Pointless Pre-Season Exercise

Among the more pointless exercises in all of sportsdom is the publishing of point spreads for pre-season NFL games. Why bother? Do people actually bet on this stuff? These are exhibitions featuring cameo performances by frontline players and lots of playing time for those not good enough to line up on Sundays. The only thing real is the ticket price.

And this just in. The Bucs are 3 1/2-point favorites against the Miami Dolphins in the exhibition opener Aug. 12. With or without Warren Sapp on offense.

Bucs’ Disney Digs: Spartan No More

Seems like everyone is properly impressed with the Bucs’ new summer camp setup at Disney’s Wide World of Gruden Complex. The fields are manicured and the 115-room Celebration Hotel is hardly your Spartan training camp digs.

Which, in a way, is kind of a shame.

For fans who otherwise cannot realistically identify with professional athletes, the University of Tampa scene was a bonus. Millionaires were forced to live in amenity-challenged dorms and walk to work. Want a TV? Bring one. Need more blankets? Bring them too and carry them up yourself. That after-hours hunger attack? Try Subway or Mr. T’s on Kennedy Boulevard.

Now it’s posh rooms, cable TV and room service. But it was humbling while it lasted.

Public Relations And That Lawyerly Image

When last we checked, the United States was still a country of laws, which is good. But where there are laws, of course, there must be lawyers, which somehow seems less good.

The incongruity is nothing new. Attorney jokes predate the Magna Carta.

Maybe it’s the perception that the adversary system is too much about winners and losers and too little about right and wrong. “Taken to the cleaners” has always been more about law suits than dry cleaning.

Perhaps it’s because a lawyer must represent, say, a John Walker Lindh or an Alejandro Avila. Maybe it has something to do with medical malpractice nightmares. Or counselors whispering Fifth Amendment advice to their corporate clients. Or barristers clogging up the system on behalf of the fat blaming fast food or the disabled demanding lap-dance access. And you can still make a pretty good case that there’s a basis for “the best defense money can buy.”

Perception, of course, is reality. It is also selective.

It also has been reinforced by that out-of-context, “kill all the lawyers” quote from Henry VI, which seems so supportive of lawyer stereotypes and drastic reform.

To the Florida Bar, however, enough is enough, including Shakespearean quotes. To Tod Aronovitz, its new president, such tales and perceptions, full of sound and fury and lawyer jokes, signify nothing but cheap shots. That’s why the Bar has embarked on a $750,000 public relations campaign to combat the stereotypes and shore up the legal image.

Locally, there’s no one better positioned to address the campaign than Tampa personal injury attorney Rod Brooker. In a previous incarnation Brooker was a prominent public relations practitioner. Before making a mid-career change, he had been the well-regarded managing director of PR for the late advertising icon, Louis Benito.

Brooker doesn’t mind weighing in on the issue. And, yes, he has sent — per Aronowitz’s request — an extra $45 PR-campaign-contribution along with his $265 annual Florida Bar dues.

He sees an obvious irony. “We lawyers are advocates; it’s our duty to do the best job we can for our clients,” Brooker explains. “When someone is mangled in a car accident, my only duty is to recover as much money as we can. In the course of events, it’s going to upset others, including the other driver, but I’m just doing the best job for my client.”

But yet, he acknowledges, “We don’t do a very good job of explaining what we do to the public.”

So any campaign, he says, would need to be heavy on statistics, such as the dollars and hours associated with pro bono work. “I think you probably start with the macro story of the good things Florida lawyers do in the aggregate,” says Brooker. “The good works of the Florida Bar

Mining A Rescue For All It’s Worth

Let’s just enjoy this while we can. The rescue of the coal miners, that is.

Not only was there the gripping, melodramatic matter of pulling nine people from the all-but-clenched jaws of death, but the timing couldn’t have been more propitious. Not with homeland insecurity, stock market trauma, kidnapped children and Middle East carnage otherwise dominating the news.

The Pennsylvania rescue was much more than a happy ending to a harrowing tale.

