Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Thoughts on Lance Armstrong

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

A lot of the discussion about Lance Armstrong is about ends justifying means, whether he deserves any credit for the LIVESTRONG Foundation, and so on.  Most commentators want to paint him either black or white.  Like most of life, it’s just not that simple:

The second does not justify the first; the first does not invalidate the second.  He did wrong; he did right.  Me too.  The difference between us is that his worst was worse than mine and his best was better than mine.

Shame on you, Lance Armstrong.  And thanks.

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Irsay was right …

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

… or, at least, didn’t mess things up too much. 

Manning’s absence exposed the Colts’ weaknesses in several areas, which probably contributed to the Polians getting axed. His absence also dumped a completely unexpected opportunity into Owner Jim Irsay’s lap. All of a sudden he could choose to

The football pundits tell us that Luck is the most promising college QB since John Elway. Manning was drafted after Elway. Connect the dots. If Luck fulfills his promise, Colts fans will be very happy with Irsay’s choice. If not, then the expected post-Manning mediocrity will just return a couple of years early.

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Is the World Cup over yet?

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I know; it still drags on for a few more days. What little interest I had evaporated when the U.S. team lost to Ghana. I watched about 15 minutes of that match, an experience that only confirmed my dislike of watching soccer in general and the World Cup in particular

What I hated about watching this World Cup

Why I think soccer is a lousy spectator sport

I know that ESPN and millions of soccer moms have done all they can to make us want to watch soccer, but they have failed. Yes, I’ll watch my grandson play, but I’ll watch him play Go Fish too. The appeal is the kids, not the game; the experience does not translate into a desire to watch grown men who are not my grandson. Soccer is mostly just boring to watch – scoring is rare, teams are often content to play to a tie, and the game consists mostly of watching people running up and down a very large field chasing and kicking a ball. Leaving aside auto racing (which may not be a sport at all), I find at least four sports much more interesting to watch:

Things I dislike about soccer in general

At least this foolishness only happens every four years. ESPN will continue to promote soccer, with off-year tournaments, English soccer leagues, and America’s own irrelevant MLS, but it should be less intrusive. Until 2014 of course.

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ESPN: Entertainment and Soccer Programming Network

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

The Lords of ESPN have apparently decided they don’t need many viewers this month. After regular showings of games from some British soccer league, they have decided that World Cup soccer is just what American sports fans are pining for this summer. Or maybe they’re not so sure – they’ve been inundating their viewers with World Cup hype for several months now, complete with tie-ins to the movie Invictus. Disney/ABC/ESPN is a very politically correct empire, and, as far as sports are concerned, you can’t get much more PC than soccer – or Invictus, for that matter. I suppose there is something strangely admirable about putting cultural engineering ahead of mere dollars.

The heavy-handed effort to get someone in America to care about soccer in general and the World Cup in particular does seem to be paying off: According to the Onion, America’s soccer fan is getting worked up enough to annoy his family and co-workers. Who would have thought that there would come a day when ESPN’s prime time fare would consist of soccer and the National Spelling Bee? Oh, for the days of Australian rules football and international table tennis.

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Vocabulary lesson: Clinch vs. win

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Bob Knight once famously said that if he ever needed a brain transplant, he would choose a sports writer’s brain because it wouldn’t be used much. Sports writers continue to give evidence of the wisdom of Knight’s choice. An article on the USA Today web site reminded me of the inability of many sports writers to distinguish between the words “clinch” and “win”. Writer Kevin Allen gave the following muddled assessment of Philadelphia Flyers center Mike Richards’ performance in their series-ending win over Montreal:

Richards had a goal, two assists and was literally a force from Philadelphia’s first goal to its last in the Flyers’ 4-2 series-clinching win against the Montreal Canadiens.

I don’t mean to pick on Allen; he is just another in a long line of writers who don’t understand that “clinch” and “win” are not synonymous. So herewith a little vocabulary lesson:

“Win” means it’s over. Done. The game/series/season is finished. Before divisional play, for example, baseball teams played 154 games and the team in each league that had recorded the most victories at the end of the season had won the league pennant. Done. No more regular season games. On to the World Series. The Flyers won their playoff series against Montreal, 4 games to 2. Over. No more games in the series. When the Orlando Magic defeated the Atlanta Hawks for the fourth straight time in their best-of-7 series, they won the series 4-0. Finished. No need to play 3 more games.

“Clinch” means it’s not over yet, but the outcome is certain.  For example, in 1985, the Chicago Bears won the NFC Central Division championship and shuffled off to win Super Bowl XX. But long before they won the division at the conclusion of the 16-game season, they clinched it.  In week 11, they defeated the Cowboys 44-0 to run their record to 11-0. That same week, the Lions beat the Vikings to go 6-5. If Chicago went 0-5 in its last 5 games and Detroit won out, both teams would end the regular season with identical records of 11-5. But even in that worst-case scenario, Chicago would own the tie-breaker by finishing 7-1 against division opponents against Detroit’s 5-3 record.  So at the end of week 11, the season was not over; the Bears still had to play 5 more games. But they could not possibly lose the division – they had clinched it with 5 weeks to go.

