What An Opportunity

Posts Tagged ‘sports’

The Royals Treatment in Queens

In Sports on November 5, 2015 at 3:57 am

I wonder what he was thinking. Hosmer. Eric Hosmer. 035. I wonder what he was thinking. The evidence is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1iZIQ6IcJ4. There are players in Little League that would not run on that ball in play. So just what was Eric Hosmer thinking?

Maybe he was thinking that the Dark Knight had hung up the cowl two batters too late. That maybe, just maybe, Gotham needed a savior that wasn’t associated with DC comics. Eight innings of yeoman’s work undone by passion, trust, a walk, and a double. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded…unless Fate has other ideas.

Maybe Hosmer was thinking that family is everything…until it isn’t. Jeurys Familia had an All-Star caliber year and was lights-out in the National League Divisional Series and National League Championship Series with five saves including two hits, two walks, and zero runs given up in both series combined. In the World Series, with opportunities to lock up saves in Games 1 and 4, he did not accomplish the task.

Yes, Alex Gordon’s home run in Game 1 was clearly a mistake by Familia. However, there’s more to the blown save in Game 4 than poor pitch execution. In Game 5, Familia inherited a runner on second base and zero outs in the top of the ninth inning. Tough spot to be in. On the play in question, he executed his pitch and induced a ground ball to the left side of the infield. So just what was Eric Hosmer thinking?

Maybe Hosmer was thinking about last year. 2014. When his team was in an eerily similar situation. Potential title-clinching game. Runner on 3rd base. Down 1. Maybe he was thinking about that “pit in your stomach” as Ned Yost, Manager of the Royals, described it. A sinking feeling that clung to the team from the moment Game 7 of the 2014 World Series ended until Game 5 of the 2015 World Series (that’s 368 days if you’re counting at home). Maybe he was thinking about the outcry that surrounded the third base coach for not waving Alex Gordon home.

Maybe Hosmer saw the grounder hit to the left side of the infield and took a few steps towards home to distract David Wright, the third baseman; a third baseman who had cut off his shortstop to make the play. Maybe Hosmer saw Wright’s hesitation and then saw Wright turn toward first base to throw the ball. Maybe Hosmer knew that Lucas Duda would be surprised by the aggressive play and rush a throw home. Maybe Hosmer knew that Duda’s throw would be wide and that he would score easily.

The game didn’t end with Hosmer’s play. The Series wasn’t won on his moxie. Sport, and life to a certain extent, lends itself to hyperbolic statements about the brevity, consciousness, and power within a certain moment. “A second lasts forever” should be the tagline for every new sporting play. Infinite loops of athletic renown to simultaneously reinforce our love for sport and our realization that this moment has passed even if we can still somewhat hold it.

I don’t know what Eric Hosmer was thinking when he ran home. But I do know that Kansas City is #crowned. Who said, “We’ll never be royals”?

The boy who knew too much

In Sports on February 6, 2015 at 12:14 am

There’s something about being from Buffalo, New York. There’s something about being obsessed with a football team that has not made the playoffs since 1999. There’s something about knowing chicken wings only come from one…er, two places. There’s something about a bar with a wall of televisions that refers to more than just our area code. I think our city has a passion, that can border on obnoxious, but comes from unconditional love. I think our city is proud of our roots and what we can give to others. I think our city is coming back from an economic downturn and striving to be a draw again. There’s something else I know about being from Buffalo, New York: I’m pretty sure we all hate the New England Patriots.

See, the Buffalo Bills have not made the playoffs since 1999 and that streak has shared a majority of its time with the emergence of a certain 6th-round pick turned first-ballot Hall of Famer. The Bills have only beat the Patriots twice since 2005 including once this past season. On the other hand, the Patriots have won 4 Super Bowls in 14 seasons including one last Sunday. Also in the last 14 years, the Patriots have appeared in the Super Bowl 6 times, completed a regular season undefeated, and made the playoffs every season but one year. I can understand why we don’t like the Patriots, they kick our butt. Every year. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why we hate the players.

I will not repeat the terms and jokes I have heard about Tom Brady and his sexuality, fashion, and night-time regimens. I’m pretty sure every Patriots player takes food from poor, hungry children in soup kitchens. Should I even mention where Bill Belichick can go?

But why do we hate these players? They are paid to play a sport for a franchise. They are men from a variety of backgrounds and stories. There is something…pure about not like players because they play for a certain franchise. It speaks to fanhood, support for your hometown, and camaraderie in disliking other people. For me, it took a certain amount of naivete to just assume people are bad because I don’t like how their football-related decisions affect my football team. But isn’t it harder to hate players nowadays? I mean, I don’t why you would throw the ball, but is there a cooler story than Malcolm Butler right now?

Malcolm Butler is a nickel corner from the Patriots who made the game-winning play in the Super Bowl this past weekend. He played at a small university and his chances of making the NFL were bleak at best. Heck, on the last pass play before his interception, he was the victim of a catch that would make Newton reconsider the tenets of physics. His rags-to-riches story cuts through the tribal B.S. that can sometimes constitute fandom. He isn’t just some player on those awful Patriots. He is Malcolm Butler. We know too much.

