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Cosby's words of wisdom then sound empty now

  • Written by Bob Rakow

When the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision was commemorated, comedian Bill Cosby gave a speech at an NAACP awards ceremony.

Cosby’s words were rather controversial, as he called on blacks in America to take responsibility for their own lives.

 The comedian talked about elevated school dropout rates for inner city black students and criticized low-income blacks for not using the opportunities the civil rights movement won for them.

 He went on to say that many blacks fail themselves and their community as a result of unplanned pregnancies, poor parenting, a lack of education, non-standard English, counter-culture dress and involvement in crime.

Some folks (many whites, of course) agreed with Cosby’s words. Conversely, he angered much of the black community. Either way, his commentary stirred vigorous debate, which is usually good thing.

Agree or disagree, people paid attention because Cosby had gravitas. We loved him for his body of work that dates back more than 30 years to “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” He’s an author, a popular standup comedian, the star of a hit television show and frequent guest speaker.

Today, however, Cosby career is in shambles and his powerful words of a decade ago seem empty.

It’s impossible to turn on the news or open a newspaper/newsmagazine without seeing the latest about Cosby’s alleged indiscretions.

Everything has unraveled for Dr. Huxtable in the past month or so, and as the accusations swirl, he isn’t vigorously denying much. That’s typically not a good sign.

There are too many accusations to list in this limited space, but one complaint was lodged by a 55-year-old woman sued Cosby claiming sexual battery and infliction of emotional distress for allegedly molesting her in a bedroom at the Playboy Mansion when she was 15 years old.

Cosby is counter-suing the woman, claiming she is attempting to extort money from him.

In recent weeks, 20 other women have come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault—charges that began to surface a decade ago when the former director of operations for Temple's women's basketball team sued him for drugging her and assaulting her in 2004.

The comedian has not been criminally charged, and many of the claims are so old, they are barred by statutes of limitations.

Cosby is big supporter of Temple, his alma mater. But on Dec.1, he resigned from the university’s board of trustees following pressure to do so.

How sad. Cosby was rich enough, successful enough to make a difference at his school. He often attended basketball games, wore school garb. He’s proud to be a Temple Owl. But ultimately he was forced to walk away under a shroud of controversy.

It’s interesting to read Cosby’s comments of a decade ago given the events of the past month.

“No longer is a person embarrassed because they're pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of the unmarried child,” Cosby said in 2004.

He talked about the lack of parenting in the old neighborhoods and chided today’s parents for being unaware of their children’s whereabouts.

“I'm talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two? Where were you when he was twelve? Where were you when he was eighteen, and how come you don't know he had a pistol? And where is his father, and why don't you know where he is? And why doesn't the father show up to talk to this boy?”

He was right, of course. And his words still ring true today. And at a time when racial unrest dominates the news following hostilities in Ferguson, Mo., Cosby might have had something to lend to the debate.

Not now, though, and that’s a shame.

Well-known attorney Martin D. Singer has dismissed the allegations, labeling them "unsubstantiated, fantastical stories.”

He added that “it makes no sense that not one of these new women who just came forward for the first time now ever asserted a legal claim back at the time they allege they had been sexually assaulted.”

It’s possible, I suppose, for all of the allegations to be false. But a Nov. 19 article in the The Atlantic magazine appropriately addressed that issue.

 “It is not unheard of for celebrities to be targeted for false allegations. The Cosby case is different, though, in its sheer volume and lack of ulterior motive—no civil suit, no criminal charges,” the story said.

“A defense of Cosby requires that one believe that several women have decided to publicly accuse one of the most powerful men in recent Hollywood history of a crime they have no hope of seeing prosecuted, and for which they are seeking no damages. The alternative is to see one of the most celebrated public fathers of our time, and one of the great public scourges of black morality, revealed as a serial rapist.”

That’s the tough part for those who admire Cosby, who viewed as a thoughtful man, a thinking man—not just an entertainer.

