I hope everyone enjoyed their recent Memorial Day weekend. Many Louisianans were vacationing over the long holiday or enjoying a cookout with family and friends. Many stores held sales advertising for us to have a “Happy Memorial Day.” All well and good, but what about the real purpose of this special day?
Many of us don’t even know the difference between Memorial Day (honoring those who died defending our country) and Veterans Day (honoring all service men and women). Only 5% of Americans attended local military events or parades. I joined a sparsely attended gathering Memorial Day at the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge. Is it enough to holler USA at sporting events, or to say “Thank you for your service” when you see a service man or women in uniform? Should Americans be required to do more?
In 1967, I was 27 years old and newly married with my first child on the way. So I was draft exempt, with no legal requirement to join the service. Maybe I did not have a legal obligation, but what about a moral responsibility to serve my country in the time of war?
I come from a long line of distinguished military officers who never hesitated to serve their country. They did not try to find ways to sidestep such service like so many others, including most of our politicians today as well as several recent presidents.
Relatives on both sides of my family served their country with honor and distinction. My first father-in-law Dick Campbell who was an ace fighter pilot, rose to the rank of full colonel in the Army, and twice escaped from German prison camps. My Dad stayed stateside coordinating military transportation coast to coast for the Army. Second father-in-law Teddy Solomon was sent by the Army to the South Pacific. My younger brother Jack volunteered and joined the National Guard for a six-year hitch.
My mother’s brother had quite a navel military career. In the final months of World War II, Commander Jack Gentry was flying a reconnaissance mission over the Pacific when his flight cameras captured photos of the Japanese flotilla. He made the cover of Life Magazine as his pictures allowed a direct attack on the enemy fleet that sped up the ending of the war with Japan. He went on to command the battleship USS Enterprise until his retirement from the Navy in the 1960s.
With this strong family military background, I felt an obligation to continue the service to my country. I make no bones about the fact that I feel every American should either serve in the military or perform voluntary service in the city or state where they live. The American flag flies outside my home 365 days a year. I wear my military dog tags while I broadcast my syndicated radio program each week (NG25520050).
This is not an effort to pat myself on my back. Like so many other young men and women who love their country, it was something I felt a strong obligation to do. So despite the fact that I was draft exempt, I signed up for service in the Army, then stayed for ten additional years in the Louisiana National Guard.
Our nation has been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan going on two decades. Yet many Americans look on war as a spectator sport. So few have any real skin in the game.
I recently read a book by military scholar George Wilson called “The Mud Soldiers,” where he laments over the problems with an all-volunteer army. He quotes Vietnam veteran Col. Steve Siegfried who states: “Armies don’t fight wars. Countries fight wars….. Yes a country fights a war. If it doesn’t, then we shouldn’t send an army.
War should be every citizen’s business. We should all perform some volunteer service, military or otherwise. This should be an easy decision if we love our country and care about our freedom.
Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise says he is still struggling over whether to forgive the man who shot him two years ago. “I’ve never, internally, formally forgiven the shooter from the baseball shooting,” he said. “It’s something I’ve struggled with as a Catholic.”
It would be hard for many, including me, to forgive such a transgression. I’m still personally quite bitter over wrongs that happened to me some years back. So I understand the reluctance to forgive.
But what about turning the other cheek, and forgiving one’s enemies as we read in scripture throughout the New Testament? Can we suffocate our bitterness and a feeling that some form of retribution is unnecessary? Does continuing anger and hostility become tantamount to suffocating oneself emotionally? “The effects on one’s health from bottled up anger and resentment can range from anxiety and depression to blood pressure and increased risk of heart attacks,” says professor of medicine Amit Sood at the Mayo Clinic. “Forgiveness, by contrast, allows one to focus on more positive thoughts and relationships. It allows you to free up the real estate in your brain taken up by negative thinking.”
