# Sports



Exclusive: ISU acquired $5 million plane for athletics

Photo of the Cessna 560XL recently purchased for ISU’s Athletics Department, cropped from an online listing of the plane for sale

Iowa State University recently acquired a Cessna 560XL airplane for $5.06 million, university staff confirmed to Bleeding Heartland on February 7. The 2004 model Cessna arrived in Ames last month and is intended to replace the university’s King Air 350.

ISU communications staffer Angie Hunt said via email, “the Cessna plane was purchased for the athletic department’s primary use,” with the ISU Foundation using the athletic’s department’s “cash reserves” for the transaction. She added, “No general funds or tuition dollars were used.”

Staff in the Athletics Department have already used the Cessna for several trips.

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Lessons learned on a basketball court

Photo of basketball court in Hillsboro, Oregon is by M.O. Stevens, available via Wikimedia Commons

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com 

No Apple phones, No Madden 24 NFL, and there was not a Tik or a Tok to be found. It was just a fenced concrete slab and two slightly bent backboards with chain nets. There wasn’t free throw line or half court markings. It was strictly BYOB, bring your own basketball. 

The ball sometimes flew over the fence and landed in Bear Crick. We took turns wading in or finding a big enough stick to retrieve the errant ball. Sometimes the lights blazed long after we’d been called to supper, but since we lived a block away, I’d be sent down to switch them off.

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A fan's reward

Writing under the handle “Bronxiniowa,” Ira Lacher, who actually hails from the Bronx, New York, is a longtime journalism, marketing, and public relations professional.

“Where do you want it?”

Remember in The French Connection when detective “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) poses that question to a trusted informant—then maims him so it looks like the guy didn’t willingly rat?

Fans of the English soccer club Tottenham Hotspur inherited that role this past weekend when the Premier League club, located in north London, transferred their all-time leading goal scorer, Harry Kane, to top-flight German club Bayern Munich, minutes before the start of the 2023-24 season.

As a “Spurs” supporter on this side of the pond, it was a gut punch that recalled June 15, 1977, when baseball’s New York Mets traded the most famous player in their history, Tom Seaver, to the Cincinnati Reds. It took years to heal that emotional gash.

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Fandom, not politics

Writing under the handle “Bronxiniowa,” Ira Lacher, who actually hails from the Bronx, New York, is a longtime journalism, marketing, and public relations professional.

A band member gave me grief when I walked into a recent rehearsal wearing my University of Alabama baseball cap. “How can you root for that backward state!” exclaimed this arch-progressive. It was not a question.

Since college football will, within four or so weeks, once again commence across the U.S., here’s my answer:

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Finding more than meets the eye when Iowans gather

Patrick Muller is a visual artist living in Hills (Johnson County).

Multiple times a year, teenage athletes from all corners of the state roll into a dedicated tournament venue to showcase their talents and compete for trophies. While forming a sports conclave, these individuals and teams also represent schools and towns. These competitions, then, have the additional potential to be meetings of minds and substrates for community building. When, for instance, Audobon, Bloomfield, Cascade, and Milford contestants meet, why not use that occasion for a pop-up chautauqua, learning commons, or consideration cafe?

While students are heaving a discus or passing the baton, individuals from their schools and towns could get together to share, on a variety of topics, best practices and approaches to opportunities and challenges; learn; network; and even sketch out some multi-community collaborations.

Truly, after nearly a century of championships in some sports, one has to wonder why these affairs are still merely ephemeral, insular, ostensibly single-purposed. 

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Caitlin and Angel: Battle of the brands

Dan Piller was a business reporter for more than four decades, working for the Des Moines Register and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He covered the oil and gas industry while in Texas and was the Register’s agriculture reporter before his retirement in 2013. He lives in Ankeny.

The overheated commentary in the aftermath of the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four has focused on race: the mostly-white Iowa women led by Caitlin Clark against the Black women from South Carolina and Louisiana State University.

Many saw racial overtones in the critiques of LSU player Angel Reese’s gestures toward Clark near the end of the championship game. Reese noted at the post-game press conference that all season, people have tried to “put her in a box” and said she’s “too hood” and “ghetto.” (Clark said in a later interview she didn’t “think Angel should be criticized at all,” adding that trash talk is part of the game.)

Race is always present in sports culture. But with today’s college athletes, a new factor has arisen that may be even bigger.

It’s money. The Iowa-LSU game coincided with a new era, where college athletes at long last are getting a share of what has been a rich marketing pie. Clark and Reese competed for their schools and states, to be sure, but it was also a battle of brands.

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U Iowa Athletics to reimburse state for racial bias settlement

The University of Iowa’s Athletics Department will reimburse the state’s general fund for $2 million that will be used to settle a racial bias lawsuit filed by twelve former football players.

In a statement read to Iowa House members at a March 9 meeting of an Appropriations subcommittee, University President Barbara Wilson said she made the decision after “listening to the concerns of Iowans, and in consultation with the Board of Regents leadership.” She noted that the Athletics Department “is a self-sustaining unit that does not receive any tuition revenue or tax revenue.”

The Iowa Attorney General’s office negotiated the $4.175 million deal to settle the lawsuit, which claimed the football program and several coaches created a racially hostile environment for players. It was the fourth time the Athletics Department has paid to settle a discrimination lawsuit since Gary Barta became athletics director, but the first time a deal required the state’s general fund to cover part of the expenses.

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We won't stop watching

Ira Lacher was an assistant sports editor at the Des Moines Register during the 1980s.

Wait for it.

As Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin continues to lie, inert, connected to whatever devices keep him alive, someone is sure to call for American football, a sport unique in the world, to be banned.

Certainly what occurred on the turf of Paul Brown Stadium on Monday night, January 2, 2023, bears introspection. How are you supposed to feel when you witness a 24-year-young man almost dying, in full view of tens of thousands of spectators, and millions more watching on high-definition television?

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Ferentz fields questions, but governor rarely does

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

It is safe to assume Kirk Ferentz has not enjoyed the glorious autumn in Iowa the way he would prefer.

He has feverishly worked his Bubble Yum during the Hawkeyes’ games this season. He has been worked over during his post-game press conferences and again at his weekly meetings with the media on Tuesdays.

Being a college football coach is never a picnic. But this year, life for the longest-tenured football coach in big-time college athletics has been more stressful than most years.

We saw that last week when the normally measured coach referred to the media session with journalists following the Hawkeyes’ 54-10 loss to Ohio State University as an “interrogation.” 

But I come today to sing Kirk Ferentz’s praises, not to dog-pile on him.

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An open letter to coaches in Iowa public schools

To the Iowans who coach student athletes or lead other public school-based activities:

As a new academic year begins this week, you may feel more emboldened to bring your religion into practices, games, or other school group gatherings. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that high school football coach Joseph Kennedy was wrongly disciplined over his post-game prayers on the field.

Writing for a 6-3 majority in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, Justice Neil Gorsuch mischaracterized Kennedy’s actions as a “short, private, personal prayer.” In fact, the coach sought public acclaim and extensive media coverage for giving thanks to God at the 50-yard line, sometimes surrounded by players.

No doubt the coaches who copy Kennedy will be celebrated in many Iowa communities.

I’ve been thinking about how coaches like him will change the school sports experience for students like me.

