Justice for Tom Lewand?

>> 6.30.2010

justice_nolene_flickr By now I’m sure most of you have seen the video of Tom Lewand’s traffic stop, and subsequent arrest.

In college, I pursued an unusual major: Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy.  The theme of the curriculum was justice; the study of what it is, what it means, the nature of a just government, and lots of other boring stuff like that.  As a side effect, it developed my inner Scales of Justice—my sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is fair and what is unfair, what is just and what is unjust.

Usually, when I hear a news story, I have a swift and strong opinion on it.  Sometimes, though, there’s no easy answer . . . and it stresses me out.  I have to learn more, to know more.  I read.  I have to read.  I have to keep researching, keep digging, learn more, know more.  I talk.  I talk to my wife, to my friends, to my family, to myself in the car, over and over and over nobody wants anything to do with me.  I have to bounce everything off everyone until I know what is right. After several days of this, several mental fuses blown, and several false starts on this post, I’m still not sure what is right in this situation.

First, and possibly foremost, Lewand admitted he is a recovering alcoholic.  Everything I think, every angle I take, every “take” I come up with, keeps coming back to this.  He has a problem, he’s seeking treatment—and not because he was ordered to, but because either he, or those who love him, realized it.  Watching the video, I wonder if his inexplicable, ridiculous denial that he’d had a drop to drink wasn’t a symptom of his addiction.

Second, what he did was extremely dangerous—not just to himself, but to others.  The current series of PSAs with the tagline “buzzed driving is drunk driving” have a point—but .21 BAC is not “buzzed driving” or “drunk driving,” it’s completely tanked driving.  He, and those who shared the road with him that night, are incredibly fortunate that no one was hurt . . . or killed.

Third, this episode is incredibly embarrassing for him, his loved ones, and—yes—the organization.  Not only is this a personal tragedy for Lewand, it’s a professional failure, too; it’s a black eye for the business of which he is President.  Lewand’s primary task is to set a tone of class and professionalism for the organization—and instead, the Lions are again a national punchline.

Given his previously clean record and reputation, his incredible work in getting Ford Field built, and the exemplary way in which he’s handled contracts and salaries, it’s no surprise that both his employees, and his employer, gave him immediate votes of confidence.  Apparently, his problem was known within the organization; to them this was a setback, not a shock.

When the headlines said he’d been arrested for suspicion of DUI in Roscommon County, my first thought was “Up north, the weekend after minicamp?  Drinking all day at a lake, or while golfing, I bet.”  Sure enough, he was at a charity golf outing.  In my experience, these events are thinly veiled, or not veiled, excuses for everybody to get lubricated and goof around.  I can’t speak to what happened that day by Houghton Lake, but if someone with a drinking problem was in an environment like most golf outings I’ve seen . . . well, the temptation would be extreme.

Of course, he’ll be prosecuted under the law, and will face discipline from the league under the Personal Conduct Policy.  There are those who’ve called for Lewand to be fired, but, right now, I don’t think that’s the right thing for him, or for the Lions.  He’s clearly been performing the duties of his job at a high level—he’s continued to ink draft picks left and right since the incident—so one mistake shouldn’t spell the end for him.

At the end of the day, that’s what this was—a mistake.  A terrible, dangerous mistake, but a mistake.  I hope Tom Lewand continues to seek help, and be supported.  With that, plus strength and dedication on his part, this mistake ought to be his last.  I’ve been searching my heart to see if I’m just giving Lewand a pass because he’s affiliated with the Lions, but I don’t believe I am.  Were it I who made the mistake, I’d pray for a second chance, and I’d like to think I’d deserve one.  Could I ask for that grace for myself, without extending it to everyone else?  I don’t think so.

We, the Lions-watching public, aren’t “owed” an explanation, or Lewand’s head on a platter, or anything else.  But for his sake, his family’s sake, and for the sake of the organization, I hope he makes the most of this second chance, which I believe he deserves.

. . . I think.  Ask me again tomorrow.

