Chain of Fools: How Our Institutions Have Failed Our Children

The allegations against Jerry Sandusky have created potentially the biggest scandal in the history of college sports.

The sex scandal involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has taken over the headlines, bringing to light a story that spans over the course of a decade, a period of alleged misconduct that went on way too long.

A state grand jury report accuses Sandusky of inappropriate sexual contact with eight young boys dating back to 1998, and as of this afternoon a possible ninth victim has come forward.

The resignations of Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and executive VP Gary Schultz amid indictments for lying to the grand jury about their knowledge of the situation are the latest in a series of dominoes that have fallen, and the next to fall could be the resignations of head coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier, only adding to what could now be classified as a modern Shakespearean tragedy.

Paterno informed his superiors of what he learned concerning Sandusky, but his failure to act any further could cost him his job.

My interest in this case is not only because of the nature of the crimes, but also because of the inaction of those involved from the alleged eyewitnesses to those who were informed and failed to contact law enforcement.

It would be easy to string these men up on the cross of public opinion, but the truth is inaction like this is not that unfamiliar in our current society.

This may be the first time that a sex scandal of this magnitude has rocked the sports world, but we have seen similar incidents in all walks of society ranging from politics to schools to even the church. And there were some who knew about it and did nothing.

This case hits home for me personally because I have stood in the shoes of those who either witnessed or knew the details of the situation.

In my younger years, I witnessed one of my teachers having an improper relationship with a handful of my classmates. There was blatant favoritism, improper conversations and an uncomfortable closeness between teacher and student that was clearly apparent. I never saw any acts that took place behind closed doors, but I couldn’t help but notice that the things I saw publicly weren’t normal.

One day I was involved with the same group of classmates in an incident that took place in this teacher’s classroom. Instead of punishing the entire group, I was singled out by this teacher. When I asked why I was the only one being punished while the others were let off the hook, I was thrown out of class and the teacher called my parents.

When I got home and tried to plead my case about the situation to my parents, they told me I was just bitter because I was the only one caught. They couldn’t understand why I suddenly had such a serious conflict with a teacher who taught my older siblings, but never had any problems with them.

But you don’t understand, I pleaded. He treats those boys differently than the rest of us. The problem was I just couldn’t put my finger on why. And since I couldn’t, my claims that something was amiss went unanswered.

Years later my mother told me a disturbing story she heard from a colleague: her son had the same teacher I had problems with and had a similar conflict. But his had gone so much deeper than mine.

He had discovered the teacher was inviting students to spend time with him outside of school and had made improper sexual advances toward them. When the student found out and confronted the teacher about his possible impropriety, he was punished. It was later learned this improper conduct spanned back a number of years, including the time when I was in his class.

My initial response was anger toward my parents. I blamed them for not believing me when I saw the warning signs. The thought that these acts could have been prevented had someone just believed me made me increasingly bitter. I felt wronged for being ignored, and I felt like the boys who fell victim to this man were wronged also.

The story at Penn State dug up all of those old, angry feelings. It made me angry for those young boys who were allegedly victimized. It made me angry for the parents whose cries for justice were met with silence. And it made me most angry toward those who could have stopped it, but didn’t.

The truth is stories like this are not exclusive. They happen everywhere and are ignored due to fear of retribution, disbelief or even apathy.

The truth is we as adults, as institutions, as a society, have failed.

Our children have fallen victim to such deviant behavior that would turn the empty stomach of a competitive eater, and the indifference of the adults empowered to act makes them just as guilty as the perpetrators themselves.

Shame on us.

Our failure as a society to protect the innocent at the expense of self-preservation should make us question whether those charged with shaping the minds of our youth are fit for the task. If the adults instructing our children can’t be trusted to protect them and provide the example they should follow, who can we trust? More importantly, who can they trust?

I’m not a parent, but I do have nieces, nephews, godchildren and young cousins whom I love as though they were my own, and the man who lays a hand on them might not live to tell the story if I have a say in the matter. But it should be that way for every child.

It is up to us to protect our children and do whatever it takes to keep them safe, even at our own expense.

The old proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child.

But who is left to raise our children when the village has failed?

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Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before…

So I’m sure if you read this blog often… wait, scratch that. Nobody reads this often, not even me.

