Tag: Sports

The NFL and Politics

I’ve been a football fan for as long as I can remember, for both college and the pros. I grew up in Atlanta on Steve Bartkowski and Herschel Walker and having my heart broken (although this year’s Super Bowl was probably the biggest sports heartbreak of my life). But there’s something to fall weekends when you can just on turn on the TV and watch a game between two teams you don’t care about that is unique and special.

This year, we’re seeing a bit more controversy though. NFL ratings are down significantly. There’s a lot of blame being thrown around and a lot of it is being thrown at politics, particularly the recent trend of black players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police misconduct.

First of all, I don’t think that’s the reason for the NFL’s ratings drop. It is probably a reason, but not the reason. Ratings had been going up for a long time but weren’t going to rise forever. There is a growing concern about the damage the game does to players’ bodies and minds, particularly with regard to CTE. That is the one thing that really gives me pause. The dominance of certain teams — Alabama in the college ranks, New England in the pros — has turned some people off. The Falcons were the closest thing we’ve had to a Cinderella in recent year and, come on, even this lifelong Falcons fan has to admit they weren’t going to capture America’s hearts. Some people say the quality of play is down, but I’m not convinced.

But, second of all … I do think politics are a problem for the NFL. It’s very easy for the elites in our society to forget, but players kneeling during the national anthem bothers people. Politics being injected into the NFL bothers people. It may not seem like a big deal when you’re inside the political bubble. But, for most people in this country, sports is a place where we can be passionate, angry, elated, dejected or thrilled without having to worry about politics. While watching the Super Bowl last year, I shared my excitement and then my devastation with Falcons fans of all political stripes. That’s the beauty of the thing. As Doug Mataconis likes to post every year:

We’re tired of politics in everything. We’re tired of it in our movies — witness the drop in this year’s box office. We’re tired of it in awards shows — notice the plunging ratings. And we’re tired of it in our sports. Politics infests our lives in too many ways and many of us just wanted a damned break.

It’s not that I’m not sympathetic. I do think these players have a point. I will never understand how enraging it must be to see cops caught on video gunning down unarmed black people only to be acquitted. Yeah, some of those shootings turns out to be justified (e.g, Michael Brown). But not all of them. And every time it happens, the media starts going through the dead man’s past to find any black mark that can retroactively justify his death. It is a relentless and maddening rhythm. So … I’m not going to begrudge them their small non-violent protest. I’m not going to tell them to just shut up and play football.

But protest comes at a price. There is always a price to pay for social activism. And that price may be falling ratings and a lot less money. I suspect Kaepernick et al. are fine with the price being paid if it brings attention to the issue. But let’s not pretend there isn’t a price or be all surprised when the bill comes due.

The Anti-Election

I’m a fairly rabid baseball fan and this year is giving us a World Series out of our dreams. In the National League corner, we have the Chicago Cubs, in their first World Series since before the game was integrated, vying for their first title in 108 years. A young, great team lead by a great manager that plowed through two very good teams to get to the final.

And in the American League corner, we have the Cleveland Indians, who have not won a title since 1948. It’s another young, great team lead by a great manager that plowed through two very good teams to get here.

I wish there were a way that both teams could win. One great American city will soon see its long heartache ended. But one will see another chapter in their written. My heart is with Chicago — I was born there and used to watch them on cable. But Cleveland is a very good team and tonight’s opener went about as well as it could possibly have gone for them. Kluber pitched well and the offense was good enough that he could be pulled early for a possible Game Four start. As a Braves fan, I’ve sat next to fans of both teams in the post-season and both teams have great generous midwestern fanbases (Braves fans who went to the ’95 series in Cleveland told me Tribe fans bought them beers). No matter who wins, it will be good for baseball.

This is anti-matter to the election, which features two old corrupt liars who I wish could both lose.

It took almost ten months, but 2016 has finally given us something to be positive about. Go Cubs! Go Tribe! Go baseball!

NFL Claims Ignorance of Video. Also Gravity and Spacetime

Earlier this year, video emerged of Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiance — correction, the fiance he had beaten unconscious — out of an elevator. The NFL, in their wisdom, decided to suspend him for a whole … two games. The Ravens kept him on the team. After all, once you’d won two superbowls with a guy involved in a double murder, what’s a little wife-beating among friends?

Today, the other shoe dropped. TMZ released a video from inside the elevator, showing Rice beating his fiance. The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely and the Ravens cut him. I guess they finally have a “context” for a player dragging his fiance out of an elevator after beating her unconscious. Both are saying the never saw the new video before.

I’m not convinced.

