During his 13½-year Major League Baseball career, J.T. Snow was known as the consummate good soldier. He was revered by teammates, refrained from taking public shots at his employers and conducted himself with selflessness, class and professionalism. His image was as gleaming as the Gold Gloves the slick-fielding first baseman won on a near annual basis.
Yet when Winslow ripped Browns general manager Phil Savage and the organization last month for the way it reacted to his second staph infection in three years, saying he felt "like a piece of meat" and that the organization had a workplace-safety issue that needed to be addressed, Snow was highly sympathetic.
Snow is all too familiar with the dangers posed by staph, a growing concern in sports settings from NFL locker rooms (the Browns have had at least six cases since 2005) to the youth hockey tournaments in which his 10-year-old son, Shane, participates. While no active NFL athlete has died from staph, a former player who spent much of his time hanging out at a team facility has: J.T.'s father, Jack, a standout Los Angeles Rams receiver in the '60s and '70s who followed the team to St. Louis as a radio broadcaster, passed away in January of 2006 at the age of 62 after battling an infection for months.
That painful experience changed J.T.'s life. He educated himself about the inherent dangers that athletes of all ages, and those that share their environment, can face when engaging in seemingly mundane tasks like making a diving catch on artificial turf or taking a post-practice hot tub. As more pro teams like the Rams and Browns are forced to confront the issue, Snow hopes that the word will spread to the general public about the vigilance required to guard against such ailments.
"This thing is like a ticking time bomb," Snow says. "Once you get to where my dad was, where the infection has taken over your body, there's nothing else you can do, and you're kind of screwed. It's all very scary. The worst thing people can do is cover these things up. They need to go public with every case, because there needs to be more education and awareness across the board."
Certainly awareness, especially among professional teams, has improved since the early '90s, when J.T. broke into the majors. "Back then if you had an open wound, it was like, 'Throw some Neosporin and a band-aid on it' and that was it," he says. "Now trainers are cleaning it and checking it every day, and they're very conscious of reducing the risks at the stadium. Those whirlpools that guys get in, the trainers [at the Giants] would drain them and scrub them clean every day."
This was a lesson the Rams learned the hard way: In the fall of 2003, five St. Louis players came down with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an increasingly common strain of staph which does not respond to the methicillin, thus requiring stronger antibiotics. Though the team did not go public with the outbreak, it did call the Center For Disease Control for help, and subsequent research concluded that turf burns, shared towels and unsanitary communal whirlpools and weights were likely causes.
The team took steps to prevent such occurrences in the future, and there's no conclusive proof that Jack Snow contracted staph during one of his frequent visits to the team's training facility. But J.T., who harbors no negative feelings toward the franchise, believes it's reasonable to wonder whether there was a connection.
"He was always at the complex," J.T. says. "A lot of guys there talked about it, that the hot tub, sauna, steam showers or even the locker-room carpet might be places where you could get infected. The Rams were very open about it with us and were really good about trying to make things safe. It was just a weird, weird deal."
In April of 2005, Jack Snow went in for double hip-replacement surgery, having convinced doctors to insert artificial joints in his left and right hip sockets during the same operation rather than scheduling two different surgeries. "My dad was such an old-school, stubborn guy," J.T. says. "The doctor had never done it [a double replacement], but he didn't want to go through it twice."
After the surgery, J.T. says, "my dad came out great. It looked like he had grown two inches. He started standing up straight and golfing again, and we thought everything was OK."
It wasn't: Doctors believe Jack Snow had already contracted a staph infection – not of the MRSA variety, but still a dangerous ailment if not detected early – which was lurking in his body. Eventually, it attacked the titanium plate in his right hip joint, a common characteristic of staph, which can gravitate to areas of low blood flow. It wasn't until November, seven months after the surgery, that Jack fell ill.
"He was on a road trip in Houston with the team, and he thought he had the flu," J.T. says. "He was in his hotel room and his back went out, and he couldn't get up off the floor to get to a phone. When he didn't show up for the team bus to the stadium, they broke down the door. They flew him back and put him in the hospital, and that's when they discovered that his hip was infected."
J.T. had twice battled staph infections, once in the '03 season and another the following year. "The first time I woke up and my elbow had a lump the size of a golf ball and a ring around it," he recalls. "A year later I had an open wound from sliding, and a big, red ring formed. They gave me the medicine, and I was fine."
His father wasn't as fortunate: As doctors pumped him with antibiotics over the next two months, he had periods of improvement followed by setbacks, until the infection finally entered his bloodstream. "It's almost like it was going dormant and then attacking," J.T. says. "My dad was an athlete, and when he was sick, in his mind, he was always going to beat it. He'd say, 'I can't wait to get out of this place.' He fought so hard, but in the end, he kind of knew."