Even the most faithful Patriots fan can’t be too happy about this playoff run. The Patriots have been accused of cheating in the AFC Championship; a game they won handily 38-7. This is not the first time the Patriots have been accused of cheating and the NFL has opened an investigation. Some fans will inevitably bunker down and hold up the Lombardi trophy as a testament to “Us Against The World”. However, I think some fans have to consider how many of their wins can be attributed to cheating. We know too much.

This whole “knowing too much” isn’t just with football. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, recently did a piece for ESPN the Magazine touching on the NBA’s openness to legalizing sports betting in the entire United States. As a naive fan, it blew my mind that a top-tier professional sports league would actually concede to legalizing sports betting. I put this topic to my GoS brethren and Aaron provided a question to my question that was spectacular: Would you rather have $500,000 in cash of $10 million in crack?

The analogy is on point. The amount of money bet on the NBA is double the annual profit of the NBA. If the NBA could tax betting organizations for official NBA Stats & Information, they could make enough money to buy a country.  Further, regulation of sports betting could make betting safer for consumers with more transparency throughout the process. This sports betting story is not even considering the new TV contract set to come to fruition in the upcoming years that will push NBA profits to unprecedented heights. So much for naivete.

Does the little boy in me know too much? Probably. Have I lost that sense of wonder with sports? I don’t know. But I know I lost my voice last Sunday. See for some reason, as I watched the Patriots win another Super Bowl, I couldn’t stop myself from yelling, WHO THROWS THE BALL?!

 

Hey, the All-Star game is on.

In Sports on July 17, 2013 at 12:55 am

 

So? That would be my initial answer to the title. The All-Star game is on? So what? Who cares? It doesn’t matter who wins anyway. I think I could live without the seeing the score of an exhibition game . That’s the rub, isn’t it? All-star games are exhibitions. A way for leagues to show off the best of the best within their sport. Nothing less and certainly nothing more. Unless it’s baseball. You already have two separate leagues whom play by different rules. Why not have an All-Star game that matters?

The MLB All-Star game has a stipulation tied to its outcome. The league of All-Stars that wins the game receives home-field advantage during the World Series, regardless of the records of the teams involved in the Series itself (I think there’s a Pre-destination argument somewhere in there but I’m going to let it go). The National League had won the last 4 All-Star games and National League teams have won 3 of the last 4 World Series. In fact, the team with home-field has won 22 of the last 27 World Series. This home-field thing is no small potatoes. So why would you stake the value of your championship on an exhibition game? Let’s go back in time.

In 2002, the All-Star game was called, by commissioner Bud Selig, as a draw. A tie. Just about the worst thing that can happen in an exhibition game. The point of the game is not to win or lose; the point is just to play. So imagine the embarrassment of having to end the game because no one could play well enough to score. In this arena, baseball has a distinct disadvantage to other sports: scoring isn’t easy enough to ignore how much time you’re spending watching a game that doesn’t matter.

The NBA and the NHL have the best all-star games because it’s a celebrated pick-up game. In fact, NBA does the best job of poking fun at the spectacle by having celebrities regularly join in the fun and letting players enjoy themselves. The score gets up to 150-145 and other ludicrous totals like that. Putting a ball through a net when no one’s really trying to stop you isn’t too hard. Plus, there’s the added fun of watching very competitive men start to take the game a little (too?) seriously to one-up each other. Doesn’t hurt the quality of the game.

The NHL is right there too because hockey is a simple enough sport to let players skate around and enjoy the moment. A 10-9 score line is not out of the question. Plus, it’s not that hard to put a puck in net when no one’s really trying to stop you.

The NFL has had disastrous results with it’s all-star game. No one wants to watch almost 3 hours of pick-up football. Even then, it’s not that hard to score a touchdown if no one’s trying to stop you.

MLB? Whole different story. No one wants to watch 3 hours of pick-up baseball. In addition, there would have to be remarkable disregard on the behalf of the defense for a player to score on a single. It’s hard to score in baseball. Baseball is a sport that celebrates athletes that hit the ball, to get on base, 30 percent of the time. A career .300 hitter, with caveats of plate appearances and the like, is seen as a great career. 30 percent. 3 out of 10. That’s borderline Hall of Fame status. If that’s what the best of all-time are doing, how much more for the one-time All-Star? If a player goes 1 for 3 in an All-Star game, he’s at .333 and had a good outing. That’s 1 hit. It’s hard to score in baseball.

So what do you do? You can’t risk a tie. I mean, no one cares to begin with. So a tie just emphasizes the fact that no one really wants to be there anyway. So, you make the game matter. The detriments are obvious at this point. (However, with the 2nd Wild-Card, an October Classic in November, and a Banned Substance Policy that seems to be inept at best, I don’t know if it’s the biggest issue in baseball right now.) Yet, the game matters…and produces sights like tonight.

Andrew McCutchen pinch-ran for another All-Star that isn’t exactly fleet-footed. Does that happen in a game that doesn’t matter?

Prince Fielder legs out a triple to place himself in better scoring position

Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado make great fielding plays to keep the American League in front

Mariano Rivera, baseball legend, pitches in the 8th inning because the A.L. manager doesn’t want to risk him not making an appearance at all. See, if the N.L. had scored enough runs, the A.L. could have been behind and the manager may not have had the opportunity to play the first-ballot Hall of Famer in the 9th. The manager didn’t want to take the risk. Does that risk remain prominent in a game that doesn’t matter?

