Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: Carolina Panthers’ signing Eric Reid a wise decision

Ron Rivera comments on Eric Reid’s ejection for targeting

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera talks about Eric Reid's claims on excessive drug testing, as well as Reid's ejection during the Pittsburgh Steelers game.
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Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera talks about Eric Reid's claims on excessive drug testing, as well as Reid's ejection during the Pittsburgh Steelers game.

I don’t have Eric Reid’s phone number. But if I get it after the season begins, I envision hearing this message: “Hi, this is Eric and I can’t come to the phone because I’m being drug tested.”

Reid played 13 games for the Carolina Panthers last season, and says he was drug tested seven times. So at least one Panther led the league in something (drug-test percentage).

Reid, a former safety for the San Francisco 49ers, was at the forefront of the take-a-knee movement. He began right after, and knelt right next to the instigator, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Reid became a free agent after the 2017 season, and even though he was one of the league’s better safeties, he was ignored and unsigned when the 2018 season began. The danger for some teams was that Reid would continue to take a knee, a knee that to Reid was a platform to call attention to racial inequality.

This story feels like an antique. By the end of next season, taking a knee won’t be newsworthy. It’s not now. I offer background only because it’s the reason Reid was still available after the 2018 season began.

I’d been writing since the start of training camp that the Panthers should sign him. Carolina was weak at safety, and they did sign Reid when safety Da’Norris Searcy went down, and on injured reserve, after multiple concussions.

Some Carolina fans criticized the move. Some said Reid would be a distraction. They were wrong.

Every time I write this I get ripped, but Reid had a good season, as the three-year, $22 million contract he signed Monday attests.

Reid is a big hitter and moves well and called a lot of Carolina’s defensive sets. His employers like him, as do his teammates.

I credit owner David Tepper for having the guts last season to sign Reid. Tepper is strong enough to do what he believes is right. I haven’t known many billionaires, but those I know operate similarly. Do what you know, or feel, is right, and don’t worry about detractors.

Like every other team in the NFL, the New England Patriots included, Carolina’s roster needs work.

But the Panthers made a good move Monday, and they have less work to do than they did when the week began.

Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid replies to a question about how he feels when kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem during the team's open locker room period following practice on Wednesday, October 31, 2018.

Charlotte All-Star Game memories: ’Nique’s miss, Little Richard

What I remember about the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte in 1991: Dominique Wilkins missed a dunk for the Eastern Conference, and opponents and teammates wouldn’t let him forget it; Little Richard hung around courtside, and I thought, “Man, that’s Little Richard in our town,” and if you like the essence of rock ‘n’ roll, you understand; Craig Hodges of the Chicago Bulls went on a 3-point tear; there were complaints from visitors that Charlotte was too sleepy to host a game.

Remember those early Super Bowls, when reporters would interview players such as New York Jets’ quarterback Joe Namath at poolside while he soaked up sun? The Super Bowl had yet to become a behemoth. In 1991, the NBA All-Star Game had not.

Sunday’s game, and the festivities that surround it all week, will be a behemoth. The game is expected to generate more money than any Charlotte event ever has. The manner in which Charlotte handles it is important. Organizations that sponsor other events, events such as the NFL draft, will assess our work.

Some cities handle big events, and others are overmatched. In 1991, some basketball players looked at Charlotte as Sacramento without the bright lights. Bars closed early, good hotels were rare and there’s a quote that many remember but nobody has been able to find that goes like this: The best thing about having the all-star game in Charlotte is that we won’t have to come back for 25 years.”

As it turns out, the wait was 28 years. State politics got in the way.

Charlotte will be, for most of a week, the epicenter of basketball. The game has become international, and will attract visitors from countries we can neither spell nor identify on a blank map. We’ll also get LeBron, Durant, the Greek Freak, Kemba, Kyrie, Harden, Embid, and every known Curry. The Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker will start in the game and compete in the 3-point shooting contest and Charlotte rookie Miles Bridges will compete in the Slam Dunk contest.

Here are the starters for the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, Feb 15 to Feb. 17, 2019.

Have you ever been downtown (you can call it uptown, but I don’t have to, and yeah, I know the history) when NBA stars are visiting?

The Miami Heat once was an all-star team unto itself with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. I went to their downtown hotel before they climbed into their bus for the quick ride to the arena. In the hotel lobby there were more security guards than point and shooting guards. Fans filled the wide lobby. Some wanted pictures and autographs, others merely a long look. Either way, they were mesmerized.