J.T., who had flown back and forth several times from his Bay Area home to St. Louis, got the phone call he was dreading on Jan. 8, 2006: It was his younger sister, Stephanie Gebel, who lives in the St. Louis area. "You'd better get back here," she said. "I don't think he's gonna make it."
A few hours later J.T. was on a flight from San Francisco, praying he could get to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis to see his father one last time. "My dad hung on till I got there," he says. "It was [overnight] when he passed. It was almost like he was waiting for me and my sisters to be there."
Like his son, Jack Snow was a beloved figure among those he associated with; a man whose positive energy brightened the workplace and set an example for everyone he encountered. J.T. hopes to honor his father's memory by preventing others from experiencing similar tragedies, and the seriousness of staph is something he thinks about on a constant basis.
"I've coached my son's baseball teams, and kids slide and get a hole in their pants and scrape their knees," J.T. says. "You have to make sure you treat those cuts right away and continue to keep them clean. In flag football, they play on turf fields, and by the end of the game it's like tackle football, so you have to be very careful.
"Shane also plays hockey, and I was talking to the guy who runs the program at the local rink, and staph is a growing problem in hockey, too. The guys on travel teams sweat so much and play so many games that they don't really wash the hockey shorts, and that sweat is staying in their uniforms all that time. If you get a cut, it's really scary."
You can understand why, when Cleveland general manager Savage and others perceived insolence in Winslow's words, Snow heard the fear. His advice to the Browns and anyone else dealing with similar issues: "Just stay on top of it, and don't sweep anything under the carpet. And as a player, when you get a cut, take it seriously. Don't disregard the warning signs of infection. Get a second opinion if you have to. It's not something you want to mess around with in any way."
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Alright, sports fans, here it comes – the Titans will suffer their first defeat of the season in a brutally physical game in Jacksonville … The Chargers will get pummeled in Pittsburgh – and still (thanks to the Falcons) be in the thick of the AFC West hunt – The Colts, a team I'm accused of picking against too often, will defeat the Texans, a team I do pick to win too often, in a shootout at Lucas Oil Stadium.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Washington, D.C., to be part of President-elect Obama's transition team. I'll handle the highly important job of covering the Cowboys-Redskins Sunday night clash at FedEx Field, under the secret-service code name "Yahoo!"
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. In the wake of his latest attack on a certain Eagles quarterback, boxer Bernard Hopkins announced he was forming a commercial alliance with radio personality Rush Limbaugh and Philadelphia NAACP leader J. Whyatt Mondesire called "WMD" (Wanton McNabb Diss-masters).
2. After being informed via fax that he was no longer wanted by the Padres, longtime closer Trevor Hoffman showed he could play the obsolete-technology game by sending a two-word telegraph to owner John Moores.
3. Even though he owns multiple properties in the Knoxville area, there's no way Jon Gruden would ever consider the Tennessee job.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Having survived his first WSP week by the thinnest of margins – the Chargers' thwarting of the Chiefs' two-point conversion try in the final minute – rap legend Luke Campbell is looking to turn down the volume on the drama. So he's banking on the NFL's version of a sure thing: The Detroit Lions as losers, specifically at Carolina on Sunday. "Matt Millen put the jinx on Detroit," Campbell says. "When he broke the Rooney Rule, when he refused to interview a brother for the head coaching job and gave it to [Steve] Mariucci, that cursed the franchise. It's just like what happened in Tampa Bay when they (screwed) over Doug Williams. The curse wasn't lifted until they hired a black coach, Tony Dungy, and it lifted even more when they started playing that black quarterback (Shaun King). For Detroit, even though Millen is gone, the curse will exist until they have a black coach or (permanent) GM. Until then, they will always be straight garbage."
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
On Sunday, Lindsay Gottlieb makes her coaching debut for UC Santa Barbara with a home game against the University of San Diego, and she rates her nervousness quotient as a 9½ on a scale of 10. "Right behind that, though, is my level of concern over whether my 'Gaucho Madness' playmakers are going to put up some numbers this weekend and make a playoff run," Gottlieb says. "In terms of how nervous I am about that, I'd say it's about a '9.' " She's a lot more anxious after her 99-94 defeat to Jabba the Hut!, which dropped Gaucho Madness to 5-5 with four regular season games remaining. After getting into a huge hole thanks to strong Thursday night efforts by Jabba's Jay Cutler and Kellen Winslow, Gottlieb made a furious comeback on Monday night (with Steve Breaston and Neil Rackers) that fell short. She also got big weeks from Ricky Williams and Tony Gonzalez but was done in by subpar performances from Aaron Rodgers, Braylon Edwards and Bernard Berrian, the latter pulling a Blutarsky (0.0).
