SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Rushes to Judgment

There are a few headlines this week that are potentially giving perspective to serious situations that turned into feeding frenzies, as follows:

1.  Did the NCAA rush to judgment in punishing Penn State's football program?  The report is that the NCAA bluffed because it didn't really know if it had the right to do what it did.  I thought at the time and still believe now that a) the NCAA didn't have the right to do what it did because while what Jerry Sandusky did was awful the football program didn't commit the violations of the type that are within the NCAA's purview, b) because it wasn't on solid footing (if any at all) it was setting a bad precedent for the future and c) there is so much hypocrisy, anyway, that what would it do when investigative reporters turn up dirt on probably mostly every SEC school?  And, for what it's worth, what is it going to do to North Carolina? 

2.  Did Penn State rush to judgment in firing Joe Paterno?  Penn State was in a difficult spot, and while Governor Tom Corbett expressed his regrets today, there were many other factors at work that made the Paterno situation difficult.  First, Paterno let himself be turned into a demi-god, and Penn State let Paterno become bigger than the institution.  Second, Paterno had no succession plan and wasn't gracious enough to help the university figure out one (guaranteeing martyrdom).  Third, it seemed that despite Penn State's excellent reputation generally, there were problems with the culture surrounding the football program, or at least with respect to its general accountability within the university (and there were some odd facts regarding the Sandusky affair).  I do think that Joe Paterno should have retired long before he was fired, but all of the facts combined for the result that occurred -- a very unhappy ending.  Most observers could have seen that problem (more than two) miles away.

3.  If the issue is whether Ray Rice told the truth about hitting his now-wife in his June meeting with the NFL, then who missed what, and will Rice be reinstated to the league?  Ray Rice (who has done some very good charitable things around the country, including in his hometown of New Rochelle, New York, but also with pediatric patients in Baltimore) did a terrible thing.  The Ravens erred in not disciplining him; the NFL exacerbated it by not disciplining him hard enough.  (And I am not clear what the collective bargaining agreement between the players' union and the league provides on this subject).  I think all can agree upon that.  It also seems clear that the NFL decided to ban Rice indefinitely after the famous video came out of Rice's slugging his wife in the elevator.  What is not clear at all is whether that was the first time anyone in the NFL had access to or saw that video or whether Rice had admitted decking his wife in the June meeting.   If the answer to the first part is yes they had access and yes they saw it and the answer to the second part is yes, he came clean, then the issue becomes solely whether the NFL goofed in the severity of the punishment.  While the fact remains that Rice did a terrible thing, the overall story changes a bit because what comes into question is not whether Rice told the truth, but why the NFL did what it did.  It seems like the NFL has taken steps to address domestic violence, but unless there is a means under the collective bargaining agreement to get Rice's ban lifted because the NFL violated procedure in its inquiry, Rice's suspension probably will continue.  All that said, the continuation of this sad saga in the press is bad for the Ravens, the league and Commissioner Goodell. 

And all of this speaks to rushes to judgment.  The public rushed to judgment during the Boston Massacre and then in the Duke lacrosse fiasco.  In the former, the British soldiers weren't guilty, and in the latter the Duke players weren't guilty, either.  It was the case that the colonials didn't want the British soldiers in their midst, and it might have been the case that certain members of the Duke team had behavioral issues (not major) for which they always weren't held accountable.  But by no means did that make them guilty of the very serious charges that faced them.  With regard to the sanctions handed out to the Penn State football program, the NCAA probably rushed to judgment because of the nature of Sandusky's crimes, although what happened at Penn State was unclear and Paterno's almost dictatorial control over the athletic department was a problem.  In the case of firing Paterno, while Penn State loyalists to this day will back their coach, the situation was rather complicated.  I don't think it would have been possible to give Joe a gracious exit -- he didn't want to leave at all, let alone gracefully.  As for Rice, the facts are bad, but when they're almost radioactive, we have to be careful to develop the facts carefully before rendering judgment.  Everyone is entitled to a defense, and if we forget that we have much bigger problems than whether our beloved football team plays on Saturdays.

All of this underscores the point that all of the facts have to be developed before conclusions can be drawn.  And while "justice delayed is justice denied," justice rushed could be injustice absent a good process and a thorough review. 

Just ask the kids on that Duke lacrosse team, who would much rather be known as college lacrosse players who played on a good team than having been in the spotlight for a feeding frenzy that transpired because others rushed to judgment.

