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144 Million dollars, the high cost of late character development lets hope it pays off

By Jackie Cushman

Published on Townhall.com

After signing a 10-year, $130-million contract with the Atlanta Falcons less than three years ago,, Michael Vick appeared to have it all  and maybe he did but only for a moment.  In the last few days, he has plummeted from role model and hero to despised dog abuser.

On Aug. 24, Vick pleaded guilty to one count of "conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture." Sentencing is set for December 10. The former NFL No. 1 draft pick from Virginia Tech could face up to five years in a federal prison, but prosecutors have agreed to seek a lesser punishment.

Michael McCann, an assistant professor at Mississippi College School of Law, estimates that what Vick called his bad judgment, making bad decisions, could cost the quarterback up to $144 million in lost pay, bonuses and endorsements.

On Aug. 27, Vick apologized publicly. "I was not honest and forthright in our discussions," Vick said, referring to his interaction with law enforcement authorities, the NFL and the Falcons.

Vick said he was most upset with himself for having let down children who view him as a role model. "I hope that every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who's been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions," he said.

Vick may find solace in knowing that, after hearing his story, both my children concluded that it was good neither to be involved in dog fighting nor to lie. I hope all of the millions of children who once looked up to Vick as a hero and have slept in a number 7 Falcons jersey reach the same conclusion.

Vick has said his new goal is to focus on "how to make Michael Vick a better person."

He might be able to learn from another quarterback who had his own share of problems. Although a bit younger than Vick (24 vs. 27), Colt Brennan, senior quarterback at the University of Hawaii, had a brush with the law in 2004 that resulted in his being convicted of second-degree burglary and first-degree criminal trespass. This occurred when he was a freshman at the University of Colorado and appears to have made a lasting impact on the player.

Brennan left Boulder and attended Saddleback Community College in the fall of 2004. He moved to the University of Hawaii in the fall of 2005, where he regained his footing and is in the running for the Heismann Trophy.

During his apology speech, Vick said, "I found Jesus, I asked him for forgiveness, I turned my life over to God."

Brennan too underwent a spiritual transition. It happened as he was Googling words for peace of mind around the time of his trial and stumbled across a passage from Romans 12. "'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God' what is good and acceptable and perfect.  According to Brennan, this passage changed his attitude.

Brennan recalled thinking,  "I don't need to worry about what anyone thinks." Today, he says, “my actions, over time, will display not only the person I was, but help me clear up everything that happened out there in Colorado. "I'm not perfect, and I know I'm going to make plenty of mistakes. But it's all about the journey and what you are and what you do."

Brennan appears to have accomplished his goal of becoming a better person through humility and community service. He often speaks to school children about making good decisions and overcoming adversity. Possibly, Vick can carve out an area of interest where he can provide a positive role model once again to the children whom he let down.

Pacman Jones, a player for the Tennessee Titans was suspended for the 2007 NFL season in May of this year for numerous violations for the NFL's personal conduct code. Commissioner Roger Goodell stated in response to Pacman Jones' behavior: "You have to earn your way back into the National Football League, and you have to earn it through your conduct. It's not about what you tell the commissioner, or what you tell anyone. It's your conduct and your activities."

In an e-mail, McCann predicted Goodell will let Vick play again in the NFL. "Vick's guilty plea, acknowledgment of his wrongdoing, and expressions of sorrow appear to indicate that he recognizes his failings and wants to correct his behavior, McCann wrote." Certainly, the genuineness of his contrition may be questioned, but at face value he appears to be sorry.

"If he serves his time without incident, avoids other controversy, and commits to using his football fame for good (such as pledging to donate a meaningful portion of any future football-related income to animal abuse shelters), he would seem to be on the right road to redemption, not only in the eyes of Commissioner Goodell, but also of many Americans." McCann added, "And while we never forget his role in unspeakably horrific dog abuse, we also, I suspect, recognize that we all make errors and that we can all change and become better persons."

So Michael Vick faces a long road before he can expect to shake his current image and be judged by his future activities and conduct. I wish him luck and hope that he does redeem himself.

Copyright © 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

 
It's great to be a part of history, especially when it involves buttered popcorn

By Jackie Cushman

Published on Townhall.com

More than 17 million viewers tuned into the premiere of "High School Musical 2" on August 17, making it the most watch basic cable telecast on record.  Our house included four of those viewers.

I heard about the debut from a friend whose daughter was having a premiere viewing party.  This was not an isolated event -- there were debut parties across the nation.  The Disney Web site even offered party tips for the event.