Forgive and forget, so goes much of the conventional wisdom. Move on with your life and just chalk it all up to tough lessons learned. But isn’t it possible to continue with the positive aspects in one’s life, learn from past mistakes, and continue to grow, putting aside the bitter feeling that you suffered a terrible wrong? Simply put, don’t maintain continuing anger, but don’t forget.
In the fall of 2015, Pope Francis sent the body of St. Maria Goretti on a limited U.S. tour. The youngest canonized Saint has a compelling story of suffering and forgiveness. St. Maria was born into poverty and raised in Corinaldo, a beautiful medieval village in central Italy. Maria, whose father died when she was nine, raised her five siblings when she was only eleven while her mother worked in the fields. One day, a twenty-year-old neighbor accosted her and, as she fought him, he brutally stabbed her repeatedly.
Maria died the next day, but her last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli (her attacker) and I want him with me in heaven forever.” Alessandro was so overcome that he lived the converted life of holiness in prison and eventually became a Franciscan lay brother.
One of the stops on St. Maria’s U.S. pilgrimage was Baton Rouge, where the coffin with her remains was to be displayed in veneration at Lady of Mercy Catholic Church for three days. Crowds of worshipers were expected to visit the Saint from a number of states. The pastor there, Father Cleo Milano, has been a good friend and I called him to see if there was a possibility of any quiet time with St. Maria. He suggested I come by the church close to midnight after the doors were locked down for the night.
As the sanctuary was about to be bolted and the lights were dimmed, I made my way down the center aisle of the church and sat beside the remains of St. Maria. I touched her coffin and prayed for my family. And then, I thought to myself, this beautiful child, now a Saint, was brave and open-hearted enough to forgive the cruel demon that took her life. Although I too was wronged in ways that I felt were so unjust, should I not be empathetic and compassionate enough to forgive those who so aggrieved me?
I thought about it for good while. I guess I even prayed over the decision. After much contemplation, I quietly got up from my pew and walked out of the church. So what was my decision? Could I forgive those transgressions?
Often, your adversaries, by their impertinence, bring themselves down and destroy their own reputations. In my case, nemeses that caused me harm have themselves been damaged and suffered humiliation. So what to do? Forgive them? In my case, I decided just to wait them out. They ended up destroying themselves. What’s the old saying: If you stand by the river long enough, your enemies will come floating by.
I’d urge the Congressman to take his time and be sure that forgiveness is something he really wants to give. If not, just bide his time. After all, revenge is a dish best served cold.
It’s the kickoff for hurricane season and forecasters are predicting as many as 14 named storms with anywhere from 3 to 6 of these storms growing into major hurricanes. Here on the Gulf Coast, we certainly perk up when this time of year rolls around. For years, a good story in south Louisiana went like this:
“I’m a Catholic, so I certainly know a good bit about suffering,” she would say.
“Yeah, I’m a Louisiana homeowner, he answered.
“Oh, so you understand.”
Louisiana homeowners know a good bit about suffering, particularly when it comes to being stuck with the highest property insurance rates in the nation. The Clark Research Group determined that Louisiana has some of the highest insurance costs, coming in at an average of more than $6000.00. No other state in the South comes close. If you live in industrialized New Jersey, the cost is $1,318.00, a drop of some $300.00 in the past 10 years. California, with wildfires and massive rain caused mudslides, pays an average of $1,988.00.
But that’s not the whole story. Congress merely put its finger in the flood insurance dike with legislation that supposedly capped the skyrocketing rates of property owners in flood prone areas. But what our minions in Washington didn’t tell us is that the rates will continue to climb dramatically in the years to come. The legislation is just a quick fix to hoodwink voters in order to get through the next election cycle.
Because of the devastating hurricanes that seem to hit the gulf coast at least once a decade, the federal government has bailed out these southern states, literally and financially, time, and time again. Some cynical members of Congress have even suggested that it’s time for many homeowners to relocate. But attitudes are beginning to change, because other oxen are being gored. Mother Nature has given the Gulf South a pass in recent years, but she is causing havoc in other parts of the nation.
