Is Butch Jones taking a page from Nick Saban’s playbook?

For Knoxville native Jocquez Bruce, where he would attend college after high school was never really a matter of question.

When Bruce, a 5-11, 165-lb. (soaking wet) athlete from South Doyle High School, received a scholarship offer from the University of Tennessee, he jumped on it. 

Bruce wasn’t highly rated. Rivals.com gave him 3-stars, but ranked him as just the 26th-best prospect in the state in the 2015 class. He didn’t catch the eye of a lot of schools; his only other scholarship offer from an FBS school was Memphis.

But it didn’t matter, because he was playing for the hometown Vols, an accomplishment most football players who grow up in East Tennessee can only dream of. 

Bruce was so determined to play for Tennessee that he agreed to blueshirt — an NCAA recruiting loophole that allows teams to grant scholarships to walk-on players, in a sense. It is a method pioneered by New Mexico State. Essentially, players who were not officially recruited — did not visit campus and did not receive an in-home visit from a coach — can enroll and be granted a scholarship at the beginning of fall practice, but won’t count against that year’s scholarship allotment that is enforced by the NCAA.

By blueshirting, Bruce was not counted among the Vols’ Top 5 recruiting class in February. Instead, he was to have counted against the 2016 class — meaning the Vols could take one less recruit on signing day in February 2016.

Either way, Bruce’s status with the UT program was essentially the same. 

Until his Tennessee playing career ended before it had even begun. 

Last week, Tennessee announced that Joc Bruce was leaving the program — just days after head coach Butch Jones said that he had been suspended for not applying himself off the field. Bruce tweeted later that the suspension was because he was late for class. But a day later, he was no longer a Vol.

“Coach Jones and I have talked and have together decided that this is what is best for me at this time,” Bruce said in a statement.

It didn’t take long before the message boards were aflutter with speculation about exactly what Bruce’s sudden departure meant. And many fans settled on a single theory: Jones was doing some housecleaning to open space for more recruits next year. 

And that’s all it is, of course: speculation. But it makes sense. You don’t cut a player from the program for being late to class — assuming Bruce’s tweet was honest. Several players on the Vols’ current roster have committed offenses more serious than that and they’re in good standing. But they’re also players who are more likely to contribute on the field this season and in seasons to come.

Of course, there is other speculation, as well — speculation that lays the groundwork for the theory that Bruce decided to leave the program completely of his own accord. So, the theory that Butch Jones encouraged him to leave to free up some room on the roster may be nothing but pure dung.

Meanwhile . . .

Fast-forward a week, and today Kyle Oliver — another homegrown freshman-to-be — left the program. Oliver, a tight end from Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, was also rated 3-stars by Rivals, and was the No. 14 prospect overall from the state in the 2015 class. 

Oliver’s offer list was more impressive than Bruce’s; he had offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the SEC, along with a number of other schools (Louisville being the only Power 5 school outside the SEC). But, like Bruce, it was questionable whether he would ever be a major contributor for the Vols. 

And, like Bruce, Oliver was a blueshirt — meaning his departure frees up another scholarship for 2016.

There may not be fire behind that smoke . . . but there’s lots of smoke.

This is a practice that’s new to Tennessee, if in fact it’s a practice that has been deployed by Jones, but it’s certainly not new to the SEC. Nick Saban perfected the science of over-recruiting, then weeding out scholarship players who weren’t beneficial to his program in order to fall under the NCAA’s mandated numbers. He’s been criticized for forcing players into claiming medical hardships after being injured and essentially cutting players for no reason. Saban doesn’t care; he’s won three national championships at Alabama. And Crimson Tide fans certainly don’t care.

So if Jones is taking a page from Saban’s playbook, what of it? Is it fair? Ethical? It’s certainly not illegal by NCAA and SEC standards; not yet, anyway. But it does represent a new era of win-at-all-costs standards that’s becoming blatant throughout college football. This sport has been big business for many years, but it’s become especially cutthroat as TV and apparel contracts have increased pressure on schools to win and as fans have become less willing to settle for an average product on the field.

The majority of Tennessee fans won’t have a problem with such a move. They’ll say that if you’re going to beat Saban, you have to play on his level. Others will admit that they don’t like it, but it’s an unfortunate necessity in this modern era of college athletics.

