Archive for July, 2011

Choking with the Stars

July 27, 2011 1 comment

By: Aaron Watson

Bryant Gumbel was right. The USA women’s soccer team choked. And not just in the horrendous shootout that featured mistake after mistake by both United States shooters and keeper Hope Solo. The entire game was a series of unfortunate events, from poor defending on counter attacks and defensive miscommunication to shot after shot that missed the target.

But these women were media darlings. And criticizing them for losing in a World Cup Final just seemed unfair. This is soccer, after all, a sport where in the United States the men’s team gets hero status for barely beating Algeria in the World Cup and championed for defeating Panema 1-0 in the gold cup semi final. Only, of course, to be brought back to reality thanks to powerhouses like Ghana and Mexico.

Except that in women’s soccer, the United States was the top ranked team in the world. A team on the verge of winning more World Cups than any other country on the planet. A team with the world’s best goalkeeper and one of the most feared strikers not named Marta. And yet they lost.

To recount, here is what Gumbel said on HBO’s Real Sports, “Can we stop coddling women in sports? Are we now so fearful of being labeled sexist that we can’t objectively assess the efforts of female athletes? Had a men’s team turned in a similar performance, papers and pundits nationwide would have had a field day assailing the players, criticizing the coach, and demanding widespread changes to a men’s national team that flat out choked. Yet the common reaction to this ladies’ loss were simply expressions of empathy for the defeat of the unfortunate darlings and pride in their oh-so-heroic effort.”

Yet to me, the worst part isn’t that the women aren’t taking flak for their multiple mistakes during the World Cup Final loss to Japan. It’s that they are being celebrated for their great effort and almost applauded for trying so hard in their loss to a clearly inferior opponent that had never come close to defeating them and had previously lost in two pre-Word Cup exhibitions.

Poor LeBron James gets just lambasted by every major media outlet after slumping in the NBA finals, but no such criticism for the great Hope Solo or Abby Wambach, who couldn’t stop the Japanese from fighting their way back time after time in the biggest game of their lives. They were bigger, faster, stronger and simply better than their opponent, and yet they lost the game. That’s called choking, folks, and we shouldn’t coddle them for turning in a “great all-around performance”. The object is to score and stop the other team from scoring, and they lost that battle no matter how “pretty” and “skilled” they looked in losing.

And I don’t say any of this to discredit what the Japanese did, which was heroic and emotionally charged. But when goliath is slain, doesn’t the giant have to take some criticism? The Giants win over the undefeated Patriots in Superbowl XLII earned Brady and Belichick plenty of negative press. You think the Russians went home and walked the red carpet after losing to Team USA during the 1980 Winter Olympics? And we all remember what happened to Michigan in 2007 when Appalachian State came in and shocked their division one athletes.

But when you’re the best in the world and favored to win the game by every media outlet in the world, shouldn’t the word “choke” come into play? According to Hope Solo, “…we played our best game. We were attacking, we had opportunities on the goal, we played beautiful soccer, like the game is meant to be played, in the final. So did we choke? We played a beautiful game. We played our best game. But we didn’t come out on top. I don’t think we choked at all.”

Yes, Hope, you did. That’s what it’s called when you lose a game you are supposed to win and that you should have won. You see, it’s not just that they lost to a team that played them tough. They lost to a team they outshot, outjumped and outplayed for over 120 minutes. And credit to Gumbel for coming out and saying it, instead of setting up another red carpet event for beautiful women who just couldn’t get it down in the end.

Anna Kournikova, anyone?

Aaron Watson saw his NFL career cut short when his pee wee coaches informed him he wasn’t very good. So he turned his attention to writing, studying journalism in college while blogging for several sporting blogs since 2005. He and his wife currently live in Richmond, VA, one of the worst sports towns in America despite the short lived hype during the Final Four. When he is not at the local sports bar pursuading the owners to put the Buccaneer or Gator game on the big screen, Aaron serves as the Director of Staff Development for TeenPact Leadership Schools, a non-profit training teens to impact their nation through government, business and ultimate frisbee. He has also stayed in Tim Tebow’s house.


Exposing the Good, Hard-Nosed Play

By : Aaron Booth

A few times a year the baseball world gets worked up about a violent collision at home plate (or second base), especially if the collision results in an injury. This year Buster Posey and Tsuyoshi Nishioka were seriously hurt in baserunner collisions. While I have thoughts about these particular plays, how they shook out, who was at fault, and whether or not there was malicious intent (there wasn’t), I’m not interested in that today.