I’m not sure if they knew about the video or not (TMZ is hinting that they did). But even with the video, they don’t know anything today they didn’t know yesterday. The only thing that has really changed is the optics. We’ve gone from knowing Rice beat his fiance to actually seeing it happen. Ta-Nehisi:

The NFL claims that it had never seen the video before today. But the video that was already out there, along with the reporting, was bad enough. The idea that it took today’s release to understand the gravity of things is insupportable. You don’t become a sports and entertainment juggernaut through absent-mindedness.

The NFL claims they want to crack down on their violent image. But they never seem to really follow through. They claim they want to stop brutal hits on defenseless players. But dozens of hits go unpunished every week. They just occasionally pop up to fine one that got on ESPN. A couple of years ago, they came down very hard on the Saints for paying bounties to defensive players who injured other players. Last year, another scandal erupted when it turned out that several members of the Dolphins offensive line, notably Richie Incognito, were engaging in brutal bullying of their fellow players. In both cases, there were whispers that this sort of thing was widespread. And while the NFL came down hard on the guilty parties, they didn’t really dig too deep into the NFL’s culture.

Ray Rice is not the only player engaging in a little recreational wife-beating. The league should have made an example of him. But they didn’t; not until it got to this point. This makes me think that their attempts to clean up the league are just window dressing — a way to silence the game’s critics without making any real changes.

Half A Manziel

College football starts again this week. I’m looking forward to it, especially as Sal 11000 Beta has expressed an interest in watching it with me. So what better way to start the season than a great big “say what now?”:

Johnny Football will start the season on the bench, but he won’t be there for long.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel of No. 7 Texas A&M has been suspended for the first half of Saturday’s season opener against the Rice Owls, A&M and the NCAA announced Wednesday in a joint statement.

The statement said there was no evidence that Manziel received payment for signing autographs.

The NCAA and A&M agreed on the one-half suspension because Manziel violated NCAA bylaw 12.5.2.1, an NCAA representative confirmed. The rule says student-athletes cannot permit their names or likenesses to be used for commercial purposes, including to advertise, recommend or promote sales of commercial products, or accept payment for the use of their names or likenesses.

“If additional information comes to light, the NCAA will review and consider if further action is appropriate,” the NCAA said in the joint statement. “NCAA rules are clear that student-athletes may not accept money for items they sign, and based on information provided by Manziel, that did not happen in this case.”

It appears that the NCAA had a lot of smoke, but couldn’t quite find the fire. I also suspect they are all too eager not to suspend one of their most marketable players.

But I was thinking about the more general issue — Manziel potentially making money off his NCAA image. The more I think about it, the more my thoughts crystallize around two points:

1) It is ridiculously hypocritical for the NCAA to decree that an active player can not make money off his image and name. I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea with a small group of 19-year-old superstars cashing in on their NCAA careers. But the NCAA is in a glass house on this one.

2) However, the NCAA sets the rules and players who break the rules should be punished, no matter how popular they are.

I’m against paying players in the NCAA. I’d be OK, maybe, with a small stipend. But considering that a scholarship athlete gets an extremely expensive education and considering that athletes for marquee sports get amazingly lavish treatment and facilities (on many campuses, tutoring for the athletic department is the most money a graduate student can make), I’m disinclined to embrace payment, especially not on the scale many pundits are talking.

It’s true that star athletes make a lot of money for universities and see only a small fraction of it, even including the value of their education and the training and exposure can get them pro contracts. But the thing is that the money doesn’t go into some rich alum’s pockets. It mainly goes to pay for the scholarships of the thousands of athletes who aren’t going to become professionals. If Texas A&M paid Manziel a boatload of money they’d either have to cancel the scholarships of hundreds of athletes who are interested in getting an education or pull money out of education or students’ pockets (check out this infographic about how much athletic programs drain from universities; and remember that we’re paying for this through student loans and the tax deductions for donations to athletic departments).

Don’t you dare defy the plantation massas!

As a Redskins fan this season has been a great one for me. I was excited about the addition of RGIII because I knew he was a phenomenal athlete as well as an incredible human being. So I was surprised it took this long for the LSM to turn on him for not being a leftist twit as they expect all minorities to be:

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said in a recent interview that he didn’t want to be defined as an African-American quarterback. One ESPN commentator says that raises questions about Griffin.

In fact, ESPN’s Rob Parker said Thursday morning on First Take that, as an African-American, he has a lot of questions about Griffin.

“My question is, and it’s just a straight, honest question: Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother,” Parker said. “He’s not really. He’s black, he does his thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the kind of guy you really want to hang out with.”

RGIII is a breath of fresh air. A young man that understands that if they define him and attribute his success only to his race, that they are doing a disservice to his phenomenal achievement. So he wanted them to stay above that. He wanted to be judge by his accomplishments and character, like MLK, and the usual race baiting class warrior leftist scumbags response is to say he is an uncle tom. They are basically attacking him for having the temerity of walking off their plantation.