Observation about Postings on Social Media

Consider the following statement:  "The more people you know post on social media, the [less] or [more] you will find them appealing." 

I suppose that it depends on what they post.  For example, during the recent election I read several posts on my spouse's Facebook wall about the election and the "arrogant smiles of Republicans."  Naturally, these were Democrats from blue states who were making these posts.  And that got me to thinking about the nature of their smiles both in 2008 and 2012.  Were they humble?  Sometimes we and others we know have no idea how we seem or what we're doing when we're doing it. 

There's also the humble bragging, the rants (both about politics and about the quality of service providers) and the posts of good times that (inadvertently, perhaps) tell others that they were not included.  Perhaps, also, there are posts to people far away, because for some it is easier to relate by social media than in person in the present.  The latter can be awkward and require more of an effort than hitting strokes on a keyboard. 

In business we talk frequently about realizing that you should consider what you write in the context of its being quoted verbatim in the newspaper or blown up on an exhibit in a court room.  Translated, be professional to the point of being antiseptic.  In our private lives (which are not as private as they once were), we would like to reveal more of ourselves and be less filtered.  That's fine, but we also should consider how we would like to be perceived and the legacy that we want to leave behind.  If you post frequent criticisms, are the things that you are criticizing always that bad or are you just unhappy?  If you post frequently about what you buy, where you go and what your kids do, are you arrogant?  If you always tell people how much you admire them, what they do and their and their children's accomplishments, are you a sycophant (especially when you do so for people you do not know that well).  And if you have many friends but do not post much, are you a bystander or voyeur?

I don't think that we should apply Teddy Roosevelt's "In the Arena" standard to ourselves when it comes to posting on social media.  So, if someone who gets criticized for a fit of pique were to say, "well, at least I post and I share my thinking.  I have the courage to do that.  They don't," I don't think that someone who is an infrequent poster should question his or her own courage.  Perhaps, instead, they should reflect upon their own restraint and a transcendent display of maturity, honoring the adage, "she who holds the word back is its master, and she who deploys it is it's slave."  Or, as the British at times were wont to say, "the less said, the easier mended."

I do not have a Facebook page yet but might get one, if only because so many friends have one and keep in touch better that way.  On the one hand, I value my privacy very much.  On the other hand, I do not want to be isolated.  Yet, I realize that because I have various friends but not a group of friends, having a Facebook page might reinforce some isolation because others might get together more frequently than my schedule, commitments and location might allow.  At the end of the day, though, I try to operate under the adage that if these are my friends, I am happy for their happiness.  The world is a big place, and we need a lot of people to be successful and happy to have a great society.  So, if I'm not included on a jaunt to a baseball game in another city, so be it.  Making my own fun, in the end, is up to me, and I can as easily gather others as be gathered.  Sometimes we all have to remember that.

But going back to my initial premise, what I have found out in infrequent views of my spouse's Facebook page is that she has more liberal friends than conservatives, that some of the liberals cannot begin to understand anyone else's point of view, that one guy seemingly writes only of icons of our youth who have passed way.  A few tout causes, whether they are illnesses or veterans, and a few just pop in to post and say hello.  Some vent, some boast about their kids' report cards, some post too much information.  In a way, it's all about living life.

Don't know when I'll find time to start my Facebook page, and will try not to get addicted to it if I do so.  After all, I'd rather be out there doing things that are worthy of posting and not have the time to post about them then spending time on Facebook, not having done things, and then wondering what I'll post about. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Jason Kidd and Mikhail Prokhorov

One was a great college basketball point guard, a very good professional point guard who became a head coach right after his career ended. 

The other is a young, successful Russian businessman (read:  oligarch) who owns the team that the other guy played for and then coached for.

The first guy dissed the second guy and bolted to coach in Milwaukee.  The first guy loves to win.  The second guy loves to win but also likes to get his way and hates to lose.

There is bad blood between the two men.  There is a public war of words.

Memo to Jason Kidd: Probably not a good idea to get into a fight with an oligarch.

Just saying.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Stupidity and Corruption of FIFA's Decision to Host the World Cup in Qatar

Before you dismiss me as a first-world, American, economic imperialist. . .

1.  It is hot in the summers in Qatar, so much so that today FIFA announced that it might move the 2022 World Cup to winter time.  Read here for more details.