Take a step back. What are the discussions that flow from these plays every year? This very first question that gets asked is, was it a dirty play? Once that question is asked, the answers pour in. The fans of the team with the injured player are outraged. They’re convinced that the instigator came to the ballpark that day with evil intentions in his heart and a plan to execute it. The fans of the team of the instigator line up to tell us how the instigator is really a good guy, and he feels really bad about the situation, and he was just doing what everybody else does. The writers, commentators, and “baseball people” will tell us that it’s a good, hard-nosed baseball play.

That line, “a good, hard-nosed baseball play,” is what got me thinking about this. When do we hear this line? Usually right after the question about whether or not that last play we saw was dirty. Nobody describes a sliding catch in the outfield as a good, hard-nosed play. Running to first on a dropped third strike isn’t a good, hard-nosed play. Those things are just plays. Likewise, ordinary collisions on the field are not described as good, hard-nosed plays either. If the runner and the shortstop collide in mid-base path we use another word for that: accident. It’s not a good, hard-nosed play; it’s an accident.  Chest-first collisions at home plate, take out slides and retaliatory beanings are the kinds of plays that get described as good, hard-nosed plays. Those plays are described that way because they need justification. We need to be reminded of it every time that the play was both good and hard-nosed, which apparently is also good.

The funny thing is, a large percentage of the interested parties need to be reminded of this every-single time player limps off the field after a home plate collision. Why is it that we need to be reminded that it was a good, hard-nosed play every time? Why can’t we remember the last time this happened and accept the play as being good and hard-nosed from the outset? The reason is that we just don’t buy it. We need to be told every single time that it’s good and that it’s hard-nosed so that we’ll keep believing it.

The whole thing is kind of like the tooth fairy. My oldest child has been visited by the tooth fairy several times, but each time she says, “Come on, Dad, you and mom put that dollar under the pillow, didn’t you?” We in turn dodge the question and repeat the myth. If you repeat a story (or a lie) long enough, eventually you’ll believe it. (Governments have understood this for centuries.)

So the next time you see this play, and the talk radio and Sportscenter banter begins by asking, “Was this a dirty play?” The answer is, “Yes! It is a dirty play.” We’ve been over this a hundred times. If it wasn’t dirty, we’d only need one explanation about it being a good, hard-nosed play, and we could refer back to that. The very fact that we have this discussion two or three times a year should tell you that that at the very root of it we all know baseball shouldn’t be played this way. It is the way players are taught to play, and they’ve been taught this for decades, but it’s a dirty play, and calling it a good, hard-nosed play does not cover the stain on wall.

Aaron Booth lives in Monroe, LA with his wife a five children. He makes his living in the real estate world, which gives him the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio, including a fair amount of sports radio and podcasts. Aaron loves his i-devices and 24-hour sports media, but also fondly remembers the days when he calculated his fantasy standings from the newspaper. You can follow him on twitter @da_booth.

The Ideal All-Star Game

July 11, 2011 2 comments

By: Deacon Blues

We’ve all heard the arguments. Does it count or is it an exhibition? If it’s an exhibition, why does it determine World Series home field advantage? If it counts, why make a pitching change two innings in? Why do the unwashed masses get such a strong say in the rosters? Does the National League have to pick an Astro?

I think we can all agree that the All-Star game shouldn’t determine home field advantage for the World Series. The last thing the Red Sox or Phillies want to see is a cast-in middle reliever throwing in the seventh with the tying run on third; his success or failure can perhaps hold their ultimate 2011 fate in the balance. Besides that, is there anyone who chooses to tune in to the game only because “it counts”? I doubt it. It’s an exhibition game, and that’s OK. Enjoy it for what it is.

The biggest problem with the 2002 tie game fiasco isn’t the “This Time It Counts” mantra, as bad as that is; it’s the complicated system that has been implemented to fill the rosters. The fans select the starting position players. The previous year’s World Series managers select half the bench players. Player voting select the other half of bench players. Nation League designated hitter is determined by dividing homeruns by opposing pitchers’ ERA plus the average game-time temperature. 78th man is selected by the fans — again. Replacement players are chosen by lots with consideration to Vegas odds, and on and on it goes. This complicated, algebraic system has become completely ridiculous.

