College athletes already are ‘paid’

Today’s question: Should the NCAA allow college athletes to get paid while they are in school?

Not even close. No … as in “hell no!”

The Beaumont Enterprise, where I used to work as editorial page editor, has this interesting feature in which it poses a question and then offers competing points of view. This week, the paper addressed the issue of paying college athletes.

I’m an old-fashioned guy when it comes to sports. Heck, I don’t even like the designated hitter rule, artificial turf, domed stadiums, or all the commercial signage pro golfers and race car drivers have to wear.

Thus, I believe college athletes have no compelling need to actually get paid for playing football and basketball, the two money-making sports for virtually all colleges and universities in America.

The question comes up in the wake of the Johnny “Football” Manziel matter involving whether he got paid for signing autographs while playing Heisman Trophy-winning football for Texas A&M University.

My take on it is this: Manziel already is getting paid by virtue of his receiving a fully funded college education. He, along with all blue-chip athletes, go to college with all their schoolwork paid for by scholarships, funded usually by huge endowments paid by big-time contributors. Texas A&M is among the richest universities on the planet, endowment-wise.

I prefer to see these young athletes also perform as students in the classroom, without the perk of capitalizing on their athletic skills through payoffs handed to them under the table.

I cannot predict what the NCAA will rule in the Manziel case. From my perch, it doesn’t look good for Johnny Football.

As for paying college athletes? A free college education is payment enough.

Tiger will be just fine, thank you very much

Tiger Woods didn’t win the PGA this past weekend. He’s still looking to win his 15th major golf tournament.

And strange as it seems, golf’s pundit class is giving him a bad time because he hasn’t won a major since 2008.

Get off it, already.

Even if Tiger Woods never wins another major championship, he’ll be able to look back on what has been an extraordinary golf career. He’s won 79 PGA events overall, second to Sam Snead’s 82 wins. He is stuck on 14 major wins, with Jack Nicklaus ahead of him with 18. The way I see it, being mentioned in the same sentence with Slammin’ Sammy and the Golden Bear puts Tiger in the middle of some pretty tall cotton.

I think he’ll win more majors. Whether he catches Jack is another matter. Still, it shouldn’t really matter when measuring the impact Tiger Woods has had on the game of golf.

All of this armchair handwringing reminds of what sports talkers used to say about auto racing legend Mario Andretti, who’s generally recognized as one of the greatest drivers in the history of his sport. But he won only a single Indianapolis 500 race, in 1969. He figured to win many Indy races when he arrived on the scene in 1965. He had bad luck at Indy.

Someone finally asked Mario to comment on one of his many failures to win a second Indy 500. His answer, which I only can paraphrase now, was classic. He said he doesn’t measure the success of his career by what he didn’t do at Indy. He prefers to look instead at the big picture: Daytona 500 victory in 1967, Formula One championship in 1978 … and a host of victories at tracks worldwide of all kinds and shapes racing open-wheeled cars, NASCAR stock cars, Formula One road course vehicles.

I believe the totality of Tiger Woods’s career, when it finally concludes, will measure up.

What happened to new freedoms, Russia?

Two decades ago, the Soviet Union receded into history. Russia was reborn supposedly as a country where its citizens could live in freedom.

It’s now painfully obvious, however, that freedom in Russia has its limits.

Freedom doesn’t include gay people.

The Russian government has issued some kind of mandate that makes it illegal for homosexuals to demonstrate for their rights. One of the results of this crackdown has been an outmigration of Russians to other countries. Gay Russians no longer are welcome in their country. As the link attached here notes, Vancouver, British Columbia, is seeing a significant increase in Russians fleeing to that city on the Pacific Coast of Canada.

The communists who founded and later ruled the Soviet Union seized many people’s freedom. They couldn’t own property. They couldn’t acquire wealth, or worship freely. They couldn’t speak out against their government without fearing for their lives. They couldn’t love whomever they wished.

The commies are gone from power — more or less — and the Russian Federation has restored many of the aforementioned freedoms. The government, though, has declared in effect that it is illegal to be gay.

Is it any wonder, then, that President Barack Obama — who keeps speaking out on behalf of the rights of all the world’s citizens — and his Russian colleague, Vladimir Putin, can’t get along?

