Far from Happy Valley
Bad stories are bad. They're bad stories.
But not unlike the key to real estate, when bad stories happen in familiar places, well, location is crucial.
That's the multiplier in the lawsuit filed against a college football program and its head coach alleging hazing.
Because, while no one wants any hazing anywhere, the location - and the diction - here are key.
It happened in State College, Pennsylvania, with Penn State players who, according to the lawsuit, rubbed their privates in the faces of underclassmen, rubbed their privates against the buttocks of underclassmen, wrestled down and humped on top of underclassmen and frequently said, seriously, "I'm going to Sandusky you."
Yes, that last reference is to the sexual predator Jerry Sandusky, the longtime Penn State defensive coordinator who molested little boys in the Penn State locker room while Joe Paterno and the powers that be at the university turned a blind eye to the entire mess.
Which brings us back to the current lawsuit, because former PSU player Isaiah Humphries - who is putting his name on this lawsuit, mind you - is not only making the above claims, he's saying the coaches - including Head Coach James Franklin - knew about the antics and did nothing.
Gang, if that's proven true, bye James. He simply has to go.
(Penn State's statement on the lawsuit indicted that it is investigating the matter and was quick to point out no criminal charges had been filed. And yes, Penn State's history into self-examination and forthcomingness are somewhere between Benedict Arnold's history of trustworthiness and Pinocchio and truthfulness.)
And let's be clear here, the umbrella of the term "hazing" is worthless, because to put those actions into the same wide swath of making rookies sing their college fight songs at dinner or making the underclassmen carry the seniors' luggage on road trips is a Grand Canyon-esque gap.
But either way, of all the gin joints in all the world, this can never, ever happen at Penn State. Never.
And cue Crash talking to Annie about a winning streak: "And you should know that."
(While we're here, James Franklin's history of indifference and lying about sexual assault at Vandy gives this smoke even more substance, no?)
Changing state of the game
Is the NFL undergoing a renaissance? Is it in the midst of possibly two?
The first trend that appears to be growing - and likely will be here to stay - centers on the young stars in the league cashing out and leaving the game.
It kind of started with Eric Borland, a third-round pick for the 49ers who became a starter as a rookie and walked away after one year. His reason, the old it took on his body.
That was a blip. Now it has to be a real concern in the home offices of the Shield.
Before last season, Andrew Luck walked away. Tuesday Luke Kuechly retired. Right now we are all focused on the playoffs and the drama 17 days from the Super Bowl, but two bonafide superstars on Hall of Fame career arcs walking away in their 20s because of fears and concerns about their long-term health hits the NFL where it lives. Right in the bottom line. And know this, while it's impossible to make the game completely safe, especially when players continue to lie about and hide injuries from medical staff, the league must find a way to make the conditions as workable as possible.
The game is simply not as good without Luck or Keuchly or Joe Thomas or any of the other Canton-destined dudes who are cashing out while the getting - and the walking - are good.
As for the second, well, let's explore that tomorrow.
Most of baseball is discussing the sign-stealing mess and how it has now cleared the benches in Houston and Boston.
And that's understandable. It's a big deal.
But on this day, I'm too ticked to worry about those cheatin' bleeps with the Astros and the Red Sox.
No, on this day, my baseball angst is saved for the penny-pinching cheapskates 90 minutes to the South.
Gang, on the day that they announce another huge sponsorship for the naming rights of stadium, news circulates that the biggest offseason piece to the Braves puzzle is headed to Minnesota.
Josh Donaldson reportedly has agreed to terms with the Twins. Yes, those Twins, who set a Major League Baseball mark for homers in a season and just added Donaldson's 37 dingers from last year.
Johnny Braves Fans everywhere were hoping Donaldson would return to Atlanta.
The numbers - this report says he got a four-year deal for $92 million with a club option for year five - show that the Braves tried to get Donaldson on the cheap, and that is downright shameful.
Yes, he's 34 years old. But so bleepin' what? He hit 37 homers last year, and he was an absolute dude in the locker room despite it being his first year with the club.
But he came cheaper than most reports - he made $24 million last year and he was the comeback player of the year and the guaranteed money averages to $23 million - and his absence is huge for a Braves team that was better in the regular season last year than the team that went on to win the World Series.
So, as the Braves are cashing the big checks for the naming rights of its stadium - and yes, insert whatever joke you want about the stadium being named for a bank and ownership being misers - Braves leadership did not address the hole atop the rotation. (If you think Cole Hamels is an ace, well, you're not playing with a full deck.)
Now they have a gaping hole at third and in the No. 4 spot in the order.