OK, so if you’ve read this blog on more than one occasion, you’ve probably read my half-hearted assertions and broken commitments to start blogging more and being more dilligent about it. And so far I’ve managed to renege on each one like a freshman at the lunch table on any given day at Schenley High School (I guarantee only three or four people who read this will get that joke, but I digress).

Anyway, I have several theories as to why my efforts never worked out:

1) I work too freakin’ much. Depending on what time of the year of it is I have three (sometimes four) jobs, ranging from writing for Patch.com and WTAE.com to working in production for Channel 4 Action Sports and High School Playbook, to part-time radio work for TribLive Radio and Champs Sports Network. (The sad and ironic part is, my total net worth may have actually gone down since undertaking so many ventures as a result, but I probably knew that going in.) By the time I’m done covering a game, producing a show, talking sports on-air or calling a game, I’m pretty much ready to go home and veg out in my recliner. Getting up the energy to do yet another activity that pays little or no money just seems silly, which is a horrible excuse, but it’s true.

2) Lack of organization. The truth is, I have days when something happens or I read a story and form opinions that should be shared immediately. Where I screw up is I usually unload that opinion on the first person that happens to call me on the phone or in a rare quiet moment at work. (My incessant need to talk Pirates usually goes unsatisfied in the WTAE-TV newsroom, but there are a few charitable souls willing to indulge me. God bless them.) Then, when it’s all said and done, I think to myself, Taylor, you idiot, you should’ve blogged that! By then, I’m either too busy or exhausted from running my mouth to do it.

 3. I’m just plain lazy sometimes. Now I know what you’re thinking: how can somebody who does so much during the course of his work week consider himself lazy? When you don’t have a consistently set schedule, you work most nights and weekends and hate waking up before noon (even on an off-day), there are plenty of opportunities to feel lethargic or lack motivation.

With those three factors in mind, I have decided to try to become more organized in my half-motivated efforts to become a more enthused and consistent blogger. I’ve come up with names for different segments, divided by subject matter:

NFL: Kick-Out Block

NCAA Football: Blown Coverage

MLB: Switch-Hit Utility

NHL: Just Puckin’ Around

NBA: (I haven’t quite come up with one, but I guess there’s no rush, huh?)

NCAA Basketball: Off The Dribble

General Rants: Maybe It’s Just Me…

I haven’t thought of any subtitles for other topics just yet, but if I think of them, then I’ll do it. Otherwise, if you’re looking for commentary on golf, soccer or NASCAR, well, too bad. Maybe you’ll get your wish in the future. In the meantime, we’ll see how things go.

So, once again, as we’ve said in past attempts, “Here Goes Nothing…”

Respect “Ray-Ray’s” Gangsta

It’s been approximately 100 hours since “Jagr Watch” came to its unceremonious end, ultimately with Jaromir Jagr spurning a return to the Penguins to sign a one-year free agent deal with the highly-detested Philadelphia Flyers.

While the response in Pittsburgh has ranged from considerable relief for not bringing in a 39-year-old potential locker room detractor, to blind, angry rage at the thought of Jagr eventually blowing off a man whom he said he owed his career to, former Pens’ teammate and current owner Mario Lemieux, I’m rather surprised that I don’t find myself at either end of this emotional spectrum.

I quickly came to grips with Jagr’s decision, especially after considering how it all played out.

Bear in mind, it wasn’t Jagr that turned down the Penguins; it was that GM Ray Shero pulled the Pens’ one-year, $2 million contract offer at 11:00 Friday morning, an hour before the NHL free agency period began. Shero explained the team had a firm deadline where they were either going to move on with Jagr, or move on without him.

Shero: "I don't know Jaromir Jagr, so I'm not bitter at all."

Soon after, the Detroit Red Wings — one of the other two original teams mentioned as possible destinations for Jagr — pulled their offer off the table as well, opening the door for the Flyers and GM Paul Holmgren to ink Jagr to a one-year, $3.3 million deal.

I hold no fault with Shero for holding firm to his plans for signing Jagr and sticking to his deadline. In fact, I applaud him for it. The way he handled it was decisive, disciplined and handled with the utmost confidence and conviction.

In a word, it was gangsta. (Yeah, I said it.)

