If you follow sports this week – in particular the NBA – you may have heard in passing that Jason Collins came out.
In the current cultural environment, Collins’s admission is big but not Earth-shattering. There haven’t been any active openly gay athletes before – and there might not be now, since Collins is a free agent – but most people probably assumed the operative word there was “openly.” (To hear the enlightened, cosmopolitan Bostonians tell it, the Yankees have fielded a team of 25 fornicating homosexuals each year since 1946. So brave.)
Now begins the overreaction.
From the right, Peter Roff imagines a double standard, opining that Tim Tebow was punished because of his overt Christian faith, while Collins’s sexual preference is lauded by the media.
Said Roff: “When he arrived at the Meadowlands he was treated more like a circus freak than the guy who helped Denver make the playoffs the previous year and might just be the thing to get the Jets offense in line.”
It’s true, and it’s because Tebow is a circus freak. Denver’s push to the second round of the 2011 playoffs had as much to do with luck as anything else. At this point in his career, Tebow can’t throw the ball with enough strength and accuracy to be a viable NFL quarterback, which is why he spent all his time on the bench last year.
(Heck, Ray Lewis talks about God all the time, and the media overlooks a lot of negatives about him. Two in particular come to mind.)
On the other side – and even worse – is MoveOn.org, which is apparently still around. The erstwhile leading organization of the American left is demanding a suspension of ESPN’s Chris Broussard over his reaction to Collins’s announcement. (Well, at least they are demanding it as much as one can demand anything with an online petition.)
MoveOn either didn’t listen to or didn’t care what Broussard actually said. The short version: Broussard doesn’t condone sex outside of traditional marriage, doesn’t live his life that way, but doesn’t judge others who do. It’s a calm, reasoned explanation that could be a good start to civil discourse.
Or, it could be a flash point for some bottom feeding organization to glom onto a much-discussed topic, bump up their search results, raise some money, and be marginally relevant.
Contextual advertising is a good thing. The NFL Draft is the biggest sports story going on, so the ads Pandora placed on ESPN encouraging husbands to “pick the right gift” is pretty clever. (And let’s be honest – this is definitely about targeting a guy buying for his wife or baby mama and staying out of the dog house. There’s nothing wrong with that.)
But the image of Mel Kiper peeking from the bottom? That’s unnecessary… and maybe a little creepy.
The cynics are right on this one: there’s no doubt that Mike Rice’s firing came only because the video of him verbally and physically intimidating his players was on ESPN. But that does up the ante for the scandal. Describing what Rice did to his players might be damning, but having a clickable, watchable, shareable video takes it to another level.
Any players Rice would have recruited in the future would have seen that video, and it would have been the first question any parent asked during those all-important living room conversations with a prospective coach. Rutgers is already in a tough media market, would Rice have managed to be a darling of WFAN?
As another Rutgers alum knows well, video tells a story like no other medium can. In this case, it blew up what Rutgers had clearly hoped would be a private affair.
Major League Baseball linked to this article from its Twitter feed today. It’s an impassioned case for Fernando Valenzuela to make the Hall of Fame.
What a joke, right? No rational fan who looks at the stats could possibly think that, right?
Luckily, the author talks more about Fernandomania, and what he meant to the LA Dodgers of the 1980s. ”I won’t write about all of his statistics, says Sarah Morris, “because they don’t tell the story.”
A few weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced a null class for 2013 induction. Jack Morris and his splitter sat on the outside. Advanced stats show that Morris didn’t have the best statistical career of any pitcher, and others in his era outperformed him over the long haul. Morris’s candidacy comes down to pitching his team to a couple of titles and a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
What is the Hall of Fame, though?
If it’s just about stats, there’s no need for voting. A computer could crunch the numbers and, five years after a player’s career is over, either place him in or out based on statistics measured against his peers and those already in the Hall. Heck, if it was all about stats, you wouldn’t even have to play the games, would you? You could have a computer pick the champion. Hey, it works for college football.
Halls of Fame are supposed to be museums to their respective sports, and baseball’s hall is the most revered. All-time players are shut out if they carry the stench of cheating or gambling. Players enshrined in a Hall of Fame should be excellent, but even more importantly they should be significant.
