Good News Friday: Fewer American kids are in poverty. An actual good-news NFL story! And an awesome ad about books

And a Happy Friday to you all. I survived my son’s bris yesterday and am happy today he’ll never have to go through that again, though I think it was harder on me than him. Luckily our mohel was a little more qualified and professional than in “Seinfeld…”

Three news items/videos to send you into the weekend…

First, there’s very little positive news to report these days about poverty, and income equality. Thanks mostly to the recession of six years ago, and to Republicans who refuse to authorize any increase in spending on poor people and programs that might help them, it seems that more and more Americans are struggling.
But a rare positive report came out this week: According to Census data, the number of American children living in poverty has declined sharply. For the first time since 2006, 2013 saw a drop. The report showed significant improvements for children. The poverty rate for children under 18 declined last year for the first time since 2000, the bureau said, and the number of children in poverty fell by 1.4 million, to 14.7 million.

We are far, far away from actually feeding and caring for all of our kids in America. But hey, anytime fewer of them are poor and going hungry, I’m happy.

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**Next up, a story showing that not all NFL players and coaches are scumbags like Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy.
First, you might remember the story of Bengals player Devon Still, whose 4-year-old daughter has cancer. Well, to help raise money for pediatric cancer research, the NFL is selling Still’s jersey. And Saints coach Sean Payton stepped up big time, buying 100 jerseys at $100 apiece, which equals a $10,000 donation.
Way to go, Sean.

**And finally, this ad made me smile. It’s from Ikea, hyping a revolutionary new product called … a book.

I laughed throughout.

A few thoughts on NFL owner idiocy. John Oliver brilliant on the Scotland independence debate. And a dude races the London Tube.

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So with all the personal excitement in my life last week with the baby arrival and all, I realize I’m a little late in commenting on maybe the worst week in NFL history.
Between the Ray Rice beating his wife video, the details of Greg Hardy’s abuse coming out, and Adrian Peterson acting unconscionably by beating his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, it’s been a period of time where anyone and everyone has criticized NFL commish Roger Goodell, and the culture of this behemoth league.

The one thing that’s struck me that I don’t think has gotten enough attention is just how incredibly out of touch and lacking in common sense and decency NFL owners seem to be.
Specifically, three who were in the spotlight this week: Steve Bisciotti (above left), the Ravens owner who had the audacity to say that if his organization’s complete bungling of the Rice discipline leads to greater awareness of domestic violence, than it’ll all have been worth it. Seriously, that’s basically what he said.

Then there was Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who tearfully claimed that domestic violence was a hugely personal and important issue to him, yet allowed his franchise to suit up a linebacker, Hardy, who had already been convicted on domestic abuse charges, during the Panthers’ Week 1 game (he’s since been inactive.)

And finally, there’s owner Zygi Wilf up in Minnesota, who has decided that Adrian Peterson, who has had multiple child abuse/dangerment charges filed against him, only has to sit out one game despite his recent indictment. (Wednesday update: The Vikings indefinitely suspended Peterson Wednesday morning.)

As Keith Olbermann repeatedly, and devastatingly repeats in this blistering commentary, “A little boy was putting up his hands, trying to stop a professional football player from hitting him with a small tree branch.”

And yet Wilf thinks it’s fine for Peterson to play Sunday.

Three extraordinarily rich and successful men, who apparently are so isolated in their ivory tower that common sense and decency have flown so far over their heads. Three men who have so much power, power to do good, and yet obsfuscate and excuse the despicable behavior of men whose paychecks they happily sign each week.
You want to blame Roger Goodell and rake him over the coals? I’m with you.

But these owners have plenty of power themselves, and yet they shrink from doing the right thing, all in the name of winning football games.

Just pitiful.

**John Oliver has had so many memorable segments during his debut season of “Last Week Tonight,” it’s hard to pick a favorite.