Count me among an even smaller number — those who don’t like it and would like to see the rules changed to prevent it. I get why a coach like Butch Jones would employ such tactics . . . and I get why it can even be considered a necessity. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’m just naive enough to believe that student-athletes should still be just that — students first, athletes second — and that college should still be about academics. And that a contract between a school and a player should still mean something.

Ironically, the SEC has imposed stricter recruiting standards on its schools than the NCAA mandates, in an effort to protect the players. When he proposed the new standards, former SEC commissioner Mike Slive said, “No one wants to win more than I do. But you don’t want to win at the expense of young people. You want to win for them.” As it turns out, his standards are increasing the need — or at least the perception of a need — for schools to do the very thing he tried to avoid. In order to meet the SEC’s recruiting guidelines, students have to take bullets for their teams. Alabama does it on a regular basis. Has Tennessee joined in? If so, you can bet on one thing: Tennessee isn’t the only program to have joined in, and the Vols certainly won’t be the last.

Vols are ranked

Tennessee is ranked No. 25 in the preseason coaches’ poll. That’s a bit lower than I expected, and I’m somewhat surprised the Vols are ranked behind Missouri. But Tennessee hasn’t beaten Mizzou since the Tigers joined the SEC, and Gary Pinkel’s club is the two-time defending champion of the SEC East, so they’ve earned the ranking.

Still, this marks the first time Tennessee’s football team has been ranked in the Top 25 since 2012, when the Vols held down the No. 23 spot for one brief week between an impressive win over NC State and another beatdown from Florida — the latter of which led to another 5-7 season for Derek Dooley and his departure as Tennessee’s head coach.

This marks the first time Tennessee has been ranked in the Top 25 in the preseason since 2008, when the Vols entered the season at No. 18 in the AP poll after winning the SEC East in 2007. That, too, proved to be a losing season for UT, leading to the departure of Phillip Fulmer.

There are seven SEC teams in the Top 25: Alabama is No. 3, Auburn is No. 7, Georgia is No. 9, LSU is No. 13, Ole Miss is No. 15, Missouri is No. 23 and Tennessee is No. 25. The Vols finished just two votes ahead of Mississippi State. 

Of those teams, Tennessee will face four: Alabama and Missouri on the road, and Georgia and Arkansas at home.

Oklahoma — which visits Neyland Stadium on Sept. 12 — is only ranked No. 19 in the preseason poll after last year’s disappointing 8-5 finish.

Ohio State claimed 62 of the 64 first place votes as the coaches’ overwhelming favorite to repeat as national champs. That isn’t too surprising; Urban Meyer returns a loaded roster and the Buckeyes should breeze into the College Football Playoffs with a ridiculously easy schedule.

This is the summation of Brady’s legacy

Amid all the wailing from the national writers about how the NFL was too severe with its four-game punishment of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady comes the news that Brady destroyed his cell phone in an effort to prevent the NFL from learning of his role in Deflategate:

In announcing the decision, Goodell cited new evidence that emerged: On or shortly before March 6 — the day Brady was interviewed by Ted Wells and his investigative team — Brady instructed his assistant to destroy the cellphone he had been using since early November 2014, a period that included the AFC title game against the Colts and the initial weeks of the subsequent investigation.

The NFL said in Tuesday’s statement that Brady destroyed the phone even though he was aware that investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on the phone.

According to the NFL, during the four months the cellphone was in use, Brady sent and received nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved. At the time he arranged for its destruction, Brady knew that Wells and his team had asked for information from the cellphone.

It’s been said that four games is too much for such a trivial matter as using under-inflated footballs. I disagree; cheating is cheating and cheaters should be held accountable for their actions. But this stopped being about the actual crime a long time ago. It’s now about Brady’s repeated lies and his efforts to cover up the crime. It’s about his integrity as an NFL superstar — which is heavily tarnished. Deflating the balls was a minuscule matter. Lying about it and destroying evidence is much more critical. If this were college ball, and Brady were a coach, his actions could earn him the equivalent of the NCAA’s death penalty. Remember Bruce Pearl? His crime (hosting a player for a barbecue who was one year too young to be hosted for a barbecue) was so minor that it isn’t even against the rules anymore. But when he lied about it, he received a three-year coaching ban. 