Shero could’ve played the pining, spurned lover role when Jagr pulled a Fredo Corleone and broke Mario Lemieux’s heart after Lemieux personally reached out to Jagr and expressed his desire to have Jagr in a Pens’ sweater once again. But Shero wasn’t about to show any emotion. He didn’t even appear the least bit fazed.

“For me, I don’t know Jaromir Jagr, so I’m not bitter at all,” he said during a news conference Friday afternoon. “This is business to me.”

While the rest of Pittsburgh and its hockey team’s fans in surrounding areas lived and died all things Jagr for 72 hours, when the whole spectacle came to an end, the only man who didn’t have an emotional response was the one who, in essence, told him to step off.

He stood toe-to-toe with one of his employer’s (and the league’s) biggest stars of yesteryear, stared him down and stood his ground. Then, with a blank stare on his face and ice water in his veins, told the world he wasn’t pressed about it.

That’s gangsta, people.

Ray Shero stared down Jaromir Jagr and his agent, and pulled his offer before Jagr could make a fool of him. I'm sorry, but that's gangsta.

He might as well have been standing as godfather for the baptism for Connie and Carlo’s son, renouncing Satan and all his works.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if reports surfaced later that day that Jagr’s agent, Petr Svoboda, was found in the back of a massage parlor somewhere in the Czech Republic with a bullet in his eye.

If the Penguins win another Stanley Cup or two during Shero’s tenure in the front office, I expect to see internet photos surface of him shirtless, holding hockey sticks in each hand with the words “CUP LIFE” tattooed in English script on his abdomen.

(In fact, I don’t feel like waiting to see that. Somebody with Photoshop and a lot of free time get on that. PRONTO.)

While yes, Shero could have used a 20-plus goal-scoring winger for one of his top two scoring lines, he wasn’t going against his plan to get it. Even if it was an international mega-star like Jagr.

At the end of the day, Shero has two of the world’s best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin returning to play for him next season, healthy and ready to make a run at the team’s fourth Stanley Cup. He has one of the league’s best — and still up and coming — goaltenders in Marc-Andre Fleury, and now has the reigning Jack Adams Award-winning coach in Dan Bylsma.

But I get the feeling that even if he didn’t have all of those elements in his own locker room, he still wouldn’t have put himself out there to appear desperate for Jagr, either before or after the outcome.

There’s a reason why Shero has quickly risen to the top of the ranks in his five years in Pittsburgh: because he has the foresight, conviction and discipline to make what he feels are the right decisions to run a championship-caliber organization. Not only that, but he’ll stand by each decision he makes, right or wrong.

It takes a certain level of confidence in your ability to do such a stressful and volatile job while holding firm to those qualities.

It takes a little bit of gangsta, and ol’ “Ray-Ray” just put the world on notice that he ain’t afraid to show it.

The Mystery Of Clint Hurdle

Before I venture into this topic let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am a fan of Clint Hurdle. I was quite excited/relieved/satisfied when the Pirates hired him as their manager.

I am a fan of Hurdle’s outgoing and engaging personality, his experience in the game as a well-respected guy and a successful coach, his ability to relate to people (notably, his players), and his nearly too-good-to-be-true upbeat and optimistic demeanor. That combination of personality traits make him a good fit for a ball club that is searching for some positivity in a world of anything but. It also makes him the direct antithesis of John Russell, but I digress.

That said, I have recently seen him as a mystery; a collection of questionable actions and decisions that don’t necessarily add up.

Some of Hurdle's in-game decisions as manager have confused (and angered) the Pirates' fanbase

If you’re a Pirates fan and plugged into the Buccos’ Twitter-sphere, on any given day you’ll see varying degrees of frustration with Hurdle’s propensity for sacrifice bunting. You’ll see the same frustration (but on a lesser scale) with Hurdle’s affinity for aggressive base-running.

It’s the collection of the two I find particularly disturbing. In the best interest of scoring runs, I find it hard to believe a conservative hitting approach that gives away outs, plus an aggressive base-running approach that risks giving away outs could possibly result in a higher run-scoring total for a team that struggled to score runs previously.