But this one he did on Sunday, about Scotland’s huge independence vote coming on Thursday on whether to secede from the UK, was maybe the best one yet. The line about Mel Gibson and Braveheart alone (at :51) slayed me so much I had to pause the DVR so I wouldn’t miss the next line: (By the way, if Scotland secedes, does Andy Murray’s Wimbledon title last year still count as a British guy ending the enormous title drought?)

**Finally, in the category of “What kind of a brain comes up with a challenge like this?”, I present the guys from Epic Challenges, who decided to race the tube in London from one stop to another, by sending a man out of the station on foot and trying to beat the train to the next stop.

Mesmerizing, and oh so cool…

A child is born, and miraculously, I’m his father.

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Sorry I’ve been away from the blog for a few days. Sorta small little life event happened last Wednesday night, at 11:47 p.m.:

I became a father.

It has been the craziest, most glorious, exhausting, roller-coaster-y six days of my life since last Tuesday, when my wife and I were told by her OB/GYN to report to the hospital ASAP to be induced for labor.
All of a sudden, this little person who’s been growing inside of her for 40 weeks would be on the outside, a living, breathing, huggable, kissable, crying person who would be totally dependent on us for everything.
After five final minutes of panic, the excitement set in.
I won’t bore you with the details of the 32 hours of pre-labor, transition and active labor, but suffice to say, our little boy was in no rush to come out. When it got to be 6 p.m on September 10th and my wife was still far from ready for delivery, we began to really worry that our first child would have a September 11 birthday, which just seems like a terrible way to start life.

But thanks to my wife’s awesomeness, some incredibly dedicated nurses, and a doctor who yelled “PUSH!” as aggressively as I’ve ever heard anyone yell anything, our bundle of joy arrived 13 minutes before midnight, sparing him the indignity of celebrating every year on a day when so many mourn and remember tragedy.

It’s funny; I tried to so hard to stay in the moment when he was born; to be in touch with all my feelings and commit them to memory forever like a “good father” would.
But honestly, all I remember was feeling excited when the nurses said “I can see hair on the head” and then squeezing my wife’s hands and reminding her to breathe and then in one miraculous moment, whoosh, the doctor pulled my 7-pound, 5-ounce son out and held him aloft like a sports trophy.

I believe I then uttered the word “holy” followed by a common swear word. Truly, I was stunned that all of a sudden this new person was immediately in the room, a bloody, crying, beautiful person who I will now love forever. The poor analogy I kept making to friends and family who asked what the moment was like? I said it was like watching a magic show and out of nowhere the magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat and you’re kinda amazed.

Since getting to take my boy home from the hospital on Saturday, there’ve been new experiences all over the place: I’ve changed my first diaper, become at least semi-proficient at swaddling, and learned there’s no greater joy than having your child fall asleep in your arms, as he did Sunday while we watched football.

I’ve learned some stuff about him, too: So far he’s not a big fan of burping, taking forever to release gas after eating. I’ve learned he’s really not a fan of being changed, but he’s quite happy being held by anybody and just can’t get enough of his Boppy pillow.

I must admit I don’t yet feel the bond with my son that my wife does; after all, they were together for 10 months, and he and I have just been pals for five days.

But man, I sure do look forward to all the days ahead. Fatherhood, so far, is all that everyone told me it would be, and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Two quick final notes: One, I swear on the life of Inigo Montoya that this blog will not become a one-note song of me reporting every little thing my little guy has done, and I also don’t know how often I’ll be blogging over the next few weeks, as we try to settle into a routine with this new resident of our apartment, and hey, with my sleep deprivation this blog might turn 38 percent stranger than it already is!

But I appreciate your patience and I promise to be back at you with football rants (Don’t get me started on that awful Jets loss to the Packers), political musings and stories of the weird and wonderful in our world.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go stare at my boy sleeping for a while. It’s way better than any TV show or movie I’ve ever seen.