So here’s a little rule to help sports writers remember: A fixed-length series can be clinched before it is won, but the remaining games will still be played. A best-of series can never be clinched because the series ends when it is won.

Why does this matter?

When words that aren’t synonymous are made to be synonymous, a shade of meaning is lost. In this case, the words properly used clearly convey whether or not there are games remaining to be played. Here’s a simple (and more important) test for selecting a dictionary (print or online): If “infer” is given as a synonym for “imply” (or vice versa), the editors encourage such degradation of the language; go elsewhere.

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Sports: It’s the Cards in 5! Woohoo!

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

I’ve been a Cardinal fan since I first started listening to Harry Caray broadcast their games on radio. Yes, Harry Caray – before he went to the Cubs, before he went to the White Sox, before he went to the Oakland A’s. Harry broadcast games for the Cardinals.

Actually I started out as a Yankee fan – not surprising for a kid growing up in the 50s with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Casey Stengel at the helm. But my older brother told me I was just a front-runner, a hopper-on of bandwagons, that I should follow the team in St Louis 90 miles away that labored in the old Sportsman’s Park.

Well, why not? They had Stan Musial, after all. So I switched loyalties and never looked back. As much I as enjoyed the Cards’ successes in the 60s, the uncharacteristic fall by Curt Flood that allowed the Detroit Tigers to win game 7 in ’68 hurt – especially on the heels of the St. Louis victory over the Yankees in ’67.

[As Bob Ryan pointed out on ESPN, this was the third meeting between the Cards and Tigers. The Cards had won the first meeting (long before my time), so this was the rubber match. That makes it a little sweeter.]

After the ’82 Series win, the collapse from a 3-1 lead against the Royals was a bitter loss. The loss in ’87 to the woeful Twins – who seemed unable to win a road game all year – was even worse. With each team winning its home games, why couldn’t this have been a year when the NL got four home games?

I missed Whitey Herzog and “Whitey Ball”. I missed Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee and Tommy Herr and Bob Forsch and Bruce Sutter and all the rest of the great Cardinals of the 80s.

But the strike in ’94 turned me away from baseball completely. The home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa briefly re-kindled my interest, but then came the performance-enhancing drugs. When the Cards got swept by the Red Sox in the ’04 Series, I pretty much lost interest again.

But this year’s win may bring me back. Like the teams of the 80s, these Cardinals found a way to win. It wasn’t Whitey Ball, but it was fun to watch.

One thing I missed last night was having a conversation with my grandmother. She was a die-hard fan, listening to every game – at least until she fell asleep. I was starting my teaching career in Missouri when the Cards won in ’82 and I had a long conversation on the phone with her, celebrating the win. She died a couple of years later at age 94. She would have enjoyed talking about this one too.

One other thing was missing, Jack Buck’s sparkling play-by-play. “That’s a winner!” “Go crazy, folks!” I wish he could have been in the booth for this one too.

I spent many afternoons and evenings in the old Busch Stadium. Maybe next year I’ll make the trek to the new version – home of the 2006 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

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Culture: NCAA Oks Stereotype of Brawling Irishmen

Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

In a statement worthy of the Supreme Court’s recent hair-splitting rulings, the NCAA announced a hare-brained policy that aims to keep member schools from “using racial/ethnic/national origin references”. Well, some references. It turns out the prohibition is even more politically correct than it sounds.

Disclosure: I earned my MA at a regional campus of the University of Illinois (one of the primary targets of the NCAA’s mascot police). I have been a fan of Fighting Illini basketball for 30 years, an interest ignited by my wife who once babysat for one of Lou Henson’s star guards of the early 80s.

Although the press release at the NCAA web site credits the Executive Committee, this masterpiece of institutional doublespeak has NCAA President Myles Brand’s fingerprints all over it. Brand, of course, will be remembered as the indecisive president of Indiana University who could summon the courage to fire Bobby Knight only when there was a student who could take the heat for him.

Brand displays an intolerant hypocrisy common among postmodern “liberals”. This peculiar breed demands tolerance but seldom exhibits it. When such creatures are unable to persuade others that their pure and righteous view is the only correct one, they simply impose their will – as far as they are able – on the poor benighted souls who cannot see the shining light of their wisdom. Such is the pride and arrogance of these closet fascists that they are utterly unable to form the thought that there might be some merit in an opposing view. These champions of tolerance willingly accommodate the grossest misbehaviors, but they cannot tolerate a difference of opinion.