The game mattered. The hits mattered. The defensive plays mattered. The strikeouts mattered. Above all, the score line mattered. (In fact, the only thing that didn’t matter was the MVP award to Mariano Rivera but even that mattered because of the recipient, not because of the award) It was fun watching both managers utilize strategy as both teams played to win. Yet, there is a cynical joke in all of it. In every at-bat, every pitch, and every play, there is a singular thought: this is an exhibition game.

So why do we care who wins?

 

Heroes

In Sports on June 5, 2013 at 3:17 am

“Everyone talks about 755. No one really mentions 762.”

I was watching the Yankees-Indians game on Monday night. ESPN had the game and the Yankees played well. 7-4 win for the Bombers spurred on by Mark Texeira who sent a “tex message” (get it?) to the upper deck for a grand salami. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Yankees play well and get the win. Yet, it’s the words of the ESPN anchors that stuck in my head after the final out.

The conversation between the anchoring team inevitably touched on how well the Yankees have played with so many players on the disabled list. Eventually that conversation got to Alex Rodriguez, one of the multiple players on the D.L., and how his acknowledgement of using performance-enhancing drugs will probably eliminate his Hall-of-Fame potential. The anchors touched on how poorly Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds performed on their Hall-of-Fame ballots and how this fared for the tainted history of baseball. “Everyone talks about 755. No one really mentions 762.”

There’s so much of me that wants to get into an argument weighing the pros and cons of these players’ careers. How everyone was using PEDs and how it was, more or less, a level playing field. How we can’t place morals on athletes. I mean, it’s not like the substances were banned. They were banned in writing but not enforced. I mean, if you steal something and nobody knows, did you steal? For me though, this is a loss of faith.

Faith is funny because we mostly think of religion. Rightly so but still…we think of religion. But deep down, I think most of us have someone we looked up to. Someone we put our faith in. We spend so much of life trying to figure ourselves out. Then someone comes along who kind of embodies what we want to be and we believe in her/him. Even if it’s not a direct comparison, we admire hard work, dedication, focus, etc. We want that. We see the best in others and that drives us to be the best of ourselves.

But what happens when the people we believe in repeatedly let us down? This is not a figment of humanity. This is not “I’m sorry and I will do all I can to your role model”. This is purposeful, calculated lying and cheating to gain an unfair advantage and circumvent established rules. We can argue the semantics of a level-playing field but isn’t there an inherent sense of wrong? What happened to that whole idea that if you ate your vegetables and listened to your elders, you would be a great athlete like him or her. You could do well in school and you could do well in the sports arena after school. What happened to that?

Look, I understand that everyone’s human. Sometimes I think our society views athletes as pillars of moral standing that embody all that is good. I mean, there are some that are…there are some that are not. I guess I’m just tired of being lied to. I’m tired of athletes saying they didn’t and then it comes out that they did. Then everyone’s backtracking, redacting, and can’t comment further on the topic.

This jaded cynicism doesn’t really do anything for me. I have my idols and those I believe in. I am learning everyday who is going to be there in the long run. Who I can really believe in. I do not thank them enough. However, I feel there is a generation of young children that will have a better knowledge of performance-enhancing drugs than any generation before them. This is probably the way of the world. The generations of the future live in a world that was only a dream for their descendants. Yet, I think this jaded cynicism robs a child of one of the most important notion of life: hope. pure, invincible hope.

These players lost faith in their ability. And in turn, I have lost my faith in them. I don’t think that broken bat is the only thing that is shattered forever in the minds of some young fans out there. Then again, I don’t know what the future brings. Maybe in 20 years, I will be watching ESPN and the anchors will mention an anecdote they have noticed:

“Everyone talks about 755. No one really mentions 762.”

 

A Review: Barking Signals (Badly) During Goldwater

In Sports on March 8, 2013 at 11:28 pm

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As I grow now into my twenties, I often find myself longing for the good old days when times were simpler and worries were few, the kind of days that abounded in my childhood. I ask myself why I was so much happier in my younger days, why my mood was observably lighter and more carefree. It recently dawned on me that it’s because my perspective was so limited. The world that I inhabited was so much smaller and more neatly defined. Simply put, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and that makes for a blissfully ignorant existence. With maturity, that life passes away, never to exist again. But if we’re lucky, we can still experience little snippets, pleasurable reminisces which occasionally transport us back to those happier times. Through his novel, Barking Signals (Badly) During Goldwater, author Garret Mathews took me on such a trip.

Mathews is a renowned author, having penned over 6,500 newspaper columns, two plays, numerous novels, and an audio project called “Folks are Talking” (his extremely interesting bio can be found here). Not only is he a skilled wordsmith, but he also possesses tremendous insight into the human mind, and into what makes people tick. This exceptional perception is particularly effective and enjoyable in Barking Signals, as Mathews’s narrative voice provides us with valuable insight into the thoughts of the central character.