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Cheerful cruelty belies governor's concern over kids' mental health

Self-awareness has never been Governor Kim Reynolds’ strong suit.

So it was that just this week, Reynolds asserted in an interview with the Des Moines Register that mental health “has been so important to me.” The governor lamented the pressures kids have faced over the past two years, “the depression, the anxiety,” adding, “We’ve seen suicide rates among young girls up over 50 percent” during the COVID-19 pandemic. She bragged about “working on mental health for five years” and “standing up a children’s mental health system.”

You’d never guess she just signed a bill that is guaranteed to increase depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation among some of Iowa’s most vulnerable youth.

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Republicans value "fairness" only for Iowans like themselves

Iowa Republicans have sought to undermine LGBTQ equality for more than a decade, but in recent years, their myriad attempts to discriminate didn’t make it past the legislature’s first “funnel” deadline.

However, this year Republicans moved bills out of Iowa House and Senate committees that would prohibit transgender girls and women from participating in school sports. The bills are eligible for debate in both chambers.

The legislation is a priority for Governor Kim Reynolds, who declared during a Fox News town hall last spring that she was committed to acting on the issue. She has repeatedly claimed preventing trans girls from competing is a matter of “fairness,” a talking point echoed by Republican lawmakers who defended the bills last week.

Their stated concerns don’t extend to Iowa’s transgender girls and women, who would find yet another door slammed in their face.

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A golden anniversary for Title IX

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register, where this essay first appeared. He serves as chair of the executive committee (the equivalent of board chair) of Americans for Democratic Action, America’s most experienced liberal organization.

Several weeks ago, working on a writing assignment unrelated to this column, I explored the remarkable career of Patsy Takemoto Mink, a U.S. representative from Hawaii. From 1978 to 1981, she served as President of Americans for Democratic Action, a national advocacy organization currently celebrating its 75th anniversary. Mink’s crowning legislative achievement was guiding Congressional passage of Title IX, signed into law by President Nixon on June 23, 1972.

Title IX is a mere 37 words: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Two items worth noting: First, while the law clearly forbids gender discrimination, athletics is never mentioned. Second, in the intervening 50 years, female participation in high school sports has grown by 1,057 percent, 614 percent at the college level.  

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Honor Thanksgiving spirit by respecting Indigenous people

Sometime during the fall of 1621, white European settlers at Plymouth held a harvest feast, attended by some Wampanoag, one of the Indigenous peoples living in the area. Almost everything else you learned about that “first Thanksgiving” was wrong.

The Pilgrims didn’t invite the Wampanoag to share their bounty. Some historians now believe the Native men came because they heard gunshots and assumed the settlement was under attack. (They had formed an alliance with the European settlers in the spring of 1621.) Another theory is that the warriors showed up “as a reminder that they controlled the land the Pilgrims were staying on and they vastly outnumbered their new European neighbors.”

According to Thanksgiving myths, the Pilgrims expressed gratitude for Wampanoag who taught them how to grow or find food in their new surroundings. In reality, “Their role in helping the Pilgrims survive by sharing resources and wisdom went unacknowledged that day, according to accounts of the toasts given by Pilgrim leaders.”

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The dreams are alive

Ira Lacher reflects on attending the first Major League Baseball game played at the “Field of Dreams” in Dyersville. -promoted by Laura Belin

It is fashionable to bash baseball these days. One reason is more baseballs are being bashed to the exclusion of almost everything else — bunts, hit-and-runs, stolen bases, and other examples of “small ball” that cling to the hearts of purists like the stirrups extending from the bottoms of baseball uniforms’ trimmed trousers, de rigueur during my growing-up years but which have been supplanted by pants worn below the tops of high-top shoes.

For perhaps the first time since records were kept, more strikeouts will be recorded than hits, the result of hitting coaches instructing batters to swing upwards to take advantage of the momentum generated by contact with 98-mile-an-hour fastballs, thrown by an endless succession of seemingly bionic-armed pitchers.

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1968 Olympics revisited: Prep for 2021's 200-meter final

Herb Strentz reviews the most famous 200-meter final in Olympic history and its aftermath. -promoted by Laura Belin

With the 2021 Olympics nearing the finish line, one of many track events to watch will be the 200-meter men’s final, scheduled for Wednesday, August 4.

While we don’t know who this year’s finalists will be, we can say with certainty the 1968 final for the 200-meter distance will be revisited, as it is every Olympiad and many times between.

Judging from past press coverage, Peter Norman will not be mentioned. That’s because on the 200-meter victory stand, two Black Americans, Tommie Smith (gold medalist) and John Carlos (bronze) raised gloved fists in a Black Lives Matter protest — back then it was called Black Power.

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Five things that are not "fairness"

Governor Kim Reynolds thrilled conservatives when she announced on Fox News last week that she wants to sign a bill banning transgender youth from competing on sports teams not matching their gender assigned at birth.

Defending the discriminatory policy during a news conference on May 5, Reynolds claimed five times that concerns about “fairness” are driving her commitment to address the issue.

This mean-spirited play to the GOP base has several dimensions. None of them are grounded in fairness.

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Courting an Ex

Ira Lacher: It’s long past time for women’s college sports to again be governed by an organization committed to promoting women’s college sports. -promoted by Laura Belin

Anyone who tuned in on Saturday, March 27, to watch the University of Iowa take on top-seeded Connecticut in the women’s NCAA college basketball tournament should have been made aware of how poorly the NCAA has treated the women’s game.

Since the tournament in San Antonio, Texas, began, articles have repeatedly evidenced the utter inequality between it and the men’s tournament, in Indianapolis. Optics that include no on-site TV commentators until the round of 16, the dearth of marketing presence around the Texas city, inadequate weight rooms, the outright ban on the term “March Madness” for the women’s tournament, and the investment disparity, prove more than ever that the NCAA’s treatment of women’s sports is how W. C. Fields deals with annoyances: “Go on, kid, ya bother me.”

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Props to sports without props

As some sporting events return without spectators due to COVID-19, Ira Lacher has changed his mind about attending games in person. -promoted by Laura Belin

Not long ago, I vowed to not watch a single minute of a sports event played in an empty stadium or arena. What’s a game without fans?

I was totally wrong. And it’s not because I can’t live without soccer, now that the English Premier League is restarting. Heck, I’ve lived without it for four months, and I’m still here.

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Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and coronavirus

Randy Richardson: “As a former baseball player and coach, I miss the sport as much as anyone, but is opening high school baseball and softball seasons really a good decision?” -promoted by Laura Belin

Governor Kim Reynolds announced on May 20 that summer athletic seasons may proceed for high school baseball and softball in Iowa, following a two-month activities suspension due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Her proclamation allowed the reopening of school facilities and practices beginning on Monday, June 1.

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Baseball scandal shows how low we go

Tom Witosky was an investigative reporter for the Des Moines Register in politics, sports, and business for 33 years prior to his early retirement in 2012. He is also the co-author of Equal Before the Law: How Iowa led Americans to Marriage Equality. -promoted by Laura Belin

It’s time we all acknowledge one single truth about what we have done to our country: We’ve lost our moral authority.

And we are all to blame for it no matter which side of the political spectrum you sit.

How do I know that?

It’s simple really. It’s about baseball.

