Olympic Outtakes

More than ever, I’m really liking the idea that the summer Olympic Games occur in the same calendar year as U.S. presidential elections. Thank you, gymnasts, swimmers and Usain Bolt.

And thank you Team America for providing a sense of patriotic escape. For representing what is best about us–from goal orientation and work ethic to competitive spirit and classy deportment. Nary a mention of needing to “Make America Great Again.”

Imagine, a “USA, USA” chant for Olympic success and national pride–not as a partisan, political put-down. What a concept.

* Baseball (along with softball) will be back in the Olympics at the 2020 Tokyo Games. It will be a six-team tournament. I say why bother? The Olympics should represent the ultimate competition and achievement in a given sport–such as gymnastics, swimming, track and field, wrestling or field hockey. That would eliminate baseball, which has its World Series; soccer, which has its World Cup; basketball, which has its NBA championship; and golf and tennis, which have their four majors.

* BTW, the U.S. women’s softball team will be coached by USF’s Ken Eriksen.

* If you’re going to have ping pong (sorry, table tennis), why not shuffleboard, billiards and darts too? Imagine the niche crowd that would draw.

* Shooting sports have been part of the Olympics since the Games’ rebirth in 1896. But do we really need nine events–from air pistol, rapid-fire pistol and rifle prone to skeet and trap?

* Whether it’s archery, water polo or fencing, whether NBC pays attention or not, there is something admirably authentic about the participants. This is true love of a sport and quintessential competition–without marketing-bonanza opportunities. There is no cashing in when you have a real job to return to after your team handball Olympiad experience.

* African Americans obviously are–and have long been–an integral part of the U.S. Olympic team, only now it’s much more than basketball and track and field. It prominently includes swimming (gold medalist Simone Manuel) and gymnastics ( gold medalists Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas). And the Olympics themselves, of course, are a picture of diversity and inclusiveness.

But let’s go back to the era of Jesse Owens, America’s uber iconic Olympian. The African-American sprinter won four gold medals (a record even Bolt will never surpass) at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. No newspaper south of the Mason-Dixon line would deign to publish a picture of him. No, this isn’t “post-racial America,” but imagine that sort of embedded racism.

* For myriad reasons, these are arguably the worst of times for Puerto Rico. But some semblance of solace has come from the Olympics. Monica Puig, 22, won Puerto Rico’s first gold medal in any Olympic sport with her crowning achievement in tennis. While some might have conceded gold to Serena Williams or other highly-ranked champions of the Wimbledon-U.S.-Australian-French Open circuit, Puig, a Miami resident ranked 34th in the world, was the last one standing.

* The Olympic Village is 32 high-rise apartment buildings housing 200 delegations and approximately 18,000 athletes, coaches and officials. Virtually every one has flags and banners hanging from balconies and walls displaying national identity and pride. The U.S. building is an exception. It has no identifying markings–to reduce security risks. It’s the world we live in. Equally unadorned is the building housing Israel, which suffered a horrific terrorist siege at the 1972 Munich Games.

* While the Olympics are all about competition, there is also a sense of global mingling among athletes from diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds. That has been virtually non-existent for American basketball players. The wealthy, high-profile players have not been housed at the Village, where you would find, say, Biles, Bolt, Michael Phelps or Novak Djokovic. The hoopsters are staying on a luxury cruise ship, the Sea Cloud.

It’s meant to be as stand-offish as it looks, and U.S. Olympic officials are on board with it.

“Our players are probably the most recognizable athletes in the world,” explains Jerry Colangelo, the director of U.S.A. Basketball. “…We have to protect them. They’re very valuable assets.”

Trumpster Diving

* Imagine, a major national newspaper urging Donald Trump–in mid-August–to fix his devolving, demeaning 2016 campaign right away or step down. Let Mike Pence at least look and sound the part.

And imagine, that paper is the Wall Street Journal, not exactly a huckster for Hillary Clinton or the pulpit for all things progressive. Its understated rationale: “Mr. Trump has alienated his party and he isn’t running a competent campaign.”

