Ravens WR Steve Smith Sr. to return for 2016 season

— The Baltimore Ravens locker room had a very positive vibe on Wednesday. The team is coming off of an upset win against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. John Harbaugh has already said that these last games will set the tone for the 2016 season.

Another tone setter for next season will be the return of one of their emotional leaders in wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. The veteran announced via Twitter that he will return for the 2016 season. He discussed the decision with his family and they gave him the blessing to return one more season.

Harbaugh has always felt that Smith Sr. is a player they can rely on to set the tone, so having him back next season is a huge win for the Ravens.

“He is definitely a tone-setter. I don’t think you can get by in this league without a guy with that personality. He is just a guy who is a pit bull,” Harbaugh said. “He’s like daddy pit bull, and he has all these little young pit bulls he’s trying to raise up the right way, and I mean that in the most positive way. He’s just a really fiery competitor.”

Smith Sr. was playing very well prior to rupturing his Achilles tendon on November 1st. He was among the league leaders in yards after the catch, broken tackles and receiving yards at the time. The veteran receiver was on his way to another 100-yard receiving game prior to being injured against the San Diego Chargers.

The injury was a double rupture and was said to have been torn off of the bone. He was carried off of the field with a towel over his head.

The 2015 season was supposed to have been his final season, but there was little doubt that he would not allow his last play in the NFL be one in which he was carried off of the field due to injury. Kelechi Osemele said he felt that was the reason Smith Sr. would return.

“I knew as soon as he [Steve Smith Sr.] got injured he was going to be back. That’s just Steve. That’s not what he came here to do. He didn’t come here to go out like that,” Osemele said. “I’m not surprised at all about that. He’s not the type of guy to go out like that.”

Smith Sr. has endeared himself to Ravens fans in the two years that he has been with the team. He is already one of the most well liked players in recent years. The Ravens players are happy to have him back.

Osemele said he feels Smith Sr. will come back in the best shape and dominate. Cornerback Jimmy Smith said it’s great to have a tremendous leader such as Smith Sr. back because it will only help the team.

There are a few milestones within reach for Smith Sr. He is only 39 receptions away from the 1,000 career receptions mark. He is also only 68 yards away from posting 14,000 which would put him in the top ten all time.

Marshall Yanda summed it up the best when he was asked about Steve Smith Sr. returning.

“We’re very happy to hear he’s going to come back,” Yanda said. “If you’re in a war, there’s no better guy that you want on your sideline with you in that war than Steve. I’m fired up about it.”

Tips for using Uber this NYE

Some tips for using Uber this New Years Eve, given it is Uber’s busiest night of the year and they expect to complete millions of trips around the world.

Check the price: Surge pricing shouldn’t be a surprise. When surge pricing is in effect, it is made very clear in the app: riders are notified and asked to confirm and accept increased fares – or they can opt to get a notification when prices drop. To avoid the highest fares, head to the festivities early or catch a ride right after midnight. (More info on surge pasted below and a peak time of demand chart attached)

Split your fare: Use fare split if you’re rolling with the whole party.

Confirm your driver: Make sure you don’t get into the wrong car. Confirm your driver’s car model and license plate in the app before you hop in your ride.

Keep your number masked: If you can’t find your driver or want to share more pick up information, call or text through the app—your number will always stay anonymous.

Send your status: Let your friends and family know when you arrive at the party, or get back home. Send trip details—which includes your estimated time of arrival as well as your driver’s first name and vehicle information—to friends or family directly through the app.

Contact Uber Support: If you leave one of your items in your ride, get in contact with your driver by pulling up your trip history in the app.

7 ways to think like a creative genius

— Whether you’re a world leader, a high-level executive, or a customer service agent, to be effective at your job, you need innovative solutions to challenging problems.

Once, creativity was the domain of scarf-wearing sculptors, espresso-drinking poets, and musicians who dreamed up melodies in their sleep. Not anymore. To succeed in a knowledge economy, we all need to produce creative solutions on a regular basis.

So how do you do it? After all, you can force yourself to work harder. But you can’t simply will yourself to be creative. Or can you?

Over the past decade, social scientists have uncovered a variety of simple techniques that we can all use to open ourselves up to creative thinking. Some of them will be discussing their recommendations in a summit in January. Here are some of their best tips:

1. Do this first thing in the morning

Studies show that happiness can have a profound impact on creative thinking. When we’re feeling positive about our lives we think more broadly and free up valuable mental resources to explore novel ideas.

But let’s face it: Experiencing happiness at work can often be a challenge, especially first thing in the morning, after a stressful commute. To elevate your mood at the beginning of the workday, psychologist Shawn Achor recommends writing down three things for which you are grateful. Spending just 60 seconds doing this exercise has been shown to improve mood instantly, making creative insights more likely.