Charlotte will get that, multiplied, this week. The All-Star Game attracts stars from outside the sport. Isn’t that the woman you saw on the screen at the theater, and isn’t that the guy who appears weekly on your TV? Man, that woman over there looks like the woman you paid more than $100 to see at Spectrum Center. And doesn’t he play for the Dallas Cowboys?

Some fans are going to complain about our guests, and I get it. Basketball festivities are coming to town and you, a resident of the city, can’t get a ticket to see them. There will be parties you can’t get in. It will be almost like being in Atlanta when Super Bowl 53 was going on. Outsiders came in and got in. You didn’t.

When the arena was built, the idea was not to make sure everybody local got a seat. The idea was to attract events such as this and fill hotels, bars and restaurants as well as Spectrum Center, and hit all those guests with a nice little sales tax.

Maybe you’ll chose to avoid crowds and sit this one out. Maybe you’ll walk the crowded sidewalks and hope to see somebody whose work you admire.

But I wouldn’t count on hearing Little Richard sing “Tutti Frutti” Or “Lucille.” He’s 86.

It’s time for Daytona -- and spring training

I used to go to the Daytona 500 every year, and I always volunteered to drive. Of course, I wanted to save the company money.

I liked Daytona Beach, Fla., and Daytona International Speedway. The weather was warmer there than in Charlotte. And because the race was the season’s first, I didn’t trail all the full-time NASCAR writers in knowledge and context. At the time, there were many such writers.

One problem, however, was that everywhere in Daytona Beach you went, somebody was there. I stayed in Lake Mary, Fla., because the crowds were slimmer, the hotels were nicer, and I felt I could better prepare for the next day while quietly collecting Marriott points.

Daytona Beach was only 40 miles northeast of Lake Mary. But to beat race-day traffic, I usually left for the 2:30 p.m. race while it was still dark or close to it. By the time the race ended, I felt as if I had earned a reward.

My reward was spring training. I don’t know if any of you have debated going, but never quite got around to it. My advice: Get around to it.

Fifteen teams play in Florida’s Grapefruit League. Pitchers and catchers are reporting Feb. 11-15, position players Feb. 15-20. The first exhibition is Feb. 22.

But I didn’t require games. I required sunshine and infield grounders, the pop a fastball makes when it hits a thick glove, and ballparks where every piece of green grass stood at attention.

I needed to relax, and spring training was as relaxing as the beach, and often less crowded. The New York Yankees were the exception; they always drew a crowd in Tampa. Many of the fans that lived in or near Tampa had grown up with the team.

The Atlanta Braves trained at Walt Disney World, and one lazy morning the fans in front of me, all guys, had a meeting. Come on. Meetings are where you live, not in spring training bleachers.

Alas, these weren’t fans. These were autograph-seeking, and -selling, adults. They brought boxes of new baseballs, and one guy assigned his crew to different parts of the ballpark and different players. You get his autograph and you get his and you go there and – and this time be aggressive because that guy doesn’t usually sign more than a few. Make sure you get to the front.

This was the antithesis of relaxing. If you wonder why some athletes don’t sign, this is it. The autograph seekers and sellers also provide cover for athletes who don’t want to sign for anybody.

If I ran the world, you could not ask somebody younger than you are for an autograph. But I don’t, not yet. Also, that wouldn’t be fair to Charlotte Hornets’ point guard Tony Parker.

The best days at spring training where those on which you could sit and watch and slowly take it all in, and the best place to do it was Baseball City, where the Kansas City Royals trained. Baseball City was in Davenport, Fla., near Lakeland and Winter Haven, Fla., about an hour and a half south of Lake Mary.

The day I went, three of us had a media credential, and we outnumbered fans. All right, we didn’t, but we were in the ballpark. There were no more than 20 fans. Not surprisingly, Kansas City left for Arizona to train after the 2002 season.

The day I was there, a day sunny and perfect, a man stood by himself not too far from the third-base line. I had an empty notebook, and wanted to write a column, and the man obviously knew the players, and they knew him.

I introduced myself. The man, who in 1980 had hit .390 for the Royals with 24 home runs and 118 RBI, and was in Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, introduced himself back.

George Brett, nice to meet you. We watched mostly and talked some, and I thanked him for his time, walked to my car to begin the nine-hour or so drive to Charlotte.

Brett stayed. If you don’t have to leave, why would you?

AAF has a legit role

I know we don’t need more football. The NFL season runs from September to February, and every time the league thinks you might forget about it, it sends something new your way.

