Gang, hope you're pumped for hump day. Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike.
From the "Talks too much" let me clear my throat.
Athletes are people, like you and me. They just have an extreme skill, whether it's hitting a golf ball or shooting a basketball or being 266 pounds and running a 4.53 40.
They are still people, and they make mistakes. Because of those extreme skills that set athletes apart, those mistakes are seen and witnessed and dissected by exponentially more people. This is not apologizing for the spotlight, just explaining it, and any athlete or actor or politician who bemoans the increased scrutiny during times of human frailty is simply ignoring the extreme advantages — be it fame or pay or what have you — that the spotlight from those extreme gifts and skills allows them.
It's part of the bargain, even for the fringe stars and the borderline celebrities who all-too-frequently are making mistakes more often than they are making plays.
Meet Steve Elkington, the former PGA golfer who won 10 times on tour including the 1995 PGA Championship. Elkington's golf career was fine, he was ranked in the top 50 for most of the mid-1990s, and that certainly brings a fair amount of notoriety and coin. Good for him.
But Elkington needs to break up with Twitter, the social media forum in which he has become the face of stereotypical hatred, an equal-opportunity bigot. He's a real-life Archie Bunker with 140 characters. He's a throwback in a lot of ways — think more stereotypical closed-minded angst than penny loafers and parsimmon woods— in a world that has thankfully moved on. He is a joke, whispered ashamedly in bad taste, that has now been shared on global platforms.
And he's a serial offender. His latest strike came Tuesday, when he Tweeted, "ESPN reporting Michael Sam is leading the handbag throw at NFL combine... No one else expected to throw today."
Elkington has since deleted the Tweet after claiming the shot was at ESPN's coverage of Sam being the first openly gay football player invited to the combine. Whatever, that's what he does — Tweet, offend, apologize, delete, repeat.
This is far from Elkington's first toe-dip in the choppy waters of social media controversy. Earlier this month, he insultingly Tweeted about a female reporter's figure to the female reporter, who classily shrugged the comment off, to which Elkington responded with the ultimate mea culpa, "I've been drinking."
Had he been drinking when he used racial slurs last year on Twitter? Or last November after a deadly accident when a helicopter crashed into a Scottish pub, and Elkington tweeted "locals report no beer was split."
If you think that's funny, OK. Different tastes for different folks. And yes, we by far live in a world that is wrapped in skin too thin and that far too frequently believes volume is akin to validity and that assailing the source of the opposing view is the same thing as debating or defeating the opposing view.
Yes, Elkington and his ilk are completely free to say and do what they want, within in reason. Those are the rights that we are blessed to have because of the ultimate sacrifices of the the brave and the proud men and women of the military.
But Elkington and those that embrace free speech must know that free discourse is a two-way street. Speak your mind, sir, but be prepared for the world to realize you're a half-wit. And in this world — unlike the Barcalounger days of Archie and his living room bigotry — the connection is global and the whispers of social media become the blaring trumpets of the next hour's headline.
Elkington? He's a clown, and if he had not developed a social dependance on 140 characters and the approval and yuks of 60,000 followers he'll never meet, we'd likely remember him for one golf's most graceful swings.
Now, he's the face and the whispers that make Michael Sam news. Elkington's bigotry and what it represents is the reason that Sam is a big deal whether anyone likes it or not and whether Elkington knows it or not, and regardless of his hashtag, his apology or whether he deletes his latest 140-character quip.
OK, now that we have stepped off the soap box, let's get back to the quick (yes, quick, Spy, we've already hit about 1,500 words, so let's float like a butterfly and sting like a Jenkins) comments on sports.
Tonight the Tennessee Vols head to Mississippi State to visit the five-star restaurants and the museum and the cultural experience that is Starkville. And baby, who knows culture more than someone who spent six years at Auburn. (We redshirted and took an extra fall for good measure — and no, the do not call us doctor.)
Where were we, ah yes, Vols-Miss State. This one is a must-win for Cuonzo Martin and Co. Simply a must-win.
The bubble in which the Vols live is dirty and convoluted, but they could still be on the proper side of it. A loss against MSU pops any and all hopes of that.
The funny thing about Elkington's comments and timing was there was a lot to be critical about in regard to Mr. Sam's performance at the combine. In fact, Sam was the second most-scrutinized player this side of Jadeveon Clowney (who went nuts in the 40 with 4.53 at 6-6, 266 pounds) and he struggled in the physical aspects.
Michael Sam made the biggest headlines before the draft, sharing his personal life with all of us. Sam then was articulate and direct and forthright in the interviewing process. However, his on-the-field work was less than impressive. He posted a 4.91 40 time. He benched 225 pounds 17 times, which was tied for second-to-last among defensive linemen, and was in the bottom quarter in the vertical jump. No matter what the critics or supporters of Sam's personal life may say, whether he can make plays will be the deciding factor in his NFL future.
Teddy Bridgewater started the college football season as almost a sure-fire bet as the top-ranked quarterback on everyone's draft board. His stock has stagnated, even getting passed by fellow AAC quarterback Blake Bortles. His decision not to participate in the combine was met with indifference by the league's scouts, but it certainly raises the stakes for his on-campus workout. There's a chance that Bridgewater could slip to No. 4 among quarterbacks.
Oregon running back D'Anthony Thomas was viewed as a speed back who could return punts at under 6 feet tall and roughly 170 pounds. Well, Thomas clocked a 4.5 time that was almost exactly what Clowney ran. Speed backs need to be able to outrun 6-6, 266-pound defensive ends.
Not unlike Clowney and maybe Bridgewater, Cyrus Kouandjio could have been a top-10 pick if he could have left Alabama last year after a standout sophomore season. Kouandjio, however, was not eligible then. Fast forward to this combine, and he failed some medical exams at this combine and his power game at Alabama was betrayed by his 21 reps on the bench.
Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy were the country's best cornerback duo last year at Florida. They posted matching 4.61 times in the 40. Cornerbacks, like speed backs, need to outrun defensive linemen.
This and that
— Quite proud of the TFP sports crew today from front to back we got good stuff like ace columnist Mark Wiedmer catching up with Buddy Nix here.
— Also liked Downtown Patrick Brown's look at Butch Jones. Good stuff. Here's the link.
— Orioles manager Buck Showalter had a minor leaguer write a report on Frank Robinson. Good times, well until they put in the next labor agreement that unannounced homework and quizzes is not allowed.
Feel free to sound off about any of the above topics.
But here's a question for you: With more than 20,000 signatures on an online petition, the Bruce Pearl back to Tennessee rumors/hopes are starting to grow. Heck, even CBSSports.com national columnist Gregg Doyel is writing that it makes sense for the Vols to turn to Pearl.
We are having a hard time seeing it. Sure, everyone is couching the 'Pearl Returns' angle with the 'This doesn't mean Martin should be fired,' which complete horse feathers. If you are angling for a coach to return you are angling every bit as eagerly for the current coach to get canned.
We believe Martin's time is done in Knoxville if the Vols miss the Dance. We believe Pearl is an excellent coach and will get a job somewhere in the coming months, and that locale could very well be in the SEC. A month ago we thought there was no way Pearl could return to the UT sideline, but now, who knows. (As Lloyd says, "So you're telling me there's a chance.")
Thoughts? Is there any way Pearl could return to Knoxville? Discuss.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...