Sunday, July 17, 2011

It's A Gray Area: Hall of Famers give back to younger players - by Judge Jim Gray

Thanks to Ron Yary, a former Outland Trophy winner at USC and Minnesota Vikings all-pro tackle, and Dr. Casey Cooper, a noted sports psychologist, the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame have established the Legacy Leadership Program here in Orange County. Through this program, Hall of Fame members mentor and establish a one-on-one relationship with deserving high school football players, which lasts a year or more.
The program goals are to help motivate and inspire high school players to make better choices on the field and, even more importantly, in the classroom and the community.
But this isn't just a feel-good program. Each Hall of Famer participates in a two-hour training session that provides insights for their mentoring. Then they sign a participation agreement whereby they promise to uphold the program's policies and guidelines.

Each Orange County high school can nominate one football player. The applicants and their parents will go through a brief orientation that spells out the benefits, guidelines and responsibilities required by their participation. Among other things, confidentiality and child abuse issues are discussed. Unfortunately, only two applicants can be selected, so the competition is fierce.
To qualify as a mentee, the football player must be entering his senior season, be a leader on his team, be highly regarded by his coach and have the ability to play football in college or professionally. The candidate may need some special focus and guidance to improve his classroom performance, and may also face adversity at home.
It is more than an honor to be nominated, because during the selection process applicants can attend several sessions dealing with athletic life skills training. Last year two of the presenters were former UCLA star running back from Tustin, DeShaun Foster, and former Long Beach Poly and USC linebacker and Super Bowl great Willie McGinist. Among other things, the presentations emphasized the importance of an education, and how it affects both their football careers and also their lives after their playing days are over.
The program coordinator monitors the mentees and Hall of Famers through personal contact and phone calls to ensure that both sides are satisfied.
Last year the committee selected Victor Silva of Godinez High School and Trey Madden from Mission Viejo High School as mentees. Victor has been mentored by Yary, and Trey's mentor has been Michael Haynes of the Patriots and Raiders.
These two young men also were invited as guests at last summer's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio. They were even able to be on the sidelines during the 2010 Hall of Fame game between Dallas and Cincinnati, where they had the opportunity to meet all the players and have private conversations with the other Hall of Famers.
After their Canton experiences, both young men were hosted at the Newport Sports Museum (and if you haven't visited that museum, you are really missing out!), and those in attendance said that it was really noticeable how the experience had changed them — for the better. Both appeared to have more confidence, and had developed more of a leadership attitude of helping their teammates and others both on and off the field.
This year's winners were just announced. They are Alipa Peters from Estancia High School and Alfonso Cacciatore from El Modena High School. So it will be interesting to see how they progress.
In addition to a great experience for all of the applicants and the two selected athletes, the program also provides an ongoing relationship with community partners, such as sports psychologists and sports museums, in an effort to provide mentoring and leadership to a larger number of young athletes.
As has been discussed several times in this column, someone will mentor our children. And if it is not their parents, coaches, scout or religious leaders or teachers, it will be drug dealers, members of juvenile gangs or other thugs. Because, say what you will, Charles Manson was really effective in finding and "mentoring" the lost souls that made up his "family."
So please join me in applauding Yary, Dr. Cooper, the NFL and the many other forces behind the Legacy Leadership Program in mentoring some of our young athletes. And maybe their action will stimulate all of us to redouble our efforts in establishing and maintaining mentoring other programs of our own.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), and can be contacted at

It's A Gray Area: Making peace, even while in prison - by Judge Jim Gray

A few years ago, a woman named Susan Russo, who was serving a life sentence without possibility of parole at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, Calif., sent a letter to attorney Laurel Kaufer, saying that their prison environment was filled with conflict and violence, and there was a dire need and desire for change.
Could Ms. Kaufer help?
The answer was yes.

In response, Ms. Kaufer and her colleague, attorney Douglas E. Noll, established a peace mediation program at that prison, initially with 15 inmates as students, and it has been successful.
But it wasn't easy. These two mediation professionals soon found out that Ms. Russo was right. Confrontation and violence were a standard and routine part of almost everyone's existence at the prison.
Nevertheless, they established a program through using simple communication skills based upon listening — really listening. That means that the students were taught to listen to what other people were saying and then to acknowledge what the speakers said by repeating it back. The benefit is that this shows other people they are being heard, which is a huge ratification of their humanity — and also a proven way to reduce tensions.
By using this simple skill, the 15 female inmates were slowly able to reduce conflict and violence and bring some amount of peace to the prison. For example, rather than using pepper spray to break up potentially violent situations, prison guards started to call in Ms. Kaufer's students to mediate them. It often worked.
Of course, no one can avoid conflict. But the secret is for people in conflicts to understand that they have choices about how they will respond and react to them. Conflicts become destructive when people give in to anger, which then thwarts their ability to make good choices about how best to respond.
But choosing to listen, understand and confirm the other side's views and feelings often results in addressing the problems peacefully on their merits, instead of having them escalate to violence.
Teaching these lessons and skills to our children would be a wonderful gift.
So instruct the children close to you that the next time they become angry, frustrated or feel disrespected, to literally stop and take a moment to list as many choices as they can think of about how to respond. Then show them how if they stay focused upon their feelings and those of the other people involved, they will more than be able to arrive at a peaceful and beneficial outcome.
Life skills like these will bring permanent beneficial result into their lives.
Included in this approach is staying away from blaming, judging or criticizing others, because this is almost always counterproductive. When people take ownership of their own actions instead of blaming or criticizing others, they will most likely realize that they are captains of their own ship, that they are in control of their own destiny.
That has been the result at Valley State Prison. So far, none of the 75 inmates who have been certified as "Peacemakers" has even been reported to be involved with violence. In addition, since 30 inmates have been certified as mediators and another 20 as instructors, mentors and coaches, the program is now self-sustaining — maybe even transferable to other correctional facilities.
Furthermore, the participants hope that by the end of 2011, at least 20% of all of the inmates at Valley State Prison will have been certified as Peacemakers, which will go far in bringing peace into the entire facility. With results like these, it is not surprising that the program has been endorsed, even lauded, by the acting warden and the chief deputy warden.
Another tribute to the program is seen by the fact that the inmates themselves have donated more than $1,300 to pay for needed written materials. Because all of these contributions come from their wages of 21 cents per hour, of which 14 cents are automatically transferred to the California Victim Compensation Fund, this represents their earnings from more than 9,280 work hours!
In today's world, the Department of Corrections is not appropriately named, because it mostly has become a Department of Incarceration and Warehousing.
But we all must understand that most of those incarcerated will someday be released back into society. Wouldn't it be better if they had learned some coping and peacemaking skills before that occurs?
You can help this occur by making a contribution to the Fresno Regional Foundation for Prison of Peace, 5250 N. Palm Avenue, Suite 424, Fresno, CA 93704. People who are incarcerated really can use our help. For more information, visit
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2009), and can be contacted at or

