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Archive for August 2009

There are better ways to disagree with the Michael Vick situation than ‘hate’

Perhaps it’s the anxiousness of boarding a plane to South Africa in a few hours that’s made me up and around. I’ve been up all night, and as I’ve explained recently, I haven’t been sleeping too well. But as I was setting up my vacation auto-responder for my e-mail, the Google News blip at the top of my Gmail linked to the ESPN story about Michael Vick and his interview with James Brown on 60 Minutes.

I watched the interview, I’ve read the stories, in fact, I even wrote a blog about the Vicks (Michael and his younger brother Marcus) a few years ago for ArmchairGM. But this was before all the dog fighting charges.

I’ve been privy to many hateful comments in my years of trolling internet message boards. Some get outright nasty, but I don’t think I’ve ever read more hate, real absolute hate, than I have in the comments on newspaper web sites, message boards and the “comments” section underneath news stories around the web than I have as it relates to Michael Vick.

A common theme has been drawn to how people are reacting to Donte’ Stallworth’s DUI manslaughter charges. The relationship is drawn as to how people are reacting to Stallworth killing a person while under the influence and Vick killing animals. I don’t condone either action, in fact, both are actual deplorable and heinous.

Here’s where I find things to get strange. Let’s forget about Stallworth, because quite frankly, he doesn’t impact my opinions on Vick at all. I think what he did to be one of the most heartless things I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. Having known Michael a long, long time ago, I always kept an eye on his career. I covered him and his brother in high school, so while public perception is one thing, there’s a tie into how I follow athletes from back home. I follow Justin Verlander, David Wright, Allen Iverson, among others, the way I did the Vicks — specifically Michael.

Now, on to the point. I mentioned hate earlier, and I really can’t believe what I’m reading. Perhaps the anonymity of the internet allows people to be brazen and say what’s really on their minds. Then again, with the people so outspoken about Vick being “a monster,” “scum,” and “a piece of trash,” willing to sign their name to it proudly, I get annoyed with the “Glass Houses” crowd.

I grew up with a dog named Linus. I lived with (at one time) four dogs (no, I’m not grouping roommates into that number) in college. I love animals, although my allergies don’t always allow me to be around them as much as I like. I don’t currently own a dog, but as many dog lovers and dog owners know, there’s just something about a loyal pet.

Michael Vick never knew this, and this was played out by his actions with Bad Newz Kennels. Vick is back in the NFL and people are furious. People don’t believe he should have any rights. He’s been in jail, lost millions of dollars and deservedly so. He was punished, some people don’t feel it was enough. I personally find it appalling to know people who end the lives of other human beings get off for less. I’m not putting a value on the life of a dog, because that’s not the point.

The hatred viewed for another human being by people who aren’t without their own faults is sickening. We love dogs, so that gives us the right to say things about someone that would make even the most foul-mouthed of truckers cringe. Like I said, glass houses. I’ve got my faults, I’ve made my mistakes, so for these reasons, I typically stay out of any moral debates when it comes to an issue like this. Who am I to judge?

Those of you who feel it’s necessary to get on your high horse and cast out the laws and rights. The quick reaction is “well, those dogs didn’t have rights.” That’s very true, they didn’t have a choice. But here’s the thing. Life is about choices, Vick made some horrible ones. I’ve made some bad ones, and I can guarantee every single one of you people saying these horrible nasty things about Vick has made some bad ones too. In our society, we have the right to speak our minds, but that doesn’t make the things we say any more right than anyone else. What’s the saying — opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got them, and most of the time, they stink.

I realize I’m rambling here, but nothing seems to tick me off by people using high morality to justify lowering themselves down to the level they want to attack. If you don’t think Michael Vick should have an opportunity to rehab himself, that’s your opinion. You can be justified in having that opinion, but in all the hatred that flows through your words, you contradict all this “moral” sentiment.

I don’t blog or talk publicly about my religion and my beliefs, because in today’s world, people would rather focus on the fact I am a Christian to disprove my arguments than the actual merit behind them. Flaunting your personal beliefs as a platform for your hatred completely defeats the whole foundation of Christianity. So get off your high horse and let the man be.