How pathetic these losers at ESPN come off after this bullshit. And it didn’t stop there. The rest of the LSM is all pissed because he has a honkey girlfirend and could even be a republican/conservative. No higher crime could be committed by a man of color than to not be a democrat stooge. How pathetic. Don’t let them throw you of your game RGIII. Play on, sir. You have it right, and they are despicable race baiting scumbags.

The Ref Mess

Non-political post this time.

If you haven’t seen it, go ahead and watch the end of last night’s NFL game. Youtube will probably take it down soon:

First, my thoughts as a Packers fan. When you give up eight sacks and score 12 points against the fricking Seahawks, you set yourself up for this kind of thing. Also, what the hell was M.D. Jennings thinking trying to intercept a Hail Mary. You’re supposed to knock those down! Ack!

Anyway, the replacement referee thing has turned into a debacle. Steve Young was on TV last night and had the best explanation I’ve heard: the game simply moves too fast for these guys. They are used to Division II and Division III and have never coached at the Division I level, least of all the pros. It takes experience to see thing happening in real time and figure out what’s happened.

But I would take it further. When I taught Intro Astronomy, I learned an important lesson. If I started out my term being a bit of a forbidding hardass, I could ease up and be more friendly as the term progressed. But I could always fall back on the hardass demeanor if I needed to. By contrast, if I started out with a friendly “call me Hal” attitude, I could never clamp down when I needed to. The students expected me to be slack the entire semester.

The referees are a small group of little men on a field with over a hundred massive bulked up guys. The only way the game works is if they command the respect of the players. It became obvious last Monday, with the Falcons-Broncos mess, that the players do not respect the replacement referees. And we’ve seen that manifest itself in chippy play, cheap shots, launch tackles, helmet-to-helmet hits and players barking and shoving after plays.

The NFL needs to either bring back the normal refs or quickly establish the authority of the new ones. I fear it’s too late for the latter. I fear that the players will never respect the new guys.

PS: While we’re on the subject, last night’s game feature a good performance by Bruce Irvin. You can read about him here. It really shows the difference that one person can make in a young man’s life.

Sports Grab Bag

Lot’s of sports related stuff going on of late, anybody got an opinion, way in here.

The other day I was standing in the cafeteria line of the Yosemite lodge, the family had just hiked up to the top of Half Dome the day before (I would recommend to anyone on the planet, you gotta do that at least once in your lifetime) and I met a guy who lives just outside of London. I brought up the upcoming Olympics and mentioned to him that during the 1984 Olympics I was living in LA and how fun it was to go to some of the events. He made a constipated face and told me that he is taking his family on Holiday for one of those weeks just to avoid all the hysteria and how he can’t wait for it to be over. I suspect many Brits feel the same way, feel put upon and inconvenienced. I think the Chinese ruined it years to come, no country in the world will invest that amount of money so by that standard the London Games will probably come up lacking. But I’m looking forward to it and will devote many hours each day to it.

Anybody watching hoops? The Heat/Thunder match up was probably the most compelling one we have had in years. I hate to see it end tonight and for sure drama hope it gets extended back to OC. The Durrant/James match up has been a bust so far, and the Thunder have shown their age. Westbrook has come up big, Hardin has been the invisible man, and Lebron is limping. Who will step up tonight?

I admit I have not been watching Euro 2012, but the quarters are going on so it is finally getting interesting. I will watch the semi’s and the final. Yeah, I know Spain is like the ’27 Yankees, and always favored, but some new blood would juice things up right before the Olympics.

And lastly, we have the Jerry Sandusky trial. It is now with the jury and the second coming of F. Lee Bailey, Clarence Darrow, or Johnny Cochran could not pull this one out. That Mike McQueary seemed like a weasel, but the cumulative amount of testimony and victims seems insurmountable to me. I would not expect a quick verdict due to the amount of charges and the elements involved with each count, but Jerry is going away for a very long time. And what’s with all the character witnesses the defense put on? “Yes, Jerry was my neighbor for 20 years and not once did I see him bugger a boy”, worthless.

Football Rules

Let’s ease into the week with this amusement from the WSJ. It’s 32 rules for family Thanksgiving touch football:

3. The game must be played before dinner. Nobody wants to play football after Thanksgiving. Nobody wants to wear pants after Thanksgiving.

11. Unless you live in California, Hawaii or Florida or some fancy place like that, the ground is probably going to be squishy with cold mud, and someone in your family is going to fall down face-first and ruin his or her Thanksgiving outfit. This is not cause for alarm. This is the highlight of the game.

And my favorite, in light of this weekend’s games that seem to foretell yet another BCS trainwreck:

31. If you win your game and stand undefeated, please let LSU know you’re available to play in the BCS championship.

I’m just hoping my bulldogs knock off LSU in the SEC championship game. God knows what the BCS will do then. Stanford vs. Okie State?