Mathews’s flawed hero, A.C. Jackson, is a puny, tentative adolescent growing up in a rural community in the 1960’s. The story centers on his struggles, both on and off the field, as he makes the life-altering decision to try out for his high school’s JV football team. Anyone who hearkens back to his or her days as a teenager can relate, and have a hearty laugh at the day-to-day conundrums A.C. faces. A dry humor is a mainstay of Mathews’s writing style, but he does not merely flit across the life of 14-year-old A.C. The depth of the encounters he faces – meeting the mysteries of fear, love, identity, rejection, and even death head-on – imbue Barking Signals with an exceptional sense of realism. This is no mere sports story, no 80-page tale of how little Tommy tries hard and catches the winning touchdown at the end; this is a human novel, a story that will reach deep into your heart before you even realize what is happening, and enrapture you wholeheartedly. A.C.’s situation hit eerily close to home for me, from his constant concern over his social status and his fear of the unknown to the teacher who befriends and challenges him to grow. As is the case in any good novel, A.C. is not a static character; we clearly see his development over time. When he stumbles we commiserate, when he triumphs we rejoice as well… and our investment increases as we turn the pages. As I turned the last page, I did not want it to end. I wanted to follow A.C. further on.

Mathews has set out to accomplish a difficult task, to create a work that reaches across generations. It is not easy to do, but he succeeds brilliantly.  Fathers can enjoy A.C.’s tale with their sons. This book will touch so many more people than just fans of football. I would like to see it as required reading in middle school and ninth grade classrooms. The lessons that it teaches are so readily understood and so valuable… its merits are self-evident. And it is an easy read and an engaging text. I am a hard reader to win over, but Garret Mathews has succeeded fully in earning my esteem. Read Barking Signals (Badly) During Goldwater. It will remind you, too, of simpler times. It will make you laugh, and reflect, and feel. And it will be a literary experience that you won’t soon forget. I highly recommend it.

Here is an excerpt from the novel that is sure to leave you wanting more. This dialogue takes place when A.C. is calling his crush to ask her to Fall Social… and it’s pure genius.

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With as much self-assuredness as he can muster, A.C. dials Sylvia’s number. He prays he can’t get through. Or, even better, that she put in a special request with the phone company to only let in calls from boys who don’t have to beat themselves up to get a black eye. A.C. won’t get a rejection. Just an endless dial tone. He’ll tell Mr. Wiley he wanted to ask, but technology wouldn’t let him. That wouldn’t earn the big money, but maybe the man would toss a couple of fifty-cent pieces his way.

R-ring. R-ring.

Two times. That’s enough. No sense waking up everybody in the Trice household just for a boy-girl conversation.

A.C. starts to put the receiver down.

“Hello.”

It’s her. He can’t talk. There’s a mud bog in this larynx.

“Who is this?”

She isn’t agitated. Her voice is calm. Patient. It’s like she knows the poor soul on the other end is scared to death, and she wants to give him every opportunity to collect his gumption.

“Uh, uh, uh.”

There is no surly “Just state your business.” No “Get on with it, there’s another call on Line Two.”

Just a kindly, “Gee, your voice sounds familiar.”

Of course it does. Sylvia has heard A.C. give oral reports in English class since they were seven years old.

“Uh, this is me,” he stammers.

“Oh, now I know. How is Mr. A.C. Jackson doing?” she asks pleasantly.

The kid is shaking too much to talk, so Sylvia dances lead.

“Did you hear about Aggie in world geography? Mrs. Jerrue pulled down the big map of the world and asked him to find South America. Aggie looked high and low from Australia to the Aleutian Islands. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Said the map company must’ve left it off. Everybody got a big laugh.”

A.C. can’t believe what he’s hearing. Sylvia is actually trying to make this easy on him. She’s like the tutor in remedial English. She wants him to pass the test.

A formal request is much too intimidating. He decides it will be better if he breaks it down to the lowest common denominator. It works in blocking assignments. Maybe it will in attempted dating.

“Me. You. Fall Social.”

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Want more? You can purchase this book by sending $22 plus $3 postage and handling to:

Garret Mathews, 7954 Elna Kay Drive, Evansville, Indiana 47715.

More information can be found at pluggerpublishing.com.

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Baseball’s Sad, Unfortunate Steroid Era

In Sports on February 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Growing up as an American kid, I idolized baseball from the moment I encountered it. Playing Little League Baseball was the greatest joy of my young life. Watching This Week in Baseball then the MLB Game of the Week on Fox was always one of the highlights of my week. And watching the Little League World Series? Well… Williamsport, PA was just heaven on earth. There was nothing I would not have done, and no amount I would not have paid for just one opportunity to step on that diamond at Howard J. Lamade Stadium to play for the LLWS title. Baseball was my passion. I devoured book after book on the sport and its famous figures, from biographies on Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron to a book that recounted – in narrative form – every World Series from 1903-1985 in great detail, game by game, run by run. I love the game and the romanticized descriptions I found within the books I so readily consumed. Even though I cannot stand the modern iteration of the New York Yankees, I love and respect their previous generations for their consistent, unrelenting excellence. Baseball is just too grand and too beautiful to be marred by anything so petty as my own dislikes. It is the perfect game, classic and unchanging, standing apart from the ever-changing, cheapening world around it. Or at least that’s what I thought as a kid.