This week Gottlieb faces a stacked Bolts team which includes Matt Ryan, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, Eddie Royal, LaDainian Tomlinson, Brandon Jacobs and Chris Cooley. She's banking on bounce-backs by Rodgers, Berrian and Edwards and the triumphant return of Willie Parker. She also, on my advice, made some future-driven roster moves: Justin Fargas for would-be sleeper sensation Ryan Torain (out for the year with a torn knee ligament) and Brady Quinn for Anthony Gonzalez. All in all, it should be a very tense Sunday. Says Gottlieb: "I may be the only Division I coach who goes sprinting to the media room after her game to check out the NFL stats."
My buddy Malibu is far less stressed about his fantasy team, Hand of Doom, which improved to 7-3 (third in the 12-team league) with his third consecutive victory, an 81-point thrashing of Feverdog. Drew Brees, Breaston, Ryan and the Panthers' defense were among the biggest scorers for Hand of Doom, which faces The Suck It Easy's (apparently a reference to lollipops), a team with Adrian Peterson, Reggie Wayne and a whole lot of dubiousness (Jake Delhomme, Jonathan Stewart, Javon Walker, Jeremy Shockey). For this week, I advised Malibu to keep riding Tim Hightower (at Seattle) over Deuce McAllister (at Kansas City). For the future, on my recommendation, he replaced Torain with Jags receiver Matt Jones. "I can win this league," Malibu says. "I wish I could say the same about the Chargers."
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
OK, so I was a little delirious on Monday night, as I usually am after banging out Morning Rush and 32 Questions without much sleep in between, but was that Cardinals-49ers ending in the spaceship in the middle of the desert totally surreal or what? So many questions in the aftermath: Did Mike Singletary really throw his offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, under the bus in his postgame press conference? Memo to Coach Singletary: You are the head coach, and thus ultimately responsible for green-lighting, if not calling, plays in that situation. If you choose to abdicate that authority, that in and of itself is a decision, and you need to own it, especially with cameras rolling.
How weird is it that Martz, whose reputation is that he regards the running game as a bothersome distraction from his aerial artistry, was apparently the one who called for the consecutive handoffs at game's end? Was he trying to show that his reputation is undeserved? Finally, why is nobody talking about the fact that it took the folks in the replay booth far too long to call for a review of Frank Gore's lunge for the goal line? The play began with 20 seconds; by the time it occurred to the people upstairs to signal the referee to stop the clock for a review, four seconds remained. In that situation the officials need to err on the side of stopping the clock to review a questionable play, and they need to do so decisively. With all of that said: Bravo, Niners. You should be two games back of Arizona in the NFC West with seven to play; instead, you are a laughingstock.
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Cadillac Williams, who returned to the Bucs' active roster this week, 14 months after suffering a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. I spent the first day of the 2005 NFL draft with Cadillac in his hometown of Gadsden, Ala., and loved the way he ran with purpose and passion from his first NFL carry. His injury was described as career-threatening, but I suspect that he attacked his rehab with similar intensity. I'm also hoisting a few pints of bitter for drummer Mitch Mitchell, who died Wednesday at 62. Mitchell, whose brilliant work with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and other rock and roll legends will live on, had just finished a gig in Portland with a Hendrix tribute band. I hope that beginning this morning, he, Jimi and Noel Redding will hold hands and watch the sun rise from the bottom of the sea.
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Basketball season is here, and it's an exciting time to be a hoops fan in Berkeley, with Joanne Boyle guiding the senior-dominated Golden Bears (ranked No. 9 in both polls, and having just signed a seven-player class rated No. 1 in the nation for 2009-10) and Mike Montgomery taking over a men's team that will certainly receive its best coaching since the glory days of Pete Newell. Haas Pavilion will be busy all weekend, with the women hosting Albany on Friday and Nevada on Sunday, sandwiched around Montgomery's Cal debut against Pacific on Saturday. Oh, and last Saturday at the L.A. Coliseum? I don't really want to talk about it.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS
A little more than a third of the way through the Football League Championship season, Reading has positioned itself nicely for a return trip to the English Premier League in 2009-10. The Royals' 3-0 thrashing of Derby County at Madejski Stadium moved them into third place, a point behind Birmingham City. (The league's first- and second-place finishers at season's end receive automatic promotions, with a playoff for the third spot.) Reading, which owns the league's best goal differential (plus-20) and best home record (7 wins, zero losses, one draw), is at Sheffield United on Saturday. The Royals rolled Derby thanks to a 20th-minute goal by Noel Hunt (who glanced home a corner from his brother, Stephen) and a pair of second-half tallies by Kevin Doyle, his 50th and 51st for the club.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"I loved your story about Steven Jackson. It was a similar scene in my living room as Obama was projected to win the election, except I'm white. I can't even imagine what African-Americans are feeling right now, after 400 years of struggling to get their rights, they get a president. This is truly a moment in history that should be celebrated by Democrats, Republicans; blacks and whites alike. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if everyone will accept President-elect Obama, but let's hope that everyone recognizes how special a day Nov. 4, 2008 was, whether it's now or in the future. Thank you for a wonderful article, I hope you will continue to produce such excellent work."
