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


Not much to tell.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Phillies Fire Ruben Amaro -- and That is Not the Real Story

Good columns abound in the Philadelphia papers on this topic, including one in today's Philadelphia Inquirer  (Bob Ford might have been the author) that suggested (rightly) that Ruben Amaro was a product of the Phillies' culture.  Bingo!

Amaro grew up in an ownership that for the most part was one of benign neglect.  Sure, the Giles-era ownership will argue that they made some big signings, going all the way back to Gregg Jeffries (remember that future Hall of Famer?) and built the city a new stadium, but they seemingly only did so because they had to and, unlike the Yankee regime in New York, didn't have the burning compulsion to win.

Vilified were the now disgraced Curt Schilling and, before him, stellar third baseman, Scott Rolen, who called ownership to account publicly and somehow managed not only to infuriate the Giles group, but also the fans.  Why?  Because the team spun the story in a way that both players had insulted the good, hard working people of the city.  Nonsense.

The reason why what Schilling and Rolen said hurt so much because it was true and pointed out inconvenient facts that other franchises were more committed to winning, not only by upgrading stadiums but also farm systems and rosters.  At one point it seemed that you got a front office job if you new the Carpenters or the Giles' family and perhaps went to certain Philadelphia area private schools.  It also seemed like you got jobs in the organization if you once played for it, and, given the Phillies' rather tepid history, seemed to help perpetuate a team that resembled a geyser -- every now and then by happenstance it would erupt into something fantastic, but otherwise it would sit there sleepily from season to season, unexciting and unproductive.

That's, of course, not to knock the Whiz Kids, the Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt era, even the oddball '93 team and most certainly not the Charlie Manuel/Rollins/Utley/Howard/Hamels Phillies' teams of recent years.  But those were the eruptions.  In between were some of the worst eras known to baseball.  It isn't by accident, after all, the the franchise was the first to lose 10,000 games.  That takes some doing -- benign neglect and worse.

The columnist was accurate because it struck me years ago that the team didn't need a managerial change (sure, perhaps it was time for Manuel to retire, but he was great when it counted) or a GM change (even though it was baffling that while the awful Astros were improving markedly through analytics the envied Phillies would have taken a leap forward had they at least hired a few nerds from Drexel with slide rules).  They needed an ownership change.  Forget the wealthy Main Liners who enjoying owning a baseball team.  We needed someone like Josh Harris of the 76ers, someone who just wants to win (even though his patience at this point is somewhat perplexing), the Cardinals' history of excellence, the Steinbrenner family's passion, something, somewhere, to shake this ownership group out of its malaise.  No analytics today yields no talent yields huge drop-offs at the box office.  What a difference seven years makes!

So fast forward to 2015.  Well-liked president David Montgomery is a few years gone, and the guy who gets credit for rebuilding the Orioles, Lee MacPhail, has replaced both him and ostensibly his interim sub, the Hall of Famer Pat Gillick (Gillick gets too much credit for the success of the 2008 team; former GM Ed Wade gets way too little, perhaps because he was so bland and humorless in dealing with the media).  But even that advent of MacPhail is not the big story.  More than that, I'd submit that the firing of Ruben Amaro isn't the biggest news.

Yes, Amaro did some good and bad things.  He gets credited for signing Raul Ibanez, which I believe is one of his worst moves as GM, followed by his inking the following season of Placido Polanco.  My reasoning is simple -- demographics.  The Phillies' core in 2008 was about the same age -- 29 to 31.  So, at a time when they needed to reload by getting younger, the Phillies got older.  Ibanez had one good half season and two and a half bad ones, and Polanco was often hurt.  The team signed him when he was 34.  Getting Cliff Lee was great; trading him was awful, and signing him as a free agent again was brilliant.  Sadly, concurrently, the farm system was a very dry well.  Peddling Hunter Pence to the Giants was a big mistake, and while Amaro gets credit for trading for Roy Oswalt, Oswalt pretty much was a disappointment and the front office goofed by somehow letting promising outfielder Domingo Santana be on the player-to-be-named list, and the Astros snapped him up.