So often, we shrug our shoulders and offer a collective, “What did you expect” when a millionaire athlete, rapper, rock star, Hollywood starlet, destroys their career as a result of drugs, criminal acts, domestic issues and so on.

But this is Cosby. America’s dad. Jell-O Pudding. It’s a sad state of affairs.

Remembering Jane Byrne - This fighting mayor sure packed a punch

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineI was fortunate my first assignment to cover Chicago City Hall in 1978 occurred at the same time that Jane M. Byrne, the former Chicago commissioner of Consumer Services announced her candidacy for mayor against Mayor Mike Bilandic and the Chicago machine.
Byrne, who died Friday, looked to be a longshot. I have written much about her career online (www.TheMediaOasis.com). But Jane Byrne was a dynamo earning the nickname “Fighting Jane.”
Byrne was motivated to run for mayor because of revenge against the “Cabal of Evil Men” whom she identified as Ald. Ed Vrdolyak (a convicted felon), the surviving and brilliant Ed Burke, and the late representative of the Chicago mob, Ald. Fred Roti.
Vrdolyak, Burke and Roti, Byrne alleged, had corrupted Bilandic, who became mayor after the death of Richard J. Daley.
No one believed Byrne could win. Burke blew her off saying she was like is aunt. Vrdolyak scoffed. Roti just took orders. And Bilandic fumbled through one of the worst-run campaigns for election I have ever seen in 40 years of covering Chicago politics.
Bilandic’s stumbles were driven by his failure to deal with a record snowfall that hammered Chicagoland at the end of 1978 and early 1979. Instead of removing snow, Bilandic gave a sweetheart deal contract to his former deputy mayor, Ken Sain, who produced a 90-page report ($1,000 a page) that basically said when it snows, shovel it.
Bilandic continued his tumble, ordering the CTA trains to skip past black inner city stops to get white voters back to their homes. Most were suburbanites. Black commuters simmered as they watched train after trains speed past while they froze in the bitter January arctic chill.
Then, Bilandic promised to remove snow from the white neighborhoods, announcing a plan to shovel neighborhood streets urging homeowners to park their cars in local parking lots so the plows could race through. But the snowplows dumped the snow in the same parking lots, burying the parked cars.
Next, as the snow crippled O’Hare Airport and brought it to an unprecedented standstill, Bilandic and his socialite wife, Heather Morgan, stood at O’Hare Airport and accepted an award claiming that O’Hare was one of the best run airports in the country. Behind the Bilandics, as they posed for pictures, were mounds of luggage and stranded commuters who were stuck at the airport for days.
Byrne got the support of Mike Royko, whose columns gave her the 30,000 votes that helped put her over the top in the election.
After winning, the humiliated aldermen bowed, fearing the new mayor would strip them of privilege, clout and perquisites.
Byrne tapped Aldermen Bill Lipinski, Marty Oberman and John Aiello to run her administration. But the trio stumbled so badly, Byrne cut a deal with Vrdolyak to take their place.
All the reforms Byrne promised went out the window. Byrne allied herself with the same cabal that ran Bilandic’s failed administration, including the controversial housing kingpin, Charlie Swibel.
Byrne took her rage against the media focusing on me because I was from the Southwest side, “Daley Territory,” believing I was his ally. Her attacks against me were unprecedented and relentless.
The pinnacle was when her husband, Jay McMullen, threatened to punch me in the nose, pushing my career into the media stratosphere, which I loved.
Yet, I have to say with sincerity, we miss you Jane Byrne. You deserved far more respect than you received.

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Is new Cubs pitcher Lester worth $155 million? Hell yes!

  • Written by Bob Rakow

On Oct. 2, 1984, my college buddy Paul Gember bought a used car and was itching to drive. He sat with me in the lounge at Moraine Valley Community College practically begging me to ride with him.