Among the mind-numbing statements that have emerged from Roger Goodell’s decision to uphold Brady’s punishment is this, from Brady’s agent, Don Yee:

“The Commissioner’s decision and discipline has no precedent in all of NFL history,” Yee said. “His decision alters the competitive balance of the upcoming season. The decision is wrong and has no basis, and it diminishes the integrity of the game.”

Wait, what? Brady instructs an assistant to under-inflate a football to give himself a competitive advantage. When the NFL brass start sniffing around, he instructs another assistant to destroy his cell phone to cover up the crime. And it’s the NFL that is diminishing the integrity of the game? Sorry, Mr. Yee. If anyone is trampling on the integrity of the game here, it’s your client.

The Patriots’ front office, not to be outdone, offered up an equally absurd statement:

“We are extremely disappointed in today’s ruling by Commissioner Goodell,” the team said in the statement. “We cannot comprehend the league’s position in this matter. Most would agree that the penalties levied originally were excessive and unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that the league has no hard evidence of wrongdoing. We continue to unequivocally believe in and support Tom Brady. We also believe that the laws of science continue to underscore the folly of this entire ordeal. Given all of this, it is incomprehensible as to why the league is attempting to destroy the reputation of one of its greatest players and representatives.”

Who are “most”? Outside New England and the national pundits who want to put these superstars on pedestals above the game itself, how many believe Brady was treated unfairly? But don’t put too much credibility in that statement. Let’s not forget, the Pats are repeat offenders in the cheating department. The front office there is as heavily tarnished as its quarterback.

As ESPN’s Ian O’Connor wrote, Tom Brady did this to himself:

So the quarterback has lost in the court of public opinion, and it didn’t have to be that way. He should have copped to his mistake months ago. He should’ve realized that one stain wouldn’t ruin an otherwise spotless career. He should’ve apologized for seeking that extra competitive edge, if only to prove one more time that 198 players shouldn’t have been picked ahead of him in the 2000 NFL draft.

The quarterback instead engaged in what appears to be just another common cover-up worse than the crime. In other words, for the first time in his epic football life, Tom Brady just beat himself.

Wait, what?

Here’s a fascinating story about the discovery of the remains of four early colonial leaders of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. The whole thing is worth reading, but this part stands out:

Mysteriously, a small silver box resting atop Archer’s coffin turns out likely to be a Catholic reliquary containing bone fragments and a container for holy water. Archer’s parents were Catholic in Protestant England, which became illegal. So the discovery raises the question of whether Archer was perhaps part of a secret Catholic cell – or even a Catholic spy on behalf of the Spanish, Horn said.

Catholic relics have been found in the Jamestown archaeological site before, but the placement of this box seems particularly symbolic, the historians said. They used CT scans to see inside the sealed box without damaging it – gaining a view that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.

An alternative theory holds that the religious piece was simply repurposed for the Anglican church as a holdover from Catholic tradition as England waffled between Catholic and Protestant rule. Historians said more research must be done.

“It was a real kind of ah-ha moment for a lot of us,” said William Kelso, Jamestown’s director of archaeology. “It was oh, religion was a big deal here, and that’s often overlooked. Everyone thinks that people came to Jamestown to find gold and go home and live happily ever after.”

Really? I thought it was fairly well established that religion was important to the early colonists of this new land? 

Tyndall allegations unveiled

We’re learning more now about the dirt that the NCAA dug up on former Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall. And it isn’t pretty. Not pretty at all:

The NCAA claims Tyndall paid for online courses and says the coach, along with an associate head coach and two assistant coaches, arranged fraudulent academic credit in the completion of online courses for seven prospective student-athletes. This is a Level I violation, and the notice says it took place between June 2012 and May 2014. Five of the seven prospective student-athletes ended up playing at Southern Miss.

The allegations also claim that the coaches traveled to the states where the prospective student-athletes were to complete the coursework for them. A former assistant coach told the NCAA this was done “so that IP address information would make it appear as though the prospects had completed the coursework themselves.” The same assistant said Tyndall hired two former staff members “for the purpose of engaging in academic misconduct.”

We knew when Dave Hart heard from the NCAA in the spring and subsequently fired Tyndall that the allegations would be serious, and indeed they are. It’s probably safe to say that Tyndall’s days as a college basketball coach are finished.