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Return of the gladiators

Former sports editor Ira Lacher argues that the “game” of professional football “is becoming more of a troubling spectacle.” -promoted by Laura Belin

It starts again soon. This week, the smack of rock-hard plastic on far softer bone and tissue signals the onset of yet another professional football season. For tens of millions of Americans, it is the culmination of a seven-month foreplay of offseason news, tryout camps, the college draft, the preseason and, finally, at 7:20 P.M. Eastern time, Packers vs. Bears, the start of a five-month orgiastic swoon.

Professional football perfectly defines what most of us believe America is: a society constrained by the norms of civilization and polity but with a savage undertow, which flows for 21 weeks a year, from September through February.

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Tanks in Washington and other July 4 links

President Donald Trump has ordered a military parade and flyover in Washington, DC to celebrate Independence Day. He’s been wanting to stage this kind of display since his first year in office.

The production will cost millions of additional dollars and shut down air traffic to and from Reagan National Airport for hours. Republican donors and VIPs will get special passes to watch the festivities in a restricted area. Traditionally, all July 4 events in the nation’s capital have been free and open to the public.

The National Park Service is diverting $2.5 million “primarily intended to improve parks across the country” to cover a “fraction of the extra costs,” the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey, and Dan Lamothe reported on July 2. The “entire Fourth of July celebration on the Mall typically costs the agency about $2 million,” a former Park Service deputy director told the newspaper. Costs could escalate if the heavy military equipment damages streets.

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On fan safety, baseball strikes out

After another foul ball causes a serious injury, Ira Lacher reflects on Major League Baseball’s failure to insist on more protective netting at ballparks. -promoted by Laura Belin

“The holder of this ticket assumes all risks and danger incidental to the game of baseball…”

This disclaimer, or a variation of it, is known as the Baseball Rule. It is printed on every ticket to all major-league and most minor-league baseball contests. It is intended primarily as legal protection for the ballclubs, an agreement that if a fan is injured by a thrown bat or thrown or batted ball, they can’t sue the club for damages. It’s classic buyer beware, and it has governed attendance at baseball games for generations.

But that era may be entering the late innings.

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College admissions bribery case should kill sports betting bill

Two bills on sports betting, House File 648 and Senate File 366, made it through the legislature’s first “funnel.” John Morrissey wonders, “What assurance do any of us have that the colleges and universities can police themselves in light of today’s revelations?” -promoted by Laura Belin

The Associated Press is reporting today that 50 people, including several television celebrities, have been charged in connection with a scheme to get their children accepted to college athletic teams after offering bribes to college coaches and other collegiate insiders.

While not directly on point, this is very concerning in light of the state legislature’s apparent desire to legalize sports betting in Iowa casinos, not to mention the extremely arrogant position taken by Prairie Meadows to construct a facility before the enabling legislation was even introduced.

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"Upon further review . . ."

Former sports editor and referee Ira Lacher‘s take on one of the most talked-about events of the past week. -promoted by Laura Belin

We interrupt this nascent but already red-hot political season for a far more important matter — so important that The New York Times made it a front-page story in its print edition of Tuesday, January 22:

“Fans Can See Every Angle, but N.F.L. Officials Can’t. Why?” (Upon further review, editors changed the headline on the website to: “When the Whole Country Reviews a Play, Referees Can’t Always Join.”)

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Open-mic night

I get sports. I watch sports. I’m a fan. Many of us are. When we see men and women do amazing things while wearing shirts with the names of the communities we belong to, it makes us feel good.

There are all kinds of psychological studies, like this one, that try to explain why we are so invested in contests that in few ways affect how we live our lives. But the bottom line is, when our teams win, we feel better. We win, a little. And when they lose, we don’t feel as good.

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Iowa sports announcer: "As Trump would say, go back where they came from"

A northern Iowa radio station has fired two employees for making “insensitive, thoughtless and degrading” comments about high school basketball players with Latino-sounding names. In a statement published this morning, KIOW-FM Radio in Forest City (Winnebago County) condemned the “deplorable” remarks by announcer Orin Harris and an unidentified woman before a recent boys basketball game between Forest City and Eagle Grove (Wright County). UPDATE: KIMT reported that the woman was board operator Holly Jane Kusserow-Smidt.

Eagle Grove resident Betty Jo Willard posted what she rightly called the “absolutely appalling!!” clip on Facebook on December 3. The banter illustrates how President Donald Trump has emboldened bigots across the country to express racist views.

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Weekend open thread: Making history

I’m a third-generation Tigers fan–my mother saw Hank Greenberg play at the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit–but most of Iowa is Cubs country. Congratulations to everyone who “Flew the W” Saturday night, watching the Chicago Cubs win the National League pennant for the first time in seven decades. Seeing any long-suffering sports team win a championship makes me happy, so I am glad the next World Series champions will be either the Cubs or the Cleveland Indians. Any thoughts on the potential impact of a Cubs or Indians victory on the election results in Iowa or Ohio?

I shouldn’t tempt fate with November 8 two and a half weeks away, but FiveThirtyEight.com now gives Hillary Clinton an 86 percent chance of winning the presidency. The latest simulation by Reuters/Ipsos sees her winning in 95 percent of scenarios. Recent polls of Iowa voters show no clear favorite in the presidential race. I expect a close result here; the latest absentee ballot numbers give both Democrats and Republicans reason to be optimistic. No matter who wins Iowa’s six electoral votes, Clinton appears very likely to be the next president.

Until a few years ago, I didn’t think a woman would be elected president in my lifetime. Despite all the misogyny and Hillary hate this campaign has brought to the surface, my children’s generation will grow up without the baggage of thinking this country would never elect a woman, just like they would never think an African-American can’t become president. That’s inspiring and empowering.

Any thoughts on which Iowans might get high-profile jobs in a Clinton administration? What place will she find for Tom Vilsack? Politico came up with a short list of five possible candidates to replace Vilsack as secretary of agriculture. (None are from Iowa.)

I’ve reached out to many Iowa Republicans who have kept their distance from Donald Trump or are rumored not to be voting for him. Most have not responded to my queries. I get that it’s a tough political calculation to oppose your party’s nominee, especially when the whole Iowa GOP establishment enthusiastically supports him. But I am convinced many of these closeted #NeverTrumpers will regret lacking the courage to take a stand before November 8. Trump is not some less-than-ideal candidate. He is playing to the ugliest strains in American politics. His demagoguery and blood libel encouraged white nationalists to come out from under their rocks, some explicitly playing the race card for votes while others relentlessly harass Trump’s critics.

Five former heads of the Republican National Committee, dozens of current and former GOP members of Congress, and four former GOP presidential nominees have said they will not vote for Trump. Fifty former senior national security officials in Republican administrations and a former nuclear missile launch officer have said it would be dangerous to give him the nuclear codes. His narcissism is comical, until you remember this man with no impulse control could become president. Meanwhile, Senator Joni Ernst told the whole country Trump would keep us safer. Ernst pretends to care about sexual assault but will vote for a man who threatened to sue all the women who have accused him of assaulting them. This Iraq War veteran hosted Trump at her biggest fundraiser of the year soon after he insulted a Gold Star family.

In contrast to Ernst, Governor Terry Branstad, or state party chair Jeff Kaufmann, some Iowa Republicans have avoided Trump’s rallies or events where they might be seen with the nominee. To them I say: speak up now, or expect your complicity to be a permanent stain on your political career. These people better not claim after Trump’s landslide loss that they secretly didn’t like him and didn’t vote for him.

Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara told the Wall Street Journal’s Reid Epstein this week that she’s voting for Hillary Clinton. To my knowledge, she is the only current elected Republican official in Iowa to come out publicly for Clinton. Bleeding Heartland was first to report in May that Lara was #NeverTrump.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. History buffs may appreciate Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s phenomenal interactive site showing pictures of street scenes in Budapest during the 1956 Hungarian uprising and in the present day.

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Steve King doesn't get it: Equating protest with terrorism is un-American

Blogger’s dilemma: which of Representative Steve King’s latest embarrassing, bigoted comments on national television should I focus on today?

Arguing that the government should guarantee parental leave only for the so-called “natural family” (which in King’s mind does not include gay or lesbian parents) was reprehensible. Why does he keep looking so hard for ways the state can treat LGBT people like second-class citizens? A parent’s sexual orientation should have no bearing on whether a baby deserves more time to bond with the primary caregiver. CNN’s Chris Cuomo already did a good job challenging King, pointing out research shows babies in LGBT households “are doing just as well if not better” than children being raised by a man and a woman.

I’ll take door number 2: King telling a friendly interviewer that professional football player Colin Kaepernick engaged in “activism that’s sympathetic to ISIS” and should be forced to “take a knee and beg forgiveness from the American people.”

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Title IX and the Rio Olympics

Tom Witosky covered sports, politics and business for many years as an investigative reporter at the Des Moines Register. -promoted by desmoinesdem

-30-

Back when newspaper reporters typed their stories onto paper, the notation -30- at the bottom of the final page indicated the end of a story.

When the U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team on Sunday defeated Serbia, 96-66, the 30-point drubbing fittingly symbolized the end of one of the best Olympic efforts ever by U.S. male and female athletes. Medal totals told the story: U.S. teams earned 121 medals (45 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze) outpacing China’s second place finish with 70 medals.

But what’s more interesting is how the dominance of U.S. female athletes, likely the most superior women’s team ever fielded by the United States Olympic Committee, played such a huge role in that success.

In many ways, the U.S. success provides another metaphor for the progress that has been made in this country’s striving for a better union. Like the breaking of the racial barrier in Major League Baseball by Jackie Robinson, and the breaking of the sexual-orientation barrier by a variety of athletes, the success of the U.S. women illustrates vividly that commitment to equality and diversity does pay despite long-term, deep-seated resistance from those who disagree.

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Weekend open thread: Olympics and Iowa State Fair edition

Who else is sad that the Olympics are ending today? Although we’re not big sports fans, all screen time limits in our household go out the window during the winter or summer Olympics. We’ve been watching for hours every day, despite the poor quality of NBC’s broadcasts. I was spoiled by living in Europe during the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. State broadcast networks provided remarkably thorough coverage, not only of their own country’s athletes, with no commercial breaks. I was also able to watch some of the more obscure events, which don’t receive a lot of attention here. Viewership of the Rio Olympics on NBC was reportedly down 17 percent from the London Olympics in 2012, a “nightmare” for the network. Here’s an idea: try more live coverage of more competitors in more events, with less schlock passing for “human interest” features.

While the Olympics are arguably the greatest show on earth, the greatest show in Iowa is certainly the state fair, which also wraps up today. A summer cold kept my family away from the fairgrounds last week, so my kids and I only visited the fair once this year. We still enjoyed the day enormously, and I have no regrets about not trying to follow Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence around. I enclose a few photos below. I didn’t attempt to take a picture of the guy on the midway wearing a “Hillary Clinton for Prison 2016” t-shirt.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome, especially any favorite moments from the Olympics or the state fair. The huge model train display near the giant slide is one of the most under-rated fair attractions in my opinion. Well worth $2 a person. Looking at a toy train set might not sound that interesting, but the scenes are elaborately constructed, and as you move along, there are lists of things to find in the model (a boy flying a kite, a beekeeper, Superman, a waterfall, etc.). It’s a fun game, and the air-conditioned building provides a nice refuge on a hot day. I recently learned that the central Iowa railroad group opens up this exhibit for free on the last Friday of every month from 7 to 9 pm.

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Transgender athlete sets new milestone for LGBT youth in Iowa

Of all the cultural changes in Iowa since I grew up here during the 1970s and 1980s, few are more striking or more inspiring than the growing acceptance for LGBT people. When I was a teenager at Valley High School in West Des Moines, no kids were “out” in our student body or at any other Iowa high school, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain by talking to peers my age. A few of my Valley classmates came out soon after starting college, but I could never have imagined Iowa high school students openly identifying as LGBT. Now gay-straight alliances are active in at least 80 Iowa high schools. Students from much smaller communities than West Des Moines have not only come out, but become leaders in their communities, forming support groups and raising awareness of anti-LGBT discrimination that remains. Even some Iowans attending Catholic high schools have fought to create safe spaces for LGBT students.

In recent years, several transgender teens have sought not just acceptance but understanding of issues they face in high school, including at my alma mater.

Ben Christiason of Cedar Falls set another milestone by becoming Iowa’s first openly transgender high school athlete. I heard of him for the first time in June, when he was among more than a dozen graduating seniors honored at the Eychaner Foundation‘s Matthew Shepard Scholarship dinner. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa awarded its annual Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award to Christiason because of “his pioneering role in transgender equality.” I enclose that announcement below, along with excerpts from Courtney Crowder’s excellent profile of Christiason, which the Des Moines Register published earlier this month. Crowder’s piece on other transgender children in Iowa is a must-read as well.

The non-profit Iowa Safe Schools is hosting Iowa’s First Annual Trans Educational Conference this November, hoping to enlighten “school administrators, school board members, educators, healthcare providers, youth-serving professionals, and parents” about “the specific needs of trans and gender non-conforming students” in communities of all sizes.

UPDATE: A new national poll of millennials provides the latest evidence that LGBT equality is becoming a consensus issue for the younger generation of Americans. Added the toplines below.

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Weekend open thread: University politics

Congratulations to all the Bleeding Heartland readers who just finished a year of academic work and especially to those who completed their undergraduate or graduate degrees this month. Good luck with whatever you have planned for the summer and beyond, and remember, many people switch gears several times during their careers. What I spend my time on now is different from the work I did during and immediately after grad school and far from any future I imagined as an undergraduate.

Pat Rynard recently interviewed eight student journalists about their experiences covering the Iowa caucuses. Well done to all, and good luck to the four who are graduating: Brent Griffiths, Madeline Meyer, Rebecca Morin, and Lissandra Villa.

Congratulations are also in order for everyone involved with the Iowa State Daily, which just won the “Best All-Around Daily Student Newspaper” award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld struck an odd note in his graduation message to faculty, staff, and students: “Although a university attempts to create a space for fruitful study for its faculty and students, it can’t escape reality. We have gone through a lot at the University of Iowa, particularly in the last year. And yet here we are, about to uphold a time-honored tradition.”

Much of the turmoil and discontent at the University of Iowa this past year stemmed from Harreld’s hiring, against the wishes of most campus stakeholders. Unlike most of the people affected by his arrival, Harreld has been extremely well-compensated, receiving a substantially higher salary than the woman he replaced. He also presided over a generous contract extension for Athletics Director Gary Barta, despite troubling trends for women under Barta’s leadership and questionable decisions that have spawned multiple lawsuits and investigations of alleged gender discrimination. Meanwhile, the University of Iowa decided against complying with Johnson County’s latest minimum wage hike, a policy Harreld declined to explain in a public forum.