As time has passed, my illusions have been shattered. One summer, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pounded homer after homer, and I ecstatically went along for the ride. But these seemingly superhuman sluggers of the late 1990’s – my most impressionable age – have since tested positive for and admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds came next and completely shattered the records that had been so recently set, and I was even further excited by his exploits. He, too, has since admitted to using steroids. When their magical seasons were taking place, I don’t think any of us wanted to believe they were tainted in any way. We wanted the romance of the magical run to continue sweeping us away. But then reality hit, and it hit hard.

What greater honor exists than the Hall of Fame? Middle-of-nowhere Cooperstown, NY is a legendary place because of it. The greatest figures in history are immortalized there. Stellar careers logically lead to the Hall. As such, several candidates should be voted in handily. Well, as it turns out, the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Class consists of… no one. Well, at least no one who is still alive. Three were elected by the Veterans Committee, all of whom passed away before 1940… meaning none of them had been involved in baseball for about 100 years. On the other hand, iconic baseball figures like Roger Clemens and the aforementioned Barry Bonds were denied admission to the Hall. How could this happen? The BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) pushed back, and indicated that tainted careers would be met with cold denial. At least this year. Writers are a fickle bunch, so who knows how long this resistance will continue. It could end next year, or extend indefinitely. As more athletes continue to be implicated in reports on PED use, such as the Miami New Times report which named stars like Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, and Alex Rodriguez, the likelihood of the BBWAA permanently souring on steroid users becomes greater and greater.

So Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, the most dominant pitcher and slugger in my era of fanhood, may never be immortalized in the Hall of Fame. But is this right? Isn’t the Hall of Fame a place to recognize excellence? It’s hard to argue with Roger Clemens’s career numbers: 354 wins (9th all-time), 4,672 strikeouts (3rd all-time), 7 Cy Young awards, 11 All-Star appearances. It’s even harder to argue with Barry Bonds’s career numbers: 762 HR (1st all-time), 1,996 RBI (4th all-time), 7-time League MVP, 14 All-Star appearances.

At the end of the day, though, it isn’t just about the numbers; sports still aspires to a certain level of integrity and decorum. Pete Rose is banned from the Hall for breaking the rules, and if the all-time hits leader is banned, then Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others may indeed face a similar block. I am a firm believer in the innate integrity of sports. True excellence is achieved fairly and cleanly. I think that it is a sad day for baseball when zero living members are inducted, but I think that it is a sadder day when the Hall of Fame is devalued by inducting proven, admitted cheaters.

Dance with the girl who brung ya.

In Sports on February 9, 2013 at 10:41 pm

 

What does our favorite football team say about the person we’re into?

Absolutely nothing. Why would you ask such a stupid question? But in the world between my ears, there’s some kind of half-baked correlation. And darn it all, we’re going to find it. So without further ado, what each team says about what we like in potential partners:

“They were not the first person you noticed. But once you got to know them, you saw how cool they were.”

Arizona Cardinals

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cleveland Browns

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Miami Dolphins

Oakland Raiders

Saint Louis Rams

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Upside: They are so cool. You guys interact in the best ways. You can’t wait to hang out. They’re cool with your friends and you’re cool with their friends. For the most part. But you how hard they try. It’s great being with them.

Downside: Not everyone sees what you see. Worse, sometimes people wonder what you see in them. You know how cool they are. Yet, not a lot of other people do. Is there something wrong with you? Or are other people blind? Are you a terrible person for questioning? But you do sometimes. Would it hurt to one day have something to brag about? It’s shallow. But sometimes shallow is nice. Now you just feel guilty…

Verdict: It’s all good. As much as we appreciate them,  we are human. We get self-centered. We want them to do something that we can rub other people’s faces in. Really show off. But, there’s something to be said for someone who is continuously working to be better. Plus, sometimes those public displays go awry. But you like them. It’s all good.

“They had a history of being really cool. The whole package. Now everyone kinda resents you behind your back because you won’t shut up about it.”

Baltimore Ravens

Green Bay Packers

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

Upside: They’re so awesome. You couldn’t imagine someone more awesome. Yea they have issues but come on, their awesomeness is blinding. Sigh…

Downside: Sometimes they’re too awesome. And they don’t seem to care about what’s going on with you. Would be nice to be heard once in a while.

Verdict: Sometimes they don’t listen or seem to care. But they are pretty awesome. And they make an effort to show they’re listening. But seriously, from all of us who care about you deeply, SHUT UP ABOUT IT! Sheesh.

“They can be so cool…when they want to be…”

Atlanta Falcons

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts 

Minnesota Vikings

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles 

San Diego Chargers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Washington Redskins

Upside: When it’s on, it’s on like Donkey Kong. You guys go together like peanut butter and jelly. Winter and a sweater. Lemonade and sweet tea. Everything is great.

Downside: When it’s off, it’s bad. All talking ceases. Except for “uh-huh’ and other barely visible acknowledgements.  Everybody can tell somethings wrong but don’t want to say anything out loud.

Verdict: You’re gonna have to suck it up. As bad as it can be, you chose em.

And unfortunately, and maybe sometimes fortunately, when it comes to football allegiances and life in general, you just gotta dance with the girl who brung ya.

Because you just never know, do you?

The NCAA and you.

In Sports on January 24, 2013 at 12:15 am

 

 

Are you worried about making sure your school is doing the right thing? Are you worried about making sure you can do the best you can for your student-athletes? Then you are at the right seminar! We are the NCAA…and we are here to help. Now we’re sorry if we can’t get to all the questions that you have but we will cover what we can.