 

The NFL and Ray Rice: What a bunch of phonies and hypocrites. And a most unlikely U.S. Open men’s champion is crowned

I was nauseated by this Ray Rice situation Monday.
Not by the act itself, because we’ve all known for months that Ray Rice beat his fiance unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator, and what a deplorable act that was.
And we’ve known for months that the NFL completely dropped the ball and insulted women everywhere by pathetically suspending Rice for only two games.

No, what made me want to toss my cookies was the shear phoniness and cowardice of the NFL, suddenly acting all tough on Ray Rice once TMZ leaked the video from inside the elevator, which showed Rice just unloading with a huge left fist right to the face of Janay Palmer, then showing no remorse or concern at all while dragging her out of the elevator.

“Oh my,” the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens basically said. “We knew Rice had hit her, and she was knocked unconscious, and we were fine with letting him get away with that except for a measly two-game suspension. But OOOO, when the whole world sees the video of the act, well then we are shocked, horrified and outraged! Get that man out of our league immediately!” (Tweet from the NYT’s Lynn Zinser about sums it up: “We were totally OK with Ray Rice clobbering his wife until you all watched it on video.”

Puh-lease. What a joke. You’re going to tell me the NFL didn’t see this video until Monday? This is a league that gives a shit about players’ sock heights, suddenly they didn’t investigate to see what was on the Rice tape? If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

The phony outrage Monday, give me a break. How in the hell did Roger Goodell, and the Ravens, think Palmer had gotten knocked out in the first place? Suddenly Rice’s crime is worth throwing him out of the league for NOW, but not two months ago?

I swear, the NFL has become harder and harder to take. The hypocrisy is stunning. Keith Olbermann has the best take (above).

(For a nice NFL-related palatte-cleanser, check out this story of one team doing very, very good by a player.)

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**For so long, men’s tennis has been delightfully predictable. You knew at the end of the Grand Slam tournaments, either Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal would be holding the trophy and smiling broadly. (OK, Andy Murray snuck in there twice).
It was glorious, and the tennis was great, but it was pretty much guaranteed that one of them would win.
So I was totally flummoxed Monday night when I sat down to watch … Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic in the U.S. Open men’s final. And unfortunately, despite my expectations of a tight, exciting match, it was as one-sided as the women’s final was. Nishikori was clearly out of gas after a series of epic wins last week, and had no legs left for the final.
Marin Cilic, for two weeks, has been in that indescribable place athletes and sportswriters call “the zone.” Every serve was perfect, every backhand stung down the line, every volley perfectly placed. It was incredible to see a guy who’s always had so much talent finally harness it for two weeks, and reach the pinnacle of the sport.

He’s a great story, Cilic, as he missed the Open last year after being suspended for taking a “banned substance,” which in this case was a glucose tablet his Mom had given him (hey, our Mom gives us something, we take it, right? I actually believe Cilic wasn’t trying to cheat).

Will Cilic keep this up and become a force in the game? I doubt it. I think this was a magical run by him that won’t ever be repeated, and his ranking will linger between 10-20 for several more years.

But man, it sure was a magical run. Bravo to him on finishing off a truly stunning U.S. Open.
(And now I pause for sadness, realizing the next Slam isn’t until January in Australia.)

The Jets dominate and survive as the NFL returns! Ireland’s wacky “Armagaydon”. And Serena cruises to another U.S. Open title

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Football’s back!
Yeah yeah, I know college football started last week, but to me, the first Sunday of the NFL season is the real start of football season.
I love the first Sunday. I love seeing way more people in the sports bar than normal, because everybody’s fired up about their team, they’ve missed the sport, and they’re convinced their favorite team is going to win (hey, everyone’s undefeated at this point!).
I love trying to re-teach my brain how to watch 5 games at once. I love tricking myself into thinking the Jets will be good this year. And I really love the drunk moron in the bar (there’s always one) taunting other fans because he’s drunk and thinks he’s being funny.

