David Host: Why Baseball’s Pete Rose Question Matters Beyond Sports

David HostI was ten years old when I first became an avid Cincinnati Reds fan. Growing up just over one hour’s drive from Cincinnati, I could not help but notice when the legendary “Big Red Machine” won their second consecutive World Series the year before – but the 1977 season marked the first time that I personally followed almost every game. Staying awake in bed listening to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call games from the West Coast remains one of my fondest childhood memories – as do the many trips my dad and I made up I-75 to watch the Reds in person.

Like many kids my age, I mimicked the batting stances of all-time greats like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan. I also tried to teach myself the knee-in-the-dirt pitching motion of Tom Seaver, who joined the Reds at mid-season that year (I tore the cover off several of the baseballs I hurled at the “strike zone” I envisioned on the brick side of our garage). As the years rolled by, it became clear that my athletic skills did not match the profile of a budding big-league ballplayer. Yet, the Reds and their up-and-down fortunes throughout the 1980s remained a central feature of every summer.

I had just started my freshman year in college when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record on September 11, 1985. “Charlie Hustle” had never been one of my favorite players when I was younger. As I matured, I grew to appreciate Rose – his head-first slides; his blue-collar grit; and, most of all, the message he conveyed – that excellence is not always captive to natural ability. Rose looked and played like any of us might if we had the chance to play pro ball, which is why this native son of Cincinnati captured hearts in that city like no one else ever has, or likely will again.

After Rose retired as a player, he managed the Reds to a succession of second-place finishes during the late 1980s. He was an average manager at best, in retrospect; though his prodigious knowledge of the game suggested that Rose possessed tremendous potential in that capacity. Led by stars like like Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, the Reds were once again a team on the rise – and Rose seemed like the natural link between this brightening future and the dominant teams of the 1970s.

The Reds won the World Series in 1990, the season after Rose received a “lifetime ban” for betting on games involving his own team. There is no evidence that Rose ever bet against the Reds (his ultra-competitive nature strongly suggests that he never entertained the thought). Yet, Rose clearly presided over a series of underachieving teams. Sadly, we will never know what he could have accomplished as a manager without the distraction of his gambling habit.

The scandal which sundered Rose’s connection with the game he personified seemed to erupt out of nowhere. From all accounts, Rose thought that Major League Baseball officials had already convicted and sentenced him, so he opted for a very public fight. This battle consumed the Reds’ 1989 season – and for the first time I could remember, I lost interest as the team limped toward a fifth-place finish. As saddened as I was by Rose’s abrupt fall from grace, I cannot deny that I was relieved to see him go.

Like most Reds fans, I wanted to believe Rose’s denials. Yet, it was hard to ignore Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s grim conclusion: “One of the game’s greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game.” Giamatti’s sterling reputation further made it difficult to question the justice and fairness of the outcome.

Major League Baseball never officially concluded that Rose had bet on his own team in exchange for Rose’s acquiescence to the “lifetime ban.” For every other individual in the modern era to whom it has applied, baseball’s “lifetime ban” has, in reality, meant a suspension for a few years. Yet, Giamatti’s death from a heart attack eight days after announcing baseball’s settlement with Rose seems to have fueled a lasting personal vendetta at the game’s highest echelons.

First, the National Baseball Hall of Fame officially decided to exclude banned players from its annual baseball writer’s ballot in 1991, just before Rose became eligible to appear on that ballot. Next came Major League Baseball’s inexplicable and inexcusable refusal to act on Rose’s application for reinstatement, which persists to this day.

To me, the exclusion of baseball’s all-time hits leader transformed the “Hall of Fame” into a farce. Then, when the 1994 players’ strike canceled the World Series and eviscerated a promising Reds season, my attachment to baseball began to fray; particularly when neither the owners nor the players association even bothered to apologize – to the fans who pay their bills, or to the concessionaires, ushers, and other hard-working individuals who truly suffered the effects of the strike.

Baseball gradually recovered after 1994; in large part due to the record-breaking exploits of a bevy of new “superstars,” including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. We subsequently learned that these performances may have been the product of steroid use. Meanwhile, no one has ever accused Pete Rose of cheating, and his all-time hits record remains unassailable and, perhaps, unreachable. Yet, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds remain eligible for the Hall of Fame, while Rose remains the game’s lone outcast.

On its face, this scenario seems outrageous and absurd; particularly when Pete Rose the player remains the exemplar of everything that once mattered about baseball. Yet, I remain initially persuaded by the argument that Rose flagrantly violated a “prime directive,” of sorts – a rule that is prominently displayed in every team’s clubhouse, for which the penalty has always been clear and certain. By contrast, while Major League Baseball appears to have banned steroid use for more than two decades, its enforcement of this policy has not always been consistent.

Gambling is a clinically recognized addiction, just like alcoholism and drug abuse. The late Steve Howe notoriously received suspension after suspension for cocaine use during his 17-year pitching career. Does anyone seriously believe that Howe would have stopped had drug abuse held the same “prime directive” status as the rule against betting on one’s own team? Still, amidst all the judgments pronounced against Pete Rose in the media and elsewhere, I have never heard anyone suggest that an illness might have deprived Rose of complete control over his actions.