To examine the stats, the team won the World Series in 2008 and by 2011 lost in the first round of the NLDS.  Cliff Lee, paid to do exactly this, failed to hold a four-run lead after one inning in the second game of the series with the Phillies up 1-0.  If Lee were to hold that lead, the Phillies, who had a great regular-season record, would have been on their way.  Instead, the Phillies couldn't hit Cris Carpenter, who outdueled Roy Halladay in a gem in Game 5, and saw Howard rupture his Achilles in the game's last at-bat.  By 2015, they have had consistently worse records and attendance.  To quote Bill Parsells, "you are what your record says you are."

But even with all that -- and Amaro was held accountable -- there was something more vexing about the team -- ownership.  It made poor decisions and it made late decisions, after the damage was done.  It seemed like whoever controlled the group only made decisions after bad facts popped up and had festered into an antiobiotic-resistant infection.

Until, perhaps, now.

Enter John Middleton.

He is vocal, and he seems decisive. and he seems to want to break the back of the "noblesse oblige" type of ownership that has plagued the team for decades.

The man wants to win.

The man does not want to be part of a group that presides over a pastime and is content to sit back and not be involved.  It was Middleton who took over the ownership group, it was Middleton who got MacPhail hired and it was Middleton who helped terminate Amaro.  It will be Middleton who helps revamp the farm system, it will be Middleton who will be instrumental in hiring the new general manager and it will be Middleton who helps the new GM effect change and get him the resources he needs to succeed.

And all of that is more important right now than who sits in the dugout writing out the lineup card (Pete Mackanin is doing a good job) and who the general manager will be.  Because without a strong, vibrant owner who is committed to winning, the team doesn't have a chance against every other organization in the majors, all of whom who have evolved and adapted analytics long before the Phillies did.

The firing of Amaro might draw the headlines, but it is the emergence of Middleton that should get the fans very excited and has the potential to bring them back into Citizens Bank Park.

This is long overdue.  This is something for the Phillies to get excited about.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Patriots' Games

We all liked the hippie chick teacher in high school.  She was cool, she was cute, she drove a VW bus.  One day in tenth grade she walked in with her arm in a sling, had a shiner in one eye and looked pretty banged up.  She offered up a car accident the reason.  Fast forward to the middle of twelfth grade, and she had told us that she had been in three more car accidents.  Each time, she looked pretty banged up. 

My father offered the following advice.  "Son, if you have one car accident, chances are you had an accident.  But if you have four in two years, you have a driving problem." 

If the New England Patriots hadn't had all the noise surrounding them -- Spygate (which just got uglier thanks to reports in both SI and ESPN the Magazine), Deflategate (prediction is that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will overturn the District Court's ruling) and now the headphones in the game versus the Steelers' last night -- we could chalk up what happened to last night to a combination of bad systems and bad weather.  But, because of all the other incidents, it looks very suspicious. 

Right now, the New England Patriots do not deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to character matters.  Right now, everything funny that happens in that stadium or with that team must be fully scrutinized.  As Steelers' coach Mike Tomlin said in last night's post-game news conference, something always happens when they play New England. 

And you don't hear that about every other team.  You hear it about New England.

Many refuse to believe it, of course.  The Patriots are the gold standard, they're too good to have cheated, they're too well-run and well-coached.  (These fans also thought that Lance Armstrong was winning all of those Tour de France races without using performance enhancing drugs).  Patriots' supports adopt classic bullying tactics -- their owner fires before aiming at Commissioner Goodell and the Wells Report, and their star -- their version of Lance Armstrong before the fall -- goes on the attack (and, look, I will be the first one to say that the team and the player are entitled to a defense).  Then their fans mock the commissioner.  Some might call it rightful, others aggressive, others bullying.  But at the end of the day, it's hard to convince anyone that the Colts and the Steelers are joining forces to bring down the Patriots.  It seems like the Patriots are doing that to the Patriots.

The Patriots have a culture problem and a credibility problem.  It will get worse if those recent magazine reports get legs, too.  I hope for the NFL's sake that Spygate does not descend into a hellish Armstrong-like story.  But with the Patriots, it seems like we never know just what to believe.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Hallelujah -- Temple Beats Penn State!

I waited my entire life for this. 