2. Stop being so organized

Looking to generate novel ideas? Then avoid working on an empty desk.

In 2013, researchers at the University of Minnesota randomly assigned volunteers to work in either a clean or messy room. They then asked them to take a test measuring creativity. The results were startling. Those working in a cluttered environment produced nearly five times as many creative ideas.

Why would a messy desk boost your creativity? One reason, according to creativity expert David Burkus, is that a messy environment forces you to consider seemingly irrelevant ideas, making new idea combinations more likely. Creative genius Albert Einstein suspected as much way back in the 1950s. When asked why his office seemed disorganized, he posed this question: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”

3. Visit a coffee shop

Research suggests working in a café can also boost your creativity — and not, as you might assume, simply because of the caffeine. A 2012 University of Illinois study found that the ambient noise level common in coffee shops prevents our minds from being too focused and keeps our thinking at a high level. In other words, if you want to see the big picture, visiting a coffee shop can help.

Can’t leave the office during the workday? Sociologist Tracy Brower recommends visiting Coffitivity, a free website that immerses you in the bustle of a coffee shop without requiring you to leave your desk.

4. Spend time with people outside your field

Creative solutions rarely appear out of nowhere. More often, they come about when we combine two or more existing ideas in surprising ways. As writer Matt Ridley so eloquently put it: “Creativity is what happens when ideas have sex.”

The more ideas you consume, the more likely you are to stumble upon creative solutions. One way of increasing your creative output is by strategically exposing yourself to new people and fresh perspectives. Writer Todd Henry recommends forming a circle of five to seven people from different backgrounds and meeting once a month. If keeping a monthly appointment proves too challenging, consider picking up a book in a genre you rarely read, or taking in a foreign movie. Both can also serve to expose you to new ways of thinking.

5. Leave important assignments incomplete

When tackling challenging projects at work, we often seek to finish quickly, so that we can move on to the next item on our list. But psychologist Adam Grant argues that we’re more creative when we intentionally stretch out assignments that require insight.

Instead of aiming to complete an important task in one sitting, try leaving it incomplete. Doing so will encourage you to continue thinking about it in settings outside the office and, in the process, make you more likely to find connections you weren’t expecting.

6. Schedule alone time

Ever wonder why many of us get our best ideas in the shower, on a business trip, or during our evening commute? To be creative, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman argues, you need to make time for solitude.

Why would being alone foster creativity? It’s because when we’re on our own, we let our minds wander, and mind wandering is a creativity catalyst. The next time you’re working on a project that requires creativity, remember to carve out small blocks of solitude on your calendar, when you can do some deep thinking away from your colleagues.

7. Go for a run before lunch

When we think about the value of exercise, we often think of looking good or losing weight. But studies indicate that one of the biggest benefits of exercise is its influence over the way we think. We now have definitive evidence that exercise fosters creative insight, in part by lifting our mood and opening us up to new ways of thinking.

Sociologist Christine Carter recommends leveraging this insight by taking a 15 minute walk around the office the next time you’re feeling stuck. Personally, Carter uses the treadmill in her office when she needs a creative spark and turns it off when she’s found an idea and is ready to type.

No matter what you do for a living, creativity can help you do it better. And once you recognize — as scientists now do — that creativity is not something magical that appears from thin air or a genetic gift, the formula for increasing your creativity becomes simple: Start using evidence-based techniques that are proven to work.

Ron Friedman,Ph.D., is a social psychologist and the host of The Peak Work Performance Summit, a not-for-profit event held in January 2016 that features 26 productivity experts with the goal of helping people live happier, healthier and more productive lives. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


Diversity on campus: Does it have a future?

— Diversity is under threat on college campuses across the land — from exactly the students cherished for their diversity by admissions committees.

Let us recall that for almost 40 years now, diversity has been the gold standard defense of racial preferences. Racial diversity is said to enhance the classroom (and general social) experience by exposing other students to views purportedly most likely to come from people of color.

Yet it is too little remarked that much of what we hear from black students — and not only amidst the protests of late but often over decades past as well — flies directly in the face of the whole diversity argument that university administrators propound so ardently.

Safe spaces

For example, at Oberlin, student protesters are demanding not just one but several “safe spaces” for “Africana-identifying” students. It’s fair to assume that white students would not be allowed in these spaces, given that the rationale is that here is where black students could catch their breath after the endless sallies of racism that the school’s students and environment force upon them daily.

Aside from the obvious problems with this plan, note that students barricading themselves in this way would have pointedly little interest in sharing their experiences as “diverse” people with their fellow white students. Even those who would consider this self-segregation justified will admit that these students are giving a thumbs down to the idea that they are valuable on campus as “diverse” lessons for others.