Admittedly, Rose has often been his own worst enemy. I cannot help but believe that had he quietly come clean with Bart Giamatti when the gambling allegations first arose early in 1989, Rose might still have enjoyed a long association with baseball after a few years away from the game. Instead, he lied about his actions until 2004, when it became apparent that he might never be reinstated without a full confession. Rose also apparently continues to gamble; though his once-defiant attitude about his circumstances seems to have mellowed somewhat into genuine humility and remorse.

Perhaps Rose’s lack of genuine rehabilitation justifies Major League Baseball’s refusal to consider his reinstatement. After all, no less than Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays spent two years on the “banned list” merely for working for casinos in public relations capacities. But why not make this fact clear? Even at this late date, why not give Rose a very public choice between the game he loves and the habit he seemingly refuses to conquer? Wouldn’t this approach communicate the most productive message to anyone battling addiction: mercy for those who seek help and consequences for those who do not?

Otherwise, it is naïve to suggest that by potentially making Rose the only modern player against whom it has literally enforced a “lifetime ban,” Major League Baseball has protected itself one iota from the influences of gambling. Indeed, the exact opposite may have occurred. Instead of encouraging players, coaches, and managers who suffer from a gambling addiction to obtain the treatment they need, Major League Baseball has sent an unmistakable message of “no quarter;” one which seems destined to drive these individuals further underground. Unbending rules often produce inflexible results – which means that one had better guess correctly regarding the outcome.

During his recent appearance in Cincinnati, outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig addressed baseball’s “Pete Rose question” by reiterating his obligation “to do what I think is in the best interest of this sport” and then reminding his audience that he “was particularly close to Bart Giamatti.” As understandable as these personal sentiments might be, confusing them with an appropriate resolution does no favors for Selig’s legacy or baseball’s future.

Selig’s comments strongly suggest that Rose’s continued punishment has little to do with the rule he broke. Instead, personal animus seems to be driving Selig’s approach to this matter – and that fact says a lot more about our culture than we would like to think it does. Particularly in politics, everything seems to revolve around individual personalities. We cannot have mere disagreements without judging one another’s motives and character – then we wonder why our legislative bodies have become utterly dysfunctional. Instead of debating the practical merits of specific programs and proposals, we back our opponents into a corner and force them to defend their personal honor. Under such conditions, how can they ever give an inch toward compromise?

In short, the debate about Pete Rose’s fate continues to be about Pete Rose, when it ought to focus on what promotes the long-term health of baseball and the general welfare of our society. Whether a “lifetime ban” remains an appropriate penalty given what we know today about gambling and addiction is a much more relevant question than whether Rose has earned “forgiveness.”

My first visit to Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park with my teenage son two years ago lifted my spirits and took me back to a time before player strikes, steroids, and “lifetime bans.” I still follow baseball – but for far too long, baseball’s off-the-field errors have interfered with my genuine enjoyment of the game. By making peace with Pete Rose, Major League Baseball might offer the rest of our society with a desperately needed and realistic model of justice, compassion, and practicality. And it might finally win back fans like me.

David V. Hawpe: Fancy Farm, Mitch McConnell and Blackdamp

david hawpeAlison Grimes ought to remind the Crowd of Fancy Farm that Mitch McConnell is choking the U.S. Senate with blackdamp.

Given what McConnell knows about coal mining, aides may have to explain to him that blackdamp is a mixture of debilitating gases – as one dictionary puts it, a miasma “incapable of supporting life or flame.”

Fancy Farm is, of course, the political picnic in Graves County on the first Saturday in August that traditionally opens the Kentucky political season. St. Jerome’s Parish bills the event as the “World’s Largest One Day BBQ,” where you can get the “best barbequed pork and mutton you’ll ever enjoy.”

At the 134th renewal there will be plenty of ridicule on the menu. In recent years the jeers and the taunts have made it increasingly difficult to hear what the politicians are saying, but nobody seems to mind.

The only violence you can expect at Fancy Farm is the violence that a candidate occasionally and unintentionally does to his or her own campaign. I have in mind two of my favorite politicians. One ranted in front of the picnic crowd as if prepping a Nuremberg rally for the appearance of the main speaker. The other claimed he was one tough son-of-a-you-know-what, when in fact he’s too fine a fellow to qualify as, say, a latter-day Louie Nunn.

I said nobody minds the Fancy Farm faceoffs and dustups, but in fact the Goo Goos don’t like them. Good Government zealots think jeers and catcalls are a threat to political civility. They condemn all the mocking and heckling as if it endangers the democratic process.

I have to smile. If anything, our politics are too polite.

I’m reading a new book by Frederick Brown, “The Embrace of Unreason.” (No, it’s not about what McConnell has done to the Senate.) It’s about France in the period 1914-1940, where civic life was a bit rougher. Opposing groups once turned up at a Paris showing of an ideologically-charged 1930s film called L’Age d’Or, to find the theater lobby decorated in Surrealist art. As Brown describes it, angry right wingers “trashed the premises, splattering ink over the screen, destroying the projector, hurling stink bombs, attacking spectators with blackjacks, damaging the art, and tearing up copies of “Surrealism in the Service of the Revolution” (that were) on sale.”

In America these days we’re much tamer.