 

I wouldn’t budge. The Cubs were about to play in Game 1 of the National League playoffs and nothing was keeping me from watching the game. I wasn’t missing a pitch. This was a rare occasion—Cubs and playoff baseball. It was not to be missed.

 

Just a week earlier, I lugged my boom box to work so I could listen to the Cubs clinch the National League East with a win in Pittsburgh. I was washing pots and pans at Jenny’s Smorgasbord in Oak Lawn (later the Harley-Davidson shop) and listened to the last few innings after the eatery closed.

 

What a moment.

 

The team that lost every year since I began following them as a young boy won a division. Rick Sutcliffe threw a two-hitter. What a gem. The ace that had been acquired from the Cleveland Indians carried the Cubs that year.

 

When I wrapped up the pots and pans that glorious night, I walked out of the restaurant to my dad’s waiting car.  I don’t remember what we said to one another, but it was one of those perfect moments. He’d waited nearly 40 years for the Cubs to do something, anything. He suffered through 1969.

 

We relished the moment.

 

Back to Paul Gember’s new car. He would not take no for answer and offered the ideal compromise. "I’ll drive us to Wrigley Field," he said. "You’re on,'' I told him, and we made the trek from Palos Hills to Wrigleyville listening to the Cubs game on the radio.

 

When we got there, we managed to get into a bar, and when the game ended, a woman poured a beer over my head. Cubs, 16, San Diego Padres, 6. Sutcliffe hit a home run. I was ecstatic. Wet, but ecstatic.

 

Five days later, I was bummed. The Cubs lost three straight games to the Padres, who were led by Steve Garvey. The final game was on a Sunday. I’ll never forget my dad cooking or baking something in the kitchen and refusing to watch the game. It hurt bad.

 

There have been other Cub playoff appearances, and they were disappointing. But nothing hurt like 1984 and the ball rolling under Leon Durham’s mitt. That was 30 years ago and I remember it like yesterday.

 

I thought about the Cubs joy and pain my dad and I suffered last week over the years when I texted my son with the most exciting news I’ve had as a Cub fan in several years. “The Cubs got Lester,” I texted. He knew already and held off texting me the news because he thought I had gone to bed.

 

Lester is Jon Lester. The top pitching free agent in the 2014 crop. He’s the guy who signs the first free-agent pitching contract so terms can be established for all the other free agent hurlers out there. Lester, as sports radio host Chet Coppock would say, sits atop the big, rock candy mountain. The crème de la crème.

 

The Cubs paid dearly to get him—six-years, $155 million dollars. Lot of money? You bet. Worth it? In the Cubs case, hell yes.

 

Lester is a winner. The kind of guy who could carry a team. He spent most of his career with the Boston Red Sox. Won the World Series with the team in 2007 and again in 2011. He spent part of last season with the Oakland A’s, but the baseball world has known for months that the he would be the prime free agent in the off-season.

 

And now he’s a Cub. I have trouble wrapping my head around that notion. Chicago teams, not just the Cubs, typically do not get the top players. They pay lip service to free agency while the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox and Angels among others are serious about winning and willing to spend the money needed to be competitive.

 

On the afternoon before he signed, four teams were still in the running for Lester’s services: the Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Los Angles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. Later in the day came word that the California teams were out of the running. Just as well. The Giants are the world champs and the Dodgers have the best pitcher in baseball.

 

So, Lester’s choices were to return to Boston—familiar territory where he’s had success and the fans love him—or take a chance in Chicago, where something is about to happen. Where Theo Epstein tore the whole ugly, losing mess to the ground and gathered top prospects that are finally ready to play in the big leagues.

 

Oh yeah, along the way he added one of the game’s best managers in Joe Maddon.

 

Some Cubs ripped Epstein over the past few years for his rebuilding strategy. They were sick of losing and argued that Epstein needed to sign some veteran players as soon as possible to make the team respectable. They wanted the short-term fix. Epstein wanted a team that is in a position to win every year. See the Chicago Blackhawks as an example.