PETA’s cult-like following purports what’s wrong when people hate so much, they end up defeating the public image of their cause. I don’t condone what Vick did, and I can’t stress that enough. The internet has made any hateful, rage filled individual a pundit on life, morality and ethics. Michael Vick is the latest target.

I know he’s not the victim here. He shouldn’t be treated as such, and I’m not treating him as such. But even convicted murderers have people saying let them get on with their lives and try to be a productive member of society.

Do I think Michael Vick was remorseful? Possibly. But I personally love <insert sarcasm> how people didn’t even give him a chance in his interview. Face it, if you think he’s the scum of the earth and should be banished to Frigia (Flash Gordon reference), you weren’t going to see remorse in anything he said. You don’t have to justify it by saying, “He wasn’t remorseful.” You wouldn’t think he was remorseful if he cut off his throwing hand and sat in the bottom of a Port-O-John. Nothing is going to change your mind — and that again, is your prerogative.

But the road to recovery is something only Michael Vick can control and it’s not something we can control from the letters on our laptops — no matter how hard we want to infer our will, hatred and moral code onto the nearest message board.

Would you not let a bricklayer return to laying bricks after he was busted for dog fighting? Would you care?

He did some sick shit … but people would rather watch him rot than even attempt to make an effort, no matter how big or small, in trying to right the wrong he’s done. In the eyes of many, he’ll always be scum. Sure, I can’t disagree with that. He’s always going to be remembered for dog fighting, regardless if he wins a Super Bowl ring with the Iggles. I guess our society is more hell-bent on online hatred than second chances.

Atheists and non-believers can just skip over this next statement. The only one to judge us is the big man upstairs when our day comes. Sure, we can “judge” people and we do it every day, we all do, but I guess what I’ve been rambling on about is, in an nutshell, if you’re using your religious indignation to spew this type of venom, what are you really? Entitled to your opinion, but contradicting it in the process.

Those of you who express your displeasure without name-calling, without using religion as a false crutch for your hate speech and are simply going to hold true to what you believe because you simply disrespect and care not for Michael Vick, thank you. There are better ways to express your displeasure with someone’s actions than lowering yourself down to a sub-human level with words. What Michael Vick did could be considered sub-human by many, if not all people, the real “moral high road” here is how people can be dignified and approach their dissension about his re-entering the NFL and do it without the vulgar and hateful words.

Personally, I don’t think he should be allowed to play this year. How about spending this year (maybe more) doing all that humanitarian work to TRY to make good on righting his wrongs. That will never happen, because those poor murdered dogs won’t have the chance to live their lives. You can’t right those wrongs, but preventing it from happening and doing real work for the cause rather than attending training camp would make more sense to me.

Only then, he should resume his career. Not snuffing it out completely, but making him do some real work for the cause before getting back into the NFL.

Finally this …

Those of you who post comments saying: “I’m tired of hearing about Michael Vick.”

You know what I say to that?

I’m tired of hearing people who are tired of hearing about Michael Vick commenting about Michael Vick.

Written by Jason Bryant

August 17, 2009 at 7:26 am

Posted in Blogging

Tagged with

The PGA Championship: A first look at one of golf’s majors

“Golf requires goofy pants and a fat ass.” — Happy Gilmore

As an avid sports fan, but one who has a concentration in wrestling, I still make a point to keep up with things outside my bubble. I pay attention to NASCAR, but rarely get excited over it. I pay attention to the NHL, but again, rarely get excited.

I love baseball and pro football, keep up with college football and to a lesser extent, the college roundball, but I loathe the NBA and pay zero attention to it.

I moved to Minnesota in August of 2008, on my birthday to boot.

It’s been an interesting year in sports, and on Thursday, I added to a growing list of sporting events I’ve attended in the past 12 months with the PGA Championship in Chaska, Minn.

I knew the PGA Championship was coming to Minnesota, but it wasn’t until Monday when I was watching KARE 11 news that I realized there were tickets left.

I thought to myself, why not check it out. It’s one of the majors and it’s not like I’m a huge golf fan, although I do play occasionally in benefit tournaments and wrestling club fundraisers. I at least “look the part” when I’m on the links.