What baseball needs to do is make it simple; they need to get back to their roots, if putting it that way makes it more palatable to the baseball purists out there. The All-Star game is meant to be a fun game for the fans. That’s it. It doesn’t need to be anything more than that, and frankly, it can’t be anything more that in any meaningful way.

The first step towards that end is to ditch the postseason implications. Make sure that everybody knows it’s an exhibition game so there are no complaints when it’s played like one. When Jered Weaver gets pulled after two innings and 22 pitches, it’s okay, because, hey, it’s the All-Star game, and everybody making an appearance is more important that winning the game.

The next step is to hold fan voting for every position, including the various pitching roles. After all the results have been tabulated, the top vote getters would be the starters at their respective positions, as is currently the case. Now here’s where the wrinkle comes in: the runners-up fill the remaining spots on the roster. If the fans voted for those players, those are the players they want to see, which means that is what MLB should want to give them. Do the fans want Derek Jeter? Give it to them. Do they want Willie Bloomquist? Go for it. Heck, do they want Carrot Top? I say they should make an effort to give the people what they want.

One complicating factor is the idea that every team needs to be represented. This tradition should absolutely continue, because each fan should get to see his team represented. This system would wind up leaving some teams without an All-Star, but that’s easy to overcome. The top vote getter for each of those teams – regardless of position – gets on the team. (Most likely that guy is the best player on the team, and probably deserves to be there anyway.) Sure, this might make the rosters unbalanced, but that’s not a problem. Remember: It’s an exhibition game.

Every single player on the All-Star rosters should be determined by fan voting, even if that means some deserving players have to stay home. It is true that the fans could get it wrong sometimes, even grievously, but that happens as it is. At least this way those poor choices have people cheering for them. After all, it should be a popularity contest.

Deacon Blues grew up in Moscow, Idaho, and still resides there with his lovely wife and four savages. By day he is an economist and database expert, but he doubles as a T-ball coach, lacrosse official, suffering Mariners fan, and reader of children’s books. He also makes a mean morning meal and is ever on the lookout for the perfect breakfast burrito recipe. He can be followed on Twitter at @deaconblues42. 

Sexy Sells

By: Nate Douglas

Four years ago, Michael Vick pleaded guilty to pitting dogs against each other.  In a country where puppies in a basket make up 53% of “Get Well” Hallmark card covers, this was not cool. Nike claimed, “We hold our spokespersons to the  highest of standards,” and promptly cut Vick  from being one of their athlete representatives.  Today,  however, Nike announced they were re-  signing Vick to a new endorsement deal.

Vick was quick to confess his sins when he came  out of the clink.  He did his token generic  services to humanity and under the careful (yet pleased) supervision of PETA, he adopted a  Scottish Terrier from the pound and named him  Sparky.  The NFL season started, Kevin Kolb was  concussed, and Vick started picking apart  opposing defenses like a 6-year old and a  booger.  Vick was back on the radar, putting up  numbers that would include him in the NFL  MVP conversation.  Less than a year later, Nike, suffering from short-term memory loss, signed him to a lucrative new deal because apparently he is now a spokesperson of high standards.

Nike’s smart.  Focus groups were solicited for feedback on a move such as this, and obviously the people they polled approved of such a move.  While some of the general public is of the “forgive and forget” mindset, most don’t really care.  Why?  Because we’re part of a culture that (for the most part) is pretty shallow.  McDonalds is our best selling restaurant chain, most of us drink Miller/Coors/Bud lite, and who cares if Just Go With It has a story that sucks, it prominently features Brooklyn Decker coming out of the ocean in slow motion.

We’ve seen Vick’s story in other athletes.  Kobe Bryant cheats on his wife and suffers through rape allegations.  Ben Roethlisberger really likes to party.  Alex Rodriguez admittedly shot up steroids, posed in front of a mirror and is generally just pig-headed.  LeBron got his own tv show, told Cleveland ‘screw you’ and then the next day at a rally told the other 29 NBA teams, ‘we’re gonna screw you the next eight years, too!’

But for our wading-pool culture, all of this doesn’t matter.  In the sports-world, the sexy athlete sells.  Instead of babes…it’s championships, big numbers and dunks.  Never mind the moral fiber of the athlete.  This makes us an easy people for the Nikes of the world to cater to with our taste.

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and 10-month son.  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  So he founded the Sports Smithy, as well as, a unique fantasy sports aggregating web-site.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34.