Ah, football, I’ve missed you so. Some quick-hit thoughts from a pretty compelling week 1.
— I start with the Jets, of course. That was the most dominating five-point win you’ll see, since my boys shot themselves in the foot so many times the game wasn’t the blowout it should’ve been. Geno Smith looked mostly good (that’s different from mostly dead, right Miracle Max?) except for two killer turnovers, the running game looked fantastic, and the defense was stellar (albeit against a terrible team).

Jets will get creamed at Lambeau next week, I’m sure, but this was an encouraging start.

— It’s always a wonderful day when the Jets win and the Patriots lose. Boy that improved Pats’ D didn’t look so improved on Sunday.
— I’ve never NOT been entertained in recent years by a Saints-Falcons game. They play shootouts every single time. Matty Ryan was sensational on Sunday.

– Ah, Tony Romo, so good to have you back. My great friend Tony put it best about gunslingin’ No. 8, who threw three picks Sunday: “Tony Romo: the man with a Brett Favre mentality without Brett Favre ability.”

– Um, RGIII? What the hell happened to you? Man did the Redskins look awful. Poor RGIII hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee in that playoff game two years ago; he may never be the same again. Mike Shanahan, the blood of his career is on your hands.

– I know they lost, but man, Andrew Luck is some kind of terrific quarterback. Indy fans are so spoiled, getting Peyton and then him back-to-back.

- Did you see the clip of the Steelers player karate-kicking the Browns punter in the face? I mean, come on, that’s awful!

**Next up today, I thought this was very clever. Marriage-equality proponents in Ireland made this ad leading up to a vote for same-sex marriage, about what would “happen” if it were legalized. How do you deal with the “Armagayddon?” Hide all the women and children!

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**Finally today, Serena Williams won a third straight U.S. Open title Sunday, routing Caroline Wozniacki, 6-3, 6-3. I’ve said the following on here several times but it’s worth saying again: I strongly dislike Serena as an athlete, for her comportment and lack of decency on the court (not just for screaming at linespeople when she foot-faults), and her arrogance and condescension off the court.

But I also admire the hell out of her career, and marvel at how when she’s playing well, like she did the past two weeks, she’s the best player women’s tennis has seen.
I would love to see her in her prime, up against Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova, because for the past decade, when Serena is at her best, she’s miles ahead of the rest. An incredible, one-of-a-kind athlete wbo simply cannot be matched.

As for the men’s final today, shoot, I have no freaking clue who’ll win. I’m still in shock that Djokovic and Federer were so easily dismissed in the semis on Saturday. Kei Nishikori is a rising star, and a Japanese player winning a Slam for the first time would be a great story. But Marin Cilic played out of his mind last week and on Saturday, he’s got a huge serve, and may just be unbeatable right now (I cannot believe I’m saying that about Marin Cilic.)

As disappointed as I am that my man Federer lost, I’m thrilled that men’s tennis has some new blood in a Slam final. I’ll say Nishikori wins in 4.

Good News Friday: Jim Kelly is cancer-free. Little kids singing, and thinking about Buck O’Neil, makes me smile. And a hilarious video of how white people talk to Latinos.

Happy Friday! I’m sorry the blogging has been a little sporadic this week; Monday morning I came down with a nasty viral infection that had me feverish and having chills (a nice combo), along with some nausea just for fun. Also I increased my vomiting lead to 2-0 over my wife during her pregnancy, so I’m pretty proud of that.

Anyway, feeling better now and ready for an awesome weekend, which may include a Roger Federer U.S. Open win (maybe, but after Thursday night’s epic five-setter I’m worried), a Jets win (maybe, but they sure as hell better be able to beat a rookie QB making his first ever start on the road), and oh yeah, maybe this baby will decide to come out, who knows?

First up on Good News Friday, you may remember the beautiful piece ESPN did a few weeks ago on Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who was undergoing yet another tragedy in his life as he battled sinus cancer.

The piece (above), showed Kelly’s fighting spirit and the love of his family, and I thought it was beautifully done.
Well, the best news for the Kelly family came Friday: Thursday Kelly revealed that he’s been told that he’s cancer free, after six grueling rounds of chemo.