I’m modestly decent at Golden Tee, but this was the real stuff, with the best in the game. I wasn’t going to go out of my way to stand with throngs of people to get a glimpse of Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.

I was just going to experience one of the major sporting events in one of the most regal of sports. Sure, you can debate the ins and outs of golf actually being a sport, but that’s another topic entirely.

For a first-round ticket, I paid $110, which in retrospect wasn’t really worth it considering the time I spent there. However, it was worth it to see how people watch the game intently, ooh and oh on great approaches and missed putts. The price wasn’t important in the sense of being able to experience a major golf championship.

By the time I’d arrived, Tiger was on the 17th hole and already out to a lead. He was five under by the time I stepped onto the grounds at Hazeltine, which last hosted the PGA Championship in 2002.

I’m a golf tournament novice, at least from a spectator standpoint. Growing up in Virginia, Kingsmill hosted the Anheuser-Busch Classic (later becoming the Michelob and even later, an LPGA event). I never went, but I do have some friends who routinely play at Kingsmill — Apprentice School wrestling coach Bruce Shumaker is one of them.

I studied the course guide, but didn’t pay much attention to tee times. I just wanted to watch and study the interaction between caddy and golfer, fan and friend. Some people definitely come to “dress the part,” even when they are just spectators.

Tiger hats dotted the crowd, as did sweat-soaked Antigua shirts, which went for $83 in the souvenir tent. Kids from the surrounding area sold bottled water outside of the gates, telling us, “It’s the cheapest thing you’ll find before you go in.”

They were right. A cup of Country Time Iced Lemonade was $5. It was tasty, though.

I nestled next to the Par 3 #8. The first threesome which came through from tee to green were some golfers I wasn’t too familiar with: Francesco Molinari of Italy, Lee Rinker of Florida and Ryuji Imada of Japan.

Rinker led off with a solid shot off the tee landing 20-25 feet from the pin. Molinari’s tee shot wasn’t helped by the on-and-off blustery conditions and died in the bunker. A storm was sitting outside of the Twin Cities, sometimes prompting steady winds from the southwest to play with the ball when it was in the air. I guess Molinari was anticipating this before the bottom fell out on the aforementioned wind.

Imada, sporting some pretty slick plaid pants, dropped a great shot within 10 feet. I liked Imada’s style. He seemed to be enjoying himself. He missed the birdie putt, while Molinari blasted out of the bunker, missed a short par putt before bogeying the hole.

I watched another threesome come through, with Darren Clarke, Ryan Benzel and Charles Howell III. Clarke missed a birdie putt and came out with a par, while Benzel’s woes continued. After double bogeying the Par 5 seventh, he bogeyed the 176-yard #8.

I moved away from the hole before Howell finished up.

The clouds started looking ominous, so I figured I’d mosey down to the #7 and get a shot of the second shots by the next three groups. In the second group, Geoff Ogilvy was in the mix and in the following group, it was Vijay Singh, Davis Love III and Steve Elkington — three names I knew from just being a casual observer of the game for years.

Singh birdied the 572-yard hole and was met with a solid applause.

Behind them were Ernie Els, Steve Stricker and Ian Poulter. At this time, the rain started to fall and while the droves of Tiger fans had already left Hazeltine, I figured I’d do a quick lap (well, half a lap) before stopping to pick up some things in the souvenir shop.

Since I was devoid of a camera and cell phone, per PGA regulations, I couldn’t take any pictures during real competition. I was relegated to snapping a picture of my grounds ticket before coming in, and one or two of the Goodyear blimp, which hovered over the course low enough to hear the whirr of its engines.
I don’t think I’ll ever attend another PGA tour event, because as much as I like playing a leisurely round of golf, I’m not a “golfer” or a “golf fan.” I’m just not part of that crowd, and while I admit it takes a tremendous amount of skill to master the game of golf, standing around watching people hit ball, chase ball, putt ball, pick up ball, hold ball towards clapping fans, hit ball, lather, rinse, repeat.