I’m pulling for the Alliance of American Football anyway. The AAF made its debut Saturday. CBS televised two games, and those games drew a rating of 2.1. The Houston Rockets played the Oklahoma City Thunder at the same time on ABC, James Harden versus former teammate Russell Westbrook, dueling MVPs. The NBA game on ABC drew a 2.0.

We like new, as anybody who tries to get into a recently opened Charlotte bar or restaurant will attest. Sustaining popularity will be the new league’s challenge. When was the last time a new sport succeeded? Do we have room, in our lives, to accommodate another?

Also, who will be the first to start an AAF fantasy league?

The league has eight teams, and good news for Charlotte fans – Atlanta lost its opener. Other teams are in Arizona, Birmingham, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., Orlando, Fla., Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Diego.

Some smart, smart people are behind the league, among them Bill Polian, a Charlotte-area resident who was the Panthers’ initial general manager.

Steve Spurrier coaches the Orlando Apollos, who beat Atlanta 40-6. Spurrier called a Philly Special, which in the AAF is an Orlando Special – handoff, flip, pass, touchdown.

You either like Spurrier or can’t stand him. I wrote a column about him once that he didn’t like and he called to ask where I’d played college football. He said that I knew so much about the game I surely must have played. I told him I didn’t play. I’m sorry, we must have a bad connection, where’d you play? I didn’t. Thought so! Spurrier said, and hung up.

I like the man. If you spend time with Spurrier, and you’re bored or can’t find something to write, the fault is yours.

When I go to Carolina’s training camp, I see players who are an inch too short or a pound too light or a half-second too slow to make the roster. They are close. They are so close. But they don’t survive the cut and fail to make the roster.

Now they have a league of their own, and I hope they make it. If jobs are created, how can you be against it?

Short takes: Duke’s comeback, Warriors’ challengers

Tell me again how Duke did that to Louisville? How did Duke rally on the road, against a good team, from a 23-point deficit? Use small words and talk slowly. And I saw it…

Dangerous Donnie Marshall, a middleweight from Buffalo, N.Y., who fights out of Raleigh, gets what every boxer wants – exposure. Marshall will fight Sebastian Fundora Saturday at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. FOX will televise the fight. They’ll be the first fight the card, at 8 p.m. (EST).

Fundora, 21, is nicknamed the Towering Inferno. He’s 6-foot-6, extraordinarily tall for a middleweight (160 pounds). He’s 11-0 with seven knockouts.

Marshall is 10-0 with six knockouts. He’s 30, and this will be his first professional fight outside North Carolina. He’s a good boxer, who is willing, and capable, of mixing it up.

He is the first fighter signed by Christy Martin, the longtime women’s lightweight champion, and Charlotte boxing promoter. She’ll put on a boxing card in Charlotte Feb. 23 at CenterStage@NoDa…

I just watched the last episode of season six of “Ray Donovan.” Best show on TV, I believe. Season six was set in New York, and was bleak and violent and compelling and predictably good...

If you got to pick one team to challenge the Golden State Warriors, who would it be? I’m not saying the team will challenge the Warriors, but of the remaining 29 teams, who is most likely?

Oklahoma City is among the favorites. Milwaukee and Toronto also are. Despite the numbers, I can’t go with Denver or with Portland. Without Victor Oladipo, I can’t nominate Indianapolis. There are nights when Boston looks capable, nights such as Tuesday when they handled Philadelphia.

But I don’t think the NBA’s second-best team is Boston.

I think, after the 76ers are able to adjust to the acquisition of Tobias Harris, they will be. Harris is tall and talented, and he’ll fit…

I was at the Daytona 500 when Kyle Larson made his debut. I watched him all that week and thought, “This guy will win championships.” I still believe that…

I picked the winners of NFL games all season, and I can’t stop. So last week, I picked Manchester United to beat Fulham 2-0 in the English Premier League, and United won 3-0. I didn’t say so, but it’s pretty obvious that United was my Lock of the Week. So, I’m 1-0 in picks and in Locks.

This week, the Salt Lake City Stallions of the AAF are playing the Birmingham Iron in Birmingham. The Iron beat Memphis 26-0 last week, and the Stallions lost to Arizona 38-22.

I like the Iron not merely to win, but to cover. However, I couldn’t find a betting line.

So, I have Birmingham by 10 over Salt Lake City. The Iron are my Lock of the Week.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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