Like Coach Matt Rhule, I felt a sense of gratification that the team and fans did not "over-celebrate" because they flat out knew that they could win the game.  And win the Temple Owls did, because they simply out-hit Penn State on both sides of the ball, sacking the Nittany Lions' quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, ten times.  As the game moved further and further toward its end, a groundswell of emotions picked up in me.  Part of me had to convince myself that this was happening; the other part convinced myself that this really shouldn't have come as a surprise.  Yet, this was the biggest win in Temple's football history (or at least since 1941, the year the Owls last beat Penn State), even though these aren't your father's Penn State teams and, upon consideration, for symbolic reasons too.  The gritty urban underdog beat the pampered scenic wealthier cousin.  That doesn't happen that often.

The reason I waited my entire life for this is because my father went to Temple and had at least a cup of coffee or a thermos with the football team, playing in the late 40's with, among others, many WWII vets who were a lot older and hardened by the war.  From the time I was a little kid, we trekked first to Temple Stadium, then to Franklin Field and then to Vet Stadium to watch the Owls.  Temple Stadium was intimate; Franklin Field a great venue but far from packed, and the multi-purpose Vet soulless as it played to mostly empty crowds. 

We saw some good players under George Makris, among them quarterbacks Tommy DiFelice and John Waller and wide receiver Jim Callahan.  And then entered Wayne Hardin, the coaching brainiac who had coached both Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino at Navy.  Hardin could innovate, motivate and recruit -- especially if you were a favorite, and we saw Maxwell Award winner Steve Joachim, future Steelers' tight end Randy Grossman, linemen such as Bill "Skip" Singletary (now a HS coach in Philadelphia) and Jim Cooper, who would go on to play for the Cowboys.  We saw what we thought was the best nose tackle known to man, a barroom brawler named Joe Klecko, and we saw a graceful receiver in Steve Watson. The former would go on to star for the Jets, the latter for the Broncos.  We also saw the great kicker, Nick Mike-Mayer.  Of course, there were many others, and I've probably forgotten a few whom I should not have who excelled and brought many fond memories.

We saw the Owls upset West Virginia in the early 1970's at Temple Stadium, with the team carrying Hardin off the field.  We saw Penn State nick them at Franklin Field by a point, even after on one of the first plays from scrimmage Cooper bowled offer Penn State's all-American linebacker Greg Buttle to spring Bobby Harris for a 75-or-so-yard touchdown run.  We also saw the Owls lose 10-7 at the Vet late in the game on a field goal by one of the Bahr brothers, this after the game was tied late in the fourth, the Owls were driving and the Owls coughed the ball up.  It was in that game that Hardin punted consistently on third down to pin Penn State deep in their own territory, deploying the nation's leading punter, Casey Murphy, deftly. 

There were so many memories because this was the father-and-son thing that we did.  We went to Temple football games, and, of course, heard many disrespectful comments in the process.  We were surrounded by Penn State fans, who view their school and team as superior.  As to the latter, well, way back when, in the 1960's and 1970's, it wasn't necessarily bragging if you could back it up.  And Joe Paterno's Lions could.

But I didn't care.  This is what I did with my dad, and this was our team.  We loved the Owls, Hardin's innovative style, the way they played hard and won many more than they lost.  Temple Stadium was tiny but intimate, and we trekked their many Saturdays and watched with great interest.  I still cherish those days.  It was special time that we had together, uninterrupted, eating hot dogs, drinking soda, eating peanuts, talking football. 

It wasn't quite the same at Franklin Field or the Vet, and I'm happy to see bigger crowds at the Linc.  Dad died in the mid-1980's, and my interested waned.  Put differently, I lost my football-watching buddy, and to be honest there aren't many around who, with an increasing number of choices, would select going to Temple football games above them.  I kept up my interest, occasionally watching them on television or listening on the radio, and most usually I read the newspaper accounts.  I liked Bruce Arians' promise and then was sad as a succession of coaches couldn't bring success to North Broad Street.  It was an empty feeling -- not only was my father gone, but the current version of what had created fond memories had cratered.

Then came Al Golden, who resurrected the program, and then Steve Addazio, and now Matt Rhule.  My guess is that better facilities and the fact that schools can no longer hoard players has helped the Owls get better ones, as has the current crop of coaches.  The buzz got louder, the players and team got better, and that led up to Saturday's game. 