A Democratic congressional candidate in conservative Central Washington recently got into trouble merely for airing an online commercial in which he fired a pump-action shotgun at an elephantpiñata . The politically correct folks at Americans for Responsible Solutions condemned Estakio Beltran’s video as “irresponsible and offensive.” As it ends, Beltran rides off toward Washington on a burro.

This is a country where Fox News calls out the Muppets for being“anti-oil” and “anti-corporate.”

The worst damage politically active Americans suffer is Rush Limbaugh boring them to tears or Chris Matthews hurting their ears.

If you make it to Fancy Farm you might hurt yourself, by gorging on pig, but glut and heatstroke are about the only real dangers you’re likely to face. Nobody is going to grab a barbecued mutton shank and thwack you for wrong thought. The stink bombs at this event are likely to be verbal, and thrown from the stage, not at it.

Somebody ought to thwack the McConnell campaign if the senator uses this occasion to once again claim that coal miners need him in Washington. How many miners has he put back to work?

Jobs have plummeted at mines and prep plants in Eastern Kentucky since he was re-elected in 2008 – from 15,418 to 7,332. When he was first elected way back there in 1984, the number of miners working in Kentucky’s mountain coalfields was almost 30,000.

If Kentucky voters send Alison Grimes to Washington, she won’t fix the problem. But she won’t be silent about it either. I expect her to tell both Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take their anti-coal attitude and shove it – politely, of course.

I’m certain she will join West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin in the Senate’s pro-miner caucus.

Manchin explained his view rather reasonably last year: “It is only common sense to use all our domestic resources, and that includes our coal. Let’s make sure that government works as our partner, not our adversary, to create a secure and affordable energy future, and let’s invest in technology which will have the ability to burn coal with almost zero emissions.” Senator McConnell has been a little more theatrical, charging the President with a “jihad” against coal.

It’s a shame the EPA can’t do anything about partisan emissions.

In the old days, miners took canaries with them underground. They knew they had to run from black damp if the canary died

The Democratic leadership also bears its share of the responsibility, but in Mitch McConnell’s gassy Senate, it’s functional governance that died.

David Hawpe, a native of Pike County who grew up in Louisville, has written about coal and Appalachia for more than four decades. This article was crossposted, with the permission of the author, from The Mountain Eagle.

Jay Steinmetz:

Jay SteinmetzAmerica is at a crossroads.  We sit here on the edge of a fiscal cliff fighting to determine if tax hikes or entitlement reform is going to lead the day.  As we fight to raise our debt ceiling critical questions are not being answered and seem to be ignored time and time again.  How did we get here?  Why did we get here?  And how do we avoid getting here again?

When we rescued two of the three American car companies we did so by removing huge debt and the liabilities of their underfunded pension liabilities.  Did we address why they were all failing to begin with?  Were VW, BMW, and Mercedes in Germany rescued?  Did Japan step in to support Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru or Mitsubishi.   There are concrete reasons why two thirds of the American auto industry was failing.  The truth is that America’s other smaller industries are just as affected but don’t have the glitter and prestige of the auto industry.  Many have already disappeared.

Unfortunately, the hidden statistic that never reaches the lips of leaders in Washington is that the United States of America has had 38 years of consecutive trade deficits.  Our current account deficit is 10 times worse than the worst country in Europe.  The EU as a whole carries a $32 billion trade gap with the world which sounds large until you realize that the United States of America has a trade deficit of $600 billion annually.  So the question needs to be asked, how is it that a continent stocked full of high cost socialist governments, scarce natural resources, expensive energy prices, speaking 23 languages, and with a 200 year history of intra-continental war, can out-produce and out-ship the United States of America.   Aren’t we the most innovative entrepreneurial land on earth?  Are we not the land of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Under Armour?

If you ask many of today’s leaders they will tell you that the new order of the day is an economy based on services, or they may tell you that manufacturing has left and will never come back.  Some will say the cost of manufacturing in this country is just simply too high.  Has anyone told LEGO’s, made in Portugal, or Playmobile, made in Germany that costs are too high?  With 300 million people in this country why was it considered impossible to find a few hundred willing to work for reasonable wages so we could outfit our Olympic athletes in clothes made in the USA?

It is time for a reset.  As a country we need to reflect upon the structure of how we operate and then begin to make the necessary structural changes – regardless of the blow-back from those seeking to benefit from the status quo.  There are many things that need changing as America’s issues are not the result of just one or two burdening policies, but many small issues that together can seem overwhelming. The Chinese call this death by 1000 cuts and we can’t allow this paralysis to threaten the future of our country.

Complicated tax rebates, loans, grants, and special incentive programs while well intentioned, are actually a burden to business, especially small businesses that don’t have the resources to handle them.  A business that is losing money cannot use a tax deduction when it is already losing money.  What business in America needs are not specialized manufacturing technology centers and special start-up technology programs, what a thriving economy needs is simplification.

An entrepreneur to be successful must focus.  They cannot be distracted with complicated tax codes, layers upon layers of insurance protections, human resource processes, burdensome licensing and environmental regulations, and complicated legal contracts. When an organization reduces operational processes it increases efficiencies which in turn creates the necessary focus on providing a better product or service.