Seeing Harreld allude to what “we have gone through” at the University of Iowa (as if he were some passive bystander) reminded me of the president’s strange answer to the Daily Iowan’s recent questions about hate speech. As the Ditchwalk blog covered in more detail here, Harreld doesn’t seem to appreciate the difference between being insulted in public and being a target of hate speech.

Last week, some activists encouraged University of Iowa graduates not to shake Harreld’s hand while receiving their diplomas during the May 13 commencement ceremony. I understand the sentiment, but I would have encouraged students to deliver some concise verbal message while crossing the stage instead. Refusing a handshake makes a visible statement but also risks generating sympathy for Harreld.

Speaking of university leaders in the news, Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s approach to building relationships with lawmakers drew scrutiny recently. As Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on May 6, Leath provided tickets to sold-out ISU men’s basketball games to ten influential state legislators this year. Although the lawmakers paid face value for the tickets, the practice seems inconsistent with the spirit of Iowa’s gift law, since the courtside seats are normally available only to people who donate thousands of dollars to the university. Excerpts from Foley’s report and a recent Des Moines Register editorial on the subject are after the jump.

Simpson College political science Professor Kedron Bardwell recently flagged a disturbing interview Sam Clovis gave to Inside Higher Education. Clovis is on leave from his tenured position at Morningside College in Sioux City while he serves as a policy director for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Absurdly, Clovis suggested that even though “The liberal arts education is the absolute foundation to success in life,” perhaps student loans should not be available for those planning to major in the humanities. Presidential candidates bashing non-STEM education, especially philosophy majors, has long been a pet peeve for Bardwell. Many Simpson graduates who majored in philosophy or political science have gone on to successful careers. Research has shown that “philosophy majors consistently outperform nearly all other majors on graduate entrance exams such as the GRE and LSAT.”

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Adventures in sexist ledes

I don’t follow news about the University of Iowa’s football program closely, but I read Mark Emmert’s latest story for the Iowa City Press-Citizen because I was curious to see how he handled questions about the recent hire of head coach Kirk Ferentz’s son-in-law as recruiting director. When Tyler Barnes worked for the team in a different role in 2012, Ferentz “pushed to extend Barnes’ temporary position for a second year without disclosing to athletic director Gary Barta or others that Barnes was his future son-in-law,” contrary to the university’s policy on nepotism, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on April 29.

Wanting to see how Ferentz explained bringing his son-in-law back to Iowa City for a well-paying job, I clicked through to today’s piece for the Press-Citizen. I didn’t have time to absorb the Captain Obvious headline “Kirk Ferentz convinced his son-in-law is great addition” before Emmert’s lede smacked me in the face.

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More secrecy and signs of a corporate leadership culture at the University of Iowa

From the day Bruce Harreld was hired as University of Iowa president, his resume problems indicated a disconnect from academic culture. He admitted he would need “a lot of help, a lot of coaching” to adapt to his new position, thanks to an “unusual background” in the corporate world. Harreld paid out of pocket for media training with “top-notch” consultant Eileen Wixted, not only to improve his skills as an interview subject but also to “be as transparent and natural to the UI community as possible.” A different part-time consultant on a contract running to the end of 2015 was charged with writing a communications plan for Harreld.

The Harreld administration has been anything but transparent so far: withholding documents related to statewide polling and other work the university awarded through no-bid contracts; rushing to rename a nearly century-old children’s hospital without public input; appearing to pressure a university librarian to revise her recollection of controversial comments Harreld made at a Staff Council meeting; and combining two top staff positions in the health care unit without going through the usual process to gain prior approval from the Iowa Board of Regents.

On Wednesday Iowans learned that weeks ago, Harreld signed a lucrative contract extension for Athletics Director Gary Barta. The deal’s terms came to light only after an Associated Press correspondent asked to see the contract. Moreover, Harreld gave Barta this strong vote of confidence despite multiple lawsuits and civil rights complaints charging gender bias, as well as “a wide-ranging federal civil rights investigation into allegations that its athletics department does not provide equal opportunities for female athletes.”

The unusual secrecy surrounding Barta’s contract extension and its generous terms while the athletics department is under investigation suggest that Harreld is still operating from the perspective of a corporate executive rather than a leader of a public institution.

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Weekend open thread: Numbers games

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Congratulations to Hawkeyes and commiserations to Cyclones over the outcome of yesterday’s big game. Not being a football fan, I can’t remember how many years it’s been since I watched Iowa play Iowa State. The last time I focused on the Cy-Hawk game was in 2013, when Iowa running back Mark Weisman’s decision to play on Yom Kippur (the most important Jewish holiday) was a big topic of conversation for central Iowa Jews.

The hoopla surrounding yesterday’s game reminded me of a good commentary by “Civic Skinny” in the Des Moines-based weekly Cityview last month. Skinny called attention to how rapidly athletic budgets have grown at Iowa and Iowa State in recent years, and how the athletic departments “continue to find ways to spend” the extra money, “without shipping any to the libraries or the English departments or any other academic endeavors at the two big universities.” I would bet few Iowans know that for many years, Iowa and Iowa State “regularly subsidized the athletic departments with money from the general fund.” I recommend clicking through for all the data in the original piece; excerpts are after the jump.

For two days, the Des Moines Register reported the Des Moines School Board District 1 race as “too close to call,” but Shane Schulte finally conceded to Heather Anderson on Friday. Schulte had earlier indicated plans to seek a recount, but truthfully, the race was never too close to call. When all the precincts reported on election night, Anderson led by 36 votes out of a little more than 2,500 ballots cast. The next day, her lead in unofficial returns grew to 46 votes. That’s a close election, but not close enough for a recount to have a realistic prospect of changing the outcome. Recounts of two Iowa Senate races in 2010 did not overturn Mark Chelgren’s twelve-vote lead out of more than 19,000 ballots cast or Tod Bowman’s 70-vote lead out of nearly 20,000 ballots cast. Two years later, Republican leads of fewer than two dozen votes in Chris Hagenow’s Iowa House race and Mike Breitbach’s Iowa Senate race both held up after recounts of roughly 17,500 ballots and 30,000 ballots, respectively.

Ever since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, conservative pundits and Republican politicians have predicted that “Obamacare” would force many businesses to drop health insurance coverage for their employees. This week, the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys covered the latest data on employer-provided insurance in Iowa. The Clive-based David P. Lind Benchmark research firm surveyed 1,001 employers and found that only 1 percent (mostly “companies with fewer than 10 employees”) stopped offering health insurance coverage this year. The cost of insuring employees in 2015 increased by an average of 7.7 percent, up from the 6.8 percent increase in 2014 but “significantly lower” than typical price hikes “Iowa employers faced a decade or more ago.” Michael Ralston, who leads the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, told Leys “he heard more complaints about insurance costs years ago, when employers’ health insurance prices were rising at more than double the current clip. He still hears grumbling about the complex requirements of the Affordable Care Act, but not as often as in the years after it passed in 2010.” Scroll to the end of this post for more excerpts from Leys’s report.  

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When will our culture recognize domestic violence as violent crime?