I saw the point spread and hoped for the best, liked what I had heard on ESPN that morning and read enough to know that the Owls had a very good defense.  As the game played out, my mind raced from here to there, from the time I went to games when I was a young kid (I think I went as far back as 1965) to the mid-1980's, before Dad died.  And oh did he love his Owls and going to games.  I felt his spirit, as though he were pointing out the gaps in the Penn State line for Temple's pass rushers to exploit.  When it came to Temple football, I was a dormant volcano's worth full of emotions.  I always had hoped to be able to open that vault and express them, but feared that I never would in my life time. 

But then the game happened and ended, and the Owls won.  I smiled a very big smile, and had a trace of tears in my eyes.  Okay, so the Lions weren't nationally ranked, big deal.  To see so many Temple fans at the Linc wearing the cherry and white there to enjoy to watershed moment was something to see.  We saw some close calls, but felt like Sisyphus -- our team had pushed its proverbial rock up the hill only never to get there.  But on Saturday they did.  And it felt good.

I told my son that for my sports-watching and rooting experience, this was like a major shift of tectonic plates, a fault line, a discovery that there is life on Mars, that chocolate can cure cancer or something else that hard to fathom.  It was a great thing to see, it really was.

I just wish my father were there to watch it with me. 

And perhaps sitting with me on the porch all night, sampling sipping whiskey, talking about all the games we went to until the sun rose. 

Temple beat Penn State.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Reflections on Transfer Deadline Day

In no particular order:

1.  I wonder what the analytics guys say.  There is all sorts of game theory that can go on here, such as it's probably a better idea to negotiate and buy early when no one focuses on whether you have a pronounced need than late, where people will try to gouge you if a) you have a pronounced need and b) what they have is in short supply.  Take the case of strikers.  Arsenal and United both were looking, the former because Olivier Giroud cannot handle the load alone and is not viewed as elite and Theo Walcott looked exposed in the Gunners' last game and the latter because Memphis is not an elite player and Wayne Rooney hasn't played the position in a few years.  So, Arsenal knocked on many doors and came up empty, if only because they found PSG's not-so-very-clutch Edson Cavani to be over-priced and somehow they couldn't get it done for, among others, Icardi or Zaza or Pato and whomever else they discussed.  On the other hand, United overpaid and paid for a future dividend in breaking the bank for 19 year-old Anthony Martial, in whom Gunner great Thierry Henry sees a lot of himself.  But the question is whether Martial can contribute mightily this year.  And the answer here is no.  The broader question is whether he projects to be another Henry, and the odds are against that.  Henrys don't come around all that often.

2.  Why didn't Arsenal do anything more than sign Petr Cech?  Perhaps they think they can win with who they have (unlikely that they will win the Premiership without more oomph).  Perhaps they kept on getting outbid by teams that are more desperate.  Or perhaps they were just too slow on the trigger.  Two years ago they landed Mesuz Ozil on deadline day; last year they landed Alexis Sanchez rather early.  This year, they landed Petr Cech very early.  Fans in North London expected more than a very good thirty-three year-old keeper.

3.  What the -- DeGea didn't go to Real Madrid after all?  What a strange set of circumstances.  Will van Gaal now play him more at Old Trafford?  And will Sergio Romero be content if that happens?  And what does that say to the keepers in Madrid?  That their manager continuously will be looking for someone better?

4.  Teams that make too many changes don't gel all that quickly.  A few years ago it was Spurs when they signed five players after selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid.  They had trouble finding good chemistry.  Could that be a) Liverpool or b) United this year?  Lots of new faces in new positions, and if a bad early game is any indication, Liverpool looked lost after a 3-0 defeat at Anfield to West Ham.  This is not your father's West Ham.  These Hammers are on the rise and perhaps could draw a new buyer when they move into the Olympic Stadium.  More oil or oligarch money could pour into London, and then the Hammers too could become a super team.  Stranger things could happen.

5.  Does Kevin DeBruyne's arrival at City make them the favorites to win the Premier League?  Yes.  They're miffed that they regressed last year, and they look much sharper getting out of the starting gate.  Wins in September count as much as wins in April, and City looks to continue its great start and put pressure on the others to keep up.  Sergio Aguero might be the best player in the Premiership.