Disney promoted the movie throughout the summer, providing fans with an interactive way to help create the new show through the Disney Web site.  Fans' choices determined, among other things, what was written on Chad's t-shirt and Sharpay's golf cart accessories.

As with the original movie, Disney did a terrific job of combining talent and entertainment with a story that has a moral.  The original "High School Musical" revolves around the ideas of working hard, taking a chance and being successful.

"High School Musical 2" focuses on being true to yourself and to your friends.

The movie begins as the last class of the year is ending and summer break is beginning.  The plot revolves around Troy, the basketball team captain, and school heart throb; Gabriella his smart girlfriend; and Sharpay, the rich country club girl with the pink convertible, who decides winning Troy over will be her summer activity.

Troy, Gabriella and the majority of the basketball team are looking for summer jobs.  Sharpay decides to assist Troy (without his knowing) by having the manager of her family's country club offer Troy a job.  Troy turns his good fortune into good fortune for his friends, securing jobs at the club for them as well.

In her quest to win Troy over, Sharpay orchestrates numerous tricks and twists, including Troy's promotion to assistant golf pro, access to a golf cart, new Italian shoes, golf clothes and clubs, and an introduction via her father to the Redhawks college basketball team.  Troy is faced with choosing between opportunities and old friends.

During one telling scene, Troy and the Redhawks are at a table, when Chad, Troy's friend approaches to serve lunch.  Troy interrupts his conversation with the Redhawks, Chad's face lights up, thinking his friend is about to introduce him.  Instead, Troy informs Chad that his order is wrong; he had asked for Swiss on his hamburger.

The drama continues: Sharpay kicks her brother Ryan out of her talent act, and enlists Troy by trapping him into a promise.  Gabriella responds by enlisting Ryan into directing the team and friends for a separate entry in the contest.  Sharpay retaliates by forcing the country club manager to exclude club employees from the contest.

After Gabriella has broken up with Troy, citing her need to move on, Troy is pictured lying in his bed contemplating what to do when his father walks into his room.  After his father notes that Troy has not been himself recently, Troy tells his father that he is confused and does not know what to do or who he is anymore.  Picking up a picture of Troy, his father expresses confidence that Troy will figure it out.

Troy does, in fact, figure it all out, requesting his friends' forgiveness, and announcing to Sharpay he will not appear in the talent contest.

In the end, as would be expected, everything works out. Troy sings in the talent contest, Gabriella joins him in a duet that Ryan orchestrates.  Sharpay receives the award for the talent show, turning it over to her brother Ryan. In the end Troy chooses friends, but is also able to take advantage of opportunity.

While this story line may appear simple on the surface, the program also contains scenes that provide viewers with a framework for understanding the characters' actions.  The basketball team members lounge around in Troy's kitchen, obviously quite at home, indicating this is a normal event.  Troy's mother walks in the house after shopping, asks the team to unload the groceries and all the team members go outside to help. Troy and his father work together to rebuild a truck, which his father then gives to him. Gabriella's parents pick her up after her shift ends at the club and Ryan's father constantly adjusts his son's cap.

These little details paint a picture of families providing structure and support for their children, with the expectation that the children will respond with good behavior, hard work and by doing their best.

The good news is that the time spent to create this framework is also what makes 13 to 24 year olds happy. A recent AP article, "Poll: Family Ties key to Youth Happiness" reports the results of an AP, MTV poll.  "When asked what one thing makes them most happy, 20 percent mentioned spending time with family more than anything else. About three-quarters - 73 - percent said their relationship with their parents makes them happy."

So the takeaway from watching "High School Musical 2," is that adolescents will make the right choices as they grow up, based on what they have learned throughout their lives.

The good news is that spending time with their family, which will create this framework, will also make them happy, now that's a happy ending.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

 
Sow an act and reap a destiny

By Jackie Cushman

Published on Townhall.com

The ancient Romans coined the phrase "dog days" based on the period of time that the brightest star (Sirius, the Dog Star) rose and set in conjunction with the sun. The Romans believed that Sirius radiated heat to the Earth, causing the hottest part of the year as it traveled with the sun.

The "dog day" dates vary based on the source. The Old Farmer's Almanac refers to the 40-day period that begins July 3 and ends August 11. The 1552 Book of Common Prayer refers to the period from July 6 to August 17. Many references extend the "dog day" period into September.

The dog days are popularly believed to be a time of agitation and unruly behavior. Anyone who has experienced this period of time in the South can understand why people might have been driven to madness and lethargy before the advent of air conditioning. Possibly this was why, on occasion, Southerners were termed lazy. After all, it is hard to work in heat that exceeds 100 degrees.