The more glaring decision that stunned me came Monday during the Pirates’ loss to the Nationals in Washington. Hurdle brought in reliever Jose Ascanio in a 2-2 game with one out in the seventh inning and a runner on first. Ascanio’s first pitch was crushed by Danny Espinosa for what would be the game-deciding home run.

What’s curious about this scenario is that Hurdle specifically said the day Ascanio was activated off the disabled list and put on the 25-man roster that he would slowly bring Ascanio along and keep him out of high-leverage situations. When the specific question of inserting him in a tie game was raised, Hurdle said he wouldn’t put him in that kind of situation.

Having been there in person to hear what Hurdle said during that pre-game meeting, imagine my surprise to read that in the box score after missing the game on TV.

I guess my point is that given the results we’ve seen so far from some of the decisions he’s made, I believe Hurdle is a much smarter baseball guy than we’ve seen from him in recent days. Perhaps the failure to see that in the results are what befuddles me.

Other views from the cheap seats:

  • Given there is no clear-cut #1 prospect in this year’s Major League Baseball entry draft, I get the feeling regardless of whom the Pirates select: Rice 3B Anthony Rendon, UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole, Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen, or any other name, there will be a contingent of people in Pittsburgh who won’t be happy. So if I’m Neal Huntington or scouting director Greg Smith, I make my decision as if nobody’s paying attention. In fact, perhaps the team should take that approach in a lot of situations. Between top prospect Tony Sanchez signing off Twitter and problems with a local bar’s promotion, clearly they have their share of problems that really wouldn’t be problems if they just learned to ignore outside noise from time to time.
  • Dirk Nowitzki’s 48-point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was one of the most outstanding postseason scoring exhibitions we’ve seen in a while, Larry Bird-esque even. Throw out his perfect 24-for-24 shooting from the free throw line and 12-for-15 field goal shooting is still quite impressive. But to square up for a combined 39 shots over the course of the game and miss only three times… wow. This is the type of game that many people think Dirk is capable of on a nightly basis, I being one of them. But we’ve also been waiting for a long time to see him do it consistently during the postseason. As a guy who has hashed out a healthy share of criticism for the big guy, I hope he can continue to carry his team in this vein and shed the “soft” tag that has been placed on him for quite some time.
  • At a celebrity golf outing last week I had the chance to interview former Steelers’ kicker Matt Bahr, who played for six different NFL teams over a 17-year span. When asked his opinion on what a solution to the current NFL lockout should be, Bahr said, “Get out on the field. Play the game. That’s my take on the situation.” And he walked away.

The Perils of Reinventing Yourself

The past year has been an absolute whirlwind for me. I undertook a handful of new ventures, one of them being a Pirates blog, Pittsburgh Pine Tar (perhaps you’ve heard of it, perhaps you haven’t). I picked up a couple of extra meager-wage jobs along the way, too (as if I needed more, right??).

In the midst of all of it, I wanted to try and do more with my own personal blogging venture since, as you can tell, my last post to date was in early April. Some may argue blogging about the Pirates winning on Opening Day was a bad omen, but I digress…

I went on to purchase my own domain, www.joshtaylorsrow.com, in hopes of setting up my blog there and taking charge of what had previously been a very sporadic track record as a blogger. Simple plan, right? Not so much.

Yes, I had purchased the domain. Yes, I had purchased a blogging software tool that provided so many different features, including a widget for my own podcasts and a built-in podcast recorder. The problem was I didn’t like the things I had to give up control of, like the design of my site for instance. In order to have the layout, color scheme and header/footer scheme I wanted, I had to pay extra. However, in defense of the kind folks at GoDaddy, they don’t know I dwell in the cellar of sports media for a living. Clearly no one enters into this industry for the generous wage earnings, and certainly no one comes in looking to be satisfied with mine (on that note, I’m thankful to have been blessed with a dangerously flexible sense of humor and an unusually high comfort level with being self-deprecating).

After weeks of frustration and a continuous desire to not want to spend more money, I decided to finally scrap the paid blog software and revert back to my free WordPress site where I can do what I want and I always liked the setup in the first place. Plus I figure since I own the domain for a year, why not put it to use? So I have decided to upgrade my WordPress blog in order to use my domain name for my blog and — get this — I can actually afford it!