For the WSJ, that’s tantamount to panic over the prospect of a down-ballot disaster. It wants to see the GOP nominee actually go after relevant, viable issues in presidential-candidate fashion and stop making the race a referendum on himself. A cavalier approach to the truth and primary optics that work for a mob whisperer are no longer acceptable, let alone helpful.

* It should be apparent–and, yes, the scorpion metaphor remains spot on–that Trump will not change his modus operandi, even as he undergoes teleprompter remediation. He lacks the discipline to stay on a politically savvy script for long. Paul Manafort may help write it, but its rendering will at some point seem like an absurdist nod to Eugene Ionesco.

Trump is a brand candidate, and his pugnacious, nativist brand has to do with what he says as well as how he says it. They can’t be separated. To Trump, bar stool quips are still grist for his general election mill.

* How ironic that Trump blames the “disgusting and corrupt media” for his descending poll numbers. Hell, the media made him. He has long been great, if inconsequential, copy: from flamboyant rich guy to Apprentice celebrity to outlandishly arrogant candidate. Now the media “low life” that enabled his unlikely ascent to presidential-nominee status are simply reporting what he says and what its implications might be–before he can semi-walk it back as “sarcasm” or a joke gone bad.

You don’t, for example, throw red-meat, wink-and-nod assassination asides out there and assume no rank-and-file, Second Amendment firebrand will miss the “humorous” intent. The Secret Service, as we know, wasn’t amused.

* How does Rudy Giuliani go from “America’s mayor” to Trump’s pimp?

* Here’s a two-part prediction that I hope will never be tested. If there is a President Trump, it’s likely because there was a serious terrorist incident too close to election day, and a panicked electorate overreacted. If so, watch for rentals of “Seven Days in May” to soar.

* Key question: Will HBO have its Trump Campaign series out before inauguration day?

Optical Delusion

The Clinton campaign was correctly criticized for allowing Seddique Mateen, father of the Pulse nightclub mass murderer, to occupy a prime bleacher spot in her recent Kissimmee rally. The real shock is that something like this hasn’t happened before.

That’s because modern political campaigns prioritize having a backdrop of enthusiastic supporters that looks as demographically eclectic as possible. It’s a last-second, seat-of-the-pants, campaign casting call. Supporters sharing a close-cropped frame with the candidate is supposed to symbolize diverse, devoted support.

Instead it’s a contrived mosaic of those who did better than score an autograph.

In short, if campaigns can’t do a better job of controlling who gets access to such candidate proximity, then put flags and potted plants behind the candidate.

The Beach Tampa

For those still contemplating hitting the “Beach” at Amalie Arena, you have another week to take in the interactive, experiential art installation. The mirrored optics and energy from the (500 maximum) crowd are worth it. And there’s free parking and lockers–plus a gratis ice cream treat.

There is one caveat, however.

If you’re old enough to have, say, knee or shoulder issues, hang out on the peripheral (white turf carpet) “shoreline” and enjoy the aesthetic scene and all-around escapism from this vantage point. But keep your shoes on for traction–just in case you yield to the temptation of “wading” into 1.2 million white (recyclable, antimicrobial, translucent) balls in a 15,000–square-foot immersive environment. If you decide to plunk down, remember getting back up won’t be as easy as it looks. But you’ll make it. And Amalie-personnel “lifeguards” are nearby.

And lest we forget, this all comes courtesy of the Vinik Family Foundation and key catalyst Penny Vinik. Thank you–and go Lightning.

Quoteworthy

* “Trump’s lack of self-restraint and his barrage of ill-informed comments would make an already perilous world even more so.”–Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

* “ISIS is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS. … I would say the co-founder is crooked Hillary Clinton.”–Donald Trump.

* “Hillary wants to abolish–essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”–Donald Trump.

* “I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.”–Donald Trump.

* “You aren’t just responsible for what you say; you’re responsible for what people hear.”–Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA.