Or, in this recent opinion piece in The New York Times, a black physicist tells us that the presence of students of color in university classrooms should not require justification on the basis of the color of their skins.

Now, it’s unclear what new strategy she is proposing to ensure a representative number of such students on a campus if they are not singled out for their “diversity.” Be that as it may, here is one more person of color arguing against the admissions rationale considered so inviolable in discussions of affirmative action since Justice Lewis Powell created the “diversity” argument (rather briefly) in the Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke decision in 1978.

Finally, for all the appeal of the notion of black students earnestly teaching white students the view from beyond the affluent suburbs, black students quite often don’t like being expected to take on that role.

I have lost count of how many times a black student has told me, in question sessions after talks on race I have given, that being required to attest to the “black” view of things is, of all things, one way that college campuses are racist (!). Here is an articulate expression of this kind of complaint, very much commonplace since the ’80s. And truth to tell, how many of us would enjoy being singled out in any setting, all eyes upon us, as the one assumed to have intellectually valuable counsel?

Once again, the writer above likely isn’t aware that his declaration stands as a rebuke to a justification that likely played an important part in his evaluation for admission. However, it stands as a rebuke indeed.

Providing diversity lessons?

One might claim that students can teach white ones about their “diversity” in other ways, but prospects for that look glum from further reports one often hears.

Black students don’t like being asked questions about where they are “from,” about their hair care regimens, or being approached in general as if they belong to a distinct clan of persons, as we have learned from discussions of microaggression over the past few years. OK — but it’s unclear what space is left for these students providing diversity lessons for others.

So: There is the verdict from the very people singled out for their “diversity” by admissions committees. We might add that it’s hard to see how diverse viewpoints relate to not just some, but most, of what a college curriculum consists of. The black view of French irregular verbs? Systolic pressure? The usual counterargument here is that white students will benefit from the simple fact of interacting with colleagues of color — in, say, a lab — as preparation for interacting with people of color in the work world. On that one, I often wonder just what it is about black people that white students are to learn to watch out for.

A different kind of affirmative action

All this is clearly a mess. Now, one solution is to sigh that it’s “complicated” and change the subject. But that’s a cop-out we’ve been settling for for decades, and it’s clear that it gets none of us anywhere. We settle for this cop-out nonetheless out of fear that actually taking the issue by the horns will mean turning our backs on seeking social justice. But it doesn’t.

Rather, the facts on the ground — as opposed to in colleges’ multiracial publicity photos on websites and brochure covers — can be taken as support for the growing movement to base admissions preferences at universities on socioeconomics.

The originators of affirmative action policies would find this a familiar and compelling approach, given that until the Bakke decision, the whole policy was founded on a quest for reparation, making up for historic discrimination against black people.

In an America where it is becoming increasingly difficult to see poverty, the “underclass,” and historic disadvantage as having solely a black face, restoring affirmative action as an anti-poverty policy is progressive.

Some assail this approach as cluelessly “race-blind,” but they’re wrong. Fears that hardship-based affirmative action would mean black and Latino students being all but eliminated on college campuses in favor of working-class whites are overblown, as is clear from rigorous treatments such as this one. Rather, letting go of the ever-fragile diversity rationale would, while leaving college campuses with healthy populations of black and Latino students, finally let us exhale.

To wit: no more pretending there is a black take on Jane Austen or differential quotients, or that white students having black students in their classes about these things will teach them something useful for when they meet black colleagues at the law firm they work for after graduation. No more singling out black kids to talk about “the” black experience. No more skirting by the inconvenient fact that an affluent black student is rather insignificantly “diverse” compared to a white one who grew up with one parent in a trailer park.

In a nutshell, quite a few “diverse” students are — whether unwittingly or not — opposed to a key rationale for their recruitment and admission, and the whole diversity rationale has always been extremely fragile anyway.

Affirmative action must be preserved, but what we need to affirm in the 21st century is disadvantage. There are those who will insist that such a view is conservative — yet it is them who will seem backward in the future.

John McWhorter teaches linguistics, American studies, philosophy and music history at Columbia University and is the author of “The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.


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How to get your retirement savings on track

— I’m in my 30s and want to know whether I’m on the right track for retirement. How do I go about doing that? — Mike, Connecticut

The close of one year and the start of a new one is a good time to take a fresh look at your retirement planning to determine whether you’re making progress and, if not, take steps to improve your prospects. Unfortunately, many people fail to do such an assessment at any time of year. Fewer than half of workers have tried to calculate how much they need to save for a comfortable retirement, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey, and nearly 40% admit that they simply guess about how much they’ll need rather than do an analysis.