So without any further ado, I would like to welcome you all to the future home of JoshTaylorsRow.com. I’m not going to make the same mistake I’ve made the past several times I’ve tried to re-establish my sports blogging status with empty promises that I’m going to write more often and do all this other stuff I hadn’t done before.

The truth is I have four jobs. I barely have time to sleep, much less blog. That said, it would behoove me to use my inherent insomnia to my blog’s benefit, but like I said, no guarantees. At this point I’ll be happy if someone other than my two most loyal readers (you know who you are, Bekah and Doug) decides to read this thing and leaves a comment other than spam. I will consider that a huge moral victory.

(My apologies to those who expected a lot more fanfare with that announcement. In retrospect, I’m just as unfulfilled as you are.)

Oh well. Here goes nothing… again…

A Couple of Great Opening Day Debuts

Considering it’s been over a month since my last post (maybe two) I figured Opening Day for the Pirates would be a good way to start back on the path to being a responsible blogger. Obviously, that path will be quite a long one for me, seeing as how I’ve never necessarily been “responsible” as a blogger since the beginning.

Anyway, Monday was my first Major League season opener as a member of the media. My esteemed colleague Joe Heckel and I covered the game with live updates online for ThePittsburghChannel.com while the Buccos clubbed the Dodgers, 11-5. We got seats on the front row of the press box and trust me when I say we could see everything.

The experience was probably more exciting than the game itself, considering we were on the field and saw everything that happened during the pre-game ceremony:

  • Andrew McCutchen honored as the 2009 Baseball America Rookie of the Year
  • The McMutrie sisters, Jamie and Ali, threw out the first pitch before the game (which I actually caught when Ali’s throw sailed over Jamie’s head and bounced into the media throng)
  • I had the chance to interview Jamie and Ali for Channel 4 before going onto the field, where they told us what they’ve been up to since they’ve been back in Pittsburgh, their plans to return to Haiti and rebuild, and their nervousness about throwing off the mound. Ladies, you did better than some specific grown men have.
  • Jamie and Ali brought Fredo, one of the children from their orphanage in Haiti, down to the field. The Pirate Parrot tried to say hi, but poor Fredo was scared and cried hysterically. (It’s hard out here for a mascot these days…)
  • The national anthem was sang by Jackie Evancho, a 9-year-old from Pine-Richland whom I personally told, “God bless you,” before she went out to sing. (Not because I’m the openly-blessing type; she sneezed.) I don’t know of many girls her age that can sing in front of nearly 40,000 people and remain totally composed, but she did. And she did an outstanding job.
  • Moon Township native and country music artist Sarah Marince sang “God Bless America,” also another impressive rendition. I’m not a country music fan or an industry expert by any stretch of the imagination, but for a 19-year-old, she has quite the future ahead of her.
  • I got pictures of everything and you can see them in the photo album on my Facebook page.

The game itself was quite fun to watch, too, given the Pirates hit three home runs combined and seven of their ten hits went for extra bases. Zach Duke pitched a pretty impressive game, giving up only two runs in five innings. What’s m0re impressive is he overcame a two-run first inning by putting up zeroes the rest of the way. Of course, two home runs in three innings by Garrett Jones to give him the lead back didn’t hurt. Nor did a five-run fifth inning that gave him a six-run lead when he left the game and a virtual assurance he would be the winning pitcher.

My man had a rough day with little Fredo...

In encompassing fashion, here’s everything I took away from the game:

