Friday, August 31, 2012

Fantasy Football is Family Football Here

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on August 31, 2012.

by Bill Gouveia

As we enter the Labor Day weekend, people across the area and the country are gearing up for the upcoming months of stress, pressure and enjoyment.  No, I’m not talking about kids heading off to college or back to school.  I’m also not referring to the upcoming election, the World Series, or the winter holidays.

Hold on boys and girls, it’s about to get rough out there.  This is no time for the timid or weak.  Warm up your laptops, print out your cheatsheets, and grab a cold one.  It’s fantasy football time.

Once the domain of geeks and nerds, fantasy football has crossed over into the mainstream.  It is now played not only by true sports fans, but by everyone from motivated moms to disinterested dads.  The family and friends that play together, stay together.  And although there are many extremely competitive fantasy leagues where “experts” battle for big bucks, bragging rights are often the most treasured prize fought for each Sunday (and Monday – and a few Thursdays).

There are many different variations of this computer-based hobby.  Some involve simply picking the winners of each game.  But most require the fantasy “owners” to choose players who earn points for their “team” based upon their individual performance.  That requires participation in what is often the best part of the fantasy process – the live fantasy draft.

My two sons are in their 30’s (sorry boys, I know you hate it when I say that) and they have some great friends.  They have had a fantasy football league for many years now, and over the last several have kindly allowed me to participate.  The name of my team – Old Guys Rule – is largely indicative of the fact I am the league’s oldest member (by a lot). 

That is never more evident than the night of the annual draft.  We gather at the home of one of the members.  There is a lot of beer, pizza and busting of you-know-what.  Every pick is scrutinized by the group as a whole, and appropriate praise or ridicule is heaped upon the person making the selection.  Watching the process is almost more fun than the season itself.

Some of the individuals make a nominal effort to be informed on the personnel available.  They might have the latest fantasy football magazine, or print out a list from one of the many helpful websites.  Others resort to far more extreme measures such as color-coded charts and fancy excel spreadsheets with an incredible amount of statistical information.  My own draft style is much more the former than the latter.

My draft preparation consists primarily of scouring a few web sites and using a canned drafting program to keep track of the selections.  That’s in addition to utilizing my tremendous personal knowledge of the sport and decades of experience as a football fan, of course.  This has led to mixed results over the years.

But last season it all paid off.  After being consistently told how horrible my draft was and that my team would be lucky to even make the playoffs, I had an incredible late season rush.  I defeated the top two regular-season finishers and won the championship.  That may not seem like a tremendous accomplishment, but neither of my sons has ever managed to pull it off.  Not that I ever remind them.

This year’s draft was last weekend.  I was unhappy I wound up with absolutely no Patriots on my fantasy squad, but otherwise reasonably satisfied with the results.  I did raise a few eyebrows when I took a certain Bengal’s wide receiver with the 10th overall pick, and endured quite a bit of harassment for that and several other selections.  But we’ll see who’s laughing when the season draws to a close.

There is a monetary reward for the champion at the end of the year, but frankly the bragging rights are worth a whole lot more – particularly in my case.  And if I start getting a bit too confident, I have only to remember that both my wife and daughter-in-law beat me in our family league where we pick winners only.  Gee, I guess that’s how my sons must feel. 

Let the battle begin…

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Foxboro Parking Solution Lacks Common Sense

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on August 28, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

If you are going to propose a law and get it adopted, common sense says you should have a plan to enforce it.  But when it comes to the newly-instituted Foxboro parking bylaw, common sense is in very short supply.

The law bans residents from parking cars on their private property during Gillette Stadium events, which means it is almost exclusively aimed at homeowners in the North Street area near Patriot Place.  The police chief and the building inspector pushed and supported the bylaw along with selectmen.  They said the parking of cars in the highly residential neighborhood posed a safety threat to pedestrians, motorists, and neighbors and impeded the safe flow of traffic.

But in their haste to implement this misguided policy, they failed to properly plan just how they would make it work.  They can go around and look for cars parked in driveways and on lawns, and even hand out $100 fines to those they believe in violation.  But they have yet to come up with a sensible answer or a workable plan for how people can hold simple family gatherings without worrying about police possibly towing Grandma’s car during dinner.

Of course, officials have no intention of actually doing such a thing to Grandma.  But how are they planning to apply this law fairly?  There is no doubt some North Street area residents abused their homeowner rights and created a nuisance by jamming their property with game-day parkers.  But the overwhelming majority either parked no cars, parked friends and relatives, or parked a few people safely on their land for a fee.  In many cases, they have been parking the same acquaintances for decades.