6.  Whither Chelsea?  Their defense is a year older, and it is not deep.  Their midfield play will crisp up, as will their play at striker, but they are a older.  They suffer a bit from too much of a good thing -- they loan more players than the next two or three teams in the Premier League combined.  It's hard to figure how they determine whom to play and whom to loan, and they have an embarrassment of riches.  Still, it's hard to count them out, although Jose Mourinho usually doesn't stay in one place for more than three years, which means he could be on the move after this season.  Love the rivalry between him and Arsene Wenger, too.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Buzz and Vibe of a Winner -- the New York Mets

I had great seats at the Phillies-Mets game last night at Citizens Bank Park, so good that I could see into the Mets' dugout and get a good sense of the team, the team that is leading the National League East over the heavily-favored Washington Nationals. 

The Mets went into the season with great pitching -- everyone knows the story of how this pitching staff has the potential to out-Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz the Atlanta Braves teams that were so great in the 90's and early 2000's.  The question mark was hitting, and for a while the Mets were the worst-hitting team in the National League.  Fast forward to right now, and they have been on a tear, thanks, in part, to the Quadruple A pitching staff that the Phillies have assembled in their poor man's style of trying to rebuild a franchise (I say "poor man's because it would appear that there are, in contrast, rich man's versions in the Cubs, Pirates, Astros and Royals).  The past three days have been glorified batting practice for the Mets, who set a franchise record the other night by hitting eight home runs against the Phillies in a come-from-behind 16-7 victory.

That victory perhaps was a statement on two fronts.  First, that the Mets can hit and can sustain their hitting.   Second, that the Phillies' surprise surge right after the All-Star break was just that, that the carriage turned into the proverbial pumpkin, and that a no-name bullpen with an anonymous group of hitters not named Howard or Francoeur only can take you so far before it craters. 

But what was more compelling to me last night was the buzz in the Mets' dugout.  I had seen that type of vibe in recent memory in the Phillies' dugout from say late 2007 through 2011 and particularly in 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series.  Roll back the tape, and you would see Shane Victorino energizing the whole dugout, Jimmy Rollins talking hitting with Charlie Manuel, Ryan Howard and his outsized smile, the intensity of Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley and for a time, the Old Master, Jamie Moyer, holding court over a young pitching staff, and particularly the precocious talent of Cole Hamels.  The team, collectively, was standing on the balls of its toes, ready to jump in, ready to battle from behind (which it did masterfully during the glory part of Manuel's tenure), and was talking shop the entire time.  That energy was something to see, and its an energy borne of success and confidence in knowing that you have control over your destiny and enough talent in the dugout to take control over it.

Last night, I saw David Wright as the sun in the Mets' universe, the rallying point for his teammates.  Players gathered around him as though is their sage, their sensei, their oracle, and Wright, to his great credit as a leader, didn't seem to pull rank or have an arrogance about him at all.  To the contrary, he looked comfortable in his own skin and more than ready for the role as the first among an increasingly talented squad that is primed to make its mark in the NL East for years to come.  Among those joining Wright in a small cadre of those talking shop was star pitcher Jacob deGrom, who was near Wright for most of the night, pitcher Jonathan Niese, who seemed to keep his teammates loose, the recently acquired veteran infielder Kelly Johnson, second baseman Daniel Murphy, pitcher Matt Harvey, and catcher Travis d'Arnaud.  Sitting behind the dugout it is hard to see who else might have been around, and I also give credit to third-base coach Tim Teufel, who seemed more than happy to engage the players when the Mets were in the field. 

In contrast, while some Phillies were up on the small fence that serves, among other things, to keep foul balls from plunking unsuspecting players, they didn't appear to be gathered around any leader, didn't appear to be talking shop, and appeared basically in personal silos, watching the game and left to their own thoughts.  That's not the fault of anyone in particular, as manager Pete Mackanin is doing a fine job and the front office has finally figured out that they need to rebuild and reload in a big way.  It's more testimony to a franchise that got drunk on its own glory, failed to plan for the future, and now has a lot of names that are new to one another.  Ruiz is a leader by example but not a rallying point, and his career is almost over.  Howard is a shadow of his former self.  Hamels, Rollins and Utley are gone; Victorino and Jayson Worth long gone.  Cliff Lee is on the disabled list, his career presumably over.  There just do not appear to be any leaders yet ready to rally the team around them.  Mikael Franco came up this year, is very young, and on the disabled list.  Odubel Herrera has shown some promise, just joined the team this year as a Rule 5 draftee and is still figuring out how to play center field.  Right fielder Domonic Brown's body language suggests that he'd rather be somewhere else; Francoeur, while energetic, is a journeyman, so much so that the outfielder actually pitched in eight games in the minors last season. 