2.  There is the issue of corruption and what officials from Qatar might have done to convince the FIFA board to choose Qatar in the first place.  Read the linked article for more on that, too.  Why that might be okay mystifies -- is it because that's the way things get done over there or because understated bigots hold those in Qatar to much lower standards than say to those that those in the West are held?  (And why would that be okay?)

3.  Russia 2018 ought to be interesting given Putin's issues in Ukraine and Russia's overall world image.  Brazil gave some hope to FIFA in that despite major political unrest during the Confederations Cups and some economic issues, it pulled it off and did it well. 

Still . . .

Heat.

Payoffs.

What's the third thing? 

Because there usually is a third thing. 

Here's to hoping that the corruption didn't happen and the event gets moved to the winter, that the stadiums get built and that people can travel there safely and enjoy themselves.  A lot can happen between now and 2022 -- oil prices can continue to drop, reducing the income of the Qataris, and the political climate of the Middle East can change dramatically. 

Then again, things could stay the same, too, and Qatar can pull off another soccer surprise, this after somehow getting the jersey sponsorship for one of the world's most beloved teams, Barcelona.  Perhaps after the World Cup the government will try to turn the Qatari Super League (or its equivalent) into a new English Premier League.

After all, if they have the money to host the World Cup and to sponsor Barcelona, the government and the country's wealthiest citizens probably have the funds to start a formidable league. 

But for right now, the whole thing doesn't make a lot of sense.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Thoughts on the English Premier League

1.  Chelsea
2. Southampton
3.  Manchester City
4.  Arsenal
5. West Ham.

Which has you wondering where Liverpool, Man United and Tottenham are, too.

Thoughts:

1.  Chelsea is the prohibitive favorite.  Give Jose Mourhino credit -- he fortified an already formidable defensive squad by getting keeps Thibault Courtois back from Athletico (where he was on loan), acquired Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas.  Some of his young midfielders are a year more experienced.  Atop that, they probably have more players out on loan than the next two clubs combined, and, if one were to think deeply, I am not convinced that their roster of players out on loan couldn't win the Championship League if not avoid relegation in the EPL.

2.  Southampton must have people who know what they are doing.  Their manager bolted for Tottenham, where he, like his three predecessors, is struggling.  They let Lallana, Lovren and Lambert go to Liverpool and Shaw to United, and have not suffered at all.  Lallana is in a pressure cooker, Lambert is closer to the tail end of his career and Shaw showed up at Old Trafford looking, well, doughy.  I don't know if the Saints will remain in the top four, but wins before Christmas count as much as wins in April.

3.  City.  They got a year older, period.  Did the World Cup tire out Yaya Toure?  Aguero has to be one of the best five players in the world, but there seems to be something missing early on.  Yet, last year they played solidly and patiently, stalked Liverpool and overtook them after those Reds had their slight collapse at season's end.  They remain dangerous, that's for sure, with great talent.  Look for them to be the biggest threat to Chelsea.

4.  Arsenal.    The good news is that Arsene Wenger is resourceful and can manage through injuries.  The two pieces of bad news is that they seem to suffer more injuries than anyone else.  In addition, Wenger didn't populate the roster the way he might have had he been more aggressive.  The team needs a defensive mid and a few extra center backs.  It's hard to determine whether Danny Welbeck is the answer at striker, although Alexis Sanchez looks to be a great addition at wing.  Getting Theo Walcott back will help, and they need everyone else -- particularly Aaron Ramsey -- to stay healthy.  That said, they need a few highly rated players to join Mesut Ozil and Sanchez.  Look for them to return to Champions League competition for the umpteenth year in a row.

5.  Liverpool.  They aren't the same without Luis Suarez.  Who would be?  Their defense also is not that good, and perhaps deficient enough to cause them to fail to qualify for champions.

6.  United.  They'll get it right at some point, but they don't have it right now, and even some dynastic teams in sports have had their down periods.  They are in one now and are still figuring it out.  They have some talent, but it's not the case that United can just toss a lineup out there and the competition will roll over.

7.  Spurs.  I thought that with all the moves they made last year they finished okay because they had a bunch of players who had to adjust to the manager and each other.  But it seems like they have regressed this year.  They have some pieces, not enough to win the EPL, but I thought enough to contend for a space in Champions.  That doesn't look to be the case now.

8.  West Ham.  Figured I"d make a plug for Sam Allardyce.  I thought that the Hammers made some good moves before Transfer Deadline Day, and right now they are paying off.

