Despite The Headlines, There’s Progress In Curbing Violence In North Omaha

I was prepared for a full load of journalistic bad news when I read the headlines:  “Epidemic Of Poverty And Violence.”  Followed by this:  “Omaha one of deadliest places for blacks in U.S.”  Then this: 

“Nebraska’s largest city propels the state to the No. 3 rank on F.B.I. homicide list.”

It wasn’t until the 10th paragraph of the story that I got a hint of more recent significantly better news.  It seems that the “No. 3” rank on the F.B.I.’s “homicide list” was based on black homicide victims in Omaha totaling 22 in 2007 (a total which increased to 28 in 2008). 

The 10th paragraph noted that Omaha’s black homicide rate “did drop considerably in 2009.”  Then in the 29th paragraph of the story on an inside page I learned that the total had dropped from 28 in 2008 to 15 in 2009—a change which resulted in Nebraska’s rate of black homicides per 100,000 population falling slightly below the typical national average. 

If you continued reading you learned, in the last 11 paragraphs of the 42-paragraph story, that in 2009 there were encouraging contributing factors at work—creation of the State Office of Violence Prevention, a police crackdown on illegal gun possession, greater police collaboration with residents of the black community who are anxious to curb the violence, the Impact One intervention program to open lines of communication with gangs.  Also a summer jobs program.

A good deal more needs to be done, of course, especially in job opportunities and, I would suggest, strengthening family parenting.  Too many homes in North Omaha include no father figure and are headed by a single mother who is a high school dropout likely to raise children who are at risk of also being high school dropouts. 

The 2009 results in North Omaha seem to me to suggest there is more reason for optimism than the gloomy picture painted by the headlines would suggest. 

A recent flare-up of violence indicates the continuing serious nature of the problem.  It should serve as a warning signal and an incentive to continue and expand the programs which produced positive results in 2009.

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What’s Behind Crowd Attendance Figures?
Two Schools Provide Their Answers

I have long been an admirer of Creighton University Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen, a man who combines strong character, common sense and refreshing candor in a very approachable, friendly package.

Thus I was not surprised—but pleased—to read that Bruce Rasmussen had spoken up, honestly and publicly, about the reason we can’t believe the crowd figures which many schools announce when their schools’ athletic teams play at home.  The subject came up in remarks before Bruce recently addressed the Suburban Rotary Club.

Bruce said he would prefer that Creighton report the so-called “turnstile count” for Bluejay basketball games.  This is an exact tally of the number of people who pass through the turnstiles at the Qwest Center arena.  Instead, because rival schools do it and Creighton would suffer in crowd comparisons if Creighton didn’t follow the pattern, the announced attendance figure is compiled this way:

You start with the number of season ticket holders.  You add to that the number of “freebies” like band members and pep squad members who are given free admission, then add the number of single-game admission tickets which were sold for that game.  The total is the “announced attendance” figure.

Not all season ticket holders attend every game, of course, particularly when a team is struggling or there are other factors in play that hold down the crowd size on that particular afternoon or evening.  So the difference between the “announced attendance” and the actual number of people who saw the game can be significant, running into the thousands in some cases, especially when a team is struggling, as Creighton is this year. 

Then there is the matter of hyping actual crowd attendance through special promotions which, for example, have a good number of persons attending on tickets that the school has sold in blocks to businesses to give to their employees or customers—in other words, people attending on tickets made available as a result of “build-the-crowd” promotions.  If you get enough of these tickets in circulation—free of charge to the people using them—you can produce a report like the record-breaking 13,417 total for the University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey Mavericks in a recent game against Ohio State.

School officials say that such hyping of attendance, the result of a month-long promotion preceding the Ohio State game, is a way to build more continuing support for Maverick hockey. 

The crowd total for the Ohio State game the night following the heavily-promoted record-setting night was 7,259.

The following weekend, with the Mavericks playing traditional “big game” rival Michigan, the Friday night crowd was 7,264.  But the Saturday night Michigan game, part of a “Hockey Day in Omaha” promotion in cooperation with the Omaha Lancers, attracted the second largest crowd in Maverick history,10,628.

UNO officials told me that they report the turnstile count of people actually entering the arena to watch the game.  UNO believes in boosting that turnstile count on occasion with special promotions which may, to some substantial extent, be more a measure of corporate support (buying and distributing Maverick tickets, for example) than pay-your-own-way fan support.

What about the University of Nebraska’s remarkable record of more than 300 consecutive sold-out home football games?  It’s important to note that the Huskers don’t give out an alleged attendance number or say that a capacity crowd attended.

The NU Athletic Department reports sell-outs, every available ticket sold, not every available seat occupied.

In the case of the Huskers, of course, the tickets sold and the size of the crowd are consistently close together, because of the consistently strong fan support of the Husker football program.