The Quecreek Mine drama embodied so much of the human spirit that we so easily take for granted in a world too mindful of mankind’s dark side. These were men who had made up their collective minds to either live or die as a group. Clutching their faith and exercising presence of mind, they literally bundled together for warmth and survival. In the event of death, which loomed likely, the men had written private messages to their families and put them in a lunch pail: a legacy to what matters most.

No less impressive was the fortitude and technological know-how of the rescue workers. It was a dramatic, 77-hour reminder of the ingenuity and can-do ethic that has always been synonymous with the American spirit.

Also associated with America is media overkill. It turns people into public and private property. Andy Warhol talked of 15 minutes of fame. Would-be agents look for far longer shelf life.

Geraldo and Donahue have already had their dibs. Letterman and Leno are lining up. The feeding frenzy for the “Somerset 9” has only begun. There are rights to be secured for a made-for-TV movie. Book scenarios will be in the mix. Endorsements — think the Skoal folks aren’t salivating over this one? — could loom. That’s life, of course, as a commodity.

Not all miner-survivors will be equally photogenic or articulate. Some will have opportunities outside the mines. Others, when their celebrity status wanes, may have to return to their sub-strata culture.

For now, however, let’s just revel with a cause and enjoy this for as long as it is what it is: a celebration of life against some really long odds.

Doubting Thomas’ Value — Not Talent

When WFLA-TV axed Sports Director Chris Thomas after a 14-year run, it was making a statement on several levels. To wit:

* Thomas made too much money for too little air time.

* Not unlike the Devil Rays, News Channel 8, which already features uncommonly long-term, veteran co-anchors Bob Hite and Gail Sierens at 6 and 11 p.m., wanted to get younger and cheaper.

* The station wanted nothing more than the market norm — a generic, pleasant-faced news reader/reporter — not a “personality.”

* The station didn’t care that in the case of the iconoclastic Thomas, “personality” meant having the only sports-broadcast professional well-informed and talented enough to make it in bigger markets.

Uncommon Compassion Saluted

No one can possibly know what it’s like to lose a loved one in a tragic, violent way unless you’ve walked in a survivor’s shoes. Would we seek revenge as much as justice? Is the horrifically unforgettable also forgivable? We can’t know, and we can’t judge.

But we can salute Bruce Murakami for the compassion he showed in asking a judge for leniency in the case of the young man convicted of the manslaughter deaths of his wife and daughter. Murakami’s family was snuffed out in a fiery accident caused by a 19-year-old drag-racer.

The judge heeded Murakami’s plea for mercy and gave Justin Cabezas house arrest and probation instead of jailing him for up to 30 years. In addition, both Murakami and Cabezas, now 23, will be part of a community service dialogue with teenagers on the consequences of drag racing.

Moreover, another life wasn’t claimed by the tragic accident. Murakami says Cabezas now has the opportunity to make something of himself. If he does, that will be the legacy of uncommon compassionate shown under the most trying and tragic of circumstances.

Why “Neighborhood Schools” Remain Oxymoronic

S t. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler is to be commended for his piece illuminating the challenges and ironies in Pinellas County’s “controlled choice” program for its public schools. That’s the scheme by which the county hopes to retain a legal level of integration by convincing parents to choose a school other than the closest one.

Lots of luck.

This far removed from the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, the issue is no longer “separate but equal.” School boards have it within their wherewithal to ensure that, irrespective of neighborhood, comparable educational facilities, curricula and level of instruction are available. No one is revisiting Plessy v. Ferguson just because school boards can’t influence socio-economic and cultural factors beyond their purview.

What this is now about is the one politically incorrect stand that remains acceptable to the liberal educational establishment: Too many black children in a school is not compatible with a good learning environment. This should, of course, be insulting. That’s why no one will actually utter those otherwise racist words, but that’s the reason the “neighborhood school” concept is now oxymoronic.

Campaign Trail Mix: Gov Race Heats Up

* Upshot & snapshot: While in town for something called the Assistance Plus Summit, Gov. Jeb Bush found time to submit himself to the Q&A crucible of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg. The likely upshot of his opening remarks on testing and reading and subsequent answers to education-related queries was this: precious few converts. From the mechanism and interpretation of controversial FCAT results to the debatable rate of increase in school spending.