Did this new bylaw strip homeowners of their right to hold family gatherings when they involve more than three cars?  Do you now have to get permission for Grandma to visit?  Will she need a permit or a placard to guarantee she is not a scofflaw?  Many of the games are held on or around holidays.  Must residents now give up their right to celebrate the holidays at home?

Here’s an idea.  How about cracking down on the people who actually create a parking or traffic hazard, and leaving the ones who don’t alone?  If this is really a safety issue, why must the people who are not creating safety problems be stopped from parking cars? 

The current bylaw tries to solve the problem around the stadium in a heavy-handed and uneven manner.  It is like trying to kill flies with dynamite.  It makes little sense, creates a lot of peripheral damage, and is simply unfair and discriminatory.

Think about it for a minute.  The town and the Patriots agree to funnel a lot of traffic down North Street so they can have a private entrance to the expensive club seat parking lot for VIPs.  They create traffic the residents must endure.  Then when the residents try and use their property to park the cars of friends and relatives, or make a couple of bucks, the town blames them for creating traffic problems.

The homeowners are not causing the vast majority of the issues.  The traffic itself is to blame.  If town officials are truly worried about the safe flow of traffic in the residential neighborhood, then they should reduce that traffic – not further punish or inconvenience the people who just happen to live along the route.  Those neighbors are not creating traffic problems, but rather are the victims of them.

Safety is always first.  No one should be hurt just so residents can make a few extra bucks.  Town officials have to create a safe situation for everyone.  But frankly – this ain’t how to do it.

They rushed this law without thinking it through.  They changed the implementation date of it several times in a way that was unfair and unreasonable.  They did not clearly present the impact of it at Town Meeting.  They created a committee to discuss the law with area residents after it was passed rather than before.  They did not think this through.

Foxboro voters should repeal this law at the next Town Meeting and tell officials to come up with a complete plan and resubmit.  Hopefully, this time they will get it right.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Boards and Officials All Need to Speak

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, August 20, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

Recent events in Mansfield brought forth an issue that could be classified as an “oldie-but-goodie”.  It is the question of how individual board or committee members speak out on issues that involve them, and how that colors and affects the government entity’s ability to conduct business objectively, efficiently and effectively.

At one of their meetings, selectmen had an agenda item concerning establishing protocols for speaking to the media.  The stated intent was to have a policy which would avoid confusion between the opinions and goals of individual selectmen and those of the majority of the board.  It followed a flurry of activity after recent events concerning the Comcast Center which placed great public scrutiny on the town and the venue. 

But leaving aside for a moment the specifics of the Mansfield situation, this is a topic that is often discussed in local government.  The people who populate boards of selectmen and school committees are generally not professional politicians.  They are usually dedicated townspeople who have chosen to step up and offer their services to their community, often with no compensation.   That is in no way offset by the fact they also receive all the aggravation they could possibly imagine.

As a result, many local officials and boards are far from expert at communicating with the media and the public.  With all the emphasis on local news coverage these days, city and town officials are under a brighter spotlight than ever before.  Local newspapers, websites, blogs, and local cable access television have all made being a local official a more visible and arguably more difficult job.  Getting the message of the board across rather than each individual’s message can be a problem.

Having chaired a local board of selectmen, let me be clear on one important point.  No public official should ever give up the right to express their opinion on any issue.  In fact, they have an obligation to let the citizens they serve know where they stand and what they think. 

At the same time, each individual board or committee member has an obligation and a duty to the whole.  They were elected to be a part of the governing body, and should always remember they are just a part of that public institution.  Their job is to bring their individual perspective and ideas to the table, argue as strenuously as necessary to try and convince a majority to agree with them, then accept and work towards the goals their committee eventually adopts.

That does not eliminate dissent or individuality – in fact it makes both those things more critical to the process.  But there are ways to do certain things, and ways to not do them.  The line that divides right and wrong in these instances is a very fine one, and where to draw it is often a topic of intense local debate.

The ultimate goal of every official should be to work towards solutions to the problems their board faces.  They cannot do that alone.  Those who constantly “perform” at meetings and outside them are often – though not always – trying harder to look like they are working hard than actually working hard.

When a selectman asks questions of his/her fellow members or town manager at a public meeting, they might be looking for answers.  Or they might be trying to upstage them and look good at their expense.  If their real goal is to simply gather information, effective officials often ask the questions beforehand and give their colleagues the chance to prepare.  But posturing and politics is often easier.