Oklahoma has suffered an unprecedented surge in both earthquakes and tornadoes and are clamoring for federal help. New York and New Jersey have a long way to go to recover from last year’s Hurricane Sandy. In Texas, hurricanes and wildfires have cost some $28 billion in recent years. California witnessed rapid growth in both drought and wildfires, and earthquakes remain a constant threat. A Wall Street Journal study published recently concluded that almost every state in the nation is subject to some major disaster.
So has a national plan that doesn’t use taxpayer dollars been proposed which is both comprehensive and affordable? Yes. Such a proposal was unveiled in New Orleans in May of 1995 at a catastrophe insurance conference sponsored by the American Insurance Services Group. I attended as Louisiana’s Insurance Commissioner. The proposal called for a Natural Disaster Insurance Corporation (NDIC) that would sell disaster reinsurance for residential and commercial properties while also providing primary coverage for residential properties. We all agreed back then that there would be a huge problem with catastrophic insurance losses all over America unless a national disaster program was put in place. And that’s just what’s happening across the country now.
Here is how it would work. Private insurance would take a small portion of its premiums and contribute to a state created fund. The state fund would then be backed up by a nationally created fund. The national fund could borrow to pay for any shortfall, but no federal tax dollars would be involved. Each state could buy in and have a rate set according to the risk. Hurricane prone states like Louisiana would pay more than a state like North Dakota that experiences much less in natural disaster damage. That was the plan then. And the good news is that in reaction to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the tornados in Oklahoma and Missouri, a number of states are coalescing around this same plan now.
It’s taken almost 24 years, but it looks like it could be the right time for problem solving. It’s just not a handout for the coastal states. The whole country will benefit. And at a price that’s affordable. We certainly cannot be any worse off than we are now.
Governor Jimmy Davis must be rolling over in his grave right now. Louisiana’s internationally acclaimed official state song is under attack by the Louisiana Legislature. There is an effort by some south Louisiana legislators to designate the Cajun classic Jambalaya as an official public ballad. And them’s fightin’ words for those who have embraced You are my Sunshine as the sanctioned formal melody.
The Sunshine defenders point out that it could be the most recognized American ballad worldwide. Go to a small Asian community where little or no English is spoken. Start humming, You Are My Sunshine. More likely than not, the locals will join in singing the song in English. Everybody knows the words to a down-home tune written by a Louisiana country singer and movie star. And he was sworn in as Louisiana Governor seventy-five years ago this month.
A few years back, I was in Cambodia at the Golden Triangle, where Burma and Thailand converge. I was having breakfast in a rural village at an outdoor café, and the young waitress who knew a few words in English said, “You American. I love America. I sing about America.” Then, with a big grin on her face, she broke out in song and danced around the dirt floor singing You Are My Sunshine.
That’s in no way meant to belittle the Cajun tune played in dance halls and musical venues all over Louisiana and much of the south. But there is a vast difference between the two songs. Sunshine was written and sung by a Louisiana native who happened to end up as governor. Jambalaya was written by Hank Williams, who was born, raised and is buried in Alabama. Haven’t we here in the Bayou State been humiliated enough by Alabama football to have to have our state song written by another Roll Tide advocate?
Actually, Jambalaya’s melody is basically the same tune taken from the song Grand Texas, about a lost love; a woman who left the country singer to go with someone else to “Big Texas,” where ever that’s supposed to be. So we have an Alabama song written off a Texas tune that may end up as the Bayou Nation’s new state song.
And what about some of the Jambalaya lyrics? A line in the song is “For tonight, I’m-a gonna see my ma cher a mi-o.” OK. I get ma cher. Even us uneducated rednecks know that ma cher means “my dear.” But what about this a mi-o. The word doesn’t exist. I’ve checked slang dictionaries in French and Spanish. No such word.