  • If you didn’t believe in Garrett Jones after the season he put up last year, it’s not too late to get on board. The Legend cranked a 1-2 fastball 456 feet into the Allegheny River on a bounce and poked another one opposite field for home runs in his first ever Major League Opening Day. (That’s right, two legends both rocked it in their first professional home openers. *wink, wink*) The way he approaches hitting and has refined his swing make  you realize three things: a) he’s a legitimate threat with one swing of the bat, b) the Pirates haven’t had one of those since Brian Giles, and c) you don’t always need to look at minor league numbers to figure it out. Sometimes players get to The Show and just figure it out, and the Pirates were due to land a guy who fit that scenario.
  • Aki Iwamura leading off in the lineup may not be the best idea to some people, but it worked the very first time around. He worked a five-pitch walk without swinging his bat, and he was on first base when Jones flicked the ball out of the building and tied the game up. He takes pitches and tries to get himself on base. You need a guy like that in your lineup.
  • Speaking of things that worked, remember how people thought John Russell was crazy for batting the pitcher eighth and said it would never work? Well check this out: it worked twice. The first time was in the second inning when Jeff Clement led off with a single and Andy LaRoche was hit by a pitch afterward. Duke came up third and laid down a sacrifice bunt that Russell Martin dropped to load the bases with no outs. The only part about it that didn’t work was that Ronny Cedeno grounded into a double play and ruined the whole setup (we’ll get into why I don’t think Cedeno will last at a later date).
  • The other time it worked was in the bottom of the fifth when Duke was due up with two outs and the bases loaded. The decision was made to pinch-hit Ryan Church with the opportunity to drive in at least one run and expand their lead. Church, a left-hander facing right-handed Ramon Ortiz, lined a 2-0 fastball into the gap for a three-run single that busted the game open. Had Cedeno batted eighth, Church wouldn’t have been inserted as a pinch hitter, and considering Cedeno’s .232/.292/.360 line with runners in scoring position, they probably wouldn’t have gotten to Duke in the ninth spot anyway.
  • FACT: After Church’s RBI double, I literally wrote “CHUUUUUUUUUUUUCH” on the live blog. Admit it: you wish you had thought of it.
  • The Pirates bullpen is markedly better this season than last season. Did you see Brendan Donnelly get two strikeouts in the eighth to strand runners on second and third? That’s why the Pirates signed him: because he strikes guys out.
  • Speaking of guys who strike guys out, did you see new closer Octavio Dotel totally dismantle Matt Kemp with three fastballs looking in the top of the ninth? The speeds of those: 93, 94, and 94, all beautifully placed on the outside corner. Sorry, folks, but Matt Capps couldn’t do that with a wider home plate.

The biggest thing I took from this game is that this team has a different attitude than the ones that have recently preceded it. They didn’t panic when they were down to runs after the first half inning. They made efforts to play a team-oriented game. They have made statements that give the impression that they genuinely believe in each other and believe they can win.

Will it play out over time? More than likely not; the odds just don’t look that good.

But games aren’t decided by odds. They’re decided on the field. After all, what were the odds of the Pirates scoring a team Opening Day record 11 runs against a team that won a division championship and made it to the NLCS last year?

Am I saying that you should put the champagne on ice in early April? Of course not. Just that this team just might be better than people (including myself) think.

All that being said, this was a lengthier post than I originally set out for. Consider it making up for lost time.

National Signing Day: Where does Pitt stand?

I don’t know what’s tougher to believe: that it’s been over a month since my last post, or that it took something like college football recruiting to break the skid. But since we’re here, might as well talk a little bit about Pitt…

It has already been documented that my prediction about Pitt’s BCS bowl berth within five years from the day Dave Wannstedt was hired fell just a couple points against Cincinnati short of coming true, but there’s no reason to think it can’t happen within the next four years. That is, if you know anything about the recruiting class Wannstedt has collected for next season.

It’s no secret that one of the reasons I was a fan of the ‘Stache’s hiring in Oakland was his desire to establish a local recruiting base. He considers western Pennsylvania a football hotbed and wants to take advantage of the deep talent pool that collects from year to year. This year, he’s taking that concept to the bank, snatching up some of the area’s top-tier talent. Here’s the list of local players you will see in blue and gold next year:

With Aaron Donald and Khaynin Mosley-Smith on the way, Pitt's defensive line should be well-stocked for the next few years

Drew Carswell, WR, Sto-Rox (6’5″, 215): A good combination of size, speed, and skill, and he’s already pretty well-built to take some punishment. He played linebacker on defense and his solid build and strength will allow him to compliment – and eventually replace – Jonathan Baldwin at the split end position.

Aaron Donald, DL, Penn Hills (6’1″, 270): Wannstedt has made a habit of collecting quick, athletic defensive linemen during his time at Pitt, and Donald certainly fits that mold. He was arguably the best defensive lineman in the area his senior year, and his domination during the WPIAL playoffs only proved that. He’s solid, strong, and very agile for his size, and should fit right in the rotation with some experience and good instruction from DL coach Greg Gattuso. He also runs a 4.9 40-yard dash, not too shabby.