When one member of a board speaks to the press, they have to understand how their comments will reflect on their board.  Even when you begin with the famous “I’m only speaking for myself” it can influence the ability of your board to perform their duties.  It makes sense to have policies in effect allowing individual freedom and flexibility, yet making sure the rights and positions of the majority are properly and fairly expressed.

That’s not easy.  As someone often accused of being too much of an “individual” while serving on committees, I am sensitive to the issue.  But the best committees or boards are the ones that in the end speak with one voice blended voice.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, August 13, 2012

War Strikes Home in Norton

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on August 13, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

War is an awful thing, and in war people die.  Those people have homes, families, friends and neighbors who care about them.  They all come from somewhere, both originally and lately.  We read about them in the newspapers and see and hear their stories on radio and television.  We appreciate the grim sacrifice they have made for us, and we mourn their loss.

But Master Sgt. Gregory R. Trent didn’t come from just anywhere.  He came from Norton, the small town I have called home for almost all my 56 years on this planet.  He was one of our kids – one of Norton’s boys – and he gave his life in defense of his country.  And that has affected me in a far greater way than I anticipated.

I didn’t know Master Sgt. Trent, or at least I never remember meeting him.  He graduated from Norton High School in 1992.  That’s the same school my late father graduated from, where my wife and I graduated from in 1974, and where my two sons graduated in 1997 and 2000 respectively. 

Master Sgt. Trent learned in the same classrooms where I was taught.  He ate lunch in the same cafeteria, exercised in the same gymnasium, and received his diploma on the same stage.  His parents lived in town, he probably watched or marched in some of the local parades, and he no doubt knew people I knew and shared many of the same local experiences.

But he went on to greater service than I ever have or will.  He enlisted in 1998 and volunteered for Special Services in 2006.  He earned the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart, as well other impressive awards.  He had been stationed not only in Afghanistan, but also previously in Iraq. 

Since I did not know him, I find it a little strange that news of his untimely death has struck me in this manner.  There is little I am aware of that separates this fine young man from thousands of others I have read about over the last several years with sorrow and pain.  Why should I feel more for him than any of them?  They all gave their lives trying to make sure I and others like me can continue to enjoy the freedoms we so take for granted.

But Master Sgt. Gregory Trent was from Norton, and to me and so many others here that will make him different.  It places this War on Terror in a different light and perspective than just yesterday.  Now maybe that’s wrong.  Maybe I should have felt this way about all the other young lives tragically ended on far away battlefields since that fateful day of September 11, 2001.  But I didn’t, and though I regret it I can’t change that now.

I wonder if I ever stood behind Master Sgt. Trent in line at Roche Brothers.  Maybe I sat across from him at a picnic table at the Norton Hot Dog Stand.  Did I ever bump into him coming in or out of Haskins Pharmacy?  Was he one of the thousands of kids I saw on the Norton Youth Baseball fields over the years?  Did I ever knock on his family’s door when I was running for office?

I can’t help but notice he is not that much older than my own children.  That could have been them mortally wounded in some far away land, being transferred home and dying in a military hospital.  Master Sgt. Trent is survived by a daughter, and I cannot even fathom my grandson or granddaughter growing up without their father. 

Norton will always be a small town in my mind, even though it is now a community of about 20,000 people.  It is a great place to live and raise a family.  It produces great citizens who go on to do great things in life.  Master Sgt. Gregory Trent will forever be one of those most remembered.

The horror of war has come to Norton in a big way.  Our thoughts, prayers and hearts go out to the family of Master Sgt. Trent.  He will forever be a son of Norton, and an entire town leads a grateful nation in honoring his life and his memory.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and lifelong Norton resident.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kraft Not Being Shy in Foxboro Negotiations

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on August 10, 2012.


By Bill Gouveia

No one has ever accused Bob Kraft of being shy.

In the opening round of talks between the Kraft Group and the new unnamed Foxboro committee formed for the purpose of drawing fire – er, I mean negotiating on behalf of the selectmen, planning board and water board – the Kraft organization presented an aggressive proposal. They are seeking eight new liquor licenses for Patriot Place, which would bring the total number between the development and the stadium to 25.

The Kraft Group is also seeking to reduce the town’s share of revenue from ticket sales to stadium events (not including Patriot and Revolution games). They are looking for a guarantee of support from some town boards and officials on revising certain zoning laws, state funds to help build a pedestrian bridge across Route 1, and advocacy for a permanent MBTA rail station near Patriot Place and the stadium.