Starting a business with core knowledge is not as difficult as some may think.  However, growing a business to any substantial size is exponentially harder.  Once a business grows to $40 million or 100 people it becomes subject to a bevy of interstate and intrastate rules and regulations that don’t affect smaller businesses.  Most companies are completely unprepared both financially and operationally to handle the overwhelming onslaught of regulatory obligations that come when a company achieves these new milestones.  It is my opinion that this is one reason you rarely see new small manufacturers opening production plants in the US.  The labor regulations, the environment regulations, and necessary permits are just the beginning.

If none of these regulations stunt the growth of a new manufacturer, the product and worker liability burden will surely take a huge bite out of any potential profits.  For in America, where companies are not reimbursed for successfully defending themselves in court, the cost of unwarranted litigation is a serious threat.  With over 1.2 million licensed legal professionals in America, frivolous litigation is rampant.

We need to be able to stop pandering to the entrenched interests and start creating visibility to the obstacles of business then remove them one at a time.  This is not as difficult as it sounds.  What is difficult is finding those with the courage to get this done.

Jay Steinmetz, CEO of Barcoding Inc. is a Member of the Maryland Small Business Commission

Roy Herron: The 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Roy HerronFifty years ago, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I was in elementary school and had no clue about the law that would drastically change daily life for African-Americans. I surely had no idea how it would improve life for white Americans like me.

This historic legislation outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin at “places of public accommodation.” The movie theater I frequented had to discard its “coloreds only” entrance and the segregated balcony. Restaurants where we ate had to let African-Americans out of the kitchens and into the dining areas. My future friends, like state Sen. Reggie Tate of Memphis, were no longer excluded from admission to the Mid-South Fair six days a week.

The new law gave the U.S. attorney general authority to seek redress when school boards deprived students “of the equal protection of the laws.” Two years later, my school in Weakley County, Tennessee, was desegregated. And for the first time, I began to spend time daily with African-American children. I had new friends in the classrooms, and the lessons went beyond reading and writing.

After signing the Civil Rights Act, President Johnson said to an aide, “We (Democrats) have lost the South for a generation.” The president underestimated the political impact, which continues now two generations later.

In 1966, just two years later, the people of Tennessee for the first time popularly elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate.

In 1968, in Memphis, the sanitation workers went on strike and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was struck down. In Nashville the Republicans took control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction.  Then in 1970, Tennessee elected a second Republican to the U.S. Senate, throwing out Democratic Sen. Albert Gore Sr.

Despite the backlash, the Civil Rights Act changed customs and changed society. With those changes, what could not have been imagined in 1964 became reality in 2008: An African-American was elected president.

Yet some Republicans responded to this historic progress with crude jokes and racist appeals to fellow bigots. In just one of many examples, a Tennessee Republican state legislative aide sent e-mails caricaturing President Barack Obama’s official portrait as two cartoon eyes peering from a black background.

When in 2010 I ran for Congress, racism was too easy to find. I can still see the angry face of the man at the duck supper who responded to my handshake with “Lemme talk with you about your (N-word) president.” And the scowling man at the rodeo who snarled, “I don’t shake hands with darkies or Democrats — and they’re often the same.”

Thankfully, most Republicans are not racists. But while most Republicans would never discriminate, degrade or demean, their leaders’ legislative actions still repress voters and reverse progress.

All over the country, Republicans are pushing new impediments to discourage and decrease voting by minorities and low-income citizens. While Republicans say they oppose big and oppressive government, they rammed through Tennessee’s government ID law, now notorious as one of the nation’s most burdensome. Only certain government cards now are acceptable at the polls, after Republicans outlawed using a Social Security card or even photo ID cards from the Memphis public library or the University of Memphis. Those without a driver’s license – nationally, 25% of African-Americans – now must go to a driver’s license station, but fewer than half of our counties even have such a station.

Republicans claim these laws fight voter fraud, but instances of persons trying to vote while using someone else’s identity are almost nonexistent. And researchers at the University of Southern California showed strong evidence that “discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for (these new) voter identification laws.”

The first book of the Bible teaches, “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them.” God’s image does not have a color, but it does have a creed. The Apostle Paul put it this way in Galatians 3: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Our American ideals long have taught that we are one. The Great Seal of the United States proclaims “E pluribus unum” — from many, one.

But it was just 50 years ago today that statesmen and idealists and people of a deep faith in Almighty God and in America together created the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Let us celebrate their good work for justice and freedom. And let us carry on their good work, so all God’s children can live in peace and love in truth.

Roy Herron is chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Communications director Rick Herron and interns Garrett Jennings and Hannah Oakley of the state Democratic Party assisted in researching and writing this column.  This piece was cross-posted, with the permission of the author, in the Commercial Appeal.

Christie Mitchell: Laments of the Unemployed Millenial: UPDATE

get-attachment.aspx-2As one door closes, another one opens. Sometimes it takes a few shakes of a lamb’s tail. Sometimes it feels like you’ve tredged up the hill both ways in the snow, barefoot, exposed, vulnerable, in shark-infested water with no life preserver, on an island by yourself with a volleyball for a best friend….