The mind-numbing part about all of this is that these allegations surfaced just months after Tennessee hired Tyndall away from Southern Miss. Everything we know indicates that Hart thoroughly vetted Tyndall before he made the hire, but you still can’t help but wonder just how on earth something of that magnitude stays hidden during that process.

The heat is about to back off

It’s been a hot past couple of weeks across the Mid-South, but it looks like some relief is in store over the next few days.

The GFS computer model is projecting high temperatures to be fairly steady over the next week — mid-to-upper 80s here on the Cumberland Plateau, low-to-mid 90s in the valley — but it appears dew points will back down considerably following a frontal passage in a couple of days.

Between now and then, we’ll continue to be very hot at least through tomorrow . . . maybe Thursday as well. Don’t be surprised to see some heat advisories across Middle Tennessee, though it seems unlikely for East Tennessee to see those same advisories. A trough swinging through the Great Lakes region will finally drag a weak cold front across the eastern U.S. by Thursday evening, whipping this heat ridge’s butt and ushering in a new pattern that is somewhat cooler and drier.

A verbatim take-away from this afternoon’s run of the model has dew points dropping from 72 on Wednesday afternoon to 59 on Friday afternoon, and then staying in the low 60s after that. The result will be two-fold: more pleasant afternoons, even though there won’t be much of a difference on the thermometer, and also lower nighttime temperatures. The lack of ultra-high humidity at night will allow for more optimal evaporational cooling at night. Nighttime lows look to go from around 70 to the low 60s as we get into the weekend.

How long the relief lasts is anyone’s guess. The GFS has sporadically painted some very hot temperatures in the long range as a mega ridge sets up over the Southeast. But it has also painted some further relief form the heat and humidity. Today’s runs of the model have been merely average for the next couple of weeks. The afternoon run shows temperatures mostly in the upper 80s, with a couple of low 90s thrown in, and nighttime lows primarily in the 60s. So, still hot, but not quite as hot as we’ve been for the past couple of weeks.

For the next two weeks, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center keeps cooler-than-average temperatures to our north and warmer-than-average temperatures to our south, with Tennessee being smack in the middle of the two. In fact, the day 8-14 outlook shows high likelihood of hot temps across the Deep South, extending north to Tennessee’s southern border, and cool temps (relative to average) across the Great Lakes, extending south into northern Kentucky. How much that southern ridge flexes its muscle will determine whether we’re seasonably warm or oppressively hot here in the Cumberlands.

Hard for Vols fans to temper hope

For those of us who have orange blood — specifically, the shade of orange that is 50 percent magenta, 100 percent yellow on the CMYK chart — flowing through our veins, it’s hard to not get caught up in the excitement of the looming football season.
For the first time in years, there are expectations — real expectations; not just blind hope — centered around the University of Tennessee football team.

Coming off their first winning season since 2009 and their first bowl win since 2007, the Vols return most of their starters. Junior quarterback Josh Dobbs is on most watch lists and is mentioned by some folks as a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Sophomore halfback Jalen Hurd joins Dobbs on the watch list for the Maxwell Award — given annually to the best offensive player in America — and he will be joined in the backfield by highly-touted JucCo transfer Alvin Kamara, whose abilities seem to compliment Hurd’s perfectly. On the other side of the ball, Butch Jones has assembled one of the best defensive fronts in the SEC — at least on paper. Sophomore Derek Barnett will be joined by returners Corey Vereen, Danny O’Brien and Owen Williams. But, Barnett aside, it’s the new guys who have UT fans most excited. Guys like Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie, Charles Mosley and Kyle Phillips add even more depth to a unit that is already the most experienced on the Tennessee roster. Cam Sutton is one of the best cornerbacks in America. And et cetera.

You don’t have to look too hard to see the enthusiasm seeping from every pore in East Tennessee. The Vols’ home opener against Oklahoma on Sept. 12 is quickly becoming the hardest ticket to find since Florida visited Neyland Stadium way back in 1998. Some point to Cal’s trip to Knoxville in 2006 as the last time the House that Neyland Built hosted a game of this magnitude. In reality, though, you might have to go back further than that — perhaps all the way back to that historic evening against Spurrier’s Gators in 1998 — to find a home game that was this important to the UT program. Season ticket sales have surpassed 64,000 and available single-game tickets are dwindling even for the non-conference featherweights on the schedule, Western Carolina and North Texas.

