No one knows how to handle NFL protests

TAMPA – NFL fans are torn between their political and sports allegiances after President Donald Trump called on teams to fire players who kneel during the national anthem.

Unsportsmanlike conduct?

Trump tweeted dozens of times about the NFL and its players over the past few weeks. His comments come after several players from multiple teams decided to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality.

One of his more controversial comments came when he spoke in Alabama.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say: “Get that son of a b—- off the field right now,” said Trump.

Same story, new players

Anthem protests in the NFL are not new, however, the movement has grown since last year. It started with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled to protest police brutality. Now, Kaepernick no longer has a job in the NFL, and several other players have decided to take a knee or lock arms during the national anthem.

Travis Bell, an expert in sports media and professor at the University of South Florida, believes that the anthem protests have recently become a bigger deal because of Trump’s involvements.

“I definitely think that the flashpoint for this bringing it into the mainstream conversation is because of the president’s involvement in it,” said Bell.

What did he call us?

Several players took offense to Trump’s comments, and the following Sunday, players continued to protest. Some teams’ owners joined the players on the field to show solidarity.

Even Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who supported Trump during his presidential campaign, disagreed with Trump’s comments.

Any excuse to burn jerseys

When Lebron James left Cleveland, fans burned their James jerseys. When James left Miami, fans burned their James jerseys (again). When the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas to the Cavaliers, fans burned their Thomas jerseys.

This love for burning jerseys has seemed to spread to the NFL, as many fans have filmed themselves burning jerseys of players who have decided to protest during the anthem. Fans also burned season tickets, hats and other memorabilia. They even went on Twitter and started #BurnTheNFL, which encourages people to no longer support the NFL.

Just play football

People who disagree with the protests often say that sports and politics should remain separate, and that politics are ruining sports. Many others, however, would argue that there is not a clear divide between sports and politics.

“People always want to hold sports as some separate, fun, social entity, and we don’t want to politicize things, and when politics gets involved in the sports arena, it sort of clouds that popular notion that sports is sort of just this untainted space, and clearly it’s not,” said Bell.

Others choose to take a knee

While some fans have been burning their jerseys, others have been applauding the players for taking a stand on what they believe is an important issue. Supporters on Twitter started #TakeAKnee to show solidarity with the players who protest.

NFL short on options

As the NFL remains busy trying to keep its name out of headlines, it has failed to find a solution to either the player’s protests or people’s protest of the NFL. This may be because they do not have many options.

According to Alan Balfour, an expert in employment relations and union-management relations, it is not in the NFL’s best interests to force players to stop protesting, no matter what rights they have or do not have guaranteed in their contracts.

“I doubt that anyone will treat this as a contract issue,” said Balfour.  “It is perceived by everyone–players, owners and fans–as a moral issue. If the contract permits, owners could force players to stand or face discipline.”

Balfour does not believe that will happen.

“Invoking the contract would only polarize matters worse and expand the range of disagreement,” said Balfour.

He does, however, point out that NFL teams are within their rights by not signing Kaepernick, whether those reasons are related to his performance as a football player or not.

“I have always said, back when this was just about Colin Kaepernick that boycotting him as a potential employee was well within the individual rights of every owner and his employability would depend, not on his ability to help a team as a second-string quarterback, but on what he, or anyone, can contribute to attendance, merchandise sales and the TV contract,” said Balfour.” The obvious answer was his contribution is negative.  I can understand why no team or owner wants him–he will hurt the bottom line and, believe me, this is a business.”

Therefore, if any owner refused to sign a player because of his political views, he/she would be well within his/her rights.

Additionally, NFL viewership is down 11 percent from last year, according to Nielsen ratings. Bell points out, however, that this could be for a number of reasons, including the discovery of traumatic brain injuries occurring from playing football. Bell believes it is too early to tell how the protests have affected the NFL’s brand, but that it could negatively impact the NFL’s business in the future.

“I definitely think there’s some potential for fallout, but I don’t think it’s going to be you know, an immediate drop off the cliff,” said Bell.

