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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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Another Soccer Scandal in Italy

This time the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, is offering his two cents' worth of commentary.

Which is that Italy should take a moratorium on soccer for several years to clear the air. 

Several years ago, referees were involved, and this time, it's the players.  Look, there is organized crime all over the world and people who want to fix matches in all sorts of ways.  Tennis matches, soccer matches, and, who knows, some of the World Cup officiating in South Africa was fishy enough to cast some suspicion over the integrity of the officials (sadly, some hail from the lesser-developed countries where the average incomes are pretty low and might have been more susceptible to taking a bribe).

Players and teams throughout Italy are implicated in this scandal.  And while A.C. Milan, Internazionale Milan, Juventus and AS Roma, among others, can field good teams, it stands to reason that the reason that Serie A in Italy does not get the attention of the English Premiership is either because a) it's not as good a league as the Premiership or b) the serious international soccer media does not believe in the overall integrity of the matches (when compared to say, other countries, such as England).

Popular demand and ecomonic reality (that is, soccer provides thousands of jobs in Italy) are such that it is unlikely that the Italian government can stop soccer or would want to.  But popular demand also should be such that teams outside the four I just named might have a shot to win the title in Series A.  Would that be too much to ask?  And would it be too much to ask that any team might be able to do so without money being exchanged in unmarked bills or unnamed bank accounts in banking havens? 

Yet another mess -- atop the economy -- in Italy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jimmy Rollins is Doing the Right Thing

Jimmy Rollins' wife gave birth to their first child a few nights ago.  Per his contract, J-Roll is entitled to take 72 hours off.  Which, it appears, he will do.  He wasn't in the lineup last night when the Nats beat the Phillies, 2-1.  On my drive home tonight, a caller to 97.5 called the Phillies SS a "coward" because he could go to the hospital AND go to work.  This expert offered that he had twins, that his wife was in the hospital for weeks, and that he owned his own business and had to go to work and that's what leaders do (the expert owns his own business).

Not having anyone in the car with me, I kept my thoughts to myself, but here's what they were:  "Are you bleeping kidding me?  Who are you to judge any father regarding how much time he wants to spend with his wife and newborn infant? "  I also thought, "Good for J-Roll.  He will remember -- forever -- what he did around the time his first child was born.  He will forget, quickly, whatever happened in one of the more than a thousand Major League games he will have played in his career."

Cherish your family at every opportunity.   That's not to say that work isn't important -- it pays the bills and hopefully provides some fulfillment and sense of belonging and purpose.  But it's not your family, especially at such at important time in your family's existence.

The caller called into question Jimmy Rollins' leadership.  I would counter by saying that by doing precisely what he's doing, Jimmy Rollins is showing great leadership -- setting a great example for what one's priorities should be.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Will Football Become Extinct?

Great, thought-proving piece from Jason Whitlock by way of comcast.net.  You can read it here.

We can get into a mindset where nothing will change.  We can think that football will retain its preeminence precisely because it's on top now.  Yet, the business world is littered with the detritus of companies that failed because they made bad decisions when they were on top (you can read Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen's books on the topic). 

Boxing and horse racing used to be on top, and baseball has been dubbed the national pasttime.  Football right now is on top, per se, because of the revenue it generates.  Yet, what it does to the health of the participants suggests that either public laws or the plaintiff's bar could render this sport obsolete, because the argument that players assume the risk of suffering brain damage in middle age.  To his credit, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is trying to do something about football's problems.  To his credit, deep down he probably believes that football cannot continue at this pace with its current rules. 

It could be that football evolves out of existence.  Rationally, a better decision would be to make it a lot less violent, like lacrosse, where hitting is permissable within limits.  Which means no head shots, no leaping tackles, and, yes, perhaps a reversion to flags.  O-linemen will be able to hit, but only with arms extended.  Quickness will become preeminent, and everyone's children could be safer.  The violence, of course, would vanish. 

Because of the elimination of violent hits, clotheslining and the protection of quarterbacks, the violence has been reduced already.  The NFL has an opportunity to reduce it even further and figure out creative ways to enhance the quality of the game -- and give its participants the ability to talk about it into their 70's and 80's. 

All football is at a crossroads, because the risk of permanent brain injuries -- just like the risk of second-hand smoke -- is not acceptable.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kevin Garnett Plays Dirty

Celtics' fans anger at the officials in Game 2 after an offensive foul call in the last 10 or so seconds is misplaced.  They should be angry with Garnett for his dirty play -- he all but hip checked Andre Iguodala into the boards with his alleged pick.  We all should expect more from a Hall of Famer.