Going back to the Mets, it seems that despite some major injuries much is going right for them now.  They have good pitching, and they have started to hit.  And it's a fine time to get hot bats at the end of August, where the games count the same as they did in April but have more attention paid to them and more incremental meaning as the teams march toward the playoffs.  That Wright has returned gives them their veteran presence; that players are rallying around him is exciting.  They look confident, and their body language and interactions in the dugout show it.  As did the humor of veteran pitcher Bartolo Colon, who in one at bat stood there with the bat on his shoulder, took three strikes, walked back to the dugout with an amused smile on his face and sat down.  His teammates smiled, too -- they know that the cagey old veteran was saving his energy for throwing strikes, which he did masterfully last night.

It's a tale of two teams, and what a difference eight years makes.  The Mets started their decline at the end of 2007, when they blew a 7-game lead with 17 games to go and ran into a freight train called the Philadelphia Phillies, who blasted Tommy Glavine on the last day of the season to win the division.  That last month of the season gave birth to a great run for the Phillies and the (always temporary in baseball) decline of the Mets.  Fast forward eight years, and the Phillies look like the one-time boomtown with empty storefronts abounding, while the Mets look like the new development with all the modern amenities.  Mets' fans should enjoy the journey here and now.  Their team looks primed for a good run.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Must Read: ESPN the Magazine Article on Chris Borland

This article brings out the Nostradamus in me.

ESPN calls him the most dangerous man in football.  Perhaps to try to be more grammatically precise, they could call him the most dangerous man to football.  Either way, his retirement after a great rookie season because of a fear of doing long-term damage to himself based upon current empirical (and walking) evidence should scare anyone who has anything to do with football.  You also might recall the comment of future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, who offered that he played football so that his children wouldn't have to.  And then there's President Obama, who stated that he wouldn't have encouraged his kids (if they were boys) to play football.

For some kids, football is the reason they go to school, it is a way out, but then that way out ends.  Why?  Because most cannot earn scholarships.  And, for some who do, they quickly realize that they might not like studying much after high school.  Others get hurt, and scholarships are "one year renewable."  And for those who play well, they might be able to play professionally in the Arena League or CFL or NFL.  But then for how long?  And then what?  It would be interesting to see the statistics on what players do after they football careers end and the breakdown of earnings based upon who has a college degree and who does not.  There are other metrics out there -- perhaps related to health -- that should be measured, too.

The Nostradamus in me says that what protects football are the fans' need for violence, the fans' need for an event that is easy to bet on because of the point spread, and those who played it years ago who are defending a culture because they cannot bear to admit that what they participated in is harmful long-term to those who participate in the game.  How many "I love football" types do you hear on the sports talk shows and on the major networks?  And they get paid to talk about the product on the field when they know from experience and from friends who played who just are not well now what the cost of that product is in terms of human health.  It can be staggering.

Theodore Roosevelt was courageous enough to reform the game at the turn of the 20th century, when people were dying in games because of flying wedges and the ability to get a running start from the backfield toward the line of scrimmage.  He called the powers that be together and told them to fix their problem, and rules evolved, as they have over the years and as has the equipment.  But now the game has morphed into where there is a long-term health problem.  Players are not dying on the field like they were in the early 1900's; instead, they are doing things to themselves that accelerates a deterioration in their health and the dying process.  That's more subtle, but that doesn't mean the problem is not as pronounced.  And for every person who played in the NFL who gets publicity about his problems, there have to be tenfold more who are feeling the effects of playing football from Pee Wee through high school or college, too. 