Wait. Too much. Dial it back. Sometimes I get so excited to tell the similar tales of endearment and struggle I was raised on by my (founding) father(s) that I get too ahead of myself. I also remember that although we share the foundation of struggle, our stories and generation gaps, so to speak, fill the holes. They pave a way of evolution for the tykes that come next. That in spite of our differences, we share the same principles. We raise and are raised to fight. We fight to make this world a better place.

That said, I can only speak to unemployment in this day in age, and that is what I’ve been. Unemployed. You feel like a bright, eager, talented, little twerp. You feel so passionately about pouring yourself into your career and being the best and the most. You feel so much feeling that when the checks stop, the spirit leaves you. You hate the phrase, “The glass is half full” because you are drained by being a drain of resources, knowing you can be a source that recharges the economic battery. Wanting to do that. Feeling that. Lots and lots of feeling in our generation…

And sharing. Pouring it out in public, looking for dignification.

I have been one of the lucky ones. I posted an article here on The Recovering Politician about my laments of being unemployed, and within ten minutes, I had multiple responses. People reaching out to help. People reaching out to learn how they could help. People as conduits. People offering to learn more about me in an effort to hire me directly. People that had known of my struggle, but when pen came to paper and a Word document met a blog, felt too, the existence of empathy – generational gaps and all.

That article was my own personal white flag. I thought that before I had done so, I had reached my bottom. It wasn’t until I wrote those words and exposed my feelings that I truly felt like it was time to make the climb. It was then I realized I didn’t have to climb alone – up the hill, both ways, in the snow, shark-infested waters…yadda, yadda, yadda. It was time that I changed “feeling” into acting.

As soon as I acknowledged I needed help in the most public and Gen-Y way possible, my digital smoke signals got picked up by the captain of a major vessle.

I am so pleased to announce that I am no longer unemployed – and haven’t been for some time. Two weeks after I posted the first article, I sat down to have simple, genuine dialogue that would pave the way for a brand new journey. Walking hand-in-hand with the most surprising of mentors in the most serendipitous of circumstances.

My Old Definition: Mad Woman Among the Mad Men. Advertising Agency World left me cold, bitter, ill-adjusted, unrefined, crass.

get-attachment.aspxMy New Definition as a Work In Progress: Polished Professional Woman, deemed so by her peers, her predecessors, succeedors, family, friends, and mentor: Shelia Bayes.

I have been taken under a wing of a strong, female mentor. As much as I have been taken under a wing, I am also being taken very seriously. I have a full glass if I choose to partake. I also have the responsibility of filling the cup. I plan that, the time I spent wallowing and feeling pitiful about how eager and passionate I am, that I am overdue to have this cup runneth over. For myself – for the company I am proud to be an ambassador of – and – for the people willing to take a chance on me when I was sailing uncharted, scary waters.

I think big. I dream big. I fill my heart and my hopes with nothing but…big. I am the quintessential millenial with big hopes and big dreams. I would be kidding if I tried to state anything less.

So, as one chapter closes, another one opens. Thus is the beauty of life. I said in closing of my last article: “Career, life and love are like great bourbon. They’re fun when they’re young, but there’s something sweet and powerful when they get a little age on ‘em.”

“Oh, and they’re more of a commodity too. Because they’ve grown to become something very special. The days of boxed wine and cheap seats are over for this gal. At least that’s the metaphor. I will be drinking boxed wine and looking on from the nosebleeds until I find a job that soothes the pockets…and then lines them….”

Well, folks? Career seems to be shaping up to be beautiful medley of foundation, confidence and passion, coupled with the good old fashioned molding from those who take a special interest in raw, unpolished, mouthy pieces of (art)work. Boy, she’s got her hands full. Pat her on the back when you see her, will you?


I close with the same phrase as before, with subtle differences: “Love? I assume that may be next. Life? Well that’s what I’ve had all along. I won’t be waiting for wrinkles to become special. This is one thing I’m confident of; a sweet gift I do have in my half-empty pocket that is sure to surprise.”

UPDATE: Here’s to lining pockets, wrinkles in time – not on faces; faces that smile, smiles that ignite. Here’s to a remix to ignition, a new definition, and yes, if anyone asks? We DID start the fire.

Here’s to fires that burn so brightly you can see them from space. Here’s to opportunity, whether it be from failure, honesty, success, or flat-out digital SOS smoke signals. Here’s to sweet, simple, serendipitous moments and the spirit for life that can manifest again and burn so brightly – for a little twerp like me – ready to take things on with vigor. We have a new captain, a charted course…and we are full steam ahead. That’s so stinking cool. Oh, life…aren’t you full of stories. You wanker, you.


Greg Coker PortraitBruce Tuckman first introduced the Form, Storm, Norm, Perform model of Team Growth in 1965. He maintained these stages were not only predictable, but necessary and inevitable in order for a team (and I would say an organization) to achieve peak performance. Over the years, I’ve used this model in a variety of settings and continue to be amazed at its far-reaching applications. The following is a brief explanation of each stage:

Stage 1. Form

Individual behavior is typically driven by a desire to be accepted by others and avoid controversy or conflict. Individuals gather information and make initial impressions about each other. The form stage is important as team members have a chance to get to know each other, exchange personal information and establish relationships.