The dog days of summer are inevitably followed by fall. It is just a question of how fast the weather and people's focus will change from vacation, playing and fun to work, school and seriousness.

For many people, the change in focus coincides with the beginning of the school year. This signals that the fun of summer is over and the seriousness of learning is beginning. Family vacations come to an end and routine sets in. For most schools, this start occurs between mid-August and mid-September.

For other people, the start of football season, budgeting season at work or baseball playoffs may signal the change. Each of these provides the signal that summer is over and fall is about to begin. And with fall comes some serious work until the Christmas holidays.

This past week, our family focus changed with the end of our summer trips and the start of our children's school. It was an even greater transition for us as our youngest child started kindergarten.

Many teachers recommend the rapid-transition approach. Starting on day one, they enforce rules governing the behavior that they expect of their students. For instance, our daughter's second-grade teacher has the children in her class sit in the hallway and read books from the time they arrive at school until 7:45 a.m., when classes begin. This activity began on the first day of school.

Our family is using this same rapid-transition strategy with our children's homework habits. Our rules are simple, but firm: no TV during the week, and homework first. There has been a bit of pushback this week, but it diminishes each day.

I hope that, soon, there will be no more questions regarding expected actions and the habit of homework first will be ingrained in them and help them throughout life.

The beginning of the school year, and fall have commonalities: each allows us to begin anew, to plant seeds in anticipation of what might sprout and blossom in another season.

This may also be the time to go back to our roots, as a gardener might say, to practice those habits that can lead to success. They include taking personal responsibility, working hard, taking civic responsibility, helping others and viewing the world with optimism. These become habits only after repetitive, deliberate practice.

Learning is not always easy or fun, but it is what helps us move forward instead of becoming stagnant. Often, when we have trouble learning, we want to give up rather than try again and risk failure. Next time this road block occurs to you, you might want to remember Aristotle's insight: "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."

In other words, do not worry if you will fail, for we all fail. Instead, worry that you might not act and therefore stagnate. Just remember that, since repeated actions lead to ingrained habits, we should act in ways we will want to repeat.

Charles Reade, an English author, said, "sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny."

Beginning this fall, begin to act, creating a habit that will strengthen your character and shape your destiny.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

 
Chewing the fat about Sea World

By Jackie Cushman

Published on Townhall.com

Last week, our family visited Sea World. Friends of ours had gone the week before and warned us about the hot weather and the crowds. They were correct.

Our Sea World visit began with the Sky Tower, which took us on a 400-foot-high ride over the park for a bird's-eye view. As the ride rotated slowly, vistas of Sea World and much of Orlando appeared. My husband, Jimmy, forgot that he was not a fan of heights until we were about 200 feet up. My, were his eyes big.

Next, we walked over to Shamus Happy Harbor for the "Believe" show, which proved to be amazing. The combination of black-and-white video (indicating times past) and music told the story of a boy intrigued with killer whales. In an early scene, he carved a piece of wood into the shape of a whale tail, which he then put on his necklace. Next, he was on a beach, where he spotted a killer whale in the ocean. Running to a canoe, he paddled out towards the whale, which jumped into the air as he stared in amazement.

The story then cut to today: a man wearing the same necklace is standing at the top of the bridge in a wetsuit ready to swim with the killer whales. In this story, the boy has realized his dream of doing just that.

"Believe" is about believing in dreams and having them come true.

One of the trainers, Laura Surovik, highlighted on the Shamu Web site, says, "The motivation to produce "Believe" was driven by our daily mission to achieve the impossible, .. We want to inspire that same passion in our guests."

What a great mission, I wish them success. Many of the guests we saw might fare better if they were inspired not so much with a passion to achieve the impossible, but with a passion to exercise.

There was a distinct contrast between the trainers' physical fitness and that of the spectators. The trainers, wearing wetsuits, are in great shape, running from side to side of the large tank during the show, diving and swimming in the tank and running up the stairs.

In comparison, the people who filled the stands appeared to be a representative sample of America, where two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese.

As we all know, becoming overweight or obese is due to an energy imbalance, more calories are consumed than expended, so diet as well as activity are important. It is a constant struggle for many, myself included.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased sharply for adults and children since the mid-1970s. Data from two National Health and Examination Studies (1976 - 1980 and 2003 - 2004) show that in adults aged 20- 74 years, the prevalence of obesity increased from 15.0% to 32.9%. Children follow this same trend with 13.9% of 2 to 5-year-olds, 18.8% of 6 to 11-year-olds, and 17.4% of 12 to 19-year-olds being overweight.