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Leather-Bound Lions: Pride of Detroit Series

With a new Lions first-round tailback on the roster, and a new Supreme Court nominee, it’s only fitting that the second Leather-Bound Lions post features the only man in history who has been both: a first-round draft pick tailback for the Lions, and a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States:

Leather-Bound Lions: Byron "Whizzer" White


CUWoT, Mlive.com Highlight Reel Edition

>> 6.29.2010

Last season, I published a two-parter called “Completely Useless Waste of Time”.  I broke down each Lions opponent on the schedule, and projected the Lions’ wins and losses.  I called the exercise a completely useless waste of time, because the NFL is so volatile from year to year, there’s really no point in trying to project outcomes.  What you end up doing is projecting how a team’s offseason changes would make them better or worse in the previous season . . . not useful, or worthwhile.
I said in the conclusion of that piece:

The funny thing, to me, is that we can’t really know how the Lions will play until we see them on the field. In fact, we can’t really know how any team will play, in any year, until we see them on the field. In the modern NFL, turnover is so high—both on rosters and coaching staffs—and the Xs-and-Os arms race is almost inconceivably fast. New schemes and plans that work incredibly well Week 1 are neutralized by Week 16. Players that come out of nowhere to surprise opponents are scouted, mapped, and game-planned out of existence in weeks (see Gado, Samkon). You can’t possibly look at a team’s roster and record, add what got added, subtract what got subtracted, and extrapolate a conclusion; it just doesn’t work that way—and the 2007 and 2008 Lions are indelible proof of that.
Football teams are incredibly complex systems. They’re full of moving parts, developing young players, declining veterans, deep emotional connections, public and private strife, inches and yards, breaks and bounces, injuries, turnovers, and lucky breaks. They’re coaches sleeping at their desks, and coaches hitting the golf course at noon. They’re a superior training staff, or a staph-infected trainer’s room. There are a hundred thousand million tiny variables that factor into the on-field performance of an NFL club. Every single season, each NFL club is a new thing, a new potion, a new mix of hundred different reactive ingredients; they must be evaluated on a case-by-case, year-by-year basis. Moreover, there’s a reason they say “That’s why they play the games”. There’s a reason they say "On any given Sunday . . .", the better team doesn’t always win. You can’t say right now whether the Lions will win or lose against any other team, because you don’t know how good the Lions are, and you don’t know how good the other teams are, and you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen when helmets and pads clash between them.
But . . . what else are we supposed to do? With free agency, the draft, and OTAs all in the history books, or nearly so, we have 32 teams with set roster and schedules, and nothing at all to talk about until minicamps.  Indeed, even The Lions Congregation dwelt upon the subject of possible wins and losses this week.  Well, I figured, since we’re all killing time, why not waste some time?
To that end, I’ve begun a series of opponent scouting reports over at Mlive.com’s Highlight Reel blog.  More than the couple-of-paragraph treatment I gave the opponents last time, but less than a full-on Watchtower, these weekly pieces will be breaking down the 13 teams on the Lions’ schedule, pointing out the critical pieces of these teams, and how they interact with the Lions’.  I’m not doing predictions, but I’m laying down dots and offering you, the reader, a crayon to connect them with.


Time Wonderfully Wasted: Detroit Lions & USMNT

>> 6.28.2010

 1994_world_cup_usa_italy_nigeria It was 1994, and I was twelve years old.  My uncle, a sales something-or-other at M&M Mars, invited me to come out to his house in New Hampshire for a week—by myself.  I couldn’t believe it; I’d never gone anywhere by myself!  The furthest beyond Michigan’s borders I’d ever been was northern Ohio.  I’d never set foot in an airport, let alone flown in a plane.  But it didn’t stop there; he let me draw up the itinerary.  I did so with zeal: the ocean, Boston, Fenway Park—and, since he’d pulled some strings with his bosses, tickets to a World Cup match.

I was only dimly aware of the World Cup—but I was then as I am now, and I immediately absorbed everything I could about international soccer.  Without the Internet, this was slow and painful, but I figured out what I needed to know: the US was a perennial weak sister, and FIFA had given America the tournament to get us to realize the sport existed.  I didn’t need long to find a real side to get behind: the ancestral homeland of my mother’s family, the perennial powerhouse, the Azzurri: Italy.

As the only grandchild of a proudly Italian-American family, I’d been well-trained.  America first, yes—my grandfather served in WWII—but Italy a fierce second.  I read about Roberto Baggio, the reigning greatest player in the world, and how totally amazingly awesome he was.   Incredible, superhuman, without flaw—I lapped it up, owned it, revelled in it with the all-consuming shallow understanding of a geeky twelve-year-old.

I thought nothing could top the exotic wonders of air travel—if only jaded business travelers could experience O’Hare layovers with my twelve-year-old-eyes!—but the World Cup match did.  Whether by arrogant design on the part of my uncle, or supremely fortunate accident, my uncle and I saw Italy take on Nigeria in a quarterfinal match.  I didn’t understand the significance of this; the round-robin/knockout format more-or-less escaped me—but I did understand that both teams’ fans wanted to win like they wanted to keep breathing. 