Which is a shame because evaluating whether you’re on track isn’t all that difficult. The easiest way to get a handle on where you stand is to rev up a good retirement income calculator that uses Monte Carlo simulations to make its projections. By plugging in such information as how much you’ve already managed to save, how much you’re contributing to retirement accounts each year and how much of your current income you’ll need to replace in retirement, you can come away with a pretty good sense of whether you’re making adequate headway toward a secure retirement.

There are several online calculators that can help you with such an assessment. I’m partial to the T. Rowe Price Retirement Income Calculator because it’s easy to use and, unlike other tools that attempt to identify your “Retirement Number,” or the size of the nest egg you need to accumulate in order to retire, the T. Rowe tool estimates the chance that you’ll be able to generate the lifetime income you’ll need to maintain your standard of living in retirement. By focusing on income rather than a lump sum, I think you end up with a better sense of where you stand, whether you’re making progress and how various moves might be able to improve your odds of success.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re 35 years old, earn $50,000 a year, have one year’s salary already saved for retirement and that each year you contribute 10% of pay to your retirement accounts. And let’s further assume that you invest your savings in a mix of 80% stocks-20% bonds. Based on that scenario, the calculator estimates that you would be able to generate 75% of your pre-retirement salary from a combination of Social Security plus draws from your retirement nest egg with a 56% chance of sustaining that income at least until age 95. In short, if you continue on the path you’re on in the example above, you have a little better than 50-50 shot at a reasonably comfortable and secure retirement.

But one of the benefits of doing this sort of analysis is that you can also easily see how you might improve your retirement prospects. Increase your annual savings rate from 10% of pay to 12%, for example, and voila! Your chances of retiring on 75% of your pre-retirement salary climb from 56% to 64%. Boost your savings rate to 15%, and the probability increases to 73%. And if you save at a 15% annual rate and stay on the job two more years, your chances jump to 86%, in part because your Social Security benefit increases by roughly 15% for delaying two years but also because the extra years on the job allow you to contribute more to your retirement accounts and provide more time for those accounts to grow.

By the way, people who are already retired should go through a similar analysis, except that instead of homing in on their saving rate and planned retirement age, they should focus mostly on whether they’ll be able to continue their current level of spending without outliving their nest egg. Retirees can use the T. Rowe calculator or the American Institute for Economic Research’s Retirement Withdrawal Calculator, as both essentially estimate how long your savings might last given your current rate of spending and how your money is divvied up between stocks and bonds. Whichever tool you use, I recommend retirees also do a retirement budget to get a more accurate sense of how much they’ll need to spend to maintain their standard of living.

I want to emphasize that these and similar tools yield projections, not certainties. A lot can happen over the course of a long career (and a long retirement) that no calculator or tool can foresee. The markets could take a nosedive or deliver subpar returns for a prolonged period. You might not be able to maintain your savings regimen because of a job loss. A financial emergency could force you to dip into your savings.

But by going through this sort of exercise initially and then and re-doing it periodically with updated information about the size of your retirement account balances, how much you’re saving or spending, etc., you can gauge your progress and make necessary adjustments as you go along. This sort of monitoring and occasional tweaking can give you a more realistic sense of whether you’re really prepared for your post-career life and prevent you from finding on the eve of retirement that you’re way, way behind where you need to be.

Ideally, you should combine this check-up with a review of your investments to ensure that your retirement portfolio is invested in a way that is likely to generate adequate returns while remaining consistent with your tolerance for risk. As part of that investment review, you may want to rebalance your holdings and even consider doing some tax-loss harvesting in taxable accounts, or selling shares to realize capital losses that can offset realized capital gains and, possibly, ordinary income. To have such losses count for the 2015 tax year, you must sell the shares before the end of the year. (If you do sell to realize a loss, take care that you don’t screw up the maneuver by running afoul of the “wash-sale” rule.

If you’re not comfortable doing this sort of retirement check-up on your own, you can always turn to a financial adviser for help. But if you eventually want to have a secure retirement, you need to find out where you stand and, if necessary, start making moves to enhance your prospects.


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Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon, famed hoops jester, dies at 83

— George “Meadowlark” Lemon, the basketball star who entertained millions of fans around the world with his antics as a longtime member of the Harlem Globetrotters, died Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 83.

Lemon played 24 seasons and by his own estimate more than 16,000 games with the Globetrotters, the touring exhibition basketball team known for its slick ball-handling, practical jokes, red-white-and-blue uniforms and multiyear winning streaks against overmatched opponents.

He also was one of a handful of Globetrotters whose fame transcended sports, especially among children during the team’s heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. Lemon was immortalized in a Harlem Globetrotters cartoon series and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” episodes of “Scooby Doo” and many national TV commercials.

A gifted player whose basketball skills were sometimes overshadowed by his on-court high jinks, Lemon was known for sinking half-court hook shots, throwing behind-the-back passes and pretending to spy on his opponents’ huddles.