That said, the 76ers interior defense isn't what it should be or what a team needs to win a series.  Were Moses Malone on this team, he'd have planted an elbow into Garnett's cranium and sent his skinny frame sprawling onto the floor.  Ditto for Wilt, Luke Jackson and others.  Give the Celtics credit -- they are the aggressor.

The 76ers are playing hard and have energy.  The Celtics seem to be able to run their plays better, and Rajon Rondo is the best player on the floor.  Lavoy Allen has been a real surprise for the 76ers.  They know that he's good, but he's showed up big in pressure situations, and that should earn him more money on his next contract.  He'll be in the league for a long time.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Great Finish in the Premiership

Reality TV has nothing on the English Premiership, which had Man U and Man City within a hair of each other going into the final game of the season.  Both teams had 86 points, with Man City leading, though, because of a greater goal differential over its opponents than Man U enjoyed over its.

Man U took a 1-0 lead in its game while Man City was 0-0 against Queens Park Rangers, which was fighting/hoping against relegation (depending upon what Bolton ended up doing).  Got all that?  Then Man City went up 1-0 and Ian Darke of ESPN noted succinctly, "Cue Bedlam."

But a few strange things happened en route.  QPR's skipper, Joey Barton, lost his cool, was red carded and then committed another foul after the red card that is sure to draw a big fine and suspension.  The Rangers scored 2 goals and were leading, 2-1, going into stoppage time (for the uninitiated, the time that gets added on because of time when play was stopped because of injury).

And that's when stranger things happened.  First, substitute striker Edin Dzeko scored on a header, and then Diego Maradona's son-in-law, Sergio Kun Aguero, another striker, scored a goal that in Man City's history will be akin to the father-in-law's famous "hand of God" goal in a World Cup over a quarter century ago.  3-2, Man City, and the Premiership Title to go with it.

Cue Bedlam, indeed!

Great game, great finish, QPR ended up not being relegated and Arsenal ended up clinching third overall in the Premiership, guaranteeing a spot in next year's Champions League despite losing Cesc Fabregas to a transfer and Jack Wilshere to an injury, and despite, also, a woeful start.

But the day belongs to Manchester City.

Great, great excitement.

76ers Need to Get More Physical

I watched the first game of the series between the Celtics and 76ers last night and observed the following:

1.  The 76ers' interior defense cost them last night.  Put simply, they need to get a lot more physical.  Coach Doug Collins needs to either instruct or encourage one of the bigs to take a few hacks, particularly at Kevin Garnett, or find someone at the end of the bench willing to mix it up, throw a hip, an elbow or land on someone and make a statement.  Put simply, Kevin Garnett is a dirty player, clandestinely so, extending a hip on a screen or throwing an elbow when the refs aren't looking.  This happened on several occasions last night, as did interior penetration when 76ers' big got danced around and didn't make a statement to the effect of "you just don't come into our lane and get away with this."  Moses Malone would have made such a statement, so would have Charles Barkley and many others, Wilt included.  To win this series, the 76ers have to be as physical if not more.

2.  Rajon Rondo is a special player.  He'll have his moments, but the key is not to let the Avery Bradleys and Brandon Basses beat you.

3.  The 76ers' biggest flaw is their shooting, not only making open shots but also shot selection.  How many times can fans endure air balls from Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes, both on poorly selected shots?

4.  Elton Brand disappeared last night.  Was he hurt or was he just ineffective?  I thought that Hawes was gassed by the end, and that had to tick off Brand, who barely made a difference and Allen, who played so well that he must have thought he should have been in there at the end.

5.  The 76ers need to work better to exploit the Celtics' age.  They need to run Ray Allen, Garnett and Paul Pierce, as well as Bass, to make them earn every defense stop and every offensive play.  The more they do that, the deeper they will go in this playoff series and the better they will fare.  They especially need to do this against a crafty, veteran team that is looking for one last hurrah before overturning its roster and falling back before surging forward again.  It's great to have a relatively young team.  To the 76ers' credit, they kept on answering the Celtics late in the game and did not fold.  To their detriment, their inexperience showed and they failed to finish off a beatable opponent last night.  That ability to close will come with time, but it's something the 76ers need to work on.

This should be an exciting series.