This was more to go and see what it was all about. I was at the Kentucky Derby earlier this year, and that was an experience, a festival, a shit show (on the infield). Golf has etiquitte and elegance. People like me aren’t a part of its target demographic.

But as a sports fan, I couldn’t deny myself the opportunity to attend such a prestigious event so close to where I’m currently living. I can see where golf fans love this so much, I had an appreciation for everything that goes in to putting on a great event — from parking at Canterbury Park and taking a shuttle down to Chaska High School (where I actually know two people whom graduated from the school), to getting back and fighting Twin Cities rushour traffic.

I’d rate my experience rather good, with the exception of my own folly regarding the camera and a muted cell phone. If you have the money, it’s certainly a great social experience, especially for you big money people who work for companies that like to sponsor these types of things.

So I can add on the PGA Championship as one of many notable sporting events I’ve attended in the past 12 months. I turn 30 in a week and as far as I can tell, when it comes to seeing great sporting events, I haven’t had much to complain about this year.

The PGA Championship, while not my personal cup o‘ tea, did satisfy a personal quest in seeing a major.

The Year in Minnesota
Division I Wrestling Dual Meets
Arizona State at Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
Hofstra at Missouri, Columbia, Mo.
Purdue at Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
Minnesota at Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
Michigan State at Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.
Northwestern at Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.
UT-Chattanooga at Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa
Virginia Tech at Old Dominion, Norfolk, Va.

Division II Wrestling Dual Meets
Augsburg at Nebraska-Omaha, Omaha, Neb.*
Upper Iowa at Minnesota State-Mankato, Mankato, Minn.
Nebraska-Omaha at Minnesota State-Mankato, Mankato, Minn.
*-match between Division II and III teams

Division III Wrestling Dual Meets
Wartburg at Augsburg, Minneapolis, Minn.

College Wrestling Tournaments
Missouri Open, Columbia, Mo.
Brute/Journeyman Northeast Duals, Troy, N.Y.
Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Las Vegas, Nev.
Dick Walker Invitational, Waverly, Iowa
The Midlands, Evanston, Ill.
NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals, Cedar Falls, Iowa
Northern Sun Regional Tournament, Marshall, Minn.
NJCAA Championships, Rochester, Minn.
NCAA Division III Championships, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
NCAA Division II Championships, Houston, Texas
NCAA Division I Championships, St. Louis, Mo.

International Wrestling
U.S. World Team Trials, Council Bluffs, Iowa
USA Cadet & Junior Nationals, Fargo, N.D.

High School Wrestling
The Clash National High School Duals, Rochester, Minn.
Albert Lea vs. Coon Rapids, Minneapolis, Minn.
Virginia Group AAA State Championships, Chesapeake, Va.
Virginia Group AA-A State Championships, Salem, Va.
NHSCA National High School Championships, Virginia Beach, Va.

Division III Football
Macalester at St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.

Major League Baseball
Los Angeles Angels at Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis, Minn. (2 games)

American Hockey League
Philadelphia Phantoms at Norfolk Admirals, Norfolk, Va.
Hershey Bears at Norfolk Admirals, Norfolk, Va.

Horse Racing
Kentucky Derby, Louisville, Ky.

PGA Championships, Chaska, Minn.

Roller Derby
North Star Roller Girls, Minneapolis, Minn.
Minnesota Roller Girls, St. Paul, Minn.

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute & Museum, Waterloo, Iowa
National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Stillwater, Okla.
Fishing at Lake Vermilion, Cook, Minn.

States and Countries Traveled
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Canada

Written by Jason Bryant

August 13, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Blogging

Tagged with , ,

My time machine: One of the best — and toughest — stories I’ve ever written

I’ve had the opportunity to write about a lot in my life. Not all of it about sports, but the majority of my time writing for the Daily Press, W.I.N., the Poquoson Post, The Mace & Crown and several other wrestling publications and web sites have been about wrestling.

When Mike Finn interviewed me a few years ago after I was named W.I.N.’s Wrestling Journalist of the Year, he asked me about the best story I’d ever written.

I’m proud of some of the social commentaries I’ve penned about trying to save programs at Longwood, Eastern Illinois, Fresno State and Oregon, but my response didn’t require a lot of thought.