If that doesn’t impress you, consider this: the arrival of high-definition television and approximately 1,000-in. big screens that can be purchased for less than $1,000 have left the nation’s major college football programs struggling to fill their seats. In 2014, college football attendance dropped to its lowest point in 14 years — down four percent from the previous season.

Fans have plenty of reason to be enthused, and most of them center around the young men that Jones and his staff have convinced to play football at Tennessee. After three years of inept recruiting by Derek Dooley, Jones assembled back-to-back Top 5 recruiting classes — arguably the best two-year stretch of recruiting in program history.
Vegas is keeping notes, too. Early money is going on the Vols. The earliest lines have Tennessee favored in each of its first five games. Yes, favored to beat storied Oklahoma. Yes, favored to beat a Florida team that the Vols haven’t beaten in a decade. When the media and the coaches release their preseason polls in a couple of weeks, Tennessee figures to be ranked for the first time since 2008.

For a historically proud program that has taken it on the chin for the better part of a decade, it’s good to have something to be excited about on fall Saturdays. The last time the Vols were even in the hunt for the SEC East championship was in 2007, and even that year, Tennessee was embarrassed by its two biggest rivals, losing to Florida and Alabama by combined scores of 100-37. 

Tennessee last defeated Alabama in 2005, last defeated Florida in 2004, and hasn’t beaten an SEC team not named Kentucky, South Carolina or Vanderbilt since 2010. There is a lot of pent-up frustration that is just waiting to come out of UT fans. If the Vols find a way to win the SEC East and get to Atlanta, this fan base may quickly become the most obnoxious in the SEC — surpassing Florida, Georgia and even LSU.
But it might be wise to pump the brakes a bit before the Vols head to Nashville for the season opener against Bowling Green.

No, Tennessee isn’t going to lose the Falcons; it won’t even be a contest. But things quickly get tougher after that. It’s easy to forget that the Sooners beat the Vols 34-10 in Norman last year and return most of their team. Florida has been a monkey on the back of every Tennessee coach since John Majors, and if last year’s debacle at Neyland Stadium is any indication, that monkey may have already latched onto Butch Jones, too. Georgia is likely to be ranked in the Top 5 when it visits Knoxville in October. Arkansas appears to be back as a college football power and may be ranked higher than the Vols in the preseason polls. Alabama is Alabama. 

This is still the SEC, where the schedule is always littered with land mines. Even the also-rans can be dangerous, as South Carolina and Missouri will attempt to show the Vols. You can take no one for granted in this conference — not even perennial SEC East cellar-dwellar Kentucky, which is rapidly improving under the tutelage of Mike Stoops. 

And for all the reasons to get excited about the roster, there are question marks. Dobbs has become the most hyped UT quarterback since Peyton Manning, but before the Iowa game last year, the only time he had been impressive was in engineering the come-from-behind win in Columbia. Hurd and Kamara may be the best tandem of runningbacks in the SEC, but there is zero depth behind them, and durability is a concern for Hurd. The receiving corps was highly-touted when they arrived on campus as individuals, but Pig Howard is the only one of the bunch who has separated himself as a formidible target thus far. The offfensive line should be capable, but was woeful even late in the season a year ago. On defense, the spring injury list read like a sunny summer Sunday morning sermon — on and on and on — and the Vols can’t afford many injuries there, either.

Two years of outstanding recruiting has given the Vols a roster that can compete with anyone in the SEC, but the depth isn’t yet there. Combine that with a new offensive coordinator and a difficult schedule, and the top-end predictions of 10 or 11 wins seem to be over-stated. Eight wins seems like a solid wish, and anything less than that would be disappointing, but the Vols may yet be a year removed from truly competing for the SEC East crown.

Still, it’s going to prove difficult for Tennessee fans to temper their expectations. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. An entire generation of UT fans has heard about how great the Vols were in their heyday, but they haven’t seen it for themselves. They may be on the verge of experiencing the magic that the rest of us took for granted in the ‘90s. And if that happens, college football is suddenly going to become a lot more special in East Tennessee.

• Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com.

The preceding is my weekly newspaper column.