Stage 2. Storm

Most teams will eventually encounter conflict where personal agendas are revealed and interpersonal hostility is generated. If successfully managed, this period of storming leads to a new and more realistic setting of objectives, procedures and norms. The storm stage is necessary to the growth of the team. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict. Tolerance of each team member and the appreciation of differences should be encouraged.

Stage 3. Norm

At this stage, team norms, common practices, policies and procedures start to emerge. How decisions are made, the degree of openness, trust and confidence is established. Team commitment builds during this key transitional stage.

Stage 4. Perform

Only when the three previous stages have been successfully completed will the team be able to achieve true peak performance. Even the most high-performing teams can and do revert back to earlier stages in certain circumstances (new leadership, introduction and/or exodus of team members, crisis situations, frequent change).

One of my favorite movies is Hoosiers starring Gene Hackman as Norman Dale who arrives in the rural southwest Indiana town of Hickory to become a high school teacher and head basketball coach. This movie is not only a classic; it’s a wonderful illustration of Form, Storm, Norm & Perform. For example:

Form: At his first practice, Coach Norman Dale immediately dismisses the interim coach. And minutes into addressing the players, he dismisses two players for not paying attention when he speaks. He then begins drilling the remaining five players with the fundamentals and the need for conditioning. True to the Form stage, Coach Dale is direct, establishes the ground rules and let’s the team know who’s in control.

Storm: Locals from the town of Hickory intrude on a team practice and demand to know what the Coach is doing. Norman Dale remains steadfast when one of his star players disobeys him and shoots without passing, benching him and playing with only four players after another fouls out. The coach alienates the community with a slow, defensive style. By the middle of the season, an emergency town meeting is called to vote on whether Coach Dale should be dismissed. Intuitively and courageously, Coach Dales realizes he can’t take his team to the next level without going through the Storm stage.

Norm: Ultimately, the town of Hickory unanimously decides Coach Dale stays as coach. Players start to listen to Coach Dale, understanding, appreciating and trusting him and his coaching abilities.

Perform: Hickory becomes an unstoppable team and shocks the state by reaching the championship game and taking home the 1952 Indiana state championship.

I’m reminded of this year’s University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball team as recent illustration of Form, Storm, Norm, Perform. The Wildcats Formed, Stormed and stayed in Storm perhaps longer than most had wanted or envisioned. In fact, they may have skipped Norm all together going straight to Perform during the SEC Tournament and throughout the NCAA tournament, darn near winning the National Title!

Closer to home, what can be said about our Legislative Sessions? Do they go through the predictable stages of Form, Storm, Norm & Perform? Should they? Could they? Maybe here’s what it could look like:

Form (First 15 days of a 60 day Session): Legislative Session starts after a long winter break with welcomed orientations, leadership elections, committee assignments, new members/staffs arriving, etc.….

Storm (Second Quarter): Heated, but civil debates about issues facing the Commonwealth occur and legislation introduced that solves problems and moves our state forward. And like Reagan and Tip O’Neil after their Storming, we too respect each other, have a coke upon adjournment and remain friends!

Norm (Third Quarter): Compromise takes hold. Working together to iron out differences becomes the norm. We’re starting to catch our stride!

Perform (Last 15 days): Legislation passes through both Houses in a timely and respectful manner. The Conference Committee process runs smoothly. Partnerships have emerged. Kentucky moves forward in a big way. Session ends on a high note!

Perhaps the greatest value of this model is simply knowing where we are, where we need to go and the potential we have in achieving true peak performance for the Commonwealth.


Greg Coker is the director of organization development for Capital Link Consultants. He is the author of “Building Cathedrals: The Power of Purpose” and travels the country delivering keynote speeches and conducting workshops based on the principles of leadership, employee engagement, culture and purpose, the focal point of his book. His upcoming book, “Moving the Needle: Activating the 55% and Saving the 19%” is scheduled for release in 2014.

Greg Coker: My Dad

Greg Coker PortraitMy dad was a simple man from Tennessee. He worked in a factory for 40 years leaving that concrete floor every afternoon to a farm where he raised some of the best tobacco in Kentucky. Up until five weeks ago, he had never stepped foot in a doctor’s office or hospital. My father passed away a few days ago. Thankfully, he went peacefully. I thought I would take this opportunity to share a few observations and life applications gleaned from my dad’s last days.

• The Power of Friends. We took dad home as Hospice met us in the living room with a hospital bed. His friend Charles came that afternoon and held dad’s hand and reminisced about many of the memories they shared. I heard him say, “Bill, we’ve had some great times together. We cut a lot of tobacco. I love you!” Wow! What a beautiful thing to see two friends holding hands and reliving the past. We frequently shake hands with one another, but how often do we take that opportunity to pull that person a little closer and let them know we love them?  I regret taking opportunities to tell friends how much they meant to me, that I loved them. Charles made it in time to tell dad he loved him, many other friends of dad did not. When I pass I hope my family is by my side but I pray my friends are there too!
• The Power of Flowers. I must admit, in the past I didn’t put too much thought into sending flowers when a friend, family member or business associate suffered a loss. I would call the florist, place the order and never put too much thought whether it actually comforted that person during this difficult time. But as I entered the funeral home for dad’s visitation I was immediately overwhelmed by the flowers that surrounded my father. I personally smelled, touched and enjoyed each flower arrangement. And as I reviewed that small envelope with the sender’s name, I wept. Not only did the flowers brighten the room, they touched my family in a deep and powerful way. Several arrangements were from organizations where my father had been a customer. And while I know they sent them out of the goodness of their heart not expecting anything in return, my family and I will be even more loyal to that business after this compassion. But we don’t need the passing of someone to send flowers. An inexpensive flower arrangement to a friend letting them know you’re thinking of them or how much you appreciate them sends a very strong message. Bottom line, I will never second-guess whether I should send flowers again.