It was on a kid named Caleb Sparkman. Some of you might know him, some might have seen his name on All-American lists from his days wrestling on the USA Kids circuit. So I e-mailed a buddy who still works down at the Daily Press (even through all the newspaper downsizing) and asked him to pull the story from the archives.

I wrote this over six years ago. I was covering wrestling and was a part-timer at the paper, a post I’d held since 1996. I was in my sixth year at ODU and lived in “The 12 House.”

The raw emotion couldn’t be truly captured, but I tried. Tears were shed by parents, friends and teammates. In writing the story, I was even overcome by emotion. Years have passed and when I go back to Norfolk, I’ve run into Caleb from time to time. It’s hard to tell someone that their difficulties led to what I note as my best single story. I’ve known the guy a while, but when I think about writing and the impact people have in others lives and the sport of wrestling has on people, I also think about this story.

So here it is:

Following his heart: Medical condition prompts wrestler to quit after winning district title
By Jason Bryant, Daily Press
February 21, 2003

An accomplished wrestler from his days with the Hampton Jaguars and Pin2Win wrestling clubs, the Hampton High sophomore won the 171-pound championship in the Peninsula District last Saturday.

Sparkman has dozens of medals, trophies and awards. He will not, however, compete in this week’s Eastern Regional or the upcoming state championship this year.

The bushy-haired, happy 15-year-old wrestled his last match in the district finals, a 3-2 decision over Heritage’s Akeem Wilkins.

That wasn’t his last match for the season. It was his last match for life.

Sparkman has aorta stenosis. The condition, a narrowing of the heart valve, applies pressure to the aorta valve as the heart works to get the amount of blood it needs to function properly. He was diagnosed with the condition when he was 3 months old.

He and his family made the decision late in January to stop wrestling — after three more matches in the district tournament.

“I wanted to help the team win the districts. I thought we had a good chance,” Sparkman said.

But his participation was not without risk.

The doctor advised the Sparkmans that the decision to continue to wrestle was theirs, but the recommendation was not to wrestle, according to Sparkman. Among the potential dangers, Sparkman said “heart attack.”

But after considering all the facts, the family decided it was not a life-threatening decision.

“I wasn’t really going to be pushed in the district tournament. If I would have had super-hard matches, then I probably wouldn’t have wrestled,” Sparkman said.

Denbigh’s Zack Winfrey, a returning district champion and state place-winner, also played a role in Sparkman’s move up to 171.

“Wrestling a guy like Winfrey would probably have been pushing the envelope. But had I felt any dizziness or light-headedness I wouldn’t have wrestled,” he said.

The intensity of this weekend’s regional tournament would require more physical exertion than the district tournament did.

A normal heart has a pressure of zero. When he was four, the pressure was 20. As of November, it read 43. A pressure of 50 would result in a balloon being inserted to try to force open the aortic valve.

“I never thought it would be a problem, at least not until high school,” Sparkman said.

The condition began to cause Sparkman problems as he grew from a 130-pound middle school wrestler to a 152-pound freshman and has become worse as he has grown.

Caleb’s parents, Charlie and Chesley Sparkman, met with doctors in November as part of his regular checkups.

“We had the echocardiogram done,” Chesley said. “Charlie and I met with the surgeon and talked to him. We tried to get the procedure (cardiac catheterization) done over the Christmas break, but had to wait until right after school started.

“He wasn’t aware of a meeting with the doctor in December, but just before Christmas, we told him we were going to do the procedure.”

After the catheterization, a procedure in which a tube is inserted into an artery in the leg and sent up to the heart, the decision had to be made.

Sparkman would stop wrestling.

Last week, Hampton, Denbigh and Woodside were in a battle for the district championship. Each team had a chance to claim the title. Hampton, which had just two wrestlers in 1998, hoped having Sparkman would improve its chances of claiming its first district title in decades. Woodside won, but Hampton finished second, three points behind.

As Sparkman, the team captain, stepped off the podium, teammate Mike Rutkowski was in tears. He’d known Sparkman since they were 4 and came up in the same wrestling clubs.