A new world awaits

OK, my fellow travelers. You’re about to have some company on the open road.

My wife and I have recently joined the world of recreational vehicle owners. We purchased a 29-foot fifth wheel travel vehicle. It’s going to be hitched up to a new pickup we purchased. Very soon — we hope — we’re going to hit the road for some serious traveling.

I have some more good news. This past week we completed a three-night trial run with the fifth wheel. We didn’t go far with it. Just across town, to the east side of Amarillo, not far from the world-famous Big Texan Steak Ranch.

We hitched our fifth wheel to the back of our 3/4-ton pickup and drove it about eight miles to the other side of the city. We parked it in a space that included hookups for city water, electricity, cable television, and a place to dump our sewage.

We couldn’t ask for anything more.

So, we spent three nights getting acquainted with our fifth wheel. The first night was interesting, given that a fierce thunderstorm blew in over Amarillo. How did we fare during the storm? Beautifully, I’m happy to report. We had leveled our vehicle with front and rear jacks, plus a tripod stabilizer we installed under the fifth wheel hitch.

We spent two more days and nights there, visited with other travelers — those who actually were traveling — and laughed as we told them we were locals who drove across town to inaugurate our travel vehicle. “That’s smart of you to do that,” came the response.

Saturday morning, we woke up, cooked our breakfast and began the task of breaking camp. We had some help from one of the RV park managers who came over to watch us unhook the water lines, flush out our wastewater tanks, and button everything up. He left before we hooked the truck up with the fifth wheel. But hey, no problem. We got it done.

We drove back to our storage garage, unhooked truck from fifth wheel and went home quite satisfied with how much we learned. Yes, we still have questions, but now we’re able to ask them more intelligently.

With that, we’ve entered the world of semi-retirement. Neither of us is retired fully just yet. That day is approaching. But our venture into this new world of travel is the culmination of a discussion my wife and I have been having for, oh, about 25 years.

We’re ready to hit the road.

The Donald is back in the political arena

He’s baaaack.

Donald Trump showed up this weekend on the ABC-TV news show “This Week,” and yep, started talking like someone who wants to run for president in 2016.

I almost cannot add to the video attached to this blog.

It’s hard to understand why a serious news show would interview someone who is likely to do exactly what he did in 2012: sound like someone who wants to run for the White House but who couldn’t give up his lucrative TV gig, “The Apprentice.”

The Donald is a lot of things: showman, successful businessman, egomaniac … to name just three.

A serious public policy expert he is not.

He said in the interview with ABC that the Republicans have to nominate “the right candidate” to be someone such as Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.

The Donald is not — and never will be — that candidate.

Cornyn vs. Gohmert? Really?

Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka reports that U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert is being pushed to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in next year’s Texas Republican Party primary.

Please, please, say it is so.

Gohmert is running neck and neck with Rep. Steve Stockman of Friendswood in the contest to be Texas’s goofiest Republican member of Congress. Gohmert enjoys tremendous strength among the party’s tea party wing. Cornyn — the former Texas attorney general and state Supreme Court justice — is a more “establishment-type” Republican, meaning that his support comes from the more mainstream sources.

Gohmert remains committed to the notion that the president may have been in a foreign country. His list of idiotic statements in recent years has become the stuff of legend.

It puzzles me, though, as to why Cornyn might become a tea party target. As head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, Cornyn has earned his spurs criticizing President Obama at every turn. He certainly was no shrinking violet during last year’s presidential campaign, as he tried repeatedly to derail the president’s successful re-election effort.

That doesn’t appear to be good enough.

What would happen if Gohmert were to run? He’d likely lose the primary, but that would mean he’d also surrender his House seat in 2014. But whoever his East Texas constituents send to the House to succeed him remains a dicey proposition.

If next year’s Texas primary features these two gut-fighters, though, it’ll embody the intraparty warfare that’s brewing between those who want government to do something and those who want it to do nothing.

I’m hoping Gohmert runs. Texans need a good laugh.

One of MLB’s best gets his dander up

Albert Pujols is my favorite baseball player. He’s the only one I track daily, kind of like the way I used to track Mickey Mantle’s hit stats.