In addition, the CDC states that "being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions, including high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats like cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and breathing problems and some cancers."

Clearly we have not only a health-care crisis in our country, but a health crisis.

A recent article in the "New England Journal of Medicine" titled, The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years offered some intriguing insight. It determined that weight gain in one person appears to be associated with weight gain in that person's friends.

The authors offered possible explanations, including the increased social acceptability of being overweight or obese. On a hopeful note, they state, "Network phenomena might be exploited to spread positive health behaviors."

There is however some good news for those of use who live in the normal world, have normal jobs and other obligations. "The biggest impact of physical activity on improved longevity and quality of life can be achieved by almost anyone," according to Dr. Steven Blair, an internationally recognized authority on exercise and its health benefits, and professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. "If a person simply walks 10 minutes, three times a day, five days a week, then they will improve their aerobic fitness, feel better, and reduce the risk of chronic disease."

The good news is that most people visiting Sea World probably achieved this level of activity walking around the park. The question is will they continue to be active in their every day lives?

I believe that we do in fact influence those around us, and that we should all strive to be positive role models, recognizing that we are human and have failings. We can all strive to be healthier simply by walking more and eating less. After all, it is not only good for our own health, but might be good for our friends' health as well.

Copyright © 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

 
Will Oprah propel Obama to the Presidency?

By Jackie Cushman

Published on Townhall.com

It's no secret: Everyone who wants to sell anything wants to be a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. They may not admit it but they do.
Authors, experts, actors and politicians all hope and believe that, if they appear on the show, they will experience the Oprah effect, a rapid increase in sales and popularity from the 49 million viewers who tune in each week.

Oprah does a wonderful job of welcoming guests to her show. Only those people who are not authentic or who have something to hide need worry about a potential negative experience (just ask James Frey, the author of A Million Little Pieces). This can be contrasted with other shows (Stephen Colbert, Ali G or Don Imus), where guests know there is a pretty good chance that the host will get the best of them, but believe the media exposure is worth the risk.

Oprah stepped up her support for Barack Obama's presidential bid this past week when she announced she will host a fundraiser for the senator from Illinois at her home on 42 acres in Montecito, Calif., aptly named "The Promised Land." Congratulations, Senator Obama.

For $2,300 (the legal amount one person can give), you can attend the September 8th event. If you can raise $25,000, you can stay for a VIP reception. The full treatment, including dinner with Obama and Oprah, is reserved for those that can raise $50,000 or more.

There is not expected to be any shortage of guests willing and able to come up with and raise the requisite amounts.

Oprah set the stage for the event last October, when she introduced Obama to her audience this way: "My guest today is a shining example of what is possible if you live your life with fierce hope.

That appearance helped Obama launch his book, "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream", to the top of the best-seller lists. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 30 weeks. Today it is listed at number 30.

With three quarters of her viewers female, Oprah has the ability to reach voters in their dens and kitchens on a personal basis. Where President Roosevelt used fireside chats to connect with people during the war, Oprah has created a new, open, personal communication style.

As Vanity Fair wrote, "Winfrey saw television's power to blend public and private; while it links strangers and conveys information over public airwaves, TV is most often viewed in the privacy of our homes. Like a family member, it sits down to meals with us and talks to us in the lonely afternoons. Grasping this paradox, ...She makes people care because she cares. That is Winfrey's genius, and will be her legacy, as the changes she has wrought in the talk show continue to permeate our culture and shape our lives."

Oprah's gift of communication and empathy allows people to connect with her on a personal basis. Oprah conveys such warmth and care that many in her audience believe that if they were to run into her on the street, she would be just as interested in their story as she is in the stories of her guests.

Oprah understands her ability to connect with people, answering a question last May on Larry King about whether she would run for office. "You know that is not going to ever happen," she answered. "I feel that the platform that I hold, the chair in which I get to sit in every day and speak to the world, is of far more value to me than any political office could be."

"Value in that I get to speak to people's hearts and get to connect with people all over the world," she added.

Oprah's list of accomplishments runs long and includes winning multiple Emmy awards, leading the highest-rated talk show in history, and being the world's only African- American billionaire. In addition, Oprah is the most philanthropic African American, and has been listed four times on Time Magazine's list of the world's most-influential people.

After reading her accomplishments, you too might understand why she would not want to trade her current position for political office.

Yes, Oprah has helped boost many people's careers, including Obama's. The question is can she propel him to the presidency?

Copyright © 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

 
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