Now I’ll admit it’s a bit hard to defend some of the lyrics in Sunshine. Take the stanzas:
You told me once, dear, you really loved me
And no one else could come between
But now you’ve left me and love another
You have shattered all my dreams
I’ll concede such verbiage doesn’t set the best example for our young folks to aspire to greater heights. But hey, it’s only a song. Just like the partying words of Jambalaya, I guess it really doesn’t make much of a difference. Outside of a bar or dancehall, when was the last time you heard either song being sung? So maybe it’s just as well to have two state songs.
Being a redneck and having gotten to know Gov. Jimmie Davis back in the 1970’s, I’m just partial to You are my Sunshine. And just who was Sunshine? A past lover? A devoted family member? No. Sunshine was Jimmie Davis’s horse. The palomino mare is buried up on the Davis family farm above my old home of Ferriday. I pass that way occasionally and remember back on my conversations with the Governor. And yes. I do hum a few bars of what will always be my favorite Louisiana song, You Are My Sunshine.
“The Killer” needs to take a break from Rock and Roll. Jerry Lee Lewis had a recent stroke and will spend the coming months in a rehab facility near his home in Nashville. I was looking forward to his April 28th concert at the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, and had already lined up my tickets for his show. But that’s been cancelled. So let me look back on a few memories about Jerry Lee.
In 1958, I was at a high school hop in St. Louis when the number one song in the country was performed. I danced with my girlfriend to Jerry Lee’s hit, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” We played the song over and over. My favorite part was when his vocals got quite and in a soft voice he sang.
I play a little music myself, but I have never heard anyone play a boogie woogie piano like he could. He often played standing up and could even play with his feet, after he kicked over his piano bench. Jerry Lee was something else.
Fast forward ten years almost to that day. I’m sitting in my office as a new country lawyer in Ferriday, Louisiana. I had few clients so I was always anxious when the door opened. One afternoon, in walks “The Killer” himself. I recognized him immediately with that long wavy hair and pointed chin. He didn’t need a lawyer but had a family member that was in a bit of trouble with the local game wardens. I was glad to help and that forged a long relationship with the king of rock and roll.
There were other incidents from time to time, and when a relative or friend appealed to Jerry Lee for help, I would get a call. I never sent him a bill for my services, but I could get front row seats to his concerts. He played at a Baton Rouge club called Floyd Brown’s back in the 80s, and Jerry Lee kept my group entertained backstage for a good while after the show.
You have to admire his resiliency. Jerry Lee has certainly had his highs and lows, but in his worse moments, he’s always had the heart and stubbornest to fight back. His popularity today continues at a high level that most star musical performers envy.
I attended a dinner in New York last year for a relative, and a wealthy hedge fund CEO came to my table and introduced himself. He had heard I was from Ferriday. All he wanted to talk about was Jerry Lee Lewis. “My musical idol,” he told me. “I even have a piano in my office, so to unwind, I play “The Killer’s music.” This guy has billions, travels the world in his own private jet, and to relax, he plays the music of a Ferriday boy who cut his musical teeth hanging out with the likes of Mickey Gilley and Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.
The three cousins all were self-taught and could each play the piano before they reached 10 years old. They went separate directions and each found success. At one time, Rev. Swaggart (whose family I also represented) had a worldwide following, and his preaching is still watched in numerous countries. Mickey Gilley, who did several concerts for me in my political days, was named the country singer of the year, and performs now at his own club in Branson, Missouri.
For good reason, Jerry Lee was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is just one more of the musical legends that call Louisiana their home. Here’s hoping he makes a full recovery and is back on the concert stage again soon. We all want to hear again about “a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.”
Blackface mania has consumed voters in Virginia and is seeping into other states. Are their closeted politicians in Louisiana who are perusing their old yearbooks and scrapbooks to see if there are any blackface photos lurking in their past? Actually, no, since blackface parodies have been part of the Louisiana mode de vie for a number of years.