According Executive Board chair Walter Harrison, “colleges and universities may adopt any mascot that they wish, as that is an institutional matter. But as a national association, we believe that mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin should not be visible at the championship events that we control.” So, unable to actually bring its members to heel in an “institutional matter” such as this, NCAA will simply strip recalcitrant schools of their identity at future NCAA championships.

(This, of course, effectively exempts football from the NCAA’s heavy handed interference because there is no NCAA football championship. Perhaps the committee is relieved that this de facto exemption may have the agreeable effect of diminishing the outrage of schools known primarily for their football programs. It hasn’t worked for Florida State University, however.)

The Executive Committee did not explain who is qualified to “deem” when references are hostile or abusive, but no explanation was really necessary. It can be safely assumed that they alone possess the wisdom and sensitivity, (not to mention the required excess of spare time) to do the job. The committee also provided no definitions for “hostile” or “abusive”, but no definition should be expected. Defining their terms would simply constrain their lofty mission. Instead, they have taken the approach of “we can’t tell you what it is, but we’ll let you know when we see it.”

This attitude is evidenced by the fact that Central Michigan University can’t use the nickname Chippewas while San Diego State University can use the name Aztecs. Perhaps the NCAA thought San Diego State named its teams after the Pontiac van/SUV by that name. Or maybe they figured all the Aztecs are dead so it doesn’t matter anyway. Who knows? At any rate, the Committee seems convinced that once we are sufficiently blinded by the pure light of their superior minds and overwhelmed by the pinpoint accuracy of their inerrant moral compasses, we’ll be content to let them do the deeming without reason or justification.

Racial/ethnic/national origin references

Even with no definitions or standards to constrain him, Brand unequivocally stated that the “the NCAA objects to institutions using racial/ethnic/national origin references”. But do they? A quick survey of schools’ web sites revealed that many NCAA member schools employ “racial/ethnic/national origin references” that received the tacit approval of the mascot police. Here is a sampling

and, of course …

A quick glance at these obvious violations reveals an enormous gap in the NCAA’s righteous indignation. The policy that masquerades as a prohibition against “mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin” is actually much less than that. “Hostility” and “abuse” directed at white, western European ethnic groups and nations seem perfectly acceptable to the luminaries in the upper reaches of the NCAA. It seems that it only applies to shielding the alleged sensibilities of the Executive Committee’s minority du jour, American Indians/Native Americans. This is a narrow focus indeed as we learn from the pass given San Diego State; the sensibilities of those descended from Mexican Indians such as the Aztecs are of no concern to the NCAA.

To be fair, however, there may be other explanations for some of these oversights. For all its wealth and overbearing power, the NCAA – especially with Brand at the helm – may not feel up to the task of taking on Notre Dame’s huge fan base. And Cleveland State is hosting a women’s basketball regional next year (after the NCAA’s feel-good sanctions become official). How would it look if the NCAA came in and told the host school that they had to cover up their cartoon Viking and kick the mascot off his unicycle?

A “model institution”

Some of us are puzzled why the NCAA, with many obvious ills tarnishing big-time intercollegiate sports, is wasting so much time and effort on what is truly a minor distraction. Indeed, the NCAA’s lack of attention to real problems could hardly be made clearer than it is in this astonishing statement:

The committee also strongly suggested that institutions follow the best practices of institutions that do not support the use of Native American mascots or imagery. Model institutions include the University of Iowa and University of Wisconsin, who have practices of not scheduling athletic competitions with schools who use Native American nicknames, imagery or mascots.

The University of Iowa, of course, sheltered basketball star Pierre Pierce – with the silent assent of the NCAA – by keeping him on the team and on scholarship after he pleaded guilty to assault causing injury, a charge that resulted from an attack on a female basketball player at the university. Coach Steve Alford’s staunch defense of Pierce led his victim to conclude that the university would protect him and there would be no point in subjecting herself to the inevitable public humiliation of testifying. Her decision to leave Iowa rather than testify allowed Pierce to plead guilty to the lesser charge and avoid standing trial for felony third degree sexual assault. He returned to a hearty welcome the following year.

Pierce’s career at this model institution finally ended when he was again arrested for sexual assault and other charges. After again defending his cherished guard, Alford was eventually forced to dismiss him from the team. Pierce now wanders around trying to find a way to play basketball while contemplating the distinct possibility that his playing days may end in the Iowa Correctional League instead of the dreamed-of NBA. I don’t know what became of his first victim; his second is awaiting the opportunity to testify at his trial

In the strange math of the NCAA, two University of Iowa athletic careers ended by a violent sexual predator add up to less than the great moral value of basing athletic scheduling decisions on opposing teams’ nicknames. I’m sure I’m not as smart as Myles Brand, so I confess I don’t quite understand how this equation honors the NCAA’s commitment to “the highest levels of integrity and sportsmanship.”

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