• Visiting with others. My wife’s father died over 25 years ago and she can still remember every one of her friends who attended his visitation. Again, I will be honest. There have been many occasions I questioned whether I should stop by the funeral home and pay my respects and comfort that family. Many times I’ve talked myself out of going. But the times I listened to my heart and made the visit, I never regretted it. Like my wife, I will never forget those who visited with my family during these tough times. But visiting with a friend or family goes way beyond a death of a loved one. What keeps us from making time to call that friend and simply say, “Can I drop by and visit with you? How strong would that be? In my workshops I tell leaders the greatest respect you can show your employees is to simply spend time with them. A one-on-one visit with the only agenda to show appreciation and strengthen the relationship.

• Forgiveness & Reconciliation. The passing of a loved one is often an opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation. As I was greeting visitors at the funeral home there were a few “surprises” in line. For whatever reasons (past arguments/disagreements, etc.) there were a few people I didn’t expect to see. There were also a few flower arrangements sent from people I would not have expected.  And as I greeted and embraced those people there was a weight lifted, a warm feeling. Not a word said about the past, just a simple, “I’m sorry about your loss.” And reconciliation doesn’t necessarily mean resolution. Way too often, we avoid reaching out to someone thinking that would mean rehashing the past. Forgiveness and reconciliation can happen without rehashing the incident. And just like reaching out to our friends and sending flowers, we don’t have to wait for a funeral for forgiveness and reconciliation to occur.

I’m back at work now. I will continue to grieve my father’s passing while continually striving to be the man he was. I will never forget the love, compassion, friendship and generosity so many showed my family and me during this difficult time. And in the future if I grab your hand and say, “Thanks for being my friend, I love you,” please do not be alarmed! I might even send flowers.

Elisabeth Jensen: Kentucky Kynect the Right Remedy at the Right Time

MpHJO.AuSt.79I am passionate about healthcare for the people of Kentucky. That is why I am proud of the leadership Governor Steve Beshear has done with our Kentucky Kynect, which now covers more than 402,000 people in the Commonwealth. Governor Beshear recognized opportunity, and knew the remedy for at just the right time for the people he serves.

And that is why I am disappointed that Representative Andy Barr and Senator Mitch McConnell are still blind to the facts, maintaining even stronger attempts to undermine Kentucky Kynect for people who had no insurance.

I often say Kentucky moms like me get more done by noon than Congress gets done in a week.  So when I learned Congressman Andy Barr has voted 19 times to repeal healthcare reform I was disappointed.

Barr, along with Mitch McConnell, voted to end Kynect and let insurance companies drop coverage, deny care and charge women more.

Barr has been in office as 6th District Congressman since January 2013. Since then, he has voted at least 19 times to repeal healthcare. His latest effort was just last week, when he cast his vote for the disastrous Barr/Ryan Budget, which would also change Medicare as we know it. During his career, he has taken more than $148,000 in contributions from the insurance industry, according to Opensecrets.org.

Overall, Congress has voted about 54 times to repeal the health care law. McConnell has even been criticized nationally for grossly distorting statistics, particularly when Governor Beshear’s office was reporting great success right here in Kentucky.

When I am in Congress, the families of Kentucky’s 6th District won’t have to be afraid of me serving special interests over their interests. And when it comes to their healthcare, I will protect Kentucky Kynect. When it comes to Andy Barr and me that is a big difference.

Elisabeth Jensen, as an executive of a non-profit and with deep experience in the business community, brings the tools and experience needed to get the economy working again. She is running for Congress to seek common sense, bi-partisan solutions to the challenges facing our country. See www.elisabethforkentucky.com for more information.



George Phillips: The View from a Dukie

Editors’ Note:  The author, a Duke alum,  is one of my very best friends, and also one of my biggest enemies on game day.  I have excerpted a letter he wrote me this morning.

I didn’t text or call last night because I knew how crushing that loss must have been, and even this may be too soon.  But you know I hope you will forgive me for intruding on your, “It was a great season moment.”

You had the most talented team in the nation, they were favored, they could taste it and they deserved it having beaten Wichita State, Michigan and Louisville, and they were playing UConn who lost to Louisville 3 times this year, once by 30 points, who the Cats killed twice this year.  I know you thought even if UConn was able to lead in the first half it would only a matter of time before UK’s immense talent would take over and dominate in the second half.  It looked that way, UConn was on the ropes, everybody knew it was only a matter of time, UConn’s bigs were in four trouble, Randle was, as he was all year, a man among boys, one of the Harrison twins could be counted on to hit a 3 if it was needed, the Cats were destined to win.