Americans stand divided

While people have been vocal on social media, what’s trending on Twitter does not always reflect how most Americans feel. CNN and USA Today both conducted polls to find out how the public truly feels about the protests.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This quote is normally attributed to the philosopher Voltaire, but it was actually written by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall. It seems that Americans seem to agree with this sentiment. While players may not have the constitutional right to take a knee, most Americans believe that they should not be fired for their beliefs.

Some veterans have echoed this idea as well, and they argue that the reason soldiers fight is to protect democracy. It is not unexpected that people living in a country that touts freedom of speech in its First Amendment disagree with Trump’s comments. Most people would not want to be fired for their political beliefs, though it is not against the law for employers to do so.

Even if the majority cannot agree on kneeling during the anthem, perhaps it is a small victory for Americans to agree on the principle in the Constitution. Or, perhaps this agreement is not a reason to celebrate. Balfour believes that Americans may not be equipped to handle these discussions.

“Thomas Jefferson’s fear of the tyranny of the majority is, I believe, well-founded,” said Balfour. “I don’t observe the current public being very good at thoughtful consideration of disagreement.”

USF Football Struggles to Attract Student Fans

The USF Football team is 6-1, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking in the stands.

After a massive showing by the students against FSU, the football team has been left with little fan support in the student section. The 11,000 student representatives who made the commute to Raymond James Stadium for the FSU game devolved into a crowd of 2,000 two weeks later for a homecoming week matchup against East Carolina.

“I was extremely disappointed in that game,” Student Bulls Club President Hailey Piana said. “When you ask around, when you put on Facebook ‘Hey, where are y’all at?’ people say ‘Oh, well it’s a noon game, it’s hot.’ It’s all these excuses.”

In fact, Facebook class pages have been rife with arguments revolving around attendance for USF football games. There are many students who feel the football team deserves better attendance, and have been unafraid to let their peers know.

None of it has changed the attendance numbers, however, as the student attendance for the following week tallied 3,000 students.

Longtime fan and USF alumni Collin Sherwin weighed in, saying that the football culture of USF simply fell off following a memorable 2007 season.

“USF was the No. 2 team in the country at the time and it just sort of took off and became part of this campus. What happened from the early part from this decade, forward, was a lot of that enthusiasm for this program just fell off. That’s got to change for USF to get where it wants to go [as a program].”

Cheerleading Alumni Back on the Field

University of South Florida alumni cheerleaders were welcomed back on the field during the homecoming football game against University of Connecticut.

“Homecoming’s really fun,” said Sandy Clarke, the USF All-Girl Cheerleading head coach. “It’s that time of year where everybody kind of comes back.”

As alumni, the former cheerleaders had the opportunity to come back to Raymond James Stadium and cheer among the current USF cheerleaders during the pregame show.

“I definitely miss being on the field though and it was cool getting to be on the field for just pregame,” said Sara Blaylock, former USF cheerleading captain.

Being back on the field wasn’t the only upside to homecoming, however. Some of the alumni cheerleaders were seeing each other for the first time in years. Head coach Clarke remembers how special the reunions were when she was on the team.

“I remember when I was on the team looking at the alumni that would come back to practices and thinking, ‘oh that’s so cool, they’re so genuinely excited to see their old teammates,’” said Clarke.

Blaylock describes the relationships made while on the USF cheerleading team as unforgettable. In fact, Clarke, Blaylock, and Jessica White, another USF cheerleading alumna, said that the friendships were some of their favorite things about being a USF cheerleader.

“They’re just lifelong friendships,” said Clarke. “It’s very fun.”

Clarke mentioned growth as being another one of her favorite things about the program. Since becoming a part of the program in 2002, Clarke has seen it evolve over the years. Blaylock even noticed growth in her four years on the team.

“I think it’s just growing into something really good,” said Blaylock.

The USF football team ended homecoming week with a 42-27 win over UConn. The Bulls will travel to Philadelphia next weekend to face Temple for their fourth conference game.