If you have been down the bayou at your fishing camp and have not stayed current on the national news, there are daily reports concerning the Governor and the Attorney General in Virginia who have admitted wearing blackface in their younger years. Both are democrats, and most of the other democratic elected officials are calling for the two office holders to step down. It’s right down chaotic in Virginia now, since you have the governor and the attorney general admitting blackface, the lieutenant governor is accused of sexual assault, and the next in line Speaker of the House who got his job by having his name picked out of a bowl. They really have it all together in what has been called the most progressive state in the South. If there is a confederacy of dunces, it’s Virginia, not the Bayou State.
The Virginia governor now is backtracking and says that’s not really him in the blackface photo taken back in 1984. Not much of a memory, but other than that, he seems like a decent guy. In his race for governor, he was endorsed by every black legislator in the state. For years, the white Democratic governor has belonged to a predominantly black church with a black pastor. As a physician before becoming governor, he served in a volunteer capacity as the medical director of a children’s hospice, and as an Army doctor, he treated Gulf War casualties for eight years. By any reasonable measure, he seems to have made a longtime commitment to racial justice and public service. But it’s all about that blackface, isn’t it?
When l was serving as Secretary of State in the 1980s, Louisiana legislators, at the end of their legislative sessions at the state capitol, performed a self-parody making fun of their work and themselves. It was called “The Opera” where black legislators wore whiteface and white members wore blackface. No one seemed offended, and one of the most enthusiastic participants was Rev. Avery Alexander, a black civil rights leader and the founder of the Legislative Black Caucus. There was give and take, all in good fun.
Mardi Gras Day is just a few weeks away, and one of largest organizations to march through the city of New Orleans is the Krewe of Zulu. It’s a black krewe that often invites white friends to participate. But there is one requirement. A white participant must wear blackface. A Caucasian friend of mine was invited to ride in Zulu, but he told the group he would not wear black face because he did not want to offend anyone. Sorry the black organization told him. No blackface, no riding in Zulu.
In Baton Rouge this week, a 1993 photo was discovered showing two white police officers in blackface. The officers were involved in an undercover narcotics sting operation to get drugs off the streets. The Baton Rouge mayor was appalled and issued a strong statement condemning the operation. She apparently feels it is better to let drug dealers continue to operate rather than offend anyone.
Here is a short list of entertainers who have worn blackface. Jimmy Kimmel, Dan Aykroyd, Bing Crosby, Billy Crystal, Ted Danson, Robert Downey Jr., Alec Guinness, Sophia Loren, Bob Hope, David Niven, Will Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Temple, John Wayne, Gene Wilder, the list goes on and on.
With a wave of political correctness sweeping the country, blackface on any level would be inappropriate. But should someone today be held accountable for something they did without malice 30 or 40 years ago? How far back do we go in one’s past before we forgive poor judgment? Would St. Paul have passed such a test after he admittedly persecuted Jews and followers of Jesus Christ before he became a Christian? Or should such degraded souls be eternally ashamed and be reconciled to make perpetual amends?
Let me submit that America, with all its warts, is a pretty decent country that has been able to adapt, revise, adjust and yes, forgive. It’s time for the overlords of outrage to put their intolerance aside let the nation to move on.
It sounded like it came out of a movie plot. In the early morning hours, federal agents stormed a home to make an arrest. They had to be after some major drug lord or a sought-after terrorist. There were 29 agents all wearing military gear and carrying weapons. High powered assault rifles were involved. Seventeen SUVs and two armored vehicles surrounded the home with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It must be a really dangerous dude.