 

Epstein was patient. He’s endured several losing seasons but introduced us to Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo on the major league level plus Kris Bryant and a host of others on the minor league level.

 

Addison Russell, the A’s top prospect, was brought to Chicago in a late-season trade last year. Last summer, the Cubs had four of the top 15 prospects in baseball, according to MLB.com, and eight among the top 100.

 

The future is bright. The future is now. Talk of the Cubs winning in a few years should be put to bed. Jon Lester doesn’t get signed so the team can win in 2017. Epstein just upped the ante. Lester is likely not his last off-season move.

 

It’s an exciting time to be a Cubs fan. Opening Day is April 5.

 

 

 

Mary Cate story hits home

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

Taekwondo is starting in ten minutes. We've got to leave right now!”

That was the scene in my house a few years ago and I was doing some of the commanding.

I was watching my then-preschooler struggle to get into her uniform. I wanted desperately to intervene, so I could hurry things along. However, she jerked away each time I reached for her saying, "Mommy...I can do it!"

            In her final attempt to pull her elbow through the sleeve, the fingernail on her thumb acted as a razor, slicing into her eye. She let out a whistling howl, sealed her eyes closed and hopped. Once subdued by my petition to help, she opened her eyes and I flinched. She had busted a blood vessel.

            "What!?" she said, looking back at me.

My grim expression was telling.

            I played it down. "Ugh, well, your eye looks a little red.” I said. That was an understatement. Try bloody Mary red!

“Does it hurt?" I asked.

            She said no and told me she was fine. Regrettably, when we arrived at Taekwondo, people weren’t exactly discrete about letting her know they noticed.

            "WHOA! What happened to your eye?" one kid said.

            Her eye may not have hurt but, her countenance showed her feelings were. She said everyone that pointed out her injury made her feel bad. Fortunately for her, the flaw was temporary and healed within a week.

If only things were that easy for my youngest daughter with special needs. She looks like a typical developing child but, she has an intellectual disability due to a FOXP1 gene mutation. It can be awfully uncomfortable observing her in social settings with those unfamiliar with her tendencies. Their squeamish body language and looks of confusion speak volumes. It’s as if they’re saying, “Hey kid? What’s wrong with you?” 

            I must admit, my infomercial explanation of her diagnosis is becoming more concise. Depending on the setting and applicable circumstances, it sounds like this…

            “Rhonda-Rene communicates using sign language, pictures, and gestures. Did I forget the frequent, excitably outbursts? Due to a speech impairment called Apraxia she can only verbalize a few words. Her lack of language doesn’t hinder her desire to engage people. She can be forward, unknowingly invading personal space. Being able to move is a necessity for her, it regulates a sensory disorder that requires she seek vestibular input through swinging, spinning, climbing, pushing etc. Because her developmental age is much younger than her chronological age, which is, it’s challenging for her to participate in certain social and academic activities without assistance. While she’s extremely affectionate, unless she initiates the contact, she may become tactile defensive.”

            I’ve made a vow that even if it’s done singularly, I’m determined to inform people of her condition so she’ll have a chance to be understood. Are we not all unique, fantastically flawed and desiring acceptance?

            I hope you’ve taken the opportunity to read the front page story I wrote about Kerry Ryan Lynch and her daughter Mary Cate, who has Apert Syndrome. If so, you might agree that their bulk-sized school assemblies are probably more efficient than my one-on-one’s in the park. They headline school events like rock stars, playing a ‘kindness’ message that’s applicable to everyone!

             Kerry and Mary Cate are blessed with an enormous responsibility. They’re on the ground, fighting a war against ignorance with the weapon of education. There are people who spend their entire lives searching for purpose. The Lynch family members not only know their purpose, they’re creating a map for people like me.