I do not believe the front office will move the prospects needed to add Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado, and in truth I'm not convinced they should consider it. It assuredly would mean moving at least one if not two of the promising pitching firm of Soroka, Fried and Foltynewicz.
And to make these moves appear even more about cash than championships, consider that corporate ownership:
> Spent most of the free agent coin on the bullpen;
> Added an inning-eating veteran starting (Hamels) to replace inning-eating veteran starting pitcher (Teheran);
> Re-upped with several veterans on cheaper, hometown-discount deals as the stars are locked in on team-friendly deals but refuse to add a difference-making bat;
> Let Donaldson slip through their fingers.
The outcome? The Braves are built for regular-season success. A rotation filled with a couple of No. 2 starters and a few No. 3s, a bullpen that can secure leads and perpetuate winning streaks, a lineup that is above average and a clubhouse that gets along.
(Never mind the impact of having Acuña hitting fourth - even though he and the team are much better off when he hits first - or Markakis or whomever hitting clean-up, makes the team worse at the 3 hole, too, because Freddie Freeman now is the odds-on favorite to lead the league in walks.)
So congrats, Braves ownership, you have saved money but again betrayed your fans by fielding a team good enough to contend for a playoff spot and very little else.
And know this: In three or four years, when Acuña and Albies are getting 10-year, $250-million deals elsewhere and are two of the seven or eight best offensive players in the league, Braves fans will be wondering, how did they never win anything meaningful during their time in Atlanta? The answer is because ownership refused to capitalize on this championship window.
Monster this and that (Gang, a lot happened in the last 12 hours)
- If you are behind on the "Jeopardy!" GOAT tournament and have taped the episodes, in about three items we are going to discuss Tuesday night's episode, so go ahead and skip to today's questions.
- Tulane got hammered Tuesday night, so our college picks fell to 15-12. Sigh. We'll take Kentucky minus-5.5 tonight at South Carolina and Mercer minus-5 at home vs. VMI. Pickers gotta pick, right Joe Don?
- Speaking of the NFL, your Atlanta Falcons will undergo their first uniform redesign in almost two decades. Here's a column wondering about the late notice of said redesign and how folks who bought jerseys for, say, Christmas, should have the option to trade them in for new ones or get a refund.
- I am truly surprised more of corporate America does not follow the growing trend of embracing random, everyday occurrences that generate such good will and interest. It started with the Family Food story when a contestant answered, "What is Popeye's favorite food?" with an emphatic "CHICKEN" answer, and Popeye's Fried Chicken hooked the family up with $10,000 in gift cards. It continued Tuesday when Budweiser seized the chance to celebrate with the Chiefs and a fan, who shared his cold one with Eric Fisher when the tackle scored a TD against the Texans. Kudos for the savvy and kind moves, folks.
- Here's betting the cop that almost arrested Joe Burrow and some LSU teammates for smoking cigars after Monday night/Tuesday morning's win over Clemson in New Orleans is going to get a fair amount of heckling from his colleagues this week. Here's more.
- Times Free Press ace sports columnist Mark Wiedmer shares some details about the Classic 150s roast of Rick Honeycutt next week. Cool story with the great twist that area youth baseball players can get in for free to hear the event.
- So Ken Jennings won in four, and while the final numbers were not in for the finale, the ratings have been huge for the "Jeopardy!" tournament involving the best players in the game show's iconic history.
- Hey, we all know former UTC star and NFL Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens can be a pill at times. But it's hard to refute his logic that it feels like the league is holding a grudge against him for not appearing in Canton. Because there is no other explanation that Steve Largent was one of 10 wide receivers in the top 100 NFL all-time players and T.O. was not among the list.
- Winners and losers from the Democratic debate: Loser - Liz Warren. Wow. Loser - CNN. Whose child wrote those questions? Maybe next time it should be a high school student rather than a kindergartener. Winner - Mayor Pete. He continues to impress me more than everyone else on the Democratic stage and would far and away have the best chance to hold his own in a debate against Trump compared to the others. Winner - Trump. Hey, I know his haters will vote for whomever is on the other side of the ballot, but as the Dems waste chance after chance to seize any momentum, it benefits the incumbent.
Which way Wednesday starts this way:
Which way will the Braves go to fill their hole at third and in the No. 4 hole in the order?
Which next 20-something NFL star will walk away from football?
Which will happen at Penn State: Franklin is fired or nothing changes?
Feel free to fire away if you have one.
As for today, Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 91.
Drew Brees is 41 today.
"Hill Street Blues" debuted on this day in 1981. Rushmore of TV cop shows. Go.