In return they offer to continue (in part) the infamous “billboard deal” which could net the town $100,000 per year, as well as pay $300,000 towards increased sewer costs involved with a proposed regional deal with Mansfield and Foxboro. They also offered to help fund alcohol education efforts in the schools and throughout town.

No one should be shocked by the proposal. It represents a sound negotiating strategy on behalf of the Kraft Group. After all, if you don’t ask – you don’t get. The fact negotiations must take place in public makes it particularly difficult in the early stages, but that’s the price you pay when you operate a franchise of this type. Transparency is a strange but wonderful (and in town government necessary) thing.

It will be interesting to see how the process moves forward from here. The Committee-To-Be-Named-Later has a tough task ahead, though they will not have the final say on any ultimate deal. There are those already complaining that Bob Kraft is trying to buy additional liquor licenses in order to increase development and line his pockets with profits. And you know what? That’s pretty much exactly what he’s doing.

But is there really anything wrong with that? After all, the idea of being in business is to make money. Large businesses apply for tax breaks from the state and local communities all the time, promising in return to supply jobs and other ancillary benefits. There might not be liquor licenses involved, but the premise here is the same.

Having said that, it seems pretty clear Foxboro needs eight more liquor licenses about as much as I need eight more sandwiches. Like my sandwiches, it sounds good and would no doubt be enjoyable for a while. But what you are left with afterwards is not always a pretty sight.

The current economic times make running a successful business very difficult. They call for extraordinary measures, which is why Massachusetts has finally allowed casino gambling (oops, I’m not supposed to say that in Foxboro – sorry). But though I am no expert, I have to wonder about the wisdom of 25 individual liquor licenses in single development. That sounds more like New Orleans than Foxboro.

But it pays to listen and weigh the options. Foxboro town officials have learned the hard way that refusing to listen to proposals from reputable parties can bring about division, resentment and distrust. They appear to be making a good faith effort to avoid doing that again (darn, another veiled casino reference) and that is wise.

But clearly, the committee in question needs a name. Perhaps it could be the “You’re Being Punished Committee”. The “Take A Bullet For Us Committee” has a nice ring to it. Calling it “The Political Suicide Committee” might be a bit harsh. I heard someone suggest “The We-Ought-To-Be-Committed Committee”, but that’s a bit long.

The fact one of the unnamed committee’s first official acts was to go into an unscheduled executive session at the request of former and new town counsel Richard Gelerman has not helped get them off to the positive start they might have liked. But as Gelerman told the committee as they prepared to meet in secret: “Foxboro’s a lot of fun these days.”

The “Let’s Have Fun Committee?” Well, they’ll come up with something. Let’s hope they do it in open session.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @BillInsideLook.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Olympics Just Not the Same Anymore


By Bill Gouveia

I've tried to watch the Olympics these past two weeks. And I can't deny that some of it has been enjoyable, exciting and inspiring. But overall, I find the modern Olympics to be an over-blown theatrical style experience that has far more economic impact than anything else.

Perhaps that is a jaded, skeptical view worthy of newspaper columnists (damn them!). But the Olympics today are so much more about politics and money than they are about sports and competition that you might as well be watching an NFL football game or a MLB baseball game. I enjoy those things, but they don't pretend to be what they are not.

The Olympics want us to think they are about national pride and competing for your country - and for many athletes and spectators that is exactly the role they fill. In past years I have been absorbed by them, especially when I was younger. And no, contrary to popular belief, I was not there for the first Modern Olympic Games back in 1896.

Some of the greatest sporting moments in my lifetime occurred during the games. Nothing can ever match the excitement and patriotic pride of watching the 1980 US Men's Hockey team defeat the heavily-favored Russians en route to the gold medal at Lake Placid. Watching Mark Spitz and now Michael Phelps become the greatest competitive swimmers of their generations was something to behold. And who among us did not cheer for Shawn Johnson to bring Olympic gold back home?

But when I was growing up the Olympics were a battle between the true amateurs of the United States and the semi-professionals of the Soviet Union and East Germany. We were proud that we sent real amateurs in what we considered the true Olympic spirit, while the Soviets and Eastern Bloc countries trained pre-teens away from their families for years in order to produce medal winners.

Today the Soviet Union no longer exists and East Germans live in a unified Germany. And the new female Olympic gymnastics champion is 16-year-old American Gabby Douglas, who left her parents to train for her attempt at winning a gold medal - and has not spent a single day at home in the last two years. Isn't that the very kind of thing we lamented when those on the "other side" did it?