Based on what I've seen today, I'm thinking that this is how the EPL will finish:

1.  Chelsea.  Not invincible, but close.
2.  City.  Too much talent.
3.  Arsenal.  Arsene Wenger strikes again (this also is a reflection that I think that there is Chelsea and then City and then many other teams).
4.  Southampton.  Hard to see why the magic will not continue.
5.  Liverpool.  They'll recover, somehow, to get here.

Dark horse:  United, because few have higher expectations, and West Ham, because they are playing with a bounce in their step.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Philadelphia 76ers: "Are You Kidding Me?"

I was driving home last night, listening to Philadelphia-area sports talk.  After listening to the host -- who has a pronounced Philadelphia/Upper Dublin/Huntingdon Valley accent -- wax not-so-eloquent about the Eagles, I heard a 76ers' advertisement. 

The 76ers were playing their opener at Indiana, and this announcement, of course, was to sell tickets.  It featured, among other things, excited play-by-play calls of Tom McGinnis, the 76ers' radio announcer.  The ad features, among other things, a McGinnis reaction to a 76ers' play -- "Are you kidding me?"  All in the trademarked McGinnis semi-raspy, metal-on-metal voice.

And that got me to thinking -- "Are the 76ers kidding me?"  Sure, coach Brett Brown wants to win.  Sure, the players are trying hard -- Brown gets them to play that way.  But this team is terrible.  As Casey Stengel once said, "there are baseball players, and there are ribbon clerks."  He tried to avoid the ribbon clerks at all costs -- he was able to do so with the Yankees, whom he managed to multiple World Series victories, but not with the 1962 Mets, whose roster was populated with ribbon clerks.  Fast forward to today, and most of the 76ers are ribbon clerks. 

The 76ers should have thought about the subliminal message in that ad.  Sure, we know who Michael Carter-Williams (currently injured), Joel Embiid (out for the season) and Nerlens Noel (he missed last season) are.  And Tony Wroten shows some promise.  But the rest of the team?  Anonymous and probably destined to remain that way during their careers.  In fact, the 76ers are kidding me in the sense that they cannot win and should not be trying to sell tickets on that basis.  They will win fewer than the 19 games they won last season.  And they are hoping that a bunch of young players can come together in the next 2-3 years and build a force to be reckoned with.  They make no apologies for this and are up front about it. 

But they should be more careful with the texts and sub-texts of their ads.  People will go to a barn to watch a winner; they won't go to a palace to watch a loser.  Especially if the team really doesn't care now about winning.

Not at those prices, anyway.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sugar Ray and the Hitman in the Showdown

I don't remember the circumstances of the welterweight unification belt in September of 1981, only that the two biggest names in boxing, Olympic gold medalist Sugar Ray Leonard and challenger Thomas "Hitman" Hearns (also known as the Motor City Cobra) were going to fight to unify the WBC and WBA titles.  It was the biggest fight in a while, and, well, in 1981, wherever the heck it was, there was absolutely no way to monitor the progress of the right unless you were there or perhaps bought a ticket for "closed circuit" television in an arena.

There was no internet.

No cable.

No Twitter.

No way of finding out how the right was going.

But I was curious.  Curious because I was a Leonard fan, and curious because I did not want to wait until the following morning.  I wanted to figure out a way to get information in real time, but the case was hopeless.

Until I remembered that the campus radio station, for which I did an occasional sports report and broadcast games, had a UPI ticker tape machine in the basement.  Those don't exist today, but then they (and AP ticker tapes) were the main source of news for many a news rooms (along with feeds from the ABC national network that we were able to copy on 8-track tapes).  The ticker tape machine was this big thing, about four feet high, basically a typewriter on legs that was wired into a phone line that provided the feed.  I hope that perhaps UPI had the right to provide round-by-round updates, so on that night -- and I don't remember what night it was, but it was probably a Saturday, when most of my friends were drinking beer and doing what college seniors do.

No one was in the station -- situated in a damp basement in an old dormitory -- except for the disc jockey, with whom I had a casual acquaintance and to whom I waved.  And then I made my way to the back, where the news room, such as it was, was situated (in truth, it was a sparsely furnished, dimly lit place) and stood near the ticker tape.  And I was in luck!  UPI was covering the fight, and a reporter at ringside was providing the feed.

There were limitations, of course, such as feeds from various baseball games around the country and the occasional news story, that came on the wire in between rounds.  But the progress of the right was compelling, and every five minutes or so about fifty words came through describing what happened and giving the reporter's view of how the round went.  I was pulling for Leonard, and it was just exciting, the sporting equivalent of a candidate's waiting for election returns in a close race.