Nicknamed the “clown prince” of basketball, he also pioneered a trademark routine in which he doused a referee with a bucket of water and then pranked fans by heaving another bucket — filled with confetti, not water — into the stands as people scrambled to get out of the way.

“For a generation of fans, the name Meadowlark Lemon was synonymous with the Harlem Globetrotters,” Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider said. “He was an incredible entertainer and brought happiness and lifelong memories to millions around the world. We have lost a great ambassador of the game.”

Born in Wilmington, North Carolina, Lemon joined the Globetrotters in 1954 after serving two years in the Army. Over the next quarter-century, he and the team played almost everywhere, from high school gyms to Madison Square Garden to an exhibition in Moscow during the Cold War.

His website says Lemon and his teammates played before popes, kings, queens, presidents and regular basketball fans in almost 100 countries.

After a salary dispute, Lemon left the Globetrotters in 1979 to form his own comedic basketball teams, which performed under the names Meadowlark Lemon’s Bucketeers, the Shooting Stars and Meadowlark Lemon’s Harlem All Stars.

He returned to the Harlem Globetrotters for a 50-game “comeback” tour in 1993.

Lemon was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. He spent the last several years of his life serving as an ordained minister and motivational speaker.

His death follows that of early Globetrotter player and teammate Marques Haynes, who died in May.


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Tiger Woods at 40: Golf star’s top-10 defining moments

— His story has been game-changing, spellbinding, controversial, outrageous, even sad — but never dull.

Tiger Woods turns 40 on Wednesday, another landmark in a tantalizing tale.

The former world No. 1, stranded four shy of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles, has been the dominant golfer of his generation and the sport’s most iconic figure.

The end may be in sight, as injuries have derailed his career — although you wouldn’t rule out further twists — but here’s a rundown of the top-10 defining moments from Woods’ career.

10. The wins

It may not resonate as much as the chase for Nicklaus’ major mark, but Woods insists PGA Tour wins are just as important a measure of his career. Woods clinched the last of his 79 PGA Tour titles in 2013, when he won five times, to inch towards seven-time major champion Sam Snead’s record of 82. Nicklaus is third with 73.

9. The U.S. Open overture

Woods kicked off his major haul at the Masters in 1997 and added another with the 1999 PGA Championship, but it was his 15-shot demolition job at Pebble Beach in 2000 that confirmed his status in golf’s pantheon. Woods’ winning margin remains the biggest in major history, and he broke a host of other scoring records along the way. The victory would also set in motion a period of unsurpassed domination in the game.

8. The first grand slam

A month after his Pebble Beach procession, Woods won the Open Championship at St. Andrews — by another thumping eight-shot margin — to complete the set of all four major titles.

At 24, he became the youngest player in history to clinch the career grand slam and remains one of only five players (along with Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Nicklaus) to have won all four professional major championships in his career. Woods beat Nicklaus to the mark by two years.

7. The world No. 1

Not a specific moment, but Woods’ strangehold on the world rankings illustrates how he dominated. He has spent a record 683 weeks at No. 1, starting with a week-long foray in June 1997, and including the most consecutive weeks (281) as top dog, from June 2005 to October 2010. Despite his recent slide down into the 400s in the rankings, Woods was still on top as recently as May 2014 following another 60 weeks as No. 1.

To put his superiority into context, since the world rankings began in 1986 the next closest is Greg Norman with 331 weeks at the top.

6. The beginning of the end?

Woods has fought injury throughout his career, but each time he has returned full of defiance, always proclaiming he will bounce back.

But after a third operation on his back in November 2015, a downbeat Woods exposed his doubts for the first time.

“Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know,” he told reporters on the eve of his Hero World Challenge event in the Bahamas in December.

“There is nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards.

“For my 20 years out here I think I’ve achieved a lot, and if that’s all it entails, then I’ve had a pretty good run. I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy.”

5. The last major

Shortly before the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a double stress fracture in his left leg, despite recent knee surgery. Doctors said he should not play at Torrey Pines. Woods was adamant he would win.

What unfolded over five days in southern California was almost supernatural. Woods limped and grimaced, but conjured a series of improbable shots and lengthy putts to lead after 54 holes. He dropped another bomb on the final green to squeeze into a 18-hole Monday play-off and beat 45-year-old Rocco Mediate for his 14th major title and sixth with coach Hank Haney.

It was also the third time he had completed a set of the four major titles — at 32, he was three years younger than Nicklaus when he achieved the same feat.

4. The ‘Tiger Slam’

Woods was on fire during the summer of 2000 and added the U.S. PGA title to his U.S. Open and British Open triumphs. At Augusta in the first major of 2001, he beat David Duval by two shots to land a second green jacket and clinch what became known as the “Tiger Slam” of holding all four majors at once.

This was Woods in his pomp, his Butch Harmon-modeled swing purring like a precision instrument.