“I don’t even know what to do with myself. I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so thankful,” Kelly was quoted as saying in a message posted on his wife Jill Kelly’s Instagram account. “I want to literally hug and thank all of you in person.”

Just outstanding news.

**Next up, school is starting again here in New York (first day was Thursday), and I saw a quick clip on the news Thursday of some little kids singing a kind-of “welcome back” song in their auditorium.
Moments later I saw an ESPN alert that the Kansas City Royals were in first place, and it’s early September, and that hasn’t happened in almost three decades.
And those two news items combined made me think of Buck O’Neil (it may make sense to you in a minute).
The late, great Buck O’Neil, who I’ve written about before, was a legend in baseball: A Negro Leagues star, then later a scout, coach, manager and overall ambassador to the sport he loved. Buck became famous in Ken Burns’ legendary documentary series “Baseball,” he helped create the Negro Leagues Museum, and was a long, longtime resident of Kansas City, thanks to his decades-long association with the Royals.
He was, and is, universally beloved. (My man Joe Posnanski wrote a book with Buck and has written many incredible pieces about him, including this one.)

Buck died at age 94, in 2006, while his beloved Royals were in the middle of yet another lost decade of losing.
Anyway, the Royals are in first place now, and I got to thinking just how happy Buck would’ve been to finally see his old team finally be playing some good ball. I picture him sitting behind home plate, greeting all the fans, smiling and signing autographs, and smiling so broadly.
And I remembered this clip from a few years back, of school children singing a story about Buck’s life, to him when he came to visit. Makes me smile every time.

**Finally today, I love it when stereotypes and subtle racial digs are turned around and the majority (aka, us white people) are made to hear what we sound like.
This video from BuzzFeed Yellow is about what would happen if white people heard said to them what they so often say to Hispanic and Latinos. My favorite jokes are the first and last ones, but the whole video is funny:

 

A harrowing story of random gun violence. A crazy-cool dance by the New Zealand basketball team. And the New Yorker’s awesome Derek Jeter cover

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Some more ruminations and links while the wife and I wait for this kid to finally make its appearance in the outside world. I’ll say this for my unborn child: He/she certainly doesn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry. Due date is Friday, and they’ve said they’d only let my wife go a week after that, so sometime in the next 10 days, I’m going to be a daddy. I think…

So often when gun violence is talked about in America, it’s in the abstract, with numbers and statistics, and with one side (the NRA) completely whitewashing the innumerable tragedies that result from guns in the name of protecting Americans’ “personal freedom.)

So when a terrific writer does a story on an innocent victim of senseless gun violence, maybe it hits home a little more, and just maybe makes a person think.

The above photo is of a 26-year-old Boston woman named Dawnn Jaffier. She supervised at-risk youth at a local  Boys and Girls Club. She had big dreams, a beautiful smile… and she’s lying in a grave right now, accidentally caught in the crossfire of a gunfight.

The Boston Globe’s Evan Allen wrote this fantastic piece on the last day of Jaffier’s life. It made me angry, and sad, and … just read it.

Goddamn guns.

**And now, for something you just don’t see every day. The New Zealand men’s national basketball team played the U.S. at the FIBA World Cup this week, and before the game the “Tall Blacks” (that’s what they’re called) did a ceremonial Hakka Dance, which they do before every game.
It’s quite… something. I love the looks on the faces of the American players, sort of like “what in the hell are they doing?”
I thought it was very cool.

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**And finally, maybe you hate Derek Jeter, maybe you love Derek Jeter. Either way, I think everyone can agree that this week’s New Yorker magazine cover starring No. 2, drawn by Mark Ulriksen, is pretty cool.

And oh yeah, Ulriksen is a Red Sox fan.