Pay for Play

There’s been some online debate recently about whether college athletes should be paid by their schools; specifically whether star athletes should be paid. Well, paid more than a full ride scholarship, room and board, meals and personal tutoring.

There’s always something that has bothered me about the issue. Well, today, the Best Sportswriter on the Planet, Joe Posnanski, crystalized the debate for me:

Ask yourself this: Why do we care about college football? We know that the skill level in college football is vastly inferior to the skill level of NFL teams. Heck many Heisman Trophy winners are not even NFL prospects. Yet, by the millions, we watch. We cheer. We buy. We rejoice. We gripe. We wear. We eat. We live it. Many of us even argue that we PREFER the quality and style of college to pro, we LIKE watching those games more. But is it the quality and style we prefer or is it passion, youth, exuberance and that we feel closer to the game?

No, college athletics is not ABOUT the players. College athletics is FOR the players, but that’s a different thing, and that’s a distinction we don’t often make. College football only works on this grand scale, I believe, because it’s about the colleges. The alumni connect to it. The people in the town connect to it. The people in the state connect to it. People are proud of their connection to the University of South Carolina and Clemson, they are inspired by Alabama and Auburn, Penn State and Notre Dame and Stanford, they identify themselves through Missouri and Wisconsin and Florida and Texas A&M. The players matter because they chose those schools, they play for those schools, they win for those schools and they lose for those schools too.

So it seems obvious to me that the money from football — revenue-driving basketball too — should go to offer more and better opportunities at those colleges. That should be its singular purpose. The money from football — as much of it as possible — should pay for talented young tennis players to go to that school. It should pay to give opportunities to gifted swimmers, dedicated runners, hard-working volleyball players and so on. The point is not how many people watch those athletes play, or how many people care about the sports they play. The point is about opportunity and education and developing people and creating a richer environment at the school.

The vast majority of college athletes do not become professional players. For all but the biggest superstars, college athletics is an opportunity to get an education (and, outside of the money sports, they tend to do well). Every dollar you put into Cam Newton’s pocket is a dollar you take away from some other student. If college athletes were paid that would either (1) turn athletic programs into an even bigger money suck for universities than they already are; (2) mean some student doesn’t get a scholarship and, very likely, doesn’t go to college.

Commentators can talk all they want about free market principles. But would anyone know or care who Cam Newton was if he didn’t play for Auburn? Would he be making God knows how much money without the training and exposure the college game has given him?

If the players don’t like the system, they can leave — as many of the best do. Baseball players frequently skip college to go the pros. They also start out in the minor leagues, frequently fail to make the majors and make significantly less money. Basketball players can go right from high school to the pros. LeBron James did and somehow both he and the college game survived. Football players are restricted to being three years past college. But Ohio State found ways to blow bowl games just fine without Maurice Clarett.

This really seems to be an issue driven by a few high-profile superstars and some agents who want new clients. I see now reason to burn down the house for their benefit.

How’d He Do That?

Hand/eye coordination, yeah, it’s a rather big deal if you are an athlete, and if you actually get paid for manipulating a round ball, then you must really be good at it.

This video is making the rounds on the internet:

Nice catch , right? And talk about macho, no ,”Dang, that really hurt”, or even a wince. Wait, you mean that wasn’t real? a Gillette commercial? filthy capitalism. OK, there were some obvious  tells, like no batting cage, why wasn’t the reporter ducking for cover, and what a stupid place to hold an interview.

But it got me thinking about the incredible sports accomplishments that happen everyday, stuff that is real, and stuff that because of modern technology and the world we live in, we get to witness. Today’s athlete is really a marvel of modern science. Just in the last 50 years he has evolved into the unimaginable. And removing steroids from the mix (we’ll save that for another thread) things like diet, sports medicine, even training regiments have changed dramatically. The Olympics motto ,”higher, faster, stronger” is alive and well.

Some examples:

I happen to think that tennis players are pound for pound the best conditioned athletes in the world, who saw this shot last week?

Last year’s World Cup in South Africa provided some jaw dropping shots, let’s stroll down memory lane:

In the 2:00 minute mark, Maicon (2) from Brazil, that shot was what I considered the best goal in the tournament.

And the greatest athlete of that World Cup? Diego Forlan, you gotta problem with that?

Although there are some absolutely superb athletes in the NBA, I’m not including any of their trick shots here because, let’s face it, given enough chances, anyone here can make pretty much any of those trick shots ourselves.

Of course homage must be paid to the best commercials of all time, the McDonald’s Michael Jordan/Larry Bird “Over the freeway, off the billboard, through the window, off the side of the wall, nothing but net”, exquisite.