* “If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20 percent.”–Donald Trump.

* “It is disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns to the voters.”–Mitt Romney.

* “It’s tough being a high-profile Republican these days. People are always demanding to know what you think about your candidate’s latest horrific remark. But unless you come up with an alternative, disavowing a candidate is more like a sulk than a solution.”–Gail Collins, New York Times.

* “If the country is lucky, Trump will continue to do an excellent job of defeating himself.”–E.J. Dionne, Washington Post.

* “Very dicey.”–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s assessment of the GOP’s chances of keeping control of the Senate after the November elections.

* “I think it is true that maybe it took him a little while to realize that we’re moving from a primary campaign to a presidential campaign.”–Rudy Giuliani.

* “There is more bad news for the Republican nominee. Mr. Trump has divided his party, while Mrs. Clinton has united hers. She is expanding the Electoral College map, forcing Republicans to spend time and resources defending states such as Georgia, Arizona and even Utah, while Mr. Trump’s effort to challenge Mrs. Clinton in the Rust Belt is falling short.”–William A. Golston, Wall Street Journal.

* “I’ll just keep doing the same thing I’m doing right now. And at the end, it’s either going to work, or I’m going to, you know, I’m going to have a very, very nice, long vacation.”–Donald Trump.

* “Extremism thrives amid ignorance and anger, intimidation and cowardice.”–Hillary Clinton.

* “The party has always had a vigorous, a very vigorous incumbent protection stance. So we protect our incumbents.”–Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, when asked if the state party was neutral in the U.S. Senate primary.

* “For those people who are in circumstances where their continued cash flow is not ever going to allow them to get out of debt, why wouldn’t they buy (Lottery) scratchers?”–Alan Cooke, University of Florida marketing professor, on the pattern of Lottery scratch-off tickets being purchased disproportionately by the poor.

* “It’s the right thing to do. It’s time to get our feet wet.”–Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch, on the commission’s decision to approve the proposed ferry service that will connect downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa.

* “As with many events in history, what was once old is new again. Automobile traffic, which prompted the demise of the cross-bay ferry system, has become so congested that ferry service may again become practical.”–Rodney Kite-Powell, Saunders Foundation Curator of History at the Tampa Bay History Center.

* “Cuba is the most important economic development opportunity Tampa Bay will experience in our lifetime. There will be billions of dollars in foreign investment in Cuba. That trade should be going through Port Tampa Bay.”–Bill Carlson, president of Tucker Hall, a Tampa-based, international public relations agency that has supported business and humanitarian missions in Cuba since 1999.

* “I think experts would tell you we don’t have a parking issue; we have a walking issue. People do not want to walk, so we’re going to offer some options.”–Bob McDonaugh, Tampa’s Administrator of Economic Opportunity, on the city’s plans to start a free downtown shuttle.

* “The position I want to be in, frankly, when my peers hear Tampa is competing, is I want them to get very nervous. I want them to know that when Tampa is on the short list, they will face stiff competition ahead.”–Craig Richard, new CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

* “It’s the right thing to do for the residents of this county.”–Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, on the county’s new Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion program.

* “Ridesharing is happening all around the world; everyone is coming to the conclusion that fingerprinting is not required.”–Lyft attorney Steven Anderson.

* “This is our way to communicate with the fans and with the stakeholders not just to push information out but to bring information in. It will be a living, dynamic website.”–Melanie Lenz, Rays senior vice president of strategy and development, on the team’s launch of ballparkreimagined.com. to elicit more fan feedback.

Republican Reminder

In the tumultuous wake of the Republican Party’s presidential  nomination of Donald Trump, we’ve seen any number of self-serving GOP officials and office holders scurry to distance themselves from the embarrassing, narcissistic nominee. We get it.

We also get this: There’s a reason that Trump–a non-ideological, non-politically partisan sort until he played the “birther” card a few years back–competed for the Republican–not the Democratic–nomination.