Glenn Greenwald’s book on Snowden and NSA is fascinating, and terrifying. Russell Brand tears apart Fox News. And a beautiful story about a man learning to swim

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If you don’t know exactly who the writer Glenn Greenwald is, you’re probably not a liberal.
Greenwald, a fire-breathing columnist for The Guardian newspaper, is a hero of mine, and many others, for constantly railing against the National Security Agency and the incredibly intrusive and illegal surveillance they do on Americans and non-Americans alike, all under the often-flimsy guise of “the war on Terror.”

Greenwald was firing his missiles via his scathing columns on his blog, known to a fairly small readership, until former NSA employee Edward Snowden (above) chose him in mid-2013 to help leak the most explosive set of U.S. government documents since the Pentagon Papers.

Now, everyone has their own opinion on what Snowden did; personally I think what he did was surely illegal but 100 percent heroic and patriotic, for exposing the enormous lies, and way-bigger-than-they-said spying operation the NSA has operated since 9/11.

Greenwald has written a book, “No Place To Hide,” that’s 50 percent about his incredible adventure with Snowden and how he met him, and how crazy that week in Hong Kong was when they began writing about the leaked documents, and 50 percent breaking down exactly what the NSA does.

It’s chilling. It’s terrifying. It will certainly keep you thinking long and hard about putting any personal info on the Internet (no worries, both Twitter and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have been remarkably compliant in helping the NSA spy on their users).

Greenwald writes clearly and concisely, both about Snowden’s motives for leaking the NSA information, and about the specifics of how the NSA and other branches of government, in full cooperation with private companies like Verizon and Google, are in every corner of Americans’ lives.

He points out the hypocrisy of the U.S. government scolding the Chinese for their spying efforts, yet shows how America does exactly the same thing. He also, amusingly, points out just how cozy the establishment Washington media is with the NSA and other government offices, to the detriment of transparency and shining a light on the illegal spying that’s gone on.

Whether you agree with what Snowden did or not, Greenwald’s book is fascinating. Definitely recommend reading it.

 

**Next up, I’m  not really much of a Russell Brand fan; don’t have much against him, but not necessarily a fan of his.

Still, I’d heard he’d been making these videos excoriating Fox News for their Ferguson coverage, so I checked out one that DailyKos.com had sent me.

Highly entertaining! Best excerpt:

“They say Conservatives… What they are ‘conserving’…Actually, it’s hatred they’re trying to conserve, misery, they’re trying to conserve, existing power structures, they’re trying to conserve.”

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**And finally, this story just about knocked my socks off. It’s from N.R. Kleinfeld at the N.Y. Times, who is a master storyteller, and it’s about a seemingly-simple topic: a 33-year-old man with a lifelong fear of water, trying to learn to swim.

It’s beautiful, it’s honest, and it’s oh so real. I loved this story; courage comes in so many different forms.

Good News Friday: A freed American journalist offers thanks. Jimmy Kimmel’s awesome “Friends” reunion. And the NFL, belatedly, takes a strong stand against domestic violence.

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Well, a few days ago I was going to lead Good News Friday this week with the heroic tale of Southern California football player Josh Shaw, who told his coach and the media that he injured his ankles jumping off a balcony trying to save his 7-year-old nephew from drowning. What a sportsman! What a guy! Let’s celebrate his … screech! Hold that thought.

Turns out Shaw made the whole thing up. A good friend of mine who knows things about USC said the real story he got is that Shaw was being chased by his girlfriend and leaped off his apartment balcony to escape, which makes a whole lot more sense than the fiction he told.
Finally Wednesday, Shaw admitted he made the whole thing up, but Newsweek’s John Walters got the scoop on how deep the deception went. Crazy, crazy story.

OK, onto some legitimate good news, news we’re pretty sure is true. As horrifying as the story of journalist James Foley’s death at the hands of terrorists was, this week we got a 180 degree turn as Peter Theo Curtis, an American reporter, was finally freed after two years of being held in Syria by Al Qaeda.

I was listening to the audio of Curtis’ welcome-home interview Thursday, and was struck by the sincerity of this quote:

“I had no idea that so much effort was being expended on my behalf,” the journalist said in his first public comments since he was kidnapped in 2012. “I suddenly remembered how good the American people are and what kindness they have in their hearts.”