UK had a dozen possessions in the second half 0with UConn clinging to a 1-pt lead, and they just couldn’t take the lead.  Instead they will always be remembered as one of the most talented basketball teams in NCAA history not to win the National Championship.  Right up there with Calipari’s 2008 Memphis team ranked #1 with Derrick Rose with a 106-9 record over the last 3 years coming into the finals with Kansas.  Rose had an unbelievable second half leading Memphis to a 9 point lead with 2 minutes left.  But then like last night, Calipari’s stars as talented as they were, couldn’t hit their free throws missing 4 of 5 over the last minute.  The other less talented team last night like Kanas hit theirs, all 10 of them.  The team with less talent, with less freshmen starters, who worked at free throws intently in every practice where misses result in wind sprints, won.

Comparisons to the ’83 Houston Cougars with Olajuwon and Drexler, or Michigan’s ’93 Fab Five or the most dominant team ever the ’91 UNLV Running Rebels led by the Calipari like Tark the Shark.  The Running Rebels demolished every team they played in 1990, including the largest blow-out ever in the finals beating Duke by 30 points.  In ’91 they were undefeated trouncing teams by an average margin of victory of almost 30 points and they faced Duke in the quarter finals who they had humiliated in the finals the year before. And they, like UK last night, lost. And like last night, there was a feeling that the more talented team lost, but somehow there was justice in Calipari like Tarkanian being denied a Championship that by all rights they should have won.  Sometimes preparation, hard work and experience beats talent.  Sometimes there is justice in the world.  Last night felt to a non-Kentucky fan like one of those times.

College basketball is a cruel, crushing sport, and none more cruel to BBN and one of the most talented teams in the history of College basketball, than last night’s loss.  I feel your pain.

Chris Barnes: Greed – The Real #MarchMadness

By the time that you read this, #MarchMadness2014 will probably be over and a winner will be crowned. College basketball fans: How did you like it? Do you hear Pharrell Williams singing his ubiquitous song “Happy” playing in the background? If you are a UConn fan or a Kentucky fan, you probably do.

Unfortunately, your joy may be quite short lived. One team will cut down the nets in a state of utter euphoria after the game. The other team will bury their heads in towels to absorb a downpour of tears and to mask the looks of sheer frustration on their faces. Let’s consider a little history and the culture of the March Madness.

The 1992 Michigan Wolverines — affectionately dubbed the “Fab 5” — and the 2013 Kentucky Wildcats: Do you see the similarity between the teams? They are the only teams ever to start five freshmen in an NCAA Championship Game. That’s large…XXL!

In 1992, the notion of five freshmen starting in an NCAA Championship Game was unheard of…almost preposterous! Five freshmen (Webber/Rose/Jackson/King/Howard) outranked all the seasoned sophomores, juniors, and seniors already on the team who held their egos in check and who gave new meaning to the phrase “Team First.”

The Wildcat Five (Johnson/Randle/Young/Aaron/Andrew Harrison) faced no competition among their upper-class teammates, of which only two were seniors. Such is the state of Kentucky basketball these days. Coach John Calipari guarantees starting spots to blue-chip recruits…a highly questionable recruiting strategy. One and done—NBA here I come! The best high-school players want instant gratification and adoration and Coach Cal loves to bring athletes like that into his system.

In the 90s, the players wanted to be part of a team. Not now. Incoming freshmen come the team packed with attitude. Basketball did not change. You still need to run the pick and roll the way it’s been done for decades. [Side note: Thankfully the tight uniforms got jettisoned!]

For the record, John Calipari stated, “There is always next year when I have the top recruits once again coming for one year.” A lot of Calipari’s counterparts deem him to be a sleazy coach with no moral compass…especially when it comes to recruiting.

For those with short — or selective — memories, consider the time that Temple Owls Coach John Chaney and then U Mass coach Cal almost came to blows at a press conference after Chaney uttered the words, “I’m going to tell my kid, to kick yours kid’s butt,” as a result of the tactics used on the court by U Mass—a classic moment in intercollegiate athletics.

How many Kentucky Wildcats ever played in the NBA? More important: How many earned degrees from that storied institution.

Why don’t today’s players stay for four and graduate? The radical new culture in NCAA basketball comes down to “cream”—Cash Rules Everything Around Me. How soon can I get paid?

If the Kentucky Wildcats emerge victorious John Calipari will deposit a whopping $700,000 check in his bank account. If the Huskies cut down the nets Connecticut Head Coach Kevin Ollie receives a “measly” $166,000—but he’s only in his second year on the job so…The colleges themselves will receive over millions of dollars. The players get beautiful rings from the good folks at Jostens, but no “paper.”

The Fab Five never won an NCAA Championship, although they reached the finals twice in 1992 and 1993. They made a pact to stay another year to see if they could win it all and they stayed true to their words.

The Wild Five stand on the threshold of history: They can win with a starting five consisting of only freshmen. If they lose will the Wild Five put fame and fortune on hold for just one more year—like the Fab Five? Or — as seems more likely to be the case — will they pursue the pot of gold at the end of the NBA rainbow? Talk amongst yourselves!


Cross-posted from BK Nation h/t Kevin Powell

The Recovering Politician Bookstore


The RP on The Daily Show

Sign Up For The RP's Email List!