Thursday, January 28, 2010

Saints and Ain'ts

I wanted to write on these items separately as the thoughts first came to my head, but things in my life, which are still unfolding, dictated otherwise. More on that later. For now I want to comment on a couple of things.

First, I am so happy that the New Orleans Saints are going to their first Super Bowl. The Saints have basically been a symbol of professional athletic futility since 1967. They ruined great college players like Archie Manning and were the last stop for aging pros. Charleston Heston even played an aging Saints quarterback in a movie in which he died on the field. Fans used to wear bags on their heads when they came to Saints games.

Not anymore. Since 2006, the Saints have been one of the premier franchises in the league. Their glorious return to the Superdome, a stadium that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, symbolized a dawning of a new era in Saints and NFL history. I remember watching that first home game in the renovated Superdome against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. I believe I was the only non die-hard Saints fan that believed they were going to beat the Falcons, led at that time by Michael Vick. After forcing the Falcons to punt on their first possession, the Saints blocked the punt for a touchdown and the Dome was rocking. It has not stopped rocking since.

Drew Brees and Sean Payton have not only personally recovered from the hurricane's devastation, but they have helped an entire city revitalized itself. I do not believe that there is a NFL city that has more of a personal connection to their home team than New Orleans. Not even Green Bay, where the citizens own the team.

The Saints rising to the occasion to, in essence, beat a hometown hero to get to the Super Bowl is already the greatest story in sports this year. Now they have to beat another hometown legend to win it all. I know that no team is just happy to get to the championship, but win or lose, the Saints have given the people of New Orleans something to cheer about and look forward to, even as reminders of Katrina's destructive effect still remain, especially in the city's Ninth Ward.

Now to the Ain'ts. Dr. Ronald Mason made a crucial mistake this past week. Dr. Mason is the president of Jackson State University, my alma mater. Mason, who I voted for to get the position, has let me down by his lack of political acumen. Seems as though he drew up a plan to show how a merger of Mississippi's Historically Black Universities could work, even renaming the combined school Jacobs State University.

In his defense, Mason said the idea was just something he was playing with and it was not meant for public consumption. He later reiterated his earlier statement that he was not in favor of merging the HBCUs. However, now it is a perception problem.

Gov. Haley Barbour had earlier indicated that he wanted to merge the schools in order to shore up the state budget. Gov. Barbour served on the JSU Development Foundation Board during Mason's tenure. Therefore the perception is that Mason showed Barbour a model of how this could work and Barbour ran with it.

Now knowing both men I am assuming that it did not go down like that, but timing and perception is everything in politics. Initially, when Barbour made that recommendation, the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, as a whole, said nothing, though it was known that they were against it. Yet when Dr. Mason, who is African-American, was implicated in devising a plan to make the merger work, it did not take them anytime to stand before the press and decry a university president they have never fully embraced.

Having said that, Dr. Mason has brought this fury on himself. In this day and age, when you put something on a computer and say e-mail it to some friends or colleagues, it is no telling where it might show up. Now if the Mississippi Legislature did the impossible and approved this merger, then it would have been prudent for Mason to put his thoughts out there in an electronic format to stay ahead of the move. By jumping the gun though, he added fuel to the fire and made a non-issue viable again. It will be interesting to see if he weathers this storm like others in the past. I personally believe the damage is beyond repair and that hindsight is now telling him he should have joined his law school roommate, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in the Department of Justice.

Another ain't is the national Democratic Party. When the President of the United States, the one you successfully elected to the office, has to implore you not to "run to the hills" in a State of the Union Address, things are not looking good for you. We have long lived up to the Will Rogers standard of not being an organized party, but that has to change before the November elections. The election in Massachusetts should be considered a wake-up call, not a surrendering point.
Watching the Governor of Virginia flaunt it in your face last night should be a call-to-arms, not a sign to retreat.

Health care reform must be passed. Jobs must be created. The deficit must be reduced. These are the issues the party can take the lead on before they watch their majority melt down on November 2nd. It is time for leadership in Washington, specifically the halls of Congress, and it is time for the DNC to support their local state chapters to mount a successful battle against the GOP in their respective Congressional elections, even in Mississippi.

It is time for the Democrats to adopt the John Paul Jones mantra, "I have not yet begun to fight!"

That is all for now.