‘War on I-4’ Gets Official

The USF vs. UCF rivalry game has a new factor. A trophy to be specific. A 4 foot, 160 pound monster of a trophy.

After seven games in the series, three in conference, both schools formally established The War on I-4, a football rivalry as well as a general athletic rivalry that spans all sports that USF and UCF play against each other.

“I think it means a lot (for the rivalry),” said Adam Schemm, the assistant athletic director for marketing. “We don’t necessarily have the biggest rivalry yet, but we think we have a pretty cool and big trophy that can really get the fan bases and the student athletes and the students on campus excited for a great rivalry game every year.”

Junior Matt Neuhausen agreed.

“I think it’s great that we have a trophy now to play for because we see a lot of the big rivalries have trophies that they play for,” Neuhausen said. “So now we have something to kind of highlight our rivalry with UCF.”

The trophy is made of two parts: the base, which will have engraved plates for every game; and the road sign, which extends out of the top of the base, and is easily removed for parading around a football stadium.

The new trophy will be contested for the first time this Saturday at noon at Raymond James Stadium. The winner drives the trophy out on a semi.

 

Local Junior College Begining to Make its Mark

Led by recruiting coordinator Antonio Nelson and starting quarterback Brandon Conner, the Gattaca Junior College football program, a local Tampa Bay junior college, is making a name for itself.

Entering only its third season of football, GJC is striving to not only win games on the field, but develop the character of its players off the field as well.

“How to treat people, uh, be respectable, yes sir no sir,” Nelson said. “Just become a better young man overall.”

Located in Tampa, GJC offers full-time college credit classes online as well as in person at Hillsborough Community College campuses.

“That’s not only on the field, its off the field,” Conner said. “it taught me a lot, honestly like, but being a man is number one you know it’s time to step into the real world.”

As the recruiting coordinator, Nelson has the responsibility of bringing talented young men to the program. One of the main recruiting tools that GJC uses to keep in touch with recruits is the use of social media.

“Right now our biggest hit is Facebook,” Nelson said. “We get a lot of kids from the Facebook page.”

Although being a Florida-based program, GJC still travels all over the east coast to play other junior college opponents.

“We travel all over,” Nelson said. “We travel to Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.”

Gattaca started its program in August 2013 and will travel to Kentucky this season for the first time in school history.

 

 

 

USF Football Plays Annual Spring Scrimmage

USF Football held its annual spring game on Saturday, playing in front of more than 4,000 fans at Corbett Stadium. It’s the third-straight year the team have hosted the game on campus after previously holding it at Raymond James Stadium.

The players were split into two teams; the green team and the white team. Starting quarterback Quinton Flowers headed the white team. The green team featured Marlon Mack and Rodney Adams, among the notables. Asiantii Woulard, a transfer from UCLA, started at quarterback for the green team.

The white team had an early first quarter lead, with the surprising help of fourth string running back, Trevon Sands. Sands, a freshman from Miami, scored the first touchdown of the game from inside the 5-yard line. Sands could challenge for a starting spot in an already loaded backfield consisting of Mack, Darius Tice, and D’Ernest Johnson. Head coach Willie Taggart says he’s happy with the depth of talent in the running back position.

“You just let them go,” Taggart said. “Make sure Marlon Mack gets his carries and let the rest of them do what they’re going to do.”

The game was also the first chance for Bulls fans to watch Marquez Valdes-Scantling in action. The transfer from NC State got a reaction from the crowd when he made a leaping catch over a defender in the third quarter.

“We’ve been building chemistry in practice,” Valdez-Scantling said. “I’m excited to play in front of these fans, I feel real good about what we have going on.”

The white team won the game 32-19. USF Football now enter the summer months, preparing for their season opener against Towson University on September 3.

USF Spring Game Introduces Block Party, Concert

 

Whether USF fans cheered on the White team or the Green team, a new experience was ushered in at this year’s spring football game.

Billed as the Bulls Block Party, the event started two hours before kickoff as 4,418 fans made their way through the Corbett Stadium gates.