Bernie Williams was, by most statistical measures, a more prolific player than Don Mattingly, but was named on fewer ballots. Most likely, the voters recognized Mattingly for being the face of the New York Yankees through a lean decade. Williams, always a class act, was tempermentally similar to Mattingly in many ways, played a tougher position, and exceeded his production – but was never the rock the franchise was built around. That counts for something, and it should.
As former Yankees broadcaster Jim Kaat said, “It’s a Hall of Fame, not a Hall of Achievement.” Reggie Jackson hit 563 home runs, but there are only three that fans think of instantly when they see his spot on the wall. Three thousand hits is nice and everything, but the hushed reverence you hear around Roberto Clemente’s plaque recalls his selfless end.
There are simply no sabermetrics for fame; the Hall is subjective, as it should be. Remember, this isn’t anything serious. It’s literally just a game.
Should Mattingly be a Hall of Famer? That answer probably depends on how old you were when he was in his prime, and what team you rooted for – and its the same way with Morris’s take on Fernando Valenzuela.
Except Morris is completely wrong because the Dodgers suck.
It’s not the main one, though, just the comically costumed mascots who run around Nats Park once per game. The nightly race among Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt is getting a fifth contestant, to be announced tomorrow.
Any addition has to be the perfect President.
Naturally, DC-centric media outlets have been running polls since the hint was dropped last fall. So who do you pick to join the Rushmores? George, Abe, Tom, and Teddy represent historically significant figures who are also outside of mainstream controversy, so you have to balance fame and significance.
We can eliminate most Presidents for being too boring. Sure, people like Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley had the same office as Washington and Linclon – just like Bubba Crosby had the same job as Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. (Martin Van Buren goes in this group, too – even if it means a harsh visit from the Van Buren Boys.) James Madison, James Monroe, Ulysses Grant, and Harry Truman were more significant historically, but in a history class kind of way. They’re on the Dwight Evans/Dale Murphy level of Presidents – if you watched them play they were pretty good, but today’s ten-year-old baseball fans probably don’t know them yet. There are the incompetent one-termers, like Carter and Hoover, and corrupt cesspool dwellers like Nixon and Harding (who suffers from guilt by association here).
For historically significant, household-name Presidents, there’s Reagan, JFK, FDR, and Jackson. Given the pro-government-expansion zeitgeist of modern Washington, Reagan would be an out-of-place choice; in a few years when Republicans control everything that may resonate more. FDR’s confinement to a wheelchair would make for an interesting cameo but probably disqualify him long-term.
JFK has made a previous appearance, so he is probably the favorite. It’s a good pick: there are elements of the JFK presidency that appeal to both conservatives and liberals, and he was a larger-than-life celebrity President. The main strike against him is that a giant, foam rubber caricature might diminish the grimness of his Presidency’s end, but it hasn’t seemed to be the case for Lincoln.
Now that we’ve selected the next President to join the race, here’s an even better idea: How about a rotating “Guest President”? FDR could win a race in his wheelchair one night against the Phillies; the next night the Diamondbacks might see a rotund Taft bouncing past the finish line ahead of Teddy. Nixon could unfurl the “finish line” from a reel off an old-style tape recorder. Ford could fall down. Grant could fall down drunk. James Buchanan could hit on a guy in the front row. These jokes practically write themselves.
On the other hand, since the Nats are actually good now, maybe all this is an exercise in overthink – after all, in Milwaukee, they just have sausages.
NBC News has “9 baffling questions about the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax.” They forgot #10: Why so serious?
Morning drive time radio shows joking about it? That makes sense. Ditto for the Te’oing internet meme. It’s a bizarre story, and the jokes practically write themselves, and it’s funny to talk about. It’s also interesting to follow, as each revelation makes the story that much weirder. But getting to the bottom of what Te’o knew and when shouldn’t win anyone a Pulitzer; it’s definitely not worth a crusade.
It doesn’t matter whether he knew or not. It doesn’t matter when he knew. If Notre Dame has some egg on their face for supporting their player, it will not lead to a lack of enrollment. (It may drive away recruits who fear that, even playing for a national college football powerhouse, they can’t do better than an imaginary girlfriend – but that’s another story.)
Te’o owes no one an explanation, other than the NFL teams which are his prospective future employers assuming he enters the draft as planned. They will be reasonably and rightfully curious about his integrity and mental state. That’s part of the usual pre-draft evaluation, though NFL draft history tells us that the bars for both qualities are not always very high.