So let’s get started. First, we can all agree that these student-athletes are amateurs. They are, after all, students first. So…they should not be paid for their sporting endeavors. If, as a school, you happen to make money off a player’s name, number, talent, etc., it is your right as the school to pocket that money. After all, you are providing an education. Moreover, we will sanction video games such as NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball, and partner with media partners like ESPN, but we will leave the players’ actual names off the game so no one can will know. For example, it is impossible for someone to confuse the cover boy of NCAA Football 11, #15 from Florida, as Tim Tebow. We’ll keep that between us.

Now, about that education. Like we said, you will provide athletic scholarships so these individuals can go to school. Also, there will be mandatory study time so the athletes don’t feel overwhelmed. If practice times are too stressful and impede with academics, you can be sure that the athletes would pick an education over sports. There is nothing in our college sports culture that would cause a student-athlete to prioritize sports over an education. Furthermore, no coach would ever intimate to a player that college is just all about the sport. Coaches have to balance the rigors of sports with the realities of gaining a quality education.

In addition, no coach is to help an athlete get a grade he/she did not earn or herd them into courses that are less rigorous with an understanding about the situation; those situations would be unethical. Therefore, we are establishing an Academic Progress Rate. If your athletes fall below a specific number we deem as unacceptable, you will be banned from postseason participation.

Brief aside: Except you, football.  Don’t worry guys. You make us the most money so just keep doing what you’re doing.

Anyway, as I was saying…banned!

Now, let’s talk about criminal proceedings. Most of the time, we don’t really care; we’re not that type of organization. Still, if it makes big enough of a public stir, we’ll poke our heads into it. So, if it’s a crime that involves athletes, we will prosecute to the full extent of the law that we made up for that day; you can’t adjust for everything, you know. And because we made it up that day, we are not accountable for telling you why you received such a punishment. We punish as we see fit.

You see, it’s not our fault…oh, wait. I almost forgot. If we have turned a blind eye to your school’s misgivings because you were winning influential games, do not take that for granted. If you slip up when you are not relevant, we will lay down the law. Furthermore, there is no one we will not talk to in order to get our point across to your institution. That includes the defense attorney of the person that is in prison for providing impermissible benefits to your athletes. We have no reason to doubt the statements of that defense attorney towards said institution and will use them in our court of law as judge, jury, and executioner.

Now, as I was saying before, it is not our fault that you universities are utterly helpless. As beacons of academia, your lightbulb is beginning to dim; and some may argue, have been dimming for some time. It is tough to make money, apart from tuition hikes, so you force faculty to publish as much as possible to get the most money into your school. Yet, sometimes that isn’t enough. So you began to rely on donations.

That method makes alot of sense until the boosters decide that instead of a building named after them, they want to see a winning football team. Coupled with the media contracts and sponsorships associated with popular sports like football and men’s basketball, and the fact that we say you can’t pay your players, you have a wonderful revenue stream. Well, kind of. The actual math is kind of tedious but pretty much only some schools make a profit on sports through ticket sales and sponsors but that’s neither here nor there.

All that you need to know is that we are here and we are here to help you. We are the NCAA. Any questions?

Up, up, and away.

In Sports on January 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm

 

I miss Smallville. I’m ok saying that out loud. I watched Smallville from beginning to end and Superman became my favorite superhero; I felt like I somehow knew him. Smallville ran for 10 seasons, from the now-defunct WB to the CW. Spanning from the beginning of the 5th grade till the end of my junior year of college, Smallville was just the coolest thing to me. Clark Kent’s struggles with stuff we go through, and then the added pressure of having the ability to save the world, made for engaging television. Through it all, he eventually becomes a symbol of all that is good and represents the best of humanity and human nature.

However, The Last Son of Krypton is not the focal point of discussion today. Thinking about Smallville also got me thinking of the intro: “Save Me” by Remy Zero. Interpolated within scenes from the show and cast members, “Save Me” captured the plight of Clark Kent in song. I always thought the song suited Smallville and I think it’s a good place to begin our discourse.

“Somebody save me…”

To imply that athletes are held to a moral standard that supersedes that of most of society is not exactly an original thought. Athletes, and sports teams for that matter, make money based upon consumer-ship. Buying tickets to games, jerseys, a brand or the products of a sponsor are all activities that lead to investments in athletes and their teams. Therefore, we seem to impose the highest moral standards upon them. If you have the most talent that allows you to make the most money, then you deserve the most scrutiny. Athletes are then supposed to become symbols of all that is good and represent the best of humanity and human nature.

“And I would give you anything you want, know

You were all I wanted”

So what happens when they can’t be the best on the basis of their talent or work ethic? What if there was a way to provide more of the material that makes them great? What if greatness was in a needle? Did PEDs make the pitches for Roger Clemens? Did PEDs hit the ball for Barry Bonds? Did PEDs save thousands of lives with the research from the Livestrong Foundation? What if you gave everything to achieve greatness? You could inspire so many people and all you had to do was take an injection. What if this was an opportunity to play on a level playing field with everyone else? You could make enough money to donate to charities and give back to your hometown and local communities where you play. All you have to do is choose what truths to tell and what lies to defend. What if you could be Superman?