Not being a football fan, I had never heard of Ray Rice until the Baltimore Ravens running back received a pathetic two-game suspension for beating up his fiancee Janay Palmer (now his wife) earlier this year. Rice finally lost his job yesterday, after a leaked video showed him punching Palmer in an elevator. But Louis Bien’s timeline of key events in the case underscores how many authority figures bent over backwards to help Rice avoid any serious repercussions.

For months, top management for the Ravens made clear they hoped Rice would continue to play football with minimal interruption. The team’s official twitter account promoted the idea that Palmer shared some responsibility for getting knocked out. Having given other players one-or two-game suspensions for domestic violence incidents, the National Football League didn’t ask the Atlantic City casino for video footage before deciding on an initial consequence for Rice. Unbelievably, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell interviewed Janay Rice about the incident in the presence of her husband. In a meaningless gesture, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely yesterday–after the Ravens had ended his contract.

Instead of moving forward with aggravated assault charges, New Jersey prosecutors offered Rice a deal involving probation and anger management counseling rather than prison time. The “pretrial intervention” agreement means that Rice can avoid trial and even have the criminal charges expunged, as long as he complies with the program. I’m all for abusers getting counseling, in addition to facing legal consequences for their actions. Rice’s deal seems way too lenient, given the evidence prosecutors had on videotape. The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office says Rice “received the same treatment in the court system that any first-time offender in similar circumstances has received,” which doesn’t inspire confidence in the court system.

Rice is lucky that he’ll probably never serve a day in prison for this assault, yet football legend Mike Ditka noted sympathetcally yesterday that Rice is “not a bad guy” who has seen his life “ruined” and his earning power “destroyed.” Right-wing media darling Ben Carson loves to talk about “personal responsibility.” But when asked about Rice yesterday, Carson said, “Let’s not all jump on the bandwagon of demonizing this guy. He obviously has some real problems. And his wife obviously knows that because she subsequently married him. […] let’s see if we can get some help for these people.” In what other context would a conservative show such sympathy for a man who had beaten someone unconscious? Yes, Rice has problems. Let him get help while he faces responsibility for his crimes.

By the way, Carson spent a few days in Iowa during the last week of August. The possible 2016 presidential candidate headlined fundraisers for the Polk County Republican Party and GOP Congressional candidates Rod Blum (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02). I hope that Blum, Miller-Meeks, and Polk County GOP Chair Will Rogers will repudiate Carson’s comments about Rice. Domestic violence is the most prevalent form of violent crime in Iowa, affecting tens of thousands of people every year.

UPDATE: Worth reading Vice President Joe Biden’s comments on Rice and our cultural attitudes toward violence. Biden was the lead author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

World Cup discussion thread

Anyone else watching the World Cup? When the groups were announced, I thought team USA had zero chance to advance from the “Group of Death.” But a bit of a lucky start against Ghana and a solid game against Portugal (with a few sloppy moments) saw the U.S. Men’s National Team through despite today’s loss against Germany.

My friend Tanya Keith never doubted that the U.S. would advance to the elimination rounds at this World Cup. She is the ultimate true believer and author of the new book Passionate Soccer Love: A Memoir of 20 Years Supporting US Soccer. You can listen to interviews about her memoir here.

Aside from the U.S. getting out of the “Group of Death,” my biggest surprises from the tournament have been 2010 World Cup champions Spain being eliminated so quickly and FIFA disciplining Uruguay’s Luis Suarez for his third biting incident in four years. I thought the thoroughly corrupt organization would overlook the offense, given Suarez’s international popularity as a striker for Liverpool in the English Premier League. I hope this talented player uses his suspension from the soccer world to get some badly-needed therapy.

Any comments about the World Cup are welcome in this thread.

Weekend open thread: Winter Olympics, British invasion

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I’m excited about the Winter Olympics starting, despite NBC’s horrible coverage. (In some countries, television networks allow viewers to watch entire Olympic events from start to finish without commercial interruptions, and you can see all the competitors rather than the handful contending for medals.) The opening ceremony was spectacular, especially the holographic projections such as Peter the Great’s ship. I only wish NBC hadn’t repeatedly cut to a shot of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s smug face.

February 7 marked 50 years since the Beatles arrived in the U.S., and February 9 marks 50 years since their first live performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, the highest-rated television program of all time. When I haven’t been watching the Olympics, I’ve enjoyed listening to the Des Moines oldies station KIOA, which is playing wall to wall Beatles songs all weekend long. After the jump I’ve posted a few links about the Beatles in America and the British invasion. This is an open thread.

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New Year's Day open thread

Happy new year to the Bleeding Heartland community. Here’s an open thread. I’m among the minority of Iowans not watching the Outback Bowl today, but for what it’s worth, I do hope the Hawkeyes beat Louisiana State. LSU jumped out to an early lead.

Several new laws take effect in Iowa today, notably the alternative to expanding Medicaid, just approved by the federal government in mid-December. Under the plan, federal funds will cover Medicaid for Iowans earning up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level and private health insurance for Iowans with incomes between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In theory, the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan is supposed to cover between 100,000 and 150,000 people, roughly half of our state’s uninsured population. Problems with the federal health insurance exchange website may leave a lot of people with a gap in coverage, though. The Iowa Department of Human Services has advised roughly 16,000 Iowans who applied for coverage through Healthcare.gov and may be eligible for Medicaid to apply again to the state agency. If they apply by January 31, they can get coverage retroactive to today.

Teen drivers in Iowa face new restrictions under Senate File 115, which passed both chambers with large bipartisan majorities last year. After completing driver’s ed and having an instruction permit for six months, teenagers will have an intermediate license for 12 months (extended from six months under the previous statute). Also, the teen driver’s parents have the option to limit the driver to having no more than one unrelated minor passenger in the vehicle. Rod Boshart explained more details about the new law, intended to reduce the risk of traffic accidents involving young drivers.

Boshart also reports, “Thousands of commercial property owners in Iowa face a Jan. 15 deadline to apply in their counties for a new tax credit established” in the compromise property tax bill approved at the end of last year’s legislative session with strong bipartisan support.

As of today, it is legal in the state of Colorado to sell marijuana to people over age 21 at certain licensed stores. Drivers with Colorado license plates were already among the groups more likely to be pulled over by Iowa State Patrol. I would guess that profiling will increase.

In some parts of the country, black-eyed peas are considered a lucky food to eat on New Year’s Day. I’m not a fan of “hoppin’ John,” the most traditional preparation, but I’ve posted the recipe for my favorite black-eyed peas dish after the jump.  

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Weekend open thread: Sports talk

Apologies for not putting up this weekend’s open thread sooner. What’s on your mind?

The weather was good this morning for runners in the IMT Des Moines Marathon and Half Marathon. Congratulations to anyone in the Bleeding Heartland community who raced today. I saw that Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey, who is suing the state after Governor Terry Branstad tried to force him out of his job, ran the half in an excellent time of 1:50:59 (8:29 per mile).

Yesterday was an abysmal day for college football in Iowa, as all three state universities lost in painful fashion. Paraphrasing a question posed by a friend last night, what do you think is the worst way to lose a football game? Blowing a three-touchdown lead in the second half before losing in double overtime, as the University of Northern Iowa Panthers did? Building a halftime lead against a heavily favored team before dashing your fans’ hopes, as the Iowa Hawkeyes did? Or almost getting shut out 71-0 before scoring a touchdown in the final minute, as the Iowa State Cyclones did? To my mind, the UNI loss would be the most painful by far, but the ISU loss would be the most embarrassing.