In a nearby canal, amphibious watercraft charged the home filled with more federal agents. A helicopter hovered in the sky with long range weapons focused on the home. As agents approached the house with battering rams, they demanded that the accused immediately open the door and surrender. The attack on Osama Bid Laden had fewer Navy Seals involved then the number of agents who were sent to arrest this dangerous villain. Was this the seizure of an anti-government leader in Venezuela? Had El Chapo escaped from prison and his capture was about to take place? Had the feds found Bin Laden’s successor? CNN had been tipped off and broadcast the whole attack live. What was going on?
lt was none of these, but merely a longtime Trump friend Roger Stone. He was being arrested for making false statements to a congressional committee. And he was treated like a terrorist? Stone is an American citizen and has lived in south Florida for a number of years. He does not have a current passport. He has known about this investigation for months, and his lawyers said he would be glad to self-surrender if he were charged with a crime. If Stone had documents to hide or destroy, he would have had plenty of time in the months preceding his arrest. He has never been accused of any crimes and has no violent history.
After his arrest, the judge let Stone out on his personal signature without having to put up any property or money. It was obvious that Stone was no threat and should have been allowed to appear on his own. So what gives? Have we been turned into a jackboot democracy?
Here was Stone’s response. “They could simply have called my lawyers and I would have turned my myself in. I’m 66 years old. I don’t own a firearm. I have no previous criminal record. My passport has expired. The special counsel’s office is well aware of the fact that I’m represented. I was frog-marched out the front door barefooted and shackled. It’s an attempt to poison the jury pool. These are Gestapo tactics.”
Some in the press speculated that the special prosecutor and the FBI were sending a message. They sure were. It’s a message of terror, and fear that no citizen can trust their government. It’s a message that your government is not above using police state tactics, and that the justice system responds, not based on evidence, but based on threats. When thugs come into intimidate, it sends a message that you may not be living in a democracy anymore but a banana republic. It sends a message that no, you are no longer considered innocent until proven guilty in a system that operates in such a dictatorial fashion.
The story gets worse. Stone’s indictment accuses him of making false statements to the House Intelligence Committee, but the testimony is classified so Stone is prohibited from seeing what he supposedly lied about. How is he supposed to defend himself if he cannot even read what he supposedly said? What has happened to the supposed constitutional guarantee of being able to confront your accuser and challenging their evidence?
It matters not whether you are a liberal or a staunch conservative, this is not how justice is supposed to operate in America. Many Americans will feel that if it is not happening to them then why should they care. But unfortunately, what happened to Roger Stone could happen to anyone. Are we not a better country than this?
Peace and Justice
How do you put a dollar value on the worth of a public official? How about this idea.
Shouldn’t receiving any salary increase be based on results?
LSU football coach Ed Orgeron will pocket some three and a half million dollars this year, making him one of the highest-paid football coaches in the nation. He received such an enormous salary package based on results. It’s the old adage that you get what you pay for, and with Ed, LSU ended the football season winning 10 games.
Should time and work be the only criteria in paying public employees? Why not pay the governor, the secretary of economic development, the superintendent of education, and a cross section of other public officials that directly affect our lives based on a scale of how well they perform and what results they achieve?
Experimentation with performance pay in the public sector is on the grow. A New York City charter school is promising to pay teachers $125,000 a year, plus bonuses based on classroom and school-wide performance. Sure, this is a lot of money, but those in charge are looking for a significant increase in student performance levels. Bottom line — results.
All of this aside, the heart of our query is about pegging the pay of the governor and his top assistants to performance. I would surmise that most voters in Louisiana would think it’s a good idea, but how do you do it? When you talk about results, it is certainly easier to define in the private sector. Results are measured in the stock price of a publicly traded company or by profit in any other company. The more the company makes, the more its managers can earn.
But can you create an accountability and production index in government? I think you can. This would be a challenge for key economists at Louisiana universities. Develop a formula that would give a “performance index.” Sounds difficult, but why not give it a try? If you take the economic figures below and compare them with other states, Louisiana comes in 48th in the nation.
