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In the gorilla house

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AUGUST 03, 2016

This year, deep in the heart of Ohio, we lost a national hero.

I’m not talking about Johnny Manziel. I’m talking about a creature way more important. A gentle beast that was taken from us far too soon. An angel that would have surely ascended into heaven if it were not for the fact that his logic was so advanced that he did not believe in a fictional afterlife following death. He was a messiah, if you will — and we didn’t deserve him.

Of course, I’m talking about Harambe, the gorilla.

On May 28, a child fell into Harambe’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. And while any other intelligent gorilla would have ignored the little one on the grounds that the toddler was too dumb to learn, Harambe — which means working together, caring and sharing in Swahili — was up to the challenge of teaching the child Archimedes’ complex concept of density. He did this by gently dragging the child through his enclosure’s pool to exemplify water resistance.

But unfortunately, we humans only see the worst in people. Or in this case, gorillas. Harambe was shot dead and sent to Dante’s first level of hell, where I can only imagine the great ape is discussing politics with great minds such as Socrates and Plato.

So what does Harambe have to do with sports?

You can’t see it? A smart mind, being punished by higher-ups (zookeepers) for not doing what’s “right”? The death of Harambe is a real world example of what happens to good sports managers who are put in bad situations.

Let’s take Art Shell for example.

The former Raider offensive tackle played for 14 years, earned eight Pro-Bowl invitations, won two Super Bowls and became a Hall of Famer in 1989. After retiring in 1982, Shell became a coach with the Raiders and worked under Tom Flores and Mike Shanahan before becoming head coach in 1989.

Using 29 years of NFL experience, Shell was able to coach Raider legends such as Howie Long, Tim Brown and Marcus Allen to six winning seasons, a .731 winning percentage and three playoff appearances.

The Raiders brought back Art Shell in 2006 but found very different results. Instead of Tim Brown and Marcus Allen, Shell had to work with a pissed-off Randy Moss and Justin Fargas. Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walker split time at quarterback, and the defensive line was “held down” by a washed-up Warren Sapp. John Madden could not have coached that Raiders team to more than three wins, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Art’s squad went 2-14.

He was fired in the offseason, but you simply cannot blame him for the result. The Raiders were metaphorically the child, and Shell was Harambe. In 2006, it was easy to throw him under the bus because he had full control of the team. Yes, things appeared dark in the beginning. But if given more time, who’s to say that Shell couldn’t have improved the team to 5-11 in 2007? Then 8-8 in 2008? We’ll just never know, because of the hair-trigger decision made by the higher-ups.

Eccentric head coach Ozzie Guillen was also the victim of the “Harambe effect.” Though he only took the Chicago White Sox to the playoffs twice in his seven years as skipper, his team won a World Series in 2005 and he left the Windy City with a .524 winning percentage. He was signed by the Miami Marlins in 2012 and had high expectations of sending the team — which included big names such as Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez and Mark Buehrle — to the playoffs.

But, again, it just didn’t work out. Well, “didn’t work out” is actually an understatement. The Marlins sucked. How bad did they suck? They scored 50 runs under their preseason expectations in a season when the defending NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies were without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for most of the beginning of the season. Guillen was fired after that lone season without the chance to try and improve the team.

This year, Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale is on the chopping block. Hale actually improved the D-Backs during his first season with the team, taking a 63-96 team to 79-83. But after an offseason that included trading the farm for Shelby Miller, signing a now-underperforming Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract and losing A.J. Pollock to injury, he is unfairly on the hotseat after proving last year that he can succeed.

So please, General Manager Dave Stewart, put your rifle down. Please do not metaphorically shoot Hale for simply trying his best. Wait it out, and I’m sure you’ll both end up happy and no one will end up jobless. Or dead.

Contact Chris Tril at [email protected].

AUGUST 03, 2016

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