We have enthusiastically accepted and endorsed everything we previously complained about when it comes to international competition. We have adopted many of the long-abhorred training techniques, and even hired away many of the foreign coaches so they could institute their programs here. And there is a very good reason for that. It wins medals.

The Olympics has always been largely commercial, though usually that was more about making money for the host venue. Now that professional athletes are allowed to compete, being an Olympic medalist is a much more profitable proposition. While it was always possible for an Olympic champion to make money via endorsements and exposure after their Olympic careers were over, they no longer have to wait. It is a huge change.

And truth be told, most prefer it this way. Americans love to compete and love to win. More people will watch LeBron James and Kobe Bryant than will watch even the best college and amateur players. While we love the underdogs who come from nowhere to win it all, we have an insatiable desire to see the very best.

If NBC is going to pay billions for the right to broadcast each Olympiad into our living rooms, they want the participants to be as familiar as possible to us. They don’t care if our figure skaters are making money on ice shows across the country between Olympic Games – and neither does most of the rest of the world.

But while that may make the Olympics more popular, it also makes them less watchable for fans like yours truly. The “Dream Team” may be great, but it doesn’t help make me want to watch springboard diving or team handball. And who knew there was even such a thing as team handball?

I still do love watching beach volleyball though. But that’s strictly because of my great love for the game.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and the current holder of the gold medal for couch-sitting. He can be reached at

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cooperation is Key to Changes at Comcast Center

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on August 3, 2012


By Bill Gouveia

I recently wrote of the ongoing feud between one Mansfield selectman and the general manager of the Comcast Center. I said they needed to work together to solve what problems exist at the popular concert venue, and to understand people were tuning them out.

Now two people have died from substance abuse while attending a “rave” concert, and that changes the way people look at the facility and the way the Comcast Center must look at itself. Fair or unfair, right or wrong, town officials and Comcast Center authorities no have no choice but to set aside past differences and concentrate on what needs to be done going forward.

This is no time for political posturing. The deaths of these two young people are horrific tragedies, made even more so by the fact they appear to have been the result of personal behavior. It would be wrong to use these deaths as a means to achieve political goals. It would be equally wrong if the Comcast Center ignored the circumstances surrounding the situation and offered no changes on their own.

The Comcast Center did not supply the drugs that killed these patrons. They did not force them to take them. They should not be held responsible for the bad choices these individuals may have made. But as the holder of an entertainment license they have a responsibility to provide as safe and secure an environment as possible. They clearly need to make stronger efforts in that regard.

What is perhaps most clear is that the “rave” type of concerts simply can no longer be held at this venue. The physical layout of the Comcast Center does not allow for proper security for this type of event. You can call that unfair and discriminatory to the mostly younger crowd that attends – most of whom behave in a responsible manner – but it is clearly the truth. In addition, the noise generated by these concerts is much more a problem than any other type of event and neighbors far and wide have complained regularly.

Mansfield’s Chief of Police has weighed in expressing severe reservations about this type of show, and his concerns should be addressed. Not only would selectmen be wise to refuse to license any further concerts of this particular type, but the Comcast Center should voluntarily step forward and announce they will no longer host them.

But this awful situation involving two deaths should not be used as a reason to institute such security measures as searching vehicles on the way into the parking lot, or placing drug-sniffing dogs at entrances to the center. There is no indication they would be effective in solving the problem of a small percentage of patrons who abuse substances while there. If someone is determined to get drunk or take pills, they most likely will find a way.

But there are measures which have been suggested that can and should be considered and put in place. Checking tickets as patrons enter the parking lot seems reasonable. There is no reason for those without tickets to be in the lot. That may put a crimp in those who like to hang out at Jimmy Buffet concerts, but that’s a small price to pay.

Increasing security personnel may also be necessary, but that is more difficult to judge. When that has been increased, there have been more people arrested. Some see that as an indication it has worked. Others see it as justifying the need for even more security. For some, no level of security may be enough to satisfy them.

The shooting at a cinema in Ohio cannot and should not lead us to installing metal detectors and conducting searches at movie theaters. The terrible events of last week at the Comcast Center should not lead us to subjecting all patrons to searches and drug dogs. We simply cannot let the bad behavior of a few rule the lives of the many, at least not in this way.

At the same time, there must be adjustments and a renewed spirit of cooperation between town officials and the Comcast Center. That would be the best way to try and get something good out of the recent sad events.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.