It's A Gray Area: Fundamentals are the answer to the recession - by Judge Jim Gray

The fledgling program TAP America is trying to strengthen the U.S. economy by encouraging people to buy more American products as a matter of patriotism; however, like so many other political proposals, it sounds like a nice idea, but it won't work.
Just like Communism's mantra of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" sounded good to many people, it simply will not work. A more apt slogan is, "You can't fool Mother Nature."
Why? Because the "invisible hand" of economics is always present. Practical reality regarding Communism means that if people have no incentive to work by receiving the benefit of their labors, they won't work. Similarly, if people are able to choose between a good quality shirt selling for $12 that is made in another country, or a similar good quality shirt that is selling for $20 that is made in the United States, some may be patriotic for a while and pay more for the domestic shirt, but not enough to matter, and not for long.

That is the reason all of the talk about preventing the "outsourcing" of jobs is nothing but talk. If a company overall can make a much better return, or just stay in business, by having its manufacturing or other services performed elsewhere, it is economically inescapable that this will occur, as long as the quality of the work is acceptable. And putting artificial barriers in their way will not only be unsuccessful, they will mostly be counterproductive.
So how do we put America back on the road to prosperity? Not by the government activity of passing laws or installing more programs. But instead by going back to our roots, which means we must out-work and out-compete everyone else.
How can this be done? We must focus upon our strengths by emphasizing the areas in which we compete best, and also go on to develop more of them.
What are some of these areas? Fortunately there are many in which our country excels, such as in Internet technology with companies like Facebook and Google; computer technology with companies like Intel, Apple, IBM and Dell; agricultural and construction equipment with companies like John Deere and Caterpillar; the entertainment industry with companies like Disney and Six Flags; large-scale retail sales with companies like Costco, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Best Buy; soft drinks and other beverages like Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola; aerospace companies like Lockheed and Northrop Grumman; and niche companies like Coach and Tiffany. And that is not even addressing all forms of agriculture, as well as heart valve, knee and hip replacement products and our system of higher education, all of which are still the best in the world.
In short, we can compete with anybody, and we can pay good wages and maintain safety in the workplace and the environment along the way. All we need is to get away from our general state of pessimism and a dependence upon government to do it for us.
Most people do not understand that government does not create wealth. Instead, government takes other people's wealth, keeps a lot of it for itself, and then mostly distributes the rest to those for whom there is a political benefit. Such a system not only engenders a demeaning and initiative-sapping welfare system that traps the poor, it also engenders an enormously lucrative welfare system for the wealthy.
But if our tax money is spent by the government, that spending should be concentrated upon "shovel-ready" projects, such as issuing contracts to private companies for maintaining and upgrading our physical plants like bridges, parks, and water pipelines and sewers. This spending will actually provide good jobs to our workers and spur the economy. But otherwise government incentives like tax breaks, even for necessary things like research and development, mostly evolve into nothing but politics. Thus they should be avoided.
The other critically important thing we must do is to reform our income tax system. Not only are the tens of billions of dollars that are spent annually in record-keeping for taxes and preparing tax returns not contributing to our general welfare, people now are actually being punished under the present system for saving and investing money. Reversing that would result in a huge stimulus for our economy — and enormous savings for almost everyone.
Unfortunately, the biggest opponents of tax reform, surprisingly enough, are not accountants and tax attorneys, they are members of Congress. Why? Imagine how much political power members of Congress presently have by controlling who will and will not receive tax breaks that can be worth millions and even billions of dollars. So people who stand to benefit from those tax breaks logically spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to support politicians who will pass legislation that will save them millions.
In sports, successful coaches always concentrate on fundamentals, and that is the winning strategy we should go back to as well. Hard work, education, industriousness, creativity, less government involvement in the economy, and incentives and rewards for achieving success are the things that made our country great. We will once again be prosperous when we elect politicians who will help us to bring those qualities back.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), and can be contacted at