The problem with Facebook

As Facebook has grown into a social behemoth, there are several good things that have emerged about it. And there are a lot of not-so-good things that accompany it, as well.

One of the worst, it seems, is that it causes folks to think that the rest of the world actually cares about their opinions. 

I’m fairly opinionated. If I wasn’t, this blog wouldn’t exist. And I’ve never been too hesitant to share my opinions on Facebook. Where I draw the line is politics. I never discuss politics in a mixed crowd, and that’s what Facebook is — one giant mixed crowd. Folks can never agree, they certainly aren’t going to be persuaded to change their minds, and it’s only going to create hard feelings in the end. I don’t see the point. If someone wants to know where I stand on political issues, they can make their way from Facebook to my blog — here. If they’re here, by choice, they’re choosing to read my opinions. They aren’t my friends on Facebook to have my opinions shoved down their throat. The fact that I have fewer regular blog readers than I have Facebook friends pretty much confirms that.

With that said, I’m not so much talking about folks who use Facebook as a political platform, though I won’t deny unfollowing a few people for that very reason, and Facebook would be much, much better if there were no click-bait articles being shared from Conservativepost.com, Youngcons.com and other far-right websites. (I assume there are click-bait articles from far-left websites that are shared regularly on Facebook, too, but my circle of friends is quite conservative; after all, I live in a region that is deeply conservative.) 

No, it isn’t the folks who use their Facebook wall as a political platform that irritate me. It’s the people who see every status update from someone else as an opportunity to share their opinion. A couple of days ago, I posted a status update about my 9-year-old daughter laying her phone down for a couple of minutes at Walmart, and someone taking it and refusing to return it. The general concept of my post was to vilify the type of low-life who would steal from a child — and the fact that, as I ended my post, “people suck.” 

Predictably, someone who wasn’t my friend and who I don’t know personally commented that a 9-year-old shouldn’t have a phone in the first place.

I responded that my daughter’s phone wasn’t used as a phone; she used it for everything else that our phones have become — a video game (Minecraft is her thing), a camera, a personal TV . . . and as a way to communicate with friends on our home wifi network. 

But as I typed that I thought, Why am I defending myself to this dude? It’s none of his business what my daughter uses her phone for. It’s none of his business that my daughter has a phone. 

The underbelly of Facebook is crowded with blots and blemishes, and just one of them is that we’re exposed to the opinions of everyone who can’t seem to keep their opinions to themselves. Don’t think a 9-year-old is old enough to have a phone? Fine. You have a right to your opinion. And, as far as I’m concerned, you can use your own Facebook wall to state that opinion all day long. In fact, I’m sure several of my Facebook friends share that opinion . . . but at least they respected my status enough not to turn it into that debate. 

Another person, a senior citizen from the Midwest who is formerly from my hometown, took to using my Facebook status updates to bash my hometown and insult my friends incessantly. When I finally deleted her from my friends list, she sent a message demanding to know why. My response: “I don’t even know you. To my knowledge, we’ve never met, face-to-face. Yet you’ve taken it upon yourself to insult my hometown, all of the people living here, and people who I consider personal friends apart from Facebook.” That wasn’t good enough for her; she continued to use my status updates to rant, until I finally had to block her. 

My question is why? What makes you think that your opinion is so important that you have to annoy everyone else with it? 

I’ll admit that I have sometimes been guilty of this myself. In fact, just a few months ago, someone posted a status update hammering the twice-annual ATV festivals in Huntsville, Tenn. I disagreed with her, and I responded to her post telling her why I disagreed. Then I realized I was doing the very thing that annoys me, so I deleted my response and messaged her to apologize. That day I made a pact with myself to keep any arguing or debating I decide to do to my own wall. 

I’m not saying there’s never room for dissent among mixed company on Facebook or other social media networks. If we work to isolate ourselves to a bubble where no one ever disagrees with us and we’re never exposed to differing opinions, we’re probably not doing ourselves much of a favor. Often, Facebook statuses are intended to generate discussion. In fact, most of my friends will tell you that I enjoy stirring the pot on Facebook; which is to say that I’m known for posts that are intentionally controversial in an effort to make people think (or at least just to see their reaction). 