Pujols is on the shelf at the moment, trying to recover from a foot injury that’s hampered him all season. However, he’s back in the news. Jack Clark, a former major leaguer of some repute, has accused Pujols of taking performance enhancing drugs.

Pujols’s reaction? He’s threatening to sue Clark.

Clark made his rant on a radio show. He got fired immediately after he delivered it.

As for Pujols, I am going to stand behind him. Pujols has said many times during his 12-year career that Major League Baseball can test him for drugs “every single day.” He has vowed repeatedly never to dishonor the game he loves, his wife and children, his teammates, his employers … or even his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

He’s an angry man today, vowing to take legal action against Clark.

I know what you’re thinking. Rafael Palmiero, another big leaguer of considerable renown, once wagged his finger at members of Congress and said he “never took” performance enhancing drugs. Turns out he fibbed — in a big-league way.

Still, I am inclined to believe Albert Pujols’s angry response is sincere. I might just give up the Grand Old Game altogether, though, if he disappoints me.

Disappointed once more in jury system

Call me weird. I got word last night that I won’t be called for jury duty after all. Drat! Let down … once again.

I get these jury summonses from Randall County District Clerk Jo Carter’s office on occasion. They tell me to be ready to report on a certain date. Potential jurors are given the chance to phone in ahead of time to see if they’ll be called. I made the call Saturday night and, sure enough, the recorded voice said “all jurors are excused.”

I’ve never served on a trial jury. It’s one of those thing in life that always has intrigued me. Even when the “job” paid $6 daily for jury service, I didn’t mind working basically for free. Texas trial jurors have gotten a pay raise since then. Don’t think I’m holding myself up as some paragon of public service virtue, but I’ve always considered it my duty to serve.

I want to serve on a trial jury, but I fear it won’t happen.

I received a single jury summons when I lived in Oregon, but I got excused because my wife, sons and I were set to leave on a two-week-long trip to southern California on the day I was to report. They let me off the hook.

Then we moved to Jefferson County, Texas. I think I got summoned twice there. Nothing came of either call. My wife once got picked for a jury and actually went through the process of lawyers “striking” jurors. She got struck at the last minute because the defense lawyer recognized her last time, associated it with mine — as I was editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper — and excused her from duty.

We moved years later to Amarillo. Not long after moving here, I received a summons to report in Randall County. I called ahead of time. Bingo! I got the word I had to show up the next day. I did. I sat in the jury waiting room for most of the morning. Then, shortly before noon, the judge came out and informed us that the parties had settled and we could all go home.

It’s been downhill ever since.

Every time I get the summons, I make the call and am told the same thing: Don’t bother reporting.

Maybe I should be happy that the parties settle, or that the criminal defendants have plea-bargained their way out of having to stand trial. It saves the county and the state money that comes out of my pocket.

However, I’m always ready to serve as a juror. If only they’ll give me the chance.

Potter County judge race could get testy

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware has announced — in a statement delivered by his wife — that he won’t run for re-election in 2014. He is to be commended for realizing the obvious, that his 2010 stroke has rendered him incapable of campaigning for his office, let alone performing the duties that go along with it.

Then came this thunderbolt: Ware has endorsed former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt, who plans to announce soon her intention to run for the office. You want more theatrics? We have Nancy Tanner, Ware’s one-time right-hand woman, who worked as his administrative assistant for 20 years before being fired summarily for reasons that haven’t yet been disclosed publicly. Tanner also wants to be the judge, and she contends she has the chops to do the job, given her vast knowledge of court matters, probate and much of the detail that goes with it.

Let’s backtrack about 13 years to the 2000 Republican campaign for Potter County sheriff. Longtime Sheriff Jimmy Don Boydston stepped aside. Up stepped his chief deputy, Art Tupin, Boydston’s go-to guy at the sheriff’s office. Tupin was supremely qualified for the job. He didn’t win the GOP primary that year. The winner turned out to be Amarillo Police Officer Mike Shumate, the former head of the APD Crimestopper program, who went on to trounce an unknown Democratic opponent. How did Shumate win the primary? He had developed something of a cult following because of his rather, um, colorful way of portraying bad guys and the way he would seek to drum up tips from radio listeners that would help the police department solve crimes.