Woods won eight majors with Harmon between 1997-2002 and six under Haney between 2005-2008. Haney quit in May 2010 but Woods was unable to add to his major haul with replacement Sean Foley, who was relieved of his duties in August 2014.

No one has yet won the four modern majors in the same season.

3. The injuries

Woods’ fitness — or lack of it — has been a major defining factor in his career. His dynamic swing and rigorous weight-training regime have placed a heavy toll on his body and he is often described as an “old” 40.

He has had four operations on his left knee and suffered numerous Achilles, neck and elbow problems as well as the ongoing back ailment, which prompted a first operation for a pinched nerve in March 2014.

Woods has missed six majors because of injury since 2008. The knock-on effect is the time needed to rehabilitate and then practice, while his numerous swing changes — bringing their own issues — have been in part to preserve his body.

Nicklaus, however, won three majors in his 40s and maintains Woods “should not be written off.”

2. The introduction

By 1997, the golf world had heard of this young black kid with a precocious talent who could smash the ball miles and putted like a Jedi, but the wider sporting public was about to get acquainted.

The 21-year-old, playing in his first Masters as a professional, won by a record 12 shots over the famed Augusta National to become the youngest winner and the first non-white player to triumph in the year’s first major.

The Tiger era was upon us and the game changed. Players rushed to get fitter and stronger, and courses — including Augusta itself — would start to be lengthened to combat the increasing distance of a new generation.

1. The meltdown

The date is etched on the mind: November 27, 2009. That night reports filtered out that Woods had been in a car crash outside his Florida home. As the fuller picture emerged — of fire-hydrants, golf clubs and eventually serial infidelity — Woods’ narrative took off in a whole new unforeseen direction. Rehab and divorce followed, he decided to devote more time to his two kids, form slumped, injuries interfered and swing changes muddied the waters.

Nothing would be the same again. Whenever Woods’ career is dissected, the words “what if” will be at the forefront of the conversation.


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The rise of Black Lives Matter: Trying to break the cycle of violence and silence

Critics said it wouldn’t last. It was a blip on the radar of protest movements. It would fade away like Occupy Wall Street. With no clear structure and no strong leader, some said, it was bound to fail, especially when the infighting began. But still it rises — and polarizes.

The Black Lives Matter movement has pushed itself into the national conversation again and again. It seems anyone can join them and anyone can claim to be a part of the movement, simply by creating a Facebook page or using a hashtag.

Still, it is praised as much as it is criticized. While there is no way to know exactly how large the movement has become, the organization has branched out with chapters in 31 cities and held rallies, boycotts and other actions across the United States, according to one of the co-founders.

For a group that started with a hashtag in 2012 after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, it has grown into a social juggernaut. It has changed the way people talk about police brutality and inequality.

“Because of social media we reach people in the smallest corners of America. We are plucking at a cord that has not been plucked forever,” Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter says. “There is a network and a hashtag to gather around. It is powerful to be in alignment with our own people.”

You can try, but it is hard to avoid the conversation about Black Lives Matter anymore. And that’s exactly the point.

But the group is also trying to find its footing to make much more change. And part of that means really figuring out what the movement is about, longer-term; where leaders think they can do more than demonstrate and disrupt society and “shut sh*t down,” as they often chant. They say it is about much more than each individual death of an African-American man or woman, it is about what it means to be black in America.

And that means learning how to make political change to address the frustrations of the African-American community. The movement wants a civil rights movement-type of change that shakes up politics and breaks the cycle of violence and silence.

To do that, it also must confront itself, its leadership and how it plans to operate. The group does not have one prominent leader, and that is by design.

“We don’t have a one strong leader model. You can’t kill the movement by killing the leader because there are many,” Cullors-Brignac says. “But decentralization does not mean disorganization. We are highly organized.”

Still there are those who have emerged as social media leaders, judging by their mass followings.

DeRay Mckesson is front and center, with 268,000 Twitter followers and counting. He drives conversation. He is poetic and polarizing all at once. He’s been called everything from the new Martin Luther King Jr. to a devil intent on dividing America, depending on who is responding to him.

Mckesson has been protesting in some form since the August 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which was eventually deemed justified by both a grand jury and a Department of Justice investigation. He is never absent from Twitter, where he skewers police accused in killings or brutality. He attacks police department tactics and the media, and his prominence keeps growing among those who hate him and those who support him.

While he is vociferous at times, he knows that the movement is bigger than any single person, and he wants to keep it that way.

“I think it’s a movement of many people doing important work and leading in different ways. We’ve only begun to see the power and impact of that type of model,” he said.

Which is why social media is such a big part of how Black Lives Matter operates. Activists like Mckesson, Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac, Shaun King, Brittany Packnett, Johnetta Elzie and Samuel Sinyangwe make sure to use the platform as a bullhorn to share their message with the public and inspire others to take part.