Brandon Ifill, DB, Penn Hills (6’0″, 180): He’s definitely not the marquee defensive back coming out of Penn Hills (that distinction goes to Michigan recruit Cullen Christian), but he’s a viable addition all the same to a defensive backfield that could use some raw speed. Ifill is a member of the Indians’ track team, namely, a 100-meter dash sprinter. He was a member of one of the top 400-meter relay teams in the area as a junior, and that speed plays perfectly in a conference whose two-time defending champion has a bunch of speedy wideouts in Cincinnati.

Khaynin Mosley-Smith, DL, Woodland Hills (6’1, 285): On the surface it’s hard to believe he was recruited to play defense, considering he didn’t play on that side of the ball during his senior year. But apparently Pitt’s coaches know the same thing a lot of other people know: he’s big, quick and strong. He ran a 4.9 40-yard dash, bench-pressed 340 pounds and squatted 615 at Pitt’s individual skills camp last summer. No wonder they snatched him up so quickly.

Todd Thomas, WR, Beaver Falls/Milford Academy (6’3″, 210): A year of prep school should serve this top 2009 WPIAL receiver a lot of good academically and physically. He already has a pretty good pedigree that has had a year to develop and now he and Carswell add some quality size and depth to the receiving corps almost immediately. There have been some reports of his immaturity and lack of work ethic, but a year at Milford should quell that if he earns some playing time.

Carswell has size, speed and strength. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti will make the most of his abilities and pedigree just like he has with Aliquippa native Jonathan Baldwin

Kevin Weatherspoon, WR, Clairton (6’0″, 183): Hands, athleticism and speed are this young man’s strengths, but playing in the WPIAL’s smallest classification (single-A) could be the cause for some of his success at the prep level. But if you know what I know and you’ve seen his highlight reel, he’s good enough to change your mind.

  • The topic of Penguins’ owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle’s offer to buy the Pirates seems to be the most talked-about thing in town these days. Whether or not Pirates’ owner Bob Nutting should sell isn’t really important to me. Who signs the checks for a baseball team is nowhere near as important as the where the money is going for baseball operations. Even the larger market teams have shrewd management making their baseball decisions. The Red Sox have Theo Epstein, the Yankees have Brian Cashman, the Mets have Omar Minaya… (OK, so maybe Minaya isn’t the best example). The point is, adequate scouting, drafting and development are what make a competent organization. Just ask the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, and Florida Marlins. The funny part is, the MLB Players’ Union has accused the Marlins of not spending enough money on payroll and they’ve won just as many World Series as the Yankees in the past seven years. In fact, they BEAT the Yankees in 2003 with a $48.7 M payroll, meanwhile New York’s was $107 M higher. Further proof that smart money beats big money.
  • What’s scary about watching Sidney Crosby is he’s already about to pass his career-high for goals in a season (39) and it’s only February. Combine that with the fact that he has gone from one of the worst face-off centers in the NHL to one of the best in only one season, and it’s clear that the best player in the world is still getting better. And what’s worse: he’s only 23.
  • The Steelers have a handful of free agent decisions to make, but the two most important in my opinion are retaining Casey Hampton and Deshea Townsend. With Dick LeBeau returning for another season as defensive coordinator, Hampton’s six-Pro Bowl talent is needed at nose tackle in that 3-4 scheme. And Townsend’s instincts, ball skills and veteran leadership are very necessary in the defensive backfield. It’s disgusting that he’s third on the depth chart at cornerback and he has the best ball skills of them all. Considering that he has practiced at free safety the past few years, plays zone as well as anybody and is considered by LeBeau as the “smartest player” he’s ever coached, just imagine Townsend and a healthy Troy Polamalu as the Steelers’ starting safety duo next season. I would guarantee an increase in (if not double) the amount of interceptions by the Steeler defense in 2010.
  • Duquesne basketball fans better start getting excited about Damian Saunders. He leads the nation in double-doubles (16), is arguably the A-10’s Player of the Year at this point in the season, and I would put him up against anybody as the best player in the country that nobody knows about. And after they get excited about him, they need to thank Marquette for letting him slip away so Ron Everhart could get him.