            It is my honor to identify with their journey. I’m grateful for having a platform that'll bring awareness to their story. I leave you with what I feel is the most powerful statement in Kerry’s Choose Kind presentation, “Everyone you know is facing a battle you know nothing about -- so be kind!” 

 

Game over and management drops the ball

  • Written by Bob Rakow

I got canned today.

 

Never saw it coming.

 

But beyond the shock of being without a job is the way that I found out I’d no longer be working for the Reporter.

 

I was working on a story when I received a text from a friend in the industry who told me that the bosses here decided to get rid of me. No one here took me aside to inform me, and I’m not sure if and when I would be told.

 

I’m making this up.

 

But a similar scenario turned out to be cold, hard reality for personalities at a Chicago sports radio station a few weeks ago.

 

For several months, I’ve been a loyal listener to the Game, an upstart sports station at 87.7 FM. The station came to the market in February facing some long odds. The signal was not especially strong, and there are two big-time sports radio stations on Chicago’s AM dial that have had years to establish their brand.

 

Still, Tribune Media owns the Game, so I thought they’d give it time to grow. Not in this “what have you done for me lately?” world. Sadly, the game clock runs out on the Game at the end of the year when the station goes off the air.

 

How did on-air personalities find out? They received texts while on the air that media writer Rob Feder had reported the station’s demise on his blog.

 

Amazing.

 

Afternoon hosts Ben Finfer and Alex Quigley were in the midst of talking Chicago sports when they got the news. There was no memo from management, no staff meeting.

 

Quigley, also a member of the station’s management team, was given the news the previous night but was told not to share it with colleagues. I’ve seen an online video of Finfer reacting to the news and Quigley’s body language says it all.

 

At one point, he apologizes for not sharing the news with his partner. What a horrible spot management put him in.

 

Finfer was damn mad and he didn’t hold back. I’m sure he was dumbfounded that he’ll be without a job come the New Year, but he had that rare opportunity to rip his bosses for all to hear. What was management going to do, fire him?

 

“I would think that somebody at least would have some respect for their employees and let them know, give them a heads up, that there’s something going on,” Finfer said.

 

He continued: “I don’t understand. Why is so hard to tell your employees they’re losing their jobs? Why did we have to find out that way? Isn’t there anybody here who has respect for employees?

 

“I had respect for our bosses until about five minutes ago. They haven’t even come in the room yet to say anything. I’ve never, ever had management treat me this way.”

 

The boss is Jimmy de Castro, the president and general manager of WGN, who’s had tremendous success in Chicago media, including running WLUP during the station’s heyday when Jonathan Brandmeier, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier were radio legends.

 

Apparently, despite all his success, de Castro never learned how to treat people.

 

Finfer continued his rant wondering how he and Quigley were supposed to complete the remainder of their show—talk Bulls, Bears and Hawks as if nothing happened.

 

He admitted that he had an idea things could end. After all, radio is an ever-changing, revenue-driven business. All he wanted was some respect and not to be embarrassed while on the air.

 

“Who does that? Are they even human,” Finfer asked during a nine-minute segment the day the word got out.

 

Finfer has worked in Chicago sports radio for many years as both a producer and fill-in/weekend on-air host. The move to a full-time afternoon shift at the Game was a big one for him, and I’ll bet he doesn’t regret it.

 

There are endless people in the media and entertainment business that took risks and gambles to advance their careers only to be disappointed by setbacks. Those same people tend to get up, dust off and chase the next opportunity. I’m willing to bet Finfer lands on his feet. Here’s hoping he does.

 

Ditto for the other personalities at the Game. Some are more well known that others, but I thought they did a fine job in a sports-crazed market without taking it too seriously or mistreating callers. Best of luck to all of them.

 

In an August interview with Feder, Jimmy de Castro sounded optimistic about the future of the Game. “I feel like Bugsy Siegel in early Vegas, living proof that time, money and a little water can build something special.”

 

Unfortunately, de Castro’s words rang hollow while Finfer and his colleagues are left holding the bag.