I've heard it suggested that, at least in the last 40 years, Nov. 4, 2008 ranks with Sept. 11, 2001 as the most significant our nation has experienced. We'll let history be the judge, but I do know that Jackson and many of his NFL peers regard Obama's election as a massively consequential event.
"Well done sir … I expected you to be a total burro about the election results, but you covered it with class and restraint. Thank you."
Thanks to you as well, and for the record, I enjoy eating a good burro far more than being one.
"Ugh, you over-Obama'ed on that one. Although he didn't get my vote, he will get my support. My daughter asked me what George Bush was going to do now that he was not going to be president, and I told her, 'He's going to sit down, kick up his feet, and say, "Thank God that's over!" in Crawford.' Now someone else has a big target on their back. Being president is like being quarterback, you always get the blame …"
If so, we just had eight years of Ryan Leaf.
" 'For Jackson and so many other NFL players, Barack Obama's ascendance to the U.S. presidency was a landmark moment they never saw coming as kids. For people of his parents' generation and background, it took on a different level of incomprehensibility.' Yet, after decades and decades of fighting for equality for African-American … 70 percent of the African-American community in California voted (Yes) on Proposition 8 to (invalidate the legality of marriage) for Gay and Lesbian couples. That's a very sad twist of irony in my mind."
I hear you. It's regrettable. But that fight is far from over.
"Hey Mike! Great writing as usual, I have sat in secret at work for the last two years reading about your political views. You mixed in good points with your take on the week's previous NFL action. As a Republican, I can tell you even I was disappointed with the dog-and-pony show the Republican party through out there in 2008. McCain and Palin were just another version of Mondale and Ferraro: Worthless! I found out that some of my stances have changed as I sit and watch our economy spiral out of control and our brave men and women give up there lives in the wrong country ( Maybe Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria would've been better choices to hunt down terrorists since that's where they are at) but that doesn't take away from the fact that our soldiers have brought freedom to people who have never known it. Now, I just sit in sheer amazement as my wife's ex-husband who works in construction comes to me with tears in his eyes and asks me for money (I know, Jerry!, Jerry!, Jerry!). I for one am going to give Obama a chance and support him and just pray to God that he can help lead us out of these bleak times. By the way, I hope my Colts can prove you wrong against the Steelers this week."
Seaford, Del. So far, so good on the Colts. Now all the President-elect has to do is be Peyton Manningesque …
"Hey Silver, I usually really like your stuff (the Jay Cutler article was particularly good), but I think your comment 'Will Hank Baskett offer to share his fiancé with fellow wideouts DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis' was disgusting. You could have kept it at 'will he soon start donning a velvet smoking jacket around the locker room?' and still gotten your point across without crossing the line into the grotesque. Keep it classy dude. There's no need for that raunchy stuff – particularly with the age group of many of your readers. Thanks."
Respectfully, I have to laugh at your outrage. You're telling me that Kendra Wilkinson, who recently emerged from a relationship with 83-year-old Hugh Hefner and two other women that was featured on a reality show, is the sensitive swinging Playmate? I'm pretty sure she and Baskett can handle an obviously facetious goof on her illustrious past.
"I can feel all the symptoms. A deep chill, although I am dripping sweat. Shaky hands. A racing heart beat. At random intervals I toss up both arms and scream 'Touchdown Falcons!'. Staring at the television without blinking for so long I need to wear shades to protect my eyes from cathode blindness. A deep compulsion to go forth to the Dome to catch a glimpse of the new king and be a part of his kingdom. I cannot stop this bone deep man-crush that has begun in my soul. And do you know why, Mr Silver? Because Matt Ryan rules the known world and a goodly percentage of the unknown world. He comes in the name of peace, but is unafraid of war. He's a lover and a fighter and is not afraid to knock a sucker out. … He discovers new stars while astrally projecting at night. He eschews turning water into wine and focuses on more difficult miracles like making Michael Jenkins fantasy relevant. He has assimilated the zone blitz, the two-deep cover zone and the end zone. Further resistance is futile. Global warming has been erased by the new Matty Ice Age that he has begun. All hail the once and future king of football. Long may he reign supreme. PS: I feel better now. Had to get that off my chest. Being an Atlanta fan means he'll probably choke to death on a chicken bone while propositioning an undercover police officer in Miami, but until that time, I'm dreaming big time, baby!"