Protesting politicians, and maybe their allies

In the past 15 months, the movement has gone from local outrage in Ferguson to a tidal wave of awakening across the nation.

“We brought more people into the conversation, and they realized the problem is much closer to them than they think,” Mckesson says.

But the group’s tactics have come under intense scrutiny, sometimes by the very people it is supporting or who have supported it.

Some critics blame Black Lives Matter for worsening race relations in America, pointing to polls that show Americans think race relations are worse in recent years. But Black Lives Matter activists say just because they have pointed out racism in America, doesn’t mean the group is to blame.

The group is also known to take over at political rallies of the very people who could be allies in their fight.

When Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Seattle in August, shouting their way onstage and later causing the Democratic presidential candidate to leave the event, some members distanced themselves, saying that didn’t represent their agenda. But with the way the group has positioned itself, anyone with similar goals can consider themselves part of the group and movement.

Sanders’ fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was next, later that month. But this time, they wanted to make sure she heard them. So they pushed to get close and have a personal conversation about paying more attention to the group’s goals.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hasn’t escaped their ire, but he did manage to talk over them partly because some of his supporters pushed out one of the protesters during a speech in Alabama.

But the focus also had to be on real areas they could change now with leaders currently in power. At an October town hall meeting in south Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti showed up intending to listen and respond to the community to restore a frayed relationship. What he encountered was Black Lives Matter activists who stood up and turned their backs on him.

“The mayor has neglected, disrespected and abused the black community for far too long,” said Melina Abdullah, a Black Lives Matter organizer and professor of African studies, grabbing everyone’s attention.

While the crowd may have agreed with her, some were frustrated that members of the group had sideswiped their chance to have a serious conversation with the mayor.

“You have the subgroup trying to take over the town hall. Whatever they were talking about is not my reality,” Daryle Shumake, a 45-year-old black health care worker, told the Los Angeles Times that night.

In Minneapolis, protesters occupied the police department to demand that video be released of the police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark. The officers involved in the death are on administrative leave pending state and federal investigations.

Black Lives Matters members continue to protest. Clark’s family has been thankful for the activists’ support but also frustrated at times with their tactics. Family members repeatedly appealed for peace, and respect for property, saying there’s a fine line between protesting a cause and hurting the community.

Later, the Black Lives Matter movement was the target of a shooting outside the police department and the family again urged them to leave, this time for the group’s own safety.

“Disagreements about tactics are totally normal. We have differing opinions. This happened during the 60s in the days of Martin Luther King, and the Black Panther movement,” Cullors-Brignac says. “It is just that our disagreements are often displayed to the public in real time on social media.”

She openly worries that the infighting can be destructive, but it shouldn’t take away from the work that needs to be done.

Confronting violence and their path ahead

The Black Lives Matter movement is making a concerted effort not to encourage violence. It responds fiercely when accused of committing violent acts during protests. But this comes with the territory with a loosely formed group. When you organize or encourage protests and encourage all to get involved, then the group itself and the movement bear the brunt of the blame if some become violent or destructive, as was the case in Ferguson and Baltimore.

So, in Minneapolis, the activists took a different tack when they learned of a potential plot by white supremacists to incite violence to tarnish the movement. They told group members to make sure their faces could be seen, so fingers couldn’t be pointed at them.

When a male walking around the crowd was asked to remove his mask and refused, the group questioned why he was there. When he said he was just checking things out, they grabbed him by the arm and escorted him out.

“Not today. You are not welcome to create chaos here. No sir,” they said.

Again, some praised the group’s actions, while others condemned them. They were trying to police themselves, but also removed someone from a public street.

Police later discovered Molotov cocktails not far from the protest site, though they never figured out who was responsible.

The threats against the group itself are now fast and furious. Most are online. But some are in person. In Minneapolis, five demonstrators were shot. Police arrested three suspects, all of them white, after a confrontation between protesters and the men.

Despite the bumps, the hurdles and the accusations, the movement continues and grows across the country. The question is, what is the group’s plan for the future and will it have an impact on policy, or will it just continue to make its presence known by protesting?

“In the beginning that was about awareness and recognition, helping bring attention to an issue,” Mckesson said.

He and Samuel Sinyangwe, Britanny Packnett and Johnetta Elzie came out with a policy of sorts — or at least a clear and concise list of principles for policy change. They called it Campaign Zero, and they map out policy issues and have honed in on areas in which they think they can bring about real change: police contracts and misconduct records; investigations of police; community representation; “militarization” of police; use of body cameras.

Mckesson says the key to the group’s future is to start getting involved in hyper-local politics not just national races. Taking to the streets will always be a part of the movement, but taking over as policy-makers could change things forever.