On the other hand, a sports reporter who had written some glowing human interest puff piece on the tragedies in Te’o's life might feel duped when it turned out to be a fake. It made for great copy at the time – surely, ESPN and others enjoyed the ratings/pageviews bump for tugging at the viewers’ heartstrings. If your job was to research, write, and present true stories, wouldn’t you bristle when it was revealed that you didn’t check the facts and you didn’t question conventional wisdom when it sounded a little too perfect?
Despite all the “unanswered questions,” at least we know where the sanctimony comes from.
(Sidebar: For competitive purposes, the NCAA may want to think about the way it crowns its champion. In the week and a half since the nominal championship game, there’s been more talk about the players’ girlfriends than the actual blowout. Good thing there’s a playoff system on the horizon.)
With a sports media that just loves story lines, the redemption story in Atlanta tops the list from the past weekend. Matt Schaub and Mike Smith finally won a playoff game, and it was the best playoff game of the weekend. Overlooked, for now, is the second chance their kicker got.
Giants fans remember Matt Bryant.
Big Blue signed Bryant from a life of pawn shops and personal training back in 2002, in a year when the special teams unit was a decided weak link of the team. In a playoff game against San Francisco, the Giants held a big lead late in the second half before the 49ers came storming back to take the lead. A furious rally brought the Giants within range for a game winning field goal.
You could have forgiven Bryant yesterday if he felt like he was watching a NFL Network replay.
In 2002, Bryant never got to show that he could make the 40 yard field goal that would have sent the Giants onward in the playoffs.
In what was a running theme that year, the snap for the field goal attempt was off. Long snapper Trey Junkin, aside from having the coolest name in football at the time, had been signed off the street that week due to injury – and was playing in what would be the last game of a long NFL career. An officiating error prevented Bryant from a second chance at playing the hero.
A decade later, Bryant is an established NFL kicker (or at least as established as a kicker can be) and has kicked a 62-yard field goal (a yard shy of the record). His bad luck in San Fran didn’t send him back to the pawnshop.
Yesterday, after Seattle tried to ice him, Bryant finally got a clean snap and a shot at the ball with everything on the line. Atlanta plays next week – thanks to Bryant’s decade-overdue kick.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post (America’s Newspaper of Record) published an exclusive (and extensive) interview with Alex Rodriguez’s doctors yesterday. On a day where an empty Hall of Fame induction press conference underscored the sport’s reliance on media perceptions, Sherman’s article is a great PR move from a player that could use it. If you can spell ESPN, you know that Rodriguez was MIA in the playoffs coming off two injury-riddled seasons, and what effect that had on his relationship with the forgiving and always-adoring New York sports fans.
This Sherman exclusive – which shares intricate details of the nature of his current injury – is a great public relations move. If you were using baseball metaphors, you’d call it a solid 2-run double.
Given the level of detail the medical staff shares about the status, it’s clear that Rodriguez had to give his blessing for the revelations, and that was smart. Without a single clichéd, Bull Durham-esque quote from the third baseman on being “more disappointed than anyone” or “not getting it done” during his horrendous postseason, two doctors went back and forth practically amazed that he could even walk during September and October. They also debunk the whispers that past steroid use caused Rodriguez’s injury. Best of all, Rodriguez and the Yankees stay out of the story. The medical information alone speaks for itself and doesn’t need framing. Heck, it makes you wonder if Rodriguez will play another game again at all.
And there’s why this is a great story. Demanding fans and the 24-hour sports news machine feed each other, and the meal is often re-digested. In this case, we all know the story: ARod, the richest player in baseball history, doesn’t live up to expectations and the fans hate him for it. More coverage begets more boos raining down from the upper deck, and boos in turn beget more negative coverage. Sherman’s story probably won’t stop that, but it does frame the last three years of Rodriguez’s career in a badly needed new – and much more flattering – light.
It’s 1951. Underneath the stands at Old Yankee Stadium, Joe DiMaggio dresses after a game, a gaggle of sportswriters crowding around his locker eager for a nugget of wisdom from Joltin’ Joe. A cub reporter from the 78 daily newspapers New York City had at the time elbows his way through and asks if he plans will celebrate tonight’s win with a late night rendezvous with Marilyn Monroe.
