his domestic partner; Wright his mother and stepfather; Olson her sister, who was 11 years old.


A fitting send-up.



Retired Kansas City Fire Chief Charley Fisher (right), who quickly went to the scene of the tragedy, hugged Brent Wright.


The names of everyone who died are engraved on the base.


Last dance, indeed…


The building that lives in infamy.




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Of all the madness that has been taking place at the University of Missouri-Columbia campus the last week or so, here’s what puzzled me most:

What the hell was an assistant professor of communications doing trying to block a couple of journalists from getting access to a group of student protesters? 

Although you haven’t seen them in The Star, widely disseminated photographs show Melissa Click, the professor, trying to stop a student photographer, Tim Tai, from photographing the protesters on Monday.

First of all, why would Click involve herself in a student protest? It appeared as if the students were doing OK for themselves, having brought down the president of the university system and the Columbia chancellor.

But there she was Monday (below), wearing an angry frown and calling for “muscle” to help remove another young man who was recording the confrontation between herself and Tai.

melissa click

This from a communications professor with a Ph.D., who apparently didn’t understand the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and assembly on public ground.

Here’s part of the exchange between Click and cameraman Mark Schierbecker:

Schierbecker: I’m media. Can I talk to you?
Click: No, you need to get out! You need to get out!
Schierbecker: No I don’t.
Click: You need to get out.
Schierbecker: I actually don’t.


Student photographer Tim Tai

Tai, who is only 20, and Schierbecker handled themselves respectfully and professionally, asserting their right to stand their ground and resisting any urge to angrily engage Click. Even at my age and with my background, I’m not sure I could have been that restrained.

Tai said later:”I wish she had handled the situation differently, but as a journalist it really just became part of the scene I was presented with and I never took her or anyone else’s actions personally.”

…Click’s background and areas of professional focus are, shall we say, a bit out of the mainstream. Perhaps that helps explain how she wandered off the beaten path Monday.

Her bio, on the university’s website, cites her research interests as “popular culture texts and audiences” and says her work “is guided by audience studies, theories of gender and sexuality, and media literacy.”

The website goes on to say that her current research projects include “the impact of social media in fans’ relationship with Lady Gaga, masculinity and male fans, messages about class and food in reality television programming, and messages about work in children’s television programs.”

Her doctoral dissertation was about the “commodification of femininity, affluence and whiteness in the Martha Stewart phenomenon.”

Her bio prompted Maureen Sullivan, a contributing writer at Forbes, to write an article titled “Why do Parents Hate Paying College Tuition? Meet Missouri Professor Melissa Click,” in which Sullivan said Click “crystallizes the view that tuition dollars are spent on nonsense, and sometimes worse.”

Click has been affiliated with MU since 2003, and she became an assistant professor in 2008.

MU officials have given no indication of how Click’s antics might affect her employment status, but her department issued a statement rebuking her actions.

The University of Missouri Department of Communication supports the First Amendment as a fundamental right and guiding principle underlying all that we do as an academic community. We applaud student journalists who were working in a very trying atmosphere to report a significant story. Intimidation is never an acceptable form of communication.

To her credit, Click issued an unequivocal apology, which Tai accepted.

…I do not know if Click has tenure, and, in any event, I would be surprised if she was fired. But I would think her chances of becoming a full professor have been greatly reduced.

All in all, she would have been a lot better off spending Monday doing more research on Lady Gaga instead of trying to emulate a Kansas City Chiefs lineman.

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The last two presidents of the University of Missouri system have lasted a total of less than seven years.

Each had previously worked in upper management in the insular world of big business. Neither had experience in academia.


Gary Forsee

Gary Forsee, former C.E.O. at Sprint — the man who engineered the disastrous merger of Sprint and Nextel — served from February 2008 to January 2011. Although his relatively brief tenure at MU was not marred by any significant scandals, he certainly didn’t leave much of a legacy.



Tim Wolfe, who resigned as president Monday morning, succeeded Forsee in February 2012. (An interim president served slightly less than a year.) Wolfe had previously worked in upper management for IBM and the software firm Novell.