“What does it mean when protesters become city council members, mayors, school board members?” Mckesson asked. “How will that factor into the next phase? How will we grow and change? The movement has matured, for lack of a better word, but it has to be multifaceted.”


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First Day Hikes in America’s state parks offer invigorating start to New Year

Make a New Year’s resolution to your health and happiness by kicking off 2016 with an invigorating “First Day Hike” at a state park near you. On January 1, 2016, all 50 states will participate in the fifth annual national event that encourages everyone to celebrate the New Year with a guided outdoor exploration.

“First Day Hikes offer families the opportunity to rejuvenate and reconnect with nature on guided outdoor adventures,” National Association of State Park Directors President Domenic Bravo said. There are shorter options for families with young children, to longer treks for adventure seekers. State parks offer stunning views, unique cultural and historical experiences, and wintering wildlife for everyone to enjoy.”

Through the event, park rangers, naturalists and volunteers will share their knowledge of each state’s unique natural and cultural features. Adventures include a trek along a rail trail in Arkansas’ Delta Heritage Trail State Park, an expansive mountain view from atop

the renovated fire tower in Georgia’s Fort Mountain State Park, and a Missouri hike amongst sinkholes, a geologic fault and serene woodlands in Ha Ha Tonka State Park. This year, many locations are including pet-friendly hikes, such as Greenbrier and Patapsco Valley state parks in Maryland.

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the New Year than connecting with the great outdoors through a First Day Hike,” Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “Maryland Park Service rangers, staff and volunteers invite the public to join them in one of dozens of hikes across the state to learn what makes our state and its beautiful lands so special. I encourage everyone to make a New Year’s resolution to get outdoors and get healthy.”

Details on every state’s hikes are located at www.naspd.org. Participants are encouraged to log their adventures on social media with #FirstDayHikes.

“America’s State Parks provide havens for young and old alike to explore the beauty and serenity of nature through outdoor recreation,” National Association of State Park Directors Executive Director Lewis Ledford said. “Hiking offers inspiring ways to improve your physical and mental health, while discovering beautiful public lands in every state.”

First Day Hikes originated more than 25 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation— a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. Last year, more than 41,000 people covered over 79,000 miles on 997 hikes across the country.

This year’s event coincides with the National Park Service’s Centennial, a celebration of the 100 years of stewardship of natural resources in state and national parks. State parks across the country are encouraging Park Service staff to join in on the First Day Hikes.

Ravens beat Steelers with Ryan Mallet and strong defense

The Baltimore Ravens were able to pull off a 20 – 17 victory over their rival Pittsburgh Steelers at home thanks to stellar play by Ryan Mallett along with a suddenly stingy defense. The win gives the Ravens their third regular season sweep of the Steelers in their 20-year franchise history.

The Steelers came into the game having scored 30 points in six consecutive games.

The Ravens defense was able to slow down the Steelers triple threats at wide receiver. Antonio Brown was limited to seven receptions for 61 yards, while Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant were also ineffective.

Ben Roethlisberger was not able to get into any kind of rhythm against a very aggressive Ravens defense. He completed 22 out of 34 pass attempts for 220 yards. Roethlisberger also threw two interceptions.

Jimmy Smith and Daryl Smith both had interceptions against Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense. Their two interceptions were half of the total number of interceptions the defense had all season. Jimmy Smith also returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back due to an offsides penalty called on Courtney Upshaw.

Mallett took over at quarterback after signing with the team less than two weeks ago. The Ravens signed him to a two year deal and wanted to get a good look at him in live game action. What started off as a trial run may have secured a 2016 roster spot as a backup to Joe Flacco.

The Ravens were able to score a touchdown on their first possession with Mallett at quarterback. He ended the day having completed 28 of his 41 pass attempts for 274 yards. Mallett threw one touchdown and most importantly didn’t turn the football over.

“I want to thank the Ravens organization for bringing me in and giving me a shot. Everyone welcomed me with open arms. That’s a credit to my teammates,” MalIett said. “It was a totally new system to me. Jimmy [Clausen] and Matt [Schaub] helped me get acclimated.”

Marc Trestman was able to help Mallett by calling a more balanced game. They gained 121 yards on the ground. Coming into the game, the Steelers were only giving up an average of 89 yards.

Coach Harbaugh had plenty of praise for the way the offensive staff was able to find success against their rival and get Mallett up to speed quickly.

“For Marc [Trestman] and Marty [Mornhinweg] to put together a game plan, all the coaches that were involved to put a game plan together that we could operate, it says a lot. It was just a great effort.” Harbaugh said.

It took a collective effort to beat their division rivals. All hands were on deck and the results showed. The Ravens will travel to Cincinnati to conclude the 2015 season next week.