In a perfect world, Shumate wouldn’t have been elected. He wasn’t nearly as qualified as Tupin for the job. As it would turn out some years later, Shumate got himself into some serious trouble and was convicted of crimes relating to the sheriff’s department relationship with vendors supplying food and other materials to the jail. He was kicked out of office and sentenced to a jail term in Armstrong County.

Now we have another case of a popular public figure, McCartt, possibly running against someone, Tanner, who on paper is far more qualified for the job both of them likely want.

Please understand: I am not equating McCartt fully with Shumate. The comparison I want to make is as an overarching public personality. McCartt served three successful terms as mayor until 2011. But as the mayor in Amarillo’s system of government, she didn’t do any heavy lifting. Her job — which she did magnificently — was to be the city’s voice and face. She remains an ardent advocate for the city and she is to be saluted for the job she did in trumpeting the city’s many virtues.

All the nuts and bolts are handled by the city manager and his staff.

I have kidded McCartt many times over the years that I think she’s really a hologram, in that she was able to be at several places at the same time.

Nancy Tanner is another kind of public figure. She isn’t nearly as well known beyond the county courthouse. She was a workhorse for the county judge. By my reckoning, Tanner possesses a superb knowledge of county government. I believe that in all the factors that ought to matter, Tanner is more qualified for the job than McCartt — just as Art Tupin was more qualified to be sheriff than Mike Shumate.

I admire both Tanner and McCartt greatly, for reasons I think I’ve made clear in this blog post.

The question now becomes: If the campaign boils down to these two individuals, who will the voters select? If history is a guide, I’d have to say the stars are lining up in McCartt’s favor.

Then again … there might be someone else who can make the most compelling case of all for succeeding Arthur Ware.

I absolutely am going to watch this campaign with keen interest.

Call it a career, Judge Ware

It’s time for me to get something off my chest.

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware needs to do one of two things: Either resign his office or declare that he will not seek re-election to the job he’s had for the past two decades. Of course, the first option precludes the second one. Either way, it’s time for the judge — who I admire greatly for all he has done for the county and the country — to end his career.

Ware cannot do his job. He suffered a devastating stroke in 2010 that left him paralyzed on one side of his body and unable to speak coherently. He manages to force a word or two out at a time, but he is unable to articulate county policy, or argue a budget point, or converse with anyone who stands before him in a probate hearing. I saw him about two years ago at a downtown Amarillo restaurant. I sought to engage him in conversation. He answered with single words. “Yes” and “no” had to suffice. It was a sad encounter.

Earlier this week, the judge was shot down by his four Commissioners Court colleagues on his request for a pay increase. Every one of the commissioners opposed the increase. At least two of them spoke quite harshly about the judge, one of them saying he should take a pay “decrease” and other saying the county would be “negligent” by approving the proposed pay raise.

And after taking the verbal battering from his colleagues, Ware had no response. Why? He couldn’t verbalize the thoughts that no doubt were running through his head.

I’m not privy to all the ins and outs of county politics and policy these days. I do know a couple of key points. One is that a number of qualified individuals are considering a run for county judge in 2014, when Ware’s term is up. Another key point is that candidates for county office must be able to articulate a policy. They must make public appearances at, say, church picnics, candidate forums, televised debates, the Tri-State Fair, grange halls, feed stores and … well, you get the idea.

I say all this with deep affection for the man. I remember meeting Ware when I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995. He wasn’t that many years removed from his active-duty deployment as a Marine called to fight during the Persian Gulf War. His office is adorned with Marine Corps banners, flags and assorted photos and other paraphernalia. Semper fi, Judge Ware.

He scored a huge coup in 1995 when the county purchased the Santa Fe Building for 400 grand. He took a colleague and me on a tour of the then-vacant building and talked effusively of the grand plans he had to turn it into a county office complex. After a few hiccups along the way, the county got it done.

He fought for the county’s inclusion in a tax increment reinvestment zone to help fund downtown Amarillo’s redevelopment, acknowledging forcefully that the county courthouse indeed, sits in the middle of the downtown district.

But all that is in the past. The here and now has produced a sad spectacle.

Arthur Ware cannot possibly campaign for an office the functions of which he no longer is able to perform. Tell the public, judge, what you plan to do. My best advice is to quit now and spare yourself further humiliation at the hands of your colleagues.

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