A misogynistic, xenophobic, anger-courting loud mouth would most likely appeal to the “Deliverance” crowd with jingoistic generalizations and President Obama jobs-scapegoating. And what other party would appeal to would-be Trump supporters and apologists like Dennis Rodman, Hulk Hogan, Tila Tequila, Willie Robertson, Rick Scott, Vlad Putin, Charlie Sheen and the balloon-boy family?

The president was spot on recently when he underscored the obvious. “The question they have to ask themselves is: If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?” asked Obama. “What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer.”

It’s more than a rhetorical question.

The Republicans have to decide whether they want Jim Jones in the Oval Office or not. Whether they want to swear off the GOP-loyalist Kool Aid before it’s too late. And whether to take one for their country–not their party–and support the eminently qualified, frustratingly flawed alternative for the good of America and the rest of the world.

Imagine, that’s still a tough call for a lot of Republicans–and an impossible one for many more. And, increasingly, we know who they are, especially around here.

Trump Typecast

Let’s face it. We all know somebody who kind of reminds us of Donald Trump. It’s just that they aren’t brand-name billionaires, never had their own reality TV show and aren’t into orange hair.

Think of the loudest drunk at Last Call. The one who would kill for an Open Mic Night slot. The one who hangs out at the cocktail party punchbowl and blusters away.

They just never get a shot at the nuclear codes.

Campaign Reminder

Will Trump get on message, get off the reckless insult-fest and broaden his appeal?

Anyone watching his “endorsements” of Arizona Sen. John McCain, Speaker of the House and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte could not have been impressed with the Republican re-set. Trump spoke from–and looked directly at–his bare-bones notes. His delivery was flat. The references were shoe-horned into the middle of a “speech” primarily devoted to attacking Hillary Clinton. Not even Paul Manafort could have found it convincing.

Can Trump rein it in, honor political gravity, laser-focus on the economy, immigration and Clinton, replace bluster and bromides with data and details and broaden his appeal? Can a scorpion change its identity?

Clinton In Context

For those who don’t like Hillary Clinton, their rationale can be conceded. She can be downright disingenuous in how she represents her version of controversies that don’t reflect favorably on her. She’s flip-flopped on issues ranging from gay marriage to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She has Wall Street baggage. She can be hawkish.  Her marriage to Bill Clinton always seemed more of an opportunistic and enabling merger than a marriage.

But, frankly, so what?

The presidential alternative is unacceptable. More to the point, as a respected former New York senator and Secretary of State, her credentials are beyond reproach–if not partisan potshots. As a former First Lady, she has a track record of working for kids, women’s rights and better health care.

She’s smart and she’s experienced. As for disingenuousness and flip-flops, they are part of pragmatic political reality hardly unique to Clinton. She’s running for the presidency, not canonization. She took huge speaking fees from the likes of Goldman Sachs when not in office. It’s part of the marketplace, albeit the part most of us don’t like. Her hawkishness is relative; she’s no apocalyptic loose cannon.  Her marriage is her business.

Hillary Clinton is on course to make history. More importantly, she’s on course to be the president we now need.

Sic(k) Transit Hope

When it comes to modern transit, the bar is pretty low, perhaps subterranean, around here. We’ve earned the reputation of a major market that has venerated sprawl and castigated taxes instead of underwriting meaningful transit to enhance quality of life and induce more businesses and millennials to relocate here. It’s a frustratingly familiar refrain.

Now there is hope that a modest step–a concession to the reality of all the water that surrounds us–may be forthcoming. One that doesn’t need the cooperation of non-urban referenda voters.

It would be a cross-bay ferry that would connect the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Details–including price agreement and dockside transportation options–are not finalized, but local governing bodies, including the Hillsborough County Commission, have signed on for a trial seasonal run that could start on Nov.1.

No, it’s not a done deal, nor is success guaranteed. But we’ll take it. Imagine, ferry service for locals and visitors for a major coastal community. What a concept. Imagine, regional cooperation being alive and, well, viable in Tampa Bay. A ferry tale–not another transit fairy tale.