“And all my dreams are falling down”

And after the Hall of Fame election of 2013, or lack thereof, and the story of Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o made headlines; his story has not so much made headlines as much as it seems to have dominated the national discourse. A feel-good story that instantly became shockingly bizarre. We will know more as time goes on but this is what we know so far: Lennay Kekua did not exist.

For those who don’t know, or those looking for a refresher, I’ll say what I know; or more specifically, what I have heard and choose to accept this far.

Manti Te’o was a senior middle linebacker on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. On a nationally broadcast game in September against Michigan St., those watching found out that this young man had lost his grandmother and his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, during the same week. An unspeakable tragedy, we watched a young man have a great game, seemingly inspired by his situation.

Throughout the season, his story became the story of the Notre Dame football team as they rose to #1 in the national rankings. The public was treated to stories of Te’o’s devotion in Kekua’s last days and his unrelenting love and affection. Te’o was a finalist for the Heisman, partly for his great play and partly for  his inspirational story of aspiring for, and achieving greatness, in the face of immense tragedy. Notre Dame went on to play for a national championship in January. Even after a disappointing loss in the championship game, Te’o was seen as a wonderful story that embodied all that is good and represented the best of humanity and human nature.

Then a strange report came out. We were led  to believe, with extraordinary detail, that Lennay Kekua did not exist. Account after account suggested that her, and her story, had been fabricated. Immediately, it became clear that we all had been duped. We all had bought into a fable, with a substantial moral, but a fable nonetheless. Now, as more details come out, one is left wondering whether Te’o knew about the hoax. Was he “catfished” by some elaborate prank or a willful participant? Is he a very trusting young man who was taken advantage of or a narcissistic sociopath with the audacity to believe he could pull off such a ruse? We may never know. Either way, we know this: Manti Te’o is not the player we thought. The court of public opinion is split and the conversations I have had with friends have touched on just about every theory out there. And really, can one be refuted at this point?

Even still, with the allegations against the prominent members of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot and the confession of Lance Armstrong, it is safe to say that there is a disillusionment towards heroes. There is a sense that if you probe just below the surface, we will find a shell of a human being that is propped up on their talent, commercialism, and the belief of fans.

And whatever direction this Manti Te’o story takes, it is safe to assume that he too wanted his chance at greatness. Whether as a star-crossed dreamer or a calculated associate, he was Superman. But one may argue the hero was never really a hero at all. And maybe worst of all, as was the case with Bonds, Clemens, and Armstrong, some of us thought that. But we wanted to believe anyway. Superman’s gone, but we will wait for someone else to put on a cape and paint a “S” on their chest.

I guess Smallville had it right all along:

“Somebody save me
Let your warm hands break right through and
Somebody save me
I don’t care how you do it
Just stay, stay
Oh come on
I’ve been waiting for you”

 

My Take on Manti

In Sports on January 18, 2013 at 6:37 pm

We have all heard some version of the story by now, a story first reported by Deadspin.com on Wednesday. Notre Dame’s poster-boy linebacker – Heisman runner-up, National Championship runner-up, national sympathy recipient and projected top-10 NFL draft pick Manti Te’o – had been involved in a hoax of staggering proportions. Deadspin revealed that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who he had spoken of as an inspiration throughout their relationship and in her death of leukemia in September, never existed. She was nothing more than an online personality and an unknown voice on the phone. When this broke, Manti’s role in the hoax was unknown; did he perpetrate the story for sympathy, for attention on a run at the Heisman, or some even deeper motive, or was he simply a victim of a cruel and terrible Catfishing scheme? An anonymous source in the article said he was “80% sure” Manti was knowingly involved from the beginning. As I read the Deadspin article late Wednesday afternoon, my own head began to… ahem… spin. I felt like I had vertigo. My first reaction was, like everyone else’s, shock and disbelief. But it was the second reaction where I diverged from about 90% of Twitter users; I did not immediately point an accusing finger at Manti Te’o. This is because, having gone to school with him for three years, having several mutual friends, and working with the Notre Dame football team for an entire season, I had the privilege of getting to know Manti a little bit. And it’s readily apparent when you spend any time at all with him; he’s really a good guy. Whether that makes me biased or more qualified to judge the situation probably depends on your stance. I think it has helped me maintain perspective.

When the story broke, many rushed quickly to judgment. Twitter exploded with assessments of the situation, with tweeps calling him an attention whore who wanted the media notoriety for a Heisman run, a closeted gay who made up a girlfriend as a cover, a pathological liar, or even mentally troubled. I can see where an outside observer could draw such conclusions – it looks awful from the outside looking in – but my own personal experience with Te’o led me to sincerely doubt these as true. Nevertheless, many questions remained in my mind. There were still a great deal of inconsistencies in the story. I couldn’t believe that the hoax was his idea, but what was my alternative?