I suggest starting a Louisiana “misery index.” Go ahead and pay Gov. John Bel Edwards and his brain trust the big bucks. The governor should make $1 million a year. But this amount would be adjusted by the misery index. Right now, the index is high on poor growth and low on performance, so Edwards salary would be close to what he now makes: $125,000. Now this should just be the beginning. As Governor Edwards often tells us, future economic growth in Louisiana is tied to job skills through education. Therefore, we should build into the formula increases in high school math performance, elementary student test results, reduction in the state’s troubling pollution levels, and maybe the number of new movies that are shot in Louisiana each year. Leave out the LSU national football ratings but include the student athlete graduation rates.
Finally, I would factor in consumer confidence. Are the voters getting tangible results? Are they happy with the performance of their top public officials? If you own shares of stock, and have little confidence in your company investment, you simply sell the stock. The average Joe ought to be able to put in his two cents worth as to the value he’s getting out of Louisiana government. Get his opinion through a statewide poll and factor the results in to the performance index.
So to all the statewide officials, I say make your case and ask the salary level you think you are worth. But just like in the private sector, be prepared to defend the bottom line. The proof of course is in the pudding. Be accountable for the results that take place. And if you succeed, reap the benefits.
In ancient Rome, there was a tradition when major projects were built. Whenever a Roman engineer constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible. He stood under the arch.
So pay these pied pipers of change and economic growth the big bucks they say they are worth. But keep them directly under the arch of performance, and let voters know there will be a day of reckoning if this promise of change and results plummet to the ground.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.
It’s the end of the college football season with Clemson taking a resounding victory over favored Alabama. The year also produced a financial bonanza for top tier football schools all over the country. ESPN has paid some 7 billion dollars for the rights to telecast just seven games a year over the next 12 years. Television revenue has doubled for major college football programs over last year. Stadiums are expanding and ticket sales are at an all-time high. So let’s ask this question-is it all about the money?
Initially, college football and other athletic programs were supposed to be extracurricular activities; a break from the rigors of taking classes and qualifying for a degree. No more. Just absorb the words of Cardale Jones, a recent quarterback for national championship powerhouse Ohio State. His message on Twitter complained: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
Maybe Cardale has a point. For many colleges, it’s all about the dollars and winning football games. My old friend and University of North Carolina football coach Mack Brown summed it up this way: “When you hear college presidents and athletic directors talk about character and academics and integrity, none of that really matters. College football is growing closer and closer of being like the NFL.”
When it comes to priorities, my home state’s football powerhouse is a case in point. Louisiana colleges are in a financial free-fall, with new budget cuts being imposed yearly. LSU has seen its state-funding cut by over 40% in recent years. The endowment of the state’s flagship university is one of the lowest of any major colleges in the country. In the most recent edition of U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings, LSU weighed in at a lowly 129th in the nation.
But when it comes to football financial rankings, the Fighting Tigers are high on the list. In the recent Forbes rankings of the most valuable football teams, LSU comes in at number 4, with a current value of just under $100 million, and a football profit last year of $47 million. Coach Ed Orgeron is paid $3.5 million plus performance bonuses and endorsement fees. One of his assistants is paid $ 2.5 million. To compare athletics and academics, the University’s top remunerated professors receive an annual salary of $78,000.
Most Wall Street hedge funds would love to see blue chip stocks increase at the rate of college football revenue. Schools like LSU are paid over $12 million by companies like Nike, just to wear the company’s logo. But to make that kind of money, the football team has to be a winner. And to win, even the top academic schools often cut corners.
My alma mater, The University of North Carolina, consistently ranks as one of the top academic universities in the U.S. But the alums want a football winner. In recent months, press reports documented that for the past 18 years, thousands of athletes, primarily football players, have taken fake “paper classes’ with no attendance and no work performed.
And just what do these athletes receive? Only enough to cover the basic college expenses — room, food, tuition and books. No pocket money to go to the movies, no gas money, no extras whatsoever. So we have college athletic programs raking in millions on the backs of talented, disciplined, hardworking athletes, without sharing the revenue with those responsible for generating it. Such a system is ill-defined at best and hypocritical at worst.