Atlanta That's good stuff. Care to weigh in on Baskett and Wilkinson?
"Hey Mike, your Anti-Raider bias is showing again. Putting the Raiders below the Chiefs with one win; the Rams who got clocked; and even the Bengals with one win. … what' s wrong, still owed money by Al Davis, or are you really the long lost twin brother of Mike Shanahan?"
Rapid City, S.D.
So this is what it has come to for Raider Nation: Arguing that they should be moved up to, what, No. 27 in '32 Questions'? That's what I'd call Silver and Bleak …
"Yo, Silver, how can you put the 49ers that low when they put up such a fight against the Cardinals? Below the Bengals? Are you kidding? I know they should have thrown it and they have some problems to solve but they look much better than the Bengals. You're an idiot."
San Anselmo, Calif.
Watch out, Joseph – if you want that coveted 27th slot, you're going to have to fight it out with my man Max from Marin.
"Mike, let me save you much stress if you heed this advice: Don't get the puppy. My wife, six years ago, was upset because she thought she couldn't get pregnant. I agreed to get a puppy, falling for the 'I'll take care of it, you won't have to do a thing' line. Well … six years, and three boys later … (baby 4 on the way) guess who goes out with the dog when it is raining, snowing, cold or hot? Yep … Me! Our political differences aside, don't let your house 'go to the dogs'! You'll thank me for it … Trust me! I feel more strongly about this than when the Steelers let Joey Porter go and I said they made the right move … (still feel that way, incidentally). Stay strong!"
I'm trying, but the President-elect's speech didn't help. If my daughter cracks (against the onslaught of pressure from her mom and brothers), it's all over.
"Hold out on that dog … Don't give in! I am living that mistake! And why is it that so many people spell lose loose?"
I don't know, but all this puppy talk is making me uptight.
"Mike: FYI, the word 'creeped' is actually acceptable. 'Crept' is the more recognized as 'correct,' but 'creeped' is accepted as a legit variant. (I'm an editor, so when I saw that email exchange, I just had to respond). Thanks."
Springville, Utah Sweet. I am an accidental genius.
"I was looking at the pick up game. Did you really had Falcons over New Orlean? Explain that please? Falcons dont even have defense and bree is the highest pass yard QB and Among the most touchdown. Bree is going to have an easy night."
I don't know what created more confusion: Atlanta's defense against 'Bree', or your email's relentless aversion to the letter 'S.'
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
In the month since Tony Romo broke his right pinkie, the Dallas Cowboys' "Super Bowl or Bust" bandwagon has skidded dangerously out of control. Will it end up in a ditch, or will the quarterback's expected return for Sunday night's game against the rival Redskins get Big D back on the road to glory? We get our answer from one of his former flames, Carrie Underwood, who hypothetically re-works her hit "Jesus Take The Wheel" (written by Brett James, Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson) with Jerry Jones and his anxious employees singing background:
He was drivin', overtimin' in a game at Arizona
On a hot October day
Four and one and Pacman Jones still in the lineup with Roy Williams on the way
Fifty yards to go when Chike Okeafor got right up in his face
It'd been a short sweet year
Fans had some beers in their gut and they didn't pay attention
Their QB was in the grasp
And before they knew it Mat McBriar's big right foot was in a cast
Even with Favre sayin' "You can play through pain"
He couldn't even take Novocain
It was sooo bad
We couldn't move the ball with Brad
Tony take the wheel
With your healed hand
Cause we can't do this without you
So give this team a chance
Save us from this road we're on
Tony take the wheel
It was still in a big splint when we went to play the Jints
And Brooks Bollinger came in
Jerry cried when he saw him throw that first interception while T.O. just dropped his chin
And for the first time in a long time he missed Chad Hutchinson
He said I'm sorry for the fact
I didn't sign Chris Simms
But now I need you back
If we are gonna win
Tony take the wheel
With your healin' hand
Cause we can't do this without you
We're really screwed
So give this team a chance
Save us from this road we're on
Ooh, Tony take the wheel
Ooh, don't let it go
Give us a fightin' chance
You can take us to the dance
Take us to the dance
Tony take the wheel
Ooh, take it, take it for me
Ooh ooh wah ah ooh ooh ooh