“It’s creating the feel of the tailgate party we have in front of Raymond James stadium, but bringing it here to the spring game on campus,” said Leni Baga, USF Director of Event Marketing and Licensing.

The Bulls Block Party included bounce houses, food trucks, and a student tailgate section. Bulls Radio resident DJs provided music before the game. A student band performed during the post-game football autograph line.

“The spring game has been fun on campus,” said USF student, Taylor Sanchez. “But I think this is really the first year that they made it its own event.”

USF’s campus soccer stadium has hosted the football preview for three years, providing an opportunity for the athletics department to build new traditions.

According to Assistant Director of Athletics for Marketing Adam Schemm, one of those traditions was the Create Your Own T-shirt Station. Fans narrowed down 12 design options to three that they could choose to get printed on a T-shirt.

“The fans really like them,” Schemm said. “It’s something different from what you would be able to get at your normal retail store.”

Regular football season begins for the Bulls on Saturday, September 3 against Towson University at Raymond James Stadium.

Getting social with the USF brand

Social media has never been more prevalent in college and professional sports than it is today. At the University of South Florida, Mike Farrell is the man behind the computer screen.

“A lot of it is one, developing a voice for our social channels and then two creating content that’s going to engage our fanbase,” Farrell said.

As the Director of Digital Content, Farrell is in charge of churning out vines, tweets, pictures and more across all of USF Athletics’ social media platforms every day.

“One of the things we want to do and want to push is to create stuff that is engaging, stuff that people want to consume, share, retweet and help spread the brand,” Farrell said.

One of the most important days for any athletic department each year is National Signing Day. Student athletes from all over the country officially sign with the school of their choosing. The content created by Farrell and his team made waves on a national level, including an appearance on Yahoo! Sports Dr. Saturday blog.

“This year in particular we had a couple national organizations, blogs, write about some of the things that we did,” Farrell said. “It was a lot of hard work, a lot of people put in a lot, a lot of hours for what’s really just a glorified morning. But I do think that it pays dividends in the end.”

The work Farrell puts in on a daily basis is critical to the growing online presence that is USF Athletics.

“For a large subset of our fans, if you don’t have that presence, you’re irrelevant,” Senior Associate Director of Athletics Andrew Goodrich said.

Even though Farrell is fully focused on the day-to-day task of enhancing USF Athletics’ presence online, he doesn’t lose sight of the big picture.

“When one person leaves, somebody else can come in and there’s no drop,” Farrell said. “That’s the USF brand. That’s the USF Athletics brand. That’s the USF football brand. There’s no change. That needs to be a constant.”

 

 

 

Tailgating with Golden Brahman Tailgate Club

USF Bulls tailgate with the Golden Brahman Tailgate Club

Channeling true USF spirit, the Golden Brahmans Tailgate Club gets set for another Saturday of USF football.
Channeling true USF spirit, the Golden Brahmans Tailgate Club gets set for another Saturday of USF football.
USF Alumni Connor Davis and his some Jake share time playing cornhole before the game.
USF Alumni Connor Davis and his son Jake share time playing cornhole before the game.
Brats are a classic Saturday afternoon tailgate snack.
Brats are a classic Saturday afternoon tailgate snack for any football fan.
These Bulls have herded up under the tent to keep cool in the fall heat.
These Bulls have herded up under the tent to keep cool in the fall heat. Staying “hydrated” is half the battle.
The grill, and the Brahmans are fired up for the game against SMU.
The grill, and the Brahmans are hungry and fired up for the game against SMU.
The Bulls flag flying on a beautiful day over the Golden Brahman.
The Bulls flag flying on a beautiful day over the Golden Brahman and the Bulls Nation.

Tailgating and football are such cultural passions in this part of the country and this is some of what a real, organized tailgate looks like. Also, I wanted to dispel the fact that football fans and tailgaters are unstoppable drunks. The Brahmans are a family friendly group that encourages families and children of USF alumni to join them in their festivities. I took various photos of the event itself, the food being cooked and served and some of the various activities people were doing at the tailgate.