But the post by the Walmart employee who is not my friend and who I didn’t know was clearly over the line. He may be entitled to his opinion that 9-year-olds shouldn’t have a phone, but what place did that opinion have on my post about my daughter’s phone being stolen? Does it justify someone stealing the phone or lend itself to an explanation for why the phone was stolen? If not, why post it in the first place? Clearly I couldn’t have cared less whether he thinks I’m a bad parent for allowing my daughter to have a phone. Likewise, the string of insulting responses from my now-blocked Midwestern “friend” were over the line. 

That’s just one of the problems with social media: it’s given the whole world a soapbox, and too many of us (yes, sometimes including myself) don’t know how to use our soapbox responsibly. Not only do we work hard to shove our opinions down everyone’s throat, but we’ve entered a new realm of rudeness and mean-spiritedness towards our fellow man.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not a huge fan of Nike, and I don’t like the fact that the University of Tennessee entered a contract with Nike for its athletics apparel. The fact that Nike influenced the university administration’s controversial elimination of the “Lady Vols” brand name vindicates that stance. A few weeks ago, I made a tongue-in-cheek tweet bashing Nike. The response was vicious. I was called a lot of things that I can’t repeat on here. Now, understand that I didn’t care; I laughed at most of them and spent several hours responding to my new friends and retweeting their remarks. But their responses were nonetheless crude and rude. 

By being able to communicate from behind our phones and computer screens, without face-to-face interaction, we’re losing any semblance of civility. I have a huge problem with rudeness. That’s why I have a personal policy, both in the comments section of this blog and on my personal Facebook page that if you can’t disagree respectfully and civilly, I will delete the comments. More than once I’ve been questioned about that. My response has always been that if we can’t engage in civil conversation, there’s no point in conversation at all. I’ve also been accused of deleting comments that disagree with me — but you won’t have to look far on this blog to find plenty of comments that disagree. 

And it’s even worse — much worse, actually — when people don’t actually have to sign their names to what they have to say. When they can speak under the cloak of anonymity, then they really get ugly. Case-in-point: Topix.com. These community forums are the worst offenders of our complete disregard for the feelings and reputations of our neighbors. Just in the past few months I’ve seen a grieving teenage mother who lost an infant son called a whore and a murderer because she dared to try to live a normal live in the aftermath of her son’s death; a mother with kids old enough to read the forum vilified as trash because a few people didn’t approve of her choice of men; and more than a few folks derided over various decisions that should’ve been no one’s business.

Bottom line? As hard as it is for a self-proclaimed arguer to admit, a lot of opinions are best kept to ourselves. Yet we seem to see Facebook and other forms of social media as a green light to spew verbal diarrhea about people and things that often don’t even concern us. Or, to put it another way: the age-old concept of “mind your own business” has flown right out the window in this era of social media.

Tennessee: Capital of the American Jihad

From Politico.com

The road to jihad began here, where Highway 40 bisects the state Abraham Lincoln once called the “keystone of the southern arch,” heading southwest out of Nashville and Jackson and through endless miles of rich Mississippi delta before riding the steel scaffolding of the Hernando de Soto Bridge across the wide lazy waters.

Here’s the money quote: “That journey toward Islamist radicalization and terrorism has become a well-worn path for homegrown extremists, and their growing numbers threaten to overwhelm U.S. authorities, especially the FBI, who are tracking them in a desperate attempt to thwart their plots and, as they say, ‘stay to the left of the boom.’”

The U.S. response to ISIS has been woefully shortsighted. If we do not cut the head off this snake, we will face dire consequences here at home.

First important preseason rankings are out

I hesitate to use the word “important” because no preseason rankings are too important, unless you’re one of those teams vying for a playoff spot at the end of the season — in which case you need to be ranked as highly as possible to start. Perhaps I should say the first notable preseason rankings are out. In any event, Phil Steele has released his preseason rankings

So where’s Tennessee? No. 19. Not terrible, considering the Vols’ fate of late. But it’s worth noting that Steele has UT one spot below Arkansas, which visits Neyland Stadium in the first half of the season. That’s also below Oklahoma (No. 16), Georgia (No. 7) and Alabama (No. 3), all of which the Vols face this season. 

None of the Vols’ other opponents are ranked. 

So if you go strictly by that (don’t do that, please; it’s an exercise in futility), Tennessee should be expected to finish about 8-4 . . . which is exactly where I predict they’ll finish.