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Long-Overdue Good News: Nuclear
Being Promoted As Clean Electricity Source

To put it briefly:

–Welcome news indeed to read that federal funds are to be made available to help in the construction of two nuclear-powered electricity-producing plants.  You could say it’s about time to recognize this considerably more practical alternative to such non-polluting “renewable” power sources as windmills and solar panels.

To its credit, the Omaha Public Power District is increasing the output of its Fort Calhoun nuclear-powered plant to its maximum capacity.

–A local sports commentator started out with what seemed to be a sense of outrage that Cornhusker football coach Bo Pelini’s salary had been raised to $2.1 million a year, fifth highest in the Big 12.  The commentator indicated surprise that there had not been a public outcry of protest.  He referred to the escalating salaries paid to football coaches as “silly money.”

Later in the same column, the commentator said that Nebraskans don’t have a problem with the increase in salaries of Pelini and his staff because they realize the way to win in college football is to pay the coach you like and want to keep.  The commentator didn’t say whether he construes this as Husker fan approval of spending “silly money.”

–Regular readers of my column will know that I have a problem with headlines which start with the premise that the reader knows as much about certain movies or television programs as the headline writer does.  So it’s a pleasure to say again, as I have repeatedly over the years, that I think The World-Herald headline writers have a high batting average in writing clever heads.  A recent example:

“Zesto craves a city lot near CWS stadium”

The Zesto fast food establishment serving hamburgers, milkshakes and ice cream to fans attending the College World Series nearby Rosenblatt Stadium has been a part of the College World Series scene for a good many years. 

I hope that Zesto will be able to satisfy its “craving” for a lot near the new downtown stadium where the College World Series is to move when Rosenblatt Stadium is abandoned.  It would be a welcome continuation of a College World Series tradition.

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Woods Has Avoided Questions So Far
But True News Conference Awaits

What’s become of Tiger Woods?

There was that two-day domination of a good deal of television time during and after his 13 ½ minute carefully-managed television show expressing regret and a promise of living a more moral life. 

But sports coverage and commentary quickly returned to concentration on the Winter Olympics and basketball.

When he comes back into the news, I hope that Woods realizes that he will need to face the questions and answers of a press conference, something quite different from the carefully-managed no-questions-asked TV appearance last week.  In a press conference, I think Woods should expect to be asked, for just one example, what kind of counseling he has been receiving.

Woods would, of course, prefer to focus attention on his remorse and his plans for the future.  A press conference would give him an opportunity to expand on those themes.  But a public figure cannot expect immunity from questioning about other facets of his life which have become publicly known—facets such as the treatment which he has been receiving and that hasty departure from his home which resulted in police, responding to an accident call when his Cadillac SUV backed into a fire hydrant, then a tree, found a barefoot Woods lying on the lawn near his SUV.

In a press conference reporters presumably would ask him if he had considered the timing of his television appearance which had predictably distracted attention from the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship golf tournament and the Winter Olympics for which athletes from all over the world had been preparing for as much as four years since the last Olympics.

Woods deserves a chance to fully explain his problems and his plans.  And the public deserves to know more than Woods addressed in that carefully-programmed television appearance.  A real news conference would provide both Woods and the public with that opportunity. 

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Coincidentally, I dictated the above item while watching as some Olympic athletes, young women, pushed themselves through a remarkable test of physical conditioning and shooting skill which had them covering 12.5 kilometers (equal to 7.767 miles) on skis, pausing several times to respond to a test of their rifle marksmanship, then strapping the heavy rifles over their shoulders and resuming to push, push, push.

Golfers should be interested in this statistic:  The miles covered by the female athletes on skis, with heavy rifles strapped across their backs, is nearly twice the length of any golf course walked by touring pros and twice or more times the length of the average course played by amateur golfers walking with a caddy carrying their clubs or riding in a cart. 

But then I wasn’t watching golfers.  I was watching female Olympians dealing with greater physical challenges than confront any golfer, pro or amateur.

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Like Her Grandmother, Katie Loves Sports

Cute little Katie—more formally Katherine Roe Andersen—our 9-year-old granddaughter, is not a tomboy.  When she gets dressed up, she looks as attractive as any little girl you might imagine. 

But Katie is something of a sports fanatic, good enough to play with teams that are otherwise all boys.  Such is the case in a YMCA basketball league.  Katie is the only girl on the team, in fact, the only girl player in the league.

It was in recognition of Katie’s interest in sports that Marian, also a sports news junkie, promised her, as a Christmas present, perhaps an unusual gift for a young lady, a subscription to Kids Sports Illustrated. 

In early February, Katie asked Marian:  “Muzzy, where’s my Sports Illustrated magazine?  It hasn’t started to come yet.”

Marian mumbled something like, “I’ll look into that, Katie,” later confessing to me that she had forgotten to initiate the subscription.

The subscription has now been ordered.

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