If ever there was a time for a change of approach in the hiring of the top person at MU, it is now.

It’s imperative, in my view, that the MU board of curators hire someone with administrative experience at a higher educational institution…someone who understands the warp and the weft of campus life and who enjoys mingling with students and talking with them about their college experiences.

Forsee and Wolfe were out of their depths and lacked the ability to communicate effectively with people at every level of the four campuses they oversaw.

In my experience the best leaders are those who are a good fit for their positions and effective communicators.

As most of you know, I was a reporter and editor at The Star for 36-plus years. The best editor I ever had, Mike Waller, who went on to become publisher at the Hartford Courant and The Sun in Baltimore, endeared himself to the rank and file partly by roaming around the newsroom, chatting with reporters, assignment editors, photographers and copy editors. More than once, he stooped down and read the top part of stories I was writing and offered comments or suggestions.

Since retiring from The Star in 2008, I’ve been a substitute teacher at middle schools and high schools in the Shawnee Mission School District. I have seen first hand that the best principals are those who are outside greeting the students in the morning and seeing them off in the afternoon.

In general, I think it’s fair to say, leaders who secrete themselves in their offices tend to lose the confidence of those who rely on them for inspiration and leadership.

I don’t know for sure that Tim Wolfe secreted himself in his office, but I know of two telling incidents where lack of communication got him big trouble.


Tim Wolfe

The first incident occurred in 2012, according to Wikipedia, when Wolfe announced that the University of Missouri Press — the university’s main publishing arm — would shut down and be replaced by a new publishing operation. This from Wikipedia:


Wolfe said he did not know how much the new model would cost and that he had not spoken to any employees at the press before making his decision. In October 2012, it was announced that the University of Missouri Press would not close after all. Wolfe said that he always intended to increase the cost-effectiveness of the press and that it was never the plan to close the press. He said that he should have spoken to more press employees, authors, and other publishers earlier in the decision-making process.

And then there was the incident on Oct. 10, during MU’s homecoming parade, when several black students shouted chants, demanding to have marginalized voices heard.

If Wolfe had an ounce of common sense — and if he was the sort of leader who could communicate effectively — he would have gotten out of his car and talked to the students. “What’s up?” would have been a good way to start a conversation.

Instead he remained ensconced in his steel cocoon. Was he afraid the students were going to beat him up? Was he in a hurry to meet the homecoming king and queen? Whatever the case, he waited for Columbia police to shoo the students from the parade route and continued on his way.

By no means was that the only chance Wolfe and Columbia campus chancellor R. Bowen Loftin (who also is on the way out) failed to respond to complaints and protests from black students — and other minority students — who had been subjected to a succession of slights and offenses. Other incidents included a truck-load of dim wits shouting racial slurs at an African-American student who is president of the MU Students Association and one or more students using human feces to draw a swastika in the bathroom of a student residence hall.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that an MU president with a background in academic administration will be successful. But it’s certainly time for the board of curators to stop trolling the ranks of former and current business executives and set about finding someone with a track record of effective communication and leadership at either MU or another higher-education institution.

For the last couple of days, the MU situation has been one of the biggest stories in the nation. (The story was on the front page of The New York Times website Monday night and had drawn more than 1,345 comments.)

…The next MU president’s biggest job will be fostering an environment of accommodation, open-mindedness and goodwill toward all. It’s a hell of an opportunity for someone with really good “people skills.” Let’s hope the board of curators understands that.

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Patty and I got back to KC last night after a week on the road — a monumental week here in KC, which we kept up with on TV and kansascity.com.

A lot of times when you leave town, you don’t miss much. Then, every 30 years or so, there are weeks like this one, where…

:: The Royals win the World Series

:: A downtown parade attracts 800,000 people. (Estimate courtesy of Mayor Sly James, who apparently has a master’s in Hyperbolic Numerical Studies.)

:: Alex Gordon opts for free agency.