Speaking of which, as a West Des Moines Valley High School alumna I was appalled to see that on Friday night, Valley defeated Council Bluffs Jefferson by 88-0. Running up the score like that is arguably inappropriate in any football game, but especially in high school. What a lack of sportsmanship and failure of leadership by Valley’s coach. In conversations with me yesterday, several Valley fans defended him, saying put in second-string and third-string players after the team went up by 30 or 40 points. I say there must be a way to run down the clock in a football game without scoring an extra eight or nine touchdowns you don’t need. They humiliated the other team in front of their home-town fans.  

Weekend open thread: Tough choices

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the most important Jewish holiday. Naturally, the situation in Syria is on a lot of people’s minds and prompted some animated discussions between services. Our rabbi’s sermon focused on a freakish lightning strike at a Reform Jewish summer camp in June. Another popular topic of conversation for central Iowa Jews was University of Iowa running back Mark Weisman’s “tough choice” to play in the football game against Iowa State. Weisman felt obliged to honor his “commitment” to the Hawkeye football program. His father told the Des Moines Register a few days ago, “He wouldn’t let his teammates down, his coaches down, himself down, the whole nine yards […] It was a tough decision, but I think he made the right decision for him.”

As the old joke goes, ask any two Jews a question and you’ll hear three opinions. I heard lots of perspectives on Weisman’s choice yesterday. Many disapproved and felt he was setting a bad example for Jewish kids. (Almost 50 years after the fact, many American Jews are still proud of Sandy Koufax’s decision not to pitch in a World Series game on Yom Kippur.) But I heard someone comment that Yom Kippur would be almost over by the time the big game started at 5 pm anyway. The guy’s on a scholarship, and there are only twelve college football games in a year.

I knew lots of Jewish kids in college who didn’t observe Yom Kippur, and many Jewish adults don’t fast or spend the whole day in services. If marking the Day of Atonement is not particularly important to Weisman, who am I to say he should sit out a football game?

I will say this: I believe Coach Kirk Ferentz should have shown some leadership so that Weisman wasn’t made to feel that he would be letting the whole team down by not playing.  

Olympic wrestling celebration thread

Chris Essig of the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier observed on Sunday, “You might live in Iowa if… Wrestling being retained as an Olympic sport is the lead sports story over the NFL kicking off its season.” True that. You also might live in Iowa if politicians in both parties remind you how hard they worked to get wrestling back into the Olympics. Shortly after the International Olympic Committee’s vote on Sunday to reinstate one of Iowans’ most beloved sports for the 2020 summer Olympics and beyond, celebratory press releases from Representatives Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) and Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) appeared in my in-box. I’ve posted those after the jump, along with comments Governor Terry Branstad made today at a telephone press conference.

Although I’m not a wrestling fan, I was very happy to hear the IOC corrected their idiotic mistake. You don’t have to follow the sport closely to comprehend that wrestling belongs in the Olympics. Few sports have as much history or connection to the Olympic tradition.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I recommend this ESPN feature on Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable.

P.S.-The Branstad campaign’s “Let’s Keep Wrestling” website was the best list-building exercise I’ve ever seen in Iowa politics. The governor claims that more than 25,000 people supported their efforts.

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Mid-week open thread: Varnum v Brien anniversary edition

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? Four years ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court announced its unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien, striking down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act. After the jump I’ve posted some links about that case, marriage equality in general, and today’s Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The return of Iowa wildflower Wednesday is probably still a couple of weeks away. By the first week of April 2012, many spring wildflowers were already in bloom (far earlier than usual), but even the bloodroot isn’t out yet where I live.  

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Mid-week open thread: Sports and the great outdoors

I’m not much of a wrestling fan, but what the heck were members of the International Olympics Committee thinking when they voted to eliminate wrestling as an Olympic sport beginning in 2020? Wrestling is a much more important sport than some other events they’re keeping. The IOC is adding golf as an Olympic sport in 2016, but even professional golfer Zach Johnson, an Iowa native, disagrees with the IOC’s decision on wrestling. I’ve posted some Iowa political reaction to this news after the jump. UPDATE: More comments are below; also, Governor Terry Branstad’s campaign set up a “keep wrestling” website.

A few weeks ago, Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes made the discovery of a lifetime for a Hawkeye fan: a football signed by Nile Kinnick and other members of the 1939 University of Iowa team. Mike Wiser wrote up the story. Byrnes found the football in the place he’s renting with three other Iowa House Republicans during this year’s legislative session.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is training volunteers to help with their wildlife monitoring programs. They are looking for people to identify certain types of bird nests and frog and toad calls. I’ve posted some details after the jump.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is happening from February 15 to 18. You don’t have to be an expert bird-watcher to help scientists collect information about bird populations. This winter we’ve had more birds at our finch feeder than usual, and I learned they are pine siskins (closely related to goldfinches). They don’t always over-winter in Iowa.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Weekend open thread: Non-election clips

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? More posts related to Tuesday’s elections are going up today and tomorrow, so after the jump I’ve enclosed a few links on stories not related to any political campaigns.

This is an open thread. Don’t forget to turn your clocks back one hour before you go to sleep on Saturday night.

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Weekend open thread: Anti-bullying edition

A report on alleged misconduct by three football coaches on suspension from Lincoln High School in Des Moines put bullying on my mind this weekend. After the jump I’ve posted background on the football coach story and on the statewide bullying prevention summit that Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will host in late November.

All topics are welcome in this open thread.  

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Royce White is a brave man

A win-at-all-costs mentality pervades sports culture, with praise heaped on athletes who put the team’s needs first. For instance, Kerri Strug is best known for vaulting on a sprained ankle at the 1996 Summer Olympics. The vault aggravated an injury that ended her gymnastics career, but she is still hailed as a hero for helping the U.S. women’s team win gold.

This week former Iowa State basketball player Royce White, a first-round draft pick for the Houston Rockets, did not show up for training camp. The reason was unprecedented: he is insisting on a plan to address his anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. By making his health a priority, and leveling with the public about his reasons for doing so, White may encourage many other people to seek help for serious mental illnesses.

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Weekend open thread: Final Olympics thoughts

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I’ve enjoyed almost everything about the 2012 Summer Olympics, except for NBC’s atrocious coverage. They don’t even show most of the finalists in the diving or gymnastics events. Their evening broadcasts ignore almost all the events lacking Americans as medal contenders. They don’t broadcast the marquee track and field events live. Worst of all, they show extended previews of lousy-looking new sitcoms during their prime-time Olympics recaps.

Other news that caught my eye this weekend: U.S. Representative Mazie Hirono won yesterday’s U.S. Senate primary in Hawaii. She faces former Republican Governor Linda Lingle this November for the seat left open by retiring Democratic Senator Daniel Akaka. Veteran Iowa campaign professional Julie Stauch managed Hirono’s first U.S. House race in 2006, helping her win a crowded Democratic primary.

According to this Associated Press story, Iowa’s county auditors are not happy that Secretary of State Matt Schultz is paying for a Division of Criminal Investigation agent to spend two years investigating alleged voter fraud. That solution in search of a problem will not only cost $140,000 per year, but also leaves a full-time position unfilled in the DCI’s major crimes unit in Council Bluffs. Priorities, priorities.