What I proceeded to witness via ticker tape was one of the greatest fights of all time.  At the twelfth round, five bells sounded -- UPI's means of getting the news room's attention that something significant happened.  The five bells this time meant that Hearns was hitting Leonard hard and that Leonard was in trouble -- perhaps a turning point in a fight where Hearns was leading on points  (I honestly thought that five bells were reserved for things like the end of World War II or the election of a president).  My shoulders shrank -- the likable, invincible Sugar Ray was about to lose.  Hearns was an excellent fighter, so that ending was plausible.

But about as quickly as those five bells sounded, five more bells sounded.  And that, I figured, was it.  But those five bells sounded perhaps four minutes later, and a remarkable change of events took place.  Leonard woke up and started taking it to Hearns -- and ended the fight with a flurry of punches that caused the referee to stop it.  TKO, Sugar Ray Leonard.

I had so much fun that I tore off most of the ticker tape and decided to save it.  That ticker tape printout survived seven moves and 33 years, when I found it this weekend, still in pretty good shape.  The reason I started looking for it was that my son was invited to a sports memorabilia event where Sugar Ray was scheduled to be in attendance.  So, I put it in a plastic folder and gave it to him, hoping, perhaps, that he could get Sugar Ray to autograph it.

And he did better than that, because Thomas Hearns was at this particular show, too.  So right where the last five bells went off, there are two signatures -- one of Sugar Ray, the other of the Motor City Cobra.  Thirty-three years later, capping a fond memory of a great fight and perhaps a clever solution as to how to get a virtual ringside seat.

That got me to thinking of boxing, which was probably better in smoke-filled arenas and in black and white, and perhaps slow motion.  Perhaps that's why boxing isn't popular today -- there's too much access, too much internet and texting and tweeting, and none of the mysticism and romance that existed when entertainment choices were fewer and the world seemed to move more slowly.  Boxing was made for the ticker-tape, men watching it in suits, stogies in hand, newspaper reporters with hats with their press passes tucked into the band.

And I have my souvenir for that era, before boxing lost its mojo, before Sugar Ray and the Hitman got old, before Marvelous Marvin lost his magic and Duran said "no mas."

Answering the bell.  Saved by the bell.  And the outcome, announced with five bells.  I never saw that fight, but UPI made it feel like I was there.

Thanks, Sugar Ray and Hitman, for a great era and a great memory.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Eagles-Washington

A few thoughts:

1.  The Eagles' offensive line is totally depleted.  Best tweet of the day came from 97.5 the Fanatic, which said something to the effect "Hey fat guys in the area, get your cleats and get to the Linc as soon as you can.  You just might suit up."

2.  Nick Foles was a battleship out there today.  When the dust cleared, he stood tall, firing on target.

3.  Kirk Cousins had an outstanding game, but he seemed to channel his inner Tony Romo near the end and mis-threw, leading to one pick and several failed third down conversations.

4.  Chris Baker's hit on Foles was a cheap shot.  Baker tried to explain it to the media, but it seemed clear that Washington's media advisors coached him on what to say.

5.  Maclin and Matthews were outstanding at wide receiver today.

6.  Did anyone else notice that you didn't hear OLB Connor Barwin's name called today.

7.  Where was the Eagles' defense in the first half?  They did adjust in the second half, but the first half was a disaster.  And, yet, the Birds were up at the half.

8.  Chris Polk's pick-up return gave the Eagles a huge lift after Cousins channeled his inner Peyton Manning on Washington's first couple of drives.

9.  For all of the doubters, Malcolm Jenkins has come up with a few big plays in back-to-back games.

10.  Does Casey Matthews scare anyone at middle linebacker?

Arsenal at Aston Villa

Just a few observations:

1.  Gunners played with pace.

2.  Ozil played his best game of the year.

3.  So did Welbeck.  His athleticism will help Arsenal.

4.  Sissoko's own goal was interesting in that if he had let the ball go, Oxlade-Chamberlain would have rammed it home.

5.  Arsenal is very thin on defense and needs someone to step up as a leader.

6. Szczesny stood tall at a few intervals (and I realize I probably misspelled his name).

7.  And they blasted Villa without Alexis Sanchez.

8.  Good to see Ozil playing central attacking midfielders.  That's where he belongs.