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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.”

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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…

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.




Read Full Post »

Older Posts »