Perhaps there is no one with the courage to address this problem.  Sure, the NFL has a committee, and a group of former players resolved litigation, but is the Federal government, the NFL and each college taking it as seriously or simply treating this issue as a risk management issue and a cost of doing business?  Perhaps there is a need to innovate equipment, to compel players to wear a bodysuit that combines breathing technology, airbags and Kevlar to protect players from the worst of its, so that the hits get absorbed in a different way?  Perhaps there is a need for massive rule changes, where football becomes more like flag football.  It's hard to know what is getting done, but it makes me wonder what those who study societies will think about ours when they look back 100 years from now and ruminate on this game of football.

Will they think it was civilized?  Will they think it was like Christians and lions in a coliseum?  Will they think that people must have been crazy to do this voluntarily?  Something tells me that advancing medical science will say affirmative to the last question.  And, if that's the case, why not take measures to reform the game dramatically now? 

How many suicides or cases of ALS or dementia must there be?  Of people in so much pain and so disabled that they have trouble functioning at way too early an age to have such troubles? 

Chris Borland is trouble for the NFL.  He did his own research and did not like what he found.  Sure, he won't be able to walk around and say he's a member of an NFL team and have all that cache.  And, he won't walk away now and make NFL money doing something else right away. 

But at least he can walk, and his walking away now gives him a much better chance of being able to walk well when he's in his sixties and seventies, will give him a much better chance of being able to know where he's walking, and will give him a much better chance to live a long and healthy life. 

He is giving up the opportunity to "be a football hero." 

But history probably will tell us that his walking away will help add to the quality of the lives of many and perhaps save some.

He is a dangerous man to the football industry.

And he is just one of the first.

More are coming.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Random Observations about the Sports World

Here goes:

1.  Great to see international soccer return.  Curious to see if any of the big teams will make a major move in the remaining two weeks or so until the clock expires on the summer transfer period.  Manchester City are playing like they have something to prove.  Chelsea have not gotten off to a good start and manager Jose Mourinho has not lasted in any job beyond three years.  Could change be coming to Stamford Bridge?  And perhaps this could be the year that Arsenal make a breakthrough (note the subject/verb alignment is the way the English do it).

2.  Has Jordan Spieth had an incredible run or what?  And does Tiger Woods have one more good run in him?

3.  Is MLS becoming the Seniors' Tour for great footballers from the major international leagues?  Kindly note that all players that come from across the ocean are well into their thirties, which makes them somewhat ancient by international footballing standards.  The Kaka of ten years ago only would have been seen in Orlando visiting Disney World, not playing football.

4.  Is there anything to make out of the NFL's pre-season?  Only that it is two games' too long.  Sure, it's fun to watch the younger players battle for roster spots, but the vets are desperately trying not to get hurt.

5.  Will history prove that every coach we like/honor/respect now will prove to have significant character flaws that will render him historically unlikable?  Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi ran brutal drills, Adolph Rupp was a racist and John Wooden wasn't as squeaky clean as he would have liked us to believe.  Bobby Knight's methods are legendary.  What will people say about Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban?  As for the footballers, perhaps that they didn't care about preparing kids for jobs outside pro football and for their long-term health.  Is that possible?

6.  Will LeBron win a title in Cleveland?  Does Kobe's insistence on making his max deal hamper the Lakers in a way that Tim Duncan's generosity in not insisting on a max deal helps the Spurs?  The answers are yes and yes, I think.  Basketball is just too far away to contemplate anything more deeply than that.

7.  Ah, baseball.  Yes, they still play it, but the powers that be should worry about their demographics, how hot it is outside and how long it takes to play games.    Was at AAA Lehigh Valley over the weekend and loved the clock for time between pitches and time in between innings.  MLB should adopt both and move their games along.  Also, for those who deny global warming, just try attending a baseball game in the Northeast in the summertime and 5 p.m. and have the temperature still be 90 degrees.  That didn't happen 30 years ago.  Baseball needs some more oomph and stars in this world of immediacy.  Other sports -- namely football and basketball -- benefit from the speed of media coverage and are more savvy about that coverage.

8.  Tennis.  Has it suffered in popularity because there are more choices for sports fans that ever before and, well, the equipment is so good that smash and score tennis without colorful personalities makes the sport almost unwatchable?  Had Serena Williams played twenty years ago she would have been THE story.  Not so today.

That's it from here.  Slow news day, slow summer day, watching to see whether Chase Utley allows himself to be traded and whether Sam Bradford's knee can hold up.  Yawn.