Joe’s eyebrows raise in a mixture of mockery and disbelief. ”I’m not going to answer that,” he chuckles. ”That’s a clown question, bro.”
As the entire world knows now, that quote didn’t come from the Yankee Clipper but the National Treasure, Bryce Harper. There were t-shirts for sale by the next morning, there are video mash up jokes, and, of course, tweets-a-plenty.
Mark it down: this is when Washington DC officially accepted baseball. For all Ryan Zimmerman’s heroics as the franchise’s first home-grown star since the relocation from Montreal and Stephen Strasburg’s at-times otherworldly pitching and always otherworldly hype, nothing feeds this particular home town crowd like a witty retort to the press. Inside the Beltway Bubble, pundits pondered over whether the quote might find it’s way to the podium at the White House briefing room.
Jokes aside, it’s a valid point. And one the other Mormon looking to stick around DC might think about. Harper’s disdain for the reporter (if not his word choice) might work for politicians. Remember the infamous 2008 interview where Katie Couric asked inane inquiries about Sarah Palin’s news consumption habits? Palin did herself no favors trying to answer what were pretty dumb questions.
When done right, a snarky, off-the-cuff comeback is more powerful than answering a question “the right way.” That reporter who wanted to know if Harper was going to crack open a cold one might have been put off by Harper’s flippant response, but it didn’t matter. The rest of the world saw it, and liked it, and unless that reporter is friends with Cole Hamels there isn’t much he can do. Harper’s message is out.
It’s doubtful that the communications firms in town are prepping an office for Communications Strategist Bryce Harper after his playing days are over – he may be a whale of a ballplayer, but his wisecrack was just a wisecrack. Maybe there’s a second lesson there though: that if you have to overthink your response to a question, your answer will suffer.
Or as Yogi Berra put it, you can’t think and hit at the same time.
No one who has spent much time reading about America’s college campuses (campi?) will be surprised to learn that an institution has banned the singing or playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting contests.
Who was behind it? The anti-American crowd? The Marxists? The hippies? The greens? Cornel West?
Try the Mennonites: Goshen College in Indiana, the school which banned the tune, is a Mennonite school with the motto “Healing the World, Peace by Peace.” The rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air are too violent.
The anthem is being replaced at Goshen sporting events by “America the Beautiful,” so we can assume this isn’t really a commentary on the nation we all call home being a haven for imperialist capitalist pigs. Part of what makes America beautiful is that each person has the right to express their patriotism as they see fit. If the students and administrators at Goshen don’t want to play the national anthem before their Division 8 field hockey games, that’s fine. Those of us who have never donated to or attended Goshen have no right to tell them otherwise.
On the other hand, as an educational institution, so one would hope Goshen’s choice is educated. And the idea that the anthem is a violent song is a bit misguided.
Of course, the “Star-Spangled Banner” does use military imagery, because it was famously written during the War of 1812 as a poem by Francis Scott Key – specifically, during the bombardment of Baltimore. That was a fight that was brought to American shores by then-mortal foe England; we were on defense for that one.
Though set during a battle scene, the theme of the poem – especially the part used for the national anthem – is perseverance through difficulty. Turbulence and war may come, Key writes (much more eloquently), but American ideals of freedom and peace endure.
Delve a little further into the story behind the poem, and it becomes even more apparent that it is hardly a call to arms. Remember that Key saw the flag over Fort McHenry from a British ship; he was aboard on a peaceful mission to argue for the release of a popular Maryland doctor. To make his case, Key presented letters from British soldiers lauding the care they received from American doctors (and this was before the current mess that passes for a British health care system). The British acquiesced, but held Key and the doctor on the prison ship because the bombing of Baltimore was about to begin; they didn’t want to release a prisoner only to blow them up minutes later. In the midst of war, both Key and the British officers demonstrated some level of civility and mutual respect.
The fact most worth noting is that the folks America was fighting in the background of Key’s poem, the British, are our closest allies today. Despite fighting two wars within 30 years, Americans and Britons are fast friends. (Heck, we can’t even launch a television show without swiping the concept from them, and they have, what, four channels?)
So in an educated historical context, the “Star Spangled Banner” is a song about perseverance through adversity and, after your business on the battlefield is over, making peace with your enemies.
Hey, that sounds like a pretty good song to play before an amateur sporting contest.