:: The first streetcar arrives.

:: Southwest High School is slated for closing.

:: The state of Kansas continues to loses hundreds of millions in revenue and, by the day, becomes less livable.

…I guess you’re wondering just what could have taken us out of town during a week like this. Well, it was mostly business — Patty’s business. She has a company that designs and manufactures clergy vestments, primarily for women, and she was displaying and selling her products in my hometown of Louisville, KY, and Sewanee, TN. I was along mostly to help load and unload; set up and tear down; and drive.

Here are some of the highlights — just in case you’re wondering how a couple of absentee Royals’ fans spent their days while Kansas City was going crazy.

** We arrived in Louisville last Saturday night and immediately went to a bar-restaurant called the Mellow Mushroom to watch Game 4, which we had been listening to on the radio. The game was in the sixth inning, and although this was the World Series, not one TV in the bar was tuned in to the game. Every TV was on the Kentucky-Tennessee football game — which I could sort of understand, except that Tennessee was winning by more than 20 points…Kindly, the manager granted our request to turn one TV to the baseball game. By the time the game ended, we were about the last people in the bar and were yelling our fool heads off.

** For Game 5, Sunday, we went to a bar called Molly Malone’s. Again, not one TV was tuned in to the World Series. Every TV was on the Sunday night football game between the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers…Now I was convinced that my hometown was no longer the town where I had grown up — the town where lots of people, including me, avidly followed the Cincinnati Reds, who play about 100 miles up I-71. Once again, though, a bartender accommodated us and switched a TV to the only game that really mattered. Seated at the bar, we screamed and shouted as Eric Hosmer “stole home” with the tying run and the Royals went on to blow the ham-handed Mets out of the series…Patty celebrated with a couple of shots of whiskey; I had two N/A beers.

** On Tuesday, we heard from our daughter Brooks, who had braved the crowd of about a million people (hey, Sly could have been a couple hundred thousand off, right?) and had her photo taken with none other than Most Valuable Broadcaster Rex Hudler.


Brooks and Rex

** Tuesday night we left Louisville, where Patty had been selling at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and headed to Sewanee, TN, an hour and a half southeast of Nashville. Patty’s objective was the School of Theology at Sewanee:The University of the South. The university, founded in 1858, sits atop the Cumberland Plateau, which is basically the southern part of the Appalachian Mountains. While Patty worked, I played golf Wednesday and Thursday. I lost about half a dozen balls the first day and came close to hitting one off the Cumberland Plateau. Fortunately it stopped in some heavy grass behind the green. (At least I think that’s where it ended up; I never found it.)

** Thursday night we headed west and stopped in Nashville. Boy, was I excited! The last time I was in Nashville, about a year and a half ago, I had a great time hanging out on Honky Tonk Row, the strip of bars on Broadway between Fourth and Fifth streets. Back then, I latched on to a couple of musicians — a lead guitarist and a bass player — who moved around from one bar to another and one band to another. Those two guys could play just about any song anyone requested. Their forte was classic country by artists like George Strait, Alabama and Brooks and Dunn…This time, I was hoping to find those guys again and, if not, at least hear some similar music.

Nashville is a high-energy tourist town, and several thousand people clogged that one-block stretch Thursday night. I arrived on the scene at 10 p.m. (Patty had gone back to the hotel after dinner) — just as the early-session bands were wrapping up and the late-session groups were about to take over. During the changeover, I meandered from bar to bar, checking out the groups that were setting up and hoping at least one group would offer classic country music. After the bands struck up the music, however, it was pretty clear that rock and country-rock were the only genres being offered. By about 11:15, I was on my way back to the hotel.


Thursday night on Honky Tonk Row in Nashville

I was disappointed, but I’ve been around long enough and seen enough to know “you can’t always get what you want” and even though you might not like it, things change.

…The disappointment was short-lived, however, because yesterday morning we headed home. Back to Kansas City…Kansas City, home of the World Champion Kansas City Royals.

Even experiencing it vicariously, it was a hell of a week.

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