Weekend open thread: Olympics opening days

All restrictions on television go out the window at our house during the Olympics. So far we’ve watched parts of the competition in archery, fencing, volleyball, beach volleyball, bicycling (men’s 250K road race and women’s 140K road race), swimming, tennis, table tennis, badminton, men’s gymnastics, and soccer/football (men’s and women’s). I wish NBC broadcast more profiles of outstanding non-American athletes and showed highlights from some sports where Americans are not necessarily medal contenders. The insane number of commercials makes me nostalgic for the years I watched the Olympics on state broadcasters in Europe.

Our state’s favorite Iowan-by-choice Gabby Douglas started competing today in the women’s gymnastics and did well enough to contend for the all-around gold later this week. I think it showed incredibly poor taste for her former coach in Virginia to complain to the Des Moines Register about Douglas’ decision to leave two years ago.

What Olympic sports are you watching? What else is on your mind this weekend? This is an open thread.

UPDATE: Fun story on Radio Iowa: “once again this year most of the [Olympic] swimmers will be wearing suits designed in part by a professor at Iowa State University.”

Weekend open thread: Football blues

I’m not a big football fan, but NFL Hall of Famer Junior Seau’s suicide is on my mind this weekend. Seau apparently shot himself in the chest, and his family will donate his brain to be studied for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That disease has affected many retired NFL players, including at least two others who committed suicide in recent years. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy was found in one former Cincinnati Bengals player who died at age 26. One of the league’s most notorious underperforming high draft picks showed signs of frontal lobe brain damage as a middle-aged man.

Last week Hawkeyes fans celebrated another solid year for University of Iowa players in the NFL draft. Meanwhile, Superbowl champion quarterback Kurt Warner says he would prefer that his sons not play football. I feel fortunate that my sons have never showed any interest in that sport. The NFL is trying to punish excessive violence on the field, but I don’t know whether it’s possible to separate chronic head injuries from the way the game is played.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Weekend open thread: Dumb ideas edition

In case you hadn’t noticed that President Barack Obama named the wrong people to his debt commission, check out the commission’s preliminary recommendations, an idiotic blend of Social Security cuts and tax increases for most Americans. The cuts would cover the cost of deeper tax cuts for high earners, as if the top 1 percent in the U.S. need any more help. Congress would never pass this package as-is, but it was probably leaked to make the final horrible recommendations look reasonable by comparison. The best thing Obama could do is dissolve this commission. It only puts bipartisan window-dressing on right-wing ideas.

Speaking of Washington Republicans, the incoming House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, recently assured the Israeli prime minister that Congressional Republicans will be a “check” on the Obama administration and that “the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States.” Imagine if a Democratic Congressional leader had promised a foreign prime minister to stand up for that country against the Bush administration if necessary.

When Congress reconvenes next week, members will consider budget bills for fiscal year 2011. Incredibly, the Senate seems poised to reduce funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), even though poverty rates are up because of the recession and high unemployment rate. Helping families pay their heating bills keeps people from freezing in the winter, or burning their house down by using unsafe portable heaters. It also is stimulative, because it cash that qualifying families don’t have to spend on utility bills is cash they will spend on goods and services. The LIHEAP Action Center calculates that if the Senate doesn’t approve the higher level of funding passed by the House, Iowa’s share of LIHEAP funding stands to drop from $75 million in fiscal year 2010 to $36.8 million in the coming year.

Speaking of unwise budget cuts, Governor-elect Terry Branstad and the Republicans in the state legislature want to eliminate public funding for family planning services. That will please the GOP base but doesn’t make fiscal sense:

The results of the study by the University of Iowa Public Policy Center show that publicly funded family planning services are cost-effective for women who would use Medicaid and other public assistance programs if they became pregnant and gave birth.

“With the prevention of an unintended pregnancy, a significant amount of future public funding expenditure can be avoided,” said lead researcher Belinda Udeh, assistant research scientist at the Public Policy Center.

The study focused on women being served by Iowa’s publicly funded family planning clinics in 2009. Study co-authors were Mary Losch of the Center for Social and Behavioral Research and the Department of Psychology at the University of Northern Iowa and Erica Spies, a UI graduate research assistant.

The study based on data collected in 2009 also concluded that publicly funded family planning is most cost-effective for women under the age of 30. When considering forecasting the avoided expenditures for just one year for this age group, over $3 could be saved for every $1 spent on family planning services, Udeh said. The probability of averting a pregnancy need only be 2 percent for this age category for family planning services to be considered cost effective, she added.

The study further reported an overall weighted average for all age categories.  For women already receiving assistance, $3.40 could be avoided in the first year for every $1 spent on family planning services, and $10.84 when the savings are forecast for five years. The savings are even greater for women who would be newly eligible for assistance with savings of $3.78 and $15.12 for every $1 spent on family planning in one-year and five-year forecasts, respectively.

Taxpayers get excellent value for money spent on family planning services. Can’t say the same for the absurd amount we spend on salaries for the head football coach and his assistants at the University of Iowa.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

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World Cup thread

The “knockout” round of 16 at the World Cup begins today. In a few minutes South Korea will play Uruguay. Uruguay is favored to win, but South Korea is extremely fit and played well together as a team in the early round. The winner of that match will meet the winner of the U.S. vs Ghana, which takes place this afternoon (central time). Ghana happens to be the team that ended our World Cup in 2006.

From the commentary I heard yesterday, no team is strongly favored in the U.S./Ghana match. The crowd will probably be mostly cheering for Ghana, as they are the only African team to advance to the knockout round. Ivory Coast is considered the best African team, but they had a very tough break at this World Cup, ending up in the “group of death” with Brazil and Portugal. South Africa just barely missed out on advancing to the knockout stage.

The best-ever showing for the U.S. at a World Cup was in 2002, when we advanced to the round of 8. We have a lucky draw this year, because as strong as Uruguay and South Korea are, we have a much better chance against them in a quarter-final than we would again, say, Brazil or Spain or Germany.

The biggest surprise for me in this World Cup is that France and Italy both failed to advance out of the group stage. Those two teams met in the championship game four years ago.

Share any World Cup thoughts in this thread, and check out Tanya Keith’s “Soccer…Family Style” blog for a view from the ground in South Africa. If you like watching sports in large groups, here are some places in the Des Moines area to watch the World Cup.

UPDATE: Missed this morning’s match, but my family watched Uruguay beat South Korea 2-1. Watching the U.S.-Ghana match now. We got outplayed in the first half but almost scored at the start of the second half, so maybe some magic will happen.

LATE UPDATE: Disappointing outcome, but you can’t say Ghana didn’t deserve to win that game. The U.S. had many chances in the second half to score the winning goal after Landon Donovan equalized with that penalty kick. You can’t expect to win at the World Cup without converting the kind of opportunities we had. Then we let Ghana get the jump on us in the extra time. Maybe team USA will have better luck in Brazil in 2014.

Big Game open thread

Possibly the only person in Iowa who cares less about the Iowa/Iowa State game than I do is Mr. desmoinesdem.

But for those of you who do care, feel free to share your predictions and/or trash talk.

This is also an open thread for anything else on your mind this weekend.

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