Behind the action at USF Football

The USF football team picked up its third straight win with a 38-14 victory over SMU on Oct. 24th, winning three straight games for the first time since starting 4-0 in 2011. While the team had a strong showing on the field, take a look at a few of the stories on what goes on behind the action on game day at Raymond James Stadium.

Tom Feely helps students find the right kick

Tom Feely has always had a passion for coaching football.  Feely, a father of six sons, took a special interest in kicking when his son Jay Feely wanted to transition from soccer to football.

“When he was between his freshman and sophomore year in high school, we started going around to who were the gurus at that time,” Tom said. “We learned from different individuals and kind of created our own hybrid style, and it worked very well for Jay.”

Jay went on to become an NFL kicker and just finished his 14th season in the league.

After his success with Jay and the knowledge he had gained about the mechanics of kicking, Tom began teaching other students. He later founded Feely Athletics, which began teaching the technique of kicking, but has evolved into teaching every position in football.

“He’s constantly willing to learn new things and do research and wants to be the most knowledgeable person there is in this.  He’s not doing it for the money or anything, he’s doing this because this is something he really wants to do. He loves being able to affect so many lives in a positive manner,” Tom’s son Tyler Feely said.

Feely Athletics has become very successful over the years.  Coach Feely has coached 14 players that have made it to the NFL including his son Jay, who played with the Falcons, Giants, Dolphins, Jets, Cardinals, and Bears; Cody Parkey of the Philadelphia Eagles and Matt Boscher of the Atlanta Falcons.

Feely Athletics’ coaches teach students the importance of consistent routines that help them get better.

“I’ve seen great improvement. Every time I come out here, I’m always getting better,” Dalton Kocsis, an Armwood High School junior, said. “I strive for that and I feel like I’m getting that here.

Jesuit High School sophomore Camden Bauman says he will compete for the varsity kicking job next season and believes Feely Athletics will give him the edge he needs to win the job.

“I’ve made tremendous strides over the past couple of years with my kicking,” he said.

Feely Athletics will be breaking ground for the Feely Soccer Academy in about a year.

“We’ve already purchased land for that and are starting to develop our soccer fields, so through the outreach to all of those kids we hope that we’re going to be able to impact, as we have, many more kids down the road,” Tom said. “That’s my goal: to make our reach as big as possible.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Davis shows perseverance pays

Andre Davis, former University of South Florida wide receiver (2011-14), currently holds 13 football program records, including career receptions, single game receptions and career receiving touchdowns.

“I feel like I play a nice little part in USF history, being that I came in to USF and broke a few records.” he said.

As arguably the best receiver in USF program history, the “Freakshow” says it’s “a blessing” to hold these top spots, but more importantly to be a part of USF’s legacy.

“Just being able for players from the future to be able to come in and see my face on plaques is something that you dream of.” he said.

Though the former team captain has graduated and moved on from playing for the Bulls, he’s still active with the current team. He frequently attends practices, attends home games on the sidelines  and mentors current players, hoping to positively impact “future USF history makers.”

“I look at all the players and the younger guys up under me as little brothers. I tell them to be leaders and that even though there may be hard times, you have to fight through them.” he said.

Specifically, Davis mentors current USF safety Nate Godwin, as both classify themselves “Bay Made, Bay Stayed” after growing up in Tampa Bay and staying in the area for college.

“Me and Dre are very close. He just shows me how to handle success and be humble.” Godwin said. “He leads by example. He’s a legend in my books, and he’s a legend in their books. He’s one of the guys I know they’re definitely going to remember.” Godwin said.

When asked about the legacy he left as a Bull, Davis didn’t talk about his records, game-winning touchdowns, or making it in the USF history books.

“It’s more than that.” Davis said. “The legacy that I left here at USF is definitely being a leader, a hard worker, and a guy that persevered through a lot of things. That’s it.”

Since his days as a Bull, Davis had a short stint with the Buffalo Bills, and is currently a NFL free agent.