Just the parking lot was an experience unto itself; Nigerians, Italians, and Americans were laughing, singing, playing soccer, and talking smack.  I remember a group of a dozen-or-so Italians walking to the stadium, singing and bearing a long Italian-flag banner above their heads.  A nearby Nigerian laughed, and said in accented English: “Looks like a funeral procession!”

Once in the stadium, and my eyes pried themselves away from the enormous swath of wide-open grass, I found the crowd much more interesting than the game.  The Italians chanting and pounding drums, the Nigerians pogo-ing like first-wave punk crowds, my uncle and I blending in with the hirsuite and swarthy gentlemen with whom we shared ancestry.

It was hot, though, and an early Nigerian goal had deflated the overwhelmingly pro-Italy crowd.  I’d expected to see Roberto Baggio own the pitch, dominating everything in Jordanesque fashion—but he didn’t even look like the best Baggio on the field.  Understanding nothing of soccer, baking in the summer sun, and realizing my notional homeland’s upset was drawing nigh, my interest waned.

Suddenly, with just minutes left in the match, Roberto Baggio scored the equalizer—and the figurative match was struck.  The resultant tie, and extra time, poured gasoline around the powder keg of a stadium.  When Baggio was tackled (in the American football way) while going to the goal, he was awarded a penalty kick—and, like Landon Donovan’s goal against Ghana on Saturday, Baggio banked it in off one post while the goalie dove for the other.  Match, gasoline, powder keg.  BOOM.

The party that ensued went on for hours, and my uncle and I were thrilled to join the Italians in celebration.  I don’t know how many people get the chance to walk into a World Cup match, and see their favorite player score their side’s only two goals in a dramatic victory, but I did—and it was like going to the North Pole to see if Santa Claus was real, and have him drive you back to your house in the sleigh.

So how come I didn’t care about soccer for sixteen years?

Part of it was a total lack of continuity; I had no idea what Baggio did in between World Cups—and even if someone told me about European club leagues, I wouldn’t have been able to follow them with basic cable in 1994.  Part of it was my chosen side; U.S. coverage of soccer orbits the USMNT, and the whys and wherefores surrounding the crushing lack of mainstream interest in them.   The rest of it was an early childhood spent immersed in the “four major sports,” as they then were, and the Detroit teams that competed in them.  There simply wasn’t room in my heart to pry it open and pour AC Milan, or whoever, in.

But for this World Cup, something was different.  Something about the mix of old and new players, the rise of sports blogs and the high correlation between great sports bloggers and soccer fans, and the anywhere-anytime-awesome nature of following sports in the Internet era, made me decide to care.  I quickly gave up on the Italy thing; their current penchant for uninspired play and egregious ref-baiting dives makes them unsupportable.  No, I invested myself in the Nats a.k.a. Yanks a.k.a. Wild Turkeys [my own attempt at a nickname for them], and was richly rewarded with an experience not unlike my entire life spent rooting for the Lions.

Don't get me wrong; Landon’s golden goal against Algeria was an incredible experience, one I’ll never forget.  For my Lions fans who didn’t watch in real time, it was as if the entire nation had been hanging on the outcome of Matthew Stafford’s now-legendary comeback against the Browns.  Like every bar in America had simultaneously re-enacted the explosion of euphoria my son and I had been in the center of that day

But Saturday’s performance against Ghana was like every Lions’ missed game-winning kick, fourth-quarter collapse, and never-showed-up game you saw coming from a million miles away: after a lot of proud talk about heart and effort and we-finally-made-it after the game before, a tentative, lethargic performance handed the game that matters to the other team.  And, for the fans’ part, we came away feeling something had been given to us, and taken away, for the countlessth time.

Like the Lions’ 2009 season, USMNT fans have a few wonderful moments to take away from the group stage of the 2010 World Cup—but, as it’s ever been for both Lions fans and Nats fans since the Fifties, you’re left wondering when all the promise will ever become reality, and how much longer you can sustain yourself on what might be, or what almost was.  As the wind picks up, the temperature drops, and winter descends upon South Africa, I’m left to wonder if U.S. soccer is in for another four-year hiberation; another long, long, cold, bitter winter . . . and who’ll keep that flame of fandom burning until the summer sun of Rio thaws the snow.

. . . some videos for you. First, highlights of the ‘94 Italy-Nigeria match:

Second, the compliation of reaction shots to Donovan's goal.  I still get chills.


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