What the governor did do, however, was remind attendees that it’s not just the ultimate connection and tons of money that makes him so formidable for re-election. Nor is it a dry sense of humor that can defuse antipathy toward the St. Petersburg Times .

Only Daryl Jones can touch Bush as a smooth talking, good-looking, bridge-to-his-agenda, fast-on-his-feet, wonkish-set-of-statistics-at-the-ready presence. But Jones, of course, will not be the Democratic Party’s nominee. At least for governor.

Before doing some drive-by sound bites for the electronic media, Bush posed for a formal photo. It was the traditional shot with the winner of that day’s “Fang & Claw Award,” which goes to the member who asks the toughest question. None, surprisingly, were about capital punishment or a certain Florida Supreme Court appointee. The winner was Darryl Rouson of the NAACP’s St. Petersburg chapter.

Rouson predictably asked Bush if he would appoint a black person to the Pinellas School Board to replace the recently deceased Tom Todd. Bush was predictably, politely — and appropriately — non-committal.

As for the fortuitous photo-op, expect to see the arm-in-arm, smiley-faced Bush-Rouson shot again along the don’t-concede-the-minority-vote part of the campaign trail. As one decidedly non-Bush supporter muttered: “The man is blest.”

*Tough on Terrorists? Jeb Bush took an editorial haymaker from Wayne Smith last week in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel . Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington and former top U.S. diplomat in Havana, took the governor to task over the nomination of Raoul Cantero to the Florida Supreme Court.

Smith didn’t criticize Cantero for representing Orlando Bosch, who is, pointed out Smith, “linked by the Justice Department to over 30 acts of sabotage and violence, including the downing of a Cubana airliner in 1976 with the loss of over 73 innocent lives.” He faulted Cantero for being an “advocate and supporter of Orlando Bosch” and calling Bosch “a patriot.”

“Do Floridians really want a justice on their Supreme Court who cannot distinguish an act of patriotism from an act of terrorism?” rhetorically asked Smith. America’s man in Havana under President Jimmy Carter then lobbed this one over the Bush bow: “According to President Bush’s own definition, anyone who harbors a terrorist or supports a terrorist is a terrorist.

“President Bush had said that one cannot pick and choose one’s terrorist friends,” added Smith, “but that is precisely what has happened in the state of Florida

Topical Storm Ronda Wimps Out

Even those who agree with Hillsborough Commissioner Ronda Storms’ (grand) stand on public access TV — and it’s a lot more than south county conservatives — should be able to admit this: she is counterproductive to the cause. Once State Attorney Mark Ober had made the call that what was sophomoric, tasteless and sexually explicit fell short of obscenity, the county’s gaped crusader should have dismounted her soapbox, shut up and concentrated on growth and infrastructure issues.

Instead, she became the issue. Whatever the voyeurship of the “White Chocolate” and “Saheeb’s Dream” shows is, it would arguably be a fraction of that were it not for all the publicity generated by Storms.

Ironically, the ostensible courage of her high-profile convictions isn’t enough to prompt her participation in the upcoming candidate forum put on by the League of Women Voters. That’s because it will be held at the public access TV station. It’s not a “neutral venue,” explains Storms.

Her constituents, none of whom are forced to watch sleazy, brain-dead TV, shouldn’t forget that the best opportunity to size up the candidates was snubbed by Storms. They should expect better from an incumbent, especially such an outspoken one.

Even Devil Ray Scalpers Lose

Call them the Gang That Couldn’t Scalp Straight.

Imagine anyone scalping Tampa Bay Rays’ tickets? As in get-’em-while-they-lapse ducats for the worst team in baseball, one that draws more bankruptcy and contraction rumors than fans. But that’s exactly what three Miami men were arrested for recently.

They had used a stolen credit card to buy 180 Rays-Seattle Mariners tickets. Did they think Lou Piniella was that big of a draw?

This had to be the dumbest local crime since last month’s Days Inn hold-up in north Tampa by a guy who was staying there. He was arrested in his room.