“Of all the people I’ve ever known, he’s had the most heart. You’ve got to love him for that,” Rutkowski said.

After the district tournament, Fenner was happy with his team’s finish, but somber about losing Caleb.

“We turned out great this weekend,” Fenner said. “Next year we can take it up another notch, but we’re really going to miss Caleb. He wanted to do this (wrestle in districts) to help us win.”

Rutkowski’s mother, Sherry Thacker, also has memories of Sparkman’s wrestling career.

“He had a lot going for him as a wrestler,” Thacker said.

“After getting his medal, he ran up to his dad and (Pin2Win coach) Steve Pittman and gave them big hugs. We were hoping he could stick it out, but it was just too much.”

As the regionals start today, Sparkman will be at Churchland supporting his team. He still goes to practice for some light drills and to encourage his teammates. He’ll likely be found near the corner of the mat.

“He says he wants to coach and wants to referee,” Chesley Sparkman said.

Sparkman wants to contine playing soccer, too. He split time between the varsity and junior varsity squads last spring.

While he is done with competitive wrestling, his love of the sport keeps him around.

Two weeks into the Peninsula Youth Wrestling League, the league where he got started, Sparkman wears an official’s shirt, red and green wristbands and a whistle, refereeing the next generation of wrestlers that will stand on top of the podium.

And that’s how Sparkman went out, on top of the podium.


* WHERE: Churchland High School, Portsmouth
* WHEN: Today: First round at 11 a.m., then quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m. Saturday: Semifinals at noon; finals at 7:30 p.m.
* IMPACT: Top four wrestlers per weight will qualify for next weekend’s state tournament.
* PREDICTION: Great Bridge is expected to take the region title, but Peninsula wrestlers aim to qualify for the state tournament.
* PENINSULA’S BEST SHOTS: Andre Bland, 103, Hampton; Kyle Gular, 112, Kecoughtan; Todd Gular, 119, Kecoughtan; Jamar Sumpter, 135, Hampton; Duder Edmunds, 135, Gloucester; Devon Alston, 140, Heritage; Dustin Chaney, 145, Denbigh; John Nicholson, 145, Bethel; Nick Chrismon, 152, Woodside; Zack Winfrey, 160, Denbigh; James DeGroat, 189, Menchville; Antoine Adams, 215, Bethel; Quest King, 275, Phoebus.

Written by Jason Bryant

August 10, 2009 at 1:15 am

Posted in Blogging, Good Stuff


It’s no secret I’m a big fan of the 2 Skinnee J’s. I’ve seen them 25 times since 1998 with the majority of them coming in the 1999-2003 range. Fat Rock Productions followed the J’s during their reunion tour last year, playing shows in D.C., NYC, Norfolk and Raleigh. I hit up the D.C. and Norfolk shows as I was on my way home from Pennsylvania.

Outside of the legendary 9:30 Club in D.C., I was outside and got a little face time in the documentary Fat Rock was producing called “Get in the Van.”

I won’t be able to attend the premiere at Tribeca Cinemas, but I’m super hopeful I’ll be able to get a copy of the DVD. The movie’s tagline, the most beloved band you’ve never heard of, is exactly it.

I’ve tried to explain what is the 2 Skinnee J’s, why they are one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen (a group which includes 311, Jimmy Buffett, Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against The Machine).

To get this DVD out to the masses, it needs some support. Check out the trailer at You might have seen my “tweets” about this for the past few months, so for the sake of the movie, and this shameless self-promotion (I’m in it for about four or five seconds), give it a look.

I use some of their lesser-known tracks as background music for highlight packages I’ve produced for Wrestling 411 and the video features from Fargo for USA Wrestling.

“We don’t need your cash or your options or your stock, shiny diamond rings or eight sills on the block …” – F.D.T.F.L.T.R.M.

Oh, and August 28, I’ll be checking out part of the 2 Skinnee J’s and Tragedy as they team up for DANGEROUS: An All-Metal Tribute to Michael Jackson at the NorVa in Norfolk.

Written by Jason Bryant

August 5, 2009 at 12:03 am

Posted in Blogging