Fifty-six years ago, I was lucky enough to attend the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship. I was given a housing and food allowance that exceeded my costs, as well as “laundry money” that allowed for weekend dates, gas, and a few frills above the basic scholarship outlays. What I received then was equivalent to some $300 in pocket money if the same were allowed today. But the NCAA tightened up the rules, and college athletes get less today than athletes like me received some years back.
The system in place brings in millions of dollars for those that run the football program, but allows our young college athletes to be exploited, and the exploitation is being committed by their adult mentors. What a deal-your body in exchange for a pittance of basic expenses.
Something is definitely wrong with the way college football is run. But with all the money coming in, don’t expect much to change. After all, we only care about winning.
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I always do. A New Year always brings with it promise and uncertainty, but this coming year brings with it a greater foreboding than we have experienced in the past. The Chinese have a saying: “May you live in interesting times.” But their definition means dangerous or turbulent. We in Louisiana and throughout America certainly live in “interesting” times today.
One resolution I make each year is to maintain my curiosity. It doesn’t matter how limited your perspective or how narrow the scope of your surroundings, there is (or should be) something to whet your interest and strike your fancy. I discovered early on that there are two kinds of people — those who are curious about the world around them, and those whose shallow attentions are generally limited to those things that pertain to their own personal well-being. I just hope all those I care about fall into the former category.
Another resolution is to continue to hope. I hope for successful and fulfilling endeavors for my children, happiness and contentment for family and friends, and for the fortitude to handle both the highs and lows of daily living with dignity.
Each year, I ask my children to give me two gifts for Christmas. First, I ask them to make a donation to a charity that will help needy families in their community. And second, I ask them to re-read Night, the unforgettable holocaust novel by Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace laureate who survived the Nazi death camps. I have a Wiesel quote framed on my office desk:
“To defeat injustice and misfortune, if only for one instant, for a single victim, is to invent a new reason to hope.”
Like many of you, our family welcomes in the New Year with “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s an old Scotch tune, with words passed down orally, and recorded by my favorite historical poet, Robert Burns, back in the 1700s. (I’m Scottish, so there’s a bond here.) “Auld Lang Syne,” literally means “old long ago,” or simply, “the good old days.” Did you know this song is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year?
I can look back over many years of memorable New Year’s Eve celebrations. In recent years, my wife and I have joined a gathering of family and friends in New Orleans at a French Quarter restaurant. After dinner, we make a stop at St. Louis Cathedral for a blessing of the New Year. Then it’s off to join the masses for the New Year’s countdown to midnight in Jackson Square.
When my daughters were quite young, we spent a number of New Year holidays at a family camp on Davis Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River some 30 miles below Vicksburg. On several occasions, the only people there were my family and Bishop Charles P. Greco, who was the Catholic Bishop for central and north Louisiana. Bishop Greco had baptized all three of my daughters, and had been a family friend for years.
On many a cold and rainy morning, the handful of us at the camp would rise before dawn for the Bishop to conduct a New Year’s Mass. After the service, most of the family went back to bed. I would crank up my old jeep and take the Bishop out in the worst weather with hopes of putting him on a stand where a large buck would pass. No matter what the weather, he would stay all morning with his shotgun and thermos of coffee. He rarely got a deer, but oh how he loved to be there in the woods. Now, I’m not a Catholic, but he treated me as one of his own.
New Year’s Day means lots of football, but I also put on my chef’s apron. I’m well regarded in the kitchen around my household, if I say so myself, for cooking up black-eyed peas as well as cabbage and corn bread. And don’t bet I won’t find the dime in the peas. After all, I’m going to put it there.
I’ll be back next week with my customary views that are cantankerous, opinionated, inflammatory, slanted, and always full of vim and vigor. Sometimes, to a few, even a bit fun to read. In the meantime, Happy New Year to you, your friends and all of your family. See you next year.
Peace and Justice