Then I watched Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s athletic director, give a press conference a few hours later. He explained the idea of Catfishing, that Manti was the victim of a hoax, and that a private investigator hired by ND had discovered online chatter – “casually cruel” chatter, according to Swarbrick – between several parties who perpetrated the hoax. His sincerity, emotion, and willingness to stick his own neck out for Manti convinced me fully of Te’o’s lack of involvement in the planned perpetuation of this fraud. You see, I also know Jack Swarbrick. I have had several conversations with him, and I have been unreservedly impressed each time. He spoke to a small group of young men in my dorm last year as part of our Distinguished Speaker Series, and after sharing his personal story, he facilitated the most frank and straightforward question-and-answer time I have ever seen from any figure in sports. He also later met with me one-on-one to discuss my career prospects, and to advise me on how to move forward in my goal to become an athletic director myself one day. He was nothing less than generous, welcoming, and honest, and I really grew to admire him through these experiences. When I watched the press conference, I no longer had any doubt about how this whole hoax began. (Sources have since divulged that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo perpetrated this hoax without Manti’s knowledge, thus confirming my beliefs).

That only clears Manti to a point though. What about the many inconsistencies in his story? What about how he said he met Kekua in 2009 after an ND-Stanford game, and they had a moment where they touched hands and locked eyes? What about how she has supposedly visited him in Hawaii? How could he never have met her in a year? There are a lot of holes in his account.

And this is where I have to cut him down. He lied about a lot of things. He made it worse. He definitely handled it poorly in some ways. He REALLY needs to stop hiding out now, and just face the music. He’s making it worse for himself and for everyone who is defending him and believing in him, and that needs to stop. He and the Irish had such an incredible season, but it seems to be spoiling more and more by the day. Talk to us, Manti. Admit where you lied, where you were duped, and share the truth openly.

Now, though there is no acceptable excuse for lying as he did, I also contend that people need to get off Manti’s back a little bit. Twitter has been especially heinous. First of all, there is little to no proof that he was behind the hoax in the first place. In fact, Deadspin’s “80% sure” anonymous source is the the only actual evidence I’ve heard, despite egregious amounts of accusation taking place. So there’s that. Next, consider the stakes and the circumstances here. You have to understand the shock, horror, embarrassment, mortification and head-spinning questions caused by the phone call on December 6th. He didn’t even believe it for a while, I’m sure. Then the Heisman ceremony was December 8th; should he have said, “Oh, by the way, guys… my dead girlfriend is fake” live at the Heisman ceremony? Come on. I’m sure he needed quite a bit of time to deal with these appalling developments, and as Jack Swarbrick has recently divulged, to try to follow up on it himself. In addition, imagine the questions that arise if he comes out with this news soon after the Heisman ceremony. He would be vilified even more for playing with the voters’ sympathies in an effort to win the trophy! The suspicions of this being a hoax for attention would be even more heightened. I’m also sure that once he confirmed that he had in fact been duped, in mid-to-late December, he did want to talk to his parents in person instead of over the phone. So he waits a bit for all that to clear up… but then if he comes public with it in late December- early January, it becomes the biggest distraction of all time for the Irish before their first national championship game in 22 years. If the Irish lose and Manti has come out with this story beforehand, he takes a good deal of the blame. That seems undesirable. First he was the victim of a terrible hoax, then upon its revelation, was placed in a terrible situation where there was NO WIN for him. At all. Just judgment and suspicion from all sides, except from Swarbrick and those who actually know him. If I could see Jack Swarbrick today, I would give him a huge hug and I would probably cry on his shoulder for sticking his neck out so damn far for this great kid. Not a perfect kid… just a great kid.

You see, they’re all just kids. Manti Te’o is almost two years younger than me. And the attention and platform and pedestal is all OURS, not theirs. Sure, he embraced it; he told a story that was incredibly moving for him. He had no reason not to. But he doesn’t check his humanity or his privacy at the door when he decides to attend Notre Dame. Just because he is in this spotlight doesn’t mean he ceases to be a college student. Maybe these stakes make it more complicated than a simple, indignant “He should have told everyone immediately as soon as he got that call!”

Maybe he should have told his parents in person in New York, even if he wasn’t sure what to think yet. I think he should have gotten it out sooner. He should have never lied about meeting her or any other lies he told. He was probably embarrassed about how their relationship started and was proceeding, and I can definitely feel him there. That still doesn’t make it okay by any means.

But please, consider this as well; he has also done so much on and off the field for Notre Dame. I’m truly grateful for all that. It was an amazing season, and he overcame REAL anguish and heartbreak this year (regardless of this debacle, his grandmother did die, and he did genuinely believe that another person he had grown to care deeply about passed away as well) to play a spectacular season for a team that went on an incredible run. Let’s not discount that. Between the emotional trauma and the embarrassment and the massive amount of good he has done in his 4 years at Notre Dame, I am willing to reserve some of my vilification for the obvious wrongs he did commit. He was the victim more than the perpetrator here. Maybe he should have been more suspicious in the first place; I’m sure he will be from now on. Maybe I’m too soft. But I think he needs support and understanding more than the BS he’s getting from everyone right now.

Maybe I say this because I can understand; I’m a very trusting, maybe even somewhat naive, romanticizing person. I can easily put myself in his shoes. I would be embarrassed as hell about telling the national media how I fell so hard for someone I had never met in person. Then, if a tragedy was getting me so much attention, I’d probably run with it and exaggerate the details a bit too. It’s not right, but it’s understandable. I think he just needs a little bit of understanding. Then in a week or so, a good tongue-lashing for what he did. Maybe instead of a real, live girlfriend, he should find a good, solid mentor. He is, after all, still just a kid.