Remember that every once in a while, that for all the Ferguson awfulness and so many other horrors, America is filled with good-hearted people who are kind. Not an exciting message, but a true one that always needs repeating.

**Next up, this was fantastic: While he had Jennifer Aniston on as a guest, Jimmy Kimmel staged 1/2 of a “Friends” reunion this week, and it’s worth watching if only for the exactreplica of Rachel and Monica’s apartment kitchen.

Brilliant.

**And finally, it may be too late (OK, it is way too late) but it appears the NFL has finally decided to get serious about its players committing domestic violence. After a hail of criticism came down on Commissioner Roger Goodell’s head for his minuscule two-game suspension of Ray Rice this year, he apparently got the message, and Thursday announced that first-time offenders will be suspended for six games, and second-time offenders will be banned from the league for life.

Now, will this rule have unintended consequences, as some on the Web suggested Thursday, and mean spouses of NFL players will be less likely to report their abuse? Perhaps.

But it finally sends a strong and clear message from the top that the NFL is taking this problem seriously.

A 15-year-old star is born at the U.S. Open, and it was glorious. And a great new Gatorade ad starring Peyton Manning

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Remember age 15? I sure do. I was in 10th grade, a shy, geeky-looking kid just hoping to make the varsity tennis team, maybe get Christina Leone to like me, and desperate to avoid failing math.

I’m guessing 15 was like that for most of us. But 15 was a little different Tuesday for Cici Bellis, a teenager who went from curiosity and upstart with potential to the major story of the U.S. Open in just a matter of a few hours.

I saw a lot of great tennis live at the U.S. Open Tuesday; I saw Kei Nishikori and Eugnie Bouchard and dozens of others. But a 15-year-old homeschooled kid from San Francisco, and her incredible poise and shotmaking is what I’ll remember years from now.

Bellis was on an outer court at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Tuesday, a court that could hold maybe 400 spectators, and there were no TV cameras present at the start of her match.
She had gotten this opportunity to make her Open debut years ahead of schedule, by winning the U.S. nationals earlier this summer.
But she was due to play No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova, who was a former Australian Open finalist and a much more seasoned player. Clearly, the moment and the opponent would overwhelm Bellis.

Only it didn’t. Different performers respond to first-time pressure in different ways. Some shrink from it, cowed by the expectations and the stage. Others… they embrace the hell out of it.

Bellis was spectacular in her first major “stage” appearance. She raced out to a 6-1 first set, faltered in the second set, 6-4, then fell down 3-1 in the third as the crowd swelled to a mass of people.
It looked like she was gassed. But she rallied, and tied the set at 3, and suddenly the crowd was going nuts, and this 15-year-old sprite of a player with powerful strokes and a bigger-than-you’d-think serve was nailing winners, adorably pumping herself up with both arms fist-pumping at once, and grabbing a 4-3 lead.
All of a sudden ESPN cut live to the match, and Bellis went on to a 6-4 win, and she jumped up and down after match point, and we all hooted and hollered, and Bellis ran over and hugged her parents and her coach (she didn’t have far to go, it was a small court!), and now Wednesday she’ll be all over the sports pages and websites as America’s newest tennis sweetheart.

And she’s 15 years old. She was still in diapers when 9/11 happened, just for some context.

You hope this isn’t the highlight of her tennis life, that she continues to improve and maybe wins a Slam one day.

You hope that Tuesday was Day 1 on a remarkable tennis career. I feel lucky I was there to see it. Because it was so cool to be a part of.

 

**Finally today, Peyton Manning’s football talent is equalled by his awesomeness at acting. He’s always great on SNL, always great on commercials (I still laugh at his “Tommy, you’re my favorite accountant!” ad).

I saw Manning’s new Gatorade ad yesterday, and it cracked me up, as he and a gas station attendant decide if a woman has “sweated enough” to deserve to buy a Gatorade.